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US Election Preview; Will Power Outages Affect voting? Explaining the Electoral College; Surveying Hurricane Sandy Damage; Preview of ATP World Tennis Championship; China's Election Examined; Syrian Opposition Groups Meet
Aired November 5, 2012 - 08:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong and welcome to NEWS STREAM, where news and technology meet.
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STOUT (voice-over): And we begin in the U.S., where a final day of campaigning is underway ahead of Tuesday's election. And a new poll puts the candidates neck and neck.
But on the eve of the vote hundreds of thousands remain without power after storm Sandy. How could that affect balloting?
And Andy Murray is hoping he can take the ATP World Tour finals; the U.S. open champ returns to home soil.
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STOUT: After months of campaigning and a price tag approaching $3 billion, the race for the White House is one step away from the finish line. In the lower right-hand corner of the screen you will see our election graphic countdown. It is counting down to Wednesday, 4:00 am GMT, and that's when polls close on the U.S. West Coast. And we'll have a good idea of how the U.S. election is turning out.
But there is no rest yet for the two rivals who each want to occupy the White House. President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are making a final dash through crucial battleground states today on the campaign trail this weekend. Both candidates made their case to a closely divided electorate.
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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our fight goes on because this nation cannot succeed without a growing, thriving middle class. And sturdy ladders for all who are willing to work hard to get into the middle class.
Our fight goes on because we know America always does its best when everybody gets a fair shot. And everybody's doing their fair share. And everybody's playing by the same rules. That's what we believe that's why you elected in 2008 and that's why I'm running for a second term as President of the United States.
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FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Change can't be measured in speeches. Change is measured in achievements and four years ago Candidate Obama's -- he promised so much to so many people but he's fallen so very short.
He promises, as you recall, to be the post-partisan president. But he's been the most partisan, blaming, attacking, dividing. See, the president thinks more government is the answer. No, Mr. President, more good jobs: that's the answer for the American people.
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STOUT: Now the race to the White House could not be closer. It is a dead heat. Take a look at the latest CNN/ORC poll that shows 49 percent of likely voters surveyed want Mr. Obama as president, and 49 percent favor Mitt Romney. That's in line with a number of other national polls also showing a virtual tie between both candidates.
Now CNN's political editor Paul Steinhauser joins us now live from Washington.
And Paul, this CNN/ORC report, it's fascinating; it's a bulky one. It's almost 60 pages long and there is a dead heat on a number of indicators. So walk us through them.
PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Exactly. It's not just that top-line number, the horse race number, as we call it here, who will you vote for that's dead even. Let's take a look at this. We asked about the favorable rating of each candidate. You see each candidate in a favorable light.
And guess what, again, a tie, just about; 52 percent of Americans or likely voters say they have a favorable opinion of the president and 51 percent say they have a favorable opinion of Mitt Romney.
They're basically tied as well on the issue of whether you agree with the candidate on the most important issues. They're basically tied on whether each man has the right qualities, personal qualities a president should have.
And on enthusiasm, this is also a very important number. Democrats and Republicans are -- and at least, according to our poll -- pretty much equally enthusiastic about voting. And as that can be the crucial number as well, because it really, in a very close election, it's all going to be about getting your base, getting your supporters to the polls. And if they're enthusiastic, they will vote, Kristie.
STOUT: Yes, one interesting finding also in the report was that 4 percent of possible voters, again, polled by CNN/ORC, said it's quite possible they might change their minds before Election Day. Could these be the people who will determine the result?
STEINHAUSER: Exactly, it's those very small, very small sliver of uncommitted voters, people who've made up their minds but could still be persuaded. That number's obviously been shrinking as we get closer to Election Day. But that number could also be very instrumental. So it's the base getting out, making sure your base shows up and votes.
And it's also, of course, the -- very, very few but very important -- persuadable voters. And of course, it's not the national. The national numbers are important, but this is of course the race for the White House is a battle for the states and their electoral votes. That's why we look at these battleground states so closely, Kristie.
STOUT: Now both candidates, they're making a final push in these battleground states. We have Romney in Florida; we have Barack Obama waking up in Wisconsin. Do you think they're putting enough attention on the states that matter most?
STEINHAUSER: Yes, in fact, that's all they've been doing, basically, is putting their attention on these states. CNN, we have it about eight tossup states that can go either way right now. And if you look at where the candidates have been the last couple days, basically in those eight states and nowhere else, if you live in New York or Texas or California, you're not going to see a visit from these candidates.
Where are they going? The states you just mentioned, as you said. President Obama's waking up in Wisconsin, holding his first event there. Wisconsin was the state that was pretty safe for the Democrats for many presidential cycles, but now it's a tossup state.
Mitt Romney in Florida, another very, very important state. You can see right there, the president's state, Wisconsin, Ohio and then Iowa. And as for Mitt Romney, yes, starting in Florida, then going to Virginia, another very important tossup state.
Ohio, can't say enough about Ohio, right? We've been talking about Ohio for so long. And then Mitt Romney ends up in New Hampshire, small state but a battleground state with only four electoral votes, but those four votes could be crucial, Kristie.
STOUT: You know, there's been a lot of chatter and chatter on CNN.com/politics about Pennsylvania, a lot of talk about Romney's chances to reclaim the state. Can he?
STEINHAUSER: There's a chance. Listen, I was in Pennsylvania on Saturday, covering Paul Ryan, the Republican running mate. He had a rally at Harrisburg. And then on Sunday, Mitt Romney was in Pennsylvania as well. And when I was there, when you turn on the TV during the local newscasts, all you see are campaign commercials, one after another after another, mostly by the Romney campaign.
So they're making a late push in Pennsylvania. Why? Well, the polls have tightened up there, Kristie. And the Romney campaign thinks maybe they can broaden the map. Twenty electoral votes at stake in Pennsylvania.
The Obama campaign says just the opposite. They say Mitt Romney's not doing well in some of those other key battleground states, and that's why he's forced in a desperate move to go to Pennsylvania and Minnesota as well. I guess we'll find out which campaign is right on Tuesday when the votes come in, Kristie.
STOUT: Also got to ask you about the impact of this storm, superstorm Sandy last week. Do you think that weather event, did it break the momentum of either candidate?
STEINHAUSER: That's a big question everybody's asking, did either one of the candidates have momentum? There was the common perception is that Mitt Romney had a lot of momentum coming out of the first presidential debate. If he still had some momentum going into when the storm hit about a week ago, then, yes, of course that momentum was halted.
What the storm did was basically freeze the race the way it was a week ago, because both campaigns went down for a few days; the negative attacks ended for a few days. And so the race kind of just stayed static for a few days. The flip side, the other thing here, too, is, of course, the president, as commander in chief and as monitoring and leading the federal response, got high marks for that.
And that may help him a little bit. But at the end of the day, this election's going to be about the economy, that's going to be the top issue in the minds of Americans. The storm may matter a little bit, but this is an election about the economy, Kristie.
STOUT: I can't believe it's just one day to go. Paul Steinhauser joining us live. Thank you.
Now, in the United States, voters do not directly elect the president and vice president. Instead, they pick what are called electors in the Electoral College. And you can see how it works on this election calculator page at CNN.com. And CNN's Jonathan Mann explains this unique system.
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JONATHAN MANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Established by America`s Founding Fathers, it`s actually a process, not a place. It`s even in the Constitution, described as a compromise somewhere between a voting Congress and a popular vote of the people.
Each state has a number of electors, based on how many members it has in Congress. So, a state with a lot of people like California has 55 electoral votes; a small state like Delaware has just three. States award their electoral votes on the basis of the popular vote.
In most states, it`s winner take all. And it takes a majority of 270 of the 538 total electoral votes to win the presidency. After the November election, members of the Electoral College meet to cast their ballots. The results are sent onto Congress, which tallies the vote and then makes it official.
DICK CHENEY: Barack Obama of the State of Illinois, has received for President of the United States 365 votes.
MANN (voice-over): By the way, the candidate who wins the popular vote, doesn`t always win the election. In the year 2000, more Americans voted for Vice President Al Gore, but George W. Bush had more electoral votes. So, he prevailed and won the presidency. You can`t win the White House without it: the Electoral College.
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STOUT: But what happens if the Electoral College vote is tied? Now that opens the door to a range of possibilities. And to find out about them, go to CNN.com. And be sure to make CNN your destination for full coverage of the U.S. presidential election. We'll be live on the ground throughout Tuesday and then stay with us for continuous coverage as the results come in.
Coming up here on NEWS STREAM, the damage caused by superstorm Sandy could have an impact on voting in the U.S. presidential election. We'll have an update on this situation in the northeast.
And snow blankets Beijing. China gears up for a major leadership transition, while in Britain, Andy Murray prepared for his next big challenge on home ground.
STOUT: In the United States, this last day of campaigning before Tuesday's presidential election is focused on the battleground states. But there is also a lot of attention right now on polling in the northeast.
Now voters across the region could face obstacles casting their ballots because of the lingering impact of superstorm Sandy. Generators are being delivered to some polling places to power voting machines. And in New York, damage from the storm is forcing election officials to relocate or combine some polling sites.
A state officials says it's even possible that voters could get an extra day to cast ballots if Tuesday's turnout is less than 25 percent. But of more immediate concern is a temporary housing crisis. Officials estimate between 30,000 and 40,000 people could need housing in New York in the coming days and weeks.
And as temperatures drop, the concerns are mounting. More than 1.5 million people in 15 states are still without power. And gasoline is hard to come by in parts of New York and New Jersey. And despite the frustration of long lines, many people we spoke to remain calm.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We saw the truck pull in here, like, get the cans out, because it's better than waiting in the car.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I ran out of gas looking for gas. So I walked here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, I'm just kind of waiting it out. I think in a few more days, hopefully, there will be fuel and all this stuff will ease up.
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STOUT: Just waiting it out.
Now the New Jersey shoreline saw some of the worst damage from the storm. Whole towns are buried under sand and debris and many are wondering whether the area will ever be what it was. Our Jim Clancy is there.
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JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This boardwalk once stretched more than a mile along a picture-perfect shoreline. Now the town of Belmar, New Jersey, is digging out, drying out and pouring out thanks to the people who were there and are still helping recovery efforts.
The hurricane drove sand and floodwaters deep into the heart of this town. Massive pumps were brought in to drain a pair of lakes that are part of the local topography. After just a few days the all-out pumping effort had already drained the lakes several feet and given homeowners access to their neighborhoods again.
But the boardwalk was swept away, and Belmar's mayor and his wife walked Ocean Avenue Sunday, wondering how he would be able to bring this small city back.
MATTHEW DOHERTY, MAYOR, BELMAR, N.J.: The same people are going to come back to their homes and they're going to seem devastated. And they're going to cry. And we're going to have to hug them. But at the same time, we're going to rebuild.
So right now we're in a recovery, rebuild and then reconstruct method. We're going to reconstruct the homes and we're going to reconstruct the boardwalk you see right here. It's our goal to have this boardwalk reconstructed and ready for summer visitors by Memorial Day weekend of this coming year.
CLANCY: Where did the original boardwalk go? Well, the honest answer is all over town. There's a section of it right there in somebody's back yard. The force of the waves just ripped it out and the locals say they're going to recycle that wood and give it back to the city, because it's still good.
It hit the support beam here and almost brought down the upper story of this house. But you've guessed it. This is a piece of the boardwalk that's holding it up. As one of the locals put it this Sabbath, the boardwalk taketh away and the boardwalk giveth.
CLANCY (voice-over): Across town, the church of St. Rose was packed with people who came to honor their police, firefighters and National Guard, all of them in a special mass celebrated by the Catholic bishop. The first responders were in the choir loft, so if a call came in, they would be able to make a quick exit without disrupting the standing room only crowd.
BISHOP DAVID O'CONNELL, DIOCESE OF TRENTON, N.J.: It's been an unbelievable experience for me. This week in the Catholic Church we celebrated the Feast of All Saints. And I've met a lot of saints living in this area right now, who've done so much to help one another and really embrace one another at a very difficult time.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody in Belmar worked very, very hard. We've all been helping out all week long. People are working tirelessly hours and it's just amazing, amazing what is going on in this town.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can I get some macaroni (inaudible)?
CLANCY (voice-over): In neighborhoods like this one, a relief station where residents can get a hot meal, water and warm clothes, even firewood as temperatures grow colder with each night and the power is still cut off.
There was nonstop recovery work going on in Belmar Sunday. Now that the water has receded, the rubble is being cleared away. There was also a time to reflect, and some even took a brief respite from what has probably been the most difficult week of their lives.
The people of this small town are pulling together, and together they're convinced we're going to make it -- Jim Clancy, CNN, Belmar, New Jersey.
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STOUT: Incredible strength and resilience there. And if the housing, power and gas shortages are not enough, another storm is predicted to hit the New York region later this week. Let's get details on that. Mari Ramos joins us from the World Weather Center with the forecast, Mari?
MARI RAMOS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hey, Kristie, you know, it's amazing when you see those pictures, that story from Jim. They're very moving as people are going through, think about everything you use electricity for, many for cooking, for heating, for plugging in your cell phone, your computer, just for getting around, right? (Inaudible) electric cars now.
It continues to be very, very cold across the northeast and life's very difficult for people. Those apartment buildings can get extremely cold at night. And we're looking at temperatures across the northeast that are still very close to freezing. Look at New York City, -1 expected tonight, overnight tonight.
And then on Tuesday and Wednesday, fairly close to freezing as well. Similar situation as we head down into Washington, D.C., just an illustration of how this whole entire northeast corridor is experiencing some below average temperatures. And it is very, very hard. But what's happening?
What is this new storm that we're talking about? We've been talking about it since last week. It is called a nor'easter and basically you get an area of low pressure that forms here in the Gulf of Mexico, begins to pick up steam.
And what you're looking at here is the forecast models. And as it picks up that warm water here of the Atlantic Ocean, it kind of begins to blow up, kind of like what happened with Sandy, remember? Then you have some very cold air in place and the combination is this. You get a very powerful storm system.
This time it's not going to be like Sandy, but it still has the potential to really cause some damage, to bring some very strong winds across the region.
As the storm continues to develop -- and this is going to be something we'll be watching Tuesday and Wednesday in particular -- we could get 50-80 kph winds along with some very heavy snowfall across these areas. So still quite a bit to go through across this region.
The other thing is, you got to remember that Sandy was such a large storm and it didn't move through the Caribbean first. So the Caribbean Islands were affected by this as well. So I just want to bring this to your attention, because places like the Dominican Republic were hard-hit, Cuba, also Jamaica, remember? Well, Haiti was one of the hardest hit places.
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RAMOS (voice-over): And here's just a picture, one snapshot of life for people in Haiti right now. They had almost nothing; now they really have nothing. There was a special appeal earlier today -- or I should say yesterday on Sunday -- from the prime minister, asking for more international aid. They're saying that 27,000 homes were damaged. This is according to the U.N.
That puts 1.5 million people at risk for malnutrition because they had nothing and now they lost everything. And any kind of livelihood they had. They're calling this a huge blow to the reconstruction effort in Haiti, because so many schools, roads and bridges were damaged.
And they're saying dwindling donor financing is really making the situation there more difficult, Kristie. So this is so widespread and so many people in need. Back to you.
STOUT: Yes, highlighting the urgent need for storm victims there in Haiti and across the Caribbean. Mari Ramos, thank you very much for that.
You're watching NEWS STREAM. And coming up next, a big week for tennis. The question: can Andy Murray build on his U.S. Open win and succeed at the ATP World Tour finals in London? We've got the sports after the break.
STOUT: Coming to you live from a sparkling Hong Kong. You're back watching NEWS STREAM. Now the world's top men's tennis players are in London for the season finale. Pedro Pinto has more on this day's "WORLD SPORT" report.
PEDRO PINTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Kristie. With the exception of Rafael Nadal, who's injured, the best players on the planet are here in London for the ATP World Tour finals.
World number one Novak Djokovic has had another great season, winning five titles, including the Australian Open. He'll definitely be one of the ones to beat. Number two, Roger Federer, has turned back the clock in a year, which saw him win Wimbledon for a seventh time.
The crowd favorite? No prizes for guessing. That'll be Andy Murray. The Scot finally won his first grand slam title at Flushing Meadows this year. And watch out for David Ferrer, who's been on fire, winning this past weekend's Paris Masters. He's going to be hard to beat as well.
You know, whatever happens over the next week, Novak Djokovic will still finish the year at the top of the men's world rankings. He told us how happy he is with that achievement.
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NOVAK DJOKOVIC, PRO TENNIS PLAYER: It's a huge achievement and especially considering the competitiveness at the -- that we had in 2012 with four different grand slam winners. It made it even more difficult for me to end up the season number one, a very high level of tennis throughout the whole season.
And I mean, all the players, especially the top four, had even chances to be in this position and it was very, very even throughout the whole year. A lot of great matches, great drivers. So you know, that makes my success even bigger.
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PINTO: So who are the favorites to win the title at the O2 Arena in London? According to tennis legend Boris Becker, it's all about Novak and Andy.
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BORIS BECKER, PRO TENNIS PLAYER: The way it's been going the last couple of months, there was a (inaudible) Murray final at the U.S. Open. Lovely Murray won that one.
It was a final in Shanghai where Murray had five match points over Djokovic, but the serve came out (inaudible). (Inaudible) feel like these two same-generation know each other from the (inaudible) are the next big rivalry after the Federer-Nadal one.
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PINTO: And both players will be in action later today.
Formula 1 fans who thought the title race was over better think again. Only 10 points separate Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso at the top of the championship standing, with only two races to go. The Ferrari driver shortened the gap on his rival after finishing second in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday. Vettel finished third, which was still a great result, considering he had started the race from the skid lanes.
So in last place, the two-time defending champion cut through the field to finish behind Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, who won his first grand prix since returning to the sport. He became the eighth different winner in what has been an absorbing season. Up next, the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas.
Well, you know what they say: better late than never. The Los Angeles Lakers won their first game of the NBA season on Sunday night, beating the Detroit Pistons at the Staples Center. After starting the campaign 0-3, the new-look Lakers finally got a positive result. Dwight Howard was a big reason for that.
The big man dominated inside and had 28 points. Here he is, finishing off a fast break with an Alley Oop slam. LA were up by 21 points in the second quarter and never looked back. Kobe Bryant only had 15 points, but he probably still had the most acrobatic bucket of the night. The Lakers led by 30 at one point in the second half.
Howard just had his way in the paint; another big slam, the Lakers winning 108-79. They're finally off the mark.
Kristie, that's a quick look at sports for this hour; back to you.
STOUT: Nice to see some Alley Oop as an adjective.
Pedro Pinto there, thank you.
You're watching NEWS STREAM. And coming up next, the battle for the U.S. presidency. On Election Eve, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney make a last dash through critical swing states. And we've got some big names to help them.
Plus, the changing of the guard in China. The last time it happened was 2002 and now it's happening all over again. We'll have a close look at this once-in-a-decade transition.
STOUT: I'm Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong. You're watching NEWS STREAM, and these are your world headlines.
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STOUT (voice-over): It is down to the wire in the U.S. presidential race. On this final day of campaigning, incumbent Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are still trying to win over voters. They are dashing through critical battleground states with just hours to go until Tuesday's election.
Now the latest national polls, including a CNN survey, showed that the race is in a virtual dead heat.
The damage caused by superstorm Sandy in New York and New Jersey could have a major impact on the voter turnout there. Counties in New York with turnout that's less than 25 percent of registered voters can request a second election day to be held no later than 20 days from Tuesday.
South Korea has shut down two nuclear reactors after discovering that some components do not meet official quality standards. The government says the parts were covered by fake quality certificates and will now be replaced. They are fuses and power switches.
And authorities say that there was no risk of any radiation leak. But there are concerns that the shutdown will leave South Korea short of power.
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STOUT: Both candidates for the presidency are criss-crossing the country in a final frantic bid to secure undecided votes ahead of Tuesday's election. President Obama's first stop is Wisconsin, then Ohio and Iowa and he'll head to Chicago for Election Day. Mitt Romney, his day starts in Florida, then Virginia, Ohio and New Hampshire. And he'll spend Election Day in Boston.
And both candidates are roping in big-name rock and political stars for their appearances on the final day of campaigning. And for more, we have CNN's Dan Lothian covering the president's movements in Madison, Wisconsin.
And, Dan, in the final days of the campaigning, what is the president doing? How is he appealing to voters?
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, twofold. First of all, you were talking about the big names that are helping to warm up the audiences before the president comes out. Today, it's Bruce Springsteen. He will be warming up with a 30-minute concert here.
We'll also be traveling with the president to Ohio and then finally in Iowa, where the president began his political life, I guess you could call it, on the national stage more than four years ago.
So they use these big-name entertainers to draw in these audiences, but also to energize them.
The other thing that they -- the president has been doing is sort of making a case for the next four years. His vision for the next four years, but also talking a lot about what he has been able to accomplish. Now Mitt Romney has been hitting the president, saying that his policies over the last four years have failed.
But the president is making this case, laying out, sort of ticking off a list of things that he has been able to get done. He said he promised to end in the war in Iraq; he did that. He said he promised to wind down the war in Afghanistan; he promised to get Osama bin Laden. He promised to get health care reform.
And so these are the things that the president is using to say, look, I started something; I need to finish it. Give me another four years. And you know, to the argument that the president has not delivered on all his promises, he says, look, Congress has gotten in the way of some of the progress that he wanted to make.
And he believes that in another four years, he can chip away at some of those things, Kristie.
STOUT: And that appeal being summed up in a single word behind you, being used on all those posters: forward. Now how does the president himself appear on the campaign trail? Do you think he's relishing, enjoying the moment?
LOTHIAN: You know, he is. I was talking to a senior campaign official yesterday, and I was told that this has kind of been a nostalgic trip for the president over the last few days.
He's being surrounded with what I call the Class of 2008, and these are some of these loyal friends and the campaign staffers and aides who have been with the president from the very beginning. Some have moved on, but now they're coming back.
Reggie Love, the president's body man, who has moved on, coming back on the trail with the president for these final hours. So he's surrounding himself with close friends and these close aides. And this adviser told me that, you know, as the president does various things out here on the trail in these final hours, he's thinking, wow, this is the last time.
For example, he's working the rope line. He's thinking this is the last rope line or one of the last rope lines that I will be working as a political candidate or a candidate for presidential aspiration. And so, yes. It's a very much sort of go down Memory Lane for the president. But he's very much focused on winning and the campaign is very confident.
The reason that they're confident is because they believe that they've been able to establish a very critical ground game in these important battleground states, where they have a network of thousands of volunteers.
In addition to that, they say they've been able to make one-on-one contact with about 125 million people over the course of the campaign. So they feel very good about where they're at right now, confident going into the election.
STOUT: All right. Dan Lothian, traveling with the U.S. president, live for us in Madison, Wisconsin, in the final swing through the swing states.
Dan, thank you very much indeed for that.
And it's not just the United States. The world's second largest economy will also make major leadership changes this week.
China's Communist Party begins its 18th national congress on Thursday. And when it ends, we expect Xi Jinping to be named the party's new general secretary. Security is tight ahead of this once-in-a-decade political transition. Media reports say authorities are cracking down on potential disruptions, said to include pigeons, balloons and even model planes.
Amnesty International says more than 100 activists have been detained. On Twitter, (Inaudible) says he is hassled during every party congress. He also criticized restrictions on rolling down car windows near government buildings. It's supposed to prevent people from handing out anti-Communist pamphlets.
But Hu points out that such messages are being spread on Twitter and Weibo. And many netizens have complained of slow Internet connections ahead of the party congress. The government says maintenance work is being done, but denies reports that it is shutting down the Web.
The popular microblogs Sina Weibo has received a patriotic facelift. But the word for party congress or "shi ba da" is reportedly censored. So people are calling it "si ba da" -- Sparta -- instead.
So what goes on during this mostly closed-door gathering? Well, our senior international correspondent Stan Grant has more.
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STAN GRANT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The congress takes place every five years. There are more than 2,200 delegates. They come from right across China. They represent the regions and the provinces.
They also are drawn from the People's Liberation Army state or in enterprises and financial institutions. It's their job to set the course, to set the agenda for the party, to review where the party is at, and of course all importantly, this year, to select the new leadership.
GRANT: The Communist Party is a very secretive organization. And the way that it operates is often very opaque. They don't like surprises; they don't like mishaps. This entire leadership change, the congress, been very, very carefully scripted, very carefully planned. Now there are not going to be any surprises.
We know what is going to happen here. We know about the change of leadership. We know who is likely to be appointed to these positions. Very unlikely that we are going to see any shocks.
GRANT: Xi Jinping is still a bit of a mystery. No one really knows exactly what type of leader he's going to be. He's been quite cautious with his public comments. Over the past year, we have seen a little bit more of him.
He's traveled widely and met with world leaders. He is someone who is known as a princeling, someone who is the son of a revolutionary hero. So he's very much steeped in the lore and the history of the Communist Party. He is a son of the Communist Party.
GRANT: Every day when you open a Chinese newspaper or turn on Chinese television, you see the leadership. You see President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao. And over the past year or so, we've seen a lot more of Xi Jinping as well, out meeting people, greeting world leaders, traveling widely.
Very interesting: for a period of the year, he vanished. He disappeared for more than two weeks. There was speculation about his health, maybe he had a stroke, maybe he had a heart attack. Some even suggested that he'd gone on strike. There has still been no answer to that. He's very much a mystery as to what Xi Jinping is all about.
But people here are very, very aware of him, and not just because of his political profile, but he's also married to a woman who, during the 1980s, was a very popular folk singer in China.
GRANT: This has not been smooth at all. Who would have predicted at the beginning of the year that we would have seen so much upheaval at a time of leadership transition? Bo Xilai, a man once touted as himself a potential future president of China, has been purged from the party. His wife is in jail for murdering a British business associated. Bo himself is now awaiting trial.
Remember Chen Guangcheng? He was the blind activist who escaped house arrest, brought worldwide attention and fled to the United States. On top of that, the economy is slowing; the gap between rich and poor is getting wider and there is more social unrest, all of this playing out at a time when they go through a generational change at the top of the Communist Party.
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STOUT: Stan Grant there. And you can find complete coverage of China's political transition on our website. Just go to CNN.com/China.
And among other things, we have a link to this Twitter list, tracking the latest China chatter.
Staying in China, Beijing has been hit by very heavy snowfall. Let's get the latest now with Mari Ramos. Let's go back to her. She's at the World Weather Center. Mari?
RAMOS: Hey, Kristie, so many people caught by surprise at this first major winter storm coming so early to northeastern China. We've had other ones, but this one came right into the main areas of Beijing. And I think so many people were left with a situation like this, having to plow their way out of a -- really that situation.
Let's go ahead and roll the pictures, because at night, that's when it became the worst because so many people were trapped on the roadways in the freezing temperature with near-zero visibility. The roads were practically impassable, as you can see from these pictures.
And you can tell it's pretty bad when -- look at these next (inaudible) video. When the police needs help, the police cars needed help getting out of the snowdrifts. Now this was about, what, they had maybe 71/2 -- excuse me -- about 51/2 centimeters of snow in a period of about 24 hours.
But in some cases it may have been more. That's pretty significant snowfall in an area that really was not prepared to see this kind of situation. It's slowly returning back to normal.
If you come back over here to the weather map, 7 right now in Beijing, so a lot of that snow, of course, melting. Watch out for flooding and slushy roads, but overall the travel situation should be improving there. Everyone should have a safety kit, an emergency winter safety kit. If you live in these areas where it could snow, if it's cold enough to snow, could catch you by surprise.
If you're traveling or just on the roadway, put it in the trunk of your car and just keep it there. I'm going to tweet in just a little while what you should have in that emergency kit.
So what we have here, cold, 6-12 degrees below the average conditions. You can see that area of low pressure continuing to spin here. It's going to bring some heavy rain across the Korean Peninsula, some cold rain, maybe snow in the highest elevations and also across North Korea. I think South Korea's just going to be pretty cold weather.
And then snowfall's possible across the higher elevations also as we head toward Japan. That weather system is already -- you're already seeing some of the effects of this with some very heavy rain at times across the highest elevations and some windy weather also across Japan. But that area of low pressure still way back here, that's where the windiest conditions are.
So that pool of cold air will continue coming down, cold and dry for most of you, across mainland China. Not doing too bad here as we head across the south and east. We are going to take a break right here. NEWS STREAM. Don't go away. We'll be back right after this break.
STOUT: There has been fresh violence in Syria. Reuters news agency reports that there has been a suicide car bombing in Hama province. It cites the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. And the opposition group says that the bombing has killed at least 50 members of the Syrian security forces and gunmen loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. And CNN has not independently confirmed that.
Meanwhile, Syrian opposition groups are meeting for a second day in Qatar's capital of Doha in an effort to unify the rebellion. And for more on this story, Mohammed Jamjoom joins us now from Beirut, where he's been following the (inaudible) there. And he joins us now live.
And, Mohammed, your thoughts on what's happening with the Syrian National Council meeting; it's in the spotlight. Can its members come together and lead the opposition?
MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's the key question, Kristie. It really will depend on the outcome of this four-day meeting in Doha. Now the SNC called this meeting in Qatar so that they could first elect a new president; also replace half of their executive board and really try to have a more cohesive opposition group to lead the opposition.
The SNC, the Syrian National Council, has acted as a sort of umbrella group for the different, the various opposition groups inside and outside of Syria. But it's starting to come under more international criticism because they say the leadership is out of touch, that most of the people that comprise the SNC haven't lived in Syria for years.
Now George Sabra, the spokesperson for the Syrian National Council, was asked about what exactly their intentions are with this meeting yesterday. Here's more of what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE SABRA, SPOKESPERSON, SNC (through translator): For us in the national council, we have made a decision to partake in negotiations and talks with other opposition movements in order to discover the duties of the forthcoming period and the necessary role we need to play as Syrian opposition figures in order to speed up the fall of the regime and start a new phase to transition the country to freedom and democracy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JAMJOOM: Now the key thing that Sabra is saying there is that they're going to be meeting with more opposition groups to really try to streamline this process.
As I mentioned before, the Syrian opposition, they've started to come under more international pressure to really get their act together so that they can more international banking -- backing -- and they can have -- so there would be more of a cohesive group, Kristie.
STOUT: Yes, the SNC is trying to broaden its base. But is there an alternative to the Syrian National Council? Are there other opposition figures and groups who can unite against Damascus?
JAMJOOM: There are other groups that are trying to get more international backing right now. There have been various Syrian opposition groups the last several months that have come out at different times, tried to formulate, try to have conferences and really what it highlights most of all is the divisiveness, is the bickering that goes on within these various opposition groups.
The fact that they've not really been able to unify, to come up with some sort of cohesive group that the international community that's backing the Syrian opposition can really get behind to try to form some sort of post-al-Assad transitional government, it really shows the fractiousness that's involved there.
And that's why you've seen more critical statements by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, for example, saying that the SNC shouldn't play as visibly a leadership role in the Syrian opposition because the international community has started to tire of the fractiousness and the divisiveness.
And they're seeing that the Syrian National Council really isn't being taken as seriously in a leadership capacity as the Syrian National Council says that they are, Kristie.
STOUT: Mohammed Jamjoom reporting for us, thank you.
Now you're watching NEWS STREAM. And still ahead, we have a different look at the U.S. election. Political moments gone viral. Now millions of people watch, laugh and share. But can Internet memes determine a political race? That story, coming up next.
STOUT: Welcome back. Now a pound of Obamaloney and don't forget the Romnesia. This U.S. election cycle's coming to an end, but slogans from the campaign could stick around for a while. Jeanie Moos has all the hottest catchphrases from the race.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just in case you've missed the entire presidential campaign so far...
JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: With all due respect, that's a bunch of malarkey.
MOOS (voice-over): ... let us catch you up with Catchphrases 2012.
OBAMA: You didn't build that.
ROMNEY: I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.
OBAMA: The private sector's doing fine.
ROMNEY: I love Big Bird.
BIG BIRD, MUPPET: Awk!
MOOS (voice-over): Sure, they may make you want to scream.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Corporations! Big time...
ROMNEY: Corporations are people, my friend.
MOOS (voice-over): Most of them were delivered off the cuff, then took on a life of their own.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Corporations are people's my motto.
ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS SENATE CANDIDATE: No, Governor Romney, corporations are not people. People have hearts.
MOOS (voice-over): They are quips that just won't quit. For instance, when President Obama accused Mitt Romney of playing Robin Hood in reverse.
OBAMA: It's Romney Hood.
ROMNEY: And if I were to coin a term, it would be Obamaloney.
MOOS (voice-over): Obamaloney? Romney Hood? What's next?
OBAMA: I think it's called Romnesia.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, that's very cute, Mr. President, but what are you going to do for the future?
MOOS (voice-over): Actually, don't give the president and his speechwriters all the credit for the term suggesting Governor Romney has forgotten his previous positions...
OBAMA: You've probably got Romnesia.
MOOS (voice-over): ... the Obama campaign may have caught "Romnesia" from Twitter. Politico reports the term was first tweeted months ago.
But most catchphrases just come tumbling out.
ROMNEY: And he brought us whole binders full of women.
MOOS (voice-over): And the next thing you know...
BIDEN: He started talking about binders.
MOOS: ... the opposition is brandishing a visual aid.
Take when a senior Romney adviser described moving from the primaries to the general election.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's almost like an Etch-a-Sketch.
MOOS (voice-over): That had Stephen Colbert reaching for the closest Etch-a-Sketch, shaking it up in an empty paint can, pulling a rabbit out of it.
MOOS: But you know who the Etch-a-Sketch comment was really good for? The makers of Etch-a-Sketch. Right after the comment, sales of these things spiked about 1,000 percent.
MOOS (voice-over): Catchphrases get etched on T-shirts. They get turned into viral videos.
OBAMA: You didn't build that.
MOOS: Even an empty chair.
CLINT EASTWOOD, ACTOR: What do you mean, shut up?
MOOS (voice-over): . can become a catchphrase -- in this case, aimed at President Obama when he blew the first debate.
The good news is that a year or so after the election...
OBAMA: We might have a case of Romnesia.
MOOS (voice-over): ... we're all going to have Obamaromnesia, a condition which erases all 2012 catchphrases.
REP. PAUL RYAN, GOP VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: And, Mom, you did build that!
MOOS (voice-over): Jeanne Moos, CNN...
OBAMA: Man, you've definitely got Romnesia.
MOOS (voice-over): ... New York.
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STOUT: From Big Bird to "we built it," you just saw there on Jeannie's report some of the top Internet memes that have been culled from the campaign convention. But can a viral political moment affect the vote?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
"SARAH PALIN": No, thank you. But I would like to talk about being an outsider.
"PALIN": You see, well --
STOUT (voice-over): We all remember that viral video. That was comedian Tina Fey impersonating then-Republican U.S. vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin on "Saturday Night Live" in 2008.
And according to research published in "The Boston Globe," a 2008 nationwide survey of college students revealed that Palin's approval rating was cut in half among students who had seen the comedy sketch compared to those who had not, evidence that a meme can make a difference.
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STOUT: Of course, we have to wait and see what happens on Tuesday. And stay with CNN for the very latest on the U.S. election and this programming note: there will be no NEWS STREAM on Tuesday or Wednesday as we bring you special coverage.
Now the news continues with "WORLD BUSINESS TODAY".