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CNN ELECTION CENTER

'New York Times' Rejects McCain Article; Obama's Mideast Tour

Aired July 21, 2008 - 20:00   ET

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


CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, everybody.
Barack Obama's trip to the war zone is turning into the photo-op to end all photo-ops. He is receiving an astounding amount of media coverage. Today in Iraq, the candidate flew into the Green Zone with General David Petraeus and met with Iraqi leaders and that's after weekend stops in both Afghanistan and Kuwait. You might not know it, given some of that media coverage, but this is in fact a two-man race.

And don't think for a minute that John McCain is going to stand by and let all Obama's tour suck all the air out of the room. McCain had a presidential looking photo-op of his own, as he stood side by side with former President George H.W. Bush today in Maine.

But tonight in our coverage of some of the coverage, one place McCain will not appear, at least not for now, is the op-ed page of "The New York Times." The paper whose motto is all the news that is fit to print turned down an opinion piece from the candidate, even though it had just published one from Obama. We are going to tell you why tonight.

Plus, one top evangelical leader's change of focus. James Dobson of Focus on the Family, who has said back in January he would not vote for John McCain, his words, under any circumstance, well, now he says, he might endorse McCain, but just not yet. What is all that about?

We are going to talk about that, all of that and more, with no bias, no bull. This is the ELECTION CENTER.

But first let's get right to that "New York Times" controversy. The paper's op-ed page published a piece by Barack Obama last week "My Plan For Iraq." Well, then John McCain submitted his own piece, which read in part: "I am dismayed that he" -- that is, Obama -- "never talks about winning the war, only of ending. A triumph for the terrorists would be a disaster for us. That is something I will not allow to happen as president."

Well, McCain then gets a big fat rejection from "The New York Times." And his campaign forwarded this e-mail to pretty much everybody.

And it reads -- quote -- "The article would have to articulate how Senator McCain defines victory in Iraq. It would also have to lay out a clear plan for achieving victory, with troops levels, timetables, and measures for compelling the Iraqis to cooperate."

Well, then the McCain camp said that John McCain believes "that victory in Iraq must be based on conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables. Unlike Barack Obama, that position will not change based on politics or the demands of 'The New York Times.'"

Fighting words for the gray lady.

And the paper's response? They say: "It is standard procedure on our op-ed page and other newspapers to go back and forth with an author on his or her submission. We look forward to publishing Senator McCain's views in our paper, just as we have in the past."

So, what is really going on here?

Well, here to talk about it from Portland, Oregon, radio talk show host Lars Larson, here with me in New York, "New York Observer" columnist Steve Kornacki, and in Washington, CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger.

Lars, I can only imagine what you think of all this. Is it an example of media bias run amuck or is it possible that the piece just didn't meet their standards?

LARS LARSON, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Campbell, what else would you expect from a daily dead fish wrapper like "The New York Times"? Their bias has shown for a long time. They specialize in selling low- cost ads to groups like MoveOn.org. So, why wouldn't they dis John McCain when he comes forward with a piece?

I guess it's intelligent in some cases not to let people just do tit for tat on the op-ed page. But when the two people doing tit-for- tat are the two major presidential candidates, it makes perfect sense to let your readers read that back and forth. It tells them so much about the policy issues that are being talked about.

BROWN: How do you argue with that, Steve, honestly?

STEVE KORNACKI, COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK OBSERVER": Lars says dissing John McCain. Was the op-ed page of "The New York Times" dissing Barack Obama when it ran an op-ed last month from a man who suggested that because of the Muslim roots on his father's side of his family that Barack Obama would be the target of an assassination attempt if as president if he went overseas?

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Bring it back to the argument we're having right now.

KORNACKI: It is an op-ed page. It is not a clearinghouse for press releases issued by the campaign. You do not call up the op-ed page of a respectable...

BROWN: This wasn't a campaign press release, though. This is John McCain's views on the war. Why shouldn't they be put up in his own words against Barack Obama?

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: Did "The New York Times" say no to him or did "The New York Times" say...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: They wanted to edit his words.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: The man is running for president.

KORNACKI: As they do to all authors, did they say, here's what it takes to get on the op-ed page of "The New York Times"? Do you want to make news? Do you want to your views around Iraq, John McCain? That's what the newspaper is for.

The op-ed page is a very specific part of the newspaper. It deals with -- and the op-ed of "The New York Times" -- this is the paper that endorsed Hillary Clinton in the primary, by the way, not Barack Obama. And the op-ed page, if you read what has actually been on the op-ed page of "The New York Times," it does not hew strictly to Obama's vision of the world and Obama's vision of politics.

Just on Friday, "The New York Times" op-ed published the most amazingly hawk piece I have seen on an op-ed page of a major newspaper in this country on the issue of the Iran war, a piece that hews exactly to John McCain's...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Lars, make your point. I want to bring Gloria in.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Lars, quickly.

LARSON: They're trying to tell the candidate what kind of words they will allow him to say in their pages. And that's not the job of a newspaper.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: It may be for other writers, but for the two presidential candidates, I don't know. I kind of agree with Lars on this.

But, go ahead, Gloria. What do you think?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Campbell, I think if you take a step back, you take a look at the McCain campaign, which has always had terrific relations with the press, and, now, suddenly, they think that, and they will tell you that Barack Obama is being treated like a rock star, and they are being treated unfairly.

I spoke with a senior adviser in the McCain campaign who said to me -- and I quote -- "The press is treating us like a speed bump on the road to history."

OK? OK? And, so, they -- in this particular case, they clearly leaked this story because they felt it was to their advantage. I'm not privy to the way an op-ed page is put together. I think that's clearly up to the editor of "The New York Times" to do their op-ed page. But the McCain campaign for its own reasons decided to make this a political issue.

BROWN: Go ahead, Steve.

KORNACKI: It makes perfect sense why the McCain campaign would make this a political issue.

The right wing as we're seeing on this show tonight hates "The New York Times," hates the -- quote-unquote -- "liberal news media."

(CROSSTALK)

LARSON: They're biased.

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: You play victim.

They're biased, Lars, this is the op-ed page. If you read the op-ed page of "The New York Times" on a daily basis, you are going to find it does not hew to Barack Obama and to Barack Obama's politics. It actually lays out a lot of arguments for the issues that John McCain is arguing for.

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: So, to sit here and say that, even though they are going to put out all sorts of op-ed pieces that will basically argue for John McCain's presidency, not to mention Bill Kristol, one of their op-ed columnists, who is practically an adviser to the McCain campaign.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: I think you could make the case that, if you go back and you look at Barack Obama's op-ed, that Barack Obama did take a swipe at John McCain in his op-ed, just as John McCain takes a swipe at Barack Obama in his op-ed.

Now, if op-ed editors of "The New York Times" don't want that, you then shouldn't have it on either side.

KORNACKI: This is not a news story where you need to go to one side for comment and then go to the other side for comment. It's an op-ed page.

(CROSSTALK)

LARSON: But it is the job of the paper to guide the message of the people writing on the op-ed page? Then it's not an op-ed page.

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: Have you ever written an op-ed? That's exactly what the process is like. They will guide you in making your arguments.

(CROSSTALK)

LARSON: I have written plenty of them.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: This is a different case. These are the two presidential candidates. And most people, I think, want to hear directly from them and not to have them edited by anybody, frankly.

But this is a much bigger issue that goes maybe generally toward the media coverage, more generally, of Barack Obama in this campaign and whether there's a fair case to be made that the media is in lust with Obama at the moment. We are going to talk about that and more later on.

But stay with me, guys, lots more coming up, including Barack Obama's trip to Iraq. It's supposed to be a congressional fact- finding mission. Your taxpayer dollars are paying for it, but it sure looks like a campaign tour. How did that happen?

Plus, how John McCain is fighting back here at home with a photo- op of his own.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Now we turn to Barack Obama's world tour.

And maybe you couldn't follow it over the weekend, so let's catch you up with the view now from 30,000 feet.

Obama secretly flew from Washington to Kuwait on Friday, stopping at a U.S. military base. And that's a major gateway for troops moving in and out of Iraq. Saturday, hew flew to Afghanistan. On Sunday, he met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Today, in Iraq, Obama met with the commander of U.S. forces, General David Petraeus, as well as Iraqi leaders.

Obama's next stop, Jordan, Israel and the West Bank.

(AUDIO GAP)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely.

In words and in pictures, this seems as though it's been a pretty good day for Barack Obama. He met with top Iraqi officials, including Prime Minister Maliki. He also took a helicopter tour with General Petraeus, who of course is in charge of coalition forces in Iraq.

And what excites the Obama people most of all is indications from the Maliki government that, in fact, they're kind of on the same page when it comes to a withdrawal timeline, if you will, for U.S. troops, as Obama is, and that is in 16 months or so. If you ask the Obama people, they will tell you, this was not just a good day. It was a great day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): Barack Obama is 6,200 miles from the nearest U.S. campaign trail, but, as he steps into the international arena, the imagery sent back home is all American, commander in chief- like, a helicopter tour of Iraq with David Petraeus, the general in charge of multinational forces, a chow-down with the troops in Afghanistan, basketball with U.S. forces in Kuwait.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator, how is the trip?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Great so far. Thank you.

CROWLEY: But if there is anything better in politics than imagery, it is timing. And Barack Obama has it.

OBAMA: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you so much for having me.

CROWLEY: He arrives in Iraq as the Maliki government said it hopes U.S. combat troops will be out of Iraq by 2010, pretty much Obama's 16-month timetable.

OBAMA: We had a very constructive discussion.

CROWLEY: And though Maliki says his previous statement that Obama's timetable seemed about right was misinterpreted, and in any case not an endorsement of Obama, it was more than enough for the Obama campaign to claim their candidate is more in synch with conditions in Iraq than John McCain.

OBAMA: Excellent to see.

CROWLEY: Likewise, politics and on-the-ground developments dovetailed in Afghanistan, where Obama visited with President Hamid Karzai and U.S. troops. The trip comes amidst a resurgence of al Qaeda and an increase on attacks on coalition troops there. It lends weight to Obama's argument that the war in Iraq has distracted the U.S. from the real war on terror in Afghanistan.

OBAMA: We have got to have a clear strategic vision that uses all of our power, our economic power, our diplomatic power, our intellectual power, as well as our military power, to help make this world safer.

CROWLEY: This trip could help bolster Obama's foreign policy credentials, though he told CBS he sees it more like laying the groundwork for his presidency.

OBAMA: The objective of this trip was to have substantive discussions with people like President Karzai or Prime Minister Maliki or President Sarkozy or others who I expect to be dealing with over the next eight to 10 years.

CROWLEY: Iran ends Obama's Pentagon-sponsored portion of his trip. From there on out, to Jordan, Israel, France, Germany, and England, a it's campaign-paid journey aboard the Obama campaign plane.

His campaign insists this is not a campaign trip; it is an opportunity to discuss substantive issues with world leaders. In the end, it's a balancing act, looking presidential without seeming presumptuous, looking like a diplomat who could repair the U.S. image overseas, while seeming like a man tough enough to stand up for U.S. interests.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Candy, you spoke about pitfalls in your piece. What are some of the things that the campaign is worried could go wrong?

CROWLEY: Well, I have to tell you, if you ask them, they will say, well, we're not worried. He is very at ease on the global stage.

But there is a fine line that you don't want to walk over. You don't want to seem as if you are playing too hard to the Europeans. That doesn't sit well in a lot of states. You don't want to seem too European. You also don't want to be too presumptuous. You don't want to look as though, well, I'm going to be president, so, therefore, I'm out here talking to all these people. He is talking to opposition leaders, as well as leaders of this country.

And, obviously, he could make a mistake and sort of undermine one of the main purposes of this trip and that is to kind of buff up his commander in chief credentials.

BROWN: And, Candy, looking ahead tomorrow, he arrives there, where you are in Jordan. What is on the agenda?

CROWLEY: He will have a meeting with King Abdullah. And he will meet with the press. So far, those are the two official things.

He also later in the afternoon, early evening, will take off for Israel. This is a very quick trip, Campbell. He is going to five nations in just about five days. So, just as he lands in one, they get prepared to go to the next.

BROWN: Candy Crowley tonight for us from Amman, Jordan -- Candy, thanks.

CROWLEY: Sure.

BROWN: Let's go back now to our political panel, talk show radio host Lars Larson, "New York Observer" columnist Steve Kornacki, and our senior political analyst Gloria Borger.

Steve, let me start with you and talk about the politics of this trip, how it's playing with people at home. And we heard Candy say we're talking about it's bolstering his foreign policy credentials, his commander in chief cred. But does it really? If you have doubts about his experience, does him going overseas for a week really convince you that he's got what it takes?

KORNACKI: I think it works on a subtle level, because I think a lot of public opinion is really based sort of at an emotional level. And we don't really appreciate that sometimes.

But I think the most threatening poll number we saw about Barack Obama came out last week when it found that 24 percent of voters sort of view him -- are comfortable with idea of him as the commander in chief. The number for McCain is like 72 percent.

A lot of that is based on emotional factors. McCain sort of looks, acts the part. We're familiar with him. He's sort of a tested figure on the national stage. Obama isn't.

So you go overseas like this and it produces, it produces images, it produces sounds that people see, that respond to. On a more basic emotional level, it starts to create more of a comfort level with the idea of him being the leader of military, a guy who is over there meeting with foreign leaders, with the troops, the guy who is in the war zone.

And plus it helps take a Republican issue off the table, too, because the McCain campaign was really making an issue about, wow, he's never been to Iraq as a candidate.

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: So, it takes that issue away from them, too.

BROWN: Hey, Lars, do you agree with that? Is there any downside here?

LARSON: Well, here's the thing.

Number one, it is a campaign trip and is being funded by the American taxpayers. And that will be offensive.

Number two, he's talking about dealing with them for the next eight to 10 years? What, did we just change the Constitution and extend to two-and-a-half terms for Barack Obama? This is a guy who can't figure out if there are 57 states or 57 Muslim states.

And he's acting like a commander in chief? I don't think so. And I don't think a week overseas is going to fix the problem he's got, that he doesn't know what is going on.

KORNACKI: When it comes to slip-ups, I think he's a little ahead of George W. Bush in that department.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: And come on. John McCain has plenty of the same. If that's what you're hanging your hat on, I think that it's a hard argument to make, Lars.

But, Gloria, is this a win-win for the Obama campaign, just -- if given nothing else, the level of attention he's getting?

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Right.

So far, it's going quite well for him. But I think the question that Obama has to answer, very directly, which John McCain asks at every opportunity, is, do you now believe the surge worked?

Obama likes to talk about how wonderful the troops are, but the question is, directly, did the surge strategy actually work? That's a direct question that deserves a direct answer.

BROWN: Steve?

LARSON: And he's not going to answer it, is he? Because there's only one answer. It did work. We did win. The mop-up is happening. There are going to be troops coming out of there, whether Barack Obama becomes president or not. So, what's he going to promise the left now to make them happy?

KORNACKI: Well, there's a question that has to be asked on the other side, then, too, as well, because Barack Obama has been saying steadily through this campaign that you need a 16-month timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.

And John McCain has been disparaging the idea of a timetable. He's been saying it's too premature to talk about that, and even when we get to that point, the idea of a timetable itself is totally unfeasible. Now you have the prime minister of Iraq saying, not only is a timetable OK, but the timetable that Barack Obama himself has set of 16 months meshes with his idea of when the U.S. troops ought to leave. John McCain hasn't even come around to that reality yet.

(CROSSTALK)

LARSON: And there's a world of difference...

BROWN: Well, hold that thought, because I want to get to John McCain. And, Lars, I know you will have a lot of say about that.

What exactly is John McCain doing now that the world traveler, Barack Obama, is monopolizing the media's attention? Well, it could be a lot more than shaking hands. Coming up, what is in the air when it comes to veepstakes?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: John McCain met with the first President Bush in Kennebunkport, Maine, today. And he probably hoped that some of that old commander in chief glow would rub off on him.

But he's not just trusting photo-ops to keep his campaign in the spotlight.

As Dana Bash reports, McCain came out swinging at Barack Obama today over Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the shores of Maine to raise campaign cash with his host, the first President Bush, John McCain tried to shrug off all the attention his rival is getting overseas.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is what it is. And I'm confident that we will do very well and succeed.

BASH: But that belies an intense McCain effort to keep Obama from using his trip, especially to Iraq, to burnish his foreign policy credentials.

MCCAIN: It is the surge that is winning this war. He opposed it.

BASH: McCain's message? Barack Obama may have the spotlight, but I'm the one who should get the credit.

MCCAIN: When you win wars, the troops come home. And we are winning. And the fact is, if we would had done what Senator Obama wanted to do, we would have lost, and we would have faced a wider war.

BASH: What McCain aides are trying to protect is one of the few areas he beats Obama, big-time, ability to be commander in chief.

The latest "Washington Post" poll gives McCain a 24-point lead on the issue. And some Republicans are quite alarmed at the Iraqi prime minister's weekend comments that appeared to support Obama's 16-month withdrawal deadline, which McCain opposes.

(on camera): Does it trouble you that that seems to undercut the message that you have against Barack Obama?

MCCAIN: It doesn't in the slightest undercut the fact that it's based on conditions on the ground.

BASH (voice-over): McCain pointed to the U.S. military commander for political backup, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen, who said this Sunday about Obama's withdrawal plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY")

ADMIRAL MICHAEL MULLEN, JOINTS CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: I think the consequences could be very dangerous in that regard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: I hope we pay attention to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, particularly someone who has no military experience whatsoever.

BASH (on camera): That line hitting Obama for lacking military experience was no accident. With everyone from the White House to the Iraqi government talking more and more about troop withdrawal, what McCain wants to do is make this a debate about who's best to be sitting in the Oval Office to make tough calls on when and how to bring troops home, not to mention how to deal with other hot spots around the globe.

Dana Bash, CNN, Kennebunkport, Maine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And we want to bring back our political panel once again, Lars Larson, Steve Kornacki and Gloria Borger.

Gloria, with all the media attention that he is getting, Barack Obama, on this overseas trip, do you think on any level that it was mistake for the McCain campaign to put so much emphasis on his lack of experience there in this first place?

BORGER: No.

Obviously, that's McCain's calling card. As Steve was talking about earlier, you look at the commander in chief poll, and it's clearly national security is McCain's strong suit. Having said that, though, I think this notion of McCain sort of standing out there and talking about how Obama has to admit he was wrong, he has to admit he is wrong, yes, he does have to admit the surge is working, but maybe McCain should move on, as was the original plan, to talk about the economy, to talk about domestic policy, and how he has experience as somebody who works with Democrats across the aisle, and do a little counterprogramming this week, rather than continuing to focus on what Obama is focusing on.

BROWN: Lars...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Go ahead.

LARSON: Yes, I was about to agree with Gloria. And then I realized what she's really saying is, now that we have realized that John McCain was right -- and I'm not the biggest John McCain fan -- and Barack Obama is wrong, couldn't we just kind of leave that alone, since Barack won't admit that he's wrong?

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: No, no, no, that's not what I was saying.

I'm saying, I think it might be smart politics to talk about something else.

LARSON: OK. Fair enough. Fair enough.

But try this on for size. Here's Barack Obama refusing to leave the position that he can crystal ball 20 months in the future, 16 months after he becomes president. If we go back about 16 months, let's go back to January of last year, when Barack Obama backed legislation that would have had all U.S. troops by March of this year, in which case he wouldn't have been able to visit there as a presidential candidate, because it would have been too darned dangerous for him to go there.

It's safe for him to go there today only because we didn't listen to him a year and a half ago and now he wants to tell us it would be smart to listen to what he wants to happen, have happen a year and a half from now.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: You do feel like, Steve, that's it is going to come down to -- addressing the surge is not something that he's going to be able to avoid.

KORNACKI: Right. But, at this same point, they're both sort of in a bind here, because McCain doesn't want to address the fact that he's been disparaging the idea of timelines, he's been disparaging the idea of looking into the future, like Lars just said, and here is the leader in Iraq, the man we put there, the prime minister, the democratically elected man.

He is now saying a 16-month timetable from Obama's inauguration works for me. The second issue here that you have to consider is American public opinion beyond the question of the surge. And that is the simple fact that, if you look at a poll now, two-thirds of voters consistently now for the last couple of years have said it was mistake to go into Iraq in the first place.

This is a war people stopped wanting a long time ago. They stopped believing it had anything to do with 9/11. They stopped believing it ever should have been waged. So, the success of the surge, to the extent there is any, is almost immaterial to the fact that Americans want out.

BROWN: Gloria?

BORGER: Campbell, American opinion is pretty solidified on the war. Even despite the success of the surge, 60 percent of the American public says that the war in Iraq was a mistake. So, take that off the table, because people aren't going to change their minds right now about that. They want to know what is going to happen to their pocketbooks, what is going to happen right here to the economy.

BROWN: All right, guys, Lars and Steve, thanks very much to you both.

Gloria, you are going to stay right there.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Because, coming up, we're talking veepstakes buzz. Possible vice presidents are jockeying for position. Rumors are flying. Could there be an announcement soon?

And James Dobson, he also says that he's changing his mind about John McCain, but he hasn't endorsed him yet. Can this candidate get the religious right on his side, still?

That's coming up next in the ELECTION CENTER.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: One way for John McCain to counter all the attention Barack Obama is getting this week would be to pick up a big endorsement or how about choose a running mate? On both counts, the buzz has definitely picked up.

So we want to go back now to CNN's Dana Bash who is in Kennebunkport, Maine, where Senator McCain visited former President Bush today.

Also with us again, senior political analyst Gloria Borger. And guys, at least on the veepstakes idea, there has been plenty of buzz. The Internet going crazy with at least one report that John McCain could name his choice this week. Dana, what are you hearing?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, some sources, Campbell, say that it could be this week. Other sources are saying, well, I'm not going to steer you away from that.

On the record, McCain's communications director Jill Hazelbaker says it won't be this afternoon. So there is a big question mark in there. And that is, on purpose, Campbell, what they are trying to do and this was decided at some point today, inside the McCain campaign, is to get the buzz out there to try to distract from Obama's campaign and his trip, I should say, abroad. Whether or not it is true, that is the goal here at this point.

Now, the reality is what we're hearing is that it's more likely to be later in the summer, maybe around the Democratic convention. The other reality, as you well know, because we've been reporting is that the McCain campaign is just getting up and running in some staff changes and retrying to gregarious (ph) the campaign and not a lot of people think even inside the campaign that they're really ready for this kind of big rollout of their VP pick.

BROWN: OK, Dana. So wait, Gloria, is this possible that somebody would leak a false story to the media to throw them off of the trail? Could that be possible?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm shocked. I'm shocked. There's gambling going on.

Look, this is clearly, somebody told John King that this could be a head fake, that they're leaking this to us because they want to distract from Obama. And, of course, the biggest story that we could get, Campbell, would be McCain having a vice-presidential pick.

Having said that, I talked to some people who said to me, look, there have been discussions about whether we ought to name a vice president sooner, rather than later. The candidate hasn't decided. And there are lots of people who think you ought to wait, as Dana was saying, and counter program. So I think it is more likely that they're going to wait. But clearly, that's been the buzz today and guess what? We're talking about it.

BROWN: All right, Dana, I do want to shift gears a little bit before we let you go here and talk about James Dobson who's the founder of Focus on the Family. He has a huge evangelical following, a huge conservative following. And today he inched a little closer to backing John McCain, definitely not a ringing endorsement, though. Tell us about it.

BASH: That's right. He said he is likely, more likely than he was before to endorse John McCain. You're right, not a ringing endorsement. But definitely a 180 from where he was after John McCain secured the nomination, which is basically saying, there's no way I'm going to support this guy.

So what we're seeing here really, Campbell, is two very stubborn men. I spoke to John McCain about this the last time Dobson dissed him, saying, why don't you just pick up the phone and call him. And he basically said, you know, I'm not going to do that. But, you know, what we're seeing also is sort of a feeling inside the evangelical community that John McCain may not be perfect, far from it. He has a lot of work to do, but they're looking at the alternative in Barack Obama, and saying, he's a lot worse.

There was a meeting in Colorado a couple of weeks ago where rank and file evangelicals found that James Dobson is a leader in the community. He doesn't want to be left holding the bag or left with anybody suggesting that he helped Barack Obama get elected by staying silent.

BROWN: All right, Dana Bash and Gloria Borger. Thanks guys, appreciate it.

BASH: Thank you.

BROWN: And to all of our viewers out there, if you think that you know who is going to get the vice-presidential nod on either side, go to CNN.com/electioncenter and click on the veepstakes link. We have set up a game that works a little bit like the stock market. You can predict the winner and check the political fortunes of every possible running mate.

Oh, we have ambiguity there. For the Republicans right now, Mitt Romney is the current leader, followed by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.

For the Democrats, Senators Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, top choices at this moment. It could change, though. Again, to make your own picks in our veepstakes game, logon to CNN.com/electioncenter.

And coming up, why your tax dollars are covering the expense of Obama's big world tour.

And the hurricane watch along the Texas coast. We are tracking Tropical Storm Dolly, and we're going to have the very latest on that for you coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: This just in to CNN right now. Tropical Storm Dolly is getting organized and strengthening. Dolly is targeting the Texas/Mexico border. And then there is Tropical Storm Cristobal now just off the East Coast.

Chad Myers is live in the CNN's Severe Weather Center with the very latest. And Chad, first, give us an update on where Dolly is right now.

CHAD MYERS, METEOROLOGIST: Still about 400 miles from Brownsville, Campbell. That's about 481 miles or 480 miles from Corpus Christi, Texas. And you say, well, how can that be?

Well, because it's just a little bit farther to get to Corpus Christi so that's actually going to be in on the timing as well. When it's making landfall, it will have to go farther. If it makes landfall around Corpus Christi, it will be a closer trip if it makes landfall near Brownsville.

There is the storm. It's almost filling up the entire Gulf of Mexico now with high clouds. And that tells me that it is getting stronger and the Hurricane Center said yes, it is in fact getting stronger.

There are many other things to worry about in here, Campbell, and that's also talking about the oil fields. I mean, we just have so many platforms out there. You may be have expected the oil prices to spike today. They didn't spike because all these little dots that we have up here, here are some of the oil platforms are.

From about Houston all the way back over to Louisiana and almost through about Mississippi/Alabama border, not to many down here in Brownsville, where all the computer models are taking this storm. So maybe a little breath of fresh air or this little bit of relief that we're not going to see this storm move through the oil fields. So we'll see that as it moves a little bit closer tomorrow, probably a hurricane though as it makes landfall in Texas somewhere.

BROWN: All right, what about Cristobal? Is that going to impact the northeast?

MYERS: Well, we are still seeing big waves from Cristobal. And this thing is still about Corpus Christi from Cape Hatteras still eastward for about 250 miles. So well offshore and moving away but enough wave action coming on shore from the Delmarva right through Virginia Beach and on up even into the beaches of New Jersey that we have a lot of rip currents going on out there. That's the only real threat would be if you're in the water a rip current could take you out. You need to be careful, otherwise just stay on the beach and enjoy your vacation -- Campbell.

BROWN: OK, Chad Myers for us. Chad, thanks.

MYERS: You're welcome.

BROWN: We have got some new information in, an important developing story.

Coming up next, an accused war criminal is finally caught after more than a decade on the run.

And later, he shoots these scores. Yes. He knows the cameras are rolling. We're going to have more on the stagecraft behind Barack Obama's world tour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Coming up, the stagecraft to Barack Obama's world tour and why. We will find out why the U.S. taxpayer is paying for this trip.

But first, Ted Rowlands is in Los Angeles with tonight's "Briefing" -- Ted.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Campbell, some breaking news from Guantanamo during the first U.S. war crimes trial since World War II. Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's former driver, is accused of conspiracy and supporting terrorism. The judge has just ruled that prosecutors cannot use evidence obtained during coercion. Hamdan claims he was beaten and abused after he was captured in Afghanistan.

One of the world's most wanted men is in custody tonight. The war time leader of the Bosnian Serb, Radovan Karadzic, was arrested tonight after a 13-year manhunt. Investigators call him a mastermind of killing thousands of Muslims.

A break for the Feds investigating the salmonella outbreak. FDA inspectors found salmonella in one jalapeno pepper at a Texas packing house. They say it's the same bacteria strain that made 1,200 people sick. The FDA has told consumers to avoid certain spicy peppers.

In Philadelphia, a veteran TV anchor is charged with hacking his co-anchors personal e-mail. Prosecutors say Larry Mendte of KYW-TV logged into Alycia Lane's account more than 500 times and leaked her personal info to the tabloids. His attorney says Mendte will accept full responsibility.

And a big shuffle for NBC's late night lineup. The network confirmed Jay Leno's final tonight show will be May 29th, 2009, after 17 years as host. Conan O'Brien will move in when Leno moves out.

And Campbell, I think the other networks will be moving in line...

BROWN: I know.

ROWLANDS: ... to scoop him one-on-one (ph) and if he's available.

BROWN: It's going to be an interesting -- a lot of maneuvering going on there. Anyway, Ted, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

Coming up in our "War Room" tonight, how John McCain can counter all the publicity Barack Obama is getting from his overseas trip. And since Obama is on the world stage, is he using world class stagecraft? We're going to show you what is really going on next, "No Bias, No Bull."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Barack Obama talked to officials in Iraq today about his plan to pull U.S. troops out and that is serious business. Yet Obama's trip to the war zone is also full of stagecraft, every detail carefully managed from a photo session with a top general to a game of basketball with the troops. And Erica Hill is here now with some perspective on all those photo ops -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Campbell, it is so much about the photo ops here. Of course, Barack Obama's campaign is built on his opposition to the war so to build his credibility, he is off to tour that war zone, high profile, very high fixed stagecraft, which offers plenty of photo ops, including this one right here smiling with the troops, to present Barack Obama as a man who looks like he can handle the job of commander in chief.

Now, a couple of really important points here. Not all of the stagecraft was handled by Senator Obama's staff. That's because technically this year, all of this hand shaking in the meeting of the troops is not a campaign trip. Instead, it's actually a congressional delegation.

He's there with Senators Reed and Hagel. You can barely make them out (ph) organized the trip was by the Defense Department. It was paid for not by his campaign but, Campbell, by you, me, even Senator McCain. That's to say, the U.S. taxpayers.

McCain has also been on eight of these trips. His most recent one coming last spring after he secured the Republican nomination, Campbell.

BROWN: All right, so what were the prime photo ops on this non- campaign trip?

HILL: Well, it never hurts to show that you're one with the troops. You need those photo ops with the troops for any lawmaker on the war zone, candidate or not. Really important here though for Obama because he has never served and because he's against the war.

So here he is shooting some hoops that with them are the troops to build a rapport with some soldiers featured here in Kuwait. So you're playing a little basketball, also signing autographs, we should say, never hurt.

There he is there with pen in hand. But what's really interesting to us is, check this out, right up there. I'm going to pull it out, make it a little bit bigger for you, show you what he was signing, copies of "Rolling Stone" magazine with Barack Obama on the cover.

I'm not sure if that's supposed to be some sort of subliminal message that he may be a rock star on his campaign's part or not. But since a good commander in chief stays with his men, Obama also joined soldiers in Afghanistan for breakfast in the mess hall. There he is serving himself right on down the line to show that a good commander, of course, always stays with his troops -- Campbell.

BROWN: Of course. But this isn't just about fun and games or bacon and eggs with the troops. It's all good PR, but it's really about the pictures in the papers that come with him out there on the world stage looking like a leader, isn't it?

HILL: So true. The world stage, that's the goal, to send the message that Obama can, in fact, hold his own internationally, which is where all of these shots come into play. You just saw him with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Here he is with Nouri al-Maliki, of course, the prime minister of Iraq. Of course, the campaign is hoping that this makes him look presidential.

One of his most important photo ops though on this non-campaign trip, Campbell, could in fact be these right here, a helicopter tour with General David Petraeus, gave him a guided tour of Baghdad. Here they are here in the helicopter.

This is especially important because remember, Barack Obama didn't support the surge that General Petraeus led. John McCain did. So could this shot perhaps show voters that he will listen to commanders on the ground? That is what we'll find out if the stagecraft actually worked, in this case, stagecraft with some help from our taxes and also Uncle Sam.

An important side note, just before he left on this trip, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice apparently sent out a memo to all U.S. embassies saying, no extra help for any presidential candidates traveling overseas, Campbell.

BROWN: Interesting stuff. All right, it's all about the pictures. Erica Hill for us tonight. Erica, thanks.

"LARRY KING LIVE" coming up in just a few minutes. Glenn Beck is sitting in for Larry, and he's going to talk to a big name who's on the hot seat right now, right, Glenn?

GLENN BECK, HOST: Yes, Michael Savage has some explaining to do. He does it at the top of the hour on "LARRY KING LIVE."

The radio talk show host called autistic children idiots and morons earlier or late last week. We'll see what he's saying tonight. He joins us live.

Also, we'll talk about Barack Obama's trip to Iraq and John McCain's op-ed piece that was rejected from the "New York Times." Next on "LARRY KING LIVE."

BROWN: All right. Coming up next, McCain's strategy to stay in the spotlight. What he can do to counter all of this coverage of Obama in Iraq. That's when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: In the "War Room" tonight, dueling photo ops, Barack Obama is meeting leaders in the Middle East while John McCain has been side by side with Republican heavy hitters here at home. Each campaign wanting to showcase its man as the most presidential. So how are they doing so far?

Here to talk about it and what it will take to get the job done, former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, and Republican strategist Leslie Sanchez.

Welcome guys. Well, Leslie, as you know, as everybody knows, it's getting tons of coverage, Obama making headlines on this abroad trip. Take a listen to what Senator McCain had to say about when he was directly asked about the trip earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you feel that the fact that Senator Obama is over there now, takes attention away from you? Are you going to be able to get equal attention this week or not?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't know, but we continue our campaign. We'll do the town hall meetings where, you know, it is what it is. And I'm confident that we'll do very well and we'll succeed. But -- so it is what it is. Yes, sir.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: It is what it is.

LESLIE SANCHEZ, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right.

BROWN: So Leslie, what can he do to try to shift the media's attention? How important is it right now?

SANCHEZ: Sure, Campbell, but being president is more than compiling a pop-up book of pretty pictures. I think that John McCain is exactly right. He's going to have to run his own campaign. He needs to focus on the areas where he could show his bona fides, and that is the economy. He needs to be building strength there talking about the economy, health care, taxes, the home mortgage crisis and really show that he is somebody who can really weather the storm and continue to grow our economy. It's his best area.

BROWN: Willie, while Obama is in the Middle East, McCain made some joint appearances. We're going to show some of those pictures. Here he is with Rudy Giuliani. This is at a Yankees game yesterday.

Earlier today, he appeared, as we saw earlier, with former President Bush, or Bush 41, in Maine. Two high profile Republicans. Does this resonate in any way with the base? Does it help him in that way? WILLIE BROWN, FMR. SAN FRANCISCO MAYOR: Oh, I don't think that it takes anything away from him, however, Barack Obama is on the scene. Barack Obama is the story. Barack Obama dominates the headlines, he dominates -- he's the lead story period. McCain should just play it straight, stay put and wait for his opportunity.

BROWN: But let me put this to Leslie, conservative columnist Robert Novak wrote this in today's ""Washington Post." That "Obama's visit to Iraq spotlights the question that McCain wants asked: Who can best lead America in a dangerous world?"

Does McCain need to actively do anything to answer that question? Or in a way does Obama's trip just highlights how little foreign policy experience he has compared to McCain?

SANCHEZ: You know, there's a couple of things. You're looking at three years of experience with Barack Obama, and 35 years of experience in an area with Senator McCain.

But to be fair on that, I think a lot of people believe McCain needs to define success in Iraq. And until he does that in a way that middle class voters and conservatives fundamentally understand, you're going to have that clout hanging there. It's a strong area for him, but it still needs a definition.

BROWN: And Willie?

BROWN: And I would tell you this. I think Barack Obama is doing exactly what needs to be done and experience in this case, highly overrated, highly overrated.

SANCHEZ: You know, Campbell, the part I disagree with is a lot of people fear that Barack Obama's inexperience will cause and put the U.S. in difficult situations and make us vulnerable.

BROWN: So far, Obama's made no mistake. He's doing all right.

BROWN: OK. All right, guys, we got to end it there. But to Willie Brown, to Leslie Sanchez, as always, appreciate it. Thanks, guys.

Coming up next, the latest on Tropical Storm Dolly. It could be a hurricane when it hits the gulf coast.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: As we leave you with a quick mention of the top headlines from the ELECTION CENTER tonight, alleged war criminal, Radovan Karadzic, has been captured after more than a decade in hiding.

Also, we'll be keeping an eye on it. Forecasters say Tropical Storm Dolly could be a hurricane by the time it threatens the Texas coast on Wednesday. Stay tuned to CNN for all of the latest details on Tropical Storm Dolly. We'll be watching it for you.

That's it for me in the ELECTION CENTER. "LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.

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