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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

Interview With John McCain Following Medical Procedure; Veepstakes Handicapped By Party Insiders

Aired July 28, 2008 - 21:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Tonight, John McCain. With 100 days until the election, why are questions about his health back on the agenda?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's a risk that everyone...

KING: What does he really think about Barack Obama's overseas tour?

MCCAIN: Actually, I was glad that he went to Iraq.

KING: And is he ready to tell us who his vice presidential pick will be?

MCCAIN: I want to say that that vice presidential candidate...

KING: The presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain, right now on LARRY KING LIVE.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We begin tonight with Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. He is in Bakersfield, California.

Good to have you with us, Senator.

You had a mole-like growth removed earlier today. What's the story?

MCCAIN: Actually, it was just a little spot on my face. I go to a routine check-up every three months, Larry. And as you can see, it is just a routine thing we do quite frequently for those of us that, when we were young, we had great exposure to the sun. As you know, my dad was in the Navy and we lived in places where I was at the beach a lot and that's -- I'm paying a price for that. But it's fine. It's a routine thing and I get it done every three months or so.

But I want to, again, urge our viewers -- if you remember anything I say, then I'd careful of the sun, especially with children because this melanoma is an increasing threat to the lives of Americans and people all over the world.

KING: Senator, do they biopsy something like that? MCCAIN: Oh, yes. Every once in a while, yes they do. They take a little, tiny piece and biopsy it, just to be on the safe side. And that's the thing about melanoma, as opposed to sometimes other forms of cancer, as you know, Larry. If you just have a discoloration, if you have anything, go ahead and see your dermatologist and let the dermatologist check it out.

KING: When do you get the results of this biopsy?

MCCAIN: I think tomorrow. I've had -- I've had many in the intervening years. And by the way, also, that's -- those of us who have very fair skin it's, doctors will tell you, even a greater risk. But it's a risk to everyone. It's a risk to everyone. And don't think that it isn't, no matter what your background is or your ancestry. Be very careful.

KING: Is it fair that voters should be concerned about your health though? You've had four melanomas surgically removed. It's, if not an issue, it's certainly a concern isn't it?

MCCAIN: I don't think so, Larry. As I say, melanoma is something if you look at it, and you be careful, it's fine. I had one serious bout with it and that was, frankly, due to my own neglect because I let it go and go and go. In fact, I was running for president at the time. I'm not making that mistake again.

Look, there's a lot of things going on but that certainly isn't one of them.

KING: And the rest of your health is OK?

MCCAIN: It's great. It's -- very invigorated, feeling great, having a lot of fun. And, as I have told you before on this show, a guy that stood fifth from the bottom of his class at the Naval Academy in America -- anything is possible.

KING: Senator Obama has taken flack for a recent overseas trip. Your campaign called it a premature victory lap. He was asked about such criticisms yesterday at a Unity of Journalists of Color Conference in Chicago. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was puzzled by this notion that somehow what we were doing was in any way different from what Senator McCain or a lot of presidential candidates have done in the past. Now, I admit, we did it really well --

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: -- and that -- but that shouldn't be a strike against me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Senator, you criticized him for the trip, a trip that you told him to make. MCCAIN: Actually, I was glad that he went to Iraq. I was puzzled and befuddled by the fact that he announced his policy towards Iraq and Afghanistan before he went. I had hoped that he would go, and for the first time, sit down and get a briefing from General Petraeus. You know he never had before?

I had wished, in a way, that he had a hearing in the subcommittee that he chairs on Afghanistan since he has the responsibility oversight of NATO. But incredibly to me, still, is that he does not acknowledge that the surge succeeded. No rational person could go to Iraq in the last few days and compare it to two years ago and not acknowledge that the surge has succeeded. And that's why I question very much why he would continue to fail to acknowledge that a strategy -- admittedly -- he condemned it, he said it wouldn't work, he said that it would make things worse, et cetera.

But at least he ought to acknowledge -- after getting briefed by General Petraeus and meeting these brave young Americans who have sacrificed so much in making sure that this strategy succeeded -- that he should acknowledge their success. How do you welcome this last brigade home that's coming home and say, hey, great job, but by the way, you didn't succeed? I don't know how you do that.

KING: But was he right in saying that a lot more emphasis should have been put on Afghanistan?

MCCAIN: Well, listen, this is -- if we had failed in Iraq, our complications in Afghanistan would have been far, far more complicated.

What Senator Obama doesn't understand is that they are all connected. If we had lost the war in Iraq, we would have had much greater problems in Afghanistan. And also, the strategy that he said wouldn't work in Iraq is the same strategy we have to employ in Afghanistan. It's not just to increase the number of troops; it's secure and hold, it's a government that functions more effectively, it's taking on the narco-traffickers, it's the issue of Pakistan, which is of course the border area -- it's uncontrolled. So it's got to be an overall strategy. And Senator Obama does not understand that, just like he didn't understand the situation in Iraq.

KING: So you're not criticizing him for the trip, which you told him to make, you're criticizing him for what you say is a lack of awareness?

MCCAIN: Lack of understanding -- complete lack of understanding of what America's national security threats are.

But the other thing is that, of course -- the fact that in Germany he did not go to Landstuhl. And I can assure you that the troops welcome, especially those who are the gravely wounded ones, welcome American senators. And if he had wanted to go with just a staffer, I am confident that he could have gone, rather than cancel his trip to see those brave young Americans.

But it's also about bringing back prosperity. KING: He must have understood that. Why do you think he didn't go?

MCCAIN: I have no idea except that I know that according to reports that he wanted to bring media people and cameras and his campaign staffers and I want to guarantee you, if I had gone to Landstuhl, which I have and met with the troops there and met with the wounded but if I had gone there and the military had said, you can't see these wounded people. I guarantee I'd have been on the phone with the secretary of defense immediately. I'd have seen them.

KING: We'll be right back with Senator McCain with what everyone wants to know. Who might his running mate going to be? That's ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: I said I would rather lose a campaign than see America lose a war.

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KING: We're back with Senator John McCain. We have an e-mail question from Scott in Chappaqua, New York. We haven't heard that city mentioned in a while: "I have noticed particularly in the past few days that you've increased your use of negative ads and personal statements about Senator Obama. Whatever happened to your assurances you would not engage in such negativity? What about your calls for a civil and respectful campaign?"

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, I admire and respect Senator Obama. He has done a great job securing the nomination to his party. He also used his opposition to the war in Iraq as a way to secure that. Look, there are just start differences between us and those differences need to be drawn, whether it be health care or he wants basically government to run the health care program. Whether it wants taxes where he wants to raise taxes whereas I want to keep them low.

To our national security requirements and including offshore drilling. He's opposed to offshore drilling. He is opposed to nuclear power. Right now the American people are hurting very badly as you know, Larry. They are sitting around the kitchen table trying to figure out how they can do all these things and these are stark differences and the American people in my view need to hear about them.

KING: So you're saying it's not negative, it's differences of opinion?

MCCAIN: Oh yes. I mean, they are clearly differences. Senator Obama is against storing spent nuclear fuel or reprocessing it. I favor it. He is against offshore drilling. I favor it. Those are strong differences.

KING: You opposed offshore ... MCCAIN: And Americans care a great deal.

KING: You opposed offshore drilling ...

MCCAIN: Yes, when oil was a buck. When oil was $1.80 a gallon or $1.20 or whatever it is. Now it is right around $4.00 and so of course. But I also believe states should be making those decisions as well but I'd love to give them some more incentives to do so.

KING: In 2004, you were asked what the United States would do if the sovereign government of Iran - of Iran asked you to pull out, even if the United States wasn't happy about the security situation. Do you stand by that? If Iraq said "pull out," would you say OK?

MCCAIN: Sure, but the fact is that even Prime Minister Maliki has stated that it was condition-based and more importantly, or as importantly, Senator Obama's dates for withdrawal proposal, which, by the way, his original proposal they would have been out of there last March but the present proposal, our highest ranking military officer, Admiral Mullen, said would be very dangerous.

General Petraeus said that it would be very dangerous for us to pursue that strategy. I also would listen very carefully, particularly to General Petraeus, who has carried this incredible surge which many political pundits on your show said that had no chance and that the war was lost.

Harry Reid announced the war was lost. General Petraeus should be listened to. And he shouldn't drive all decisions. But at the same time, the fact is that the Iraqis are interested in their security as well and we will negotiate with them on a conditions-based basis and we'll withdraw because we've succeeded and we're coming home in victory.

Senator Obama said he might have to go back. I guarantee you, when they come home under my plan, they won't have to go back.

KING: In that regard, you said Friday on CNN that you thought 16 months might be a pretty good timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. And that sounds a lot like what Senator Obama has been saying. So what's the difference there?

MCCAIN: I love these days of the sound bite. I said it has to be based on conditions on the ground. Senator Obama said it's a hard and firm date. That's why the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said it had to be conditions based and said that his approach would be very, very dangerous. The way the question was asked, why not 16 months? The fact is we have to be conditioned based and we are withdrawing. The last brigade from the surge is coming home at the end of this month or early next month and we will be having further withdrawals based on conditions.

Now whether that fits into 16 months or not, or one month, or whatever, the point is it's got to be conditions-based and that's the point General Petraeus is trying to get over as we go into this political season. KING: If you were president and knew that bin Laden was in Pakistan, you know where, would you have U.S. forces go in after him?

MCCAIN: Larry, I'm not going to go there and here's why, because Pakistan is a sovereign nation. I think the Pakistanis would want bin Laden out of their hair and out of their country and it's causing great difficulties in Pakistan itself.

But I want to assure you I will get Osama bin Laden as president of the United States and I will bring him to justice no matter what it takes.

KING: You have said quite a bit lately in all of your speeches practically that you will never do anything just for politics. You will stand on your own philosophy and not go the political route. Can't we say that Senator Obama did that when he opposed the war in Iraq and 80 percent of America favored it? Wasn't he standing on a principle?

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, he was in the Illinois State Senate.

KING: Right. But he still vocally expressed it.

MCCAIN: Well, the fact is we achieved significant victory initially and it was the failed strategy afterwards by Rumsfeld that I stood up against and was called disloyal by Republicans for saying we had to have this new strategy and we had to win. I am glad Saddam Hussein is not in power anymore. He used weapons of mass destruction twice, once on his own people and there's no doubt he would be trying to acquire and use weapons of mass destruction again.

I think the world is better off with a stable ally in the Middle East in the form of an Iraqi government that is an ally and friend.

KING: If this would go back, start all over again, would you go into Iraq if you could go back?

MCCAIN: I think the world is better off knowing what I know at the time and the fact that Saddam Hussein was bent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction, $12 billion Oil for Food scandal. American airplanes were being shot at. Sanctions were breaking down. It's clear that he wanted to go back and acquire weapons of mass destruction and use them. I don't think there is any doubt. I think we did the right thing. I think that it was a colossal intelligence failure on the part of the United States and every other county as to whether he had them or not. But again, I would remind you, I said we would have an easy victory. We did.

And then we employed the wrong strategy which doomed us to failure and we were losing this war when I said we had to have this new strategy all along and stoop up for it when most political pundits said that my career was finished.

KING: Some more moments with the Senator, the vice presidential question and answer, maybe, next.

You're watching LARRY KING LIVE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: I will always, always put my country first and I look you in the eye and tell you I will never let you down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We have a history on this program that whenever the vice presidential nominee is announced, he or she appears on this show the next night. It's been going on for quite a while. We hope that Senator McCain follows that tradition since I have a hunch he will not announce tonight who that candidate is.

But how close are we?

MCCAIN: I want to say that that vice presidential candidate will be on your show. I will not risk the wrath of Larry King. I want to assure you.

KING: How close are we?

MCCAIN: We're in the process. As you know, if I comment on it in any more detail then it causes a flurry of speculation. We are blessed with a large number of people who I think would serve not only as vice president but as president and so I really can't comment much more.

KING: OK.

MCCAIN: On the process, Larry.

KING: A recent poll ...

MCCAIN: I know you understand that.

KING: I understand. But a recent poll says 60 percent of registered voters think you should definitely pick a running mate with strong economic credentials. Is that fair?

MCCAIN: I think whatever the American people think is fine. I do want to emphasize again my economic credentials including being chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Science and Transportation, every part of our nation's economy, which I have extensive experience in and I have five Nobel Prize winners and over 300 economists who think my economic plan is a good one.

So we'll be talking a lot about the economy, about keeping people in their jobs, about energy independence. Right now as you know, Americans are hurting very badly and I've got to show them and am showing them a positive plan for a strong economic recovery and I want to emphasize to you again. I believe America's best days are ahead of us but we've got to make tough decisions like nuclear power. We've got to drill offshore. We've got to do a lot of things that will maximize the ingenuity and entrepreneurship of America, including keeping people in their homes.

KING: Senator, this is a fair question, I think. You don't have to tell us.

MCCAIN: Any question you give - any question you ask is fair, Larry.

KING: We go back a long way. I rode the bus with you.

Do you know who it is?

MCCAIN: Oh, no, no, of course not, really.

KING: OK. Will you announce it before the Olympics? Isn't this a timing, strategic question?

MCCAIN: I don't know because again if I assume that, then where we are in the process, I can tell you that I will announce it just as soon as the process is completed but it won't be driven by any other factors, the Olympics, or any other. It will be strictly on when we can arrive at a conclusion and obviously it's tough because we have so many highly qualified individuals.

KING: Men and women?

MCCAIN: Yes, sir, men and women. And if I start running down the list, I'll get in real serious trouble.

KING: Concerning the Olympics, if you were president, would you attend the Opening Ceremonies?

MCCAIN: You know, I don't think I would particularly in light of the Tibetan situation. I want good relations with China. I recognize China is an emerging superpower but frankly I don't question the president's decision and it's a decision only a president can take. As a private citizen I think that the television coverage of it is going to be very excellent.

KING: Well said.

All right. The next president will apparently, according to all announcements, will inherit a budget deficit of more than $480 billion. And I know we can't answer that in a short time. How are you going to deal with that?

MCCAIN: First cut spending. We let spending get completely out of control. Everybody talks about raising taxes. I want to keep them low but the point is, it wasn't taxes, it was spending. We presided over the largest increase in the size of government since the Great Society and we mortgaged our children's futures, to the great disgrace of the Republican Party. We let earmarking and corrupt spending get to the point where we mortgaged our kids' futures.

And it's going to stop and we have to scrub every agency of government. We have to bring those troops home from Iraq, which we'll be saving money as the conditions permit them to do so with victory and we have to reform defense procurement and we have to do a whole lot of things but spending being out of control and entitlements being very much out of control, in my view, have caused the majority of our deficit problems along with it being the cause of much of our economic difficulties we're in today.

KING: Yes.

MCCAIN: Including greedy Wall Street people, including Congress that didn't do a better job.

KING: You said yesterday that you endorse an Arizona ballot referendum to eliminate affirmative action. Ten years ago, you described a similar effort as "divisive." What changed?

MCCAIN: You know, I don't know what we're talking about. About 10 years ago and I'm going to look it up. But I have a clear record of saying that I approve of helping people progress in America and in the world and I have always opposed a quote "quota" system.

The best, in my view, equal opportunity employer in America is the United States military where we take people who join our military and we give everybody an opportunity and we give them the best training and make them eligible for great educational opportunities.

The problem in America today in my view is we're condemning people who live in poorer communities in America, whether they be inner cities or rural areas, to a terrible education which then limits their opportunities. We've got to have choice and competition. We've got to have charter schools. We've got to have vouchers. We've got to have home schooling. We've got to give people a choice and an opportunity. The same one that Senator Obama had for his children and the same opportunity that Cindy and I had to send our children to the school of our choice and that's what we're condemning so many Americans to today is education which will never give them any the upward mobility and the equal opportunity that they deserve.

So I've always opposed quotas no matter where that quota is taken from.

KING: We're at the end of our agreed-upon time. One quick thing, are you going to campaign a lot with the president? Will you campaign with him a lot?

MCCAIN: I am always glad to be in his company but the fact is it's my campaign as you know and the American people didn't get to know me yesterday and even though I've differed on spending, on climate change, on a long range of issues, campaign finance reform. Other reforms that I have tried to implement on government. Opposition to earmark spending. All of those things. The American people will know me and my agenda for the future and I am very happy with where we are right now, Larry. And I always enjoy being on your show.

KING: Same here.

So you're saying you don't need a partner?

MCCAIN: I'm going to need a partner and I'll name that partner as soon as possible.

KING: Good seeing you, Senator, stay well.

MCCAIN: Thanks again, Larry. Thank you.

KING: How did Senator McCain do? We're going to ask some political insiders and observers right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Let's meet an outstanding panel to assess what we just heard. In Pebble Beach, David Gergen, CNN political analyst, a White House adviser in many administrations, in Washington, Dee Dee Myers, who was White House press secretary for Bill Clinton, a contributing editor to "Vanity Fair" and "New York Times" best selling author, and also in Washington, Terry Holt, national spokesman for the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign, former senior adviser to the Republican National Committee.

All right, David, over all, how do you assess Senator McCain tonight and how he's doing?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That was quintessential John McCain, Larry, warm, personable, a heck of a good guy, the kind of guy you would like to hang out with. On national security, he's focused. He understands and deserves a lot of credit on the surge. At the same time, on economic issues, he doesn't have much to say. There's not much electricity to it.

I don't think he made any news. From a campaign standpoint, I thought he was somewhat unfocused. There's not a message. The message seems to be, more than anything else, the person, a man you can feel safe with, a man who you think is decent, the safe choice. And I think increasingly, the McCain forces are trying to make Barack Obama seem, by contrast, the risky choice.

KING: Dee, Dee, do you think the health and the mole coming up today will be an issue?

DEE DEE MYERS, "VANITY FAIR": I think it's unfortunate timing for Senator McCain. He spent the first several minutes of the interview with you this evening discussing the mole, which underscores -- reminds viewers and voters of a couple things. One, he'll be 72 years old in the next few weeks and he's had some health issues in the past. That's something the McCain campaign didn't want to disrupt their attacks on Senator Obama today.

I agree with what David Gergen just said about the general tenor of the interview. Most of the time, I think John McCain seemed like a guy you could like. But he has to be careful. When he starts talking about Barack Obama, it gets very personal. He doesn't like this guy. He comes very close to seeming like the guy down the block standing on the front lawn, yelling, hey, kid, get off my lawn. I think he has to really watch his tone.

KING: Terry Holt, how do you view it? TERRY HOLT, FMR. SR. ADVISER, RNC: I thought in a long format like this, David is right. A successful politician has the chance to make a connection with his audiences. John McCain demonstrated that he has great experience and expertise in national security issues. He didn't get quite so much into the economic issues. I think that he can talk capably about his record as budget hawk, the ability to restrain spending and have that help the economy.

Ultimately, we're not going to be faced with any lack of distinctions between these candidates. One is fairly young and inexperienced, one maybe a little older than most people would like and very experienced. They are really very different, polar opposite views when it comes to the economy and national security. We will have plenty to choose from in this election.

KING: Terry -- David, rather, a puzzlement. We have a very unpopular president, maybe the most unpopular ever, an unpopular war, a tragic economic situation, gas prices through the roof. It looks like the Senate may have 60 Democrats. They will take major control in the House. Why is this presidential race so close, David?

GERGEN: That's one of the great mysteries, Larry. Just yesterday, there was a Gallup Poll showing Obama had opened up a nine point lead, 49-40. Yet today, there's a Gallup/"USA Today" poll among likely voters which has McCain up by four. We're in this highly puzzling mysterious time. It's clear that the way McCain is running -- it's a soft campaign. I do think Dee Dee Myers is absolutely right, and Chuck Hagel pointed this out in the last couple of days, a Republican senator who has been a friend of John McCain's in this past, that McCain has become very personal and sometimes deeply, I think, offensive to Democrats by almost impugning the patriotism of Barack Obama. I do think that because of the softness of the campaign, generally, on the Republican side, this is increasingly a referendum about Barack Obama.

It's very much like what we saw back in 1980, when Ronald Reagan ran against Jimmy Carter. The campaign became, is the country ready for Reagan. Over time, in the fall, especially, Reagan convinced people he was someone they would like and they voted for him. I think that's the Obama challenge now.

KING: Dee Dee, is, frankly, race a hidden issue here?

MYERS: I think in many it is. It's an unresolved issue in the country at large. We have a long and not particularly pretty racial history, and that's something that Barack Obama is realistic about. I think he understands that. He's dealing with it by campaigning directly. I think David Gergen is right that this is, in many ways, a referendum on Barack Obama. To the degree that he answers voters' questions about whether he's ready to be commander in chief, the closer he gets to winning the White House. I think that's why we saw John McCain tonight really try to draw distinctions, almost angrily at times, between his position of foreign policy issues and Barack Obama's, and why keeps saying, he doesn't understand; he doesn't understand; he doesn't understand America's security position in the world; he doesn't understand the threats to our security. Obama, on the other hand, has a lot at stake trying to reduce those differences, minimize those differences and minimize the different choices that voters will be asked to make in the fall. It's a long road ahead.

KING: When we come back, I'll ask Terry Holt how he thinks all this is going to play out. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The race for vice president.

MCCAIN: I can't comment on the process that we're going through.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's growing speculation this morning that both John McCain and Barack Obama are closing on naming a running mate.

OBAMA: I'm not interested in a vice president who I just send off to go to funerals.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Terry Holt, it was obvious from John McCain's last answer, he's not crazy about appearing jointly many times with the president. How do you see this playing out?

HOLT: There was an announcement made recently that the president is going to be appearing at the national convention on Monday night. I think that's appropriate. He's going to go in and ceremonially hand the reins over to John McCain, the new party leader in the fall. I suspect that both parties are going to have good energy coming out of the conventions. You're supposed to get about 90 percent of your own vote in the Republican and Democratic party.

I expect both candidates are going to get good enthusiasm there. And that means the independents are really at the heart of what we're going to be competing for in this elections in the fall, and that means McCain, as the maverick, as the guy with the bipartisan rhetoric, is going to really rely heavily on that part of his profile to succeed among independents.

I think my fellow guests are exactly right. Barack Obama has to close the deal with the American people, has to demonstrate he's a safe choice in order for independents to come his way.

KING: Do you mean to say, Dee Dee, there are still people who don't know who they're going to vote for, a lot of them?

MYERS: I think that's generally the case. You have a large block on each side that are loyal to the Republican or Democratic party, and most of those voters have made up their mind. There is a substantial portion, generally in the middle, often independents or soft Democrats or soft Republicans, who wait until much later to make up their minds.

One of the interesting dynamics we're seeing throughout this race is that among Democrats, there is a lot more enthusiasm. Fully 50 percent of Democrats say they're enthusiastic about Barack Obama's candidacy, while only about a third as many, 16 percent of Republicans say they're enthusiastic about John McCain's candidacy.

So there is a building enthusiasm gap that obviously benefits Senator Obama. But there's a long way to go.

KING: David, how do you see the debates playing?

GERGEN: I think they'll be pivotal, Larry, especially if this remains close, because it's going to be the first time we're likely to see the two together. The age difference, we've never had such a large age gap, 25 years, between the two rivals. When they stand side by side, that is going to become a much more important issue for both sides. I want to go back to this. I also think race is playing -- is a factor right now in why the gap is so small. One -- A person who is a major Republican strategist told me privately the other day he thought it was costing Barack Obama at this point maybe four to six points. I don't think there's any way to measure that for sure. It's definitely there.

One of the issues is, can he convince people over the course of the fall that with his youth, given his background and given the fact he is black, can he convince people he would be a good choice? I think there are a large number of people that definitely want to vote for him, but I think Dee Dee is right, there are some people who are really generally undecided and some are wavering.

KING: Thank you all. We'll be having all three of you back frequently. Everybody it seems is talking about the running mates except the candidates. Who's on the short list? We'll talk about that when LARRY KING LIVE returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In Washington, Kevin Madden, Republican strategist, he was spokesman for the Mitt Romney presidential campaign and, of course, supports John McCain and also Jamal Simmons, communications adviser to the Democratic National Committee, who supports Barack Obama. We asked Kevin and Jamal, two of our political regulars, to help us handicap the Veepstakes. They've each given us their top picks and a long shot. We will start with Kevin to run his down. Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota. Kevin, why him?

KEVIN MADDEN, FMR. MITT ROMNEY CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Larry, if there's one thing we know about John McCain, it's that he puts a very important premium on personal relationships. Tim Pawlenty is somebody that he's been working with for a very long time. He also comes from a swing state of Minnesota. If John McCain wants somebody that he can trust in the Oval Office with him, working alongside him, as well as deliver a swing in the general election, Tim Pawlenty is the guy.

KING: Former Governor of Massachusetts, and I guess your guy, Mitt Romney.

MADDEN: The economy is going to be front and center during this campaign. Democrats know it. Republicans know it. Who better than a successful businessman like Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney also brings a larger map. He can help win states like Nevada, Colorado, his home state of Michigan as well as New Hampshire.

KING: The former governor -- I said -- Senator John Thune of South Dakota.

MADDEN: John Thune is somebody who is very strongly known among a lot of social conservatives and economic conservatives. He's also a very young, charismatic, new up and comer in the GOP. He comes from a very small state like South Dakota, but he's also somebody that has a very strong personal relationship with John McCain. Again, that's something McCain will figure very prominently in his is decisions making.

KING: Former U.S. budget director Rob Portman.

MADDEN: Rob Portman has three reasons why he's on any list: Ohio, Ohio, Ohio. It's a very important battleground state. It's one that John McCain Believes is going to be ground zero during this election. And he also has very strong ability to talk on tax policies and trade policies, which Democrats are going to hit Republicans on.

KING: Someone you didn't list but we added him, the governor of Florida, Charlie Crist. Why didn't you list him?

MADDEN: Charlie Crist lost a lot of favor with social conservatives. They don't feel he's adequately conservative to be on a national ticket. He is somebody who has a very strong presence in a very important swing state. So there's still a lot of talk about him out there, but he has seemed in the last couple of weeks to have dropped off the list.

KING: And your long shot, Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia?

MADDEN: Jamal is probably going to tell you this: the Democrats are going to come after Virginia as a new swing state. And Eric Cantor is somebody who social conservatives really think is great. He's an up and comer in the GOP and he has very strong economic conservative credentials. If they're going to try and make Virginia a swing state, who better than Eric Cantor on the second part of the ticket?

KING: That was Kevin Madden analyzing the Republican possibilities for vice president. Now we turn to Jamal Simmons and the Democrats. Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia.

JAMAL SIMMONS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Tim Kaine seems to be the candidate who has a very big inside track. He's a change candidate. He's from outside Washington. Barack Obama has been talking about that. They really like each other. He was the first governor to endorse Barack Obama. So I think Tim Kaine is a choice that is just sitting there in the waiting. KING: Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana.

SIMMONS: Evan Bayh is popular. I spent the day sitting in airports, trying to get back to Washington, and people were talking about Evan Bayh as the VP candidate. He's from Indiana. It's a state that Barack Obama could win. He's from a region where Barack Obama has to win. He has a great-looking family. He's been a two-term governor, two-term senator. He checks a lot of boxes.

KING: Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island.

SIMMONS: Jack Reed's great. He's a former Army ranger. I met him for the first time in 2000 in Florida. He was out there for Al Gore during the recount. He was just out in the Middle East with Barack Obama. They seem to have a pretty good rapport and relationship. You got to think that he's on that short list too.

KING: But a small state.

SIMMONS: It's a small state, but historically, Larry, people haven't been choosing vice presidents based upon geography. Look at Dick Cheney. Look at Joe Lieberman. So I wouldn't count him out.

KING: Good point. Senator Hillary Clinton of New York.

SIMMONS: Senator Clinton is probably the most popular VP choice among Democrats. If she gets on that ticket, you'll have the most energized Democratic party that we've seen in a long time.

KING: And your long shot, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

SIMMONS: The one thing about VP choices, it's usually somebody that people aren't talking about that much. And Claire McCaskill is somebody people haven't been mentioning as much as some of the others. She's somebody you got to think is important. She's from Missouri. Obviously, that's a big state. She's a woman and a great campaigner for Barack Obama. As a United States senator, I think they would make a great team.

KING: We'll take a break. When we come back, we'll ask each of the gentlemen to give us their pick as to who will be the selection, and then how this race is going to go, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Kevin Madden, which of the Democratic possibilities would you fear the most? By fear, I mean the toughest candidate to oppose?

MADDEN: Well, Jamal and I have been talking about this a lot. I really do believe that it's a hard argument to make against Evan Bayh. I think he would be a very strong pick for one reason, and that's because he helps get a lot of those lunch pail Democrats that Barack Obama had a problem with in the primary. And the fact that he's from a red state and he does have some foreign policy experience up on Capital Hill, I think it would immensely help Barack Obama.

KING: Jamal, who on the other side do you fear?

SIMMONS: Here's the tough thing: John McCain has been trying to make an argument about experience. If he chooses someone like Tim Pawlenty or someone like Eric Cantor -- Eric Cantor doesn't really have the experience. Tim Pawlenty probably makes some since, but he's won two elections in Minnesota by less than 50 percent of the vote. So I think Barack Obama could still carry Minnesota and they would do pretty well. But McCain seems to like him.

The one I would really like to get ahold of is John Thune. He's a former lobbyist and in a year when Barack Obama says a lobbyist will not run his White House --

KING: Who do you fear?

MADDEN: He just narrowed it down, Larry. He said everybody else except my old boss, Mitt Romney.

SIMMONS: I don't think we fear anybody. I think Mitt Romney may be somebody, they don't have to do a lot of work to build Mitt Romney up. Mitt Romney's already got a national profile.

KING: Kevin, who do you think should be the vice presidential nominee?

MADDEN: Everybody knows that I'm biased because Mitt Romney I think brings the most to the economic experience to a ticket, as well as an ability to play to the state. But again, I have to go back to the fact that, knowing what we know about John McCain, he really does put an emphasis on the personal relationship. Because of that, I think it's more likely, if we were to rank these as one or two, I think Tim Pawlenty would be at the top of every list, because he has such a strong personal relationship with John McCain.

KING: Who do you want, Jamal? Who would be the best candidate on your side?

SIMMONS: The only person who knows the answer to that question is Barack Obama.

KING: I know, but who do you think?

SIMMONS: I think you can argue for either one of them. The two most likely, my guess, would be Evan Bayh and Tim Kaine.

KING: And no chance for Hillary?

SIMMONS: I wouldn't say no chance. I think it's a tougher argument right now. I would still say it's somebody like Evan Bayh, who maybe can pull across some Hillary voters, because he was a supporter of Hillary Clinton in the primary. Any of the people we talked about today could be the nominee.

MADDEN: There's a lot of people out there, Larry, who would love to see Hillary Clinton as part of the ticket. Nothing energizes the Republican base like Hillary Clinton on a ticket. KING: Kevin, you're a strategist. When is the best time to make this announcement?

MADDEN: When you look at the calendar right now, you have to figure which is the best chance for the McCain campaign to win a news cycle? I think that's probably going to come right after the Democrat convention. Barack Obama's going to give a big speech. There's going to be a lot of news coverage. I think the best strategy right now would be as a bounce suppression tactic, make sure that you name your candidate, your VP candidate just after the Democrats come out of Denver. That way you can mitigate any of the positive press they get out of there.

KING: That would be a weekend announcement then.

MADDEN: Well, there's nothing like putting it out there on a Saturday, letting it -- everybody talk about it all day on Sunday, and then on Monday it hits the newspapers.

KING: Jamal, when would be the best time for Obama to announce?

SIMMONS: You want to give your vice presidential candidate some time to be out on the road, for people to get to know him or her. So you want to make sure you've got enough days between then and the convention. Because then the convention takes over. So it could be right before the Olympics. It could be during the Olympics. You might be able to steal some thunder during the Olympics and get people to pay attention to presidential politics, instead of all the good, fun sporting events.

KING: Neither of you would wait until September?

SIMMONS: After the convention?

MADDEN: I think that if the Republicans get a chance to do it just a couple days before they go into theirs, and at the same time take a little steam out of the Democrats coming out of Denver, it would be a really good time.

KING: Only 15 seconds. How important, Jamal, will the vice presidential choice be?

SIMMONS: It will be key for John McCain, because John McCain has some pretty big weaknesses when it comes to the economy. He seems like he's not very prepared right now in some of his answers.

KING: We're out of time.

SIMMONS: That's going to be a big deal for John McCain.

KING: Kevin Madden, Jamal Simmons, thanks again. We'll be calling on you a lot. Check out CNN.com/LarryKing for podcasts, ring tones, photo galleries and our guest lists. Even sign up for our newsletter.

Tomorrow, we're going to talk about that scary new warning about cell phones. It comes from a prominent cancer researcher. Should you and especially your children put down your cell phones? That's a question every person should be asking themselves right now, including me. That's Tuesday night on LARRY KING LIVE.

Here's Campbell Brown with "AC 360." Campbell, you want to put yours down?

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Absolutely.

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