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THE SITUATION ROOM
Fighting Words From Barack Obama; McCain's V.P. & Abortion: Growing Anxiety on the Right
Aired August 20, 2008 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, fighting words from Barack Obama, his new get-tough strategy against John McCain just days before the Democratic convention.
And we're learning more about McCain's convention agenda himself. He's leaving conservatives guessing about whether his vice presidential choice will oppose abortion rights.
And Russian troops forcing the campaign issue of America's security. I'll ask the former secretary of state Madeleine Albright about the fallout for both Obama, as well as for the Democrats.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The conventions are getting closer. The presidential race is tightening dramatically. And Barack Obama is signaling a new determination to fight John McCain: fire with fire. McCain seems to be noticing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Today, Senator Obama got a little testy on this issue. He said I'm questioning his patriotism.
Let me be very clear. I am not questioning his patriotism. I am questioning his judgment. I am questioning his judgment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's bring in Jessica Yellin. She's been watching this story for us.
Obama, correct me if I'm wrong, he's been getting tougher, seemingly, every single day since he ended his Hawaiian vacation.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You are right, Wolf. And Democratic operatives have been worried for weeks that Barack Obama hasn't, in their view, been responding to McCain's attacks until now.
YELLIN (voice-over): Barack Obama, taking aim at John McCain...
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He wants to continue the same economic policies that George Bush has been doing for the last eight years. So my job in this election is to say, I honor his service, but I don't honor his policies.
YELLIN: ... and insisting he's as patriotic as his opponent.
OBAMA: I have never suggested and never will that Senator McCain picks his positions on national security based on politics or personal ambition. I've not suggested it because I believe that he genuinely wants to serve America's national interests. Now it's time for him to acknowledge that I want to do the same.
Let me be clear. I will let no one question my love of this country.
YELLIN: McCain has spent weeks challenging Obama's judgment and readiness, and he's managed to almost eliminate the Democrat's lead. So now the Obama campaign is hitting back, trying to change the topic with ads like these...
NARRATOR: John McCain support's Bush's tax cuts for millionaires, but nothing for 100 million households.
NARRATOR: Economics by John McCain support George Bush 95 percent of the time.
NARRATOR: Can we really afford more of the same? John McCain's tax plan for big corporations, $200 billion in new tax breaks.
STU ROTHENBERG, ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: Somehow the presidential campaign became about Barack Obama when Democrats thought it was going to be about George W. Bush and the state of the economy and Iraq. And so by going on the attack, he hopes to redirect the public's attention to, what's this about? It's about McCain, it's about Bush, it's about the economy.
YELLIN: And he's promising a spirited fight.
OBAMA: John McCain doesn't know what he's up against right now. I don't intend to lose this election.
YELLIN: And in a call with reporters that just ended, two of Barack Obama's top supporters called John McCain's attacks dishonest, desperate gutter politics, then went on to say McCain's national security record shows that he is reckless and trigger-happy. Notice that Obama is letting his surrogates make the most ferocious attacks, Wolf. One way for Barack Obama to avoid being called the same old typical kind of politician he says he doesn't want to be.
BLITZER: That's what surrogates were created for, right? That's what they're supposed to do.
BLITZER: All right. They seem to be having some fun with all of us, the Obama campaign, on the timing for his big announcement, who his vice presidential running mate is going to be.
YELLIN: Yes. You know, reporters these days are losing sleep, having nervous twitches every time they hear the word "vice."
Well, this morning, reporters woke up to an e-mail from Barack Obama's spokesperson, Bill Burton, that was entitled "Vice Presidential." So everybody feverishly looked at it, and it was just a joke. Bill Burton wrote at the top, "Just kidding." It was the day ahead of schedule.
BLITZER: Never mind.
BLITZER: We'll see if they do it tomorrow, if they do it Friday, Saturday.
YELLIN: No more jokes like that, Bill.
BLITZER: One of these days.
All right. We're watching it very closely. Jessica, thanks very much.
Let's get to John McCain's vice presidential options. We're learning more about who is scheduled to speak at the Republican Convention in St. Paul, but there is still plenty of mystery surrounding McCain's running mate, and for some conservatives there's also some anxiety.
Let's bring in CNN's Ed Henry. He's watching this part of the story.
The dustup, I take it, Ed, involves the abortion issue and a potential Republican vice president.
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. We've already heard conservative leaders raise concerns about the possibility of a moderate running mate. Today, rank and file Republicans took those worries directly to John McCain.
HENRY (voice-over): In New Mexico, John McCain was twice pressed on whether he will pick a running mate who opposes abortion rights.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I heard a rumor that you're going to pick a pro-life VP. Is that true?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to pick a vice president that conservatives can actually rally around in the future?
HENRY: Both times, McCain kept his cards close to the vest.
MCCAIN: I will nominate a person to be vice president, my running mate, who shares my principles, my values, and my priorities. I said on Saturday night that I have a proud pro-life record in Congress. And I am proud of that.
MCCAIN: I respect the views of others.
HENRY: Saturday was the faith forum at Saddleback Church, where McCain won raves from conservatives for speaking out forcefully against abortion. But Republican sources tell CNN conservatives have privately warned that goodwill would evaporate if McCain selects someone who supports abortion rights, like Tom Ridge or Joe Lieberman.
KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: On the issue of abortion and the issue of picking a pro-choice vice president, there is much -- there is a lot more -- I think on this issue there is a lot more risk than there is reward.
HENRY: McCain will walk that tight rope between moderates and conservatives at his convention in St. Paul. Lieberman will speak Monday night, in between Vice President Cheney and President Bush. A remarkable transformation for Lieberman, eight years after accepting the Democratic vice presidential nomination.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: I'm glad that the GOP has changed their rhetoric, but you know what? I wish they'd also change their policies.
HENRY: Ridge gets a speaking role Tuesday night, as does Rudy Giuliani, who supports abortion rights and delivers the key note.
Wednesday night will feature Mitt Romney, who once supported abortion rights but now opposes it. Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who opposes abortion rights, is not yet on the schedule at all.
HENRY: Now, McCain advisers say don't read too much into that lineup. It's still evolving. So, for example, if Tom Ridge did get the nod to be the VP, he'd move from Tuesday to Wednesday night, when the vice presidential nominee is going to speak. Same thing for Tim Pawlenty. He's either going to end up speaking as a VP, or he'll end up speaking as the host of this convention in Minnesota -- Wolf.
BLITZER: There are a lot of pundits out there who think this whole notion of McCain finding someone like Lieberman or Tom Ridge, for that matter, who supports abortion rights, is simply a smoke screen. What are you hearing?
HENRY: Well, it's interesting. I talked to one McCain adviser today who said basically there's a lot of chatter in the campaign that maybe John McCain has been thinking all along about Mitt Romney, but was concerned because of some of his flip-flops on social issues. Conservatives wouldn't be on board. So the Ridge thing could have been a trial balloon so that when Romney is eventually picked, conservatives will breathe a sigh of relief and say, great, we'll get behind Romney. There are other advisers that say, no way, this thing's not settled yet, it's not moving towards Romney necessarily, this is wide open, ad that the Ridge thing is a potential thing that's for real. That, in fact, McCain really has an affinity for Ridge. And there are some advisers telling him, do something outside the box, either Ridge or Lieberman. So, basically, bottom line, this is in John McCain's hands -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. We'll see. We've got time.
Thanks very much, Ed, for that.
Let's check in today with Jack Cafferty, as we always do, for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Polls indicate the race is tightening. CNN's latest Poll of Polls showing Barack Obama leading John McCain now by just a single point, 45-44 percent, down from a three-point lead yesterday. And down considerably more than that from a few weeks ago.
While Obama was on vacation in Hawaii, McCain had the stage pretty much to himself. And then one bright, sunny morning, the Russians rolled into Georgia and John McCain was in the cat bird seat. Also, some of McCain's negative ads, those Paris Hilton and Britney Spears celebrity spots, seem to have resonated some with voters. It looks now like McCain made inroads with some members of the Republican base with his interview at Rick Warren's church.
All of this creating a problem for Barack Obama, who has gone out of his way up to this point to run a pretty positive campaign based on the issues, and for the most part, has chosen not to get into the schoolyard kind of stuff that characterizes U.S. politics. He may no longer have that luxury.
Obama is now out with some hard-hitting TV spots that are running in local markets in some of the key battleground states. He spent $400,000 just last Sunday to run two negative spots on McCain more than 600 times focusing on the economy and McCain in places like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Florida.
These new ads are complemented with a tougher tone out on the stump, where Obama is going after McCain for saying that Iraqis would greet Americans as liberators and for challenging Obama's patriotism. Some Democratic strategists say Obama's aggressive tone reflects the reality of the race and that he should have gotten tougher sooner.
Here's the question: In light of the tightening polls, does Barack Obama now have to go negative against John McCain?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and you can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thank you.
Your help here on the economy. New remarks by John McCain and Barack Obama about issues voters care about most. Hear what they're saying.
And a new question about whether America is a nation of whiners.
The odds makers are having a field day with all the vice presidential speculation. You're going to find out which contender is the best bet online.
And former secretary of state Madeleine Albright on Russian aggression and what she calls strange moves by the Bush administration.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Although the energy crisis and the war in Iraq are certainly dominant themes in the campaign, health care came up in a John McCain town hall meeting in New Mexico today. A woman in the audience explained to the senator how her husband who suffered from a brain disorder had to actually leave the United States to receive affordable care.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to know about your health care plan. How can it be affordable, how can we change that? Why did I have to take him someplace else so he can die in a better place than in his own country?
MCCAIN: Thank you. And please the sympathy of all of us. And thank you for his service. I'm very grateful.
There is a health care crisis in America. We would be -- if it were not for the energy crisis, we'd be we'd be talking a lot more about health care issues. And we have to reform health care in America, and we have to make insurance available and affordable for all Americans.
I do not believe that that means a government-run health care system is the most efficient or what we need.
And we need to have policies that encourage home health care as opposed to institutionalized care. And we need to treat people on an outcome basis that, don't pay for every test or every procedure, every visit to the doctor, but treat them for a period of time and then pay that provider.
Give -- there's a -- there's a program now for senior citizens that is -- that is not as wide as I'd like to see where it's called Cash and Counseling. And seniors are given money every month, and then they're able to decide how they want to pay for their -- for their own health care. It's remarkable the savings that have been realized. But in cases like your husband, where they're basically "uninsureables," people with chronic diseases and such as the terrible affliction that befell your husband -- and I know he appreciated your love and care -- but we should have what we call government-approved plans so that we pool federal and state money together and establish wide-risk pools so that there is affordable and available health insurance for people like you and your husband. We cannot leave the "uninsureables" or chronic disease victims without the access to care.
And so it's going to have to be a federal and state combination providing significant federal money from the federal government, and we are going to have to have that as a major part of health care reform because we can't allow any American, any American citizen, to experience what your husband experienced. And I'm sorry that it happened.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: While campaigning in Virginia, Barack Obama called for tax breaks for companies that actually create jobs inside the United States. Then he had some rather sharp criticism for his opponent's economic plans.
Here's Senator Obama in his own words.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: John McCain's economic advisers -- this just kind of gives you a sense of how they're thinking. One of his top economic advisers a while back, he called you whiners. He said we're a nation of whiners, we're just going through a mental recession. He said if people would just basically stop complaining and get their minds right, then everything would be OK.
Well, I guess he hasn't talked to a laid-off worker who is 53 years old and has gone back to school, got retraining, and is still having trouble finding a job that pays even two-thirds of what he was making at the old plant. There's nothing mental about that.
And I don't see people whining, by the way. The American people don't whine. People work hard, and they don't complain. They'll put up with a lot.
What they want is just a chance. They want a fair shot.
People in America, they love to work. They take pride in work. They don't want it to be easy. They know it's going to be hard. They just want a fair shot. That's what we've got to fight for.
Now, what that means though is that we've got to recognize that we can't do things the same way we've been doing them over the last eight years. John McCain has provided honorable service to our country, but when it comes to his economic policies, he is promising and proposing the same things we've been doing for the last eight years. And I'll just give you an example.
His tax policies -- John McCain wants to continue the policies in which companies that ship overseas are still getting tax breaks from the United States government. You've got companies like ExxonMobil that have made record profits, that have been able to park $56 billion worth of profits offshore, not pay taxes on them, and not create jobs here in the United States of America.
Now, I don't know about you, but it strikes me that Mark (ph) is absolutely right. We live in a global economy. We can't always stop companies from moving, but we sure as heck don't have to give them incentives to move, we don't have to give them tax breaks to move. We should give companies tax breaks that are investing right here in Martinsville and right here in Henry County.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Senator McCain says Russia should be kicked out of the G-8 as a result of its military action in Georgia. He's been saying Russia should be out of that group of industrialized states for a long time. But a former secretary of state says that's a bad idea.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: Kicking them out, I think, removes any leverage that we might have over them. And where we would be in that case?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Madeleine Albright on how the United States should try to influence Russia and which candidate is best suited to pull it off. My interview with her, that's coming up.
And we'll also tell you about a very ambitious new alternative energy plan that could drastically change New York's skyline.
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Polls have shown Barack Obama leading John McCain throughout the summer, but the lead is now shrinking. Will that trend continue? We have brand new CNN Poll of Poll numbers. And our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is standing by to break them all down.
And vice presidential handicapping. Which potential candidate tops the political betting markets? Our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton standing by for a closer look.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: To your viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, watching you. Federal authorities reveal they're tracking and storing information every time you cross the border. They say it's needed to help fight crime and terrorism. Privacy advocates are crying foul.
Also, Ponzi scheme, a federal investigation into a scheme that bilked investors out of $30 million. It leads back to a major American university. Abbie Boudreau of CNN's Special Investigations Unit is digging into this story.
And political legacy. She's heir to one of America's most influential political families, but Caroline Kennedy has largely stayed out of politics until now. And one prominent figure is even promoting her as a vice presidential candidate.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Just a short time ago, President Bush spoke out on the conflict between Russia and the Republic of Georgia. He says the United States is committed to Georgia's independence.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States of America will continue to support Georgia's democracy. Our military will continue to provide needed humanitarian aid to the Georgian people. South Ossetia and Abkhazia are part of Georgia, and the United States will work with our allies to ensure Georgia's independence and territorial integrity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Strong words from the president.
We're also getting a report from Norway's defense ministry, indicating that Russia right now moving to cut all military ties with NATO.
BLITZER: And, joining us now, the former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. She's a top adviser to Barack Obama.
Thanks very much for coming in.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Good to be with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: I know you're getting ready to go to the conventions, as all of us are.
How far should the United States and NATO go right now in forcing Russia to withdraw from the Republic of Georgia? ALBRIGHT: Well, the NATO foreign ministers did, in fact, make a very strong statement about saying that this was unacceptable, and, in fact, calling for a commission to look at what the situation is. And I think that they need to make sure that the Russians live up to this agreement that they signed with the French president, and that they should be withdrawing. And I think that NATO needs to be very firm on that.
BLITZER: But, by all accounts, they're not withdrawing. At least, they're stalling for the -- for the time being.
Besides, you know, statements, what else should the U.S. and its NATO allies be doing?
ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that -- and Senator Obama has said this, is that we need to really reevaluate a lot of aspects of our relationship.
We have and have to continue to have an important relationship with Russia. We do not want to return back to the Cold War. But we do have to warn them about the fact that, in terms of their relationships with NATO, the potential of being in the World Trade Organization, the OECD, et cetera, that they really are -- are putting in question their position.
And the truth is, Wolf, that, while they act very strong in terms of having marched into an independent country, Russia is dependent on the international system. They have a lot of oil, but they have to sell it. And, so, they can't just kind of thumb their nose at everybody.
BLITZER: Because they're making a lot of money with those oil exports right now.
John McCain has been saying for some time that Russia should be kicked out of the Group of Eight, the G8, the major industrialized nations. It should go back to being the G7 -- seven instead of eight.
Is that a good idea?
ALBRIGHT: Well, I have written -- I disagree with kicking them out of the G8, because I think that totally isolating them is not a good idea.
I do think that it's not a bad idea to meet as G7 for a while, which is something that's been happening. Senator Obama thinks that that is a good idea. But kicking them out, I think, removes any leverage that we might have over them. And where would we be in that case?
BLITZER: So, sort of temporarily freezing them out during this crisis, that would be a good idea?
ALBRIGHT: Well, the G7 has been meeting. And I think it should continue to do that. But I also think what is good is that NATO has taken a stand. The secretary-general of NATO has made some very strong statements, and -- and -- but we -- it's a fine line, Wolf. I think the last thing we want to do is to revert to the Cold War or to use analogies from the 20th century.
We have a 21st century problem on our hands, and we need a president who thinks in 21st century terms. And that is what Senator Obama does.
BLITZER: How has President Bush handled this crisis?
ALBRIGHT: Well, in a strange way, I have to tell you.
I -- I'm speaking for myself personally. I found it very peculiar that, as the Russians were on the borders of Georgia, and also practically -- and going in, that President Bush and President Putin had kind of a passing conversation at the Olympics. And I also think that Secretary Rice should have gone to Moscow, not just to Tbilisi, and to the NATO summit, as well as to Poland. I think that...
BLITZER: And done one at Moscow?
ALBRIGHT: Been much more direct with the Russians about what they have to do.
I find that the kinds of statements that the Russian foreign minister is making about Georgia being kind of an experiment are pretty outrageous. Democracy -- Georgia is a democracy. That democracy has to be supported. And what I think the U.S. has to make clear -- and Senator Obama has -- is that, in fact, the Russians should not be afraid of independent democratic states on their borders. That should not make them feel insecure.
BLITZER: Most of the public, on the sensitive matter of who would handle foreign policy better, Senator McCain does better in -- in all the recent polls on this issue than Barack Obama does.
In one poll that we had, McCain has 54 percent, Obama 43 percent. The question, who would better handle foreign policy? Why do you think McCain does better on this issue than Obama?
ALBRIGHT: I think that the American people don't yet know enough about Senator Obama. He's been very strong on foreign policy. I think he's shown very good judgment. And I think that, the weeks ahead, it will be very clear that Senator Obama has an approach to foreign policy that much more meets the situation at hand.
I must say that Senator McCain's reaction to some of the issues in Georgia, I think, were kind of shooting from the hip, in many ways. There's the whole question about -- you know, one of the -- the problems that the West has had is, basically, acting as though we're going to really support a country at a difficult time, and then we don't. And Senator McCain has, I think, been in that position. I think Senator Obama has been very measured and very thoughtful on his statements. He has talked for months now about the importance of a diplomatic solution to those what are known as frozen -- no longer frozen conflicts with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
And I think he has studied the issue, and taken a very measured approach. He also has made very clear -- and I so agree with this -- is that the administration has been completely distracted by Iraq, and has not paid attention to this, and certainly not to Afghanistan either, that is falling apart.
BLITZER: A lot to digest.
Madam Secretary, thanks for coming in.
ALBRIGHT: Good to be with you, Wolf. Thank you.
BLITZER: And the Russians think the United States has poked it in the eye -- the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, striking a missile deal with Poland, signing it today, sending a direct message to Moscow. We will have details.
And Barack Obama's vice presidential announcement, the timing and the contenders, it's anyone's guess in our "Strategy Session."
And tilting at windmills -- the New York mayor's bold new plan that would dramatically alter the city's skyline.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Barack Obama and John McCain hope to walk away from their conventions with a new bounce in their campaigns. But a big breakaway moment may be hard to come by, based on where the race stands right now.
Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's already in Denver with the CNN Election Express.
What are we seeing, Bill, in the polls right now as we head into these two conventions?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Deadlock. Barack Obama leads John McCain by one lonely point in CNN's poll of polls.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Why is the race so close? For the same reason the Democratic primaries were so close. McCain is following the Hillary Clinton playbook. Remember this Clinton ad?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, HILLARY CLINTON CAMPAIGN AD)
NARRATOR: It's 3:00 a.m., and your children are safe and asleep. But there's a phone in the White House, and it's ringing. Something is happening in the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHNEIDER: This month, we had a 3:00 a.m. moment. Russia invaded Georgia. John McCain touted his experience and military expertise.
MCCAIN: And, in the term of the next president, skillful handling of such a crisis would be the difference between temporary hardship and far-reaching disaster.
SCHNEIDER: Obama emphasized his judgment.
OBAMA: The next commander in chief is going to have to exercise the best possible judgment in getting us through these difficult times.
SCHNEIDER: Who do voters feel is better qualified to deal with Russia? McCain, by better than 2-1.
Clinton was accused of crude populism when she made this proposal during the primaries.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: My opponent, Senator Obama, opposes giving consumers the break from the tax -- the gas tax at the federal level. I support it.
SCHNEIDER: Now McCain is being accused of crude populism.
MCCAIN: Senator Obama says he wants energy independence, but he's opposed to new drilling at home.
SCHNEIDER: Obama mocks McCain.
OBAMA: He points down at his feet. And I don't know if he knows something I don't. Drill here. Drill now.
SCHNEIDER: Gas prices have risen sharply under a Republican president. The issue ought to be killing the Republican. So, who do voters think would better handle energy prices? Close call. One poll shows McCain slightly ahead. Another shows Obama leading by a narrow margin.
SCHNEIDER: Now, that playbook didn't quite work for Hillary Clinton in the primaries. Will it work for John McCain in the general election? Well, it's now a more conservative electorate and a larger electorate. But the forces for change are more powerful against the Republican candidate than they were against Hillary Clinton -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Bill Schneider watching the story. He's already in Denver. Thank you.
Tonight, CNN will air back-to-back profiles of the two presidential candidates. In "McCain Revealed," our chief national correspondent, John King, talks to Senator McCain, his wife, Cindy, their friends and colleagues to track the remarkable story of his life and the arc of his political career.
John is standing by with a little preview for us.
He was a rebel as a young man growing up, wasn't he, John?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: To say the least, Wolf.
McCain often rebelled against the pressure he says he felt from his father and his grandfather. His grandfather was already an admiral in the Navy when McCain was a kid. And his father was a captain on a path to being an admiral. McCain would have preferred to study literature at a place like Princeton or the University of Virginia, but he knew he had no choice but to go to the Naval Academy at Annapolis.
However, he wasn't a model student.
FRANK GAMBOA, NAVAL ACADEMY ROOMMATE OF JOHN MCCAIN: Socially, it was very wise to hang out with John because he got invited to a lot of parties.
KING (voice-over): Frank Gamboa was John McCain's roommate at Annapolis. Gamboa remembers his first encounter with his roommate's father, highly decorated naval captain, the fall of 1955.
GAMBOA: John had gotten up and gone over to the sink and got a glass full of water, and threw it on us. So, that deteriorated into melee water fight. While we were in the midst of this, there came two knocks on the door. So we come to attention. Then I see John say, "Dad!"
MCCAIN: That was my dad. He walked in the room.
MCCAIN: It was -- it was a shocking moment for him.
GAMBOA: And then I hear this rough voice behind me: "This is a gross room. Carry on, gentlemen."
MCCAIN: My father was amazingly tolerant of some of my wild antics at the Naval Academy.
GAMBOA: And the captain said, "God damn it, Johnny, no wonder you're flunking."
MCCAIN: I think he -- he had an abiding faith that, if I got through it, that, over time, I would take up the mantle of responsibility and duty and honor and country.
CHUCK LARSON, NAVAL ACADEMY FRIEND OF JOHN MCCAIN: When people would come to him and start saying, I knew your father, I know your -- I knew your grandfather, I know your father, you're not measuring up, he really resented that -- that sort of thing. And I think that made him tend to rebel sometimes.
KING: McCain of course would graduate the Naval Academy, Wolf, go on to his service in Vietnam, five-and-a-half years as a POW.
It was fascinating spending a couple of months going back, looking at his life story. Among the surprises, we talked to some Democrats about McCain's reputation for having a big temper. And, if you watch tonight, or when this airs in the future, you will see two Democrats he worked very closely with, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, who he worked with on the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation, and the former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle.
Now, both say they think Barack Obama would make a far better president than John McCain, but both also say they think Democrats who say McCain is too volatile, too temperamental are just wrong, and that they think, if he wins the election -- they don't want that, but these two leading Democrats say, if he wins the election, they would be happy to work with him. They actually think he would be a pretty good president.
BLITZER: All right. We will be watching tonight. John, good work.
"McCain Revealed" premieres tonight, 8:00 p.m. Eastern. And immediately following it, at 9:30 p.m. Eastern, "Obama Revealed," our Suzanne Malveaux's profile of Senator Obama. She is standing by. We will speak with her in the next hour.
In our "Strategy Session" with Donna Brazile and John Feehery, reading the tea leaves. Which vice presidential hopeful could help Barack Obama the most?
And the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, she is already in Denver for the Democratic Convention. She's standing by live to join us today -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Speculation about vice presidential picks the talk of the country right now, at least a lot of it, and the excitement spilling over into the online prediction markets.
Let's go to Abbi Tatton. She's watching.
Abbi, who are the folks betting on out there?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, right now, money is on Joe Biden. That's what you're going to see if you go on to these online futures market, like Intrade, where people go on and make predictions about certain scenarios.
Joe Biden right now trading at about 36. That means the people using the site think there's about a 36 percent chance that he's going to get the V.P. nod. Close behind him, though, Evan Bayh, Tim Kaine, Kathleen Sebelius, in that order. Senator Hillary Clinton, who once dominated this site in the V.P. trading odds a few weeks ago, is now relegated by the traders into single digits.
The site is Intrade.com. It's Dublin-based, but they say that their traffic to their political markets up 600 percent this week, with all the V.P. frenzy.
CNN's got our own version of this, the CNN political market. This one uses virtual dollars, if that's more your cup of tea. But there, as well, Joe Biden dominates -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much. We will see if those markets are right.
Let's get some more on this question.
And joining us now, our Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Donna Brazile, and Republican strategist John Feehery.
What do you -- Joe Biden, that's what a lot of the buzz is all about. What do you think?
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I have gotten a lot of e- mails about Joe Biden over the last 24 hours, mainly from friends who want to know a little bit more about Joe Biden and former staffers who are all crossing their fingers.
He would be a reassuring choice. Some people think that Joe Biden has a -- quote, unquote -- "gaffe problem." I think Joe Biden would make a terrific vice president, because he would make a great president.
BLITZER: He knows a lot about foreign policy and national security.
JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You know, Michael Moore actually wrote a letter saying he wants Caroline Kennedy, because he doesn't want Joe Biden or Evan Bayh or anybody who voted for the war.
And that's a little problem with the Democratic base with both Biden and Bayh. Tim Kaine is pro-life. He's the other candidate out there that also hurts the base. I have been hearing a lot of buzz lately -- and maybe it's crazy buzz -- that maybe Hillary Clinton will come back in, and she will -- she will be the nominee.
BLITZER: Well, because the polls are really tightening right now. And I don't know -- and correct me if I'm wrong, Donna -- if any one of those Democrats could help him right now as much as Hillary Clinton, potentially in Florida or Pennsylvania or Ohio or Michigan. What do you think?
BRAZILE: The national polls are tightening, but, if you look in all of the battleground states, Senator Obama still has a good lead. And he has some ground to make up over the next couple of weeks.
And I think a good, strong running mate will help him make up that ground.
BLITZER: But the last polls I saw in Florida and in Ohio and Pennsylvania, that was -- he was ahead, but maybe by two points, not very much.
BRAZILE: Well, if you just look at the last few elections, it's been a one- or two-point game. So, but I think Joe -- I think Joe Biden would help him. I also think that some of the other candidates that we continue to talk about will also help him close the gap and pull away from John McCain.
BLITZER: The downside of Hillary Clinton, what they say, is, she would really, by being on the ticket, bring out that Republican base, and do for John McCain what maybe he can't do for himself.
FEEHERY: Well, that's what I have been saying all along, that Hillary Clinton actually would weigh down the Obama campaign.
I think that Joe Biden would help with the stature gap. And the stature gap is that Barack Obama has that problem. The Russia/Georgia situation only exemplifies that. And that's why Joe Biden will probably be the best pick, but it still doesn't make the base, Democratic base, that happy.
BLITZER: What do you -- yes, go ahead.
BRAZILE: Well, first of all, I just -- Joe Biden supported the war, but he was a critic. He was a persistent critic.
And, also, when you look at his vote for the war, he thought that -- that we should go into Iraq because he believed that Sudan possessed weapons of mass destruction. He was the first to say that his vote was -- was wrong. And he's been good on the stump ever since.
BLITZER: What do you think of the lineup? We're now getting word of how the Republicans are going to dole out the prime-time speaking arrangements at the Republican Convention in Saint Paul. Giuliani is going to have a major speech on one of the big nights. Schwarzenegger is going to be there. They're going to bring in all the others.
What do you think?
FEEHERY: I think it's terrific. I think they are also going to have Joe Lieberman, which is terrific, goes after the independent voters. Arnold Schwarzenegger, kind of the Hollywood -- maybe he will get some Hollywood votes. Probably won't happen. I think you're going to get the president and the vice president speaking, which will help with the conservative base. I mean, this just shows that John McCain is not only going for the base. He's also going for the independents, also going for the Reagan Democrats. And that's -- I think this convention is going to be terrific...
BLITZER: Because I remember, four years ago, at the Republican Convention in New York, Giuliani, he really fired up those Republicans at that -- at that speech. And he really helped Bush a great deal. Arnold Schwarzenegger did as well. And, presumably, they're going to try to do the same thing for McCain.
BRAZILE: I was there. But it looks like it's recycled goods.
I mean, four years later, what do we have? More of the same players from 2004. One of the problems that John McCain is having right now is presenting himself as something new and fresh. And perhaps this is an opportunity, during the convention, to bring -- bring out new faces.
FEEHERY: Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, two executives, female executives. He's also going after the -- the working women vote, small business owners who are women. That's the fastest part of our -- growing part of our economy.
I think it's smart to put those two women on the -- on the platform.
BLITZER: Let me switch gears, a very sad story, very depressing story. A friend of all of ours -- and I know a close friend of yours, Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones, she is in critical condition right now in Ohio.
I know you want to say a word or two about her.
BRAZILE: Well, first of all, our thoughts and prayers are with her.
She's in critical condition. At 5:00 today, in HC-5 at the Capitol, her staff is organizing a session, so people can come and pray for her. She is a tenacious fighter. Anyone who knows Stephanie Tubbs Jones -- and John -- John and I talked about her in the back. She is just one of the best members of Congress you will ever meet. She cares about the people of Ohio. She's a superdelegate, looking forward to going to the convention.
We wish her a speedy recovery.
BLITZER: We're praying for her, 58 years old, a terrific, terrific congresswoman.
(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: Thanks very much. We will -- we will, as I said, be praying for her.
BRAZILE: Thank you.
BLITZER: Stephanie Tubbs Jones.
Stories we're covering right now in THE SITUATION ROOM: Obama and McCain agree to a cease-fire on negative ads, but just for one day. We will tell you what day that is.
And tragedy in Madrid. A jetliner crashes on takeoff. At least 90 people are dead. We will have the latest.
We will be right back.
BLITZER: On our "Political Ticker": The McCain and Obama campaigns agree to a truce in the campaign ad wars on September 11. They will yank commercials that criticize one another to mark seven years since the terrorist attacks. A group promoting community service on 9/11 had urged the candidates against partisan campaigning on that day.
Remember, for the latest political news any time, check out CNNPolitics.com. You -- that's where you can download our political screen saver as well.
Let's check back with Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: In light of the tightening polls, does Barack Obama now have to go negative against John McCain?
Beth says: "McCain's negatives speak for themselves. All Obama has to do is put up that picture of him hugging Bush and the statistic that McCain has voted for what Bush wanted 95 percent of the time."
Erin in southwest Michigan says: "I think he should go ugly truth, which is different than the distorted fear-mongering tactics of the right. There is so much ugly truth about McCain, yet the mainstream media reluctant to introduce it. They are waiting for the Obama camp or MoveOn to launch the attack. Then the media can pick up on it as a legitimate issue. The problem is, Obama won't throw the punch, and McCain goes unscathed."
Brian writes: "Senator Obama's biggest problem is his lack of experience. The Republicans didn't need Hillary to point that out. It was obvious that that would be his weakness. Going negative won't change that. The only thing that will counter his lack of experience is a V.P. that he can lean on. And the obvious choice would send Obamatons into fits, so November is not looking very good for the left-leaners."
Michael in Ohio: "I think Hillary already showed us once this year that waiting until the 11th hour to throw the kitchen sink at the opposition doesn't work. So, yes, Jack, he ought to go negative now, and keep it centered on the issues. Sadly, it does tarnish his reputation of being a new kind of politician."
Mark writes Denver: "What? Obama went negative along time ago. Who are you trying to B.S.? All Obama does is say how much McCain is like Bush, how McCain is this, not that, portray McCain in a bad light, and then offer platitudes up to the masses -- such depth to his intellect. Jimmy Carter II, here we come."
And Kevin in Georgia, referring to the polls: "Who answers a landline anymore anyway? I use my landline like a personal business phone. I don't even screen calls. I just check my messages. Everybody that is important to someone has their cell phone numbers. I think the polls are disproportionate to the elderly."
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile. Look for yours there, among hundreds of others -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jack.