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Democratic Convention: Day One; John McCain Isn't Allowing Obama to Have Spotlight Just to Himself This Week; Biden on the Economy

Aired August 25, 2008 - 12:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And hello, everybody, and welcome.
I'm Soledad O'Brien in New York.

But you're taking a look at is the outside of the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. Inside, preparations are still under way even though it's day one in Denver.

The Democrats know it is not going to be easy. They have got lots of work to do, not just in fixing up the set there, as you can see. Also in some of the messaging that's been coming out.

Just five hours before today's opening session of the Democratic National Convention, before it's officially gaveled to order, as they say, a brand new poll is showing the Obama/McCain race is right now a flat-out tie. So no wonder both candidates are out on the campaign trail, even as we speak.

The best political team on television has it all covered in the coming hour. We're going to bring you the very latest.

That includes Michelle Obama. We're expecting to see her in the convention hall during this hour. She's tonight's featured speaker. She's (ph) going to be doing a little bit of a site survey.

We're also monitoring the floor. We'll take you there when Michelle Obama arrives.

This evening's emotional highlight really could be the tribute to Senator Edward Kennedy. We've gotten word now that Senator Kennedy is slated to be in Denver to attend tonight's session in person, even though he is battling brain cancer.

CNN's John Roberts has covered, oh, a couple of conventions or two, or a dozen, I think it's fair to say, John, in his years as a White House correspondent, obviously. He's live right now for us in Denver as well.

Hey. How are you?

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, good afternoon to you, Soledad.

Yes, this will be my seventh. Every one since 1996 on both sides, so that will be an interesting thing to watch. And, you know, history-making from the standpoint that this will be the first African-American who has ever accepted the nomination of a major party. It will be a big night for women as well.

We will be talking about that more in just a couple of sends, because Michelle Obama will be speaking tonight. Hillary Clinton is going to be speaking tomorrow. Nancy Pelosi is speaking tonight as well. And this is all around the 88th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which, of course, gave women the right to vote.

But, of course, it's going to be the big night on Thursday. And this is when Barack Obama accepts the nomination. And he'll be doing that not inside the Pepsi Center, but at INVESCO Field, where the audience is expected to exceed some 50,000.

It will be the biggest acceptance speech since 1960, when John F. Kennedy did it at the Los Angeles coliseum. So quite a week ahead.

It's part coronation, but also I think this one is going to be a little bit different than we've seen in the past, because with these numbers tightening up, Barack Obama, according to many Democrats that we've talked to, has some work to do to try to get those poll numbers moving again in his direction. There's some people -- and we talked to Mayor Willie Brown -- former mayor Willie Brown of San Francisco last week on "AMERICAN MORNING," getting a little bit nervous, wanting to make sure that the magic continues.

Let's bring in one of the best political team on television. CNN's Jessica Yellin is with us now here at the CNN Grill, across the street from the Pepsi Center.

And as I was saying a second ago, a big night for women here at the Democratic National Convention.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is a major night for women. Michelle Obama, for the first time, is really going to give a major national address, and her task really is to outline who her husband is. Talk about his biography and introduce his background to people who are tuning in now maybe for the first time.

I'm also told she'll give a little bit of her own biography, and the real message here is going to be that, you know, we came from very little. We both grew up not wealthy. And that's part of this effort, this ongoing effort by the Obama campaign to compete with this notion that he's somehow an elitist or that he doesn't relate to real Americans.

ROBERTS: And what about this tribute to Ted Kennedy tonight? We understand that the senator is in Denver. He's planning to attend tonight. He went to a hospital yesterday to get checked out. So far, it looks like everything is a go for him to attend tonight.

Could this bring down the house?

YELLIN: Bring down a house. The real crowd-pleaser, that. I mean, the last of that generation of Kennedys. There is the illusion to pass tributes when RFK got a 22-minute ovation in tribute to his slain brother. And, of course, Ted Kennedy, a mentor to Barack Obama. So a lot of significance to his appearance here tonight.

ROBERTS: Yes, I can imagine if he walks out on that stage tonight, there won't be a dry eye in the house.

YELLIN: You bet.

ROBERTS: All right. Jessica, thanks so much. We'll see you a little bit later on this hour -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right. Thanks very much, John.

Joining us now four of the top political analysts. CNN political contributor Amy Holmes is an Independent conservative. Hank Sheinkopf is a Democratic strategist. He's also a CNN contributor. Democratic strategist Julie Roginsky is with us. She's the president of the Comprehensive Communications Group. And Carl Bernstein also with us, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author.

You know, they were just talking about Ted Kennedy and how -- and I think it's fair to say there will not be a dry eye in the room when he comes today to talk. Give me the significance of -- and why don't we start, Amy, with you -- of when Ted Kennedy takes the stage, because it sounds like he will really be there even though his health is so poor.

What will that mean?

AMY HOLMES, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, what that means to Barack Obama is that he is passing that Kennedy torch, that JFK comparison that's been made consistently throughout this primary. And you remember that Ted Kennedy, he endorsed Barack Obama very early on. He came out for him in that stem-winding of a speech and saying that he saw in Barack Obama a John Kennedy lookalike.

So I think for the Democrat Party this will be a hugely emotional moment.

JULIE ROGINSKY, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: There's also -- don't forget, JFK, of course, is the first Catholic president. This is potentially the first African-American president. The significance of that is not lost, I think, not just on the people at the convention, but that Catholic base that I think that Barack Obama needs to really appeal to in order to win this November.

O'BRIEN: It should be some very big messages in there, certainly, I think.

HANK SHEINKOPF, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: And the other issue here, frankly, is that Ted Kennedy's appearance makes sure that the so- called or believed to be Clinton/Obama bust-up ain't going to happen because the emotional, overwhelming occurrence makes that less possible. O'BRIEN: Well, it kind of takes away the focus of a story that's been a little bit of what we've been talking about this morning, which has been the Obama/Clinton drama, which has taken some of the focus away from everything else this morning -- Carl.

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, one, there is that drama, and Obama's first task is to get the Clintons off center stage and into the ensemble as supporting cast members. But the real importance of Ted Kennedy tonight is it's the beginning of real events, as opposed to faked-up polls, instant analysis.

O'BRIEN: I know you don't mean our polls when you say that, so continue on.

BERNSTEIN: Well, actually...

O'BRIEN: So, continue on. I'm just going to assume that. No, keep going.

BERNSTEIN: ... we're all paying too much attention to polls, particularly instant polls over the weekend that I think mostly are a bunch of nonsense.

O'BRIEN: And I have never met a politician who doesn't look at them very closely.

HOLMES: But let's not forget...

BERNSTEIN: But let me just finish this point, that now we're going to see what the Democrats are all about, as opposed to what we think they're all about, as opposed to what the pollsters say they're all about. They're now going to have to tell their story, and we're going to have to cover it and try and make sense out of it.

They have been waiting for this moment. It's not about the opposition's negative ads. They're now on stage, and they get a chance, especially with Ted Kennedy, especially with the candidate, especially with Al Gore, and the Clintons, to show who they are and why they think the American people should vote for them without all this noise.

SHEINKOPF: A generational shift, very important here. Kennedy showing up says it's OK, everybody, and older Democrats, you can come home. You can go with me to Barack Obama's place. That is very, very important.

ROGINSKY: And who knows, this may be the last -- I mean, you know, sadly...

O'BRIEN: It's true. It's true.

ROGINSKY: ... this is potentially the last time Democrats on such a large scale may get to see Ted Kennedy in action. So I think it's something important to note. I mean, sadly so...

O'BRIEN: I tell you, we end as we begin, on this topic at least, that there will not ab dry eye in the house because he's kept a very low profile, obviously. And he is very, very sick and people are very concerned about him.

BERNSTEIN: And he's a great speaker. And, you know, he's going to deliver. That's the other thing. He has a message that is about what Democrats are supposed to be.

O'BRIEN: Well, let's talk about delivering for a minute.

BERNSTEIN: And that's going to resound.

O'BRIEN: So, you know, we have sort of a big picture, which is supposed to be here is who we are and here is who Barack Obama is. How do you navigate that path when, to some degree, part of the messaging has to be, let's talk about John McCain/George Bush and link them together, because that sort of brings everybody, you know, into unity?

HOLMES: Well, we talked about this earlier today. You know, they can walk and chew gum at the same time. They both can deliver the message about who Barack Obama is.

We saw him give a preview of that when he first started unveiling his new ads after the Democratic primary of he's from Kansas, he has those Midwestern values. You're going to see a lot of talk about that, particularly from Michelle Obama, who has gotten criticism for not necessarily being able to promote those values. She's going to try to come around back to that.

But you're also going to hear a lot of George Bush/John McCain bashing from Joe Biden -- we got a preview on Saturday -- because they need to define John McCain negatively because, as we know going into this convention, there are disgruntled Democrats who are considering voting for John McCain.

O'BRIEN: And the McCain camp has been picking them off. I mean, you don't have to be a genius to look at those ads and figure out what they're trying to leverage.

What other missteps do you think they will be looking for? I mean, what else could there be leverage in for the Republicans at this point as they watch this convention?

BERNSTEIN: Well, one is the question of the vice presidential nominee. They haven't picked a woman, the Democrats, and there's a real question now of whether it's to McCain's advantage to pick a woman, particularly...

O'BRIEN: Who?

BERNSTEIN: ... Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, I would say, would be a real -- I think Hutchison is a real winner if they want to go that way. But again, looking at what's going to be happening in this hall, we've got to remember how John Kerry got beat coming out of the convention last time. He started up in the polls, and within days he was heading down because he allowed negative attacks to hit him. Obama is very tough. His people are very tough. They're prepared for this.

O'BRIEN: They're going to come out negative.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

BERNSTEIN: And interesting enough, because Joe Biden has some creditability as being a fellow member of the Senate and friend of John McCain, he can make some things stick. So it's going to be different than what happened with Swift Boating.

O'BRIEN: We will talk. It will be a different kind of Swift Boating, maybe is a way to put it.

We're going to talk more about all of that as I ask you guys to please stick around.

We've got much more coming on the Democratic National Convention, which is just getting under way in Denver, Colorado.

Will the Democratic Party unite around Senator Obama? We'll find out coming up next.

You're watching our special coverage right here on CNN.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

You're looking at a shot inside the Pepsi Center. And you can see there Michelle Obama, Barack Obama's wife, is going to be speaking tonight.

She's there now doing a site survey. And her speech is really expected to, some people say, flesh out her husband more to maybe those who do not know him. Expected to focus on family and values, on parenting, things like that. Things that really, in a lot of ways, only a wife would be able to speak about her husband.

Michelle Obama sat down with Roland Martin earlier and talked about some of the message that she wants to give about how her values, frankly, are the same values that many Americans have, and that, in fact, the values of America are what allowed her to become who she is.

Suzanne Malveaux is on the floor right now and has an update for us on some of Michelle Obama's speech topics for tonight.

Hey, Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Michelle. I'm sorry, Soledad. We're actually watching them there before the podium. You see Michelle, her daughter, Sasha, Malia. Her brother Craig Robinson behind them there. As well as in the background, the half sister of Barack Obama, Maya, and her little daughter there as well.

And what we expect from Michelle to talk about is really Barack Obama not the candidate, but the man, the husband, the committed father, as well as give kind of a window into her own personality, her own priorities, if you will. I had a chance to talk to her, interview her several times over the course of covering the Obama campaign, and she is fondly teased by her friends as the taskmaster.

She is the person who wakes up at 4:30 in the morning. She has a whole host of friends. They try to get their calendars together to make sure that their daughters are off to soccer practice and to school and to plays, and those are the kinds of things that she's going to be talking about.

I have asked her what kind of role she would play as a first lady, and it's much less the model of a Hillary Clinton but more like a Laura Bush. She talks about how important it is to take care of her two daughters, to make sure that they are raised in a way that they are protected. That as much as possible, that they can lead a kind of normal life.

We expect in the audience today to be listening to her, her mother Marian. Absent, of course, is her late father, Frasier Robinson. They were very, very close, and she lost him as a young adult. He suffered from Multiple Sclerosis. They were very, very close, and it was really one of the turning points of her life, losing her father.

She first met Barack Obama when she was working at a law firm in Austin, and after she lost her father, she decided that she was going to leave corporate law, decided that she would go ahead and volunteer working for the city of Chicago in hospitals. And she and Barack Obama sharing that interest.

O'BRIEN: Suzanne, how much pressure is on Michelle Obama today? I mean, as much as a lot of the themes that you spoke about are themes that any wife should know well about her husband -- family and parenting, et cetera. This is the big speech, and she certainly has gotten her -- maybe more than her fair share of flack over the last month.

MALVEAUX: One of the things that she's sensitive about -- and she's talked about this numerous times -- is that her patriotism, she and Barack Obama's patriotism has been questioned. She has said in the past, and there are some critics who have made hay about the fact that she said this was really the first time she felt very proud of her country, the fact that so many people were supporting her husband, but that they were also really seeking change.

And she said to me -- she said that, you know, really, this is about an expression of acknowledging that our country and the history of this country is really -- it's about making progress here. That it wasn't about being unpatriotic per se, but really expressing an optimism, a hope that as African-Americans, there really haven't been those kind of opportunities that you have seen in the past. And now she's seeing that for her husband and for her family, and that is something that they feel very strongly about.

O'BRIEN: Suzanne Malveaux for us.

Thanks, Suzanne.

You're looking again at Michelle Obama. You can see she's with one of her daughters. Another one is right back out of frame for the moment.

Doing a little bit of a site survey. That should be the podium where she'll be speaking later this evening, one of the highly anticipated speeches for the event. Certainly just for today. And a roster of many anticipated speeches.

Michelle Obama there in the green jacket. And her daughter -- and there is her other little daughter. Malia and Sasha with their mom, kind of checking out how it will work a little bit later today, and the daughters taking a look at what it would be like to stand at the podium as well.

CNN's John Roberts is at the CNN Grill in Denver for us.

Hey, John.

ROBERTS: Hey, Soledad.

I first had an opportunity to meet Michelle Obama on the podium at the 2004 Democratic convention in Boston. She was there, of course, along with her husband, who gave the keynote address. Just a lovely woman, very engaging, very friendly. And looking forward to her speech tonight, to see what she has to say.

Let's talk more about what we can expect over the next few days with three members of the best political team on television.

Gloria Borger is with us, along with our senior CNN analyst, Bill Schneider, and Dana Bash, who has been covering all the campaigns, long history at the White House as well.

Adam Nagourney from "The New York Times" had an interesting take in an article that he had today in which he said -- talking about Democrats starting to get a little bit worried here. Said, "They're significantly more nervous about Senator Barack Obama's prospects this fall than they were a month ago, and are urging him to use the next four days to address weaknesses in his candidacy and lingering party divisions from the primary fight."

So Gloria, what do they need to do over these next few days?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, they need to unify this party. And, you know, my guess is that by the time we leave here in a few days, they will look very unified. And a lot of that work, some of that work is up to Hillary Clinton. Some of that work is up to Bill Clinton. But Barack Obama himself has to take an economic message to the American people and put his name on it in a way that Hillary Clinton did during the primaries when she gained traction. That's something that a lot of folks I talk to around here say he's got to do because this is about the economy.

ROBERTS: So this really needs to be about Barack Obama this week, but does it also need to be about John McCain?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: You know what it needs to be about? George Bush.

This is a referendum on the status quo. You have got to raise the question, do we want to continue with Bush's policies? Is that what McCain is about? And they're going to say, yes, it is.

Somehow over the course of this summer, this campaign has become a referendum on Barack Obama. It's not supposed to be.

It's supposed to be a referendum on the way things are going in the country, whether you're satisfied with President Bush's direction, whether you want change, which is what Barack Obama is selling. Somebody has to give a speech at this convention, one of those speakers, Biden, Obama, somebody, saying look what George Bush has done to this country.

BORGER: How about Obama?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. It's not supposed to be about Barack Obama, but the reality is, if you look at what's happened on the campaign trail over the past six weeks or so, the McCain campaign has actually done a pretty good job of making it about Barack Obama, starting with that celebrity ad. And even when you talk about the issues, the fact that he's been hitting Barack Obama really hard on the fact that he didn't support drilling for -- offshore drilling for oil. And, you know, that is something that they did knowing full well that by talking about Barack Obama, by playing up his celebrity and making it a referendum on Barack Obama, it was taking away from a referendum on George Bush, and everybody here, all the Democrats say that's got to be turned around.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: It's similar to what they did to John Kerry in 2004.

BORGER: Sure. I mean, you know, look, the first rule of politics is, don't let your opponents define you. Right? And I was talking to somebody in the McCain campaign who said to me, look, would we rather have this election be about Barack Obama or George W. Bush?

BASH: Duh.

BORGER: Duh. We'd rather have it be about Barack Obama, so we're going to make it about Barack Obama. They have to now turn that table. BASH: And that's, I think, when we're talking a lot about sort of this narrative now about the disunity inside the Democratic Party here...

ROBERTS: Well, what about that? Because the Obama campaign hit back very hard against this article that came out in the Politico that suggested that Hill (sic) and Billary (sic) Clinton -- Hillary and Bill...

SCHNEIDER: Hill and Billary.

ROBERTS: I have been up since midnight. That Hillary and Bill Clinton were still very upset with the way that they're being treated, and he wasn't really particularly thrilled with the topic that he'd been given to talk about on Wednesday.

BASH: Right. And what was most interesting about that statement, John, is that it came out not just from the Obama campaign, it came out as a joint statement from the Obama and the Clinton folks.

That was something that was done -- I mean, some might say they doth protest too much. And, you know, a little bit by saying, you k now, we are unified, we swear we are. But the reality is we know we've all been talking to delegates, we've been talking to people who are talking a little bit more privately, and it's not that unified.

BORGER: And also, look at the polls.

BASH: Exactly.

BORGER: Our poll last night showed that there is a real problem with Hillary supporters still, although one in five voters still say they're undecided about their votes. But still, there is a problem in convincing those people to move over to Barack Obama.

SCHNEIDER: And there is something else in our poll that's interesting. The Republicans are not all that unified behind John McCain. About 40 percent of Republicans say we'd rather have another candidate. And a lot of them are voting for Barack Obama. That's why they want to keep the attention on the division among Democrats.

ROBERTS: Well, we'll find out if things can change over the next couple of weeks, but no question, each side is going to try to divide each other.

Thanks very much, folks. Good to see you -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, John. Thanks.

Presidential candidates, as you well know, traditionally lay low during the other guy's convention. Not this year, though. Not John McCain. He's just spoken to reporters, holding events.

We're going to have the very latest next as our special coverage of the Democratic National Convention continues live from Denver, Colorado. (COMMERCIAL)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back to our special coverage of the Democratic National Convention.

Party chairman Howard Dean is going to call the convention to order at 5:00 p.m. Eastern. And then during the 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour, we're going to hear from the members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

The party's platform will also come up during the 7:00 hour. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and a musical performance by John Legend.

Then during the 8:00 p.m. Eastern hour, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, will address the convention. There will also be a tribute for former president Jimmy Carter and remarks by Barack Obama's half sister.

One of this evening's emotional highlights will certainly come during the 9:00 p.m. hour. It's a tribute to 76-year-old Senator Edward Kennedy. His niece, Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of former president John F. Kennedy, will be addressing the convention.

We've confirmed that, in fact, the senator himself is in Denver and plans to attend tonight's session, even though he is quite ill.

The night's headline, primetime speaker is Michelle Obama. She's on during the 10:00 hour. Her husband will make a brief appearance, we're told, live via satellite at the conclusion of her speech.

So there is a lot to watch, and you're going to want to stay with CNN all afternoon and well into the evening as well.

Now, John McCain is making sure that Barack Obama doesn't have all that spotlight all to himself this week. So Ed Henry is keeping tabs on what Senator McCain is doing. He's live from Phoenix today.

Hey, Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Soledad.

What's interesting is John McCain is trying to stay in the news, but not really with any heavy lifting. He's headed to California now to tape an episode of "The Tonight Show" that will appear tonight.

A little earlier though, he came here first in Phoenix to the high school his wife attended to get a celebrity endorsement from Daddy Yankee, the Latin recording star. Let me tell you, there were shrieks and hollers from the crowd here. There were girls fanning themselves they were so happy to see this celebrity.

But originally, this was supposed to be a press conference. Instead, there were no questions allowed from the press. Instead, it was just this endorsement rolling out and some very brief comments from Senator McCain. And when he did speak, he focused on the positive about the Democratic convention.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a tough presidential campaign we're in. I have a very honorable opponent and one who will receive the nomination of his party this week in Denver. And I look forward to the last couple months of the campaign with him. There are stark differences between us, but I think all of you can be proud that, again, this country will go through an experience and the most fundamental part of democracy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Now, he's leaving the much tougher tone to his television ads. He's got a new one out this morning entitled "Debra" (ph). It's about a Clinton delegate named Debra (ph) from Wisconsin who says that she's so disenchanted now, that she's going to vote for John McCain instead of Barack Obama.

Obviously, what McCain is trying to do is to drive the wedge even deeper between the Clinton and Obama camps, and try to develop these so-called McCain Democrats just like the old Reagan Democrats by really trying to reopen this wound -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Interesting to watch that contrast between that "Debra" (ph) ad, and then also, Ed, the tone that he has in that conversation with the high school students.

So what exactly are the McCain surrogates doing? Because they're in Denver? Behind enemy lines, I think is what Dana Bash called it. What are they doing in Denver this week?

HENRY: They have set up what they call a war room. You're going to see the Democrats obviously do the same thing next week in St. Paul where they're basically going to put out people like Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, some of the potential running mates for John McCain, frankly, who are going to try to show off their stuff, but also try to push back on behalf of McCain against what the Democrats are saying at the podium and saying in television interviews, but that's traditional.

What's not traditional is to have the other candidate -- in this case, John McCain -- out there on the stump himself. It's a little bit different for him to be doing that, but John McCain realizes it's a very close race. He doesn't want to disappear for a week, so he's going to stay out there. But as you can tell, he's going to try to do it in a very low-impact way.

He's not going to have a big press conference where he's going to take a lot of tough questions. Instead, get a nice celebrity endorsement -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right. Ed Henry for us.

And I know your name is Ed, Ed. You know that, right?

Ed Henry for us.

HENRY: I know that.

O'BRIEN: Thanks, Ed.

Senator Joe Biden on the economy. When it comes to issue #1 and your bottom line, just how does the VP nominee measure up? We're going to take a closer look.

You're watching special coverage of the Democratic National Convention on CNN.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Many Democrats are praising Barack Obama's selection of Joe Biden as a running mate because of Biden's foreign policy experience. But how are Biden's credentials when it comes to issue number one, the economy? Here is CNN's Christine Romans.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): Senator Joe Biden's forte is foreign policy, not the economy, but he's more average joe than millionaire senator.

SEN. JOE BIDEN, (D) VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My net worth is $70,000 to $150,000. That's what happens when you get elected at 29. I couldn't afford to stay in the Congress at minimum wage. But if I get a second job, I'd do it.

ROMANS: He has voted to raise the minimum wage. He was an early supporter of NAFTA. More recently, he voted against CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Trade deals unpopular in potential swing states, where they're blamed for lost factory jobs. But economic clout, many say, is more critical now for the McCain camp.

JOHN GEER, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY: It's McCain who really needs to get somebody on his ticket who has really economic credentials. Because of the situation with the economy, you know, Obama's going to just have a real edge there. He can talk about the inflation rate. He can talk about the debt, because all these things have been accrued under a Republican administration.

ROMANS: If there is a hallmark of Biden's economic record, it is as the representative of the corporate interests in his home state of Delaware. Three years ago, Biden sided with the credit card industry to make it harder for people to file for bankruptcy. He voted with Senator John McCain and against Senator Barack Obama.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: The challenge for this ticket is convincing voters that it has the solutions to a housing crisis, skyrocketing food and gas prices, and then the bigger issues, a $9 trillion national debt, growing trade and budget deficits. And, Soledad, more than 40 million people without health insurance in this country. There are a lot of things on the agenda that they have to fix.

O'BRIEN: That's kind of a big list of problems you just named.

ROMANS: It is. There's short-term problems and then there are very long, long-term structural problems that many say don't get addressed because people are trying to get re-elected every two years, every four years, and so the big things just get pushed off. Can this ticket convince people it can handle the short-term and the long-term?

O'BRIEN: Well, tell me, what does Biden's voting record reflect?

ROMANS: A lot of people say he's got a kind of a conventional, liberal voting record. This weekend at the Springfield rally, he's seen as like lunch bucket Joe. You know, he's worked and voted for the working man and woman in this country, except for that issue of voting with the credit card industry in the bankruptcy bill of 2005. That really angered some of his supporters who said that he was voting with his home state credit card interests against the interests of the American people. But for the most part, he is seen as a guy who has consistently voted for the middle class. The question is, what will he look like on this ticket with Obama and what kind of team will they putting together and what kind of head winds do they face?

O'BRIEN: And what will they actually tackle if they're given the opportunity to do so.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: Christine Romans, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Let's talk more about this. Joining us to talk more about the Democrats' plan to tackle the worsening economy, one of the most influential members of Congress, Congressman Barney Frank.

Congressman Frank's been at the forefront of efforts to deal with the nation's housing and mortgage crisis.

Thanks for being with us. We certainly appreciate it, congressman.

Let's start with Joe Biden. As you just heard Christine talking sort of about how he's voted, do you think that he is a good choice on the economic front? Everybody knows him on the foreign policy front. But what about the economic front?

REP. BARNEY FRANK, (D) MASSACHUSETTS: Oh, absolutely. By the way, he's also one of the best in fighting crime. You know, Joe was chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He helped pass a bill to put cops on the street. So he has a very good record in law enforcement, also very important issue, and it has an economic impact because part of the problem we have today is that cities and states, which have been a mainstay of the job market this year -- if you look at the job market, we've lost -- we're on track to lose about 1 million jobs this year under the Bush administration's economic policies. That's been somewhat offset, it would have been worse, if it weren't for local governments. But they 're eroding. Joe Biden came to their rescue and to the rescue of law enforcement in 1994 with a bill to put a lot of cops on the street.

Beyond that, yes, Joe Biden's voting record is very clear. But we have two problems in this country. One is that the economy is now slowing down. But, two, George Bush, even when the economy was growing, the growth was going to less than 5 percent of the American people. And those are statistical facts attested to by Don Evans, who was George Bush's first commerce secretary.

And so what you've got in Barack Obama and Joe Biden is an understanding that, yes, we want to go forward with growth, but not in a way that disadvantages 95 percent of the people. And the average worker in America, who works for wages for somebody else, is now worse off in real terms given inflation and given how little the dollar pay has gone up, than they were a few years ago.

O'BRIEN: So then what's the specific plan? I mean let's talk, you know, you look at the housing crisis. You drive in any town almost anywhere in America and everybody's got one of those signs up in their front yard. So much stuff is on sale or in foreclosure, it's craziness. What's the plan? Or does the Obama/Biden team have the right plan to cure that kind of a crisis?

FRANK: Yes. They have been -- yes, first of all, going forward, we have had this terrible problem of an excessive deregulation. We were told that there needn't be any rules, the market would do it. And specifically there was a Democratic/Republican dispute about whether or not we should put a limit on some of these subprime mortgages. And Senators Obama and Biden have been for sensible re-regulation, letting the market work, but, frankly, going back to the Franklin Roosevelt model.

Franklin Roosevelt saved the stock market with the Securities and Exchange Commission. We need to save the market from its own excesses by sensible regulation that will restore confidence. And secondly, with regard to housing, yes, we need to provide funding. One of the big differences between the parties to help build housing that's affordable for people. The Republicans totally withdrew from that. So, yes, there's a big difference there.

The other big area of difference I think has to do with healthcare. The absence of a good healthcare system, healthcare coming in a very patchwork way through your job and less and less of that, that's a terrible social and economic problem. And Senators Biden and Obama are for an increase in a comprehensive approach to healthcare, not a government-run socialized medicine operation, but an increased public sector role that's essential to going forward.

Finally, there is, as you noted, a difference on trade. John McCain has stuck to an old-fashioned and out-moded view that any trade bill is essentially good for us. And what we've learned is that trade can be helpful for the overall economy, but have a devastating impact on people in certain parts of the economy, in certain states, like Ohio, like Michigan, like Pennsylvania. And so you now have a Democrat saying, look, we will support trade if it's done within the context of policies that don't put all of the burden on 90 percent of the workers, or 80 percent of the workers, and give all the benefits to a handful.

O'BRIEN: Congressman Barney Frank laying out a lot of the issues for us today.

Thank you, congressman. Nice to see you, as always.

FRANK: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: He laid out some of the challenges. But one he did not mention is also a biggie. It maybe should be on that list, uniting the Democratic Party, hammering John McCain, selling his message, all those things that many people say Barack Obama is going to have to do to succeed this week and maybe win a bounce in the polls. We're going to examine that and much more as we continue our special coverage of the Democratic National Convention right here on CNN.

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JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: A live picture inside the Pepsi Center for you now. That is the Colorado Children's Choral going through a little bit of a rehearsal. They will be preforming later on tonight as the Democratic National Convention opens up just about four hours from now. A little more than four hours from now.

And we're back at the CNN Grill, across the street from the Pepsi Center, to talk more about what we're going to see over these next four days. And joining me now is Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Hilary Rosen, as well as our new CNN contributor, Dana Milbank from "The Washington Post." Good to see you. And also David von Drehele, who writes for "Time" magazine.

Now, David, let's start off with you. You've got an interesting, long article on time.com in which you call the five faces of Barack Obama. You talk about him being enigmatic. And let me quote from the article. You say, "as the campaign enters its last chapter, it may not be enough for him," Obama, "to say, as he often does, this election is not about me. This campaign is about you. Supporters want a clearer picture of Obama."

So based on that, what does the Obama campaign, what do Democrats need to do this week?

DAVID VON DREHELE, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, as I say in the piece, they want to present him not through the traditional lens of a black man, a black candidate. I think they're nervous about him coming off too much as the messiah candidate. And certainly the Republicans are trying to package him either as an empty vessel or as some sort of phony vessel, some secret radical. They want to present him as the future, a step forward, out of the '60s culture war politics that have dominated Washington for a generation.

Obama is the first candidate who didn't really grow up in the '60s. He's the '70s, early '80s guy. And he looks back on the '60s without the nostalgia and without the investment in a lot of those issues. And he wants to represent that, a step forward, a turning of the page, a new day in American politics.

ROBERTS: Dana, this is a big celebration of his nomination here. But there are still some questions, particularly among the liberal wing of the party, as to exactly what he stands for.

DANA MILBANK, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, there really is. I mean the party is unified in the sense that they have a very clear candidate. They're all sort of, at least in the public, things we're going to be seeing this evening and through this week, really rallying behind Obama.

But if you go around Denver here, it is a party divided into all kinds of factions. A lot of it is what David's talking about, the '60s interest group kind of politics that he needs to rise above here. And, of course, you have to compound that with the perpetual haunting of him and his campaign by the family Clinton, which . . .

HILARY ROSEN, "HUFFINGTON POST": Actually . . .

ROBERTS: Hilary, go ahead.

ROSEN: I actually don't think that, first of all, people here don't know what he stands for. I don't think there's sort of a liberal versus conservative faction. I think, on the issues, Barack Obama is pretty clear. And he's very much where Hillary Clinton was on the issues. Get out of the war, deal with middle class tax cuts, pass universal health insurance. You know, those priorities. So I think that there might be some personality factions, but Democrats are going to come out of here knowing where the party stands on the issues.

And I actually also think John McCain is not as well-known. There's this sort of conventional wisdom that McCain is the known one and Obama's the unknown one. You know, the Washington press corps knows John McCain really well. And then, you know, it's a descending curve, I think. The American people still have a lot to learn about John McCain. Part of this week is defining John McCain, as much as it is about defining Barack Obama.

ROBERTS: Well, they've got four days to do it. We'll see how well they can both clarify for people who are still wondering what it is that Barack Obama stands for and what it is that is the problem with John McCain.

Hilary Rosen, Dana Milbank, David von Drehele, good to be with you. Glad you're with us today. Thanks very much.

Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Well, Senator Barack Obama hopes to win the youth vote come November, but will the younger voters actually turn out to vote come Election Day? We're examining that and much, much more as we continue our special coverage of the Democratic National Convention right here on CNN. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: Well, I bet you didn't know this. There is apparently an official canned oxygen of the Democratic National Convention. Yes, I'm not making that up. It's called Oxygen Plus. And it's going to be available to Denver visitor who might find themselves a little bit short of breath from either the Rocky Mountain scenery, because it's so nice, or the thin air in the mile high city, that they're known for. The company says that their product is enriched, providing four times the oxygen content than normal air. It ain't cheap, though. Because the air is free. The prices for the can, which apparently has like 40 breaths worth -- 20 breaths worth, I think, is $5. That seems to me, John, to be a fairly on the -- if this is like water, bottling water all over again. We should have thought of this idea.

ROBERTS: Well, some people swear by it. They say that, you know, you take a few breaths of oxygen, and there are those oxygen bars, you know, across this country, and north of the border in Canada as well where they actually started, and people swear it makes them feel better. But I think by most calculations, there is about 15 percent less oxygen in the atmosphere here in Denver at mile high, 5,280 feet. And I've got to tell you, I experienced it yesterday. I hit the treadmill for half an hour and was huffing and puffing the whole way along. So maybe a shot of oxygen now and again wouldn't be such a bad thing. Just until people get a climate adjust (ph).

O'BRIEN: So you're feeling it. Have you been seen -- have you seen anybody hawking those cans of whatever it's called, Oxygen Plus?

ROBERTS: Well, they haven't come around to us yet, but if they want to come along and give us a sample, we'd be happy to test it out and see how it makes us feel.

O'BRIEN: I notice you say you're not paying the $5. Good to hear. Good to hear.

We're now just about four hours away from the opening gavel of the Democratic Convention. The official opening. CNN, of course, the place to be for the best political team and the best political coverage on television. We're going to take you out to Denver up next. Stay with us, everybody.

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ROBERTS: And we're back live from the CNN Grill across the street from the Democratic National Convention at the Pepsi Center, deep in the heart of downtown Denver. And joining me now is a member of the best political team on television, CNN's Jessica Yellin.

You know, I was speaking with Hilary Rosen earlier, before we went on the air, and she was talking about the significance of tonight, that the first woman speak er of the house will be speaking at the Democratic National Convention, followed by potentially the first African-American first lady. A lot of significance for tonight.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot of significance. And a huge moment for women, as you've said before. Also, Barack Obama's sister will be speaking. Claire McCaskill, a senator, female senator who's been a very outspoken supporter.

I think, though, the real challenge tonight is Michelle Obama. This is her opportunity to counter sort of the image that's developed of her in the press, especially after some of these Republican ads that have characterized her as, you know, not patriotic. Sometimes even, you know, racially insensitive in her own ways. Some very -- she's taken the brunt of the harshest attacks so far, I think, in this cycle. And so she's going to have the challenge to present herself as a warm, fully formed human being. And that's what they know they have to do.

ROBERTS: I mean anybody who's met her in person knows that she's very engaging. She's a very nice person. She's happy to meet you. Will that be able to come across in this enormous environment of this Pepsi Center tonight before national television? I mean she's got to have some butterflies about speaking there tonight.

YELLIN: It's got to be enormously stressful. A lot of pressure. We saw those pictures of her standing up there trying to give her a sense, get used to the experience.

ROBERTS: I know I'd be wigged out about the idea.

YELLIN: Right. Scary. And she brought up her family, I guess, to get a look at it. But you could expect it to be an exceptionally warm reception she'll get. You know, the Illinois delegation, hometown, is right down there at her feet. So she can get their enthusiasm. And I think they'll use anecdotes, like personal stories, little tales of their lives, to humanize her and make her sort of relatable. It's a TV word. It's not a real word, but you get what it means. Make her a person you can relate to.

ROBERTS: And what about Hillary Clinton and this supposed divide that exists continually between the McCain -- the Hillary Clinton factions and the Barack Obama factions? They've been doing their best to say, no, there's no split here. Do you believe that or, as Dana Milbank was suggesting, there are attempt to kind of paper over these fractures?

YELLIN: My sense is that there is two levels to this. And I am talking to Clinton and Obama people all day long. And then separately, the Clinton supporters who contact me. My sense is that the Clinton staffers and the principals themselves, Clinton and Obama, are working together. They are doing what they can to bring the party together. And I'm told that Clinton's speech itself will leave no doubt that she is fully behind Barack Obama.

ROBERTS: But what about their supporters?

YELLIN: That's the issue, is that there are still these incredibly energized, impassioned Clinton supporters who feel neglected. I mean the thing they say to me is, they're telling us to just get over it. Who do they think they are? This was a history-making moment. She deserves her moment in the sun. And so expect them to sneak in signs that say Hillary. Expect some dissension in the crowd.

ROBERTS: All right. We'll be watching very closely. Jessica Yellin, thanks so much.

That's going to do it for now from the CNN Grill here at the Democratic National Convention. I'm see you bright and early tomorrow morning 6:00 a.m. Eastern on "American Morning" as we continue our coverage.

Meantime, the politics rolls on here on CNN.

O'BRIEN: It certainly does, John. The Democrats have one goal this week, to leave Denver with a powerful momentum, really, that will drive toward the election. How can they do just that? We'll talk about that up next. A special coverage of the Democratic National Convention as we continue. Stay with us.

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