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McCain's VP Choice; The Importance of Political Speeches; Conflicted in Iraq: To Stay or Go?

Aired August 28, 2008 - 14:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. Soledad O'Brien at the CNN Election Center here in New York with continuing coverage of the Democratic convention.
Look at that. It's like I cued Sheryl Crow to start rehearsing again. She's been rehearsing now. She's at INVESCO Field, AKA Mile High Stadium. That's in Denver.

You can see her right there warming up. Everybody's been doing their sound checks today.

Skies are clear, the weather's supposed to be great. Crowds forming outside. Tonight, Colorado's governor, also Al Gore, a tribute to Martin Luther King. Then Barack Obama is going to accept the Democratic presidential nomination. That's all on tap for this evening.

Of course he's not going to say no to the nomination. Don't expect that.

So tomorrow, a major campaign event on the McCain side to tell you about. Possibly a vice presidential announcement. All of that to lead up to the Republican convention come Monday.

So there's pressure on both sides and it's growing. The stakes for Barack Obama tonight really could not be higher.

Covering it all, joining us this afternoon, CNN political analyst Carl Bernstein, literally written the book on Hillary Clinton, and also CNN political contributor Amy Holmes. She's an independent conservative.

Good afternoon to both of you.

Let's begin with what McCain is doing.

Historically, Carl, of course, you know the other side usually lays low, allows whatever group's holding their convention to go do it, and then the reverse is given. We didn't see that this year.

What do you read into that? Is that just a change in the times?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think we maybe we need to enunciate a little more clearly what has been going on, and that is a kind of counter-programming to the big news that's really coming out of the convention to try and undermine the Democrats' story by the Republicans. It's gone on some in the past in both parties. I don't think we've ever seen it to this extent.

Our responsibility as journalists is to point out that it's going on, as we're doing here, and make it a part of the story in itself. Because the real question is, now why is it important for McCain to put that out in the middle of, say, Bill Clinton's speech, as happened last night?

O'BRIEN: The vice presidential pick issue, is (ph) there not.

BERNSTEIN: And did we do the right thing on the air by doing a lot of commentary right after getting that information about the fact that John McCain has made his pick? Now, what the hell does that mean? Is that really news?

O'BRIEN: Well, let me ask you, even further than that -- but also, the candidates continue to campaign. So we continue cover their...


O'BRIEN: I mean, I guess from the candidates' perspective, is it that the stakes are so high that from now on, between now and then, you're going to use every available moment? Is it TV cameras are on and it will take that shot?

I mean, explain to me -- it's just a new day.

HOLMES: Sure, of course. And also, what is the networks' responsibility to give one party a clear field for a four-day infomercial? So the McCain campaign, they have a responsibility to campaign and get their message out. And I think it's reasonable that the media would be reporting on it.

But in terms of John McCain's VP pick, there was some talk that he might actually announce it today. And there was a lot of reaction among Republicans and conservatives that that would be bad form.


O'BRIEN: I was going to ask, historically, that's what David Gergen was saying.

HOLMES: And also, you know what, Soledad? It would be futile for him to put out his VP pick today. It would get drowned out of course by tonight's speech by Barack Obama. So, not only wouldn't it look good, you probably wouldn't even see it.

BERNSTEIN: I'm not sure that's the case, that it would get drowned out. But the other case, the most important thing we do as journalists is decide what is news and how each side conducts its campaign.

And one of the things about Barack Obama that has made him different is that he has said it is time for a new kind of political dialogue. He needs to be held to that. Is he doing that? That's a part of the story. Are the Republicans going with the old kind of politics? That's part of the story.

We need to tee up this question of the conduct of each side. That's news.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you...

BERNSTEIN: Not merely slavishly putting out there what each side wants them to put out. And I'm not suggesting we do that all the time. We've seen a lot of that, however, in this whole question about this Mile High rock stadium.

Incidentally, watching Sheryl Crow, it makes me wish I was a rock critic again. My son played...


O'BRIEN: Doesn't that take you into a whole new realm?

BERNSTEIN: My son played at the convention.

O'BRIEN: Out of politics and talking about the cute rocker, huh?

Let's talk back to politics, if I may, Carl.

Clinton, in his speech, President Clinton, acknowledged that things got hot during the primary. And some people had said that, you know, Hillary Clinton had to -- I think it was Alex Castellanos who said, you know, at some point you've got to acknowledge the spot on your jacket and that sort of the contentious was kind of the spot on the jacket.

So, President Clinton said, hey, listen, I got -- you know, things got hot. I raised the global warming, blah, blah, blah.

Is there anything -- when Obama gives his speech, is there anything he has to acknowledge in his speech? Or does he just stay away from that?

BERNSTEIN: You know, I'm one that says, let these candidates say what they want to say. They don't have to do anything. That he has a task, and that is to convince people that he is ready to be president, that he is formidable in a way that perhaps he has not been seen by a number of undecided voters.

If we're to believe some polls and anecdotal emphasis, to state the case of the Democrats against the Republicans. There are many ways to do that -- hot, cold, the other way. Let's way and see what he does.

What we do know is that we are talking about one of the great orators of our time who was giving a speech under the most extraordinary circumstances, 45 years to the day after Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. O'BRIEN: A lot of pressure there. A lot of pressure.

BERNSTEIN: The first African-American to be...

O'BRIEN: A lot of pressure.

HOLMES: Right.

BERNSTEIN: But it comes out of a convention that is -- you know, I've been looking at conventions a long time. This is as historic and exciting, and so far successfully a political convention as I have ever seen in 40 some years of watching them.

O'BRIEN: And the (INAUDIBLE) maybe so far because the pressure's on.

HOLMES: So far.

BERNSTEIN: That's right.

HOLMES: The pressure is on. And even Democrats are nervous about tonight's venue and that perhaps it was a mistake to construct this very elaborate set.

The governor of Tennessee, he said that, you know, they weren't asking me, but I think that was the wrong thing to do. A Democrat senior official said, if we could do it all over again, maybe we wouldn't have done it this way. That Barack Obama, we do know that he's such a talented orator...

O'BRIEN: Well, let me stop you there, because I'm wondering, if your home might go into foreclosure and you might lose your job because the plant's being closed...

HOLMES: Right.

O'BRIEN: ... and we all know the economy is really, really bad -- you know, 80 percent of people polled. All these terrible things, a dire economy, dire outlook, do you really care about the columns? You know, do you really care?

HOLMES: Well, but here's the thing, Soledad. Here's the thing. And this is what Democrats officials themselves are saying, is that having that type of setting actually plays against being able to deliver that personal, specific message of connecting to the average American.

O'BRIEN: We're out of town, so we'll leave it there for now.

BERNSTEIN: OK. I'll leave it for now.

O'BRIEN: I thank you both, even with the chiding and the comments about Sheryl Crow.

Thank you very much. Coming up next, comparing Barack Obama to John F. Kennedy. Is that over the top? We're going to ask one of President Kennedy's closest advisers. Ted Sorensen will join us right after these short messages.



SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There is not a liberal America and a conservative America. There is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America, an Asian America. There's the United States of America.


O'BRIEN: The 2004 convention in Boston, showing away with words -- blowing them away, frankly, with words. They seem to mean a great deal to him, whether they carry him to the White House or leave him short. And if you ask professional speechwriters of just about any partisan stripe, they'll tell you that he uses language with the kind of precision and flare not seen since John F. Kennedy.

Nixon had precision, they say. Reagan had flare. Senator Obama, some say, has both.

So my next guest knows all of this first hand. Ted Sorensen wrote for JFK, supports Barack Obama. So you know he's a fan. He's also the author of "Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History." And he joins us now.

So nice to talk to you, sir. Thanks for being with us.

TED SORENSEN, JFK'S SPEECHWRITER: I'm happy to be here with you.

O'BRIEN: Some of the most historic speeches have really been your words and your hand in them. I want to ask you first about the "New Frontier" speech, which was Kennedy's speech outside. And that, as David Gergen has been telling us all afternoon, there is a real trick in writing for a close-up point you're trying to make in a giant venue with a lot of people.

Were you worried about that challenge back then?

SORENSEN: Not at all. I respect David as one of the wise men in the fraternity, but the real audience is not sitting there in the auditorium. The main audience is watching him on television.

And John F. Kennedy was always relaxed and at home on television. He wasn't going to shout to the furthest rafters of the Los Angeles Coliseum, where he gave that "New Frontier" acceptance speech. He wanted to make sure everybody watching on television heard him loud and clear.

O'BRIEN: Some of the famous lines -- "Ask not what you can do for your country..." or "Ich bin ein Berliner," those are the lines that years and years later, people still are talking about and looking at.

How much stress goes into creating those lines? When you were part of the team that was working on some of those lines, did you know, "Ich bin ein Berliner," did you know, ooh, that is the line? This is a winner? Did you know it at the time?

SORENSEN: Apparently, I didn't know all I should have known about it, because some people say that a "berliner" is a jelly doughnut.

O'BRIEN: Yes, I heard that.

SORENSEN: But since I apologized for that in my new book that you were nice enough to plug, many professors of German have written me and said, "Don't worry about it. Everyone in his audience knew exactly what JFK was saying."

O'BRIEN: Did you know when you wrote it that, this is it? Boy, I was thinking of a line and that's the line? Did you know?

SORENSEN: First of all, you should realize that I've never acknowledged being the author of any particular JFK speech. I worked with him. We had an 11-year collaboration. But it was a true collaboration. And I couldn't identify any one word, phrase or line as being wholly or specifically mine.

O'BRIEN: Did you still think, as you sought on the page, even before it was delivered, did you think, this is -- boy, we've nailed it? Or do you just not know until it comes out of the candidate's mouth?

SORENSEN: No. On some occasions, we would try to pick a zowie ending. And I think we knew in advance that "Ich bin ein Berliner" was a zowie ending.

O'BRIEN: You knew that one was going to work.

How much stress do you think is going on right now in the Obama camp? I mean, how much stress were you under and the team? I mean, I understand it was a team of people, including the president, who was sort of crafting these speeches. But how much anxiety was there?

SORENSEN: The great thing about the Kennedy team was that there wasn't that big of a team. My draft speeches didn't have to be approved by the chief of policy. I was the chief of policy.

They didn't have to be approved by the senior member of Kennedy's team. I was the senior member of Kennedy's team going back to the year he became a United States senator, 1953. So there wasn't a lot of anxiety. By the time we had finished that draft, I think both JFK and I felt it was a solid speech.

O'BRIEN: Obviously speeches that are well done and well delivered find their place in the history books. Are they also critical to victory? I mean, can a speech literally make the difference between winning and losing an election?

SORENSEN: One speech probably doesn't make the difference, but many speeches do.

Kennedy had several goals in making that speech in Los Angeles in 1960. One of them was to reassure people that the fact that he was different, because he was a Roman Catholic, would not make any difference. That he still had the wisdom, the courage, the determination, the judgment to be a strong president of the United States.

He also wanted to reunite the Democratic Party after a very fierce contest for the nomination. Because he was the youngest man ever elected president, that acceptance speech was designed in part to reassure the leaders of the world that he was someone who understood world problems and the special role of the United States.

So, yes, there was a lot to be accomplished by one speech. But it would take later in the campaign a speech to the Houston Protestant ministers to reassure everyone about JFK and his religion. It would take a speech in California to first emphasize his goals of peace, including his proposal of the Peace Corps. So there were many serious speeches.

O'BRIEN: It's just the first step of many.

Well, I know you'll be watching and listening tonight. Ted Sorensen, so nice to have you as a guest today. Thanks for being with us.

SORENSEN: Thank you. I'm happy to be here.

O'BRIEN: We certainly appreciate it.

Got much more convention coverage coming up in just about 15 minutes, and throughout the day, of course.

Coming to you from the CNN Election Center in New York, I'm Soledad O'Brien.

We're going to send it back to Atlanta and CNN NEWSROOM right after this short break.



DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: A sound check just moments ago at INVESCO Field, Mile High Stadium in Denver. A sound check, and it sounds pretty good to me.

And you can see that's Sheryl Crow there practicing for a sound check. You can see the stage is set, or it very well soon might be.

INVESCO field in Denver, better known as Mile High Stadium, tonight it is the center of the Democratic universe, site of the biggest speech of Barack Obama's life. So far, we should say.

Hello, everyone. I'm Don Lemon, live here at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta.

We'll get back to the convention coverage news in just a bit. But first, some other stories making headlines.


LEMON: Tomorrow marks three years since Hurricane Katrina slammed ashore. New Orleans is still recovering from it. And we plan to take you there on the anniversary to see how the city is coping -- you see some of the people rebuilding there -- and how survivors are really taking matter into their own hands.

Meantime, in other news now, a bomb went off today in one of Pakistan's most unstable regions of Islamic extremism. The explosion destroyed a police van and killed at least seven people, most of them policemen. Twelve others are hurt.

There is no immediate claim of responsibility there. It happened not far from where gunmen fired on a U.S. consulate vehicle Tuesday. Nobody was hurt in that attack.

Now, live your life in fear or gamble on the unknown? That is the question. That is a gut-wrenching decision facing some Iraqis today, people who chose to work with or for American military or commercial interests there.

A new program makes it easier for them to leave their homeland for new lives in America. Do they do it?

CNN's Arwa Damon reports.


RONNIE, U.S. ARMY INTERPRETER: That was one of the times like many times we got blown up.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We met Ronnie, an interpreter for the U.S. Army, a year ago.

RONNIE: I swear, my God, every other day I have a nightmare of some militants trying to kill me in front of my house.

DAMON: Insurgents and death squads see anyone working with the Americans as an enemy. Ronnie's visa finally claim through and he fled to America.

The U.S. government has come under sharp criticism for not doing enough for Iraqi employees, but recently it expanded its refugee program.

RICHARD ALBRIGHT, U.S. EMBASSY REFUGEE COORDINATOR: Five thousand visas for five years. So that's 25,000 visas that will be available for Iraqis. On top of that, the refugee resettlement program. So we think that represents a significant commitment to Iraqis who have worked for the United States.

DAMON: And for those eligible, a significant step.

(on camera): Iraqis working along side the U.S. military have given up just about everything. But without them, the contractors and the interpreters, the soldiers' mission here would be nearly impossible. But for some Iraqis, the thought of having to start their lives all over again in a foreign land is just as petrifying as the prospect of staying here.

(voice-over): Even though this new legislation gives Anita, an interpreter, the ability to leave, she's torn.

ANITA, U.S. ARMY INTERPRETER: I can recognize anything and what's going to happen. In America, it's also a dark future for me, because I don't know how the Americans are going to accept me or accept my kids, or how am I going to live?

DAMON: Anita, who is divorced, took the job back in 2003 to support her four children. Now, she barely sees them, unable to go home most nights because of security concerns.

ANITA: Really, I didn't know it was going to be hard like this. I thought as long as we are helping the Iraqis also, they're going to appreciate it.

DAMON: Instead, she found herself living in a climate of constant fear.

ANITA: Is somebody watching me, following me? Maybe they're going to kill my family.

DAMON: Though life in America would be safe, it's uncertain. And like so many other Iraqis, despite everything, she says she will desperately miss her homeland.

Anita isn't the only one hesitating. Also eligible under the program are Iraqis working with American NGOs and media.

(on camera): Just being an Iraqi working for an American company is enough to make you a target. And that includes our own invaluable staff here at CNN, like the producer who worked on the story, or the cameraman who is filming me right now. And they're also torn about the decision to leave Iraq.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Baghdad.


LEMON: Tropical Storm Gustav unleashes deadly floods in the Caribbean. We'll find out more about the storm's potential threat to the Gulf Coast.

In northern India, a huge disaster gets worse by the day. We have got the latest on flooding that's being called a calamity.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Soledad O'Brien at the CNN Election Center in New York with continuing coverage of the Democratic Convention. They're doing sound checks and mic checks and all kinds of other checks right now at the Mile High Stadium in Denver. Gates opening in just a couple of hours for an expected 75,000-plus people who are coming to hear Barack Obama accept the Democratic presidential nomination.

But even as that happens, the McCain forces are preparing an event of their own for tomorrow in Dayton, Ohio. And, some people might say, sharpening their knives, getting ready to announce a running mate to try to take back the spotlight from the Dems.

CNN's John King is following the developments on the McCain side first.

John, I know you've been working your sources about this VP pick issue. What do we know at this point?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think John McCain and Soledad O'Brien sounds like a very --

O'BRIEN: No, thank you. I decline. No politics for me on any front, thank you.

KING: A very wise lady.

Here's what we know. John McCain later today will make the phone call, if he hasn't made it already. We're told the plan is to make the phone call today and to introduce his running mate at a big rally in Dayton, Ohio, tomorrow and then move on to Pennsylvania. We do expect perhaps that we will learn this information. We hope to get it on our own from sources. There is also talk in the McCain campaign of leaking it out late tonight, sometime around -- most likely -- just after Barack Obama's big speech at INVESCO Field to try to get into the mix of the conversation a little bit on Obama's big night and most of all to try to remind the American people, whatever you thought of what you heard this week in Denver, the other side of the story comes next week in Minneapolis/St. Paul.

We don't know who. You know the names that are in the mix. We're working all our sources. There are rumors of a plane heading to Minnesota, there are rumors of Colin Powell buzzing around the State Department. We're chasing all these things, but we will tell you when we know something we're confident about. There are always rumors on a day like this, Soledad. I've been here, I've lived this day too many times.

O'BRIEN: I bet you have.

Let me -- since you've lived this day a lot of times, is there a risk, in fact, if they announce it sort of after Barack Obama -- if it's an "officially leaked" kind of thing? A lot of the people, old timers I've talked to, have said, that is bad form and that there are risks to that. Is that just an emotional thing? Or do you really think that there is some kind of risk in showing bad form by stealing the focus? Or do Americans viewing at home not care?

KING: I don't think they'll steal too much of the focus. They would like a small slice of the pie. They understand this is an historic night in American political history. Barack Obama is going to get a big chunk, most of the attention today.

But here is one of the issues. Some people will say that no matter what they did, one of the issues this year that both campaigns have had to deal with is the fact that the conventions are late because of the Olympics and they're back to back, which is a rarity. It has happened before, but not that often. So you have the Republican Convention about to happen after the Democratic Convention, and there's an election that is only 70 days down the road.

So what you might consider good form or good manners are getting pushed aside by political necessity. This is a dead heat race. That is what the campaigns are worried most about. They're not worried about offending anybody right now.

O'BRIEN: Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney are two of the names that I've been hearing a lot. What about other names? Are there still other names out there? Are there new names that are now surfacing?

KING: Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota, Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, are the two names we hear most frequently. Mitt Romney is the name that we know several of John McCain's top advisers have favored from very early on in this process. But it is John McCain's decision.

And we have heard some other names from time to time. We know, for example, that he is very fond of the Democrat turned Independent, Joe Lieberman, who just happened to have been Al Gore's running mate eight years ago. Imagine the drama of that. We also know many conservatives have warned the McCain inner circle that would cause not only a revolt out at the Republican Convention, but they believe it would cause a lot of critical conservative voters to stay home in November.

He's also talked about a potential pro-choice running mate and praised the former Pennsylvania governor, Tom Ridge, a man very popular in his state. But again, that could be a tough sell to the conservative base.

And as I mentioned at the beginning a whole new round of Colin Powell rumors started this morning. I'm told by people close to General Powell or Secretary Powell that that is not the case, that is not going to happen. But, when the rumors come in, of course, we spend a lot of -- our cell phone bills run up on a day like this.

O'BRIEN: CNN's cell phone bills, not our personal bills.

Let me ask you a question about the Barack Obama camp. How much anxiety is there? I mean, you have so many important milestones and things you have to meet. And in a way, a lot of them are contradictory -- be low-key but lofty, don't be professorial, but make sure you stick on a lot of points, address everybody but also speak very intimately to people. These are almost contradictions. Are you sensing anxiety?

KING: Anxiety, I'm not sure anxiety is the right word, but they certainly are aware of the many, multiple, and in some places, contradictory challenges they face. You just highlighted them very well.

Look, one of Barack Obama's problems is that people who work on the factory floor don't feel yet that they have a connection to him. That is why Hillary Clinton did so well in places like Scranton and Allentown, Pennsylvania. Barack Obama's campaign says he will be out there doing the one on one small settings and Joe Biden will be doing a lot of that.

Tonight, you're going to see two of the challenges play out at the same time. In that stadium tonight, the reason they're going with the big crowd, is to bring in a whole lot of voters, not just delegates, but young people, voters out here in the mountain west where they're trying to compete. They are trying to overwhelm the normal Republican advantage in the Electoral College map by registering new voters and creating all this grassroots energy by using technology like text messaging and the like. You will see that tonight.

However, the most important audience for Barack Obama tonight is the people sitting in southeast Ohio or eastern Pennsylvania, at home in the kitchen tonight. And so how do you have this big stadium event with 80,000 people in there and yet convince the woman sitting there in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania or Parma, Ohio, that you're talking to her? It's an interesting challenge. Barack Obama is a politician with great skills, and they will be tested tonight, Soledad, without a doubt.

O'BRIEN: Certainly will. John King for us this afternoon.

Thanks, John. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, digging deeper. More on McCain and Barack Obama just hours before the biggest speech of his political life. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: You're seeing there Barack Obama speaking to a big crowd in Portland, Oregon, during the primary. He's about to make history in front of another massive crowd on the day heavy with significance for Americans, black and white, 45 years after Martin Luther King, Jr. said the words, "I Have a Dream."

And John McCain could be up to something, too, on the verge of naming a running mate maybe. With us now, CNN contributor and GOP strategists, Alex Castellanos --

I nearly mangled your name, Alex, after saying it 500 times this week. Wow.

-- and Democratic strategist, Patrick Murphy is also with us. That's a little bit easier for me to say as an O'Brien -- O'Brien, Murphy, you know?

Let's get right to Alex first. The speech tonight could be, John King was saying just a moment ago, maybe have the focus drawn by a VP announcement, the rumors or leaks. The rumors are coming fast and furious.

How much of this is really just strategy? This is a way to chip away at news coverage?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Anything you can do in politics to take away an advantage your opponent has is a strength for you. And right now, there is a convention bounce. And the more you can suppress your opposition's convention bounce, the better off your campaign is. So it's common parlance here to try to do that.

The Democrats will be doing the same next week. It's not uncommon at all.

O'BRIEN: In fact, Patrick, I was going to as you, do you expect that you'll see the same thing next week from the Dems in terms of all the ads and the ads that have the words of the people who are the running -- running against in the primary being regurgitated in an ad? All that stuff -- will we see that again but the tables turned next week?

PATRICK MURPHY, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think this is going to be a great start for the Democrats. This convention has been so fantastic here in Denver, they're going to come out like a freight train. And, you know, John McCain's biggest trick is to name his VP tomorrow. And that's sort of -- not who's on the short list, but who got the short end of the stick. It's not much of a gene pool. So we'll be all interested to see what he comes up with.

O'BRIEN: David Gergen said it would be unseemly to in fact name that VP tonight, or leak it, is I guess the way John King said, you know, maybe it could be leaked to steal some thunder.

Do you think in this day and age that would be unseemly or no?

CASTELLANOS: I think -- there's a certain -- I guess -- elite in politics that would love to see all this done by the Marquess of Queensbury rules, but most Americans really don't care about that. They want information. And I think what's changed is that this now happens, not in a convention, it happens on your television, it happens at home, it happens in a news cycle. And winning those news cycles is winning the election. That's how you do it.

So it would almost be malpractice, irresponsible, to let the other guy play one quarter of the football game all by themselves on the field and not get your defense out there.

O'BRIEN: But be gentlemanly (INAUDIBLE) of the time.

It was interesting, I thought, Patrick, -- what did you -- I assume you thought that President Clinton did a great endorsement of Barack Obama. Did you think that there's anything that he should have said that he did not last night?

MURPHY: I think he covered it all. I think both he and Senator Clinton really stepped up and really delivered on behalf of the Obama/Biden team. I think it's going to be a great, great night tonight. You're going to have 80,000 Democrats and Independents. And I've even seen a few Republicans here in Denver that are excited about this campaign and this candidacy.

O'BRIEN: Who will be -- one thing President Clinton did very well, love him or hate him, did well last night was he put the stamp of endorsement on Barack Obama. Who is going to be John McCain's endorser at the convention -- the Republican Convention next week? Name that person. Who does that role?

CASTELLANOS: There is going a plague of them. There will be lots of people from I'm sure -- just go through the all-stars. It'll be Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani. But you know, John McCain doesn't need endorsers the same way Barack Obama does. Barack Obama is unknown. He's the product that still has the wrapper on it that nobody has ever tried. So he needs validaters to say, this product is going to work. John McCain has been around pretty much forever.

O'BRIEN: Yes, but you know what? You look at that and you say, but you look at the poll numbers, nobody is running away it. There is not one person who is so around and so validated that, boy, they're killing it in the polls.

CASTELLANOS: In a year when you would think the Democrats would be running away with it, John McCain is in a pretty tight race. And again, I think it's known versus unknown --


MURPHY: People have known him since 2000.

O'BRIEN: Keep going, Patrick.

MURPHY: John McCain -- the problem McCain has is who he was in 2000 is different than who he is today.

CASTELLANOS: Oh, I don't think so. The Democrats keep saying that on the big issues McCain and Bush are in lock-step. Well, let's see -- global warming, they weren't, the surge in Iraq -- big issue -- no, they weren't, getting rid of Rumsfeld, no, they weren't.


CASTELLANOS: There are quite a few differences.

MURPHY: ... the United States Senate, there are very few differences. He's proud of having voted 85 percent with the Bush administration.

CASTELLANOS: Campaign finance reform, John McCain is his own man. You can go through -- O'BRIEN: There is an equally long list on the other side as well. But I guess what my question would be, isn't (ph) there a value in having someone who is the star of the Republican Party? John McCain has his problems with conservatives, you can't tell me he doesn't. Isn't there a value in having the star conservative who says, this is my guy, he's OK? He does need validating for that, doesn't he?

CASTELLANOS: Much less so -- it is much harder in politics to change a perception than to create a perception. And for good or bad, by the way there's a price for that -- but John McCain really is who he is. Barack Obama is still -- the Jell-O has not set yet. So that's why I think he needs a little more help.

O'BRIEN: Alex and Patrick, thank you very much. I appreciate it this afternoon.

More convention coverage coming to you in just about 15 minutes, and throughout the day of course.

Coming to you from New York, Soledad O'Brien at the CNN Election Center in New York. We'll send you back to Atlanta and the CNN NEWSROOM right after this short break.


LEMON: All right. Live pictures now, look at that. INVESCO Field at Mile High Stadium in Denver -- more than 75,000 people will be there tonight as Barack Obama accepts the Democratic nomination for president. We'll have more of our special convention coverage in just a few minutes.

Hello, everyone. I'm Don Lemon live here at the CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta.

Time now to tell you about some of the stories we're working on for you today in the CNN NEWSROOM. U.S. officials are denouncing comments by Russia's Vladimir Putin, blaming Washington for the conflict in Georgia. In an exclusive CNN interview, Putin hinted that the Bush administration orchestrated the conflict for political purposes and he said he believes U.S. citizens have been engaged in fighting with Russian forces.

Northeastern India is battling its worst floods in 80 years. Millions of people have been forced from their homes there. Forecasters say Tropical Storm Gustav could regain hurricane strength sometime day. After killing 22 people in Haiti and the Dominican Republic earlier this week, Gustav is near Kingston, Jamaica, right now. It could reach the Gulf of Mexico Sunday or Monday.

Well you know Tropical Storm Gustav is unleashing deadly force in the Caribbean and getting stronger and stronger. It could grow into a hurricane again any time now. At the moment, Gustav is targeting Jamaica after unleashing floods and causing mudslides in Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The storm is blamed for at least 22 deaths so far. Lessons learned the hard way. Parts of the U.S. Gulf Coast are taking no chances with Gustav, even though the storm's possible landfall is days away. In Louisiana, Governor Bobby Jindal has declared a state of emergency. Levees are being shored up. evacuation plans are in high gear and National Guard troops are reporting for duty.

Next door, along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, food, water and the batteries are selling very briskly. Tomorrow's the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's landfall in that region.

Let's get straight to it now with Chad Myers, tracking the big storm for us in the CNN Severe Weather Center -- Chad.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: The south coast of Haiti, Don, right now, really getting lashed with this back side. And this already a very wet country. Soggy and you can see the pictures. Well, now more mud slides happening here. Haiti, a very mountainous country. 10,000 feet high are where the mountains are. And so when this thing went over Haiti, a couple of days ago, it tore itself up and reformed down in the south. It found, hey, I want more water. I don't want this land. So, then it reformed to the south by about 100 miles and now is running over Jamaica.

And we're still seeing heavy rains in Kingston and also toward Montego Bay. And then now this thing will eventually move out into the Gulf of Mexico. I don't see how it misses the Gulf of Mexico. Could turn left, could turn right. But even here on this wide cone that we've made, it gets in there somehow. And the 3 means a Category 3 major hurricane for somewhere, anywhere from the Florida peninsula all the way over possibly to Corpus Christi.

You're not out of the woods there because this thing has a long, long time to get -- we're talking five days from now. And then Hanna -- Hanna just developed today. It's a 40 mile-per-hour storm but it's forecast to be a hurricane and there's Florida right there. But, with this storm, there's going to be a huge amount of sheer that pushes this storm into the Bahamas and then over Cuba. Well, then what's next?

Well, if it releases, it's going to be back in the Gulf of Mexico. The could be -- maybe the end of next week. Because here, this is already Tuesday, it's a Category 1, just making some waves in the Atlantic.

So, we'll call it surf's up for Wednesday and Thursday. We'll be watching it for sure very closely.

LEMON: Possibility. Just a possibility though, of a double whammy there, right.


LEMON: Chad Myers, thank you very much for that story.

MYERS: You bet you. LEMON: Flooding in northeast India, it is the worst, the widest in decades. Dozen of people are dead, millions without homes today. And making matters more dire, it will get worse.

On the phone now from northeast India, is CNN's Sara Sidner.

Hi, Sara.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Don. This is the worst flooding in 50 years in Bihar. This has been called India's Katrina.

But the numbers of people that are affected by these floods are even larger. The numbers are unfathomable. 1 million people according to officials, need to be evacuated because of this flooding. 225,000 homes have been washed away. Hundreds of villages are under water at this point.

Today, we have seen it all firsthand. We've seen panic. We've seen sorrow in the faces of people waiting to be rescued. We jumped on a boat with soldiers from the Indian army in Madhubani district in Bihar, one of the worst hit areas. Hundreds of people fleeing to us roof tops as we floated by villages. In this district alone, more than 10,000 people still need to be rescued.

There are mothers with infants, there are children, fathers, grandparents, all of them yelling, all of them waiting for help. They have no water, no food. And right now, they have no shelter. It is now about midnight here and there are people that are literally going to have to spend the night on top of the roof, hoping that someone can come get them.

But the truth is there are only a few rescue boats that cannot possibly get to all the people who need this desperate help. And as you mentioned, officials are saying that this is going to get worse. The flooding is continuing. The flood will likely get higher along the Kosi River, which is the river that has flooded. It is also known as the river of sorrow for good reason -- Don.

LEMON: Wow. Sara Sidner, those pictures are unbelievable. Thank you very much. We appreciate your reporting.

OK. So, as Tropical Storm Gustav threatens to become a major hurricane, oil companies are bracing for its impact.

And's Poppy Harlow has our Energy Fix from New York.

And Poppy, that can't be good anonymous for the oil companies when this is happening.

POPPY HARLOW, CNNMONEY.COM: Yes, it's not good news. But, Don, after 2005, they're taking really all the necessary precautions. Because all signs point to Gustav strengthening into a much more powerful storm.

Right now, the heart of oil production is in the Gulf of Mexico, right where that storm is headed. The Gulf -- take a look at this map -- it's home to about 40 percent of our domestic oil refining capacity. All of these little dots -- those are oil rigs in the Gulf.

What's going on right now, folks, several oil companies, including Royal Dutch Shell, Conoco Phillips, BP, have all begun to evacuate workers from those rigs. They'll likely close most of those rigs. They'll likely close most of the rigs over the weekend.

But, you know, the "Wall Street Journal" is saying that the nation's energy supplies right now are a lot less vulnerable than they were back in '05 with Hurricane Katrina and Rita when those stuck, thanks to now stronger infrastructure that's been developed over the last three years. But while those people that are living in the Gulf have to prepare for the worst, the rest of us have to brace for higher gas prices.

Surprisingly today, oil closed down about $250 a barrel, just under $116 helping ease those prices. The Department of Energy indicating it is ready to step in, if needed, to tap that strategic petroleum reserve, which is what happened after Katrina.

Meantime gas prices down again today. Our national average, $3.66 a gallon. But still, Don, something to be aware of and keep in mind that this could affect oil prices and therefore, high gas prices -- Don.

LEMON: It'll happen immediately, we'll see them eventually. See the prices -- see the effect.

Thank you. Poppy Harlow joining us from New York with out Energy Fix.

One of the unconventional highlights of this year's Democratic Convention has to have been Bill Clinton watching his wife's speech.

Our Jeanne Moos was watching Bill, watch Hillary.


MOOS (voice-over): With the kiss of a hand, Bill Clinton settled in to watch his wife's speech. The faces of Bill were all on display from lip biting to nail biting. As Hillary was cheered, his eyes seemed to fill. And mouthed, I love you.

Barack Obama watched Bill, watch Hillary.

OBAMA: He's choking up.


OBAMA: Listen, when my wife's up there I was like, whoa. It means a lot.

MOOS: But near tears soon turned to laughter.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: No way, no how, no McCain.

MOOS: And Bill loved the pant suit joke. CLINTON: To my sisterhood of the traveling pant suits --

MOOS: Barack liked it too.

Those pant suits had traveled to this same stage hours earlier, for what was described as a light test. Apparently the orange one.

With an unconventional moment, I'm Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


LEMON: Jeanne Moos.

OK. Well, final preparations are under way at Mile High Stadium, site of Barack Obama's acceptance speech tonight. There you go. Live pictures now. Let's head back to Denver, and also New York, where CNN's special coverage of the Democratic National Convention continues right now.