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CNN ELECTION CENTER

Senator McCain Taps Governor Sarah Palin for VP; Will the Hillary Women Swing over to John McCain?

Aired August 29, 2008 - 19:00   ET

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


CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Wolf. Hi there everybody, quite a shocker today from John McCain. Tonight, in this two-hour special edition of "The Election Center" you're going to get the answers to two of the most-asked question in the country today.
Just who is Sarah Palin and is she the right choice for John McCain? The best political team on television has been digging into her record all day today. We've got the facts for you. No bias, no bull. We've also got opinions from across the political spectrum we're going to share with you tonight.

And while we're talking about attention-grabbing events, the ratings are in. Barack Obama's acceptance speech beat the opening ceremonies for the Olympics. It even beat this year's finale of "American Idol." Thirty-eight million people tuned in last night, so will the convention give Democrats a bounce in the polls?

During this hour, Obama and his running mate, Joe Biden, holding a rally in the all-important tossup state of Pennsylvania. We're going to take you there live and give you a little bit of that. We are also live in St. Paul, Minnesota, where the Republicans are making final preparations for their national convention, which begins on Monday.

And on this, the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, check it out. The city is in the path of yet another storm that is already a killer. We are going to be getting the updated forecast on Hurricane Gustav while we're on the air.

And as I said before, the best political team on television, we've got Wolf Blitzer, we've got Gloria Borger, David Gergen. They're all going to be here during the next two hours for live updates on all the candidates in both presidential campaigns.

But let's get started with the big news. John McCain's big surprise possibly taking an even bigger risk here, for the first time ever, a woman is on the Republican ticket. Sarah Palin is also Alaska's first-ever female governor. She was elected less than two years ago. She's 44 years old, married and the mother of five children.

Her oldest son is in the Army. He's about to go to Iraq. Her youngest, a baby boy born four months ago, has Down Syndrome. She's a former sportscaster who became mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, population 5,470. That's just outside of Anchorage. Now she could become the first female vice president in U.S. history. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN (R-AZ), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know that when Senator McCain gave me this opportunity, he had a short list of highly qualified men and women and to have made that list at all, it was a privilege. And to have been chosen brings a great challenge. I know that it will demand the best that I have to give, and I promise nothing less.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Ed Henry is in Dayton, Ohio, where today we got our first look at the McCain/Palin ticket. And Ed, Sarah Palin, a pretty unorthodox choice, a pretty big risk a lot of people are saying for John McCain. Take us into his decision-making. What are your sources telling you about how he arrived at Palin and what he hopes that she's going to bring to this ticket.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Campbell, what's fascinating is that McCain aides say that prior to this week, these two people had only met once before, at the beginning of this year. Then they had a long secret meeting in Arizona yesterday, and they clicked. But John McCain is somebody who usually really prizes personal relationships, and here he is taking a leap of faith on someone he really doesn't know that well, and in terms of why he went this way, a lot of Republicans had been advising John McCain that he was sort of unexpectedly in a dead heat with Barack Obama, that he should have been way behind at this point because of Republican woes.

And they had said look, do no harm. Pick somebody safe like Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty but McCain's advisors tonight are saying he made a much different calculation, that he basically believes that the only way to break out ahead of Barack Obama is to do something bold, do something different. And he thinks he's found someone as a Washington outsider who's taken on fellow Republicans in Alaska, has fought against runaway government spending like that bridge to nowhere in Alaska, that that's the right person to try to make the case to the American people that it's actually the Republican ticket and not the Democratic ticket that can deliver change in Washington, Campbell.

BROWN: But, Ed, I don't have to tell you this, John McCain's whole argument against Barack Obama is that he just doesn't have the experience to be president, he's not ready. Today, you've got all these Democrats saying basically the same thing about Sarah Palin.

HENRY: You're absolutely right. Democrats were elated when they heard this. A lot of the Democrats that I spoke to inside and outside the Barack Obama campaign were saying look, he's built his whole campaign around bashing Obama and has gained some ground saying he's not ready to be commander in chief.

And also earlier this year, John McCain told CNN that the top criteria for a running mate would be the most qualified person to take over for him. Now he has someone who's younger than Barack Obama, arguably has even less national security experience, but partly the Republicans are pushing back and saying look, this is the number two spot, not the number one spot, but the bottom line is that on his 72nd birthday, John McCain has now put someone, a real newcomer, a heartbeat away from the presidency, potentially, if they win.

And he's really changed the dynamic broadly speaking but on the issue of national security, he set it up now where the distinctions between these two tickets are a lot more blurred. And it's not clear- cut anymore in terms of experience, Campbell. That's a risk.

BROWN: Ed Henry for us tonight. Ed, thanks, appreciate it. Both President Bush and Senator Barack Obama called Governor Palin today to offer her their congratulations, and here's what Obama told reporters. This is just a little bit ago, while he and running mate Joe Biden were touring a bio-diesel plant. This is in Pennsylvania. It was noisy there, but we think you ought to hear this, so take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I haven't met her before. She seems like a compelling person, obviously a terrific story, personal story, and you know, I'm sure that she will help make the case for the Republicans. Unfortunately, the case is more of the same, and so you know, ultimately John McCain's at the top of the ticket, as I indicated in my speech last night, I think that he wants to take the country in the wrong direction.

I'm assuming Governor Palin agrees with him in his policies, but the fact that she's been nominated I think -- or will soon be nominated I think is one more indicator of this country moving forward, the fact that you've got a woman as the nominee of one of -- vice presidential nominee of one of the major parties, I think is one more hit against that glass ceiling and I congratulate her, look forward to a vigorous debate.

I'm pleased with my choice for vice president, Joe Biden. I think he's the man who can help me guide this country in a better direction and help working families.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: And with me now on the telephone is somebody who knows more about Sarah Palin's politics than probably 99.9 percent of the country right now. Matthew Zencey is editorial page editor of the "Anchorage Daily News", Alaska's largest newspaper. Welcome Matthew.

You know most Americans don't know much, if anything, about Governor Sarah Palin and certainly not before today. I mean you give us your sense as a local, what sort of her biggest accomplishment is or what she's really known for there.

MATTHEW ZENCEY, "ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS" (via phone): Well I'd say five things, really, stand out in my mind about her tenure in office here. You have got some of her personal story there in the introductory segment.

Number one, she was elected as a reformer, change agent. There had been quite a bit of whiff of scandal here in Alaska which actually broke out full-bore after she got elected, and she helped the legislature pass some ethics reform. She moved on from there to pass a new state oil tax, which actually raised taxes on our oil industry by probably billions of dollars by the time it's going to be over because of our high oil prices. The previous oil tax had been passed under a cloud of corruption that broke out with the FBI investigation that we've had...

BROWN: Right. Right.

ZENCEY: ... and a couple convictions of state legislators. Third, she got -- she worked again with liberal Democrats, the same crowd that she worked with on the oil tax, she worked with them to get a natural gas pipeline partnership agreement with an independent company rather than Alaska's major oil companies and that was a big disappointment to the Republican establishment here. The Republican establishment opposed her on that.

BROWN: So basically she's a maverick, I guess you could say and...

ZENCEY: Yes. Yes, she is. She does have a little bit of an ethical blemish on her record here. She's in the midst of a controversy about some members of her staff and family trying to get her public safety department to fire her ex-brother-in-law, who's a state trooper. And that is being investigated by the state legislature here as we speak.

BROWN: OK, I was going to ask you about that. And this is, as I understand it, you just said a state trooper, her former brother-in- law who is going through a messy divorce with her sister, as I understand it, and she's accused of trying to get him fired, is that accurate?

ZENCEY: The divorce is over and the child custody issues are over. The trooper in question was suspended for 10 days, but not fired. The family and the governor's supporters felt he should be fired, tried to get the case reopened. Her public safety commissioner declined to do that and then her public safety commissioner resigned and the question is what sort of pressure might have been brought to bear on him to do that.

BROWN: So, Matthew, Matthew, just bottom line it for me. In your view, what do you think of this pick? Is she ready? Is she qualified?

ZENCEY: It's a brilliant political stroke, I think, because she complements McCain in so many ways, the maverick image...

BROWN: Right.

ZENCEY: ... social conservative, working class roots and so forth. She is going to be a heartbeat away from the presidency. And in my humble opinion, she is less qualified than Dan Quayle (ph), but he got elected vice president, so you never know.

BROWN: All right, on that note, Matthew Zencey, I appreciate your time tonight. Thanks very much.

ZENCEY: OK...

BROWN: So, what are other people saying? What kind of vice president would Sarah Palin really be? Coming up, you're going to hear what she told everybody earlier today, plus our star panel weighing in on whether she is ready to be a heartbeat away from the Oval Office.

And then later, Hurricane Gustav heading into the Gulf of Mexico and getting stronger every hour. We are going to see how New Orleans is preparing for the worst yet again. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She's not from these parts and she's not from Washington. But when you get to know her, you're going to be as impressed as I am. She has got the grit, integrity, good sense and fierce devotion to the common good that is exactly what we need in Washington today.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Tonight we are getting to know Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska and John McCain's new running mate. She is largely unknown to America. John McCain himself only met her one time before sitting down with her and seriously considering her to be his running mate.

Our political panel can't wait to talk about this. Bay Buchanan is a Republican strategist and a former advisor to Mitt Romney. CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger is in St. Paul. She's going to be joining us in just a second. Also here with me in New York is David Gergen, also CNN senior political analyst as well.

Bay, let me start with you. You know a few weeks ago, John McCain told us what he was looking for in a running mate. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: I think about whether that person who I select would be most prepared to take my place and that would be the key criteria.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

The key criteria, Bay, Sarah Palin has been governor of Alaska for less than two years. Is she really prepared to be the person to take over if something happens to John McCain?

BAY BUCHANAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You know, I think she will be absolutely prepared come January, and you've got to understand, we have a guy running for president, Barack Obama, for two years all he's been doing is running for president. He doesn't have any experience whatsoever.

But the media's fallen all over him saying he's going to be a terrific commander in chief. He's taken on...

BROWN: But, Bay, you're now like arguing over which one is the least experienced. You're like...

BUCHANAN: Well, no...

BROWN: ... but your guy's just as inexperienced as our guy...

BUCHANAN: You know what...

BROWN: ... or our girl.

BUCHANAN: I'll tell you what I have found enormously offensive today, is that for weeks now we have been hearing about Kathleen Sebelius as possibly a running mate for Obama, what a great choice that would be, a governor of Kansas. We hear about Tim Pawlenty, great choice possibly for Republicans, a governor from Minnesota.

BROWN: But Bay, come on...

BUCHANAN: You tell me...

BROWN: But Bay...

BUCHANAN: No, you tell me...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN: ... why the governor of Alaska is not as good...

BROWN: Because there's been...

BUCHANAN: ... as the governor of Kansas?

BROWN: They've all had more time on the job.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: She's been governor for less than two years. Prior to that...

BUCHANAN: Oh my god...

BROWN: ... she was mayor of a town of less than 9,000 people. She was on the City Council...

BUCHANAN: Let me tell you what she has done...

BROWN: Come on.

BUCHANAN: Oh, no, no, you come on because Obama has been a senator for less than two years, so let's get it all straight...

BROWN: No one's arguing...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: I'm not arguing that Obama has more experience. I'm just saying it's hard for me...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: ... to appreciate you arguing that she is experienced.

BUCHANAN: She is experienced...

BROWN: She may have many other things she brings to the ticket, but...

BUCHANAN: Oh, no...

BROWN: ... but experience...

BUCHANAN: Yes, she brings -- she has experience...

BROWN: Foreign policy experience, Bay?

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN: She complements John McCain. All the voters out there are worried about foreign policy experience. They got John McCain. They're going to vote for John McCain because Obama has zippo, zero.

BROWN: All right...

BUCHANAN: So we got it solid. Now what does she bring? She has been changing things in Alaska for two years. All Obama has been doing is talking about it. She is a terrific executive, 88 percent popularity up there, and she knows something about real life, balancing budgets in her family and in the state.

BROWN: OK. All fair points. But let me bring David Gergen into this. I'm by no means saying that she doesn't bring many, many other qualities to the ticket, but am I wrong in saying that, you know, she's right up there with Barack Obama in terms of experience, when you compare them to somebody like John McCain or Hillary Clinton per se.

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: You're not wrong about that. I think what's the most interesting thing in part about this is it's a selection that has pleased people on both sides of the aisle. The Bay Buchanans of the world, Bay is speaking, I think, in a representative way of a lot of social conservatives and fiscal conservatives who are extremely pleased with this.

She is an extremely popular governor; some say the most popular governor in the country. She has been reform-minded, but she brings this party back to its conservative roots from their perspective and with John McCain pledging to Rick Warren and saddlebag (ph) he's going to make this a pro-life administration, here she comes along and seals the deal, in effect. On the other hand, the Democrats are making exactly -- raising exactly the question look, you know the whole central argument against Barack Obama from the Republicans is...

BROWN: Is he's too inexperienced.

GERGEN: He has too little experience in national security. Now a 72-year-old nominee says -- a man with some history of cancer, with melanoma, he's brave -- he's a brave man to be sure, but he's come along and said I'm going to pick somebody to be next to me, a heartbeat away who has no experience at all? I mean isn't that argument, Bay, going to ring hollow in Minneapolis next week when speaker after speaker says Barack Obama doesn't have enough experience in national security to be commander in chief, and John McCain wants to have somebody next to him, should terrible things happen to him, all of us wish, obviously, for the opposite, but should something like that happen, does she have the experience to be commander in chief? I think that's the...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Bay, doesn't -- I mean he has a point. Doesn't everybody have to sort of rewrite their speeches for Minneapolis?

BUCHANAN: Yeah.

BROWN: I mean this undermines your whole argument...

BUCHANAN: No, no, no, it doesn't...

BROWN: ... that Barack Obama is too inexperienced.

BUCHANAN: It doesn't undermine it because of this. You complement your ticket. And John McCain would not want to bring General Petraeus on. He has got the foreign policy covered. And in a couple of months when we see -- or a month or so when we see this vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, debate Biden, you will see that she's knowledgeable as well and that she very much has strong beliefs on where we should go.

For heavens sakes, if nothing else, she's going to have a son over there in Iraq fighting on behalf of this country. That to me is one start for a foreign policy experience.

BROWN: Let me ask you both. I mean we can't deny the fact that this is in part political, right? I mean it is politics we're talking about this. Does he honestly have a shot because clearly that is one of their aims here in getting some of the disaffected supporters of Hillary Clinton?

GERGEN: Well I think to be fair, she needs time to be introduced on the national stage. And we just saw her for the first time today...

BUCHANAN: Exactly.

GERGEN: ... and we will be seeing more of her here in the weeks ahead. And she's a very feisty woman. She's been very popular in Alaska, so she may win over the hearts of an awful lot of people. I mean Bay's not wrong about that, so I think to be fair we have to let her play it out.

I will tell you that she also hasn't been vetted by the national press. And Bay knows, you know, that the national press can be awfully tough in going in and finding things that suddenly cast new questions, new shadows and everything like that. And if that happens, she will wither, she will wither as a candidate.

And finally, I have to say Bay that you know this is so clearly, and Campbell, you know, this is -- it was clearly -- it was clear when she spoke today, indeed blatant, that she's appealing to the disaffected women out there especially.

BROWN: She made a direct appeal...

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: ... made a direct appeal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

GERGEN: And I have to say I think with the Democratic Convention, I think those women are starting to come home to the Democratic Party. But what was surprising -- just hear me out for a second, Bay...

BUCHANAN: Sure. Sure.

GERGEN: ... reading the blogs today which are usually pretty balanced between Republican supporters and Democratic supporters, I was surprised by the number of women who were writing in on CNN blog sites saying they were insulted by this. If this is supposed to be the substitute for Hillary Clinton, they are personally insulted. I was surprised by that.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: We're going to talk about that when we come back a little bit more, Bay, but give me your thoughts generally about the ability you think or the real shot that Republicans have about getting some of these women with her on the ticket now.

BUCHANAN: You know first of all you have to understand that some of these women are Reagan Republicans -- Reagan Democrats. They're working class people who were upset with Republicans. They take a look at her, she will relate to them far better than Barack Obama ever could do. And I think she can reach out there because of her own story.

BROWN: All right, guys, stay with me. We've got a lot more to talk about. We all know John McCain has been making a big play, as we were just talking about, for some of those Hillary Clinton women. We're going to talk more about whether or not Sarah Palin may help him close the deal with more panelists when we come back. And then later, Barack Obama and Joe Biden barnstorm out of Denver. But will the momentum last? We're going to have their plan to keep it going or to try to keep it going right through the Republican National Convention. That's coming up in this two-hour special of Election Center. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN: It was noted in Denver this week that Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest (INAUDIBLE) glass ceiling in America, but it turns out the women of America aren't finished yet and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Sarah Palin, a woman you're going to be hearing a lot more about. She is running to be the first female vice president in American history. History was a big theme in Hillary Clinton's campaign, of course. Many of her supporters were itching to put a woman in the White House. So is Sarah Palin their next best hope?

We're going to talk about that right now with our panel, with Clinton, with the women on our political panel. We have got no Gloria Borger yet, we're still having technical problems, but Bay Buchanan and also David Gergen with me now and David, Sarah Palin did get a nice little hat tip today from Hillary Clinton, who put out a statement saying that we should all be proud of Governor Sarah Palin's historic nomination.

I congratulate her and Senator McCain. While their policies would take America in the wrong direction, Governor Palin will add an important new voice to the debate. What do you think (INAUDIBLE)? I thought that was fairly gracious from Senator Clinton. What do you think of her?

GERGEN: Well I must say that Senator McCain was gracious last night to Senator Obama and it's been nice for both sides have been -- have had these grace notes in the campaign. It will start up soon enough. But I go back to this question, you know I can't speak for women.

I'm probably the wrong person to be analyzing this. But my sense is that it's going to be very, very hard to persuade Democratic women who have been for Hillary to come over for a pro-choice, lifetime member of the NRA.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pro-life, life-time, yeah, pro-life...

GERGEN: Pro-life and it did strike me that there were other candidates that John McCain apparently was considering who, Meg Whitman of eBay and also Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas who might have been very appealing to Democratic women, but they were pro-choice. And I think that John McCain made a very big, strong statement about his pro-life commitment as president today in doing this and that's going to please the Bay Buchanans of this world immensely.

You know all of the evangelicals are rallying to him. He had an enthusiasm gap in his party. He had fissures in his party just like Barack had fissures in his party, so he has done a lot to heal on his side, but in terms of bringing over Democratic women...

BROWN: Women.

GERGEN: ... I just don't think that's going to happen. And I don't know, maybe there are -- I'm sure there are Reagan women out there, Reagan Democratic women, as Bay says, but I think they tend to be a small proportion of the women of the disaffected Hillary voters.

BROWN: Do you agree with that, Bay? I mean are we talking about a sliver here?

BUCHANAN: I'll tell you what we're talking about here is the pro-choice, those women across this country and men, if they exist, who vote just on this issue, John McCain was never going to win. They're gone. We're never going to win them. They're not our natural base and he wasn't going to bring them over.

The key is what votes are we looking for. How -- what are we going to do? What does she bring to the table in -- with her background? And I say send her to the veteran halls and the union halls and the poolrooms and anything else you can in Pennsylvania and Ohio and Michigan.

That's where this is going to be decided. And that's the men and women she can speak to, because of her personal experience. She understands what they're going through as families. She understands what a state needs to do to help them to create those jobs and opportunities better than anyone else on either ticket. She will sell herself to them because they will relate perfectly to who she is.

BROWN: I got to tell you, though -- I got to read a couple of these e-mails that I received today because I was really surprised at some of the anger here from women who found -- and this was on both sides, Republicans and Democrats, Bay, who found this insulting.

One woman wrote "if McCain thinks that she will draw women to -- that supported Hillary, he's sadly mistaken. It was never about a woman. It was about Hillary."

Another one wrote, "What are the Republicans thinking. They are hoping the Alaska governor of two years will pull in women who support Hillary and that they will vote for this gal, why, because she's a female. They seriously degrade the intelligence of women all over the U.S. that supported a woman who is qualified to be president. How dismissive. How demeaning."

BUCHANAN: You're going to get a lot more of them. And I'll tell you where it's coming from. The feminists are in meltdown in this country. They were so hopeful to be able to break this glass ceiling with one of their own, Hillary Clinton, and they failed because Obama chose not to take her even though she was the most qualified person, ready to take it.

He walked away from picking a woman. And all of a sudden, John McCain, the conservative, the Republican, goes out and picks a conservative woman who is a governor as well. They are just apoplectic over this because they see the possibility that the first woman is not going to be one of their's. It's going to be a conservative, traditional woman coming out of the Republican ranks.

BROWN: I've got an e-mail from women who say "I'm a member of the NRA. I'm a Republican. I've always voted Republican, but this is insulting to my intelligence." Do you agree with that or I...

BUCHANAN: I'll tell you...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: The issue is they say qualifications.

BUCHANAN: Yes.

BROWN: That why wasn't it a Meg Whitman? Why wasn't it a Kay Bailey Hutchison? Someone who had more experience -- that's in the e- mail I'm getting.

BUCHANAN: Because she offers so much more. First of all, you have got to excite your rank and file. He has to get the same kind of energy that the Democrats have in their rank and file. He did it with one fell swoop. I was not enthusiastic about this ticket and the notes we're getting and the e-mails that I'm getting, people are excited to go to this convention. Conservatives are coming home, thanks to John McCain, put his hand out and say...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN: ... we had a place at the table.

BROWN: Bay is arguing this wasn't about women.

BUCHANAN: Number one.

BROWN: It's about evangelicals.

BUCHANAN: It's about history making. The Democrats have all the talk about the history, first time in American history. Now we have the same thing.

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: Bay, let me ask you this.

BROWN: That's a good point. That's a fair point, Bay.

GERGEN: Would you have been equally excited had he picked Meg Whitman or Kay Bailey Hutchison? BUCHANAN: I wouldn't have voted for the ticket.

GERGEN: So because she's pro-choice and the other two are not?

BUCHANAN: Because I am a pro-lifer. Our party is solidly pro- life. We are social conservatives. And my problem is this. John McCain has not been with conservatives. We wanted to see that he does believe in those things we believe in. That he respects the fact that even though we disagree on a lot of issues, he respects the contribution and who we are in our party. And he did that by putting the hand out and joining in bringing on Sarah Palin.

BROWN: All right.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN: So our statement is we're coming aboard, we're coming home, John. We're going to do whatever we can to help you.

GERGEN: I think the real risk then here, Campbell, if I may say so, yes, he's going to bring the evangelicals in. Enthusiastically, yes, they will volunteer in much greater numbers to get the Independents and the Democrats who are not pro-life is now going to be much, much tougher.

It's so clear where they're going (INAUDIBLE) go in Supreme Court appointments, where they're going to go on legislation, in a very, very pro -- strong pro-life position, so I'm surprised by that. I would have thought he might go the other way.

But he would have -- I think Bay's right. He would have split his convention apart. This way he rallies his convention. I do think there is this one other issue that's big. And that is the decision- making process that went into this. I am -- this is the most -- single most important decision each candidate has to make before he becomes president. It reveals a lot about the person, the judgment of the person and how they go about making decisions, and I'm surprised, deeply surprised, that he's only met her once before he made the decision. He had one personal exposure, he one phone call this past Sunday, and then he invited her to Sedona where they had a private meeting where he offered her the place on the ticket.

BUCHANAN: You know, David, where I would disagree with you on whether he gets the Independent women is this. What are the Independents voting on? They don't vote on the social issues as much as they vote on the economic issues. They've left our party as Republicans and some from the Democratic Party because they are fed up with Washington. She is from outside Washington, she brings the change...

GERGEN: What does she believe, you know, I thought Romney was the best choice because I did think he brought you strength on economic issues. He's a business person who really understands and has been highly successful and I also thought he brought you strength in Michigan. But I don't understand why, you know, she brings you any strength on questions of economic policy. At a time when the country is in the worst financial crisis since the depression, here is a woman who comes along who is mayor of a city of less than 8,000 people. I don't understand why she is the answer to figuring out how to deal with the economy.

BROWN: All right, quick answer, Bay, then we have to take a quick break.

BUCHANAN: Well, there's no question, I thought Mitt would have been very, very strong. I'm not going to argue that. But she brings other things to the table. And she is governor of a state, she knows how to balance the budget and she's been there on the front lines of working, just like working men and women. She relates to them, David, unlike those who have been spending their life in Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Senate.

BROWN: Guys, stay with us. Bay and David, we want you both to stick around, we got a lot more to talk about. The Democrats rolled out of Denver today, buoyed by last night's Woodstock-style convention finale. Now, the big question hanging over them: How big is the bounce? Is this a bounce? Tonight, Barack Obama and Joe Biden hold a rally in the all-important Pennsylvania. We're going to take you there live as soon as that begins.

And three years ago today, Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans. Well, will Hurricane Gustav unleash its fury on that struggling city next week? The updated forecast from the National Hurricane Center just about to come out, we're going to have that very shortly.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: The National Guard in New Orleans tonight getting ready for Hurricane Gustav. We want to get the latest information on what's happening with that hurricane which is threatening to hit the central Gulf Coast in just a couple days. Not what New Orleans wanted to hear, especially today, this is the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. And Chad Myers is watching Gustav in the CNN Severe Weather Center for us tonight.

Chad, what do we know? Where is it headed?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We know that it's getting a lower pressure and just like a nor'easter or just like a big snowstorm in the winter, if you get a lower pressure, you get more wind and a stronger storm. And so even though the numbers here remaining the same at 75 miles-per-hour, by morning, when an airplane's through it again, I believe this will be a 90 mile-per-hour storm. And here's Grand Cayman right there, about to get into very heavy rainfall. I don't think this will be a flooding event for them, very low island, but it's a wind event for them.

And then it goes over Cuba. It misses Havana proper, but right over Pena del Reo (ph), right there, that is where most of the tobacco is grown for Cuban cigars. Right through that area that's a Category 2, maybe a three. And then we get closer to New Orleans. So far, so good. Very few models actually take this storm right into New Orleans proper.

And the models are kind of spread out, they are left and right and I can show them to you on the Google Earth, here. Some are to the left, some are to the right but more now are to the left or the west of New Orleans, and some of them, unfortunately, are into Houston, a very big city, obviously, with even more people affected there than New Orleans. The only issue with New Orleans, much of it below sea level. Houston, not all that much different, A lot of bayous there, bayous, whatever you call them there -- and that rain could really be piling up and it could be a flood threat. And obviously with that wind, 120 miles-per-hour, that's a threat to life anyway, whether it's raining or not.

BROWN: It's bayou, for sure. Definitely bayou.

MYERS: There's a little drawl that they use in there.

BROWN: Yeah, so evacuations, what are you hearing for New Orleans or Houston? Are they be necessary? Do we know at this stage?

MYERS: There are already some posted for tomorrow to get out of some of the lower-lying areas, Plaquemines Parish and even around New Orleans, but still a mandatory, we talk to General Honore all the time -- a mandatory evacuation still doesn't mean you have to leave. They want you to leave, but they can't literally drag you out of there by your limbs and get you out of there.

BROWN: Well, a lot of people are unable to leave. They have no way to get out.

MYERS: Well, they ordered buses, they've ordered trains, they're ordered everything for New Orleans. And you know, I was listening to Mayor Nagan about New Orleans and literally all this bad press that Katrina had and how many people stayed, literally about 1.4 million people left and 50,000 people stayed, but it was those 50,000 that got themselves in trouble.

BROWN: Yeah. All right. Well, a lot to keep an eye on. Chad, we will check back in with you throughout the evening. And, of course, we should mention to everyone, on tonight's AC-360, Anderson Cooper will be live from New Orleans looking at preparations for Hurricane Gustav there. That's AC-360, tonight, 10:00 Eastern Time. Stay with CNN, of course, for continuing coverage of the hurricane all weekend long.

And stand by for more on John McCain's shocking pick, to a lot of people, of Governor Sarah Palin for his running mate. He is stirring things up and adding a whole new dimension to this campaign. This is a special two hour ELECTION CENTER.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: You're looking at a live picture, right now. This is the Democratic rally in Beaver, Pennsylvania, that should be starting soon, I guess. Barack Obama and Joe Biden are kicking off a bus tour of three tossup states that are absolutely vital in this campaign season. Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan. We're going to take you there and show you what's going on as soon as the candidates take the stage and start talking. That's coming up in just a little bit.

This comes, of course, less than 24 hours after Obama's monumental acceptance speech that closed the Democratic convention last night. He made it clear he wants voters to see him as the maverick in this presidential race rather than John McCain. And here's part of what Obama said last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let there be no doubt, the Republican nominee, John McCain, has worn the uniform of our country with bravery and distinction, and for that we owe him our gratitude and respect. And next week, we'll also hear about those occasions when he's broken with his party as evidence that he can deliver the change that we need.

But the record's clear, John McCain has voted with George Bush ninety percent of the time. Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush has been right more than ninety percent of the time?

(APPLAUSE)

I don't know about you, but I'm not ready to take a 10 percent chance on change.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: As 85,000 Democrats who were there, were and pretty fired up last night. A big country out there, though, not all audience are going to be nearly as friendly. So tonight, we are all waiting to see whether there is actually an Obama bounce, here. Dissecting the pros and cons of the convention, CNN's Jessica Yellin has been dialing Democrats all day long and is joining us with the latest.

And Jessica, you know, they knew this convention would be a huge defing moment for the Obama candidacy. Now that they are assessing after it's all over, what are you hearing from Democrats? Do they think they hit Republicans hard enough?

YELLIN: In a word, yes. At the beginning of the week, there was a lot of concern because they felt that there was not enough attack on the Republicans, but then we heard both Hillary Clinton start ramping it up, Bill Clinton went even further. John Kerry, Al gore. As the week went o the attacks on the Republicans increased until Barack Obama himself really, as you heard it there, went after John McCain in a way that satisfied the Democratic operatives.

The bottom line, Campbell, is that Democrats have felt that Barack Obama himself was not comfortable going after John McCain. Often on the campaign trail, you will hear him say to an audience: here's what I have to do, I have to convince you that John McCain is not ready for change. Instead of just making the case that he's not ready for change. Last night, they felt Barack Obama made the case, they expect to hear that kind of message from him again and again on the campaign trail, and they think it was very effective and they left the convention with a message they needed, that they're defining the future and John McCain is the past -- Campbell.

BROWN: All right, Jessica Yellin, I know we're having some audio problems and Jessica can't hear me. So, we're going to let her go. Oh, we got her back. OK, Jessica, I'm going to hold you then for one more question. Talk to me about the idea of change, obviously, which Obama has based his campaign on. And he was criticized early on for not putting enough meat on the bones, explaining to voters what that really meant. And there was a lot of talk last night after his speech that he had done that in this speech, that he had really fleshed it out. Do our people, feeling pretty good about the speech overall and did it deliver on that front?

YELLIN: That's much more of an eye of the beholder question. Democrats feel he did. They feel Barack Obama literally said: I talk about change, here is what I mean and then enunciated a list of specific changes he would enact from early childhood education funding to reducing dependence on foreign oil in 10 years. So, people who are inclined to like him thought it was very fleshy and substantive.

People who had reservations are the ones we're uncertain about. The people who were not in Obama's camp thought it was just as abstract and rehashed campaign trail lines that they've heard before. So, the big unknown is that group in the middle, the undecided's. Polling still has to be done. One thing the Obama campaign is stressing is that ratings show 38 million people watched, that's more than the finale of "American Idol" and so they're hoping that those viewers really are turning over what he said and considering it, they feel in the campaign he sold the message very well, that he was specific. We're going to have to see how this settles in the next few days.

BROWN: And now for the week ahead, all about Republicans as they gear up for their convention. Jessica Yellin for us from Saint Paul, we'll be talk about this a lot more from a different perspective next week.

So, what are the Republican VP also-rans thinking about tonight after we've learn that McCain has chosen his VP? We're going to find out from one of them, Minnesota governor, Tim Pawlenty, is going to be joining us from the site of the Republican National Convention, That's coming up. This is the ELECTION CENTER.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: The grand ol' party is getting ready to party in Saint Paul, Minnesota. But, the Republicans are going to have important work to do at next week's convention. We'll be talking about that most of next week, but all anybody is buzzing about today is, of course, John McCain's pick for vice president. CNN's Wolf Blitzer is in Saint Paul, tonight. He is with Minnesota governor, Tim pawlenty, who was one of the finalists, we know, on McCain's shortlist and to get his reaction about the choice of Sarah Palin -- Wolf. WOLF BLITZER, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Campbell. I think by almost all accounts, he was the first runner-up in this contest, Governor.

GOV TIM PAWLENTY (R), MINNESOTA: There's no silver medal in this competition.

BLITZER: No silver medal. But, how did it feel when you got the call this morning from Senator McCain saying it's not going to be you?

PAWLENTY: Well, honored to be considered. But I think he made a fabulous choice, an outstanding leader, somebody who will bring a lot of excitement, not only for the party but for the country. And I think this could be a major turning point in the election.

BLITZER: Because a lot of people, myself included, yesterday you were supposed to be in Denver with me in THE SITUATION ROOM on our show, and you had to cancel, you were leaving and I specifically assumed, like a lot of reporters, you know what, Tim Pawlenty's the man.

PAWLENTY: Well, I know they wanted to pull down on that schedule so they weren't in the middle of the Obama presentation and some other things, but senator McCain had the boldness and the courage to make a bold pick, and I think if we look at what Senator Obama did in one of the first major decisions of this campaign, he played it safe. And so I think this may be a very significant difference-maker in the election.

BLITZER: But, Joe Biden, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he's 30 years experience in these domestic, national and foreign policy issues. She's much more limited, only a couple years as governor, she was mayor of a small town in Alaska before that. Is she ready on day one, god forbid, if necessary, to be commander-in-chief?

PAWLENTY: Well, as you know, one of Senator Obama's main themes is he's the candidate of change, but he reached into Washington, picked the consummate insider and Joe Biden was elected to the Senate when Barack Obama and I were 12 years old. So, that's not much change. As to is she ready, she's got executive experience. She's commander-in-chief of the Alaska National Guard, she's also got a lot of leadership experience as chair of one of the big energy commissions, a former mayor. She has more executive leadership experience than Barack Obama does.

BLITZER: Will she be ready to debate Joe Biden in that one vice presidential debate? A lot of people will be watching to see if she's up to it.

PAWLENTY: Yes, she will. In fact, I think she'll be ready and I will predict to you expectations are so high for Senator Biden because they puffed him up as this great debater, I'll predict to you right now that Governor Palin will do very well in that debate and will be declared the relative winner in that debate. BLITZER: Dana Bash, our reporter who covers the McCain camp, she says until the last few days when she went out, Governor Palin, to Arizona to sit down with him, to get to know each other a little bit, and then later in Dayton, last night and today, they had only met once before and that was earlier this year.

PAWLENTY: Well again, Senator McCain is a maverick, he's courageous. He made a bold pick. Now, is it somebody he's known for a lifetime? No. But, he looked at her credentials. I'm sure they did a great vetting job on her. And somebody -- he said, you know what? I want to make a bold...

BLITZER: Do you really think that some of those angry, disappointed Hillary Clinton supporters, especially women, are going to vote for Sarah Palin who opposes abortion rights for women, and very conservative on the social issues?

PAWLENTY: Absolutely. You look at her background. She's made it on her own, she's a hockey mom, she has five children, she's got a career of her own, her husband is a fabulous individual. She's somebody who's got kind of a dynamic quality about her, a strong quality about her. I think a lot of the characteristics that people saw in Hillary Clinton, are Hillary Clinton supporters, are going to -- some of those same dynamics in Governor Palin.

BLITZER: Do you think that was a main factor in Senator McCain's decision, that she is a woman and that she could eventually bring in some of those Hillary Clinton supporters?

PAWLENTY: Well, I don't know that I would phrase it as a gender issue. I would just say she's a figure, a character, a leader who would be attractive to, I think, a broad section of voters, but including disaffected Hillary Clinton voters.

BLITZER: Did you have a chance to watch the Democratic convention, especially last night when Barack Obama had the acceptance -- accepted the nomination?

PAWLENTY: I did watch that, yes I did.

BLITZER: What did you think?

PAWLENTY: I give him credit. It was a great speech from an oratorical sense, a great theater, great drama, great production. But the fact of the matter is, when the dust settles, you got to ask, what has this person done, Barack Obama, and what has he run. And the answer is, not much, and nothing. And I think the American people are figuring that out.

BLITZER: But you're not worried about the inspiration? You know, he really inspires a lot of people out there, 85,000 packed that stadium in Denver. I don't know if John McCain can attract 85,000. He'll attract 20,000 in here Thursday night, as we know.

PAWLENTY: John McCain's strengths are authenticity, what you see is what you get. There's a maverick style about him and also he's somebody who's got this courageous record of leadership. His strength is not drama, glitz and glamour. In fact, a lot of people think too much of that is not a good thing. So, I think authenticity is a real consideration for people. John McCain has that by the truckloads.

BLITZER: The main argument, though, that they make against John McCain is that, is he liked Bush and Cheney for eight years, you'll love another four years of John McCain. And that's what they're going to be hammering, the way they did last night, but over the next 67, 68 days. You know that's going to become a...

PAWLENTY: Yeah, of course. But of course, the facts matter, the truth matters. John McCain's record as a maverick, as an Independent, is backed up by how he's broken with Bush...

BLITZER: But he voted with Bush 90 or 95 percent of the time.

PAWLENTY: Yeah, but on some of the big defing issues of our time, federal spending, the surge, drug importation from Canada, torture, nuclear arms containment and disarmament, on down the list, he has stood up and parted -- the surge -- parted very visibly, very courageously and boldly from President Bush.

BLITZER: But, on taxes now, he's now on the same level. He opposed the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, but now he says he wants to make them permanent.

PAWLENTY: That's a good thing. I think the majority of Americans don't want their taxes increased. So, Barack Obama wants to raise taxes, Senator McCain does not. I don't think that's going to hurt him at all.

BLITZER: But he says he wants to raise taxes for people and make more than $250,000 a year and lower taxes for 90 or 95 percent of the middle class.

PAWLENTY: Barack Obama's record includes votes that have him raising taxes on people who make as little as $42,000 a year. He has voted to either oppose tax cuts or to vote in favor of tax increases 94 times in his three years in the United States Senate. And he proposed so much spending, there's no way he can pay for it without tax increases that will impact everybody or nearly everybody, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, you're not going to be on the ticket. Do you go to Disney World, now? What do you do to relax?

PAWLENTY: Well, we got the convention we're hosting, here in Saint Paul. So, there's not going to be any relaxing. We're honored to have it here in Minnesota. It's a great state. We're going to roll out the Minnesota hospitality, but I'll be busy here over the next week.

BLITZER: I know you'll be busy next week, but then you go to Disney World.

PAWLENTY: I want to go fishing and catch some walleye, maybe.

BLITZER: That would be smart. OK, Governor, thanks very much.

PAWLENTY: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Campbell, Tim Pawlenty, he's the governor of Minnesota. He's not going to be the vice presidential running mate, but he's got a pretty good day job he can keep for the time being.

BROWN: Not to mention he's hosting a big party, as he says, for the next four days.

BLITZER: That's right.

BROWN: All right, Wolf, appreciate it. Governor we'll see you out there next week.

Starting Monday, the Republicans do get their four full days to make their case to the American voters. It is a big challenge. George W. Bush, someone argued, may not be helping. He will be there, though, and we'll talk about that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: They generally pass like planes in the night, but there they are. John McCain's "Straight Talk" jet and Barack Obama's campaign plane, which maybe you can see. Can we see that? They're together on the tarmac in Pittsburgh, supposedly. Let's see. Go in. There it is, there it is, OK. Now I believe it. A rare sight, indeed.

Barack Obama flew out of Denver today after hitting McCain pretty hard in his big speech. Well, tonight the task ahead for John McCain in Saint Paul. Wolf Blitzer is back to take a look at Republicans' top priorities for their convention, there in Minneapolis -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They've got a major hurdle, Campbell. As you know, we were in Denver at the Democratic convention, now we're here in Saint Paul at this Republican convention at the Xcel Energy Center. John King is with us, as well.

It starts Monday, as you know, and it kicks off with Dick Cheney and George W. Bush addressing these Republicans, here. Now, they're going to be popular with a lot of the Republican base, but it's something that the McCain campaign is not necessarily thrilled about is it?

JOHN KING, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: How about queasy, can we agree on queasy for a word?

BLITZER: Yeah, queasy a good word.

KING: Maybe a little bit anxious about that? Look, inside this hall, the president, the vice president still overwhelmingly popular. Out in the country, you know the numbers, the president's approval rating is in the 20 percent. So, they understand it's a problem, here. The one message that the McCain campaign does believe could help from President Bush is the simple idea that since 9/11, the United States has not been attacked for all the controversies about some of the security policies of the Bush administration, homeland security policies, warrantless wiretapping and the like, the president will make the case that we have not been attacked. And the other thing, the president will set a tone for this entire convention by saying farewell to these Republican delegates and saying what an honor to serve in the Oval Office. Service will be a major theme for this convention, next week.

BLITZER: Now, there's one wildcard and it's a huge wildcard, Hurricane Gustav, which is going into the Gulf and by Monday or Tuesday, could hit the Gulf Coast, maybe even New Orleans. I know you've been doing reporting over the past couple days on contingency plans these Republicans are coming up with.

KING: And they have from "A" to "Z" in those contingency plans. I spoke to a senior White House official, a few moments ago, and right now the president is coming here Monday night. But if there is a major impact from a storm, the president will not come here, is the plan, right now. Any major impact, the last thing they want is the president giving a political speech where we split the screen and showing a major American city dealing with major storm damage. No. 1, because the president's job, obviously, is to care about that, No. 2, the Katrina hangover, if you will, the legacy of Katrina.

So, f there is a major storm, look for the president to address the convention by a video link, possibly even from the area where impacted by the storm. Laura Bush will be here Monday night.

BLITZER: Did you get any sleep last night?

KING: I'm thinking about 40 minutes.

BLITZER: Forty minutes, that's not bad.

KING: Sleep's overrated.

BLITZER: All right. John king is going to be with us.

Campbell, I know you're coming out here. You'll be with us all next week, as well. Let me just give you the advance word, Campbell, it's a lovely, lovely place, Saint Paul, Minnesota.

BROWN: I love it out there. I can't wait. Wolf, John, looking forward to it. And to all our viewers, our special two-hour ELECTION CENTER continues, coming up in just a moment.

Up next, we're going to do a little reset. Tell you everything we know about John McCain's new running mate, Sarah Palin. Who she is, why John McCain picked her, how she could really shake up this race for the White House. We've got all that, and more, starting right now.

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