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John McCain's Surprising VP Choice; Dems: GOP in 'Political Panic'; Interview With Senator Lindsey Graham

Aired August 29, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a political star is born. John McCain thrusts a relatively unknown politician into the white-hot spotlight of the presidential race. Alaska's Governor Sarah Palin's selection earns a first for women on the GOP side, and that could help John McCain court women voters. But Democrats say she's underwhelming, and that Palin's scant domestic and foreign policy experience proves Republicans right now are in a state of political panic.
And Gustav becomes a hurricane, raising fears the storm could wreck even more death and destruction. You're going to find out where it is and where it could go next.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in St. Paul, where Republicans will hold their convention. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

They're raising the balloons here in St. Paul at the Xcel Energy Center in preparation for John McCain and his New running mate, Sarah Palin. Republicans call her a uniter and a tough maverick.

Now that John McCain has picked the Alaska governor, many people want to know more about her. She's the first female ever chosen for a Republican presidential ticket. She's serving her first term as the first-ever female governor of Alaska. And at the age of 44, Palin is actually younger than two of John McCain's children.

Here in St. Paul, Republicans begin their convention on Monday. I'm here with CNN Senior Political Analyst Gloria Borger. She's going to be joining us throughout our program today.

But I want to go out to Ed Henry in Dayton, Ohio, right now. That's where they made the big announcement.

It caught a lot of people, Ed, by a huge, huge surprise. She wasn't seemingly on anyone's short list until the very, very last hour or so before it became official.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And that's why there was so much electricity in this room a little earlier when the big announcement came.

There could be big benefits for John McCain in terms of energizing his party on the way into that convention in St. Paul, but the Obama campaign says they see a big benefit, too. They claim the issue of national security, now off the table.


HENRY (voice-over): Trying to underline his maverick image, John McCain made history in Dayton, Ohio, picking only the second female vice presidential candidate ever.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am very pleased and very privileged to introduce to you the next vice president of the United States, Governor Sarah Palin of the great state of Alaska!

HENRY: An in-your-face move just days after Barack Obama passed over Hillary Clinton as his running mate. And Sarah Palin was blunt about trying to reel in female voters.

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE : It was rightly noted in Denver this week that Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America. But it turns out the women of America aren't finished yet. And you we shatter that glass ceiling once and for all!

HENRY: But Palin opposes abortion rights, making it unlikely many Clinton supporters will flock to the Republican ticket. Plus, she has far less experience than Clinton on the national stage. So this pick, coming on McCain's 72nd birthday is very risky. McCain, who repeatedly said a one-term senator is not ready to be commander in chief, is now putting a one-term governor just a heartbeat from the presidency.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Here to reach out -- and he's criticized Barack Obama not being ready to reach out -- to Sarah Palin, who has no national security experience, no national security exposure, and say, you're my standby, and I'm 72 years old, and I've had some bouts with melanoma, I think that's a very large gamble.

HENRY: Expect the McCain camp to showcase photos like this during Palin's visit last year with Alaskan National Guard troops in Kuwait. McCain is also touting her brief executive experience fighting to cut wasteful spending, like the infamous Bridge to Nowhere.

MCCAIN: She's exactly who I need. She's exactly who this country needs to help me fight the same old Washington politics of "me first and country second."


HENRY: Now, John McCain knows this is a big gamble, but advisers say he realized that even though this race is basically in a dead heat right now, the only way he was going to break out ahead of Barack Obama was by -- especially in a lousy year for Republicans, was by shaking up the Republican brand, shaking up the dynamics of this race, and he's accomplished at least that, for better or worse -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Some are suggesting it's almost like a Hail Mary pass for John McCain. At least some Democrats are saying that.

Stand by, Ed. We're going to be getting back to you.

A lot of Democrats are reacting to McCain's selection for a running mate this way: "She barely has any experience on the national issues." One Democrat says she has the thinnest foreign policy experience in history.

CNN's Jim Acosta is joining us now from Beaver, Pennsylvania, where Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden will be campaigning today.

They're also reacting, the Obama campaign. What are they saying, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, right now Democrats and the Obama campaign in particular are already trying to turn the table on John McCain when it comes to the issue of experience. Bill Burton, with the Obama campaign, released a statement earlier today. It is quite striking.

It says, "Experience is being taken off the table considering you're putting someone within a heartbeat of the presidency with the thinnest foreign policy experience in history." That quote from Bill Burton with the Obama campaign.

Barack Obama and Joe Biden just arrived here in Pennsylvania just a few moments ago. They got off the plane at the airport here in Pittsburgh. And they're en route to this event that's going to be taking place in a few hours from now in Beaver, Pennsylvania.

And we will see Obama and Biden together at this event. This is going to be sort of a second run at those blue-collar voters that Barack Obama didn't do particularly well with during the primaries.

But for now, the Obama campaign and Democrats definitely taking aim at John McCain and the Republicans saying, you know, you talked about experience. You said Barack Obama was not ready to lead. Well, here's somebody who's a heartbeat away from the presidency, they say, who is not ready to leave -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're going to be watching the Obama and Biden speeches. That's coming up.

Jim Acosta for us on the scene.

Gloria Borger is here with us.

You know, earlier in the week, some of Obama's strategists were fearful if he decided to pick a woman, that could maybe attract some Hillary Clinton supporters who were angry at the fact that, A, she was mistreated supposedly during the primaries, and B, that she was bypassed for Joe Biden as Barack Obama's running mate.

Is it likely, this strategy, if in fact that was part of the McCain strategy, will work?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they clearly think so, Wolf, or they wouldn't have done this. I mean, honestly, I do believe that this is kind of a Hail Mary pass. And I know a lot of Democrats are talking about this and thinking back to Mondale/Ferraro.

BLITZER: In '84.

BORGER: In '84. In that race, Walter Mondale was behind. He knew he had to do something. And he picked Geraldine Ferraro, who generated an awful lot of excitement.

BLITZER: She was a relatively unknown congresswoman from Queens, New York.

BORGER: Exactly. And I think they have to believe, whether it's from their focus groups or whatever, that the experience issue may not have been working for them as much as they thought it was working for them.

They saw this opening with women, and I think that they feel that she'll be able to mine it. And also, she could have some appeal in western states. She's on the right side of the gun issue. You know, John McCain's not that popular with the NRA.

BLITZER: She's a lifelong member.

BORGER: She's a lifelong member. She can be helpful to him on energy. And most important of all, they're both reformers.

And I think John McCain now, you will see him run as the reform ticket, the change ticket, with a woman who has reformed things in her own state. I think it will be important to him. That's their strategy.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to talk a lot more about this and get some more insight into Sarah Palin, who exactly is she. Mary Snow is working on that biographical part of this story.

Both Senators Obama and Biden are surely basking in the glow right now of newspaper headlines like these. Americans woke up to images of Obama's historic nomination acceptance speech last night in Denver. Millions of people around the country watched it. In it, Obama laid out why he wants to be president by outlining what he would actually try to do and what he says John McCain wouldn't do.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You understand that in this election, the greatest risk we can take is to try the same old politics with the same old players and expect a different result. You have shown what history teaches us. And at defining moments like this one, the change we need doesn't come from Washington, the change comes to Washington.


BLITZER: We're going to have much more on Senator Obama's speech and a lot more reaction to it. That's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now, though, let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question about Mrs. Palin went up on about an hour and a half ago. We have received, before this show started, over 6,000 e-mails on this little topic. And the Republicans ain't going to like this.

All we've heard from John McCain is Barack Obama's too young, Barack Obama's too inexperienced, he can't be the commander in chief. Who do you want answering the phone at the White House in 3:00 in the morning? Blah, blah, blah, blah.

So what does he do? He picks somebody to be his running mate who is younger than Barack Obama, has less experience than Barack Obama. Sarah Palin's 44. Obama's 46.

Sarah Palin's in her first term as governor of Alaska. That's a state that has 13 people and some caribou. Obama is a member of the United States Senate from Illinois.

It's not a big deal except for this: If McCain wins, he'll be the oldest person ever inaugurated for a first term at 72. He's got a history of health problems, including bouts with melanoma, a potentially deadly form of skin cancer. It's reasonable to at least consider that McCain's running mate could be called upon to be our president.

Meanwhile, some may see this as a move for McCain to attract disaffected women who voted for Hillary Clinton and aren't yet behind Obama. Others might see it as pandering.

It might not work for a few reasons. Palin, like McCain, is pro- life. Also, she might be a woman, but she's no Hillary Clinton when it comes to experience or her ideology. At some point, voters are going to have to ask themselves, who would they rather have running the country if it ever became necessary: Joe Biden or Sarah Palin?

Here's the question: Does John McCain undercut his own message by naming someone even younger and more inexperienced than Barack Obama to be his running mate?

You can go to and post a comment on my blog. This could be ballgame over.

BLITZER: Six thousand e-mails in only an hour. That's a lot, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Yes, before the show even went on the air.

BLITZER: Yes. Get ready for a few thousand more in the next few minutes. Thanks very much, Jack. We'll check back with you.

John McCain passed over several prominent Republicans to be his vice presidential running mate. I'll ask one of his closest supporters, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, about the political wisdom of his pick. We'll also discuss Obama's speech last night. And how might Governor Palin help you in this bruising economy? We're looking into her economic record.

Gustav now a hurricane. And three years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans again has reason to fear and reason to possibly evacuate.

From St. Paul, stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

Let's discuss the very dramatic news today. Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, now John McCain's running mate.

And joining us now, one of Senator McCain's closest friends and strong supporters, Lindsey Graham, senator of South Carolina.

Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Glad to be with you. I can barely hear you, but I'm glad to be with you.

BLITZER: All right. Maybe we could turn up your volume.

We're here at the Xcel Center. This is where the Republican convention begins on Monday.

Is Sarah Palin ready, God forbid, to be commander in chief of the United States?

GRAHAM: Yes, I think so. She's tough. Very tough.

Look at what she's done in Alaska. She's taken on corruption. She's taken on her own party. She has shaken things up fundamentally in Alaska.

She's been the commander of the Alaska National Guard. She's got a son in the military.

Yes, I very much believe that she would be ready to do anything asked of her, whether it to be commander in chief or president of the United States. I have a lot of confidence in her.

And I'm proud of Senator McCain. And I'm proud of my party. This is an historic pick. A pick based on, I think, sound judgment.

BLITZER: You have a lot of foreign policy experience. You've traveled all over the world and met with world leaders. Joe Biden has a lot of foreign policy experience. He's done the same thing. He's chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Does she have any actual foreign policy experience? Has she met with world leaders like you have, like Biden has? Has she really gone around the world and done any of those things?

GRAHAM: You know, I don't know where she's traveled to. And I know the people I've met. But it's not meeting people that matters.

You know, President Bush met President Putin. And I don't think it matters just meeting people. You look at people's judgment. You know, Governor Palin took on Ted Stevens. If she can take him on, she can take on the Russians.

BLITZER: Listen to this bite. I'm going to play it for you right now. And then we'll discuss. Listen to this.


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.


BLITZER: All right. So is that person the most -- the best prepared, Sarah Palin in this case? Because there were several other candidates, including Mitt Romney, Tom Ridge and Joe Lieberman, Tim Pawlenty, the governor of the state where I am right now.

Sarah Palin?

GRAHAM: Yes, I think so in this regard. John was looking for a reformed-minded governor. If he had picked Governor Pawlenty, who has no foreign policy experience, Governor Romney has been a governor, a good businessman -- John was looking for somebody that could come to Washington and enact and reform an agenda that would shake up the town.

That's why he picked her. Not for any other reason. He sees in her a lot in himself when it comes to changing government, and that's why he picked her, because he wants to tell the American people, there's two people coming to Washington, John McCain and Governor Palin, and they're going to turn the town upside down when it comes to spending your money and reforming the way it works.

That's why he picked her.

BLITZER: Senator Obama last night was not shy in directly going after Senator McCain in his acceptance speech in Denver. I'm going to play one little clip of what Obama said, one of the toughest criticisms of Senator McCain. Listen to this.


OBAMA: John McCain likes to say that he'll follow bin Laden to the gates of hell. But he won't even follow him to the cave where he lives.


BLITZER: All right. I guess that's in response to the suggestion that John McCain wanted to devote most of his energies to what's going on in Iraq, but was willing to neglect what's going on in Afghanistan, along the border with Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden is said to be hiding out somewhere.

GRAHAM: I guess it just shows you how dangerous it would be to make Senator Obama president, because it's not a choice between winning in Iraq and winning in Afghanistan. You win both places.

It was Osama bin Laden that called his supporters to go to Iraq, the land of two rivers. That's where the central battle is. It was the goal of the al Qaeda international to come in and to have a safe haven in Iraq. So this idea that we took the eye off the ball here is ridiculous.

The al Qaeda movement went to Iraq to defeat this experiment in democracy, to make sure moderation would not prevail in the heart of the Arab world. And if we had listened to Senator Obama and withdrawn all the troops, we would have had a failed state in Iraq, bin laden sympathizers would be declaring victory over America, Iran would be filling in the vacuum of a failed state in Iraq, and sectarian violence would have spread.

It just shows you how naive he is. If you had lost in Iraq, every force we're fighting would have been stronger.

We're going to get Afghanistan right. But we've gotten Iraq right, because John McCain understood Iraq. And Senator Obama's never understood it was part of the war on terror. And we're going to be talking about that Thursday night when I speak.

BLITZER: We'll be watching your speech. We'll see you here in St. Paul, Senator. Thanks very much for joining us.

GRAHAM: Thank you very, very much.

BLITZER: All right. Lindsey Graham, a strong supporter of Senator McCain.

We're also just getting in a statement, reaction to Governor Palin's selection by John McCain. Gloria Borger here.

Do you have the statement from Hillary Clinton's campaign? A statement from Hillary Clinton? Very interesting statement.

BORGER: I do. Yes, she said -- she doesn't attack Governor Palin at all. She said that, "We," meaning women, I presume, "should all be proud of Governor Sarah Palin's historic nomination, and 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."

So, it's clear what she's saying from this, Wolf, is, good for John McCain for putting a woman on the ticket.

BLITZER: I suspect a lot of women probably feel like that. A lot of men might feel like that as well.

BORGER: Well, you know, she did say they would take America in the wrong direction, but I do think it's not a harsh as statement as one that was offered by the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi.

BLITZER: Yes, a very tough statement.

BORGER: That's right.

BLITZER: And Barbara Boxer issued a tough statement, too.

BORGER: Barbara Boxer. So, you know, this was not as tough coming from Hillary Clinton.

BLITZER: And I'm not sure that "we" meant women. It may just have meant we as Americans.

BORGER: We as Americans.



BLITZER: That's the way I would read it, but, you know, that's just me.

BORGER: OK. No, you're right. You're right. "We" means everyone.

BLITZER: OK. All right.

We're going to have a lot more on this. Reaction pouring into this decision by John McCain to go ahead and ask the Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, to be his running mate. Stand by for that.

There's other news we're following as well, including the Detroit mayor. As you know, he's embroiled in a major scandal. He's vowing to stay in office, but the Michigan governor could remove him.

We'll have the latest on that controversy.

And a hurricane looms and Louisiana prepares. On this, the third anniversary of Hurricane katrina, New Orleans is deeply worried right now about Hurricane Gustav.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: A first-term governor from Alaska, Sarah Palin, is John McCain's pick as a vice presidential running mate. We will have more on the surprising choice straight ahead in our "Strategy Session."

Tens of thousands of U.S. troops face a new health risk, harmful metal shrapnel inside their bodies, tests now under way -- Barbara Starr working the story.

And World War II era rockets on Martha's Vineyard, why are they turning up on one of America's most popular island playgrounds? We will investigate.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Three years to the day after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans right now back on high alert for Hurricane Gustav.

Our severe weather expert, Chad Myers, is tracking the storm.

Chad, I know they're getting ready for an update pretty soon, but what do we know right now?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We know, Wolf, that it's away from Jamaica and it's getting stronger now.

All night long, it was over Jamaica, 12 inches of rain in Kingston and flooding throughout the country. Now it's back into warm water, and it's getting stronger again. It's up to 75 miles per hour. And it's going to get a whole lot stronger than that. It could be 120 miles per hour before it finally peaks out and then maybe cools off a little bit, slows down, as it approaches the north coast here.

We're watching a couple things here. We're watching for the 5:00 advisory. This is still the 11:00 advisory, 120 miles per hour Monday morning. It could be very close to New Orleans by Monday, if it speeds up one or two miles per hour.

But we're also watching something else. We're watching the computer models, and not only where they go, but we're watching where they're trending, one model run to the next. Every 12 hours, they run the model again and again and again. And the models have been trending to the West, which could take it away from New Orleans, but put it into Houston -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Chad, we will watch together with you.

And we will stand by for that update. I think that's only a few moments away.

President Bush has already issued a state of emergency for Louisiana, still reeling in the aftermath of Katrina. The action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA to coordinate disaster relief.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has got more now on the military preparations.

I understand, Barbara, that National Guard troops already are on duty in Louisiana. I suspect more will be deployed; is that right?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf, 3,000 Louisiana Guard troops now activated, beginning to make their moves to the areas they feel will be affected. But the active-duty military, at this hour, the Pentagon putting forces on alert to get ready to go to the Gulf. We have learned that three amphibious warships out of Norfolk, Virginia, on alert, to be ready to go, if they are required, as well, a combat brigade from the 10th Mountain Division in New York. And that combat brigade just a few moments ago got back from its tour of duty in Iraq.

For the Louisiana National Guard, which is getting ready for what they hope will not come, Iraq is still an overhang. The Guard there is asking other states to send its search-and-rescue helicopters, because they still have so many of their own helicopters tied up on duty inside Iraq.

What about the Army Corps of Engineers? They say they are ready, that they feel the levees will hold. But the chief of the Army Corps of Engineers plans to ride the storm out right in New Orleans -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much. Thank God for those National Guard troops -- Barbara Starr reporting.

Now that we know who John McCain has picked as his running mate, we're about to find out how it came to this.

Our Dana Bash walks us through a timeline of what exactly happened.

And Barack Obama surely attracted a lot of attention with his historic speech, but did he attract more support?

And they are troops who still have enemy shrapnel in their bodies after fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now they're getting an urgent warning from doctors.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: We're here on the floor of the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

I mistakenly said Missouri just a little while ago. Apologize for that.

Minnesota, it's a lovely state, Saint Paul a great city. And we are going to be here over the next several days as the Republicans get ready to nominate their presidential candidate and their vice presidential candidate.

And we now know who the vice presidential candidate will be. And many of you probably are wondering about the Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, and her plans, her record on some of the most important issues you care about, one of the most important being the economy.

Our senior correspondent, Allan Chernoff, is joining us now.

Allan, you have been looking into her record on issue number one, as we like to call it.

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: And, certainly, issue number one for many of us at the gasoline pump. Governor Palin certainly knows quite a bit about that, because Alaskans pay the highest price for gas in the nation today, averaging $4.52 a gallon. The governor has responded by providing relief.


CHERNOFF: Governor Sarah Palin took on the oil giants who are essential to Alaska's economy, leading a push to raise taxes on big oil. Now Alaskans will be getting a share of the new revenue, $1,200 checks for each qualifying resident.

PALIN: When oil and gas prices went up so dramatically, and the state revenues followed with that increase, I sent a large share of that revenue directly back to the people of Alaska.

CHERNOFF: Governor Palin has also just signed legislation that will suspend, for a year, Alaska's eight-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax. John McCain called for suspending the federal gas tax this past summer. The Palin administration has also pushed through a long- debated plan to build a natural gas pipeline that could supply the lower 48 states.

PALIN: We're now embarking on a $40 billion natural gas pipeline to help lead America to energy independence.

MIKE SMITH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, INTERSTATE OIL AND GAS COMPACT COMMISSION: She will connect immediately with the American people, identify with them, with the needs that they have. She is a very, very down-to-earth person.

CHERNOFF: Palin supports oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. John McCain has opposed that in the past, but calling for more oil drilling is now one of his campaign staples.

While Palin has boosted revenues, she's a fiscal conservative. She chopped 10 percent of spending that state legislators approved for hometown projects.


CHERNOFF: Sarah Palin may be short on executive experience, but, as governor of Alaska, she certainly has plenty of experience with the oil and gas industries. And, given our energy crisis, that could be a real asset for the Republican ticket -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Allan, for that.

Now that the closely guarded -- it was very closely guarded -- secret is out, we want to take a closer look at how John McCain decided to pick the Alaska governor as his running mate.

Dana Bash is on the phone with us.

Dana, it caught a lot of us by surprise. Walk us through what we know about the decision-making process for Senator McCain.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, here's what we're told.

We're told, actually, just going through Ohio, heading to -- to various stops along the way to their next -- to their next destination, they were -- they gave us this information about the ticktock.

And the gist is that they actually met, the two of them met in February of 2008, so, early this year, at a meeting of the National Governors Association. According to his aides, Senator McCain was impressed with the governor and says he had followed her career. And that's why she ended up on the list of people they were looking at.

Now, Rick Davis, the senator's campaign manager, had been in touch throughout, it seems, several months with the governor's office, doing the proper vetting, if you will, getting documents and information from the governor and from the governor's aides.

And it was last Sunday, we're told, that John McCain first had a conversation over the phone with Governor Palin. And -- and the two of them talked. And he invited her to Arizona.

And what happened was, Governor Palin actually went to Flagstaff, Arizona, on Wednesday of this week, Flagstaff. And what they did is, they had the first of a couple of ruses. The -- a couple of Senator McCain's aides met the governor and her top aide in Flagstaff.

And they went to the home of Bob Delgado. He is somebody who works for Cindy McCain's company, Hensley & Company. So, they used his home as a -- as a -- sort of a hideaway to have a conversation, and to have a meeting, with Senator McCain.

That happened on Wednesday. And the next morning, we're told, on Thursday morning, Senator McCain and his wife invited the governor to his -- his cabin in Sedona. And, at 11:00 in the morning, that's when he formally made his offer to her, to appear with him and to run with him on the ticket.

BLITZER: Well...

BASH: That's the ticktock that we got...

BLITZER: Dana, am I right...

BASH: ... from the campaign.


BLITZER: Am I right in understanding -- Dana, am I right in understanding that, before this meeting in Arizona over the past few days, they only actually had met one -- one time over this entire process?

BASH: Wolf, that is the exact question that -- after we discussed this -- this ticktock rundown, that's the exact question that I just asked one of the aides who was at that meeting, a longtime aide of Senator McCain. And I have not heard back.

But the way this reads, it certainly seems that way. It certainly seems that the one time that they met face to face was at that meeting in February 2008. We don't have any information to indicate that they have met since. But we're trying to fill in the blanks there.

This is -- this is kind of the bottom-line ticktock that we got on how the process went down. But they did just meet earlier this year, which is interesting for somebody, like John McCain, who we have talked about for months, Wolf, as somebody who likes to feel comfortable, and likes to know people well, and likes having people around him who he knows very well. And the comfort level with him is really key.

So, the fact that he doesn't...


BASH: ... didn't know her very well at all, it's quite interesting.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, thanks very much.

We're going to continue talking about this. Gloria Borger is here. We will talk with her about it coming up as well.

And, to some people, choosing Sarah Palin seems like a very good move -- to others, not so good. How will those Hillary Clinton supporters feel? We will discuss that in our "Strategy Session." That's coming up.

Plus, the crowd went wild last night in Denver. How can Barack Obama carry that momentum forward in the coming weeks?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



PALIN: It was rightly noted in Denver this week that Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America...


PALIN: ... but it turns out the women of America aren't finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all!



BLITZER: Let's discuss this development in our "Strategy Session."

Joining us is Jennifer Palmieri. She served on John Edwards' 2004 campaign, earlier in the Clinton White House. And Republican strategist Kevin Madden, he's a former spokesman for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.

Jennifer, is this strategy going to work? Is she going to attract some of those angry, disgruntled Hillary Clinton female supporters, and get them to support the McCain ticket?


I know that the campaign was -- McCain campaign was looking for a game-changer, but I don't think that this was particularly well- thought-through. The idea that you would -- you're going to have a female candidate who is going to appeal to the Christian -- to conservative base and to Hillary Clinton supporters seems like a flawed concept to me.

And it's pretty sexist to suggest that Hillary Clinton supporters would support McCain just because he put any woman on the ticket. You know, if you look at the issues that women voters actually care about, it's the economy, and Iraq, and, then, obviously, choice is an important issue.

And I don't -- you know, I just don't think that they're going to -- that you're going to find a big amount of Hillary Clinton supporters flocking to McCain. and, in fact, I think you may find that some of it -- find offensive, that they would -- that they would just assume that putting a woman on the ticket was going to be enough to get their support.

BLITZER: It was interesting. It was interesting, Kevin -- and we just heard it in that sound bite -- that she made reference to Hillary Clinton and her supporters in her speech today, when -- when John McCain introduced her as his running mate.


I mean, I think that, right now, what I have been very surprised about this pick is the ability that Governor Palin has had to really energize the conservative base. So, if you -- if you add that with the fact that John McCain can go out there and get independents and a lot of conservative Democrats, and the fact that Sarah Palin can now go out an appeal to a lot of these independent women, a lot of Democrat women, and, of course, Republican moderate women, that is the calculus that John McCain needs to win in November.

So, I would disagree with Jennifer that -- that -- that they're not going to be able to go out there and get -- get these women voters. Women voters care about security. Women voters care about spending. They want to see Washington reformed. And, in Sarah Palin, what you have is somebody who has a record of reform, a record of changing the way things are done in Alaska. And she's going to bring that same exact energy to Washington. So, I think that a lot of folks on the Republican side today are very enthusiastic about this pick.

BLITZER: Does Mitt Romney, your former boss, Kevin, should he feel snubbed right now?


BLITZER: He was on the short list. And he -- he brings a lot more experience and political background, if you will, to this -- to this contest than Sarah Palin.

MADDEN: No, of course, not.

Right now, this is the time for unity in the Republican Party. Everybody is very happy about this. I think Governor Romney, of course, is somebody who is going to go out there and enthusiastically campaign for this ticket.

Most important to remember is that John McCain chose Sarah Palin. It's not that he crossed anybody off the list. He looked for somebody who was a reformer. He looked for somebody who shared his maverick credentials, somebody who has a record of accomplishment, of bringing change to institutions. And he picked Sarah Palin. So, this is more about Sarah Palin than it is about saying no to anybody else.

BLITZER: Jennifer, how does Barack Obama carry the momentum forward from his historic speech last night?

PALMIERI: Well, I think that, you know, that this convention did everything that you would hope a convention would do. It united the party.

We had a remarkable, historic night last night, with an amazing speech, in a fabulous setting, with -- with, you know, tens of thousands of Americans attending.

And, you know, Obama really laid out the contrast in that speech. I think that he framed the choice very well between, you know, not -- the change, and the specific ideas that he would -- the specific policies that he would enact as president, with -- contrasting that with McCain, and McCain being four more years of Bush.

So, I think that he has -- you know, the convention went amazing, certainly even better than I had hoped, being out here. And I think the table is set for him now to -- to have a really great fall election.

And I think that the other thing with the Palin choice that is really problematic for the McCain campaign is that John McCain's number-one argument against -- against Barack Obama is that he doesn't have enough experience. And now he's put a woman on the ticket who has only had two years of experience, and is -- and is next in line to be president of the United States.

BLITZER: All right.


MADDEN: Jennifer, you have got to remember -- just one last point there, Jennifer. Sarah Palin has two more years of executive experience than Barack Obama. Barack Obama has none. She actually has a lot more accomplishment than Barack Obama.

Barack Obama spent how long in the Illinois State Senate, and only one year running...


PALMIERI: On the issue of security, she doesn't have any.

BLITZER: All right, guys.


BLITZER: All right. We're going to continue this debate for some time. Unfortunately, we can't continue it right now.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.


MADDEN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Many people might have been surprised by John McCain's choice for running mate, but not necessarily everyone. Coming up, you are going to hear about the Internet campaign to get her to be John McCain's vice presidential pick.

And New Orleans once again bracing right now for a frightening hurricane -- we're going to take you there live.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour, Wolf, is, does John McCain undercut his own message by naming someone younger and even more inexperienced than Barack Obama to be his running mate?

This is a very small sampling of the over 11,000 e-mails I have gotten in the last hour-and-a-half or so.

Rebecca in California: "As a lifelong Republican soccer mom living in an affluent community, I was impressed with Senator Obama's acceptance speech last evening. Having my morning latte with a few of my Republican friends, I almost spit my coffee when I heard the news. Is McCain really putting the best interests of our nation first? To me, he is pandering to women, trying to obtain their vote. It seems he wants another 'trophy' to parade around with. What is wrong with this man?"

Dave writes: "The fact that absolutely no one in or around her or McCain's inner circle had not even the smallest clue this was going to happen shows it was a last-minute desperation pick. McCain is falling all over himself after the Democratic Convention and is now grasping at straws."

Mitch in Michigan writes: "I think McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as V.P. very similar to Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. It shows how much a McCain presidency would be just like the Bush presidency, with the selection of totally unqualified individuals for high government posts. We've seen the disastrous results of such picks by Bush. We can not let McCain continue this saga."

Horatio writes: "These negative comments about Palin's inexperience are hilarious. She's a whopping three years younger than Obama, and has about the same amount of experience. If she's an irresponsible choice, Obama as president is even worse, since he's at the top of the ticket. Palin is a great balance for the ticket: young, smart, and has an independent streak a mile wide."

Christine writes: "I am a true-Bill-Hillary -- a true-blue Hillary supporter, but I am sure -- I'm sure Hillary did not mean to put 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, so that a pro-life, pro- gun, homeschooling nobody from the frozen tundra of Alaska could slide in."

Doug writes: "Had I known that being a hockey mom under 45 and having virtually no political experience was the desired V.P. running mate for McCain, I would have asked my wife to throw her hat into the ring. McCain has just handed the presidency to Barack Obama."

Meagan writes: "Cafferty, for once, and probably the only time, I actually agree with you, better than I could have said it."

And Glenn writes: "It is a bold move by John McCain to reach out to the Eskimo vote, which has been totally ignored by the news media."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at, and look for yours there.

But, I'm telling you, there's 11,000 postings. We got a lot of mail to this, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it certainly has.

All right, Jack, thank you.

CAFFERTY: The Eskimo vote...


CAFFERTY: ... have that wrapped up.

(LAUGHTER) BLITZER: On our "Political Ticker": McCain's choice of the Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, as a running mate was unexpected, but a grassroots movement online had been working for months to draft her as vice president.

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is joining us now with details.

Abbi, I -- I didn't know about it, but tell us what happened and how they're reacting now.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, I think it's fair to say that the Draft Palin Movement is as surprised as anyone about the pick today.

I spoke to Adam Brickley, who started this movement last year, who said that he had all kinds of contingency plans for her not getting picked, but none for actual success. He started this draft- Palin blog long before a presidential candidate was picked, and it's grown into this Web movement -- other people making their own Web sites, joining him with YouTube videos, calling the campaign, calling into talk radio. They had an online petition.

No one's suggesting that this was a big movement. Some of these sites had only about 6,000 hits in a month. But, today, traffic is exploding -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can always check out

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