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CNN ELECTION CENTER

Palin and McCain Speak in Washington, Pennsylvania; Tracking Gustav

Aired August 30, 2008 - 18:00   ET

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


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Hey, on the hurricane front, we're going to bring you two pieces of information that are important. Bobby Jindal, the Republican governor of Louisiana, is going to be holding a press briefing. We'll bring you that. Also, we'll take you to Mississippi, where the Republican governor of Mississippi, Hali Barber, former head of the Republican party, is going to be holding a news conference as well. When those come up, we'll bring them to you.
Program note, here's how we're going to be handling things throughout the night. I'm going to be here in Atlanta. I'm going to be bringing you up to date on everything that's pretty much hurricane-related. Meanwhile, Wolf Blitzer is going to be handling things for us political, all things politically related as we gear up for the convention. I know both stories are kind of going to be intertwined somewhat.

With that said, I should let you know throughout the night, we're going to have that little bug - you see that little bug down there, the little hurricane going up the coast, that just tells you what's going on with it. Any advisories, we'll bring them to you right away. In the meantime, let's get you now to Wolf Blitzer. He's going to bring you up to date on what's going on convention wise.

Wolf, how are you?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Rick, thanks very much. It's an important night for the politicians, although all of them right now, indeed all eyes here in the United States are on what's going on in the Gulf of Mexico as you know. And Rick Sanchez is going to be watching that very, very closely. Stay with CNN throughout the night for all the latest updates on this hurricane category 4, a powerful monster that's moving potentially toward the Louisiana coast, maybe Mississippi, maybe Texas. We don't know yet for sure. But this is a story that has enormous, enormous ramifications.

And all the politicians were here in St. Paul getting ready for the Republican National Convention. They're watching it really closely. The president of the United States, the vice president, they're supposed to be here in St. Paul Monday night to address this convention. We don't know if that's going to be happen. They're going to be reviewing tomorrow, Sunday, all of their plans to see what they need to do to make sure they do the right thing as far as the convention is concerned.

It's supposed to go on for four days, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. But with a hurricane moving closer and closer toward the Gulf coast, you never know what the - what Senator John McCain and other Republicans are going to do.

We're here with Gloria Borger. We're getting ready to listen to Senator McCain and his new running mate, the Alaska governor, Sarah Palin. And later, back-to-back from that, we'll be hearing from Barack Obama and Joe Biden. It'll be the first time there will be back-to-back events between these two presidential tickets. It will be fascinating to compare and contrast both of those.

I want to go right to Dana Bash. She's on the scene for us where Senator McCain and Governor Palin will be speaking. Dana, set the scene for us. We know that McCain and Palin are expected to arrive momentarily, is that right?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Expected to arrive momentarily on a very familiar bus, the straight talk express. We expect that to come right into this baseball stadium, where this rally is being held for a made for TV moment, they hope, to showcase this new Republican ticket.

This kind of rally that you see here, Wolf, this is incredibly, incredibly unusual. In fact, pretty much in fact all the time I've been covering Senator McCain, unprecedented, the size of a rally. And that is the point. And that is required right now for where he is at this stage of the campaign to try to get people out and especially -- and only day two of trying to introduce the country to the shocker of a pick in Sarah Palin.

One thing I want to mention that I just found absolutely remarkable. I've been spending some time waiting for the crowd, talking to people here in Washington's Pennsylvania, which is in southwest Pennsylvania. And it has really shocked me how much people who, some of whom were kind of, you know, vanilla about John McCain, if you will, were going to maybe vote for him but not enthusiastic, to a person, they said to me, you know, now that he has picked Sarah Palin as his running mate, because of people's conservative -- socially conservative values here in southwest Pennsylvania, they said to me that they are much more enthusiastic about Senator McCain.

Others who came here who said that they were Independents, which is a big number of people in this part of the state, also said that they were on the fence and that they were probably going to vote for him now because of his pick in Sarah Palin. Either because of the fact that she is socially conservative, or because in the case of some female voters here, because she's a woman.

Totally unscientific. But it is always interesting to get a sense from the voters in very important places like this and to see how that really jives with what people kind of in Washington and the leaders around are saying about what a potential -- what potential impacts something like this can have. So I thought that was interesting to see and hear from people who John McCain absolutely needs in order to win in November. And it sounds, at least in this part of this country where Republicans and Independents are, there's at least initial enthusiasm. Obviously, she's very much unknown. So we'll see what happens in the 60 something days to come as people get to know her better, Wolf? BLITZER: Yes, Dana, it looks like the straight talk express right now is just arriving. We can see it on our screen. And the Republican presidential candidate and the new vice presidential candidate, they're going to be emerging from that bus. The former governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Ridge, is with them, as well as former - as well as Lynn Swann, the former NFL Hall of Famer, who has run for office -- statewide office unsuccessfully in Pennsylvania. He's a Republican.

This crowd, Dana, very enthusiastic. And as you point out, the conservative base of the Republican party really reassured by Senator McCain's decision to pick the governor of Alaska as his running mate. If that was one of his intents, it certainly has paid off. You see a lot of endorsements quickly coming in from the religious right, the conservative base. And I assume that was one of his intents. And it certainly is, at least right now, paying off, Dana.

BASH: Well, it seems that way at least initially. And as you said, there's no question that that was a big part of the reason why they thought she was such a good pick, because of the fact that -- it's no secret that John McCain has had a pretty rocky relationship with his base.

And I just - I felt that here in talking to people, many people wanted other Republican candidates, not John McCain, to be the person running for them for the White House. They weren't that enthusiastic about him. But they feel better, at least for the social conservatives in this part of Pennsylvania, they feel better about the fact that she was chosen.

I also asked a lot of people the key big question. What about the fact that she's very young and she's only been in elected office or at least in the executive position in the state for two years? But most people said to me is yes, that does give them question and give them a little bit of pause. But the fact that she is number two on the ticket, not number one on the ticket, people here feel better.

Obviously, this is a crowd, just the fact that they come to see Senator McCain means that they're either enthusiastically for or at least leaning towards Senator McCain. The big question is what people outside this baseball stadium, people outside in and around the country are going to think when they see and hear this ticket together, especially again really for the only - only for the second time, especially since Governor Palin is such an unknown. She's such a question mark. She really needs to and will try to make a first impression here.

BLITZER: And there's the Republican presidential candidate, John McCain and his wife, Cindy. We can see them right in the middle of the screen. They'll be -- he'll be speaking. And Governor Palin will be speaking, but there will be some introductory remarks by some others. And the formal introduction of Senator McCain will be from Tom Ridge.

We're told that Senator McCain will speak after that and that Governor Palin will follow. Gloria Borger's here. By all indications, from the political standpoint, John McCain selected Sarah Palin as his running mate in part because she would rally that conservative base in part because she's a woman and might be able to attract some of those disappointed Hillary Clinton supporters. Also, because she does have that element of change in her as a 2-year governor of Alaska. Tom Ridge, the former governor of Pennsylvania, is about to introduce Senator McCain. And what's interesting, Gloria, he was one of those who was on the short list as well.

GLORIA BORGER: Yes, he was. But of course, he supports abortion rights. And that would have really not gone over well with exactly those people who love Sarah Palin. I mean, I think what the campaign gets from her is not so much that they weren't going to get their base together, Wolf. But the intensity of the support that they now have from that base, the money they are now raising from that base, the fact that they can now get the voter roles, the e-mail lists from evangelical conservatives handed over to the campaign, they can raise a lot of money off of this. And they're sure that those people now will come out to vote. Otherwise, they may just have sat at home. And...

BLITZER: As many of those religious right or the real conservative base, they were sort of lukewarm as far as John McCain was concerned.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: They were waiting a little bit. But what this has done, it's galvanized them. And...

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: ...it's brought them, you know, really into this presidential race.

BORGER: And in important states like Iowa and like Ohio, where there are many evangelical conservatives, John McCain now believes that he can count on them. That's very important for him, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's go back to Dana. Dana, I know you're there on the scene. And let me reset the scene, Washington, Pennsylvania, in the southwestern part of Pennsylvania, a blue collar area. This is an area that Hillary Clinton did well when she beat...

BASH: Yes.

BLITZER: ...Senator Obama in the Pennsylvania primary. It's an area that will help determine who carries Pennsylvania, which is clearly a battleground state. Let me share with our viewers, Dana, the latest CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll numbers in Pennsylvania, Obama, 48%, McCain, 43%. Four point sampling error. Go ahead, Dana.

BASH: That's exactly right. And you know, in the lead-up to this kind of a warm-up act, they've been here pretty much all afternoon. We heard a lot of women speakers, Wolf. We heard a lot of women speakers. One even making the point that the other ticket, meaning the Democratic ticket, they shunned a woman. Well, this ticket, the Republican ticket, they decided to bring one in and to highlight one. They played the song "I am woman, hear me roar." It is not a subtle message that they are trying to get across, that they are trying to lure and to woo women, particularly in this area. And you nailed it, Wolf, you know, this is an area -- it's a critical area for John McCain to win the state of Pennsylvania. And that means critical for him to win the White House.

And it went overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton. Not just here. We actually spent a little bit of time actually at a shopping mall trying to get a sense of voters in this area. And we did speak to several women who said that they voted for Hillary Clinton and they just don't feel comfortable with Barack Obama. That is exactly the kind of voter that John McCain is trying to get with Sarah Palin.

And I have to tell you, many of those people who are still undecided about Barack Obama, some of them are not sure about Sarah Palin, not just because she's a woman, but because they don't know anything about her and they are a little bit worried about her lack of experience.

So that is why this rally behind me and obviously every single time she is out there in the next couple of days, especially when she makes first impressions, they're going to be so key for these voters especially in these critical areas like where I am right now in Washington, Pennsylvania.

BLITZER: And Dana, while we await the preliminary remarks by the former governor of Pennsylvania Tom Ridge, the former Secretary of Homeland Security, he's introducing Senator McCain. As soon as Senator McCain starts speaking, we'll listen in. Give us the latest reporting. I know you're doing some - you and John King, among others, doing some important reporting on what Senator McCain is thinking about doing as far as this four-day Republican convention. We're here outside the Excel Energy center in St. Paul, Minnesota. But tell us some of the options that they're weighing right now because of Hurricane Gustav, a category 4 monster that's moving into the Gulf of Mexico and is expected to hit the U.S. Gulf coast over the next 48 hours or so, maybe a little bit longer.

BASH: Well, you see what's going on behind me right now. It's obviously a party-like atmosphere. I'm told by an adviser to Senator McCain that this is exactly the kind of thing he is worried about going on during the convention while Hurricane Gustav is touching down on any place in the United States. And that is why I'm told that one of the things that Senator McCain and his campaign, they're considering if it does, in fact, wreak havoc the way it looks like it might is changing the convention into kind of a service event. That's one of the things that's on the table. They have a lot more things that are, sort of, out there as contingency plans. They're watching it just to see what goes on. And I think here comes Senator McCain.

BLITZER: All right.

JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ...serving as a great governor. Thank you for your service in the Congress of the United States of America. And thank you for your service in the Vietnam War. Thank you, thank you. (APPLAUSE)

And I see all these guys with the funny hats on. So could I say, thank you to our veterans. Please raise your hands so we can all say thank you. Thank you for serving. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. I'm honored, honored to be in the company of heroes.

As you know, yesterday, I had the great privilege of making an historic announcement and introducing the people in Ohio. And now I'm honored to introduce to the people of Washington, Pennsylvania, and the entire state of Pennsylvania the next vice president of the United States of America. And I'm honored to be here.

(APPLAUSE)

Sarah, Sarah, Sarah! Before I proceed with my comments and introduce you to this great American, I would all of us like, obviously, to keep in our thoughts and prayers the people in the Gulf coast, especially in New Orleans, that are threatened by this terrible natural disaster of a hurricane. They want and they need to know -- and I know that they know, that they're in our thoughts and prayers as this impending hurricane approaches. And we pray God that it will spare them and a minimum of loss that might result from this natural disaster. So, my friends, as we enjoy this great rally, we'll keep them in our thoughts and our hopes and our prayers.

(APPLAUSE)

My friends, I'm running for president. And before I do that, I cannot tell you why I'm running for president any more than thanking John Rich of Big & Rich. John, thank you for your (INAUDIBLE). Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

I'm running for president to make government stand on your side and not in your way. I've spent the last few months looking for a running mate who can help me shake up Washington and stop the corruption and clean it up and make it start working again for the people of America.

You know, I had a lot of good people to choose from. And I want to thank Mitt Romney and Mike huckabee and Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani. By the way, my friend, Mike Huckabee, had the best line of all the debates, and we had all the many endless debates. And the moderator said, Governor Huckabee, what would Jesus do? And Governor Huckabee said, Jesus would be smart enough not to run for public office.

But I could only choose one, as you know. And it's with great pride and gratitude I tell you, I have found the right partner to help me stand up to those who have corrupted Washington and went to Washington to change it . And they changed. And they put power over principle and they put their interests before yours.

I found someone who has accomplished reform, who has accomplished the management of multibillion-dollar budgets. She fought against corruption, the failed politics of the past. She stopped government from wasting taxpayers' money on things they don't want or need. And when we in Congress decided to build a bridge in Alaska to nowhere for $233 million of yours, she said, we don't want it. If we need it, we'll build our own in Alaska. She's the one that stood up to them.

(APPLAUSE)

She has executive experience and has shown great tenacity and skill in tackling tough problems. She's reached across the aisle to Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Libertarians, vegetarians, all of them. She has strong principles, a fighting spirit.

You know, my friends, this great governor grew up in a decent and hard-working middle class family. Her father was an elementary schoolteacher. Her mother was the school secretary. And they taught her to care about others, work hard, stand up with courage for the things you believe in.

The person that I'm introducing to you was an electrical worker and a union member and married a union member, who also happens to be four- time champion iron dog snow vehicle -- snowmobile 2,000-mile race across the state of Alaska. Iron dog Todd Palin. Stand up.

(APPLAUSE)

2,000 miles in a snow machine, my friends, that is truly a tough guy. And he knows what it's like. And she knows what it's like to worry about mortgage payments and health care and the cost of gasoline and groceries. She was a high school point guard, a concerned citizen who became a member of the PTA, a city council member. Thank you PTA members. Your reward will be in heaven.

She beat the establishment. She took on a sitting incumbent in her own party. She won a tough election on a message of reform and public integrity. And I'm proud to say that we celebrate - as we celebrate the anniversary of women's suffrage, a devoted wife and woman of five beautiful children, five.

(APPLAUSE)

She's not from these parts. And she's not from Washington. And when you get to know her, you're going to be as impressed as I am. She's got a lot of grit and integrity and good sense and fierce devotion to the common good. That's exactly what we need in Washington today.

She knows where she comes from. And she knows who she works for. She stands up for what's right. And she doesn't let anybody tell her to sit down.

(APPLAUSE)

She's fought oil companies and party bosses and do-nothing bureaucrats and anybody who put their interests before the interests of the people that she swore an oath to serve. She's exactly, exactly who you and I need. She's exactly what this country needs to help me fight the same old Washington politics of me-first, country-second. My friends and fellow Americans, I am very pleased and privileged to introduce to you the next vice president of the United States, Governor Sarah Palin of the great state of Alaska.

(APPLAUSE)

SARAH PALIN (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you. Thank you so much, senator. And it is so good to be here in Steeler territory, where the wild things are. Oh, I thank you for that warm welcome. And it is warm. Something I'm not really used to, but this is absolutely gorgeous. And what a beautiful park. And thank you so much for that welcome.

I am honored to be here with all of you, and in the company of John and Cindy McCain, the next president and First Lady of the United States.

(APPLAUSE)

Governor Ridge, thank you so much. Pleasure to get to meet you in person finally. I've been a big fan.

Well, I know that when Senator McCain asked me to be his running mate, he had a short list of highly qualified men and women. To have made that list at all was a privilege. And to have been chosen, it brings a great challenge. I know that it will demand the best that I have to give. And I promise nothing less.

There are a few people I'd like you to meet first, though, starting with my husband, Todd. Todd and I celebrated our 20th anniversary yesterday. And I had promised him a big surprise. After promising him a surprise for our anniversary, yesterday was it. I think I was able to deliver on that.

Todd's a life-long commercial fisherman and a production operator up on the north slope in Alaska's oil fields. He's a proud member of the United Steel Workers Union. And yes, as Senator McCain said, he's a four-time winner of the Iron Dog. That's the world champion snow machine race.

(APPLAUSE)

Todd and I met in high school, where we met and fell in love. And still here, 20 years later, he's still the man that I admire most in this world. Along the way, we have shared many blessings. And three of the five of them are here with us today.

First, my son, the oldest, Track. He's going to be following the presidential campaign from afar. On September 11th of last year, our son enlisted in the United States Army.

(APPLAUSE)

Track now serves in an infantry brigade. And on September 11th of this year, Track will be deployed to Iraq in the service of his country. Todd and I are so proud of him, as we are of all of our men and women serving this country in uniform. Thank you. (APPLAUSE)

Then we have our daughter, Bristol, she's on the bus with the newborn. And then we have our daughter, Willow, who is here. And our youngest daughter, Piper. On that bus, we have our son, Trig, who is a beautiful baby boy we welcomed into the world just in April. It's his nap time, so he's with his big sister on the bus. But we thank them for being here.

(APPLAUSE)

And speaking of Trig and other things, some of life's greatest opportunities come unexpectedly. And this is certainly the case today. I never really set out to be involved in public affairs, much less to run for this office. My mom and dad, they both worked at the local elementary school. My husband and I, we grew up both learning to work with our hands. And I was just your average hockey mom in Alaska. A hockey mom raising our kids, serving as a team mom, coaching a little basketball on the side.

I got involved in the PTA, and then was elected to the city council. And then elected mayor of my hometown. My agenda there was to stop wasteful spending, cut property taxes, and put the people first.

(APPLAUSE)

Next, I was appointed ethics commissioner and chairman of the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. And when I found corruption there, I fought it hard. And I held the offenders to account. And along with fellow reformers in the great state of Alaska, as governor, I've stood up to the old politics as usual, to the special interests, the lobbyists, big oil influence, and the good old boys network.

(APPLAUSE)

And then when oil and gas prices went up dramatically all over the country, what I did in Alaska was state revenues following that increase, I sent a large share of that revenue directly back to the people of Alaska. And now we've embarked on a $40 billion natural gas pipeline to help lead America to energy independence.

(APPLAUSE)

In office, I signed major ethics reforms and appointed both Democrats and Independents to serve in my administration, knowing it's going to take everybody working together in order to progress and make that change that John McCain and I are fighting for. I've championed reform to end the abuses of earmarked spending by Congress. And I did tell Congress, thanks but no thanks for that bridge to nowhere. If our state wanted to build a bridge, we were going to build it ourselves.

(APPLAUSE)

Now, it's always safer in politics to just avoid risk and to go along with the status quo. But I didn't get into government to do the safe and easy things. It's like that old adage that a ship in harbor is safe, but that's not why the ship is built. Politics isn't just a game of clashing parties and competing interests. The people of America expect us to seek public office and to serve for the right reasons.

(APPLAUSE)

The right reason is to challenge the status quo and to serve the common good. And no one expects us to agree on everything, whether in Juneau or in Washington. But we are expected to govern with integrity, and good will, and clear convictions, and a servant's heart.

(APPLAUSE)

And friends, no leader in America today has shown these qualities so clearly, or present so clear a threat to business as usual in Washington as Senator John S. McCain.

(APPLAUSE)

This is a moment when principles and political independence matter a lot more than just a party line. And this is a man who has always been there to serve his country, not just his party. This is a moment that requires resolve and toughness and strength of heart in the American president. And my running mate is a man who has shown those qualities in the darkest of places and in his service to his country.

This is a moment when great causes can be won and great threats overcome, depending on the judgment of the next president. In a dangerous world, remember it's John McCain. He will lead America's friends and allies in preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

(APPLAUSE)

It was John McCain, who cautioned long ago about the harm that Russian aggression could do to Georgia, to other small democratic neighbors, and to the world oil market. It was Senator McCain who refused to hedge his support for our troops in Iraq, regardless of the political costs. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

And, you know, now as the mother of one of those troops, and as the commander of Alaska's National Guard, that's the kind of man I want as commander in chief.

(APPLAUSE)

Profiles and courage can be hard to come by these days. And you know, we look for them mostly now in books. But when next week, we nominate John McCain for president, we're going to put one on the ballot.

(APPLAUSE)

So to serve as vice president beside such a man would be the privilege of a lifetime. And it's fitting that this trust has been given to me 88 years, almost to the day, after the women of America first gained the right to vote.

(APPLAUSE)

So I think as well today of two other women who came before me in national elections. And I can't begin this great effort without honoring the achievements of Geraldine Ferraro back in 1984 and of course, Senator Hillary Clinton, who did show determination and grace in her presidential campaign.

It was rightly noted in Denver this week that Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America. But thankfully, as it turns out, the women of America aren't finished yet. And the voters will shatter that glass ceiling once and for all. (APPLAUSE)

(CHANTING)

OK, so for my part, the mission is clear then. The next 66 days, I'm going to take our campaign into every part of the country and our message of reform to every voter, of every background, of every political party, or no party at all. And if you want change in Washington, if you hope for a better day in America, then we're asking for your vote on the 4th of November. My fellow Americans, come join our cause. Help elect for our country a great man as the next president of the United States as John McCain. And I thank you. God bless you. God bless America!

(APPLAUSE)

BLITZER: All Right, I'm going to get a thought -- stand by.

All right, so there you heard the governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin. You heard the Republican Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate. Both making a joint appearance right now in Washington, Pennsylvania. That's in the southwestern corner of the state. Pennsylvania, key battleground state.

We're going to talk some more about this. Remember, we're also awaiting Senator Obama and Senator Biden. They have their own appearance. That's coming up momentarily in the next door state of Ohio. We're going to watch and we're going to listen. We'll take a quick break. Much more of our special coverage here from St. Paul and the Republican National Convention right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. We just heard from the Republican presidential and vice presidential candidates, John McCain and Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska. They spoke before a crowd in Washington, Pennsylvania.

Momentarily, we're going to be going to the next door state of Ohio, where Senator Barack Obama and Senator Joe Biden, the Democratic ticket. They're getting ready to speak. You see live pictures coming up for that huge rally there.

We're also going to be updating you momentarily on Hurricane Gustav. But Gloria Borger, I'm going to ask you. What did you think about Biden - excuse me, about McCain and Palin, this new Republican team, this presentation we just heard?

BORGER: Well, I think what was very interesting is you just heard the themes that they're going to continue to hit, because they are appealing to these Independent voters in the state of Pennsylvania, that she is an outsider, that she is a reformer, that she fought the old boy network, appealing -- trying to appeal to those Hillary Clinton voters. But when Hillary Clinton's name was mentioned to this crowd, Wolf, did you hear those boos?

BLITZER: There were boos there. These are die-hard Republicans...

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: ...who showed up at this rally, a large rally...

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: ...for Senator McCain. And they didn't like that reference.

BORGER: Right, but she was not towing a party line here. She went out of her way to say, whether you're a Democrat, or a Republican, or an Independent, we're going to change Washington. So she's not talking specifically to this crowd in Pennsylvania about how she feels about abortion or any other kind of policy. Right now, she was trying to appeal to those Hillary Clinton voters.

BLITZER: And she did that when senator -- yesterday when Senator McCain introduced her in Dayton, Ohio, when he made the formal announcement.

All right, we're going to take a quick break from politics. We're going to go back to Rick Sanchez. He's monitoring a truly horrible story that we're all watching, and that we're anticipating with dread. That would be Hurricane Gustav.

Rick, it looks awful right now. And as serious as the political spillover will be for this convention behind me, if they have to postpone or if they have to delay or cancel or consolidate, whatever their four-day schedule might be, it's a life-and-death issue for a lot of people along the Gulf Coast, especially in Louisiana.

SANCHEZ: Yes, you know, Wolf, I grew up in that area. And I know from past experience that when you start talking about a Category 4 hurricane that hasn't even yet gotten into the Gulf of Mexico, this thing really is still just underneath Cuba, going through parts of Cuba. You know, the olive pines, and going to hit that section of Cuba not far from the capitol where Havana is. This is looking, by all indications at this point, and folks, this has been happening really just within the last three or four hours if you're joining us now for the first time, like this could be a monster storm. We talk about hurricanes all the time. These are some of the evacuation scenes that are taking place right now around New Orleans. Some of the scenes involve real frustration for residents because they were being told that they had to register before they got on these buses. And that caused a bit of a melee there with people very upset.

Now it was the Mayor Nagin, who came out moments ago while we were on the air, and said, no, no, no, let's not do the registration anymore before you get on the bus. Let's do the registration after now you get off the bus. Wouldn't that make more sense?

We've also been hearing from the Governor of Louisiana, Republican Governor Bobby Jindal. He's had a lot of important things to say. There's no question after listening to him that this is now being treated - and if it wasn't before, it certainly is now -- as a massive undertaking by the states of Louisiana, and Mississippi, and Texas. Let's dip in, if we could, to what the governor's been saying. This is him moments ago talking about why he feels this could be an extremely significant storm. Let's take that, Roger.

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL, LOUISIANA: I want to emphasize this. This comes directly from the National Hurricane Center in our briefings with them. They've made it very clear that this storm could be as bad as it gets. They've made it very clear, and I want to people to hear this, that we could see, depending on the path of this storm and its intensity, we could have tidal surges of as much as 15 to 20 feet. We could see flooding even worse than what we saw during Hurricane Katrina.

Now they're not in a position to tell us exactly where that flooding could happen. A lot of that will depend on the exact path of the storm. We know the eastern side of the storm is the worst place to be. It's where you have the strongest winds, the strongest pressures. Many, many paths, many charts predict that this storm could come in a way where New Orleans and southeastern Louisiana could be on the eastern side of this storm.

I want to repeat that again. Coming from the National Hurricane Center, this could be as bad as it gets based on the water temperature, based on the hurricane storm track. Obviously, things can still change, but our people need to take this storm extremely seriously. Not just because of the wind...

SANCHEZ: All right, there you have Bobby Jindal. He also mentioned, by the way, just looking over some of my notes as I've been listening to him while many of you were listening to the political speeches, he mentioned that most of the schools and most of the parrishs around New Orleans will be closed. And the reason for that is they need to use the buildings as shelters as they have in the past.

Also, that they're evacuating prisons, record numbers of prisons. They're getting the prisoners out because they need the workers at those prisons to work as law enforcement. And they're also engaging more law enforcement and rescue workers from other areas, bringing in more ambulances to the area. But here's the important part. I'm glad you put me on camera for this part, Roger, because I think this is really important. What they're going to do is they're going to start at 4:00 a.m. tomorrow. And this is what the governor just announced a little while ago. At 4:00 a.m. tomorrow, they're going to start contra flow. Contra flow means if you're in New Orleans, you won't be able to do anything but get out. In other words, nothing's going in, folks. All the lanes on all the major interstates are going to be heading out of the city heading north as the governor and the mayor have been indicating that they want folks to do.

So again, that contra flow that we've been talking about - I know it's a little bit difficult a word to understand. But all it means is basically that everybody in the city will be mandated to drive in a northerly direction. Everything that used to go back toward the city will only flow away from the city. Now that's important. That's what the governor said moments ago. 4:00 a.m. is that - is when that's going to begin. I hope that's helpful for some of you who are planning to get around this thing.

Let's go to Jacqui Jeras. I mean, she's been diligently monitoring this thing. This is a storm that, you know, as storms go, it's already starting to develop a very serious personality, isn't it, Jacqui?

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, yes, certainly just an incredible storm. So much power and so much fury with this thing. And it seems to have a mind that it's going somewhere and it's not changing its mind, unlike some of the other storms we've had as of late. So Gustav right now is making landfall as we speak over Cuba.

We've already seen one landfall over the island. Now it's making its way over land. So we're looking at potentially, you know, 36 hours or so from now that we could see a U.S. landfall. And that's what a hurricane watch means, that hurricane conditions are possible within 36 hours.

So these watches just issued from High Island, Texas, all the way over to the Alabama/Florida state line. And then eastward from there, tropical storm watches for the Osloxy (ph) River area in the panhandle of Florida.

This radar picture showing you that eyewall as it made landfall. And you can see the back side now just getting on that south shore of Cuba. It's going to be maybe another two hours from now. We're going to see this back over the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Now because it's over land, I don't think we're going to see a lot of additional strengthening right now. But we don't have anything really to really weaken either because it's very, very flat. There is a threat of tornadoes already here across the Florida Keys in South Florida. In fact, just expired there, tornado warning which was in effect for Miami/Dade County.

Here, you can see that forecast and watch that cone of uncertainty, Rick. Look at this. Up to a 5. We think that's real likely in the next 12 to 24 hours.

SANCHEZ: Some of the best fishing in the world off the Florida Keys. Not today, folks. Funnel clouds will take your boat under water real quick. Won't they, Jacqui?

JERAS: Absolutely.

SANCHEZ: All right, that makes -- and they say they're spinning a whole bunch of them in that area. This thing is serious. So we're going to stay on top of it all night long. We're going to be here for you.

Two-pronged approach to covering the stories for you tonight. Wolf Blitzer's going to be standing by. He's going to be there in Washington bringing you the very latest as he heads to St. Paul -- or I should say as the convention heads to St. Paul. And we're going to be here in Atlanta covering the very latest with crews up and down the coast as well for the latest on Gustav. So expect all of it right here on CNN throughout the night.

I'm Rick Sanchez. We'll see you a little bit later.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage. I'm Wolf Blitzer. We're here in St. Paul, Minnesota, getting ready to the Republican National Convention, a convention take that may be delayed, may be postponed, may continue on schedule. But all the leadership of the Republican party, including Senator John McCain, they're deeply worried about what's happening along the Gulf coast.

Hurricane Gustav, they're trying to make some decisions what to do. The president of the United States, George Bush, the vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney, they're supposed to be coming to St. Paul Monday night to address this convention. Everything right now is up in the air because of this hurricane.

Rick Sanchez will have continuing coverage of what's going on in the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Gustav. That's coming up, but we want to focus in right now on the race for the White House.

We just heard from the Republican ticket, John McCain and Sarah Palin. They were speaking in Washington, Pennsylvania.

Right now, we're about to hear from the Democratic ticket, Barack Obama and Joe Biden. They're getting ready to speak in Dublin, Ohio. Pennsylvania and Ohio, two critical battleground states in the race for the White House. And both of these tickets desperate, desperate, to win Pennsylvania and Ohio.

The latest poll numbers in Ohio, by the way, show how close this contest is. Our CNN opinion - actually our Quinnipiac University poll shows Obama at 44%, McCain at 43%. Then you can see how close this race is. The introductory remarks are continuing in Dublin, Ohio right now. Our man on the scene is Jim Acosta.

Jim, set the scene for us, what we're about a to hear from these two Democrats.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what we're about to hear is Barack Obama and John McCain go right after -- excuse me, Barack Obama and Joe Biden go right after John McCain on the economy on those bread and butter domestic issues that Barack Obama needs on his side if he's going to prevail come November.

On the stage right now is Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, Wolf. You remember during the primaries, ted Strickland did not support Barack Obama. He supported Hillary Clinton in that bitter primary fight. He was actually standing right behind Hillary Clinton on that day when she uttered the words shame on you, Barack Obama.

Obviously fences have been mended. Peace has been made between those two camps. And Ted Strickland is here tonight to introduce Barack Obama, as well as some other Democrats on hand.

I should also note that Senator John Glenn will be following Ted Strickland here. He will be introducing both Joe Biden and Barack Obama, will be taking the stage here in just a few minutes.

It's a huge crowd here in Dublin, Ohio. We're at the - at a local high school here in Dublin. And these stands hold roughly 10,000 people. Those stands are filled. And then you have a few thousand more on the field where we're standing right now. So a big crowd for Barack Obama. And it's probably safe to say at this point with John Glenn introducing Barack Obama in just a few moments here, that Senator Obama will take note of the fact that John Glenn, of course, was an astronaut. And one of Barack Obama's favorite lines out on the campaign trail is that he would like to see a moon shot over the next ten years when it comes to alternative energy saying that within the next ten years, he'd like to see this country more fuel efficient.

So some of the issues that we'll see in play here over the next couple of hours here as this big crowd gets ready for this Democratic ticket to take the stage, earlier today, Barack Obama was touring the state. He was in Youngstown, Ohio. Stopped in a diner there with Joe Biden. And it was there where he talked about the situation with Hurricane Gustav.

And even though a lot of Democrats are noting shall Category 5 irony here that this hurricane is heading right towards New Orleans right before the Republican National Convention, Barack Obama proceeded with caution, talked about some of the preparations that he hopes will take place before that hurricane bears down on the Gulf coast.

Besides that, Senator Obama, we should say, he has had a busy day. He also attended the funeral of former Ohio Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones before making his way here to Dublin, Ohio. But this should happen within the next few minutes here. Ted Strickland, who is warming up the crowd right now, he'll hand it off to John Glenn. And then the Democratic ticket will take the stage here in Dublin. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. And as we await John Glenn, he's going to be speaking next. And then Joe Biden and Barack Obama, let's take a quick break and continue our coverage right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the race for the White House. Just a little while ago, you saw it live here, Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin, they spoke before a huge rally in Pennsylvania in Washington, Pennsylvania.

And now we're standing by to hear from Senator Barack Obama and Senator Joe Biden, the Democrats. They're speaking before a huge rally in Dublin, Ohio. I'm Wolf Blitzer, I'm reporting here. We're also watching what's happening with Hurricane Gustav. We'll have updates for you. That's coming up, as well, a Category 4 monster right now heading into the Gulf of Mexico.

Rick Sanchez at the CNN Center standing by with a live update. We won't let you down. We'll give you all the latest information.

But Gloria Borger, as we await the speeches from Senator Obama and Senator Biden, this will be an opportunity for viewers for the first time really to compare and contrast these two tickets. We just heard from the Republican ticket. Now we're going to hear from Biden and Obama, the Democratic ticket. And it's going to underscore some of their major differences, not only in substance, but in style.

BORGER: But you know, you're not going it hear a lot of attacks against the running mate of John McCain, Governor Palin, from these folks. They're going to challenge the ideology of that campaign, but they're not going take her on personally because they acknowledge that putting a woman on the ticket is a milestone, Wolf. So they're going to take on the campaign on abortion rights, and on pay equity, for example. But they have to do kind of a delicate dance here. They can't challenge her because they're saying, look, it's great to have a woman on the ticket. So they're going to stick to the issues in terms of challenging the McCain-Palin ticket.

BLITZER: And it's interesting because this is historic for the Republicans. The Republicans - the GOP has never had a woman on a presidential ticket.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: The Democrats had that once before, Geraldine Ferraro back in 1984.

BORGER: Didn't work so well.

BLITZER: Didn't work out so well for the Mondale -Ferraro ticket. And obviously, John McCain and the Republicans are hoping it work as lot better for them.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: So this will be historic, this convention that's going to take place at the Excel Energy Center right behind us over the next few days, assuming, and it's a big assumption right now given Hurricane Gustav, assuming it takes place. But it was a bold, gutsy move...

BORGER: It was...

BLITZER: ...by John McCain to pick Sarah Palin as his running mate.

BORGER: It was. And what it does is it locks up his conservative base. It brings an intensity to his campaign, you know. This entire season, we've been talking about the enthusiasm of Democrats, Wolf. Now you're seeing some enthusiasm among those cultural conservatives for the Republican ticket that they did not have before.

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