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CNN NEWSROOM

GOP Launches Second Day of Convention; Gulf Coast Assesses Hurricane Damage; Stocks Surge on Storm's End

Aired September 2, 2008 - 13:00   ET

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


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN's live coverage of the Republican National Convention.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, HOST: And good afternoon. Welcome, everybody. Soledad O'Brien at the CNN Election Center in New York City.

All eyes on the Republican National Convention, which is taking place in St. Paul, Minnesota. Never quite seen anything like this in modern political history. Today's session is just hours away from beginning. They're kind of making it up, though, as they go. From the lineup of the speakers to the strategy and the message, everything is pretty much influx right now. We have the very latest on who and what we will and will not be seeing today.

Also in this hour, the reason for all the uncertainty: we're keeping close tabs on what Hurricane Gustav has done to Louisiana. Millions of evacuees want to go home. Officials say it isn't safe yet. We're going to watch that, too.

But just hours from now, day two of the GOP convention gets underway. Might as well really be day one, from the American public's perspective. Republicans have a little bit of catching up to do after yesterday's storm shortened their session pretty dramatically.

CNN's Ed Henry is part of the best political team on TV, live at the CNN Grill in St. Paul with more.

Hey, Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Soledad.

It's interesting. You're absolutely right. The Republicans are really trying to get back on track. They're taking their cues, in part, from what President Bush said this morning after being briefed, which is that basically the government's cautiously optimistic that the damage is not as bad from this hurricane as it was after Katrina. They obviously want to be careful.

But that's why you're starting to see the podium get ready, the Republicans thinking that they can get this schedule sort of as back to normal as possible, starting with the president himself. He was supposed to speak last night in prime time. Instead he'll be speaking tonight, live via remote from the White House. He will not be here in St. Paul, but he'll be speaking to the delegates.

We expect that speech to be shorter than originally planned. A lot more, obviously, on the storm, a little less on the Bush record, and that may suit some of these delegates that we've been talking to fine. They want to see more about McCain, less about President Bush.

Another speaker we'll see is Fred Thompson, the former senator from Tennessee. As you know, he ran for president, obviously didn't make it, but he's still close to John McCain. He's seen as a likely cabinet member in a possible McCain administration.

But then, I think, the key marquee speaker tonight to watch is Joe Lieberman, the independent Democrat. What a dramatic story. Eight years ago in Los Angeles he was the Democratic vice-presidential candidate, the nominee. He was on the short list, recently, for McCain's VP, didn't get it, obviously, but still speaking. He talked about that this morning on "AMERICAN MORNING."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: Feel very good to be here, obviously, crossing party lines to support John McCain because, to state it simply, country matters more than party. And I just feel so strongly that John McCain is the best candidate for president for our country.

JOHN ROBERTS, CO-HOST, "AMERICAN MORNING": How -- how...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Now, that fits right into the theme tonight, which is the Republicans want to talk about John McCain being a maverick. So there with Lieberman, obviously, McCain reaching across the aisle at an independent Democrat.

But also, we're told later this week we'll hear from Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, moderate Republican, obviously.

But it's a tricky balancing act for the McCain campaign, as they want to focus on a maverick image tonight. They have Lieberman speaking but also President Bush. And having President Bush out front obviously does not highlight John McCain's maverick image. Instead, Democrats have been talking about how, in recent years, John McCain has been less of a maverick and more of a supporter of President Bush's policies, both on Iraq and the economy, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes. That's got to be an interesting juggling act.

Another speech to watch, which is going to happen tomorrow, will be the vice-presidential pick, Sarah Palin. You know, to a large degree, even though the theme is "who is John McCain," really the question is who is Sarah Palin? What do you think she has to do with her speech when she, you know, does the Sarah Palin 101?

HENRY: Yes. It's really going to be her big introduction to the American people. The first one I was at last Friday, when she was introduced as John McCain's vice-presidential announcement -- nominee, rather, in Ohio, that was her beginning. But it was a very short speech.

This is going to be in prime time. This is going to be not just before these delegates, but broadcast all around the world. It's really -- what she has to get done is introduce herself to the American people, but also explain exactly what her experience is. It's obviously the question Democrats keep raising, and there's going to be a lot of pressure on her.

But I can tell you, in speaking to a lot of delegates, including some in my hotel, from the Oklahoma delegation this morning, they sort of grabbed me and said, "Why is the media beating up on this woman so much?" They think there's going to be a backlash over some of the scrutiny. And they said, "Look, let's hear from her." They're eager. They think she's a good pick, a lot of the sort of rank-and-file conservatives at this convention. And they're saying, "Give her a chance at the microphone. Let's hear from her before people decide whether or not she's qualified."

So what she's got to get done is show, in fact, that she is qualified, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: We'll see about that. Ed Henry for us at the CNN Grill.

Thanks, Ed. Appreciate the update.

Coming up next, achieving their goals. We'll take a closer look at what the GOP needs to accomplish to bounce ahead of the Democrats in the polls. Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back. The Republican National Convention has been anything but conventional so far. Hurricane Gustav took center stage on day one. Day two has the McCain campaign working to put the focus back on the candidates.

Let's bring in our panel of political analysts. Amy Holmes is an independent conservative. Ed Rollins is a Republican strategist and CNN contributor. Hilary Rosen is a CNN contributor and political director of the Huffington Post. Welcome to all of you.

When we left the last time, as they say, we were talking about foreign policy, national security experience, experience, experience. One of the interesting things I've heard is the minute you ask the campaign about experience for Sarah Palin, they say, "Well, Barack Obama" is how they answer the question.

So do you think that's a strategy that can work? Or is that not a great strategy when you're talking about experience? Why don't you just take that one, Ed?

ED ROLLINS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The reality is neither of them have foreign policy experience. I mean, Barack Obama's ranked 86th in the Senate. He's been on the committee for two years. He's been running for president two out of the three years he's been in the Senate. So, if he wants to pretend he has credentials, he can, but he doesn't.

Most governors don't have foreign policy credentials. Most of them deal with domestic issues. Sometimes they go on abroad. Obviously, they have national security issues, but not -- not really day-to-day foreign policy experience.

O'BRIEN: Strategically, is it a mistake? Reminds me of my daughters. When they fight, my older daughter will say, "Well, Cecilia did it" and point to her sister. And I wonder if -- if that's strategically a good way to take questions about experience, as opposed to saying, "Hey..."

ROLLINS: We have -- we have one -- I'm sorry -- we have one guy with great experience. I mean, John McCain has got many, many years of experience, and nobody can compete with him on this. Joe Biden can, obviously, but they're switched positions.

So I think the bottom line is you stress your strengths. And the combined strength, at the end of the day, people are going to vote for president. John McCain has foreign policy experience. Barack Obama has other gifts which are not necessary foreign policy.

The two vice presidents, one has tremendous foreign policy. One has great domestic energy policy, and that makes for a stronger ticket.

AMY HOLMES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And I think, strategically, that Sarah Palin, she needs to introduce herself to the American people. We don't know a whole lot about her, so when Democrats are attacking her on the experience issue, yes, Republicans can point to Barack Obama. But they also need to answer the question in terms of Sarah Palin: why is she on this ticket? Balancing John McCain, for example. What is her experience as governor of Alaska?

So I do think she needs to make a positive case for being on the -- being on the ticket. And I think she'll be able to do that.

O'BRIEN: Why didn't we see a bounce of the DNC? I mean, we see poll numbers shift, but just very slightly, within the standard of deviation.

HILARY ROSEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Although, actually in the last day, just this morning, we've seen in the Gallup and some others much big number, you know, a spread of five or six points.

You know, elections are about match-ups. And it's clearly between John McCain and Barack Obama. And I think on this issue of experience, Barack Obama's making his case based on judgment. He's saying, you know what? John McCain might have a lot of experience, but he has experience making the wrong decisions. He was wrong in the war on Iraq. He was wrong on talking to Iran. He was wrong -- and focus on Afghanistan. And that's the case he's making to the American people.

The second piece of that judgment, I think, ends up being if you know that somebody's a heartbeat away from the presidency, who do you want there? And do you want Sarah Palin or do you want Joe Biden?

But I agree with Ed: that's the secondary decision. This election's really about Obama versus McCain. And they both have to stand on their own, based on what they bring to the table.

O'BRIEN: What do Republicans have to do to get -- to get the bounce that they would like to see this week? What do you think the -- I mean, the messaging and what they have to achieve?

ROLLINS: The critical -- the critical thing here is John McCain. John McCain has to show he's different. It's not all Republican policies that are being rejected by the country. That's why Republicans are still doing OK. The leadership of George Bush is what's being rejected, and people want to turn that page. John McCain has to show that he's a different kind of leader and he can get this country going again. And I think that's the key thing.

O'BRIEN: Sarah Palin as a choice, does that play into that or play against it?

HOLMES: I think it plays into it, and I think that that's why he chose her as his VP running mate. We have someone who's from way outside of Washington and Alaska. We have someone who has that record of a reformer.

But I think Ed is right, is that John McCain, he needs to sort of rest the party away from the Bush brand, make it a McCain brand, which we know runs a lot better than the Republican brand. And I think tonight for Joe Lieberman to be giving that personal testimony about John McCain's leadership, his independence across party lines is also very helpful for John McCain to establish that.

O'BRIEN: Coming on the heels of President Bush. And if you're trying to do the separation, that could be a little bit of a tricky dance.

ROSEN: Well, and also, if you're trying to separate your -- you know, John McCain has a lot of jobs now this week. He has to separate himself from President Bush, who he voted with 95 percent of the time over the last number of years, and he has to distract away from the introduction of Sarah Palin.

So all of a sudden, the person who was going to be his, you know, compatriot here, has become the person who's distracting from the very message he wants people to be thinking about this week. That's not an easy job.

And on top of that, he's got to say how he's going to take the country in a different direction.

O'BRIEN: It'll be interesting to see how the speeches go. I know I'll be watching all of them.

All right, guys. I appreciate it very much. Thank you.

You want to make sure to stay with the best political team on TV. I love saying that. Just rolls off the tongue. For the best political convention coverage on television. Soledad O'Brien at the CNN Election Center in New York. We're back in a little bit.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it wasn't Katrina and now isn't even a tropical storm, but Gustav made its mark on the Louisiana coast. Homeland security says it was no false alarm. More than a million Gulf Coast homes and businesses don't have power and won't for days. That's one reason that residents aren't being invited back home.

Oil and water are a difficult mix, but looks like all those rigs and refineries weathered the storm, and they did it pretty well.

Still, hurricane season is a long way -- a long way from over. And look what's lighting up the radar screens right now.

Hello, everyone. I'm Don Lemon in St. Bernard Parish, just outside of New Orleans. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

All right, here's the very latest about that once -- what was once a hurricane.

Don't come home yet. That is the message to Gulf Coast evacuees in the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav. Now a tropical depression, but still -- still dumping heavy rain and carrying the threat of tornadoes.

Now Gustav was powerful, but it was no Katrina. This time people fled New Orleans in droves, and the levees, well, they appeared to have held. Now officials are in damage assessment mode here.

At least seven Gulf Coast deaths are blamed on Gustav, which knocked out power to around 1.4 million households in Louisiana and more than 92,000 in Mississippi.

Damage to Gulf Coast oil rigs still needs to be assessed. But oil prices are falling today in hopes of -- that the industry was mostly spared.

We have CNN correspondents all over the region. Our Chris Lawrence is in New Orleans, keeping watch on the levees. Ed Lavandera is in Lafayette, Louisiana. And our Jacqui Jeras is in the CNN weather center, watching everything, tracking what's left of Gustav and keeping an eye on the stormy horizon. Our Jacqui Jeras doing it all for you in the CNN severe weather center -- Jacqui.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hey, Don.

You know, the biggest concern that we still have with Gustav today is the fresh-water flooding from the rainfall that we've been getting, which continues to be very heavy, and the threat of tornadoes.

You can see the storm still very large, bringing lots of rain all across the area and the center of circulation down here towards Shreveport. You're still going to see some gusty winds. You know, I don't think it's going to be quite enough -- hopefully not -- to cause any additional power outages. But you are going to see those winds gusting maybe 30 plus miles per hour at times.

And we could see rainfall rates on the order of, easy, one to two inches.

There you can see the tornado watch, including New Orleans, up towards Baton Rouge into Jackson, Mississippi, and on up towards the Greenville area. And that will be ongoing throughout the afternoon.

Rainfall totals here are going to be quite excessive. In fact, you could see 3 to 6 inches on top of what you already have, especially focusing into northern parts of Louisiana.

All right. That's Gustav. Now we're going to move on to Hanna. You know, it's something of a conga line of storms. Actually, let me line them up for you here on Google Earth, just to show you. This one over here is Hanna. This is Ike, and this is Josephine. So we'll start you out with Hanna, because that's the most immediate threat.

It's a very strong tropical storm right now. Maximum winds around 70 miles per hour. It's been doing a little loopty-loop down here into the Caribbean. And now it's heading on up towards the Bahamas and should be doing some strengthening, we think, in the next couple of days. Landfall is possible on Friday. Either northern Florida, possibly in Georgia or the Carolinas, but this is certainly a storm to watch.

And Ike way out there in the middle of open water. So we won't have to worry about that one for a while yet. Moving north of the Leeward Islands -- Islands as we head through the weekend -- Don.

LEMON: All right, Jacqui Jeras, thank you very much.

We're going to check in with our Chris Lawrence in just a little bit to find out what's happening in St. Bernard Parish, where one of the levees there, there was some water seepage.

But we want to head west now to Lafayette, Louisiana, and get to CNN's Ed Lavandera. He's following the latest developments from there -- Ed.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Don.

You know, one of the hardest things to kind of grasp is the randomness of Mother Nature and the destruction that it causes sometimes. In Lafayette here and throughout this part of South Central Louisiana, we've woken up to community and emergency officials saying, look, for the most part everyone weathered out the storm really well. There wasn't widespread structural damage. The flooding seems to be intact. Really just downed power lines and the loss of electricity, which seems to be the thing really hampering the process of getting everyone back to normal here. But then you find this home here, which was a home yesterday afternoon. This massive tree behind it -- behind the house collapsed, crushing the home. You can almost barely tell that there was someone in here.

In fact, this is where the only victim of Hurricane Gustav died yesterday afternoon here in Lafayette. A 27-year-old man was killed here as he was sleeping yesterday during -- during the storm. We were told by a family friend that he had come home, was too tired after working -- was too tired to get in his car and leave the area and decided to sleep before the worst of the storm came in. And that's where this storm found him.

So -- but everywhere else you look, this is clearly the worst scene here in Lafayette and in many other places that we've driven through, Don. We went down to Abbeville, Louisiana, as well as New Iberia and Morgan City, and what you do see is, you know, some downed trees, splintered trees and that sort of thing.

But considering that the eye and the brunt of this storm rolled through here yesterday afternoon, that there isn't more structural damage and more reports of situations like this is really good news, for the most part, for many of the residents that live in this part of South Central Louisiana -- Don.

LEMON: All right. Our Ed Lavandera, following the very latest developments in Lafayette.

As we said, we've got crews and reporters stationed all over the region following the very latest developments. Our Chris Lawrence is just outside of New Orleans, and he is keeping an eye on the levee situation.

Chris, what can you tell us?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I can tell you, Don, that sometimes even with all the planning, even with the rebuilding of the levees, even with all these master plans, sometimes you've got to be able to work on the fly when a big storm hits. And that's what happened right here.

You look at all of these sandbags. Thousands of these came out yesterday during the back edge of the storm. As the storm, the main part of it passed through, it brought a tremendous amount of flooding.

Right over here on this wall, you can see the motto here, "Times are hard." That could be the motto for a lot of communities down here.

But yesterday, these walls were overtopping. The water was starting to come through the bottom. It really, for a while, looked bad for some of the homes that you can see here in this neighborhood right here. Hundreds of homes, they took on 10 feet of water during Katrina. They were worried it might happen yesterday, as well, even though they had shored up the levee before. What happened: the Army Corps of Engineers used siphons and pumps to try to alleviate some of that pressure on the wall. And then on this side all the local workers pitched in sand bags like crazy right up until the end to try to block that water from coming over -- Don.

LEMON: OK. All right, Chris Lawrence, thank you very much for that.

If you would like to help those affected by Hurricane Gustav, please go to our "Impact Your World" page, where you'll find links to organizations that are offering aid for all of this. That's at CNN.com/impact.

Cautious optimism and fingers crossed. Oil prices are down amid hopes that Gustav was more bark than bite. But will they stay that way?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Oil prices are falling today as pre-Gustav fear gives way to post-hurricane hope. Our T.J. Holmes is at -- in Atlanta with the bird's-eye view on all of that -- T.J.

T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, there, Don. We've got that bird's-eye view thanks to the Coast Guard. CNN crews were allowed on board a CNN Coast Guard helicopter today. And they're bringing us some new pictures of these Gulf Coast oil rigs and refineries that everybody's concerned about.

Well, industry officials right now planning their own flyovers to check for possible damage. Those are supposed to happen this morning, maybe into the afternoon.

But oil traders right now are cautiously optimistic. They think the damage might have been minimal because the storm was a bit weaker. And optimism has sent oil prices down today.

Gustav, of course, cut through the heart of the oil industry in the region. But workers could actually start returning to their rigs as early as this afternoon.

About 1.3 million barrels come out of the gulf every single day. That's a quarter of the oil produced in the U.S. So there is some optimism that maybe this time around, those were not hit as hard as during Katrina.

But a drop in oil prices fuelling a pretty big rally on Wall Street today. Our Susan Lisovicz on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange with a check of the action. Also a look at how big business is dealing with this storm.

Susan, hello to you.

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello to you.

You know, T.J., September historically the worst month for stocks, but the first trading day of the month off to a nice start. And oil, of course, is a big catalyst: crude prices right now down $6, $6.25, below $110 a barrel. So yes, very nice in terms of stocks.

The rally's faded a bit, but we still have triple-digit gains. And one of the reasons why: a big sigh of relief. Even though oil production was basically shot down -- shut down in this very densely populated region for the industry, a big sigh of relief that Gustav didn't do more damage. We'll get more information in the days to come.

But what we're seeing so far, triple digit gains to the Dow. Check it out. The blue chips up 116 points, the NASDAQ meanwhile up 6 points. And the big beneficiary, not surprisingly, T.J., transportation stocks: airline stocks, like the parent company of United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta, Continental. They're all up about 14 percent on the day or more.

Back to you, T.J.

HOLMES: That's some good news, because we got some good news about this storm. Maybe it was not as bad as we thought. So that's good.

Well, after disasters, after hurricanes oftentimes, any natural disaster, a lot of companies, a lot of stores can help out. Sometimes they rush to reopen their doors so they can get a lot of supplies, essentially, to the people who need to start rebuilding. So is this happening again?

LISOVICZ: Oh, yes, and they've been road-tested, as you know, because only three years ago we saw Katrina and Rita roar through. And so, yes, Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Lowe's, all reopening their stores along the Gulf Coast.

Things like tarps, generators, hundreds of items that could be used in storms like these certainly are there.

There are also -- number of stores, for instance, are taking donations for the Red Cross, as well as supplying things like gloves, bleach, mini fridges, tools, you name it. And big supplies in big demand right now.

Also in the next hour, we're going to be talking about oil prices, as well and damage estimates, T.J., that are starting to roll in. We'll talk more about that in the next hour. Back to you.

HOLMES: We appreciate it. Thank you so much, Susan. We'll see you again here shortly.

And stay here. We're going to be talking about the Republican National Convention. As we know it didn't get off to the start it was supposed to get off to yesterday. It didn't come in with all the pomp and pageantry as they had hoped, because of what was happening with Gustav.

But our political team, you might have heard, is the best out there. They're going to be bringing you live coverage from St. Paul, Minnesota. Stay here.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

And hello and welcome everybody, from the CNN Election Center in New York. I'm Soledad O'Brien with continuing coverage of the 2008 Republican convention.

As you can see right there, you're looking at the convention site in beautiful St. Paul, Minnesota. The proceedings, as you well know by now, were abbreviated yesterday by the hurricane that took place further down the Mississippi. And now the theme has been really dedicated to hurricane relief. They've done some juggling since then. Come up with a fuller slate today. And the theme today is who is John McCain. Glitch there, as well, as GOP strategist Ed Rollins pointed out for us a little bit earlier, this was supposed to be the night for Senator McCain to distance himself from President Bush.

Instead, tonight, President Bush is going to be a major presence. He'll be speaking by satellite. Also on the speaker's list, Fred Thompson, Joe Lieberman. The Republicans have a little work to do to get the mojo going. The latest on CNN polls showing John McCain trailing Barack Obama by five points among registers voters with seven percent still undecided.

And of course, there continue to be new developments in the running mate story, or the back story. Tonight's theme is supposed to be who is John McCain. Awful lot of questions though, being asked along the lines of well, just who is Sarah Palin? The very latest just a few moments ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Was your vetting process thorough enough, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you will please go out that door back there.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The process was completely thorough. And I'm grateful for the results.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Going to get to our latest on the CNN polls and also the update what we can expect ahead from the Republicans as they head into day two of their convention in just a little bit. Going to take a short break first. Update in a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: All right. Let's get a quick update on the day's developments from CNN deputy political director Paul Steinhauser. Paul, obviously because of the hurricane, there was a big change in plans and that change continues even to today.

First, what's the mood, as everybody's trying to get back on track? Does it feel like it's out of sorts, or do they feel like they're right there?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN DEPUTY POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, the mood here -- part of tonight's convention will still be a service. A service convention to help those in need down in the Gulf Coast. That has not changed. I think you're going to see, Soledad, that going on all week.

But the other big thing about tonight is going to be John McCain and explaining to the American public who John McCain is. So, you kind of got two things going on today. And it's definitely not the convention we thought we'd come here to cover, but it is the convention we are now covering -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: You go with the convention you've been sent to cover, I guess.

How does it feel on the ground there? All these questions about the vice presidential pick from basically just, you know, who is she, to some of the family issues that we're hearing about.

Does it feel like it's distracting the GOP office message? Does it feel like, well there are consistent with the way she's been, so we feel good about it? What's the feedback you're getting?

STEINHAUSER: Our reporters here, you know, Dana Bash, John King, Candy Crowley and the rest are talking to loot of the delegates and other Republicans. And they're -- at least from conservatives they're getting a sense that there is no drop off when it comes to backing of Sarah Palin.

I think a lot of social conservatives are very kind of happy with the fact that the daughter is going to be marrying, having the child and marrying the man. So -- and it doesn't seem to be distracting conservatives right now. We need to get a better sense, though. When this hall fills up later today, all our reporters are going to be out there, speaking to delegates and getting a better sense of what the mood is on the ground with these delegates as when it comes to this controversy surrounding her.

O'BRIEN: As you know, the theme tonight is who is John McCain? And one of the speakers making that pitch will be President George Bush.

What's the dance in trying to manage that? Because obviously that's kind of a tricky thing to say you're a maverick but also to be, you know, introduced by the president.

How is that going to work?

STEINHAUSER: Yes, you know, basically since day one when John McCain clinched the nominations, the Democrats have been trying to portray John McCain as another four years of George Bush. Saying that John McCain's policies and George Bush's policies are the same.

McCain and his campaign have been trying to show it's just the opposite. That John McCain always been his own man. He is a maverick. And when it comes to a number of issues from torture down in Guantanamo Bay, to other issues, John McCain is always kind of broken with the White House.

So it's interesting that here you're going to have George Bush tonight, speaking. Though it's via satellite. Remember, before the hurricane came, the plan was to have George Bush speak right here in Minneapolis, St. Paul, to the crowd. Tonight though, it'll only be an abbreviated speech, maybe five or six minutes, maybe a little longer. And he'll be sandwiched by his wife, of course, the First Lady.

But it is a delicate dance here. He is the leader of the party, the president. And he has served for eight years and he's still very popular with core Republicans, core conservatives. But at the same time, the McCain campaign it appears, is trying to keep the distance -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes. High disapproval numbers I'm sure they're trying not to remind everybody about.

All right. Paul Steinhauser with a look at some of the issues for us, today. Thanks, Paul. Appreciate it.

Time to dig a little bit deeper. We're joined by CNN contributor and GOP strategist Leslie Sanchez. Also with me here in New York, CNN contributor Hilary Rosen. She's a political director of the liberal "Huffington Post."

Nice to see both of you.

Leslie, let's start with you. You know, last week we're talking about red meat. We haven't really been talking that much about it. Because of course, we're coming out of this hurricane, which really was threatening New Orleans and all of the surrounding areas. You still got a million people who are without power.

Does that mean the GOP convention will be without red meat, i.e., the attacks?

LESLIE SANCHEZ, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Soledad, I think you raise a great point. I think the tone is tremendously important right now. And people are listening intensely to see what the Republican solutions? There's so much spin going on in terms of people attacking each other on both sides. What are people going to do to create an efficient government?

And don't forget, there's that 15 to 20 percent of voters out there who have yet to decide, really which party they're inclined to vote for in November. And those are very much who I think John McCain and a lot of our surrogates are speaking to. The people who say, look, you may have been frustrated with Republicans in the past, that brand name ID. But, this is a different type of leadership. And this is what we want to do with regard to leading America.

O'BRIEN: Senator Joe Lieberman will be talking at the convention.

First, let's play a little chunk about what he had to say about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: I feel very good to be here, obviously, crossing party lines to support John McCain, because to state it simply, country matters more than party. And I just feel so strongly that John McCain is the best candidate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So, Leslie talked about that 15 percent to 20 percent undecided who everyone's going to be talking to. When Joe Lieberman talks to those people, what do you think the reception's going to be? Because I know the Democrats -- hard core liberal Democrats must be going crazy to think that he's there.

But, what about the people who don't know how they want to vote?

ROSEN: Well, that's a good message. Country comes before party. And it's something that most Americans out there really want to hear. They like to think that their politicians care more about their country than their party.

And I'm guessing that President Bush is actually going to do a better job than most Democrats are predicting for John McCain. I think he's likely to go out there and say, you know, we've been -- we haven't had an attack on U.S. soil, John McCain's been really right on these issue. And you know, guess what folks, he doesn't always agree with me. I've had more political battles with John McCain that I have with lots of Democrats.

So, you know, he's going to play the script. He's going to do exactly what the McCain campaign wants. So, you know, this is a night that should go well for John McCain. And you know, Democrats had a few good nights last week. The Republicans are going to get a couple of good nights this week. That's sort of how it goes. And then next week it starts. We get a few in every now and then over this week.

O'BRIEN: I can feel Leslie nodding. I think you guys are finally in agreement in the 10 days that we've been --.

ROSEN: Wow.

O'BRIEN: Yes, exactly.

SANCHEZ: Out twitter this, Hilary. It's really good.

O'BRIEN: Should we just stop now? Because I feel like we've got a little bit of a kumbaya moment.

Leslie, to what degree is -- and regardless of whether you think Palin's daughter is on the table, not on the table, whatever. At the end of the day, do you think that the question about who is Sarah Palin and what's going on there, distracts from the message the bigger message that's supposed to be the theme of the convention tonight, which is who is John McCain? From that perspective, is this a problem?

SANCHEZ: I don't think it's a problem. I think it's expected. I mean, John McCain and the campaign, very sophisticated in understanding how this was going to roll out in the media. I think this was probably anticipated. And you're right. It's a challenge to redirect to what the message is going to be, country first, what does this mean in terms of John McCain's leadership?

How, where he wants to take the country. How he is a maverick but has the right solution. It is that cloud that's hanging there. But at the same time, people are getting to know Sarah Palin. And the ones I talk to are excited about her. They like that she's reform minded, conservative minded and she's willing to take on the establishment.

But there's an interesting theme that comes out of her bio. And people will things like, she's someone like me. And the more people can connect and think that she's somebody who relates to the average person, especially in the middle class and all of the problems and grievances that go with that, I think the better this ticket's going to be.

O'BRIEN: Does that underscore, Leslie, when people complain about her lack of experience, you know, want someone like you, except a lot smarter on the issues because if they have to step in and be the president, you hope that they're not running off to get the four kids to school like me.

SANCHEZ: I think that's a good point because it was a knee-jerk response by the Democrats to attack her. A lot of those comments sounded sexist from those liberal blogs.

But if you look at the depth of her experience, she comes from an agency according to the Washington Office of Management and Budget, that has 18 different departments; $6.6 billion budget; 25,000 employees; she's taken on big oil; she's taken on her own party. She's a solid professional. And that needs to be, you know, reminded and reiterated as people are getting to know her.

O'BRIEN: Is it going to be a problem when she gets into this debate with Joe Biden? Or, do you think that it's a problem for Democrats because she brings in the I'm-just-like-you versus Joe Biden, who's been in government for a long, long time?

ROSEN: Yes. Democrats can't get into this trap about attacking on a personality basis. This is about the issues. Where Sarah Palin is on the issues and where John McCain is on the issues is a very different place than the majority of the American people. And they've got to keep it focussed there.

She's going to be a compelling young woman candidate. She could be an exciting role model. But, if you want -- if you think this country's going in the wrong direction and you want to change, this is not the ticket for it. And that's the message Democrats have to keep hounding on. O'BRIEN: We'll see if those messages -- anybody's message gets out as we continue to watch some of these tropical storms turn into hurricanes.

Leslie Sanchez, Hilary Rosen, I thank you both.

We're going to have more convention coverage coming in just about 15 minutes. Plus, of course, throughout the day, in New York, Soledad O'Brien at the CNN Election Center.

Send it back to Atlanta, and CNN NEWSROOM right after the short break. Stay with us.

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LEMON: All right. Time now to tell you what's coming up in the CNN NEWSROOM. Just some of the stories we're working on.

New Orleans, where the mayor is urging hurricane evacuees to a whole type. About half the city is without power and the sewer system, well, it isn't working. Mayor Ray Nagin says, it may be Thursday, before it is safe enough to come home.

And the governor warns flooding and tornadoes are still a big threat all across the south. At least seven deaths along the Gulf Coast are blamed on the storm, including a man in Lafayette, who was crushed by a falling tree.

After Gustav, a triple threat in the Atlantic.

Here's CNN's meteorologist Reynolds Wolf.

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I'm coming to you from the magic weather wall to give you an idea of what's happening with what's left of Gustav and what's yet to come in the Atlantic. Trust me, it's very busy.

Let's get things started in Louisiana, where you can just see the remnants of Gustav, still producing quite a bit of rainfall. Yesterday the cloud tops up to about 15,000 feet, now they're up to around 20 in some places, 30 in others. It's not so much a big problem in terms of some wind. But really, it's going to be a big rain maker and flooding's going to be a possibility, especially in places like (INAUDIBLE), Arkansas, back to Shreveport, Louisiana, even into Marshall, Texas.

Now, this is a dying system, Gustav. But we have the other storms on the horizon. Three named storms. This could be a record in the Atlantic basin that we have. Take a look at this: Hanna, you see the track, taking you up along the Eastern sea board. We're going to talk more about that coming up in just a moment. You have Ike right in the atlantic, too, expected to make its way westward, possibly threatening Haiti and Port-au-Prince, as we get closer into Sunday. And then of course, you have Josephine, a newly named storm. And that one is still a little iffy. But looks like it's still going to continue west and then more of a northwest-trajectory as we get into Sunday.

Now, let's focus in on the one that's closest to home. That would be Hanna. A very interesting storm, also expected to strengthen. And if you look at this line right here, that is the path of the National Hurricane Center. You'll also notice a little bit of shading out here, which happens to be your cone of uncertainty. But then you'll see the multi-colored lines. Those are computer models, each of them telling you a different story as to where they -- model think that the storm might particularly go.

One thing of concern to us is notice how -- the National Hurricane Center line brings us very close to shore as we get to Friday morning. This is going to give you an idea of how close it's going to be to Daytona Beach. We put the center, take a look -- it could be anywhere from say, 40 to 42 miles or so. When you think of the storm that could be hundreds of miles wide, there's no question that parts of Florida are going to be inundated with heavy, heavy rainfall, possibly some storm surge. And at the same time, quite a bit of rain.

But if even that doesn't hold true, better than hold true, you can see the possibility of the storm racing up along the Carolina coast, perhaps the Georgia coast. The Georgia coast has not been hit by a major hurricane by 1898. And then you have the Outer Banks to think about and the up the Eastern sea board.

Looks like Hanna is going to really keep us busy. That is a look at what's happening around the tropics. Let's send it back to you.

LEMON: All right. Reynolds Wolf reporting for us. Our meteorologist, thank you very much.

It's just starting to rain here off and on in the New Orleans area. So, there's still more to come as this system keeps moving through.

WOLF: ... back to you.

LEMON: All right. Reynolds Wolf reporting for us, our meteorologist. Thank you very much.

It's just starting to rain here off and on in the New Orleans area. So, there is still more to come as this system keeps moving through.

Time to share some of your stories from this storm. We want to go now to our T.J. Holmes. He is on top of it all from our i-Report desk. He's back in the CNN NEWSROOM with the very latest.

How are you doing, T.J.?

T.J. HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Doing all right, Don. It sounds like a lot of people heeded those warnings and they got out of there, so they are doing fairly well as well. We are still getting a lot of those i-Reports, as you say. This is just a map here we can show you folks of where we're getting some of our i-Reports.

Certainly several coming to us from the New Orleans area as you see here. But also, just along the Gulf Coast, over here in Pensacola even we're starting to get some i-Reports.

Let's share one report that we did get actually from one of our own people. Scott Thompson sent us this picture. He is one of our assignment editors. This is Interstate West near Slidell. Now, what's happening -- you see here police are diverting traffic. As you know, as we saw that contra flow plan over the weekend, people had to get out of New Orleans. Well some of the reports now, at least people are seeing and thinking that, hey, it wasn't as bad, relatively speaking, as Katrina. So a lot of people are trying to get back into the city. And right now they are not being allowed to. So this video here shows people being redirected by authorities.

Let's go to another picture here -- a photo from George Halibern (ph) in Biloxi -- of the casinos. This is a row of casinos you're seeing right here -- all in a row, signs out there saying we are closed.

Let's move quickly to another one he has of a parking deck that, as you can see, is pretty much flooded there.

These are just a few that we have. We hope to come back and share some more with you. But a few (INAUDIBLE) from the people helping us tell the story as always, our i-Reporters.

Don, right now I'll hand it back to you out there in New Orleans.

LEMON: All right. Thank you very much for all of that, T.J. We certainly appreciate our i-Reporters. You can spend your information to ireport.com or go do it on your cell phone, send us your pictures and your videos. But make sure you stay out of harm's way. .

As hundreds of thousands of people fled inland to escape Gustav, some very important people stayed behind. CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, rode along with one of the emergency workers who stayed put as that storm moved in.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIKE GUILLOT, EAST JEFFERSON EMS: You're hoping that levee holds. If the levee doesn't hold, we're in trouble. It's scary. This is scary because this is high.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Mike Guillot has been here through Katrina and the other storms. He is one of the guys we hear about. He is one of the guy who always stays.

(on camera): The governor's been on, the mayor's been on, saying evacuate. I think it's maybe fair to say you're still here. Did you think about leaving?

GUILLOT: I don't think about leaving, but I think my priority is to make sure my family -- my wife is safe, my kids are safe. And as long as those things are in place, then, you know, I look at as this is our job. I don't see it as something heroic. It's just our job to do.

GUPTA (voice-over): But it is heroic. Staying and trying to protect people from this -- an angry Lake Pontchartrain.

(on camera): The only way that we can even be out here right now is with the assistance of EMS. They have brought us out here to show us exactly what they're concerned about. You can see it behind me, all this water over here that is really kicking out on Lake Pontchartrain. There are levees all around. The water is nowhere near close yet, but the concern is that it might get there.

They're patrolling right now in some of the worst conditions to try and see if anybody needs help. But at some point, even the EMS is going to be told, enough, it's time to go in. We're almost there.

(voice-over): It's been a challenging day, but this area just west of New Orleans has a better chance because Mike Guillot has chosen to stay.

GUILLOT: If you want to go back out again, we can do that.

GUPTA: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, Jefferson Parish, Louisiana.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta of course used to that, helping out during Hurricane Katrina, as well.

Let's talk now about gauging the damage from Hurricane Gustav. We'll get some expert help from the guy who was in charge after Katrina -- General Russel Honore.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: And welcome back. I'm CNN meteorologist, Jacqui Jeras in your hurricane headquarters.

We've been kind of able to get out a little bit more today and start to assess some of the damage received from Hurricane Gustav. This map that you see behind me, this is from one of the power companies in Louisiana. This is the predominant power company. Most people use these providers. What I want you to notice, it's kind of tough to see this map, but all this red you can see here, that's where there are at least 5,000 or more people who are without power.

Here is New Orleans right here. Here is Baton Rouge. Here is Lafayette. And here is Alexandria. So you can really tell how the hurricane, as it made landfall, moved up into this area and caused most of the power outages. And what I'm hearing now from the governor is that maybe as many as 1.4 million people are suffering without power. And not only are we talking a couple of days, it's going to be for it to be restored, but possibly as much as 10 days.

And we've got retired Army Lieutenant General Russel Honore now joining us for an independent analysis on this situation.

General, you were telling me, this is a worse power situation than what we were dealing with in Katrina.

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: This is worse than Katrina. In Katrina the problem was in New Orleans, St. Bernard, and Franklin (ph) Parish. This storm came across the state to effect all the way up into Baton Rouge. Right now, most of Baton Rouge is without power and the parishes north, east Baton Rouge, west Baton Rouge, on into (INAUDIBLE) Parish, are without power. Significant issue because of the number of people in hospitals here, and there are people trying to come back.

JERAS: OK. I guess we are having some microphone issues, again. They are still having a hard time hearing so I apologize, General. We are going to get back to you.

The general is very concerned about some other impacts that this is going to cause in addition to the safety of people -- people in hospitals, as well as the gas situation. So we are going to try and revisit this and get back with the general a little bit later -- Don.

LEMON: Thank you very much, Jacqui.

Of course General Russel Honore, the man to talk to about all of this, taking over when Hurricane Katrina rolled through the New Orleans area and caused really so much damage and devastation. We appreciate his perspective on this.

Meantime, on this day after Gustav, the Republican National Convention gets back on track. More live coverage of the big event in St. Paul, Minnesota, straight ahead in the NEWSROOM.

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