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CNN ELECTION CENTER

The Republican National Convention

Aired September 2, 2008 - 21:00   ET

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


COOPER: And, you know, to be there on the third anniversary of Katrina, as I was on Friday night, was -- you know, it's a privilege every time to be able to go and tell the story -- the continuing story of Katrina, which has been happening in New Orleans. But if you had written it in a book or had it in a movie, no one would have believed it, that there would be another hurricane on the weekend of the third anniversary.
BLITZER: And by all accounts, they learned the lessons -- the federal, the state and local authorities.

COOPER: Yes. And we don't -- you know, FEMA wasn't tested in an after storm response in the same way. And a lot -- you know, there's still -- people need to come back and the response of those people coming back, that will also be another kind of a test.

So it's not apples and apples kind of a test. This was a far different storm than Katrina was. But certainly in terms of the preparation and the evacuation, they did an amazing job -- state, local and federal.

BLITZER: And we've just been -- we just learned that Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans, he says the evacuation order, as of Thursday morning, will be voluntary, not mandatory, so people will be allowed to come back.

COOPER: I also saw...

BLITZER: Although even today, we heard there was a tornado that moved around New Orleans.

COOPER: In fact, I was -- I had to drive from New Orleans to Jackson, Mississippi to try to get a plane out because all the other airports are shut down. And I -- for the first time in my life, I was driving a car and had two tornado warnings while I was driving in the car. You know, it comes on the radio. And, frankly, I had no idea what to do, so I just kept on driving. But...

BLITZER: (INAUDIBLE).

COOPER: I wanted to be here with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: You could become a tornado hunter.

COOPER: I wanted to hear you rock out on the keyboard.

BLITZER: You know, so far -- you know, she was a lovely singer, you know, but it wasn't exactly...

COOPER: (INAUDIBLE). They're not The Monkees.

BLITZER: It wasn't exactly Will.I.Am.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Not The Monkees, either. He's not referring to the real Monkees, Alex. He's referring to a band that I used to be in.

COOPER: The original. The old school Monkees.

BLITZER: The old -- real old school.

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: I remember.

COOPER: That's right.

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: We're going to unleash some pretty rocking polkas a little later in the evening here.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: Wolf was rocking it out at bar mitzvahs back in the Buffalo in the day.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Way back. Way, way, way back.

All right, so let's just review what's still in store, John.

We've got the president of the United States. He's going to be enthusiastically received here when he appears via satellite, although I still don't understand the hurricane -- there's cleanup. And there's still a lot of devastation. He could have still come here tonight. He's got Air Force One. It wouldn't have been that difficult for him to fly in and actually appear here.

KING: The White House says the reason he decided not to travel is even though, as Anderson just noted, the storm was not as devastating as it could have been, still significant property damage, still a lot of displaced people who are going back. That will require federal resources, coordination of different federal agencies. They thought it best for the president to stay in Washington and monitor all that.

He will speak via satellite link just a short time from now in what's called the cross hall section of the White House. You know it well. You pass it going by the East Room into a presidential news conference.

And it is yet a reminder of one of John McCain's biggest challenges in this election. He needs this party to decide he is our leader now, we will follow him and get active for him, just as they did -- George W. Bush won two close presidential elections because of the work of people in this hall and people like them all across America.

And yet, John McCain has to get away -- remember those red signs on the floor in Denver -- "More of the Same." He has to convince people that he's a good Republican, that he's has not four years of the same, that he can be with George Bush on some issues, but not on the issues in which a majority of the American people...

COOPER: So is there some relief...

KING: ...are demanding change.

COOPER: Is there some relief among some in this room -- among some in the McCain campaign, perhaps, that George Bush is not here tonight?

KING: Some of them were even saying this morning that it was the White House who said he was going to speak by satellite before there was an agreement from the McCain campaign and the convention to reschedule his appearance. Now, whether they're just saying that because they would like that narrative out there, that there are disagreements between McCain and the Republicans -- look, he is the Republican president. He is the sitting Republican president. And until John McCain accepts Thursday night, he is still the leader of this party. You cannot tell a Republican president he cannot address a Republican Convention.

BLITZER: There's one other issue, though, Alex, I want you to weigh in on, the vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney was supposed to speak last night. He canceled, as well. He's been vice president now for almost eight years; a former defense secretary; a member of Congress; a White House chief of staff under Gerald Ford.

I don't know if they're going to work him in tomorrow or Thursday. But, you know, these Republicans supposedly should paying tribute to someone who has been involved in public service like this for all these years, don't you think?

CASTELLANOS: And, you know, it's not something you can get away from. We all know Dick Cheney happens to be the Republican vice president. It's not exactly a state secret. So that's not going to hurt.

Look, but this election -- this convention is about something else, something much more important. John McCain is behind. John McCain has got to catch up. He's got to make this his Republican Party.

That means he's got to come out of here with a clear message of reform. He's got to look ahead. And he's got to come out of here introducing his vice presidential nominee, which is going to be challenging. And he's got to draw difference with Democrats.

So, you know, there's a lot of work to do. And looking back at Cheney, it's just not a smart political move.

COOPER: I'm particularly interested to see how the narrative of, you know, the media and what we hear from the campaigns changes over the course of the week. I mean, you think back to Democratic Convention, there was so much about the Clintons early on.

CASTELLANOS: Exactly.

COOPER: And that seemed to be the major narrative. By the end of it, it was sort of like Bill and Hillary who, you know. And I wonder if, by the end of this week, once we've actually heard from Governor Sarah Palin and once we've heard from John McCain, how, suddenly, our eyes will change and if we will see this race completely differently.

BORGER: Well, that's what the McCain campaign hopes.

COOPER: Sure.

BORGER: Because this hasn't been a great narrative for them. Their first night they did the right thing. They couldn't have had a party here. But they lost a night, as you know. And so now they're hoping that this narrative on Sarah Palin -- they're hoping that by the end of this convention, she'll give a good speech, people who are not reassured by her choice will become reassured by her choice and that she will then go on to do well on the campaign trail and that the distance between George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and McCain will be finalized.

BLITZER: There you see the former president, George Herbert Walker Bush, and one of his daughters there. I suspect Laura Bush is some place around there, as well.

COOPER: Yes. She is in the hall, as well.

BLITZER: There's Barbara Bush, the wife of George Bush. Everybody knows Barbara Bush and George Bush, the parents -- the parents of the current president of the United States, who's getting ready to speak live from the White House.

COOPER: And everyone in this auditorium is standing, applauding. They have all turned to watch the president...

BLITZER: There they are.

Hold on. Ed Henry is right nearby.

I want to go to Ed Henry on the floor -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I was just a few feet away from the former president. I can tell you, Republicans around him, as he came out, it was a sort of a surprise, were saying what great shape he is in. And you heard the roar from this side of the hall.

He's going to be sitting right near Cindy McCain. I'm trying to get a look at where he's going. And he's in the same general area. And, obviously, you also see the former first lady next to him, as well.

So there is at least one president in the house -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. There he is, the former president of the United States, getting ready -- and the former first lady of the United States. They're getting ready to listen to their son from the White House. He's going to be speaking, the current president of the United States.

Anderson, we're going to be hearing shortly from Captain Shanna Hanson of the Minneapolis Fire Department. Almost exactly a year ago, a lot of our viewers will remember that I-35 Bridge collapsed here in the Twin Cities. And she was one of the heroes. She actually, you know, was one of the first responders on the scene. She went right in the water to try to save some lives.

And she's going to be speaking here and talking a little bit about that service to country, which is theme of this night of this convention.

I think she's getting ready. There's video of her when she actually went in. She's one of the heroes and she will be enthusiastically received. She knew what she was doing, she saved lives and she's going to be honored and applauded here at this convention tonight.

It's part of this theme that John McCain personally wanted to stress, the theme of service to country.

COOPER: It's also interesting, as you look around, in just about every camera angle that we are showing from the crowd, when the cameras are pointing up, you see the slogan "Country First" or "Service. Obviously, that is very intentional. I mean they must have gone around the room and tried to put this at the most strategic angles.

BLITZER: And it -- John, I want you to weigh in, because the implied criticism of Barack Obama that he, according to some of these Republicans, is not patriotic and puts politics before country.

KING: This is a McCain theme. And McCain says this and it happens to be true -- that when he is campaigning, when he says I will reach across the aisle and get things done, I've done that all my career, it is usually the biggest applause line of his events. And it is a reflection that people around the country are sick and tired of Washington.

They look at Washington and they say why can't these people get along, why can't they get anything done?

I have to get along with my neighbors and my in-laws and my boss and everything else, why can't these people get anything done on the big issues?

And so you have two candidates nominated for president who say that is the promise they would deliver on. What -- the Democrats say Barack Obama is new and different. What the Republicans want to come out of here with, if you could flip the words, is different in John McCain and new in Sarah Palin. They are hoping to make the case that we can deliver change, as well. And, in fact, John McCain hopes the American people accept his argument that I actually have a long record of doing it. Barack Obama talks about it, but I've been in Washington doing it, where has he been?

BORGER: Well, you know...

CASTELLANOS: I'm sorry. And also that, you know, the me generation of the '80s, we're way past that now. This is the we generation, "The Purpose Driven Life." And the Republican Party is trying to rebrand itself as a purpose driven party. You know, this is not about greed and corporate and business. This is about serving a purpose higher than self.

That happens to be the story of John McCain's life. Now that same man is going to ask you to stand up and serve, as he has.

BLITZER: All right. Let's take a quick break, because we have much more to talk, about as we await the president of the United States, and later, Joe Lieberman and Fred Thompson. They'll be speaking before this Republican Convention, as well.

Our panel of analysts at the CNN Election Center, we'll check in with them, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: And welcome back to our continuing coverage of the Republican National Convention from here in St. Paul, Minnesota.

We want to tell you that President Bush is expected to be speaking here within about 10 or so minutes. We, of course, are going to bring that to you live.

Let's bring in our panel, though, from New York -- Jeffrey Toobin and David Gergen, among many others.

David Gergen, I want to start off with you. It was interesting, I think back to about a week ago at this time when you were talking about the Democratic Convention. You were saying that at this point, there wasn't enough red meat.

Let's transpose that to here.

Have you heard enough from folks, through our coverage, through CNNPolitics.com, I mean on issues, read meat?

Have you heard about Barack Obama?

Have they defined him in this yet?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Not at all tonight, Anderson. They've got a different problem, though. They are making a transition out of Gustav into talking about the McCain story. I think the red meat is going to come tomorrow night or the next night.

COOPER: Had it not been for Gustav, do you think they would have already been, you know, attacking Obama, discussing issues?

GERGEN: Absolutely. Because I think they're trying to find fresh footing now. They've lost some momentum in this campaign as it's moved from a referendum on Obama, which they were winning, to now increasingly over the weekend it's become more and more a referendum on the McCain/Palin ticket.

And I also think, Anderson, what they've got to do tonight and the next couple of nights is to do what Alex was just talking about, is they've got to come out of here with a message.

It seems to me their message is in transition, just as their whole -- just as the whole campaign dynamics are. And that is, their message about two weeks ago was terrorism the transcendent issue of our time, a very dangerous world, we need experience in the White House, John McCain our man. Obama not prepared.

Now, they've gone and selected Palin and they're suddenly saying no, no, no, reform is the big issue. Terrorism is secondary. Everybody knows that that's out there. Reform is the big issue. We need a change agent in the White House.

And so it's kind of blurred as to what the central message is and what they think they can win on. But they're definitely going through a transition. And the George Bush speech tonight is much more likely to stress, you know, the dangers of the world.

But when are they going to start reframing what the real issues are for the fall?

Because I think they've got -- I think they've gotten a little messy on that. And I think that Alex is right, they need a clean, clear rallying cry coming out of this convention.

COOPER: Jeff Toobin, we are hearing that Fred Thompson, when we speaks later in this next hour, he is likely to probably frame some of the strongest attacks yet against Barack Obama that we've heard, certainly on this day or the day before.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST, "NEW YORKER" MAGAZINE COLUMNIST: That's right. And I think there are going to be two themes that we're going to hear. One is that Barack Obama is unfit. And the other is John McCain is a hero.

What we are not going to hear a lot about, particularly tonight -- and maybe not even until Thursday, is issues. And I think it's partially our job as journalists to bring that out, because there is a real difference between what will happen if John McCain is elected and what will happen if Barack Obama is elected. You know, there are big issues about taxes. You know, John McCain wants to keep Bush's tax cuts. John McCain wants to keep troops in Iraq for a lot longer than Barack Obama does. He wants to appoint justices who will overturn "Roe v. Wade". These are real issues.

You know, we get caught up in these words like service and maverick and who you'd like to have a beer with. But, you know, I think it's partially our job to talk about, you know, what's really at stake in the election and not just the positioning of the candidates.

COOPER: Alex Castellanos, you're, I believe, close there to Fred Thompson.

What do you anticipate hearing from him?

What do you anticipate hearing from President Bush?

CASTELLANOS: Well, I got a chance to serve as a little bit of a sounding board on Senator Thompson's speech as an old friend and I worked on both of his Senate races.

And I think that Jeffrey might be happy as the evening goes on, because there are going to be some contrasts on some issues. And, you know, I wouldn't be surprised to hear a little bit about the difference between Democrats and Republicans on important things likes taxes and whether you want to grow Washington's economy or whether you want to grow your own economy. You know, there's a very different position on the issues that Republicans have an advantage on.

BLITZER: You know, there were such high expectations for Senator Thompson when he threw his hat into the presidential ring -- a senator, very tall, deep voice, a movie star...

COOPER: Who's the tall?

BLITZER: "Law and Order," played a president on the big screen, in the little screen. Everybody's -- you know, a lot of Republicans were saying, you know, this guy is the new Ronald Reagan.

Yet, you know what, it didn't exactly work out the way he had hoped.

What happened?

CASTELLANOS: You know, this has been -- we were talking about it last night -- the strangest political year in history, I think. So much, I think, of Fred Thompson's challenge was timing. He got in late. He got in early.

Did he wait long enough?

And I think other candidates filled the slot. One of the things that happened was Huckabee took that conservative space in Iowa. And by the time Senator Thompson got going in Iowa, there really -- it's like getting in a very small elevator -- sometimes there just isn't enough room left. KING: And yet, if John McCain wins, he owes his old friend, Fred Thompson, whatever he wants in terms of the nicest island he wants or ambassador to Great Britain if he wants it, because if you go back to night of the South Carolina primary, where Fred Thompson did his best, he took a swipe of the conservative Christian belt and denied Mike Huckabee a win in South Carolina. Had Mike Huckabee won South Carolina, John McCain would not be on that stage tonight.

BORGER: And, by the way...

KING: (INAUDIBLE).

BORGER: I want to tell Jeff Toobin that he is not going to be disappointed, because you cannot have a Republican Convention without the issue of they will raise your taxes and we won't. I guarantee you, Jeff, you're going to hear it all night.

COOPER: Tara Wall is also listening in. You know, it's interesting, Tara, just walking amongst the crowd here, you get the sense -- and David Gergen talked about this -- transition night, you know, the difficulty that they've had to deal with Hurricane Gustav and now stories about Governor Palin.

But you get the sense here that this crowd wants to turn that corner. I mean they want this. They have come here to celebrate their party. They have come here to unify their party. They want, you know, they want to be shooting with both barrels of the gun. I mean they want to be having a good time here tonight. And you get the sense that if a speaker just starts doing it, they will follow.

TARA WALL, FORMER SPOKESPERSON, DHS GULF COAST REBUILDING EFFORTS, FORMER RNC PRESS SECRETARY FOR OUTREACH: That's right. And I think it will be a transition. We start with service tonight, as you know. And I think it will be a continual progression until you hear a lot of that strong rhetoric and quite frankly, some of the things that President Bush is supposed to -- is expected to talk about is a unifying theme, reminding the audience why you're here.

He'll talk about -- he'll say how John McCain and a person like John McCain as a president, who understands the lessons from 9/11, that he's independent, that he has forethought, he's on the offensive when it comes to attacks and this is the type of president that this country needs.

So you'll hear a lot of those themes. And it's almost like a reminder to the audience. It's like here's why we're here and why we're here. These are the things we believe in. This is our core and let's move forward. And then it will continue to progress and grow from there until you so that strong rhetoric come Thursday, once John McCain gives his speech.

COOPER: Donna Brazile, from a Democratic standpoint, how damaging is this for the Republicans that they have had to spend -- treat they spent last night dealing with Hurricane Gustav, they've spent, you know, tonight in this sort of transitional phase? I remember James Carville on Monday night, you know, worrying that the Democrats had lost two or three hours. We're now into, you know, day one-and-a-half here.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Anderson, first of all, thank you for doing such a great job in the Gulf. Of course, we love you. And there's no question you are a boone (ph) now, because you represent the people of the Gulf. And they were very pleased with your reporting.

So thank you. And you put your life at risk. And we respect and love you for that.

But look, Anderson, the American people don't really want to hear a lot of red meat at this moment. They really would like to hear about who John McCain is. Yes, he's run before. Some people have heard of him. But there's a whole new electorate out there and they want to hear unifying themes.

We're talking about service to the country. Last night, we paid tribute to the people of the Gulf. I think they want to hear how John McCain's service influenced his life, his service in the military. And perhaps it will inspire a new generation to serve.

COOPER: Leslie Sanchez in New York, does John McCain, though, really have to introduce himself in the way that some said Barack Obama needed to -- or reintroduce himself, as some hoped Barack Obama would last week?

His story seems to be so well-known at this point.

LESLIE SANCHEZ, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think it's well-known to a lot of folks who cover politics. But for -- think about it, there's about 80 million people who are going to vote in November that didn't start paying attention until right now.

And this is what tonight is about. Tonight is -- John is right on the mark. It's an introduction to John McCain. It's about his character, his personal story, his judgment.

I was looking at some of the remarks of Joe Lieberman, .he's going to make tonight. He is making an aggressive appeal to those Independent voters. He's saying I don't care, you know, if you're an R or a D. I'm paraphrasing. But really let's put this country first.

And what's interesting is you're going to see that they're talking about a ticket that's going to change Washington, as opposed to an Obama/Biden ticket, that wants to change America. And I think that's the starkest difference.

BLITZER: You know what they're doing right now -- I just want to alert our viewers. And you're hearing the applause right now. It's the end of a video tribute to the 41st president of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush.

Let's listen in. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...world changes brought about by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. He built one of the largest coalitions in history to rebut the aggression of Saddam in Operation Desert Storm. And in doing so, he erased all ghosts of Vietnam.

Take a deep breath and thank George Herbert Walker Bush and his historic strengthening of the Clean Air Act. More doors are literally open to Americans with handicaps through his support of the revolutionary Americans With Disabilities Act. The first President Bush -- another who put country first.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(APPLAUSE)

BLITZER: He gets very sentimental, the first President Bush, as he gets older. We see him with little misty eyes, which is appropriate right now.

These 20,000 Republicans who have gathered here, they're paying tribute to President Bush -- the first President Bush. He served as president for four years, as vice president for eight years, a former United Nations ambassador, a former director of the CIA.

They love him here in St. Paul at this Republican Convention, as they certainly should.

We're getting ready, also, to hear from his son, the 43rd president of the United States. No doubt once that happens, we might see a misty -- a little tear coming in his eye, as well. He's very proud of his son.

Barbara Bush, on the other hand, she's a little tougher. We don't see that kind of emotion very often from Barbara Bush, but she's a magnificent lady, as all of us know.

KING: And it's so striking, though. George W. Bush, who's about to speak, the current president, ran as Ronald Reagan's heir, not as his father's political heir, because his father was viewed as a pariah by many conservatives because he broke that promise -- "read my lips, no new taxes."

So he's looked back on more fondly now than he was when he lost the election in 1992, because he violated that ultimate pledge to conservatives and raised taxes.

And politics is a funny business. You know, Bill Clinton likes to brag that he left the budget balanced for the current President Bush and now we have deficits. Well, most Democrats would conceded the point that the biggest downpayment on that balanced budget came when George H.W. Bush broke his promise not to raise taxes and cut a bipartisan deal to do so. That is what started to balance the budget. And Bill Clinton benefited from that and then had the strong economy. But it is funny to see his redemption in this hall tonight, because he has not always been a popular figure among conservatives.

BLITZER: And there are going to be some really spectacular video presentations coming up here at the Republican Convention, as well. We're going to share them with you. You're going to see it right here on CNN, as we get ready to hear from the 43rd president of the United States, George W. Bush. He's going to be speaking live from the White House. He didn't come here to St. Paul, but he's got a live address.

His wife, Mrs. Laura Bush, the first lady, will be introducing him. There will be an enthusiastic response, to be sure.

And then that will be followed by Senator Fred Thompson and later Senator Joe Lieberman, the Democrat turned Independent. Only eight years ago, he was the Democratic vice presidential nominee. Now he's here at this Republican Convention, getting ready to endorse John McCain. Remember, CNNPolitics.com is where you can see all the activities up on the podium. You can also get a lot more information.

Our coverage from St. Paul and the Republican Convention continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And as part of theme of this night, the second night of the Republican National Convention, the theme being service -- service to country, we're about to see a videotape -- a tribute to a U.S. Navy SEAL, Michael Mansour. Mansour, he was a master at arms second class. He was killed in Iraq back in 2006. He was the Medal of Honor recipient.

There's going to be a tribute. And you're going to see this video. That's coming up very, very shortly, because it tells a remarkable story about a genuine American hero.

And then we'll hear from one of John McCain's fellow POWs, who was out in Hanoi with John McCain during the Vietnam War. And that will set the stage for Laura Bush introducing her husband, the president of the United States.

So there's still a lot more coming up here at this convention.

COOPER: It's also interesting, when you look at the history of John McCain, early on, he was very reticent to talk about his time as a POW. That clearly has evolved, his thinking on it has evolved. He's come under some criticism. Jimmy Carter made headlines last week for an interview he gave saying that John McCain had been milking his experiences as a POW.

But the story is so piercing. I mean it is such -- such an heroic American story, I think it would be impossible not to discuss it on the campaign trail.

CASTELLANOS: Well, it defines who he is. You know, it has made John McCain the man he is today. At one moment in his life, when he was tested, he put his service to his country, to his fellow soldiers that he served with there, he put it before self. He was willing to leave his life there to try to do the right thing. And you would think that that tells you something about how he'd handle a crisis.

BLITZER: You know, and John King, in doing your documentary, the excellent documentary you did on John McCain, "Revealed," that's been airing here on CNN, you went to Vietnam and you saw that cell where he spent so many years.

KING: The parts of the Hanoi Hilton -- the parts of the cells where he spent in solitary have been destroyed, but I was in what's left of the prison. It's an old French prison built in Vietnam. We also spoke to the colonel, the Vietnamese colonel who ran the Hanoi Hilton at the time and he described John McCain as an incredibly stubborn prisoner, that they would often have debates about the war. And that's something that you find from his friend and not so friendly people here in the United States about him as well.

It's an interesting point that Alex made. I talked to Senator McCain five times, as part of this documentary. And about that specific moment, where he says he was so tempted to say yes, when they offered him early release, because they had starved him, they had beaten him, they had tortured him, and they were trying to get him to make more statements and to make propaganda films. He said he was so tempted, but his father had just become the admiral of all of the forces in the Pacific, meaning he was the admiral in charge of the Vietnam War. McCain figured it was, A, designed to embarrass his father, and B, that some of the prisoners -- he often mentions Eddie Alvarez among them and others -- had been in prison years longer than him.

He said he could not betray them. As much as he wanted to just go home, because of all the torture and the beatings, he knew that the Vietnamese would get a huge propaganda victory from that. So he refused and stayed. Orson Swindle is one of the men, after McCain was beaten and tortured -- McCain says Swindle is one of the men who never broke, and looks up to him and admires him like a brother.

BLITZER: They're going to be paying tribute to him here tonight as well.

BORGER: Back to Anderson's point, he's part of a generation of politicians who are very uncomfortable not only talking about their war service -- I mean, I remember Bob Dole, when Bob Dole ran for the presidency, had war stories to tell about how he was injured in the war and what a hero he was. He shied away from talking about it as well. I think McCain has come around to telling his story.

COOPER: His critics say that he's gone overboard with it. They cite when he was on Jay Leno last week, he was asked about how many homes he had, and he segued into talking about his time as a POW.

BLITZER: There is activity going on outside the Xcel Energy Center, where we are right now, demonstrators, about 1,000 of them. Joe Johns is on the phone. We have some video of what happened earlier in the day. But I take it only moments ago -- this is the video from earlier. Only moments ago, there was tear gas used against these demonstrators, Joe. You were there. What was going on?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was definitely some type of a chemical agent, and quite a bit of it, that was released. It's on the Seventh Street perimeter out here, outside of the area of where the convention is going on. I can tell you that it is a little confusing from where I sit as to why there was a chemical released. I haven't been able to talk to the authorities yet.

I do know that it was pretty controlled. They pushed people back and then they let the stuff off. I'm also told by my producer, Steve Turnin (ph), who was closer into the scene -- he got in before they closed it down -- that apparently pepper spray was released as well. Before that, prior to that, it had appeared be a pretty peaceful march, although there was a certain amount of chanting and a certain amount of confrontational mood, but no violence.

I had seen no violence. I do know that this chemical agent was released. It looked like the police are sort of clearing the area. It was quite close to the perimeter and perhaps they got concerned about that. And that's about all I know right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by. We'll get back to you. I want to go to the video right now. There's a video that they're going to be showing of a Michael Mansoor, who was a Navy SEAL, a medal of honor recipient. They're going to be paying tribute to him. Once that video starts, I want our viewers to see it, because it underscores what the Republicans here at this convention are trying to do on this second night, really the first effective night of this convention. They're trying to show that service to country is what John McCain wants and what they want. And this video I think will underscore that theme.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- but he grew up to be a hero. Michael was the son of George and Sally Monsoor. Sally was a social worker. George, a Marine. Little Mike's first week in Kindergarten went well, but on week two trouble started. Sally says Mike just wouldn't wear the nice clothes she laid out. He insisted on mixing plaids and stripes, but we sort of suspect he was just waiting for the strength of Navy blue.

Mike's path to the Navy had its obstacles. He suffered from terrible asthma, coughing fits. So Mike strengthened his lungs by swimming. He played football and rode a snow board. He enlisted in the Navy and this boy with asthma said he was going to be a Navy SEAL. Well, less than a third who try become Navy SEALS, but in September 2004, Michael Monsoor earned the right to wear the Navy SEAL trident.

One of Mike's instructors said, what's the deal with this Monsoor guy? He just says "Roger that" to everything.

Mike deployed to Ramadi, Iraq in the Spring of 2006, and brought that attitude with him. Ramadi had been a violent and intense area. The SEALS were charged with special operations. In May, Mike and another SEAL ran into the line of fire to save a wounded teammate. With bullets flying, Mike returned fire with one hand while helping pull the injured man to safety with the other. Roger that. Then on St. Michael's day, September 29th, 2006, Mike and two teammates had taken a position on the out-cropping of a rooftop when an insurgent grenade bounced off Mike's chest and fell in front of him. He didn't pause for a second. Mike yelled grenade, and leapt on top of it before it exploded. Mike's body shielded the others from the brunt of the blast and two other SEALS were only wounded. Roger that.

Mike Monsoor died about 30 minutes later. Mike Monsoor never led an Army or commanded a nation. Yet he will never be forgotten. For putting his country before self, Michael Monsoor became the fourth Medal of Honor recipient on the war on terror. It's the nation's highest military distinction, given for untold valor, valor beyond anything that duty requires or a superior could command.

Almost every SEAL on the west coast turned out for Mike's funeral. As the SEALS filed past the casket, they removed their golden tridents from their uniforms and pressed them on the walls of the coffin. The simple wooden coffin became a gold plated memorial to a hero named Michael Monsoor.

The Navy SEALS have a creed: "in the worst of conditions, the legacy of my teammates steadies my resolve and silently guides my every deed. I will not fail."

Petty Officer Michael Anthony Monsoor did not fail. Country first. Roger that.

COOPER: That is Sarah Monsoor, sister of Michael Monsoor. She's sitting next to Cindy McCain. All around the auditorium, people are standing up applauding.

ORSON SWINDLE, FORMER MARINE AVIATOR: Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you and good evening. We're privileged to have with us this evening Michael Monsoor's sister and his two buddies from SEAL Team three, Brian Lee Babbin and Tom Deschavio (ph). Sarah and Tom and Lee, would you please stand and remain standing. We honor your brother and the sacrifice of you and your family.

Thank you so very much.

Thank you so very much.

We also have the great honor of having among us five medal of honor recipients. Gentlemen, would you please stand and be recognized and remain standing.

My two and a half minutes is going to work into about a 60-minute gig here. In addition, there are two dozen of John McCain's fellow POWs in the audience. Gents, we have come a long way and I'm honored to be among you. Would you please stand and be recognized.

And finally -- and thank you. And finally, let us recognize the many veterans among us who have served our great nation and sacrificed for us including, President George Herbert Walker Bush. Would you please stand and be recognized. When we talk about service, it doesn't get much better than this. We owe you all so very much. We honor your sacrifice and we thank you from the bottom of our heart. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the first lady of the United States, Mrs. Laura Bush.

(APPLAUSE)

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: Thank you so much. Thank you, all. Thank you very, very much. Thank you so much.

(APPLAUSE)

Thanks, everybody. I'm thrilled to be part of this historic convention, on the eve of the nomination of John McCain for president of the United States.

(APPLAUSE)

And I also want to recognize a former president and first lady, my father-in-law, President George Bush and Barbara Bush, and my sister-in-law, Dorothy.

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The Republican Party has a very exciting ticket, a real American hero, John McCain, and a strong executive and proven reformer, Governor Sarah Palin.

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I am proud -- I am proud that America's first female vice president will be a Republican woman.

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Women -- women have always played an important role in our party, from energizing grassroots to driving policy. Thank you to the dedicated women in our audience for making the Republican Party so strong.

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I am proud that impressive women have served in my husband's administration, women like Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao...

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... and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

(APPLAUSE)

President Bush will address the convention in just a minute from the White House. Before I introduce him, though, I want to talk to you a little bit about the man I love.

The first time I spoke at our convention, George was governor of Texas and I was in front of the largest crowd I'd ever addressed. That night, I told you about a man of character, whose principles would not shift with the winds of politics or polls.

A lot has changed in the last eight years, but one thing has stayed constant. George remains a man of strong values, with enduring love for the United States of America.

(APPLAUSE)

America is in the middle of a heated campaign. Recently, you've heard a lot of politicians offer a lot of opinions. But you haven't heard very many facts.

So I thought I'd share a few with you tonight. In honor of our nominee, let's call it a little straight talk.

(APPLAUSE)

On an issue that's close to my heart, President Bush initiated the most important education reforms in a generation, holding schools accountable, and boosting funds for reading instruction.

Today, student achievement is rising across the board and test scores for minority students are at the highest they've ever been.

(APPLAUSE)

We all know how important it is for America to have judges who respect the Constitution. Our whole nation can be proud of the two newest members of the Supreme Court, Justice Sam Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts.

(APPLAUSE)

Many in this arena and many across our nation are people of faith, people who have answered the call to love your neighbor. The president has empowered faith-based and community charities to partner with them to help those in need.

Engaging these groups is successful policy. One way we know this, across the country, 35 governors from both parties have started faith-based and community initiatives of their own.

(APPLAUSE)

And here's another inspiring statistic. When my husband took office, fewer than 50,000 Africans suffering from AIDS were receiving the medicine they needed to survive.

Thanks to the president's emergency plan for AIDS relief, that number is now nearly two million.

(APPLAUSE) You might call that change you can really believe in.

(APPLAUSE)

George is using American's influence to lift up lives around the world. Millions of children are protected from malaria by mosquito nets the American people provide.

In Afghanistan and Iraq, 50 million people are now living in freedom.

(APPLAUSE)

And let's not forget President Bush has kept the American people safe.

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We'll always be grateful to the men and women who volunteer to wear the uniform of the United States, to the military families who know the anxiety of waiting for a loved one to return.

America honors your service and we give you our thanks.

(APPLAUSE)

In two months, the American people will choose a new president. No one knows what the job requires better than the man who holds this office.

Ladies and gentlemen, my husband and the president of the United States, George W. Bush.

(APPLAUSE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good evening. As you know, my duties have me here in Washington tonight to oversee the federal government's efforts to help citizens recover from Hurricane Gustav.

We are thankful that the damage in New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast was less than many had feared.

I commend the governors of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas for their sure-handed response and seamless coordination with the federal government.

I thank all the wonderful volunteers who stepped forward to help their brothers and sisters in need.

We know that there is still risk even after the storm has passed. So I ask citizens across the region to listen closely to local officials and follow their instructions before returning to their homes.

All of us are keeping the people of the Gulf Coast in our thoughts and our prayers.

As you gather tonight in St. Paul, I want to share some thoughts about our nominee, a great American and the next president of the United States, John McCain.

(APPLAUSE)

Before I do so, I want to say hello to two people in the hall with you tonight.

I could have no finer examples of character, decency and integrity than my mom and dad, and I love you a lot.

(APPLAUSE)

I know what it takes to be president. In these past eight years, I've sat at the resolute desk and reviewed the daily intelligence briefings, the threat assessments, and the reports from our commanders on the front lines.

I've stood in the ruins of buildings knocked down by killers and promised the survivors I would never let them down.

I know the hard choices that fall solely to a president. John McCain's life has prepared him to make those choices. He is ready to lead this nation.

(APPLAUSE)

From the day of his commissioning, John McCain was a respected Naval officer who made decisions on which the lives of others depended.

As an elected public servant, he earned the respect of colleagues in both parties as a man to follow when there's a tough call to make.

John McCain's life is a story of service above self. Forty years ago, in an enemy prison camp, Lieutenant Commander McCain was offered release ahead of others who had been held longer.

His wounds were so severe that anyone would have understood if he had accepted.

John refused. For that selfless decision, he suffered nearly five more years of beatings and isolation. When he was released, his arms had been broken, but not his honor.

(APPLAUSE)

Fellow citizens, if the Hanoi Hilton could not break John McCain's resolve to do what is best for his country, you can be sure the angry left never will.

(APPLAUSE)

As the father of seven sons and daughters, John has the heart of a protector. He and his wonderful wife, Cindy, are adoptive parents. John is a leader who knows that human life is fragile, that human life is precious, that human life must be defended.

(APPLAUSE)

We have seen John McCain's commitment to principle in our nation's capitol. John is a steadfast opponent of wasteful spending.

As president, he will stand up to the high tax crowd in Congress and make the tax relief permanent.

(APPLAUSE)

He will invest in the energy technologies of tomorrow and lift the ban on drilling for America's offshore oil today.

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John is an independent man who thinks for himself. He's not afraid to tell you when he disagrees. Believe me, I know.

(APPLAUSE)

No matter what the issue, this man is honest and speaks straight from the heart.

Last year, John McCain's independence and character helped change history. The Democrats had taken control of Congress and were threatening to cut off funds for our troops.

In the face of calls for retreat, I ordered a surge of forces into Iraq. Many in Congress said it had no chance of working. Yet, one Senator above all had faith in our troops and the importance of their mission, and that was John McCain.

(APPLAUSE)

Some told him that his early and consistent call for more troops would put his presidential campaign at risk. He told them he would rather lose an election than see his country lose a war.

That is the kind of courage and vision we need in our next commander in chief.

(APPLAUSE)

My fellow citizens, we live in a dangerous world and we need a president who understands the lessons of September the 11th, 2001; that to protect America, we must stay on the offense, stop attacks before they happen, and not wait to be hit again.

The man we need is John McCain.

(APPLAUSE)

When he takes office next January, John will have an outstanding leader at his side. America will have a strong and principles vice president in the governor of the great state of Alaska, Sarah Palin.

(APPLAUSE)

In the time the Oval Office has been in my trust, I've kept near my desk reminders of America's character, including a painting of a west Texas mountain, lit by the morning sun. It reminds me that Americans have always lived on the sunrise side of the mountain.

We are a nation that looks to the new day with confidence and optimism. And I'm optimistic about our future, because I believe in the goodness and wisdom of the American people.

I am optimistic because I have faith in freedom's power to lift up all of God's children and lead this world to a future of peace.

And I'm optimistic about something else. When the debates have ended and all the ads have run and it is time to vote, Americans will look closely at the judgment, the experience and the policies of the candidates and they will cast their ballots for the McCain-Palin ticket.

(APPLAUSE)

While I'm not with you in the Twin Cities on this wonderful night for our party, with Laura Bush speaking, you have clearly traded up. I am so proud the American people have come to know her gracious presence, her determined spirit, and her loving heart.

Laura has been a fantastic first lady.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you, Laura. And thanks to all of you in the hall tonight. God bless you and God bless America.

LAURA BUSH: Thank you all very much.

For the past eight years, I've seen the burdens of the presidency up close. John McCain has what it takes to face the challenges that lie ahead and he has the support of America's next first lady, Cindy McCain.

(APPLAUSE)

This year alone, Cindy has discussed land mine removal with Kosovo's president and prime minister. She's met with children undergoing reconstructive surgery in Vietnam.

She's listened to stories from survivors of genocide in Rwanda and she's comforted Georgian refugees who've fled their homes in South Ossetia.

If Cindy can do all of this just in the last eight months, imagine what she can do in next four years in the White House.

(APPLAUSE) The American people can expect great things from John and Cindy McCain. And President Bush and I can tell John and Cindy that they can expect great things from the American people.

We leave the White House with deep gratitude for your support. Our lives have been enriched by the generosity of citizens across our country, the children who welcomed us to their schools with songs and signs, the volunteers, church pastors and city mayors who shared stories of caring for those in need, the members of the military and their families who answered our nation's call to serve, and those who've approached us with the simple and humbling words, "We're praying for you."

Thank you very much for your encouragement and your prayers. Thank you for your support of the next president and first lady of the United States, John and Cindy McCain.

(APPLAUSE)

May God bless you and may God bless America.