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CNN ELECTION CENTER

The Republican National Convention

Aired September 3, 2008 - 21:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to the Republican National Convention here in St. Paul, Minnesota. This is day three. It's a day with a lot of anticipation, a lot of excitement, as we await the speech -- the important speech from the new star of this Republican Party, shall we say. That would be the governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin. She is going to be well introduced tonight to the audience here at this arena, as well as nationwide, indeed, around the world.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

We're here at the Xcel Energy Center and we're covering this convention.

Anderson Cooper is here, as well.

I think we're -- you know, sometimes we hype things, but there's a lot of anticipation as we await to hear what this Alaska governor is going to say.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. I don't think we can overstate the difference in this room tonight as compared to the last two nights. I mean you can -- the excitement is palpable. The crowds are larger. They are revved up. The speakers now are revving up the crowds. You see a lot more signs and a lot more of the feel that we saw from the Democrats last week.

I think whatever the transition they had to make from Monday night's event, they have certainly made that. And Sarah Palin is front and center tonight.

BLITZER: And there's no doubt that the excitement is palpable here. But I'm sure around the country, there's going to be a huge audience, as well, once she starts getting ready to speak.

I want to show our viewers a picture of what's going on in Anchorage, Alaska right now. Alaska the home state of the next vice presidential candidate for the Republicans.

Kyra Phillips is up there at that Peanut Farm Restaurant with a very special guest -- Kyra, tell us who's with you.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: That's right.

Don't you love it that we're at the Peanut Farm in Anchorage, Alaska?

When they told me the name of the site, I had to get them to repeat it. I thought we were talking about Jimmy Carter.

But that's right, we are here in Anchorage, Alaska.

And joining us, for the first time, actually, is Sarah's sister, Heather, and Heather's husband, Kurt.

Welcome, guys.

Great to have you with us on CNN.

HEATHER BRUCE, SARAH PALIN'S SISTER: Thank you. Thank you.

PHILLIPS: Well, gosh, I can't even imagine what it was like to find out that your sister had been nominated. Tell me -- both of you laugh. It shocked you both, I know.

Tell me about how you found out.

H. BRUCE: I had just gotten up about 5:30 in the morning and the phone rang and it was our youngest sister. And she said, are you watching the news? And I said, I haven't turned the TV on. She said turn it on now, you're not going to believe what's going on.

And I turned it on. And I started seeing this buzz about possibly Sarah Palin being nominated.

And I stayed on the phone with Molly for several minutes. And I said this -- this can't be happening.

When did this happen?

Nobody told us anything. I had heard rumors for months kind of floating in the breeze, but nothing was ever really confirmed to us ever.

PHILLIPS: And so what was your reaction when you and your other sister, Molly, heard her name?

What did you do?

H. BRUCE: I said, oh, my gosh, oh my gosh. You've got to be kidding. This is great, but this is crazy. I mean we were very, very happy, excited. I just stayed glued to the TV. It made my son a little bit late for school that morning, but it was great.

PHILLIPS: And, Kurt, how about you?

I mean you got -- how many years have you guys been married now?

H. BRUCE: Nineteen.

Yesterday.

PHILLIPS: Happy anniversary.

OK, so for 19 years, you've known Sarah Palin. And you've watched the dynamic among the sisters and their brother.

How -- what was your reaction?

Did this surprise you?

KURT BRUCE, SARAH PALIN'S BROTHER-IN-LAW: No. I thought that it would be good for the ticket. I thought they're a good team, McCain and Sarah. And when Heather yelled up and said, Kurt, you'd better get down here and watch what's going on, I -- it just seemed like the right thing. And with Alaska being an energy state, it seems like a good team.

PHILLIPS: Let's get down to your sister growing up.

Was she ever involved with student council or anything?

We know she was an athlete.

Did she talk about being political or being involved in politics ever?

H. BRUCE: No, she didn't. We were a year apart in school. She kind of had her circle of friends. I had mine. I don't know about all of her involvement in a lot of the groups in school, except for sports. We were always on the same teams together throughout the years of high school, a little bit of middle school. But...

PHILLIPS: How did she get the name Barracuda Sarah?

H. BRUCE: That came from -- from what I remember, not from my basketball years -- from a basketball camp that she attended. And some kids, boys and girls -- from what I hear, because I wasn't there at that time -- just latched or attached that name to her -- aggressive, tenacious, Sarah Barracuda.

PHILLIPS: I love it.

All right, we are actually going to take it back to the RNC.

Mitt Romney is getting ready to speak.

Will you guys stay with me and we'll talk a lot more about your sister and the fact that you're going to be watching her do the biggest speech of her life tonight?

H. BRUCE: Absolutely.

PHILLIPS: OK. Fabulous.

Heather, stay with me.

Kurt, thanks so much.

Wolf, we'll take it back to you there on the floor of the RNC.

We'll be talking more with Sarah's sister and her brother-in-law.

BLITZER: Excellent, Kyra.

Thanks very much.

We're going to go back to you in Anchorage, Alaska at the Peanut Farm Restaurant. Sarah Palin's sister, Sarah Palin's brother-in-law will be joining us throughout the night. And we'll get their assessment of how well her sister and his sister-in-law are doing.

We're getting ready -- it's only a little bit more than an hour, Anderson -- about an hour and 15 minutes between now and the time she speaks. Still several major speakers coming up, including Mitt Romney, who almost -- almost could have been up there. In fact...

COOPER: He's joining the stage. You can hear the crowd reacting.

Let's listen.

We're going to hear not only from Mitt Romney and also Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee -- three men who ran against Senator McCain who are now supporting his candidacy.

ROMNEY: Thank you. Thank you so very much. Ann and I love you all. We have a deep feeling in our hearts for you.

(APPLAUSE) We respect you for the values you have and the vision we have for America together. Thank you so much, our dear friends. We sure love you. Thank you.

You know, for decades now, the Washington sun has been rising in the east. You see, Washington has been looking to the eastern elites, to the editorial pages of the Times and the Post, and to the broadcasters from the -- from the coast. Yes.

If America really wants to change, it's time to look for the sun in the west, because it's about to rise and shine from Arizona and Alaska.

(APPLAUSE)

Last week, the Democratic convention talked about change. But what do you think? Is Washington now, liberal or conservative? Let me ask you some questions.

Is a Supreme Court decision liberal or conservative that awards Guantanamo terrorists with constitutional rights? It's liberal.

Is a government liberal or conservative that puts the interests of the teachers union ahead of the needs of our children? It's liberal.

Is a Congress liberal or conservative that stops nuclear power plants and off-shore drilling, making us more and more dependent on Middle Eastern tyrants? It's liberal.

Is government spending, putting aside inflation, liberal or conservative if it doubles since 1980? It's liberal.

We need change all right: change from a liberal Washington to a conservative Washington.

(APPLAUSE)

We have a prescription for every American who wants change in Washington: Throw out the big government liberals and elect John McCain and Sarah Palin.

(APPLAUSE)

It's the same prescription for a stronger economy. I spent 25 years in the private sector. I've done business in many foreign countries. I know why jobs come and why they go away. And I know that liberals don't have a clue.

(LAUGHTER)

They think that we have the biggest and strongest economy in the world because of our government. They're wrong. America is strong because of the ingenuity, and entrepreneurship, and hard work of the American people.

The American people have always been the source of our nation's strength, and they always will be.

(APPLAUSE)

We strengthen our people and our economy when we preserve and promote opportunity. Opportunity is what lets hope become reality.

ROMNEY: Opportunity expands when there's excellence and choice in education, when taxes are lowered, when every citizen has affordable, portable health insurance, and when constitutional freedoms are preserved.

Opportunity rises when children are raised in homes and schools that are free from pornography, and promiscuity, and drugs, where there are homes that are blessed with family values and the presence of a mom and a dad.

(APPLAUSE)

America -- America cannot long lead the family of nations if we fail the family here at home.

(APPLAUSE)

You see, liberals would replace opportunity with dependency on government largesse. They grow government and raise taxes to put more people on Medicaid, to take work requirements out of welfare, and to grow the ranks of those who pay no taxes at all. Dependency is death to initiative, to risk-taking and opportunity. It's time to stop the spread of government dependency and fight it like the poison it is.

(APPLAUSE)

You know, it's time for the party of big ideas, not the party of Big Brother.

(APPLAUSE)

Our economy is under attack. China is acting like Adam Smith on steroids, buying oil from the world's worst and selling nuclear technology. Russia and the oil states are siphoning more than $500 billion a year from us in what could become the greatest transfer of economic wealth in the history of the world.

This is no time for timid, liberal, empty gestures.

Our economy has slowed down this year, and a lot of people are hurting. What happened? Mortgage money was handed out like candy, and speculators bought homes for free. And when this mortgage mania finally broke, it slammed the economy. And stratospheric gas prices made things even worse. Democrats want to use the slowdown as an excuse to do what their special interests are always begging for: higher taxes, bigger government, and less trade with other nations.

It's the same path Europe took a few decades ago. It leads to moribund growth and double-digit unemployment.

The right course is the one championed by Ronald Reagan 30 years ago and by John McCain and Sarah Palin today.

(APPLAUSE)

The right course is to rein in government spending, lower taxes, take a weed-whacker to excessive regulation and mandates, put a stop to tort windfalls, and to stand up to the tyrannosaurus appetite of government unions.

(APPLAUSE)

The right course -- the right course is to pursue every source of energy security, from new efficiencies to renewables, from coal to non-CO-2 producing nuclear, and for the immediate drilling for more oil off our shores.

(APPLAUSE)

And I have -- I have one more recommendation for energy conservation: Let's keep Al Gore's private jet on the ground.

(APPLAUSE)

Last week, last week, did you hear any Democrats talk about the threat from radical, violent jihad? No. You see, Republicans believe that there is good and evil in the world. Ronald Reagan called out the evil empire. George Bush labeled the terror-sponsor states exactly what they are: the axis of evil.

And at Saddleback, after Barak Obama dodged and ducked every direct question, John McCain hit the nail on the head: Radical, violent Islam is evil, and he will defeat it.

(APPLAUSE)

This party...

AUDIENCE: USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA!

ROMNEY: You're hearing it here. You're hearing it here, and they're hearing it across the country. You see, in this party, in this room tonight, and all over America, people in our party prefer straight talk to politically correct talk.

(APPLAUSE)

Republicans, led by John McCain and Sarah Palin, will fight to preserve the values that have preserved the nation. We'll strengthen our economy and keep us from being held hostage by Putin, Chavez, and Ahmadinejad.

And we will never allow America to retreat in the face of evil extremism.

(APPLAUSE)

Just like you, just like you, there's never been a day when I was not proud to be an American.

(APPLAUSE)

We -- we Americans inherited the greatest nation in the history of the Earth. It's our burden and our privilege to preserve it, to renew its spirit so that its noble past is prologue to its glorious future.

To this we're all dedicated. And I firmly believe, by the providence of the almighty, that we will succeed.

President McCain and Vice President Palin will keep America as it has always been: the hope of the Earth.

Thank you, and God bless America.

BLITZER: All right. We're one hour away from Sarah Palin's speech here at the Republican Convention.

But coming up, if you think this has been a tough speech, wait for Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani. They're coming up next.

We'll take a quick break.

More of our coverage from St. Paul, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.

We're watching what's going on. We just heard from Mitt Romney.

Up next, Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, himself a former Republican presidential candidate, who did remarkably well given the lack of funds and the lack of staff he had.

John King, as we remember Mike Huckabee, he made a name for himself during this race.

KING: He certainly did. And we're going go to see it in the speech he's about to give. He's a very funny man. He has sort of a biting sense of humor and he makes fun of himself.

And right off the bat, you're going to hear jokes from Mike Huckabee. He also is a man who has strong support among the Christian conservative base, so his endorsement of this ticket will help out in the future. And he's a guy who thinks he has a future in the party, as well.

So it's interesting watching Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee come up -- two guys who slugged it out in the primaries, two guys who very much came to respect McCain for his tenacity. Both, at different times of the race, thought they had knocked John McCain at a point where he couldn't get back up. And both of them watched John McCain get back up.

So as they make a testament to John McCain, they know it firsthand about his tenacity, despite his weaknesses.

COOPER: Also, Alex Castellanos, everything tonight is much more -- and we're going to hear a much more aggressive speech from Rudi Giuliani, much more targeted toward Barack Obama. It seems that the rhetoric is building, the message is getting stronger.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: It's getting stronger. You know, right now, the spotlight is on this ticket. One of the goals of this convention is to get the spotlight back on Barack Obama, because he's the frontrunner in this race and they want to slow him down.

So, yes, this is going to get much tougher as the evening goes on. And it's such a different convention than the Democratic Convention last week, when we were all talking about can this party become unified, can they pull this together so that they can go take on the Republicans in the fall?

There's none of that here tonight. Anytime you mention the name Sarah Palin, it's almost -- you have the feeling it could be Blank and Palin and this crowd would go nuts.

So this party is united.

COOPER: Ed Rollins watching from New York. To Alex Castellanos' point, if they make this a referendum on Barack Obama, that is certainly something they feel they can win with, yes?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It's something they can win. It's -- you know, the bottom line is she'll energize the base. John can reach out to Independent voters and obviously become a very competitive environment.

COOPER: David Gergen, your thoughts on what you heard from Mitt Romney.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, I have to tell you, they're take the gloves off once again. And I -- you know, they have a smaller audience last night than they had the first night of the Democratic Convention, but they are building.

What surprised me about the Romney speech, you know, coming in and taking the gloves off wasn't a surprise. What surprised me it was like what decade are we living in here?

I mean he talked about this liberal Washington. Excuse me, I mean the Republicans have controlled the White House for the last eight years. They've controlled the Congress for six of the last eight years.

It seemed to me that was a great speech for the 1970s, when this was a serious, serious question.

For me, I just sort of thought why is he making these points?

There are better points to make. You know, there are some more very effective points. And the Republicans have some better arguments than that and I think we'll hear them in some of the succeeding speeches.

CASTELLANOS: ...Mitt Romney in the primaries and helped him -- helped him not become the Republican nominee.

But one of the things -- the challenges for Romney is when you first meet him -- I mean he's this transformational force. He's just -- he makes you feel like there isn't a single challenge America can't solve.

You know, he's -- he changed business. He changed the Olympics. He changed government in Massachusetts. He's the guy you want to tell the transformational stories of this party going forward, not looking back. And that would have been, I think, a better story for him to tell this evening.

COOPER: It is true, Jeff Toobin, that many of the themes that we have heard tonight -- I mean it's -- the use of the liberal, you know, term, it's certainly something that harkens back to races of the past and also the whole attack on the media narrative, which has been developing throughout this day, is something we certainly have heard before. George H.W. Bush used it many years ago.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST, "NEW YORKER" MAGAZINE COLUMNIST: Absolutely. In the last days of the '92 campaign, he would say, "Annoy the media, vote Bush."

But there is a delicious irony about John McCain attacking the media. There is no politician in recent American history who has gotten better, more adoring press coverage than John McCain throughout his career.

I remember in 2004, when the convention was here in New York, he held a big lunch for all his friends in the news media. He used to joke about it. He called the news media his base.

Now, suddenly, he thinks the news media has turned on him because the news media doesn't like him anymore?

No. I think the news media is doing its job. And I think it's really ironic and rather unbecoming of this party to say that the news media, which has given John McCain all this love over the years, suddenly is incompetent and biased against him.

COOPER: I've got to -- I want to go to Candy Crowley.

I believe she has a special guest -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Anderson.

I'm standing here with Mitt Romney, formerly a presidential candidate.

We don't have a lot of time, so I want to (INAUDIBLE).

If John McCain, God forbid, should die the first day in office, what in the resume of Sarah Palin suggests to you that she's ready to step up?

ROMNEY: Well, she's been a governor. She knows how to make tough decisions. She's not just a legislator or a community activist. She's a person who's made decisions as a mayor and as a governor.

Now, heaven forbid someone dies in the first day of office. It's far more likely they get to work with that person over time and the person who is president could share with their experience -- or the other experience with the person who's V.P..

The real question is what will we do with Barack Obama if he were president on the first day?

He has no foreign policy experience. He has no ability, really, in his background to lead a country of our scale.

So I think the question about experience raises a lot of questions about Barack Obama.

CROWLEY: All right. I have a thousand questions to ask you, but we're going to see one of your former rivals up there on the stage.

Thanks very much.

ROMNEY: Thank you.

Good to see you, Candy.

Thank you.

CROWLEY: Anderson.

COOPER: Governor Mike Huckabee now on the stage.

Let's listen in.

HUCKABEE: Thank you. Well, let me say that, as much as I appreciate this magnificent opportunity to speak tonight, I've got to be honest with you. I was originally hoping for the slot on Thursday night called the acceptance speech. (LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

But I want you to also know that I am genuinely delighted to be here to speak on behalf of my second choice for the Republican nomination for president, John McCain.

(APPLAUSE)

John McCain is a man with the character and the stubborn kind of integrity that we need in a president.

But I want to begin by doing something a little unusual. I'd like to thank the elite media for doing something that, quite frankly, I wasn't sure could be done, and that's unifying the Republican Party and all of America in support of Senator McCain and Governor Palin.

(APPLAUSE)

The reporting of the past few days have proven tackier than a costume change at a Madonna concert.

(APPLAUSE)

I grew up at a time and in a place where the civil rights movement was fought. And I witnessed firsthand the shameful evil of racism. I saw how ignorance and prejudice caused people to do the unthinkable to people of color, and it wasn't so many years ago.

I want to say with the utmost of sincerity, not as a Republican, but as an American, that I have great respect for Senator Obama's historic achievement to become his party's nominee, not because of his color, but with indifference to it.

(APPLAUSE)

Party or politics aside, as Americans, we celebrate this milestone because it elevates our country.

But the presidency is not a symbolic job, and I fear that his election would elevate our taxes and our risk in a dangerous world.

Now, Obama was right when he said that this election is not about him; it is about you.

(APPLAUSE)

When gasoline costs $4 a gallon, it makes it tough if you're a single mom trying to get to work each day in a used car that you drive. You want something to change.

If you're a flight attendant or a baggage-handler, and you're asked to take the pay cut to keep your job, you want something to change.

If you're a young couple losing your house, your credit rating, and your piece of the American dream, you want something to change.

HUCKABEE: But John McCain offers specific ideas to respond to a need for change. But let me say there are some things we don't want to change: freedom, security, and the opportunity to prosper.

Barack Obama's excellent adventure to Europe...

(LAUGHTER)

... took his campaign for change to hundreds of thousands of people who don't even vote or pay taxes here. But let me hasten to say that it's not what he took there that concerns me. It's what he brought back: European ideas that give the government the chance to grab even more of our liberty and destroy our hard-earned livelihood.

The fact is, my friends, most Americans don't want more government. They want less government.

(APPLAUSE)

It was -- it was, in fact, the founder of our party, Abraham Lincoln, who reminded us that a government that can do everything for us is the government that can take everything from us.

(APPLAUSE)

Now, I get a little tired of hearing how the Democrats care so much for the working guy, as if all Republicans grew up with silk stockings and silver spoons.

You know, my hometown of Hope, Arkansas, the three sacred heroes were Jesus, Elvis, and FDR, not necessarily in that order.

(LAUGHTER)

My own father, for example, held down two jobs, barely affording the little rented house that I grew up in. My dad was one of those guys, like so many of your dads. He worked hard. He lifted heavy things.

He got his hands dirty. In fact, the only soap we ever had in my house was Lava. Let me explain that. I was in college before I found out it isn't supposed to hurt when you take a shower.

(LAUGHTER)

Let me make something clear tonight: I'm not a Republican because I grew up rich. I'm a Republican because I didn't want to spend the rest of my life poor, waiting for the government to rescue me.

(APPLAUSE)

John McCain doesn't want the kind of change that allows the government to reach even deeper into your paycheck and pick your pocket, your doctor, your child's school, or even the kind of car you drive, or tell you how much you have to inflate your tires.

(LAUGHTER)

And he doesn't want to change the definition of marriage. And unlike the Democratic ticket, Senator McCain and Governor Palin believe that every human life has intrinsic worth and value from the moment of conception.

(APPLAUSE)

And speaking of Governor Palin, I am so tired of hearing about her lack of experience. I want to tell you folks something. She got more votes running for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, than Joe Biden got running for president of the United States.

(APPLAUSE)

John McCain -- John McCain is by far the most prepared, the most experienced, and truly the most tested presidential candidate. He is thoroughly tested.

When John McCain received his country's call to service, he did not hesitate and he did not choose the easy path. He sat alone in the cockpit, taking off from an aircraft carrier, to fly in the unfriendly skies, knowing that there was a good chance he might not make it back.

And one day, he didn't make it back. He was shot down and captured, brutally tortured. He could have eased his own pain, even cut short his imprisonment, just by uttering a few simple worlds renouncing his country. But then, as now, John McCain put his country first. And he knew -- he knew...

(APPLAUSE)

... that to return with honor later was better than to return without it now.

(APPLAUSE) Most of us -- most of us can lift our arms high in the air so that we can signify when we want something. He can't even lift his arms to his shoulder, which is a constant reminder that his life is marked not by what he's wanting to receive, but rather by what he has already given.

(APPLAUSE)

Let me tell you about someone I know who understands this type of sacrifice.

On the first day of school in 2005, Martha Cothren, a teacher at the Joe T. Robinson High School in Little Rock, was determined that her students would not take their education or their privileges as American for granted. And with the principal of her school's permission, she removed all the desks from her classroom on that first day of school, 2005.

Now, the students walked into an empty classroom and they said, "Ms. Cothren, where's our desk?" She said, "You get a desk in my classroom when you tell me how you earn it."

Well, some of them said, "Making good grades." She said, "Well, you ought to make good grades in my class, but that won't earn you a desk." Another student said, "I guess we get a desk when we behave." Martha said, "You will behave in my classroom."

(LAUGHTER)

But that won't get you a desk either. No one in first period guessed right. Same for second period. By lunch, the buzz was all over the campus. Ms. Cothren had flipped out, wouldn't let her students had a desk.

Kids started using their cell phones. They called their parents. And by early afternoon, all four of the local network TV affiliates had camera crews out at the school to report on this teacher who wouldn't let her students have a desk unless they could tell her how to earn it.

By the final period, no one had guessed correctly, so the students filed in. Martha said, "Well, I didn't think you would figure it out, so I'm going to tell you."

And with that, she went to the door of her classroom and motioned, and in walked over 20 veterans, some of them still wearing the uniforms from days gone by, every one of them carrying a school desk. And as they carefully and quietly arranged those desks in neat rows, Martha said, "You don't have to earn your desk, because these guys, they already did."

(APPLAUSE)

These -- these brave veterans had gone halfway around the world, giving up their education, interrupting their careers and families so that we could have the freedom that we have. Martha told them, "No one charged you for your desk, but it wasn't really free. These guys bought it for you. And I hope you never, ever forget it."

And I wish, ladies and gentlemen...

(APPLAUSE)

I wish we would all remember that being American is not just about the freedom we have; it is about those who gave it to us.

(APPLAUSE)

And let me remind you of something. John McCain is one of those people who helped buy the freedom and the school desk that we had. John McCain helped me have a school desk.

And I want to tell you: I pledge myself to doing everything I can to help him earn a desk, and I'm thinking the one that's in the Oval Office would fit him very, very well.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you. God bless you folks. Thank you. Thank you.

BLITZER: Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, getting this crowd very excited. Earlier, Mitt Romney did the same thing. Get ready for Rudy Giuliani. He's coming up in a few moments. But the real star tonight will be Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska. Only a week ago, few had heard of her. Now she's about to become the Republican vice presidential nominee. We'll wait for that and our coverage will continue from St. Paul, Minnesota, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're waiting now for Rudy Giuliani. He's the next major speaker. He'll be followed by Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, the Republican vice presidential candidate. We're all anxious to hear what she has to say in about 37 minutes from now, 36 and counting. You see the countdown clock there.

Let me set the stage, who's here with us. Anderson Cooper, welcome. You're here of course with us. John King is here. Gloria Borger, our Republican contributor Alex Castellanous. We have a cast of -- an excellent cast in New York, at the CNN Election Center. Let's show our viewers standing by right now itching -- they're anxious to weigh in. Take a look at that.

Who do we see over there? Is that Carl Bernstein? Jeff Toobin, Amy Holmes, of course, Paul Begala, and Leslie Sanchez. That's Jeff Toobin, and let's not forget David Gergen. They're there as well. Here, upstairs in one of our sky booths, is Donna Brazile and Tara Wall. They're anxious to weigh in as well. It's been a night of some excitement already. We have floor reporters. We have Candy up on the podium. Want me to go on?

COOPER: No, I think we've got it. BLITZER: One more person, key person, Kyra Phillips is in Anchorage, Alaska. She's at the Peanut Farm Restaurant with a very special guest, the sister of Sarah Palin. We're going to go back -- and her husband. There they are right there. Kyra, she's a very shy, quiet, unassuming kind of girl. Kyra, stand by. We'll get to you in a moment. I really --

COOPER: Have you thanked the band yet?

BLITZER: We have to hear some good country music that's coming up pretty soon.

COOPER: Clearly, the highlight of this night for a lot of people -- what has this auditorium packed, besides Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, is Sarah Palin. People here want to hear from her, as they do from around the country.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: John McCain picked her thinking she would be a game changer, meaning she would change the trends and the fundamentals of an election year that overwhelmingly favors the Democrats. This is her time to step on the stage, on the playing field for time tonight really. She was introduced at a couple of rallies. This is where this party will get to know her better. More importantly, the country will get to know her really for the first time. It's a huge event. Amazing pressure on a 44-year-old first term governor.

COOPER: Alex Castellanos, what do you think of the themes that we are hearing? We continue to hear themes which have been tried and I guess true for Republican races in the past. We've heard about the liberals. We've heard about the eastern elites from Mitt Romney, a governor of Massachusetts, who clearly, you know, is -- you could argue is an elite, given his bank account, and his children's bank account. We've also heard about the evil media, the eastern establishment media, big wigs, Washington-types, of which all of you, not me, is part.

(CROSS TALK)

COOPER: But what about this? I mean is this the way to reach out to independents? Is this the way to be bipartisan, which we've heard a lot about in days past?

CASTELLANOS: Well, you could make the case Romney is the elite. I think that's why he's considered for vice president. You want one who can buy lunch for the president.

COOPER: He does have a house, I guess, out in Utah. So he does have that western credentials.

CASTELLANOS: But what we've heard tonight so far, a little bit of mixed messages. But what we heard recently is not compassionate conservative. This is the bottom rung to the Republican ladder, the part of the party upon which everything else is based. This is the good, solid, red meat, values type voters, liberal versus conservative. That doesn't mean, I think, we're not going to hear something else a little later tonight.

John McCain picked Governor Palin for one reason: change, reform. She's done something in Alaska that few other governors have done. I think tonight, what we are going to hear -- what I would expect to hear and hope to hear is how you are going to do that to Washington. You're going to transform this place.

One of the things Republicans have been hot to make the case on is, look, last week, the Democrats, you heard this story, America's broken; America's not working very well. Washington's going to fix it. The story they want to tell here this week is, you know what, America's the best country on Earth. Washington's broken. If we fix that, this country can do anything. So can Sarah Palin get that message tonight or is she going to leave this Republican party kind of stuck in 1980?

COOPER: Tara wall, who's listening in, we know how it plays in the hall. It's playing very well here. How do you think the messages we've heard tonight are playing on television sets in homes across the country, not just among Republicans but also among independents and Democrats who might be willing to vote Republican?

TARA WALL, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Sure, well, I think you're hearing some ongoing themes about government. I think you're hearing some very real stories from people you don't hear from often and you don't hear their stories often. Mike Huckabee is one great example. He is the classic reason why so many people support him and so many people like him. He's just that likable, comedic guy. He keeps it real, he makes it real. He found the success at the Tavis Smiley Forum, for example. But in the black community, when he talks about civil rights and racism and he understands the history that's been made.

I think that's significant. You need to hear that from someone like him, other than Michael Steele or Michael Williams. Then he went on to talk about these other issues that are pivotal, the way he grew up. He didn't grow up a rich Republican, as he said. These are things that make everyday Americans say, listen, Republicans have been perceived as one way. Here are some other examples of Republicans I can relate to. They've joined the party for a reason.

Again, that theme of government is very important, because you're talking about big government versus small government. Those are going to be the distinctions that are going to be made throughout the campaign between Barack Obama and John McCain.

BLITZER: Let's bring in Paul Begala for a moment. Paul, you're our Democratic strategist, our contributor. Red meat coming from Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney. Get ready, because I'm told you haven't heard anything yet, because Rudy Giuliani has got a lot more in store. That's coming up in a few moments.

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: He's one of the best speakers in the Republican party. I'm really looking forward to that. The meat we've been served so far has sort of had a lot of range. You've had some ground chuck from Mitt Romney, who kind of embarrassed himself. Then you had some high quality sirloin from Mike Huckabee. Anderson pointed it out. The notion of a billionaire from Massachusetts calling anybody else eastern elite is comical. But what was interesting -- Huckabee was relaxed and funny. I think Tara's right. I think he's a terrific representative of his party. But what neither guy did was mention the word Bush, not a single time. It seems to me the purpose of this convention tonight is to help us all forget that for eight years George W. Bush has been running the White House; For six of the last eight years, the Republicans have run the House of Representatives; for five of the last eight years, they've run the Senate; and for all of the last eight years, they've run the Supreme Court. They've got seven of the nine justices reported by Republicans.

So I think this is a terrific attempt, successful on Huckabee's part, unsuccessful on Romney's part, to try to shift away the Republican record and try to sort of pretend it's their alien force somehow is going to come into Washington and change things.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think there's kind of a mixed message here, as Alex was talking about. Last night, we heard about the bipartisan John McCain from Joe Lieberman, the John McCain who can reach out to independent voters, who can reach across the aisle to get things done in Washington. Tonight, it's anti- Washington. It's anti-liberal. It's anti-media. Almost takes you back to the Spiro Agnew days of the nattering nabobs or whatever. So it's a little bit messy here.

COOPER: Carl Bernstein, do you believe the message is mixed?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't believe it's mixed. Last night it was the same. It was about the media. It was about liberals. It was about the angry left, as George Bush referred to it. Look, the real news of this campaign is that John McCain, once the most independent of Republicans, has now embraced the Republican right and its message and its ideology as the way to get to the White House. Why did he do that? John King has shown us why. Because toward the last night of the Democratic convention, he and his advisers looked at the map and saw they were losing.

So as Leslie Sanchez here next to me has said, you don't pick Sarah Palin unless you're outside the margins of error for victory. That's what we're seeing. And we're seeing these old, familiar enemies, these appeals to the old base that doesn't like liberalism, that thinks the media is the problem.

Hillary Clinton said the media was the problem. We're always the problem when you're down.

COOPER: Alex Castellanos, I see you shaking your head.

CASTELLANOS: I'll take exception with what Carl is saying. You don't do it that way. You don't abandon your base to grow. Ronald Reagan didn't do that. Ronald Reagan was as conservative as anybody here tonight on a lot of things. But what he did, he added something to the Republican party, tax cuts, growths, optimism, American can do and be anything in the world. Along comes George Bush. He added something to that, compassionate conservatism. It's not only morally right. It's not only economically better. Guess what? It works better and helps more people. We've got to get back, I think, to that. Shrinking to it is one thing.

BORGER: What does McCain add? That's the question.

CASTELLANOS: That's what the change, reform, looking ahead -- that's what we're looking for tonight.

KING: John McCain can't do addition until he does fortification in the Republican base. You see the enthusiasm gap. It shows up in all the polls and we see it in the crowds at events around the country, who gets the bigger crowd. Democrats are more eager, more energetic, more active in this election so far. The energy we have seen about the Palin choice in this hall and these speeches tonight, directed at the Republican base, not directed at the middle of the electorate, are designed to get the Republican base with a full tank of gas and some energy. Then and only then, can you get the addition that gets you --

BORGER: And McCain could never do that on his own, right?

KING: So far, but there's more to come.

COOPER: Is that what we're seeing, Amy Holmes, is fortification of the base?

AMY HOLMES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think we're seeing fortification of the base. But let's not forget, we also saw the example of very strong Republican women, in Carly Fiorina, Meg Whitman, that can speak to independent and swing voters. And I might also add in this whole debate over the conservatism on display tonight, in the Republican primary, every single one of the Republican candidates said, I am a conservative. You remember, we joked about every one of them saying, I'm a Reagan conservative. I'm more conservative than the next guy.

This is not something that they've hidden or that they've tried to down play. Just because you're conservative doesn't mean you can't work across the aisle with your Democratic friends. I might also add that what's been interesting throughout this campaign is how the Democrats run away from the label liberal. They don't like to say that they're liberal because they know that these attacks work.

BLITZER: What we're seeing -- and I want to show that picture. Cindy McCain has just arrived here. Sitting next to Cindy McCain, that's Bristol Palin, the 17-year-old daughter of Sarah Palin, and the newest Palin, only four months old -- her and Todd Palin's four month- old son. That's Levi Johnson, her fiancee. She's the 17-year-old who just the other day the Palin family announced or told us all that she was five months pregnant. That's her high school sweetheart, Levi Johnson. He flew in from Alaska. He's here with his fiancee right now. They're watching what's going on. Let's go up to Alaska right now. Kyra Phillips is at the Peanut Farm Restaurant in Anchorage with the sister of Sarah Palin. All eyes will be on the sister in only a few moments.

PHILLIPS: That's right. We are with Heather and Kurt Bruce. Heather is Sarah Palin's sister. This is the first interview they've done. We've been chatting here and talking about all kinds of issues concerning her sister. And so earlier on, Wolf, we had heard about what it was like to grow up with Sarah Palin, and that she was a very good basketball player. They actually played on the same team together in high school.

Kurt and heather have been married for 19 years. So Kurt knows Sarah very well as well. We were talking personally about your relationship with your sister, and when you got that phone call at 5:30 in the morning and saw her name up on the screen. Right now, as we're learning more about her -- and no doubt she's an amazing woman -- we're starting to see a lot of the tough issues being tackled as well. A lot of people are wondering, is this someone who can lead the free world, if something were to happen to the commander in chief?

I want you both to respond. Let's start with you, Heather, because you've known her all her life.

H. BRUCE: She is one of the smartest women that I know. Super, super tough. And I was surprised when she started getting into politics at a young age, in her early 20s, but she always said for the right reason, was to serve the people. She always had the right frame of mind. I always admired her articulation to convey these ideas, how she was going to help the community that she lived in.

It was a small community. She started at a lower level, PTA, community council. But she always, in my opinion, did it for the absolute right reasons. I have no doubt that whatever she wanted to do, she's going to do it. She's going to do it to the absolute best of her ability.

This was a shock, I admit, to get to this level so quickly. But in a large way, it doesn't surprise me.

PHILLIPS: Kurt, how about you? Is this someone that can step in and deal with a war in Iraq, a war in Afghanistan, tough military commanders. You know, we're talking about someone who's come from a small town, and now, like you said, Heather, she's been thrust into this very powerful position possibly. Or she may be thrust into that position.

K. BRUCE: Sarah's a powerhouse, and she's dealt with a lot of tough issues in Alaska. She's dealt with a lot of tough people. She comes out on top. And she does it for the right reasons. So we feel completely comfortable with her and whatever she chooses to do.

PHILLIPS: We talked about her nickname, Barracuda Sarah, came from the two of you playing basketball together when she was on the basketball team. Now she is, as governor, been critical of her own party, and she has fought corrupt politicians, and she has tried to hold people accountable for unethical actions. Can she continue to do that on a national level as a vice president?

H. BRUCE: I don't see how she can't not do that. She seems to be able to draw the right people around her, who can advise her if she needs the advice. But being so thick-skinned and so knowledgeable on the issues so quickly -- she comes up to speed so quickly on some of these issues and is able to handle what is thrown at her so quickly.

PHILLIPS: Let me ask you about the controversies, and I know there are certain things you don't want to talk about. But we have talked about with the media here locally, as labeled, Trooper-gate. We have talked about her teenage daughter, your niece, pregnant. We're seeing the live pictures of her side by side with her future husband. How has this affected your whole family, and how has it affected Sarah?

H. BRUCE: It's hard to say how it's affected Sarah personally. She's a private person with strong convictions. As a family, we just love each other so much and we support each other. So these issues, these private family issues, we're trying to keep within the family. And our opinions to each other are private.

PHILLIPS: We will talk more. We're getting ready now to listen to Rudy Giuliani speak. We're going to get back to Wolf and Anderson. I know we're going to talk some more. We're going to monitor the speech. Heather, Kurt, thank you.

Wolf, we'll send it back to you on the floor of the RNC.

BLITZER: Thanks, Kyra. Hopefully, your guests will stay with you over at the restaurant in Anchorage, and we'll get their reaction after we hear from the governor of Alaska, her sister and his sister- in-law. I think that would be fascinating to hear what they have to say. We decided, Anderson, a few days ago that it would be a good idea to send Kyra up to Alaska to talk to people up there who actually know this woman who potentially would be the next vice president of the United States.