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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Tropical Storm Hanna Targets Carolinas; The Palin Factor; What Kind of a Leader is Sarah Palin?; Carolinas Prepare for Hanna; Trooper Speaks up about Palin Ethics Investigation

Aired September 5, 2008 - 22:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: There is breaking news tonight, and it is headed straight for the Carolinas, Tropical Storm Hanna speeding toward the Southeastern U.S. coast, nearing hurricane strength. It is getting close. We will check in with our reporters on the ground in the expected path of the storm, as you can see already, some rain hitting there.
We will also check in with CNN severe weather expert Chad Myers for the latest on where Hanna is headed and Hurricane Ike, now a Category 3 storm. You see it out there on the right churning in the Atlantic, still hundreds of miles from shore, but causing a lot of concern -- all that just ahead tonight on 360.

We begin, though, with the final sprint for the White House. It began today with both sides campaigning hard in a race that has been transformed, electrified, you might say, practically overnight. Call it the Palin factor. John McCain's surprising choice for a running mate, it certainly seems to have given his campaign a major shot of energy. Whether it lasts is anyone's guess.

But the buzz around Sarah Palin comes at a crucial time. With less than 60 days to go, there is no rest ahead for either campaign. Both tickets began a swing state blitz today. McCain and Palin hit the trail together, launching their post-convention push with a one- two punch.

Here's CNN's Dana Bash.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Cheering crowds line the streets to catch a glimpse and capture the moment.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BASH: Post-convention excitement is palpable in this Republican pocket of Democratic-leaning Wisconsin, excitement you didn't see when McCain was the only name on the ticket.

AUDIENCE: Sarah! Sarah! Sarah!

BASH: Stop one, a big open-air rally in a small, conservative town, exactly the kind of place McCain hopes his new running mate will help attract voters. (END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: We actually had a technical problem there finishing off that piece.

Dana Bash, though, does join us live.

Dana, how -- what is the plan for Governor Palin?

BASH: Well, I think the plan, at least in the short term, is to do what we saw today, and that is to really energize, Anderson, the McCain campaign, in a way that we simply have not seen, I mean, not even close.

You heard "Sarah, Sarah" chants wherever the two of them went, whether it was Wisconsin or here. They were here tonight in Macomb County, the home of the Reagan Democrats. This is a very important area for swing voters. So, they're going to do that again tomorrow in Colorado and New Mexico.

But, Anderson, I'm also told that she's going to have her first solo campaign stop on Monday in Pennsylvania. Beyond that, it seems to be a little bit unclear exactly how they're going to try to harness her -- at least her initial popularity.

COOPER: Harness, and, I mean, are they going to hide her from reporters? So far, there have been no actual interviews that she's done. John McCain has made a name for himself by having these open town halls where he fields questions from just about anybody. Is she going to talk to any reporters?

BASH: Well, here's what I have been told.

I have been told something that she probably won't do, and that is have a press conference with the national press corps. I have been told they have pretty much ruled that out, at least in the short term completely.

Will she do interviews with the national media? Unclear. Certainly, we all hope so. Will she do interviews with perhaps some local reporters, either in the newspapers or in television stations, even radio? That's a possibility.

As you well know, we were reporting all last week there is, right now, I think fair to say, no love lost between the McCain campaign and the national media for what they view and perhaps they have stoked a little bit for their political purposes as some problems that they have had with -- with their view of how the media has covered her, particularly, and her daughter's teenage pregnancy. So, we will see how that goes.

But I think it's fair to say don't expect myself and other reporters who are covering her on the road to have a gaggle, a la the Straight Talk Express, the way John McCain used to -- Anderson.

COOPER: It's fascinating. Dana Bash, thanks very much.

While the McCain ticket doubled up at their campaign spots, Barack Obama and his running mate, Joe Biden, actually split the duties, hitting three different cities in Pennsylvania, which, of course, as you -- just about everybody knows by now, is Biden's birthplace. You might have heard he's from Scranton.

They also spent a lot more time focusing on that grim jobs report released today, trying to use it against their opponents.

CNN's Candy Crowley joins me with that and the "Raw Politics" -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, you're right.

I mean, this is -- they are in Pennsylvania, pounding the pavement there, trying to put Joe Biden out where he is -- where they think that he will serve them best, and that is in those rural areas.

They are, of course, still trying to figure out how to deal with the -- the Palin problem. How do they approach the governor? And I can tell you, at the moment, what they're doing in the Obama campaign is trying to shift it back to John McCain. He is, after all, on the top of the ticket.

And there is one thing, one person I think you will hear a lot about on the campaign trail for these next 60 days, and that, of course, is Senator McCain Bush. This is where the Obama camp thinks its most -- its best argument against John McCain is just to tie him to Bush. And, today, with those bad economic figures, they also believe that they can tie him to the bad economy.

COOPER: Yes, I want to play something that Barack Obama said today about what he had heard at the Republican Convention.

Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You would think that George Bush and his potential Republican successor, John McCain, would be spending a lot of time worrying about the economy and all these jobs that are being lost on their watch.

But if you watched the Republican National Convention over the last three days, you wouldn't know that we had the highest unemployment rate in five years, because they didn't say a thing about what is going on with the middle class.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: So, I mean, that, no doubt, is something we are going to be hearing from Obama/Biden a lot over the next couple days. CROWLEY: Absolutely. It is that the Republicans are only going to attack us because they have nothing to say, they have no plan to fix the economy. They don't understand what is wrong with your lives, but I can address the things that are wrong with your lives.

So, that is -- that's the tact the Obama campaign is going to take. I will also tell you, of course, that one of the reasons they hired Sarah Palin over on the Republican side is, they believe that she is sort of the Joe Biden of that campaign, only with the rock star status at this point of Barack Obama, because they believe that she and her working-class roots will also sell well in some of those areas that you see Joe Biden in now.

COOPER: You know, it was interesting. You kind of termed it as the Palin problem for the Democrats. The Obama team has now asked Hillary Clinton and a couple other high-profile Democrats -- female Democrats, Governor Kathleen Sebelius, to -- to go out and campaign, I think it is on Monday.

I mean, is that -- are they targeting Sarah Palin? How -- is that in response to Palin?

CROWLEY: It certainly is in response to her, but I do not believe that you will see, for instance, Hillary Clinton go after Sarah Palin.

I think she will focus on the top of the ticket. And that's what they want Obama to do. They don't want him to go after Sarah Palin, for a couple of reasons, first of all, because he's the top of the ticket, and he needs to be going after John McCain. He doesn't need to engage with her.

And, second of all, if you go after Sarah Palin, and you talk about her experience, necessarily you're going to bring up discussion of Barack Obama's experience. So, they want to leave it to these women. And let's face it. It is easier, they believe, for a woman to go ahead and be the counter to another woman, than to kind of step into what may be tricky territory.

But I don't think you will necessarily see them attacking Sarah Palin, certainly not Hillary Clinton. I think you will see them talking about John McCain and what he has -- or has not done, in this case -- for the economy and what his plans are like.

BLITZER: How amazing are the next 60 days going to be?

CROWLEY: You know what? I couldn't have -- I couldn't have forecast this campaign.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: I mean, we knew from the beginning it was going to have the first African-American, perhaps the first woman that were -- really looked like they had a serious shot.

But it's been sort of one great week after another. COOPER: It's incredible.

CROWLEY: I mean, it really has been amazing. I think it will be an incredible 60 days, because I think it's pretty close, and it may stay that way.

COOPER: No matter what side of the aisle you're on, a lot of choices...

CROWLEY: Fun.

COOPER: ... and remarkable people.

Thanks very much, Candy.

CROWLEY: Absolutely.

COOPER: Candy Crowley.

As always, we're blogging throughout the hour, Erica Hill and I. Join the conversation. Go to AC360.com. Check out, also, Erica Hill's live show during the break. I don't know if you have seen this yet. We're still working on it. But it's -- it's -- it's a lot of fun. Go to the Web site. Click on the link to watch it.

Just ahead, though, on 360, the latest on the breaking story we're following closely, Tropical Storm Hanna and Hurricane Ike, the latest on where they're headed.

Also tonight, really a lot of politics -- and we're on live for the next two hours, a two-hour block tonight -- Sarah Palin up close. We are going to examine her record as governor. We will look at the investigation of her that is currently going on. We have an interview with the state trooper the governor is accused of wanting fired, her former brother-in-law.

You know, there's a lot of rumor, a lot of speculation about this. We're just looking at the facts, what is actually being investigated.

Plus, convention rhetoric vs. reality. Just as we checked Barack Obama's speech against the facts, tonight, we will see how John McCain's acceptance claims stack up to reality.

We're "Keeping Them Honest" -- next on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Isn't this the most marvelous running mate in the history of this nation?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

MCCAIN: Sarah Palin is magnificent. And I'm so proud -- and I am so proud, my friends, and I'm happy to be introduced by her today, but I can't wait to introduce her to Washington, D.C.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Senator John McCain, Governor Palin campaigning together in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, today. Tomorrow, they head for a rally in Colorado.

And, as you just heard, McCain has a mantra: End government waste, earmarks, and he says he will stand up for you. It's a theme he used during last night's acceptance speech.

And just as we did with Senator Obama's acceptance speech, we want to take a moment and check the facts in John McCain's speech. Rhetoric is one thing, facts another.

Tom Foreman tonight "Keeping Them Honest."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Senator McCain made bold claims about what he will do and what Barack Obama will not do as president.

But, "Keeping Them Honest," let's put them to the test, starting with the economy.

MCCAIN: My tax cuts will create jobs. His tax increases will eliminate them.

(AUDIENCE BOOS)

FOREMAN: The truth is, both men are proposing to continue tax cuts, so much so that the Tax Policy Center, a think tank staffed by people with many years of tax experience, says each candidate's plan could drive the deficit higher over 10 years, hurting the overall economy.

True, Obama would not continue tax cuts for what he considers wealthy people, but which plan would create or destroy more jobs is theory at this point.

On energy:

(APPLAUSE)

MCCAIN: Senator Obama thinks we can achieve energy independence without more drilling and without more nuclear power.

FOREMAN: Not true. Obama has always said that nuclear power should be considered. And, while he has opposed offshore drilling in the past, he recently included expanded drilling in his energy plan, although he does call for great caution.

And on the war: MCCAIN: I fought for the right strategy and more troops in Iraq when it wasn't the popular thing to do.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

MCCAIN: That strategy succeeded, and it rescued us from a defeat that would have demoralized our military, risked a wider war, and threatened the security of all Americans.

FOREMAN: True.

McCain supported the war, even when it was political poison. He pushed for the troop surge. And violence there is way down from its highest point. Military analysts argue over how much credit the surge deserves, compared to social and political changes in Iraq, but most say it did make a difference.

(on camera): Still, McCain may have exaggerated a bit. If the U.S. had already pulled out of Iraq, would the result be a greater threat to security here at home? Nobody knows.

(voice-over): Studies show, world public opinion of America has grown much worse since the Iraq war began. So, whether the war has quelled or spurred more terrorism remains an open debate.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, John McCain's bold gamble to pick Sarah Palin has changed the race in many ways, many ways we probably don't even know at this point. We're already seeing that on the campaign trail.

Let's talk strategy. CNN senior political analyst David Gergen, who has advised several presidents, including Clinton and Reagan, is here, conservative political analyst Tara Wall of "The Washington Times," CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist Paul Begala, and CNN political contributor and rep strategist Ed Rollins here in New York.

Ed, OK, this is basically day one of a whole new race. How -- how is it? I mean, what is happening?

ED ROLLINS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: She has -- she has turned this whole race around. I mean...

COOPER: This is a completely different race than it was a week ago.

ROLLINS: Completely different. Completely different race.

(CROSSTALK)

ROLLINS: A week ago, we were talking about how brilliant the Biden choice was. Biden is totally irrelevant today. People today in those crowds, gigantic crowds, in Michigan for him, yelling "Sarah, Sarah, Sarah," women saying, "I came here to see her," it really shows that, if he would have picked Hillary Clinton, which many of us thought he should have, the game would have been over, because he couldn't have picked her -- or probably wouldn't have picked her. She has changed the dynamics of this race.

It's now a dead-even race, by all the polls, the polls that are coming in. And I think, to a certain extent, we have got -- we have got eight weeks of a real battle.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: Paul Begala, to the extent you agree with Ed, how does, then, Barack Obama try to get the momentum back?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: By following Nixon's old maxim, which is, never shoot down. You know, Richard Nixon picked Spiro Agnew, probably the worst vice president in American history, until Dick Cheney, and the Democrats attacked Agnew, instead of Nixon.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: And Nixon later said, you know, the problem is, you don't shoot down. In other words, leave Sarah Palin out of it. It's about John McCain.

And it's about -- they need to be going after McCain. If they let him get away with this maverick act, when he has got 169 lobbyists in his campaign -- Barack Obama has zero -- well, then, they will deserve to lose. If McCain is a maverick reformer, then I'm a Hasidic diamond merchant.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: Wow. Let me ponder that while I go to...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: Ponder that one.

Tara wall, is Paul right? And how would, then, the McCain campaign counter that? I mean, how -- how -- what is the best use of Sarah Palin?

TARA WALL, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I agree and disagree with Paul.

I mean, certainly, this campaign is about the two candidates, of course, that is, Barack Obama and Senator John McCain. But, certainly, I think it can be argued that he is a maverick, and many view him as a maverick.

Whether -- I mean, you are going to hear rhetoric throughout the campaign. But, if you look at his record, if you look at the things that John McCain has done in attempts to reach across the aisle, he even used, quite frankly, his nomination speech to talk about bipartisanship, to talk about reaching across the aisle.

And many would see that that is a -- that's something that shows that he's willing to -- going forward, this is the type of president he wants to be. He -- it's almost -- and some would say it's -- it's a criticism of President Bush, because many have criticized President Bush with not -- with not being as bipartisan, some would say, as he could be.

So, along with bucking the party trend, as Palin has done, and as her record kind of bears down, the short record that she has, it does bear out she's been able to buck the trend and go against even her own party...

COOPER: OK.

WALL: ... to that extent, you could argue that he is a -- he is a maverick in that regard and for bipartisanship.

COOPER: But, David, I mean, a politician saying that they're going to work across the aisle doesn't make you a maverick. I mean, George Bush, you know, he was supposed to be a uniter, not a divider. I'm not sure how well that's worked out.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well...

(LAUGHTER)

GERGEN: It sounded like, on Thursday night, John McCain was ready to reach across the aisle. On Wednesday night and Tuesday night, it sounded like there were a whole lot of Republicans who were not very enthusiastic about that idea.

You know, they -- they were really dissing the other side in a very -- with a lot of sarcasm. That did not exactly sound like we're on the road to bipartisanship.

COOPER: So -- but, David, I mean, how -- so, how does Sarah Palin get used from here on in? I mean, does she do separate appearances from John McCain, or are they stuck at the hip together?

GERGEN: No, I don't think they're stuck at the hip together. I think she will go out on her own solo.

I think Ed Rollins is right. She has electrified the base of this party. She's also electrified John McCain, by -- by all observations. He seems to have much more personal energy going out with her, because she has -- has brought this rock star sort of change quality to his campaign.

But, Anderson, as you know, it's also electrifying the Democratic Party. The base on the Democratic Party is charged up, because they're -- you know, many of them are appalled by the idea of Sarah Palin -- Palin. And they're going to -- they're giving $10 million to Barack Obama within like 24 to 36 hours after she spoke.

So, both sides, this is going to be a very rough-and-tumble, very competitive next 60 days, because both sides are loaded for bear now.

COOPER: Yes.

WALL: Yes, and the polls bear that out. The polls that there is a much more energized American public now. People are paying more attention to both of these races.

COOPER: No doubt. Just look at the ratings for both these speeches...

WALL: Absolutely.

COOPER: ... I mean, Sarah Palin pulling in almost as many viewers as Barack Obama.

We are going to take a break. We will have more from our panel in just a second. We're going to take a closer look at Palin's record. Her personality and her persona have certainly wowed the Republicans this week, but, as we have done with all the candidates, we want to look at her record. We are going to hear from some of the lawmakers she has worked with in Alaska.

And CNN's Drew Griffin investigators the ongoing investigation into the governor. The McCain campaign has said it's all politically motivated. We are going to check the facts, in a CNN exclusive, talk with the trooper at the center of it all -- the allegation, that she tried to get this guy, her sister's ex-husband fired. We're trying to find out the facts.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: The headline about you, the headlines about you, Tasered a stepson when you were a Taser officer, shot a moose illegally when you were a wildlife officer, two separate incidents where somebody saw you drinking in a car, driving, true?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Also tonight, the latest on Tropical Storm Hanna, now speeding toward the Carolinas, just below hurricane strength. We are going to take a look at how bad it is. And we're going to track Hurricane Ike, which is coming. And it looks big and bad.

Stay tuned. You're watching 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I wasn't around when Harry Truman was around.

(LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: But I remember my grandfather saying, when they yelled to Harry Truman, "Give them hell, Harry," he yelled back: "I'm not going to give them hell. I'm going to tell them the truth, and they're going to think it's hell."

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Senator Joseph Biden on the trail today in his home state, a key swing state, Pennsylvania, which Obama, of course, lost in the primary.

The Obama campaign is clearly hoping that Biden, who, as we all know from now, is from Scranton, will help carry Pennsylvania in November.

Now, as we have said, the battlefield has shifted with the addition of Sarah Palin.

Here again, CNN senior political analyst, former presidential adviser David Gergen, CNN political contributor and conservative political analyst Tara Wall, political contributor and Democratic strategist Paul Begala, and CNN senior political analyst and Republican strategist Ed Rollins.

David, it was interesting. I was talking to Ed during the break, who was saying that he feels commercials have not worked in -- in this race up to now. How do you see the race changing? I mean, we hear now Hillary Clinton is going to be going out with other prominent Democratic women, hitting the campaign trail for Obama, I guess, on Monday.

Is suddenly she now going to have a much more prominent role?

GERGEN: I think she will. I think media focus will return to her, because they're going to be very interested in what she and perhaps other Democratic women say. And I think she will have -- you know, when she goes out, she will get more coverage.

I -- she's made it clear she's not going to take on Sarah Palin personally. She will go after John McCain and what the lack of real change that she thinks he represents.

But I think the bigger issue is here, Anderson, is, you know, what's going to be happening in the world that the candidates have to come to grips with? They sort of even-steven right now. We're back to where we were before the conventions, actually. They're -- they seem to be tied once again.

But I think the big question for both candidates is, who can do the best job of sharpening an economic message and a set of policies that are communicated in a way that make them believable that they're going to bring real relief and a better economic condition?

And, you know, the Republicans just had a convention that was very heavy on personalities and very light on policy. And that has given Obama an opening, which he seized today, with these bad unemployment numbers coming up, to start trying to make that message a little clearer.

I don't think he's done a very good job, Obama has not yet, in developing -- in delivering a strong, clear economic message. You know, with conditions like this back in 1980, Ronald Reagan just developed a message, that everybody in the country knew what he stood for, and it worked. It helped to bring him to the White House, as Ed Rollins was -- who played a key role in all of that, knows.

I don't think Barack Obama has sharpened his message enough. He needs more surrogates on the economic front and he needs a sharper, stronger, more compelling economic message.

COOPER: Ed Rollins, if you were overseeing Sarah Palin, would you allow her anywhere near reporters?

(LAUGHTER)

ROLLINS: Not for a while.

COOPER: Not for a while.

ROLLINS: Not for a while. And it's irrelevant.

The bottom line is...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: I mean, has there ever been a Republican candidate who has yet to actually talk to reporters?

ROLLINS: You know, you just...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Yes, vice presidential...

(CROSSTALK)

ROLLINS: There are plenty of candidates who have been hidden on both sides of the aisle.

That's not the -- that's not the issue. I think the issue, as David said it so well, both campaigns and their convention is scripted. They work a year to try and lay out a night. This is the economic night. This is strong on national security.

This became a personality contest. The picking of Biden, the Hillary-Bill Clinton drama, and his extraordinary speech a week ago Friday -- Thursday night, that -- it all was personality-driven. We came into the convention with no personalities, and expecting that nothing -- nothing but a boring -- until the choice was made, and everybody sort of watched to see whether she could rise to the occasion, and she did. And she gave an energy.

So, we came out with a personality, including John McCain, who did not give a great speech, but he became somewhat of a personality. And it's -- and more people watched him than ever before.

So, I think we're down here where you have two personalities that are strong, one at the top of the ticket, one at the second, two old men who have been around, very experienced. Neither have defined themselves. And no one knows yet who -- who can take the country in the direction the country is looking for.

COOPER: And, Paul, if it remains a personality contest, does Barack Obama have a better chance of losing?

BEGALA: Well, I don't know.

COOPER: I mean, if this becomes a referendum on who you like more, is that trouble for Barack Obama?

BEGALA: I don't know that I have seen very many politicians more likable than Barack Obama. He's got remarkable appeal.

But it's not simply personality. It's message. It's not a laundry list, as I have been saying. My -- my party is the party of 12-point plans and three-point losses.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: But it's about a message, what David Gergen talked about with President Reagan, Governor Reagan then, when he said, are you better off than you were four years ago? Or my old boss, Bill Clinton, who hammered that economy every single day.

I think David's right, that -- that Obama needs to get much sharper, much crisper in both the indictment of Bush and McCain, and linking them back together, and ignoring Palin, and saying very briefly, quickly, how he's going to generate new jobs and growth.

And I thought today, this -- look, this is a 60-day battle day by day. And, every day, I'm going to ask, who won the day? Well, you know, McCain won the day today, McCain and Palin. And Barack and Biden lost the day, because I think they had this huge gift of these terrible economic numbers, these unemployment numbers through the roof. And, yet, they didn't seem as sharp and tough and focused as I would like them to be, as a Democrat.

COOPER: Do you agree with that, Tara Wall?

WALL: You can be as sharp, and focused, and charismatic, and all of those wonderful things that may people feel good, and have the personality, but this is why Barack Obama is not getting through. It's why he's not resonating. We all love him. We all love listening to him. We like Sarah Palin. That's great, the personality.

(CROSSTALK)

WALL: But, when -- at the end of the day, when he's talking about this big government that people see, and not a way to pay for it, people, voters have a problem with that. Those are -- those are the issues.

You talk about messaging, attacks aside -- attacks, yes, they work from time to time. That's great. That's dandy. Personality is dandy.

COOPER: OK.

WALL: At the end of the day, you have got to put the meat on the bone. There's still that substance there. They're hearing him. They're starting to hear more of him, but they're not liking what they hear.

So, he's got to really be more specific about the specifics.

COOPER: OK.

David Gergen, I heard you wanted to get in, just very briefly.

GERGEN: Just very briefly, on Obama today, what we heard today was him talking about a 6.1 percent unemployment rate, the worst in five years.

In that same sound bite, Anderson, what you need on the message is, you need to say, we have got the worst unemployment in five years. Here's what I'm going to do about it in two or three sentences.

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: And, until you get that sound bite, so you get both, you don't connect.

WALL: That's right.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: David Gergen, Paul Begala, Ed Rollins, Tara Wall, as always, great. Thank you. Really interesting stuff.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Up next, Sarah Palin the governor, new insight on her job as Alaska's leader.

Also tonight, a CNN exclusive -- hear from the trooper who is Palin's ex-brother-in-law at the center of these allegations, this investigation of the governor. Beyond all the scandal, beyond all the allegations and the rumors, we're going to look at the facts -- next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Two nights ago, Palin introduced herself to America in a speech watched by 37 million people. Now, that's just a million shy of the number of people that watched Barack Obama's acceptance speech. She talked a lot about her accomplishments as Governor, a job she's held for a little less than two years.

Now, from the beginning of this presidential race, we pledged to bring you the facts so you can decide for yourself whom to support. And as part of that pledge tonight, we're taking an in-depth look at the kind of leader John McCain's running mate has been for Alaska in her time as Governor.

Up close, here's Randi Kaye.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She's Alaska's most popular Governor, and she prides herself on playing tough.

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE-PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: They say the difference between a hockey mom and a pit ball? Lipstick.

KAYE: Some Alaska lawmakers say this hockey mom turned Governor is a pit bull: bold, outspoken, gutsy. But critics say she's also stubborn and so aggressive she will step on anyone in her way. Political analysts refer to the body count of Palin's rivals.

(on camera) Are people afraid of her? Were legislators, lawmakers afraid of her?

LYDA GREEN (R), PRESIDENT, ALASKA SENATE: I got that feeling that they were somewhat intimidated.

KAYE (voice-over): Like Governor Palin, Alaska's senate president, Lyda Green, is a Republican. And yet, Green decided not to run for another term because of differences with the governor. She admits Palin may be charming, but says she governs like a one-way street: disagree with her and you're done. She takes it personally.

State representative Les Gara, a Democrat, says Palin sees things in black and white and is more interested in press coverage than policy.

LES GARA (D), ALASKA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: She's not that kind of leader who -- who rolls up her sleeves and says, "These are the policy issues that matter, and this is how it should be crafted." She tends to leave that to other people.

KAYE: Gara believes Palin is exaggerating her accomplishments. At the convention, Palin implied she got construction started on a natural gas pipeline here.

PALIN: We began a nearly $40 billion natural gas pipeline to help lead America to energy independence. KAYE: In fact, the pipeline has been approved but won't be built until maybe 2018, if ever.

Many here do credit Palin for shaking up the entrenched old boy's network and for taking on leaders of her own party over abuse of power. She passed ethics reform after an FBI fund-raising probe of Alaskan legislators. Although lawmakers from both parties say reform had been in the works long before Palin took office.

(on camera) Is she the one who saved Alaska from corruption?

GARA: That would be a huge stretch.

KAYE (voice-over): Republican pollster Marc Hellenthal says Palin has done well for the state.

MARC HELLENTHAL, ALASKA POLLSTER: She's a beacon of ethics, a symbol of ethics in an atmosphere of corruption. She symbolizes hope that our elected officials aren't all on the take.

KAYE: Which may explain her rock star rating.

(on camera) Sarah Palin's poll numbers are the highest Alaskans have ever seen, nearly 80 percent, proving nearly two years into her term, the honeymoon is far from over.

Pollsters say because she took on the oil industry and revamped the tax code, bringing billions of dollars to Alaska.

(voice-over) The self-proclaimed fiscal conservative is putting money back in Alaskans' pockets. Rich in oil and gas, Alaska is benefiting from the rise in energy prices, and enjoying a $5 billion surplus. So Palin is giving $1,200 back to every resident to help with rising fuel and heating costs.

And she's taking on big oil, increasing taxes on oil companies by more than $1 billion.

HELLENTHAL: Up here, from a public perspective, she deserves the nickname St. Sarah.

KAYE: But does she? Palin is under an ethics investigation. Did she abuse power by firing the state's public safety commissioner after he refused to dismiss her former brother-in-law, a state trooper she accused of threatening her family?

And where did she really stand on the infamous Bridge to Nowhere? A $330 million project, a symbol of Alaska's dependence on federal handouts.

PALIN: I told the Congress, thanks but no thanks to that Bridge to Nowhere. If our state wanted to build a bridge, we would build it ourselves.

KAYE (on camera): She takes credit for having killed the Bridge to Nowhere project. Is that fair? GREEN: That was after she supported it in her campaign.

KAYE (voice-over): and green says, even though the bridge project was canceled, the federal money was not But directed to other Alaska projects.

Come election day, how much will the record matter? Well, here in Alaska, many predict voters will choose style over substance.

(on camera) Does her style do well among Alaskans?

HELLENTHAL: She's a blunt, no-nonsense person, and that does incredibly well up here.

KAYE: Why? Why does that work in this state?

HELLENTHAL: Because we're a blunt, no-nonsense people.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Randi, you're obviously in Anchorage, Alaska, for us tonight. One of the things that Sarah Palin talked about in her speech was the governor's jet. She said that, you know, she doesn't use it and the fact that she didn't think -- she thought it was a waste of time and money and she actually put it up for sale on eBay. What's the story behind that?

KAYE: Well, what she said the night of the convention about that really isn't the whole story behind it. She did put it on eBay, as you said, but it didn't sell on the Internet.

And so then the speaker of the house, actually, here in Alaska tried to sell it privately, which he did about eight months later. An Alaskan businessman bought it for $2.1 million, about $600,000 less than the jet was actually worth.

But here's the really interesting part, is that McCain is going around on the campaign trail in Wisconsin most recently saying, and touting this as one of her accomplishments here as governor, that she sold the jet on eBay and made a profit. Sounds good, but it's not true, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Checking the facts. Randi Kaye, thanks.

Next on 360, more on the trooper firing, the trooper -- I guess the allegations swirling around Sarah Palin. There is an investigation. We're going to look at the facts, the accusation that she acted improperly, trying to get an Alaska trooper, her former brother-in-law, fired. That, and tonight, we have an exclusive interview. Drew Griffin one-on-one with Mike Wooten, the trooper at the center of the storm.

Also, more dangerous storms headed our way. Where Hanna and Ike could hit and how much damage they may do, when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: More now on our breaking news. An already huge death toll in its wake, more than 130 in Haiti alone. Tropical Storm Hanna is barreling toward the U.S. tonight, its outer bands already pounding the Carolina coast. Storm watchers are posted tonight as far north as Massachusetts.

And we're going to hear in a moment from our Chad Myers, our severe weather expert, exactly where the storm is headed and why another storm, named Ike, is causing greater concern.

But first, let's check in with David Mattingly. He's in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, preparing for the storm.

David, what's the situation there?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, for about the last hour, we have literally been drowning in Hanna out here. And now, just as we start talking, the waves just got to our electronic equipment and blew out the lights that we just had on us.

I'm just going to talk from the dark just for a second. We're expecting flooding in low-lying areas along the coast of South Carolina. But so far no injuries reported.

About 150,000 tourists were in the hotel -- expected to be in the hotels along these beaches this weekend. But when a voluntary evacuation order went out, a lot of those tourists voluntarily decided to go home early. So there's going to be a big economic impact from this storm.

Right now we're just absolutely getting hammered by wind and rain from this Tropical Storm Hanna -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. David Mattingly, thanks very much.

Obviously, we lost David's -- he lost his electricity right when he was talking. But that was his live report.

Chad Myers, severe weather expert, joins us now with the latest on two major storms -- Chad.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Really, Hanna is going to be a rain maker. And like you said, we've already had 4 1/2 inches near Myrtle Beach, and just south near Georgetown, Pawleys Island, where they make those Pawleys Island hammocks. Probably heard about those already.

But the rain is going to continue all night long, and here's what we have for you here, where the graphic is going to show you where the rain's going to move into North Carolina. Move just ahead, kind of zoom into where we believe the center of the storm is now.

This is Hanna, 70 miles per hour. Haven't had a gust, really, over 60 from the hurricane hunter aircraft for quite some time. The storm that we're really concerned about is Ike. Let's take you back for just a second to what's happening with Hanna. Here's the 11 p.m. advisory. The 2, the 3, the 4, then the 9. That's not a straight line. This thing has been wobbling back and forth like crazy. It can't seem to make up its mind whether it wants to go east or go west.

And see that gray area there in the middle? That's the forecast cone. At this point, at 9 p.m., it's not even in the cone. It's going to have to wobble back to the right to get into the cone. And I do think that will probably happen, and it will make landfall somewhere between Georgetown and up into the Myrtle Beach area.

Landfall is going to be a relative term, because there really isn't an eye, although at this point, it's trying to make one. And I think we'll probably get winds to 75 miles per hour. And that will be right at that Category 1 hurricane level.

The story, I think, is the lack of wind so far, although we've had some gusts to 35 and 45 miles per hour. All we're going to see is what you see now and probably some gusts up to about 60.

We could see those same gusts, though, in Raleigh, in Virginia Beach, in Williamsburg, in Richmond, in the nation's capital. And then the next story is where it goes from here.

This thing actually will turn and will go well on up toward the northeast and will make a kind of a landfall, a secondary landfall on Long Island on Sunday morning. Watch it go, right through there as a 50-mile-per-hour storm. I know it's not 60 or 70, and it's not a hurricane, but you can do some damage at 50, as well, and especially with all those very expensive buildings over there on the Hamptons. You don't want to have a storm crashing on shore there.

Now the next storm is Ike. This is going to be -- this has already been a big storm, and it's going to be a very large, dangerous Category 3 or Category 4, running between Cuba and Florida.

But notice, the gray cone is all the way to central Florida or south of Cuba. And Anderson, some of the latest models I've just been looking at are south of Cuba. And then hit the Gulf of Mexico and then to the northern Gulf Coast. I can't believe they're even doing that right now. We'll have to see. That's many days away.

COOPER: That would be terrible. All right. We'll be watching closely. Chad, thanks. We're going to have more on Hanna and Ike coming up.

But first, back to politics. We also want to point out, we're going to be live in our next hour, as well, all the way through to midnight East Coast time.

We're going to look at the investigation that's going on with Sarah Palin in Alaska. Tonight, a CNN exclusive: you'll hear from the man that she's accused of trying to get fired, her ex-brother-in-law, a state trooper. He responds to the accusations thrown at him like this one. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nearly two years before she became governor, Sarah Palin told police that she had listened on the phone as Trooper Wooten raged at her sister and threatened to kill her father.

(on camera) Did you threaten to kill your father-in-law?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Up close tonight, our exclusive interview with Governor Sarah Palin's ex-brother-in-law. His name is Mike Wooten. He's the Alaska state trooper at the center of an investigation involving the governor.

You've been hearing a lot about it in recent days and mostly speculation and rumor. We wanted to know the facts.

As you may know, there are allegations that she abused her power by trying to have Wooten fired. Of course, anyone can make allegations. The matter is, what is true and what's not?

Palin denies any wrongdoing. She's hired an attorney.

To get some answers, we went to Alaska. In what he says is his first and only interview, Wooten opens up about the case and his own troubles, including his suspension from the force and the accusations that he actually tasered his young stepson.

CNN special investigations unit correspondent Drew Griffin sat down with Wooten and his union representative for a report you won't see anywhere else.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN (voice-over): The real story is not a good one for the trooper at the center of it.

MIKE WOOTEN, ALASKA STATE TROOPER: It's definitely not very easy. It creates a lot of stress, that's for sure.

GRIFFIN: Mike Wooten was married to Sarah Palin's sister, Molly, for four years. Their marriage ended bitterly in 2005. There has been constant battling over custody of their two children.

And it is in the acrimonious divorce proceedings that private details of Trooper Mike Wooten's life have become public and are now part of a state investigation.

(on camera) Was there ever a good time with you and the -- I mean, at one point you were a member of that family?

WOOTEN: You're absolutely right. I was a member of that family. And I have some very cherished memories of those times. There was a lot of good times. I -- I don't wish any ill will on any of them. I absolutely don't.

I made mistakes. I was punished. I moved on from those. I've grown and learned from them.

GRIFFIN: The headlines about you, tasered a stepson when you were a taser officer, shot a moose illegally, two separate incidents where somebody saw you drinking in a car, driving. True?

WOOTEN: Well, let me -- let me take those on one at a time and explain those to you.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): So he did. Yes, he admits, he did taser his stepson, but he believes he did it safely, and the boy wanted it done, he says.

WOOTEN: He was asking about it and, you know, it wasn't -- I didn't shoot him with a taser, with a live, you know, actual live cartridge and shoot him with the probes and that kind of situation that some people have made this out to be. That's not the case at all.

It was a -- it was a training aid.

GRIFFIN: I'm about to receive 50,000...

WOOTEN: He was hooked up, just little clips. And the -- you know, the taser was activated for less than a second, which would be less than what you would get if you touched an electric fence. And you know, it was as safe as I could possibly make it.

GRIFFIN (on camera): Looking back, was it dumb?

WOOTEN: Yes, it was. Absolutely. And you know, like I stated before, I'm not perfect. I've made mistakes and learned from those mistakes. And not the best decision I've ever made, absolutely not.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): He admits he killed a moose illegally, a significant infraction in Alaska. Even though Wooten was a state trooper at the time, he says he didn't know his actions were illegal.

(on camera) Drinking in cars?

WOOTEN: No.

GRIFFIN: Didn't happen?

WOOTEN: Didn't happen.

GRIFFIN: Were those witnesses -- lying?

WOOTEN: I don't -- I don't know why they would say that. It didn't happen.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): In 2006, a trooper investigation upheld several of the allegations against Wooten, including the taser incident, the shooting of the moose, and the use of alcohol while driving the patrol vehicle.

Nearly two years before she became governor, Sarah Palin told police that she had listened on the phone as Trooper Wooten raged at her sister and threatened to kill her father.

(on camera) Did you threaten to kill your father-in-law?

WOOTEN: No, I did not.

GRIFFIN: You didn't say you were going to put a "F"-ing bullet in his head?

WOOTEN: No, I did not.

GRIFFIN: So those people that say they heard that are lying?

WOOTEN: I didn't threaten him, and I never threatened anyone, for that matter.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Wooten would not discuss the Palin family or speak directly about them. His marriage to Molly was his third. Since then, the 36-year-old trooper has married and divorced yet again.

(on camera) I'm going to ask you personal questions. Have you had trouble with women in your life? Handling relationships, has that been a problem?

WOOTEN: There's been issues, yes.

GRIFFIN: The issues, including a long list of reprimands as a state trooper, eventually landed Trooper Mike Wooten on suspension for five days. He was not fired. His boss, though, was. And that is where the legal trouble begins for Alaska's governor, Sarah Palin.

(voice-over) The allegation is that, when Palin became governor, she used her power to try to get her ex-brother-in-law fired. Why? Records show the governor believed he was a dangerous state trooper. But others have alleged she just wanted to settle a family score.

Her representatives have maintained, as has she, that she did not do anything illegal and since becoming governor, did not try to use her position to get Trooper Wooten fired.

What was an ugly family divorce exploded in the public arena when the state's public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan, was fired by Governor Palin. Palin in comments has maintained that Monegan was fired because he was not moving fast enough on the initiatives she wanted for the department. Monegan says otherwise.

WALT MONEGAN, FORMER PUBLIC SAFETY COMMISSIONER, ALASKA: I believe that I was fired because I did not fire Mike Wooten.

GRIFFIN: And yet he also says he was never told to fire Wooten. MEG STAPLETON, JOHN MCCAIN CAMPAIGN: She had nothing to do with the pressure to fire Monegan over Wooten. That is absolutely ridiculous and absurd.

GRIFFIN: But records reveal that staff in her administration, as well as her husband, contacted the public safety commission about Mike Wooten some 20 times since Palin became governor.

MONEGAN: In my heart of hearts, again, I think did allow her personal feelings to get involved in her professional responsibilities. And she ventured where she should not have ventured: into a personnel matter that involved an immediate family member of hers.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Drew, why did he -- why did this former trooper want this interview? Why go public?

GRIFFIN: That's a good question, Anderson. This has been a very, very ugly, private divorce, which blew up into a statewide scandal here in Alaska and at the moment has become the center of a media feeding frenzy in this presidential race.

Trooper Wooten says he's been offered $30,000 by a tabloid. The Obama campaign has contacted his union. He said he wanted to grant just one interview, and he gave it to CNN, he says to set the record straight about his record.

But when you see that record, Anderson, you have to wonder why he would want it out in the public at all.

COOPER: Where does this now investigation stand? I mean, there was talk that the report wasn't going to be released until a week before the election. What is the timeline on this? Where does this stand?

GRIFFIN: There's a lot of things being played out in the press here, and it's been getting very political. A state Democrat, who is kind of heading the administration of the investigation, suddenly backed off on that. He realized that releasing this information so close to the election might actually impede the election.

So Hollis French (ph) is the legislator, and he says he's going to release it on October 10, which means we're just about a month or so away from this being over with.

But then the question is, what happens after that? What happens if she's cleared or what happens if she's not cleared? And I'm not clear on exactly what's going to happen.

COOPER: All right. Drew Griffin, "Keeping Them Honest." Thanks very much, Drew.

There are just two months to election day, the home stretch for the candidates, 60 days. Who hit the campaign trail today in some key battleground states? We'll look at that and what they said. We'll have the latest developments, coming up in our second live hour.

First, though, "Shot of the Day." Anchor extraordinaire and rock star Wolf Blitzer sharing his musical past with all of his. You're watching 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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