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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Palin Power; Obama's Ohio Challenge

Aired September 9, 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: Tonight: fueling McCain's Straight Talk Express with Palin power, John McCain's new line of attack, Barack Obama's answer, and the war of words over the words lipstick and pig.
Also tonight, the Ohio battleground counties that could make or break the candidates, and why Senator Obama is such a tough sell there.

And, later, you heard the Internet rumors and allegations about Sarah Palin, tonight, something different, the facts. You deserve nothing less.

We begin, however, on the trail with more new polling tonight showing the national race virtually tied and the state-by-state numbers tightening, a one-point McCain edge in our latest poll of polls, down from a two-point edge yesterday, a new NBC poll just out tonight reflecting a one-point Obama lead, nearly every other recent poll showing similar numbers.

And, as the race tightens, the two sides are narrowing their focus to a few battleground states, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and especially Ohio.

Two reports from the trail tonight, starting with Dana Bash.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Straight Talk Express pulled into a now familiar post-convention scene, dense Ohio crowds who waited for hours to catch a glimpse, maybe get an autograph from John McCain's running mate. Yet, in McCain's speech something now less familiar, the return of what had been a standard attack line against Barack Obama, one McCain conspicuously dropped campaigning with the first-term Alaska governor by his side -- the readiness argument.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Senator Obama was wrong about Iran. He was wrong about Iraq. He was wrong about Russia. He's wrong about America's national security challenges in the future. And he has no experience. And, more importantly, he lacks the judgment to lead this country.

BASH: A senior adviser concedes to CNN that McCain brought that line back in response to this from Obama a day earlier.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: It was like a month ago, they were all saying, oh, it's experience, experience, experience. And then they chose Palin and they start talking about change, change, change. What happened? What happened?

BASH: CNN is told that camp McCain wanted to signal they're not abandoning a core pre-convention, pre-Palin mantra, that Obama lacks the judgment to be president.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Dana, he's talked about experience, but the thrust of McCain's theme now is change, basically co-opting or adopting Obama's message. That seems to be working for him, doesn't it?

BASH: Well, they actually do think so, Anderson.

I was just talking to a senior adviser tonight, who said that their internal data shows that, since McCain and Palin have been pushing this -- this topic of change, that undecideds really are seeing him much more as a reformer, which, obviously, is their ultimate goal.

But I will tell you, what's interesting is that they also say that talking about change, it means not talking about George W. Bush. And, Anderson, the most interesting thing, I think, on the campaign trail with McCain today is what we didn't hear.

You know what happened at the White House. The president announced 8,000 troops are coming home from Iraq. That is something you would think John McCain would be trumpeting from the rooftops as evidence that Iraq is actually succeeding. But he didn't mention it at all. Why?

A McCain adviser I talked to tonight admitted that talking about anything related to Bush, especially policy, especially Iraq policy, is basically a political death knell, especially for John McCain right now, so he didn't mention it at all.

COOPER: Fascinating.

Dana Bash, thanks.

With the McCain forces hitting experience again, Barack Obama today turned to a traditionally winning issue for Democrats, education, and what's been up until now a winning issue for him, change. He also set off a minor firestorm with some of the words he used. Were they offensive to women or just a harmless old expression? You be the judge.

The reporting from Candy Crowley.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): How many ways can Barack Obama say that John McCain is not the candidate of change?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: You know, you can put lipstick on a pig.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: It's still a pig.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BASH: At camp McCain, where they are eager to attract women voters, they took that personally, insisting Sarah Palin was being compared to a pig, calling that disgraceful and offensive.

Obama aides responded to the response, calling it a pathetic attempt to play the gender card, accusing McCain of running an increasingly dishonorable campaign.

The time is short, the race is close, the campaign trail bristles with tension. As Obama pitched his education program, including Republican-friendly ideas like more money for charter schools and performance-based teacher pay, the McCain campaign put up an ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR: Obama's one accomplishment? Legislation to teach comprehensive sex education to kindergarteners. Learning about sex before learning to read?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: The Obama campaign called that ad shameful, perverse, a distortion of a bill designed to protect children from sexual predators.

It was blistering. "John McCain," said an Obama spokesman, "couldn't define what honor was, and now we know why."

Responding to the response, a McCain spokesman said, "If they want to question John McCain's honor and record of service, that's a debate we welcome."

Fifty-six days until the election.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Candy joins us now.

Candy, it is important to know the lipstick on a pig comment was also then immediately followed by another old saying about wrapping up a fish or something.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: Yes, wrapping up a fish in new paper, and it still stinks. And, you know, also important to note that John McCain used the same expression to talk about Hillary Clinton's health care plan. So, I think what this really does is just tell you the edginess of what's out there.

And it is also, as we have mentioned, in the best interest of the McCain campaign, which is looking for women voters. They have been talking about sexism of late, thinking that some of the response to Sarah Palin was sexist. And that's why you saw the Obama campaign come back and say, look, they're trying to play the sexism card again.

COOPER: We're also joined now by David Gergen and "TIME" magazine political guru, Mark Halperin.

David, much ado about nothing?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it was -- listen, you can say all you want John McCain said this about Hillary's health care proposal, but it was still a foolish thing for Barack Obama to say, because every night is precious for him, Anderson, in terms of getting his message out.

This is one night lost on your program, where his message got muffled by this silliness over lipstick on a pig.

COOPER: It -- Mark, you're shaking your head.

MARK HALPERIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Stop the madness.

I mean, this is, I think -- with all due respect to the program's focus on this and to what David just said, I think this is the press just absolutely playing into the McCain campaign's crocodile tears. I wouldn't...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Crocodile tears?

HALPERIN: Yes. They don't think this is...

COOPER: They know exactly what it is?

HALPERIN: They know exactly what he was saying. It's an expression.

And this is a victory for the McCain campaign, in the sense that, every day, they can make this a pig fight in the mud, it's good for them for them, because it's reducing Barack Obama's message even more.

But I think this is a -- a low point in the day, and one of the low days of our -- of our collective coverage of this campaign. To make -- to spend even a minute on this expression, I think, is amazing and outrageous.

COOPER: Right.

Let's move on.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: David Gergen, what do you make of the McCain campaign's continued use of Sarah Palin's line about the bridge to nowhere, that she said, thanks, but no thanks, when, clearly, she supported it initially, then, later on, she changed her position, though she still took all the tens of millions, hundreds of millions of dollars, that was supposed to go to the bridge, and used it on other pet projects around Alaska?

GERGEN: Well, I'm surprised they're doing that.

You know, and they have got enormous momentum. They still -- Ohio has changed over in their direction, as John King will soon report. But I'm surprised that they're continuing on that. I'm surprised that they're not letting her speak to the public. She's not taking public questions as she moves about. She goes on her airplane and it's off the record for the press. You can't quote her there.

They still haven't talked to the press. At the end of this week, on 9/11, very conveniently, the day her son is going off to Iraq, she going to have her first press interview. I'm surprised by all of that.

And I just tell you, where I -- where I traveled -- I was in Washington today and Boston today, talking to people -- and there are just a lot of people now getting on both sides of this who are getting really angry or upset on both sides, getting upset at the other side for what they think are -- I think Mark is right. There's a lot of lowness in all of this right now.

COOPER: Mark, has there ever been a vice presidential candidate who has yet to talk to the press at this point in -- in the race?

HALPERIN: No.

And it's another thing that, again, I'm embarrassed about our profession for. She should be held more accountable for that. The bridge to nowhere thing is outrageous. And, if you press them on it, they will fall, because they can't defend what they're saying. They're staying it on the stump as a core part of their message. It's in their advertising.

I'm not saying the press should be out to get John McCain and Sarah Palin, but, if a core part of their message is something that every journalist -- journalism organization in the country has looked at, and says it's demonstrably false, again, we're not doing our jobs if we just treat this as one of many things that's happening.

COOPER: And, yet, we're getting tons of e-mails from people saying that we're attacking Sarah Palin by looking at her record. So, it's fascinating to see how polarized people are on Sarah Palin.

(CROSSTALK) HALPERIN: The other three people who are on the national ticket have been scrutinized for months and, in cases, years. We have got 60 -- less here than 60 days to do this. We better get about doing it. And if she doesn't cooperate in that more than she has, the public should be told that, clearly.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: We are going to talk more with Mark and David and Candy in just a moment.

As always, I'm blogging throughout the hour. Join the conversation. Go to our Web site, AC360.com. You will also find Erica Hill's live Webcast there.

Later, Barack Obama's toughest sell -- the places in Ohio where he is struggling, where African-Americans are few, and false rumors about Obama are many. John King will take us there.

Plus, the rumors about Sarah Palin, you have seen them on the Internet. They're a mouse click away, but just as unfair as the false rumors about Obama. Tonight, we separate Palin facts from fiction.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Sarah Palin, meet Rosie the Riveter. That's a poster of the McCain/Palin rally today in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She's also on the covers of "TIME" and "Newsweek." On "Newsweek," you see her there holding a shotgun.

Any way you look at it, she seems to have changed the complexion of the race. Still an open question whether she will make a difference come November. Just like Barack Obama and John McCain, she's certainly a full-blown celebrity and already taking some lumps.

Here's what Joe Biden told a local reporter in Milwaukee today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I think the issue is, what does Sarah Palin think? What does she believe? I assume she thinks and agrees with the same policies that George -- that George Bush and John McCain think. And that's, obviously, a backwards step for women.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: That comment was actually made yesterday.

Let's dig deeper, back with our panel, Candy Crowley, David Gergen, and Mark Halperin.

We were talking about this during the break, Mark. Do the Democrats know how to respond to -- to Sarah Palin and John McCain?

HALPERIN: I think they're completely flummoxed by it. This whole phenomena has upset them intellectually. I think it's upset them sort of emotionally.

You know, what Joe Biden said there, I think, to say that that's sexist is being sexist. He would say that about a male candidate. The fact that he's saying it about a female candidate is something, once again, crocodile tears from the Republicans, jumping on it, and causing the Obama people to not talk about George Bush, to not talk about the record of the last eight years, or the Iraq war.

They're -- they're in these petty fights about whether they're sexist or not. That's not a fight they can win, and it takes them off their message.

COOPER: Candy, do they seem flummoxed?

CROWLEY: Oh, absolutely.

I mean, I think -- I think what's -- what's really grinding on them, beyond the fact that now the headliner has been Sarah Palin for, you know, 10 days or more, is -- is this whole notion about change, because that has been the signature issue for Barack Obama. He has flown on that for 19 months.

And now we see, internally, in some of those polls, that, while Obama still leads on the subject of who can best bring about change, John McCain is gaining on him. And they have been -- that's why you have seen this huge pushback.

But I don't think they quite know how to deal with the fact they didn't expect this kind of splash to last this long, and they're struggling to get the headlines back, as well as to try to figure out how to go after her.

There are a number of Democrats outside the Obama campaign who say, I don't know why Obama is taking on Sarah Palin. He should leave that to Joe Biden. Obama ought to get back to the issues and say, listen, you know what this is about? This is about X, Y and Z, and John McCain is George Bush, and get back to that message.

COOPER: David, you have worked for Democrats and Republicans. What would you advise the Obama people?

GERGEN: I think Candy was right about that.

But there's an odd parallel here, Anderson, isn't there between where Barack Obama is now and where Hillary Clinton was earlier? And that is that she was in a position where she thought she had earned the presidency, certainly the nomination of her party. She had worked all this time. Everybody saw her as the person who was going to get it. And here comes this guy out of nowhere and takes it away from her.

And now Barack Obama's worked two years. And he and his people have been so confident that this was within their grasp. And now Sarah Palin comes out of nowhere and starts taking it away from them. And, just like Hillary Clinton, they don't know what to do about it. They're -- I think they are off balance in trying to come to grips with it. I do think that it's important for Obama to put down Sarah Palin, to get beyond that. He does not -- that lowers him, when he gets into that. He needs to be up, talking about issues and take...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: When you say put down, you mean not deal with, not put down verbally?

GERGEN: No, I think it -- whenever the presidential candidate of a party starts sparring with the vice presidential person, the number two on the other ticket -- Candy made this point the other night -- that -- that, in effect, it takes you off your pedestal as number one, and you -- and you raise her up to your level.

And, therefore, you're fighting both Palin and McCain. He just needs to take on John McCain and Bush and the Republican record. He does not need to get into this Palin stuff. Let others do that.

I mean, there are press stories out -- there's this press story today with "The Washington Post" about Sarah Palin and how many days of per diem, over 300 nights she charged to the state government of Alaska for staying in her own home. She submitted per diem charges.

Now, maybe, in Alaska, that's copacetic, but, in a lot of other places in the country, you don't do that.

COOPER: Mark Halperin, you were talking about Hillary. It would be fascinating to know what Hillary Clinton is thinking right now.

HALPERIN: Yes. Can I show this button?

COOPER: Go ahead.

HALPERIN: I bought this a couple weeks ago in Denver. As we say on TV, can you see this?

It says, "Hillary Clinton, the most formidable and phenomenal woman of 2008."

That was two weeks ago, and it was true. It's not true anymore. Sarah Palin is now more of a phenom. And she's very formidable. I think Hillary Clinton is saying -- I don't know this -- I think she's saying the beginning of the "I told you so."

She said, the reason would be Obama would be a dangerous nominee is that he would be rattled by the Republicans when they came at him, that he would be inexperienced, and that he would be flustered by all of this.

And we're seeing it now. I'm not saying he's collapsed, but, boy, are they off their game. And you see Obama at his worst when -- and Hillary Clinton did this to him -- when they get inside his head. When you see what he's saying out on the stump, it's clearly not a product of careful planning, but riffing he's doing because he thinks he needs to say it, or he can't help but say it.

COOPER: We are going to have a lot more with our panel throughout this hour with Mark and David and Candy.

Up next, though, Barack Obama's Ohio challenge -- can he win over skeptics in the counties that clobbered him in the primaries? John King takes a look there.

Later, was it something he said? Joe Biden on Sarah Palin, Down syndrome, and stem cell research -- why some Republicans are taking offense, real or not, and how she differs on the issue from her running mate.

Also tonight, in a state full of natural beauty, some of the images and the allegations against Governor Palin are downright ugly, that she's for hunting wolves from the air, neglecting polar bears, and denying global warming. Those are the stories floating around. That's one side of the story. Is there another? The bottom line on Sarah Palin and the environment -- ahead on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Barack Obama and John McCain tied in the polls, battling for the same few states that could make or break them. And, in fact, what we are really talking about is a few counties in those few states,the Philadelphia suburbs, Macomb County, Michigan, parts of Virginia, and a lice of southern Ohio that could make all the difference.

As 360's John King reports, making it Obama country will be a major challenge.

Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Portsmouth hugs the Ohio River, nestled in the hills and farmland of Appalachia. Small town and struggling -- wondering if the jobs will ever return and whether the old rule that hard times means votes for Democrats will apply this year.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Is there a reason why you...

KING: At Scioto County Democratic headquarters, chairman Randy Bashem sees the chance to make history colliding with historical reality. Some on the other end of the phone say they simply aren't ready or willing to vote for a black man.

RANDY BASHEM, SCIOTO COUNTY DEMOCRATIC CHAIRMAN: It basically comes down to that. I mean, Appalachian -- it's probably the hardest place in the State of Ohio, because the population of the black vote here in Southern Ohio is probably 2 percent.

KING: Obama was trounced here in the Democratic primaries. Hillary Clinton won 81 percent of the vote in Scioto County. And top Democratic strategists say, Obama has yet to fix things.

PETER HART, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: In the primary, he didn't connect. He needs to be able to connect with these small-town and rural voters, and they're all throughout that southern Ohio.

KING (on camera): Recent history suggests, winning here in southeast Ohio equals winning the White House. The Democrats have carried this region only three times in the last 10 presidential elections, in 1976, 1992, and 1996. Those just happen to be the party's only three White House victories in the past 40 years.

KING: In Portsmouth's bustling Market Street Cafe, there is a hopeful vibe for Democratic. The younger staff is all for Obama.

Co-owner Mary Rase, a loyal Republican, sees a giant generational divide.

MARY RASE, REPUBLICAN VOTER: I think people more my age seem to be for McCain. But I do feel in -- overall that there is more Obama people.

KING: But the scene at local Democratic headquarters is telling. An office worker felt compelled to pin a flag on the cardboard Obama's lapel. The overwhelming issue here is jobs. Yet, just eight weeks to Election Day, local Democrats are still rebutting rumors their candidate won't wear a flag pin, isn't a Christian, and took his Senate oath on a Koran, not a Bible.

STEVE STURGILL, OBAMA SUPPORTER: Oh, I have that question all the time. People that I talk to in our community still have grave reservations about that.

KING: Many older Democrats, like Steve Sturgill, say it's often tough to break through.

STURGILL: There's no doubt in my mind that Senator Obama is not a Muslim. He's not a left-wing crazy.

KING: Jean Carlson is a Goldwater-Republican-turned-Obama- Democrat. She sees questions about flags and faith as thinly veiled racism.

JEAN CARLSON, OBAMA SUPPORTER: I think it's an undercurrent. I think it's sad, but I think it's still an undercurrent here.

KING: Local Republicans say the race factor is exaggerated and that Obama is just too liberal for these parts.

Whatever the reason, Obama's chance to make history could rest on whether he can change perceptions in small towns, where change isn't always welcome.

John King, CNN, Portsmouth, Ohio.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: Well, next on 360: Is Joe Biden playing politics with stem cell research? McCain's people claim he is by taking aim at Sarah Palin -- the latest on the story and a fact-check of the charges coming up.

And later: Did Palin try to ban library books in her Alaska town? Did she also try to make creationism part of the school curriculum? No and no in both cases, but those are just two of the many rumors swirling about the candidate. We will see what's true and what's not.

Here's tonight's "Beat 360" photo: Senator Hillary Clinton speaking to supporters at an Obama rally in Tampa, Florida.

Our staff winner tonight is Joey. His caption: "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in."

"Godfather III," I believe it was.

Think you can do better? Go to our Web site, AC360.com, click on the "Beat 360" link, send us your entry. We will announce the winner at the end of the program. The winner, of course, gets a 360 T-shirt.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: The explosive issue of stem cell research took center stage on the campaign trail today. It's a subject that continues to divide America and the candidates. Today, the McCain camp accused Senator Biden of sinking to a new low by using the stem cell debate to attack Governor Sarah Palin. But was Biden really getting personal?

For a fact-check, here's CNN's Gary Tuchman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): America's most well known parent of a child with Down syndrome may be the woman who wants to be vice president. That's why it was quite notable when we heard this from the man who wants to be vice president.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I hear all this talk about how the Republicans are going to work in dealing with parents who have both the joy -- because there's joy to it as well -- the joy and the difficulty of raising a child who has a developmental disability, who are born with a birth defect.

Well, guess what, folks? If you care about it, why don't you support stem cell research? Why are not comparing about how you're going to do this stuff?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TUCHMAN: Joe Biden and Barack Obama support embryonic stem cell research. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Should Alaska allows stem cell research?

TUCHMAN: Sarah Palin was asked about the topic when she ran for governor of Alaska in 2006.

PALIN: No. Stem cell research that would ultimately end in destruction of life, I couldn't support.

TUCHMAN: It's not clear if Palin supports stem cell research from non-embryonic sources.

So, were Biden's comments directed at Palin, who has said she will be a friend and advocate in the White House to parents of children with disabilities? A Biden spokesman said no.

Palin's opposition to embryonic stem cell research is similar to President Bush's. But, interestingly, her running mate, John McCain, supports most forms of stem cell research, including embryonic stem cell use under certain conditions. He made this statement during an MSNBC/"Politico" debate.

MCCAIN: This is a tough issue for those of us in the pro-life community. I would remind you that these stem cells are either going to be discarded or perpetually frozen. We need to do what we can to relieve human suffering. It's a tough issue. I support federal funding.

TUCHMAN (on camera): We don't know if John McCain and Sarah Palin have discussed their differences on this issue among themselves. We do know the McCain campaign is infuriated with Biden's words.

(voice-over): A McCain spokesman issued this statement: "Barack Obama's running mate sunk to a new low today, launching an offensive debate over who cares more about special needs children. Playing politics with this issue is disturbing and indicative of a desperate campaign."

But the Democrats say, this is not a clash of personalities, just policies.

BIDEN: You never could accuse us of not leading with our hearts, but, in this case, our hearts are in sync with our heads.

TUCHMAN: On this issue, the two vice presidential candidates have their heads in different places.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Chicago.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Still to come: what's being said about Sarah Palin online and what's being said that just ain't so. We will separate facts from fictions. Then, the incendiary images and charges about her record on wildlife and Alaska's wild heritage. We have got the facts there, too. Her environmental record on 360 -- coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: The latest CNN/Opinion Research poll tells the story of Barack Obama and John McCain neck and neck, a dead heat. And the GOP is banking on Sarah Palin to push McCain, at least for now, to victory in November. She's clearly energized the conservative base and got a lot of attention.

Joining us again for our "Strategy Session," CNN senior political analyst David Gergen; "TIME" magazine's Mark Halperin; and CNN' senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

Mark, it is fascinating that you were talking before, that Sarah Palin has been kept sequestered. I mean, I guess she's undergoing some sort of intensive study course in how to deal with reporters. But Charlie Gibson has the first interview that, I guess, will be sometime on Thursday or spread throughout several days.

Is she then going to be more available? And is she ever going to campaign separately from John McCain?

MARK HALPERIN, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, tomorrow she'll campaign in Alaska. She's doing a welcome-home rally and then that interview with Charlie Gibson. And then we'll see what her schedule is like after that.

I think the important thing, from a strategy point-of-view for the Obama campaign, is they need this cycle to break. The cycle right now is the press is fascinated with Sarah Palin. Everything they say is being seen through that filter of "what's up with Sarah Palin?" Because the other three figures are pretty familiar figures now. She is the new story.

I think from the Obama campaign's point of view, they need to either have her be damaged, perhaps when she does the interview with Charlie Gibson on ABC Thursday and Friday, or they need this National Service Forum that Obama and McCain are doing here in New York on Thursday night that "TIME" magazine is co-sponsoring.

They need some big event. Perhaps it won't happen till the debates, but they need something where the dynamic isn't "What do you all think about Sarah Palin?"

COOPER: Candy, do we know -- I mean, has there been an explanation as to why Sarah Palin has not talked to reporters?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it's because they don't think she's ready. I think that's pretty clear.

COOPER: But they're not saying that, are they?

CROWLEY: Well, no. But I mean, if they thought she was going to be great and was going to go out there and wow everybody in their interviews, I'm assuming they would put her out there. I mean, so by process of elimination, I am assuming that they want her a little more groomed for this, a little more prepared for the national press corps. It's not unheard of, but it certainly fits into, "Wait a minute. Is this woman really ready to be, you know, to walk into the Oval Office, should something happen to John McCain?"

So they're taking a calculated risk, but I also don't think that people are sitting out there going, 'Well, when is Sarah Palin going to talk to the media?" I think once she does, which is coming up fairly shortly, it sort of puts that to rest.

But it does matter what happens after that. Does she just give that one interview and go behind a curtain, or is she out there? And she will be campaigning by herself at some point.

COOPER: It's interesting, David, because if you look at her career, from running for mayor to running for Governor, there's an awful lot of people who have underestimated Sarah Palin every time, and every time they have been proved wrong.

DAVID GERGEN, FOX NEWS ANALYST: That's absolutely right. And every time in this campaign, you know, we talked about it in the beginning, this was an enormous risk, but so far it's been paying off.

And you know, I think the McCain campaign is absolutely delighted. Every day that's about Sarah Palin is a good day for the McCain campaign. And they've been able to keep this up for a long time now, even though they've kept it under wraps.

And even as they're letting her come under -- out from under wraps with her first interview, isn't it interesting that they've scheduled it on September 11, on the anniversary and on the very day that her son is shipping off to Iraq? You know, that was a -- that was a shrewd move. I mean, it does have -- it's going to influence the way Charlie Gibson asks -- probably asks questions and what's shown that first day.

So they're doing this very carefully. But I disagree with Candy. I think people do notice this. I think people are noticing that she's -- every day when she's out on the trail, she's been giving essentially a reprise of the convention speech. She's not answering questions even from the public. And she's been so shielded from the press. It does undercut her stature.

Now, when she comes out, I bet she'll be a lot better than people expect who are against her. She -- she's a pretty feisty woman. That's one of the things that's won her a reputation in Alaska.

But I think -- I think this is -- I don't remember any vice- presidential candidate -- maybe somebody can correct me -- I cannot remember a vice-presidential candidate who has had this long a span between being named to the ticket and sitting down and talking to reporters and to the public.

CROWLEY: Yes, the only thing I would add -- I would say, is, I think it may be hurting her now. I just think once -- if she starts this and there are continuing interviews at decent intervals, that this is no longer a problem. HALPERIN: My cab driver in Columbus, Ohio, said, "If she can't face down Wolf Blitzer, how can she face down Yeltsin?" No, I'm just kidding. That didn't really happen.

COOPER: Wolf Blitzer said that to you.

HALPERIN: I think that -- I think that part of the -- the strategy that the McCain campaign is effectively pursuing is to continue this anti-press...

COOPER: Right. That, I think, they've done brilliantly.

HALPERIN: But they're continuing to do it. Not having her talk to reporters. They know reporters are not very popular.

COOPER: Right.

HALPERIN: The fact that she's not going in "THE SITUATION ROOM" or here doesn't -- I don't think it affects most of the public, and it makes a lot of Republicans happy.

COOPER: By setting it up immediately as a narrative of, well, the press is being unfair to her...

HALPERIN: So why should she...

COOPER: ... so why should she justify it?

HALPERIN: And now that the press and the Obama campaign is so sexist, of course, she's not going to come forward and speak.

I actually think now that they could probably keep her relatively sequestered for most of the remaining days. I really do. Without paying much...

GERGEN: I don't believe that.

HALPERIN: ... without paying much of a price.

COOPER: You don't buy that, David?

GERGEN: I do not. I think that this is going to wear very thin here pretty soon.

Look, it's one thing to give her a grace period, to get her -- you know, get acclimated to the campaign and everything like that. But either you're going to play in the big leagues or you're not.

And you know -- and this is -- if she's going to be in the White House, she's got -- there's got to be a sense of readiness. And if she's hidden away, sequestered, I think they're going to pay a price for that.

HALPERIN: David, get us both interviews. Go get us both...

GERGEN: What's that? HALPERIN: Go get all four of us interviews. Prove me wrong.

GERGEN: Absolutely.

COOPER: David Gergen, Mark Halperin, Candy Crowley, thanks.

A couple quick program notes. Mark just mentioned it: Thursday night, CNN, you can see senators Obama and McCain on-stage together for the first time since their appearance at the Saddleback Church. Coverage of their joint forum starts at 8 Eastern.

Then Saturday night, the two running mates revealed in depth in a pair of CNN documentaries: Sarah Palin at 9 eastern, Joe Biden at 10.

Next on 360, rumor or real, online and on-air, the stories, accusations about Palin are piling up. We'll sort through the fiction and give you the facts.

And later, all eyes on Ike. The killer hurricane may be on a collision course for the Gulf Coast. How bad could it get? The latest on the storm coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE-PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: The families of special-needs children all across this country, I have a message for you. For years you've sought to make America a more welcoming place for your sons and daughters, and I pledge to you that, if we're elected, you will have a friend and advocate in the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Governor Sarah Palin in her convention speech, promising to be an advocate for families with special-needs kids.

Tonight we want to set the record straight on Governor Palin. As you know, so much is being said and written about her, especially on the Internet: from charges that she banned books from libraries to allegations she cut funding to special-needs kids.

Remember, we heard rumors about Barack Obama. They're still out there, and there were a lot of them. And we made sure to separate the facts from the fiction. We're doing the same tonight with Palin.

"Keeping Them Honest," here's Joe Johns.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Straight from the Internet, which brought you the relentless rumor, completely false, that Barack Obama is a Muslim. Now, it's Sarah Palin who's getting misrepresented with bogus quotes and facts.

Here's one quote attributed to Palin that we found posted by readers in the comments section of at least three mainstream political news Web sites: "God made dinosaurs 4,000 years ago as ultimately flawed creatures, lizards of Satan, really. So when they died and became petroleum products, we, made in His perfect image, could use them in our pickup trucks."

Lizards of Satan? It's a pure fabrication. Palin never said it. It was totally made up from a guy named Bob who put it on this blog as a joke. How do we know that?

BOB SALSBURY, BLOGGER: My name is Bob Salsbury, and I'm a blogger.

JOHNS: We talked to Bob via the Internet, and he admits it.

SALSBURY: I did. I made all of them up one morning, wrote it in about 10, 15 minutes, just threw it up there and figured my usual 20 or so regular readers would see it. I had no idea what was going to happen.

JOHNS: But there's plenty more where that came from circulating on the Internet. One of the first false rumors out about Palin was that she cut Alaska's funding for special-needs education by more than 60 percent. The truth is exactly the opposite, says Viveca Novak of FactCheck.org.

VIVECA NOVAK, FACTCHECK.ORG: She's actually tripled funding for special-needs children. It has gone from $24,000 per student, approximately, which would be this year's amount. In three years it's going to increase to $74,000 per student, which is nearly tripling.

JOHNS: And then there's the rumor that, as mayor of little Wasilla, Alaska, Palin demanded that certain books be banned from the library. Didn't happen.

The truth is that she did ask some questions about banning books, even informed the librarian she's being fired, but later relented under pressure. But for the record, no books were banned. So what was she up to?

NOVAK: You could draw an inference. Many people have drawn an inference. All we know is that we have no evidence one way or the other.

JOHNS: And then there's an Internet claim that Palin pushed for teaching creationism in Alaska schools. Also not true.

Palin said students should debate both sides, but she did not make teaching creationism part of the official curriculum.

So if you're seeing a trend here in the kinds of Internet rumors, it sort of looks like they're trying to portray her as, well, a little extreme, which made us ask our polling expert whether this kind of thing helps or hurts the candidate.

KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLSTER: The people that are most susceptible to that message are Democrats and liberals who already have a bad impression of her, simply because she's on the Republican ticket.

JOHNS (on camera): In other words, people most likely to buy this stuff are not likely to vote for Palin anyway. Still, in many ways, it's Sarah Palin's turn in the barrel.

(voice-over) Suggesting she's got something in common with Barack Obama, that newcomers who quickly scale the heights of politics may be subject to a hazing in cyberspace.

Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Coming up, we're going to look at her environmental record. For some, this video is disturbing: wolves being chased down, shot from planes. Just ahead, we'll tell you why Governor Palin thought it was a good idea for the environment.

Plus, Hurricane Ike, a killer storm. Ike's next target could be the U.S. We'll look at where and when it's expected to hit.

All that ahead on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Sarah Palin is governor in Alaska, where energy and the environment are, of course, hot-button issues. Palin supports oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and environmental groups there say -- they've been critical of her, saying when energy exploration butts heads with the environment, the environment usually ends up taking a back seat.

The governor's supporters say she's an avid hunter who loves the outdoors.

Randi Kaye went to Alaska to find out more about Palin's environmental record up close.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What you're looking at may appear disturbing, but it's entirely legal in Alaska. State wildlife officials in small planes, chasing down wolves, then shooting them dead. The video is from the Defenders of Wildlife.

Wolves eat caribou and moose, a staple for Alaskan hunters and vital for tourism. So Governor Sarah Palin gave the go-ahead, making aerial shooting of wolves in Alaska legal.

MEGHAN STAPLETON, PALIN CAMPAIGN SPOKESWOMAN: It's about making sure that Alaska natives can put food on the table.

KAYE: Nationwide, aerial hunting has been banned since 1972. Governor Palin says Alaska's program is about managing predators to promote healthy populations of all wildlife.

Rod Arno is a member of the Alaska Outdoor Council, a statewide organization of hunters.

ROD ARNO, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ALASKA OUTDOOR COUNCIL: We're dealing with one of Alaska's renewable resources, that wild game harvest, and by controlling the number of wolf and bear that are preying on those, you can increase those numbers.

KAYE: The governor wants those resources protected.

(on camera) He says it's to help preserve the caribou and the moose for Alaskans. Do you buy that?

RICK STEINER, UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA: Absolutely not.

KAYE (voice-over): Biologist Rick Steiner, who says he is not a Republican or Democrat, says there is no evidence wolves endanger Alaska's moose or caribou populations.

(on camera) In a word, if you could sum up Sarah Palin's record on the environment here, what would it be?

STEINER: Abysmal.

KAYE (voice-over): What is Sarah Palin's record on the environment? She supports oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and this year opposed an initiative to protect salmon streams from a mining project.

Despite federal conclusions beluga whales are in critical danger, Palin says the belugas are rebounding.

Just last month she brought a lawsuit filed by the state against the U.S. government. In the suit, she challenges the listing of the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and argued that listing hampers oil and gas exploration.

STAPLETON: You look at the polar bear numbers, the primary concern falls within Canada. They're doing fine in Alaska.

KAYE: But this study by the U.S. Geological Survey concludes projected changes in future sea ice conditions could wipe out two- thirds of the world's polar bears by 2050, maybe sooner than that.

STEINER: Science has found climatic warming is going on in Alaska, sea ice is reducing, and polar bears are in serious trouble.

KAYE: After the Exxon Valdez ruling, Palin spoke out. We found this clip of Palin on YouTube. In it, she's expressing disappointment with a court's compensation ruling.

PALIN: I am extremely sorry for this decision by the Supreme Court ratcheting down those punitive damages.

KAYE: Opponents argue Palin is less sympathetic to wildlife because she's a hunter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roscoe Rimmer (ph). KAYE: This fellow hunter and family friend disagrees. Danny Parrish says, like most Alaskans, Palin has a love of the outdoors and all things in it.

DANNY PARRISH, PALIN FAMILY FRIEND: When we're out, the governor wanted to pick berries. That was her prerogative: to get out, relax and pick berries.

KAYE: Parrish took us deep into the woods of Fairbanks. He says he's never seen Governor Palin kill anything, but she's very comfortable about guns and loves to fish.

(on camera)You had shot a moose or anything, do you think that she would have been right there?

PARRISH: Hands on. Hands on. Wouldn't even have hesitated.

KAYE: The beauty of moose country, a serene contrast to the very bitter exchanges over Sarah Palin's record on the environment.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Now, it's interesting, her record concerning global warming is actually at odds, it seems, with John McCain's.

KAYE: It certainly is, Anderson. As you know, Alaska is ground zero for climate change. And Sarah Palin says that she does not believe global warming is caused by humans, unlike John McCain, as you said, who has actually worked to curb carbon emissions because he does believe humans are causing it.

Now, we asked the campaign to speak about this issue today. They did not put somebody on camera for us, but they did issue us a statement, saying that "Sarah Palin has made finding solutions to curb climate change a priority and that she has created a sub-cabinet on climate change to study the problem," Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Randi Kaye, thanks very much from Alaska tonight.

Also, "The Shot" is ahead. We couldn't help but notice that campaign '08 has already had its share of unusual references about animals. We're doing our part tonight by bringing you not one but two bizarre animal stories, including goats that actually faint. It could happen any time. Not really sure exactly why this happens, but we'll explain.

First, Erica Hill joins us with a "360 Bulletin" -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: And Anderson, we begin with an update on Hurricane Ike, now taking aim at the U.S. and Mexico. We have some updated satellite images.

You can see here the storm is actually now a Category 1. It's in the Gulf of Mexico just off of Cuba's western coast. Ike tore a deadly path through the Caribbean, killing at least 80 people and causing massive damage.

Forecasters predict the storm will actually strengthen before hitting Texas or northern Mexico. That's expected to happen late Friday into early Saturday.

Western intelligence experts checking into rumors now that North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-Il, may be seriously ill. The 66-year-old Kim has not been seen in public in weeks and didn't appear today at a parade marking the 60th anniversary of North Korea's founding.

Al Franken has won the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in Minnesota. The former "Saturday Night Live" comedian was a big favorite in the seven-way race. He raised and spent millions of dollars in his political debut.

And Lance Armstrong coming out of retirement to try for his eighth Tour de France victory next summer. The 37-year-old cancer survivor says he is returning to professional cycling to raise awareness of the, quote, "global cancer burden," Anderson.

COOPER: It's amazing, he's going back.

Time now for our "Beat 360" winners, your chance to show up our staff by coming up with a better caption than the one we could come up with on our Web site, AC360.com.

There's the picture, Hillary Clinton speaking to supporters at an Obama rally in Tampa, Florida. Our staff winner, Joey. His caption: "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in."

Our viewer winner is Rob from Arizona. His caption, "Read my lipstick, 2012."

(SOUND EFFECTS: "Oooh!")

COOPER: Pretty good. Your "Beat 360" T-shirt is on the way.

HILL: New "Beat 360" t-shirt.

COOPER: That's right. It's new and improved.

You can check out all the entries we received on our blog and play along tomorrow. Log onto our Web site, AC360.com.

"The Shot" is next. Goats who suddenly faint, just part of their daily routine. And it has nothing to do with politics. I don't know. We're just throwing it out there.

Also, with new polls showing it is anybody's race, we'll take you on the trail for the latest from Obama and McCain when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Erica, time now for "The Shot." It's kind of a weird one. Goats trotting -- do we have the animal -- oh, we don't have the crazy animal video. All right. Goats trotting one minute, fainting the next.

HILL: How sad.

COOPER: A woman in Maine raises this unusual breed. I'm not sure why she particularly raises this breed.

HILL: So she can be "The Shot," hello.

COOPER: I guess. We're told they have a genetic disorder that causes their muscles to tense up when they're startled or scared. Then they fall over. Apparently, they recover after just a few seconds, and they're fine.

HILL: That's just really odd to me, I have to say.

COOPER: Yes. I'm not sure why one would raise these goats.

HILL: Yes. But anyway...

COOPER: There it is.

HILL: I see your fainting goats, and I raise you my dramatic cat and a sleepy dog. This video courtesy of YouTube. There you go, I've had enough. This is Rusty. For reasons we don't quite understand, Rusty suddenly goes to sleep.

COOPER: I think he has narcolepsy.

HILL: I think he might. It happens sometimes around these parts in the newsroom, I've noticed. Look, I'll have a little snack and then perhaps...

COOPER: And whoosh. Oh.

HILL: Poor guy.

COOPER: Oh.

HILL: I love those hot-dog dogs, the dachshunds.

COOPER: You like the dachshunds.

HILL: They crack me up. My dad had them, I think, when he was a kid. But I saw someone walking with one on the street yesterday, and she had a harness on it.

COOPER: Yes.

HILL: And she was pulling him back from the street corner. And literally, as she pulled him -- she wasn't being rough with him, but the dog was so small that the whole dog lifted up in the air in the harness. It was kind of funny.

COOPER: I like just about any dog. All right. You can see all the most recent "Shots" on our Web site, AC360.com. You can also see the blogs. You can check out the "Beat 360" pictures. The address again is AC360.com.

At the top of the hour, new polls, new attacks. Less than two months until election day, our political roundtable breaks it all down.

Plus, on the trail in the battleground states where the election could be won or lost. Also, we'll take you to the corner of Ohio. Clobbered Obama in the primaries. And why he's such a hard sell in this piece of the Midwest. What it will take to change voters' minds. All that ahead on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Tonight, fueling McCain's Straight Talk Express with Palin power. John McCain's new line of attack, Barack Obama's answer, and the war of words over the words "lipstick" and "pig."

Also tonight, the Ohio battleground counties that could make or break the candidates and why Senator Obama is such a tough sell there.

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