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Bill Clinton Campaigns For Obama; Rescuing the Bailout

Aired October 1, 2008 - 18:00   ET

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


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: The $700 billion bailout on the line in the Senate. The White House contenders are in place for a vote that they cannot afford to miss. We are counting down to the vote and the consequences for all of us.
Plus, Bill Clinton's debut campaigning for Barack Obama. Will Clinton's appeal in Florida help Obama or possibly hurt him? The best political team is standing by to weigh in.

And shifting battlegrounds. One candidate is gaining and our electoral map is changing. We will tell you who and where and why.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John Roberts. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So, this is not the end, and this is the beginning. As soon as we pass this rescue plan, we need to move aggressively with the same sense of urgency and rescue families on Main Street.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Barack Obama on the Senate floor just a short while ago, urging his colleagues to approve the $700 billion bailout plan. He says it may very well prevent an economic crisis from becoming in his words a catastrophe.

Members are moving closer to a vote on the bailout package and includes new additions designed to win over House members who rejected it on Monday.

CNN's Jessica Yellin is on Capitol Hill. Jessica, what are you hearing about how this vote is going to play out?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, over on the Senate side, there is a real sense of assurance that their bill will pass tonight quite easily, but it is a very different story at the House of Representatives, where leaders are intently making phone calls, trying to drum up new support.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): In the Senate, a sense of confidence.

Democratic Leader Harry Reid:

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: I believe every part of this bill enjoys bipartisan support.

YELLIN: And Republican Leader Mitch McConnell:

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: We believe that we have crafted a way to go forward and to get us back on track.

YELLIN: Both believe that the bill will comfortably pass the Senate, but they are loathe to make the same prediction about the House of Representatives.

REID: I would not have moved forward on this if I didn't think that the chance in the House was good. Now, I don't run the House. I have nothing to do with the House other than answer questions from the leadership.

MCCONNELL: I am not going to handicap what may happen in the House. I do hear reports and you all have reported that there is growing optimism that the House will be able to get the job done, but I don't think I should be predicting what the House will do.

YELLIN: That's because some measures that make the bill more appealing to certain House members are objectionable to others. And there are unusual signs of tension between Democratic leaders in the two bodies.

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Frankly, an awful lot of people are going to look at this bill, not be pleased with what the Senate has done in adding those provisions that make the debt worse.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: Now, John, we are told that House leaders on the Democratic side are intent that Republicans have to bring along more votes before Democrats go out to shop for more votes. They really are frustrated on the Democratic side that they are being focused on. They really think it is time the Republicans get the pressure.

And we're also told that if they don't have a certain vote count by Friday morning, they will push this bill back.

ROBERTS: All right, Jessica Yellin for us on Capitol Hill today -- Jessica, thanks very much.

Barack Obama is back at his day job, along with Joe Biden and John McCain. They are preparing to cast what could be their most important vote prior to the election.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is covering the Obama campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, Barack Obama has a lot of work to do. Among others, the congressional Black Caucus voted against the bailout bill. Twenty-one said one. Eighteen said yes. I spoke with several members of the caucus today who still are not convinced that they have got something that they can sign on to, but they are working on it. Obama is using his political capital. He's making calls to them and other key Democrats to try to push through this legislation.

(voice-over): While John McCain is trying to drum up Republican support for the bailout plan, Barack Obama is working hard not to the lose it from Democrats.

OBAMA: I have been reaching out to leaders in both parties to do whatever I can to help pass this plan. That's why I will be flying back to Washington today to cast my vote to safeguard the American economy.

MALVEAUX: Cast as a vote to save the economy, but not necessarily the solution for some of Obama's fellow Democrats. For some fiscally conservative lawmakers, there is concern how tax credits offered to small businesses will be paid for. And for half of the congressional Black Caucus, the bailout bill got a big thumbs down.

Even Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. , who is campaigning for Obama, could not bring himself to vote for the legislation.

REP. JESSE JACKSON JR. (D), ILLINOIS: Before we write a $700 billion check to Wall Street, we need to make sure that we are bailing out the country first and not country clubs first.

MALVEAUX: But Jackson and Obama have spoken since, and Jackson says he, along with other members of the congressional Black Caucus, are working with the candidate to add some additional protections for homeowners which would allow them to vote yes.

JACKSON: I can bring 12 votes to the table, 12 votes who voted against this bill who are willing to vote for it, if there are stronger protections for basic homeowners in the final version of the bill.

MALVEAUX: Obama's strategy is to put a face on the crisis, to press the need for big government action.

OBAMA: What it means is, if we don't act, it will be harder for Americans to get a mortgage for their home or loans they need to buy a car or send their children to college.

MALVEAUX (on camera): Well, in trying to make this $700 billion plan more palatable to voters, Obama, along with the Bush administration, is no longer calling it a bailout bill for Wall Street, but a rescue plan for taxpayers -- John.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: Suzanne Malveaux for us from Washington.

Now to John McCain and his role in rescuing the bailout. It comes at a time when the Republican's campaign could use some bolstering.

Our Dana Bash is here.

And McCain injected himself right into the middle of the debate last week, but we have got some news on how much his participation he will have actually in talking about this whole thing this evening.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

And the word that I have just got from a senior McCain aide is that he is not planning on talking about it on the Senate floor. You just ran some sound of Barack Obama going to the Senate floor talking about this particular bill.

And I am told from a senior aide that he's not going to -- quote -- "walk into a trap from Democrats." What they are saying in the McCain campaign is that they think that, if he goes on to the Senate floor, the Democrats will what they call bracket him, meaning having a coordinated attack against him.

So, they say that he is in Washington. Right now, he's at campaign headquarters. He will go to the Senate to cast his vote, but don't expect him to speak. Instead, what they are hoping is that he sticks to the message of the day, and today that message is bipartisanship.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Before returning to Washington to vote for an unprecedented rescue, John McCain tried to avoid political backlash from voters opposed to bailing out Wall Street by better connecting the dots to Main Street.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Businesses will have difficulty securing credit for operations and may be unable to pay employees. If we fail to act, the gears of our economy will grind to a halt.

BASH: McCain has lost political ground amid the financial earthquake, and this was about regaining his footing. Back to basics, making the challenging case that he may be a creature of Washington, but still able to give voters the change they want, distancing himself again from President Bush.

MCCAIN: Our government is on the wrong track. Our economy is struggling. It is now a time for leadership.

BASH: And railing against the very Congress in which he serves.

MCCAIN: Congress can't even find agreement on the yearly bill to pay for the Congress itself.

BASH: For some worried Republicans, a welcome tactic.

SCOTT REED, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: He needs to be talking about his skills, his skill set, which is leadership and how he would lead the country.

BASH: To that end, McCain renewed his promise to reach across the aisle, not even mentioning Barack Obama here, saying now is the time to fix the problem, not affix blame.

MCCAIN: Especially in the case of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the abuses and political deal-making that corrupted those institutions.

BASH: Yet McCain's campaign is not practicing what he's preaching. His TV ad does assign blame to Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: "The Post" says McCain pushed for stronger regulation while Mr. Obama was notably silent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: And McCain has a new ad out today on the theme of the day, and that is bipartisanship.

He talks right to the camera about working together to get things done. Now, politically, McCain has an urgent need to return once again to this theme of leadership. It had been one of his few clear strong suits, but his actions during the recent economic turmoil seems to have chipped away at that.

And listen to the statistic from a new, brand-new Pew Research Poll. It says that Obama now has a 13 percentage lead as the candidate best able from voters' perspective to handle this economic crisis. And there's an unprecedented number of Americans who are paying attention to the economy right now as an issue.

ROBERTS: But there's just a little more than four weeks left in this campaign. A lot can happen between now and November.

BASH: We have learned not to predict.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERTS: Dana Bash, thanks so much for that.

BASH: Thank you.

ROBERTS: It is a first for Bill Clinton, out campaigning for Barack Obama. He lists specific reasons, he says, you should vote for the senator.

Also, who has the momentum? One of these two men is winning even more states in our CNN electoral map based on new poll numbers. We will have those for you.

And questioning the questioner. The moderator for tomorrow's vice presidential debate, Gwen Ifill, sees her long established journalistic integrity questioned. You decide whether if it is fair or not.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Right now, a new slew of battleground state polls and some critical changes in CNN's electoral map to tell you about this afternoon. They all suggest that the momentum is shifting Barack Obama's way.

First, Florida, Obama leads John McCain by four points among likely voters in a CNN/"TIME/Opinion Research Corporation poll. Florida and its 27 electoral votes remains tossup yellow still at this point, but the race turning around there in the Sunshine State.

Obama is also up by four points in Nevada. The state and its five electoral votes still a tossup. In Virginia -- and this is pretty surprising -- Obama has a nine-point edge over John McCain, that state and its 13 electoral votes still a tossup. And in Minnesota, a big change here. Obama leads 11 points in our new poll. That is helping push Minnesota and its 10 electoral votes from tossup yellow to light blue leaning Obama.

Now, this is a switch back. It had been leaning Obama, went to yellow, tossup, now back leaning Obama again. The state of Missouri is changing as well. Obama now has a one-point edge there. Missouri and its 11 electoral votes go from light red, leaning McCain, to tossup yellow.

With those changes, CNN estimates that Obama would have 250 electoral votes if the election were to be held today. McCain would have 189, and, of course, 270 needed to win the White House.

Well, let's get a breakdown of all of this, what is happening, why it is happening, and what it could mean.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, is at the magic wall. John, some pretty extraordinary changes we are seeing today. If you are John McCain, what are you thinking about in terms of strategy going forward?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: If you are John McCain, you are very worried at this point. It is just a snapshot, but time is running out on this election.

And, to start, you don't have to be very good at math to get what you just said -- 270 gets you to the finish line. As of today, Barack Obama is at 250. So, John McCain is in trouble. He's at 189. These yellow states, the gold states on your map, those are our tossup states. Those are states we are not assigning to any other candidate.

But if you look at these states right now, and you're John McCain, you must, you must learn to put Ohio and its 20 electoral votes, you have to keep that Republican. You can't afford to lose Florida, because again, with Obama at 250, if he could pick up Ohio or say you make this state blue, Barack Obama is the next president of the United States. John McCain has to defend Florida.

Then he has to put Missouri -- you just noticed we swung it back to a tossup state -- he has to keep that. That would get him back in the game. But, again, he is playing defense. All three of those states, Ohio, Florida, Missouri, all carried by Bush in both of his big wins.

So, John McCain has fewer choices. He has to win more states. It's a much more comfortable map, a much more favorable map for Barack Obama right now.

ROBERTS: It's really interesting to see what is going on in Florida, just a couple or three weeks ago, Democrats thought they had lost that state.

KING: Back and forth. And, again, there's a generational track down here.

I'm going to switch maps as we look at Florida, because I want to come out to this map. And this is by county. This is the country by county. And this is the 2004 presidential election. Let's pull out the state of Florida and let's come up here. And, look, if you look at these three blue counties right down here, this is Miami-Dade at the bottom, then Broward and Palm Beach County right here.

This is where the Democrats need to win and win big to offset -- you see all the Republican parts, the red parts of the other part of the state. Well, what has happened in recent polls?

Number one, John McCain is losing among older voters, especially baby boomers in the 50-64 age group. They are big up in here, where independents are in the state of Florida. And, of course, voters over 60, down here more in the retirement communities down here in Florida.

If those trends continue, John, Barack Obama is doing better -- in the wake of this economic crisis, Barack Obama is doing better with baby boomers and better with retirees. If those trends continue, it is very hard to draw a Republican electoral victory.

So, if you are John McCain right now, and you are trying to turn around one constituency group, I would start with the baby boomers, voters between the ages of 50 and 64. He has slipped a lot in the last 10 days or so. That must be priority number one for John McCain.

ROBERTS: Terrific analysis. John King for us at the magic board -- John, thanks so much.

We want you to listen to this next story and decide if it fair or not. The moderator for tomorrow's vice presidential debate, Gwen Ifill, is in the spotlight. Her journalistic integrity and fairness have been long established. But something that she is doing is raising questions among some conservatives.

CNN's Stephanie Elam has got more. She is here with us.

There is question of timing on this story coming out as well. I mean, this debate is a day away.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's just a day away. And that is why a lot of people are worrying about that.

But as preparations continue in Saint Louis for the only vice presidential debate we're going to see this season, the event's moderator has become the focus of some debate herself.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELAM (voice-over): Gwen Ifill, longtime political journalist and host of "Washington Week" on PBS, is writing a book called "The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama." It scheduled for release on January 20, Inauguration Day.

The conservative blogosphere is crying foul. Today, Ifill says she has not even written the chapter on Obama. Nevertheless, some media watchers say Ifill could be walking a fine line, based on perception.

TOM ROSENSTIEL, PEW CENTER: She is one of a now narrowed list of people who are perceived to be even-handed that both companies are willing to let them moderate these debates.

ELAM: While Ifill has interviewed Obama, and his name is in the title, the publisher's book description on Amazon.com suggests it will focus more on the evolution of politics since the '60s, rather than Obama in particular.

The book is no secret. It is mentioned on the PBS Web site, and Ifill has done interviews about the book, which she decided to write when Hillary Clinton was considered the Democrat to beat. Ifill told Howard Kurtz that she was not sure Obama would make a good president.

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think it is a smear to assume that a black journalist can't be objective about politics when a black politician happens to be involved, whereas you would never raise that question about a white journalist covering white politician.

ELAM: Ifill reportedly got the book deal last spring, before the primaries even began, before the Commission on Presidential Debates chose all of the moderators last November.

As of now, the commission has no plans to pull Ifill from the debate.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain had this to say.

MCCAIN: Well, it is not helpful, but I'm sure that Gwen Ifill is a professional journalist, and that she will do an objective job of moderating.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ELAM: All right. Now, since the book has been in development for months now, some on the left point to the timing of all this ire, just one day before the debate.

Despite all the chatter however, no changes are planned, so Ifill's biggest handicap might just be her ankle, which she broke on Monday night, which happened to be her birthday. But obviously there are several conservative who are blogging about this, John, and who are upset about this.

Richard Viguerie, who is a voice on the conservative side, said that any fact that the GOP would sign off on this shows that they should be called -- quote -- "the stupid party," because they should never have been OK with them.

ROBERTS: So, people will be watching this very closely. So, there's going to be a lot of pressure for the candidates and for the moderator.

ELAM: And for Gwen. And for her part, she has done an interview today where she said that she feels like, take a look at her record. See how she does and then take a look and decide what you think about it.

ROBERTS: Stephanie, thanks so much for that.

ELAM: Sure.

ROBERTS: Bill Clinton leads the charge, as the Democrats step up their effort to win back Florida, the former president making a strong pitch for Barack Obama.

Declared dead after disappearing during a solo flight, now mysterious items are found in the desert. Are they new clues to the fate of Steve Fossett?

And the candidates return to Capitol Hill for a crucial vote on the financial bailout. We are counting down with the best political team on television.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

ROBERTS: It has been a long time in coming for some Democrats, but now Bill Clinton has made his debut campaigning for Barack Obama. The best political team on television on the strength of Clinton's appeal.

And the shift toward Obama in some crucial battlegrounds, John King told us about that just a few minutes ago. What can John McCain do to regain lost ground?

And debate surprises, the twists and turns and odd questions before the Biden/Palin face-off.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: You are in THE SITUATION ROOM. And happening now: the Senate moving closer to a vote on that massive Wall Street vote plan. Barack Obama is there, John McCain on his way. And financial markets around the world are watching, a vote expected within a couple of hours.

Also, Bill Clinton hits the campaign trail again, but this time, for the first time, he is singing the praises of Barack Obama in a key battleground state -- all of this, plus the best political team on television.

Plus, an inside look at preparations for tomorrow night's highly anticipated vice presidential debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden.

I am John Roberts in New York. Wolf Blitzer is off today. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

One of the Democrats' biggest guns is campaigning for Senator Barack Obama for the very first time in one of the most critical battleground states, Florida, former President Bill Clinton drawing huge crowds in two appearances in that state, first in Orlando, and then in Fort Pierce.

His own words now, raw and unfiltered.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Here are the reasons that I believe Barack Obama is the man for the job. Number one,, he's got the right philosophy. He knows America is built from the ground up, not from the top down.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: Number two., he's got the right ideas. His policies on the economy, on making us energy independent, on providing affordable health care to all Americans, on concentrating the tax relief on the middle class and the working Americans who need it instead of on the wealthiest Americans who have gotten us in the ditch in the first place -- not because he wants a class war, but because America is built from the bottom up, not from the top down.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: He also has a better understanding of these very complicated economic problems and better advisers.

And I will just tell you something. This is -- you know how serious this is. Nobody else would ever talk about something like this in a campaign speech, but here is one reason you ought to be for Obama.

So this thing happens, right, and nothing like -- this money thing -- has happened in a long time in America. So what did he do?

The first thing he did was to talk to his own advisers -- a lot of really bright young people. Many of them worked for me. Then he called all the senior people who worked for me. Then he called a bunch of other people.

And you know what he said to them? First, make sure I understand this. This is complicated. I want to know.

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: You have to have a president who wants to know, right?

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: When I had my heart surgery, I wanted a doctor who wanted to know.

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: Why should we think that the president shouldn't know about these things? The second thing he said was tell me what the right thing to do is and do not bother me with the politics. Let's decide what's right for America and I'll figure out how to sell it. That's the mark of a real leader in a time of crisis.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Bill Clinton out campaigning in Florida for Senator Obama for the very first time.

But is he more of an asset or a liability to the Democratic nominee?

Joining us to talk about that and a whole lot more, including the new battleground state polls, CNN senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; Stephen Hayes, a senior writer for "The Weekly Standard;" and CNN political contributor Dana Milbank of "The Washington Post" -- all part of the best political team on television.

So let me throw it out there. Former President Bill Clinton -- obviously, still a huge figure in the Democratic Party. He can draw enormous crowds in an incredibly politically important state. But does he draw too much attention away from Senator Obama?

Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No. I think he's really important to Obama right now. He reminds people of the prosperity of the '90s. I loved, of course, the Bill Clinton in this little clip you showed, said that he's great economic advisers, Barack Obama, does, they all used to work for me.

(LAUGHTER)

BORGER: Which he pointed -- which is, by the way, in fact, true. But I think that Bill Clinton represents a booming economy to lots of voters in swing states. And so I think the more swing states you can put him in, the better off Obama will be.

ROBERTS: Steve Hayes, if you're John McCain, do you want or do you not want Bill Clinton out there on the campaign trail?

STEPHEN HAYES, SENIOR WRITER AT "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Well, I think three months ago you probably wanted Bill Clinton out there on the campaign trail, because Barack Obama was positioning himself and had run throughout the primaries as this new kind of politician, post- partisan, I'm new, I'm different from everything that's come before me.

He's no longer running that kind of campaign, Barack Obama isn't. So Bill Clinton there, I think as Gloria points out, is helpful, on -- especially in a time of economic crisis, he brings back sort of warm feelings about the good economics of the 1990s.

ROBERTS: Dana Milbank, you and I both covered the Clinton White House. And that was so, so long ago -- a bunch of gray hairs ago.

What does this do to Barack Obama's message of change?

DANA MILBANK, "WASHINGTON POST" STAFF WRITER AND AUTHOR: I think there's only up side here for him. You know, all along, it looked like whenever Clinton would go out there to talk about Obama, it seemed that Clinton sort of bit a lemon before he went on stage.

(LAUGHTER)

MILBANK: And he was really ambivalent about it, had higher praise for McCain. I think he's finally getting on message here. It's still a little cerebral. He's not quite passionate in Obama's defense. But nothing like Bill Clinton to rally the Democratic faithful right now. And I don't think that anybody is looking back. They want him out there.

ROBERTS: You know, I've got to say, Dana, too, looking at you, it's a few more gray hairs for me than it is for you.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERTS: Let's look at these battleground...

MILBANK: I've lost them altogether.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERTS: Let's look at the battleground polls that we came out with. CNN/"Time" Research Corporation, the state of Florida. Barack Obama ahead 51 to 47 percent, a margin of four. That was a state that Democrats not too long ago thought that they had lost. McCain was ahead seven.

Virginia -- this one is very interesting. Barack Obama out in front by 9 points, 53 to 44. It should be noted that's where John McCain has got his campaign headquarters.

And in the "Show-Me" state of Missouri, which has picked every president going back I think to, what is it, 500 B.C., Barack Obama 49 percent, 1 point ahead of John McCain, 48 percent. It's actually since 1956. But, Steven, what do you make of those numbers?

HAYES: Well, they're not good for John McCain, I think. The most notable -- I mean, obviously the Virginia number is huge.

If that ends up being true, and if that's true three days before the election, I think John McCain is going to lose.

The most interesting number, to me, though, in a way, though, is Florida. And it's consistent with what we've seen on some other polls, that Barack Obama has not only come back from what was a pretty significant deficit, but rallied to sort of take a temporary or a snapshot lead.

You know, a couple of months ago, I was talking to a McCain adviser who said that they thought it was plausible that Barack Obama would really end up not competing in Florida. And here you have it with five weeks to the election where he's actually in the lead. It's quite a turnaround.

BORGER: And he...

ROBERTS: And, Gloria, does it look like this could be a -- you know, we've asked this question a couple of times this afternoon. You know, this is a race that was so close. And very often they'll go close all the way down to the wire or sometimes they will break one way or the other.

Is this a tipping point?

BORGER: I don't know. I think we have some more debates we've got to get through. I think that what this is, John, is a clear reaction to the economic news. And that's an issue that really benefits the Democrats. You know, for the first time since 1992, more than 50 percent of the American public is worried about the economy. It's the top issue.

When Bill Clinton was elected in '92, it was only 43 percent. And I think that's what you're seeing in these polls in the battleground states is the nervousness and anxiety and the fact that maybe Obama tying McCain to George W. Bush may be working.

ROBERTS: And, Dana, a lot of Republicans are saying that John McCain needs to get back to what he was doing so effectively during the Republican National Convention and in the week-and-a-half or so afterwards, before the economy came crashing down. And that is to get out there, to be relentless in his comparing and contrasting of himself with Senator Barack Obama, particularly in terms of character and ideology.

MILBANK: Yes. I mean there's no doubt that John McCain had a September looking a lot like the September the New York Mets had. But I think it may be a mistake to jump on him and say here's what he's doing wrong.

There's been an extraordinary change in the debate of the nation right now and it's weighing very heavily against him. Obviously, if this economic debate is still the one we're having in early November, he's finished.

On the other hand, there is, you know, that was our September surprise. There's such a thing as an October surprise.

If McCain is -- he's still within striking distance should the debate change back to something like terrorism or national security.

BORGER: And the one thing Obama seems to be gaining back is women. He was losing women. That was really benefiting John McCain, particularly after the choice of Sarah Palin and the polls we're looking at now, John, show that Obama is now making headway with women again, having a huge double digit lead with them.

(CROSSTALK)

HAYES: John, if I could, just real quickly...

ROBERTS: OK.

HAYES: I think your question actually hits on the key point, which is will this revert back to a -- basically a debate about who is Barack Obama?

I think that's a debate that the McCain campaign welcomes. And I think their sense is that if they can get through this week and the debate tomorrow night, get past this bailout bill, which is likely to pass maybe on Friday, they think we can have that debate for the final five weeks.

ROBERTS: All right, folks, stay right where you are, because I do want to come back right after the break here and talk more about that bailout bill and what it might mean for both the presidential candidates.

We are watching the Senate floor, where lawmakers will soon be voting on that massive $700 billion bailout package. We will check in live for the latest.

Plus, billionaire investor Warren Buffett buying billions of dollars worth of stock in one of the world's best known companies and why he's doing it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Now let's go back to Capitol Hill for an update on the Senate's push toward a vote on the $700 billion bailout plan.

Our Congressional correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is there. Where does it stand right now -- Jessica? YELLIN: Well, John, the voting is going to happen in the next two to three hours. And right now senators have been making statements on the floor. Very, very few of those statements against this bill. It's expected to pass comfortably.

But to give you a sense of the drama and the mood on the floor of the house, we saw Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown walk onto the floor. Now, he's told us he's against this bill or he was at least undecided. He's a liberal, if he wanted to vote for it.

We saw him, though, walk up to one of the men in the Senate who counts the votes, Dick Durbin, Obama's political mentor. He sort of started talking to Durbin. The two of them conferred. Durbin smiled, checked something off on a sheet. And then Obama and Chris Dodd, who's sponsored this bill, came up and put their arms around him.

That's the kind of sort of collegial vibe, but also a sense of a little bit of arm twisting you see going on on the floor of the Senate at this moment.

But, also, that times 10 is happening on the House of Representatives right now, where the uncertainty about whether this bill will pass is much, much higher. Phone calls made by the leadership, by Barack Obama, by others.

We just don't know where this stands in the House of Representatives right now -- John.

ROBERTS: I mean the process in the House is a little more raw than it is in the Senate there, at least with this bill.

Jessica, thanks so much.

The Senate is moving closer to tonight's critical vote on that massive Wall Street bailout.

We're back with the best political team on television, CNN senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; Stephen Hayes; senior writer for "The Weekly Standard"; and CNN political contributor Dana Milbank of "The Washington Post".

Gloria, why don't you give us your take, first of all, on what Jessica was just telling us about the collegiality of the process in the Senate compared to what some people thought was a dog fight in the House on Monday.

BORGER: Yes, it was a dog fight. I think that -- you know, the Senate is supposed to be the more deliberative body. They saw what happened in the House. They saw the market go down over 700 points. And they decided to sort of get together. I think they -- they're expecting to get more than 60 votes for this, which is the key number here. So you get 30 from each side, at least. And I think that this is what the Senate generally does.

Now, as for the House, they've added $100 billion in tax incentives to this bill. So you may get some more Republicans, lose some Democrats, lose some Democrats, get some Republicans. You know, they're still counting noses over there. The House is like herding cats, John.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERTS: Stephen Hayes, we saw Barack Obama a couple of hours ago on the floor of the Senate speaking out in support of this bill. John McCain is not going to make a similar speech.

Was that a wise decision, to not go down there and do it?

HAYES: Yes. I'm not sure it matters that much either way. I think John McCain -- if you're John McCain at this point, you just want this all to end. This has been a bad, you know, two week period for him.

BORGER: Right.

HAYES: You're ready to sort of move on. I think he will join, you know, fellow Republican senators in voting for bailout.

You know, the Senate is such a boring body to cover. The House is where all the fun is, really...

(LAUGHTER)

HAYES: ...where they're at each other's throats.

ROBERTS: It's kind of like WWE.

BORGER: Yes, really.

ROBERTS: All right. So, Dana Milbank, give us your unique take on the politics and the cost/benefit analysis of all of this.

MILBANK: Sure. I mean I was over in the chamber for much of the day. It was a -- it was, actually, one of those rare heartwarming tales that the Congress of the United States, once it has exhausted all other possibilities, can actually act in national interests. So there was this sense of everybody gathering around -- all parties, all ideological stripes. And I would be -- I wouldn't be surprised if the vote goes substantially north of those 60 votes.

I think they have, in a way, buried the politics of this, at least for now, in the Senate, because, as Steve said, it very decisively went against McCain. And all signs are that the House members are -- who are opposing it are dropping very quickly and they are going to get behind this on Friday, as well.

ROBERTS: Well, we'll see if they can drop the politics in the House. We had Steny Hoyer on earlier, who said if he can get bipartisan support, he's prepared to bring the Senate bill to the floor on Friday.

Gloria, link this altogether with what we saw in the battleground polls and John McCain losing support among the older voters, those 50 plus.

Is that an indication that this idea of the economic sting is really beginning to bite deeply among his support?

BORGER: It is. Because I think at the beginning of this process, people didn't understand exactly how important it was to their own 401(k) plans, to their own retirements, to their pensions. And once that sort of trickled down and people began to understand that, particularly after the stock market tanked the other day, after the House vote, I think that you saw public opinion shift. I think you saw Congress shift.

And I think John McCain now has a big job, because what he's got to do, as Steve says, is differentiate himself from George W. Bush, get his campaign back on track. And that's -- you know, that's going to be difficult for him.

ROBERTS: Right.

BORGER: But if all of this goes as planned, he sure is going to try and do it.

ROBERTS: All right. Folks, we've got to leave it there.

Thanks very much, Gloria Borger, Stephen Hayes and Dana Milbank -- the members of the best political team on television.

Lou Dobbs is getting ready for his show right at the top of the hour. What's up tonight -- Lou?

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Coming up tonight, rising tension on Capitol Hill, as senators are preparing to vote on the great Wall Street bailout. The vote could begin within the next hour. And the Bush administration and party leaders using fearmongering again to try to ram this bailout of Wall Street through the Congress and down the throats of the American people.

The White House and Congressional leaders adding so-called sweeteners to this bill. That reads pork. Will the senators will be passing the legislation or will senators support the will of the American people? It may not be much of a contest. The ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, Senator Richard Shelby, is among my guests tonight.

And we'll you whether this economy really is on the verge of a depression, a recession, as the fearmongers in the Bush administration and the Democratic Congressional leadership -- well, they completely talked this market down and this economy.

Three of the most distinguished economic thinkers in the country join me.

Please be with us at the top of the hour here on CNN for all of that, all the day's news and more, from an Independent perspective -- John, back to you.

ROBERTS: Lou, thanks very much. We'll see you soon -- just 13 minutes from now.

It doesn't usually tackle politics, but now one popular magazine is jumping in, picking sides in the presidential race, while Barack Obama makes a direct appeal to its readers.

Also, imposters and impersonators take the stage at the vice presidential debate. We you behind-the-scenes of the last minute preparations.

Plus, an important clue in that deadly commuter train crash -- news details of what the engineer was doing just seconds before the collision.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Fredricka Whitfield is monitoring stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

She joins us from Washington -- hi, Fred.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello again.

Well, there's new evidence that text messaging may have contributed to last month's deadly train collision in Chatsworth, California. Twenty-five people were killed in the crash between a Metrolink commuter train and a Union Pacific freight train. The National Transportation Safety Board released information today about the Metrolink train -- engineer's cell phone records. They show that he sent a text message about 22 seconds before the crash. He was among those killed. Metrolink does not allow train operators to use such devices while on duty.

And General Electric is getting a financial shot in the arm from billionaire Warren Buffett. His company, Berkshire Hathaway, is buying up to $6 billion in G.E. stock. G.E. says the deal will boost its capital position and allow it to take advantage of future investment opportunities. Today, General Electric also announced plans to sell at least $12 billion wroth of common stock to the public.

And California is now the first state to enact a law requiring restaurant chains to list calories. Starting next July, chains with at least 20 restaurants in the state can either list calorie counts on menus or menu boards or they can provide brochures disclosing calories and other nutritional information. And starting in 2011, calorie counts will have to be listed on menus and indoor menu boards. Drive- through customers will also be offered brochures.

So there's no question about what you're getting when you ask for it now.

ROBERTS: Yes. And isn't that great to know? Thanks so much, Fred.

We have seen the impersonators and the online spoofs. Now meet the stand-ins grabbing the stage and the spotlight ahead of the vice presidential debate. Jeanne Moos finds it Moost Unusual. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: On our "Political Ticker" this evening, Barack Obama gets the first ever presidential endorsement from the urban music magazine "Vibe." He'll also be on the cover of the November issue, in which he will publish a letter to readers urging them to vote in what he calls a "defining moment in history."

Elizabeth Edwards says her health has not gotten worse in the last 18 months. The wife of former presidential candidate John Edwards found out last March that her breast cancer had returned in an incurable form. Today, she told a health care roundtable medical scans this week showed no signs that her condition has advanced. And that's very good news.

And remember, for the latest news anytime, check out CNNPolitics.com.

Setting the stage for tomorrow night's big debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden, the imposters, the impersonators, and, of course, the YouTube jokesters -- with nearly all the attention focused squarely on Palin.

Here with a "Moost Unusual" debate pre-show is CNN's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Do not expect to hear this question at the vice presidential debate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Soda or pop and why?

MOOS: They're just stand-ins for the candidates so technicians can check camera angles and lighting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Without a doubt, it's soda.

MADELINE THOMAN, SARAH PALIN STAND-IN: I would disagree.

MOOS: Sarah Palin's stand-in at least looks the part.

The debate has become a television event, a pop culture phenomenon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm just a hockey mom.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: With the candidates as cartoons, as potato heads.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We must come together, not as red potatoes or Yukon Gold. (END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: And the ever present impersonators.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel bad. He's an old man. He doesn't know I'm going to debate him into the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know if he's familiar with your debate history.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Most people aren't.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Laugh if you will, but that is my answer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Palin was an effective debater when she ran for governor of Alaska. Sure, she's had her problems with the national media, to the point of being mocked alongside Miss Teen South Carolina.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you agree with the Bush Doctrine?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I personally believe...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: You'll find version after version juxtaposing the two on YouTube.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Russia...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I believe that our education, like such as in South Africa...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: But those expecting Palin to fall apart haven't seen her smooth debate performances from 2006.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN: I'm glad I'm sitting in between them to make sure it doesn't get out of hand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: For now, now it's just the stand-ins...

DANIELLE PORTER, GWEN IFILL STAND-IN: I'm Gwen Ifill and I am proud to introduce Governor Sarah Palin and Senator Joe Biden.

MOOS: Washington University students waving to an empty auditorium.

(on camera): Now the actual debate moderator, Gwen Ifill, fell down some steps Monday while carrying research materials for the debate and broke her ankle.

(voice-over): Her stand-in reports debate organizers have a pillow for her ankle under the desk.

PORTER: And there's also a little stool that she can put the pillow on top of. And it's really cute.

MOOS: Forget Iran or Pakistan.

PORTER: Sugary cereal or should we just all eat granola?

THOMAN: I am a huge proponent of sugary cereal. I -- one of my favorite cereals is Lucky Charms, like really just the marshmellowy goodness.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Me and Tony the Tiger go way back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I will raise you up.

Should I sing in the middle of the debate?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Nah, stick to what she did in the talent competition for Miss Alaska.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: All right. Here's a look at today's "Hot Shots" from the campaign trail.

In Independence, Missouri, Senator John McCain stops at the burial site of former President Harry Truman.

In Florida, former President Bill Clinton gets enthusiastic while talking to supporters at an Obama campaign event.

And in Wisconsin, Senator Barack Obama greets a baby and shakes hands at a campaign rally.

And that's this hour's "Hot Shots" -- pictures that you'll be seeing in your newspapers tomorrow morning.

And we want you to check out our political pod cast. To get the best political team to go, subscribe at CNN/situationroom.

I'm John Roberts in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tomorrow on "AMERICAN MORNING," Fred Thompson, Ralph Nader and FDIC Chair Sheila Bair join Kiran Chetry and me beginning at 6:00 a.m. Eastern.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou?

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