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CNN ELECTION CENTER

Vice Presidential Candidates Prepare to Face Off

Aired October 2, 2008 - 20:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Joe Biden, though, is fully capable of making some gaffes in a debate as well. We will see how he does. We will see how she does.
We have our reporters who are standing by in Saint Louis, at Washington University in Saint Louis. You can see Dana Bush is there. Candy Crowley is there. Suzanne Malveaux is there.

Candy, let me start with you. Set the stage for us, literally, the stage behind you. And tell us what's about to happen.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is at Washington University, Wash U., as they call it here in Saint Louis.

And what we are going to see is probably the most anticipated vice presidential debate that I have covered ever in many years of covering politics. Part of it is that Sarah Palin is new on the scene. Part of it is, of course, that she's a woman, the first woman ever put on a Republican ticket.

And part of it, of course, and probably most of it, is that she's had a dreadful couple of weeks with some interviews where she seemed really lost at some of the questions, some of them quite simple, a lot, a lot of pressure on Sarah Palin.

As for Joe Biden, it's a sort of, first of all, do-no-harm night for him. No one has questioned that he's qualified to be vice president. He needs to -- both of them need to talk about the top of their tickets. After all, this isn't a race to be vice president, so much as it is to be number two to the top people on the ticket.

On the Joe Biden side, you will see an effort to say, look, Sarah Palin and John McCain are George Bush. And, on the Sarah Palin side, you will see, this is a liberal group. They do not represent change. I'm Sarah Palin. I'm an outsider. We will bring reform to Washington.

So, that's the general framework that people expect to see tonight, but, again, Wolf, I have never seen this much anticipation for a vice presidential debate. As you know, we generally toss off the number two on the ticket, saying, really, people vote for number one, but, boy, lots of attention here tonight.

BLITZER: All right. And we know this format for this debate, Candy, is going to be different than last week's, last Friday's debate between the presidential nominees. We are going to be explaining that in the course of this program.

Dana Bush, Sarah Palin, she is under enormous pressure right now. What has she been doing today to get ready?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, she flew here from near Sedona, Arizona. She's been for three days at John McCain's ranch, which is a very nice piece of property. It's by a creek. It's very serene. And that's the reason why she was there.

The goal leading up to this was to get her to relax. And I talked to a couple of advisers who have seen her just in the past hour or two, one of whom who has known her for a long time who said, I'm seeing now the Sarah Palin that I have known for a while and the Sarah Palin who showed up at the Republican Convention.

If there is any sort of overriding goal, that is it, Wolf, in talking to McCain and Palin advisers, and that is to get back to basics and get back to where she was and how she was, where she really connected to people at that first speech that she gave, where she introduced herself to the country.

This -- this particular format, what they call unfiltered, 90 minutes of her just being able to show her stuff, obviously, a different format from a speech, but in a way that's very different from the interviews which McCain aides will admit full well have not gone very well.

Her goals are -- Candy sort of mentioned this -- to not just talk about the fact that she's a reformer, but really, really connect given the news of the day. Economic times are bad. I understand that, Sarah Palin is expected to say, because I see my 401(k) going down, and it matters to me. I know what it is like not to have health care. I get it. I can connect with you.

But the other thing is, we have been talking all about how this is an unusual debate, an unprecedented debate for the vice presidential candidates. But what the McCain aides are hoping that Palin does is do something very traditional, which is really go on the attack, not against Joe Biden, but against the guy at the top of the ticket, and that's Barack Obama.

BLITZER: Dana is in the so-called spin room, where all the supporters and the surrogates from candidates are going to be coming in after the debate to say how great their respective candidates did.

Is that right, Dana? Are you in the spin room?

BASH: That is exactly where I am; that's right.

BLITZER: All right, good, Dana. We will be spinning together along with everybody else. Our heads will be spinning, at least, afterwards.

All right, stand by for a moment, Dana.

Suzanne Malveaux is over at the campus of Washington University in Saint Louis, as well, just outside the hall there.

Joe Biden, he has got some goals in mind for himself tonight as well, doesn't he?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, Wolf.

The thinking of, in speaking with aides, is that the idea is not to recognize Sarah Palin for her appeal or her personality, but rather to make that link, as Candy had mentioned, that Sarah Palin is essentially connected to John McCain, John McCain connected to George Bush, that it's very much the same, that that's what you're getting, that this idea that she's a reformer or maverick just doesn't hold water.

One of the things that they're trying to do, they know what's going to happen, what they (AUDIO GAP) They're going to get these one (AUDIO GAP) from Palin. And advisers are saying, don't take the bait, Joe Biden. They don't want him to take the bait, but rather focus on the issues, bring it back to the voters, make the case that the core issues are all about, how are you going to fill up the gas tank, how are you pay for college, how are you going to take care of your elderly parents, those type of things.

But I have to tell you, Wolf, there's a little bit of concern about that strategy. They're calling it this kind of aggressive defense, if you will, but they're a little worried that she's going to steal the thunder here, that if she gets those one lines, people are going to go with it. It's going to get a lot of press, a lot of media attention, and that is basically going to steal the show, and that perhaps their message is going to get lost.

So, that's really the balancing act here, a lot of people also talking about the fact that he's going up against a woman. He's been involved with the debate camp practices with Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm. He's also been getting advice from Senator Hillary Clinton about how to handle all of this. They're not worried. They say that he's used to dealing with strong, tough women in the Senate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And as much as McCain campaign is lowering expectations for Sarah Palin, she did remarkably well against much more experienced politicians when she was debating them in her bid to become Alaska's governor. So, that's a fundamental fact.

All right, guys, stand by, Suzanne Malveaux, Dana Bush, Candy Crowley. They're all on campus of Washington University in Saint Louis.

All right. Let's go back to Campbell.

Campbell, and you have got Anderson Cooper. You got best political team on television ready to assess what's going on.

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: I was going to say, let me introduce them, although most of them need no introduction. Certainly, Anderson Cooper does not. He's going to be with here tonight working over the panel tonight.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": I have got the popcorn. I have got the chocolate, the Diet Coke. I'm ready.

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN: Could we be more excited?

Also here tonight, David Gergen, CNN senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, as well, CNN senior political analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, who is a CNN senior analyst, Roland Martin, a CNN contributor and Obama supporter, John King, of course, chief national correspondent, also with us tonight, Paul Begala, CNN contributor, and Democratic strategist Alex Castellanos, CNN contributor, GOP strategist, Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor, Democratic strategist, 2000 Gore campaign manager, we should mention as well.

And you also helped prep Gore for the debates.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right.

BROWN: Ed Rollins, CNN contributor, former Huckabee campaign strategist, former Reagan strategist.

And you also helped prep Ronald Reagan for the debates.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: All right, we're going to come back to you in a.m. and get your thoughts on the prep that went into tonight as well.

But let me start with David Gergen and just ask you, have you ever witnessed a vice presidential debate that matters as much as the one tonight does?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I can't remember one.

Lyndon Johnson, had he participated in a debate in 1960, that would have been a very significant debate. But there have been seven vice presidential debates so far in history.

And it's interesting. The one that got the biggest audience so far was the one in which there was a male vs. a female. It was when Geraldine Ferraro debated in 1984 against George Bush Sr. And that got the biggest audience, over 50 million.

I think tonight they are going to get not only well over 50 million, but they are going to more than they got in the first presidential debate of this campaign, because so many people are curious about this, so many people.

And I have to tell you, we have to be I think -- just as Joe Biden has to be delicate, we have to be very sensitive here tonight. I had a fellow come up to me today, a pilot, when I flew into New York, who came up to me and said, now, don't be too rough on her tonight. You guys, you're really tempted in New York to go after her. There are a lot of us around here who actually like her, who respect her. Maybe she makes mistakes. We're still going to like her.

So, there is that element, because I think there is a tendency for some of us to be sort of -- judge her on how much does she know. Can she answer all the -- what's her I.Q.? Is she qualified?

I happen to think that's very important. I think it's very important to the presidency. But there are a lot of viewers out there tonight who simply like her.

BROWN: But here's my question. I think it's, the fact is, we have only known her for a month. We have been watching Joe Biden for years.

So, in many ways, it's fascinating to me, Gloria, that people...

COOPER: And so has she, by the way, since second grade.

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN: So many people have made up their minds about her. They either love her or hate her, for somebody who has only been on the political scene, the national political scene, for one month.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

And I was talking to somebody who is working with her, prepping her for this debate tonight. And he said to me, we want the American people to see her beyond the filter. He kept using the word "the filter," as in us, the media filter. You don't want to see her in sound bites you saw with Katie Couric. We want you to see her unvarnished was his phrase for 90 minutes and then you can put Sarah Palin in context and see what people in Alaska liked about her.

BROWN: Let me throw it to Anderson, who is over with our other panel.

COOPER: Let's talk to -- you both have counseled people prior to a debate, Ronald Reagan in your case. What advice would you give to Joe Biden in this debate?

ED ROLLINS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Joe Biden has to be careful tonight, because obviously he gets very hot for television. I think people...

COOPER: What do you mean he gets hot for television?

ROLLINS: He's overly aggressive. And I think television is a cool medium.

And I think, a debate, sometimes, you can be very condescending. And I think, to a certain extent, McCain was a little condescending in the last presidential debate, and that hurt him a little bit. I have to remind people, this is a guy who campaigned over 240 days in Iowa, and got less than 1 percent of the vote. So, we may know Joe Biden, but he's not a great campaigner and he's not a great vote-getter.

COOPER: Donna, your advice for Sarah Palin?

BRAZILE: Well, first of all, I would tell her to play to her strength. She's down-to-earth. She's folksy. She can relate to ordinary people.

So, talk to voters as if they're in her living room. Start up a conversation. Use anecdotes. Try not to be the smartest kid in the room, rather, come across as somebody who is authentic. I think she will go over well. The bar is low, she can cross it.

COOPER: It is interesting, Alex. When you look at her prior debates, her past debates in Alaska, she's at this table with these guys who are kind of armed with lots of facts and figures, and she comes away looking far more in command than they did.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: You know, she's -- for a person from a little town in Alaska, she's gone a long way. She has considerable gifts.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: And been underestimated all along the way.

CASTELLANOS: All along. And, so far, she has stepped up to the plate twice in this campaign, when she was announced, her first speech. She did very well at the convention under tough circumstances and all the pressure in the world.

She actually did something that the McCain campaign couldn't do for itself. She gave the campaign a message and a direction, and, frankly, gave McCain two or three at least good weeks. Now, most vice presidential picks don't do that for their ticket.

COOPER: Joe Biden, obviously, he has been getting advice from a lot of people. You have watched him debate in the past, Paul. How do you think he's going to do?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he's a good debater. He's a good debater.

But this is different. And I know he's debated Hillary Clinton in large group with eight or 10 people. He's debated women in the Senate. This is different.

And there's a lot of men who have wrecked their careers debating women, right. George Bush's father, George Bush Sr., had a terrible debate against Geraldine Ferraro. He seemed by patronizing. Clayton Williams in my state of Texas would have been governor of Texas, but he was so insulting to Ann Richards, wouldn't shake her hand at the debate. So, he has got to be careful about that. But I think the answer for both of these guys is not to debate the other one. Nobody is going to vote based on the vice president.

COOPER: We're hearing various people reporting that Sarah Palin is going to go after Joe Biden.

BEGALA: It's a mistake. She needs to go after Barack Obama. He's the guy at the top of the ticket.

And this is a much easier debate for Sarah Palin -- it's a much easier event for her than a Katie Couric interview, because now she has a mission. And maybe they're programming her to attack Joe. I think that would be good for Democrats. Nobody is going to vote against Barack Obama because Sarah Palin attacked Joe Biden. But she plants doubts in their minds about Barack, then she's doing some good for ticket.

CASTELLANOS: It will actually, though -- but there's a little bit more of an opportunity for her to attack Biden.

And, if she does -- and Biden has to be very careful. I think Paul is exactly right. Pretend she's not there. Debate McCain, debate Bush. But that gives her an opportunity to do what? Attack Biden and demonstrate strength. If she demonstrates strength, a strong presence there tonight, she scores a point. So, I think it does work for her.

BEGALA: What Joe does is, he does what the guy I saw debate a woman better than any other guy I have ever seen, George W. Bush. And I bang on him all the time. He debated Ann Richards and did great against her. And Ann is much better, much quicker, much better debater. He did great against her. He never tore into her at all.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: A lot more to talk about in the hour ahead before this debate.

Let's go back to Campbell.

BROWN: You're right, Anderson, pure speculation at this point. We are going to find out exactly what their strategies are when they both take the stage about 45 minutes from now.

We have got a lot more to talk about in the next 45 minutes, before this debate begins.

Stay with us -- more ahead with the best political team on television, a special edition of ELECTION CENTER under way right now. We will see you shortly.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to the CNN Election Center. We're only 43 minutes away from the start of this debate, the first and only vice presidential debate that will take place. Sarah Palin and Joe Biden, they must be pretty nervous right now, getting ready for the start of questioning. Gwen Ifill from PBS will be the moderator tonight.

We will of course have all of that debate with complete analysis going on here at the CNN Election Center.

Campbell, it's pretty exciting in that room over there. I'm sure it's exciting for a lot of viewers out there as well.

BROWN: It's exciting here, Wolf, I got to say.

There are -- people around this table have been giddy for the last couple of hours.

Let me go to John King.

And talk to us about expectations. The Obama campaign today was trying very hard to downplay expectations for Joe Biden, talking about how great she has been, Sarah Palin, in her previous debates. McCain campaign folks, I thought interestingly, seemed to be trying to build her up today and say she is going to do good and do well tonight.

What did you think?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think, as Dana noted at the top of the show, the McCain people are trying to fill her with confidence, because she knows and the campaign knows some of these interviews have not been her best performances of the campaign.

They're trying to get her back. Remember, at the biggest moment so far for her, that first day, when the whole country was saying, "Who?" and at the Republican Convention, when it was chance to introduce -- at those two moments, she did rise to the big occasions. And they are anticipating she will rise to the occasion tonight.

Forget all the spin from the campaigns for a minute. I think there's a simple calculation here. She's done John McCain a huge political service. She brought the base home. She generated a ton of excitement, took the excitement and the attention away from Barack Obama coming out of his convention, and served as an enormous asset to the Republican ticket.

The last week or so, as the economy has become the dominant issue, and the polls have shifted away from John McCain, she has had some stumbles. But the main trend in this race has not been about a bad interview Sarah Palin gave. It's about the economy becoming the dominant issue and voters deciding that Barack Obama is better suited to handle it.

The challenge for her tonight is to keep the base and maybe get some independent voters who have maybe watched an interview or maybe have heard bad things about her to say, she's OK, I am going to keep watching her, to not turn away from the Republicans because of Sarah Palin.

If she can do that, then she's done all John McCain can ask of any vice presidential candidate. And he needs to take Barack Obama when it comes to the economy.

BROWN: In the context of that, Jeff, does a gaffe matter really that much tonight? I mean, Dan Quayle certainly had a bad update -- we have talked about that -- Lloyd Bentsen, and it didn't matter.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: And look what happened to him.

BROWN: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

TOOBIN: He because vice president of the United States.

But I would just like to take issue with the concept of expectations. Who's in charge of these expectations? Who sets them?

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: I think it's nonsense.

BROWN: Well, both campaigns desperate try to set them in the hours before...

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: It's a phony concept, because these two people, as far as I'm concerned, are on an even playing field.

One of them is going to be vice president of the United States. They should be evaluated on the same scale, by the same standard. And what the campaign says about what the other has to do or what they have to do, I think, is just nonsense.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: ... forget what the campaigns say. There are voters out there, though. I keep in touch with about 20 families, some of them going back as far as 1988, some Democrats, some Republicans, some independents.

I have received no e-mails from Democrats saying, if Joe Biden has a bad night, I'm not voting for Barack Obama. I do have a few e- mails that I could share tonight with Republicans and independents saying, I need her to reassure me a little bit, and then I'm fine with John McCain.

BROWN: Go ahead, Roland.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Campbell, I have four nieces at home watching right now. You know what? I have high expectations for them when it comes to in the classroom. So, explain to me, how can we sit here and have someone who could be the vice president, and say, oh, the bar is low or it's low expectations? This is the vice president of the United States, not the student council, not the fraternity, not the sorority.

And, so, we should be saying to Biden and Palin, raise your game. Tell us what you think about it. Lay out the issues, not this nonsense about, oh, everything is low. No, you want the job, prove it tonight.

BORGER: But this is about the person at the top of the ticket.

And it's about the judgment of the person at the top of the ticket.

MARTIN: Yes.

BORGER: And...

BROWN: But here's the only question. Let me challenge you on that, because there are a lot of people would argue who have been raising concerns about Palin, especially given this Katie Couric interview, who would say, that's reflective of John McCain's judgment.

BORGER: Well, that's right.

And so you're going to look at this debate tonight and look at how she does. And, if she doesn't do well, it's going to reflect on John McCain.

MARTIN: Well, the same with Obama.

BORGER: Exactly. Of course.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: So, how Biden performs reflects on you.

BORGER: But it's about the candidates at the top.

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: But I think the standard for her tonight is not whether she wins or loses the debate. It is whether she can convince more people she's qualified to be president, because when this campaign -- after she was first announced, a majority, like 52-37, said she was qualified.

The latest Pew poll, which is highly respected, now say, 52-37, she's not qualified to be president. It goes exactly to Gloria's point then about John McCain's judgment. If she comes out of this debate with people thinking she's not qualified goes up to 60 percent, that's going to be a huge, huge albatross for John McCain going into the final weeks.

(CROSSTALK) KING: There is a movement in the electorate right now and in key battleground states away from John McCain and toward Barack Obama. And that is the fundamental dynamic of this election.

If she has a horrible night tonight, that move will intensify.

GERGEN: Exactly.

KING: But if this is a status quo night, and they both perform well, then Sarah Palin and Joe Biden are the least of John McCain's worries.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: ... whole bunch about Joe Biden being careful what he should do.

Part of that, we are planting these seeds in the public's mind. We want him to be on eggshells and dancing. Joe Biden and Sarah Palin should be Joe Biden and Sarah Palin. If you need to attack at the right moment, you attack. But he should not walk into this debate somehow playing soft. No. You are trying to prove that your ticket is the winning ticket and that's what you establish.

BROWN: All right. Guys, we're going to take a quick break.

When we come back, John King is going to go over to the magic wall, aren't you? Yes. Get excited about it.

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN: Because we want you to show us, look...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN: We want you to take us through the states where they can, these vice presidential candidates, can be really relevant and look at how they may be a game-changer in certain parts of the electoral map.

We will come back. We will talk about that.

You can follow along tonight at CNNPolitics.com. So, get out your computer as you watch.

We will be back with a lot more after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're looking at live pictures from the field house on the campus of Washington University in Saint Louis.

Just a little bit more than a half-an-hour away from the start of this historic debate, the first and only vice presidential debate between these two candidates, Sarah Palin and Joe Biden. The guests are inside. It doesn't look like there is going to be a whole lot of time for guests to be coming in. We will let you know how many people are inside that field house walking over to John King at the magic map.

It's interesting. Very often, they select vice presidential candidates because they can help bring in their respective states, which might be important. Now, Delaware and Alaska, I think it's fair to say, not necessarily going to be decisive or a big surprise this time around.

KING: At one point, there was some conversation that Alaska might go Democratic. The Obama campaign says it's still competing there, but Alaska will stay red. Delaware -- Guess what, Wolf? -- that will be blue.

But the vice presidential candidates do matter and help.

First, though, I want to show you the national map. This is the dynamic right now that is going in Barack Obama's favor. You need 270 to win. We have Obama right now winning or leading decently in states with 250 electoral votes, John McCain at 189.

So, we enter the vice presidential debate with Barack Obama looking at all of these golden states -- those are the tossups -- with so many options to get to 270. John McCain has to win almost all of these states that are still gold or take some of the blue away to get to 270.

So, the number-one thing he's hoping for Sarah Palin tonight, this map was trending Barack Obama's way when John McCain picked her. That hit the pause button, at a minimum. McCain actually made some momentum. Now Obama has shifted again in the past week.

If Sarah Palin has a great night, perhaps she can be the pause button again. Then the question is, where can they help? Well, this is a place. And let's go back to the 2004 map. That is our 2000 -- that was our 2008 primaries. This is 2004. Where do they think Joe Biden can help. Well, they think he can help in this stretch right along here, blue-collar voters.

Now we will take a closer look by taking that off and coming out. This is his hometown. Wolf, right here, we show you the counties. This here is where Joe Biden was born. He's from Delaware, but he was born in Pennsylvania, in Lackawanna County, where Scranton is.

You can see John Kerry is the blue four years ago. He won here and here. But George W. Bush won some down here. The Democrats are hoping to take a broader swathe of blue-collar Pennsylvania right here. That's a place they think Joe Biden can campaign and help them.

Let me give you one example of where they Sarah Palin can help. We move out this map here. They think, for starters, she can help in rural areas in Ohio and the like. But Colorado right now is a huge battleground state. This is a place John McCain will be campaigning there tomorrow. Right down in here, Pueblo, Colorado Springs, this is the battleground. Denver is Democratic. They know that. Down in here, John McCain needs to win in Colorado Springs. And, in the Pueblo area, which is about splitting the difference, he needs to at least -- John Kerry won in Pueblo County 53-46. John McCain has to at least match that to keep that red. And they believe Sarah Palin helps down there. She helps with exurban women. She also helps with sportsmen and gun owners.

So, out in the West, they think the Alaska frontier argument, reform Washington, shake up Washington -- so, they think the vice presidential candidates can help some.

But I will tell you, Wolf, as we go back to this map, this is -- whether it's the vice presidential debate tonight or the second presidential debate next week, this map is trending in Barack Obama's favor, largely because of the economic dynamics under way in the country.

And John McCain, with the help of Sarah Palin, needs to find a way to change it, because this map is moving against him, and in a significant way.

BLITZER: But they 30 days, what, 33, 34 days, that is a lifetime in politics, although, historically, if you're ahead at this point, or especially in two or three weeks from now, it's very hard to come back.

KING: Very hard to come back, because we're not talking now about -- there are debates. We do have events that can change the campaign.

But, in terms of the fundamental theme of the campaign, with the bailout plan being debated in Congress, with the new unemployment report coming out, heading closer and closer to Election Day, it appears, without a doubt, unless God forbid there is some dramatic international event that this election will be decided on the economy and at the moment voters trust Barack Obama more. John McCain, again, with Governor Palin's help, if he can get it, needs to change that. The fundamental dynamic of the election is going against him right now.

BLITZER: John is going to be with the magic map all night. And, Campbell, there is no doubt there's high interest here in the United States but there's extraordinarily high interest all over the world. People are watching us right now in about 230, 240 countries. They're fascinated by what's going on as all of us are indeed -- Campbell.

BROWN: And probably theatrically speaking, Wolf, a different experience watching this debate tonight than we saw in the previous presidential debate.

Anderson, format is going to be issue tonight because it's a lot shorter in terms of the amount of time that they have to answer questions and the amount of time they have to get into any sort of exchange with each other versus the presidential debate where they had a lot more time to sort of engage.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: There's also a real question about the follow-up questions that the moderator, Gwen Ifill, will be able to or allowed to ask, and that could play a key role. Certainly, part of the problem we saw in the Katie Couric interview was really on the follow-up questions that seems to cause so many problems.

I want to talk with you, Paul Begala, about something John King said earlier about this momentum, which is going toward Barack Obama and has been over the last two weeks or so as the economy has been in the headlines. Can really anything that happens tonight change that momentum in any way?

BEGALA: No. Not anything that happens tonight, but I think John is right. Things do happen in campaigns, right? Maybe there's some catastrophic gaffe tonight, but I tend to doubt it.

But you know, we still have 33 days and things will happen that we cannot possibly anticipate. Maybe Putin invades Ukraine now. He's tired of invading Georgia, right? Maybe, you know, another tape comes of the Middle East like it did right before the 2004 election when bin Laden issued a tape taunting Americans.

I mean, lots of things happen. George W. Bush's long forgotten DUI came out a few days before the election. Really depressed a lot of Republican votes, I think, that Bush would have had. So something will happen. I don't think it's going to happen tonight.

COOPER: How strong, though, is the support? I mean, if all the support has just shifted to Barack Obama in the last two weeks, can it shift back in two weeks?

CASTELLANOS: The cement is starting to set a little bit. You look at some of these surveys in swing states, Florida, something like 87 percent of Barack Obama's vote says, they're not pretty sure they're going to vote for him. McCain's vote, 87 percent says they're pretty sure they're going to vote for him. So it's starting to set.

But there is one thing I think Palin can do tonight to change the dynamic. Yes, this is about the economy. You know, these debates are really small votes in a big and stormy sea and that's the economy. What people are angrier at Washington than they are at Wall Street. Who's to blame for this economic mess?

Palin can make the case, look, sometimes real Americans like us from the outside have to go in and change what's broken in Washington. Washington is not going to fix itself. If she can tap into that anger tonight, she can score some points and put the McCain campaign back on the map.

BEGALA: But does she have the guts to name Bush, right? Her own party -- seriously, you got to throw deep. Why not say, as McCain probably wanted to...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Paul Begala's got a point. BEGALA: ... he almost tried to at the convention, couldn't bring himself to do it. Why not come out? Governor Palin can do any of this, right?

(CROSSTALK)

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And yes, she's been outside of Washington, D.C. but she has to learn how to explain the last eight years. McCain overlooked that.

Sarah Palin has lost a lot of momentum with women voters. Over the past three weeks, her numbers with women have basically gone down. Forty-five percent of women as new "Time" magazine poll says that they have an unfavorable opinion of Sarah Palin. So tonight, she must reassure women. She must also reassure conservatives. Many of them now don't believe that she's up to being the vice president, let alone a heartbeat away from the presidency.

COOPER: The key tonight really, though, is reaching out to independents, right?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Independents and reconnecting. You know, if she had said the other day I read "Time" magazine every week. I watch CNN. I read the Alaska papers. I read "The New York Times" on Sundays, we wouldn't even be having this discussion.

The bottom line is this is a woman who has great communication skills and she has to use them tonight and connect with ordinary people and say, I understand your life better than any of those guys in Washington, any of those guys on Wall Street. I've been there. I understand the pain that you're feeling. I understand about your kids, And I think that will help her immeasurably.

COOPER: We've got 26 minutes away. Our coverage continues. We'll be right back after a short break.

Also, check out CNNpolitics.com. There's a lot more information, a lot more detail there. Stay tuned. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're getting close to the top of the hour. That's when the debate, the first and only vice presidential debate will take place. Sarah Palin and Joe Biden getting ready right now. All of you will be watching. Tens of millions of folks around the country, many millions more around the world.

Alex Wellen is here, our deputy political director for CNNpolitics.com. We've got some unique new ways for people to watch us, watch the debate but at the same time go to CNNpolitics.com and have an interactive opportunity.

ALEX WELLEN, DEPUTY POLITICAL DIRECTOR FOR CNNPOLITICS.COM: This is definitely the night to watch with your laptop. We really thought this through. This is CNNpolitics.com. A lot of the action is going to happen right here. Whoa, nice and big.

See this here? We have a ticker that's going through the various stories going on the political ticker. And that's where all of our best political team will be. So let me show you right here. We'll throw that out of the way.

Various people coming in. Candy Crowley, Bill Schneider, all of the folks in the best political team will be in here for the most part telling you give me your realtime analysis like there in your living room.

Also, very important fact checks. We are going to be following Governor Palin, Senator Biden, all of their statements that we're going to putting up fact checks so you can respond and tell us what you're thinking. A couple of other things that are worth looking at --

BLITZER: And we'll also be able to let our viewers know what is factually correct and what isn't necessarily so factually correct.

WELLEN: That's right. And they can weigh in as well so that they give us all of their opinions as well and we can tell them where all the statements are and where they can find the actual source information. So you may remember from the high definition version these kind of analyst scorecards. This is another kind of interesting way. We got such a great reaction, but not everyone has high def. If you have high def, you should watch in a high def tonight and you'll see what the analysts are saying.

But this is what we did. This is very cool. So let me show you, we are going to stream on CNNpolitics.com all of these various scorecards and you'll hear when they make a good point with the plus or a minus when they have missed an opportunity all on CNN.com/live. But we'll give you a nice, nice beautiful link as far as it's concerned on CNNpolitics.com.

So, again, all kinds of different things. We have maps. Ooops, we move this out of the way. They're various maps that will give you information on polling. We have election trackers that come through here. It all is happening at CNNpolitics.com.

BLITZER: A good idea, Alex, to not only watch the debate, watch us, but at the same time have a laptop and you can get a lot of other useful information. CNNpolitics.com. Alex is going to be with us throughout the night. Thanks very much.

CNNpolitics.com, remember. We're going to take another quick break. We're only about 20 minutes away from the start of this historic debate in St. Louis on the campus of Washington University.

It's a beautiful campus. They're excited there. We're excited here. We're not embarrassed to say that. We'll continue our coverage from the CNN ELECTION CENTER right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BROWN: Welcome back to this special edition of ELECTION CENTER, our pre-debate coverage. We are just about 15 minutes away from the start of this vice presidential debate. A night that we are very excited about here. We've got the best political team on television joining us. You can see there where they are getting ready to get started where they will both take the stage, both take the podium in just a few minutes.

As we come back with our panel, let's talk a little bit about what both candidates have to accomplish tonight in order for this to be declared a success for them. And I want to follow-up on a point that Ed Rollins made a moment ago about what was important for Sarah Palin is that in his view she needed to kind of have this "feel your pain moment" to connect with the audience. But I've heard other people also say that what she really needs to do is show fluency on national, on international issues to be able to talk about the stuff substantively. Which is more important, David?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I actually think that both are important. But she's had -- there had been two phases to this campaign, two chapters so far. There's been the first phase which was the Sarah Palin, this vibrant, interesting, fresh face and a lot of Americans fell in love with her. And then we moved into the second phase, the sort of the Tina Fey phase, in which she seemed empty-headed, out of her league, you know, frozen in the headlights and just sort of people wondering, wait a minute. Who is she? We misjudged here. And I think the question tonight is, which Sarah Palin shows up?

If she's the first one, I think she'll do well. She could make a couple of mistakes, and she'd be OK. But if it's the second one who -- and especially on economic questions, you know, the interesting interview to me was the first one with Charlie Gibson when she was answering questions about the economy. She was incoherent on aspects of the economy. She's much better on foreign policy as it turns out because it's easier to learn, I think (ph).

BROWN: But if people -- you made this point earlier. If independents who are going to decide this election are the ones who are raising concerns about her knowledge and experience to do this job, is that dynamic personality enough for them because they're the ones you got to get over, Jeff?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: We're way beyond, you know, political views. She couldn't get a single sentence out with Katie Couric. That was incoherent interview. She has to prove that she is competent.

Forget whether she understands the economy. Forget that she can talk about negotiations with Russia. She has to prove that she can simply speak in a normal English sentence. That was an appalling performance.

BROWN: OK. Come on, you're getting some eye rolls here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Am I wrong? GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, no.

BROWN: Gloria, go ahead. Go ahead, Gloria.

BORGER: If we're still talking about her qualifications the way we've been talking about it after this debate, then that's a problem for John McCain because John McCain right now needs to kind of take a turn in this campaign. We may well be at a tipping point in this campaign.

GERGEN: Which way? The wrong way for him.

BORGER: The wrong way for him. He needs to make a turn to get back on his game, to start talking about defense, national security, experience -- all the things that work for him and about how he's going to fix the economy. If we're still talking about Sarah Palin's problems after this debate, that's not good for John McCain.

KING: I think he needs to also be contentious because, yes, Jeff is right. However, I've been in this business 11 years. I suspect if we gave somebody an hour in the library, they could find a tape in which they could run it again and again and again and again, and I would be hiding under the desk. We all have bad days on live television, taped television, and so be it.

The question is, where is the Sarah -- where is the balance, the scale of Sarah Palin by the time we're done with this campaign and done with this night? If Americans do see that woman that they "fell in love with," her challenge tonight is to say I'm a governor, I'm a good governor. I'm popular for a reason. I take on my party.

And to the degree they were having a conversation over there early that will she attack Joe Biden, my understanding is she won't attack him personally. She will say both nominees had a choice. Barack Obama picked a wonderful man, a conventional liberal politician who's been in Washington for more than three decades.

John McCain said I'm going to do something bold and different because we need something different in Washington. We need to change the place and shake it up. If she can do that, I can tell you from her last three weeks on the road, there's a Ross Perot type "damn those idiots in Washington" mood in the country right now. And if she can light that flame again, then she'll be just fine.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Campbell, just a point to stress. When you were in a debate at any time that I've debated people and you know you may not -- they may be strong in one area or even in a fight -- John, you get in fights all the time, I know. OK. When you get into a fight with somebody who say, OK, they're bigger and better but if I can find that one area where I can attack them, that's what you do. She has to focus on her strength.

Same with Joe Biden. I mean, he knows going in. Let me nail foreign policy. Let me go after that. And when she goes talking about family and being a mother in terms of the care about every man, he comes right back and say, yes, but I'm a father. And I have a son going to Iraq as well. They have to stay in their lane what makes them strong. That's how you win debates, not pointing at the person.

BORGER: She has to relate to people better than he does to Ed Rollins' point before. She has to go back to her strength which was, I understand your problems more than these guys who have been in Washington more than the prosecutor, more than the senator.

GERGEN: But I disagree. I think she's got to learn to play in the other guy's lane because there's something -- yes, she's got to be able to run in the other guy's lane but has to be able to demonstrate some competence and some understanding of our fundamental economic problems, or people are going to say she's nice being a governor and being a housewife, but you know, we need a leader that's going to straighten out Wall Street.

MARTIN: But when you play the other person's game, what ultimately happens is you're sitting here battling, trying to go mano o mano with them. Look, you say, OK, you know what? I'm going to deal with you on your level, try to compete. But when it comes to my territory, I'm going to pounce on you at every chance. You make sure your strength is far more important than their strength.

BROWN: And you know, Anderson, I think what's most interesting here we're not really talking about Joe Biden.

(LAUGHTER)

It's pretty clear what this debate is about and who this debate is about.

COOPER: You know, the other topic is Gwen Ifill. She has become a topic of discussion over the last two days fairly or not. She has already, I believe, taken the stage there. She is getting ready for this debate which takes place now, 10 minutes from now.

The questions that have been raised about her, are they fair, Ed Rollins?

ROLLINS: She's a professional. I've known Gwen for a long time. If she doesn't do a good job, we can sort (ph) of break her other leg. But the bottom line, she'll ask questions. And it's up to the people who get the questions to respond to them.

COOPER: Is it politics, Donna Brazile? Do you think that some -- mainly conservatives have brought up this book that she has written?

BRAZILE: Well, first of all, it's not only politics, Anderson, it's also insensitive. Gwen is a professional. Everyone knows Gwen in Washington, D.C. and across the country knows that she is probably one of the most fair, balanced people you will ever meet in life. And the fact that the Republicans are now running fund-raising appeals saying that Gwen is somehow another in Obama's tank, she is writing a book about black politics post-Obama. In fact, she hasn't even written a chapter on Barack Obama.

COOPER: The argument of those who say it's unfair that she's moderating is that she will benefit economically from -- if Obama is elected president because her book will seem relevant.

BRAZILE: Well, Anderson, if we took people off the air who are writing books and giving speeches, we would have a blank screen. So I think this is an insult to Gwen, her professionalism. She conducted the debate four years ago and go, Gwen. She will be a great moderator tonight.

COOPER: Well, let's go to Wolf Blitzer standing by. We've got about eight and a half minutes left before the debate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Anderson, thanks very much.

There she is. The woman you see there, her back, Gwen Ifill of PBS. She's the moderator for tonight's debate.

People are going to be watching all over the country and there are a lot of house parties where people are watching as well. There's a Democratic watch party that we've got cameras at -- that Democratic party in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There you see some of the folks watching over there.

There's a GOP watch party happening in Fredericksburg, Virginia, right now, and we've got cameras there as well.

But I want to go to Soledad O'Brien. She's in Columbus, Ohio -- Ohio being a key battleground state. And we can't emphasize how important Ohio is. No Republican has ever won the White House without carrying Ohio.

All right. Soledad, explain the folks you've assembled in Columbus this week to watch this debate and what's going to happen.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we're kind of having our own watch party here. But here, this time around, we had gathered 32 people roughly divided between a third registered Democrats, a third registered independents, a third registered Republicans. And they've all been armed once again with the perception analyzers, wireless technology. Depending on how you move the device, it will all have their answers registered into the computer.

So move it to the left, low. That means you are not loving what you're hearing a candidate say. You move it to the right up to 100, that means you're really, really connecting really, you know, what they're saying is really resonating with you. And because that information is then fed through computers, they're able to analyze literally, Wolf, second by second if there is a connection, if there is an impact of what the candidate is saying on our panel here.

It's going to be very interesting to watch then those squiggles that will appear on your television set because you'll be able to see Democrats, independents, Republicans at the second of phrases being said, or even a topic is being discussed.

How do people in this room feel about it? And as you mentioned, a very important state, the state of Ohio. But also people have called this sort of a microcosm of the U.S., and the issues that are important here are issues that are really resonating with people across the country. So it's pretty important to be sitting right here in Columbus.

A couple of things that we're interested to see is how is negativity going to play? Because we know from research, negative go negative, dial testers tend to turn down the dial. They hate it.

But kind of the role of the VP candidate is to be the attack dog. How are they going to navigate that? How is that going to work? And of course at the end of the day, what will be the impact overall of this debate on the presidential race?

I want to quickly introduce you to a couple of people, Corina Cox (ph), registered Democrat.

Corina, what do you want to hear tonight?

CORINA COX, OHIO VOTER: I want to hear about the energy crisis, what they're going to do about that and the economy and health care.

O'BRIEN: Specifics important. And those are the issues, Wolf, as you well know, that most Americans would tick off as their top three as well. We also have Phil Legmiller (ph). He is a registered Republican, also undecided. All the folks in this room say they are persuadable to see what happens at the end of the night.

Phil, what do you want to hear and from whom?

PHIL LEGMILLER, OHIO VOTER: I want to see what Governor Palin says about how she reacts under a national stage and actually international stage. And then, give me a plan. What are we going to do? Quit giving me verbiage, you know. Just say something positive for once, instead of this same old story from all the candidates.

O'BRIEN: Interesting. Talking about the positive. The folks here really say when they go negative, everybody hates it.

So we will see how this debate goes tonight. Everybody is poised and ready to weigh in.

Wolf, I'll send it back to you. I know you want to kind of do a dry run of the dial test. So folks, turn your dials down to the very beginning, please, if you will to one -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Soledad, thanks very much.

O'BRIEN: Then let's bring them up to 100 please.

BLITZER: And I want to explain to our viewers, though, what they're going to see on their screen during the course of this 90- minute debate that is about to begin. Let's put it up on the screen and be able to show you there's going to be lines at the bottom of the screen that are going to be moving and literally changing potentially every second. There you can see the green is what the 15 women undecided voters in Soledad's focus group, what they're thinking. Excuse me, the men are the green. The women, the yellow, that they're going to have a separate line. We divided it between men and women to see how they react.

Last Friday night in the presidential debate, we had Democrats, Republicans and independents. But we wanted to show you a little bit of how the men might react differently than the women, men being Democrats, Republicans and independents the same for women. Those are the lines you're going to see and it's going to show you how people are reacting as this debate moves along from question to answer, and answer then follow up and all of that.

If you have high definition TV on the sides of your screen, you'll see our analysts' scorecards. You'll see what John King and Ed Rollins and Hilary Rosen, Paul Begala, Gloria Borger, Alex Castellanos, among others, how they're scoring the various points in the debate. When they think a candidate took advantage of an opportunity and when a candidate missed an opportunity, they'll go plus and minus so you'll have a running score of that. That's going to be for those of you who are watching in high definition. Or if those of you who are watching us along with CNNpolitics.com, you could see the scoring going on from our analysts as well.

So some unique features, Campbell. It's going to be fascinating for a lot of folks to watch.

Yes.

COOPER: Are you being scored right now?

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: I think the women are not happy with you.

BLITZER: Oh, really, I guess they hate me.

COOPER: Ed Rollins has given you a two, though.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Thank you very much for that opportunity. All right. Don't score media, score the candidates. Go ahead.

BROWN: All right. With just a few minutes, I mean, literally three minutes until this thing starts, give me -- for viewers watching this at home, John King, not talking about the major gaffe, because obviously a lot of viewers who are watching at home waiting for that. But what would be the one thing you would look for tonight from either candidate?

KING: I think to David's point, I think that to the degree that somebody has something to prove, that somebody is Governor Palin, in the sense that Joe Biden is an established figure, he's a known figure. If he has a horrible night, I don't think you're going to see Barack Obama drop in the polls.

If Sarah Palin had a terrible night, which I don't think we'll happen, I think you would see more of an impact on John McCain. So from the e-mails I have received and from the questions in travel, people who want to vote for John McCain but have had some doubts about her, or just some I don't know her well -- we went through this with Barack Obama when he was a newcomer on the national stage. Well, she is even more new. She has to get some people over the comfort threshold. Pretty simple.

TOOBIN: I think that's right. I also think the economy is the issue in this campaign. Are either of these candidates going to say anything that convinces people that their side is going to solve the problem? Frankly, I doubt it. I doubt the polls will move much. But that is the issue here. Everything else is just conversation.

BROWN: What would move the polls, Gloria?

BORGER: Well, I think this is going to be a fight for the middle class voter. And Joe Biden is going to say that he understands middle class voters. He was born in Scranton, as we all know, and that -- that's where he's been campaigning and that's the people he's been fighting for.

BROWN: But they were both chosen to appeal to that demographic.

BORGER: To appeal to those voters and she's going to say I understand their problems better than you do.

GERGEN: It's easier in this debate for each candidate to send the polls down for their candidate than it is to send the polls up. That's what you have to be careful of.

BROWN: This is about -- and will they or won't they gaffe kind of night? Yes?

MARTIN: Look, when you're sitting at home, forget the whole notion of who wears the best glasses or who talks the best. Who has a vision for this country? I'm tired of people getting so focused on superficial stuff that means nothing. Focus on what the issue or the vision.

BROWN: But I mean, maybe in your dream world, Roland.

MARTIN: (INAUDIBLE) dream world.

BROWN: But I'm just saying the reality is a lot of people are just going to watch TV and they're going to decide I like her better or I like him better, and that may have nothing to do with the world view.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: That you might want to focus on what the policies is going to be because who you like may not impact your pocketbooks.

BORGER: But they have to speak to you.

MARTIN: I got you. But somebody needs to talk about issues. I mean, people have got a lot of superficial issues (ph).

KING: Because she's new and because she's not from Washington, given the mood of the country I think she has a greater opportunity tonight to change things. Just because the country is watching --

BROWN: But we don't know her that well. We don't even know --

KING: It's not even that. The country is watching the politicians vote on the $700 billion bailout. Some like it, some don't. Nobody likes the process the way this is sort of being rammed down their throat. Somebody from outside Washington, if she is coherent and powerful and compelling, has a lot more standing to make the case for change than a guy who has been in Washington for 35 years. So on that particular issue of the debate about the economy right now.

BROWN: And David Gergen, 10 seconds. Can you do anything in 10 seconds?

GERGEN: Let's watch.

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN: You know, enough of the analysis. On that note, let me hand it off to Wolf Blitzer. And the debate is just about to begin -- Wolf.