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Candidates Battle Over Taxes; McCain Faces Steep Challenge in Race; Medevac Chopper Crashes in Chicago, Kills 4; Who is Joe the Plumber?; Speaking Out About Discriminatory Language

Aired October 16, 2008 - 13:00   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: The next hour of CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Obama, I am not President Bush.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Bill Ayers is not involved in my campaign.

MCCAIN: Senator Obama has spent more money on negative ads than any political campaign in history.

OBAMA: A hundred percent, John, of your ads, 100 percent of them, have been negative. When my name came up, things like "terrorist" and "kill him," and that your running mate didn't mention, didn't stop.

PHILLIPS: Hey, are those fireworks? One thing you've got say about the head-to-head in Hempstead; it wasn't a yawner. No debate there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, that's really gay.

HILARY DUFF, SINGER/ACTRESS: You know, you really shouldn't say that.

PHILLIPS: Hilary Duff and her new cause. Asking teens to think before they speak.

Imagine living in a war zone. You have nothing. Not even your eyesight, but you're still grateful, still thankful and even happy. Here's a story you have to feel to believe.


PHILLIPS: Hello, everyone. I'm Kyra Phillips, live in the CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

They're the two issues that have everyone talking today: the race for the White House and the financial crisis that has sent stocks tumbling. We're going to guide you through the back-and-forth of last night's debate, and we're going to look ahead to the rest of the campaign. As the negative vibe continue for investors, we'll take a look at the big board and check in with Wall Street and see what, if any, influence the candidates are having on investors.

Money truly was issue No. 1 last night. Talk of taxes dominated much of the debate between Barack Obama and John McCain. The star of the discussion turned out to be Joe the plumber, an Ohio man who told Obama last weekend that he's worried his taxes will be going up and he's able to one day own his own business. McCain used it as an opening to make his case on taxes.


MCCAIN: I'll keep your taxes low, and I'll provide available and affordable health care for you and your employees. And I will not have -- I will not stand for a tax increase on small business income. Fifty percent of small business income taxes is -- taxes are paid by small businesses. That's 16 million jobs in America.

And what you want to do to Joe the plumber and millions more like in have their taxes increased and not be able to realize the American dream.

OBAMA: The conversation I had with Joe the plumber, what I essentially said to him was, five years ago when weren't in a position to buy your business, you needed a tax cut then. And I want to do is to make sure that the plumber, the nurse, the firefighter, the teacher, the young entrepreneur who doesn't yet have money, I want to give them a tax break now. And that requires us to make some important choices.

Look, nobody likes taxes. I would prefer that none of us had to pay tax including myself, but ultimately, we've got to pay for the core investments that make this economy strong and...

MCCAIN: Nobody likes taxes. Let's not raise anybody's taxes.

OBAMA: Well, I don't mind paying a little more.


PHILLIPS: So after 90 minutes of exchanges like that one, we asked viewers who they thought did the best job. Fifty-eight percent said Obama; 31 percent said McCain. And on the issue of the moment, the financial crisis, viewers had about the same reaction: 56 percent said Obama would handle it better; 35 percent said McCain.

Now, every day for the rest of the campaign, we're spotlighting one of the battleground states that will decide this presidential election. This hour we focus on North Carolina, a state with 15 electoral votes that traditionally goes Republican. But this year, CNN rates the state a toss-up.

Our most recent poll from North Carolina showed the race deadlocked at 49 percent. Republicans are taking nothing for granted. McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, left a campaign stop in Maine this morning and headed straight for North Carolina. She's scheduled to arrive at the top of the hour.

PHILLIPS: Now, the latest CNN electoral map estimate shows that John McCain is going to need North Carolina, every other tossup state, and then some if he's going to win the White House.

For more on the challenge facing McCain, let's go to our John Roberts in New York.


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kyra, last night's third and final debate was the last chance for senators Obama and McCain to, on a massive scale, try to make the case for voters that they are the person who should occupy the Oval Office. And they're also going to try to change the Electoral College map here in the next 19 days. The Electoral College map, which now leans heavily in Barack Obama's favor.

Let's take a look at where we currently are: 277 electoral votes for Senator Obama, compared to 174 for John McCain, with 270 needed to win the White House. So theoretically, Barack Obama is already over the finish line. And what's the reason for that? It's the state of Virginia. Hasn't voted for a Democrat since 1964. But our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation polling and poll of polls shows that Barack Obama is leading John McCain by ten points there, which is extraordinarily significant.

So let's see. Does John McCain have a route to the White House? Kyra, I know that you like to play pool. So we use sometimes the term run the table. If John McCain were to run the table in the rest of these battleground states -- South -- North Carolina, Florida, Missouri, Colorado and Nevada -- he still can't get there. Look at this. He's still only got 261 electoral votes. Barack Obama is still over the line.

So the only thing that John McCain can try to do here is to peel back some states that are now either leaning for Barack Obama or heavily in his territory. The heavy ones probably gone. The leanings are where he might be able to play.

So that's why you see today Sarah Palin is up here in Bangor, Maine, today. She's also going to be in New Hampshire, trying to turn things around in that state.

John McCain is going to be down here in the state of Pennsylvania. This is a map from the 2004 election. Specifically, he's going to be in Chester County today, which went 52-48 percent George Bush over John Kerry.

But let's apply the results of the primary election here to Chester County. That's solidly Barack Obama territory. So the only thing that John McCain can do right now is to try to peel back some of the advantage that Barack Obama has. It's a much more difficult calculation than it would be if you're simply trying to play in the toss-up states. But the way things are now, if John McCain won every toss-up state that is left, Barack Obama would still occupy the White House -- Kyra.


PHILLIPS: Thanks so much.

And on this day after his final debate with John McCain, Barack Obama is back on the trail. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux joins us now, live from Londonderry, New Hampshire.

OK, Suzanne. Debates are done. This is the final moment for the two of them to reach to a national audience. Three -- less than three weeks to go. What do you think? Is it over?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Nobody can say whether or not it's over, Kyra. But certainly, the Barack Obama -- his campaign is not acting as if it's over, and they say that they're not going to take anything for granted with the 19 days left.

You take a look at some of the polls. Barack Obama clearly coming out on top after the debate, even if you take a look here a New Hampshire. About a nine-point spread. And they say that, look, they are still going to work and work really hard. We heard Barack Obama talking about 21 different states that are going to be facing budget shortfalls, that he has a plan, a $25 billion plan to help out those struggling states and their finances.

He also talked a little bit about the story of Joe the plumber. We heard so much in the debate over whether or not his plan to cut taxes is really going to help him. Barack Obama taking on John McCain, saying how many plumbers do you know who make more than $250,000? That he just doesn't buy the case that John McCain is trying to help out this guy, and guys like him who are plumbers and who are everyday working folks.

He says that he insists he's only going to be raising taxes for, really, the wealthiest Americans. He's taking on John McCain. They even have a new ad out now, Kyra, that is playing off of the debate, that moment between the two when John McCain said, "Look, you know, I am not President Bush. If you want to run against President Bush you should have run four years ago." Well, this new ad is on cable television now across the country, essentially saying, "You voted with George Bush more than 90 percent of the time," that there is no distinction between the two.

That has been an ongoing theme with Barack Obama's campaign. They believe that it is a winning message, and they ultimately -- they're confident, but not necessarily cocky, Kyra, that this thing is ended.

PHILLIPS: Well, I'll tell you what the hot job now is: becoming a plumber. I can't wait to see how those numbers increase after he became the center of the debate last night.

Suzanne, thanks.

Well, John McCain is holding a rally this hour in Pennsylvania, a state that's also leaning towards Obama. Then he heads to New York City.

CNN's Dana Bash now with us from New York -- Dana.


Well, John McCain just wrapped up his rally and, no surprise, he talked about Joe the plumber. Obviously, he was the one who first brought this up in the debate last night. In fact, he had been talking about Joe the plumber on the stump already this week, because it had been all over the conservative blogs and elsewhere, about this exchange that Barack Obama had with Joe the plumber.

Now, specifically, what John McCain said in this rally, and I think we can expect even more later on today from Senator McCain on this, is one message: "Joe the plumber and people like you, I will not raise your taxes." And that, in terms of the sort of closing argument that you're going to hear from Senator McCain, particularly in areas where is he is right now, in fiscally conservative suburbs like he is in -- outside of Philadelphia. It's tried and true for Republicans. So they're going to keep trying it now, Kyra. This whole idea that Barack Obama is going to raise your taxes and John McCain's pledge: "I will not do that."

The other thing that he repeated was very clear to repeat pretty early on in his speech today, Kyra, was the line that his aides, I can tell you, were ecstatic that he, quote unquote, finally delivered, which is, "I'm not George Bush. Barack Obama, if wanted to run against George Bush, he should have run four years ago." That is -- it's really hard to overemphasize how crucial John McCain's aides think that message is and how, you know, frustrated they are, frankly, this wasn't gotten out earlier in this campaign here, when they know that, for better or worse, George Bush is a major drag on John McCain.

So he has finally explicitly tried to sort of break from -- from George Bush, and try to stop Barack Obama's message from trying to tie the two together for having resonance. Unclear if it's too late, especially given the fact that it's not just George Bush, as you well know. It is just the entire mood and atmosphere of this country and of the economy that John McCain is trying to run against.

PHILLIPS: All right. Dana Bash, live in New York. Dana, thank you so much.

BASH: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: We're going to switch gears. A medical helicopter crashes to the ground overnight west of Chicago, killing four people. It may sound like a familiar story, because this is the 11th medevac accident nationwide this year. The chopper apparently hit a wire support on a radio station's tower. Why that happened, too early to say.


JOHN BRANNEN, SENIOR AIR SAFETY INVESTIGATOR, NTSB: We don't have any indication at this point that there was a distress call from the helicopter. As far as whether or not the helicopter was in distress and was descending for that reason, we can't speculate on that right now.


PHILLIPS: Well, all three crew members on the chopper were killed, as was the parent and a 1-year-old girl. Marcella Raymond of our affiliate WGN is live now from Aurora, Illinois.


We also do know that the helicopter was flying about 50 feet lower than the radio tower. Why that is, is still a mystery. But NTSB officials will be looking at, obviously, the pilot's background, the radar. All sorts of things in this crash.

Unfortunately, there is no black box or cockpit voice recorder. And with the helicopter in several pieces, it may be very difficult to figure out if this was a mechanical problem or not.

The crash happened, really, right next to a subdivision -- a subdivision. Amazingly, no one on the ground was hurt.


RAYMOND (voice-over): Pieces of the helicopter littered the cornfield off Eola Road. Across the street, another part, possibly a blade, is stuck in the radio tower. This is where the chopper first hit, clipping a wire, then crashing nearby.

Several witnesses say the chopper was flying low. Then they heard the crash, the explosion, and saw the ball of fire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: See the scratches on there? Probably hit that wire there.

RAYMOND: Jerry Donaldson (ph) thinks this is part of that wreckage. It wound up in his backyard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just got up. Was going to take this, see if somebody, you know, if it was really part of the helicopter. I think it is. It looks the same color.

RAYMOND: Sixteen units in Jerry's apartment complex were evacuated. Fire and police officials feared the radio tower would fall over. It did not. It is amazing that the helicopter crashed into the field and not these homes.

The four people onboard were killed instantly. Many of them were friends of Aurora firefighter, who were first responders to the crash. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a very heartfelt situation for the fire department. We work closely with these air ambulance companies, and we've had direct interaction with the Air Angels itself, so some of our personnel actually know these people. And so it does hit very close to home for us.


RAYMOND: The assistant fire chief called this a very challenging day for his firefighters, and also for the police officers who were at the scene.

The wreckage, in the meantime, is going to be moved this afternoon to a different location, where investigators can examine it more closely. They say a preliminary report probably won't be available for a week, and then possibly six months for the official cause of this crash.

I'm live in Chicago, Marcella Raymond for CNN. Kyra, back to you in Atlanta.

PHILLIPS: Marcella, thanks so much.

Well, last night's big debate on Long Island. Who won it? Barack Obama or John McCain? We're going to check in with two political analysts who are never at a loss for words, Leslie Sanchez and Roland Martin.


PHILLIPS: Well, it made such an impression on me when I was in Baghdad. The students at the school for the blind, always hopeful about their futures and now thankful for some pretty unique presents that will help them learn. A special story about some really sweet kids.


PHILLIPS: Grading last night's final president's debate. Who won it? Joining us now in New York, two political pundits with a lot to say. Leslie Sanchez. And Roland Martin, you were on time today. I'm very impressed.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I told you. You know, a good man is -- is important to wait on. And so who better than me?

PHILLIPS: Oh, lord.

MARTIN: And don't be a hater.

PHILLIPS: Leslie...

MARTIN: Don't hate.

PHILLIPS: Leslie, help me out. MARTIN: Congratulate! Celebrate.


PHILLIPS: We already know the dominant force here -- Leslie. All right. Let's go right to John McCain. For the first time we heard it: "I'm no George Bush." Let's take a listen.


MCCAIN: Senator Obama, I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago. I'm going give a new direction to this economy and this country.


PHILLIPS: Leslie, why did he wait until 19 days before we all vote to actually come out and disassociate himself from the president?

SANCHEZ: That's John McCain. I mean, we could have asked this question back in the summer when you had numerous consultants and different folks, right and wrong, trying to give McCain advice on these types of things. Distance himself from Bush. And it just didn't work. The heat, they are definitely feeling the heat.

But it was really the strongest campaign. It was a vigorous effort by Senator McCain. The format favored him tremendously. People thought it would not. He showed the most distinctive differences, especially on taxes and the growth of government under Barack Obama.

And it was by far something -- it's not a game changer. Debates don't do that. But it's something that's going to keep him in the race. And I've been talking to a lot of pollsters looking at states like Virginia, looking at these battleground states. Virginia, they say, is definitely still John McCain's territory and it's political hype to think it's not.

Some of these other states, he's still competitive. It's a long hoe. It's definitely not a shoo-in. But the fact he's keeping it competitive is what the story is about.

PHILLIPS: Roland, is he keeping it competitive?

MARTIN: Oh, this is -- first of all, this is hilarious. You know what? The first debate, they were at podiums. "That's John McCain's strength." The second debate, a town hall. "That's John McCain's strength." Now last night, he was comfortable. Stop it. OK?

Look at the polls. He was blown away last night. CNN polls, CBS polls, CNN focus group, FOX focus group, all these different groups. The bottom line is, John McCain, a very strong 30 minutes, but he just went out in the wilderness on his whole Congressman John Lewis stuff and Bill Ayers. Let me tell you something: our dial testing, those female numbers fell through it floor. Independents were running away from him. And it was clear they didn't like the attacks.

What John McCain has failed to do is connect the people on the economic message. He spends more time on nonsense than real policy.

What did Obama do? Calm, cool, collected. When he attacked he smiled at him. It was like a dagger in John McCain's heart every single time.

SANCHEZ: I'm really glad Roland brought up smiling. I would tell you what -- the difference with Barack Obama, he was definitely consistent. You could slice and dice any of the three debates and he looked good, calm. He was on defense. This is the first time in any of the three debates. And he did well there. But he did smile. Had almost, you know, a cocky smile.

MARTIN: It wasn't cocky. Oh, stop it.

SANCHEZ: Let's talk about mainstream Americans and what the feedback is.

MARTIN: Oh, mainstream America. Who is that?

SANCHEZ: Two things. As much as you like to talk about these flash polls, Roland, you know just like everybody else, you're not going to know for about a week what the result was of this debate. And people out there are saying, you know, this is the first time I could see character with John McCain, that he was somebody who could list specific examples where he put himself to the side and put the people first.

MARTIN: Leslie...

SANCHEZ: Barack Obama...


PHILLIPS: All right. Hold on, hold on. Leslie mentions mainstream America. As we look at this poll last night, CNN/Opinion Research poll. Fifty-eight percent of debate watchers said Obama won, 31 percent said McCain.

MARTIN: That's mainstream America.

PHILLIPS: OK. Well, mainstream America. You know.

SANCHEZ: You're talking to the Democrats.

PHILLIPS: Here comes -- here comes -- here comes Joe the plumber. Kind of a handsome guy, you know. He should have gotten paid by the hour. Let's take a listen.


MCCAIN: My old buddy Joe, Joe the Plumber.

OBAMA: I'm happy to talk to you, Joe.

MCCAIN: People like Joe the Plumber.

Joe I want to tell you...

Hey, Joe. You're rich.

OBAMA: That includes you, Joe.

MCCAIN: I want, Joe, you to do the job.

OBAMA: The conversation I had with Joe the Plumber.

MCCAIN: What Joe wanted to do, Joe was trying to realize the American dream.

What you want to do to Joe the Plumber, we're going take Joe's money.

Joe, you're rich. Congratulations.

OBAMA: Tax cuts to Joe the Plumber.

MCCAIN: Small business people like Joe the Plumber.

OBAMA: Joe, if you want to do the right thing.

MCCAIN: I want Joe the Plumber to spread that wealth around.



MARTIN: Kyra, hey...

PHILLIPS: Who would have ever thought Joe the Plumber would be addressed...

MARTIN: Hey, Kyra -- Hey, Kyra, how about this? It would be nice if Joe the plumber was a real plumber! According to "The Toledo Blade," he's not even licensed as a plumber.

PHILLIPS: Yes. There is a lot of stuff coming forward about that.

MARTIN: But you know what? And here's my point there. OK? What Leslie wants to do -- I love this here -- Obama was too smooth, the smile was cocky. It's the same smile he had the last two debates. No. What the guy is -- bottom line is the guy -- it is how you --

Leslie, one second.

-- it is how you deflect the kind of attacks, and that's what he did. John McCain looked like a deer in headlights. You saw this -- SANCHEZ: But let's talk about the tactic here.


PHILLIPS: Quickly, Leslie, the tactic here, whether Joe the Plumber is a real plumber or not, they're trying to address this mainstream of America. Did this tactic work? Addressing Joe the Plumber -- will that take undecided voters and cause them to vote for one or the other?

SANCHEZ: The bigger issue is he built a narrative around --

MARTIN: Answer the question, Leslie.

SANCHEZ: Roland, he built a narrative around this person. It's the right start.

He talked about the distinctive -- for instance, increasing taxes. I'll tell you two important things. One is, this tax message, of increasing taxes and growing government, is really red meat, hate that term, but for Republicans and the base. They hear that -- those are what the concerns are. On economics, John McCain had to show his credentials there. He started it when he was talking about relieving the tax burden on seniors who had to do -- tap into the retirement savings. And then Barack Obama comes along and says, you know, I agree with that, too.

He's not talking as a Republican, he's talking as somebody who is coming up with the right ideas for America.

MARTIN: Hey Kyra, real quick --


SANCHEZ: If he stays on that approach he's got somewhere to go.

PHILLIPS: Five seconds --

MARTIN: Kyra, real quick. Leslie keeps saying talking to the base. He already has the base. He's losing Independents. You don't speak to Independents on health care and education, you lose. He did not speak strong to that last night. That's why he lost.

I know it's tough, Leslie, but it's OK. It's OK. If you lost, Leslie, it's OK.

PHILLIPS: All right, guys --

SANCHEZ: It doesn't matter who wins the debate. It matters who wins on November 4th.

MARTIN: Oh, I understand that. But you know what? He's going to have to like -- find some kind of policy because right now, he's clueless.

PHILLIPS: Roland Martin, Leslie Sanchez, thanks so much. You always liven up the day.

MARTIN: Thanks, Kyra.

SANCHEZ: Thanks.

PHILLIPS: Well you remember the Dow's big gains on Monday? Let's take a look at the big board. Dow Industrials are -- help me out, folks -- there we go, down 44 points.

So, what does the president have to say about all of this and everything else that is taking place? As we come out of the final presidential debate, let's listen.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- extending the Andean Trade Preference Act has made it to my desk and I'm looking forward to signing this piece of legislation. With this bill our nation is showing our commitment to economic growth in our hemisphere and to a global system based upon free and open trade. And I want to thank the United States Congress for passing this bill with strong bipartisan support. Appreciate members of my administration who worked hard on the bill -- Condi Rice, Carlos Gutierrez and Sue Schwab. I want to thank members of the diplomatic corps who join us. I welcome Luis Moreno, the president of the Inter-American Development Bank. I want to thank the members of the congressional staff who are here.

Across the world citizens are concerned about the financial crisis, and they should be. And our governments are working together to address it. This past weekend I met with the finance ministers from the G-7 and G-20 organizations representing some of the fastest and largest growing economies in the world. Yesterday, I joined other G-8 leaders in a statement that reaffirms our commitment to resolve the crisis. In other words, we're working together, we want to make sure we're coordinated in our response.

All our nations are carrying out a comprehensive plan of action to help unfreeze credit markets and restore confidence in our financial systems. These are urgent short-term steps.

In the long run, one of the best ways to restore confidence in the global economy is by keeping markets open to trade and investment. Last year America set a record by exporting more than $1.6 trillion of goods and services. Exports now make up a greater share of our gross domestic product than in anytime in our history. People are finding good paying jobs when they work for businesses that export. Opening markets benefits for trading partners.

An example of this deal, this law I'm signing will help hard working people in countries affected and help people have a better way of life. We want there to be a prosperous neighborhood. It's in the interests of United States that prosperity spreads throughout our neighborhood. So Congress is right to pass this bill ensuring duty- free access to the U.S. market, for trading partners in South America, including our friends Colombia and Peru. The Andean Trade Preference Act allows us to spend trade preferences with countries that do not live up to their promises. And unfortunately, Bolivia has failed to cooperate with the United States on important efforts to fight drug trafficking. So sadly, I have proposed to suspend Bolivia's trade preferences until it fulfills its obligations.

Now that member of Congress have ensured duty-free access for South American products entering our markets, they also need to ensure duty-free access for U.S. products entering South American markets. Congress has a good opportunity to take a step in that direction by approving our free trade agreement with Colombia. More than 90 percent of Colombia's exports currently enter the U.S. duty-free, yet American goods sold in Colombia continue to face high tariffs. The Colombia Free Trade Agreement would eliminate these trade barriers, will level the playing field for America's businesses and farmers and ranchers and workers. Seems to me it would make a lot of sense to simply ask the Congress to sign a trade deal that allows us to be treated just like we've treated other people.

Unfortunately, nearly two years have passed since the United States and Colombia signed our free trade agreement. During that time an estimated $1.3 billion of tariffs have been levied on American products exported to Colombia. These tariffs reduced the competitiveness of thousands of American companies that do business in that nation. By approving our free trade agreement, Congress can directly benefit American workers and ranchers and farmers and give them greater confidence, a better economic future.

Congress is coming back to Washington next month. One of their top priorities should be to improve this vital agreement with Colombia, as well as with Panama and South Korea. These free trade agreements will strengthen our relationships with key allies, they'll create new opportunities for our consumers and businesses, they will reassure our trading partners that America will not give in to pessimism or protectionism, they will show that we honor our commitments. And now it's my honor to sign the Andean Trade Preference Act.

PHILLIPS: The president of the United States, side-by-side with leaders of Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. The hopes to signing this -- the Andean Trade Preference Act extension is to help combat drug production, help create economic opportunity, and also alleviate poverty according to the State Department.

Meanwhile, the president is dealing with economic issues of his own here in the U.S. Dow Industrials down 103 points, still issue #1. Americans wanting to know if this bailout is going to do anything for them and how soon it's going to take to actually see the benefits of the billions of dollars that taxpayers are having to spend.

We're talk about Omar. It's the severe weather that is heading across the country. We're going to go to our severe weather center, Chad Myers standing by.

We will be back after the break. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Well let's go to California. Signs of improvement, but it is still touch and go for firefighters. For the first time since three big wildfires broke out, people who were forced to evacuate are back in their homes. The flames destroyed dozens of homes and scorched at least 34 square miles around Los Angeles and San Diego. Firefighters say that there are places where fire lines still haven't been established, and if the wind picks up again, there could be big trouble.

Severe weather expert, Chad Myers, keeping track of everything that is happening on the weather map today.

Hey, Chad.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Kyra, yes, the good news is we still have a red flag warning in L.A., that's kind of a bad thing. But the good news is the area there is not because of wind, it's because of dry air. There are a number of things that could cause red flag warnings, which basically means don't burn outside. That's kind of a no-brainer in Southern California this time of year.

But anyway, still low humidity, relative humidity near about 5 percent at times. And so if a fire does get going, it isn't going to stop. You're going to have to go out and put it out with manpower or airpower.

Now we'll talk about Omar, a storm that was an impressive Category 3 at about 3:00 this morning. Now, I'm not even sure it's a hurricane. It is so disorganized. All torn up. We've got vertical shear tearing this thing up and then dry air getting wrapped in it. It's a mess. And it's not going to get any stronger and it's not going to head toward any land mass at all. In the central part of the Atlantic it's going to turn to the right, and eventually, I guess if you keep going, you got Europe over here, could see some obvious weather from this storm. But it will not be a hurricane, it will not be a tropical storm.

It will be what we call extra tropical, just a low pressure system coming in, probably making some rain showers for Portugal, Spain and also into France.

Other than that in good shape across the country.


PHILLIPS: All right, Chad. Thanks. We'll watch it all with you, that's for sure.

Well we're writing stories for you guys. We try to choose every word carefully. But real life is not like that, and it's pretty easy to wound somebody with the weight of our words. That's the focus of a PSA campaign coming out. Actress Hilary Duff really wants you to know about it. She'll joins us live from L.A. in just a minute.


PHILLIPS: Say something original, would you? How many times have you said or heard the criticism, that's so gay. Well let me tell you how hurtful that can be to gay teens and how casual off-hand language like that can be so desensitizing to so many people. And it's got a bigger impact. 86 percent of gay and lesbian students middle and high school students say they have been harassed at school., 44 percent of them say the harassment got physical. So now big name celebrities, like Hilary Duff, are fighting back with a new ad campaign. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you like this top?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, it's totally gay.

DUFF: You know, you really shouldn't say that.


DUFF: Say that something's gay when you mean it's bad. It's insulting.

What if every time something was bad everybody said -- that's so a girl wearing a skirt as top?

Those are cute jeans, though.

When you say, that's so gay, do you realize what you say? Knock it off.


PHILLIPS: Joining me now to talk about the campaign, actress, Hilary Duff in Los Angeles. And from Denver, Lynnette Schweimler. She's a lesbian teenager who has actually been physically assaulted because she's gay, and she has had to deal with comments like that.

I welcome you both. Thank you so much.

Hilary, the PSAs are so creative, they make you laugh. But boy, there's a serious message. Why did you get involved?

DUFF: I mean I think it's so important. We are just not kind enough to each other, and there's no reason why kids should go to school and it not be a safe place for them, or they should not be accepted.

PHILLIPS: Have you heard, I mean, even in your daily life, have you been guilty of saying that? Have you heard other people say it --

DUFF: Oh, of course.

PHILLIPS: -- or was it the campaign that sort of really brought it to your attention?

DUFF: It was, yes. I have plenty of gay friends that I love to death and would never want to do or say anything to hurt their feelings, but I think it's a term that we've just kind of gotten used to saying, and maybe not even with the intent of hurting someone's feeling. But it's important to just be more conscientious of what you say and know that it could really be hurting someone.

PHILLIPS: Lynnette, how many times do you hear this? How many times has it been said in front of you? And how does that impact you as young, gay woman?

LYNNETTE SCHWEIMLER, LESBIAN TEENAGER: Usually you hear it about every day. I probably hear it several times a day, anywhere from the classroom, outside of the classroom, the hallways.

PHILLIPS: And you've been attacked. Tell me what's happened to you.

SCHWEIMLER: I was working last summer at Wendy's down here in Colorado, and I walked to the gas station during work, and I was followed back by two men and was physically assaulted. And they used a lot of derogatory language towards me.

PHILLIPS: Well, it's not just Hilary Duff that is joining the force in trying to help make an impact here, Lynnette, but also Wanda Sykes, the hysterical comedian. She also cut a PSA. Let's take a listen to her's too.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Check out that chef, right?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's really gay.

WANDA SYKES, COMEDIAN: Please, don't say that.


SYKES: Don't say that something is gay when you mean that something is dumb or stupid. It's insulting. It's like if I thought this pepper shaker was stupid and I said, man, this pepper shaker is so a 16-year-old boy with a cheesy mustache. Just saying.

When you say that's so gay, do you realize what you say? Knock it off.


PHILLIPS: Got to love it -- just saying.

So, Lynnette, do you think these PSA's will work? Is this a great move in the right direction?

SCHWEIMLER: I definitely do think they're going work. I think it really puts things into perspective.

I don't think people stop and think about what they're really saying. And I think it's just kind of like an eye-opening thing, just making people realize, hey, what you're saying is hurting people.

PHILLIPS: Hilary, when you actually made these PSAs, obviously you're doing these with other teens and it was -- I love seeing the diversity as well. Did all of you end up getting into conversations about this? I can just imagine the back hall was pretty interesting.

DUFF: It was, on set especially. Of course, the PSA says -- we're trying to get people to stop using that term, that's so gay. But also, it's -- one thing that we were talking about, the girls and I on the set, was it's any derogatory slur. Not necessarily just for gay and lesbian and transgender, bisexual people, it's when people say you're too fat, or you're too skinny, or you're too tall, or you're too short. It's all very hurtful and it needs to stop.

PHILLIPS: Yes. Overall message it's much bigger --

DUFF: Yes.

PHILLIPS: Hilary Duff, Lynnette Schweimler, thanks so much for just sharing your stories, the PSAs. We appreciate it.

DUFF: Thank you.


PHILLIPS: You bet.

Straight ahead, they made such an impression all of us when we were in Baghdad. Students at the school for the blind, always hopeful about their futures and now very thankful for some special presents that are going to help them learn. We'll tell you about it.


PHILLIPS: Americans aren't the only people affected by the choice of the next president. The rest of the world is paying close attention as well. We asked our correspondents in Nigeria, Lebanon and China to give us a quick sampling of how people overseas view the U.S. campaign.


EMILY CHANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): I'm Emily Chang on one of Beijing's busiest shopping streets where Chinese shoppers are definitely watching their spending.

They are well aware the world is in the midst of a financial crisis. Many of them blame the United States and say the next U.S. president needs to do something to stabilize the global economy. Some of them like John McCain. They think he's experienced and he has the wisdom to lead the way forward. And that he'll be softer on trade with China. Others want a fresh perspective. If the Bush administration got us into this mess, they think Barack Obama can get us out of it because they think he's different and he means change.

CHRISTIAN PUREFOY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Hi, I'm Christian Purefoy in Lagos, Nigeria.

Well, most people here haven't seen the presidential debates and your average Nigerian hasn't yet been affected by the global economic crisis. However, this is the most populous black nation in the world. There's an estimated 150 million people here in Nigeria. And that they've been following the U.S. presidential race as avidly as the rest of the world. And everyone here is throwing their support behind the one man they think can help the world's problems, Obama.

ANTHONY MILLS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): I'm Anthony Mills in Beirut, where some people fear that if Barack Obama is elected president, he may make good on a pledge to engage Syria and Iran, thereby reversing political gains made when the current U.S. administration helped force Syria end an almost 30-year military occupation of Lebanon. They believe that John McCain, if elected president, would be more likely to safeguard Lebanon's independence.

On the other hand, you have those Lebanese who regard as biased in favor of Israel United States approach to the Middle East in general. They welcome the approach of Barack Obama and his pledge to engage Syria and Iran and their fear is that John McCain would fuel the fires of further confrontation.


PHILLIPS: Well, that is the world view.

Next hour, we are back stateside with more election coverage from Virginia. That normally red state now leaning toward Obama. Our Dan Lothian will join us live from Richmond.

When you go the a war zone, you expect to see devastation and death. It's a grim reality. So when I went to Iraq six months ago, I made it my mission to bring all of you, our viewers, a different perspective. The Iraqi people are very resilient and they are full of hope, especially the children. And it was the blind students in Baghdad that not only inspired us, but made us want to give back. We hope you may, too.


PHILLIPS (voice-over): The Al-Noor Institute is Baghdad's only school for the blind. I thought I was coming here as a reporter, but I ended up a student, learning unforgettable lessons.

MURTADA, STUDENT: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine --


MURTADA: 10, 11, 12.


MURTADA: 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25.

PHILLIPS: Ten-year-old Murtada counts more than numbers; he counts his blessings.

"God gives me things, and takes things away," Murtada tells me. "Even though I'm blind, God gave me cleverness. The lowest grade I ever received is 85. And thanks be to God, I succeed every semester."

And his teacher, Amar Ali, is making sure of that.

PHILLIPS (on camera): You were a student here, now you teach here?

AMAR ALI, TEACHER: Oh, it is a kind of feeling that cannot be described, really, really. It's a kind of happiness that cannot be described.

PHILLIPS: Are you sharing that happiness with these children?

ALI: Yes, yes. I feel myself with them.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): But we realized quickly Amar needed much more than just love for these kids. He needed supplies.

So what better resource than the school where Helen Keller studied. Perkins School for the Blind in Boston didn't even hesitate about a donation. And the next thing we knew, Braillers, paper, dictionaries in Braille and sunglasses were headed to Baghdad.

But it wasn't easy. From Boston to Baghdad, delivery in a war zone can be life threatening. But these boxes made it with help from the charity IRD., International Relief and Development.

"Here we go," says this teacher, who immediately types a thank you note with the new Perkins Brailler, a special machine for the blind that types Braille.

But it only got better. Meet Jacalo (ph). She has never owned a pair of sunglasses in her life.

"Not on your hair," her teacher says, "on your eyes. It's to protect them."

And remember teacher, Amar Ali?

ALI: I'm really, really happy. I can't believe myself, to have is a dictionary.

PHILLIPS: When is the last time you saw a grown man cry over a new dictionary? DAVID ELKINS, INT'L. RELIEF & DEVELOPMENT: The school didn't have one until now, in English, and it was -- Mr. Amar, who was the teacher who was interviewed, made that request so he would be better in his teaching. And so that was one of the important deliveries that was made.

PHILLIPS: And you know what else is so remarkable about these students? Their humility. All these gifts received with wonderment and soft thank yous.

"I thank everyone for this symbolic gift," says this 13-year-old Youseff. "Things will be better now."

Better? Maybe. Hopeful? Absolutely. Grateful? Always.



PHILLIPS: Well as journalists we have a tremendous advantage that our stories can really have a worldwide impact, but so can you. Check out our Impact Your World page on and see how you, too, can help Al-Noor's Institute for the Blind right there in Baghdad. You could help change those kids' lives forever.

Next hour of CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.