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CNN ELECTION CENTER

Obama, McCain Reach Homestretch of Campaign; Dow's Roller- Coaster Ride

Aired October 16, 2008 - 20:00   ET

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


CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there, everybody.
Last night, it looked like they could barely stand to be in the same room together, but, tonight, at this very hour, John McCain and Barack Obama are making nice in tuxes and tails right here in New York just a few blocks away. They are the guests of honor at one of the most unpredictable political events of any election. We are going to be there for you live.

Is there anyone who isn't freaked out about the economy these days? Yes, the Dow did close up 400 points today, but, earlier, it was down 400 points earlier, enough to give pretty much any of us whiplash. Ali Velshi is going to be here in a second to put it all in perspective for us.

And, then, of course, there is Joe the plumber. How did a bald guy from Toledo become the star of the presidential campaign? And is he even a plumber at all? We are going to have all the answers for you tonight.

Joe, your 15 minutes just started. The clock is ticking.

For all we heard about Joe, what about Jane? Women could decide this race. We're going to see if they got what they were looking for out of last night's debate.

And, tonight, John McCain and David Letterman finally kissed and made up. McCain made his long-delayed pilgrimage to the Ed Sullivan Theater. We are going to show you their reunion. You're not going to want to miss this. So, stay tuned.

First, though, tonight, cutting through the bull.

In the middle of an economic crisis, with a lot of Americans worried to death about how they're going to pay their bills right now, our two presidential candidates are about to spend an astonishing amount of money kicking the you know what out of each other on national television.

This year, they are breaking all records in terms of the amount of money spent and the number of negative ads. Listen to this. This is from a study by the Wisconsin Advertising Project at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Both campaigns will spend a combined $30 million a week on ads between now and Election Day, the vast majority negative. And get this. This is according to today's "Wall Street Journal." Negative ads are almost having no impact this election cycle. "The Journal"'s headline, "Ready, Aim, Backfire: Nasty Political Ads Fall Flat." Well, why? According to one quote, arguing about personal associations pales in comparison to the current grim economic news.

Still, between now and Election Day, Obama and McCain are going to spend a combined $30 million a week. So, I'm going to throw out a crazy idea, put it on the table, that, frankly, I don't think is all that crazy. There is a food bank in Provo, Utah, that feeds the homeless.

Joalana Redbird (ph) takes her three small children there every day. They have all three meals there every day. They became homeless two months ago, when her husband lost his construction job. This food bank is running low on supplies right now and they have issued an emergency call for help.

Because of our economic crisis, donations are way down, and the number of people they are feeding way up. This story is being repeated all over the country. The Northlands Rescue Mission, a homeless rescue mission in Grand Forks, North Dakota, is bursting at the seams every night with records of homeless showing up needing a place to sleep, again, a result of our economic troubles.

And guess what? These charities are out of money. No one is giving right now in these tough times.

So, Senator Obama and Senator McCain, how about, instead of spending that $30 million a week kicking the you know what out of each other between now and Election Day, you pool your money, and you give it to that food bank in Provo, Utah, so that Joalana Redbird's (ph) kids can get three square meals a day until her husband finds another job?

Give the money to that homeless shelter in Grand Forks or any of the hundreds of charities around this country that are trying to help desperate people get through these difficult times. If you really care about hurting Americans, put your money where your mouth is, and spare us three more weeks of negative ads.

Now we turn to issue number one, what is on all of our minds, the economy. And, for the second time this month, an up day on Wall Street, but stocks took a wild ride in getting there. On the heels of yesterday's 700-point drop, the Dow industrials lost another 400 points this morning.

But, at the end of the day, the Dow closed 400 points higher.

Senior business correspondent Ali Velshi is here to explain what is going on and how we should feel about it all.

And, Ali, I said earlier whiplash.

ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: yes.

BROWN: Yesterday, what, we dropped 733 points. VELSHI: Yes.

BROWN: Today, up over 400. What's going on?

VELSHI: After being down 400. We had bad economic news this morning. And that's what sent the markets down.

Let me just show you how this looked. It's really quite incredible to take a look at this day on the market. I mean, it started off looking really negative, because we had industrial production numbers -- that's everything that we produce -- it sent this market down. But take a look at that little roller coaster. We almost missed it. It flew off the side of the page, up 400 points. Why?

Because oil is down. Take a look at the price of oil. We are down about $4.69 today, down below $70 a barrel for the first time since last August. That's the first time in more than a year that we have seen oil below $70.

Now, back in July, we hit $147 a barrel for oil. It is now down 52 percent from that number. Gas prices are down, closing in on $3 a gallon nationwide. The only place in the country where gas is now above $4 as the national average is in the state of Alaska.

BROWN: OK, let me move on to something else that I think has been driving a lot of us crazy. We thought with the rescue money that they have been doling out to these big companies, they were doing a lot better. Now we're hearing that AIG has asked for $12 billion more of the money that was set aside for it in the bailout, after we are learning their executives went on this all-expenses-paid English hunting trip that cost $100,000?

They're getting $85 billion total bailout, AIG, and they're still going on these lavish trips?

VELSHI: And they asked for another $37 billion recently, so they have had more than $123 billion in taxpayer-guaranteed loans.

This is beyond outrageous. In fact, the attorney general for New York, Andrew Cuomo, called it outrageous and irresponsible. Now, let me tell you the changes that have happened. AIG has agreed it is not paying out the $10 million in severance to its former chief financial officer until they're investigating who's responsible for this.

The New York attorney general has received papers from AIG. He's going to go through everybody's compensation. They have canceled 160 events, retreats and things like that. Some of them were costing over $700,000.

Here's the deal, Campbell. If I ever borrow $85 billion from you, you are not going to see me in the most expensive restaurant in New York eating.

BROWN: Yes, I better not. VELSHI: It truly is beyond outrageous. Like, who is running the shop there? They should have to get authorization before they buy pencils at this point. It really is remarkable what is going on at AIG.

BROWN: Frustrating for a lot of people, given what they're going through right now.

VELSHI: Yes, it really is.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Ali Velshi for us tonight -- Ali, thanks. Appreciate it.

Now for the candidates themselves, tonight, John McCain, Barack Obama together again. They are both now a few blocks from here speaking at New York's Alfred E. Smith Dinner, which honors the first Catholic ever nominated for president. Traditionally, candidates play this for laughs, but the way this campaign is going, who knows what tonight may hold.

Our Dana Bash is following the McCain campaign and she is joining us from the location of the dinner over at Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

And, Dana, so, one night after their big debate, McCain, Obama sharing the stage again, this time a whole lot less tension, we hope, perhaps. What do you think?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Probably. And that certainly seems to be the point of this dinner.

And, obviously, first of all, just a very different look. You saw them in their regular suits last night. Tonight, they're in white-tie. This is really a tradition for the presidential candidates. It didn't happen last year for various reasons, but this is usually the last stop for presidential candidates.

This is a dinner with the who's-who of New York City. It is a fund-raiser for the Archdiocese of -- in New York City. But both of the candidates traditionally and we're told tonight will use this dinner to kind of let the air out of the balloon a little bit, Campbell.

This is a roast. So, there are going to some zingers, we're told, some humor from both of the candidates. You know, we have come to see "Saturday Night Live" to make fun of these candidates and really wait for those moments. Well, tonight, we're actually going to see the candidates making fun of themselves and making fun of each other with the other sitting right in the room. So, it certainly could be a very interesting evening. We're going to have it very...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: And, Dana, John McCain sounding very upbeat in Pennsylvania today. I know he's got a tough task ahead convincing his supporters that he's down, but not out, playing defense, as we said. You have been talking to the campaign. Sort of what are their goals right now? What's their thinking?

BASH: Well, Campbell, you know, I talked to several of McCain's advisers today, and they insist that, of course, Barack Obama is up in pretty much every poll that matters across the country, but they also insist that the numbers, Obama's numbers, are actually soft, meaning that there are people who are still persuadable.

So, that's why you saw John McCain do today what you are going to probably see him do tomorrow, try to still have that balance, say to the voters that Barack Obama doesn't have the experience, but say, I do have the experience.

But they are a little bit worried about those red states. He's on a defensive posture. He's going to be going to red states for the next five day, Campbell.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Thanks, Dana Bash, for us tonight. Dana, thanks.

And I have got senior political correspondent Candy Crowley with me of course, who has been following the Obama campaign.

You heard just -- Dana just say that they are playing defense, obviously, given what the map looks like. Obama campaign even expanding a little bit what their game plan is, aren't they?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. They tell me over there that, in addition to playing in all the states, pretty much the ones that Dana mentioned, they are now eying going back into Georgia, where they have pulled some staff out of there, that they are looking in Appalachia, Kentucky, and West Virginia, and even North Dakota.

They haven't made the decision, but those are states where they think they could play hard, so they're continuing to look at it. So, we are busy expanding what they see as real possibilities.

BROWN: And they have got the money to do it. And I know, at the same time, he can't look like it's game over. They can't look cocky. And they're taking great pains, it seems, to avoid that.

CROWLEY: Absolutely.

And there's a couple reasons for that. First of all, there are still persuadables, and there are independents out there. And that doesn't sit well for anybody, when you start dancing in the end zone. So, they have to be careful about that. But, more than that, they have to be careful about their base, you know, somebody waking up, and going, you know what, he's going to win. I'm going to go have dinner. I don't have to get up and go.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: It's raining outside.

CROWLEY: Exactly. So, there are very good reasons why they don't want to look, you know, at all as though they are taking this for granted.

BROWN: All right, Candy Crowley for us tonight -- Candy, as always, thanks.

Last night, John McCain threw everything he had at Barack Obama. Coming up next, we will ask some of the smartest people in politics if it will help him come back in the polls. Could it turn the voters off even more?

And then, later, the star of last night's debate -- they mentioned Joe the plumber's name 26 times. Well, now the media has found him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you OK with being called Joe the plumber?

JOE WURZELBACHER, RESIDENT OF OHIO: Oh, sure. Yes, no, that doesn't bother me at all. If I can capitalize on that with my business, then, yes, I definitely will. Other than that, though, no, I have been called worse.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: The next president won't have time to get used to the office. He won't have the luxury of studying up on the issues before he acts. He will have to act immediately.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I learned right here, with the help of my great friend and supporter Hillary Clinton, that you cannot let up. You can't pay too much attention to polls. We have got to keep making our case for change. We have got to keep fighting for every single vote. We have got to keep running through the finish line.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: This is it, folks, 19 days to go, and for the campaigns, it is life or death.

CNN estimates that, if the election were held today, Barack Obama would win with 277 electoral votes to John McCain's 174. As we all know, 270 is the magic number. A lot, though, can happen in 19 days. From here on in, it's all about the battlegrounds. Check out the maps, six golden states spread across the electoral map. If you live in one of them, you can run, but you can't hide. The campaigns want your vote. They're coming for you.

Joining me to figure out where things stand right now, Roland Martin, CNN political contributor, syndicated columnist and national radio commentator, also a supporter of Barack Obama's, Republican strategist, former senior Romney adviser Bay Buchanan, also a CNN political contributor, and Mark Halperin, "TIME" magazine editor at large and senior political analyst.

Welcome, everybody.

Bay, last night we saw John McCain the fighter. He threw everything he had at Barack Obama. Problem is the polls tell us, the more McCain attacks, at least from what we're seeing, the more voters are turned off.

But you actually believe he needs to be more on the attack than ever. Why?

BAY BUCHANAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Absolutely. He's coming from behind, Campbell. You can't just be back there and think you're going to get ahead by being calm and polite. You have got to go right after the other guy and expose him on every single issue that is key to the American people. And that is what he did last night.

BROWN: But, Bay, a lot of people think the reason he is behind is this strategy we have seen employed over the last couple weeks of being so negative.

BUCHANAN: Oh, come on. Come on. Campbell, the banks have collapsed. All right? The economy is in the greatest freefall that it has been in, what, since the Great Depression, and you think it's because John McCain said some harsh words along the way? Come on.

The whole reason that John McCain is behind and Obama is ahead is the economic collapse. But what's interesting, a poll I have not seen on CNN -- and I will correct you if I'm wrong -- correct me if I'm wrong -- is the fact that three national polls have this thing closing, including Gallup, which has it likely voters within two or three.

This thing can turn around in the last 19 days. We will see if it does.

BROWN: Well, Bay has a point, Mark. Typically, polls do tighten at the end. Is that what's happening now? Are we beginning to see early signs of that?

MARK HALPERIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I don't know if we're seeing it yet.

But, look, it's true that Barack Obama's popular vote ceiling is probably no more than 52, maybe 54, if something extraordinary happens. That leaves John McCain in the high 40s, and then you're in a very close territory.

I think his problem, though, is not whether he's closing or not whether he should be more negative or not. In one of the early debates, John McCain said to Barack Obama, regarding the military, you don't understand the difference between tactics and strategy.

The McCain campaign is all about tactics. He needs a strategy to win this, not every day trying a little bit of a different thing. They advocate the kitchen-sink approach. I don't think that will work.

BROWN: You don't?

HALPERIN: He's got to have a few messages, two at most, "Here's what I am; here is who Barack Obama is," and not ACORN, and Bill Ayers, and every little thing from the debate last night. It's got to be big, thematic, and, again, strategic, not tactical.

BROWN: Roland, Barack Obama had been taunting John McCain a little bit leading up to the debate, saying things that, you know, this message was sort of say it to my face, I think, about some of the attacks that have been directed at him.

So, when McCain hit him, Obama appeared to be ready. Let's listen to that from the debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I don't mind being attacked for the next three weeks.

What the American people can't afford, though, is four more years of failed economic policies. And what they deserve over the next four weeks is that we talk about what's most pressing to them: the economic crisis.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: So, Roland, if these attacks are to continue, do you think that's an effective enough way of deflecting all this?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It is, because, again, what you do in that situation, you show leadership by saying, I am focusing on the issues that Americans care about.

That's where Obama has to be. If you noticed last night, he did not spend a lot of time trying to attack John McCain. At some moments, he would bring up, well, John, here's where we differ, things along those lines, because he knows it doesn't play well with independent voters.

But, also, Campbell, we know with our dials it doesn't play well with female voters. And so he is staying in that comfortable place right there, and that is being forward-thinking. Mark is absolutely right, what McCain has to do. McCain has to decide on a couple of issues, because, again, he's all over the place. You never know on any given day what's going to come out of his mouth, when he is consistent with a message. That's where Obama has been. It's been discipline on Obama's part has been very critical to his success.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Bay, hang on one second.

BUCHANAN: Sure.

BROWN: I want to ask you about something, because McCain did something this third debate that many people wondered why he didn't do sooner. And let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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 to give a new direction to this economy and this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: You heard a lot of people, Bay, say that was his best line of the night. But what took him so long to get there?

BUCHANAN: I agree, Campbell, that this is something that should have been said earlier.

In the last couple of weeks, the Democrats have done a remarkable job to basically blame all of this mess, this economic mess, on Bush and then tie it in to McCain, Bush, McCain. They did a remarkable job.

We should have been much more aggressive, saying, look, the Democrats are in deep when it comes to responsibility for this mess, especially when it comes to what kicked it off, and those subprime loans. They are as involved, if not a key part, of what happened here. And so at least then the American people would say, there's been a lot of people who have thought, now, who has the right answer?

I think John McCain would be in a better position today if we were successful in having done that. And I think it was great last night that he started letting the American people know he is not George Bush.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Go ahead, Roland.

MARTIN: But, Campbell, we can't forget -- we can't forget one of the reasons why he couldn't do that was because he needed to embrace Bush, because he was weak among the base. He needed to solidify that. And he had to spend all that time doing so. And, so, John McCain was in a conundrum. That's what he was facing.

BROWN: All right.

BUCHANAN: That's ridiculous. Sarah Palin took care of that at the convention. That's yesterday's news.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: But she was late to the game. That was the point.

BROWN: A fair point.

Mark, jump in.

HALPERIN: I think that he needs to in this case do what he should have been doing all along, and I think it's still his only path to victory. Say what he really feels. He doesn't disagree with George Bush on everything, but he has a lot of disagreements with the president.

He does believe the president has made a lot of mistakes in Iraq, in dealing with the domestic economy. He should say what he thinks about those things, not be about the tactics of a one-liner at the debate or positioning himself. And, again, he can do it. John McCain is his best, as he was for the first 40 minutes of that debate, when he says what he believes.

It seems crazy, I know, but that's I think would serve him best.

BROWN: All right, stick around, guys. I know you're coming back in a little bit.

Coming up: McCain and Obama made a lot of big promises last night. For example, each told you he can balance the budget. Do you believe them? We're going to put that and many of the other promises they made to our no bias, no bull test.

And, then, later, the star of last night's debate, Joe the plumber, suddenly thrust into the national spotlight. We are hearing, the plumber sprung a few leaks. For starters, he doesn't actually have a plumber's license.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: We are in the homestretch of the campaign, and the voters are definitely tuned in. At least 52.8 million of us watched last night's final debate. That's actually down 8 percent from last week's debate.

But, keep in mind, there was a baseball playoff game on. That said, I do think we have had enough. Sixty-seven percent of the debate watchers surveyed in our CNN/Opinion Research flash poll say they don't want to see any more debates. They have had quite enough.

But what about all we actually heard last night from the candidates? They did cover a lot of ground.

Tom Foreman is here to put their words to our no bull test.

Tom, what have you got?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Campbell, you can put me in that "I have had enough" category.

Let's start with Joe the plumber. Put aside for a moment all the rumbles that came up today about precisely who this guy is and how specifically he would be affected by Obama of McCain's tax plans. Let's look at the general claims.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCCAIN: What you want to do to Joe the plumber and millions more like him is have their taxes increased, and not be able to realize the American dream.

FOREMAN (voice-over): McCain says Obama wants to whip up on millions of small-business owners with soaring taxes, so much so, they won't be able to create or keep jobs.

That's just wrong, not true. We have said it before. Obama's plan will hit Joe if he makes over $200,000 and handles his business through his personal income tax. But the fact is, most small-business owners do not fit that profile, and certainly not millions of them, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

Each man says the other is unwilling to stand up to his own party, and each denies it.

MCCAIN: And I have disagreed with leaders of my own party. I have got the scars to prove it.

OBAMA: I have got a history of reaching across the aisle.

FOREMAN: The truth? Each man follows his party's lead the vast majority of times. Records show McCain votes the Republican line 90 percent. Obama goes with Democratic leaders 97 percent.

Both men say, we can dump our dependence on some foreign oil within 10 years.

OBAMA: We can reduce our dependence, so that we no longer have to import oil from the Middle East or Venezuela.

MCCAIN: We can eliminate our dependence on the places in the world that harm our national security.

FOREMAN: Misleading. Energy analysts say such a reduction would be quite difficult to achieve, and the oil market does not work that way anyway. Companies buy oil on the world market, and often don't even know where it comes from.

Obama does not like McCain's commercials. OBAMA: And 100 percent, John, of your ads -- 100 percent of them have been negative.

MCCAIN: It's not true.

OBAMA: It absolutely is true.

FOREMAN: Wrong again. It's not true. While McCain's ads lately have been almost exclusively negative, in the whole campaign, McCain has aired many positive ads.

In addition, Obama did not mention that he is currently airing as many negative ads as McCain. He's just buying four times as many ads overall. So, viewers are likely to see his positive ads, too, making it look like he is playing nicer.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: Neither candidate accepted responsibility for the negative turn in this campaign, despite both having said they would not run this way.

Neither candidate answered the question, "Which of your proposals will you drop if you cannot pay for them all?" -- not really. And while both of them continue to say they have plans for balancing the budget, the simple truth is, economic analysts again say, wrong, no way. They say, both have laid out plans that they cannot afford, and they will expand the deficit badly.

Campbell, you want to see this much bull flying, got to go to a rodeo.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: I was going to say, no kidding. Tom, wow. You're depressing me.

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN: Don't go away, though. You have more depressing news, more truth squadding, or hopefully not -- maybe they were right about a few things -- coming up a little later for us, Tom Foreman.

Last night this time, it sometimes felt like we were trapped in a Home Depot commercial, "Joe the plumber" this, "Joe the plumber" that. But who is this guy? You might say he's the Britney Spears of politics. Really. He says so himself. This guy is on one very strange ride right now.

And, then, a little bit later, can you tell whether this is Barack Obama or Osama bin Laden, right? That's kind of the point of this ad from the Virginia GOP. It's setting the blogs on fire tonight. Does it cross a line?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BROWN: Republicans in the battleground state of Virginia on the attack. They are on the ropes with polls there showing Barack Obama 10 points ahead of John McCain.

Tonight, Dan Lothian is in Richmond, the state capital, where the Republicans are pulling no punches. And, Dan, a Republican candidate has not lost this state in more than four decades. Now they are fighting tooth and nail to keep Virginia from turning blue.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN BOSTON BUREAU CHIEF: Well, they really are, Campbell. In fact, the RNC and state Republican Party have been really working so hard to get out the vote. And, in fact, sometimes it's controversial.

The chairman of the state Republican Party, while trying to fire up some volunteers over the weekend, he made some statements where he compared or said that Osama bin Laden and Barack Obama had friends who bombed the Pentagon. He later said that he was just repeating a joke, but certainly this was very controversial.

Then a couple of weeks ago, the state Republican Party sent out a mailer. It went all across the state. It does not mention Obama's name anywhere on that mailer, but it does have a close-up of a face. You see the eyes, and it -- they have confirmed to us tonight that that is a picture of Osama bin Laden.

Now, the liberal blogs have picked this up and have criticized it saying that this is just an attempt to link Osama bin Laden and Barack Obama. But officials here at the Republican Party saying that that's just not the case. Really what they are trying to do is just highlight the fact of national security.

And then also about a half dozen states are being targeted with these automatic phone messages where they are trying to show a relationship between Obama and '60s radical Bill Ayers, again, trying to raise doubts in the minds of voters.

Now, we did get a response from the Obama campaign tonight where they said, "No amount of scare tactics and false attacks will hide the fact that John McCain can't defend the fact that he's voted with George Bush's disastrous policies 90 percent of the time."

So, Campbell, this is really a fight going on in these battleground states where Republicans have held them red for so long.

BROWN: Right.

LOTHIAN: But these states could decide who becomes the next president.

BROWN: All right. Dan Lothian for us tonight. Dan, thanks.

So, men out there, listen up. But women, this next headline will not be news to you.

As household manager as most women are, the financial crisis hits you especially hard. Erica Hill caught up with a group of debate watchers in Ohio who are demanding solutions. Did what they hear last night help them make up their minds? That will be the ground for their reactions.

And John McCain makes his overdue appearance to David Letterman. It was touch and go there for a while, but we're going to show you their happy reunion.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Other news in the headlines tonight, Jason Carroll here with us for "The Briefing" -- Jason.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All right. And a quick update on a story that we've been following. In Florida, the FBI is now investigating that Florida Democratic congressman. He's at the center of a sex scandal.

Tim Mahoney allegedly hired his mistress, then paid her off when she threatened to sue him. Earlier this week, Mahoney admitted causing pain in his marriage. A senior law enforcement official tells the "Associated Press" the FBI wants to know if Mahoney broke any laws or misused federal money.

And the last survivor of the Titanic is broke. 96-year-old Millvina Dean lives in a nursing home outside London and needs money to cover expenses. She was 2 months old when she sailed with her parents on the Titanic in 1912. Her father drowned. This weekend, her keepsake documents and Titanic memorabilia will be auctioned off to raise money. Pretty sad there.

BROWN: All right. Appreciate it.

The guy who was the star of last night's presidential debate stepped into the spotlight today. The candidates couldn't stop talking about Joe the plumber.

Today, the cameras and microphones couldn't stay away. You're going to want to hear this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Last week, our Erica Hill watched the second presidential debate in Ohio with this group of undecided women, and those ladies were not happy. They said they did not get the answers they were looking for, that the candidates ducked everything.

Well, Erica went back to Ohio last night to watch the final debate with those very same women and actually heard a very different story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They were hopeful this final debate would bring them the answers they wanted. Detail -- retail detail about the economy, health care, education, and how the candidates' plans would affect their families.

VERNELLIA RANDALL, OHIO VOTER: That's a good question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tell the truth.

DEANNA THOMPSON, OHIO VOTER: What I heard tonight for the first time was a little bit of honesty. I heard someone say we have, as a society and as people we have lived beyond our means, and in that honesty, there was just a little bit of hope that we can do this. And there were enough specifics to actually make me believe that it's going to work.

HILL (on camera): Are you still, would you say, and we'll start off with a show of hands -- are all of you as concerned about the economy this week as you were a week ago?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

JUANITA SIMMONS, OHIO VOTER: My husband was just told today that his last day of employment will be November 28th. We still have a mortgage to pay. Now, he has to find another job. This is the third layoff that he has had. So, yes, I'm even more concerned about the economy this week than I was last week.

HILL (voice-over): As a group, they're scared.

DOROTHY AUGUSTINE, OHIO VOTER: I need an answer as far as what are we going to do, us that are close to retirement age, you know. And our retirement plans, something we've done a lifetime accumulating, in a minute it's in half.

HILL (on camera): Do either of these candidates you feel personally understand the challenges you're facing today, understand the reality of what you wake up to each morning and what you expect from them?

AMY PULLES, OHIO VOTER: It's the trust issue. It's do I really trust that they truly understand, or are they just saying what they know we want to hear?

HILL (voice-over): As for using average American Joe the plumber or even Joe six-pack to relate to voters, these women say it's just one example of how little the candidates understand about women voters.

RANDALL: McCain is saying that Joe -- saying Joe, Joe, Joe this, Joe that -- he's speaking to half the population. Every time he does that, he excludes all of the women. And every time he uses the word "Joe," he excludes people who have names that are very different.

HILL: For them, there was an upside to this debate. They did get more answers.

MEGAN MCWILLIAMS, OHIO VOTER: I completely got what I needed to hear tonight. I was so thankful that there was a question on education. They talked about getting the bad teachers to leave and getting them out. That was a huge thing for me. We need teachers in there that are dedicated to the children, not for the summers off.

HILL: And one area where the candidates could use some tutoring -- health care.

SIMMONS: I work in a health care field, so I don't think that they're fully educated. They have these grandiose ideas on how to reform it, but there are so many other factors involved.

HILL: Something Linda, a cancer survivor, knows firsthand.

LINDA NIESEN, OHIO VOTER: You cannot treat your health care at a walk-in clinic. I need to be able to go where I need to go, to those specialists that I need to go to, and I need my employer to continue to be able to pay my health care. I cannot afford that health care on my own, and $5,000 from McCain is not going to do it.

HILL: With the final debate behind them, the one thing all of these women can agree on, at long last, the candidates are starting to give them what they need.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HILL: One other sticking point for these women, the negative campaigning. In fact, they cheered when that issue was raised in the debate. But in our discussion afterward, the women likened both men's behavior to immature school kids, as if they were frustrated that neither candidate owned up to their attacks.

As one panelist said, well, negative campaigning may have been a winning strategy in the past. Voters this time around, she feels, are just too focused on the issues to be taken in by the name-calling. In fact, she says the only thing they want to hear are the specifics.

And after getting some specifics last night, all but two of the women on our panel say they now know, Campbell, who will get their vote November 4th.

BROWN: All right. Erica Hill for us. Erica, thanks.

Last night, we did hear a lot from both candidates about their health care plans, but how much is that -- how much is politics as usual?

Tom Foreman back now with more on the "Truth Squad." Tom, what about health care?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Campbell, McCain says Obama's prescription for health care reform is bad news because he's letting the government take over. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Obama wants to set up health care bureaucracies, take over the health care of America through, as he said, as object is a single-payer system. If you like that, you'll love Canada and England.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: They might like Canada and England, but wrong. That's not true. Obama says he wants to cut medical costs and insurance premiums, push employers to help employees a bit more, and offer government-backed insurance to people who might struggle to be covered. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you've got an employer-based health care plan, you keep it. Now, under Senator McCain's plan, there is a strong risk that people would lose their employer-based health care.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: And in that last part there, he strayed into something that's misleading. About 20 million people could lose their private insurance, according to analysts, but Obama is ignoring the fact that McCain's plan is designed to give those people money to buy insurance a different way. The real question for both men on health care is how are you going to pay for this?

Again, that's the big deal because experts are saying their numbers do not add up, especially with the economic problems we are now facing. So, Campbell, as that one woman said, they're beginning to hear a little truth. A "little" is right.

BROWN: On the budget stuff, not at all. Tom Foreman for us tonight. Tom, thanks. Appreciate it.

Still ahead, the guy McCain and Obama keep talking about during the debate. Guess what? Joe the plumber's 15 minute of fame are not up. We'll be back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: A huge majority of women that we polled after the first two presidential debates told us that they believed Barack Obama had won those debates. So, what about last night? Well, take a look.

This is our CNN/Opinion Research flash poll. Sixty-two percent of women who watched the debate say they do believe Obama won; 28 percent said McCain. That's a pretty big difference there, 34 points.

We're going to talk about some women and their role in the campaign, their importance to both of the campaigns right now, with Michelle Cottle, senior editor of "The New Republic." I want to bring back "Time" magazine's Mark Halperin also, and Bay Buchanan joining us once again.

And, Mark, let me start with you. Abortion is an issue that hasn't been talked about much at all in this campaign, frankly. It did get some conversation, some attention last night. Both of the candidates, I think, got into it in a more expansive way than we've heard from them. I want to play a little bit of what they've said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: With respect to partial birth abortion, I am completely supportive of a ban on late- term abortions, partial birth or otherwise, as long as there's an exception for the mother's health and life.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Example of the eloquence of Senator Obama. His (ph) health for the mother. You know, that's been stretched by the pro-abortion movement in America to mean almost anything. That's the extreme pro-abortion position, quote, "health."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Clearly both candidates walking a line here and trying to finesse that issue. What did you make just because it's not that often that frankly we hear either of them talk about their positions on abortion. What did you think of them last night talking about it?

MARK HALPERIN, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, I'm not a plumber or a brain surgeon or a woman, but I'll try to address this.

It's not an issue John McCain is comfortable talking about. He has a very pro-life voting record, but he never has emphasized the issue. I think what you saw there, and a lot of women's groups have criticized his use of the air quotes, is I think his general uncomfortableness talking about the issue.

Senator Obama, on the other hand, is very pro-choice, a big supporter of abortion rights. But he knows that one way Democrats lose elections is when they get pushed to the left on social issues like abortion. And so, he's tried to downplay it because he doesn't want to get into trouble in states like Pennsylvania...

BROWN: Right.

HALPERIN: ... where abortion is a big issue for people on both the left and the right.

BROWN: And, Michelle, you know, Mark just pointed out, a lot of women -- we heard a lot about this -- very struck by McCain's answer that sort of putting health of the mother in quotes. What did you make of it? Was he mocking the idea of a woman's health being at risk, trying to feel the pro-life base or we're just interpreting it the wrong way?

MICHELLE COTTLE, SR. EDITOR, "THE NEW REPUBLIC": No. I think he is very uncomfortable with this. I don't think he intended to mock this, but he had a hard time last night with a lot of these things where he would come across as too harsh or too edgy or sneering, and I think this was a prime example. I'm sure that with his pro-life voting record he is kind of appalled at the idea that people would stretch and use health of the mother as an excuse for something, and this is the way he sees it. But this is not something that you want to get on TV and say if you're trying to appeal to any independents or any women who are outside of your hardcore Republican social values voters.

BROWN: What did you think of his answer, Bay?

BAY BUCHANAN, FMR. ROMNEY SENIOR ADVISER: You know, this discussion is amazing. I am pro-life and I've been part of the pro- life movement for my entire life. And I'm going to tell you something. Health of the mother is a key part of that debate.

What John McCain said was very natural, and it clearly demonstrates he understands the issue. When you say health of the mother, that is abortion on demand.

Ronald Reagan allowed health of the mother in a bill when he was governor of California. He says it's the number-one mistake he made in his life. He thought he was doing the right thing. Turned out everybody who wanted an abortion got an abortion under "health of the mother."

And so, to say that he was uncomfortable, he hit that one out of the ballpark. And he's talking to Catholics. That's who he's trying to reach up there in Pennsylvania and he was right on target.

BROWN: Does she have a point?

HALPERIN: Well, she has a point for a segment of the country. The pro-life segment of the country appreciates when John McCain talks about the issue, but he doesn't bring it up on his own. He doesn't emphasize the issue.

And Bay can -- Bay can interpret the way John McCain behaved there any way he wants. I don't think he was comfortable doing what he was doing. I think that led to the air quotes.

BROWN: And, Michelle, do you think it's code, that "health of the mother" is for the pro-life movement a code word?

COTTLE: Well, I'm sure for the pro-life movement it is an issue. But as we're talking about here, John McCain, if nothing else, with his pick of Sarah Palin, has sewn up kind of the base that he needed to court. Now, he needs to be reaching out and this was a disaster for him if he's trying to appeal to anyone outside of his base.

BROWN: All right. To Michelle Cottle, to Bay Buchanan and to Mark Halperin, to all of our panel, thanks, guys. Appreciate it.

When we come back, the biggest instant celebrity in politics, Joe the plumber speaks out. How does he feel about his sudden fame and what about the reports that apparently he's not even registered to vote? I don't think that's true. And then John McCain does a make-good on his no-show on David Letterman last month, a slight that Letterman has been grouching about ever since. So they tried it again tonight. We're going to have that makeup scene in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: No matter whether you're going for McCain or Obama, you don't need a flash poll or room full of pundits to know who won last night's debate. It was a guy whose name was mentioned 26 times. So who is Joe the plumber? Mary Snow went to Ohio to find out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is what Joe the plumber's life looks like right now, and this is what happens when your name is mentioned more than 20 times by both candidates in the final presidential debate.

The media has been parked out here. His phone has been ringing off the hook. Neighbors have been selling Joe the plumber t-shirts.

Wurzelbacher was angered after reading blogs that questioned a number of things about him, including whether or not he was even registered to vote. He says he is. Now all this attention started when Barack Obama campaigned here in this middle-class community on Sunday and Wurzelbacher asked him a question and challenged him on his tax plan for small business owners.

JOE WURZELBACHER, "JOE THE PLUMBER": I asked a question. Obama messed up in answering a little bit, you know, said they're redistributing some wealth. And so, everyone's kind of picked up on that.

And so, they're using it, just anybody, to drive home a point. But I mean, it's a valid point, though. So I don't mind being used in that area.

SNOW: Wurzelbacher won't disclose how he'll vote, but when I asked him what he thought about the political process after he gained so much attention so quickly, he says it scares him.

Mary Snow, CNN, Holland, Ohio.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Finally tonight, John McCain and David Letterman have made peace. You will recall that McCain skipped a Letterman appearance. This was a few weeks ago when he briefly suspended his campaign. Letterman got upset because that very same night, he turned up on the "CBS Evening News." So he turned his outrage into an ongoing joke.

Tonight, McCain is appearing on Letterman's show. We just got a clip we want to share with you now. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": Now, what exactly happened?

(APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

See here, I thought I was doing my part to save the economy, and then later I got to thinking, maybe I'm just not important enough.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Can I give you an answer?

LETTERMAN: Please.

MCCAIN: I screwed up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Honesty from our politicians. Mark, did he redeem himself?

HALPERIN: It's probably the highlight of his week because John McCain is most comfortable, most likable when he's mixing up with Letterman. I'm not sure it's going to swing a lot of votes, but it'll make him feel better tonight.

BROWN: What do you think, Bay? Were you watching?

BUCHANAN: Yes, I sure was. I think he just showed he had a sense of humor and he can laugh at himself. That's all. I think it's very good TV.

BROWN: Good for John McCain. Hopefully we'll see a little bit more of that side of him from here on out the rest of the campaign.

Mark Halperin, Bay Buchanan, and to everybody who joined us tonight, many thanks.

That is it for us. We will see you right back here tomorrow night.

"LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.