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Study Says Some States Unprepared for the Election; Virginia's Unhappy Republicans; McCain Spread Thin; Senator Stevens Takes the Stand

Aired October 17, 2008 - 17:00   ET

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


BLITZER: In other political related news, check out this. McCain supporters greeted Barack Obama in Virginia today waving plungers and some wore "Joe the Plumber" t-shirts. That coming up.
Also, Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill will be my guests Sunday -- this Sunday on "LATE EDITION" "LATE EDITION" airs Sunday morning, 11:00 a.m. Eastern.

And remember, for all the latest political news any time, you can always check out CNNPolitics.com. That's where you can download our new political screen saver and check out all the other political news.

And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, broken voting machines, lines of voters that stretch forever -- problems will crop up on election day and a brand new study says some states are simply not ready to deal with them.

Does your state have a Plan B?

It started with a loud bang and a loss of power. Now federal safety officials issue an urgent call to ground hundreds of airliners using certain jets. Stand by for that.

And they're urging their fellow troops to vote, but some top commanders won't be casting ballots themselves.

Does voting have anything to do with carrying out their mission?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Eighteen days until election day and a new study just out today warns that many states are not ready for the problems that are certain to arrive. Some of those states could be crucial to the outcome of the election.

Brian Todd has been looking into all of this -- Brian, what kind of problems are we talking about?

What are the consequences?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the problems stem from the possibility of voting machines breaking down without adequate backup systems in place. The potential consequences -- long lines and voters bailing out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): It's November 4th, you're anxious to cast your ballot -- maybe in a state where it's supposed to be close. You're in line. The voting machine breaks down and they're not prepared to deal with it. A new report card from three vote monitoring groups says that could be the situation in 10 states.

LAWRENCE NORDEN, BRENNAN CENTER FOR JUSTICE: And the worst case scenario there is that people are forced to wait in line for four or five hours and they can't do it and they give up on voting.

TODD: Out of the 10 states given the worst ratings for preparedness, three could be battlegrounds. Our map has Louisiana leaning toward John McCain, Virginia leaning toward Barack Obama and Colorado a toss-up.

The most common problems cited -- the states either have no paper system in place for auditing vote totals, like handing out receipts; they don't have enough safeguards to make sure memory cards and other vote counting tools aren't lost; or they don't have good enough requirements in place for emergency paper ballots to be distributed if voting machines fail.

NORDEN: And these machines aren't perfect. The people that are putting them in place aren't perfect. Sometimes things go wrong. And what we're seeing is you need to have some really good contingency plans in place.

TODD: South Carolina is one of those bottom states criticized for a rule that no paper ballots are given out at a polling place unless all the machines break down there.

NORDEN: I don't think that's a good idea, frankly. If you've got five electronic machines in a polling place and four of them break down, you're going to start getting long lines.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

TODD: We called election officials in all 10 states rated as poorly prepared. We got responses from eight of them. They all rejected the findings, said their states are very prepared if machines break down, with either backup machines, technicians to fix them or enough paper ballots. And some state officials said two of the three groups conducting this particular study have an agenda to push for paper ballots, that their study is skewered toward that.

Those groups that they criticized are the Common Cause Education Fund and the Verified Voting Foundation. We called both of them. The Verified Voting Foundation disputed that contention, saying they work only in the interests of voters. But, interestingly, Wolf, the Common Cause Education Fund said they do have that agenda. They say the best records are kept with paper ballots, that machines are simply not reliable enough -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And a lot of people will agree with that.

Which states actually got good marks for preparedness -- Brian?

TODD: Six of them did -- Alaska, California, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina and Oregon. Those monitoring groups say they all rate well because they have extensive paper systems in place as backups for electronic machines. Still, a lot of questions out there, Wolf, about electronic machines and how well they're going to work in a couple of weeks.

BLITZER: All right. And we're going to have Brian Todd work this story throughout these final days of this campaign.

Brian, thank you.

Virginia has been a red state -- that is, a Republican state -- in presidential contests for decades. But it's now leaning blue on our CNN electoral map. Some Republicans are seeing red over what they see as deep failures of the McCain campaign there.

Let's go to CNN's Dan Lothian.

He has our battleground coverage from Virginia -- Dan, why are some of these Republicans so upset?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, some of these Republicans feel that while the Obama campaign has been firing on all cylinders since earlier in the year, the McCain campaign has been a little slow in reacting here in the state.

Now, the McCain campaign is sending out an army of volunteers to work the phones and go door-to-door targeting those areas where Barack Obama has been making up a lot of ground, like in Northern Virginia.

But some wonder whether that will be enough.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: Vo In Virginia, faced with disturbing poll numbers, the RNC and state Republican Party are turning up the heat. Automated phone calls raise doubts about Obama's judgment and past connections.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barack Obama has worked closely with domestic terrorist, Bill Ayers.

LOTHIAN: Its a charge Obama has repeatedly denied. Other efforts to fire up voters have been more controversial. Speaking to volunteers recently, state Republican Party Chairman Jeffrey Frederick said: "Osama and Obama both have friends that bombed the Pentagon." He later said he was only repeating a joke.

His comments were repudiated by McCain and other Republican leaders. These tactics show just how much is at stake in this historically red state, where some Republicans say McCain has not been aggressive enough.

DAN PALAZZOLO, UNIVERSITY OF RICHMOND: There is definitely a discontent among Republicans about the lack of presence by McCain and the McCain campaign. And it's justifiable.

LILY TOOMIE: Natty Girl, come here.

LOTHIAN: Lily Toomie (ph), a lifelong Republican, likes John McCain, but not the way he's run his Virginia campaign.

TOOMIE: You don't see the outreach that you get with the Obama campaign.

LOTHIAN: The small business owner who lives in Richmond says she's gotten plenty of phone calls, flyers and visits -- from the Obama campaign -- but nothing from McCain.

TOOMIE: I think just not enough enthusiasm has been built in Virginia for him.

LOTHIAN: Barack Obama is outspending McCain four to one in Virginia, has twice as many offices here, and Team Obama has made twice as many visits since the convention. Richmond area businessman Tom Boyle says McCain should have spent more time on the ground challenging his opponent's flawed rhetoric.

TOM DOYLE: And just taken advantage of some of the things that Obama has said.

LOTHIAN: But Doyle and other Republicans here are fired up about one thing -- Sarah Palin. Her recent visit energized the base.

DOYLE: I think wherever she goes, she helps the cause. But I don't know that it's not a little too late -- a little bit too late at this point in time. I don't know.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

LOTHIAN: Despite the fact that some Republicans here are not happy about the way that McCain has run his campaign, all of the ones that we talked to said that they do still plan to vote for him because they believe he's the best candidate, has the most experience to be president -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian, thank you.

He's in Richmond, Virginia.

Is the McCain campaign trying to fight too many battles but without enough troops?

Let's go to our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

She's working the story.

I guess resources, what they call getting out the vote, the ground game, that's going to be critical in these final 18 days -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It absolutely is. I mean, I think, you know, listening to those complaints from Virginians, in some ways -- and John McCain is kind of the one-armed paper hanger at this point. He is fighting on -- you know, to defend his territory. And it's not just Virginia. He's also obviously hampered by the fact that Barack Obama has a lot more money that pays for those offices that Dan was just talking about, that pays for staff that's in Virginia.

As you know, John McCain is limited to what he can spend because he took federal matching funds.

You know, in addition to that, Wolf, the other thing that really, I think, has been hindering McCain is just the sheer number of people that are out there campaigning.

Look at Barack Obama. Most of the time, Michelle Obama is out without her husband. Cindy McCain, by and large, has been with her husband throughout most of this campaign. She's starting now to branch out on her own. Throughout most of this campaign, she appeared with him.

Look at the vice presidential candidates. Biden and Obama were together right after the convention, but I haven't seen them together since then. But you've read -- but you know that John McCain has brought along Sarah Palin, because she does bring so much enthusiasm with her. So they don't have that sort of split places where they can go and do different geography. They're doing it now, but they hadn't done it before.

And then you look at the Clintons, both Bill and Hillary Clinton. This is star power. Wherever they go, they draw big crowds. They can talk to them about Barack Obama. There just isn't such a parallel on the Republican side. It would be President Bush, but as we know, John McCain's trying to get away from George Bush, simply because Bush's numbers are so low.

So he really is outnumbered and out moneyed at this point. And I think that's why you hear and probably will hear in more places than Virginia that they just haven't seen their presence on the ground that would fire up the Republican troops.

BLITZER: Candy, speaking of Bill and Hillary Clinton, as you know, after Hillary Clinton suffered the defeat, losing the presidential primary, there was a lot of concern among Democrats that many of her supporters wouldn't jump aboard Senator Obama's bandwagon. But together with her husband, Senator Clinton has really done an amazing job trying to bring them in. And it looks like she succeeding.

CROWLEY: Yes. In fact, the overwhelming number of Hillary Clinton supporters have, in fact, gone to Barack Obama, which, frankly, the Obama camp thought they would do all along. They truly believed that, given some time for that pretty bitter primary, at times, to heal, that anyone that supported Hillary Clinton was going to naturally gravitate toward Barack Obama and not toward John McCain, since they are so different in terms of their programs and in terms of the party.

BLITZER: Candy is going to be back with us shortly.

All right, stand by, Candy.

Thanks very much.

The embattled U.S. senator, Ted Stevens, goes on the offense in his own defense. He takes the stand at his corruption trial.

We're going to tell you why he's calling testimony by a close colleague -- and I'm quoting him now -- "an absolute lie."

And it's not just stocks that have been on a roller coaster ride. So have oil prices. They've been dropping quite a bit lately. Why you may want them to go up a little bit. Frank Sesno is standing by to explain what's going on on that front. It's not as simple as you think.

And they're certainly on the front lines. But some top U.S. generals won't be going to the polls -- why they say it's better not to vote, at least if you're a four star general, in this upcoming election.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL)

BLITZER: Governor Sarah Palin is getting ready to address this rally in Indiana. We're going to go there once we see her. It's interesting to see if she's going to respond to Senator Joe Biden, the Democratic vice presidential nominee. He really went after her just a little while ago. And you saw it live in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll see if Sarah Palin responds to governor -- to Senator Biden. That is, stand by. We're watching this story.

For the first time in more than 25 years, a sitting U.S. Senator is defending himself on the stand in a federal trial. Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska is proclaiming his innocence. The Senate's longest serving Republican took the stand today to deny accusations he tried to hide home renovations and gifts.

Let's go to our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena.

She's working the story for us.

She's outside the courthouse here in Washington, D.C. .

All right, he took the sand.

What did he say, Senator Stevens -- Kelli?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, the senator's legendary temper was not on display today, but he was feisty and he was defiant. And he insists he's done nothing wrong.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARENA (voice-over): Senator Ted Stevens insists he's a man who pays his own way. On the stand for a second day, he told the jury: "I don't let people buy my lunch or buy my dinner. Wherever I am, I pay my bills."

The senator insists the same is true for the improvements on his Alaska home.

Stevens is charged with lying on Senate disclosure forms to hide more than $250,000 in renovations and gifts he allegedly received from his one time friend, Bill Allen, who ran an oil services firm.

JOSH BERMAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: He has a political interest in making sure his story gets out there. He's running for election.

ARENA: Stevens says Bill Allen merely helped him find people to do the work on his home. He insists the renovation was essentially his wife's project: "What goes on in the House is Catherine's business.

What goes on outside is my business."

Describing his busy life as a senator, he says he relied on friends back in Alaska to supervise, made it clear he intended to pay for everything and took out a loan to do so.

DEMAURICE SMITH, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Clearly the defense here is that Mr. Stevens was a senator. And that was what he did day in and day out. This is a project that was being run. Yes, it was important to him, but the details of that project -- how much was being billed -- that was something for somebody else.

ARENA: Stevens says Allen added extras like a staircase and balcony without telling him. But in previous testimony, Allen said Stevens knew he wasn't getting billed for everything and was just asking for invoices to cover his butt.

"That's just an absolute lie," Stevens told the jury.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

ARENA: Wolf, we do expect to see Senator Stevens back on the stand on Monday, where cross examination will continue. And it does look like he will be the last witness in this case.

BLITZER: All right, Kelli.

Thanks very much.

Kelli is at the courthouse watching this case for us.

Meanwhile, New York Congressman Vito Fossella was on trial today in Virginia on a drunken driving charge from earlier this year. Fossella's arrest in May led to the revelation that the married lawmaker had secretly fathered a child with a former Congressional liaison. Following his arrest, Fossella, a Republican, announced he would not seek re-election. Fossella is currently the only Republican in Congress from New York City. We'll watch this story, as well.

Call it, perhaps, the one bright spot in an otherwise bleak economy -- that would be the price of oil. Even after climbing $2 a barrel today, the price of a barrel of crude oil is still down some 50 percent from an all time high back in July.

Our special correspondent, Frank Sesno, is looking at this story for us.

What does it mean for businesses, for you and me, for all our viewers out there, if we see this price per barrel going down?

FRANK SESNO, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you're quite right. We commonly look at this as the silver lining in an otherwise lousy economic cloud, right?

And the price of oil has dropped dramatically, as we've seen, just in the last several months. Wolf, you got that.

So let's take a look at what's happened. In July, $145 a barrel. Look what it is now. We're down to $74 a barrel.

So if you were going to the pump, you'd be experiencing something like this -- the cost of gasoline by the gallon has gone from $4.15 -- $4.11 at the high, actually -- down, according to the AAA, $3.04 today.

If you had, Wolf, a three quarter ton Chevy Suburban and you went to fill it up -- 39 gallons -- it would have cost you $160 this summer.

Today, what would it cost you?

It would cost you about $118. That's a really big savings.

But Wolf, as you said, there's a downside to all of this. And the downside, believe it or not, is to those companies that have been making all this money because it's expensive to do the business they do. They say that they spend close to $200 billion a year in exploration. That's drilling, but it's also looking for the stuff out there. And deep water, for example, just by itself, one platform out in the deep water is about a billion dollars. If you want to look at alternatives and what things are costing, you need $65 a barrel to cover those oil sands. You need close to that for this cellulosic ethanol that we keep hearing about that's going to be the deliverance for the future.

These falling prices are creating havoc in the oil patch. Wolf, according to the people that I'm talking to, there's some anecdotal evidence that companies are starting to cut back on their exploration budgets, cut back on some of the purchases that they may make. It's happened before in '98, '99, when prices went way down, companies went bust, they merged and there were thousands of layoffs, and, in some cases, oil exploration went down 70 percent or more.

Why does it matter?

Because this is what pays for the future oil supplies. And if you're Barack Obama, it's what may pay for your alternative energy programs and that thousand dollar per family tax that he wants.

So there could be some serious unintended consequences.

BLITZER: Yes. So it's interesting, I guess, though, for those of us who remember, a barrel of oil when it was $10 or $20 or $30 a barrel...

SESNO: Remember that?

BLITZER: ...$70 a barrel still sounds pretty high...

SESNO: Yes.

BLITZER: ...although it's not as high as $140 a barrel.

SESNO: I went by the gas station the other day and I'm saying oh my gosh, it's going to come under $3 a gallon for regular. That's incredible. It seems like a bargain. But not very long ago...

BLITZER: It seems like a bargain when it was $4 a barrel, but a lot of us remember $2 a gallon, too.

SESNO: That's right. It ripples through in jet fuel. It ripples through in home heating oil. It ripples through in all sorts of other things. That's good news for the consumer, but we need this stuff for the future.

BLITZER: Frank Sesno with a different look.

Thanks very much.

SESNO: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: They're going from nasty to funny -- the candidates turning into comedians out there on campaign trail.

But is that the way to win votes?

And more trouble for the Hubble -- the latest repair operation on the giant space telescope hits a snag.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Once again, we're standing by to hear from Governor Sarah Palin. She's out in Indiana getting ready to address a crowd there. You're looking at some live pictures. In the last hour, you saw it live here in the SITUATION -- Senator Joe Biden, he really went after her for some controversial comments she made. We're going to see if she's going to respond directly to her Democratic counterpart. Stand by for that.

Meanwhile, Carrie Lee is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Carrie, what's going on?

CARRIE LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, Wolf, military contractors and aid workers in Afghanistan voted today at an unofficial polling station. It was set up by Democrats Abroad. Now, this group is helping voters get their absentee ballots and return them to the U.S. without having to depend on Afghanistan's postal system. Republicans Abroad, though, do not list an Afghanistan chapter.

And it doesn't look like the Hubble space telescope will be sending back those stunning pictures of other galaxies anytime soon. Hubble has stopped sending images as of three weeks ago. And NASA had hoped to fix the problem by today, but the repair operations have hit a snag. And so now officials can't say how long it will take to get that camera working again.

And police are now looking for the grandfather of a 6-year-old boy abducted from his Las Vegas home by men posing as police officers. Well, they're hoping 51-year-old Clemens Tinnemeyer can lead them to the boy, Cole Puffinburger. Tinnemeyer has been named as a person of interest. Police say he has been involved in drug dealing worth millions of dollars. Wolf, one report says that members of the boy's family owe a Mexican drug cartel as much as $20 million. So pretty big time if that's true.

BLITZER: All right, good, Carrie. Thanks. Let's hope they find this little boy.

Thank you.

They were the former and current top U.S. top military commanders in Iraq -- so why are these four star generals saying they won't on November 4th for the next commander-in-chief?

Stand by. We're going to tell you.

And it's no surprise that John McCain and Barack Obama are out there on the campaign trail as the election draws closer and closer. But it's not what they're not doing that may surprise you, as well.

And pilots heard a loud bang, then their plane's engines shut down.

Could this happen on your next flight?

We have new information right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, millions of new voters have registered for this election and many people -- many of those voters potentially are very young people.

But will they actually show up at the polls on election day?

John McCain doesn't have the money that Barack Obama can spend on this campaign.

Is the Republican wasting his resources -- resources on states that he simply can't win?

We're taking a closer look.

And a recruiting video that simulates combat -- critics say the Army is turning children into killers.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Young voters have been registering in record numbers this year and they want to make a difference in this election.

But will they?

CNN's John Zarrella has our battleground coverage from Florida -- John.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we've been hearing quite a bit about young voters and just how energized they are, registering in record numbers. But we heard that before and it didn't necessarily translate into huge turnout on election day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZARRELLA (voice-over): Don't let this relaxed demeanor fool you. University of Florida students are not taking this presidential election lying down. They are keenly aware of the issues they will face as they exchange textbooks for checkbooks.

BRYAN GRIFFIN, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA REPUBLICANS: Just overall on the budget and money, and not handing us a giant problematic economy and a giant problematic budget and deficit system and saying good luck.

ERIC CONRAD, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA STUDENTS FOR OBAMA: We see issues of international relations gone wrong. We see wars that shouldn't have been fought in the first place.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi there.

Are you supporting Barack Obama?

ZARRELLA: The students, Democrats and Republicans, believe November 4th could be a watershed for youth turnout betweens the ages of 18 and 29. Nationally, Rock The Vote registered a record two-and-a- half million young voters.

HEATHER SMITH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ROCK THE VOTE: And we're seeing the rates at which young people are watching the news and paying attention actually really skyrocket. They're the highest levels we've ever seen.

ZARRELLA: Why?

There appears to be a rolling tsunami of sentiment that the stakes have never been higher.

GRIFFIN: I think that kids are moving, in Florida, from the beach to the ballot box. I think that they're really kind of understanding the significance of what is -- what we're on the brink here.

ZARRELLA: The night of the final debate, young Democrats and Republicans gathered at the same watch party.

Will this enthusiasm carry over to Election Day?

FLORENCE MOSS, MIAMI-DADE YOUNG DEMOCRATS: I believe that young people will show up to the polls and we will see the impact of those new registered voters.

ZARRELLA: Yara Lorenzo volunteers at this Republican phone bank in Miami and helped found a group of young professionals called Rising Republicans.

YARA LORENZO, RISING REPUBLICANS: Every election they say young people are coming out. But this election is really different. Just looking at our candidates, you can tell it's really different and I think young people will make that difference.

ZARRELLA: Both parties are hoping young voters who have been talking the talk will in record numbers walk the walk to the voting booth.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZARRELLA: Even though the number of young voters appears to be favoring Barack Obama, the McCain campaign believes young Republicans knowing they are outnumbered are committed and will turn out to vote. We shall see. Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. John, thank you. Zarrella, John Zarrella in Florida covering this story for us.

Let's take a closer look how this race has evolved over the past six weeks. We look back at CNN's poll of polls since September 6th. Then it was a virtual dead heat between Barack Obama and John McCain. The same was true September 7th and September 15th with Obama and McCain tied. But on September 22nd, Obama started to open up a small lead, three points then that grew in our poll late last month. Obama up by five points and remain that way in our can the 6th poll, as well Obama grew his lead slightly in Monday's poll leading by eight points but our latest poll shows him ahead by six points right now.

Here's a question. Is John McCain wasting precious resources in states that he's likely to lose?

Let's discuss this and more with our CNN political contributor Hilary Rosen of huffingtonpost.com and a Republican consultant, Alex Castellanos. Guys, thanks very much.

Resources at this date, Alex, they're critical. Where do you go, what do you do with the limited amount of money you have left in these final 18 days? As you look at what the McCain/Palin ticket is doing, are they doing it wisely?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Yes, I think they have to concentrate. Right now McCain can't sit on his lead. He doesn't have one. He actually needs to reach into Barack Obama's pocket and take away an Obama state. And to do that, it's not as tough as you think. If he can close back to within not the six points that you saw in that poll of polls but get within three or four nationally, a lots of these states he's spending in that look a little out of reach will come back into play. That's what the McCain campaign is doing now.

BLITZER: Because I'm looking at Pennsylvania specifically. He gave up on Michigan when it was a 12 to 14-point spread. Right now, it's about 13 points. Yet, he was there yesterday. They're still spending money in Pennsylvania, money they could be spending in Ohio or Virginia or North Carolina or Missouri or some of these other states, these red states that he desperately needs.

CASTELLANOS: It's too big to leave. You've got to play there and win. You can't leave Michigan and can't see states like Florida in play, Virginia that's in play, Missouri that's in play, you can't finally retreat to your own 10 yard line. You've still got to fight to the end in these big important states.

BLITZER: Do you agree with that assessment if you were looking at the McCain camp right now, Hilary? I know you're a Democrat. You want Obama to be elected. Tell us if McCain is behaving wisely right now.

HILARY ROSEN, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM: I think Alex is right, that what's happened is essentially McCain's focus has narrowed while Obama's has expanded. I think McCain cannot afford both for strategic reasons, for you know, psychological reasons to be contracting too much of his initial targets. Pennsylvania, you know, there's still a very vocal blue collar Republican vote there. They need to see him out there. But you know, he's got to hold on to Florida. He's got to hold on to Ohio, to Virginia. That's where he needs to put his focus. You know, his visit to Florida today to Miami today was his first time back to Miami since June. Since June. I mean, this is not a guy who is spending a lot of energy nailing down the states that he needs to keep that will Republican victory. I'm just so surprised by that.

BLITZER: And in Florida, our poll of polls has Obama slightly ahead in Florida. All of us remember what happened in 2000. All of us know that Bush four years ago did much better in Florida. But do you see any possibility, Alex, that Senator McCain could be elected without Florida?

CASTELLANOS: Florida is a state we need. It's hard to make the math work without Florida. Too many electoral votes. So and one of the challenges there is that this economic downturn has scared a lot of seniors and put the economy back in play, and a lot of those seniors are saying look under a Republican administration, our safety net, our money has come into play. So McCain has a job there not of his own making but to reassure those ares is.

BLITZER: What does Senator Obama need to do in these final 18 days he's not doing?

ROSEN: I think the Obama campaign will make a mistake if they get too greedy and start saying we can win Indiana and Missouri and he starts hustling a lot of resources there and most importantly his time. In these precious last couple weeks, the candidate's time is almost as important as the money because the McCain campaign is getting an infusion of cash and the Obama campaign has a lot of money. So they can buy television but the media follows where the candidates' schedule goes. That's a very important thing.

I think Senator Obama has a great shot in Florida. I've been saying that for months. I think we've' got great shot in Virginia. You know, Ohio I'm a little less sanguine about. You pick off Virginia, Florida, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and you've got a Democratic victory.

BLITZER: You don't only have a victory, you have a landslide if he gets all those states.

ROSEN: I think it's important that they stay focused on those states that have been their target.

BLITZER: Is it time, Alex, for Governor Palin and for Senator McCain sort of to separate themselves and let one candidate go some place, another candidate go someplace else? They've been going to rallies together. She clearly energizes that base, brings out huge crowds. You get twice as much bang for your buck if they're going to different places.

CASTELLANOS: I think we're going to sign you up for the Republican consulting team because Palin can be especially effective in working class blue collar suburbs in Pennsylvania and John McCain can go out there and make his case nationally for change in Washington. You know, a stronger economy, cut taxes and McCain can make the case that hey, a Democratic congress, a Democratic president who knows how much they would tax and spend. They could split apart now.

BLITZER: We're going to continue this discussion, Hillary and Alex, stand by.

It's something you'll want to know before you take your next flight. The NTSB is calling for immediate inspections of engines that are now in hundreds of planes. We're going to tell you how a close call is now intensifying the concern. And he's the congressman at the center of a sex scandal. Now Tim Mahoney is speaking out in a very emotional interview. What he's saying about allegations he tried to use campaign funds to silence his former mistress.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now is not the time to raise anybody's taxes except yours. And I guarantee you when I'm president, I'll do it.

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're kind of worried about, you know, Joe the fireman, Joe the policeman, Joe the real plumber with a license.

JAY LENO, TALK SHOW HOST: You know -- and you know, who's really been overlooked, Joe six pack. What happened to him? That's the real American.

BIDEN: What about this Joe? You know.

LENO: How about Joe the senator.

BIDEN: I'm hardly getting any coverage. That's why I wanted to be on the show. Thank you so much.

BLITZER: Let's discuss a really serious issue right now, being funny on the campaign trail. How significant is it? Can it help sway voters out there? Alex, what do you think? Because we know that Governor Palin is going to be on "Saturday Night Live" tomorrow night. I guess she's going to be playing Tina Fey or something. What's going on?

CASTELLANOS: I think Mark Twain said that humor is the most powerful weapon the human race has. I think he was right. It's certainly very effective in elections. It does a couple of things. It lowers resistance to a negative message if you have to launch an attack, it's the candy coating that can make the medicine go down sometimes. But the other thing it does, it's a bonding mechanism. If I can get the electorate laughing with me as a candidate or people laughing together what, does that mean? It means we look at the world the same way, it means we're one. So it bonds the electorate together. It is a campaign tool and it works.

BLITZER: Does it, you think? They love going on these shows, self-deprecating humor is something people can relate to.

ROSEN: That's the key that it's self-deprecating and I think that's why if Sarah Palin goes on "Saturday Night Live" and makes fun of herself, she can redeem so much of what has gone on in the last few weeks with Tina Fey and the Katie Couric interviews.

The issue I think though is that humor now is coming so late in the game and these candidates are so well defined already for the American people. John McCain gave a great speech last night, full of smart self-deprecating humor. The problem is it doesn't jive with the sort of angry guy pacing the stage in the debates or making faces at Barack Obama behind his back as we saw in the last debate. And there's a lot about John McCain that is genuinely funny and it's too bad actually that we haven't seen more of that this campaign.

BLITZER: You know I remember Bob Dole when he was running for president in '96, Alex, you'll remember this, he is really a funny guy but none of that came through. It was only after he lost to Bill Clinton that a lot of folks said, why didn't he show some of that humor during the course of that campaign? It might have made a difference.

CASTELLANOS: It's interesting that when the pressure is off they become themselves again. We will see that in humor and how they reveal themselves. That's why I think we have so many questions about politics these days. It seems stow phony that a little bit of humor let's us see the real human beings out there.

And by the way, McCain is only five or six points down nationally. So a little bit of access, a little bit to see the human side of that campaign, I'll disagree with Hilary. I think a good "Saturday Night Live" performance can tighten this race.

BLITZER: All right. We'll be watching. Guys thanks very much, Hillary and Alex, for coming in.

All right. There's new information coming in on Florida Congressman Tim Mahoney. He's now speaking out about this sex scandal that's been surrounding him. The Florida Democrat is answering allegations he's had more than one affair and tried to silence an accuser with money. Let's go to Sean Callebs. He's been working this story for us. He is in Miami.

What are you picking up, Sean?

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Mahoney is talking and he's talking quite a bit. He said he's had a number of affairs during the time he's been married but admits to having two over the past couple of years while he served in Congress and these affairs, the allegations and his admissions have now gotten the attention of the FBI. The FBI is investigating to see if Tim Mahoney paid one of his former mistresses' hush money, 50-year-old Patricia Allen. Mahoney admits to meeting her back in 2006 when he was running for U.S. Congress on the family values platform.

Now, if you have not heard of Mahoney now, you probably heard of his predecessor Mark Foley. He replaced Foley who of ours had to resign in disgrace after it was learned Foley was sending lurid and lewd e-mails to teenage boys who were serving as pages in the U.S. Congress.

Now as for Mahoney, he says he broke no laws and did not violate his oath. He says he is sorry for all this and certainly it has devastated his family.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TIM MAHONEY (D), FLORIDA: My family, god bless them, you know, they're -- you know, they're unbelievable. I mean, I got a 22- year-old and sending me an e-mail with the "Daily Show" and seeing her dad, it's a very hard thing to do. And this is the tough thing. This is what -- this is what you have to fix.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CALLEBS: Of course, Mahoney a Democrat. The Republicans calling for him to pull out of the race. He says he is not going to do that and wants constituents to vote on his record, not on his personal affairs.

Wolf?

BLITZER: All right Sean. Thanks very much. Sean Callebs working this story.

We're watching a rally out in Indiana right now. The governor Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee, there she is making some brief introductory remarks right there. We're going to go to go there and listen to what she has to say after this.

Also, critics say it makes a war look like a game and turns kids into killers. Why the U.S. Army is now taking this computer simulation across the country.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The alarm is being raised on engines being used in hundreds of passenger airplanes and worried that pieces of the engines could simply ignite a fire. Carrie Lee is working the story for us.

The NTSB is making what they call an urgent recommendation, Carrie, what is it?

CARRIE LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That right, Wolf. Imagine you are on a flight, you're rolling down the runway, suddenly you hear a big bang and an engine loses power? That is exactly what happened on this Delta plane. You can see it here when it was trying to depart Las Vegas in early August. Now there were no injuries and the plane simply returned to the gate, but today, more than two months later, there are nearly 300 Boeing 757s that use these engines the PW 2037s are all still flying. The National Transportation Safety Board found that the engine blades some parts were broken or missing and it also found similar problems inside more of these engines, one on American Airlines. So yesterday in the urgent recommendation, the NTSB recommended to the FAA that these engines be removed from service right away. Even though the FAA has been aware of this problem since that initial Delta failure, it still has not decided what to do.

Now, Wolf to, be clear, most of the commercial planes do fly with two engines and one is a backup, but typically, they are the same model. So if there is a manufacturing model like this, they are both at risk.

BLITZER: All right. We will watch it and the urgent recommendation, Carrie. Thank you.

It's a common refrain. Every vote counts, but are some of the nation's top generals choosing not to vote in presidential elections. Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr and it is an intriguing thought, Barbara.

What is behind this story?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we all understand that the U.S. military is not to be involved in politics in this country, but some top commanders are taking it right all the way to the limit in obeying the rule.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCCAIN: Thanks to the great General David Petraeus and the troops that serve under him, they have succeeded.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And General Petraeus has done a brilliant job.

STARR: Is who is General Petraeus going to vote for? Neither of them. General Petraeus long ago stopped voting in presidential elections.

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: I have not voted in elections in some time actually and it's because I feel that senior officers in particular should be apolitical and as I said, it is inevitable that I am carrying out the policy of the administration in office at that time.

STARR: In a "60 Minutes" interview, the general who replaced Petraeus in Iraq agreed.

GEN. RAY ODIERNO, CMDR. MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: I made the decision when I go promoted to colonel that I would no longer vote in national election, because I feel it is my job to serve the commander- in-chief so I have not voted. I'm probably a bad American for not voting but I made that decision.

STARR: But with two wars and acknowledging whether they have voted at all has become sensitive at the top ranks.

MIKE MULLEN: Hi. I'm Mike Mullen chairman of the joint chairmen chiefs of staff, and I am urging you to let your voice be heard this election year by exercising your right to vote.

STARR: Mullen would not tell CNN whether he would cast a vote, saying it is too personal to discuss. General David McKiernan, the top commander in Afghanistan told CNN the same thing. Some say that voting doesn't mean you cannot serve the commander-in-chief even if you didn't vote for him.

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It is your duty to be apolitical, especially on the advice. But I think, voting is a right. Voting I believe is also a responsibility.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Now, Wolf, there not a lot of agreement on the issue. I spoke to a top U.S. navy admiral who is in a current position to advise the president of the United States, and he said that he votes, and he has always voted and he plans to vote this year. Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thank you very much, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon and intriguing and personal story.

Trying to turn a red state blue. Barack Obama has been making a push in Virginia and so far it seems to be paying off.

It looks like a computer game, but it is a recruiting tool for the U.S. military. That story is next right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Sarah Palin is out in Indiana and we will hear what she is saying. Will she respond to Joe Biden? Standby. We are following the story of angry words exchanged.

Meanwhile, there is a video simulation that makes war look like a game and turns kids into killers. It is apparently used by the U.S. Army as recruiting tool. Let's go to CNN's Susan Roesgen. She is working the story for this.

Who is viewing the simulation?

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Men, women, teenagers, Wolf, and anybody who wants to know what it feels like to get into a realistic looking humvee and fire a realistic-looking gun. It is a 20,000 square foot simulated combat, but the critics say that the simulation is not realistic enough.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Failure to communicate will not bring everybody back safe. Good luck.

ROESGEN: It is called the Virtual Army Experience. Simulated combat based on actual Army missions, a chance for ordinary civilians to blast away at the bad guys on a big screen.

MAJ. GEN. TOM BOSTICK, CMDR., U.S. ARMY RECRUITMENT: Very few Americans understand the Army. They know the Army, but they don't understand how well trained our soldiers are, and how well equipped they are. So we want and have the opportunity to make the awareness of the Army greater.

ROESGEN: To do that, the Army is taking this highly elaborate show to county fairs and state festivals across the country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you in a military delayed entry program?

ROESGEN: And everywhere the show goes, Army recruiters collect detailed personal information including phone numbers and addresses from everybody who goes in, even children as young as 13.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All righty. There you go.

ROESGEN: That infuriates critics like the groups Veterans for Peace.

RAY PARRISH, VETERANS FOR PEACE: We are training our children to become killers. This is generation kill.

ROESGEN: Critics also say that when the show is over, too much is left out. The question is, how realistic is this? Critics say what you won't see in the simulations is the combat casualties. In computerized combat, the good guys don't get killed or wounded. But the head of the project says that if Americans knew more about the Army, more might sign up.

BOSTICK: Certainly, we have recruiters here and if there are young men and women that are interested in joining the Army, we want to certainly engage with them and talk about the opportunities to serf.

ROESGEN: The message is hitting the mark.

DAVID PETRUZZI, 13-YEAR-OLD GAME PLAYER: Not that many people who work with the armed forces, so they are understaffed.

ROESGEN: 13-year-old David Petruzzi came to play, but if he is hooked, one day the Army could order him to pull the trigger for real.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROESGEN: Wolf, it has been on the tour for a couple of months now and lit shut down for the winter and come back out again in the spring.

BLITZER: Susan Roesgen reporting for us. Susan, thank you.

And to our viewers, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, Barack Obama on unchartered territory and going for a traditionally Republican Virginia and getting an endorsement that no Democrat has ever received before.