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Tropical Storm Isaac Threatens Gulf Coast; Abbreviated Republican National Convention; Interview With Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley

Aired August 27, 2012 - 18:00   ET


JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: If you want to read more on the subject, go to the blog,, or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Jack, thanks very, very much.

And happening now: a troubling new forecast for Isaac. It's gaining strength and expected to slam into the Gulf Coast seven years to the day after Katrina.

And while the storm bypassed Tampa, its impact is certainly being felt as the abbreviated Republican National Convention gets down to the business of nominating Mitt Romney for president of the United States.

Plus: safeguarding the convention, software that identifies crime before it happens.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Tampa. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

States of emergency have been declared. More than 5,000 National Guard troops have activated.

Millions of Americans are bracing for a cruel coincidence, a hurricane slamming into the Gulf Coast exactly seven years after Katrina.

Tropical Storm Isaac is now just short of full hurricane- strength. It is forecast to be a Category 2 storm, unleashing its fury on New Orleans just about 30 hours or so from now.


BLITZER: Certainly, a lot has changed in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, including the levee system that failed with such deadly consequences. It looks like Isaac will be the first real test that's about to take place.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us now from New Orleans with more on this part of the story.

Brian, what are you seeing?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is one of the structures that is giving officials here a little bit more confidence, maybe a lot more confidence that this city will be able to withstand this hurricane much better than it did Hurricane Katrina seven years ago.

This is the 17th Street Canal levee and pumping station. This structure essentially was not here seven years ago. And this was a key point where the levees were breached, where a lot of the water from the lake and elsewhere got into the New Orleans. They're testing out some of the pumping right now coming through these massive pipes here.

And again this is a big upgrade from what was here seven years ago. Still, many residents of this area are watching the storm with some nervousness.


TODD (voice-over): Louisiana residents prepare for a familiar menace, an approaching storm. Lurking in the minds of many, the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, levees overtopped, thousands flood out and a city paralyzed for weeks, a city that in some ways is still struggling to recover. Could that happen again?

This reassurance from the mayor of New Orleans:

MITCH LANDRIEU (D), MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA: I want to assure you all that there is nothing that this storm is going to bring us that we do not believe that we are prepared to handle.

TODD (on camera): Experts agree that since Katrina, hundreds of millions of dollars in improvements to levees, canals and pumping stations have made New Orleans far better prepared for flooding. But even with these sturdy defenses, they say if a perfect storm were to hit New Orleans, they couldn't rule out flooding.

(voice-over): We spoke to Tim Doody, who is on a local oversight board for flood protection. He says the levees are exponentially better than they were before Katrina, built to withstand the level of storm strength that comes once every 100 years. But he says the new construction should be built to an even higher standard to protect against even the most rare of extreme storms that comes once every 500 years or more.

TIM DOODY, LEVEE AUTHORITY PRESIDENT: Other developed countries are building to a much higher standard. Surely it's going to be more expensive to do that, but a 100-year standard is not what we would have them build to. We would like 500-year or a 1,000-year.

TODD: Officials say that in spite of the protections they have built, any storm is unpredictable and nothing is to be taken lightly.

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: Hope for the best even as you prepare for the worst. Go to get a game plan. Go online. You can see the supplies, the resources you need. Today is the day. Today is the day, the final day you should be taking any precautions. (END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, for those who choose to stay, officials are hoping that new structures like this one, the 17th Street Canal levee and pushing station, will protect them. It is designed to pump water back into Lake Pontchartrain once the sea level gets to five feet, water gets to five above sea level or more. One official told us that Isaac is expected to bring waters probably to that level or more.

BLITZER: You're not seeing though evacuations where you are, Brian? You're not seeing people being moved, elderly, anything along those lines, at least not yet, right?

TODD: No mandatory evacuations for the city of New Orleans, Wolf, in this area, no mandatory evacuations. They're asking people to voluntarily evacuate if they feel they need to move.

But in some areas, some parishes that are low-lying or near the coastline, they have ordered mandatory evacuations, St. Charles Parish, Plaquemines Parish, in some of those areas. They have ordered mandatory evacuations. Again though the mayor says they don't anticipate having to order a mandatory evacuation for New Orleans right behind me. Of course they will keep very close watch on that.

BLITZER: Brian Todd in New Orleans for us, thanks very much.

We're just getting this in as well. In Mississippi, all Hancock County residents in low-lying areas are now under mandatory evacuation orders, that according to the Bay Saint Louis mayor, Les Fillingame. The order is effective as of 5:00 p.m. Central time and that's in Mississippi.

The storm may have bypassed Tampa, but a direct hit on New Orleans especially on the Katrina anniversary could pose a whole new set of problems for the Republicans who have gathered here. But, for now, the convention is proceeding mostly, repeat, mostly as planned with modifications.

Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is here watching it all unfold.

You were telling us they just had a conference call saying no changes, at least not yet.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. That's right.

Convention officials just wrapped up a briefing where they did tell reporters this convention will go on as it's currently scheduled three nights, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. But the chairman of the RNC just told me a few moments ago, people here in Tampa should prepare to be nimble as they tell the story of Mitt Romney.


REINCE PRIEBUS, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: It is my privilege to proclaim the 2012 Republican National Convention in session and called to order.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Republicans got down to business calling their 2012 convention to order before quickly going to recess. With Isaac bearing down on the Gulf Coast, the sun came out in Tampa. But top Republicans were indoors anyway. There's House Speaker John Boehner testing out the podium and Utah Senator Orrin Hatch mixing it up with Karl Rove.


ACOSTA: It doesn't take a party insider to figure out the week's agenda, selling Mitt Romney.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Everything he has ever done, he's been successful.

ACOSTA: A fellow Mormon, Hatch says that includes Romney's faith.

HATCH: He's a Christian by every standard that I know of and frankly a great believer in the Bible.

ACOSTA (on camera): Do you wish that had been said sooner though in this campaign cycle?

HATCH: No, I think people understand. You judge a person's faith by how they live.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Everywhere I look, I see so many familiar faces.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Another part of the sales pitch came hundreds of miles, as Paul Ryan touted Romney's business record in the vice presidential contender's hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin.

RYAN: When people are successful in business, that's a good thing. That is not something to resent.


ACOSTA: Romney is also on the road, crafting his convention speech in New Hampshire.

ROMNEY: I like my speech. I really like Ann's speech. Our sons are already in Tampa, and they say it's terrific there, a lot of great friends. And we're looking forward to a great convention.

ACOSTA: The shortened convention may already be working to Romney's advantage, leaving less time for any rhetorical thunder. While a small pro-Ron Paul protest did break out, other distractions may be averred.

DONALD TRUMP, CHAIRMAN & CEO, TRUMP HOTELS & CASINO RESORTS: I hope that they're tough as hell and mean as hell and they fight fire with fire.

ACOSTA: Donald Trump, who accepted a statesman of the year award from a local Republican Party, was slated to speak on Monday. But with the day awash, Trump got bumped from the rest of the schedule.

RUSS SCHRIEFER, SENIOR ROMNEY ADVISER: It's my understanding that it was Mr. Trump was in town yesterday and couldn't make it today or could have made it today, but we canceled.

ACOSTA: The Donald still worked in a tweet, asking, "Why do the Republicans keep apologizing on the so-called birther issue? No more apologies. Take the offensive."

Speakers, like storms, can be hard to forecast. Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson predicts the party will weather the week.

(on camera): Is it a good idea to have these conventions in hurricane country, do you think?

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: Well, I'm not going to second- guess any of the planners. Listen, four years ago, they had it in Saint Paul. And we still had a hurricane.


ACOSTA: Now for the coming days, getting down to the business here in Tampa, Paul Ryan is still scheduled to come in here to Tampa on Tuesday, and that is tomorrow. Mitt Romney will be campaigning in Indiana on Wednesday, but Reince Priebus, I just talked to him out in the hallway before coming to talk to you, Wolf.

He stressed to me on two different occasions during this interview I had with him that we will be nimble here in Tampa. If they have to make changes to the program to reflect what's happening in New Orleans, that's what they will do.

BLITZER: With hindsight, they probably should have started tonight, do the roll call today, because it's relatively quiet. The tropical storm is still way out there in the Gulf of Mexico. They could have gotten the business thing part of this over with, one less thing they would have to worry about.

But we're all smarter with hindsight. Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican Party, he doesn't have an easy job. You have been talking to a lot of Republicans down there on the floor throughout the convention. What do they say they when they see like Donald Trump tweet today don't be so embarrassed by all the birther stuff, go on the offensive? What's been the reaction?

ACOSTA: I talked to Saul Anuzis from Michigan, and he's a top Republican official in Michigan, about this.

And he said, yes, this is a distraction. We would rather those things not be said. But he said it's really sort of you guys in the media who will seize on these things. We're not planning on making those kinds of comments here at the convention. But I think the Republicans perhaps dodged a bullet by not having Donald Trump here. If he had come to the convention and made those kinds of comments, could have been a big problem for Mitt Romney.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that.

Jim Acosta will be busy over these next several days. All of us will be.

Meanwhile, Democrats are reacting to this Republican Convention. The Maryland governor, Martin O'Malley, he is standing by to join us live. He is here in Tampa.

Also, at 25 past the hour, new polls and a potential game-changer on the Electoral College map. We're now calling one critical state a tossup right now in the race for the White House.

And at 37 past the hour, we will take you back live to New Orleans now facing the prospect of a Category 2 hurricane on the seventh anniversary of Katrina.


BLITZER: They will certainly get their turn in the spotlight next week in Charlotte, North Carolina. But some Democrats are keeping a very, very close eye personally on the goings-on right here in Tampa at this week's Republican National Convention.

Let's talk about that and more with one of those Democrats, the Democratic governor of Maryland, Martin O'Malley, who is here looking at what's going on.

Some people think you may be running for president in four years.

GOV. MARTIN O'MALLEY (D), MARYLAND: That's very nice.

BLITZER: You see a convention like this, do you get excited thinking maybe I would be at a presidential convention one day being nominated for president of the United States?

O'MALLEY: No. What I think when I see a convention like this is just what an important choice we have coming up. I'm here on behalf of the Democratic Governors Association and also to offer the counterpoint to the...

BLITZER: You're the chair of the Democratic Governors.

O'MALLEY: I'm the chair of the Democratic Governors Association.

And what we're going to be seeing over the next few days will be an attempt to reinvent Mitt Romney. And so we're here in the company of other Democratic elected leaders to offer that counterpoint.

BLITZER: There will be Republicans who will show up in Charlotte I'm sure to give a little opposition statements as well.


O'MALLEY: It's America. And that's what it's about.

BLITZER: It was a little unusual though almost. The vice president was going to come here this week, but he got derailed because of the bad weather. That was pretty extraordinary for a sitting vice president to come to an opposition presidential convention. That would have been extraordinary.

O'MALLEY: Well, it's a big state with a lot of electoral votes.

And I think the vice president made the right decision though given the proximity of the weather and all of the emergency management stresses that Florida is already going to be going through.

BLITZER: I don't know if you heard the former Florida Governor Jeb Bush yesterday. He suggested, you know, it's about time for this president, President Obama to stop just blaming his brother for the economic problems. He's had three-and-a-half-plus years to deal with it, still 8.3 percent unemployment. Millions of Americans are looking for work.

When is that supposed to end? When does the president stop blaming his predecessor?

O'MALLEY: Well, I think he would have long ago were it not for the fact that Jeb Bush's brother George left our country with the biggest job losses, the biggest deficits and biggest mess any president was left since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

So, it's kind of hard to overlook that. We have now under President Obama's leadership had 29 months in a row of private sector job growth. That stretch of positive private sector job growth hasn't happened since 2005. We still have a long way to go, but we are moving in the right direction.

But we should not lose sight of how far we are coming and what a big hole we were left by George W. Bush.

BLITZER: But at some point, though, the president is going to have to say, you know what, I have done my best. I have tried. We have improved certain areas, but there's still a long way to go.

O'MALLEY: Well, of course there's a long way to go.

The most important job we create is the next one, which is why the president's offered several jobs bills, each one of which has been rejected by the Republicans in the House. So, look, in order to move our country forward, we have to do the things our parents and grandparents did. They believed enough in our country to invest in our country, to create jobs, to make modern investments. And those are the things that we need to get back to with a balanced approach.

BLITZER: These conventions are important. This convention is important. Next week's Democratic Convention is important. But I suspect those three presidential debates in October, as far as the undecided or the switchable voters are concerned, are going to be much more important. Rob Portman, the senator from Ohio, is going to play President Obama in the debate preparation for Mitt Romney.

Do you know who is going to play Mitt Romney in the debate preparation for President Obama?

O'MALLEY: I don't know. I'm not privy to that.

BLITZER: Nobody's asked you?

O'MALLEY: Nobody's asked me yet, no. No one's asked me.

BLITZER: Would you be ready to do something like that?

O'MALLEY: Well, I will be glad to be of any service I can be to the president's reelection.

BLITZER: Because that's important. You have done debates, so you understand.

O'MALLEY: Yes, the debates can be nerve-racking and sometimes the person that plays your opponent, you end up not talking to for several months afterwards.

BLITZER: Because he...

O'MALLEY: But, Wolf, I think you're right. I think these debates are going to be very important because our country's at a crossroads here.

And these two individuals offer two entirely different views. Mitt Romney is someone who believes in doubling down on the same failed policies that George W. Bush brought us, more big tax breaks for the wealthiest 1 percent, cuts to education, phasing out Medicare as we know it.

I don't believe that that's the sort of thing that people are going to embrace. And that's what this election is going to be about, whether we're still a country that is able to move forward or whether we're going to slip back.

BLITZER: Are you going to hang out in Tampa for a few days all week or just...

O'MALLEY: At least for a couple days here, tonight and tomorrow.

BLITZER: By the way, I'm just being told in my ear that John Kerry, the senator from Massachusetts, is going to be playing Mitt Romney in the debate preparation.

O'MALLEY: Oh, there you go.

BLITZER: He knows what he's doing. He's pretty good.

O'MALLEY: He does. He's done it before.

BLITZER: I'm sure he will do a good job on that front as well.

Enjoy Tampa.

O'MALLEY: Hey, thanks a lot.

BLITZER: And you will be in Charlotte next week.

O'MALLEY: I will.

BLITZER: One final thing. If you were a governor of a state now, like Louisiana or Mississippi, they could be going through big problems. That could have an effect not only this week, but potentially next week, based on what happens, if there's enormous devastation.

O'MALLEY: Right.

I mean, I think that some of these governors will decide to stay home. And that's where they need to be in order to -- when you have a hurricane bearing down on your state, that's where you need to be.

BLITZER: That's priority number one.

O'MALLEY: Absolutely.

BLITZER: And we wish all those folks the best.

O'MALLEY: We do.

BLITZER: Hey, Governor, thanks for coming on.

O'MALLEY: Wolf, thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

You can experience what it's like to be at the Republican National Convention. Here's how. Tomorrow, I will be hosting the CNN Election Roundtable, along with CNN's political team. Submit your questions, and you will get answers in real time. You can join our live virtual chat, Tuesday noon Eastern. Log on to You will get all the information you want -- you will need to know. Just do it. I think you will enjoy it, noon tomorrow.

Meanwhile, new poll results from two key battleground states. One of them is now anybody's game. We're going to go inside the numbers with our own John King, Candy Crowley, Gloria Borger. They're all standing by live.

And at 46 past the hour, the high-tech software helping keep the Republican Convention safe.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Happening now: a potential game-changer in the race for the White House. One critical battleground state is now seen as a tossup.

Also, new technology safeguarding the convention. We're going to show you how it can predict a crime before it happens.

And we're live in New Orleans, possibly just over 24 hours away from a Category 2 hurricane on this, the anniversary of Katrina.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Tampa. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Florida and North Carolina, two critical states in the race for the White House, and we have new poll numbers just out that show a potentially significant shift in one of them.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, is here to take us inside the numbers with the magic wall.

John, what do you have?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, these new polls are in Florida where we are for this convention and North Carolina, where we will be next week for the president's Democratic Convention.

And because of our new poll, we're going to do this to our electoral map. We woke up this morning, 237 solid or leaning President Obama's way, 206 solid or leaning Romney's way. Those are the red and the light red states for Governor Romney. North Carolina as of this morning was one of them.

But, Wolf, we are now going to switch North Carolina from lean Republican to tossup state. That means Governor Romney's math comes down a little bit and the president has an even bigger advantage and easier path to 270. Why are we making the switch? In part because of our new national poll -- our North Carolina poll.

Let's go to the state and take a look at it. Here are the new numbers in the horse race, and that's a tossup right there -- 47-48, Governor Romney with a statistically insignificant lead at the moment. If you look closer at the numbers, here's one of things you see. One, and we're seeing this in almost every state on almost every issue, among men, Romney has a big 14-point lead, but look at this among women, the president has a 10-point lead.

A gender divide continues to divide this presidential race. Let's look more closely at the state of North Carolina. Remember, President Obama won North Carolina last time. It was a huge change. It hadn't gone Democrat since back in the 1970s. Look at this here, in the urban area, this is critical, African-American and Latino turnout, most of them live in the urban areas, 60-38, a huge edge for the president.

Governor Romney leading in the suburbs and leading in the rural parts of the state, Wolf, but not by a big enough margin at the moment to stretch out a lead. We will call North Carolina a tossup in part because of our new poll and in part because of all the attention North Carolina is about to get from the Democrats including the convention next week.

Most people will still tell you, you don't have the perfect storm in North Carolina you had four years ago, but at the moment -- and you see this in the TV ad spending -- proof Governor Romney is going to having to fight for it.

Now let's move on to where we are today in the state of Florida, and look at this, yet another dead heat, 50-46 in our new poll, the president with a slight advantage here in the key state of Florida. Again, just like North Carolina, hard to see Governor Romney winning the race unless he wins Florida.

What is driving that? Let's break down the numbers a little bit. Again, I'm going to sound like a broken record. But you see a slight edge for Romney among men and a bigger lead for the president of the United States among women again the gender divide, a defining factor in the race.

One more look at this. If you look at this, you see some of the issues. To win in Florida, you have to win the independent voters. We're in Tampa. You take the I-49 Corridor across from Orlando. That's where a lot of the independents live, a dead heat right now, a fierce competition for the key voters in the state of Florida.

Here's one thing. As Governor Romney comes to this convention, many people think they will stress a lot of conservative themes. You can't win Florida without winning the moderate vote. Look at the advantage right now. Governor Romney doesn't necessarily have to win among moderates. But he's going to have to do a lot better than this. He's way down among the president right now.

As he focuses on a national message here at his convention, he also has to worry about the state he will be in, Wolf, and that is Florida, right now a dead heat. The Romney campaign -- we have it at four points. The Romney campaign says it's at two points. Any way you see it, it's a tossup.

BLITZER: Very, very close in North Carolina and kin Florida.

John, come on over. I want to expand this conversation.

Gloria Borger is here. Candy Crowley is here as well.

Are you surprised by how competitive, Gloria, these two states are?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, I think we're going to see these polls get closer and closer, because that's where you see the national polls are heading. Also, these are now likely voters we're talking about. So these are people who are actually going to go to the polls. So it's a more accurate count.

Another thing about North Carolina, which is I think the Obama campaign has spent about $9 million, the Romney campaign almost $8 million. Almost at parity there. North Carolina is something the Romney campaign needs to win. I bet they're going to start spending a little bit more money in North Carolina. Closing the gap in Florida, good for the Romney campaign, but almost there is not good enough.

BLITZER: Gloria might not be surprised, but I was surprised that Obama has a slight lead in Florida and that it's neck and neck in North Carolina. I assumed, Candy, that North Carolina was moving in the other direction for the president.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: Yes, I actually was not surprised either. I mean, Florida, they don't call it a battleground for nothing. So we understand that's going to be close. North Carolina, President Obama won it last time.

We've seen in the nationwide polls there is a hesitation about Mitt Romney. And I would not be surprised, if we looked inside the North Carolina polls, if there isn't the same sort of hesitation about him in North Carolina. That's why they made conventions and debates and the last couple of months of the campaign.

BLITZER: I assume the president is doing better in Florida because of Medicare in that whole battle. Seniors vote in much bigger numbers than younger people in Florida.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Governor Romney actually leads among seniors.

BLITZER: Really?

KING: He continues to lead among seniors. Where President Obama is doing well, if you talk about the Ryan budget, the pushback you get from Republicans is it doesn't affect anybody over 55.

Well, guess what? If you look in that 35 to 55 age group, that's where the president is doing stronger. So people who have paid attention to this, maybe that's it. Maybe they just have more of an affinity for the president.

But among seniors at the moment, nationally and in most of the key states, Governor Romney is leading, perhaps not by the margin he needs to win come November, but he's leading at the moment.

The North Carolina numbers are proof, though, Wolf, of what the Republicans will tell you is their greatest test, their greatest challenge when it comes to President Obama. He is vulnerable. There's no question about that. But he also has a unique, Republicans will concede, coalition. African-Americans, Latinos and college- educated women. The research trial angle you have in the North Carolina area, one of the states where the demographics are changing.

Even the Democrats will privately concede if this election continues to go the way they think, they assume Barack Obama won by 14,000 votes. They assume Mitt Romney will win by a narrow margin in North Carolina if it continues to break. But it is so close, in part, because it is one of those places where the president's unique coalition is quite strong. And it will be a battleground to the end.

CROWLEY: I'll tell you one thing. Back in March, talked to a stop strategist for the Obama campaign. And actually, there were two of us there from CNN. And both of us said there's no way you guys are going to win North Carolina this time around. They said, "Guaranteed. Really, we'll win it." They felt really bullish about North Carolina in March. I imagine they're feeling...

KING: Well, he wants it. It's one -- every candidate and every president has a state. Bill Clinton was determined to win North Carolina twice. He failed. George W. Bush was determined to win Pennsylvania twice. He failed.

President Obama looks at the map, and he sees North Carolina. He wants to keep it. He understands the history of switching it, of being the first Democrat to win it in quite so long. Candy's dead right. They will try to the end.

BLITZER: Gloria, that's why they put the Democratic convention in Charlotte.

BORGER: You think? Yes, and also, just watch the -- the ad dollars, the ad buys from the campaigns and the super PACs. They're going to be in North Carolina. You've got the convention in North Carolina. So a real battleground state. One reason they're there and one reason the Republicans are here in Florida.

BLITZER: I want to get all your thoughts. What do you do if you're a Republican leader here in Tampa and tomorrow night, when this convention really gets going, there's a hurricane Category 2 that hits the Gulf Coast, maybe New Orleans, on the seventh anniversary of Katrina?

BORGER: I think it's very difficult. I think they're in a tough situation. I was talking to somebody earlier, and I said do you think they called the snow day too early here, that they could have had a convention really here today, and that would have benefited them to a certain degree if they had to cut it short at the other end?

I think, you know, you don't like to see the pictures. And they're going to have to make a game day decision here, and they're going to have to decide what tone to set, which is very important in this kind of a situation. I think it's -- it's about the schedule, yes, but it's about nuance, and it's about tone and getting the important things wrapped up as early as you can.

CROWLEY: Well, and it's my understanding, it that -- not that Chris Christie is speaking tomorrow night. So if you're looking for nuance and tone, perhaps, you know, he might have to modify what he's prepared to say.

BLITZER: Ann Romney is supposed to speak.

CROWLEY: Ann Romney is. Both of them.

BLITZER: Yes. CROWLEY: So the last time I saw the schedule, though they've been moving. But I think it's both Ann Romney and Chris Christie.

BORGER: Right.

CROWLEY: And Ann Romney, I think, is probably perfect for it in terms of tone and what we expect her to be like Chris Christie, again, might be a different. He's here to rouse the base and the conservatives and get everybody excited with some red meat. So there's that.

And look, they'll just -- things happen. You have to play it by ear. I think they're extremely sensitive to it, as they were four years ago when they saw a hurricane or a tropical storm headed toward Louisiana, which turned out to be nothing. This may turn out to be really something. And they'll deal with it.

I mean, it's -- will it step on their message? Sure. If you cancel half of a convention or you dial back what you were going to say, then you're not putting out what you wanted to put out, but stuff like this happens.

BLITZER: Well, some people say, John, and you've heard it for years -- I've been hearing it. These conventions are way too long to begin with.

KING: It's very important for Governor Romney, though, in such a competitive race, the one place he's struggling most right now is what I'll call the empathy factor, likability. Does he understand the struggles of the middle class? Does he get what working-class families are going through and have gone through the last few years? He needs to improve on those numbers in this convention. Sure, he'd love a bounce in the overall horserace polls. But it's who is he as a person that he needs to work on.

And you know what, Wolf? A, don't be surprised if he shows up here much earlier, if he gets here tomorrow morning. Don't be surprised if he comes in early, because of that.

No. 2, if they have a storm that's imperiling the Gulf Coast, it's a test of his leadership and his tone and that very same empathy thing. And one other quick point. They wanted to do it today. They wanted to nominate him today to get the official business out of the way. Why? Because the Democrats have an advantage right now. The president did not have a primary opponent. He's still spending primary money in a lot of these states. Governor Romney, until they bang down that gavel and says he's the nominee, he can't spend general election money. That's why they're going to do that tomorrow. That normally happens on Wednesday. The Republicans have been trying to back it up as quick as they can to open the bank account.

BORGER: And one other thing to keep in mind is what does the White House do during this storm? And what are the optics of where the president is, where the vice president is?

CROWLEY: It's a problem for all of them. BORGER: So they all have to sort of think about that.

BLITZER: We got this press release from the White House, a detailed, multi-paragraph press release showing us he's on top of what's going on, meeting with his FEMA director...

BORGER: No more Brownie.

BLITZER: ... meeting with the National Hurricane Center director, getting briefings on all of this, speaking to the governors of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, the mayor of New Orleans. So the president obviously trying to show -- and I'm sure he is -- he's directly involved in trying to deal with what could be a disaster. We'll watch it all unfold. We'll see what happens, not only -- as important as the politics are, we want to see what happens on the ground. That's much more important.

All right, guys, we've got news coming up. A lot of news. Gloria tonight, 8 p.m. Eastern, "Romney Revealed," your excellent documentary, gets an encore presentation. We're all excited about that, as well. All of us will be here. We're watching what's going on.

Today, they're tightly scripted and carefully controlled, but not that long ago, the party conventions were wildly unpredictable. We're taking a closer look at the intrigue and the back-room deals. And go back -- we're going to go back live to New Orleans, as well, as they bracing for Isaac on this, the seventh anniversary of Katrina.


BLITZER: We're getting some dramatic pictures from southern Florida as Tropical Storm Isaac sweeps across the region and into the Gulf of Mexico. This video, by the way, was from Key West where our i-reporter tells us the most intense period of the storm lasted for about 45 minutes.

Take a look at these pictures. They're coming in from CNN affiliate WPLG in Bal Harbor, near Miami. Reports are that Isaac is coming in; distinct bands of heavy rain and strong winds. These were pictures that were coming in from south Florida.

Plywood is at a premium, and people are gassing up their cars. Louisiana and much of the Gulf Coast are getting ready for Isaac to hit land, probably within 24 hours. The New Orleans mayor says there's a high level of anxiety.

CNN's Anderson Cooper is in New Orleans for us now. He's joining us live.

Anderson, you spent some time in New Orleans in the days after Katrina, as all of our viewers remember. What are the differences you're seeing today as far as preparedness is concerned?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: You know, certainly there's a lot more organization, certainly at the local and the state level. And probably even at the federal level. You know, it's a different mayor. It's a different governor. And they've learned a lot of lessons in the wake, in the seven years since Katrina. A lot of things not to do and things to plan for.

So there seems to be a lot more systems in place. I think people are a lot more confident. This may be really the big first test for -- for the levee system, the billions that have been poured into the levee system now. This is actually -- I'm at the 17th Street Canal. This -- the levees here failed seven years ago. Legendarily, water flooded from Lake Pontchartrain, flooding into New Orleans. They spent a lot of money, a lot of effort now to build flood gates here. We're going to really, probably get the first real test of those systems since Hurricane Katrina.

The last hurricane here in 2008 really didn't test the systems that were in place at the time. I think there's a lot more confidence. You know, they're certainly concerned. People are taking this seriously, but there's not a mass exodus at this point. It's a weaker storm than it was seven years ago, at least at this point, Wolf.

BLITZER: Are people expressing anxiety, though, to you? They seem -- you say they're confident. I know the authorities are pretty confident, but what about average folks out there on the street?

COOPER: You know, there's always anxiety. I think the big concern is with kind of slow-moving storm, they expect you know, not only storm surge but the storm to actually kind of move slowly over land, bring in a lot of rain with it, a lot of storm surge, a lot of potential flooding. So that's the really big concern.

You know, you do see people stocking up on supplies, of course. You know, folks around here are used to storm systems like this and have been through them before. So there is a lot of preparation. People are taking it seriously. You know, shrimpers getting their boats out of the water. People are tying things down, nailing things down as best they can.

But you don't see -- there's not -- they're not going to have the contraflow. They're not expecting a mass mandatory evacuation at this point, except in some low-lying areas that are outside the levee protection zones.

BLITZER: Anderson is not going away. He's in New Orleans for the duration now. He's going to be with us, obviously, throughout this entire night as our live coverage continues. Anderson, stand by.

Other news we're following, as well, including surveillance cameras that record crime. But now new software can help them predict crime at the same time. Privacy advocates are sounding an alarm.

And the so-called earthquake swarm that rattled the ground and the nerves in California.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The house is coming down!



BLITZER: Spotting crime before it happens. That's the idea behind some remarkable new computer technology that's now being used here in Tampa to help safeguard this Republican convention. CNN's crime and justice correspondent, Joe Johns, got a first-hand look.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Here at the headquarters of a brainy technology company in Houston, a brave new world of video surveillance is playing out on big-screen TVs.

(on camera) There's a car behind the train?


JOHNS: What's he doing out there?

FRAZZINI: Well, that's a good question for the security team to find out.

JOHNS (voice-over): A group of scientists, computer geeks and law enforcement guys at BRS Labs have invented new software for security cameras, designed to alert authorities to crime, sometimes before it even happens. That's right. Computers determine what behavior is suspicious.

Take, for example, this unlucky character who was skulking around a car.

FRAZZINI: Our software was able to analyze the video surveillance information coming from this particular camera. I was able to learn what was taking place over the course of time and was able to identify this specific activity as abnormal.

JOHNS: That's company president John Frazzini, a former Secret Service agent. What's most important, he says, is that the program uses artificial intelligence. It functions like a human brain, creating memories of what's normal by watching the camera for several days, then sending out alerts instantly when it sees something out of the ordinary.

FRAZZINI: Our customers reported to us that they were -- they were able to dispatch their security team to intercept this particular criminal activity, in this case, a human breaking into a car.

JOHNS (on camera): So they caught this guy in real time?

FRAZZINI: They did.

JOHNS: That rapid response time is one reason Tampa chose the company to analyze the cameras surrounding the Republican National Convention. Right now, thousands upon thousands of video cameras around the country are almost always used to document a person's activities after something bad happens.

But this moves up the timeline. Getting one step closer to what's been caused pre-crime. The idea that video can paint a clear enough picture for the authorities to intervene before someone breaks the law.

FRAZZINI: Our software is designed to identify activity that lends itself to potential criminal or terroristic activity. We're taking that first step forward.

JOHNS: Pre-crime might make you think of science fiction like "Minority Report" with Tom Cruise.

TOM CRUISE, ACTOR: What he's doing now we call scrubbing the image, looking for the clues as to where the murder's going to happen.

JOHNS: Of course, this technology can't see into the future or read minds. Still, it's already going too far for privacy advocates like Jay Stanley of the American Civil Liberties Union.

JAY STANLEY, ACLU: The problem is that having a computer watching a video feed of a complicated scene like a subway platform, you know, is the computer really going to be able to detect something that's out of the ordinary and that is a true threat? Or is it just going to kick up a lot of false positives and get a lot of people hassled by the cops who are perfectly innocent and not really doing anything to make us safer?

JOHNS: The company's chief science officer, who claims to be a proud member of the ACLU, says there's no privacy issue here, that they focus on behavior, not identity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're very serious about privacy protection. That's why we don't do facial recognition. That's why we don't look at people's license plates. That's why we don't try to recognize that, oh, my gosh, there's Joe Johns walking out of the CNN buildings. We don't do that.


BLITZER: Amazing report. That was CNN's Joe Johns, reporting for us. New technology, people are watching.

Meanwhile, residents of one city in Syria are burying more than 200 people today after another violent, bloody weekend of clashes with government forces.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What's going on, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the United Nations is calling for an investigation after 245 people, including children, were killed in the Syrian city of Daria over the weekend. Rebels say the Syrian army is targeting the sacked (ph) city, because it's close to the capital and it was one of the first cities to revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.

And a third oil holding tank has gone up in flames in Venezuela after an explosion Saturday at one of the largest refineries in the world. That explosion killed at least 48 people and destroyed hundreds of homes. Oil revenues are crucial for Venezuela's economy, making up 94 percent of the country's exports.

And the National Transportation Safety Board says worn aircraft parts and very high speeds caused last year's deadly crash at the Reno Air Races. That crash killed a veteran pilot and ten people in the stands and injured dozens more. The NTSB says some of the screws on that plane had not been replaced in at least 26 years, and they came loose when the pilot flew the plane faster than it had ever gone before.

And experts say Southern California should brace for thousands more earthquakes in the coming days. This after a swarm of several hundred small quakes hit the San Diego area over the weekend. That's the most earthquake activity in that area since the 1970s. But so far, they have caused no injuries and only damage -- very lucky. They're calling this term a swarm of these hurricanes [SIC], and they're saying possibly thousands more, Wolf.

BLITZER: Swarm of the earthquakes.

SYLVESTER: Right. Exactly. Yes, obviously, earthquakes. That's right.

BLITZER: Now. All right. Thanks, Lisa. Thanks very much.

All right. Our special coverage of the Republican National Convention beginning right at the top of the hour. Straight ahead also, spectacle and intrigue. We're taking a closer look at how the party conventions have changed.


BLITZER: They may look the same, but the party conventions have changed dramatically over the last few decades. The presidential historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin, takes us behind the scenes to the days of intrigue and back-room deals.


DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I believe conventions still have an enduring ritual in our North American political system. It's the time for the party activists to come together and get mobilized. There's all the spectacle, the balloons, the sense of what was in the past may not be true today. But there's still a connection. It's the only time that the party comes together as a whole. And there's something about these rituals that I think still attach to us emotionally, even though the conventions have nowhere near the importance that they once did before. We still watch them as a spectacle.

You can imagine how exciting this was in the days when the convention delegates had the full responsibility to decide who they were going to nominate for the president? So when you went into the convention, you often didn't know who was going to come out.

1920 with Warren G. Harding and the smoke-filled room is one of the bad examples of the political bosses choosing a nominee. They take Warren Harding aside, and they say, "Is there anything we should know before we make you our nominee?"

They give him a few moments to decide and he comes back: "Absolutely not. There's nothing to worry about." They soon find out that he had been having a longtime affair with a woman named Carrie Philips. And if that were to be known in 1920, it would have been devastating. But the Republican committee had a way of dealing with it. They sent her and her husband on a trip to the orient and paid her $25,000 a month so that her story would never be told.

That's an amazing story, I know. And just to show the split in the Republican Party that time in 1964, the liberal wing, the progressive wing of the Republican Party, was represented by George Romney. And he was very much in favor of a civil rights plank and some other social issue planks. And when they weren't included, he actually left the floor and left with his son, Mitt, by his side. So it just shows how the Republican Party has changed from that point to this.

GERALD FORD, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm honored by your nomination. And I accept it.

GOODWIN: You look at Ford's victory in 1976 over Reagan. Reagan did represent that more conservative element of the Republican Party. But Ford managed to pull off that victory.

Even in the wings, however, Reagan remained the star figure. And I can still remember the speech he made. And that's where all eyes and all emotions were. As somebody who lost it, he handled it with generosity, as did Ford handle him.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We must go forth from here united, determined that what a great general said a few years ago is true: there is no substitute for victory.

GOODWIN: H.L. Mencken said even back in the early days when the convention were choosing the nominees because they dragged on and on, day after day, and he said, there's so dull that after a while, you just want to kill one of the delegates. But then he said, all of a sudden, something gaudy happens, something spectacular happens and it's almost like you're living a year in one glorious day. And I think that's true.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America. There's the United States of America.


BLITZER: And CNN's coverage of the Republican National Convention continues right now.