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THE SITUATION ROOM
Hurricane Isaac Pounds Gulf Coast; Paul Ryan's Big Night
Aired August 29, 2012 - 17:59 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And happening now, dramatic rescues as Isaac sparks a flooding nightmare in parts of Louisiana.
Plus, Paul Ryan's big night here at the Republican National Convention.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Seven years to the day after Hurricane Katrina, Isaac is inundating the Gulf Coast with torrential rain and walls of water, posing a very real and deadly threat that will last for hours if not days.
The storm was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm just a couple of hours ago, but that reflects only the winds, and they're still near hurricane force. The storm surge breached a local levy in the Plaquemines Parish, which had not been upgraded after Katrina.
Flood waters trapped dozens of people in their homes. Some seeking shelter in attics as they awaited rescue. And Mississippi reports at least 50 people rescued in that state.
At last report, more than 800,000 people across the region are now without power, in a dusk-to-dawn curfew has been declared in New Orleans starting tonight.
Let's get straight to Plaquemines Parish, where that levee breach has resulted in some dramatic rescues. The president of Plaquemines Parish, Billy Nungesser, is joining us on the phone right now.
Billy, thanks very much for joining us. What's the very latest in your parish?
BILLY NUNGESSER, PRESIDENT, PLAQUEMINES PARISH, LOUISIANA: We just had a meeting with the governor and Craig Fugate, the head of FEMA, from Washington, and expressed to him the need for the federal assistance.
And hopefully we can get the president to declare Plaquemines Parish a federal disaster parish so we can get 100 percent federal assistance. That's going to be so needed. Just as we speak, I got word that another levee in South Plaquemines on the west bank has been overtopped.
This will be the third area of the west bank that is now underwater to add to the east bank troubles where we have been rescuing people all day.
BLITZER: This was a tropical storm, became a hurricane, a Category 1, but not two or three, a major hurricane, as they say. Was it a surprise that these levees were overtopped the way they were? Because we thought repairs over the seven years had fixed that.
NUNGESSER: In Belle Chasse, we have 100-year protection. We have over a billion-and-a-half dollars for federal levees that haven't been started yet, but absolutely.
My home had more damage for this storm than Katrina. I rode out Katrina 14 miles from the eye of the storm, and yet I have seen more damage to my home from these winds that kept on for two days. We also almost saw the Mississippi River as water was driven up the river and almost topped the banks of the Mississippi River.
The flooding came from the back levees, but that's incredible, historical low river that this storm kept pumping that water for days up against the levees, and something had to give.
BLITZER: Are there people still stranded on rooftops and attics as far as you know?
NUNGESSER: We're still looking.
You know, a lot of the calls we got have been either the same name or a different address, but we're going to keep looking until dark tonight and we will resume a double check tomorrow of all the homes on the east bank. We also have had a few calls for the levees breached on the west bank, and we have crews down there now looking for people that have called in that they have been trapped in the waters as well.
BLITZER: When you escaped, what was it like? Walk us through that process because I understand it got pretty frightening.
NUNGESSER: It absolutely did.
I drove this parish for every hurricane. I couldn't go more than halfway down. The last half of my parish sticks out in the Gulf 50 miles. The wind and the rain was like a white sheet. You couldn't see past the dashboard. Things were hitting the vehicle and turning us sideways in some instances from the wind. So we turned back about halfway down the parish when we attempted to get to the south end.
BLITZER: What's the status now? What do you need the most from local, state, federal authorities?
NUNGESSER: Well, we're getting the support from the governor and National Guard, state police, and our surrounding parishes. Saint Bernard police and sheriff's office and parish president of Saint Bernard which is on east bank and borders our parish have been great and supportive.
We need the federal government, the president of the United States, President Obama, who came down and helped us during the oil spill, we need him to declare this parish a federal disaster, so we can begin to clean up after the rescue period and begin to build our parish back.
BLITZER: Bottom line, Billy, how would you compare this to Katrina seven years ago?
NUNGESSER: Well, when I think all is said and done, we're going to have water where we didn't have water for Katrina.
And that says it all. Katrina was a devastating, major hurricane. But we have areas that we prided ourself that were hard ground in this parish that never flooded. They're under five to 10 foot of water for this Category 1 or so it is called.
BLITZER: Billy Nungesser is the president of Plaquemines Parish. Good luck, Billy. Good luck to everyone in your parish. Good luck to everyone along the Gulf Coast. We will stay in close touch with you. Thank you.
CNN's Soledad O'Brien is also in Plaquemines Parish. She's joining us on the phone as well.
From your vantage point, Soledad, right now, what are you seeing?
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: We're very close to where the flood wall is.
The flood wall is a demarcation between Saint Bernard and Plaquemines Parish. When you hear the president of Plaquemines Parish talk about the surge and all the water rushing in, he is talking about water coming from the Gulf on the east side. The water coming from the Gulf is you're just blowing its way in, stopping at the flood wall which was shut down to protect Saint Bernard Parish.
So on one side of flood wall, the Saint Bernard Parish side, actually they got very little flooding, maybe six or nine inches. On the other side, 15 to 20 feet of water in Plaquemines Parish. That's of course what's absolutely devastating there.
We could look out, walk up on the wall, and look out and see what was a community, a neighborhood, a subdivision literally just underwater. We spoke to a woman who was pulled out from one of these homes. She said they got a call at 2:00, word the levee had been breached. We actually heard there was overtopping, and it is not being confirmed there was a breach. But she said they were told it was breached and that they needed to think about getting out.
She said but nothing really happened until two hours later. Two hours later, suddenly water started gushing in. In just a few minutes, they had five feet of water in the house. She said she got her son and the dog, Lucky, and they got themselves out of the home. Her husband stayed behind with the other pets. She said she never thought even with a mandatory evacuation order that the water would come into her home.
Plus she said we have pets, we can't just go to a hotel and evacuate anywhere. They decided to try to stick it out. She was able to get out from the second-floor window of the home. She was pulled into a boat.
BLITZER: Amazing stories that are still going to continue. You heard Billy Nungesser just tell us they're searching, they're looking for people that may be stranded. What are you hearing out there?
O'BRIEN: That's absolutely true. We have seen lots of boats going in the water, and Fish and Wildlife is here. The captain of Saint Bernard Fire Department has also been in the water these boats that can actually go in pretty easily and try to navigate around.
Part of the problem is there's no real number, no sense yet we have heard of exactly how many people they might be looking for. So we will get word we think there's maybe two people in the house, and they will go out and try to find that house and try to find those people. So it is a little chaotic.
At one point, Wolf, there was this wind that was just crazy and rain that was driving so hard, it was just pelting our faces, it was painful, and you're thinking these guys are out on the water trying to figure out if there are even people to rescue. Really, really tough circumstances to try do a rescue in.
The Coast Guard, as I know you know, said they wouldn't go out because until the storm passes they can't really get their boats in the water, they can't do obviously anything from the air. They said that they would just have to wait the storm out. That's really been the story with what Billy Nungesser was saying, what makes the storm different is it's really just camped here, just parked here pouring and pouring bad weather right over this parish, which is sort of slowing any rescue effort down.
When Katrina came through, certainly a lot of water obviously in Katrina, but it's blew through, it came through relatively quickly. I will tell you one other things, the folks in Saint Bernard Parish, who you will remember seven years ago to this day felt they were the ones being helped out, they were the ones calling on their neighbors for help because they were under so much water here in Saint Bernard Parish.
They said they feel lucky to be able to help their neighbor, Plaquemines Parish. They feel very fortunate to be able to return that favor and help out a neighboring parish especially on what is a terrible, terrible anniversary of this day in August seven years ago. Obviously Hurricane Katrina struck right here.
BLITZER: Soledad, thanks very much for that report.
Soledad O'Brien reporting for us on this continuing disaster.
BLITZER: And take a look at this, some of the other damage caused by Isaac. This is what the Hard Rock Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, looks like. It is normally a waterfront location. But now Isaac pushed the water right up to the front door.
The casino and hotel are closed obviously until further notice. These images are from CNN iReporter Alfonso Walker (ph). And parts of Florida still hasn't recovered from Isaac, even though the storm only passed by -- iReporter T. Powers (ph) sent this image of her neighborhood in Fort Pierce where the water from Isaac is still several feet deep. She says the area around her home is only accessible by boat or on foot at this point.
And an iReporter who calls himself Love NOLA captured this image of a collapsed house in New Orleans' Mid-City neighborhood. She says she went to borrow a generator and came upon this scene only blocks from her home.
We will have much more on the storm coverage coming up later this hour, including more dramatic images of Isaac's wrath as it churns across the Gulf Coast region.
And we're also following another big story, the convention. We're learning details of what Paul Ryan will say later tonight in his speech here at the convention, only a few hours away.
And her speech brought delegates here to their feet. I will talk with Mia Love about her historic bid to become the first black Republican woman elected to Congress.
BLITZER: Paul Ryan's big night here at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. His speech introducing himself to the American people only a few hours away.
CNN's Dana Bash is out there on the floor, and she's learning some details about what the vice presidential nominee for the Republican Party will say tonight.
What are your sources telling you, Dana?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that's right.
First of all, to just give you a view of what's going to happen, and what it will look like for Paul Ryan, he will be standing up there speaking. This is where he will be looking, front row seats for his fellow people from Wisconsin.
What's he going to be talking about? I was talking to a source familiar with the speech that said he is really going to be the attack dog, the attack dog that maybe some here on the floor have been waiting for and hoping for to come out of this convention.
He is going to really try to in the words of the source deconstruct the Obama agenda. We actually got some excerpts of what Paul Ryan is going to say. I will read you one of them. He talks about his father who died when he was 16 years old and he says: "My dad used to say to me, son, you have a choice. You can be part of the problem or you can be part of the solution. The present administration has made its choices. And Mitt Romney and I have made ours. Before the math and the momentum overwhelm us all, we are going to solve this nation's economic problems and I am going to level with you, we don't have that much time. If we are serious and smart and we lead, we can do this."
That was not very attack dog-like, but I'm guessing they're holding that for the actual speech. He is going to, of course, address the issue of Medicare, that he is the author of the controversial plan. He is going to address it head on we're told and in a factual way, that's the way it was described, factual way, pick apart the president's health care plan, talk about the stimulus program and also the national debt which he talks about over and over again for those of us covering Congress.
And of course, he is going to give his biography because he has to introduce himself to the American people tonight.
BLITZER: Got some information about what he did last night, didn't you, Dana?
BASH: This is really interesting.
While really everybody else was here in the hall listening to Ann Romney speak, including Paul Ryan's wife, Paul Ryan was back in the hotel room baby-sitting. His brother Tobin (ph) told me that story, that in fact he was baby-sitting for his own kids and for his brother Tobin's child, four kids altogether.
Tobin said he texted his brother to make sure his own kid was in bed. So he formally got the nomination right here inside the Wisconsin delegation, but he was home with his kids in the hotel room baby-sitting.
BLITZER: Good place for him to be.
On another matter, there has been some bad blood between the Ron Paul delegates at this Republican Convention and Mitt Romney. Senator Rand Paul, son of Ron Paul, he will be speaking at the convention. You had a chance to speak to him. How did he sum up what's going on here?
BASH: Some of the controversy and a lot of the controversy we have been hearing from the Ron Paul supporters on the floor is they are upset he is not speaking. Part of the reason why they say he is not us because -- and Ron Paul alluded to this himself -- that the Romney campaign wanted to look at the speech and really wanted to make sure they were OK with it, check it off.
Rand Paul who is speaking told me he has gone through a really smooth speechwriting process with the Romney campaign. He says they haven't talked to him at all or questioned the content of his speech, they assigned him somebody who he knows who works with a colleague of his in the Senate, and what they discussed are style issues, syntax issues, but when it comes to the content of his message, he says the Romney campaign hasn't not tried to meddle with it at all. BLITZER: Dana is on the floor. She will be out there throughout the night. We will check back with you often. Dana, thanks very much.
Let's dig a little bit deeper right now into Paul Ryan's speech tonight. Joining us, our chief national correspondent, John King, our chief political correspondent, the host of "STATE OF THE UNION," Candy Crowley, and our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.
How important for Paul Ryan is this speech tonight?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it is very important.
As Dana was just saying, he has to introduce himself to the American public. He has been on Capitol Hill for quite some time and chairman of the Budget Committee, but people really don't know who he is. They may have heard of the Paul Ryan budget because Democrats have been campaigning against it for a couple of years, and the president has been talking about it. So, this is his first time to say, here I am, the representative of a younger generation of Republicans.
BLITZER: Because outside of Wisconsin, outside of his district, outside of the political news junkies like us in Washington, most Americans don't know much about him.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They don't. Even statewide in Wisconsin, not a lot of folks knew him.
They know he is a hometown boy now obviously, but part of I think -- it isn't even so much -- he does want to tell his story because he has a nice sort of working-class story in some ways, although they are not un-wealthy at the moment, so he does want to do this.
This entire convention is about teeing up Mitt Romney. So, I was told this is all about a continuum, that Ann Romney opened it up, and that's sort of the personal side of Mitt Romney. Chris Christie said we need to be brave, we need to be straightforward with the American people.
Paul Ryan is going to say and we need big ideas. This is not a time for small politics, it is time for big ideas. And then the big idea guy comes tomorrow night and that's Mitt Romney. That's how they sort of structured it.
BLITZER: He does have big ideas, John.
KING: He has a lot of big ideas. The pick of Paul Ryan has hopefully elevated the seriousness of the debate, and we won't really see that until the presidential debates. The conventions are more about red meat and ripping the other guy apart. We will get some of that next week.
But inside the hall, a lot of people say we had Chris Christie last night, Paul Ryan tonight. If Romney loses, are we seeing the first chapter of 2016? Paul Ryan has in some ways overshadowed Mitt Romney since he was picked. That traditionally happens. The V.P. is picked, he owns a week or so.
His job tonight is do the traditional role, as Dana noted, be the attack dog, make the case against President Obama, and then say we have the guy to lead our ticket against him. It is a tough balancing act.
BORGER: It is. I talked to someone in the Romney campaign that said you don't want to attack President Obama frontally. He's very well liked. You're appealing to independent voters, you want them to get to like your guy, too. You have to be very careful in how you attack.
One of the reasons Chris Christie wasn't quite what I expected last night is because he is really an attack dog. What he did last night was not attack frontally the way I am used to hearing him do that. I think he had to rein in himself in, because they do want to appeal to that small sliver that might switch, people that supported the president in 2008 and may be switching now.
BLITZER: I don't think there's any doubt that he energized that conservative base for Mitt Romney, many of whom had some doubts about him.
CROWLEY: Yes. He's absolutely -- that's in fact why he was picked. It wasn't by happenstance because Paul Ryan is clearly a favorite of the conservatives.
Probably he could read the phone book, I would assume, and they would love him here on this floor. One of the things you look for with Paul Ryan is he is not exactly -- I don't see him as a great politician. I mean, he is not all that exciting on the stump.
And this is a tough thing to do. I don't think people have a good sense of how difficult this is. That's why I thought Ann Romney was so impressive was that sitting up there because you have got two things going on. You're talking to the folks in their living rooms, but you're getting reaction from the folks that are in this hall, and they practice how to do that, exactly like when the crowd starts to go this way, you have to start talking again. Timing is everything. And he is not, Paul Ryan at least, has not been a particularly great politician. This will be a fun way to watch.
BLITZER: John, two other speakers, Condoleezza Rice and John McCain, they will speaking tonight. I assume foreign policy will be on their agenda.
KING: It will be on their agenda.
If you look at the polling right now, if we were having this conversation in the 1980s or even in the early 1990s, Republicans viewed it as a great strength. At the every Republican convention, it was the Democrats will raise your taxes, and they will be weak on national security. This president is pretty popular when it comes to foreign policy right now. If you ask voters who would better handle foreign policy, President Obama actually comes out a few points ahead of Governor Romney. Why? He was the president when Osama bin Laden was killed. He was the president who ended what was a very, very unpopular war. The Iraq war had dragged on for some time.
He is the president that says -- and the American people support this -- there are a lot of questions about this -- but he's the president who says we are going to get out of Afghanistan. On the world stage, there hasn't been a huge international crisis, you might say the economy is, but in terms of war and peace, the president gets pretty high marks.
The Republicans will criticize him saying America is leading from behind, a term you have heard a lot, America is too deferential and that America has somehow lost its stature. It's a tougher argument to make because it isn't in synch with what the American think at the moment.
But part of this is appealing. As Candy said, it is more for the people in the hall, conservatives that want a little bit of red meat. They also know even as they do this it's part of the ritual. They also know this election is going to be about the economy, the economy, the economy.
BLITZER: On that front, Gloria, you spent some time with Paul Ryan over the years, had a long interview with him not that long ago. He's had to push back some of his own personal positions because he is number two, and he now has to accept what the number one, Mitt Romney, stands for.
BORGER: Could you be talking about the Ryan budget and Medicare?
BLITZER: There are lot of -- several issues, including on social issues like abortion rights for women, he had to accept Mitt Romney's position allowing exceptions for rape and incest.
BLITZER: Which is an exception he didn't originally support.
And on the Medicare issue, he and Mitt Romney are a little bit apart. Mitt Romney has promised not to touch Medicare at all. Paul Ryan's budget originally assumed the cuts to Medicare that the president assumed, so now he finds himself in a position of railing against the president's cuts to Medicare which would go to his health care reform plan that he actually had in his own budget which went to something else.
But he's had to close that gap. It is not as big a gap as voodoo economics with George Bush. (CROSSTALK)
KING: Or Joe Biden saying Barack Obama wasn't ready to be president. That was a pretty big gap.
BORGER: That's right. It is very much around -- it's just around the margins. Mitt Romney hired a junior partner. That's what he did.
BLITZER: All right, guys, we have a long night ahead of us. It will be fun and it will be exciting and we will be all over this story.
See John smiling, Candy smiling.
BORGER: I'm smiling, OK.
BLITZER: Gloria smiling.
Still ahead, we have got much more coming up on what's going on here at the Republican Convention. She's Mormon, she's black, and her bid for Congress could make history. I will speak live this hour with Mia Love. Her speech brought this Republican Convention to its feet.
Plus, we will also go back to the scene of so many dramatic rescues. Our own Anderson Cooper is in Louisiana's flooded Plaquemines Parish for us. He will join us live.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Happening now: Isaac's relentless, prolonged punch. Eighteen hours of relentless rain and counting in some areas. It's a disaster unfolding in slow motion.
And she electrified this Republican convention here in Tampa with her speech last night. Will she become the first black GOP woman to win a seat in the United States Congress? Mia Love, she'll join us live this hour.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in Tampa. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Let's get back first to those devastating flooding areas caused by the overtopping of a levee in Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana. There have been more than 150 911 calls from people waiting to be rescued. Dozens have been plucked from their rooftops. Some people say it's even worse than anything they experienced seven years ago exactly on this day when Katrina struck.
CNN's Anderson Cooper is joining us now live from Plaquemines Parish.
Anderson, what do you know about all these rescue efforts that are under way?
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Seeing them all day, Wolf. I'm standing on the Saint Bernard side of the levee wall. You can see the wall behind me is about 16 feet. On the other side of that is nothing but water. It's Plaquemines Parish, and it is under water. You can see -- you can see the rooftops of some buildings.
And all day long, this is the point where they have been bringing people that they've rescued, people who have been trapped in attics, people who have been trapped on rooftops, trapped on the top of levees, as well. They just brought in a woman who was about 70 years old who is in need of kidney dialysis. They were able to get her here. Her grandkids were waiting with her. They have been very anxious, obviously, about what was going on with her. They were able to bring her by boat. And now she has been taken to a hospital just for a checkup.
But we've been seeing dozens of these kinds of rescues, Wolf. It's been a very dramatic scene. And you know, there were a lot of folks who, though there was a mandatory evacuation of Plaquemines Parish, a lot of folks just chose not to leave. It didn't flood that badly in other storms, so they felt it wouldn't flood this time. But as we've been saying all along, this storm is different. Even though (AUDIO GAP), there were some very strong wind gusts. There's a lot of water in Plaquemines Parish, and it is still there right now, Wolf.
BLITZER: And as far as the rescue operations that are under way, do they have enough people? Do they have enough resources there, local, state, federal authorities or FEMA representatives? Are they on the scene, based on what you can see, Anderson?
COOPER: There's a lot of folks on the scene. They were bringing in National Guard in earlier this morning, bringing in different kinds of boats to get to some of these people.
But what we saw really early on this morning was just local people getting in their own boats and going out and undertaking rescues, you know, even though conditions were still very dangerous. (AUDIO GAP) Plaquemines Parish went out there and just, you know, took it upon themselves; took a hatchet with them, broke into people's attics and rescued a number of people. We've seen video of that all day long. And those people, along with law -- the law enforcement personnel, are being hailed as heroes today for their work in what are continuing to be very dangerous conditions, Wolf.
BLITZER: Anderson is going to be with us through the night. Anderson, good luck. Be careful out there. We'll stay in very, very close touch with you.
We're also following other news, including what's going on here at this Republican convention. An unconventional Republican candidate, we should say, has wowed the delegates here at this convention. She's black; she's Mormon; she's running for the United States Congress. Coming up, I'll speak with the mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, Mia Love, she's here in THE SITUATION ROOM with us.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Checking some other top stories from Washington.
In an interview with a pro-government station, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria says the situation is much better. He went on to say security forces are carrying out what he called heroic duties. Opposition activists say at least 89 people were killed across the country today. Tens of thousands of Syrians have since fled the violence.
Egypt's defense ministry says 11 terrorists have been killed and 23 captured in the Sinai Peninsula. A massive military campaign called Operation Eagle was launched after masked gunmen killed 16 soldiers earlier this month in North Sinai. No group claimed responsibility for that attack. The U.S. and Israel have voiced concerns about the rise in terror cells in the Sinai since last year's uprising ousted President Hosni Mubarak.
And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say 66 people are now confirmed dead this year from West Nile Virus in the U.S. Total human infections are up 40 percent from last week, bringing the total for the year to 1,590. It is the worst outbreak of the virus through August since it was first detected in the United States back in 1999. The disease is spread by infected mosquitoes which get it from infected birds.
And the National Football League will begin its regular season with replacement referees. CNN Sports confirmed the clubs were notified in a memo from the NFL today. The memo emphasized the replacement referees have undergone extensive training and evaluation. The league is involved in a labor dispute with the referees' union -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Lisa, thanks very, very much.
We're here at the Republican National Convention. We have a special guest that's coming up. She's black. She's Mormon. She's running for the United States Congress as a Republican. And she's here to speak with me. The mayor of Saratoga Springs, Mia Love and me in THE SITUATION ROOM when we come back.
BLITZER: Mia Love could make history in November. She's the mayor of a small Utah town. She's now running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. If she wins, she would become the first black Republicans woman elected to Congress. And yesterday, she certainly brought the delegates here to their feet with an electrifying speech. The mayor is joining us here right now.
Mayor Love, thanks very much for coming in.
MAYOR MIA LOVE (R), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Thank you.
BLITZER: Quite a speech you delivered last night. Did you know you would get that kind of reception, or was this all new to you?
LOVE: You know, I think that when people start talking about the truth, things that resonate, that you know, they get excited about it. I talked about my parents and immigrating. Everyone can, you know, get that, has that background in their life.
BLITZER: Your parents came from Haiti.
LOVE: My parents came from Haiti.
BLITZER: They settled in Utah?
LOVE: No, they settled in New York.
BLITZER: And then how did you wind up in Utah?
LOVE: Well, I moved to Connecticut right after my parents took me around 5 years old, and I ended up setting my roommate up with a young man that I met in Utah -- I mean, in Connecticut, set them up, and I ended up staying in Utah.
BLITZER: And then once you were in Utah, you converted to Mormon?
LOVE: I actually did that in Connecticut.
BLITZER: You did that in Connecticut?
LOVE: That was in Connecticut.
BLITZER: How did that happen?
LOVE: Well, my sister was a member of the LDS Church. She converted about two years previous to that. And I went, and I found out a little about it. I was actually my mother's spy, and I went in to try and find out about it a little bit. And you know, it worked for me, and I chose to be part of the church.
BLITZER: Let's talk about your speech last night.
BLITZER: Some of it was, I should say, controversial. You spoke about President Obama, and you said his vision of America is a divided one. What do you mean by that?
LOVE: Well, I mean if you think about the war on women, if you think about Joe Biden and his comments, I think those are -- those are racially divisive. I think that we -- I deserve a president that sees me as an individual. We deserve a president that sees us all equally as Americans.
BLITZER: Well, you would say he's got a war on women?
LOVE: No, he said that, you know, Republicans have a war, that there's a war on women. I don't think so. I think that everyone is having -- the issues that we have in this country we need to solve as Americans. And we need to really start looking at all of us as equal individuals. That's what I want to -- that's what I want to see in a president.
BLITZER: And because we have some poll numbers. I'm going to put them up on the screen. Mitt Romney is having some trouble with women voters out there. He does well with male voters; women voters not so -- so much.
Male voters would be -- you know, 53 percent say they'll vote for Romney; 43 percent say they'll vote for President Obama.
Well, for women voters in our CNN/ORC poll, 54 percent say they'll vote for President Obama among women, only 42 percent for Mitt Romney. Why does he have a problem, Mitt Romney, the man you support, getting women's support out there? Is it because of some of the social issues like abortion rights for women, contraceptives, some of these issues?
LOVE: I think if we look at everything as a whole, I think we're going to see as a whole Mitt Romney resonates with most Americans.
Now obviously, you can pick and choose issues. I think what hurts us all as a whole is the economy, people trying to find jobs. Twenty-three million Americans out of work. The fact that we've got this $16 trillion debt looming over our children's heads. I think that that's what's going -- that's what, you know, we're going to see happen. And people are going to come together and notice that.
BLITZER: Now, your message of self-reliance, and I'll put it up on the screen: "People just want opportunity. They don't want a handout." So what does that mean? Because there are a lot of people who need a handout. They need Food Stamps. They need Welfare. They would be starving if they didn't get that kind of help.
LOVE: Well, I think that what our policies do, our policies discourage people from working. I think that what we have to do is we've got to really focus on getting people back on their feet as quickly as possible. Getting them back on their feet, it would be giving them opportunity.
BLITZER: So what would you do different? If you're a member of the House of Representatives on a key committee, for example, what would you do differently to get these people off Welfare, for example, and get a job?
LOVE: Well, we spend $900 billion on poverty programs. It's supposed to end poverty, but it continues to grow and grow and grow, where 46 million Americans are on Food Stamps today. What happens is somebody goes out and gets a job, it ends all of the benefits. So it's discouraging people to get out and work.
BLITZER: Are you saying...
LOVE: We have to start to scale it down. You have to start scaling it down and allowing people to work, and maybe decreasing some of those benefits.
BLITZER: Talking about Food Stamps, people need Food Stamps. How do you get -- tell them, "You know what? There's a limit. You're not going to get any more Food Stamps unless you go out there and work"? How do you do that?
LOVE: You have to promote personal responsibility. Again, instead of saying, "You know what? You're going to go to work, and you're going to lose all of your benefits," we have to start looking at saying, "You know what? Why don't we get you to work and then we'll start decreasing those. We want to get you to -- to go out and be able to provide for yourself, educate yourself, educate -- educate your children if you have children, and then move along in that direction."
But that's not what's happening. If somebody goes out and gets some work, there's a limit that they get. And all of a sudden, they lose all of their benefits. That's not what we want to do. We want people to go out and be able to provide for themselves and educate themselves.
BLITZER: So what would be priority No. 1 for Congresswoman Mia Love, if she's elected, obviously, to the United States House of Representatives?
LOVE: We are going to start looking at our -- we've got to limit government. I mean, we continue to spend tons of money after our deficit issues are large. And we've got to get that under control.
So we're going to start looking at inefficiencies. We're going to start looking at programs that we don't necessarily need and start cutting back on that. Then we're going to allow entrepreneurs to create jobs and put more money into the economy and start reducing the debt.
BLITZER: On the social issues, abortion rights, for example, where do you stand?
LOVE: I am pro-life. I certainly -- the Fourth District is where I come from, and their most important issues are fiscal discipline, limited government and personal responsibility. They want me tackling the debt.
BLITZER: Any exceptions as far as abortion rights are related?
LOVE: Well, I -- I try and stay out of that as much as possible. But rape, incest, I think that those things, you know, are -- are exceptions.
BLITZER: Life of the mother.
LOVE: Life of the mother.
BLITZER: Mia Love, see you in Washington. I assume you're going to be elected. There aren't a lot of Democrats in Utah, right?
LOVE: Yes. Not very many Democrats in Utah.
BLITZER: So you've got a pretty good shot at being the...
LOVE: We've got a great shot.
BLITZER: ... making history, being the first black woman Republican in the Congress.
LOVE: Yes. As a matter of fact, I think Utah is going to come out in numbers to support Mitt Romney. They may have the highest percentage of votes for Mitt Romney.
BLITZER: Would you want to be a member of the Congressional Black Caucus?
LOVE: I will.
BLITZER: You will?
LOVE: I will. Yes.
BLITZER: There are Republicans out there, as well, who are African-American.
LOVE: I think one.
BLITZER: Two. Two.
BLITZER: From South Carolina and from Florida. Alan West and Tim Scott.
BLITZER: You'll have some colleagues.
BLITZER: Republican colleagues in the congressional. One is them is in the Congressional Black Caucus. The other one, I don't think wants to be in the Congressional Black Caucus.
BLITZER: We will double check.
LOVE: Nice to meet you.
BLITZER: Mayor, I should say.
LOVE: That's OK. That's OK. You're looking into the future. BLITZER: Thanks very much.
LOVE: Thank you.
BLITZER: All right. We're following also the scenes of devastation across the Gulf Coast. Tropical Storm Isaac now, it was a hurricane. It may be a tropical storm, but it's moving so slowly that its impact is being magnified, leaving some areas devastated.
CNN's Lisa Sylvester is following all of it for us. So Lisa, what are you seeing right now?
SYLVESTER: Wolf, you know, some people are saying that the flooding and the high winds from this slow-moving storm have actually affected them more than Katrina, even though it is a much weaker storm.
And we are hearing story upon story of Isaac flooding roads and homes and creating for some a nightmare.
SYLVESTER (voice-over): Tropical Storm Isaac is parked on top of Louisiana, Mississippi, and parts of Alabama. It didn't come packed with the power of Katrina exactly seven years after that storm made landfall, but Isaac's slow pace is pummeling the region with heavy rain and wind.
GOV. PHIL BRYANT (R), MISSISSIPPI: We're hearing 48 hours of rain. That's going to -- inland. It's going to be a lot of flooding.
SYLVESTER: And with that, destruction that Gulf Coast residents are all too familiar with.
BILLY NUNGESSER, PRESIDENT, PLAQUEMINES PARISH: I had more damage from this storm than I did with Katrina.
SYLVESTER: That's Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish along the Louisiana coast, where a levee overtopped with water this morning. A levee, incidentally, not part of the multi-billion- dollar federal reinforcement of the levee system following Hurricane Katrina.
Making matters worse, emergency crews kept busy rescuing several people trapped in their homes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's it like back there?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's horrible. Everybody's house is gone. Nobody's got a house there, nobody.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How high is the water?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The water is almost over my head.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So what's it like back there now? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bad. Water's over the top of the roof. We had to break through the ceiling and come through the attic.
SYLVESTER: Local and state leaders continue to stress that danger remains, even once the winds and rain subside.
MAYOR MITCH LANDRIEU, NEW ORLEANS: We have dodged a bullet in the sense that this is not a Category 3 storm but a Category 1. At this strength, from 85- to 100-mile-an-hour winds with 125 miles an hour of gusts is plenty enough to put a big hurt on you.
SYLVESTER: Dodged a bullet? Yes. But Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal says the threat remains, and people should respect the power of this storm.
GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: Bottom line is, this storm is a slow-moving storm. It will be moving through our state. We'll be dealing with this storm through early Friday morning.
SYLVESTER: And it is, of course, far too early to assess the extent of the damage Isaac has brought to the Gulf Coast. Officials, they have to wait for the storm to move on first. Then they'll turn to clean up and getting a read and price tag on Isaac's toll -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lisa, for that. Let's get some more now from our meteorologist and severe weather expert, Chad Myers. He's got the latest forecast, the latest developments -- Chad.
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Wolf, this thing is just huge. I mean, it's raining in the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, all the way back to Texas. The eye not moving very fast.
I don't expect the eye or the center by then to be north of Shreveport for another 30 hours. It sat over the Gulf of Mexico. It gathered strength. And it's pushing flooding rainfall from Bay St. Louis all the way over to Pensacola. It is still a 70-mile-per-hour storm.
And one more thing we have to worry about tonight will be tornadoes. On the east side of this, we've seen these spinning storms roll onshore from Biloxi to Gulfport, back over to Bay St. Louis and Waveland. And then all the way to another area here, moving up toward Fairhope and Mobile. Some of those storms could also be rotating.
Not big tornadoes like Kansas and Texas. But little waterspouts that come onshore. We know now of significant damage to a couple of houses in the Gulfport area from one tornado that came onshore about an hour and a half ago. This could happen all night long -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Chad, thanks very, very much. We'll, of course, stay on top of this story.
We're also watching what's going on here in Tampa right now. This is the motorcade bringing Mitt Romney back to his hotel. There he is. You probably saw him inside. He was out campaigning in Indiana. He's now back in Tampa, getting ready for this night of the Republican convention.
BLITZER: All eyes on Paul Ryan as he gets ready to address this Republican National Convention later tonight. He may hold the No. 2 spot on the GOP ticket, but there's a good chance that if elected, he could someday -- God forbid -- be No. 1 if there was a problem. We talked about it with presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Of the 47 men who have been vice president, 14 have become president, either by the death of the president or because they won the presidency or by assassination or by the resignation, which means there's a great likelihood, almost a 30 percent likelihood that this character who's going to be your vice president may be the president.
LYNDON B. JOHNSON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will do my best. That is all I can do.
GOODWIN: The cliche is said that the most important thing about the selection is to do no harm to yourself. One thinks about McGovern choosing Eagleton and then going through that whole drama of behind him 1,000 percent and then finally having to drop him from the ticket, because it became known that he had had some electroshock therapy.
I think to some extent, Agnew turned out to be a mistaken vice president. Clearly so when he was undone and had to go out of office.
Quayle became a problem for Mr. Bush at the beginning, because he didn't seem ready for the job, and certain things were brought up that hadn't been vetted very well.
DAN QUAYLE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You write phonetically with -- there you go. All right.
GOODWIN: And clearly Sarah Palin was not vetted fully enough for the role so that she became a weight on the ticket.
KATIE COURIC, FORMER CBS ANCHOR: I mean, what specifically? I'm curious. That you...
SARAH PALIN, FORMER VICE-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: All of them. Any of them that have been in front of me over all these years.
COURIC: Can you name a few?
GOODWIN: And then in 1944, what's so extraordinary, given that Roosevelt knew that he was not in great health by the time of that convention. His heart has been diagnosed in the spring of 1944 as having had severe heart congestion. He didn't pay any attention to who the vice president should be. He was so lucky, the country was so lucky that it turned out to be Harry Truman. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mrs. Truman is at his side.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... half for Senator Kennedy.
GOODWIN: Incredibly, in the 1956 Democratic convention, Adlai Stevenson decided, let's give some drama to this convention. I'm going to throw open the choice to the floor. I remember Lyndon Johnson once said to me, "That was the stupidest decision anybody's ever made. Why would you want to take power out of your own hands?"
But in fact, it's where John Kennedy becomes a national figure. Even though he loses that vice-presidential race, he comes really close. And I can remember even my mother, Catholic, you know, Irish Catholic family, watching John Kennedy almost win and lose. And then that somehow emotional tie to JFK began right then.
So Adlai Stevenson in a certain sense, by throwing open that convention, even though JFK didn't become the nominee, then becomes the president four years later.
JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.
GOODWIN: Even if they don't win, they're likely to be the next candidate. So we should care a lot about who this choice is.
BLITZER: CNN's coverage of the Republican National Convention continues right now.