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THE SITUATION ROOM
Outrage Boils Over on New York's Staten Island; Blizzard Amounts of Sand Pack the Streets; How Sandy Measures Up to Katrina; Final Four Days of 2012 Campaign
Aired November 2, 2012 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, outrage boils over -- with thousands of runners about to converge on New York's devastated Staten Island to kick off the city's legendary marathon.
Plus, CNN is with National Guard troops as they search homes in one storm-ravaged area not accessible until now.
And will Sandy throw a wrench in the presidential election, now just four days away?
Ahead, the challenges voters could face in states hardest hit by the storm.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The numbers continue to go up. Ninety-seven people here in the United States now confirmed dead in super storm Sandy's wake, at least 165 internationally. And on New York's Staten Island, which is bearing the brunt of the storm's wrath, the outrage is only intensifying. After days of desperate pleas for help, the federal government is moving in. President Obama is deploying his Homeland Security secretary, Janet Napolitano, and the FEMA deputy administrator, Richard Serino, to the region for support.
All this just two days ahead of the city's legendary marathon, which, despite growing calls to postpone or cancel, remains a go at this point. Thousands of runners and race officials are set to flock to the devastated borough of Staten Island to kick off the event.
Our Brian Todd is standing by right now on Staten Island with the latest on the devastation -- Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there's been a significant change in the amount of relief coming into Staten Island today. Certainly, a -- a greater amount of relief coming in than there was yesterday, when people were just so angry and vehement in their complaints.
You can see this center behind me. This is the Red Cross and FEMA center, where they're distributing food and some clothing. But I can tell you, there's one problem with this. The neighborhood that was most affected by this, at least the one in this immediate area, starts about 600 yards to my left. It goes in about another mile, maybe two miles from there.
Those people have no TV, no Internet, no phone, very little cell phone service. I -- I would venture to believe, maybe, that a lot of them don't even know that this is here. A lot of them are asking for help, asking for goods and food and hot water to be brought in. And a lot of them, I don't believe, know that this place is even here. So getting communication to them is going to be key. I'm not sure if that is really up to speed yet.
What is getting to them is food and clothing brought by neighbors, everyday citizens, just setting up grills to -- to grill hamburgers and hot dogs; stations for people to pick up extra used clothing. That's all being brought in by local residents.
We have seen virtually none of this material getting to them, as far as being transported to them. So I think maybe getting the word to the people in this neighborhood that this station is here is still a challenge here -- Wolf.
BLITZER: When do they think power will be restored on Staten Island?
TODD: That's a very good question, Wolf. And we're not really getting too many estimates. I can tell you that I've been here now for two days in this neighborhood. About three hours ago was the first time I saw a power truck. And it was one. And there's, you know, I'd say, several square miles of neighborhood, let's say, to boot up. So, if I had to venture a guess, I would say several more days.
BLITZER: Brian Todd on the scene for us, doing an excellent job, as he always does.
Meanwhile, on New Jersey's Long Island Beach, look at this. Check this out. Blizzard amounts of sand literally up against the sides of the road like snow, almost. Efforts are underway to get it back on the beach where it belongs, where many homes are seemingly beyond repair.
Here's Mike Galanos with our CNN sister network, HLN.
MIKE GALANOS, HLN CORRESPONDENT: Here we have incredible access on Long Beach Island, one of the barrier islands on the Jersey Shore just smacked by Hurricane Sandy. Over my shoulder, there you see it. That's the Atlantic Ocean, so pristine. And right here, this is a nylon tubing erected years ago. It's stuffed with sand, meant to withstand storms like Sandy.
Obviously, no match. Let's take a look at some of the damage, some other houses. You can see in the distance there, that balcony on that house, ready to just tumble down. And you can see how high the water level.
How about this house right here?
This is the design -- a house built on stilts like this. Below is a breakaway wall. So that's the way it's meant to happen. But then you look at this house here, not built on stilts, just a straight slab. And let's go inside or get a little bit closer.
Look at the damage. No match for Sandy. And the waves of the Atlantic Ocean just pounding away. Even take a look inside there, when you talk about real life damage. That is a kid's bunk bed crumbled, a room crumbled. Think of that. At one point, a family slept there. You can see bikes and just the things we use to live shattered -- shattered.
One last thing is obviously the rebuilding process. When you take a look here, all of the sand. And you can see the -- the truck in the distance trying to take the sand, that has pushed deep into neighborhoods, and bring it back to where it belongs, on the beach.
I'm Mike Galanos.
Back to you.
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
Let's get back to the outrage over Sunday's New York City Marathon right now. The Manhattan borough president told me just a little while ago he thinks the marathon should be postponed. And that's exactly what residents on Staten Island think, as well.
Our national correspondent, Deborah Feyerick, is on Staten Island.
She's getting reaction from storm victims.
What are they saying -- Deb?
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, here are a couple of choice words that they're using -- "disgraceful," "disgusting," "slap in the face" and "outrage." And those are the gentler words that are being used.
We do want to tell you, Wolf, that according to a New York official, talks have been going on all afternoon as to whether, in fact, the marathon should take place.
You have to understand, the way the people out here see it is, for example, the Verrazano Bridge, all right, the big bridge where the race starts, that's going to have to be closed down. That means no first responders, no way to get supplies in and out, unless you go through New Jersey. So that's the first problem they're having. The parking lots that are going to be used to bus in all these runners, those are parking lots that residents are saying, look, we need help. We need people to come. Put volunteers on those buses. Bring them in. Forget about the runners.
We spoke to a couple of people and here's what they had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need our bridge open so that we can get resources here. That bridge is going to be closed all day on Sunday, both ways.
How can people do that to us?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And there's people that they don't even have homes right now. They don't have nothing to eat, nothing to sleep. You know, they're living in shelters and you're worried about a -- about a marathon.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And they're going to be taking off a hundred yards away from where two kids died.
How stupid can that be?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FEYERICK: You know, and what's incredible, Wolf, is that as you drive along these neighborhoods that have been hit so hard, what you see is you see mountains of personal belongings that have been completely trashed, that are piled outside in front of the homes.
And the folks that we kept speaking to, you know, they said what they need is they need more hands. They don't feel like there's been a great response in terms of helping in the cleanup. And it's a question, Wolf, that I actually asked Secretary Napolitano when she was here, why aren't there any generators, any chain saws, any sort of, you know, the -- the water purification and cleaning supplies that people so desperately need?
Her answer was is that those are going right now to nursing homes, sort of pri -- they're prioritizing that.
But, Wolf, as far as this marathon goes, the people here in Staten Island, they are completely outraged. They feel that help came too late, that there's not been enough of it. You see a lot of the activity behind me, but this is all relatively new. This didn't get here until, really, the last 24 hours.
So the fact that anyone can stage a marathon in this city, given the scope of this tragedy, what they say is, look, even after 9/11, they postponed the World Series.
Just wait. That is what they're saying. They say for it to happen, really. It's going to cause a lot of bad blood -- Wolf. BLITZER: As you know, New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, says it should go forward. He says -- he insists they're not going to divert resources from Staten Island or anyplace else.
The Manhattan president, Scott Stringer, just told me he thinks it should be postponed. It's not appropriate for this marathon to go forward. He also suggested that -- that talks are still underway. And he's not ruling out the possibility of a change, that it could be postponed.
Are you getting any inside information at all from your sources?
I know you're very well plugged in in New York, Deb. That it's possible...
BLITZER: -- they could still change that decision and postpone the marathon?
FEYERICK: It is possible, because, Wolf, according to some of the people that I've been speaking to today, there have been talks all afternoon as to whether postponing the marathon may be the right thing to do. There is just so much pain right now. And people are -- have lost everything, in certain cases, especially here in Staten Island.
So if the marathon goes through, I think it's going to be -- it's -- it's one of those P.R. moves that you really can't recover from, if that marathon goes forward. That's according to people we were speaking to.
And, you know, somebody said well, there's got to be somebody here in Staten Island who supports it. And as we were driving, I was yelling out the window, "What do you think about the marathon, what do you think about the marathon?"
And all the people I spoke to -- and it had to be a couple of dozen, they all said it is a horrendous idea, to have the marathon right now, especially putting the starting line in Staten Island -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. Not mincing any words at all.
Deb Feyerick on the scene for us.
By the way, we just got a Tweet from Con Edison, the power company in New York City. "Con Edison," it says, "restores 60,000 -- over 65,000 customers on the Lowest East Side and East Village areas of Manhattan. That's from the official Con Edison account, re-Tweeted by the New York City mayor's office, as well.
About almost 250,000 customers were without power in the lower part of Manhattan, so this is a good start -- 65,000 customers, the Lower East Side, East Village areas of Manhattan are now getting power, at least according to this Con Edison Tweet.
We're about to hear from a CNN crew that accompanied a search and rescue team to a section of the New Jersey coast that, until now, has been inaccessible.
BLITZER: With so much death and destruction in Sandy's path, some are now drawing comparisons between this super storm and Katrina.
So just how do they measure up?
CNN meteorologist and severe weather expert, Chad Myers, is taking a closer look.
He's joining us now.
How do they measure up -- Chad?
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, first of all, the storm surge with Katrina was enormous, almost three times more of a wave or of a surge with Katrina, as Bay St. Louis was about 28 feet. Manhattan Island, downtown, the Battery, had about 9.5 feet.
I haven't seen too many numbers higher than that.
Now, 9.5 feet moving into a city compared to moving into the bay, even though there's still a town there. And, obviously, Pass Christian was there, and all the way down to Biloxi.
We just -- it's the population density in New York City that is going to -- and in New Jersey and in Connecticut -- that is going to put this way up in the record books.
Katrina, $145 billion in damage. Andrew -- now this is cost for adjusted inflation, $43.5 billion. And it looks like Sandy will fall somewhere between Katrina and into Andrew. So, probably number two on the scale for dollar damage. Now, when it comes to deaths, you know, it's disturbing, Wolf, to see and hear how quickly the fatality number in the U.S. is going up.
You know, you expect it to tick up. It's jumping. Katrina though 1,833 deaths, Rita at 119, Ike 112, and then we're already past Hugo and Floyd. So, we're at number four. I know numbers don't really mean much. It's the amount of devastation and how widespread it is. How many people were in the way?
They estimate about one million people, one to two million people were in the way of Katrina. Sixty million people have been affected somehow by Sandy.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And you heard Janet Napolitano, the homeland security secretary, say the area that was impacted by this was in her words the size of Europe. That's a huge, huge area.
MYERS: No question. It was still only a Category 1 when it made landfall. And at some point, in Katrina's life, Katrina was a category 5, like 909 millibars. Just tremendous low pressure. You know, Sandy never got there, but it was a wide storm. The winds were 500 miles from one side to the other, above 45 to 50 miles per hour, and the damage is just so widespread.
We had winds almost 90 miles per hour in Massachusetts and 70 miles per hour down in parts of North Carolina. That really is -- that's literally the north and south scope of Europe.
BLITZER: Chad Myers giving us some perspective as he always does. Appreciate it very much. We'll take a quick break. We're watching the devastation, the impact on what's going on. We're also only four days away from the presidential election. Our reporters are all over the country in the battleground states. Stay with us.
BLITZER: We're down to just four days until the 2012 presidential election. Four days. President Obama and Mitt Romney, they are campaigning non-stop. And thanks to CNN's vast resources, our crews are spread across the map to cover the candidates' final sprint to the election. We have reporters in the crucial battleground states that will decide the election, and multiple crews in the all- important state of Ohio right now.
Amidst all of this, both presidential candidates were in Ohio and trying to spin the latest jobs numbers to their advantage. The economy added 171,000 new jobs in October. That's more than analysts expected. Also, revised figures from August and September show another 84,000 jobs were added more than first reported. Those are the revised numbers.
The unemployment rate is 7.9 percent. That's slightly higher than September's 7.8 percent. Our chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi, is in Toledo, Ohio, in that battleground state. Ali, what are they saying over there? How are these numbers likely to play out if at all on the campaign trail?
ALI VELSHI, CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Ohio's interesting. Not only is it a tight race and one of the biggest prizes, but you know, there's been a lot of early voting in Ohio. So, it's hard to find the independents in this state, but we have found a few of them. Look, this sort of just reaffirms what you thought going into it.
If you are an Obama supporter leaning toward President Obama, what this tells you is that we've got slow and steady growth. Not as good as we'd like it to be. A 171,000 is, you know, a little better than 60 percent of what we really need for a strong growing economy. If you're a Romney supporter, you're going to focus on that unemployment rate being 7.9 percent versus 7.8 percent.
Now, in the state of Ohio, there are a lot of things going on economically including shale gas, hydraulic fracturing or fracking as we call it that's creating some prosperity on the eastern side of the state. Here in Toledo, there's a slow bubbling resurgence of the city that's right behind me, very slow. It's also an auto-plant, that jeep plant.
I just spoke to a man here and it's resonating around here that Mitt Romney attack where he said that President Obama, sure, he may have bailed out the auto companies, but he did it to create jobs in China and suggesting that jeep is going to build vehicles in China. I've heard people say things like disgusting offensive. So, that didn't play out all as well in some of these auto places like this in Youngstown.
Bottom line, Ohio, like some of the big swing states, has an unemployment rate that is lower than the national average. Take a look at Virginia and Ohio. The question is, who do you credit for that? A Republican governor or a Democratic president? And that's the big question here. But it's probably a wash as to what the unemployment rate did for President Obama -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ali, there's breaking news we're following. We've just confirmed that the New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has canceled the New York marathon for this weekend amidst all of the criticism earlier in the day. Ali, he said it was going forward. He insisted it would not divert resources from the cleanup, from the disaster, the search, and rescue operation.
BLITZER: But now, according to a statement that has been just released, Mayor Bloomberg has decided at least to postpone if not completely cancel the marathon for this year. We're getting more information. You're very familiar with the uproar, Ali, that's been going on --
BLITZER: -- earlier here in the SITUATION ROOM, the Borough president of Manhattan, Scott Stringer, told us he thinks it should be postponed. A lot of people were just furious at the mayor that he decided to keep it going using some of those badly need generators in Central Park for media tent and for other purposes. This is the right decision, don't you think?
VELSHI: Well, you know, he said earlier, he said I remember Rudy Giuliani who was the mayor at the time telling him that after 9/11, they went ahead with the marathon. And it's something that new Yorkers need. It's a symbol of New York saying we're still here. We're going to move on, but there was more time between 9/11 and the New York City marathon.
And, yes, all criticism all day to say how is it that you maintain this marathon when you need emergency services and generators and we've got all these people without it. So, look, good on Mayor Bloomberg for taking that criticism and having discussions and meetings and making a different decision. I think you could have swung both ways on this.
There are a lot of people who said New York always carries on no matter what, but Sandy is turning out to be more devastating than a lot of people expected on Monday. So, it does look like they've made a sound decision, Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, in a statement that they're putting out, they're making it clear that, yes, they cannot allow what was going on to continue. Let me read the statement to you. I just got a copy of it, Ali, I want to read it to our viewers as well.
BLITZER: This is a statement the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, on the marathon. "The marathon has been an integral part of New York City's life for 40 years as an event tens of thousands of New Yorkers participate in and millions more watch. While holding the race would not require diverting resources from the recovery effort, it is clear that it's become the source of controversy and division."
BLITZER: "The marathon has always brought our city together and inspired us with stories of courage and determination. We would not want a cloud to hang over the race or its participants, so we have decided to cancel it. We cannot allow a controversy over an athletic event, even one as meaningful as this, to distract attention away from all the critically important work that is being done to recover from the storm and get our city back on track."
He concludes by saying the New York road runners will have additional information in the days ahead or participants. So, that's the official statement, Ali, from the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg. Go ahead, Ali.
VELSHI: Wolf, you know, I live on the upper west side in New York which is where the marathon ends. And it's always -- it's a remarkable event. People gather. It really does bring the city together. I mean, as you can tell from looking at me, I've got nothing to do with running, but you really do watch these people.
It's a great event. But it's a lot of people who come to New York, a lot of hotel rooms which are still being used by people who are displaced. It's a lot of transformation into a city that still has transportation problems, its generators, its tents, and its auxiliary police. New York has one of the largest police forces in the world, but those police are being used.
Those auxiliary police are being used for rescue efforts and to get people into areas of stability. So, yes, you know, you can really see how this was a great thing. It would have been a great symbol for New York to say we're moving forward, but the practicality of life in New York is still difficult today. And, we've got bad weather coming again later in the week.
So, you can see where the pressure comes in to get this done and get New York fixed and up and running without having tens of thousands of people now putting ore pressure on the city.
BLITZER: Yeah. It wasn't just the generators in Central Park or in Manhattan, the upper west side, which hasn't been really badly affected by all of this, but --
BLITZER: But the Verrazano Bridge, for example, from Staten Island, that was going to be closed according to our own Deborah Feyerick. She's on Staten Island right now for the entire day in both directions.
BLITZER: And you need those transit areas to get badly needed equipment, generators, water, food, mobile shelters into Staten Island and into the lower part of Manhattan as well where there's still a couple hundred thousand customers without power. So, the appearance of going forward with this marathon was not becoming to New York. I guess, that's the major concern that the mayor had.
VELSHI: And he didn't need to be involved in a controversy. Nobody needs to be involved in a controversy. Everybody's energy in New York right now needs to be spent getting New York back up and running, helping those families who've been displaced, those who have lost their loved ones. I think it's a wise move to not have to defend the position.
You can sit there and debate whether or not the net benefits of New York would have been greater to have this marathon, the spirit that it would show, but the logistics really are a problem. And it just would be the wrong side of the debate to be on right now because all hands need to be on deck. It was a little curious. You know, Mayor Bloomberg is very articulate. And he really did lay out his argument for wanting to continue with this and that argument that New York doesn't get defeated.
It's got a great history of always being there. But in the end, the controversy built and I think that made the decision for them as Deb Feyerick reported just a little while ago, they had been in meetings all afternoon. A number of the groups involved in the rescue efforts in New York had been meeting despite the fact that Mayor Bloomberg had said it was going to go ahead.
They felt that wave of controversy coming on earlier, and they decided let's talk about this. Let's think this through. Not only do we want to do this and will it drain resources, but do we want to wade into a controversy right now when, in fact, things have gone quite well in New York. They have tried to do this very well.
New Yorkers are responding well. Do we want to face the criticism that we went and held a marathon while there are still people without power, without heat on cold night and without places to live and ways to get to work including so many who have lost their lives. So, in the end, Wolf, probably a very smart decision to just put this aside, move on. The marathon will be held another time.
BLITZER: Yes. Well, it's interesting, Ali, you say it will be held another time. The word that the mayor used cancel. He said we would not want a cloud to hang over the race or its participants so we have decided to cancel it. He didn't say postpone it. He said to cancel it --
VELSHI: He didn't say postpone.
BLITZER: Yes. Deb Feyerick is on Staten Island. She's joining us from the phone right now. You were telling us earlier, Deb, how angry people of Staten Island, they don't have food, they don't have water, they don't have power, and they're going ahead to start a marathon on Staten Island, would begin on Staten Island.
It was a disaster unfolding as far as these folks were concerned. I assume they're going to be pleased. The mayor reversed himself.
VOICE OF DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The way they're probably going to look at it, Wolf, is the fact that resources that they desperately need will now not be taken away from them.
That first responders, that the NYPD, the New York Police Department, the fire department, that all those people that are vital frankly to making sure that the marathon runs and runs well that all those resources will, in fact, stay where the people of Staten Island believe it should be and that is in the streets with them.
You have to remember, Wolf, you've got police officers at almost every intersection who are simply trying to keep traffic moving. Also, the Verrazano-Narrows bridge without race to take place for the runners to go over that bridge, it means they would have to close that bridge really for most of the day. So we're talking about trucks with food that can't get in. Cleanup crews that can't get in. So there's a residual effect. And the people we spoke with, their outrage was palpable, it was all directed at the mayor. And the mayor, in their opinion, was seen as insensitive, as callous, as really almost marginalizing them and isolating them and became, boy, we live on Staten Island and nobody cares about us.
So that we feel -- the people who live here will feel if nothing else that the focus and the priority is back where they believe it should be -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, it's not -- and it's not just Staten Island, as bad as the situation is on State Island, Deb, it's horrendous in lower Manhattan below 34th Street, it's pretty awful as well according to the Manhattan Borough president Scott Stringer who joined us in the last hour. He says there are folks who simply don't have food, or water, or anything, no power. And in Queens there are still parts that have been devastated by this.
And you go out to Long Island, in New Jersey, along the Atlantic coast, the Jersey shore, this is not a time clearly, the mayor concluded after making an earlier decision, the mayor concluded this is not the right time to agonize so many people who are suffering right now. And as a result he decided to cancel the New York marathon for this Sunday.
Yes, there will be thousands of runners who will be disappointed, but you know what, they'll get over it pretty quickly. They'll move on. This is not a critically important issue right now. Ali Velshi is still with --
FEYERICK: Absolutely -- yes.
BLITZER: You want to make another point, Deb?
FEYERICK: Yes, the point I was going to make is, look, you do have a lot of runners. They train very hard for this race. I think the last poll we had was there was something like 30,000 runners, you know, who were training for this race. But you have to put that in perspective. There are millions of people who have had their lives, you know, torn apart. And so when the mayor says well, you know, the city has got to move on so give sort of a raw-raw feat in the middle of this tragedy, the scope is so huge that Good Samaritans are here, they've loaded up the backs of their cars, they are delivering clothing, they are delivering peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
They're really just trying to help folks who have lost everything. And Wolf, it's incredible. In this section of Staten Island, there are these piles of ruined goods in front of everybody's homes. They just had to simply throw everything out. When that's even going to be collected and the streets cleared up, that's a whole another issue -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, I agree completely.
Ali, I suspect that there are 30,000 or 40,000 runners getting ready to run in the New York marathon.
ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: VELSHI: Yes.
BLITZER: Many of them probably already in New York, in hotels and elsewhere with friends.
BLITZER: They're just getting word that the marathon has been canceled. I suspect, Ali, knowing some of these runners, many of them are going to want to spend the weekend in New York anyhow and volunteer to help in the cleanup, the recovery. Just -- I'm just guessing along those lines.
VELSHI: I think you could be right. I mean, they're there. They are -- there's a camaraderie among runners --
BLITZER: Ali, Ali, hold on one second. Hold on one second.
VELSHI: And I think they might do just that. Yes.
BLITZER: Ali, I think the first lady of the United States is speaking about the storm right now. I want to hear what she's saying.
MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: -- who has been effected. And as you've been seeing, Barack has been working tirelessly with governors and mayors and our outstanding first responders to make sure that everything folks need is right there and they do their jobs. So I know that we all will come together because that's what we do in crisis. We come together to help our citizens.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
So even in light of all this excitement and election, we can't forget, you know, when people are struggling, you know, we have to have our focus and our priorities straight, right? So with that, I have to also thank Brandon for that -- whoa, that introduction.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
Brandon, oh, he is working so hard. He's going to be working on election day. And I hope you'll be right there with him. And I also want to thank the president, Dr. Miller and his wife --
BLITZER: All right. The first lady of the United States weighing in on the storm as well. The breaking news we've been following, the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, has canceled the New York marathon for this Sunday saying we would not want a cloud to hang over the race or its participants. So we have decided to cancel it.
We're standing by for a news conference from city hall in New York with much more on what's going on.
A lot of other news we're following as well. Remember, only four days until the presidential election.
BLITZER: CNN's new poll in Ohio shows President Obama with a 50 to 47 percent lead over Mitt Romney. But that's within the poll's sampling error.
I'm joined now by our chief national correspondent John King, he's in Cincinnati, and our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley, the anchor of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION."
What are they saying on the ground as far as Ohio is concerned? It looks really close, John.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It looks really close, Wolf. And when you visit the campaign teams out here, guess what? It feels really close. That's why the president is here all day today. Governor Romney is here tonight with some stars of the Republican Party. Local Republicans think they'll have 35,000 people at that rally tonight. That's in the southwest corner of Ohio.
What they say is that both candidates right now are keeping their bases pretty strong. If you look at the Cleveland area, the president runs strong. If you look across the industrial part of the northern part of the state, you see evidence the auto bailout is helping the president. Down here in the Cincinnati area, southwest Ohio, Governor Romney is ahead in the polls. And that's significant. Barack Obama carried Hamilton County, where I am, four years ago. If Hamilton county is blue on Election Day, the president will win Ohio and most likely be re-elected. At the moment the Romney team thinks it can hold onto this state -- to this part of the state. So it is just a feisty fight it all out, intensity try to generate turnout. And that's what all the campaigns are looking for. The Romney campaign says it considers that a dead heat and it believes it can make up the intensity on election day.
BLITZER: Candy, are you hearing echoes of 2000 when Florida went for George W. Bush by 537 votes our of millions cast?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I am. Because you can't ever get that out of your head because it was just such a surprise. And I can tell you, you know, it's not whether I hear them, it's whether both these campaigns hear them. The -- one of the things I was listening to James Baker the other day who of course was the lead lawyer for the then candidate Bush in 2000 who said, look, none of us ever expected this would happen. We weren't ready for a recount when it suddenly was obvious that we needed one.
So they have lawyers, and by they I mean both sides have lawyers that have been studying sometimes automatic recounts in some states. They've been looking at all the voter laws in these swing states just for the possibility that this could happen in Ohio or Colorado or Florida or, you know, any of the other -- Virginia, any of those other swing states.
BLITZER: And you're seeing evidence in Ohio, John, of a lot of lawyers getting ready to get involved if necessary.
KING: And let's hope it doesn't happen. But they're watching this through the early voting process. You know there are observers -- when you go to the early voting there are observers from both campaigns. Both campaigns are trying to turn out one of the focuses in this last -- in this last weekend, you can vote now because of court decisions and the like. You can vote now in Iowa through Monday.
Each campaign has a list of people who promised to vote early. And if you haven't voted, they're calling you, and say, hey, Wolf, you promised to vote this morning, you didn't show up. Do you need a ride? What can we do?
So they're trying to turn everybody out in advance and they expect it could be close enough that, yes, as Candy noted, some states have an automatic, you know, depending on the ballot of the vote, it's automatic. Otherwise could be court cases, could be challenges over provisional ballots. That's coulda, woulda, shoulda, but this one is so close in so many battleground states, the legal teams are trying to study every last bit in case they need an advantage.
BLITZER: And, Candy, listen to Robert Gibbs, the adviser to the Obama campaign, put his spin on the decision by Mitt Romney at this late stage this weekend to make a visit to Pennsylvania. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROBERT GIBBS, OBAMA CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: I think it means the Romney-Ryan campaign is desperate to try to figure out how to win this race.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You think that's at all in the -- in the ballpark? Pennsylvania, is that in play?
CROWLEY: Let me tell you what the Romney campaign says about this. They say, listen, you know, it's interesting that in the states we're now talking about, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Wisconsin, those are Democratic states. You notice they will tell you that we're not -- that no campaign is playing in states like Arizona where they're Republican states -- states expected to go Republican.
They will also tell you that, look, the votes that have been cast they believe so far, not many of them in Pennsylvania, have been in favor of Romney. And they say, listen, we have -- we have people where we need to have them in all of these swing states. Everything else is funded. You can't go up on the air in Ohio anymore because there's just no more space for TV ads. They have some money. They looked around. And they saw Pennsylvania and they saw Minnesota, they saw Wisconsin, and that's where they decided to put their money.
And they also note that the Obama campaign has some folks going into Pennsylvania. And -- so is it a flier? It's a flier. But they don't -- they don't look at it as oh, I'm desperate and we're looking for a way around Ohio. They say, you know, Mitt Romney doesn't like to waste money, so we're not in there for nothing. But they kind of like it. Do they -- do they think they're going to win there? I'm not sure. But they certainly think that it's worth playing there.
BLITZER: Candy will have much more Sunday morning 9:00 a.m. on "STATE OF THE UNION."
We'll be watching that, Candy.
John, thanks very much for joining us.
Both will be joining me here. We'll have a live CNN THE SITUATION ROOM 6:00 p.m. Eastern Saturday night as well. Lots going on.
Meanwhile, CNN is with National Guard troops as they search homes in one storm-ravaged area.
BLITZER: The search for victims goes on. CNN's Jim Clancy is searching with U.S. National Guard troops.
JIM CLANCY, ANCHOR, CNN INTERNATIONAL (voice-over): A sometimes forceful systematic search for survivors. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every time we clear the street --
CLANCY: Dozens of members of the U.S. Army and Air Force National Guard joined members of the Ocean County's Prosecutor Office to probe seemingly abandoned homes on Long Beach Island's Holgate community. In distressed situations they forcibly opened homes to call out for survivors. The prosecutors are on hand because they have jurisdiction if any bodies are uncovered. But in most cases it was a straightforward call to ask if anyone was inside.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: National Guard.
MASTER SGT. RONNIE ESQUICHE, U.S. ARMY NATIONAL GUARD: This part of the mission is search and rescue. Pretty much nobody has been here. So what we've been doing is try to see if any residents that have stayed over during the hurricane survived. That's basically what we're looking for here, any survivors.
CLANCY: Homes already ripped open by superstorm Sandy were searched inside and out while these guard teams from New Jersey kept a sharp look out for signs of life anywhere around a home trying to ensure no one would be overlooked.
Devastating waves broke on these beaches, ripping away huge amounts of sand that was then carried across the island, leaving two or three-story homes perched dangerously atop their now shallow pilings.
Today some of those dunes are six feet high making road access impossible. Not waiting for those roads to be cleared, the Coast Guard joined in this search and rescue mission ferrying the search parties to the far southern end of the island.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: National Guard, anybody home?
CLANCY: The work almost done, the search teams mark each house and each street with red tape to document which homes have been checked. They found some residents, but none wanting to leave. Like Carl Clarke who rose out the storm and still refuses to leave. But thinks it's a good idea to keep the island closed for now.
CARL CLARKE, HOLGATE, NEW JERSEY, RESIDENT: And that's -- that is a good thing in my opinion. You know, we have to restore this infrastructure. We can't have everybody back yet. I'll stay here. I'll look after our home, our neighbor's home, watch out for, you know, looting, and anybody that doesn't belong here.
CLANCY: Carl and the residents who are not on the island can rest assured that the 100-plus National Guard troops marching through freshly piled sand drifts are also on the look out for everyone.
CLANCY: Now when we look at the island tonight, we can see that there have been National Guard troops -- and there are more than 100 of them stationed on the island right now. They've been fanning out in Humvees. They're manning checkpoints. They're doing patrols. Just to ensure there are no problems. There's no gas here, there's no electricity here, there's no water here and there's no cable TV either. So there's not much reason for people to be here. Still, some as you heard want to hold out a little bit longer.
Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: All right, Jim Clancy, in New Jersey, where there's obviously destruction, devastation, the search and operation continuing. Thank you.
The election is another challenge because of Sandy, we have new details coming in.
BLITZER: Amidst all the devastation from Sandy there are now growing worries about being able to vote in various parts of the country.
CNN's Joe Johns has been looking into this for us. It's a real problem.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's true, Wolf. Some polling places could have no power on election day, a few polling places have disappeared all together after this week's storm. And now it looks like authorities in New Jersey may actually have to get the National Guard involved in helping people vote on Tuesday.
JOHNS (voice-over): The state's hardest hit by the super storm are the most likely to face the biggest challenges on election day. In New Jersey, the lieutenant governor said there are some areas where the traditional polling place is now gone, but she said voters should still report to the same location.
LT. GOV. KIM GUADAGNO (R), NEW JERSEY: What they will find instead is a Department of Defense truck with a well-situation National Guardsmen and a big sign that says "vote here." So go back to your polling place anyway.
JOHNS: Both the state of New Jersey and New York have said they are also tweaking the rules to help voters including extending the deadline for absentee and mail-in ballots. But in the fierce battle for president, both states are safely in the Obama column almost regardless of turnout.
The two campaigns are focused on the five so-called battleground states affected by the storm. New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio and even Pennsylvania, where polls have the president ahead but there is now reason to wonder whether effects of the storm could put it back in play. One question whether power outages in and around the Democratic stronghold of Philadelphia could depress turnout. The Pennsylvania Office of the Secretary of State advised polling stations to keep paper ballots available at the polls for voters in case electronic voting machines don't have power.
In Virginia there is early interest in absentee voting. They had a few problems at their voting centers earlier this week, especially in northern Virginia.
TOM PARKINS, VOTER REGISTRAR, ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA: Of course, on Monday we had no voting at all, and Tuesday we didn't get started until 10:00 in the morning, but -- so we lag behind the 2008 turnout at this point, but we're reasonably sure that's going to -- that's going to be made up late this week and this weekend.
JOHNS: Virginia officials don't expect any problems on election day. In North Carolina, snow in the mountains and flooding on the coast cost elections officials to postpone some early voting. They said turnout was ahead of 2008 until Monday and now is back up to speed.
There is no in-person early voting in New Hampshire so power outages have no effect there. The deputy secretary of state predicts every polling place will have power restored well in advance of election day.
And finally in the crucial state of Ohio, the storm did not slow down the high turnout the state has seen throughout the early voting period.
JOHNS: So worst-case scenario, is there any way to postpone an election? Well, yes and no. Congress technically has the power to set the date for federal elections, but some states actually have special rules for emergencies. New York, for example, can even postpone its elections for up to 20 days -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Well, as of now we don't expect any of that to happen.
JOHNS: No, we do not expect that to happen. That's a worst-case scenario.
BLITZER: Yes. You'll stay on top of this for us. Thank you.
We're expecting a news conference at the top of the hour. Officials in New York City canceling the New York City marathon. The latest on the breaking news right after this.
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