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Campbell Brown

Midwest Flood Disaster Spreads; Mrs. Obama's Image Makeover

Aired June 18, 2008 - 20:00   ET


CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening from Washington, everyone.
In the ELECTION CENTER tonight: once again, a natural disaster that is only getting worse, and, once again, troubling questions about politics. Did the federal and local governments take all possible reasonable steps to prevent the flooding in the Midwest?

Take a look. This is flooding along the Mississippi today. From Iowa to Missouri, floodwaters have already ruptured overflow 20 protective levees. As many as 20 to 30 more are threatened. Are the levees adequate? Have they been maintained? Special Investigative Unit correspondent Drew Griffin will join us.

Also tonight, a campaign adjustment, or call it an image makeover -- we're going to take you behind the scenes of the effort to reintroduce Michelle Obama to the country.

Plus, the explosive allegations from two Muslim women. Once again, the Obama campaign moves into damage control mode.

But we begin tonight with breaking news, fears that an American city is in the path of a natural disaster. Its levees are at risk. And so could be tens of thousands of its mostly poor, mostly African- American citizens. We are not talking about New Orleans, this time, the city of East Saint Louis, Illinois, which is just across the Mississippi River from Saint Louis, Missouri. Upriver, heading its way, an immense flood.

Officials are calling this a 100-year flood, the worst in a century. And, tonight, Army Corps of Engineers is deeply concerned that the levees protecting East Saint Louis may not be able to withstand a 100-year flood.

We want to go now to Drew Griffin of CNN's Special Investigative Unit. He's on the Missouri side of the river.

And, Drew, tell us what you found today.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: We found, Campbell, that the next big headline coming out of this flood could be here in Saint Louis, particularly in East Saint Louis, where the Army Corps of Engineers has determined that the four major levees that hold back East Saint Louis from the 155,000 people that live in that greater metro area, they're in the process of being decertified.

Now, what does that mean? According to the Army Corps and FEMA, that means that those levees have a serious seepage problem when the river, when the Mississippi gets 40 feet or higher. It's supposed to crest on Monday now at 39 feet. And we went out with one of the major experts today, professor Tim Kusky, who examines levee failures, and he actually showed us where the levee in East Saint Louis is already beginning to fail.

We had two seepage that Dr. Kusky showed us. And the problem, as you can remember, Campbell Brown, with seepage is the same thing that happened in New Orleans. When you have a levee holding back a river, water can seep underneath. And as the pressure builds up, more and more water keeps seeping underneath and bubbles up on the other side.

Let's say this is East Saint Louis right here. Well, as this water continues to pressure and build up, there's a potential, according to the people who have studied these very levees, that they will basically erode the levees from underneath and cause a great flood that is heading into East Saint Louis, and, again, this huge metro area.

It all depends on how much water actually comes down here to East Saint Louis. Right now, they're on the tipping point.

BROWN: So, Drew, I mean, how serious is this? Are we talking about a major catastrophe in the making here?

GRIFFIN: We're talking about the potential, the potential for a major catastrophe.

And what Tim Kusky, one of the experts, told us is, this is something that you really have to be watching almost hour by hour, as you see this erosion taking place, and also watching the river as it flows downstream, just how much water will come down.

Ironically, what would be the best thing for East Saint Louis is for more levees to break upstream, and relieve the pressure on the Mississippi River. It's these levees which are bringing all this water right down here, raising the river levels, putting pressure on these levees, that are being decertified, because they're -- you know, have this potential for failure that is causing this potential problem.

BROWN: OK, Drew, stand by for a minute.

We want to get a different perspective on things. Here's a different look at what's heading for East Saint Louis. This is a view from NASA's Terra satellite, showing what upper Illinois and Iowa usually look like. Now, that horizontal line on the upper right is drawn in. It's the northern border between Illinois and Wisconsin. The dark meandering line is the Mississippi River, separating Iowa and Illinois.

Now, you can pick out all of the rivers that flow into it. Now, look at this. This is a new satellite image of the same area. All of the rivers are swollen with floodwaters. And, tonight, all of that water, all heading for East Saint Louis.

With me right now is the city's mayor, Alvin Parks.

And, Mayor Parks, given what you just heard from our own Drew Griffin, how concerned are you for your city?


One of the things that came out earlier this year is the fact that our rivers are actually being -- our levees -- excuse me -- are being decertified at this point. And that is because they're concerned that they're not ready to handle it from a seepage standpoint, and that they may not be strong enough to handle floodwaters coming our way.

So, this is one of the reasons that Saint Clair County, Madison County, and Monroe County are just about to pass -- in fact, the state has already given us permission and the county boards are actually agreeing to approve a one-quarter cent sales tax. This sales tax is going to be there for helping to deal with $180 million issue of making these levees ready.

BROWN: Right. Right. Mayor, I get all that, but we're sort of looking at a possible crisis on our hands, and a sales tax isn't going to help you much with that. What are you doing to prepare for what Drew was just talking about?

PARKS: Well, what we're doing, by way of our emergency management team, led by Rocco Goins and also Chief William Fennoy with the fire department, is monitoring the situation very closely. We're watching what's happening upriver.

As Drew has stated, when the levees break upriver, even though it's a horrible situation for those who are north of us, it actually gives us a little bit of a sign of relief, because those rivers -- the waters are not coming nearly as hard and as high into the East Saint Louis area.


BROWN: But how concerned are you that this could happen in the East Saint Louis area?

PARKS: Well, we are very concerned.

One of the reasons that we're concerned is, the levees have been deemed by the Army Corps of Engineers as not really being ready for those floodwaters. One thing that we're not as concerned about is overtopping, because we have a very high flood wall.

BROWN: Right.

PARKS: Even back in the flood of '93, our city was actually protected, with the exception of one small section of the community.

BROWN: OK, so I just want to be clear here. You're telling us, if I understand you correctly, that the levees may not hold up, that they're not as strong as they're supposed to be. Is that accurate?

PARKS: What we're saying is that the Army Corps of Engineers is saying they're not as strong as they need to be.


BROWN: OK, so given that, and given these concerns that we're hearing that the floodwaters are heading your way possibly, do you have an evacuation plan?

PARKS: Yes, we do.

The good news is that we have a plan that works in conjunction with the East Saint Louis School District, with the community college, along with a couple of other emergency shelters, in case we need to evacuate people.

BROWN: Well, what is your plan and how are you communicating with people?

PARKS: What we're doing at this point is, first of all, monitoring the situation.

We don't know that we will need to evacuate. As you just reported, it appears as if the floodwaters will not be as high as they were in 1993. It also appears as if, if it does crest, it will crest at about 39 feet. Forty feet is the actual stage at which you're really, really concerned about the East Saint Louis community.

But, with that said, we know things can change at a moment's notice. So, we are preparing for the worst-case scenario, which says we need to take people out of the homes, get them into the higher grounds, and make sure that the community is going to be safe.

BROWN: All right, let me bring back our own Drew Griffin, just because I want to get your perspective on this as well, Drew. Given what you were telling us, what did you make of what the mayor just said in terms of their level of preparation?

GRIFFIN: Well, to be quite honest -- and I just met the mayor two minutes ago -- we went out with the city manager today, who wasn't aware there was a seepage problem where we took him to, who wasn't aware that the flood stage or the predicted flood stage had risen to 39 feet this morning, and was learning all that information as we took him around with our expert.

What the problem here is, Campbell, is, the Army Corps of Engineers doesn't have any faith in these levees. And we have got rising water heading down the Mississippi. Now, it is a gamble whether or not those will hold. The city says it's monitoring the situation and it has an evacuation plan.

But right now, I don't think anybody -- Mr. Mayor, I don't think you can guarantee that that levee is going to hold.

PARKS: No, we can't. And I don't think anyone can, including the Army Corps of Engineers.

One of the things that we're dealing with at this point is just not knowing what other levees are going to break up north. If more levees break up north, while it's horrible for them, it actually helps the city of East Saint Louis and other communities that are in the Metro East.


PARKS: But what we're doing at this point is preparing for the worst-case scenario, because what we don't want to be caught with is saying we expect our levees to be strong enough. Even if we had a 500-year levee preparation, if the levees were certified at 500-year floods, we would need to be prepared for the worst-case scenario at all times.

BROWN: Right. Right. Absolutely.


PARKS: So, we keep an intact emergency operating plan to make sure we can get people out of those low parts, get them to higher ground, and make sure that no one loses life, first of all, and do everything we can to protect the property.


BROWN: Yes. Well, I was going to say, Mr. Mayor, and to Drew, it's certainly a better game plan than hoping that the levees above you break first.

Mayor Alvin Parks, we appreciate your time tonight, and, as always, to our own Drew Griffin.

Coming up in just a minute, I am going to ask a general from the Army Corps of Engineers just how much trouble he thinks East Saint Louis could be in this weekend.

And then later on, we are going to turn to politics: a new view of Michelle Obama and why her husband's campaign hoped her experience on the popular talk show could change the way voters see her.

That's when we come back.


BROWN: Tonight in the ELECTION CENTER, the historic flooding along the Mississippi River.

Two dozen people have been killed in the flooding and 148 have been injured. Officials say probably 35,000 to 40,000 people have already been evacuated. Both President Bush and John McCain will visit Iowa tomorrow, although they will not be traveling together.

Further downriver, there is real concern tonight about the levees protecting East Saint Louis, Illinois. Can they stand up to water that is heading for that city?

And we want to get a check now from the Brigadier General Michael J. Walsh. He is the commander of Mississippi Valley Division of the Army Corps of Engineers. He's joining me now with the latest.

Are you there, General?


BROWN: So, give us a reality check here. Just how much danger do you believe the residents of East Saint Louis are in this weekend?

M. WALSH: Well, let me just state from the start that my staff and I did tour some of the flooded area today, and I did meet with the governors of Missouri and also the governor of Illinois. And my heart really goes out to those folks who have lost their homes and their businesses and those people that are evacuating.

There's a lot of volunteers that are out filling sandbags. And I have got a lot of my flood engineers that are out working with the levee districts. So, we're -- we have distributed about 11 million sandbags. We have got pumps that we're giving out to the local government officials. And we're moving in bottled water and other things for the recovery operations.

BROWN: And do you think that's enough? Is that going to do the trick, given the reporting that we have just heard?

M. WALSH: Well, there is -- the crest is coming down, is coming downriver. There is going to be more overtopping. Just a reminder that an overtopping means that the levee has been over -- its design has been exceeded. It's not a failure. It's just that the design has been exceeded.

So, some of the levees have been designed for a 10-year or a 15- year storm. And, in some cases, especially up in Cedar Rapids, that was a 500-year storm. The storm that -- the water that comes down into East Saint Louis, we're thinking about a 25- or a 30-year storm.


M. WALSH: Now, we still don't have the final results. Now the levee there is...

BROWN: But, given that, I guess, and what you know, how worried are you?

M. WALSH: Well, the levee in East Saint Louis is built to the 500-year level. So, we will have -- the mayor will have some water up on his levees. There are concerns of seepage, but I think that the risk is manageable. Certainly, you live close to the river, there is risk that needs to be managed.

BROWN: All right, sir, we appreciate your time, Brigadier General Michael Walsh. We hope you all are right and that this does turn out well for the residents of that area. Appreciate your time.

M. WALSH: You bet. Thank you, Ms. Brown.

BROWN: Coming up shortly, a swing state surprise. We're going to tell you who's got the lead in three crucial battleground states and what it all means for November.

And then a new view of Michelle Obama -- how the campaign is reintroducing the candidate's wife. We are going to have the inside story on that when we come back.


BROWN: Now we turn to the race for the White House and what looks like a bounce for Barack Obama.

For the first time, he is leading John McCain in three make-or- break swing states, Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. That's according to a Quinnipiac University poll which just came out today. Now, of course, a lot can happen before November. But keep this in mind. No one has been elected president since 1960 without taking at least two of those states.

So, let's see how all of these changes look on the electoral map.

Tom, give us a look.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Campbell, this is one of the first real measures of the presidential contest we have had since finding out who the candidates will be. And it is a good news trifecta for Barack Obama.

All three of these states, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida, are considered battlegrounds by CNN. In Florida, McCain has been campaigning. He's been talking up local issues, like restoration of the Everglades. But it does not seem to be working president. The Quinnipiac poll finds Obama with a 47-43 percent lead over McCain among likely voters.

McCain is doing a little better with older white male voters there, but not enough to overcome Obama's advantage among women, black voters and young people.

Swing up to Ohio, same story, same reasons. Obama had genuine problems with white working-class voters here. And he still does, but, despite that, the poll found that 48 percent of the voters like Obama. Only 42 percent want McCain.

And look at Pennsylvania. The bitterness must be gone. Clinton clobbered Obama there. Now he's returning the favor to McCain. Obama gets 52 percent of the votes, McCain just 40 percent. And this is the only state of these three, Campbell, where Obama leads in the white vote.

BROWN: And, Tom, I know that pollsters also took a look at the potential drag of George Bush on McCain. What did they find? FOREMAN: Well, they found that the president is profoundly unpopular in these three critical states, even though he won Florida and Ohio four years ago.

In Florida, only 27 percent of the voters approve of the president's performance. You move up and you look up at Pennsylvania, where only 24 percent of the voters approve. And, then, over in Ohio, barely 22 percent support what he's doing. This does not prove that he is dragging McCain down.

But, as a rule, when a president is this unpopular, his party's candidate will pay a price -- Campbell.


And just last week, our assessment of the electoral map showed McCain with a tiny lead among the states that were likely already decided. So, how does this poll, these new numbers, affect that?

FOREMAN: Well, Campbell, this was the map as we saw it then, red for Obama, yellow for the battlegrounds and blue for -- excuse me -- blue for Obama, red for McCain, yellow for the battlegrounds. That's what we saw back then. And McCain led by a slim four electoral votes.

If you include all this new information, and you were to give him all three of the states we're talking about, give Obama all three of those states, he would pick up a whopping 68 electoral votes. That's if nothing changes. But, as it is right now, we are tipping Pennsylvania into the leaning-blue category -- Campbell.

BROWN: And still early. We're going to keep watching it.

But, Tom Foreman for us tonight -- Tom, thanks.

So, those 68 votes would put Barack Obama well above the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win. Now the question is, where do the campaigns go from here?

We have got some of the smartest minds in Washington here with the facts, so you can decide, Steve McMahon, former Democratic strategist and former Dean adviser to us, Republican strategist and former Romney press secretary Kevin Madden, and CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger.

Welcome, guys.


STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: If we were as smart as that intro, probably one of our guys would be president.


BROWN: Actually, that's a good point. We will have to reevaluate that.


BROWN: All right, Kevin, I have got to start with you here, because you are the Republican in the mix. Those numbers can't be good for McCain, three battlegrounds?

KEVIN MADDEN, FORMER ROMNEY CAMPAIGN NATIONAL PRESS SECRETARY: No. I think those numbers are good for Obama, in the fact that everybody was saying that, well, Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania, that he can't win those states and he's not doing well with the voters there

And we have seen that he's made gains in just the last two weeks. A lot of that has to do with the amount of coverage that he's getting. He's had two weeks of incredible coverage about this inspirational and very new fact, the fact that he is the first African-American nominee.

And that is probably reflected in these numbers. But let there be no doubt, the McCain campaign knows that they have tough battles on their hands in these states. They know they're not going to be granted wins there, and they have to work hard.

BROWN: Are you surprised, Gloria, by the size of his lead, especially in Pennsylvania, because he lost there, what, 10 points, I think, to Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania?


I'm not surprised, because when you look at the reason why he's winning, he's actually winning over independents by 11 points. He's winning over those white women voters, those Hillary Clinton voters that he needed to get back in the state of Pennsylvania. So, those people are coming back to him. And that has made the difference for him.

And, if he can do that in Ohio, if he can do that in Florida, then he's really got a good shot at this election. But Democrats cannot win, Campbell, without Pennsylvania. He needs to win Pennsylvania.

BROWN: It's a must-win.

Let me ask you, Steve. Despite Obama's lead -- this is according to the same poll -- 24 percent of Clinton's primary voters are now backing McCain. Do you think that will hold, first of all? I know it's very early, but -- and how big of a problem is it?

MCMAHON: You know, I don't think it will hold.

In primary campaigns, as you know, when there are very small differences between the candidates, it's very easy to exaggerate stylistic and other kinds of differences, demographic differences and distinctions.

But, in this election, the differences couldn't be clearer. John McCain wants to stay in Iraq for a long time. Whether it's 100 years, or 10 years, it doesn't matter. It's a long time. Barack Obama wants to start drawing down.

On Social Security, there are big issues, on the economic future of this country and whether we should continue the Bush tax policies or go in a different direction. So, the differences are so big that I think you're going to see Democrats increasingly come back in the fold. And when they do, these leads in these states are probably going to grow a little bit.

BROWN: Do you think we're going to see a divide? Because, truthfully, I don't think we have really seen them go at it on the issues. I mean, we're still in that sort of post-primary mode.

MADDEN: Right.


BROWN: Everyone's still sort of getting used to Obama being the nominee.

MADDEN: Well, I think the big difference here with Steve is that the Democrats seem to be employing hope as a strategy. They expect that these votes are going to come back.

But I think that the McCain campaign is going to try and make this a contest of attributes. They're going to go after that 25 percent of Hillary Clinton voters that are tending to now say that they're going to support John McCain, based on strength and readiness and experience. They're going to continue to hammer that home, because if they can just leave a little doubt with those voters that Barack Obama is just not ready to be president, he can get the voters in November.

BORGER: But, if you look at the polls, you know, experience is important to people, but change seems to be more important. It seems to still be trumping it with the general electorate.

So, that's -- that could be a problem.

MADDEN: I will grant you that, but is it going to be change for change sake, and can John McCain make a very credible argument -- I believe he can -- about what kind of change?


MCMAHON: Here's what the Obama campaign, though, is going to do.

They're going to say, if you want a third George Bush term, then vote for John McCain, because John McCain supports the president's economic policy.

BROWN: I have that.

MADDEN: I have heard that before.


MCMAHON: You are going to hear a lot of it.

And the reason change is beating experience right now is because people want change. They're tired of President Bush. John McCain is discovering that carrying George Bush around is a very hard thing to do. And that's what he's going to have to do between now and November.

BROWN: All right. Well, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. It's still very early, we should say, when we look at polls like this, but appreciate your time.

Thanks to Steve, Kevin, and Gloria. Appreciate it.

Still to come, what you didn't see at Barack Obama's big rally earlier this week and why the campaign is apologizing now.

Also ahead, the conventional wisdom says offshore drilling could solve our energy crisis. But our Ali Velshi says, not quite so fast -- a reality check on that when we return.



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We should expand American oil production by increasing access to the Outer Continental Shelf. We should expand oil production by tapping into the extraordinary potential of oil shale.

We should expand oil production by permitting exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR.

We need to expand and enhance our refining capacity.

I know the Democratic leaders have opposed some of these policies in the past. Now that their opposition has helped drive gas prices to record levels, I ask them to reconsider their positions.


BROWN: Now, that was President Bush this morning, calling on Congress to increase oil supplies and someday, hopefully, bring down gas prices.

The national average for unleaded gas is down by a fraction for the second straight day, $4.075 a gallon. The president's plan covers some of the same points, but it goes further than the energy plan that Senator John McCain started pushing this week.

And with me now to take an independent look at what he is proposing, senior business correspondent Ali Velshi, joining me now from New York.

And, Ali, exactly just where off our shores is this oil that we keep hearing about? ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Could be all over the place, actually. With the exception of the western part of the Gulf of Mexico near Texas and Louisiana, and a little bit off of California, offshore oil drilling has been banned since the '80s in the United States. So, we're talking about everything around here.

Oil is, if you dig deep enough is pretty much all over the place, particularly Virginia and Florida have expressed some interest in this offshore oil drilling. So there is oil out there.

We might be talking about 18 billion barrels. That sounds like a lot but I have to remind you that in a year, we use almost eight billion barrels in the United States. So it would be two years of all of the oil we use in the United States. Again, doesn't seem like it's the answer.

BROWN: So you're saying just two years worth of oil once we actually started pumping it out?

VELSHI: The way the president puts it is 10 years because we don't actually produce all our oil right now. As we've discussed, we produced such a small portion of it. But the bottom line is it's a good three to 10 years before we start getting the dropout of each one of these wells because you've got to -- you've got to search for it. You've got to drill. You've got to build pipelines to get it in there.

And right now, oil equipment and services are in big demand. So it's not something we can just start doing. It's going to have no effect on the price of gas any time soon.

BROWN: And Ali, the president also spoke today about an oil source that is on land -- oil shale. Explain to people what that is.

VELSHI: You know, our viewers might be familiar with the tar sands in Alberta. It's a similar idea. Oil shale is basically stone that has an oil content in it and that it can be processed into oil.

Now, there are more than a trillion barrels of oil underneath the Green -- we have no map there. But underneath the Green River Basin in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado, maybe about 800 billion barrels of those are available. So that's more oil than there is in Saudi Arabia but in order to get that oil, the price of a barrel of oil has to stay high because it's much more expensive than traditional drilling either in the water or on land, Campbell.

BROWN: So probably not the easiest or best solution there either.

VELSHI: No, it's there if we needed it but that would assume that oil prices stay very, very high, which is something that Americans would rather not see.

BROWN: All right, Ali. Ali Velshi for us tonight. Ali, thanks as always.


BROWN: Just ahead, we haven't heard the last of those tainted tomatoes. The new number of people who got sick and the new clues for public health investigators. They're trying to pinpoint where those tomatoes were grown.

Also ahead, politics. Michelle Obama's "View" debut was just the beginning. See what's next in the campaign to reintroduce the candidate's wife.


BROWN: Coming up, the refining and reintroducing of Michelle Obama, her image, and why it's so important to her husband's presidential campaign.

First, Erica Hill joins us though with "The Briefing."

A big story happening right now, Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Campbell, one we've been following very closely. The salmonella outbreak linked to raw tomatoes where we are now learning it is more widespread than first thought.

Public health investigators say this rare form of salmonella has now infected 383 people. That's an increase of more than 100 cases in just a week. The youngest victim is just a year old. The oldest is 88.

FDA investigators say the tainted tomatoes may have been grown in Florida or Mexico but they are also warning, Campbell, they may never find the source. We'll stay on top of it for you though.

BROWN: All right. Erica, thanks.

And coming up, Barack Obama's controversial rally, what you didn't see in Detroit on Monday and why the campaign is apologizing now.

Also ahead, why do tough, smart women have to be softened up when they become a little bit too powerful, a little bit too prominent? We're going to have that debate when we return.


BROWN: Here in the ELECTION CENTER, we like to look into the stagecraft behind the candidates' campaign events. But tonight, some people are accusing Barack Obama's campaign of sending the wrong message. And we want you to see this for yourself so that you can decide.

Here now is Erica Hill. And Erica, explain to people what this controversy is about.

HILL: Well, campaign it all started Monday night. We're going to set the scene first at Barack Obama's Monday night rally in Detroit. This is, of course, when Al Gore endorsed him. A huge arena, thousands upon thousands of supporters on hand here. You can see them all behind him.

We've talked about it as you mentioned, Campbell, in the past, when we look at stagecraft, how important the people who are going to end up behind the candidate here are when it comes to any photo opportunity, any bit of video you're going to see. So we want to give you a closer look now at the group that actually ended up behind Obama and behind the podium.

You can see here we have a mixture. We have young and old, you've got white and black, and it really is mixing things up, men and women. So the message here the campaign is looking to send, the one that pretty much every campaign wants to deliver is, you know what? Our candidate appeals to so many different people. We can really reach across all of these lines.

But the interesting thing here, the stagecraft that we're going to talk about isn't actually about the people that you see in this picture. It is about the people that you don't see, specifically these two Muslim women. We're about to show you their pictures.

They were both at that rally on Monday night. They were there separately, we should point out. But both women say Obama campaign supporters kept them from sitting behind the podium on Monday night because of their headscarves. They claim the volunteers didn't want the women's headscarves, which are similar to the ones that you see here in their photos. Both of them wearing headscarves, they say similar to those headscarves. They didn't want them in pictures with Obama.

Well, we made several attempts to contact both women. We have not heard back from either one. I can tell you though, Campbell, the Obama campaign was very quick to issue a statement saying, "This is of course not the policy of the campaign. It is offensive and counter to Obama's commitment to bring Americans together and simply not the kind of campaign we run. We sincerely apologize for the behavior of these volunteers" -- Campbell.

BROWN: And Erica, this is clearly a pretty sensitive issue for them, because Senator Obama has had to walk this fine line between going out there and knocking down these false rumors that he's Muslim, but at the same time, not wanting to show any disrespect to Muslims.

HILL: Absolutely, and it's such an important point. The campaign is clearly doing some major damage control. Beyond that statement, the campaign also sent out some photos. In fact, this one from the morning after that rally, which shows Senator Obama with a group of students, and you can see right here there's a young woman in a headscarf, in the picture with the students. And again, this is taken the morning after the rally, before this controversy broke.

So they sent out this picture and we got to thinking, we wanted to look back at some of the rallies, look at the pictures and videos over the past few months, and apparently the campaign was doing the same thing because they also passed along this picture.

This is a woman. Right here, you can see she's wearing a headscarf and although this is Senator Obama's back, we should point that, he just turned at that point. This woman was in fact right behind in that choice spot behind him in the podium. This happened at a rally in Seattle in February.

So Campbell, what's happening today it appears to be perhaps a little bit of stagecraft for what may or may not have been some stagecraft gone wrong, but definitely something that is getting plenty of attention.

BROWN: Absolutely. Erica Hill for us tonight.

Erica, thank you.

"LARRY KING LIVE" is just ahead and tonight.

Larry is remembering a colleague who was very dear to so many of us -- Larry.

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Yes, you're not kidding. We'll talk, by the way, to those who attended Tim Russert's memorial service today. It was quite a gathering to honor his memory.

Dan Rather and Ben Bradlee and others will be here. And then we'll kind of lighten the mood a little with Joy Behar. She and her colleagues had a new co-host today, Michelle Obama. And we'll get Joy's views on that and other issues of the day. That's all on "LARRY KING LIVE" next -- Campbell.

BROWN: All right, Larry, we'll be watching you. And we'll also be talking about the Michelle Obama story. Michelle Obama did make a splash on a popular daytime talk show today.

The presidential candidate's wife, her image and all the attention that she is getting now. That is coming up next.


BROWN: The spouses of presidential candidates, their comments, their viewpoints are turning out to be pretty important in this year's campaign, and that is why Michelle Obama is getting a bit of a reintroduction to the public.

And CNN's Jessica Yellin is here in Washington with a look at Michelle Obama, her appearance, her new image, if that's what you can call it, and an appearance on "The View" today.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: She was on "The View" and Campbell, you know, folks in the Obama campaign are very concerned. They think that the conservatives' knives are out for Michelle Obama. So they're putting her on a charm offensive to try to, as they say, preempt any attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) YELLIN (voice-over): Michelle Obama, fist bumping with the ladies on "The View."

MICHELLE OBAMA, BARACK OBAMA'S WIFE: I have to be greeted properly. Fist bump, please.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, yes. All right!

YELLIN: And dishing about her husband.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did he give you any advice, Michelle?

M. OBAMA: Because he was on the show, "Be good."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No pressure. No pressure.

YELLIN: Her appearance on "The View" along with this cover story about her marriage is part of the campaign's effort to let us get to know Michelle Obama better, and to get ahead of conservative attacks they know are coming. Senior adviser and Obama best friend, Valerie Jarrett.

VALERIE JARRETT, OBAMA FOR AMERICA SR. ADVISER: If it's not accurate we're going to correct it and we're going to correct it immediately. We've seen kind of these insidious e-mails that go around, and I think -- I think the sense is it's time to stop all that and to call them on the carpet when it's done.

YELLIN: They'll do it by putting Michelle at center stage. Today, in fact, she explains this statement that's been dogging her.

M. OBAMA: For the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country.

YELLIN: It went viral on conservative Web sites.

M. OBAMA: Just let me tell you, of course I'm proud of my country. Nowhere but in America could my story be possible. I mean, I'm a girl who grew up --

BARBARA WALTER, HOST, "THE VIEW": Tell people a little bit of this.

M. OBAMA: I am a girl that grew up on the South Side of Chicago. My father was a working class guy.

YELLIN: The critics aren't just attacking her patriotism. They call her elitist.

M. OBAMA: Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual. Uninvolved, uninformed.

YELLIN: They say she's negative.

M. OBAMA: You are more easily led by fear. It is easier to live in your own fear when you're struggling every day. And the problem with fear is that it has cut us off from one another in our own families, in our own communities.

YELLIN: They say she's angry.

M. OBAMA: Every step of the way in my life, and so many of you out there have been told no, don't. You can't. Wait. We're not ready. Wait your turn.

YELLIN: But the fact is, Michelle Obama has been trying to reach struggling and working class women. She intends all this as a message of inspiration. The campaign insists, for every conservative troubled by these words, there are voters, often women, who respond.

JARRETT: I think that Michelle makes it safer to talk about things, and she talks about things maybe that haven't been said before but have been felt. And you know, there are so many women I think who feel that their voices haven't been heard.

YELLIN: The campaign says they're beefing up Mrs. Obama's staff, and they say she'll refine her stump speech. But they insist they're not looking to soften her message. They say she keeps it real.

M. OBAMA: I think maybe the challenge that I have, to the extent that it's a strength or a weakness is that I wear my heart on my sleeves, just like all of you guys. And at some level when you put your heart out there, there is a level of passion that you feel and it's a risk that you take.


YELLIN: A top campaign aide tells me that they are going to beef up Michelle Obama's staff in a way that they say is unprecedented for the spouse of a candidate. She will have a team of what they call seasoned campaign veterans, who are experts at rapid response. Now, that's the kind of thing you usually see around the candidate, not the spouse.

BROWN: Absolutely. It's a whole different era in terms of how we deal with this. But I've heard her called the closer, too. I mean, she really is seemingly connecting with a core group, women in particular, right?

YELLIN: Absolutely, and it's not just generically women. It's these women or the campaign thinks who don't always turn out, who are not engaged in the political process, might not even be registered to vote. These are the new voters. They have to turn out and the Obama campaign believes these people could put them over.

BROWN: And she's going to be out there for sure.

Jessica Yellin for us tonight. Jessica, thanks.

Up next, an expert panel is going to weigh in on this, the new Michelle Obama, what it all means. We'll have that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BROWN: We're back now with this question. Are the attacks against Michelle Obama fair game or just political hot air? Is this a woman who needs to soften her image?

And to talk about that with me tonight from New York, Faye Waddleton, who is president of the Center for the Advancement of Women. From San Francisco, Joan Walsh. She's the editor-in-chief of And from Los Angeles, Howard Bragman. He is a veteran Hollywood publicist and crisis manager.

And guys, I want to start with this. Faye, I'll start with you on this question. I mean, the suggestion is made here. We've heard the story all day today. Here she's going on "The View." You know, that Michelle Obama needs to "soften her image."

And I got to ask, you know, when are we going to get to the point in this country where, whether you are Michelle Obama, whether you're Hillary Clinton, whether you're Cindy McCain, when is it going to be OK for women to be able to speak their minds and not have to be softer? What is this about, Faye?

FAYE WATTLETON, CTR. FOR ADVANCEMENT OF WOMEN: Well, I think it's about the continuing demonstration of sexist attitudes towards women that we must somehow reshape who we are as people in the image of the traditional woman as soft and passive, and concerned with flowers as opposed to politics. I think that this will be the moment in which we will see a change, because Michelle Obama seems to be a woman very comfortable in her skin. And I hope that she will not change her authenticity, because that is why voters are responding to her, because they see her as a very real person.

So they're worried about all of those campaign strategists around her. I hope that even though she will be getting good advice that she will speak from her own heart and with her own instincts.

BROWN: Joan, what do you think?

JOAN WALSH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, SALON.COM: I agree with Faye. I was really kind of worried to see the story in "The New York Times" this morning about this makeover and this relaunch. You have to be careful not to turn Michelle Obama into the new Coke, because as a brand, she is intelligent, she's funny.

We sent a reporter out on the campaign trail with her early on, and she came back, you know, incredibly impressed, saying this is his secret weapon. It was before, you know, a lot of people had heard her speak.

On the other hand, to be just, you know, candid and honest and clear-eyed about it, she's got some negatives. I saw a Rasmussen poll that said about 42 percent of people polled had negative feelings. I don't understand that, but I think, you know, she probably like all of us, when we're getting, you know, more scrutiny, has to think twice about some of the things she says. But this perception that she's suddenly going to be handled by this staff and relaunched like a product could really backfire. BROWN: So Howard, give us a reality check because I think Joan made a fair point. She is under a lot more scrutiny, and we know the reality that we live in when that's the case. Does something need to change here, or how do you explain those negatives?

HOWARD BRAGMAN, PUBLICIST & CRISIS MANAGER: You know, public relations nowadays doesn't stand for public relations. It stands for perception and reality. And we have this perception that's been created by the right wing, by the bloggers, and I don't think it's Michelle Obama's reality. And as we get to know her better like we did on "The View" today, we're going to understand her reality and her job is to get that reality out there.

I talked to one of her friends today. Michelle Obama is not going to become something she's not. She's a very honest woman, very intelligent, a little bit outspoken. And I expect her to be authentic, can stick to her guns and I think America is really going to fall in love with her. I really do.

BROWN: All right, guys. Stay there, because when we come back, the gloves are coming off a little bit when it comes to potential first ladies.

I do want to ask you about something that Cindy McCain said when she was asked about a Michelle Obama comment. We're back in just a moment.


BROWN: Michelle Obama is attracting a lot of attention these days, and Cindy McCain isn't being shy about turning up the political heat.

So joining me again to talk about that, Faye Wattleton, Joan Walsh and Howard Bragman. Welcome back, guys.

And Joan, let me start with you this time. Michelle Obama found herself in a bit of hot water when she said, "For the first time in my life, I am really proud of my country."

Now, she explained that today on "The View." But also today in an interview with ABC News, Cindy McCain once again criticized Mrs. Obama saying, "Everyone has their own experience. I don't know why she said what she said. All I know is that I have always been proud of my country."

This a little bit surprising to me. I mean, it's not the first time, frankly, that Mrs. McCain has said this about Michelle Obama. But it does seem pretty unusual to see potential first ladies getting into something like this, Joan.

J. WALSH: Yes, I was really surprised by that, too, Campbell. She had said it before. She made her point. She got a crack off. I think it was back in February when Michelle Obama first said that.

For her to revisit it, it's just not very classy. And, you know, I hope we don't have a spectacle of, you know, first ladies fighting it out. I expect Michelle Obama will not take the bait.

BROWN: But is that the new reality, I guess, in this campaign world, where your spouse can be beneficial in many ways or a detriment in many ways? Do you think, Faye, that they're both going to be mixing it up?

WATTLETON: Absolutely. This is the presidential campaign. We're not running for the superintendent of the Sunday school. So every attempt will be made to use any mistake or any perception of a mistake to attack the campaign. The Democrats will do the same thing to the McCain campaign.

So this is really tough going, and I think that, as the campaign goes along, she will make missteps but then I think she'll move on, because she seems to be again, a very strong woman, very comfortable in her own right and what she's about.

BROWN: All right. Howard, just before we go, give me your quick assessment of both of these women and what would you advise them to do in terms of mixing it up or not?

BRAGMAN: I don't think Michelle's going to mix it up. I think she's going to take the high road, be gracious. Even Laura Bush gave her the benefit of the doubt, and I think Cindy McCain has pulled a little tight in a lot of ways and I think she could learn from Laura Bush a lesson in graciousness right now.

I think Michelle kind of one upped her right now, and Cindy should be the role that she's there to be, which is on the arm of her husband, and to be a gracious first lady and show America what she can be. Score one for Michelle today.

BROWN: All right. Well, we'll see about that. I can't believe we're talking about a potential first lady smackdown here.

But anyway, to Joan, to Faye, to Howard, thanks to all of you. Appreciate your time tonight.

And that is it from the ELECTION CENTER here from Washington, D.C. tonight.

"LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.