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American Morning

8,000 Troops to Leave Iraq; A Secret U.S. Program to Kill Terrorists; John McCain Taking A Two-Point Lead Over Barack Obama at the New Polls; Texas and the Gulf Coast Bracing for Another Hurricane

Aired September 09, 2008 - 08:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: He replaces Pervez Musharraf who resigned last month after the ruling coalition began taking steps to impeach him. Zardari has been critical of his country's losing efforts against insurgents.
President Bush expected to announce today about 8,000 U.S. troops will be coming home from Iraq by next February. At the same time, Afghanistan will see a surge of several thousand Army troops that will be in January.

CNN's Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon this morning with the details on all of the troops just for us.

Good morning, Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Military officials tell us that Mr. Bush's announcement is a clear indication that while things maybe getting better in Iraq, it's still too soon for major troop cuts.


STARR (voice-over): It may be President Bush's last big decision about Iraq. Mr. Bush has approved modest troop cuts to be completed by February when he is gone from office, accepting his commander's recommendations to draw down 8,000 troops from the current level of about 146,000. It's a cautious approach that doesn't really help either presidential candidate's arguments.

WILLIAM DOBSON, MANAGING EDITOR, FOREIGN POLICY MAGAZINE: They're going to be able to find further to help make their arguments. The arguments that they already been making. They will be able to look at this announcement and find what they want to find to make the cases they've already made.

STARR: But they will need to thread carefully. For McCain, the low number could undermine his ticket's message that the surge has worked. But don't expect the Republicans to move off that message.

PALIN: Our opponent finally admitted what we've known all along, and thanks to the skill and the valor of our great troops, the surge in Iraq has worked.

STARR: But for Obama the small number of troops hardly reflects the one to two brigades a month he's calling for in reductions. Still, the Obama campaign sees the move in a positive light.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They're doing what Barack Obama has suggested over 14 months ago. Turn responsibility over and draw down our troops.


STARR: And so, now, the path is set. A substantial number of U.S. troops will remain in Iraq and Afghanistan well into the next presidency, no matter who wins in November, John.

ROBERTS: Barbara Starr with that breaking news for us from the Pentagon this morning. Barbara, thanks, as always.

A secret U.S. program to kill terrorists. Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward says that is the reason violence in Iraq has dropped so dramatically, not because of the so-called troop surge. The claim is in Woodward's new book, "The War Within." Here he is on "LARRY KING LIVE" last night.


BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR, "THE WAR WITHIN": Somewhat compare it to the Manhattan Project in World War II. If you look at the chart, it's a ski slope right down in a matter of months cutting the violence in half.


ROBERTS: CNN's Baghdad correspondent Michael Ware has been living the past six years in the middle of that war, and joins us now with his perspective. So what do you think of what he's saying?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, I mean, let's say that these (INAUDIBLE) teams as they called have come into effect. The first thing to say is, well, about time.

I mean, on the ground you've seen the lack of coordination, as the left hand of one agency has not worked with the right hand of another agency within the American effort. But by and large to suggest that anything like this being done now has been the major reason for the decline in violence is a bit rich.

I mean, the U.S. subcontracted out an assassination program against al Qaeda way back in early 2006. And this was conceded by the then chief of military intelligence in Baghdad and by Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad himself. That's what broke the back of al Qaeda.

Then, when America put 100,000 plus insurgents on the U.S. government payroll, including members of al Qaeda, that not only took them out of the field, but it also let them run their own assassination programs against the Iranian-backed militias.

ROBERTS: So, it sounds like assassination was the real part of the program here. But was that the only thing that worked? What about the addition of these troops, these neighborhood stations that were set up that it all kind of work together.

WARE: It does work together. But, I mean, the key to the downturn in violence that we're seeing now is not so much the surge of 30,000 troops in itself. What it's been is the segregation of Baghdad into these enclaves. It's been cutting a deal Muqtada al Sadr, the leader of the Iranian-back militias, and primarily it's been putting your enemy on your payroll.

The Sunni insurgents and many members of al Qaeda, that's what's brought down the violence. And this is your American militia. The counter balance to the Iranian militias. So if these new teams out there with new technology, great, but they're riding the wave of previous success.

ROBERTS: Interesting. Michael Ware, thanks so much for that. Appreciate the insight perspective.

CHETRY: John McCain taking a two-point lead over Barack Obama in a new CNN Poll of Polls. CNN's Ed Henry looks at that. Plus, some new data on the vice presidential candidate's popularity as well.

Ed, good morning. This is the first time in this poll of pools. Even though it's slight that we've seen McCain ahead of Obama.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right. Good morning, Kiran. Good news for John McCain. Perhaps it shows a little bit of a lift from the pick of Sarah Palin, but we've got to be careful not to overstate it obviously. Because when you look at these numbers, poll of polls essentially an average of several national surveys. As you look at it, John McCain the choice among 47 percent of registered voters, Barack Obama 45 percent. You still have eight percent unsure.

When you factor in the margin of error, obviously, a two-point lead by John McCain is not that significant, but what is important is to underline the fact that this is only going to fuel more Democratic angst. Democrats wondering why is Barack Obama not putting this away given the state of the economy, given the situation of Iraq, you've just been talking about.

And I think when you look at the second number, there's a little bit more along the same line about the vice presidential candidates, about their ability to handle a crisis. You look at that for Joe Biden, 61 percent of registered voters said they would be confident in Joe Biden handling a crisis. 37 percent saying they would be uneasy.

53 percent saying they'd be confident in Sarah Palin in a crisis. 45 percent saying they would be uneasy. OK, so, essentially that gives Joe Biden an eight-point lead. And you say, OK, that underlines what Democrats have been saying about adding experience to the Democratic ticket. But an eight-point lead is not that significant.

Again, Joe Biden being in the Senate for decades should be having a bigger lead than that. And the third one you look at, finally in terms of favorability and what not among the VP candidates, the latest poll from CNN showing Sarah Palin at 57 percent, unfavorable 27 percent, 16 percent unsure. Joe Biden 51 percent favorable, 28 percent unfavorable and 21 percent unsure.

I think this reflects what we're seeing -- what I saw at the Republican convention. The floor Republicans very excited about the Palin pick. We're seeing that on the campaign trail right now. But I think the broader question for John McCain moving forward is while this Palin pick seems to be rallying the base, getting Republicans to come home, if you will, there still is a big question about whether sort of independent voters, the swing voters in the middle that Lou Dobbs was talking about -- are they ready to come over to the McCain- Palin ticket? That's not clear yet especially given a lot of her conservative views.

So I think John McCain in the short term is getting a little bit of a lift from Sarah Palin, getting Republicans to come home, but still very much an open question whether he can get the middle.


CHETRY: And what is it going to come down to if those independent voters do decide to go one way or the other? The issues or the personality?

HENRY: I think it's going to be a combination of both and it's going to be the personalities at the top and not the bottom. And that's so important to point out. That while we're looking at these numbers, about the number two choice, in the end we've heard over and over that the American people are going to make a gut call on the people at the top. So I think in the end, it's going to be about John McCain and Barack Obama framing these issues but also the American people having a comfort level with them on a personal basis, Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. Ed Henry, good to see you. Thanks.

HENRY: Good to see you.

CHETRY: Palin's pledge --


GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You will have a friend, advocate in the White House.


CHETRY: Deborah Feyerick takes a look at Sarah Palin's appeal to parents.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a wonderful opportunity.


CHETRY: You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."


DAVID LETTERMAN, THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN: I kind of like Sarah Palin. She, you know -- she reminds me, she looks like the flight attendant that we'll give you a second can of Pepsi.

No, I had enough. We're landing.


ROBERTS: David Letterman last night with his take on McCain running mate Sarah Palin. Obviously --

CHETRY: It doesn't matter. No one is going to give you an extra can of Pepsi now. You've got to pay for it.

ROBERTS: Yes. That's true.


ROBERTS: Along with everything else.

VELSHI: No free Pepsi anymore.


CHETRY: Poor John, he's been on a plane. He's watching a building today and he start taking that money. No coffee is free. You have to pay for it here. Only on the flight.

Hey, Ali Velshi joins us now with a look at energy and a look at where some of the candidates' positions are on energy -- what they have planned.

VELSHI: This is part of a series this week where we're looking at what Barack Obama and John McCain are saying about various things that will affect your money. It's issue number one. So, we're going to be discussing with you. Let's talk about what they're going to do about energy.

Both of the candidates say that we're in an energy crisis and they want to reduce America's dependence on imported oil, and, as a result, they want to increase America's energy security.

Let's start with what Barack Obama wants to do. He wants to invest $150 billion in renewable energy. That's solar, wind and hydroelectricity and other things. He wants to get those developed so that they're in the market. He wants to allow limited offshore drilling. John McCain wants offshore drilling everywhere where it's banned right now.

Barack Obama says he wants a little bit of it. By 2012, Barack Obama would like 10 percent of our electricity to come from renewable sources. And he would like a million plug-in hybrid cars on the road by 2015. And I want to assume that means that there'll be incentives to get those cars on the road, either tax incentives to people to buy them or tax incentives to people who make them.

Let's take a look at John McCain. His main save is energy policy right now is lifting the ban on offshore drilling everywhere in America. He often says it, drill here, drill now.

He also wants to construct 45 nuclear plants by 2030. Nuclear would create a lot of electricity. Most of our electricity right now is generated by coal -- 53 percent is generated by coal. John McCain would like to invest $2 billion for clean coal technology. There are some of these technologies that exist to try and clean coal so that it doesn't put out the CO2 emissions, but none of them are viable on a large scale right now. And John McCain would also like to give tax breaks to investors and companies that develop and produce alternative energy.

So, they both are very concentrated on alternative energy and on reducing emissions in the long term. The difference is that John McCain's policies seem to be centered on getting more oil into the market fairly soon, whereas Barack Obama's policies seem to center around using less energy faster than we create it.

ROBERTS: But when it comes to this new mantra of "drill, baby, drill," a little bit on both sides, more so on the Republican. I believe a little bit on the Democratic side.


VELSHI: Much more so on the Republican side. It's an absolute no, no for the Democrats. But the polling has started to show that Americans, particularly when oil had hit $147, are very, very concerned about getting oil and the public seems to be on the side of offshore drilling. So, the Republicans have capitalized on it and the Democrats seem to be coming along.

ROBERTS: As you said, at 147 bucks a barrel, you'll squeeze oil out of your head.

VELSHI: Absolutely.

ROBERTS: If we polled on that, that's actually quite popular, too.

VELSHI: Oh, very good. Anything I can do to help the cause.

CHETRY: And the other interesting thing, Ali, that you talked about is just even a discussion about our Congress moving more towards possibly favoring that, saw the oil prices drop.

VELSHI: That's absolutely right. And now that everybody is talking about getting more oil or getting off of oil, there's been what we call demand disruption -- people using less of it. You're absolutely seeing these lower prices of oil. We're close to $100 a barrel right now.

CHETRY: Goody.

VELSHI: Goody, yes.

ROBERTS: That's a good thing, too.

VELSHI: I meant that in a good way.

ROBERTS: That's how crazy things are. Ali, thanks so much. Thirteen minutes after the hour.

CHETRY: Tracking Ike. Bracing for a killer storm.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are asking our citizens to be prepared.


CHETRY: The latest path and projections. You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."


ROBERTS: Texas and the Gulf Coast bracing for another hurricane right now. We are watching Hurricane Ike as it makes its way over Cuba and our Rob Marciano tracking the storm from the hurricane headquarters there in Atlanta.

Where does it look like it's going, Rob?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It's going to the Gulf, that's for sure. What it does after that is the big question. We've been trending this to the south and the whole thing -- remember a few days ago, this thing was headed towards southern Florida. Clearly, that's good news for Floridians but is it good news for folks in Texas?

Here's the forecast track. We take it to Cat 2 tomorrow into the central Gulf and at times out maybe as a Cat 3 by late Thursday into Friday. And the track has shifted into Texas, even into parts of northern Mexico. So, could very well do a dolly dance here and head towards Corpus Christi or south into Brownsville as we go into the next couple days. And the timing is such it will be late Friday into Saturday morning, possibly sooner.

And some models actually do scoot it last minute north towards Houston. So, stay tuned. There's still a lot to do with this track.

Hurricane warning's up for western Cuba. Tropical storm warning's up for the Keys and you see all the moisture rotating into the Keys. You'll see minor storm surge flooding today. You will see some thunderstorms along the I-95 and New York freeway over the next few hours. Look at this line about to barrel into the New York metropolitan area. It will be a rough go in the Big Apple in just a couple of hours.

John, back up to you.

ROBERTS: That's going to cause some problems at the airport. Hey, Rob, the Hurricane Center had Gustav tracked within 30 miles days out, why is Ike more difficult to track?

MARCIANO: Well, it is -- well, these two big things right here. Two big blue (INAUDIBLE) kind of settling into the south. And that's kind of putting a squeeze on these. Hurricanes naturally want to head north and transfer that tropical energy to the poles. And when these things kind of swish into the south, it kind of forces them down, kind of putting a lid on it and naturally they don't want to do that. So, these are a little bit more -- the ones that track to the west, a little bit more tough to track.

ROBERTS: All right. Rob Marciano for us this morning. Rob, thanks. We'll get back to you on that.

MARCIANO: All right. You got it.

ROBERTS: The white giant.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You need to make sure you're reaching out to the black votes and the Hispanic votes that support you.


ROBERTS: Didn't spot many minorities at the Republican convention? You weren't alone. Joe Johns looks at why the Republican big tent is shrinking. You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."


CHETRY: Well, after record gains four years ago, the number of African-American delegates at this year's Republican convention hit an all-time low. CNN's Joe Johns is looking behind the numbers to see if the GOP can stop this trend and attract voters of color.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Kiran, at one point during the Bush administration, the Republican Party almost look as if it was starting to make a little progress on outreach to African- American voters. But now even black Republicans admit things are not looking so good.


JOHNS (voice-over): When you compare the racial diversity of the Republican and Democratic conventions this year, the differences were, well, pretty stark. At the Democratic convention, out of 4400 delegates, 1,079 were black. That's 25 percent. At the Republican convention, out of 2,380 Republican delegates in St. Paul this year, 36 were black. That's right, 36 black delegates out of almost 2400. The fewest in 40 years.

CLARENCE MCKEE, FLORIDA GOP DELEGATE: We're back here with our old 90 percent going to Democrats regardless of the issues. And the issues are what really counts. JOHNS: But in 2004, there were 167 black Republican delegates at a time when the party was able to point out high-profile African- American appointees like Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell under President Bush. So, what's up with this year's numbers?

The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies which focuses on issues of particular concern to African-Americans points out what may be a structural problem with the GOP.

DAVID BOSITIS, SENIOR RESEARCH ASSOCIATE: So long as whites and conservatives have the core of the Republican Party, African-Americans are going to be very, very reluctant to have anything to do with the Republican Party.

JOHNS: African-Americans are still not a major coalition within the GOP, and some black conservatives say outreach to the African- Americans is a waste of time. If they are not giving Republicans the time of day.

TARA WALL, EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON TIMES: You need to make sure you're reaching out to the black folks and the Hispanic folks that support you first before going above and beyond folks that would never vote for you, and that have no interest whatsoever.

JOHNS: And to be clear, the GOP has been able to win national elections without substantial gains in African-American voters over the years. George W. Bush beat John Kerry in 2004 with just 11 percent of the African-American vote.


JOHNS: Even some well-known conservative black Republicans have said they are giving serious consideration to voting for Barack Obama, at least in part because of the historic nature of his campaign. And while John McCain has pledged to go after the African-American vote, it's pretty much a given that he's not expecting to win a majority of it.

John and Kiran, back to you.

ROBERTS: Joe Johns reporting for us this morning from Washington. Joe, thanks.

The price of energy and climate change, two red hot issues on the campaign trail. So what does the next administration need to do for our planet? Tom Friedman, the author of the new book, "Hot, Flat and Crowded" joins us. You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."



RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER NEW YORK MAYOR: Drill, baby, drill. Drill, baby, drill.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROBERTS: Well, the issue of energy independence is shaping the race for the White House this fall, and joining us this morning is award-winning "New York Times" columnist, Tom Friedman. He's the author of the new book, "Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution and How it Can Renew America."

Tom, I want you to take a look at what's being said on both sides of the campaign trail. But first of all, let me ask you, why do you believe America is in desperate need of a green revolution?

TOM FRIEDMAN, AUTHOR, "HOT, FLAT AND CROWDED": Well, very simple, John. I believe in a world that is getting hot, flat, which is my metaphor for rise of middle classes all over the world who are starting to consume like us. And crowded population growth. Energy Technology, what I call, E.T., is going to be the next great global industry and the country that owns that is going to have the most national security, the most economic security, the most energy security. I think the most innovative industries. That needs to be America.

ROBERTS: Yes. You called people to saying that green is not just about generating electric power, it's about national power. But you write that the U.S. doesn't currently have the focus and persistence to take on something big like that. Do either John McCain or Barack Obama, in your estimation, have that ability to lead this green revolution?

FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, I think they both have the potential. They both began this campaign I would say as a relatively green candidate. I think, clearly, McCain has drifted away from that with his call for the gas tax holiday and a future of drill, baby, drill, not invent, baby, invent.

ROBERTS: Right. Let's listen to what both sides are saying. First of all, Barack Obama -- we've been talking about his energy independence plan this morning leaning heavily on conservation. Let's listen to what he says about oil.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: For the sake of our economy, our security and the future of our planet, I will set a clear goal as president in ten years we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East.


ROBERTS: Ten years, Tom, is that a realistic timeline?

FRIEDMAN: Oh, I don't know if it's realistic, John. But what I do like about that concept is that it gives us an aspirational goal. Who thought we could put a man on the moon in ten years. And I think that's what we need if we're going to lead this new innovation.

ROBERTS: Yes. As you heard Rudy Giuliani saying at the convention, drill, baby, drill, which has become a little bit of a mantra on both sides -- one to promote, one to attack. Let's listen to what John McCain says about increasing domestic oil production.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We'll attack the problem on every front. We'll produce more energy at home. We will drill new wells offshore and we'll drill them now! We'll drill them now.


ROBERTS: So, Tom, there's a lot of opposition to offshore oil drilling, though, the Democrats including Barack Obama seem to be picking up on it a little bit. But does that have to be part of an overall energy solution?

FRIEDMAN: Absolutely. I personally -- I'm not against offshore drilling as long as you're sensitive about where you go. I think the technology has improved in the oil industry. But, John, it's got to be part of a grand bargain that says -- yes, we'll do more offshore drilling, but we're also going to make a huge investment now in renewables and energy technology, and if we have to have a gasoline tax or cap and trade tax that's really going to stimulate people to drive into that industry.

ROBERTS: Tom, it's a great book, "Hot, Flat and Crowded." Good sequel to "The World is Flat." Enjoyed it quite a lot. And it's good to have you on.

FRIEDMAN: I really appreciate it. Thank you.

ROBERTS: Hope to see more of you. Thanks.

FRIEDMAN: Thank you.


CHETRY: Well, just about 30 minutes after the hour now, some of the top stories we're following for you right now. President Bush will announce this morning that another 8,000 U.S. troops will come home from Iraq by February of next year. The president says he's making the decision based on recommendations from his generals. About 145,000 U.S. troops are now serving in Iraq.

Asif Ali Zardari has been sworn into office as Pakistan's 14th president. It comes less than 10 months after his wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. Last month, former President Pervez Musharraf resigned after being threatened with impeachment.

Independent study finding that the United States is still, quote, "dangerously vulnerable to chemical, biological and nuclear attacks." A report from the Partnership for a Secure America says thousands of chemical plants remain unprotected and warns international efforts to prevent terrorist from obtaining weapons of mass destruction have slowed. There are 56 days until election day and a new CNN poll shows that things are dead even, but the White House has won state by state and in 2004 no state was more important than Ohio.

Well, both candidates will be there today and CNN's John King is there, too. He joins us live now from Lebanon, Ohio, with more from the campaign trail.

Hi, John.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Kiran. You know, a soggy day here in Lebanon. A few months back you could go to a John McCain rally and may be see 100, 150 people. But look at this crowd behind me, you see a crowd several hundreds, maybe more than 1,000 already through security and this line stretches around the block to my right and right around for about a mile around the block. There are thousands of people waiting to get into this rally. Why? Since the Sarah Palin pick, there's a great deal of energy on the republican side. This little town is tucked between Cincinnati and Dayton in southwest Ohio. It is a key area for Republicans, they must win big here in a close election to generate their victory.

So you'll have John McCain and Sarah Palin here this morning. Barack Obama is not far up the road, closer to Dayton. And in Riverside, Ohio, this is a key battleground state and republicans say since picking Sarah Palin their base has been energized. We had a CNN poll here just last week showing a dead heat in this state.

And it is cliche but it's also true that no Republican has won the White House without winning Ohio. So Barack Obama, Kiran, trying to make this state competitive, trying to deny John McCain, that state Republicans must win and I will tell you though in our conversations here this morning, even on a soggy, rainy morning, Republicans say they're much more optimistic about Republican chances now and there's a great deal of excitement especially in the conservative base here now that McCain has come out of the convention with his new running mate and with some new momentum, Kiran.

CHETRY: John King for us in Lebanon, Ohio this morning. Thank you.

ROBERTS: Sarah Palin's record as governor of Alaska not broadly known across the country has come under intense scrutiny since John McCain introduced here to the nation as his running mate. We sent CNN's Jessica Yellin to Anchorage to take a closer look at the promises that Palin is making in the national stage and how they stuck up to what she has done while governor. And she joins us bright and early this morning. Good morning, Jessica.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Sarah Palin has built a record as a budget trimmer. So, we checked out the record.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) YELLIN (voice-over): Some Alaskans see Governor Palin as a modern-day Robin Hood, slashing government spending, giving money to the people.

KIM BRINK, ALASKA RESIDENT: She helped to balance our budget. I mean, she's done a very good job at that and then she gave, she fought to get us all a little extra money in these hard economic times.

YELLIN: And on the campaign trail she's selling herself as a fiscal "Rambo."

GOV. SARAH PALIN, VICE-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our state budget is under control, we have a surplus. And I have protected the taxpayers by vetoing wasteful spending.

YELLIN: The facts? The state has actually increased spending under Palin's tenure, still, Alaska does have a big surplus. Over the last two years it put $5 billion into savings but that's because a new tax on the oil companies here, supported by Governor Palin, has driven money into state coffers.

PALIN: I told the Congress thanks, but no thanks, on that bridge to nowhere. If our states wanted to build a bridge, we were going to build it ourselves.

YELLIN: It's a big applause line, but before she became governor, Palin was for the bridge to nowhere. After being elected said she was against it, saying it was too expensive. But Alaska kept the more than $100 million Congress gave for the bridge. Palin has used her line item veto to cut funds for special interest programs called earmarks, but democrats criticize her for slashing programs even for people with disabilities, a group she's vowed to defend. Her democratic critics complain she has the wrong priority.

LES GARA (R), ALASKA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: for a drop in the bucket every single kid in the state could have health insurance. For a drop in the bucket we don't have to be one of the worst states of high school graduation rates in the country and for a drop in the bucket, we could offer pre-k education to families who want their kids to succeed.


YELLIN: Now, John, the McCain campaign is hitting back hard saying that in a short period of time as governor, Sarah Palin has accomplished a lot on tough issues and they point to ethics reform, the fact that she has given a $1,200 rebate to every Alaskan for taxes on those oil companies, championed natural gas pipeline, she says will help the economy and that she slashed $231 million in special projects just last year in addition to almost tripling education funding for special needs students. They say she has an impressive record. John.

ROBERTS: All right. Jessica Yellin for us this morning in Anchorage, Alaska. We should point out too that it's so early there in Alaska. It's four hours difference between the East Coast. Good to see you up bright and early though, Jessica. Thanks so much. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHETRY (voice-over): Palin's pledge --

GOV. SARAH PALIN, VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You will have a friend, advocate in the White House.

CHETRY: Deborah Feyerick looks at Sarah Palin's appeal to parents.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a wonderful opportunity.

CHETRY: You're watching the most news in the morning.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the most politics in the morning. One group of voters excited about the selection of Sarah Palin is families of people with disabilities. As a mother of a son with Down syndrome, Palin has promised to be an advocate in the White House for those going through with similar hardships. Deb Feyerick joins me now. You looked into this a little bit more as well. One of the things that she talked about in her speech at the RNC.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely and it resonated with a lot of people but you know, the governor's announcement took a number of Alaskan lawmakers by surprise. That's because there's a large wait list of people with disabilities who need services that the state doesn't fund and during Governor Palin's short tenure she has put forth no major policy initiative.


FEYERICK (voice-over): He has become the republican's littlest star. Trig Palin, five months old has Down syndrome. Since his mother's debut on the national stage, Sarah Palin has become a lightning round for families of children with special needs.

PALIN: I pledge to you that if we're elected you will have a friend and advocate in the White House.

FEYERICK: Michelle and Brian Ray have a two-year-old son with Down syndrome. They're undecided but say they were excited by Palin's pledge.

MICHELLE RAY, MOTHER OF CHILD WITH DOWN SYNDROME: I absolutely thought I could relate to her and I think this is a wonderful opportunity to bring awareness, not only to individuals and children with Down syndrome, but all disabilities.

FEYERICK: Even though Palin's sister has a son with autism, special needs programs have not been a key focus of Palin's political campaigns or her administration. She did sign a bill this year increasing special needs funding but frustrated that some of the bill's co-sponsors by stepping in only at the last minute. Sonya Kerr, an Anchorage attorney specializing in disability rights has filed a lawsuit against the state and Governor Palin, alleging there are not enough services for kids with special needs, specifically a child with autism.

SONYA KERR, ALASKA CIVIL RIGHTS LAWYER: I would say, you know, welcome, Governor Palin, to our reality and what we have been trying to deal with for a long time. I hope that it means that there will be support on a bipartisan bases for what people with disabilities need so that we're not a bargaining chip in the political process.

FEYERICK: While Palin's remarks have energized disability activists, experts say Palin has to do more than just talk.

ANDY IMPARATO, AMERICAN ASSN. OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES: She's saying that she wants to be an advocate, it our job in the disability community to help her understand what that means and hold her accountable moving forward.

FEYERICK: Long time advocate say that means coming up with an actual plan on paper.


FEYERICK: Yes, there are 35 million voters with disabilities who are of voting age, according to the census bureau, add their parents and other family members and it's a huge constituency and not one that either candidate will likely take for granted in November. Kiran.

CHETRY: So this also seems like a big opportunity for advocate in the community, in the disabled community to get their information out there.

FEYERICK: Absolutely. And Sarah Palin really brought this to the public like never before. Those on the front lines now want to work with both candidates to create a policy before the election to help all people with disabilities and both campaigns have hired people to deal with just these issues. So it's big.

CHETRY: All right. Deb Feyerick, great to see you. Thanks.


CHETRY (voice-over): Come back kid. He fought back from cancer, won the Tour de France seven times, even tried his hand at marathon. Is the cycling champ dusting off his bike?

You're watching the most news in the morning.



ROBERTS: I wonder what that song could be foretelling. John, what do you think? Is Lance Armstrong making a comeback? And online cycling journal reports that the seven-time Tour de France champion is about to end his retirement. Our Alina Cho looking at Armstrong's potential return and other star athletes who have tried it before. Some successful, some not.

ALINA CHO, CNN, CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right. In the case of Brett Favre most recently, successful so far. Yes, this is exciting news.

ROBERTS: (inaudible)

CHO: That's right. Good morning, guys. Good morning, everybody. Lance Armstrong has spent much of the past three years advocating cancer research and running marathons and dating a couple of high-profile women. Pretty good and a pretty busy life, many would say which would makes the news of his reported return to cycling all the more astonishing.


CHO (voice-over): Lance Armstrong back on the bike? The cycling legend is reportedly returning to competitive racing and will ride in five races in California, France and Georgia. Armstrong overcame testicular cancer to win the Tour de France a record seven times before retiring in 2005.

LANCE ARMSTRONG, PROFESSIONAL BICYCLIST: I've decided that the Tour de France will be my last race as a professional cyclist. So, July 24th will be the last one after more or less 14 years.

CHO: Since then he's focused his efforts on the Lance Armstrong Foundation which provides support for people affected by cancer. Armstrong turns 37 next week and has not commented on the report that he's coming back. If it's true, he wouldn't be the first high-profile athlete to quit and then change his mind. Brett Favre retires this year from the Green Bay Packers only to come back a few months later as quarterback of the New York Jets.

BRETT FAVRE, NEW YORK JETS: This whole off season has been bizarre, whatever you want to call it but it is what it is. I'm a member of the Jets.

CHO: Roger Clemens is one of the kings of resolving door athletes. Since 2003 he stepped down twice, came back twice and then retired again last year amid a growing steroid scandal.

Michael Jordan left the NBA in 1993 to play baseball but he came back two years later and won three more championships and then he retired, came back and retired yet again.

Mario Lemieux may have had the most inspirational comeback. Making a triumphant return to the Pittsburgh Penguins after battling Hodgkin's disease. But not every athlete has made a successful return.

Mark Spitz whose record of seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics held until Michael Phelps broke it this year, briefly came out of retirement in a failed attempt to make the 1992 U.S. Olympic team.

And former Baltimore Oriole's pitcher Jim Palmer fell short in his attempted comeback after he had already been elected to the baseball Hall of Fame. So does Lance Armstrong still have what it takes? We may find out soon.


CHO: It could be exciting news, wouldn't it? The cycling "Baylor News" is also reporting that Armstrong will post all of his blood work online. That will help dispel any rumors of doping, which of course, have dogged him in the past. The report also says that Armstrong will race neither for salary or for bonuses and an indication of why "Baylor News" may have come out with the story, John, "Vanity Fair" is apparently working on an exclusive story about Armstrong for an upcoming issue. We in the media, of course, like to always get the scoop. But again, exciting news. One person said the most exciting news in cycling since Armstrong won his seventh Tour de France.

ROBERTS: you know, he's a year younger than Favre, too. So, we'll see if he still got it.

CHO: I mean, listen you got to give it to him, right?

ROBERTS: Absolutely.

CHETRY: Look at Dara Torres.

CHO: True. 41, I believe.

CHETRY: Right. She is. Thanks Alina.

Well, Roger Federer back on top of the tennis world. He won the U.S. Open the fifth straight time beating Andy Murray. It was his 13th grand slam title, one shy of Pete Sampras career record and it was a much-needed comeback after losing this summer at the French Open, Wimbledon and the Olympics.

Well, CNN NEWSROOM just minutes away. Heidi Collins at the CNN Center with a look at what's ahead.

Good morning, Heidi.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you, Kiran. That's right, here's a look at what we're working on in the NEWSROOM today. Orders from the commander in chief. President Bush to announce a plan for troop withdrawals from Iraq. We're going to have that for you live.

And gender gap, a new CNN vice presidential poll shows a split among male and female voters but you may be surprised how they line up.

And an Olympian faces his biggest challenge. Swimmer Eric Shanteau has cancer surgery. Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta is right there in the operating room. Join us, we get started at the top of the hour, right here on CNN. Kiran.

CHETRY: Heidi, thanks.


CHETRY (voice-over): Fighting to be fit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I teach her how to break a rib, hands. Just hit him in the head.

CHETRY: Training senior soldiers. Dr. Sanjay Gupta with a new exercise trend. Cane-fu fighting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anywhere you hit a cane on the body, it's going to hurt. You're watching the most news in the morning.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the most news in the morning. You know, when it comes to aging, it's use it or lose it. We hear it all the time. As you get older, your bones shrink, you lose muscle mass but in this week's "Fit Nation" segment, Dr. Sanjay Gupta takes a closer look at an interesting way to reverse the trend.

Joining us from Atlanta is CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta and you're going to tell us about, this is very interesting. It made me look twice. Cane fu fighting.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It caught our eye, as well. Look, it is not easy as people become more elderly, exercise may become less of a priority. Your joints start to ache and then if you're given one of these, a cane or a crutch of some sort, you think the rest of your life is going to be spent immobile. Well, some seniors say you know what, we're going to take that on the exact opposite direction and just as you said, they're taking on to something known as cane fu fighting. Take a look.


GUPTA (voice-over); It may not look like it, but what you're watching is part of a new fitness trend. Violence, yes. But it's all in the name of exercise for seniors. Cane fu fighting. Elderly folks using their canes to stay in shape.

MARK SHUEY, CANE MASTER: Most of them think the canes a crutch and they don't want to be seen with a cane.

GUPTA: Black belt and Cane Fu grandmaster Mark Shuey wants to change all that. The popularity of his classes have sky rocketed in recent years. Vital, some experts say because with every increasing decade of age, people become less and less active. He shows them how to stretch, exercise and how to stop people from messing with granny.

SHUEY: I teach them how to poke them in the foot as well as hit them in the head but the problem is you hit them in the head, you'll probably kill them. It teach them how to break a rib, hands, but anywhere you hit a cane on the body, it's going to hurt.

GUPTA: The moves are simple and they're swift.

SHUEY: Feel the difference you have in power?

GUPTA: That's the cane jab. Here's the raking motion.

SHUEY: If I grab this here -

GUPTA: The arm hook maneuver. Now, more men are attracted to cane fu than women and the typical student, anyone with a cane. Usually in their 60 to 90s. And it is more than just exercise.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would definitely use my skills against someone. I have more options to preserve my life.

SHUEY: I get people to tell me they love to go walk in the park and not feel like they're a target.


GUPTA: Well, we know this is becoming increasingly popular for sure and it's a large part of the business sector now for elderly people who still want to exercise, trying to get them active, fit in some way and giving them to the gym, might be more of an exercise in futility which is why programs like this are really catching on. Lots of people being instructed, retirement communities, nursing homes, even cruise ships are going to start this cane fu fighting. So look for that, for sure.

CHETRY: I know someone in my family, not to motion any names, Madeline, might want to take some lessons here when she gets mad. The guy said anywhere you hit the body with the cane, it's going to hurt.

But how do you stave off the loss of muscle tone. You say it peaks in our 30s. That is a scary notion, we are living longer and longer.

GUPTA: Yes. It is a scary notion, as I've gone past my peak now. Apparently, according to the physiologist who say our muscle mass and our bone scores peak around age 30. You're just getting there, Kiran, I'm about a decade past now. Exercise probably is the best way to stave that off.

That's one thing that we know that exercise can reverse a lot of those age-related changes. We put on more muscle mass that tends to put a little more stretch on the tendons which is a good thing and it helps load the bones a little bit more as well. So simply doing exercise especially weight bearing exercise as you age. So, you know, people think of aerobics but if you pick up some weights, even as you get older, women and men alike it's going to do a lot. Or pick up one of these. Cane fu fighting.

CHETRY: Pretty neat stuff. Sanjay, good to see you. Thanks.

GUPTA: All right. Thanks.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ROBERTS (voice-over): The presidential dance off. Jeanne Moos checks out some most unusual moves. You're watching the most news in the morning.



CHETRY: Well, we've seen politicians dance before, sometimes we don't want to see it but we do. Usually they're dancing around questions, though.

ROBERTS: But the Obamas were not afraid to bust a move for real on "Ellen." First it was Barack and now his better half. Yes, it's time for moost news in the morning.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's another dancing Obama. Is that Ellen making eyes at Michelle? Nah, they're just having fun. Michelle even emulated her husband. Brushing off mud slung during the campaign. Ellen pronounced Michelle a better dancer than Barack and showed a split screen to prove it. Maybe what we need is a dance off, a presidential dance off between the couples.

Wait a minute, mad TV's already done it. The Obamas versus the McCains. So you think you can dance presidential edition airs Saturday. It features an Asian actor Bobby Lee playing John McCain transformed by makeup.

BOBBY LEE, ACTOR: I look subhuman.

MOOS: He sure gave the actress playing Michelle a shock.


MOOS: Actually, there's a second Michelle that did the dancing, but she's a he

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Getting into drag.

MOOS: And while he got into drag, he and Michael Key got some new ears to make them look like the real thing they added -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eighth of an inch extra ear.

MOOS: The actress playing Cindy McCain didn't need any body parts.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You just got to keep your top lid up and not blink. And you're good to go.

MOOS: Aren't you forgetting something.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel like there's three (inaudible) propping it up. MOOS: Give John McCain a little hair and he's ready to go. McCains do a waltz. The Obama's hip-hop. Is this it?

MOOS: No, this is it. Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


ROBERTS: Yes, the presidential dance offs, just what we need. Thanks so much for joining us on this AMERICAN MORNING. We will see you back here bright and early again tomorrow.

CHETRY: That's right, now here's CNN NEWSROOM with Heidi Collins.