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CNN Live Event/Special

Political Analysis On What Americans Did Not Hear In The Presidential Debates Last Night: Job Losses, Illegal Immigration, The Plight Of The Middle Class

Aired September 27, 2008 - 20:00   ET


ROLAND MARTIN, CNN ANCHOR, All my news buddies are rehashing the first John McCain/Barack Obama showdown, but frankly, we have heard all day long what they talked about, our focus -- what they didn't say in the debate and what you still want -- no, no, no -- need to hear.
Welcome to the show. I'm Roland Martin. Senators and Barack Obama spent 90 minutes Friday night debating foreign policy, national security and, of course, America's financial crisis. How in the world could illegal immigration and China's economic muscle never even come up? And what's with John McCain not mentioning the middle class? They started with the federal bail out and so do we. So, let's jump right in with CNN Senior Business Correspondent Ali Velshi.

Now, Ali, I don't understand. We saw the largest failure of a bank, Washington Mutual, and it didn't even merit a mention.

ALI VELSHI, CNN SR. BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: The stuff that merited a mention didn't get there. And this is a crazy week where the largest bank failure in the history of possibly the world was not even the lead story. Washington Mutual, many of you bank there, you have your mortgages there. Look at the size of this thing! It's $307 billion in assets, $227 billion in mortgage loans. 4300 employees, 2300 branches and about 10 percent of those are going to be closed. It was seized by the FDIC. This is the stuff people are worried about, Roland. They are worried about this bailout plan. They are worried about where our financial system is going. And those guys looked like they were not all that interested in talking about it and could we get on to something more interesting, please.

MARTIN: The president keeps calling this thing a bailout, if poor people needed this it would be a hand out. But you call it something else.

VELSHI: I call it a rescue plan only because the public relations behind this thing has been so disastrous, that the average American is growing in their anger against it because they think it's about helping fat cats on Wall Street out. And in some cases -- in some cases it is, Roland. But the bottom line is if the financial services can't get the money they need, that doesn't go to the business that employs you. You could miss your payroll check. You could lose your job. You are definitely going to have trouble getting a mortgage, or a car loan or a student loan. While this feels like a Wall Street bail out to many, don't let your anger get in the way of the fact that something has to be done and it has to be done soon, Roland.

MARTIN: All, Ali, thanks a bunch.

Come on down and join my panel, folks. This show, and yes this election is not about us or the candidates, it is about you, real Americans with real problems, who want real answers. Let us know what's on your mind by calling 877-648-3639. The number, of course, right there on the bottom of your screen.

We have the best experts around to provide some answer that is the candidates did not supply. Chris Murkowski is a former investment banker and now a financial advisor. You might know him from his watchdog role, "Watchdog on Wall Street" radio show. Christa Freeland is the U.S. managing editor for "The Financial Times" newspaper, and of course, conservative leaning talk radio host, my buddy, Steve Malzberg, and yes, the man of the hour, Ali Velshi, our senior business correspondent.

Now, folks, before we start, I want you to look at this. Since Wall Street's meltdown is pretty much the only thing people talked about all week.


JIM LEHRER, DEBATE MODERATOR: Are you going to vote for the plan, Senator McCain?


LEHRER: In the United States Senate, are you going to vote for the plan?

MCCAIN: Sure, but -

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We haven't see the language yet. And I do think there is constructive work being done out there. So, for the viewers who are watching. I am optimistic about the capacity of us to come together with a plan.


MARTIN: Can someone look us in the eye and tell us exactly what is going on here? Neither one could give us a straight answer.

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, FINANCIAL TIMES: Yes, absolutely. I think that is what we were seeing in Washington were seeing on Thursday and Friday. There is this really scary political knife edge that everyone in Congress, the presidential candidates were on.

On the one hand no one wanted to be the first guy who was going to be responsible for and blamed for a $700 billion rescue package for Wall Street fat cats. On the other hand -- as it can be caricatured. On the other hand, no one wants to be the guy who is responsible for not averting the Great Depression. This is very, very tricky tightrope and you saw both McCain and Obama last night refusing to commit. I think the plan will pass over the weekend. I think they are going to get over that.

MARTIN: Chris, they are running for president. I mean, an answer would be nice

CHRIS MARKOWSKI, FINANCIAL ADVISOR: Absolutely. Let me ask you a question, Roland. Do you think that either one of these candidates would be where they are today? The picks for their parties if this was the front and center issue last year?

MARTIN: Of course not. But the bottom line is we know the economy is going to be number one. Steve, in radio, we like answers we like straight talk. I'm sorry we didn't get much of it.

STEVE MALZBERG, WOR RADIO NETWORK: No, but on that particular question, will you vote for the plan, how can they answer when they don't know what the plan will be? You have House Republicans that are still pushing to have more of the private sector bailouts, quote/unquote, of these troubling mortgage companies and banks, they are hoping to get that. There is also a plan that the Democrats put in there. And I'm surprised and disappointed that John McCain did not distinguish himself by bringing this up. They want if we do make profits out of this deal down the -in the future, they want to funnel that money to groups like ACORN and La Raza (ph) to build housing. How could McCain say, yes, I'll vote for it when they don't know what's going to be in it?

FREELAND: They could have said, very clearly, this is the plan that I will vote for.

MARTIN: Right.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right, they could have said, if this is what it is -


FREELAND: They could have done that. This is a specific vote and here are the reasons. Neither of them did that.

VELSHI: Why couldn't they have said that?

MALZBERG: Isn't it 100 pages plus?


MARTIN: Look, I was at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, and I was talking with members of Congress. That is probably why I don't have a voice. And even they didn't know.

VELSHI: This is very complicated. In fairness, it is a massively complicated thing, but it is Congress' job at this point to lead. And it is president's job, and the candidate's job to lead. That's what America needs. Because what's happening, this thing is once again splitting to the edges. There are those who say we need a bank -- a bailout or the system is going to collapse within days. We have those who say we are not in the business of bailing out people and making excuses for their bad behavior. This is like the kids setting fire to your curtains and having a discussion about why you shouldn't play with matches.

MARTIN: Steve, I sat there and I watched the debate and afterwards I was commenting on it. And I was stunned, I really was, that John McCain did not even mention the middle class. I'm just trying to figure it out.

MALZBERG: I don't know exactly what that means, he didn't mention the middle class? He answered the questions that were asked.

MARTIN: He didn't mention the middle class.

MALZBERG: I mean, so what?

MARTIN: We have been talking about that for the past three weeks -- middle class, middle class, middle class. And in the first debate, you don't even mention it?

MALZBERG: The point is, again, there were lots of things that John McCain disappointed me in not mentioning. I didn't care that he didn't mention the middle class. I think that is ridiculous. There are a lot of things that Barack Obama didn't mention.

MARTIN: Should there be more discussion about middle class?

MALZBERG: But John McCain should have distinguished himself from Barack Obama He should have said Barack Obama got $126,000 from Fannie and Freddie, in three years. He didn't say that, $126,000.

MARTIN: John McCain also got money from Merrill Lynch, about $300,000.


MARTIN: He got Merrill Lynch.


MARTIN: Was the middle class left out?

FREELAND: I think so. And I think it was left out in that what neither of them talked about is the impact this financial crisis will have on whoever becomes president.


FREELAND: It will severely restrain the agenda whether you are Barack Obama, and wanted to do health care, or John McCain and wanted to cut taxes.


MURKOWSKI: People do not understand. I mean, they look at the markets and they think, oh, it's Wall Street, the Dow, the S&P, the Nasdaq. The debt markets are enormous! It is way bigger than that and if they freeze up, we are in deep, deep trouble

MARTIN: Ali, what happened to jobs? (INAUDIBLE) economy, no discussion about jobs?

VELSHI: Right, we lost 605,000 jobs this year alone. Everybody thinks we're going to loose more, whether or not there is a bailout plan. Let's be clear on this. We're in a recession, it's going to get worse. But the bottom line is this is the only thing everybody has been talking about and worrying about for the last week. And these two candidates, neither of them distinguished themselves as somebody who has their finger on the pulse here.

(CROSS TALK) MARTIN: Real quick.

MALZBERGE: John McCain did say freezing spending is a possibility. Barack Obama said, no, but I need health care, I need preschool and I need this and I need that. I think that was the difference.

VELSHI: But you'll admit that you are grasping at straws to think that either of them presented themselves as somebody who understood this topic.


MALZBERGE: No, I agree. But at least John McCain said the right thing. Obama said, no, we've got to spend, we have to spend --


FREELAND: John McCain over inflated the importance of earmarks as a contribution to the budget. And he didn't talk about how he is going to afford tax cuts at a time when the economy is contracting.

MARTIN: Well, thank God, we have two more debates. Because, trust me, too much was left on the table.

Chris, Chrystia, Steve, of course, Ali, thanks so much.

If I was listening to all of you, it's wonderful and great, but it is even greater to hear from you, our viewers. So join the conversation, right now, by calling 877-648-3639, that's 877-648-3639. This show is about regular folks like Katy from Ohio, who sent us an I-Report with her view of what we should be doing in the war. Listen to this.


KATY BROWN, I-REPORTER/OHIO: John McCain's has a strong stance on the war. And his plan is what I want to see. I think it is much better to continue the job that we have started then to immediately pull out and risk another attack on home soil.


MARTIN: Katy is here in the studio with me, along with other CNN I- Reporters. Our conversation about what the future president didn't say in the debate continues in a moment.


MAGGIE DOWLING, I-REPORTER/SOUTH DAKOTA: These debates are just as important, if not more so, than John McCain pretending to go to Washington and save this economy and leave Barack. Well, Barack, you can come along if you want and if you don't, you look like a fool. I tell you who looks like a fool. It's John McCain.


MARTIN: Wow, so shy. CNN I-Reporters like Maggie are regular people sending us their views. They are not sugar coating what they think about the first presidential debate. That's great political pundits are just fine, but you guys and gals are the voters. Your opinion is the one that really matters.

Four of our most opinionated I-Reporters are with me now. Zennie Abraham is from Oakland, California, Maggie Dowling, whom we just heard from a second ago, lives in South Dakota and Katy Brown is from Ohio. She 18 and this is her first presidential election.

Way to go, Katy.

Also Kevin Neugebauer, I got it Kevin? All right, he is here from Texas, that is just outside of Houston, my hometown.

And, Maggie, now you saw the debate?

DOWLING: Yes, I did.

MARTIN: Have you revised your full remark? How do you feel?

DOWLING: Oh, well, I'm shocked because John McCain actually did not go to Washington and save the economy. Not only did he not go and save economy, he didn't talk about what his big plan was to delay the debate. It's shocking that he didn't talk about it.

MARTIN: Kevin, you agree?

KEVIN NEUGEBAUER, CNN I-REPORTER/TEXAS: I believe that John McCain, as well as Barack Obama are elected officials and their job is to be senators. Their job isn't to be campaigners. And if we are having a problem like this in the financial institutions, it is their job to do what it is they can do to help, basically.

MARTIN: Katie, did you hear, in this debate, what they want to do or was it sort of over the heads of many people, just sort of talking in broadways?

KATY BROWN, CNN I-REPORTER/OHIO: It seemed like a beat around the bush and it was never a direct answer. For two men to be front and center and be there, and to come in front of America and not answer the question directly was disappointing. I'm really disappointed that we didn't get an answer.

MARTIN: Now, Zennie, what about that answer? Did you get what you wanted out of this debate, or are you still lacking?

ZENNIE ABRAHAM, CNN I-REPORTER/CALIFORNIA: I'm lacking for the most part. My concern was the relationship between our lousy economy and national security. And not only that, our defense dollar, 50 percent of it goes overseas. I thought Senator Obama did a great job with mentioning China and our relationship with China, in that we borrow money from them, which leaves us vulnerable to their actions around the world. But I don't think that anyone in Congress fully understand that we are in serious economic with our job loss and the industrialized countries that have jobs that used to be here.

MARTIN: I want to listen to Kevin's I-Report, and folks here is what Kevin wanted to hear out of last night's debate. And we'll see if he actually heard that.


NEUGEBAUER: There is a couple of issues that really are important to me. One is national security. The other is border protection. National security, the only candidate that is going to be able to fulfill a national security void would be John McCain.


MARTIN: All right, let me put on my Lou Dobbs impression. Kevin, we didn't hear border protection! We didn't hear illegal immigration.

NEUGEBAUER: We did not hear that. And I was a little disappointed on that. Because, as you know, in Texas, we do have a little bit of an immigration problem there. I think there needs to be some sort of system. You know, if it's a worker program, or something, to at least we know who is coming in and out of our country.

I think our economy needs to have the immigration workers. There is no doubt about that. We need to be able to keep track of those.

MARTIN: Now, Katy, immigration was on your list, so was war and nuclear weapons? I don't think you came away feeling too happy about last night?

BROWN: No, I sure didn't. Neither of my subjects were touched on, immigration and nuclear weapons. I mean, in North Korea, we have this nuclear lab that is now being -- the seals are coming off.

MARTIN: Right.

BROWN: We need to focus on that. That is really scary news. And I think somebody should have touched on that. It's really scary.

MARTIN: Zennie, you want to jump in?

ABRAHAM: Yes, absolutely.

Look, the immigration issue was focused on, but Lou Dobbs and others don't talk about the job loss. Don't you think that even the Republican senator should focus on jobs, because Republicans don't have a plan for increasing jobs, other than tax decreases.

MARTIN: Yes, I think they both need to talk about jobs. Not just the Republican nominee, Obama as well. We didn't hear jobs come up. DOWLING: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually, he did mention jobs.

MARTIN: OK, Maggie?

DOWLING: No, I didn't hear anything about it.


NEUGEBAUER: You know, its Economics 101. John McCain wants to give some tax breaks to some of the companies. That's going to help them hire more workers, OK? That's going to be a good thing for companies. If you tax the companies, I guess they were saying something like we are one of the highest taxed --

MARTIN: Taxes on businesses.

NEUGEBAUER: You know, in the world. If you are able to ease that for some of the companies, they are able to hire more people and able to -- as afar as oil, if you give them guys some breaks, they will be able to --

MARTIN: I think I need a straight jacket because Maggie is about to go nuts over here.

DOWLING: I am about to go nuts.


MARTIN: She's over here squirming!

DOWLING: I'm getting ready to explode.

ABRAHAM: You go nuts first, and I'll follow you.

DOWLING: OK, thank you.


DOWLING: The thing is what these debates were about and what the American people really have to decide is who were they going to vote for. Last night I think on the subject of national security, which of course ties in the economy and everything else, when Barack came out and offered a while ago to sit down with the leader of Iran, Ahmadinejad.

MARTIN: Hey, you can pronounce.

DOWLING: You know, I'm good at that.

But with diplomacy first. Yes, with certain boundaries set up, that's the man I want. I want a man who is going to -- my president, I want, I want to make sure he starts with diplomacy first and that he is willing to do that. And that he is willing to sit down and look at it this guy.

MARTIN: Zennie, real quick.

ABRAHAM: The problem is jobs. There is this idea that defense and national security, and the economy have nothing to do with each other, and they do.

DOWLING: Very much so.

MARTIN: Yes, because America -- ABRAHAM: We lost a major contract, Airbus got that contract, our defense industry gave that to Airbus and not Boeing. Nearly put Boeing on the deathbed, all right? And we say that we want to spend more money for defense?

DOWLING: Right, right.

ABRAHAM: Basically, we're taking that money and hiring a Chinese subcontractor, which can then use that to make weapons for Iran. Do we want that?

DOWLING: Right. And McCain wants a freeze, but not on defense.

MARTIN: Bottom line, Kevin, you can't have a strong military and have a strong economy as well.

DOWLING: Exactly.


MARTIN: Real quick.

NEUGEBAUER: I just want to touch on the Iran thing again.

MARTIN: Five seconds, real quick.

NEUGEBAUER: We have got to have preconditions.

DOWLING: Sure. He didn't say we wouldn't.

NEUGEBAUER: Got to have it.

MARTIN: Well, right.

DOWLING: He didn't say we wouldn't and I don't want to hear (INAUDIBLE) anymore.

MARTIN: All right, you have something to say, go ahead, real quick.

BROWN: They covered it all.


MARTIN: They covered it all. That's what you want to hear, I understand.

Hey, folks thanks to all of our I-Reporters, Zennie, Maggie, Katy and Kevin. Now, look, I bet you have a strong opinion, too. And I want to hear from you. Pick up the phone and call right now, 877-648-3639. Tell us what McCain and Obama didn't say in the debate. We'll take some of your calls in just a minute.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was all about $250,000 or below, you're OK. Above you are going to get taxed, possibly. But nothing about what we're doing with us, that are 25, myself a homeowner. I'm not quite making six figures. What about me? And what am I going to see in this new crisis?


MARTIN: I spent debate night in Washington, D.C. at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. And folks, I have to tell you, when it comes to bailing out Wall Street, they are not a bunch of happy campers there, or across America. Now since McCain and Obama danced around how the bail out will affect ordinary Americans. We have someone who will give us real answers. Louis Barajas is from the Los Angeles area, and is a personal wealth advisor, as well as author of the book, "Overworked, Overwhelmed, & Underpaid".

My wife says that all the time.


MARTIN: Louis, you said that was a glaring omission from the debate?

BARAJAS: There is a glaring omission from everyone, besides the debate. What's happen right now is everybody is worried about the 401(k)s, the market, and the $700-billion debt that we're going to get into. Nobody is talking about how it will affect the people that are not putting the money in the 401(k)s, that Social Security issue. And everyone will dance around that because that is a highly -- you know, has a high important topic that everyone has to get talking about.

MARTIN: Yes, but you have boomers coming along in three years. I mean, this is major.

BARAJAS: 2011, most boomers are going to start reaching age 65. Most boomers are not putting money in the 401(k). They are going to depend on Social Security. How is this debt going to affect them? Let's hear them talk about that.

MARTIN: Now, when you say, let's hear them talk about it. What do you want them to say? If you even admit that it's the one topic politicians don't want to touch, why should they?

BARAJAS: Because people like us, you are talking about Wall Street and Main Street. I'm talking about people on my street. People on my street, they want to know about that. Because they are living on Social Security. They are not putting money away. You know, they're not putting money away in the 401(k). It is not affecting them.

MARTIN: Well, first of all, man, a lot of people are sitting here nervous, right now, in terms of what I do with my money. I know it's a joke and I tell anyone don't do it. We are starting to hear people say, I'm putting my money under a mattress, or trying to hide it somewhere. They are afraid of what will happen to their money.

BARAJAS: That's right. And the fear is causing paralysis. That is the problem. People are angry right now. People are angry at the government. What people need to do is they need to take action. Not to just be paralyzed by this fear. They need to start putting money away. But again, we need to talk to our politicians and ask them. They need to be accountable about what will happen with Social Security.

MARTIN: Well, we should talk to our politicians and I will speak on that later in the show. But right now folks, we have a call from Linda in Factoryville, Pennsylvania. A battle ground state.

Linda, how are you?

CALLER: Hi, I'm fine, Roland. Thank you for taking my call. I'm on Social Security and like a lot of other people have only one income coming in. They want to bail out CEOs and all these other things, people on my street, as the gentlemen just said, and I want to know how I will heat my house this winter. I don't really care about the CEOs of these banks that have got their pockets lined and don't have to worry about it.

MARTIN: All right, Linda, I certainly appreciate you phone call. Thanks a lot.

Louis, what about that? A lot of people saying the exact same thing she just said.

BARAJAS: Yes, they don't have to worry about it right now. But what is going to happen is the future. Because, again, we are running out of money in the Social Security. Look at your Social Security statement. They tell you, you will run out of money like the year 2045 or something. They are telling us that. How is debt going to affect this? This lady, right now, I can understand her worry, because, again. It -- you know, a lot of people are living just on Social Security.

MARTIN: Right now, we have a phone call from Doug, in Marietta, Georgia.

Doug, what say you?

CALLER: Well, thanks for taking my call. I appreciate it. I think just about everybody I have heard tonight has been very unrealistic in expecting either Obama or McCain to have a plan, number one, on how to deal with this incredibly complex crisis that we are in.

MARTIN: OK, so you say unrealistic. What is realistic then?

CALLER: That's why you've got the brilliant people in specific areas. That is why you have a Fed chairman, that is why you have a secretary of the Treasury. We all agree, Obama, McCain, everybody out there in TV land, we have got to do something to keep the country from collapsing financially. Exactly how that is going to happen, Obama doesn't know. McCain doesn't know. That has to be figured out.

MARTIN: OK. All right, Doug. Thanks a bunch.

Now, Louis, I keep hearing that , well, Obama doesn't know, McCain doesn't know. You don't know, I don't know. Well, then who knows then!?

BARAJAS: The markets know. That's what capitalism is all about. Let the markets work themselves out. We need the help right now. We need help, because the small person is the one that is getting hurt. Nobody is talking about the people who have lost their homes already. They are talking about the people are going to lose their homes. We have had millions of people already lose their homes. Where are they living? Can you imagine what's going on in their household? What they're talking about? You know, what the number one reason for divorce is? Financial stress. Can you imagine? That's what's affecting my street.

MARTIN: Now, let's talk about this whole issue of banks failing. What happens when my money is in a checking account, then a bank fails and I want to all of a sudden go down and get my money out. There are some problems there that people are not necessarily discussing.

BARAJAS: OK, when we have one or two banks failing -- and it happens regularly. It doesn't just happen, it's happening right now, but the problem is the FDIC came out last week, and I heard it on CNN, saying over 100 banks right now are in jeopardy. They may not have enough sufficient capital to pay all the depositors.

MARTIN: In fact, we heard one member of Congress today say there is one bank teetering on the brink and could collapse Monday.

BARAJAS: Right. So, if all that happened at one time, if it just were to happen, they will give us our money back. It's whether they are going to give it back, it is when they will give it back.

MARTIN: So, we say, when, what does that mean? Like two days, three days?

BARAJAS: OK, it could be like six months to two years. And here is the problem, the problem is the average person doesn't have $100,000. They have $5,000, or maybe less, in their checking account, in their savings account. What are they using that money for? They are living paycheck to paycheck, month to month. They use it to pay their rent, to pay their utility bills, to pay the water. What is going to happen if they all of a sudden just kind of shut it down for a while?

MARTIN: All right, Louis, going back to the phone lines.

Vincent from Woodbridge, Virginia, another battleground state. Vincent? CALLER: How will this affect the future generations with this bail out? I'm upset about it, just like the other people in my neighborhood.

MARTIN: Great point. Vincent, thanks so much for the phone call.

Louis, I have nine nieces and four nephews. How does this affect them?

BARAJAS: How it affects them is they need to understand that they need to take personal responsibility for their own finances. The reason for that? Because nobody knows what's going on. We can't play the victim. What needs to happen is we need to teach them financial literacy. High schools don't have financial literacy. The government has SBA locations all over the country. Have you seen a financial planning location where they are helping us teach our kids how to improve their lives or how to create a better infrastructure?

MARTIN: Great point, there again. Basically, what you are saying is, don't depend on the government. You better depend on yourself.

BARAJAS: Take some personal responsibility.

MARTIN: All right, Louis, thanks so much. I certainly appreciate it.

The candidates spent a little over half of their debate talking about foreign policy, Iran and Iraq, North Korea. Hello? What about illegal immigration and China and genocide in Africa? McCain and Obama may not be talking about any of that, but we should and we will, next.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I didn't hear anything about Darfur or the just the killings and how the United States is going to participate in that and help out these countries that have been going through this issue forever. So, it's like what are we going to do to help them? Because they have no money? Because they're poor? We just going to ignore them and act like they're not there?

MARTIN: The focus of a first presidential debate was supposed to be about foreign policy, which boils down to two things: war and peace. As that woman reminded us just now, there is a lot they didn't talk about.

CNN State Department Correspondent Zain Verjee is here to tell us what they didn't say.

Now, Zain, a lot of conversation about Iraq. A lot of conversation about Iran and I think some people say they wasted too much time on this whole notion of pre-conditions. Right now, I want to play something so we can understand what was going on, last night, between Obama and McCain .

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MCCAIN: What Senator Obama doesn't seem to understand is that without precondition, you sit down across the table from someone who is calling Israel a stinking corpse, and wants to destroy that country and wipe it off the map, you legitimize those comments. This is dangerous. It is not just naive, it's dangerous.

OBAMA: Senator McCain keeps on using this example that suddenly the president will just meet with somebody without doing any preparation, without having low-level talks. Nobody has been talking about that, and Senator McCain knows it.


MARTIN: Now, Zain, we know Iran is going to be important. But what was missing from that conversation?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPT. CORRESPONDENT: I think there was one really critical question that should have been asked, and it would have been really important to hear the response from both candidates; What if Israel bombs Iran, because of its nuclear program? Now, the U.S. really does not want that to happen. Because it would send financial markets and the international economy just off the cliff. It would undermine what the U.S. is trying to do in Iraq and Afghanistan .

The United States would be hated much more than it already is, and it's credibility even more eroded in the Middle East. Because many countries would think that the U.S. is responsible for giving Israel that green light that. So that is really going to be a major issue that could confront, either a President Obama, or a President McCain.

What the administration, though, has been doing right now, is a bit nuanced and more complex than we actually have heard. They have been, on the one hand, trying to lure Iran to the table and on the other hand, they have been trying to squeeze it with sanctions.

MARTIN: We are talking about this whole notion of restoring our place in the world. There was nothing mentioned about how do we deal with Muslim countries.

VERJEE: Right.

MARTIN: In terms of working with them.

VERJEE: Right. There was a thundering silence when it comes to the issue of Muslim countries. There is more than a billion Muslims in the world. And reaching out to Muslims, really cuts across all the issues with the U.S. really wants and needs to address. The war on terror, national security, relations with Iran, the situation in Iraq. That's really something very critical. Just a few days ago, Roland, there was a high-level, very distinguished group in Washington. They put out this report. And they said the most important thing the next president has to do is reach out to those moderate Muslims and do things like increase diplomatic relations with Muslim countries, invest economically, and even include it in the Inaugural Address, to send a signal. MARTIN: We heard, Iran, Iraq, Russia, North Korea. How is it, Cuba didn't merit a mention?

VERJEE: Right, I know. I know.

I know, that is a hot button issue here in the U.S. And it is critical to some of the states as an issue in the election.

MARTIN: Speaking of something that is real critical...I think Obama touched on it briefly, but look at China. All of a sudden they are investing billions of dollars in African nations. So, all of a sudden, they are flexing their economic muscle while we, frankly, don't have any ability to do that across the world. How was that impacted?

VERJEE: Well, he touched on it, as you said. But China is really the elephant in the room. China is the emerging power house. We get cheap imports from China, we rely on China for key negotiations to deal with North Korea, to deal with Iran. It's China that is the problem in Darfur, because China is busy getting oil in Darfur and not helping the situation on the ground to deal with the government that is packing their own people.

So, a lot of people are beginning to say that the next president is really going to have to define that relationship with China to take the U.S. into the 21st century. Because that's really going to be the powerhouse in the next 10 to 20 years.

MARTIN: All right, issues they should have been discussing. Zain, we certainly appreciate it. Thanks a lot.

VERJEE: Thank you, Roland.

All right, folks, make no mistake Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan are important, but for many Americans, tainted food and drug imports, and illegal immigration and outsourced jobs hit closer to home no matter where you live. Let's go down to an emerging battleground state, Florida. Right now our latest survey of top polls show McCain and Obama tied. That's right, dead even at 46 percent each with 8 percent unsure.

We know from past elections that the people who tip the balance in Florida live along what is called the I-4 Corridor, where Interstate 4 cuts the state in two. Orlando is right in the middle of that corridor, and that's where our next group of regular Americans - and by the way, undecided voters -- join us. Louis Marin, retired from the Navy and is now CEO of a mortgage company, Richelle Siska, is a marketing manager and mother of three, Doctor Navid Vahidi is an ophthalmologist, whose parents are from Iran.

Folks, I want to get right in to it.

Richelle, I know this war really bothers you. Did you hear something definitive, from Obama and McCain to address your core concern?

RICHELLE SISKA, UNDECIDED FLORIDA VOTER: Oh, definitely not. I was looking for a plan, something that would get us out of the war gracefully. I have kids of - oh, gosh, I apologize - I have kids in college age and I'm concerned about -

MARTIN: Now, look -

SISKA: I'm sorry.

MARTIN: now, Louis, I want to get right to you, because, look, you served in the military. And you really wanted to hear about Iraq. I thought more time was spent on pre-conditions in Iran as opposed to what is taking place in Iraq. Did you feel the same thing? And what did you want to hear from McCain and Obama when it comes to Iraq?

LOUIS MARIN, UNDECIDED FLORIDA VOTER: Well, I think last night I heard a lot of -- I heard politicians talk last night and that bothered me. Disappointing that they are all over the map and a tremendous amount of time was spent where they should have been. When it comes to the Middle East, we have problems there. I feel that, being a retired, former military man, that McCain is probably stronger, in my opinion, probably than Obama. But I kind of felt like a lot of issues were not addressed about how we are going to get out of Iraq, in a timely manner. And how we are going deal with Afghanistan problem. I felt like the Pakistan comment, I thought from Obama, was not a good for me to insinuate we will do a sneak attack if they don't comply with our policies. Iran, Georgia -- last night --

MARTIN: Hold tight one second. I want to bring in Zain in on that point.

Because, Zain, that came up last time, this whole issue of Pakistan, but we also have some issues right, now in terms of the Bush administration making some military decisions when it comes to Pakistan as well.

VERJEE: Right.

MARTIN: How is that going to play with these two candidates moving forward?

VERJEE: They are already doing that. They are taking unilateral military action in that key border region and really upsetting the Pakistani government, the Pakistani military. And the Pakistani people, 71 percent of them in a recent poll say we don't want to cooperate with the U.S. .The U.S. has its priority and that's to fight the war on terror. That is the bottom line, but it is doing it in a way that is undermining the new president, Zardari, that is upsetting the tribal leaders, and the people that then don't want to help or help the U.S. in that region. And it creates a very difficult situation for the next president because they have got to do what the U.S. needs but they don't want Pakistan to just explode and collapse. They have nuclear weapons.

MARTIN: Understand.

Let's go Navid.

Navid, look, your parents are from Iran; a lot of conversations last night about Iran. Were you satisfied? Or do you think they spent far too much time focusing on Ahmadinejad but not the people of Iran?

DR. NAVID VAHIDI, UNDECIDED FLORIDA VOTER: I was pretty impressed by Obama. Because I always think the devil is in the detail. He made a comment that impressed me about the president of Iran not being the most powerful person in Iran. I think that was pretty impressive. I don't know whether it was his idea or his advisors told him about it.

Iran is a pathacy (ph), or a theocracy right now. And it is going through its Dark Ages, just like Christianity went through in the 13th century. We are hoping that the Renaissance will come a lot faster than it did for the 13th century

MARTIN: Hey, Navid, real quick, are you worried though about your parents and other folks in Iran of what could happen? Are you worried at all?

VAHIDI: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yes, the largest minority in Iran right now are the Bahais and they are being persecuted heavily by the Iranian government. They usually - they have a very interesting tactic, they use a tactic to marginalize the community by preventing them from having any kind of education. They are basically right now approaching or trying to approach children to try to marginalize them and scare them so that they can change their faith.

MARTIN: Hey, Navid?

VAHIDI: And other religious groups, too, as well.

MARTIN: Navid, I certainly appreciate it.

Look, I know we have two more debates, five weeks to go. And you guys have to make a decision. Hopefully you will get some answers very soon. Richelle, Louis, Navid, thanks so very much and thank you for joining us.

Zain, as well. Thanks a bunch.

VERJEE: Thanks.

MARTIN: Now, folks, there was a time when the Iraq war and terrorism was the biggest issue in any national election. McCain and Obama went around and around about them doing the debate without saying very much. Next, a reality check from our Baghdad correspondent, Michael Ware. We will also hear from a former top member of the Bush administration.


MARTIN: During the debate John McCain said the lesson of Iraq is very clear. You can't have a fail strategy that will then cause you to nearly lose a conflict. That was clear?

Barack Obama said the less on of Iraq is we have to use our military wisely and we didn't use it wisely in Iraq. What they didn't say is when will our troops come home. With me, for a reality check, is CNN Correspondent Michael Ware, who is based in Baghdad, and has covered the entire course of the war. Also, Francis Townsend, who was President Bush's Homeland Security advisor and is now a CNN national security contributor.

And Francis, I want to start with you.


MARTIN: Lot of conversation about Afghanistan. What we need to do: more troops, more troops. How do we accomplish that when we have so many troops in Iraq. Something has to give on that issue.

TOWNSEND: Sure, Roland, but we already have some troops drawing down and President Bush has talked about that. And so you can begin to see and we have already begun to build up troops in Afghanistan.

What I thought it was most interesting and most important, about the discussion about Afghanistan, is you can't solve it just if you are looking at Afghanistan . You have to deal with the tribal areas. You have to deal with Pakistan . This is a region that is very closely integrated and you have to deal with it as a single problem set. And that's what they talked about./

MARTIN: Now, Michael, we kept hearing the talking about, again, the troops. McCain saying I've been there and you should have been at the hearings.


MARTIN: I take it you were not quite impressed by their conversation.

WARE: Yes, when he says he's been to Waziristan, I'm not sure it is the same part that I've been to, but anyway.


I mean, in all of this, Fran is right. Afghanistan can't be looked at in isolation. But there is two things, troops, troops, troops, is not going to fix it. I mean, if you have ever been in that terrain, that border swallows infantry divisions whole.

And correct me if I'm wrong, I think the Russians and Yaeties (ph) tried to flood it with troops and we saw how that ended up. You want to tackle the problem of Afghanistan, of a resurgent Taliban and nesting Al Qaeda? There is one thing that I'm yet to hear the candidates talk about that strikes right at the heart of this, the ISI, the Pakistani Intelligence Agency. That was part of creating the Taliban and continues, within rogue elements, or hard line elements of that intelligence service - though our alley, technically of Washington they're supporting the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

MARTIN: I also have to confront the reality, and we talked about it before Michael, in terms of - even with the surge, we focus on the military aspect. But look we paid a lot of folks off to put their weapons down. Let's be just honest. McCain even mentioned, he did not vote to support the building of Afghanistan after the Russians left. This is not a military issue, Fran, it is also a matter of humanitarian, building schools and businesses, besides just frankly, killing folks.

TOWNSEND: No, that is absolutely right Roland. And like Michael, I have been to the Coast (ph) and I've been to Jalalabad. These are the cities in Afghanistan right on the border. And what you realize is, you do need people to come in. You need the NGOs to be secure and comfortable to come in an build health clinics, to build schools. We built roads. We need more. But you have to build an economy. It's not just holding and clearing. It is actually building and helping the Afghans. One of John McCain's right complaints about Afghanistan is the Karzai government has not been very effective in extending their rule outside Kabul. And that has to change.

MARTIN: Lots of conversation about Iran, but is Pakistan a more critical issue; making sure we are straight with that. They have nuclear weapons, Al Qaeda, a new president. I mean, that is not a stable situation for the United States.

WARE: No it's not. And obviously, Pakistan, theoretically, should be a key U.S. ally. And certainly the civil government there in Islamabad, I firmly believe, as a newly democratic government, clearly does side with the U.S. It's interests much more closely aligned with Washington's, but as President Bush, himself, asked the Pakistani prime minister just a few months ago, who is controlling your intelligence service? This is in military and intelligence circles that dark nether world. The civilian government in Pakistan is very weak and the intelligence services and the military are very strong.

TOWNSEND: We had a lot of confidence in Kayani, who is the army chief of staff. Very impressive guy. He did control the intelligence service before his promotion. The problem is how deep does that control go? It's not - you know, we do continue to have concerns, I think, the U.S. government intelligence services, about penetration of the ISI by extremists.

WARE: But what can you do? There is very little you can do.

MARTIN: Which, frankly, brings up this whole point that came out yesterday, though, that how do you take action if you have intelligence? The bottom line is - at one point, they're saying, well, they are our partners and we're depending upon them. But they are kind of not our partners, we have concerns. So what do we do? Just sit here and do nothing?

TOWNSEND: Roland, one of the most stunning moments last night, tome, was when Barack Obama sounded like George Bush. Literally, Barack Obama said if we have intelligence against Al Qaeda senior leadership, we will action it, militarily. The interesting thing is President Bush has been saying if we had information on where bin Laden is, no options are off the table. I thought it was stunning, there was this moment when where all of a sudden, Barack Obama sounded like George W. Bush.

MARTIN: I want to ask you, though, remember though, he initially said at the Democratic primary, Michael, he was criticized for it.

WARE: Yes. MARTIN: But then, later, people said well, actually it really wasn't a bad idea. It was sort of like a reverse. I mean, that was surprising as well. Because McCain also criticized that, but as you said, President Bush had done the same thing. Dealing with terrorism, I want to bring up the economy as well. No discussion about how terrorism, globally, could still impact the American economy.

TOWNSEND: Look at 9/11 and we weren't - we had a budget surplus. We were not in conflicts in two places around the world. If you had a terrorist attack now with the fragility of our economy, imagine the recession. Imagine the size and impact on our economy and not a word when they are asked about the potential of a 9/11 here in this country. And the biggest issue before us today is the economy. Neither candidate makes the connection to the potential impact on our fragile economy, if there were a terrorist attack, stunning.

MARTIN: Michael?

WARE: Yes, as you well know, Fran. Al Qaeda and the some of the other hard-line Islamic militant groups, you don't think they are paying attention to these things?

MARTIN: No, they weren't watching, no.

WARE: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Blind as a bats.

I mean, they are constantly seeking for, looking for the weak points. They are very savvy at staying on message, and getting, pardon the expression, as much bang for the buck. Don't forget terrorism is about capturing hearts and minds, instilling fear, and they have proven to be adept at that. So, we have seen them do it before. Target something like the economy. So, yes there is a vulnerability there and you do need to be aware of it.

MARTIN: Again, so much that they could have talked about, they didn't talk about and that's a shame. That's a shame.


MARTIN: Francis, Michael, I certainly appreciate it. Thanks a bunch.

Now that we have discussed some of the most important issues McCain and Obama didn't talk about in their debate. I have a question left: What are you prepared to do?



MARTIN (On camera): Is anybody a Republican?


MARTIN: No, I mean, there are Republicans who are here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where are they? MARTIN: We're looking for them!

Is anybody a Republican? I'm trying to interview a Republican. Is anybody a Republican? Nobody is a Republicans?

Anybody a Republicans?



MARTIN: Is anybody Republican? No luck whatsoever. Man, this is rough.


MARTIN: All right, I eventually found a few black Republicans to interview at he 38th Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. Look, it was a hot time in Washington, D.C., all week, with Congress locked in to discussions over the bailout -- or handout, or rescue plan, depending on your view. And no one outside of the negotiators knows what the heck is in it. I don't. And to be honest, a lot of the experts don't. And we know you don't.

We are all watching and waiting. It's time for us, that's right, us to take action. If you don't believe Congress is truly looking out for you, the taxpayer, say something. Right now. Pick up that phone. Call. E-mail, write. Even go to Washington, D.C. And get in the face of your U.S. senator or House member.

Folks, we the people have the power to effect change. We must know, cannot wait to be told what is going on. This is your money. This is our money. We are potentially mortgaging the future of our children. You must say something, or do something, because your future, and that of your kids, is a stake.

Thanks for watching. I'm Roland Martin. The news continues with a quick check of the headlines.