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Al Gore to Endorse Barack Obama; McCain Fund-Raiser Flap; Interview With Governor Jennifer Granholm

Aired June 16, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Al Gore makes his debut in this presidential campaign only a few hours from now. Can he help Barack Obama in the key battleground state of Michigan? I'll talk to the state's governor, Jennifer Granholm.
McCain tries to change the subject from a campaign fumble. This hour, the dustup over the Republican fund-raisers' past remarks comparing bad weather to rape.

And Democratic convention planners are strapped for cash. We're taking a closer look at the fallout for the party and for the Obama campaign.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up first this hour, Al Gore's plans to endorse Barack Obama in the Michigan campaign. He's going to be doing it tonight. The former vice president obviously waiting until after the Democratic primary there to offer his support. Perhaps mindful of his questionable decision to back Howard Dean over John Kerry back in the 2004 campaign.

Let's bring in our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's watching this story for us.

Candy, all right, so how much of a difference is Al Gore's endorsement for Barack Obama really going to mean?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, it's a good headline for the day. He's in Michigan. He totally needs to win that state.

Obviously there was no primary in Michigan to speak of, at least he did not campaign there. The Republicans are making a huge deal out of that. So to get Al Gore to come in and give you a big headline is great.

Al Gore won Michigan in 2000 by about four points. He obviously is popular in the party, particularly since he's now won the Nobel Prize, he's won an Academy Award. People look at him as somebody who is a senior statesman in the Democratic Party.

So he can help in that way. I don't think it, you know, puts Obama over the top, but it certainly is a boost.

BLITZER: On an almost daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day, McCain is hammering Barack Obama for his visit to Iraq, what, more than two years ago. Hasn't been there. He keeps saying almost 900 days. Today we heard something different from Obama.

CROWLEY: We did. He's in fact going to Iraq.

Now, he had said before, I'm thinking about going. But now he says he's going to Iraq and Afghanistan before the election.

Now, as you mentioned, one of the reasons that he's doing this is there's been an awful lot of pressure from John McCain, who as you know has been counting up the days since Barack Obama has been to Iraq. He did so again today at a town hall meeting.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I hope that Senator Obama, who now is closing in on his 900th day since he visited Iraq, I urge him to meet with the foreign minister of Iraq. And more importantly, I ask him to request a meeting with General Petraeus and sit down and get his assessment of the military situation.


CROWLEY: So, look, if you in fact have a race that is going to have such a sharp difference in policy toward Iraq, it behooves Obama to go over there and say, here's what I saw on the ground and here's why I believe my policy is best. So he's going to go.

BLITZER: Now, some are seeing a little intrigue now, some additions to the Obama campaign that were sort of disclosed today.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. Patti Solis Doyle, who as you know, ran Hillary Clinton's campaign until she was bounced because the campaign wasn't doing that well, is now going to be the chief of staff in charge of the future vice presidential pick from Barack Obama, which is really interesting, because she is not at this point the favorite person of Clintonites.

BLITZER: So shall we read into this that Hillary Clinton not going to get that pick?

CROWLEY: I can tell you that some people do, saying, well, if she's going to be in charge of the vice presidential staff, this certainly means that Hillary Clinton won't be picked. I'm not sure I'd go that far, because you can always move people around if it doesn't turn out to be something you're picked once. Nonetheless, it's a really interesting choice to head the vice presidential...

BLITZER: Very interesting. The first time I remember where they picked a chief of staff for a future vice presidential nominee long before we even know who that future vice presidential nominee is.

CROWLEY: Right. I mean, that's why I'm assuming they could move the person over, up, or change the -- change the chess pieces around if indeed this is not a person satisfactory to whoever they pick.

BLITZER: Candy, thank you.


BLITZER: And just ahead, I'll speak about all of this with Michigan's Democratic governor, Jennifer Granholm. We'll talk about the battle for her state, a key battleground, and whether Al Gore's endorsement can actually help Barack Obama.

John McCain's campaign is grappling today with new evidence that its vetting process isn't all that it should be. Publicly, the all- but-certain Republican nominee is putting his energy into talking about the energy crisis.

Dana Bash is covering the McCain campaign for us.

Dana, what was McCain's basic message today?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was really interesting, Wolf. McCain declared himself the underdog today. That's an age-old political move to try to lower expectations. But he was also trying to get over his campaign's latest difficulty in avoiding being associated with a controversial figure.


BASH (voice-over): A hastily-arranged conference at his campaign headquarters. John McCain wanted to get in the news with a new idea for voters' pain at the pump, allowing states to drill for oil offshore.

MCCAIN: Providing additional incentives for states to permit exploration off their coasts would be very helpful in the short term in resolving our energy crisis.

BASH: That announcement was moved up to try to drive the day's story, not be driven by the day's campaign fumble that McCain had to cancel a Monday fund-raiser at the home of Texas Republican Clayton Williams after the campaign was questioned about Williams' controversial comments about women during his 1990 Texas governor's race. Then Williams compared bad weather to rape, saying, "As long as it's inevitable, you might as well lie back and enjoy it."

(on camera): How did it come to pass that you had this fund- raiser planned?

MCCAIN: First of all, my people were not aware of a statement that he made 16 or 18 years ago. I've forgotten how many years ago it was.

BASH (voice-over): But a LexisNexis search for what Williams is known for in politics, his 1990 governor's race, comes up with multiple references to his comments about women. It was a big campaign issue because he was running against a woman -- Ann Richards.

ANN RICHARDS, FMR. TEXAS GOVERNOR: When I hear remarks like Clayton Williams made, I don't care whether it's made around a campfire or in a living room or in a formal speech. It indicates a level of thinking that is an embarrassment in the community.

BASH: Williams is just the latest vetting problem for McCain. Last month, McCain rejected endorsements from pastors John Hagee and Ron Parsley after months of controversy around their views of Catholics and Muslims.


BASH: And that fund-raiser originally slated for today will be rescheduled for a new location other than Williams' House later this summer. McCain made clear he won't return $300,000 Williams helped raise, saying those donors are his supporters. And McCain did not answer whether he thinks this will have any impact on his big push, Wolf, for those women voters. The women voters, of course, he's trying very hard for in light of Hillary Clinton's defeat.

BLITZER: Certainly can be embarrassing though.

Dana, what's the latest on the back-and-forth between McCain and Obama on these joint town hall appearances?

BASH: Well, you'll remember on Friday, the Obama campaign basically formally rejected McCain's proposal for 10 joint town halls, saying let's just have one around July 4. The McCain campaign -- McCain himself, actually -- said that's not acceptable. That's a holiday weekend, no one will be paying attention.

Well, today, he's trying to keep this issue alive. What he said was that the two of them are actually already going to be appearing before the Latino group La Raza in California in mid-July. He said, why not both of us appear at the same time, turn it into a joint hall? He said it would be informative and he also said he would be perhaps entertaining.

We'll see what the Obama campaign has to say about that. The McCain campaign is not letting this go.

BLITZER: OK. Thanks very much, Dana, for that.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty today. He's got "The Cafferty File."

Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, President Bush has reportedly ordered a final attempt to capture Osama bin Laden before he leaves office. "The Times of London" is reporting that the president has enlisted British special forces to help get the job done.

Sources in Washington and London confirm to that newspaper that a renewed hunt is now under way. One source says, "If President Bush said he can killed Saddam Hussein and captured bin Laden, he can claim to have left the world a safer place."

British special forces have been participating in U.S. operations to catch the terrorist leader in northern Pakistan, but it's the first time that they're crossing into Afghanistan regularly. Of course, no one knows where Osama bin Laden is. No one knows for sure if he's even still alive.

He's eluded capture for almost seven years now. Some experts think he's in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan. One Pentagon source says that U.S. forces are trying to push al Qaeda in Pakistan toward the Afghan border, where they think they'd have a better shot at catching bin Laden.

But the increase in U.S. military action is not sitting very well with the Pakistanis. Last week they were outraged about what they claimed was an air strike on a border post with Afghanistan that killed 11 Afghan troops. The U.S. says it's still "not exactly clear what happened."

So the question is this: President Bush wants Osama bin Laden captured before he leaves office. How important is that at this point?

Go to You can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

John McCain is trying to portray Barack Obama as a big taxer. How will that play in Jennifer Granholm's state of Michigan? I'll talk to the Democratic governor about the battle between McCain and Obama for those blue collar voters.

Plus, will the Democrats be ready to hold their convention in Denver this summer? We're taking a closer look at the cash crunch that's giving party planners a mile-high headache.

And is Obama's effort to tie McCain to President Bush getting him anywhere? Donna Brazile and Terry Jeffrey, they're standing by for our "Strategy Session."

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Michigan is one of those 12 battleground states identified here in our CNN electoral college map in yellow, those yellow states. Michigan has 17 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.

The economy is a huge issue in this state. In April, the unemployment rate in Michigan was the highest in the nation at 6.9 percent, while the national rate was 5 percent.

Although Michigan is a swing state that's had narrow presidential margins, the Democrats have managed to carry the state in each of the last four presidential elections. The Democrats usually are the strongest in the upper peninsula part of the state and the I-75 corridor. That's the heavily-populated eastern part of the state. Republicans usually fare well in the Detroit suburbs and in the western part of the state.

One interesting battleground note, Macomb County, the birthplace of Reagan Democrats. Those were the Democrats who were often more conservative on a lot of those issues.


BLITZER: And joining us now, the governor of Michigan, Governor Jennifer Granholm.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

GOV. JENNIFER GRANHOLM (D), MICHIGAN: You bet. Thanks for having me on, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, we've been telling our viewers Michigan has got the highest unemployment rate in the country now. Serious economic problems, as you well know better than anyone in your state.

Here's what John McCain says -- as bad as it is in Michigan right now, if Obama's president, guess what? It could get a whole lot worse. Listen to McCain.


MCCAIN: I believe that there are stark differences between myself and Senator Obama, whether it be he wants to raise taxes, I want to lower them.


BLITZER: And he says everyone in Michigan, indeed across the country, would have higher taxes. He says given the hard economic times, this is about the worst time to go ahead and raise everyone's taxes.

What do you say to that charge?

GRANHOLM: Well, I don't know if he's been reading the economic plan, but the Obama plan has significant middle class, working class tax cuts. In fact, there was a national study that is a neutral study which said that average Americans, middle class Americans, would see three times as much of a tax break under Obama than they would under McCain.

I mean, the bottom line is, McCain, I'm not sure what his education policy is. I'm not sure what his energy policy is. But Barack Obama came to Michigan today, to Flint, Michigan, which is the heart of the auto industry. The reason why Michigan's economy is so challenged because of this massive contraction in our automotive sector.

So he came right to the heart of the auto industry. And what he said is that he is going to invest $150 billion in an entire energy sector of this country, creating jobs, millions of jobs in energy. That, for a state like Michigan, is hugely important to hear. He had specific plans for us.

BLITZER: All right. I guess what McCain is suggesting is that if you start raising taxes, even for wealthy Americans, families making more than $200,000 or $250,000 a year, and you start increasing capital gains taxes, and other taxes related to investments, that's going to hurt the aggregate, the overall U.S. economy. And it will further make it difficult for job creation and everything else you want in Michigan.

GRANHOLM: Well, the whole point that Barack Obama was making is that you have to make strategic investments in the areas that you know will grow jobs. He said that he would eliminate capital gains taxes on those entrepreneurs, the kind of jobs we want to create. But the very, very, very wealthiest, they can afford to contribute to the investment in our country to allow people to be able to go to college.

Every economist will tell you that the smartest economic development strategy is making sure you have a skilled work force for those employers. And that's exactly what Barack Obama's plan is.

BLITZER: McCain's really been hitting Obama hard over the past few days about those so-called "bitter" comments he made during the primary against Hillary Clinton. Listen to this latest -- this latest statement that McCain made just today.


MCCAIN: I won't tell them that in small towns across America and in Pennsylvania, that they are bitter or angry about their economic conditions, so therefore they embrace religion and the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. I will never do that.


BLITZER: All right. Do you want to respond to that? Because he's suggesting that Obama is simply out of touch with blue collar working Americans.

GRANHOLM: I'll tell you what blue collar American wants. They want a change in the White House. They don't want a third Bush term.

Here in Michigan, in small towns across our state, where we have seen jobs go on a slow boat to China, on the Internet to India, or on a fast track to Mexico, we want to make sure that we have an investment, a manufacturing policy in this country that supports our job providers so we can keep jobs here. Bush and McCain will further the unfair trade policies that have hurt states like Michigan.

People are mad in Michigan. We're mad that the Bush administration has stood idly by while we have lost almost 400,000 jobs since Bush became president.

Can you imagine that, Wolf? Four hundred thousand jobs. That's our own version of Hurricane Katrina, only it's trickled out over the past seven and a half years. So we need a change in the White House. That's what people are mad at. They're mad at a White House that has not paid attention to middle America.

BLITZER: How big of a deal is it that Senator Obama's going to have a special guest in Michigan with him later tonight. The former vice president of the United States, Al Gore, will be in your beautiful state to make this ringing endorsement.

GRANHOLM: Well, if you're making that announcement, I can't confirm. But if it were true that Al Gore was coming here, I could tell you that it is a great statement.

We in Michigan want to reinvent Michigan. We want to rebuild a clean, green state where technology and green technology and alternative energy and renewable energy is the sector of growth for job creation to replace those lost manufacturing jobs. And I tell you, if you look at what Al Gore has done in elevating the dialogue about climate change and in taking action, he will tell you that this is -- yes, it's good for the planet, but it's also good for the economy and for jobs. And that's where Michigan stands right there.

BLITZER: Michigan's going to be very busy over these next few months. A battleground state.

Governor, we hope you'll join us frequently.

GRANHOLM: I'm sure I will. Thank you, Wolf, for having me on.


BLITZER: We'll get a different perspective in the next hour from Mary Matalin, the Republican strategist. She's going to be joining us live.

Coming up also, amid war weariness and an economic slump, how enthusiastic are Republicans for John McCain? You may be surprised to learn what our new poll shows.

And Barack Obama tells fathers out there, be a better father to your children. But could he face negative reaction to his positive message?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, a real version of a prison break featuring fugitives, and an entire area under siege right now. It's happening in Afghanistan. Hundreds of Taliban prison escapees are taking control of several villages (AUDIO GAP) are moving in.

The ramifications for the U.S. right now enormous. We're watching this story.

Also, a nightmare regarding a man some say is even more dangerous than Osama bin Laden -- A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientists who admittedly leaked nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea. Did he also sell them to science for a miniature advanced nuclear weapon?

And countdown to controversy. In under four hours, same-sex couples will be able to get married in California. But as many wait to wed, opponents now act to stop them.

We're watching this story as well.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Americans are hurting in a battered economy. Many people are weary over the war in Iraq, and President Bush is mired in very low approval ratings. Might all those things spell major trouble for John McCain and Republicans in the fall?

We have a brand new CNN (AUDIO GAP).

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, has been going through all of these numbers for us.

What does it show, Bill? What does it show that voters out there are really enthusiastic about?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, what we're seeing in this poll, Wolf, is a morale gap. And it's an enormous one.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The morale gap in this campaign is huge. Barack Obama supporters are all fired up.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That just means you're fired up.


OBAMA: You're ready to go.

SCHNEIDER: Two-thirds of Obama supporters say they're extremely or very enthusiastic about voting for president this year. John McCain supporters, not so much. Only one-third feel fired up. Four years ago, there was almost no difference in enthusiasm between George W. Bush supporters and John Kerry supporters. Everybody was fired up.

After eight years of the Bush presidency, Republicans are demoralized. McCain is trying to deal with it.

MCCAIN: This is indeed a change election. No matter who wins this election, the direction of this country is going to change dramatically. SCHNEIDER: Look at expectations. Most voters believe Obama is likely to win in November.

So, are Democrats singing, happy days are here again? Actually, they're a little worried. Obama is running only a few points ahead of McCain. Forty-two percent of voters believe Obama's race will make it more difficult for him to get elected. That concern is higher among Democrats. Obama also has a problem with seniors. He sometimes sounds like he's leading a youth movement.

OBAMA: America, this is our moment.


OBAMA: This is our time.

SCHNEIDER: Republicans have been making steady gains with seniors for at least 16 years. McCain now leads Obama by eight points among voters 65 and older. Obama is trying to deal with it.

OBAMA: I fight every single day to extend the promise of a retirement that's dignified and secure as a United States senator. And that's why I'm going to fight to make sure that a secure and dignified retirement is there when I'm president of the United States of America.


SCHNEIDER: The greatest generation, the one that lived through the Depression in World War II, was strongly Democratic. They're passing from the political scene. Obama is trying to rally a new generation of Democratic voters to replace them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, reporting for us, thank you.

Amidst all of this, talk about problems with the party. The festive event the Democrats are planning for this summer in Denver may not be as festive in years past. That's because the Democrats say they need money, and they need it badly.

CNN's Jim Acosta explains.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The upcoming Democratic National Convention is so strapped for cash, event planners have already canceled dozens of big parties for delegates, including a bash for party bigwigs at the Denver Zoo. The chief fund-raiser for the convention, Steve Farber, told us what the big corporate contributors are telling him. It's the economy.

STEVE FARBER, CHIEF DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE FUND-RAISER: Our earnings are not where they should be under a good economy.

ACOSTA (on camera): Corporations are saying this?

FARBER: Corporations are saying that, so we're going to cut back a little bit.

ACOSTA: The convention's host committee hoping to raise $40 million by mid-June is nearly $15 million short. Not only has Farber had to fight for the same contributors donating money to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Now that the primaries are over, he says one Clinton backer won't pony up for an Obama convention, so he's looking for alternatives.

ACOSTA (on camera): Ever thought of just picking up the phone and calling Oprah?



FARBER: Or have others? You know, it's a thought, Jim, and that may occur to them.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Denver's Democratic mayor wants to take a page from the presumptive nominee's book by focusing on small time donors to make up for the fund-raising shortfall.

JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), MAYOR OF DENVER: There's a lot of people in this country that would love to, you know, send $25 or $50 to support a political convention for a cause they believe in.

ACOSTA: Campaign watchdog groups hope Democrats and Republicans are careful in how they pay for their parties, like with corporate and special interest money.

SHEILA KRUMHOLZ, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR RESPONSIVE POLITICS: By allowing for soft money to fund the conventions, the parties are really stepping all over their message. Particularly Obama's, but also arguably McCain's, as the person probably most well- known for sponsoring the ban on soft money or promoting the ban on soft money to the parties.

ACOSTA (on camera): Denver Democrats have even crossed party lines, raising money from big Colorado Republicans like Pete Coors of the Coors Brewing Company, which is why Democrats insist their list of potential donors isn't tapped out just yet.

Jim Acosta, CNN, Denver, Colorado.


BLITZER: And, as you know, Jim Acosta and Bill Schneider are part of the Emmy Award-winning best political team on television. Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can check out The ticker is the number-one political news blog on the Web. That's also where you can read my latest blog post.

Barack Obama marked Father's Day by sending a very stern message to dads to live up to their responsibilities. We're going to take a closer look at what he said, why he said it, and where we go from here. Plus: John McCain is portraying himself as the underdog against Obama. Is it working? Stand by for our "Strategy Session."

And the FEMA director responds to a CNN investigation about the giveaway of items meant for hurricane victims. You are going to find out whom David Paulison is blaming.

That's coming up and a lot more -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Barack Obama's Father's Day message still resonating within the African-American community right now. Speaking in a church in Chicago yesterday, Obama sharply criticized fathers who ignore or outright abandon their children.

Jessica Yellin is working this story for us.

Was this an effort on the part of Barack Obama to show he can be forceful on sensitive issues within the African-American community?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Obama campaign says this was not intended as a Sister Souljah moment. But it is an issue that matters deeply to Obama for personal reasons.


YELLIN (voice-over): Barack Obama at church.

OBAMA: Too many fathers are MIA. To many fathers of AWOL. More than half of all black children live in single-parent households -- half -- a number that's doubled since we were children.

YELLIN: It's an issue close to Obama's heart. Raised by a single mother, Obama has written about the "father I had never truly known," saying, "At the time of his death, my father remained a myth to me."

He was determined to be different.

OBAMA: I would be a good father to my children.

YELLIN: And he's calling on other fathers to do more.

OBAMA: But don't just sit in the house and watching the "SportsCenter" all day. As fathers and as parents, we have got to spend more time with them with their homework.

YELLIN: Today, 56 percent of African-American children, 22 percent of white children, and 31 percent of Hispanic children grow up without fathers.

This is a touchy subject. For decades, a host of public intellectuals argued, many of the cultural and economic disadvantages in the African-American community can be traced to the fact there are so many absent fathers. And some say Obama might take heat for his comments.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Many politicians should be using the bully pulpit to be able to deal with issues of faith and family, because that's how we have been able to grow as a nation over the years. And, so, sure, you're going to have some critics. But I think the something is far more important.


YELLIN: And, Wolf, you will recall that Bill Clinton captured quite a few headlines during his early campaign when he criticized Sister Souljah. She was a rap artist and an author who was quite controversial. He did that and staked out a sort of centrist position, defining himself as no knee-jerk liberal.

Now, I said at the beginning of this, the Obama campaign says it was not intended to parallel that Sister Souljah moment, but this does prove that Barack Obama -- or it makes the case that Barack Obama is a centrist on this -- on these issues and is not going to side with those who say he -- criticism of the African-American community is wrong altogether. He's showing he's willing to criticize the African- American community sometimes -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He wanted to show he was a so-called new Democrat. And he convince a lot of voters that he was.

Jessica, thank you.

As we mentioned, flooding across Iowa has been linked now to six deaths and forced tens of thousands of people from their homes.

Our I-Reporters are sending in hundreds of images and video of the horrible situation out in Iowa right now.

Abbi Tatton is working this story for us.

What are we seeing from these I-Reports?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, these are the pictures from the residents themselves, sharing with us what they're seeing and what they're dealing with on the ground.

And take a look at the view from above here. This is from Doug Gottschalk, who went up in a plane over the weekend to take these photos, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City as well. And you will see from his pictures, entire residential areas cut off, inaccessible, this here, the University of Iowa, which has really faced the brunt of the flooding there in Iowa City, even though volunteers have been sandbagging for days, classes suspended there for the time being.

And a graduate of that university, Carly Kanipe, if we can pull up her video here, this is going to show you just the force of some of these waters there in Iowa City. She says it's just heartbreaking to see debris and trash floating past them there on the ground.

Also, we have got pictures here, if we go to Davenport, further to the east here. This is Rhythm City Casino, temporarily closed, this picture taken from the Skybridge. You can see that they have erected a bridge there to let workers get in and out.

And many, many more pictures at, where people are telling us that now the floodwater is beginning to draw back there. But then, of course, the cleanup then begins.

BLITZER: I was in Davenport myself in '93 during that other -- that more recent huge flood there. That little stadium was under water. I went there with Bill Clinton when he was then president. And it's so sad to see these floods come back right now.

We're going to have a lot more on this story, Abbi, coming up. Thank you.

And even if you live thousands of miles away from the flood zone, it could end up impacting you and your wallet. You're going to find out how this historic series of floods is leading to even higher prices for a lot of things all of us buy. We're live in the flood zone. That's coming up.

But, first, in our "Strategy Session": On the campaign trail, Obama and McCain do their best to remind voters of their opponent's weaknesses.


OBAMA: George Bush has put us in a hole. And John McCain's policies will keep us there.

MCCAIN: I won't tell him that in small towns across America and in Pennsylvania that they are bitter or angry about their economic conditions.


BLITZER: But do voters really believe President Bush and Senator McCain are one and the same?

And are voters over Barack Obama's so-called bitter remarks? John McCain sure isn't. We're talking strategy with Donna Brazile and Terry Jeffrey.


BLITZER: So much of politics involves staying on message. But some wonder if Barack Obama might soon have to go off his message. He's been criticizing John McCain as wanting to serve out President Bush's third term. Is that line of attack working?

Let's discuss in our "Strategy Session."

Joining us, our political contributor Donna Brazile. She's a Democratic strategist. And conservative commentator Terry Jeffrey, he's editor in chief of the Cybercast News Service.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Here's Senator Obama. And this is a typical line he has in his speeches. Listen to this.


OBAMA: There's a clear choice in this election. Instead of reaching for new horizons, George Bush has put us in the hole, and John McCain's policies will keep us there.


BLITZER: All right, Terry, is that strategy that he has, to taint McCain as Bush's third term, working?

JEFFREY: I think it's the real reason he has a chance of getting elected.

I think the main reason the Democrats have an advantage this year, Wolf, is because the country is tired of President Bush. He's not popular. He is definitely a problem for John McCain.

BLITZER: And what do you think about this strategy?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's important, especially at this stage of the game, to define himself, but also to define his opponent, John McCain, as being part of George Bush's legacy.

If you want more of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, vote for McCain. That's what Barack Obama is trying to do.

BLITZER: But there are differences between McCain and Bush on several key issues, including a sensitive matter like global warming.

BRAZILE: Well, that's something that Senator McCain will have to do. He will have to take time to distance himself, to defend his record, and to show the American people that he will not represent a third term of George Bush and Dick Cheney.

BLITZER: Bush wants to drill in the Alaskan Wildlife. McCain says, bad idea.

JEFFREY: Yes. But McCain came out with an excellent initiative today. What he wants to do is let states decide whether we can drill offshore off their coasts.

And, Wolf, the Department of Interior has reported -- very few people know this -- that there's 85.8 billion barrels of recoverable oil sitting off our coasts. Most of it is blocked by federal regulation. We could help change gas prices by driving them down if we follow McCain's policies. BLITZER: Donna, listen to Senator McCain today, because he's got a new line that I have heard him suggest now. And I want you to see if you think it's going to be effective for him.


MCCAIN: I know I have to out-campaign my opponent in every respect. And, so, I do not underestimate. I consider myself an underdog.


BLITZER: He said he's the underdog, and Obama's the front- runner.

BRAZILE: Well, Senator McCain has been a household name and a fixture here in Washington, D.C. He has led powerful committees. There's no question that he's going to be very competitive. And he's not the underdog.

In fact, he has been on top of many of the issues, as Terry mentioned, here in Washington, D.C. He's campaigning on his record. And Senator Obama will have to do the same.

BLITZER: In the polls, he's the underdog. But he relishes being the underdog.

JEFFREY: Sure. I think he's the underdog like Rocky Balboa. People know he's a fighter. He has a chance to win.

But he's got these strikes going against him. The economy is not doing well. People are paying more than $4 for gas. The war in Iraq is not popular. And, as we just mentioned, President Bush is not popular. Those are three strikes against John McCain.

BLITZER: But he will say the war in Iraq is going better.

JEFFREY: Well, I think that's an argument he has to win, Wolf.

And I think one of the major issues this campaign is going to pivot on is whether John McCain can say: Look, I backed the surge. The surge is working. We have a chance of succeeding in Iraq. If we follow Barack Obama's strategy, it's going to lead to disaster. We can't go where he wants to go.

BLITZER: He seems to be putting Senator Obama on the defensive, not visiting Iraq. Now Senator Obama says he's going to be going over there. Not meeting with General Petraeus personally, and that is going to happen, presumably, at some point somewhere down the road. Hammering away on his refusal to have these 10 town hall meetings.

How much of this strategy from McCain, challenging Obama on these kinds of issues, is going to be successful?

BRAZILE: A day that John McCain can go without talking about the economy, because he doesn't offer anything different, a day that John McCain does not have to defend George Bush, is a day that he will attack Barack Obama.

Look, Terry mentioned three important areas that John McCain has some strategic deficits. The other one is the enthusiasm gap. That's huge. When you see a 30-point gap between Democratic supporters and Republican supporters, that's a danger sign for Senator McCain.

BLITZER: It's a very important issue.

Let me switch gears briefly, because I want both of you to weigh in. Our good friend Tim Russert, as you know, had a heart attack. He died suddenly on Friday at the age of 58.

What was -- how important was Tim Russert in the political landscape here in Washington?

JEFFREY: He's as -- he was as important as a journalist can get, Wolf. He was a consummate journalist. I think he was a role model as a journalist.

Anybody who watched "Meet the Press" could see him dissect a candidate, force a politician to go down to the basic principles, core principles involved in an issue, and make that candidate or that politician take a stand that people could clearly understand.

This was a fantastic journalist.

BLITZER: You knew Tim Russert, Donna, didn't you?

BRAZILE: Yes, I did, Wolf.

And let me tell you, as someone who had both prepare to go on "Meet the Press," as well as someone who clearly saw Tim as a role model for many of us who started in politics, Tim was just an extraordinary human being that would reach out to people at their most difficult hour and say, can I help you?

He was just a great human being. And I just want to say to Luke and to his family that we will be there for them. And, God knows, Tim loved his family.

BLITZER: He certainly did.


BLITZER: He was an excellent father and a great family man.

BRAZILE: Absolutely.

BLITZER: And we will all miss him a great deal.

Guys, thanks very much.


BLITZER: Two major players who were probably on Barack Obama's short list say if they are interested in the vice presidential spot. That's coming up.

Also, hundreds of Taliban fighters, all of a sudden, they break out of prison, and they are now taking over parts of Afghanistan. How could this happen? The threat and how the U.S. and NATO are responding, that's coming up.

And later, just hours away from California's first official gay marriage. The GOP might use it to the party's advantage, the pundits are saying. You are going to find out what's going on right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: On our Political Ticker today; The former Virginia Governor Mark Warner is ruling himself out as Barack Obama's running mate. Over the weekend, Warner said he's fully committed to running for the U.S. Senate and would not accept a V.P. nod.

John Edwards may have opened the door a little bit, a crack, that is, to a possible V.P. bid. The 2004 vice presidential nominee told ABC this weekend he's not seeking the job as Obama's running mate, but he didn't sound as definitive in ruling it out as he had recently.

A new poll shows it's neck and neck in the battleground state of Nevada. The Mason-Dixon survey shows McCain with 44 percent support among registered voters in Nevada, Obama with 42 percent. That's within the margin of error.

Voters can express their presidential preferences by buying a six-pack of soda. The Jones Soda Company now offering Pure McCain Cola, Yes We Can Cola for Obama fans, Capitol Hillary Cola for die- hard Clinton supporters.

Let me repeat that -- Pure McCain Cola -- for Obama fans, Yes We Can cola for McCain fans -- for Obama fans -- excuse me -- and Capitol Hillary Cola for die-hard Clinton supporters.

Did I get that straight? If not, forget about it. The six-pack will set you back $14.99. But the soda company says your beverage will -- your beverage will be a real conversation-starter.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, check out That's where you can download our new political screen-saver, where you can check out my blog any time.

Let's go back to Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File."

Pure McCain Cola if you support McCain, Yes We Can Cola if you support Obama, and Capitol Hillary Cola if you support Hillary Clinton still.

You get it, right?

CAFFERTY: Yes. It's a real conversation-starter.


BLITZER: I'm not going to buy it.

CAFFERTY: I'm not either. Drink whisky.

The question this hour: President Bush wants Osama bin Laden captured before leaving office. Our question is, how important is that at this point?

Craig in Ohio writes: "The most important thing at this point is to humor junior so he won't throw a fit. Have the CIA show him some really cool photographs taken all the way from space. Then quietly put him to bed early, before he blows something else up. He will have forgotten all about this in the morning."

Will in California says: "Osama is a lot more important then Saddam ever was. Osama has been responsible or at least taken credit for attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa, attacks on U.S. soldiers in Mogadishu, the attack on the USS Cole, and, of course, 9/11. When was it Saddam attacked us again?"

K. in the United Kingdom: "Forget capturing or killing bin Laden. George Bush would be able to claim he left the world a better and safer place by standing down as president of the United States -- today."

Tom in Massachusetts: "Bin Laden will rot in a cave. If we kill him, hundreds of terrorists behind him will take his place. Focus more on homeland security, the economy, health care, and the dozens of other problems that our country is facing.

Phil writes: "Of course he does. It's all in the Republican playbook during an election year. Catch bin Laden. Bush's Saudi friends will lower gas costs by putting more oil on the market. They'll finally put the 9/11 masterminds on trial -- all just to boost their candidate for election. Sounds like kindergarten 101."

And Dick writes: "Killing bin Laden will bring about an end to the war on terror, just like killing Saddam brought peace to Iraq."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog,, and look for yours there, among hundreds of others.

What did you write about today? I will bet it wasn't about those colas.

BLITZER: No. It was about the war in Iraq and the differences between John McCain and Barack Obama.

Jack, see you in a few moments.

To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.