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The Situation Room

Obama's Faith-Based Vow; McCain on Global Stage; Interview With Wesley Clark; Patriotism Is Issue in Presidential Race

Aired July 01, 2008 - 16:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Barack Obama makes a vow to faith-based groups. He's borrowing a controversial idea from President Bush, but with some changes.
Big-name allies of Obama and John McCain are making stops in THE SITUATION ROOM today. Wesley Clark clarifying his criticism of McCain over the weekend, and Rudy Giuliani responding to the terror fear factor in this election.

Plus, the National Rifle Association, loaded with cash and locked on to one of the White House hopefuls. This hour, the impact of the NRA's big-money ad blitz against Obama.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John Roberts in New York.


Barack Obama has tried to prove today that faith-based politics is not reserved for Republicans. In fact, the Democrat now is taking a page from President Bush's playbook.

CNN's Jessica Yellin is with us.

Obama, Jessica, is proposing his own version of the president's faith-based initiative.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, he really is. Barack Obama is reaching out to religious voters and planning to expand what was once a very controversial partnership between the government and religious organizations.


YELLIN (voice over): Barack Obama believes government should offer more support to faith-based organizations.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know there's some who bristle at the notion that faith has a place in the public square. But the fact is, leaders in both parties have recognized the value of a partnership between the White House and faith-based groups.

YELLIN: After accusing President Bush of politicizing his faith- based initiatives, Obama vowed to reform and expand the program, to increase support for projects that teach kids during summer break, to institute performance evaluations for organizations that take government funds, and to ensure the groups don't discriminate. Obama says his council would be a central part of his administration.

OBAMA: This council will not just be another name on the White House organizational chart. It will be a critical part of my administration.

YELLIN: The announcement comes as prominent religious conservatives increasingly attack Obama's faith...

JAMES DOBSON, FOCUS ON THE FAMILY: I think he's deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview, his own confused theology.

YELLIN: ... and go after him for supporting reproductive rights.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator, I have a question for you. If as you say fatherhood begins at conception, when does life begin?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dear Lord, please be with us here tonight.

YELLIN: Since last fall, the Obama campaign has been working to preempt questions about his religion, in part by holding discussions about religion and politics with small groups of voters, like this one at a house in Cincinnati last night.

JOSHUA DUBOIS, DIRECTOR, RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS, OBAMA CAMPAIGN: When you hear someone talk about kind of the moral values candidate, which -- which candidate or which party are they normally referring to? The Republican Party.

YELLIN: This group agreed Democrats and Obama would be wise to talk about policy positions like environmentalism and fighting poverty in moral and religious terms.


YELLIN: John, in the primaries, Barack Obama did beat Senator Clinton among church-going voters overall, but he lost the Catholic vote. So, all this focus on religion and faith could help him appeal to Catholic voters, also to Evangelicals who could be swing voters. All key groups in the upcoming general election. And, of course, John, all this discussion of Obama's Christian faith is a reminder that he is not a Muslim -- John.

ROBERTS: Jessica Yellin for us from Washington.

Jessica, thanks.

Right now, John McCain is on his way to Colombia, his latest international detour from the campaign trail, then he moves on to Mexico. The Republican's trip designed to drive home one of his big differences with Barack Obama.

Our Dana Bash is covering the McCain campaign.

Dana, McCain went to Canada the week before last. It didn't go so well. Why another road trip? DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John McCain went to your native country of Canada the week before last, and you're right, it was really quite awkward, John. It was a campaign trip he insisted wasn't political even as his campaign was sending out statements slamming Barack Obama. So McCain advisors say he'll be pushing the same message on this trip abroad, one not very popular in Rust Belt states. One saying that free trade is good.


BASH (voice over): A tough-on-crime speech in Indiana, a reliably Republican state that Barack Obama hopes to make competitive. A political no-brainer. But you won't find John McCain's next stop on any electoral map. Colombia, in South America, it has some political veterans scratching their heads.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: ... that he should be spending his time here laying out much more emphatically and clearly his economic plans.

BASH: McCain says he's going to Colombia to spotlight his support for free trade which he calls crucial to jump-starting the U.S. economy. A sharp difference with Barack Obama.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He doesn't support the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. I think it would be -- have very serious consequences if we rebuked our closest ally.

BASH: The Colombia Free Trade Agreement is now stuck in Congress, held up by Democrats, including Obama.

OBAMA: ... is that we have not been very good negotiators in our trade agreements, in terms of making sure that the interests of American workers and not just corporate profits are cared for.

MCCAIN: We must encourage more trade agreements to create more jobs on both sides of the border.

BASH: McCain's new Web ad promising trade equals jobs is proof he hopes his trip abroad will help back home. His problem? There's new evidence most voters don't agree with McCain that free trade will help fix their economic woes.

A new CNN/Opinion Research poll shows 51 percent call free trade a threat to the economy. Forty-one percent call it an economic opportunity. It's especially risky for McCain in hard-hit, must-win states like Ohio, where voters confront him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there any way that the trade can become more fair instead of just free? I come from a closed plant, excuse me, in New Jersey.


BASH: Now, McCain acknowledges the anxiety expressed by that worker and other -- others like him. He understands, he says, that that anxiety is very real, but he also says that he is adamant, despite the political risks, John, that more trade is a net gain for the American worker in the long run. And as you can imagine, you can expect to hear a lot of that in Colombia when he touches down today and at his next stop, Mexico -- John.

ROBERTS: Looking forward to more of your coverage.

Dana Bash, thanks very much.

And a reminder that Dana Bash and Jessica Yellin are both part of the Emmy Award-winning best political team on television. And remember, for the latest political news any time, check out the Political Ticker at The ticker is the number one political news blog on the Web. That's also where you can find Wolf's latest blog posts.

Jack Cafferty is off today.

This hour, a retired general, an Obama supporter, takes on John McCain over Iraq.


GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), U.S. ARMY: I know he's got great experience from being a fighter pilot, but he doesn't understand what the culture is there.


ROBERTS: Wesley Clark not backing off from his weekend attack on McCain or his credentials to be commander in chief. We'll have my interview with the retired general just ahead.

And reaction to Clark from McCain rival-turned-ally Rudy Giuliani. The former New York mayor is standing by to join us in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And Obama versus McCain with the Nader and Barr factors thrown in. We're about to release a brand new snapshot of the presidential race.


ROBERTS: Wesley Clark is not backing down. The retired Army general reiterates something that has ignited a political firestorm. Clark says while he respects John McCain's military service, that military service does not automatically qualify McCain to be commander in chief.


ROBERTS: General, thanks for being with us today.

You've been under a lot of fire since Sunday over some comments that you made talking with my former colleague, Bob Schieffer, on "Face the Nation." You were talking about John McCain's wartime experience and how you believe that that did not qualify him to be president on its basic merits.

Let's play that particular part of the interview where Bob Schieffer asked you a question about qualifications and you responded.

CLARK: Right.


BOB SCHIEFFER, "FACE THE NATION": I would have to say, Barack Obama has not had any of those experience either, nor has he ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down. I mean...

CLARK: Well, I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.


ROBERTS: Now, General, you were countering a point that Bob Schieffer had made.

CLARK: Exactly.

ROBERTS: David Axelrod, the chief strategist for the Obama campaign, told us this morning, "The way it came out was unfortunate." Senator Obama called it "inartful."

I'm wondering, do you regret the way that you said that?

CLARK: Well, you know, obviously I wish we hadn't had the big brouhaha about this because it has -- it has taken away from the message of the man that I'm supporting to be president of the United States, and that's Barack Obama. I think he's got superior judgment.

But John, this was -- is an important point, I've been making it for months. It had nothing to do with the Obama campaign. They didn't know I was going to make it, I didn't know I was going to be asked about it.

Bob Schieffer asked me to come on and talk about foreign affairs, and the first question out of his mouth was, Joe Lieberman says McCain is going to be a great president, and what do you think about his military experience? Or something -- words to that effect. What I said is, "I honor his service. He's one of my heroes." But having served as a fighter pilot, however great it is to show your character and courage, does not necessarily mean that you're the best qualified person in the race to be the president, because...

ROBERTS: Right. But I'm just wondering, back to the original point, do you regret the way that you phrased your answer to that particular question.

CLARK: Well, I think if you had seen the whole question and the whole interview in context, I think there's no issue with this. But I think it does show the -- what can happen when an excerpt is taken, and I noticed on some of the major news channels -- and I don't want to point any fingers here -- but they only showed my answer as though I made that up.

This is like someone says, "Is the sun out?" You could say, "Yes, the sun is out." Or you could say, "Yes." Or you could say, "Well, the sky is blue."


CLARK: But I just happened to answer it exactly the way it was asked. And my point is, that when we're about to select a president of the United States, at a time of war and the national security's going to be a big issue in this campaign, the American people should look at the real qualifications. That includes John McCain's character and courage.

I've never said anything dissing that. I would never diss the service of anyone who served in the United States Armed Forces. I did it for 38 years.

I was a captain in Vietnam. I've commanded infantry. Came home on a stretcher in a hospital. Four bullet wounds in me. So, you know, I'm very sympathetic to John McCain. He's one of my heroes.

But I've been at the strategic level. I led America's armed forces in NATO during the fight in Kosovo. I know what kinds of decisions get made, what the tradeoffs are.

I was simply pointing out, John McCain, in his military service, honorable and wonderful though it was, he wasn't at that level. So, his claim is a different kind of a claim.

And it goes under the category or question of this, John: Do those experiences give him the judgment to have better judgment with regard to national security than, let's say, Barack Obama? And I think the record is that he hasn't shown better judgment. He's shown some -- some worse judgment on several occasions.

ROBERTS: I mean, it's well known, General Clark, that you rose to the absolute upper echelons of the military in this country, and supreme allied commander for NATO. But when it comes to that same type of qualification, you were very robustly behind John Kerry's military experience...

CLARK: Absolutely.

ROBERTS: ... in your speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, where you talked about his experience of being there under mortar fire.

CLARK: Right.

ROBERTS: And let's listen to the way that you summed that up.

CLARK: Right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CLARK: John Kerry's combination of physical courage and moral values is my definition of what we need as Americans in our commander in chief.


ROBERTS: So, you said it's what we need in a commander in chief. And I'm wondering how different was John McCain's experience from John Kerry's?

CLARK: Well, a lot, because John McCain basically served honorably and well in uniform. He did everything the country could have asked.

What John Kerry did is John Kerry got out of the uniform. He took a judgment, a judgment I didn't agree with at the time, but he had the moral courage to stand up for himself and oppose the conflict in Vietnam.

ROBERTS: But where was the executive experience that you talked about?

CLARK: The executive experience wasn't the issue there, because John Kerry wasn't claiming that he had some special executive experience on national security against George Bush.

ROBERTS: Right, but he was running on his war record and using that to buttress his credentials on national security.

CLARK: Sure. Only in the sense of having been there and proved himself under fire.

John McCain is welcome to do that. He's always done that. But in this case it's about judgment.

Eight years or seven years into a war, where we're actually having more difficulties in Afghanistan than we did three or four years ago, so you could say it's going the wrong way there, in which we're going to have to make some bold, strategic moves in Iraq or risk the real erosion of the United States armed forces, we need a thinking president. We need someone who understands all the elements of power, and I believe we need a policy that starts with the idea that we're going to withdraw American forces from Iraq and we're going to do more in Afghanistan, not only militarily, but diplomatically.

Now, those are the ideas of Barack Obama. They're not John McCain's ideas.

John has said we'll stay there for 100 years if necessary. I think if he says that he doesn't understand.

I don't -- I know he's got great experience from being a fighter pilot, but he doesn't understand what the culture is there. And I want a commander in chief who's sensitive to that and makes the right kind of decisions for our men and women in combat and for the country. ROBERTS: General, the McCain campaign has got you squarely in the crosshairs. Today in a conference call, they put out Orson Swindle, who was a fellow prisoner of war in the Hanoi Hilton with John McCain, took specific aim at you. Here's what he said today.


ORSON SWINDLE, PRISONER OF WAR WITH MCCAIN: We all know that General Clark, as high ranking as he is, his record in his last command, I think, was somewhat less than stellar. The point being, General Clark ought to be ashamed of himself talking about a fellow serviceman.


ROBERTS: Do you want to take the opportunity to respond to that?

CLARK: I do. John, thank you very much.

First of all, I don't know Orson. I'm sure he's an outstanding man and did a great job in uniform.

He doesn't know me either. But I did in my last command, as the head of the forces in NATO, lead the forces of NATO in the fight to stop ethnic cleansing in the Balkans.

We did win a war. We bombed for 78 days. We broke the will of a Serb dictator. We saved 1.5 million Albanians.

We did it without the loss of a single American soldier, sailor, Marine or Airman in combat. We did it with a combination of diplomacy and force. And that region remains at peace today, and Kosovo is now an independent country.

Now, to me, I was placed in the crosshairs of a lot of different people in that conflict. I was in the Russian crosshairs. I was in the Serb crosshairs. I was in the crosshairs of a lot of people at the Pentagon who didn't want to get involved.

ROBERTS: But his point...

CLARK: My point is we won. And I was the leader of that operation.

ROBERTS: But he's surprised that you're talking about a fellow service member like that.

CLARK: No, his point was my record wasn't very good. So that's the first point I want to answer.

As far as talking about a fellow service member, I've never said anything to dishonor John McCain. Look, John McCain came to my house for dinner when I was a commander in Panama. I've been to conferences with him. I've testified before him. And I like him.

It's -- but I will say this, that when it comes to being the president of the United States, it's about judgment. And I've seen stronger judgment from Barack Obama, despite the fact that he doesn't have military experience, than I've seen from John McCain, despite all his worldly travels, his Senate Armed Service serviceship, and what he did as an outstanding younger officer in uniform for the United States Navy.

ROBERTS: General...

CLARK: And to me, this is about -- and I hope the American people will make the decision based on judgment.

ROBERTS: General, we're out of time, unfortunately, but we do thank you for yours. It's good to connect with you again.

CLARK: John, thank you. Thank you very much for the opportunity to be on with you.

ROBERTS: Thanks, General.

CLARK: Thank you.


ROBERTS: You heard from General Wesley Clark. Rudy Giuliani will also be here to talk about national security issues. I'll get his reaction to McCain supporter Senator Joe Lieberman saying the U.S. will likely suffer another terror attack next year.

Barack Obama's new ad is aimed at working-class voters, but we're fact-checking if his words actually match his record.

And Tom Hanks, George Clooney and Jack Nicholson are seemingly at odds. Those and other actors debate something that could grind Hollywood to a halt starting today.




And happening now, something you might soon eat could make you sick. The salmonella outbreak was thought to only involve tomatoes. It turns out other foods, not tomatoes, may be to blame.

Breaking his silence, exclusively with CNN, the former commander of the USS Cole. Now that the Pentagon has announced charges in the 2002 bombing of that ship, the former commander has stinging criticisms for the U.S. government's handling of that attack.

And on Friday he allegedly killed a police officer. Now he's dead himself. And the suspect's family wants to know if he was murdered in jail in an act of vigilante justice.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John Roberts.


New this hour, we are releasing a fresh presidential campaign poll. The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey shows Barack Obama and John McCain still running neck and neck. Obama has a three-point edge over McCain in a four-way match-up, including third-party candidates Ralph Nader and Bob Barr. Obama has a five-point lead when it's just him against McCain.

Let's bring in our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

Candy, what do you make of this new poll?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it is pretty amazing. I mean, you're talking now about a virtual tie. And when you look at the wind behind Barack Obama, the atmospherics out there are very anti-Republican.

He has loads of money that he can spend. He has that whole historic race thing going. And yet, John McCain has him virtually in a tie here. And what it says is that John McCain has done very well in making himself kind of a brand unto himself.

People see him as the maverick. They see him as John McCain, not necessarily as a Republican, because if you look across the board, where other Republicans, whether they're running for the Senate or the U.S. House, are in deep trouble, and yet John McCain has this a real race.

ROBERTS: Candy, your new poll shows that the economy's -- the economy is even more of a concern for voters than it was just in previous weeks. And gasoline prices now have moved up to number three, right after Iraq. Senator Obama's taking some questions about how high gas prices are affecting -- or I guess better to say not affecting him.

CROWLEY: Absolutely.

You know, it's interesting, because no matter where these candidates go or what the issue of the day is, they're almost always asked about gas prices, as you say, now number three in our list of issues that voters must care about.

Today in Ohio, Obama was asked to sort of take a personal look at it and was asked how has it all affected his life.


OBAMA: Well, I have got a Ford Escape. And it gets great gas mileage, but I confess to you that, right now, it hasn't had an impact on us because we're under Secret Service protection, so I'm not allowed to drive. So -- so it hasn't had a personal impact.

But, you know, I hear from families every single day who are feeling the crushing burden of higher gas prices.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CROWLEY: One of the things that Obama has proposed to help deal with gas prices is another addition to a stimulus program, a pot of money that he would pump back into the economy, giving families a couple hundred dollars more, very similar to the stimulus plan, John, that the president put into effect.

ROBERTS: Candy, this issue of patriotism has been subject of a lot of discussion out there on the campaign trail. And we asked voters about that as well. We found that 90 percent of voters surveyed said that they think that John McCain is patriotic, compared to 73 percent for Obama. How much of a concern is that for the Obama campaign?

CROWLEY: Well, you know, we understand that this is a concern obviously to the Obama campaign. That's why he gave a speech about it yesterday.

He has talked about it on the campaign trail before, because, as you know, there are lots of e-mails going around the Internet questioning his patriotism. But when you look inside those numbers, yes, John McCain does score higher.

But, in general, those who are looking at Obama and saying, no, I don't think he's patriotic, tend to be Republicans, tend to be people that aren't going to vote for him anyway.

ROBERTS: All right, Candy Crowley for us with the latest for us on those CNN/Opinion Research Corporation polls.

Candy, thanks.

Meanwhile, might public opinion change after one politically powerful group runs advertisements against Obama?

Our Brian Todd is here with more on that.

Now, Brian, this involves the National Rifle Association.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It does, John, and the NRA clearly packs strong political punch. It's got four million active members. The group claims tens of millions more support its position. And its new campaign against the Democrat could hurt him.


TODD (voice-over): Coming soon, a $15 million ad blitz against Barack Obama over his record on gun control.

Gun owners in this country are not only very loyal. They don't like being lied to. They're not easily fooled. And if Barack Obama thinks that he can fool them or if they have if -- that they have short memories, he's mistaken.

TODD: The National Rifle Association's beef with Obama? He supports a ban on semiautomatic weapons, on almost all concealed weapons, and a limit on handgun purchases to one a month. Obama says he supports legitimate gun ownership.

OBAMA: I'm a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. But I do not think that that precludes local governments being able to provide some commonsense gun laws that keep guns out of the hands of gangbangers or children.

TODD: Obama could soon find himself the target of NRA ads like this one from 2004 against John Kerry.


NARRATOR: That dog don't hunt.


TODD: And Obama's remark that bitter voters turn to gun and religion could come back to haunt him.

But his spokesman is unfazed.

ROBERT GIBBS, OBAMA CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: And we think we will get the votes of plenty of gun owners and gun owners will have a home in the Obama campaign.

TODD: Republican John McCain wins praise from the NRA for opposing bans on assault weapons, certain ammunition, and handguns in Washington, D.C.

MCCAIN: For more than two decades, I have opposed efforts to ban guns, ban ammunition bans, ban magazines, and dismiss gun owners as some kind of fringe group unwelcome in modern America.

TODD: But the NRA disagrees with McCain over his support for background checks at gun shows. Could the NRA anti-Obama ad campaign make a difference?

AMY WALTER, "THE NATIONAL JOURNAL": There's a lot of competing pressure for these voters. They're concerned about the economy. They're concerned about gas prices. So, I just don't know that this issue alone is going to have the impact that it may have in the past.


TODD: Also, the NRA is just one of many groups planning independent ad campaigns about Obama and McCain.

But remember the 2000 election. The NRA ran ads against Al Gore in Tennessee, which some analysts think may have been a key factor in Gore's loss in his home state that kept him from winning the presidency -- John.

ROBERTS: So, Brian, you showed us where the candidates come down on gun rights. What about public opinion? Where does the public come down on the issue?

TODD: Well, a poll from last month shows a majority supports measures like gun registration and waiting periods to buy guns, but an even split over allowing concealed weapons or limiting the number of guns that a person can own.

ROBERTS: Interesting story.

Brian Todd for us this afternoon -- Brian, thanks.

Someone is making Senator John Kerry sweat in a way that he hasn't for more than 20 years. We are going to meet his unlikely challenger.

Plus, Barack Obama takes a veiled swipe at a powerful liberal group. In Our "Strategy Session": new talk about Obama shifting to the center.

And a mind-altering blast from the past -- a scientific study of magic mushrooms and whether the hallucinogenic high lasts.


ROBERTS: Well, what a difference four years makes for John Kerry.

In 2004, he was the Democratic presidential nominee and the standard-bearer of his party. In 2008, he can't rest easy in his Senate primary.

CNN's Dan Lothian is in Boston for us today.

Dan, very different times for John Kerry in 2008.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN BOSTON BUREAU CHIEF: That's right, different, John. This is unfamiliar territory for John Kerry. The junior senator from Massachusetts is in his first Democratic primary battle since taking office almost 24 years ago. His challenger from the fishing village of Gloucester has virtually no political experience.

But he's bringing up Kerry's Iraq war vote to show it's time to make a change.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): Ed O'Reilly is a former firefighter, a lobsterman and lawyer. Now he wants to be senator. Incensed by Kerry's 2002 vote authorizing President Bush to launch military action against Iraq.

ED O'REILLY (D), MASSACHUSETTS SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: When John Kerry voted for the war, I thought to myself, he doesn't believe in that vote. He's only doing it in order to become president.

LOTHIAN: Political ambition, he says, not political conviction.

O'REILLY: After that war vote, I started to look at John Kerry in a different way. LOTHIAN: Kerry hasn't had any competition in a Democratic Senate primary race since winning in 1984. Political observers say O'Reilly is a long shot, but he can't be discounted.

DOUG HATTAWAY, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think most incumbents, no matter who they are, are having to pay attention to the cycle because change is in the air.

LOTHIAN: In fact, a recent poll in Massachusetts found 51 percent of people who voted in previous general elections say it's time to give someone other than Kerry a chance. Thirty-eight percent say the senator deserves to be reelected.

Kerry is on a Middle East trip this week, but his state campaign director says, while they take every challenger seriously, they aren't watching the polls.

ANDREW O'BRIEN, KERRY STATE CAMPAIGN DIRECTOR: We don't get caught up in the polls. We get caught up in our constituents and in the people of Massachusetts and how we can serve them better.

LOTHIAN: But O'Reilly claims the Kerry campaign is feeling the heat and launched a failed effort at their party's recent Democratic Convention to try and keep him off the ballot.

O'REILLY: There was a lot of pressure put on delegates.

O'BRIEN: It was a classic get-out-the-vote effort on our part. There was no pressure. I wouldn't characterize it that way.

LOTHIAN: O'Reilly knows Kerry's name and money will present a challenge.

O'REILLY: There's no doubt about it. It's a daunting task. But I'm a worker and I'm a fighter.


LOTHIAN: Now, as for the Iraq war vote, Kerry's campaign says he has admitted that, in hindsight, it was a mistake, but that he has now been one of the loudest voices in calling for U.S. troops withdrawals from Iraq. By the way, John, the primary will take place in September.

ROBERTS: All right, we will be watching that race closely.

Dan Lothian in Boston -- Dan, thanks.

Some political observers believe Senate Democrats could have more to gain than Republicans in this fall's election. That's because there are more Republican open seats than Democratic ones. Open seats are those in which there is no incumbent running. Democrats don't have any open seats. But Republicans have five of them this year.

Our Carol Costello monitoring stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now. And she joins us. Hi, Carol.


More twists to the Zimbabwe election crisis. A spokesman for President Robert Mugabe lashed out at foreign countries at what he calls their interference with the country's election process. He specifically singled out the British, warning them to -- quote -- "go and hang 1,000 times for involving themselves."

In the meantime, the country's opposition party denies it's in any talks to create a unity government.

A potential problem for Olympic sailing events in China. More than 10,000 workers are cleaning up algae that's smothering sailing routes. They have already weeded out 100,000 gallons of the slimy green stuff. Sailors from 30 countries are already in China training for the Games. Some types of algae bloom when the pollutants are present in the water.

A group of Darfur advocates has a new idea to highlight their political plight during the Beijing Olympics. They want a 55-day Olympic truce in Sudan from now until the end of the Games. The group says the pause in bombing will permit humanitarian aid to enter the villages. Former Olympic gold medalist Joey Cheek will lead the effort on behalf of the athletes.

That's a look at the headlines right now, John.

ROBERTS: Carol, thanks. We will see you again soon.

In the "Strategy Session" today, Barack Obama started this week talking about patriotism.


OBAMA: It's worth considering the meaning of patriotism, because the question of who is or is not a patriot all too often poisons our political debates in ways that divide us, rather than bring us together.


ROBERTS: But among independent voters, is there a patriotism gap between Obama and McCain?

And the John McCain campaign runs into a hurdle in its Internet advertising. Our Abbi Tatton will explain how.


ROBERTS: In today's "Strategy Session": A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll asks if Barack Obama and John McCain are patriotic. And the results might surprise you.

Joining me now, our CNN political contributor Donna Brazile. She's a Democratic strategist. And Republican strategist John Feehery is here.

Let's take a look at what our poll found here.

Among Republicans, 55 percent say that they believe that Barack Obama is patriotic. But take a look at this, though. Eighty-four percent of Democrats think that John McCain is patriotic. And when you really look at the critical voting bloc of independents here, it tells an interesting story. Sixty-eight percent of them think that Barack Obama is patriotic, while 93 percent of independents believe John McCain is.

John Feehery, has the McCain campaign got an opening to exploit here on this issue of patriotism?

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think they have to be careful on it.

Voting is an exercise in patriotism. When you vote, you're doing a patriotic act. Barack Obama, his argument is, to be an agent of change is patriotic. For John McCain, his argument is, self-sacrifice and sacrifice for the good of the country is patriotic.

The good thing for John McCain is, he's winning that argument -- 29 percent of independents believe that Barack Obama is not patriotic. And he's got to be very, very concerned about that.

I think the McCain campaign is doing the right thing. They're talking about his fierce patriotism. And I think that works for McCain. And Obama's obviously trying to get back on that bandwagon. And he's a little bit behind.

ROBERTS: Donna Brazile, does Barack Obama have a little bit of a problem there when it comes to patriotism? Even he has admitted that some mistakes that he has made have kind of fed into this rumor mill out there.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think Senator Obama believes that patriotism is about sacrificing for one's country, and about giving back to one's country.

And voters are still getting to know Barack Obama. They're getting to know who he is. And, so, I think this is going to be a very interesting debate. But the debate is not about who's more patriotic. The debate will clearly about who can do -- who will do the best job on providing things that the American people truly want in this election.

ROBERTS: You know, we saw Barack Obama take a shot at He didn't mention them by name.

Certainly, it was a veiled shot, but a shot nonetheless. Let's listen to what he had to say on that point yesterday


OBAMA: All too often, our politics still seem trapped in these old threadbare arguments, a fact most evident during our recent debates about the war on Iraq, when those who opposed administration policy were tagged by some as unpatriotic, and a general providing his best counsel on how to move forward in Iraq was accused of betrayal.


ROBERTS: That was a reference there to that full-page ad that took in "The New York Times" last September, before General Petraeus' testimony before Congress where they called him General "Betray Us."

Is he running to the center, Donna?

BRAZILE: Oh, there's no question that Senator Obama is trying to pivot at this point to the center. And some people in the progressive movement are very disappointed in Senator Obama's decision to pivot.

But that's where many of the votes are in this country. And I think that it's important to understand that, as he begins the general election campaign, he will take policy stands that some on the left will not agree with.

Look, we don't have to agree with every position that Obama takes. We just have to agree with him the majority of the time in order to vote for him this fall.

ROBERTS: John Feehery, is John McCain running for the center as well? I think back to that meeting that he had with Hispanic voters not too long ago in which he again reaffirmed his intent to forge, if president, a comprehensive immigration reform policy.

FEEHERY: I think John McCain's been in the center for quite a while.

I think actually Barack Obama is faking right and going left. He's the old basketball player. He's hits that left-hand layup. I think he is going to stay to the left, Barack Obama, because of the tax issue and the bigger-government issue.

John McCain has been in the middle of the country for a long time. This is why a lot of Republicans had some concerns about him. So, I think that that's why you see John McCain doing very well amongst independent voters. And I think he's going to continue to do well in the upcoming election.

BRAZILE: Well, it depends on the day of the week in terms of Senator McCain's position. Some days, he's a leading conservative. The other days, he's a maverick. So, it depends on the day of the week.

ROBERTS: We are just learning, folks this afternoon that Senator Obama had a meeting with General Colin Powell a week or two ago. It was a private meeting. The two of them talked.

There's no question that General Powell is sort of looking around. And I had a dinner with him and Bill Gates a couple of months ago, in which General Powell said that he hopes that the next president of the United States can resist the notion of getting drawn into the crisis of the day, take a step back and look at America's position in the world.

And I'm wondering what the two of you think about that. Is that a priority for the next president, to not focus so much on Iraq, not focus so much on Afghanistan or what the foreign policy crisis du jour might be, but reaffirm America's position in the world?

FEEHERY: Absolutely.

I think that's one of the most important thing that can happen.

There's a lot of competitors out there. There's the Chinese. There's the Russians. We have got some economic issues with the Indians. It's a big world out there, and it goes beyond the Muslim world.

We have to engage with the whole world. And I think that both of these candidates are going to do that. And I think that is vitally important we maintain our leadership in the world.

BRAZILE: I think it's a very smart move for Senator Obama to meet with Colin Powell and many others, who can give him at least some of their advice and wise counsel on some of the hot spots around the globe.

ROBERTS: John, do you think that General Powell's vote really is up for grabs?

FEEHERY: I hope not. I think General -- I respect him a lot. I hope that he will work with Senator McCain. I'm assuming he will.

But, you know, you never know. I think that Powell is probably trying to keep his powder dry until the last possible moment.


We should mention that it's "The National Journal" that's reporting this meeting, just so that we give proper attribution.

Donna Brazile, do you think that Barack Obama could convince General Powell to cross party lines and vote for him?

BRAZILE: I think there are many Republicans who are open to Senator Obama, and he will continue to reach out to them as these campaigns unfold.

ROBERTS: All right.

Donna Brazile and John Feehery, it's good to talk with you. Thanks for being with us in our "Strategy Session," folks.

BRAZILE: Thank you.

FEEHERY: Thank you. ROBERTS: All right. We will see you again soon.

Nearly eight years after the USS Cole was attacked, her former commander is breaking his silence, exclusively here on CNN.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I do. Seventeen of my sailors were killed that morning -- 37 were wounded. Absolutely, I take it personally.


MCINTYRE: Will the bombers ever face justice? Our Jamie McIntyre brings you the story.

Plus, Rudy Giuliani responds. You heard Wesley Clark explain his controversial remarks about McCain's military record. We will hear from New York's former mayor. Rudy Giuliani will be here live.

And dead and neglected -- a patient drops dead, and no one seems to notice, or care. We have got the full story behind this disturbing video. You're going to want to see it.


ROBERTS: (AUDIO GAP) red glow of a sandstorm in Baquba.

In South Korea, firefighters try to put out a police bus that was set on fire during a rally against the government's policy toward beef imports.

In Spain, police detain a man suspected of fund-raising for terrorist activities.

And, in Jakarta, Indonesia, a construction worker balances on a beam as he adjusts a fitting the 50th floor of a new building.

That's this hour's "Hot Shots," pictures worth 1,000 words.

On our Political Ticker today: a closer look at our new poll and the top concerns of voters. Nearly six in 10 now say the economy is issue number one in this presidential election, the economy pushing farther ahead of Iraq as a big influence of presidential votes. Those issues were nearly tied back in January.

And look at gas prices -- 48 percent of voters say fuel costs are extremely important to their presidential pick. That's up from 36 percent back in January.

Barack Obama reportedly is taking a stand against a California ballot measure to ban same-sex marriage. "The Sacramento Bee" reports Obama sent a letter to a Democratic gay rights group saying he supports extending full equal rights and benefits to same-sex couples under state and federal law.

Obama previously said gay marriage should be left up to the states. This issue is taking on a new sense of urgency in California after the state Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage to be legal.

John McCain says something will be missing when he spends the Fourth of July holiday with his family at their Arizona ranch: fireworks. He told reporters that pyrotechnics are not allowed anymore because of the extreme drought in his home state. Cindy McCain says the family is going to try to generate sparks in another way. They plan to hold a Wiffle ball tournament.

And, remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out the Ticker at That's also where you can download our new political screen-saver.

The John McCain has pulled official online ads from several pro- Hillary Clinton Web sites that are smearing Barack Obama.

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is following the story.

Abbi, what's on the Web sites?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: John, this is one of them right here. It's been attacking Barack Obama throughout the Democratic primary.

A recent post here, posted last month, a video, a YouTube video, comparing supporters of Barack Obama to followers of Adolf Hitler. And, then, until yesterday, if you scroll down just a little bit further on this Web site, you would come to a campaign ad from Senator John McCain.

Now, a spokesman for McCain says the campaign was not aware the ads were running here and has now blocked this and several other sites from their online advertising network. The candidates have all been using these online banner ads to try and reel in Web users to their own Web sites.

An analysis by Nielsen Online shows that John McCain's Web ads appear frequently on news sites and on sites like But the campaign says they have no control over where their ads show up exactly, because they use a third party to place them across many political Web sites using keywords.

Spokesman Brian Rogers says, "When we find stuff like this, we take care of it." And they said that they have blocked thousands of other sites already this season -- John.

ROBERTS: Yes, so much of this is showing up, Abbi. I mean, how is it -- how is it that this sort of thing makes it to the Internet in the first place?

TATTON: Well, these ads are placed across a wide section of political Web sites, doing keyword searches trying to find the right thing to put the Web sites on. But, as the campaign told us, until people point them out in some cases that they're in the wrong place, and then they take them down, they may not know about it.

ROBERTS: All right, Abbi Tatton for us -- Abbi, thanks very much.


And happening now: It's not just tainted tomatoes. Federal authorities now say the things you eat with tomatoes may have something to do with the outbreak that has sickened hundreds of Americans.

A CNN exclusive: Nearly eight years after the attack on the USS Cole, the ship's former commander breaks his silence on the killing of his sailors and the case against al Qaeda's alleged mastermind.

And hard times for cars and coffee, as American auto sales hit new long-term lows. There's a big announcement from one of America's biggest brands to tell you about.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John Roberts in New York. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.