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The Situation Room

Britney, Paris & Obama: All Featured in New McCain Attack Ad; Clinton's V.P. Chances; Interview With Senator John Thune

Aired July 30, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happen now, John McCain compares Barack Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. The McCain campaign getting more aggressive in a new head-turning ad. We'll show it to you.
Plus, Hillary Clinton's vice presidential chances, why talk of a so-called dream team seems to be fading.

And MTV takes a new shot at Rocking the Vote, and both parties want a piece of the action.

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

It's a bold new tactic by John McCain's campaign, an attack ad that tries to use Barack Obama's star power against him. The spot puts Obama in the same league with two celebrities known for style and controversy rather than a whole lot of substance.

Dana Bash is working this story for us.

There's a gamble here for Senator McCain.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is a bit of a risky strategy. Even some of McCain's fellow Republicans admit that.

And as you said, what they're trying to do, they're actually using campaign cash, Wolf, to highlight and even embrace Barack Obama's broad appeal while trying to turn it into a negative trade.

In fact, one of McCain's advisers, Steve Schmidt, put it this way: "Do the American people want to elect the world's biggest celebrity, or do they want to elect an American hero?"


BASH (voice over): On the stump, rapid-fire attacks on Barack Obama's policies.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He doesn't seem to understand the policies he offers would make our problems worse and not better.

BASH: Yet on the air...

NARRATOR: He's the biggest celebrity in the world.

BASH: ... John McCain is now comparing his rival to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, mocking him as a vapid celebrity.

NARRATOR: But is he ready to lead?

BASH: With this new ad, McCain strategists are trying to channel their frustration with the attention Obama gets into a hit on his readiness and seriousness.

RICK DAVIS, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN MANGER: It's much more something you would expect from someone releasing a new movie than running for President.

BASH: McCain advisers say they are convinced Obama comes across as arrogant and/or trying to capitalize on that.

STEVE SCHMIDT, SR. MCCAIN ADVISER: This is a close election. We've seen much presumption from the Obama campaign.

BASH: But a new CNN/Opinion Research poll shows McCain advisers may be wrong on that. Only 37 percent say they view Obama as arrogant, pretty close to what they say about John McCain.

BRITNEY SPEARS, SINGER (singing): Oops! I did it again...

BASH: The Obama campaign responded to McCain's new ad by accusing him of "... a steady stream of false negative attacks... Some might say, 'Oops! He did it again.'"

This is the latest in a series of McCain attack ads against Obama...

NARRATOR: And now he made time to go to the gym, but canceled a visit with wounded troops.

BASH: ... and much sharper rhetoric.

MCCAIN: The bottom line is that Senator Obama's words, for all their eloquence and passion, don't mean all that much.

BASH: Even some of McCain's allies worry he's going too far.

CRAIG FULLER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think people have sort of sat back and maybe got back on their heels a little bit and said, gee, that's not exactly what we want to see, even those of us who are in the Republican Party.


BASH: But McCain campaign sources say they are pursuing this current strategy with a very specific target in mind: blue collar and small town voters whom they think are turned off by, Wolf, what one senior adviser called Obama's narcissism.

BLITZER: We have a brand new poll that we're going to be releasing this hour, a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, with new numbers. We're going to bring that to our viewers later.

Dana, thanks very much.

Also this hour, Senator Obama is holding a town hall meeting in Missouri. Among the issues on the agenda, economic security.

We're standing by for his remarks. We'll go there live once he starts talking.

Also, in the battleground state of Missouri, Obama's accusing Republicans of having reckless economic policies. And the Democrat once again suggesting John McCain's main campaign strategy is simply to go on the attack.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So nobody really thinks that Bush or McCain have a real answer for the challenges we face. So what they are going to try to do is make you scared of me.

You know, "Oh, he's not patriotic enough. He's got a funny name." You know, "He doesn't look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills, you know."

"He's risky." That's the argument. That's the argument that they're -- that's essentially the argument they're making.

It's like, the argument is, I know you don't really like what we're doing, but he's risky.


Right? I mean, that's basically the argument. It's like, well, we don't have much to offer, but he's risky.


BLITZER: Senator Obama, by the way, is campaigning in Missouri with Senator Claire McCaskill. She's been mentioned as a possible, possible vice presidential prospect.

Remember, we're going to go there live once he starts talking. Senator Obama about to have a town hall meeting in Missouri.

Many of Hillary Clinton's supporters still think she should be the leading contender to be Obama's running mate. But over a month after Obama and Clinton both put on their big show of unity, the prospect of a joint ticket seems iffy, perhaps at best maybe even dead, for all practical purposes.

Let's get the latest from our Suzanne Malveaux. She's watching this story for us.

What do we know? What is the latest about that so-called dream team?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, sources close to Clinton tell me that Senator Clinton has been asked by the Obama campaign to hit the trail for Obama, and she's going to do so in the next couple of weeks. She's going to focus on Nevada, Ohio and Florida. And she's also been told to expect to travel a lot of this fall, and those close to her say that she's completely comfortable with that.

They also say that she is not angry with Obama, despite the fact that it looks like she has very little chance of becoming his running mate.


MALVEAUX (voice over): So what happened to Hillary?

BLITZER: They see potentially a dream ticket, a dream ticket...

MALVEAUX: In Barack Obama's search for a running mate, talk of the Obama-Clinton dream team has all but faded.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: From what we can gather, she's not really on the short list.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: A lot of people are asking, "What does Hillary want? What does she want?"

MALVEAUX: Clinton's 18 million voters were once painted as the 18 millions reasons Obama would want to pick for Clinton for the number two spot. Clinton made it clear it was a job she'd take if asked. Her closest friends did her bidding.

BOB JOHNSON, BUSINESSMAN, CLINTON FRIEND: She would certainly, as she said to some of the New York delegation, entertain the idea if it's offered.

MALVEAUX: Mindful not to disrespect Clinton, or alienate her supporters, Obama insists she hasn't been ruled out.

OBAMA: Hillary Clinton would be on anybody's short list.

MALVEAUX: But as the short list gets shorter, the political calculations seem a little more clear.

BORGER: Hillary Clinton would be in the ticket if Barack Obama's campaign felt that they were in some trouble with the voters that she brings: the older women, those voters in rural America, battleground states. They don't think they're in trouble there, so they probably don't think they need her.

MALVEAUX: Perhaps not as a running mate, but certainly as an advocate in the battleground states, like Pennsylvania and Ohio, where Clinton triumphed.

She is now fully engaged in talks with the Obama team to hit the trail in the next several weeks. At the same time, the buzz is intensifying over who could be a running mate capable of bringing in Clinton voters. BORGER: Evan Bayh of Indiana can go to Indiana, which is turning into a battleground state, and help Obama there.


MALVEAUX: Senator Bayh was also originally a big Clinton supporter and was by her side during much of the primary season -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of speculation out there. We'll continue to watch with you, Suzanne. Thank you.

Let's take a look back right now at some of the timing of other vice presidential picks. This is fascinating.

Back in 1988, George Herbert Walker Bush tapped Dan Quayle in mid-August, only one day after the GOP convention had begun. That's the latest announcement of a running mate over the past 20 years.

The earliest VP announcement in recent campaign history came in 2004. John Kerry named John Edwards in early July, exactly 20 days before the Democratic convention.

Most VP recent choices have been revealed within a week or so before the convention. George W. Bush took that route back in 2000, tapping Dick Cheney in late July, only six days before the Republican convention. And Al Gore named Joe Lieberman in early August, also six days before their party's convention.

Let's check in today with Jack Cafferty, once again, as we always do, for "The Cafferty File."

Interesting, the timing of when these guys think they have to pick their running mates.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, I suppose. I don't know if I'd use the word "interesting."

BLITZER: Fascinating?

CAFFERTY: Probably not that one either.

BLITZER: Intriguing?

CAFFERTY: No, keep going.

BLITZER: All right. Go ahead.

CAFFERTY: How about "yawn"?


CAFFERTY: How would you like to attend the Olympics starting next week in Beijing. Before you answer, consider this: four known hotels are being forced by the communist Chinese government to install software that can spy on hotel guests. Republican Senator Sam Brownback got hold of a government document calling on all hotels to use this spyware. If they don't agree to monitor their guests' Web history, searches, et cetera, the hotels could face severe retaliation, including financial penalties, losing Internet access, or losing their license to operate a hotel in China. There are reports as well that 22 Chinese gold medallists have been purged from that country's Olympic team, some of them allegedly for political reasons.

Ten days ahead of the start of the games, Amnesty International's out with a report that says the human rights situation in China has gotten progressively worse. They claim China is using the Olympics as an excuse to crack down on dissent. Amnesty says the government has locked up activists, kicked people out of their homes, required some demonstrators to report to the police every week, and detained journalists and bloggers. There's a report out today the Chinese government will block access to certain sites on the Internet, as well.

Amnesty also says the use of so-called re-education through labor camps and beatings in prison have increased. China says the Amnesty report is unfair and biased.

Still thinking about going in? No banners or whistles will be allowed. No flags of nonparticipating countries can be displayed. No gambling, no sit-ins, no demonstrations.

No soft drink containers, no musical instruments, no cameras, no radios, no drunkenness, no streaking . And dog meat has been ordered removed from all official Olympic restaurants. Now, you can still get that Fido burger, but you have to go to one of those quaint, little out-of-the-way places.

And don't forget your gas mask. The air can get pretty foul.

Here's the question: If you had the chance, would you want to go to the Olympics in Beijing?

Go to and give us your thoughts -- Mr. Blitzer.

BLITZER: I'm ready for those thoughts, Jack. Thank you.

New doubts are being raised about John McCain's vow not to raise your taxes. I'll speak about that and more with Republican Senator John Thune. He's standing by live. I'll ask him if there's wiggle room in McCain's no tax hike pledge.

Plus, Barack Obama's overseas tour, it drew crowds. Now we have a new gauge of whether the trip scored him votes here at home. We have a brand new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll that we're about to release.

And Senator Ted Stevens, he's now under indictment, but he's still on the job. His legal problems may drag him down though and leave his party even more vulnerable. Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Senator Barack Obama's in Missouri right now. He's getting ready for a town hall meeting, but he's raising lots of red flags about John McCain's economic policies.

Let's discuss that and more with a key McCain ally, Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. JOHN THUNE (R-SD): Good afternoon, Wolf.

BLITZER: Earlier today in Missouri, Senator Obama said this about McCain -- I'll play a little clip for you.



OBAMA: My opponent, John McCain, thinks that we're basically on the right track. He does. You know, he said that our economy has made great progress in the last eight years. He has embraced the Bush economic policies and promises to continue them.


BLITZER: All right. He did embrace the tax hikes of 2001 -- tax cuts, excuse me, of 2001 and 2003. He opposed them then, but now he want to make them permanent.

What is your reaction to the charge from Senator Obama that if you vote for John McCain, you're going to get more Bush economic policies?

THUNE: The contrast between Senator McCain and Obama on the economy...

BLITZER: No, no, no. We're talking about the contrast between Senator McCain and President Bush.

THUNE: OK. Well, I think the contrast is there as well. One of the things that Senator McCain...

BLITZER: What is -- tell us the contrast.

THUNE: Well, one of the things that Senator McCain has been known for is his entire career, in 24 years in the Congress, Wolf, is he has never requested nor received a federal earmark. And I think when you talk about somebody who's really committed to fiscal responsibility, it means a couple of things.

It means putting policies in place that will grow the economy. In other word keeping taxes low, which he's committed to. And secondly, to get federal spending under control.

John McCain is probably one of the biggest fiscal hawks that there is in the Congress. And if you look at Senator Obama, he's talking about raising taxes, he's talking...

BLITZER: So what we're talking -- we're talking about -- just want to be precise.

THUNE: OK. Well, I thought it was...

BLITZER: The major difference between President Bush and Senator McCain is he will cut spending, unlike President Bush. Is that what you're saying?

THUNE: Well, I think he's opposed to federal earmarks. Spending has gone up a lot under Republican control. And we have to acknowledge that. I think that's one of the reasons that Republicans paid a price in the 2006 elections.

BLITZER: Because he's going to be facing, if he's election, a half-a-trillion-dollar budget deficit. He says he can balance the budget within the first four years, but he hasn't been specific other than saying he's going to eliminate pork barrel spending and earmarks, which is a relative tiny percentage of the federal budget.

How is he going to -- how is he going to eliminate or cut down that federal deficit?

THUNE: Well, I think there are three answers to that, really. One, is you've got to grow the economy, which means you've got to create jobs, you've got to create economic growth. And when people -- when you lower taxes on people, they take realizations, they pay taxes and they reinvest, and you get more economic growth and you get more tax revenue.

Secondly, you have got to control spending. You have got to take on these mandatory spending programs in the federal budget, the entitlement programs that nobody's had the courage to take on. John McCain has proven over the course of his career in public life that he has the courage and the willingness to take on tough issues.

And finally, you have got to get your arms around this energy issue. I mean, the energy issue, the gas price issue is choking our economy. There's very clear contrast between Senator McCain and Senator Obama on the economy when it comes to taxes, when it comes to spending, and when it comes to energy.


THUNE: So I think it's going to be a great campaign going into the fall on the issues.

BLITZER: There's a lot of major differences, as we all know, between Senator McCain and Senator Obama.

Over the weekend, Senator McCain suggested to George Stephanopoulos over on ABC that he would want to meet with the Democratic leadership on Social Security, the future of Social Security, along the lines of earlier presidents and leaders in Congress, and he said everything was on the table. And Stephanopoulos pressed him and said, "Including raising taxes?" And he said everything was on the table.

He's now saying no new taxes. But what is it? Is everything on the table, including tax increases to save Social Security, or are tax increase not on the table?

THUNE: I think that Senator McCain was saying, I'm willing to sit down, this is a tough problem, we have to be willing as a country to face this hard problem and figure out how to solve it. But I also think that you have to look at his record, Wolf.

He's had a 24-year record in Congress. He hasn't voted for any tax increases. I mean, I think you're talking about two very different records here.

Senator Obama, in the short three years that he's been in the Senate, has supported higher taxes 94 times. These are two different individuals with two very different visions and two very different records. And I think you can look at their records and you get a pretty good idea and glimpse of how they're going to govern if elected.

So, what Senator McCain I think is saying is, we need to sit down, Democrats and Republicans, focus on this issue of Social Security and how to solve it. But I think if you look at his record over time, it's been consistent when it comes to being opposed to higher taxes.

BLITZER: But he did oppose the tax cuts back in 2001 and 2003. He was one of two Republicans. He and Lincoln Chafee, who opposed the tax cuts of President Bush.

THUNE: Because they weren't accompanied by cuts in spending. But I think what he has said consistently in the campaign is that those tax cuts that took effect in 2001 and 2003, we need to retain those if we're going to continue to create the conditions for economic growth. And he's even gone so far as to say we need to look at some additional tax relief both for individuals and working families, and for small businesses.

I think there's -- you know, again, Senator Obama, he has proposed a trillion dollars in new spending, and would finance that with higher taxes. Senator McCain says we can solve these problems by reducing federal spending, by growing the economy through good tax policy, and by getting our arms around energy policy, which includes additional production which Senator Obama has said he's opposed to.

BLITZER: Senator Thune, thanks very much for coming in.

THUNE: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: If Iran's nuclear menace continues, some are wondering if Israel might strike. Israel's defense minister, the former prime minister, Ehud Barak, has been here in Washington. I'll be speaking with him shortly, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And MTV hopes to Rock the Vote again as it pushes to get more young people to vote. More young people than ever may be fired up to vote because of what's happening in Iraq.

We'll tell you what's going on, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.



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

Happening now, about 1,000 mixed up bags causing 1,000 headaches for the bags' owners. There's luggage seemingly as far as the eye can see at one terminal over at New York's JFK Airport.

You're going to find out what's happening there, how officials are sorting it out by hand. Stand by for that.

He's the former Army chief whose advice many people think was ignored when the administration planned the Iraq War. Now Retired Army General Eric Shinseki is making a surprising admission.

We have details. Jamie McIntyre working the story.

And after a powerful quake rocks Los Angeles, we're going to show you how -- the harrowing video of what happened as the quake hit. You're going to want to see this.

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

It was certainly carefully planned, carefully orchestrated, and captured the world's attention. But now that Senator Barack Obama's whirlwind foreign tour is complete, we're looking into if it actually changed your thoughts about him and about this presidential race.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is going through the numbers. We have a brand-new poll. Here's the question. Did the trip do him much good?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Did it do much good? Did it do much harm? The answer is, not so much.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): It's called lowering expectations.

OBAMA: Probably, a week of me focussing on international issues doesn't necessarily translate into higher poll numbers here in the United States.

SCHNEIDER: He's right. A month ago, Barack Obama led John McCain by five points, now by seven, not a significant change. The trip certainly looked like a presidential tour.

OBAMA: People of the world, this is our moment. This is our time.

SCHNEIDER: Do Americans think Obama was presumptuous? Not really. By nearly 2-1, the public says what Obama did overseas was appropriate for a presidential candidate.


MCCAIN: I'm starting to feel a little left out. Maybe you are, too.


SCHNEIDER: Does the public think the press coverage was too positive? Not really. Thirty-nine percent said it was too positive, but 60 percent said it was about right or too negative.

The trip was intended to enhance Obama's credibility on foreign policy, particularly Iraq. But McCain still leads Obama on Iraq by about the same margin as before the trip. But it's not because voters prefer McCain's Iraq policy. It's because McCain leads on every foreign policy issue.

But get this. Obama leads McCain on gas prices. But it's not because voters prefer Obama's energy policy. More than two-thirds want more offshore oil drilling, which McCain supports and Obama doesn't. It's because Obama leads McCain on every domestic issue, including gas prices. McCain has been very aggressive in criticizing his opponent.


NARRATOR: He's the biggest celebrity in the world.

CROWD: Barack Obama!

NARRATOR: But is he ready to lead?


SCHNEIDER: Do voters think McCain is attacking Obama unfairly? Forty percent do. Nearly 60 percent do not. Only 22 percent think Obama has been attacking McCain unfairly.


SCHNEIDER: What about the charge that Obama doesn't care about veterans and U.S. troops? Only 27 percent believe it. What about the charge that Obama is arrogant? Thirty-seven percent say he is, but 34 percent say McCain is, too. So, it's doesn't look like either Obama's trip or McCain's attacks have had a lot of impact. Hey, Wolf, it's summer.

BLITZER: So, the suggestion is, people are not necessarily paying all that much attention. But they will pretty soon. We have got conventions coming up and then a sprint to November 4.

All right, thanks very much, Bill Schneider, for that.

There's another major story we're following here in Washington. The indicted Republican Senator Ted Stevens will make his first court appearance tomorrow in a federal court right here in the nation's capital. That's according to court records.

Today, it appeared to be business as usual for Stevens in the Senate. He's accused of lying about accepting gifts from a contractor in his home state of Alaska. But now some are wondering about the overall political impact of this scandal.

Brian Todd is looking into this for us.

Brian, this could potentially hurt the Republican Party.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. They were already up against it, Wolf.

Now, in this election cycle alone, the GOP has to defend 23 seats. The Republicans -- excuse me -- the Democrats only have to defend 12. This is a stretch, but, in this election, the Democrats could get up to that magic number in the Senate, 60 seats, which would allow them to break any Republican filibusters.

Boiled down, this all means that Ted Stevens' problems couldn't come at a worse time for his party.


TODD (voice-over): Aboard the Senate subway, Ted Stevens gets a warm welcome from fellow Republican Elizabeth Dole. They may not be seeing each other in these old familiar places this time next year. Even before his indictment on corruption charges, Stevens faced a tough reelection battle. And even the GOP leader in the House can't put a spin on his party's fortunes.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: It's a tough environment for Republicans. There's no question about it.

TODD: Analysts say Republicans in Congress haven't been this vulnerable in decades.

STUART ROTHENBERG, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": Two years ago was a horrible election for the Republicans in a terrible environment. The environment is now worse for the Republicans than two years ago. And that means the election results could be as bad, or, in some cases, even worse.

TODD: Stuart Rothenberg projects, in the Senate, the Republicans will have a tough time holding on to seats in eight states, possibly more, the Democrats just one. Analysts say that's partly because five Republican senators are retiring after this session, but they also say the Republican brand is tarnished. Stevens' legal problems follow sex scandals involving Republican Senators Larry Craig and David Vitter and the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal that landed GOP staffers and one congressman in jail.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Right now, there is frustration among Republicans that they need to clean house, that they need to rebuild their party, they need to rebuild their image. And you know what? There's something to be said that they could have hit rock bottom now.


TODD: But one GOP strategist we spoke to says the party is already being re-branded by John McCain. She believes the Republicans can play up his image as a reformer and successful portray these scandals as relics of the past, Wolf. That's a tough task.

BLITZER: Very tough task for the Republicans. They're facing a major uphill struggle on the Hill right now.

All right, Brian Todd working the story.

Republicans in the House also are feeling very vulnerable right now. Check this out. There are 19 House seats now held by Republicans that are considered to be tossup by "The Cook Political Report." That provides a nonpartisan analyst of congressional races. That compares to eight Democratic-held House seats that are listed as tossups.

There's a new generation of war veterans, and they're part of the MTV generation, young people who are now preparing to cast their first presidential vote. Can the network that pioneered music videos rock politics in 2008?

And John McCain may have missed the memo. Coming up in our "Strategy Session," some Republicans, lots of conservatives, say they're worried about the mixed messages McCain is sending about the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He's actually praising her.

And if you plan to go to the Beijing Olympics, you may want to leave your laptop behind. There's a troubling allegation about potential spying by China. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Senator Obama's in a town hall meeting in Missouri right now. He's speaking about issue number one, the economy. Let's listen in.


OBAMA: How many people are making $2.1 million a year? Come on, tell the truth.

(LAUGHTER) OBAMA: This young man right here.


OBAMA: He -- how old are you? Eighteen? Yes? Man, I'm impressed you're making that much money at 18.


OBAMA: You know, you can contribute to the Obama campaign.


OBAMA: So -- so, here's the deal. The independent groups have shown that my tax cut provides three times the amount of relief to middle-class families than John McCain's.

So, when you start seeing these ads -- and you're going to see these ad, because the Republicans run the same ad every four years -- they just replace the name.


OBAMA: Right? They say, he's soft on crime. He's going to tax you.

So, when you see these ads, just remember this. If you are making $250,000 a year or less, you will not see any tax increase. Your payroll taxes won't go up. Your income taxes will not go up. You won't see your taxes on dividends or whatever else you have got. It will not go up, period.

If you're making less than $150,000, you will get a tax cut. So, don't let them fool you.


OBAMA: If you want some relief right now, you should be voting for Barack Obama for president of the United States.


OBAMA: And, by the way, unlike John McCain, I actually pay for these things by closing corporate tax loopholes and tax savings and eliminating wasteful spending, because we should have a government that is efficient and smart, so that our taxpayers aren't being -- tax dollars aren't being wasted.

Now, that's short-term relief, but we have got to do more than short-term relief, if we want our economy up to speed for the 21st century. I refuse to accept that we cannot meet the challenges of this new economy. I believe we can choose our own economic destiny. But we do have a choice in November. We can choose to continue the reckless fiscal policies of George W. Bush that we have had for the last eight years. We have gone from $5 trillion of debt to $9 trillion -- over $9 trillion of debt just since George Bush took office, creating a mountain of debt for the next generation, taking out a credit card in the name of our children and grandchildren. That's one choice we have.

Or we can get serious about fiscal responsibility by starting to wind down this war in Iraq, where we're spending $10 billion to $12 billion every month, by rolling back the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans.


BLITZER: All right, so, there it is, Senator Barack Obama speaking about economy, making it clear he has very different strategies as far as taxes compared to Senator McCain.

He says, if you're making more than $250,000 a year, yes, you will be paying some higher taxes, but if you're making $150,000 a year or less, he says you will be paying less taxes if you vote for Senator Obama.

Hadn't heard him mention that $150,000 figure before. We're going to check into that and see precisely what he means, but a very interesting little nugget from Senator Obama right there.

We're going to continue to monitor his town hall meeting in Missouri. He's going to be taking questions from people out there as well. We might go back there, depending on what happens.

But let's move on to MTV and its new attempt to rock the vote. In this presidential election, the network is trying to broaden its appeal to a new demographic, young voters who are also war veterans.

Carol is back here. She's looking into this story for us.

It's a fascinating new development.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is a fascinating new -- you know, MTV has stepped away from political programming of late, and it's sort of become reality TV central. But it's jumped back in the game. And why not? This could be the year of the youth vote.


COSTELLO (voice-over): War coverage, MTV-style.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On this day, Kanye West and MTV set out to help make right things that were impossibly wrong.


COSTELLO: That's rapper Kanye West visiting young war veterans with post-war problems.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tiran (ph) sells his blood every week, so he can drive his car and support his family.

COSTELLO: The documentary marks the start of MTV's "Choose or Lose" campaign, the network's effort to inspire young people to vote. It comes at a time MTV has cut back on it news content, but at a time when even many of MTV's youngest viewers are eager to vote.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you going to vote for president in November?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm trying to get my fake I.D. I'm only 16.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If I could, I would vote for McCain.


COSTELLO: Still, MTV plans to produce more political programming. And for the first time in its 27 years, the network is accepting paid political ads, like one for John McCain.


NARRATOR: Senator Obama is different. He holds two positions at the same time.


COSTELLO: Some analysts it's a smart move on MTV's part. It's capitalizing on tradition, it's making money, and it's reintroducing itself to college kids, who are ready to watch anything remotely connected to Barack Obama.

HEATHER SMITH, ROCK THE VOTE: When the candidates pay attention to young people, politics becomes relevant. They become more engaged. When they more engaged, we are able to go out and register more young people, talk about the issues, have a larger audience.

COSTELLO: Interest in Obama remains intense. If you compare Obama's favorable rating to that of another MTV star politician...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The world is dying to know, is it boxers or briefs?




COSTELLO: Back then, Bill Clinton's favorable rating among young people before the '92 convention was 38 percent. Obama's is 61 percent.


COSTELLO: And you know what? John McCain's favorability rating among young people is at 47 percent. Young people are engaged this year, so expect to see the candidates on MTV in the weeks to come.

BLITZER: They may be engaged. We will see if they actually go out and vote. Older people vote in big numbers, younger people not so much.

COSTELLO: Well, they did in the primary, but we will see what happens in the general election.

BLITZER: Good point. Carol, thank you.

In our "Strategy Session": While some Republicans are linking Senator Obama to the Democratic congressional leaders, listen to this.


REP. ADAM PUTNAM (R), FLORIDA: An Obama-Pelosi read trifecta that is the leader -- the leadership of the Democratic Party.


BLITZER: John McCain is actually heaping some words of praise on the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi. Here's the question. Is Senator McCain on the hunt for Democratic votes?

Plus, McCain's new ad, will his attempt to turn Senator Obama's celebrity status into a negative work?

And there's news coming out, major news, on the salmonella scare. There's another vegetable that's been added to the warning list. And, this time, scientists insist they are sure.

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


BLITZER: You might have never thought you would see Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, and Barack Obama all together in a political ad. But this is a tough presidential race, and it's about to get even tougher.

John McCain's campaign is hitting Senator Obama very hard.

Let's talk about that and more in our "Strategy Session." Joining us, the Democratic strategist Jennifer Palmieri -- she's with the Center For American Progress -- and Republican strategist John Feehery.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

He -- I guess the strategy from Senator McCain's camp is, you try to take a positive and you make it into a negative. And he's suggesting, all this celebrity status, this glowing admiration for him around the world, you know what? It's sort of like Paris Hilton or Britney Spears.

JENNIFER PALMIERI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Right. And I think that they're looking for anything to sort of break the dynamic of the race.

BLITZER: So, how does he fight that? What kind of strategy should Obama do?

PALMIERI: I think that he -- I think that what the campaign has done thus far, which is sort of point out that, in the last three ads that McCain has done, they're on three different messages.

There was one that claimed that -- about Obama and gas prices. And there was that the one that "The Washington Post" said today was based on false premises about his cancel -- about not going to visit troops in Germany. And now you have this one, which is can entirely different message, which is based on the celebrity of Obama.

And I just don't think that -- pick a message and stick with it. Maybe that kind of -- running a negative campaign like that might make, but he's going negative and he's all over the place.


BLITZER: I think we have a little clip of Senator Obama now reacting to that latest ad, making the comparisons with Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. If we have it, let's play it.


OBAMA: You know, I don't pay attention to John McCain's ads, although I do notice that he doesn't seem to have anything very positive to say about himself, does he? He seems to only be talking about me. You need to ask John McCain what he's for, not just what he's against.


BLITZER: All right, there's the strategy. You just heard it right there.

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, everybody is talking about Barack Obama. Barack Obama is in the news. Barack Obama got -- has 200,000 Germans cheering for him. He's a rock star. There's no doubt he's a rock star.

Whether -- he's not -- obviously, he's not Britney Spears, but he -- this is a good hook to get talking about serious issues. And the serious issue in this ad was actually about gas prices or oil prices and his unwillingness to drill. You know, McCain is trying to break through the media clutter. Sometimes, you use humor to do that. He had a funny one where he was making a mockery of the media the other day. Humor sometimes works and mocking sometimes works. BLITZER: Would you consider these, you know, brutal attack ads, or is it just a humorous kind of ad that's sort of relatively mild?

PALMIERI: I think they are relatively mild. And I think that partly they might not be successful because of that. I think that they seemed to be geared almost more towards the media and people who are really paying attention in politics, as opposed to -- I think McCain should probably be more concerned about -- about introducing himself and portraying himself to voters, as opposed to saying what is wrong with Obama. And they don't seem to be prepared to do that.


BLITZER: I want to switch gears for a second, because, yesterday, we saw the Republicans here in Washington, they're trying to paint Obama in the same caricature with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. They have got this whole attack going and some tough words coming from Republicans.

But, today, we wake up and read in of the San Francisco papers, "The San Francisco Chronicle," effusive praise for Nancy Pelosi coming from Senator McCain. "She's an effective leader, an inspiration to millions of Americans. I respect Speaker Pelosi. I think she's one of the great American success stories."

You know, this kind of talk from Senator McCain about Nancy Pelosi makes the base out there -- you're familiar with that.


BLITZER: It makes them a little crazy.

FEEHERY: I think the base is be coming out and voting against Barack Obama. There's no doubt about that.

What John McCain is saying is, listen, he's a grownup. He has to work with a grownup, which is Nancy Pelosi. Nancy Pelosi and John McCain disagree on almost I think just about every issue, but, at the end of the day, you have to be an adult and work and cut deals to make the country run. And this is something that...

BLITZER: Well, and he says that. And I will read it to you. He says: "I promise you" -- in this interview with "The San Francisco Chronicle" -- "I promise you that I respect her. I will sit down with her when I'm president, and will say, let's work together."


BLITZER: Now, that resonates with a lot of independents and even plenty of Democrats.


PALMIERI: I admit -- and I believe that is what John McCain would probably do. And I think part of the dichotomy that is troubling from McCain is that you have what his staff and his new staff, which are a little harder-edged than he normally is, are doing, trying to attack Pelosi, these negative ads against Obama.

And then you have a candidate who is very -- who takes a very different approach, and undermines what the campaign is doing. You know, last week, the campaign was criticizing the Obama campaign for trying to do too much work on a transition ahead of time, saying it was presumptuous. McCain got asked about it. McCain said, well, you know, I think it's probably -- it's the prudent thing to do to prepare for a transition. So, you have this -- his staff undermining what he does.

BLITZER: We will leave it there, guys. Thanks very much.

FEEHERY: Thank you.

BLITZER: Some stories we're working on here in THE SITUATION ROOM: Hundreds of suitcases, maybe 1,000, maybe more, they are stranded at one of the nation's busiest airports. This mess is happening right now. We're going to tell you what is going on. And could it happen at an airport closer to you?

Plus, our Miles O'Brien fast-forwards into the future on a flight of fancy, sort of. You will want to see Miles with the spacesuit -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: On our Political Ticker today: Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico appears to be cozying back up to the Clintons somewhat.

Clinton ally James Carville, as you all remember, famously called the New Mexico Democrat a Judas for backing Barack Obama, instead of Hillary Clinton, in the primaries. Today, Governor Richardson announced he will hold two fund-raising events in New Mexico next month to help Senator Clinton pay off her campaign debt. A Clinton spokeswoman says the senator is grateful for the governor's help.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can always check out That's also where you can download our new political screen saver. You might want to do that.

Let's check back with Jack Cafferty once again for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: I wonder why he would do that.

BLITZER: Because he wants to be in -- he wants to unify the Democratic Party.

CAFFERTY: What happened to his beard?

BLITZER: I don't know if he's still -- I don't know the answer to that.

CAFFERTY: Yes. Well, that footage you just had up, he was hairless on the chin.

The question...

BLITZER: Yes, I don't know.


The question this hour: If you had the chance, would you want to go to the Olympics in Beijing? The list of restrictions is about as long as your arm. We got a lot of e-mail.

George writes: "Not on my best day would I want to go to the country that oppresses its people, like China does, and I would not spend a red cent there to prop up their economy. We think we have it bad in America sometimes, until we get a good eye's view of how the people of that nation are treated. At least we are going to be able to work our way out of our mess, but the Chinese people haven't a prayer. For Bush to attend is a slap in the face of freedom."

Steve writes: "I have personally been to Beijing and several other cities in China. I have also been to the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. While the social and environmental situations in China are reprehensible, the Olympics will always be a special, spectacular event, worth watching, no matter what problems are facing the world. So, yes, I would go to the Beijing Olympics."

Karl in California: "Never. My lungs could probably take it, but my conscience couldn't. Their sadistic dictatorial government should never have been blessed by the IOC with this event in the first place. Any country that can't welcome worldwide tourism without oppressive restrictions isn't worth acknowledging."

Hugh writes from New York: "No dog meat! No streaking! No way!"

Bobby writes: "Yes, definitely. I was in Beijing in March -- before the pollution controls were implemented. I have got to say, the whole pollution issue has been blown way out of proportion. It's really not as bad as what the media makes it out to be. In regards to human rights issues, I simply wouldn't do anything that might make me a target of the Chinese government."

Tracey writes: "The whole thing sounds like a homeowners association to me."

Eileen says: "No. Sounds like it's being run by Dick Cheney and the Republican Party."

And Bob in Toronto says: "I would rather go to Baghdad."

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

There's also -- this particular story is also up on They just posted it. So, you can go right there, and it will click you right into the blog. And then you can stay there until you're old and gray -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of people will. All right, Jack, stand by.

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