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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

The Next President

Aired June 7, 2008 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Hi everyone and thanks for joining us for this special report. I'm John Roberts.
CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN CO-ANCHOR: And I am Campbell Brown.

The race for the White House is now down to just two candidates. From now until Election Day, November 4th, CNN is focusing on what John McCain and Barack Obama will do about the most important issues; our safety, our health, and our pocketbooks.

ROBERTS: It also means focusing on the character of these men; a lot to consider because one of them will be the next president.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

ROBERTS: Two U.S. Senators - two distinct visions.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: The American people will have a clear choice.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Serious differences between the candidates.

ROBERTS: They come from different generations; different races, different backgrounds.

OBAMA: I'm the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas.

MCCAIN: My grandfather was a naval aviator, my father a submariner.

ROBERTS: A common goal unites them.

Tonight, the issues you care about.

MCCAIN: Sky rocketing costs of a barrel of oil.

OBAMA: The cost of everything from health care to college to a gallon of milk go up and up and up.

ROBERTS: And how their differing visions will affect your life.

OBAMA: We are going to end this war in Iraq.

MCCAIN: I will never surrender.

ROBERTS: The issues you need to know about. OBAMA: A health care system that makes sense.

MCCAIN: I am not going to dictate that the government decide what your health care is going to be.

ROBERTS: Unfiltered, without spin.

MCCAIN: I'm ready for the challenge.

OBAMA: There can't be a clearer difference.

ROBERTS: A frame of reference for all that's ahead for the next president.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

ROBERTS: We've seen all year that no matter where you live, issue number one is the economy. Our latest CNN opinion research poll confirms that no other issue comes close.

BROWN: It touches so many parts of our lives; the price of food and fuel and the chances of keeping your job and your home.

Senior business correspondent Ali Velshi is here to look at how the candidates' competing visions will hit you in pocketbook -- Ali.

ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Campbell, John, the issue here is that while the candidates know that the number one issue to Americans is the economy, they have got to come up with solutions that make sense, not just for the short term, but for the longer term.

Americans have taken a bruising from high gas prices, high food inflation, plummeting home values and foreclosure, but come November, at least they'll have some real differences to help them decide who to vote for.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

VELSHI: The world view of these two candidates could not be more different. On the one hand, John McCain is a classic fiscal conservative.

MCCAIN: That is the role of government, one the less is the better, the other is to lower the taxes, the better the economy is going to be.

VELSHI: On the other hand, Barack Obama sounds more like a new deal Democrat who feels government needs to play a bigger role to even out the playing field for America's lower income workers.

OBAMA: The tax code has been written on behalf of the well connected.

VELSHI: And nowhere do these differences play out more clearly than on taxes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: McCain is a born-again supply-sider. He's looking at stimulating the economy by having much lower tax rates across the board to encourage savings and investment.

VELSHI: McCain wants to make the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 permanent. He also wants to repeal the alternative minimum tax originally created to make sure the rich paid personal income tax, but which now causes millions of middle class Americans to pay higher federal taxes than they used to.

Instead, McCain would introduce a two rate income tax code that would be simpler than the current one and let taxpayers choose which code to use. He'll also insist on a three-fifths majority in Congress to raise any new taxes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obama is more concerned about the budget deficit, funding the government, and also freeing up more funds to pay for extremely ambitious programs.

VELSHI: Obama would keep the Bush tax cuts in place for most Americans, but he'd strip it from the high income earners, those who make roughly $250,000 a year or more. And he'd totally eliminate federal income taxes for seniors who earn less than $50,000 a year.

For investors, McCain would keep taxes on dividends and long term capital gains where they are, while Obama has said he would look at raising them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's really fascinating about this election is you've never had a clearer choice. These two candidates are diametrically opposed on tax issues.

VELSHI: And what about jobs? The U.S. has already lost 324,000 jobs this year. Obama wants government to help create jobs. He wants to use public money to create 5 million so-called green collar jobs to develop more environmentally friendly energy resources and 2 million public infrastructure jobs.

McCain thinks the solution is cutting corporate taxes, leaving businesses with more money to expand and hire new workers. And he'd channel unemployment insurance funds into job retraining programs for laid off industrial and manufacturing workers.

On housing and the mortgage crisis, Barack Obama's plan offers an added tax credit for struggling homeowners. He's also calling for the creation of funds for victims of mortgage fraud and for cities and towns to make up for the taxes lost because of foreclosures.

McCain says the government shouldn't reward risky behavior by the banks or by borrowers that may have contributed to this crisis. He thinks that homeowners who do have some equity in their homes should be allowed to swap their adjustable rate loans for a new government backed 30 year fixed mortgage.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BROWN: And Ali Velshi is here with me now along with salon.com editor-in-chief Joan Walsh and CNN political contributor Leslie Sanchez, a Republican strategist and former Bush White House adviser. Leslie, let me start with you. As you know, John McCain voted against the Bush tax cuts and now he's for them. The big question that a lot of people are asking now is how is he going to pay for those tax cuts?

LESLIE SANCHEZ, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, I think one of the big measures that Senator McCain is talking about is cutting federal spending and readjusting this budget.

If you look just at this week that the fact that the Democrats put forward the first trillion-dollar budget, something that Barack Obama voted for and it included tax increases and a lot of wasteful spending, I think that's the first type of scrutiny that Senator McCain is talking about.

And looking at a lot of these earmarks, he wants to get the budget and actually all Republicans need to be focused on getting this out of control government spending under control.

BROWN: Leslie, let me ask you, because the earmarks as you know, they are just a tiny part of federal budgets. I mean the cuts certainly have to come from entitlement programs?

SANCHEZ: You're exactly right, entitlement programs, the third rail, that social security, like you're talking about, of American politics.

The distinction is that John McCain is willing to go there and talk about what needs to be done in terms of increased marketplace competition for these drugs; he wants to fast track some of these generics, re-importation of drugs when you're talking about Medicaid.

I think there's certain type of things that John McCain is willing to discuss and if the question is are the Democrats going to continue to use this as a political football as they have in the past. I mean you yourself -- I'll let -- I'll start with you.

BROWN: Let me just don't respond to that in the political football. Is it enough, Joan?

JOAN WALSH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, SALON.COM: I don't think it's enough. I think this issue really benefits Barack Obama. He just announced two minutes ago that he's going on a ten-day economic change tour. He's looking at the gas prices, he's looking at the stock market, and he's looking at the foreclosure numbers.

And he really wants attention for his program of helping people stay in their homes, that John McCain has been very skeptical of and kind of tone-deaf about.

I think this issue is a problem for McCain because he described himself as not all that up on the economy. He's had a steep learning curve. And he's not putting out really energetic muscular solutions that are going to reassure Americans that he can do something to stop all the chaos. It's coming from many fronts.

BROWN: Take the politics out of it, Ali. VELSHI: Here is the thing. The tax policies, their health care policies, their social security policies of the two candidate, they are something that you can really, really make a choice on. And you can have a legitimate discussion about whether you support Barack Obama or John McCain. Barack Obama has a very typically traditional Democratic view of them. John McCain has a very typically conservative Republican view of them.

Here is the thing. The bottom line, it is issue number one to Americans, but what part of the economy is issue number one. Inflation, why? Because of energy costs; that's what's on everybody's mind right now. $4 gas, oil prices above $139.

They need to show people they're not tone-deaf and they can't because they can't address the problems that everybody's concerned about right now.

BROWN: Hold on, let me follow up on the point that Ali just made because this does seem to be the issue that you are hearing people talk about more than anything else and that is gas prices. And let's look at the differences here.

John McCain is pushing this idea of suspending the gas tax for the summer. Something that Barack Obama has called a gimmick. Leslie, is it a gimmick?

SANCHEZ: I think some people think that it is. I mean, there's no doubt because of the time frame it takes to happen and the true economic impact it's going to have. I will say that much --

BROWN: Which isn't that much --

SANCHEZ: It's true, but the bigger issue here is that John McCain is fighting for increased energy independence, increased research and development, and exportation to improve our technologies here and even different types of drilling.

These are all important things in terms of our economic security and I think that's the bigger solution, these gimmick talks like you say is one part of the spin, but on this and issues of taxes as well as issues of home ownership.

Campbell, I want to go back to that. You talked about John McCain -- Joan said was tone-deaf. I think what he's saying he has a home plan that is going to help a lot of families that are in foreclosure and not the speculators or the people that helped run up this problem. But to be able to truly --

BROWN: Let me let Joan respond on the issue of the gas tax.

WALSH: Yes, I think it is a gimmick and Leslie's right. Both Obama and McCain have longer term plans for increasing our own energy sources and for decreasing dependence, but those are long term plans.

So something that's going to make a difference before the election, there really isn't much and I thought it was brave of Obama, quite frankly, even during the primary to buck Hillary Clinton and tell the truth about that's not going to make a difference and what we really need to do is curb demand, which nobody really wants to talk about.

BROWN: Hold on Leslie, Ali, is there any really seriously a short term solution to the problem?

VELSHI: No, the United States consumes 20 million barrels of oil a day. We make five. So everybody should stop talking about energy independence. I will grow hair before we have energy independence in this country. We need to change the way do business, nothing is happening before the election.

BROWN: That says a lot, Ali Velshi, Joan Walsh, and Leslie Sanchez, as always, appreciate your time tonight. Thanks guys. And of course you are going to stick around and talk about some other issues with us a little bit late.

ROBERTS: The most immediate threat to anyone's prosperity is an accident or illness. Without good health insurance, a trip to the doctor or hospital can literally wipe you out.

When our special report continues, Dr. Sanjay Gupta will give both candidates' health plans a checkup.

BROWN: And also ahead -- your safety and security, from securing our borders to the war in Iraq.

Plus the events and decisions that shape the lives and characters of the next president.

ROBERTS: In addition to hearing about the issues in the candidates, we'll also be hearing your thoughts during this hour.

BROWN: Check out why members of our league of first-time voters feel this election is so important.

(BEGIN VIDEOCLIP)

OBAMA: We are going to pass a universal health care bill. It is long overdue. The time is right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The lack of this country to create a program that intensifies preventive medicine is a huge problem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our nation needs quality health care but emphasis on quality. I don't think universal health care will bring that.

(END VIDEOCLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Some 47 million Americans do not have health insurance. And even if you do, you still may have to choose between money for food and money for medicine.

The presidential candidates have very different visions of how the government can help and what it will cost.

Chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta examines their prescriptions for your health care.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

DAWN ZIGLER: I'm okay, are you okay?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Dawn and William Ziegler were living the American dream as real state brokers in Las Vegas, plenty of money, nice houses, fancy cars. Then just like that, life changed. Dawn got pregnant.

WILLIAM ZIGLER: I was excited when we found out it was twins and then I was nervous.

DR. GUPTA: Twin girls but Brooke and Alexa arrived early, three months too early and little baby Brooke was in serious trouble.

DAWN ZIGLER: When she came out, she was blue.

WILLIAM ZIGLER: And they had to resuscitate her. We didn't know that we'd have to have surgery within ten hours.

DR. GUPTA: And then another surgery and then another. Over the next 18 months, she had nine operations, including two open heart surgeries.

To get the best care possible, she was air-lifted to hospitals in California, then Indiana. The Ziglers never thought about the cost, they had insurance, excellent health insurance, they thought.

WILLIAM ZIGLER: Did you worry about it at all?

DAWN ZIGLER: Not at all.

DR. GUPTA: But the bills got bigger and the Ziglers had to reach deep in their own pockets.

WILLIAM ZIGLER: We ended up loosing all the houses and everything that we worked for.

DR. GUPTA: But things were about to get much worse. After seven months in intensive care at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, Brooke's heart finally gave out. Brooke Zigler was just 18 months old when she died. A year later, a bill arrived in the form of a legal judgment.

DR. GUPTA: You owe, Riley Hospital $700,000?

WILLIAM ZIGLER: $708,000. They just did this four in one for the unpaid medical expense.

DR. GUPTA: Is that an indictment of our health care in this country?

WILLIAM ZIGLER: I think it's American society; everything's about money. I think that's what it comes down to.

DR. GUPTA: Remember, the Ziglers had insurance, but not enough. Like many Americans, their plan was unable to cover the enormous cost of the catastrophic illness.

There are millions more who are uninsured, they are not covered by government or company plans. It's these two groups that Senators McCain and Obama are targeting with their health plan.

For Senator Barack Obama, the buzz word is --

OBAMA: Universal health care.

Universal health care.

Universal health care.

DR. GUPTA: By universal, Barack Obama says he'll make health care accessible for everyone. It would mandate health care coverage for all children by expanding government programs and extending eligibility under their parent's plan until age 25.

He would also expand Medicaid for the poor and require most companies to offer insurance to their workers or pay into a national insurance pool.

OBAMA: I believe that the reason Americans don't have health care is not because no one supports them to buy it, because no one's made it affordable.

DR. GUPTA: One key point, Obama does not want government run health care systems like Europe or Canada, where according to the World Health Organization, patient satisfaction is lower.

Now, what about John McCain? Senator McCain would use a different approach. Tax breaks to help people buy their own insurance; $5,000 for a family, $2,500 for an individual. And he would expand health savings accounts. Those are tax-free dollars you can put aside to pay for medical expenses.

Tools he says that allows patients to make their own health care choices. He says Obama's plan is too expensive and would lead to more red tape.

MCCAIN: They offer their usual deep off (ph) position. If the government would only pay for insurance, everything would be fine.

DR. GUPTA: McCain also has his sights set on saving Medicare.

MCCAIN: People like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, don't need their prescriptions underwritten by taxpayers. Those who can afford to buy their own prescription drugs should be expected to do so. This reform alone, this reform alone, will save billions of dollars.

DR. GUPTA: So what would have happened to the Ziglers under the two candidates' plans? Obama would create a government sponsored insurance pool for catastrophic cases designed to cover most health care costs long before they bankrupt people like William and Dawn Zigler. McCain's campaign says catastrophic costs would be less likely because all health care would be cheaper.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

ROBERTS: With us again, is salon.com editor-in-chief Joan Walsh and Republican strategist Leslie Sanchez.

Leslie, let's start with you. Unemployment jumped up to 5.5 percent on Friday, the DOW dropped 400 points. This issue of health care going to get lost to the noise of the economy or does it become that much more important?

SANCHEZ: Health care is a pocketbook issue, John, and this is the economy. There are so many families that are facing financial catastrophic ruin if they know that they don't have health insurance and one thing could set their entire family, all their children's saving, their pension fund, everything, back.

So this is definitely going to be top on mind for a lot of voters and they're looking for solutions that are practical. I think one thing that's interesting about what we're seeing on health care is people want the political reality.

They don't want the spin. They want to know can this be done? Is it efficient? Do I lose choice? Is it going to be affordable?

ROBERTS: But all these plans, Joan, are so complicated that they do get lost in the spin. One of the criticisms of Barack Obama's plan is that it doesn't cover 15 million Americans because it doesn't mandate coverage. Is that a legitimate criticism?

WALSH: I think it is a legitimate criticism especially for a Democrat. He says universal health care over and over, but it really can't be universal without that mandate. And the mandate -- to talk to John McCain's issue, you know, he wants to make it more affordable and we all do.

The mandates help make it more affordable because you bring younger, healthier people into the pool who cost less. The government isn't stuck only helping to provide the insurance of the sickest and the neediest.

The other thing about the McCain plan, though, the way is Sanjay's report trailed off it really sounds like it's a safe-based health care plan. That he is safe, he'll bring down costs so none of us will be stuck with catastrophic problems and costs. And I don't see anything in the plan that actually achieves that.

ROBERTS: What about that, Leslie? Aside from moving to a market- based system from a employer-based system, how can you guarantee that the cost of health care is going to go down and also with unemployment going up, people hurting more and more, they don't have that much money to spend, you've got to have a job to be able to buy the health care.

SANCHEZ: There's no doubt about that and I think there's going to be a lot of those types of details, John, that I think a lot of health care policy experts better than Joan or I are going to get into the weeds with.

But I think the bigger issue and I'm going to bring it back to political reality is what can be accomplished. If you look at the fact, major significant health care reforms have been passed by Republican: the state children's health care initiative that fund low-income children that the Democrats wanted to expand to include everybody including people that were --

ROBERTS: That's the one Hillary Clinton claimed credit for, right?

SANCHEZ: Exactly, that we ultimately found out she had nothing to do with. Even prescription drugs under Medicare was something a lot of conservatives did not want to see.

ROBERTS: The one with the great big huge doughnut hole.

SANCHEZ: It's going to cost, but it gave seniors their prescription drugs. John McCain understands there's flaws with the system; it's like he wants a mean test.

But the bigger issue is you have a lot of Democrats, allies of Barack Obama, right now trying to downplay what he's saying about universal health care because they know the political reality is it's too much, can't get done, and too expensive.

ROBERTS: So here, Joan, is a criticism of Barack Obama's plan. Another one, that he is for universal health care coverage, he will give people universal access, but he doesn't require them to do so. So what about these people who say, well, I don't need health care, I don't need health insurance, until I get sick. And so they don't buy in until they're very expensive and meantime all the people that have been buying into the plan up until now have to pay for these people?

WALSH: That is the big flaw in his plan and I think he's going to be under a lot of pressure to change that plan and to adopt something more like the Clinton or the Edwards plan and have a mandate that covers everybody.

The interesting thing is Obama did that, he made that choice for the general election because independents and Republicans tend to like the lack of a mandate. But that's going to be one of those horse trading things when you get to the platform in Denver, will Democrats really try to get him to say -- cover all 15 million?

SANCHEZ: You've got to raise the point when you're talking about mandate you're talking about garnishing wages. That was a big hurdle that Hillary Clinton tried to overcome and she ultimately never did. Well, not necessarily about that.

ROBERTS: We'll, they're talking about maybe these people have to think -- SANCHEZ: She admitted it.

ROBERTS: Leslie, one other quick point. For catastrophic care, John McCain is saying he wants to create the state-risk pools that's guaranteed access. Who is going to pay for that?

SANCHEZ: Ultimately I think it's something that the individual families are going to end up paying for. I think what he's talking about is reducing the cost, but making it affordable and allowing there to be market forces and choice. You talk to a lot of parent, they're going to say there's a difference between a doctor who knows my child's name and just somebody I go to who doesn't know. They want quality care.

ROBERTS: Lots more to talk about on this.

Leslie, thanks very much. And Joan good to see you.

BROWN: One of the widest gaps between Barack Obama and John McCain is the gap in their ages.

But we learned something surprising in the primaries. What your age says about the way you vote. That's next.

ROBERTS: And coming up later, the one time prisoner of war. How John McCain's experience has shaped his vision for our country.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: This year we will be electing one of youngest or one of oldest presidents in U.S. history.

BROWN: And how you feel about that may have to do with your birthday as much as theirs. Here now is senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Barack Obama wants his candidacy to define a generation as John F. Kennedy's once did.

OBAMA: You know in your hearts that at this moment, a moment that will define a generation, we cannot afford to keep doing what we've been doing.

SCHNEIDER: Obama's call for change has rallied younger voters.

In the final Democratic primary in South Dakota, Obama got two-thirds of the vote among Democrats under 30. Seniors were not so enthusiastic; two-thirds of seniors voted for Hillary Clinton.

That age gap is likely to become even bigger in the general election. John McCain is 25 years older than Barack Obama. That's the biggest age difference ever between two presidential candidates.

MCCAIN: And I have few years on my opponent. So I'm surprised that a young man has bought into so many failed ideas.

SCHNEIDER: Obama's message of change is likely to intensify the age divide.

OBAMA: This is our time, our time to turn the page on the policies of the past.

SCHNEIDER: Change resonates with young voters.

In the final primary, two-thirds of South Dakota's young voters said the top quality they were looking for in a candidate was the ability to bring about change. Among seniors, the figure was 40 percent.

MCCAIN: The American people didn't get to know me yesterday as they're just getting to know Senator Obama.

SCHNEIDER: Still, the idea of change is appealing to so many voters this year that McCain is also trying to run as a candidate of change. Obama's response?

OBAMA: There are many words to describe John McCain's attempt to pass off his embrace of George Bush's policies as bipartisan and new. But change is not one of them.

SCHNEIDER: Bill Schneider, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

ROBERTS: We are not only focusing on the issues in this special report, but on the candidates themselves. Up next, what turned a self admitted pilot into a war hero and could make John McCain a war time leader.

BROWN: As we head into the break, check out where the candidates stand on one of this year's most controversial issues, gay marriage.

You're watching a CNN special report, "The Next President."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Friendships I formed in war remain the closest relationships in my life. The Navy is still the world I know best. And love most.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Well, repeatedly in American's history, voters have chosen presidents from the ranks of war heroes. George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and perhaps John McCain.

BROWN: His war was Vietnam and his harrowing experiences there not only made him a hero, they were a turning point in his life. Here now is Erica Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the darkest hour of John McCain's time as a POW In Vietnam, he became his own tormenter, not his captors. And in that personal held, McCain wanted it hang himself.

ORSON SWINDLE, FELLOW POW: We all contemplated taking our lives instead of having to company through this pain again or this humiliation of this betrayal as we saw it. And how do you get out of that? The only way out is die.

HILL: McCain had finally broken. Confessed, after months of endless torture, to war crimes he didn't commit.

MCCAIN: I view it as a failure because I think that I should have done better, shy have done as well as some of my friends did who were stronger than me. Most of all, although he never ever said a word except I'm proud of you, it may have embarrassed my father.

HILL: At the time, his father, Jack McCain, a four star admiral, was commander of U.S. forces if the Pacific, meaning this French TV news film john maim a better effect piece of propaganda for the enemy and for the POW, it was the ultimate humiliation.

SWINDLE: That was a heavy family legacy to have his father and grandfather both graduates of the Naval Academy and prominent naval officers. I think that weighed heavily on him.

HILL: Just after returning from Vietnam, McCain wrote about his time as a POW. "I had a lot of time to think over there, he said, and came to the conclusion that one of the most important things in life along with a man's family is to make some contribution to his country". But that contribution ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... in this hearing will be the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth so help you God.

MCCAIN: I do.

HILL: ... would put John McCain in a place he says was even worse than his five and a half years of hell as a POW.

WILLIAM COHEN, MCCAIN FRIEND: He felt that his honor really was at stake, that the Vietnamese didn't hurt him as much as people acting not out of principle, but out of politics.

HILL: In 1989, McCain and four other senators became infamously known as the Keating five for their connection to this man, Charles Keating. A developer and a major political donor. Keating was under federal investigation for his role in the savings and loan collapse. McCain and the other senators faced accusations to of corruption for trying to influence the investigation.

Suddenly McCain was connected to the big money and back room politics so many voters despised. William Black was one of the government regulators who met with the Keating Five. WILLIAM BLACK, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTORS: We were extraordinarily nervous because five U.S. senators, one twentieth of the U.S. Senate, were meeting with us in person to put pressure on us.

HILL: Those meetings read to the suspicions of corruption, humiliating hearings before the Senate Ethics Committee and very dark days for McCain.

ROBERT TIMBERG, AUTHOR, "JOHN MCCAIN, AN AMERICAN ODYSSEY": He said this is the worst thing that ever happened to me. And I thought, well, obviously not a very good thing, but it doesn't seem to me quite matches up with five and a half years in a North Vietnamese prison. He said, no, this is worse.

COHEN: John came close to actually walking away from the Senate.

HILL: Finally the Ethics Committee found McCain used, quote, poor judgment. Instead of walking away, McCain turned the scandal into a personal crusade for campaign finance reform and more transparency. Not everyone agrees his intentions were pure.

MATT WELCH, AUTHOR, "JOHN MCCAIN, THE MYTH OF THE MAVERICK": The charitable explanation is that his idea about campaign finance was this, he felt chastened, felt his own honor questioned. This whole exercise was a way to address that honor question.

HILL: Pure or not, McCain's efforts got noticed, those it may be history that actually put the Keating Five scandal behind him. "I was relieved when Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August of that year gave reporters some other reason to talk to me," he writes in his memoir, "and something else to report."

Suddenly the former POW was the go-to man for national security. By now, McCain was regularly reaching across the aisle to collaborate on everything from environmental regulations to gun sales to campaign finance reform. Each move setting the Arizona senator up for his greatest challenge yet. Capturing the White House and fulfilling the cause greater he found as a POW.

Erica Hill, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Unless you're from Illinois, your first look at Barack Obama may have been this electrifying speech in 2004. Ahead in our special report, a true American success story. But next what both candidates will do to keep terrorists away and keep you safe.

ROBERTS: And as we head into the break, more thoughts from people who have never participated in presidential elections until now. Our league of first time voters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He talks to people regardless of whether or thought we like them, how else do you fix the issues that you have between countries if the leaders won't even talk to each other?

MCCAIN: I have some news for Senator Obama. Talking, not even with soaring rhetoric, unconditional, in unconditional meetings with a man who calls Israel a stinking corpse, and arms terrorist who would kill Americans will not convince Iran to give up its nuclear program. It is reckless.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Our next president inherits two unfinished wars, the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq.

ROBERTS: Both presidential candidates say that they will do everything possible to keep America safe and secure. Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr explain what is that means to you.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nearly seven years after 9/11, John McCain and Barack Obama each must try to convince voters they are the best choice to keep the country safe. While McCain tries to paint Obama as soft on national security and Obama tries to characterize his opponent as staying the course that pPesident Bush set, there are certain realities they both have to face.

On day one in office, the most pressing security challenge may not be Iraq. The war going better for now. The greater worry for a new administration? It may be the war against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the threat posed by Iran's nuclear program. The candidates still differ greatly on Iran. Obama advocates talking to the regime.

OBAMA: I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. That starts with aggressive, principled, tough diplomacy. Without self-defeating preconditions.

STARR: McCain wants more economic sanctions.

OBAMA: Rather than sitting down unconditionally with the Iranian president or supreme leader in the hope that we can talk sense into them, we must create the real world pressures.

STARR: On fighting al Qaeda?

OBAMA: If we're going to catch bin Laden or most importantly break down al Qaeda, which have reconstituted itself as stronger now than anytime since 2001, we've got to have the capacity to put more troops in Afghanistan.

STARR: In fact, President Bush has already promised NATO the U.S. will send thousands of troops next year. There are rising worries militants are using the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region as a safe haven to plot new attacks. McCain has spoke cuss order the need to train more Afghan troops, but in his speech last month, he envisions the ultimate success after a first McCain term of office suggesting this outcome.

MCCAIN: The government of Pakistan has cooperated with the U.S., the increase in actionable continue tell against that the surge produced led to the death of Osama bin Laden and his chief lieutenants.

STARR: But the really both men may find is Iraq still overhangs everything. Rhetoric aside, they know on day one in office, military commanders will recommend keeping enough troops on the ground to get the job done however many troops that might be.

For now, with more than 150,000 troops tied up in Iraq, finding enough troops to deal with whatever the next crisis may be may be the ultimate challenge for the next president. Barbara Starr, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: With me now is John Lehman. He was the secretary of the navy under Ronald Reagan. Later, a member of the 9/11 commission, also joining us, Susan Rice, she is an Obama senior foreign policy adviser who was a State Department official under Barack Obama.

Susan, Barack Obama's plan is to bring American troops home within about 16 months and people have asked the question if you do that if you bring the troops out, do you run the risk of turning back the successes there and if commanders on the ground said we want to keep the troop levels how, would he shelve his plan to bring them out.

SUSAN RICE, OBAMA ADVISOR: The security situation on the ground, John, has improved, but the critical problem we have in Iraq is a civil war between Iraqi part advertise. The only way to solve that is through political reconciliation and accommodation and the surge unfortunately hasn't accomplished that. Barack Obama's view is that we need to responsibly redeploy our forces and we think that reasonably we can accomplish that within 16 months

And by doing so, we can catalyze the kind of political progress that the Iraqis have been refusing to make after five years of the United States policing a civil war.

ROBERTS: John, Senator McCain's plan would be to leave the troops there, eventually reduce them down to a sort of South Korea style garrison, hoping they wouldn't be subject to attacks, but they would be in an area of the world where just the presence of American troops is a real irritant. Could he accomplish that?

JOHN LEHMAN, FORMER NAVY SECRETARY: That's not an accurate characterization of his position. His position is to continue to work with the progress that's been achieved and the success of the surge to reduce our true presence and to bring back our troops and to create the situation where they're no longer taking casualties and if the Iraqi government having established a secure country with no possibility of becoming a base for terrorism and no threat to their neighbors, then if they want us to stay as Europe and Japan has and we're not taking casualties, then we would certainly be interested in staying to help secure -- keep a calm security. ROBERTS: Susan, let me move on it this idea of diplomatic engagement with the leaders of rogue nations like Iran, Syria, South Korea (SIC), Cuba and others. Senator Obama's taken a lot of heat on this. He said that he would meet without pre-condition. Now he says most recently he would only do it if he could advance U.S. interests. He seems to be slowly modifying his position. Walking back as some critics have said from what he originally said at that debate.

RICE: John, there is no walking back. What Senator Obama has always said is that he would be willing to deal directly with the leaders of countries with which we have adversarial relationships. He's also said that he would have lower level diplomatic preparations, do the spade work and have those meetings as and when it serves U.S. interests. But what he has also consistently said is that we shouldn't put self defeating pre-conditions on those meetings. So in the case of Iran, we shouldn't as the Bush administration and John McCain have insisted require Iran to suspend its nuclear program before we talk to it about suspending its nuclear program. That doesn't make any sense and it hasn't yielded progress and as a result, Iran has continued its nuclear program unabated and is increasing its influence throughout the region and threatening Israel.

ROBERTS: John Lehman, John McCain is maintaining a hard line against Iran, also a hard line against North Korea which appears to be walk back a bit from this administration's policy of engagement. What's the problem with diplomatic engagement with these nations?

LEHMAN: That's not the accurate characterization. John is all for engagement and all for the proper role of the diplomacy and communications through many channels are going on. The difference and we're glad to see Senator Obama has changed his position is that to use the prestige of a summit between presidents, you have to have the deal already negotiated and they are the closers. They're not the initiators of trying to find a common ground.

ROBERTS: Susan ...

RICE: John should know better than anybody having served President Reagan that Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy and Reagan were never afraid to engage with our adversaries, the Soviet Union and Communist China to advance U.S. interests. And they did so with success.

LEHMAN: Not until long preparation and a deal had been struck.

RICE: Absolutely preparation.

LEHMAN: The biggest mistake as all historians recognize, was John F. Kennedy's meeting with Khrushchev with no pre-condition, which then led to the war ...

RICE: Thank God he did because if he hadn't, we would not have been able to resolve the Cuban Missile Crisis.

ROBERTS: This is a long conversation that is going to go all the way to November. We're just starting out here. Susan Rice, John Lehman, thanks for being with us. Appreciate it.

RICE: Thank you.

LEHMAN: Thank you.

BROWN: Later, the neighborhood organizer turned U.S. senator. What put Barack Obama on the road to the White House.

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(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I believe that the American people are tired of being divided, they want to be brought together. All of us, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, young, old, rich, poor, gay, straight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: The fact that Barack Obama is the presumptive Democratic nominee speaks volumes about how far the civil rights movement in the 1950s and '60s has come. Martin Luther King Jr. looked to the day when people would be judged by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin. Anderson Cooper now looks at what shaped Barack Obama's life and character.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: It was Boston four years ago at the Democratic National Convention when Barack Obama burst on to the national scene. His speech electrified the crowd.

OBAMA: In no other country on earth is my story even possible.

COOPER: That story begins an ocean away from Boston in Hawaii with a boy named Barry. Barack Obama was born August 4, 1961. He was named after his father. Barack Obama Sr. grew hundred herding goats in a remote village in Kenya but won a scholarship to study at the University of Hawaii. The woman who would be his mother moved from with her parents from Kansas to Hawaii when she met Obama's father in a Russian English class.

DAVID MENDELL, AUTHOR, "OBAMA, FROM PROMISE TO POWER": By all accounts, it was love at first sight. Much to the chagrin of her parents, I think.

COOPER: When Obama was two, his father won a scholarship to study at Harvard. He left his young family behind and returned only once when Barack was 10. It was Obama's mother's influence as much as his father's absence that would shape his life.

MAYA SOETERO-NG, OBAMA'S SISTER: She really did a marvelous job of looking past superficial differences and understanding people at their core. And I think that that's an important part of who he is. COOPER: When Obama was five, his mother repaired an Indonesian man and a year later moved the family to Jakarta. At 10 years old, Obama returned to Hawaii to attend one the state's most elite prep schools, Punaho School. He lived with his grandparents in cramped two bedroom apartment while his mother stayed in Indonesia.

KEITH KAKUGAWA, HIGH SCHOOL FRIEND: He struggled more with himself than anything because he felt abandoned. He felt left out.

COOPER: He got mostly Bs, sang in the choir and wrote poetry, but his true passion was basketball. It was off the court that he struggled with his identity.

MENDELL: He channeled his rebellion into his racial identity trying to figure out how to cope with being a black American and having been raised in a primarily white household.

COOPER: Obama says he tried drugs to numb his confusion, but he kept his grades high enough to get into college and in 1979, he left Hawaii.

JERRY KELLMAN, FORMER BOSS, DEVELOPING COMMUNITIES PROEJCT: Anybody in their early 20s was trying to work on a lot of identity issues and Barack was no strange to that. A society was telling you, no, he you choose, and you live in a black world or white world.

COOPER: He graduated from Columbia and then took a job as a community organizer for a church based group serving Chicago's public housing projects.

KELLMAN: I think Barack made a decision that he wanted to do some good, he'd have to have some power.

COOPER: Obama applied to Harvard Law School and was accepted.

KENNETH MACK, HARVARD LAW CLASSMAT: There was a certain quality of maturity that he projected that really impressed people in a place where everyone was quite impressive.

COOPER: After his first year of law school, he became a summer associate at this Chicago law firm. Michelle Robinson, a Harvard graduate and a lawyer was assigned to be his mentor. Obama asked her out. She finally agreed.

MICHELLE OBAMA, BARACK OBAMA'S WIFE: One of the reasons why I respect for Barack is he understands to who up is given, much is expected.

COOPER: Obama would go on to become the first African American president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review.

OBAMA: I think people can say that my election symbolizes some progress, at least within the small confines of the legal community.

COOPER: Obama graduated magna cum laude from Harvard in 1991, he went to work for this civil rights law firm in Chicago, and finally started to put down roots. He married Michelle Robinson and they had two daughters, Malia Ann and Natasha.

MENDELL: There certainly is a chance that he wants to fit into community, but there isn't a community that he neatly fits into, so he eventually chose the African American community on the South Side of Chicago by marrying a black woman and moving into that world.

COOPER: Just a decade after Obama began his political career as an Illinois state senator, he announced ...

OBAMA: My candidacy for president of the United States of America.

COOPER: That young man, would was searching so hard to find his identity, would find himself on a journey toward the White House. Anderson Cooper, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: So here's where we stand. Our latest poll shows 38 percent of registered voters definitely intend to vote for Barack Obama, 35 percent say definitely for John McCain. But look closer at the numbers. Eleven percent of each candidate's supporters say they could change their minds.

BROWN: If you want to know who are about the issues, just logon to cnn.com. I'm Campbell Brown.

ROBERTS: I'm John Roberts. Thanks for watching this CNN special report, "The Next President."