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John McCain's Housing Crisis; Planet in Peril - Louisiana Dead Zone; Democrats' August Curse; Tropical Storm Fay Still in Florida

Aired August 21, 2008 - 23:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again, John King sitting in for Anderson Cooper.
Tonight, some drama, Barack Obama has picked a running mate.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I can say that I've made the selection and that's all you're going to get.


KING: That's not all he said and that's not all we know, new information tonight from our sources and tantalizing new hints from Senator Obama himself, making several stops on the campaign trail today in Virginia, stumping with good friend and potential running mate, Governor Tim Kaine.

But one of the stops this morning, Senator Obama talking to a reporter from "USA Today" about his pick. He said that he or she is "prepared to be president" and will be "a partner with me in strengthening this economy for the middle class and working families."

He goes on to say "I want somebody who is independent, somebody who could push against my preconceived notions and challenge me so we have got a robust debate in the White House." So that description sounds like anyone you know?

Here's Candy Crowley.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: A drop in the polls, a few bland remarks about what he wants in a Vice President, and voila, Hillary Clinton's stock is on the rise.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) NEW YORK: We know we need every Democrat to rally behind Senator Obama's candidacy.

CROWLEY: Barack Obama says he wants a number two willing to challenge him if they think he's wrong. There are many who've had a lot of practice. One in particular comes to mind.

CLINTON: He's been saying there's no difference between our plans but his plan would leave at least 15 million Americans uninsured. CROWLEY: And Obama wants a vice president to help him steer the economy. Is there a clue in this?

OBAMA: I'm here because I want to wake up every single day in that White House thinking about you and how to make your lives a little better.

CROWLEY: The fact that he sounds now like she did back then.

CLINTON: I will wake up every single day thinking about and worrying about you.

CROWLEY: Still, there's no evidence Hillary Clinton was even fully vetted. Most of Washington would be stunned if he tapped her. And she's not the only one who fits the bill.

SEN. JOE BIDEN, (D) DELAWARE: Let me tell you straight up the truth, the truth of the matter is --

CROWLEY: Heavily credentialed in the foreign policy department, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware is tenacious and been around long enough not to say what he means.

Biden remains under media surveillance, as does Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana. And there is Virginia Governor Tim Kaine on the campaign trail with the top of the ticket, master of the tease.

OBAMA: I've made the selection and that's all you're going to get.

CROWLEY: He and his campaign have fostered more than two weeks of non-stop chatter about the number two. All of it designed to reach a well-watched weekend crescendo. He is playing it like a fiddle.

OBAMA: You are not going to get anything out of me, on the vice president thing, nothing.

CROWLEY: Minimum information, maximum attention.


KING: Candy, we have lived this night many times before. Love it in some ways.

CROWLEY: Way too many.

KING: Hate it in others.

Do we know anything about the roll-out plan? Is this going to be one of those 3:00 a.m. phone calls, a different kind than we've been talking about in this campaign or they're not telling us about that either?

CROWLEY: Perhaps a 3:00 a.m. text I believe is what we're looking for. Yes, certainly as early as tomorrow morning, if you try to game it out, do they want to have it first roll into the morning TV shows, then the evening TV shows?

Then we know that we will see him Saturday with his vice- presidential pick, and then he's off, they are off on a tour that includes a lot of battle grounds, Wisconsin, Montana, Missouri, the quad cities that is Illinois and Iowa, before he rolls in to Denver for the convention. So they have it all planned out.

What we don't know is what they're going to do with that big hole in the schedule Saturday afternoon after Springfield, Illinois. That we're assuming is when he may go to the home state of whomever he's picked. So no hints in the schedule, who the pick might be.

KING: Time to strap in and stay tuned. Candy Crowley in Chicago tonight, Candy thank you.


KING: And let's talk strategy now with Hilary Rosen, the political director of the liberal Huffington Post and former Clinton campaign adviser, Kiki McClean, she also is former Press Secretary for Vice President Al Gore.

Kiki, I want to start with you. I know from my sources you took Evan Bayh in the office pool. You heard the hints if we want to call them that from Senator Obama today. Did you make a late change in your bet?

KIKI MCCLEAN, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER, CLINTON CAMPAIGN: Oh, you know, that was just fun and games in the office. I'm excited; this is like Christmas Eve for political operatives like us. We can't wait for Santa Claus to get here and tell us what's under the tree.

The great news is we've got a terrific bench of talent out in America. As you know, I'm a great supporter of Hillary Clinton and I believe she'd be a terrific pick. We've got real stars like Evan Bayh and Joe Biden and Governors Tim Kaine and Kathleen Sebelius.

This is going to be a great opportunity for Senator Obama to not only think about who will be his best partner in this effort in leading our nation, but he thinks beyond Election Day. What role will these leaders play for our nation beyond the office of president and vice president?

We have a cabinet to pick. We need leaders in our Congress and I'm sure he's giving great thought to all that. But it will definitely be an exciting weekend.

KING: Excitement and anticipation but Hilary, also an opportunity for Obama but also an opportunity to address some fundamental weaknesses he still has.

One in five of Clinton primary supporters for example, say they're going to vote for the Republican John McCain. Another 27 percent, so nearly 3 in 10 of the people who voted for Hillary Clinton in the primaries say they don't know who they're going to vote for in November. Does that make the case to pick her and if he does, does he automatically get those votes?

HILARY ROSEN, POLITICAL DIRECTOR, HUFFINGTON POST: I think what it does is it makes the case that Senator Obama has got to focus like a laser on the economy. All the polling this week just reinforces that message that people are worried about their jobs, they're worried about their security, they're worried about their health care, they're worried about energy costs.

So it's as much about the Clinton messaging I think at this point as it is about Senator Clinton herself.

The most important thing I think right now is that Senator Obama feel good about his choice. This is going to be a sprint between next week and November, and he has got to go into that race feeling good about it.

It doesn't matter who second guesses it as long as he feels good about it, he's going to be the best candidate and the best president he can be.

KING: Now then Kiki, let me play devil's advocate as the party heads in to Denver. If somebody listened to Senator Obama just there in Candy's piece in earlier today, and heard him drop those hints, somebody whose strong on the economy, somebody who is willing to challenge me, stand up to me fight against my preconceive notions. If somebody is out there who voted for Hillary Clinton and hears those clues and thinks, "Aha, he came around, he's going to pick Hillary," and the he doesn't, is there a risk in that?

MCCLEAN: No. Listen, I think that most Americans understand he's got a group of candidates he's considering. I think sometimes people will look for what they want to in those clues and the first group of people, John, are you and your pals in the media who do that.

You know my joke has been we should have bussed in all of the media out for public service and occupied them with some volunteer work, because they've had a little bit too much time on their hands this week to figure this out.

Senator Obama is going to tell us when he's ready. And all of our speculation won't change that. I think that Hilary made a really important point.

I have been fortunate enough to be staff on two vice-presidential nominee planes before. And the concept of that comfort level between the two candidates is hugely important.

All of the people that we've talked about tonight that Candy looked at in her piece, these are truly accomplished American leaders, all of whom bring something to the ticket and bring something to the White House that we desperately need.

But in the end, he is going to make a selection about who he believes is the best person to be president with him and be his vice president at this time in America.

KING: So Hilary Rosen, if not Hillary Clinton, who among the group we've talked about as a wild card most addresses Obama's weaknesses in your view?

ROSEN: I think if not Hillary Clinton, Senator Obama himself is responsible for bringing those Clinton voters in. I think he can do it. I think he's already -- we've seen in the last several days, him starting to talk about waking up every day and fighting for middle class America.

And those are the sorts of things that people are going to want to hear. And I think that Kiki's right, any vice president he picks is capable of delivering those same messages.

KING: All right, we'll keep watching as the hour unfolds and in the hours ahead.

Hilary Rosen, Kiki McClean, thanks so much.

MCCLEAN: Thank you so much.

ROSEN: Thank you so much.

KING: A lot more politics to come.

The conversation, in fact, just getting started on the blog. To join in, just head to where you can also see Erica Hill's live commercial cast, behind the scenes, between the blocks.

Up next, John McCain's housing crisis you might call it; he can't quite recall how many he's got. How the Obama forces are capitalizing on his realtor moment.

Also tonight, did China cheat using underage gymnasts? We've got new information on that explosive story; the investigation just now underway.

And the tropical storm that's turning Florida into the soggy state, Fay on the move yet again. We're live in one of the hardest hit spots, when "360" continues.


KING: That's John McCain there in the t-shirt and blue jeans, coming out of a Starbucks in Sedona, Arizona. That's his only public appearance today. Taking a break from the campaign trail at his vacation compound nearby; it's a very nice place.

Multi-acre spread out there in Sedona, one of at least seven places the Democrats say the McCains own in Phoenix, the Sedona area, San Diego, and Northern Virginia. Senator McCain can visit them by private jet. He's got one of those at his disposal. Cindy McCain's company has one.

It is, however, a lot to keep track of, which may explain the Senator's moment with a reporter from and the gift he seems to have handed the Obama campaign.

CNN's Ed Henry now with the "Raw Politics."


ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John McCain has been on a roll because of his sudden ability to stay on message and deliver a jab.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I am not questioning his patriotism, I am questioning his judgment.

HENRY: But just as McCain gets some downtime on the eve of the Democratic Convention, he veers dramatically off message again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many houses do you and Mrs. McCain have?

MCCAIN: I think -- I'll have my staff get to you. I can't tell you. Condominiums... I'll have them get to you.

HENRY: The McCain camp insists the senator knows the answer. The couple has four homes. Their ranch near Sedona and the condos in Arizona, California, and Virginia but the Obama camp notes the total is higher if you include the couple's investment properties.

OBAMA: I suppose if you got seven, maybe eight houses, the economy looks fundamentally sound to you.

HENRY: Manna from heaven for Obama whose party is getting nervous that yet another Democratic candidate has been getting soft amid Republican attacks. Obama has also been called an elitist, so he's pouncing on the chance to put that label back on McCain.

OBAMA: But if you're like me and you've got one house, or you are like the millions of people who are struggling right now to keep up with their mortgage so they don't lose their home, you might have a different perspective.

HENRY: This could be just another campaign blip, or it could get politically explosive for McCain. Especially since Obama also cites McCain's offhand comment that you're rich if you have $5 million. McCain says he was just joking. But Obama says it shows he's out of touch.

But Obama's own attack comes with some risk as the McCain camp fired back by invoking his ties to Tony Rezko, who was convicted on federal bribery and fraud charges.

McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said of Obama "Does a guy who made more than $4 million last year, just got back from vacation on a private beach in Hawaii and bought his own million-dollar mansion with the help of a convicted felon really want to get into a debate about houses?"

A classic counterpunch directed at Obama. And now it's his turn to reassure his side he's ready to respond.

Ed Henry, CNN, Washington.


KING: It does seem like a simple question. How many homes do you own? But it stumped John McCain and led to a lot of finger pointing on the campaign trail today.

Two millionaire candidates dodge and weave the E label, elitists, next.

This latest Obama offensive could help him out of an August swoon that saw him surrender nearly all of his early lead in the polls. It's an all too familiar pattern for Democratic presidential hopefuls.

All that just ahead. This is "360."


KING: John McCain tonight with a housing crisis that's a little stiffer than I think we can safely say than one the type that most Americans are facing at the moment. The Obama campaign trying hard to capitalize; the question is - can he get traction?

And the McCain forces are firing right back, calling Obama the real elitist, not to mention they say, the pal of a felon and former bomb thrower.

Will all this counter punches landing to today have anything to do with the big issues in the election?

"Digging Deeper" tonight, "Time" magazine's Joe Klein, author of "Politics Lost." Also conservative political analyst Tara Wall and former Clinton White House chief of staff, John Podesta - he's author of the new book "The Power of Progress, how America's Progressives can once again save our Economy, our Climate and our Country."

John Podesta, let me start with you.

The Obama campaign seized this big opening to say McCain is out of touch, doesn't even know how many houses he owns.

Put it into context. It's a great daily attack, but given even just the title of your book, those big issues facing the country, how much time should we really be spending on this?

JOHN PODESTA, AUTHOR, "THE POWER OF PROGRESS": Well, I think it's symbolic and maybe why I'd liken it to when George Herbert Walker Bush didn't know what a supermarket scanner was.

It changes the dynamic in the campaign. The McCain campaign has been calling Obama the elitist. Now I think this opens up for Senator Obama the chance to bring this back to what they're actual economic programs are.

Obama's clearly aimed at trying to help the middle class. McCain's extending what President Bush has done, concentrating all his tax cuts on the very wealthiest Americans.

KING: So Tara, I guess the question is, how could this possibly happen? Any candidate knows they're going to get asked these kind of "gotcha" questions. It used to be how much is a loaf of bread and how much is a gallon of milk.

But at a time of this profound economic anxiety, including a big mortgage crisis; how is it that John McCain couldn't answer what most Americans think a pretty simple question? How many houses do you have?

TARA WALL, CONSERVATIVE POLITICAL ANALYST: Well listen, I think that -- look, I think Obama did what was smart and strategic by trying to flip the script on John McCain. But at the same time, and being aggressive, stepping it up. I think that's admirable as well as a good thing.

But at the same time you got to look at this, both of these men are wealthy by any standard and make more than the average American. So he's got to be careful where he picks his battles because it's essentially the pot calling the kettle black.

Secondly, I mean look at the issues themselves. Americans expect that McCain is going to get aggressive. He's going to defend himself and that's admirable. I think what you have to remember at the end of the day is where these men are, where they stand, and who is lobbying these bombs.

And quite frankly, for Obama to say or try to paint McCain a war hero, a POW as an elitist, I don't know how far he's going to get with that.

KING: I think one of the things they're trying to do is say, if he doesn't pay attention to his own house finances -- family finances, why should he run the country?

Joe Klein, you've been through a lot of these. Help me put this one into context. Is it, as John Podesta says, a metaphor? A giant symbolic moment that says this guy is out of touch, he doesn't get it or is it going to be a sniping match that in a week or two we forget?

JOE KLEIN, TIME COLUMNIST: Yes, I think that Tara is wrong. I don't think that McCain is an elitist. He's just really, really rich. He married a very, very rich woman. They have a lot of houses. And I think the problem for McCain is that the economic policies that he has proposed would benefit people like him.

You know, they would continue the Bush tax cuts for the very wealthy and continue the economic policies of the last seven years. But as for elitists, I don't think either of these guys are elitists. I think that, you know, at this time at any given night, they're both kicking back watching Sport Center on ESPN rather than drinking Saturn and than listening to Mozart nocturnes.

KING: One can only hope. WALL: But at the same time, I mean it's Barack Obama who is many would consider you know these latte liberal, he's been criticized by some for the menu that he chooses. And at the same time he is the one that has brought up the issue of, well, I pump my own gas and he is the one that actually essentially couldn't really define what the rich is and has been really pressed hard on defining who is rich, what is rich.

So I think essentially, you know, you could argue that there's a little bit of out of touch-ness with almost many of these candidates. Again, they're both wealthy, they're both millionaires and they both make and exceed what the average American makes on a daily basis. I think the issue is if they're zeroing in on --

KING: Let me jump in for one second.

John Podesta, help Barack Obama. Let's say he's watching us right now, while he's sitting by that phone waiting for the perfect moment to make the big call he's going to make for the next few hours.

How do you deal with a gift like this? You think it's a gift. You think it's a way to say McCain is out of touch, he's not paying attention, but you're going into your convention.

But if you talk to most smart Democrats around the country, they say the biggest challenge here is sure, try to link McCain to Bush, try to beat him up a little bit, but to give the voters out there, who don't know enough about you meat on the bones. Give them substance about who you are not who the other guy is.

How do you handle that?

PODESTA: Well, I agree with that. And I think that's what he's begun to do this week by getting specific about his economic program and I think ultimately I agree with Joe. What this moment does, is it opens up that opportunity not to just do the tit for tat but to say what's he for, what I am for?

And when you look at what John McCain is for, it just is favors the wealthy, it extends what Bush wants to do. It sticks with the status quo conservatism of the Bush campaign.

And Obama I think has a tremendous opening to say, "Look, your wages are flat, your debt has gone through the roof. I've got a program that's going to help you begin to raise your wages again, get back to work and put your family budgets back together."

KING: And now a "360" follow on a story we first reported a couple months ago.

Kansas authorities have charged the owners of Hogan's Pharmacy with 17 felony counts each for distributing drugs over the internet without legitimate prescriptions.

And they indicted the former chief pharmacist on three felony counts and 14 misdemeanors. The charges follow the death of a Wichita man who overdosed on the muscle relaxant drugs, Soma, that he got from the pharmacy without a doctor's authorize prescription.

All three have been released on bail without pleading to the charges.

Still ahead, what turned a vibrant seabed in the Gulf of Mexico into a massive dead zone? The answer is startling and stretches all the way back to Midwestern farms.

This is "360."


KING: Regular viewers know that our "Planet in Peril" reports often take us halfway around the world. But tonight a story closer to home, one that stretches all the way from the corn fields of the Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico, where something has gone terribly wrong.

Here's CNN Allan Chernoff.


ALLAN TURNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Louisiana fisherman Terry Pizani looks across the water with a sense of loss. What used to be the best fishing grounds in the Gulf of Mexico he says are barren.

TERRY PIZANI, LOUISIANA FISHERMEN: You don't see nothing and usually you see bait fish on the water. You don't see no bait fish or nothing. Nothing's there. I don't have no kind of testing material to test the water but I know something is wrong.

CHERNOFF: This is the test. 35 miles into the Gulf of Mexico, oceanographers sampled water deep below.

This sensor measures the oxygen level in the water. The deeper it goes, the less oxygen it finds. And in this part of the Gulf of Mexico, there's virtually none at the bottom.

LORA PRIDE, LOUISIANA UNIVERSITIES MARINE CONSORTIUM: We're not finding enough oxygen to support life, aquatic life.

CHERNOFF: The dead zone, a vast portion of the Gulf of Mexico seabed that loses most of its oxygen. It forms every summer but this year it's especially large, 8,000 square miles; nearly as big as New Jersey.

Scientists say the cause is hundreds of miles up the Mississippi. Farmers across the Midwest use tons of nitrogen and phosphorous to fertilize corn, allowing them to satisfy growing demands from ethanol factories and developing countries. This summer's flooding caused much of the fertilizer to run off into rivers that flow into the Mississippi.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The size of the low oxygen zone has increased in proportion to these nutrients reaching the Gulf.

CHERNOFF: The fertilizer flowing in to the Gulf triggers an overgrowth of microscopic algae.

PRIDE: These things will fall to the bottom and as they decompose, they consume oxygen.

CHERNOFF: And the lack of oxygen causes bottom dwellers, fish and shrimp to swim away in search of oxygen; clams, crabs, star fish and other slow moving sea life suffocate.

To find lots of shrimp, fishermen like Terry now have to travel far to the edge of the dead zone, an expensive proposition with the cost of diesel fuels still high. So many boats are idle others are staying away from their home port in Granda, Louisiana, a disaster for seafood processor Dean Blanchard who buys shrimp from fishermen.

DEAN BLANCHARD, LOUISIANA, SEAFOOD PROCESSOR: Now all my boat have to go somewhere else out to try to make a living. It's a shame. This is the prime shrimping ground in the country right here, and it shut us down. It just shut us down. It's unreal.

CHERNOFF: With demand for corn growing, experts say the dead zone could expand in coming years; an environmental hazard that threatens Louisiana's seafood industry.

Allan Chernoff, CNN in the Gulf of Mexico.


KING: Just a quick program note. Season two of our award winning "Planet in Peril" series premieres December 11th. This time Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Lisa Ling travel to the front lines of the worldwide collision between natural resources and booming populations.

It's an investigation that will change the way you see the world. December 11th, right here on CNN.

Still ahead with the Democratic convention looming, a key question. Will the August curse that tripped up so many other Democrats also sink Barack Obama? Obama has shown he can draw huge crowds but will he show the fire that some voters want to see next week in Denver?

Also ahead, new claims of proof that China's gold medal gymnasts are much younger than they say. Olympic officials have launched an investigation. All the details coming up.

This is "360."



OBAMA: John McCain, who says he's a maverick, he's been resorting to the same old politics. He hired all these folks who used to work for Karl Rove and there's nothing new about what he's doing because we saw it four years ago, eight years, 12 years ago, 16 years ago, 20 years ago. They're trying to take the focus off you and put it on me.


KING: And put it on him they have, very successfully.

Until John McCain had his little problem remembering whether he has houses on Boardwalk or Park Place or both. Until then he's been giving Barack Obama the August from hell. New territory for Senator Obama, but for Democrats, deja vu all over again.


KING: Barack Obama is about to take charge of a party with a mild case of the jitters.

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: A lot of people look at a guy who was in Harvard Law Review, he taught at the University of Chicago, and they wonder is he going to be tough enough? We will know in Denver.

If he runs a convention like John Kerry did, where we speak no ill about the party opposite, he'll lose just like John Kerry did. But if he gets up there in Denver and picks up a 2x4 and starts hitting John McCain and George Bush over the head with it every day, he's got a real chance of winning this thing.

OBAMA: Let's go change the country.

KING: Democrats have every reason to be upbeat.

PETER HART, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: The Democrats have all the advantages on the macro element; the direction of the country, the mood towards the president, the sense of change.

KING: Yet veteran pollster Peter Hart says Obama is far from closing the sale.

HART: Voters are worrying through who's more experienced, who has the right set of qualities, who is going to be safe and who is going to be able to deal as commander-in-chief?

KING: When Democrats lose, they often speak of an August curse.

20 years ago, Michael Dukakis left his July convention up 17 points. But soon after, George H.W. Bush got what he liked to call his mojo. In the end, Dukakis won only ten states.

Four years ago, John Kerry was up a little in the polls at the end of July; down as many as 10 points in one, when August gave way to September.

This year the numbers aren't as dramatic. The CNN poll of polls in mid-July gave Obama a six-point lead over John McCain. Now it's down to a two-point margin.

While Obama excels at the big events, some Democrats worry he's too professorial or too subdued in debate-style settings, like last weekend's Faith Forum.

OBAMA: Now, the one thing that I think is very important is for us to have some humility in how we approach the issue of confronting evil. Because, you know, a lot of evil has been perpetrated based on the claim that we were trying to confront evil.

KING: Pollster Hart says in many of the places where Obama needs to improve his standing, like in small-town and rural America and among white suburban women, voters aren't sure how all his talk of change will specifically impact them.

HART: One thing Barack Obama has got to do is move from long paragraphs into simple sentences. "Yes, we can" is a phrase, now there needs to be meat on the bones and simple sentences voters in rural areas, in suburban areas can understand and say, that's my man.


KING: Back now with our panel. Joe Klein, Tara Wall and John Podesta.

John, you just heard your friend Paul Begala in there saying Barack Obama most of all needs to be more aggressive. He said hit John McCain and George bush with a 2x4 at the Denver Convention. Do you agree with that? Or does he have to make it more about what he wants to do?

PODESTA: I think he needs to provide an important critique of the economic program that President Bush put forward and that Senator McCain wants to continue. But I think he's got to say what he wants to do. He's got to put some ideas out there about how he's going to make American working people's lives better.

KING: Tara, why is the race tighter? Is it because McCain is doing something better or is it the longer Obama is out there he's just slipping down a bit?

WALL: It's a couple of things. I think McCain has been doing a good job, a successful job at hammering home that inexperience, is he ready to lead label? At the same time, the more many Middle Americans hear Obama speak, the more they're not liking what they hear necessarily.

That said, the McCain campaign shouldn't get too comfortable. There are a lot of voters that are still tuned out and won't tune in until after the conventions. So they can't get comfortable either.

KING: Is it an August curse, Joe, or is the country just essentially resetting to where it is? A pretty evenly balanced political --

KLEIN: It's an August phenomenon that's been going on for the last 20 years. It's a Bush family phenomenon. They hire these killers who, in the month of August, make these vast personal attacks.

What happened to Michael Dukakis with the Willie Horton ads? What happened to John Kerry with the swift boat ads? Somehow they missed out on Bill Clinton. Who knows why?

At the same time, the Democrats have, you know, nominated a series of these kind of high-minded professorial sorts who feel uncomfortable with that sort of personal attack. And so they're thrown back on their heels every August, every four years.

It's a very discrete phenomenon. Ronald Reagan didn't do this sort of thing. This is a Bush family phenomenon.

KING: Inherited by the McCains now, you could say.


WALL: And as much as Americans say that they don't like negative campaigning or negative ads, so to speak, they actually tend to work. They seem to work.

I would agree; Barack Obama should step it up. He should get more aggressive but I don't know that he's very comfortable with doing that. So at times he may seem awkward or off message or off point when he attempts to get overly aggressive.

So he has to be careful, but he certainly needs to, number one, get a message, stick to it. Get an original idea, stop following McCain's lead as he's done consistently. Get an original idea, stick to it and hammer it home.

KING: John Podesta, let's narrow this conversation down to a specific area. Let's say we want to go to southeast Ohio. Bill Clinton carried those counties; he was president of the United States. Jimmy Carter carried those counties; he was president of the United States. Al Gore and John Kerry failed miserably in those counties. Hillary Clinton in some of those counties got 80 percent of the vote in the primaries.

Barack Obama didn't do so well. What does he need to do specifically if you can turn Ohio, I would assume you think Democrats win the White House. Why is he failing in those places?

PODESTA: I think he has to go big with ideas on, again, on his middle class tax cuts, on how he's going to provide health care to people in those communities. Then he's got to, I think, really put the wood to McCain on his economic program and I think that's what you see beginning to happen this week.

KING: Joe Klein, is this 1980 as many Democrats think, that essentially Barack Obama is Ronald Reagan, the country wants change, the country wants something new but they're hearing some things about this guy that make him seem risky.

In Ronald Reagan's case, he was this actor. And how would he be with the nuclear football? He gets in the debates against Jimmy Carter and enough of the country says, looks okay to me. Is that where we are?

KLEIN: I think the 1980s is a good analogy, but no analogy is perfect.

The one thing that we do know is that these elections, especially the tight ones, tend to turn on debates. And how these guys stack up next to each other when they finally get a chance to do that and no one can know how that's going to turn out.

KING: And Tara, Joe is dead right. No analogy is perfect.

Many Republicans are hoping this is 1988, where they take a Democratic nominee who looks pretty strong, seems to have the fundamentals in his favor.

And Joe mentioned the Willie Horton ad. There was the tank ride. That was Michael Dukakis' doing. But they did other things, the Republicans did, to push him left of center, to say, "This guy is not what you think. He's way out there on the left from a policy standpoint and from a cultural standpoint." Is that what we're going to see?

WALL: Yes, and that's not the only way they can paint him. They tried to do that. They did that early on. They're continuing to do that. I think it's a broader message than that.

At the same time, again, yes, John McCain needs to spell out how he is different and distinct.

I do think with the debates, I think that we do have somewhat of an idea how they're going to go. If we see how the town halls have gone as any indication, we know what Barack Obama's strong suits are. Those are the scripted speeches, and we know that he doesn't do very well in the town-hall meetings, which is why he's avoided those one- on-one town halls with John McCain. So I think we have a small indication of how some of those might go.

KLEIN: There...

KING: Quickly.

KLEIN: There are absolutely no indications, because no one ever gets back up in John McCain's face and said, "What you just said isn't true." I think that Obama has had some trouble in debates, and we'll see how he does.

KING: I need to call -- I need to call a time-out. We're running late on time. I think we'll continue this in the ten weeks ahead.

Obama would have that choice, Joe, if he would take the town hall debate. But he'll find other options.

KLEIN: He should.

KING: I'm guessing.

Coming up, the Olympic age -- the Olympic age controversy gets much hotter. Are China's gymnasts too young? A new investigation hopes to answer that question.

Also tonight, hit and run; incredible video of a police chase and a mother's rescue of her two children. That and more when 360 continues.


KING: Closing ceremonies for the summer Olympics are this coming Sunday. That's when the Games will end, but not the controversy over China's women's gymnastics team. The issue: whether some team members are underage.

Today Olympic officials asked the International Gymnastics Federation to investigate the allegations; allegations that are now coming from a blogger who says he's unearthed proof not only that some team members are some younger than they say, but also that the Chinese government helped hide the truth.

More now from CNN's Beijing correspondent, John Vause.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Weeks before the Olympics even China's president was asking gymnast He Kexin how old she was. Sixteen, she replied. It was an innocent exchange, but ever since then there have been questions. Is she really 16? The legal age to compete.

Chinese officials have provided a passport as proof to the satisfaction of the International Olympic Committee.

The latest to challenge that is a U.S. security expert reportedly named Mike Walker, who claims to have uncovered proof that He Kexin is in fact 14. On his blog, others are encouraged to go looking, and so far dozens claim to have found similar results.

REBECCA MACKINNON, HONG KONG UNIVERSITY: There's just citizens acting independently online to dig up information and then to share it around the Internet. And it spreads virally, and it's very, very difficult to stop.

VAUSE: Walker claims to have searched Google, Google China and Chinese search engine, Baidu. Many pages, he says, had been deleted. But the cache or snapshot summary of the search results were not. And there he alleges to have found two lists compiled by China's General Administration of Sport where He Kexin's date of birth is given as 1994.

But there's no way to verify Walker's claims, and investigation though by "The New York Times" produced similar results. And it didn't just stop at her. It found half of the Chinese team, these three girls in particular, could be underage. Their passports say they're all 16. But the "Times" uncovered a 2006 biographer of He that lists her birthday as January 1, 1994. That would make her 14, not 16. This girl, Jiang Yuyuan, recently competed in a local competition as a 14-year-old. And a web site in China says this member of the team, Yang Yilin, is 15.

ED SWIFT, "SPORTS ILLUSTRATED": Perception's reality in this instance. If the world sees that China is cheating as far as the age of their gymnasts, it will discredit those medals.

VAUSE: In women's gymnastics, there's a big difference between 14-year-old girls with their smaller, more agile and lighter frames, and older competitors.

SWIFT: They are able to do tricks that they will not be able to do when their bodies mature.

VAUSE: If He had an unfair advantage, it paid off. She took gold on the uneven bars in a tie-breaker over American Nastia Liukin. The U.S. team coordinator said she had no proof He was underage, but added...

MARTA KAROLYI, U.S. TEAM COORDINATOR: Too much talk about it. And so if it's true, that is the talk about that, it's a totally unfair situation for everybody else.

VAUSE: But now it's a long way from over. In launching their investigation, an IOC spokesman says, "More information has come to light that did point to discrepancies."


KING: John Vause joining us now.

John, this has to be embarrassing to the Chinese government. Does it still stand by its claim that all their female gymnasts are 16 or older?

VAUSE: Well, John, in fact, just a short time ago we heard back from China's Sports Bureau. We asked them in light of this IOC investigation what their response is. They say they stand by earlier issued denials that all of their gymnasts are the legal age limit, and they have nothing further to add.

KING: And John, any sense of how long this will take, the investigation? The Games will be closing down. It's a cloud over the results.

VAUSE: Well, certainly, there's no details from the IOC about the investigation: when it will begin, when the terms of reference will be, what they'll be looking at. But certainly what the IOC and also China will be hoping for is that, when the Games end on Sunday, that this controversy will all be forgotten and that they can claim those medals and everyone will forget about these age limits.

The U.S. Olympic team, though, will hopefully -- will be hoping, rather, that this investigation carries on.

KING: We'll keep a close eye on it and check back with you. John Vause for us in Beijing. John, thank you very much.

And when we come back, the latest on flooding in Florida from Tropical Storm Fay which made landfall for the third time today. Some areas are under two feet of water and the forecast says -- get this -- there's more to come.

Also coming up, the mother of missing toddler Caylee Anthony was freed from a Florida jail today after a California bounty hunter paid her half-million-dollar bail. All the details just ahead.


KING: Tonight, Tropical Storm Fay shows no signs of ending its ferocious stranglehold on Florida. For the fourth straight day, Fay has lashed the state with extreme weather. It's led to power outages, evacuations and historic flooding.

Earlier today, President Bush declared an emergency in Florida, paving the way for federal aid to help the residents recover from this relentless storm.

CNN's Gary Tuchman, live for us now in Neptune Beach with the latest -- Gary.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, tropical storm Fay has now been meandering around Florida for five days. It's been a lot of trouble, and now it's also been deadly.

The sad story happened today here in Neptune Beach, Florida. This is near Jacksonville, the beach right in front of me.

There was a woman swimming in the water earlier today when it wasn't raining quite as hard, wasn't quite as windy, but the undertows were very serious. She was with her boyfriend and her boyfriend's brother. She went under during -- in the undertow. She was rescued, but she later died in the hospital.

About 100 miles south of here in Volusia County, near Daytona Beach, the same thing happened. A woman was surfing with a friend of hers. She was also a tourist. Both women were tourists. She was also pulled out of the water. They tried to perform CPR and save her life. They could not.

So two people died in drowning accidents today. Another man died of carbon monoxide poison.

Five days the storm has been meandering around, and the flooding is absolutely epic. We are talking amounts of rain that are now more than 30 inches in some spots here in Florida. If you have one or two inches in your town that's a lot of rain that could flood streets. Imagine what 30 inches are like.

And all over the state, in southwest Florida, south Florida, northeastern Florida; you have people who are now out of their homes. Thousands of homes have been flooded. It looks like the scenes we saw in Iowa and Missouri and Wisconsin earlier this summer with the flooding. So many houses are under water.

This has been such an unusual storm in the sense that it's been all over the state like a tourist. It went from Key West, went through southwest Florida, went through southeast Florida, through the center of Florida. Now it's here in northeast Florida, and the latest predictions are that it's going to continue going west and hit the panhandle of Florida by this weekend.

It has not been a hurricane. The winds now are sustained about 60 miles per hour here. That's tropical-storm-force strength. It's as strong as it's been, but it hadn't been a hurricane. Nevertheless, for the state of Florida, this has been an incredible hardship.

John, back to you.

KING: Gary Tuchman for us in the middle of it all. Without a doubt, Fay has overstayed her welcome. Gary, stay safe.

Just ahead on 360, a motorcyclist leads police on a high-speed chase that ends in a fiery crash with an SUV. He told police -- get this -- he was acting out a video game. Tonight he's in jail for real. We've got video of the chase and the crash coming up.

But first Erica Hill joins us again with a "360 Bulletin."

Hi, Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: John, the mother of a missing Florida toddler is out of jail tonight, released on half a million dollars bail. Casey Anthony faces charges of child neglect and making false statements and obstructing an investigation. Three-year-old Caylee Anthony has been missing since June. Her mother will be monitored with an electronic ankle device.

A long-awaited federal report concludes fire and nothing more caused a building next to the Twin Towers to collapse hours after the 9/11 attack. Government scientists say their three-year investigation found extreme heat weakened critical steel beams in World Trade Center Building No. 7, creating a domino effect when the first beam failed.

And check it out: Microsoft's new pitch man. No, no, not Bill Gates. The other guy on your screen: Jerry Seinfeld. The software giant is reportedly paying the actor/comedian $10 million to star in its new ad campaign this fall -- John.

KING: It will be a future "Beat 360" in Jerry Seinfeld.

But now, tonight's 360 winners. It's our daily challenge to viewers, the chance to show up our staffers by coming up with a better caption for the picture we post on our blog every day.

Tonight's picture, Barack Obama working the phones a few weeks back, prompting a lot of speculation about the big call he's expected to make any moment now.

David is our staff winner tonight, who quipped -- I'm going to get this right this time -- "Some say I'm just 'Biden' my time. Others want me to go straight to 'Hill.' 'Kaine' you believe it? And I have to make a decision 'Bayh' tonight!"

That's pretty good, actually.

HILL: Very clever.

KING: Very good. Our viewer winner is Ryan from Springfield, who won with this, and this is good too: "Hillary, it's Barack. I need your opinion, who would help me better with your supporters, Biden or Bayh?"

HILL: I like it. I like it, Ryan.

KING: Clever, sharp, pointed. Ready for politics.

HILL: Ryan is from the all-important state of Ohio, as well.

KING: All righty. Ryan, your "Beat 360" T-shirt is on the way.

You can check out all the entries we received by clicking on the blog and play along tomorrow. Go to the Web site,

"The Shot" is next. The chase ends in a fiery crash, and the suspect says it's all about a video game. That's ahead.


KING: Time now for "The Shot." You're watching this from a police car dash cam; cops in Utah in pursuit of a motorcyclist when he crashed into an SUV. The impact set the SUV on fire. A female passenger pulls her two children from the back seat.

HILL: Talk about scary.

KING: Look at that. That is scary. Everyone made it out OK.

As for the biker, he reportedly was acting out a video game and told police, it always works out for him when he's playing at home.

HILL: Right, right.

KING: After being treated at a hospital, he went, I think where most people think he probably belongs, straight to jail.

HILL: Yes. That didn't happen in the video game. KING: That does it for this edition of "360."

I'm John King, sitting in for Anderson Cooper. Thanks for watching.

"LARRY KING" starts right now.