Return to Transcripts main page


Renewed Ferocity on Convention Stage; Obama Camp's Pushback; Strategy Behind Palin Pick

Aired September 4, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, John McCain preparing for the biggest night of his political life. He'll accept the presidential nomination of his party. What does he need to say in front of what will surely be his biggest audience?
He's on the podium right now. He's been practicing, seeing what's going on. You're looking at live pictures.

And McCain's running mate suggests that she's a pit bull with lipstick. She certainly bit into her critics, especially Democrats, in her speech last night. The Obama campaign calls Governor Palin tough, but wait until you hear what else it's saying about her today. We have fresh reaction coming in.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in St. Paul at the Republican National Convention. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Get ready to see a new look and a renewed ferocity tonight here at the Republican convention in St. Paul. John McCain takes the stage, a stage that's being transformed to bring him closer to supporters in the crowd. What won't change is Senator McCain's insistence that Senator Obama does not have what it takes to be president of the United States. As he accepts his party nomination to be commander in chief, McCain will play up his experience and position on the issues while attempting to cut down Obama's.

I'm here, along with the best political team on television.

Let's bring in our Dana Bash. She's down on the floor behind me.

Dana, by all accounts, this could be a defining speech and a tough act to follow after Governor Palin last night.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And you know, John McCain's aides are the first to admit that he's not exactly known for his oratory. That's why actually just moments ago, Senator McCain was out here checking out this different kind of setting that we're going to see behind me, a setting that his aides have created to help him more be in his comfort zone.

You see there's kind of a runway. There is a podium. There is a teleprompter. But it's more of a town hall setting.

Again, they want him to be in a place, in a way that he is best able to communicate the thing that he really needs to communicate tonight, and that is why he believes he is best to be president. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Can a 72-year-old candidate convince the American public he's the real agent of change? John McCain will use his acceptance speech to try.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What I've got to do is show people the differences in how we're going to change Washington and America and the differences in our positions, and portray them in a substantive and hopefully a fairly eloquent fashion.

BASH: McCain aides say he'll tell tonight's large audience what he says in smaller settings on the trail.

MCCAIN: I don't work for a special interest. I don't work for myself. I work for you, for the country that has been the love of my life.

BASH: That from fighting earmarks to bipartisan work on campaign finance reform, he used his position inside Washington to challenge it, and Barack Obama hasn't.

MCCAIN: He hasn't been willing to make the tough calls, to challenge his party, to risk criticism from his supporters, to bring real change to Washington.

BASH: He'll insist the Iraq surge is working, and argue he challenged President Bush to shift strategy, and risked his own candidacy fighting for it.

MCCAIN: I said I would rather lose a campaign than see America lose a war.

BASH: Aides promise he'll lay out his vision on issues critical to voters this year, especially energy and the economy. And in vintage McCain style, CNN is told he'll accept his party's nomination by taking it to task for losing its way.

MCCAIN: We Republicans let spending get completely out of control. We betrayed our base when we started in all this pork barrel spending.


BASH: Now, a McCain adviser intimately involved in writing this speech tonight says to look for contrasts between himself and Barack Obama. And everything from policy to character, to approach to governing, but not to look for the kind of biting attacks that we saw from Barack Obama in his acceptance speech last week. They said that we should -- that they expect to leave that kind of talks to others. They want McCain to look like a "statesman" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So Dana, when he's standing behind the podium over there, he'll be reading a teleprompter for the speech, but when he goes out on that catwalk, if you will, is he going to be adlibbing that? Or is there a teleprompter as he walks up and down that catwalk as well?

BASH: There is a teleprompter. If you can see behind me, if you can see those kind of --those boxes, if you will, on either side of the podium, that is a teleprompter. And when he is speaking, those will be words from his speech that he will read.

He also has a very large screen straight ahead of him. That, I'm told, will be there during his speech.

There was some talk about whether or not he would actually move around, maybe grab a hand-held mike. I just spoke to one of his senior advisers who said maybe not to look for that. That the point here is really just to have him surrounded by people, because that is obviously where he's most comfortable.

Having said all that, the McCain campaign, as we know from recent history, they love surprises. So we'll see what happens tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see how he does. We'll see what he does.

Dana, thanks very much.

Gloria, you know, his strength has always been adlibbing in these town hall meetings...


BLITZER: ... which were so important for him in getting that Republican nomination. So if he goes up and down and starts adlibbing again, that may be more of a strong point for him than just reading a speech.

BORGER: Well, that's where he does the best, Wolf, and that's where he's the most comfortable. But clearly, he's got a very limited amount of time here this evening.

They want this in primetime. And, you know, a town hall meeting, you can spend three hours answering people's questions. So it is a little bit of a different kind of a format, but he really does have to talk about people's anxieties, about the economy, which we haven't heard a lot about.

And Wolf, I also think he has to present himself as a more contemporary figure who has a vision for the future, because people understand that he's not a young guy. But they want to know that he thinks ahead, maybe in the way that they thought Ronald Reagan did. He wasn't young either.


Gloria's going to be with us throughout the night.

Thank you. The Obama campaign is certainly determined not to let any attack go unanswered. They say they've learned from Democratic Party history. It's already said Governor Sarah Palin's speech was a blatant distortion of Senator Obama's record and positions. One Democrat, the Kansas governor, Kathleen Sebelius, even says, and I'm quoting now, that "Palin mastered the words written by the Bush speechwriters."

Let's go to CNN's Suzanne Malveaux. She's covering the Obama campaign for us.

Lots of pushback to what's being said today, Suzanne.


Barack Obama's on his way here to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He's about 20 miles away. That is where he just held a press availability, answering a lot of the questions and a lot of that pushback we heard from the Republican convention, what he called the headlines, including Sarah Palin's speech last night. He said it was vitriol, the same kind of slash and burn politics that we have seen before.

The strategy here, Wolf, obviously is to try to appear above the fray.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me. At least that's the line.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We can't keep playing the same political games we always play, where we attack each other and we call each other names and we accuse somebody of being a liberal or right wing or this or that or the other, and then we never get anything done.

MALVEAUX: After a night of zingers from the Republican's vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, Barack Obama and his team tried not to appear bruised.

OBAMA: I've been called worse on the basketball court.

MALVEAUX: Their strategy: focus not on what Palin said, but what she didn't say.

OBAMA: You haven't heard a word about how we're going to deal with any aspect of the economy that is affecting you and your pocketbook day to day.

MALVEAUX: In the heart of Bush country where Obama is fighting for blue-collar voters, he largely stuck to the script. Following a tour of a Pennsylvania power plant, he talked with factory workers about his economic and energy policies. When asked to compare his experience to Palin's, he didn't take the bait.

OBAMA: I'll let Governor Palin talk about her experience. I'll talk about mine.

MALVEAUX: But Obama did take exception to Palin's ridicule of his work as a community organizer in Chicago.

OBAMA: Why would that kind of work be ridiculous? Who are they fighting for? What are they advocating for? Do they think that the lives of those folks who are struggling each and every day that work in -- with them to try to improve their lives is somehow not relevant to the presidency?

MALVEAUX: But Obama's running mate, Senator Joe Biden, who will face off with Palin in upcoming debates, was less forgiving. He called e-mails and Internet ads distorting Obama's record garbage and malarkey.


MALVEAUX: And Obama aides acknowledge that it really is a delicate balancing act here, Wolf. They want to take on Palin, but at the same time, there have already been charges of sexism.

Barack Obama addressing that issue. He said moments ago in his press avail, he said, "I assume she wants to be treated like one of the guys," and then he says, "I've been undergoing this, been through this for 18 months now. She's been through it for four days" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And he faced a woman for the Democratic presidential nomination, so he knows how to battle back on this front. He did it successfully against Hillary Clinton.

Suzanne, thanks very much.

This note to our viewers -- we're going to be hearing directly from Michelle Obama later, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. She's going to be live. And we're anxious to see if she responds to Governor Palin and the implied criticism directly leveled at Michelle Obama last night here at the convention.

So stand by for that. It will be interesting to see if Michelle Obama simply turns the other cheek, if you will, or she directly replies to the criticism from Governor Palin that was leveled at her when Governor Palin said she's proud of her country ever single day, a reference to Michelle Obama's comments that she wasn't necessarily proud of our country until Barack Obama became a serious presidential contender.

So we'll see what happens on that front. Stay with us for that.

And when Senator McCain's speech is over later tonight, there'll be just over 60 days left in this race. We want to take a closer look right now where McCain might stand after this convention.

John King is here with our magic map.

It's a good question, but give us your assessment where this election is moving, because it's going to be a sprint, John, to November 4th.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It will be a blur, Wolf. Sixty days from the conventions to Election Day.

The McCain campaign, as Dana noted, mostly wants to use the speech up here, a big-picture speech to change the tone and the tenor and the focus on John McCain in this campaign. But they're also targeting key constituencies with this speech and with advertising and campaigning that will come.

Let's look at a few of them as we go forward.

One big topic in the McCain campaign is what they call Wal-Mart moms. They're women who make less than $60,000 and they live in some key constituencies in presidential elections.

Let's pull one out and look at the state of Ohio and Pennsylvania that borders it.

You will find what they would call Wal-Mart moms in places like this. They tend to live in smaller towns, rural towns, away from the big cities. They tend to be more conservative.

These are key areas, both in southwest Pennsylvania, southeast Ohio, and then all the way over here into the Cincinnati area as well. We told you yesterday, it's a tossup here right here now. For John McCain to keep this red like George W. Bush did, he needs what his campaign would call Wal-Mart moms. That's one constituency.

Another big constituency, they say, are what they are now calling hockey moms. We used to call them the soccer moms. We're calling them hockey moms in this campaign because of Sarah Palin. Where do they matter? In the suburbs.

Let's take one state, Missouri. Look at right out here. If you pull out St. Louis County, St. Louis County is almost 20 percent of the state's population. It's the big suburb just to the west of St. Louis.

Look at this. John Kerry won in those suburbs 54-45. Now, George Bush carried Missouri, but John McCain thinks Barack Obama will be more competitive, get a big African-American turnout in the city. He needs to do better right out here in the loop out here.

And let me bring the map back into play.

Out here, these are more conservative Wal-Mart moms and hockey moms, especially now in this area. They're more affluent. A Wal-Mart mom makes less than $60,000, a hockey mom is a more affluent suburban woman.

Another key target, Wolf, if you look at voter registration data, there are fewer Republicans. There are more Independents and fewer Republicans. So John McCain needs Independent voters.

Where do we find them? We find them, for starters, in the place where he rescued his campaign. The state of New Hampshire has fewer Republicans than it did four years ago. More Independents and soft Democrats. New Hampshire will be one of the key targets.

Another place where we find them is this will be a key battleground in this election for both campaigns. It's the I-4 corridor.

You start around St. Pete and Tampa, you go across to Orlando. In here, a lot of Independents, a lot of soft Democrats that the McCain campaign believes could be crucial to swinging this election.

Now, quickly, before we finish, remember those states I just gave you. I just showed you Missouri, I showed you Ohio, Pennsylvania, I showed you New Hampshire and Florida. Let's look on our electoral map.

Yellow means it's a tossup. There's Missouri, there's Florida, there's New Hampshire, there's Ohio. Pennsylvania we have leaning Obama. But of those states I just showed you, four of the five are tossups.

John McCain needs to win, Wolf, probably all four of those states, at least the big three, Ohio, Florida and Missouri, to get to 270. So he begins that targeting with the speech tonight. And then as you noted, 60 days, a sprint to the finish.

BLITZER: No rest for the weary. No more vacations. No more relaxation. It's all hard work right now.

KING: You're not weary, are you?

BLITZER: No. We're all -- Gloria, are you strong?

BORGER: Absolutely.

BLITZER: We're all ready to go.

You know Jack Cafferty is ready to go.

What do you think, Jack? What's going on?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Sarah Palin lit it up at the convention in St. Paul last night. The little-known Alaska governor thrust into the spotlight a week ago, John McCain's running mate. She attacked Obama, she attacked the media, she attacked the Washington elite, and she praised John McCain.

She introduced her family, painted herself as somebody who can relate to small-town working class Americans. Described herself as an outsider to Washington.

The number one state in the union for earmarks, pork barrel spending? Alaska. She's the governor. And an average hockey mom, she called herself, who joined the PTA, which started her rise to the governor's office. When it came to solutions to America's myriad of problems, Palin was noticeably lacking, however. She stuck mostly to what she does know about, energy. And although she claimed to be as qualified as Obama to be president, she didn't exactly tell us what she would do as vice president, a job whose description she wasn't quite clear on just a month ago.

Last night was part one for Sarah Palin. She proved that she can rally the base of the Republican Party in a way that John McCain has been unable to. But she hasn't faced questions from the news media, which presumably will happen now that she's going to hit the campaign trail.

At some point, Sarah Palin will be forced to deal with events that are less scripted, less friendly than last night's. And on October the 2nd, she and Joe Biden will tangle in the vice presidential debate, where his foreign policy experience dwarfs hers.

Here's the question then: Does Sarah Palin help or hurt John McCain's chances of becoming president?

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

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

It appears we're about to see the battle of the vice presidential candidates. After Governor Palin went after Democrats, Senator Joe Biden is now reacting. And wait until you hear how he sums up his chances in debating her.

And can the man who's been in Washington for more than two decades actually change Washington? I'll ask Rudy Giuliani to make the case for John McCain. Rudy Giuliani, he spoke last night, fired up this crowd. He'll be here live in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And hope for the best, but plan for the worst. Tropical Storm Hanna could soon strike the United States as a hurricane. The latest on that and Hurricane Ike. It's a Category 4 right now.

And later, Tropical Storm Josephine. They're backing up, they're getting ready in the Atlantic, maybe to come to the United States.

We're watching right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: John McCain's running mate was rather determined in her criticisms of Democrats last night. And now, as you just heard from Barack Obama, Democrats are reacting. And they're reacting forcefully. Governor Palin's direct political adversary looked at her speech and looks ahead to debating her.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was impressed with the governor last night. I really was. I was impressed with her. And I think she's going to be an incredibly competent debater. I think she's going to be very, very tough and very competent.


BLITZER: Meanwhile, we're looking at one strategy Senator McCain surely considered when he picked Governor Palin as a running mate.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is joining us now with more on this part of the story.

Bill, did Governor Palin do what she needed to do in her speech last night?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, she certainly did one thing she need to do -- rally the base.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): John McCain is trying to balance two very different images. There's McCain the maverick, the image he cultivated when he first ran for president in 2000.

MCCAIN: Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance.

SCHNEIDER: There's McCain the imagine of the right, the image that helped him win the Republican nomination.

MCCAIN: I have a 25-year pro-life record in the Congress, in the Senate. And as president of the United States, I will be a pro-life president.

SCHNEIDER: When McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate, he was trying to do two things that are difficult to do at once -- satisfy the Republican base and enhance his maverick image by picking a woman and an outsider. In her speech, Palin demonstrated that she can take care of the base.

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What does he actually seek to accomplish after he's done turning back the waters and healing the planet? The answer -- the answer is to make government bigger and take more of your money, and give you more orders from Washington.

SCHNEIDER: She showed she is not a woman to be trifled with.

PALIN: You know, they say the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick.

SCHNEIDER: Her biggest problem? Voters are not sure she's ready to serve as president. It's not clear her speech answered those doubts. And there wasn't much in there about what she and McCain would do to solve the nation's dire economic problems.

McCain will have to spell that out. But putting Palin on the ticket gives McCain a little more flexibility to reach to the center. She's got his back.


SCHNEIDER: Only 28 percent of voters right now call themselves Republicans, which means McCain can't win just by rallying the base. The George Bush/Karl Rove strategy of 2004 won't work this time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They really need those undecided, those moderates, those Independents that are in the middle right now, is that right?

SCHNEIDER: That is correct. Rallying the base, which is the way George Bush eked out a narrow victory four years ago. It won't work again.

BLITZER: It will help, but it's not going to be enough. All right, Bill. Thank you.

Sarah Palin certainly impressed the crowd here at this convention center last night, but there's still an open investigation about her conduct as the governor of Alaska. We're going to show you some e- mails that reportedly came from the governor herself in that investigation that's ongoing.

And Cindy McCain will be at the podium once again tonight. We'll get some ideas about what the delegates and the voters want to hear from her.

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



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

Happening now, a former public safety commissioner in Alaska says he has e-mails that show Sarah Palin didn't take his investigation seriously. The man he was investigating was involved in a bitter divorce from Palin's sister. Stand by. We have got information on that story.

And "a very sad day for the city of Detroit" -- that's a quote -- the soon-to-be new mayor talking about Kwame Kilpatrick, Kilpatrick resigning today as mayor, after pleading guilty to felony charges.

And it didn't take very long -- Palin parodies hitting the Internet. We're going to show you some candidate comedy. One thing Sarah Palin didn't say a word about last night is the ongoing state investigation into her conduct as governor. It's a serious matter. She's now hired an attorney, but politics are also involved.

Let's go to Brian Todd. He's looking into the story for us, and he's been digging.

What are you learning, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a former state official in Alaska is saying flat-out that Sarah Palin and her inner circle put the squeeze on him over a very difficult family matter. It's a story that campaign has had to battle right out of the gate.



TODD (voice-over): While her public profile shoots through the stratosphere, Sarah Palin faces persistent questions about her handling of a painful family matter that's also made its way into the media glare. Palin is under investigation for her firing of Alaska's public safety commissioner.

Walter Monegan says it was over his handling of a state trooper who was involved in a bitter divorce from Palin's sister.

Monegan spoke with CNN Special Investigations Unit.


WALTER MONEGAN, FORMER ALASKA PUBLIC SAFETY COMMISSIONER: I believe I was fired because I did not fire Mike Wooten. The governor, I think, did allow her personal feelings to get involved in her professional responsibilities, and she ventured where she should not have ventured into.


TODD: Sarah Palin firmly denies the allegation, saying she fired Monegan over monetary issues. Monegan does say he was never told directly to fire the trooper, Mike Wooten, but he says the pressure came in other ways.

Monegan showed e-mails to "The Washington Post" he says were from Palin, which seem to ridicule a probe by the state troopers of Wooten's conduct.

One e-mail reads: "It was a joke, the whole year-long investigation of him. This is the same trooper who's out there today telling people the new administration is going to destroy the trooper organization, that he would never work for that 'expletive' Palin."

CNN could no independently confirm the authenticity of the e- mails. Contacted by CNN, McCain campaign officials say Palin was only telling Monegan about potential threats to her family, and say there's no evidence that Palin ever ordered the trooper to be fired.


TODD: But Palin's office has released an audiotape from a Palin aide in which the aide is talking to the state police about the allegations against that trooper, Mike Wooten. The aide is relaying to the state police about allegations that the trooper Tasered his stepson, that he drove drunk in a police car, and that he shot a moose improperly, or illegally.

There are also allegations that the trooper, Mike Wooten, threatened to kill his ex-father-in-law, Palin's father. The trooper has denied those allegations.

Now, that -- that audiotape of the aide talking to the state police was released by Palin's office themselves. Palin said she didn't know that that aide and others were calling police, and that she -- she suspended that aide. And, so, this investigation is ongoing, Wolf. It's threatening to get pretty dicey out there in Alaska.

BLITZER: The -- the whole investigation was supposed to be cleared up by the end of October. She's now hired a lawyer, and she's saying that the current investigation, the jurisdiction of this investigation, should be changed to a different jurisdiction, which could delay the investigation for some time, well beyond November 4, the election.

What do we know about this part of the story, Brian.

TODD: Well, Wolf, the probe is being conducted by the state legislation, as you mentioned. It's a bipartisan panel, but it's being led by a Democrat. Now, Palin's attorney wants it to be shifted to the state's personnel board. But that board, all of those members, were appointed by Palin's Republican predecessor.

The Democratic lawmaker heading that investigation says he is not going to do that unless the matter is taken up with the state's attorney general. And, as you mentioned, that matter it scheduled to be wrapped up about a week or less before Election Day. So, they want it wrapped up more quickly than that. They think that that state personnel board can do it. But that's got allegations of politics involved in it.

BLITZER: Well, some say they want it wrapped up long after the election, as opposed to more quickly.

TODD: That's right.

BLITZER: So, it's not necessarily clear-cut.

All right, Brian, thanks very much.

Gloria Borger is here. This whole trooper investigation, you know, because you hear from one side, this was a bitter divorce, a custody divorce, and they have got all sort of allegations against the ex-brother-in-law of the governor...

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: ... he's threatening her family, he's threatening her.

BORGER: To kill her father, apparently.


BLITZER: Allegations he Tasered the son. So, it's really ugly out there.

BORGER: Yes, it's pretty -- it's pretty messy business. When you talk to people in the McCain campaign, they say, look, this is a bad guy, threatening to kill her father, in fact. But they maintain that she did not do anything inappropriate.

She did not order that he be fired. But I think the fact that she's now hired an attorney, Wolf, as you were sort of pointing out just a moment ago, means that she probably wants this not to conclude right before the election, but after the election.


BORGER: Attorneys usually delay things.


BLITZER: That's what they -- that's the nature of the business.

All right, thanks very much. Gloria's not going away.

John McCain, by the way, won't be the only one with a tall order to fill tonight. His wife, Cindy, will also be up on the stage. She will give her first major speech to Americans on behalf of her husband. And it will be viewed by millions and millions of people.

Let's bring in our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's on the podium for us.

So, what do we expect as far as Cindy McCain is concerned, Candy?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we expect her to talk about her husband. As they say, usually, wives are the best at presenting at least the personal side of who their spouse is.

Very interesting for Cindy McCain. This is a -- a reticent campaigner. This is not her first choice for what to do with her life. She is usually seen standing next to John McCain, rather than out on her own campaigning. She's a businesswoman, heading up her father's business, one of the largest distributors of Anheuser-Busch in the country. She is a multimillionaire.

She has four children. And that's where her interests have lied. She's also going to talk about service, because she serves on many boards, international aid, mostly for children. So, tonight will be a time to talk about service of a different sort as well. She's with Operation Smile that helps correct cleft palates for children overseas.

She's been to Georgia recently, visiting refugee camps there. So, that's where her passion lies. That's the kind of service that she will talk about tonight.

But, in the main, her job is to talk about the man she has known, the man that she married and had four children with. So, that -- that is the role of the wife. And -- and, very interesting, in some ways, a lot of people here, talking to some delegates coming in, they really believe that Cindy McCain, while obviously she's getting a speaking slot here, she's not being kind of highlighted.

And there's not going to be, they don't think, that kind of comparison with Michelle Obama, say, who has really actively been out there on her own campaigning for her husband. She is a much different sort of along the lines of Laura Bush potential first lady than along the lines of a Hillary Clinton first lady -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Candy, stand by up on the podium.

Michelle Obama, by the way, is out there campaigning today. And we're going to be hearing from her live. That's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We will see how she responds, if she responds, to what Governor Palin said last night. Stand by for that.

Also, a keynote speaker with a mission -- the former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, he took the stage at the convention last night. And he got the crowd all riled up for the Republican ticket.


RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), FORMER NEW YORK MAYOR: With his being a maverick, with him and Sarah Palin, can you imagine how they're going to shake up Washington?


GIULIANI: Look out!


GIULIANI: Look out!


BLITZER: The former mayor trying to sell the GOP ticket. I will ask him about his strategy and a lot more.

And Sarah Palin makes light of Barack Obama's work as a community organizer. Will that move backfire?

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


BLITZER: Both Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin last night mocked and belittled Senator Barack Obama's experience as a community organizer. Could those attacks actually backfire?

Let's discuss in our "Strategy Session."

Joining us, our Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Donna Brazile, along with Republican consult ant Alex Castellanos.

I will play a clip of Giuliani said about community organizing and what Governor Palin said. Listen to this.


GIULIANI: Maybe this is the first problem on the resume.


GIULIANI: He worked as a community organizer.

PALIN: I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities.


PALIN: This world of threats and dangers, it's not just a community and it doesn't just need an organizer.


BLITZER: All right, Donna, they're really making fun of being a community organizer. He gave -- he went from Harvard Law School. He could have gone to Wall Street. He decided to become a community organizer in Chicago. And they're making fun of that. What do you say?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I don't think they would make fun of it if -- if they understood that a community organizer is someone who goes into the community to help the least of these. In Barack Obama's case, he went to help unemployed workers get their jobs back. He went to help people who were losing their health care, help people who were losing their -- their -- their homes.

And, so, maybe they have a problem with the title, but not the job description.

BLITZER: Are they treading on thin ice, Giuliani and Palin, when they ridicule being a community organizer?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you want to be careful, because they're trying to make a point, and a point that is productive for them politically. And that is that, if we're talking about Barack Obama's experience, or lack thereof, on Election Day, Democrats will lose. And -- and community organizer is a way to say he doesn't have government experience. That's the point they're trying to make here. It's no replacement for it.

But I think they want to be very careful that they say, look, it's a noble thing, it's a wonderful thing to help your community and be a good neighbor and help. It just doesn't make you president of the United States. That's all.

BRAZILE: Well, you know, it's so amazing. The Republicans would like to define service as just serving in the military, which is service. But, when you walk around this room, you see country first. Perhaps, the Republicans should try to put all Americans first.

And what Obama was trying to do was make a difference in the lives of everybody.

CASTELLANOS: I will try not to be that partisan. I will just say that the point I think they're trying to make is, it's a great way to serve. It's an important part of the web of service that all Americans can contribute, but is it something that qualifies you to be president of the United States?

And what the Republicans are trying to say, I think, is, hey, look at that. Look at -- he voted present in the state Senate. You know, he just got to the Senate a few years ago. There's a whole panoply of things that the Republicans, I think, are trying to weave together and say he doesn't have the experience.

BRAZILE: Well, that's why...


CASTELLANOS: Maybe Sarah Palin doesn't have the experience to be vice president, but she's at least got more than Barack Obama. That's the debate we're having now.

BRAZILE: And that is -- that should be a debate, because the speech was like that bridge. It was a speech to nowhere because it had no specifics. It didn't talk about how she would deliver jobs, how she would deliver health care.

The country has seen a repeat of the 2004 campaign, where one side just attacked and -- and put out misleading charges. And the other side is trying to talk about the issues. And we know now, based on what Rick Davis said, that is not about issues. It's about personalities.

Well, I don't think the American people want to see personalities.

BLITZER: All right, very quickly, because we have got to go, go ahead. Make your final point. CASTELLANOS: Oh, no. You know, I think Rick was commenting on what voters are really looking at, and that's the character and strength of a president in uncertain times. I don't think he was trying to say that issues don't count in this election. Certainly, both sides have drawn big differences on those.

BLITZER: All right, guys, Rick Davis being the campaign chairman for the McCain campaign.

Guys, thanks very much, but don't go away, because we have got a long night ahead of us.

Political attacks and pushback, Senator Barack Obama fighting back today. The senator says the McCain campaign isn't giving him the credit he deserves for his experience. That's after Sarah Palin made fun, as we just heard, of Senator Obama's community organizing efforts. So, what's the reaction to the speech on talk radio?

We're talking about that, and more, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: "Experience counts, and I have got plenty of it" -- that message coming today from Senator Barack Obama.

As we just talked about in our "Strategy Session," he says Sarah Palin's attack last night on his community organizing efforts are wrong and that the GOP is just doing what it always does.


OBAMA: This is work I did three years ago. They haven't talked about the fact that I was a civil rights lawyer. They haven't talked about the fact that I taught constitutional law. They haven't talked about my work in the state legislature or the United States Senate.

They're talking about the three years of work that I did right out of college. Now, I understand they don't have much of an agenda to run on, but, you know, I think that the American people deserve better than to get the same old vitriol and -- and slash-and-burn politics that we have been seeing over the last couple of days.


BLITZER: Senator Obama also says talking about Sarah Palin's experience as a governor is relevant to the campaign.


OBAMA: The notion that any questions about her work in Alaska is somehow not relevant to her potentially being vice president of the United States doesn't make too much sense to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: There's another old saying, that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But that was before the Internet came along. Check this out.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to be the first female vice president of these United States, and you're going to be the ones who make it so.


BLITZER: Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is about to show us some more of these parodies. See if you find them flattering or funny.

Stand by for that.

And Governor Palin accuses Barack Obama of flip-flopping and pandering to different groups of voters, but what about her own record? James Carville and Bill Bennett, they're standing by live to join us. We will take a closer look at just who is pandering.

And, while we spend a lot of time listening to what's being said from the podium, our Jeanne Moos is listening to what the delegates are saying and chanting on the convention floor.

Here's Jeanne Moos with a "Moost Unconventional Moment."


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sometimes, Republicans...


MOOS: ... don't stick to their button-down image.

Case in point: chants.


AUDIENCE: Republicans have a new favorite, and it requires the use of their finger.


AUDIENCE: Couldn't quite make it out? Let's go back to its origin, when Hawaii's governor said the Obama/Biden ticket had no executive experience, zero. Rudy got their fingers going again, saying Obama never led anything.



MOOS: And when Rudy talked about drilling for oil, he hit a geyser of creativity.


AUDIENCE: Drill, baby, drill!

GIULIANI: Drill, baby, drill?


GIULIANI: You guys were ready to break out!

MOOS: But drilling for new chants can create listener confusion. John McCain's mom looked puzzled about zero. And some in the media first thought they were chanting "veal." Someone was hungry.


MOOS: With an unconventional moment, I'm Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.



BLITZER: On our "Political Ticker": Comedians online are having a field day with vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

Abbi Tatton is joining us right now.

Abbi, what are we seeing online?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, for every one of the real videos on YouTube of Sarah Palin, you're going to see the impersonations, the Sarah Palin spoofs that are already popping up all over the Internet, some of them more convincing than others online. But some of the best of them are already getting hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube.

Take a look at this one.






UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator McCain, how did you get my number? I only hand it out to people I have met more than twice.


TATTON: That from YouTube personality LisaNova -- about 400,000 views on that one already.

And also popular, these installments of video logs have been popping up in the last few days.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to be the first female vice president in these United States. And you're going to be the ones who make it so.


TATTON: Those being put up online every day right now by comedian Sarah Benning Casser (ph). There's about two months to go before this election. Let's see if she can churn out 60 more -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Abbi -- very, very funny.

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

CAFFERTY: The question this hour: Does Sarah Palin help or hurt John McCain's chances of becoming the next president?

Pat in New Jersey writes: "The woman described herself perfectly, as a pit bull with lipstick. Apparently, she's a better shot than Dick Cheney, but that may be the only improvement in having her as V.P. If they win, I will get on my knees daily to pray for McCain's good health."

J.B. writes: "As a longtime independent, I was hoping that Governor Palin would provide a very motivational speech last night, such as the one Senator Obama provided a week ago. What she unfortunately provided was just a lot more of the usual Republican 'We're right, they're wrong' drivel. John McCain better deliver something motivational, frank, refreshing, and hopeful tonight, and get off the 'They're just wrong' bandwagon, or he's lost the race."

Rene in Connecticut: "Absolutely will help. What a compliment to McCain -- youth, spunk, energy, intelligence. To all the Democrats who thought they had a cake walk to the White House, wake up and smell the coffee. Palin is for real. A lot of people relate to her. Can't wait to hear McCain tonight."

Bracey writes: "It hurts McCain. She showed a knack for insults. But now can she come up with answers for our job losses, increased food costs, increased gas prices, decreased wages, increased foreclosures, decreasing home equities, health care needs, terrible relations with our allies, and a senseless cowardly war -- most of which was caused by the Republicans?"

Steve in Oklahoma writes: "McCain's campaign was faltering before he selected Palin. She's given him a fighting chance now in November, something that Ridge or Lieberman would never have given him. If the GOP is going down, at least they will go down swinging."

Sheryl writes, "Sarah Palin is Dick Cheney with lipstick." CAFFERTY: If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at Look for yours there, among hundreds of others -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.