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Does Palin Help or Hurt McCain?; Where Is North Korea's Leader?

Aired September 9, 2008 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Let's go to Abbi Tatton, you are working on a six-year-old news story.
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Yes, it really rocked the markets yesterday, Wolf. This article screamed the headline "United Airlines files for bankruptcy." And within minutes this happened, the stock plunging 67 percent before trading was halted. But that headline was six years old. A Google search done by a financial research firm pulled up this 2002 article, but the date on it appeared current. It was then distributed via Bloomberg News as new, and the companies involved were quick to alert people to the error.

Today, you have got Google -- or last night they posted a news post in their blog, saying that their software was unable to recognize the original date, and they have now pulled this from their news index. The stock has mainly rebounded, but still people are scratching their heads about how this was allowed to happen -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Abbi, very much.

And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: new marching orders for U.S. troops out of Iraq and into Afghanistan. Barack Obama says it is too little, too late.

Plus, Sarah Palin, does she help or hurt John McCain? Will her popularity trump Joe Biden's experience? The best political team on television is standing by.

And Palin is trying to get some political mileage out of that so- called bridge to nowhere. How soon and strongly did she actually oppose it? We are digging for information in Alaska, as well as right here in Washington.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Barack Obama doesn't need much prodding to link John McCain to the war in Iraq. But, today, he found new reason to make the connection. President Bush announced plans to bring 8,000 U.S. troops home from Iraq by February and to deploy about 4,500 other service members to Afghanistan.

As you might expect, Obama was not impressed.

Our Suzanne Malveaux is covering the Obama campaign -- Suzanne. SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf. We're in Lebanon. This is southwest Lebanon, Virginia, population 4,000. It's a coal town that went bust. But it was saved by the investment of high-tech industry. Barack Obama says it's is a model for success. He also says this is an example of the kind of change he will bring this country.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): Barack Obama, who's been running on his opposition to the Iraq war, slammed President Bush's plan to bring home 8,000 U.S. troops by February, too little, too late, he said, to fix the mess in Iraq and fight the terrorists in Afghanistan.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: President Bush also announced additional troops for Afghanistan. I'm glad that the president's moving in the direction of the policy that I have advocated for years. His plan comes up short. It is not enough troops, not enough resources, with not enough urgency.

MALVEAUX: Obama seized on the announcement to link his opponent to the unpopular war.

OBAMA: And Senator McCain goes further than President Bush in opposing the sovereign Iraqi government's own support for a timetable to redeploy our troops, while offering no plan to press the Iraqis to reconcile.


MALVEAUX: Obama also went after John McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, over their portrayal as the real agents of change. But, he argued, it works in his favor.

OBAMA: The Republican Party, which had been trying to make an argument about experience, basically got off that and came to our field. And they realize that this is going to be a change election. That's a debate we welcome.

MALVEAUX: In Riverside, Ohio, Obama highlighted how he would change the country's education system.

OBAMA: I want experimentation, but I also want accountability.

MALVEAUX: His agenda includes investing in early childhood education, doubling funding for successful charter schools, providing $4,000 tax credits for students doing community service, and increasing training and pay for teachers.


MALVEAUX: So, how does Obama propose to pay for all of this? Well, he brings it back to the Iraq war. He says by getting out, it will save the country the $10 billion it spends on that war each month -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Suzanne, Thank you.

Let's get to John McCain and Sarah Palin right now. They have been campaigning once again together today, this time in both Ohio and Pennsylvania, key battleground states. Their efforts to co-opt Obama's something of change took a new twist, though.

Let's go to Dana Bash. She has traveled with McCain to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where she is covering the story for us.

All right. They seem to be getting their act in terms of more familiar terrain. What is going on?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, at this point, Wolf, the huge crowds that we have seen over the past several days, like we saw behind me not too long just about an hour ago for Sarah Palin and John McCain, they are not a surprise anymore. But there was one surprise today, and that was the return of what had been a standard McCain line before Palin was in the picture.


BASH (voice-over): The Straight Talk Express pulled into a now familiar post-convention scene, dense Ohio crowds who waited for hours to catch a glimpse, maybe get an autograph from John McCain's running mate, yet in McCain's speech something now less familiar, a staple attack against Barack Obama that McCain had conspicuously dropped with the first-term Alaska governor his by his side, the readiness argument.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Obama was wrong about Iran. He was wrong about Iraq. He was wrong about Russia. He's wrong about America's national security challenges in the future. And he has no experience. And, more importantly, he lacks the judgment to lead this country.

BASH: A senior adviser concedes to CNN that McCain brought that line back in response to this from Obama a day earlier.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: It was like a month ago, they were all saying, oh, it's experience, experience, experience. And then they chose Palin and they start talking about change, change, change. What happened? What happened?

BASH: CNN is told that camp McCain wanted to signal they're not abandoning a core pre-convention, pre-Palin mantra, that Obama lacks the judgment to be president, but the thrust of the McCain/Palin strategy is still to convince voters they will shake up Washington.

MCCAIN: Change is coming, and real change is coming to Washington, D.C. And we are going to shake things up.


BASH: And, for McCain, talking change means not talking about George W. Bush, even on a day the president said 8,000 troops would be coming home from Iraq, a sign of success you would think that McCain would trumpet, but no mention of the Bush announcement at rallies in Ohio or Pennsylvania.

MCCAIN: Senator Obama voted to cut off funding for our troops in Iraq.


BASH: Instead, it was all about Obama being wrong in opposing the surge.


BASH: The McCain campaign did release a written statement about the president's troop announcement, which focused almost entirely on Barack Obama and his -- quote -- "utterly confused Iraq position."

Now, Wolf, it is no accident that McCain didn't want to talk about the president here in front of voters in a battleground state. I'm told by advisers that they have concluded that swing voters, they are not sure they want to vote for Obama yet, but they know they don't want four more years of Bush -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, you listen, Dana. You cover him. You listen to all these stump speeches from Palin and from McCain. They never, ever talk about Bush in any way?

BASH: Not talking about President Bush. They have not talked about him at all.

BLITZER: When do they decide that they're going to go their separate ways, she will go someplace and he will go someplace else? When does that happen?

BASH: That's actually going to happen tomorrow. There is going to be a rally tomorrow morning in Northern Virginia, not far from where you are, and then Sarah Palin is actually going to take off for her home state of Alaska, where she is actually going to say goodbye to her eldest son, who is of course being deployed -- is deploying for Iraq.

So, that is one reason why she is going. She's also going to do a couple of events back home and she's also going to give her first television interview while she is there at the end of the week. And McCain is going to go out on his own. It is going to be interesting to see the difference in terms of his events now alone, as opposed to what it has been like with Palin.

BLITZER: Because she certainly did energize those crowds when she was with him.

BASH: You bet.

BLITZER: We will see what happens next.

All right, Dana, thanks very much. Dana will stay out on the campaign trail. Republicans say John McCain and Sarah Palin are in fact mavericks, but in new ad, the Obama campaign says, not so fast. How can they be mavericks, the Obama camp says, when they are surrounded by some people that represent the old ways of doing politics, doing business here in Washington, namely lobbyists?

Obama, Republicans say, should be careful when it comes to this criticism.

Let's go to Ed Henry. He has done a fact check for all of us -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the controversy centers around seven key McCain advisers and whether or not they used to be lobbyists. The answer may not please the McCain camp, but they point out the Obama camp's hands not exactly clean either.


HENRY (voice-over): Barack Obama is trying to undermine John McCain's reform credentials.

OBAMA: John McCain says that he is going to tell all those lobbyists in Washington that their days of running Washington are over, which sounds pretty good until you discover that seven of his top campaign managers and officials are, guess what, former corporate lobbyists.

HENRY: It's true. Seven top McCain officials were lobbyists, though the campaign stresses none are currently registered to lobby Congress.

One, campaign manager Rick Davis, a major telecom lobbyist.

Two, senior foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann recently faced scrutiny over his foreign lobbying on behalf of the Republic of Georgia.

Three, senior adviser Charlie Back was a former lobbyist for dictators in Zaire and Angola in the 1980s. Fodder for liberal MoveOn. org.


NARRATOR: Charlie Black said he didn't do anything wrong. John McCain should tell Black he did. Call John McCain and tell him to fire Charlie Black.


HENRY: Four, Frank Donatelli, the Republican National Committee's liaison to the McCain camp whose clients included ExxonMobil.

Five, economic adviser Nancy Pfotenhauer has lobbied for corporate giants like Coke Industries.

NANCY PFOTENHAUER, MCCAIN ECONOMIC ADVISER: Both John McCain and Sarah Palin have challenged special interests, challenged their own party. That's the test of courage.

HENRY: The final two lobbyists are McCain's congressional liaison, John Green, and national finance co-chair Wayne Berman. They both lobbied for Fannie Mae, the troubled mortgage giant, among others.

But Obama's case could be hurt by running mate Joe Biden's close ties to lobbyists, including his son Hunter, who has worked for credit card giant MBNA. Biden insists his son's employment had nothing do with his support of bankruptcy legislation backed by the bank.

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I can look you right straight in the eye and guarantee you my son has never, ever, ever lobbied me.


HENRY: The bottom line is, both sides are facing charges of connections to the old way of doing business in Washington. So, whomever wins may have a hard time of backing up the rhetoric about change -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry working this story for us, thank you.

The so-called bridge to nowhere in Alaska crosses some troubled political waters. The governor, Sarah Palin, keeps saying she stopped that bridge plan, but Barack Obama says what she is saying is simply shameless. We are fact-checking for you.

Also, if elected, Palin would be a heartbeat away from the presidency. Is she ready to serve? You answered in our brand-new poll.

And the cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong has a huge announcement. You will want to hear what he is saying -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The McCain campaign suggests Sarah Palin would help shake up Washington by helping Senator McCain promote leaner, wiser government spending.

CNN's Jessica Yellin went to Alaska to investigate Palin's record as governor and how she handled the state's finances -- Jessica.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Governor Palin has a reputation as a budget trimmer. So we took a closer look at the record.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) YELLIN (voice-over): Some Alaskans see Governor Palin as a modern-day Robin Hood, slashing government spending, giving money to the people.

KIM BRINK, ALASKA RESIDENT: She helped to balance our budget. I mean, she's done a very good job at that and then she gave, she fought to get us all a little extra money in these hard economic times.

YELLIN: And on the campaign trail she's selling herself as a fiscal Rambo.

GOV. SARAH PALIN, VICE-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our state budget is under control, we have a surplus. And I have protected the taxpayers by vetoing wasteful spending.

YELLIN: The facts? The state has actually increased spending under Palin's tenure, still, Alaska does have a big surplus. Over the last two years it put $5 billion into savings but that's because a new tax on the oil companies here, supported by Governor Palin, has driven money into state coffers.

PALIN: I told the Congress thanks, but no thanks, on that bridge to nowhere. If our states wanted to build a bridge, we were going to build it ourselves.

YELLIN: It's a big applause line, but before she became governor, Palin was for the bridge to nowhere. After being elected said she was against it, saying it was too expensive. But Alaska kept the more than $100 million Congress gave for the bridge. Palin has used her line item veto to cut funds for special interest programs called earmarks, but democrats criticize her for slashing programs even for people with disabilities, a group she's vowed to defend. Her democratic critics complain she has the wrong priority.

LES GARA (R), ALASKA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: for a drop in the bucket every single kid in the state could have health insurance. For a drop in the bucket we don't have to be one of the worst states of high school graduation rates in the country and for a drop in the bucket, we could offer pre-K education to families who want their kids to succeed.


YELLIN: The McCain campaign is pushing back hard, saying that during a short period of time, she has been successful on tough issues, giving each Alaskan a $1,200 rebate from that tax on oil companies, championing a natural gas pipeline that she says will help economy, cutting $231 million in government projects, and overseeing a budget that has tripled the amount of funding for special needs education -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica Yellin reporting for us from Anchorage, Alaska. She is staying on the scene from us. We will get more from her tomorrow.

Meanwhile, there's new evidence today that the next administration, whoever leads it, will be saddled with enormous debt. The Congressional Budget Office now estimates that the U.S. budget deficit will skyrocket to $407 billion -- that's almost a record level -- for the fiscal year that ends September 30.

John McCain talked to voters today about Washington's big spending ways.


MCCAIN: And let me talk to you just for a minute about spending. It's out of control, my friends. It's become evil, and it is corrupted. It is corrupted, Washington, D.C. My friends, I have got an old ink pen, and I'm going to take that ink pen, and I'm going to veto every single pork barrel, big-spending bill that comes across my desk.


MCCAIN: And I will make them famous, and you will know their names.


MCCAIN: You will know their names, and we will shame them. We will shame them, my friends.


MCCAIN: We are never going to spend $3 million again to study the DNA of bears in Montana.


MCCAIN: I don't know if that was a paternity issue or a criminal issue, but it's not going to happen again.


MCCAIN: We have to stop it. And, my friends, that money takes away your ability to fill up your gas tank and to make your mortgage payment, and it hurts us. It hurts us, and it erodes our trust and confidence in government. We can restore that.


BLITZER: That was John McCain speaking earlier today in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. That is a key battleground state.

Barack Obama and his take on America's mortgage crisis right now and the enormous economic pain being felt around the country.

Listen to Senator Obama speaking to voters in Virginia just a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: We have got more home foreclosures nationwide than at any time since the Great Depression. And all across the country, home values have gone down because nobody was minding the store on Wall Street and regulating these financial institutions when they were giving out these predatory loans to people all across the country.


OBAMA: And even if you do have a job, you have seen your wages and your incomes flatline. When Bill Clinton was president, the average family income went up $7,500.


OBAMA: Since George Bush has been president, the average family income has gone down $2,000.


BLITZER: And Obama went on to point out that the national debt has nearly doubled over these past eight years, going from around $5 trillion to almost $10 trillion right now, and, as we just reported, this year's budget deficit nearly doubling as well.

Much more coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, including options that you are going to have to consider. How much do you like the candidates' personalities? How much do you like their level of experience? We have a fresh poll that shows how those questions are shaping up for lots of people.

And as North Korea celebrates its 60th anniversary, why was its leader, Kim Jong Il, missing? We are looking at concerns he is ill, perhaps even dead.

And if you have ever had chicken KFC, a story to tantalize your buds, taste buds, that is. Their secret recipe is out, sort of.

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



BLITZER: Sarah Palin is hoping her opposition to the bridge to nowhere helps the GOP ticket get somewhere, namely the White House. But the Obama camp accusing her of being for the bridge before she was against the bridge. We're taking a closer look at the record to find out what exactly happened.

And North Korea's Kim Jong Il, is he dead or alive? There's new mystery surrounding him.

And John McCain and Sarah Palin refuse to give up on barracuda. We will tell you what is going on.


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

Happening now: the Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, and the so- called bridge to nowhere. We are checking the facts on what is becoming a key issue in the campaign, her real role in the controversial project. Stand by.

Also, voters speaking out on who is most qualified to be vice president and who they like most, not necessarily, by the way, the same candidate -- all of this coming up, plus the best political team on television.

And out of sight for almost a month, the world now wondering, where is North Korea's absolute ruler, Kim Jong Il?

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

As we have been reporting, the so-called bridge to nowhere crosses some very troubled political waters. It is an issue that remains in this presidential race. Governor Palin casts herself as a reformer, saying she stopped the wildly expensive proposal for you to pay for that bridge.

Let's go to Brian Todd. He's been looking into the story. He's been doing a fact check.

You've been looking closely at her involvement in this bridge, where she stood at the beginning, the middle, and, now, Brian, what are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, when she ran for governor, Sarah Palin found herself in the middle of a huge political debate over this bridge that never ended up being built. The so-called "Bridge To Nowhere" would have, indeed, been in a remote spot, connecting the small city of Ketchikan to the island of Gravina. Some in Alaska believe that project had real merit, but it still became a symbol of government excess and is now causing a real dust-up on the campaign trail.


TODD (voice-over): A campaign with momentum and a message -- they're the real agents of change. And a new ad from McCain/Palin team hits it hard.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He fights pork barrel spending. She stopped the "Bridge To Nowhere"


TODD: The "Bridge To Nowhere" -- in Sarah Palin's home state of Alaska, one end would be in Ketchikan -- a city of a few thousand, but also a popular cruise ship stop and a haven for the world's best salmon. The other end on the even more remote Gravina Island. Only a few dozen people live there, but it also holds Ketchikan's international airport.

In 2005, the proposed bridge was dubbed the poster child for Congressional pork spending. Two powerful Republicans, Congressman Don Young and Senator Ted Stevens, tried to push through more than $220 million in federal earmarks to fund the bridge.

Sarah Palin now says those bucks stopped with her.

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I told Congress thanks, but no thanks, for that "Bridge To Nowhere" up in Alaska.

TODD: A claim that provoked this ad from the Obama campaign and charges of a Palin flip-flop.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was for the "Bridge To Nowhere" before she was against it.


TODD: Our fact check found that Palin, while running for governor in 2006, did voice general support for the bridge project.

PALIN: I would not get in the way of progress of this project or other projects that they're working so hard on.

TODD: But at the same time, Palin also questioned whether this was the best way to spend government money. By then, Congress had already cancelled the earmark for the bridge. But told Alaska it could keep the money to spend as it chose.

After Palin was elected governor, she decided the bridge wasn't worth it.

The bridge had become a political liability, but Palin still gets credit from watchdog groups.

TOM SCHATZ, COUNCIL FOR CITIZENS AGAINST GOVERNMENT WASTE: Anyone who takes on Ted Stevens and Don Young when it comes to transportation is taking on two very powerful interests in Washington, D.C.


TODD: One interesting footnote here. In late 2005, some senators pushed for the money that had been earmarked for the "Bridge To Nowhere" to be reallocated for victims of Hurricane Katrina. That measure failed.

Two senators who voted against reallocating that money to hurricane victims -- Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Now, this could have been for legitimate reasons. We've called their Senate offices and the campaign several times to find out why and still haven't gotten a clear answer on that yet.

But also in that vote, two senators from Mississippi, where Katrina also hit, also voted against the measure.

John McCain did not vote on that measure -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He wasn't present, was that the deal?

TODD: That's -- he -- well, the record just said he did not vote.


TODD: So it's not clear there.

BLITZER: There's another bridge supposedly going nowhere that's still alive -- that's still alive, is that right?

TODD: That's right, one that would connect Anchorage to another remote spot called Port McKenzie, about the same price tag, also pushed by Don Young and Ted Stevens. Now that earmark was also canceled by Congress. But state officials, as we speak, are still considering various proposals on how to fund it themselves, possibly.

BLITZER: All right.

Let's talk about this.

Brian, thanks very much.

Let's bring in our political panel -- the best team on television. Right now joining us, our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

Gloria, this is becoming a hot potato out there, this "Bridge To Nowhere" -- not necessarily because it was all that important, because of what it stands for, what it represents in this campaign in the final 50 odd days.

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure it is, because if you're billing yourself as a reformer, you know, the Obama campaign is trying to say no, no, no, she's not as much of a reformer as she says she is. So they're clearly having a little bit of fun with it.

I'm not so sure it's clever for Senator Obama himself to take on Governor Palin. I think he probably ought to be sticking to the guy at the top of the ticket.

BLITZER: What do you think, Candy, about this whole debate that's going on right now?

Is it resonating out there, because it's certainly generating campaign ads.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It absolutely it is. I mean here's what the Obama campaign is trying to do. What is really driving them crazy at this point is the whole idea that somehow the McCain ticket stands for change. That has been Barack Obama's signature issue and it's driving them crazy. And they think that it's had some resonance out there.

So McCain brings on this fresh face.

What are they trying to do with the "Bridge To Nowhere" and some of these other ads?

They're trying to say she may have a fresh face, but she's just the same old thing. She's just another politician. She's not telling you truth.

So, yes, they do believe that there's some resonance out there. If nothing else, she has grabbed the headlines for the more than a week. And that really matters when you've got a campaign that is now down to the final eight weeks.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Gloria.

BORGER: And, Wolf, that's why a lot of Democratic strategists say that the Obama campaign ought to start shifting back to the economy. Because, first of all, they believe that they have more credibility on the change issue than someone who, as they say, voted with George Bush 90 percent of the time. But also talk about the economy because that's their strong suit, also, in terms of issue. In other words, let McCain campaign on personality and let them talk about the issues that really affect people's pocketbooks.

BLITZER: A lot of people, Candy, just can't believe, with the economy in such bad shape, the deficit, the debt -- people are losing their homes, gasoline high prices -- that McCain is as competitive with Obama as he is right now -- and even, in some polls, ahead.

CROWLEY: Well, and was competitive even before Sarah Palin.

Two factors here.

John McCain has pretty successfully, to a lot of voters, removed the "R," Republican, from after his name and put M for maverick. It's one of the reasons that the Obama campaign keeps hitting on things and saying this is no maverick, he's with George Bush.

The other thing is some real doubts out there still about Barack Obama. As they used to say in the Clinton campaign, he hasn't closed the deal. We also have to put in that little caveat that right now, polls are a snapshot. They certainly don't tell us what's going to happen at the end of September, much less November.

BLITZER: And we still have three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate that millions and millions of people will be watching.

Guys, stand by for a moment.

So what matters most when it comes to vice president?

Would it be experience or likeability?

Voters are now speaking out and they're sending a somewhat mixed message in our brand new poll.

Plus, former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul is about to make an endorsement for president. Stand by and we'll tell you what he's about to say.


BLITZER: But does likeability trump qualifications when it comes to being a vice president?

Let's get back to our political panel. And joining Gloria and Candy is Mark Halperin from our sister publication, "Time" magazine. He writes The Page there at

Let me show you guys some poll numbers that we just released today, our brand new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll.

We asked registered voters, "Who is qualified to serve as president?"

Biden -- 70 percent said he was qualified; 50 percent said Palin was qualified; 28 percent said Biden was not qualified; 48 percent said Palin was not qualified.

We also asked their opinion of these two vice presidential nominees. Palin's favorable number was 57, Biden's was 51; unfavorable, 27 for Palin, 28 for Biden -- almost basically the same.

Mark Halperin, what's more important, qualifications, likeability?

What do these numbers say to you?

MARK HALPERIN "TIME" MAGAZINE: Wolf, as your friend, Bill Clinton, would say, that's a false choice. They're both important.

What it says to me is that, contrary to what some of us thought -- and I would include myself in that -- that the Palin pick was politically risky, that it's turned out to have discombobulated the Obama campaign. They don't know how to respond to it. And every time they see poll numbers like the CNN numbers that show that Palin is, in every important indices, at parity with Biden, or even in some cases better -- in most cases -- it discombobulates them further.

BLITZER: It may turn out to be not such a good move, but, what, a week-and-a-half later, Gloria, it looks like it was a brilliant move on the part of John McCain. It rallied his conservative base and it's helping him -- potentially -- with Independents, especially women out there.

BORGER: I think -- I think so far so good, as far as they're concerned. Look, I'm old enough to remember, Wolf, when Gerry Ferraro excited Democrats and everybody thought it was a brilliant choice. And guess what?

After a couple of weeks, it didn't look so brilliant.

So, you know, I think what we have to do is to wait for these numbers to settle down and see exactly where she helps him, aside from the base.

But as far as rallying the Republican base, reducing the enthusiasm gap, I think they're thrilled and they have a right to be so far.

BLITZER: And, you know,

just to note, Candy, as you know and all of us know, so far, she's been great for the Republicans in reading a speech or going out on the campaign trail and reading another speech when she's got, you know, very carefully crafted words in front of her.

We don't know how she's going to do when there's no script, when she's answering reporters' questions or when she's in that vice presidential debate.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. So there are ways that she could trip up. The question is whether people actually vote for number two. I think that you could argue right now that Sarah Palin has really delivered for John McCain thus far.

And just to get back to what Mark was saying, because it fits into this, you know, not only has Sarah Palin kind of stolen Barack Obama's thunder -- remember, he's the guy with the big crowds. He's the guy with all the enthusiasm. Suddenly, along comes Sarah Palin, someone they didn't expect at all. And now they're trying to kind of grab the change theme.

So they are, you know, sort of on their heels a little bit in the Obama campaign, trying to figure out how to deal with this...

BLITZER: All right...

CROWLEY: But they do say, listen, we know this is about McCain versus Obama.

BLITZER: And give us a sentence, Mark, as you're -- as you do all the time when you write The Page at -- a sentence on what these two picks say about the presidential nominees.

What does Sarah Palin's pick say about John McCain and what does Joe Biden's pick say about Barack Obama?

One sentence for each.

HALPERIN: Obama played it safe and responsible. And John McCain showed that he's a gambler. And so far the gamble has paid off -- so far.

BLITZER: I think that's one sentence each.

Gloria, I think you agree.

BORGER: I do agree. I think Obama decided to reassure people and McCain decided to take a chance because, by the way, he had no other choice.

BLITZER: And Candy, and if Obama -- if Obama -- it's a huge if -- would have picked Hillary Clinton as his running mate, would McCain still have picked Sarah Palin, because he had a chance to do it second?

CROWLEY: You know, let me get out my crystal ball. I don't know. But I think that there would still have been a big argument for John McCain to pick Sarah Palin. He needed to rouse the conservative base. She did that. And he needed to make some news and she was the one who did it. So you still would have had both those issues facing him as he went into the Republican Convention, even if Barack Obama had picked Hillary Clinton.

BLITZER: It's an intriguing question and we'll never know the answer to that question.

CROWLEY: That's right.

BLITZER: But we can think about it. And Mark Halperin, no doubt, will write about it, as he does about all things politics.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Let's check in with Lou to see what's coming up at the top of the hour.

He's got his own convention. He's working on a very special week for Lou Dobbs -- give us our viewers, Lou, a preview.


Tonight, the second session of our first ever televised Independent convention here.

Tonight we're talking about the issues the presidential candidates have ignored to this point and avoided, for the most part -- the issues, of course, that are most important to Americans. And among those issues tonight, the largest debtor nation in the world -- that's the United States now. And new evidence that our federal budget deficit is spiraling further out of control.

The battle for this nation's energy independence -- why in the world can't our lawmakers of both partiers end their noses and actually work on offshore drilling and other energy initiatives?

We'll be talking about that with Boone Pickens.

And the devastating consequences of our federal government's failure to secure our borders, out of control drug violence spilling across our border from Mexico, a generation of Americans lost to addiction and drug devastation.

We'll examine tonight, as well, God and politics, after Senator McCain chose Governor Palin to be his running mate.

Join us for all of that, as we discuss the issues that matter most to you, on this, the second day of the first ever televised Independent convention -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Lou.

We'll be watching.

Thanks very much.

DOBBS: Thank you.

BLITZER: Some think he suffered a stroke, others speculate he's dead. The mystery surrounding North Korea's Kim Jong Il. Stand by.

Also, Lance Armstrong's surprise announcement and the reason behind it.

And the song that caused controversy at the Republican Convention -- it gets another spin.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: The mysterious leader of one of the world's most mysterious countries is now missing from view. It's been almost a month since North Korea's Kim Jong Il has been seen in public, leading many to question whether he's even alive.

Let's bring in Carol.

She's here working the story for us.

What do we know about this mystery?

COSTELLO: Well, we don't know much for sure, to be honest, with you, Wolf. But intelligence officials suspect Kim Jong Il is no longer in control. Now, it would be nice to know for sure, though, since Kim Jung Il has promised to dismantle his country's nuclear programs.


COSTELLO (voice-over): North Korea is called the hermit kingdom for a reason. Outsiders seldom see its leader, Kim Jong Il. He's so elusive, virtually no one outside of the country, including U.S. intelligence officials, knows if he's alive or dead.

According to those who study Kim's regime, the North Korean leader hasn't appeared in public since August 12th. And the man dubbed "Dear Leader" did not appear at a military parade Tuesday celebrating North Korea's 60th anniversary. His absence is said to be significant.

RICHARD BUSH, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: This parade is a major event in North Korean political life. Kim Jong Il appeared at the parade for the 50th anniversary. So this is something that he does as part of his job.

COSTELLO: A U.S. intelligence official says Kim, who has diabetes and a heart condition, collapsed on August 22nd and may have suffered a stroke. And two weeks ago, five Chinese doctors entered North Korea to treat someone.

Others, like Japanese scholar Toshimitsu Shigemura discount that, writing: "Kim Jong Il actually died five years ago."

That would mean this video of Kim in 2007 and this shot of him with the Chinese vice president in 2008, weren't really Kim, but look- alikes substituting for their dead leader.

It's improbable, but who knows?

BUSH: I can't rule that out.

COSTELLO: Hey, Saddam Hussein was famous for using doubles. He sent them into crowds because he didn't like to be touched.

This guessing game is important, though, because if Kim Jong Il is no longer in control, does that mean North Korea will break its promise to dismantle its nuclear weapons?

Back in July, it showed its intention to do just that -- by blowing up the Pyongyang cooling tower, where plutonium was extracted to build nuclear weapons.

But if Kim Jong Il is not around and North Korea's military takes over, all belts are off.


COSTELLO: You know, it's strange, but we can't figure out the big things, like is Kim Jong Il dead or alive, or whether the military or one of his sons will take over.

Who knows the answer to that question?

But, Wolf, we know little things about him, like he likes basketball and he owns 20,000 videotapes.

BLITZER: He likes basketball, so he's almost like a normal guy.

COSTELLO: Not quite.

BLITZER: A lot of intelligence agencies are trying to find out what's going on right now, I'/m sure.


BLITZER: Thanks, Carol, very much.

On our Political Ticker today, Republican Congressman Ron Paul is now set to urge his supporters -- and there are lots of them out there -- to back a third party presidential candidate instead of his own party's nominee, John McCain.

An aide to the failed GOP presidential candidate says Ron Paul will make the announcement here in Washington tomorrow and offer some harsh words about the Democratic nominee, Barack Obama, as well.

The McCain/Palin campaign apparently has sunk its teeth into barracuda.



BLITZER: The Republicans blared the tune by the band Heart during the GOP Convention in tribute of Governor Palin. Her nickname on the high school basketball team was "Sarah Barracuda". Members of Heart later asked the McCain camp to stop playing the song.

But guess what?

"Barracuda" echoed today in the streets of Lebanon, Ohio before a McCain/Palin rally.

Just ahead, the latest on Hurricane Ike's path.

And Sarah Palin is not giving the McCain campaign a shot in the arm. Opticians say her designer specs are a real hot seller. Jeanne Moos with a Moost Unusual look, right after this.


BLITZER: Let's go back to Carol.

She's monitoring some other incoming stories to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What do we have -- Carol?

COSTELLO: Well, I have some news about Hurricane Ike, Wolf.

It's ripping through Cuba today, forcing more than one million to evacuate. Now residents of Texas and northern Mexico are getting ready for a possible weekend hit. Ike is a category one hurricane, but could become a major hurricane as it moves over the warm Gulf waters.

An update on a story we brought you yesterday. Cycling great Lance Armstrong confirming he will return to racing. The seven time Tour de France winner says he made the decision to raise awareness of the global cancer burdens. And Armstrong tells "Vanity Fair" he's sure he will compete in Tour de France next summer.

We'll be watching -- Wolf. BLITZER: Our own Sanjay Gupta broke that story for us in the last hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Carol, thanks very much.

Sarah Palin has the eyes of the nation on her from what she says to what she wears, including her now trademark glasses.

Jeanne Moss has this Moost Unusual look.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sarah Palin for V.P. -- read my lipstick. And if you can't read this sign, maybe you need glasses -- Sarah Palin glasses.

(on camera): Excuse me, do you like her glasses?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're all right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do. I like them. Well...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My husband says she's hot.


MOOS: Really?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's the best thing about her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're kind of like mine.

MOOS (voice-over): They are $375 titanium framed glasses from the Japanese designer Kawasaki. The North American distributor says since Palin was picked for V.P. nominee, sales have quadrupled. On a message board popular with opticians, one wrote: "Had four calls for Palin eyewear today."

As one of those callers put it, "Palinize me."


MOOS: Opticians hope she'll do more for glasses sales than, say, Tina Fey. Governor Palin got her Kawasaki's from an Alaskan optician who makes house calls. Joy Leedham took 300 pairs of glasses to Palin's home.

JOY LEEDHAM, HOME OPTICS OWNER: And then her family kind of gathered around and she'd say which is better, this one or this one?

MOOS: Joy says other opticians have given her grief for not ordering A.R. -- anti-reflective coating. But that was Palin's choice, so don't blame the optician for the reflected glory of TV lights and flash bulbs. Of course, Palin has older pairs of glasses. She's been wearing specs a long time. But no one paid much attention until she hit the big time.

(on camera): Those glasses are inaccurate.

(voice-over): Those would be the glasses on the brand new Sarah Palin action figure, selling for 30 bucks at

(on camera): It seems to me that the accessory you're interested is not her glasses, but on her leg.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She carries a holstered .45 weapon. You need that in Alaska, you know. Bears.

MOOS: This is the superhero version. There are two others.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's way too short. Now, come on, she doesn't dress like that.

MOOS: And bet you haven't seen her wear these on the campaign trail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, I'm sure she's worn shoes like that in Alaska.

MOOS (on camera): Moose hunting.


MOOS (voice-over): Whatever you do, don't call her four eyes. She's likely to take aim.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: That's it for us.

We promised you a rare look at Hitler's secret tunnels. We'll bring it to you tomorrow.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.