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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

McCain Campaign Scrambles to Gain Ground; Race and Politics

Aired October 24, 2008 - 22:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We begin with breaking news on two fronts tonight: a tragedy involving actress Jennifer Hudson, and this.
Ashley Todd, the McCain volunteer who said she was attacked, beaten, and mutilated at the hands of a Barack Obama supporter has just been arraigned. Her bail was set at $50,000, which she did not pay. She is still in custody. It is just the latest development in a bizarre story in which Todd claimed her attacker carved the letter B. on her face, his rage, she claimed, triggered by her John McCain bumper sticker.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DIANE RICHARD, SPOKESWOMAN, PITTSBURGH POLICE DEPARTMENT: At that time, she also indicated that she was sexually assaulted as well. She indicated that, when he had her on the ground, he put his hand up under her blouse and started fondling her. But, other than that, she says she doesn't remember anything else. So, we're adding a sexual assault to this as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, tonight, we know the real story. That was police when they believed this story in the beginning. This victim, who wasn't really a victim, is getting her first taste of justice, Ashley Todd in a cell tonight in Pittsburgh, her story being talked about literally around the country.

360's Randi Kaye has been following the late developments. She joins us now.

A bizarre story.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Anderson.

This all started Wednesday night, when Ashley Todd was at an ATM, she told police, and she said that a black man about 6'4" approached her, got very angry, very violent, and put a knife to her throat, and, using a four-inch blade, he threatened her. She says that she had given him about 60 bucks. She said that the man was very angry about her John McCain bumper sticker, and she said that he identified himself as a Barack Obama supporter.

We actually...

COOPER: That's what she told police.

KAYE: Right.

We actually have the police criminal complaint, which we just got a few moments ago. And it says right there that she told them that -- that he had identified himself as a Barack Obama supporter.

COOPER: But this really began unraveling. I mean, the B. that had been allegedly carved in her face by someone else was backwards.

KAYE: Exactly.

COOPER: As if -- the kind of thing that would happen that she carved it in her own face.

KAYE: If you were looking in the mirror and you carved a B., it would have been backwards. So, police, that was one clue that maybe this wasn't exactly what happened, her story that she told police.

Also, she was called in for a lie-detector test this morning. She was also asked to draw a sketch of the man she said attacked her. And that's when police really decided that things were starting to unravel. And they realized that her story was not true.

And, of course, this made a lot of headlines. There were conservative columnists, bloggers talking about it. As you know, John McCain and his running mate actually called her after they had news of this, and they -- they offered their support to her. The Barack -- Barack Obama's campaign wished her well.

So, this is something that got a lot of attention. And then the latest is now is that it's all a lie.

COOPER: So -- so, she's in a jail cell now. She didn't make bail. What happens to her?

KAYE: She did not enter a plea. She goes back to court for a hearing on October 30.

And one of the conditions, if she does make bail, is that she will have to be evaluated, because she has told police that she has some mental problems. She doesn't really remember carving a B. in her face, but she does believe that she was the only one in the car. She doesn't know how else it could have gotten there.

She said she looked up and she saw the B. in the mirror when she looked in the car's mirror. So, clearly, this woman has some problems. And, hopefully, she will get some help.

COOPER: We're anticipating some pictures from this arraignment. We will bring them to you when we got it.

Randi, thanks. We will check in with you.

Disturbed woman, clearly -- or, at least, it seems -- and a highly disturbing sideshow to the real campaign.

Tonight, just 11 days left, more reports of infighting on the GOP side, John McCain making new efforts to close a polling gap that so far refuses to budge more than a point or two. His new argument, what happens if Democrats win, and win big?

Two firsts for Sarah Palin, her first major policy speech today, and, on the flip side, her first time answering questions under oath about the so-called Troopergate affair. Barack Obama in Hawaii, off the campaign trail, while he visits his ailing grandmother.

We begin, though, with John McCain scrambling.

On the trail for us tonight, CNN's Candy Crowley.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On an uphill climb in the rocky mountains, John McCain warns against what many Republicans now fear, across-the-board Democratic wins.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: The answer to a slowing economy is not higher taxes, but that's exactly what's going to happen when the Democrats have total control of Washington.

CROWLEY: Facing an intimidating electoral map, a shrinking pool of undecideds, and a dwindling number of days, McCain pushes on two fronts, the Joe the plumber argument...

MCCAIN: You know, Senator Obama may say he's trying to soak the rich, but it's the middle class who are going to get through the wringer.

CROWLEY: ... and the national security card, played in a new ad featuring Joe Biden.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN AD)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We're going to have an international crisis to test the mettle of this guy. I guarantee you it's going to happen.

NARRATOR: It doesn't have to happen. Vote McCain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Even as McCain scrambled to shake things up, his running mate gave her first major policy speech on programs for special needs children.

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: And don't worry one bit about any crying baby. That's the sound of life. I love it.

CROWLEY: Still, in a bout of awful timing McCain can't afford, Sarah Palin spent part of her day giving a deposition in a probe of whether she abused her power as governor in the firing of a top safety official. Barack Obama walked almost alone in his old neighborhood in Honolulu, part of a somber journey home to visit his ailing grandmother. Michelle Obama lent an assist in Ohio, where the polls look good, but angst runs high.

MICHELLE OBAMA, WIFE OF SENATOR BARACK OBAMA: It will be close. Don't be fooled. We do not look at the polls. We don't listen to anything. We know that every moment counts. We take nothing for granted.

CROWLEY: Still, there is a difference between overconfidence and feeling good. And they do feel good in camp Obama. In another signal of where advisers see expanding opportunities, Joe Biden was in West Virginia.

BIDEN: I know Halloween is coming. But John McCain as a candidate of change, whoa, come on. John McCain and change, he needs a costume for that.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Also out and about for Obama, former President Bill Clinton in Kentucky and Hillary Clinton in Colorado.

Obama strategists say the information they have from officials in early-voting states is that Democrats are voting at far higher rates than Republicans, compared to 2004, just another reason for that feel- good feeling in the Obama campaign.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: We're going to keep following the breaking news, the -- a campaign worker, a volunteer, in court over her story being attacked unraveling.

Let's us know what do you think of today's campaign developments. Join the conversation at AC360.com. And check out Randi Kaye's live Webcast during the break. It's started already.

Coming up tonight: Who is hurting John McCain more, Sarah Palin or President Bush? New polling tonight, and the answer may surprise you. Our political panel weighs in.

Also, this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Do you all think that either campaign introduced race into this contest?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Americans, black and white, speaking out -- their answers, honest, unfiltered from the heart, uncovering America. Plus, breaking news, stunning news involving actress Jennifer Hudson, deadly violence at her mother's home, two people killed, a young boy missing, an Amber Alert in effect -- late details just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Updating our breaking news, the woman who falsely claimed she was mugged, molested and maimed by a crazed African- American Obama supported is arraigned tonight, 20-year-old Ashley Todd -- this is her earlier today -- the McCain -- McCain campaign volunteer appearing in court, entering no plea, being held on $50,000 bail tonight, facing charges of filing a bogus police report, facing another hearing at the end of the month.

Let's talk impact and strategy, big picture, with CNN senior political analyst David Gergen and Obama supporter Jamal Simmons, also with us, CNN political contributor a GOP consultant Alex Castellanos, who supports John McCain.

David, this hoax this invented about being attacked, it would not have gotten so much attention if it hadn't been taken up by conservative radio yesterday, even some journalists. Does it have any real impact on -- on this election at this point?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No, Anderson.

This is a distressed woman. I think -- I think ought to be -- if she has mental problem, she ought to be forgiven and forgotten. But what I think it does illustrate is that, at -- at a time when Republicans need to have bold ideas out there to be putting forth, bold proposals about the future, they haven't had a lot to say.

And when you have a vacuum, small incidents like this can take up a lot of time, space, and be very diversionary, and not amount to -- they don't really help the Republicans. It just becomes one more story in a passion parade of stories that seem to go nowhere, but leave Barack Obama with a very solid, commanding lead. And he takes advantage of it.

COOPER: Alex, what do you make of that? I mean, what would -- if you were rating today for the Obama or the McCain campaign, does any one of them -- did anyone win today?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, this wasn't a good McCain day -- I will say this -- because Obama has got to do three things to win this election. He's ahead. And he needs to stay on offense. And he's doing that with aggressive TV ads, attack ads. He needs to raise the noise level, so McCain can't get a message through.

Obama is ahead. He doesn't have to win the argument. He just has to avoid that McCain win it. And then he has got to reassure the public that he's change, yes, but he's safe. And every day that goes by that the noise level is high, like today, is a good day for Barack Obama. And I -- my recommendation to that -- that, the next time someone is going to carve the letter on their face in a mirror, choose the O. and not the B. That way...

(LAUGHTER)

CASTELLANOS: ... it were reversed, you wouldn't have a problem.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: Well, I mean, this person is clearly just -- I mean, obviously disturbed.

CASTELLANOS: It's an unfortunate thing.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, it's ridiculous.

Jamal, for -- how would you grade it today? I mean, did Barack Obama score points today? Did -- did John McCain? And, if John McCain didn't, clearly, he is the one who needs to most at this point.

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I don't think anybody scored points. In fact, this is -- like you said, is incredibly tragic.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Yes, I wasn't saying score points with this incident. I'm just talking big picture on the trail today.

SIMMONS: Yes.

Well, here's what I think is -- is also interesting, that there were these conservative columnists and bloggers who tried to imply that, if this even had been something that some person had done, and had done this, that this would somehow impact or has some that -- Barack Obama bears some responsibility for this. I mean, that was incredibly irresponsible.

And I think the people who said that should be reprimanded by someone for having said that. In general, this -- this day and -- and what's happening -- you know, Barack Obama is out with his sick grandmother, and so I think he is focused on that.

The campaign has -- you know, Senator Biden, and the Clintons, Michelle Obama have been out there. This is a campaign that's just about momentum, getting people to the polls, and being focused on, you know, making sure that all of this great momentum that is occurring is actually going to produce votes for the election.

GERGEN: Yes, Anderson, let me just add one point to that.

Two or three days ago, when we talked about the fact that Barack Obama was taking time off the trail, we talked about the fact he was going to leave an opening for John McCain, that, essentially, there was not going to be any answer. And John McCain had an opportunity to be on national television today, along with Sarah Palin, and make their principal arguments.

And, here, another day has gone by that's essentially wasted. And I can tell you, the Obama people -- I was with the Obama people earlier today -- and they are being very strategic about this. They're thinking very carefully about next week.

Next week is called the week for closing argument. And they are going to -- they have very carefully laid out a plan in their own heads about advertising, and other things, to make their closing arguments. And, then, on Wednesday night, they're going to have that 30 minutes.

And it's not going to be a speech. It's -- I thought it was going to be a big speech. But, instead, he's going to be speak, but it's going to be a show, in effect, to make a closing argument. That's what you call a strategic campaign.

COOPER: Alex, it's interesting. There's now all these articles, especially today, we're seeing about infighting in the McCain campaign. Do you have any sign -- I mean, how bad is it? There's -- there's all these reports -- and they're all sort of unsourced -- about, you know, some advisers believe Sarah Palin is kind of distancing herself from John McCain. What do you make of all this? Is it as bad as we're reading?

CASTELLANOS: I think, if the lights go out, dive for the floor. There are going to be gunshots.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: Oh, man.

(LAUGHTER)

CASTELLANOS: It happens at this -- at this point in a campaign, a campaign that has gone -- that has not gone well.

Case in point, to David's point that he just made, the best part of McCain's campaign in the last few days came from the Obama campaign, when Joe Biden stepped in it and said, look, if -- if you vote for Barack Obama, you're inviting an international crisis, in effect.

The McCain people did seize on that, took advantage of that. You know, I think they will send Biden to the secret bunker with Cheney for the rest of the campaign now.

But, when -- when that's the best part of your campaign, gaffes from the other side, I think it says that you're missing an opportunity to make your closing argument. And that's what the McCain people should be focusing on, not the infighting.

COOPER: And...

(CROSSTALK)

SIMMONS: Well, Anderson...

COOPER: Go ahead.

SIMMONS: ... on that point, there actually -- there actually was an assist given by the media on this, because they left out the other part that quote, where he said that Barack Obama had a spine of steel.

And I think we -- we have to remember that the point Joe Biden was making is that there will be a test of a new president, and they will be surprised to find that Barack Obama is a strong a man as he is.

COOPER: But, Jamal, he did get kind of in the weeds on him. And then he went on to say -- it was like this hypothetical that he then kind of had all sorts of other ancillary comments to, like, we're going to do something, but you're not going to like what we're going to do, but we want you to support it.

It was sort of -- it was kind of an odd statement, no?

(LAUGHTER)

SIMMONS: Well, I don't think anybody would make the statement again.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMMONS: But I think we have got to play the statement in its totality.

COOPER: OK.

SIMMONS: When you play it in its totality, he did say that Barack Obama had a spine of steel and would be able to measure up to whatever the test was.

COOPER: All right, gentlemen, thank you. Appreciate your thoughts.

Next, breaking news in a story where details, sad details, are still developing -- the mother and brother of singer and Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Hudson found dead this everything in their Chicago home. An Amber Alert has also been issued for a missing nephew. We will have the update on that.

And we're looking at attack politics on the trail.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: Whatever the question, whatever the issue, there's always a backstory with Senator Obama. In short, who is the -- who is the real Barack Obama? (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: A historic presidential campaign. Tonight, we examine why different groups of Americans, different races of Americans interpret the rhetoric that we're hearing on the campaign trail very differently. Interesting discussion ahead.

Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: More breaking news tonight out of Chicago involving singer/actress Jennifer Hudson.

Randi Kaye joins us with a 360 news and business bulletin -- Randi.

KAYE: Anderson, the mother and brother of the Oscar-winning actress have been shot to death in their Chicago home. According to police, the deaths appear to be related to domestic abuse.

And there's another horrible detail here. Police are also looking for this missing 7-year-old boy, Hudson's nephew, who investigators believe has been abducted.

Three men convicted of carrying out two nightclub bombings on the resort island of Bali will be executed by a firing squad next month. The attacks killed 202 people and wounded more than 300 others. It all happened six years ago.

Here at home, oil prices keep falling, down $3.70 today, to settle at just over $64 a barrel. That is the lowest level in 17 months. And, since July, oil prices are down 56 percent.

On Wall Street, the markets are still taking a beating. The Dow sank 312 points, to close at 8378. The Nasdaq lost 51. The S&P fell 31 points. With one week left in October, the three major indexes are down at least 25 percent, Anderson, for the month.

COOPER: Brutal.

Randi, a programming note: We have teamed up with MTV to salute veterans home from Iraq and Afghanistan and those still currently serving. Don't miss this 360 special, "Back From the Battle," Saturday and Sunday night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, featuring performances from 50 Cent, Ludacris and others, plus troops sharing what their lives have been like back on the home front.

Up next tonight: race and politics. We have got a taste of it tonight by way of the sad and strange Ashley Todd story. Tonight, though, we're taking a closer look in the tone -- at the tone of this campaign through the eyes of African-American and white voters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Certainly, it's about -- a big part of it is about race.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't -- I don't think it's a racial issue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A person who is racist is not voting for Obama anyway.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: And more on Ashley Todd's appearance tonight in court -- breaking news when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: In the last debate, John McCain felt the need to declare that he was not President Bush. I thought that was, on its face, a self-evident proposition, but he felt the need to say it.

And, yesterday, yesterday, literally, John McCain actually went so far as to compare Barack Obama with George W. Bush.

(AUDIENCE BOOING)

BIDEN: As my granddaughter, Finnie (ph), would say, hello?

(LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: You know, what's going on here?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Senator Joe Biden in Charleston, West Virginia, today, with just 11 days to go, on the trail.

Despite the lead Barack Obama has in the polls, the question remains, will people vote differently than what they have told pollsters? In the end, will race play a role in people's decision- making?

A new CNN/Opinion Research poll shows, 70 percent of Americans say the race of the candidate is not a factor in their vote. Thirteen percent call it a minor factor. Eleven percent say one of several important factors. And 5 percent describe it as the single most important factor.

So, fewer than one in five people believe race is an important factor. But does race -- or concerns about it -- affect the way the voters hear a candidate's message, the way they interpret that message?

Let's dig deeper now.

CNN's Tom Foreman and Joe Johns sat down with two groups of voters, black and white, Republicans, Democrats, and independents. Nearly all had decided who -- who they are going to vote for, and they watched the same clips from the campaign trail, and then shared their impressions.

Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE SCOTT, LEE COUNTY, FLORIDA, SHERIFF: On November 4, let's leave Barack Hussein Obama wondering what happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: It's a dig?

ELLEN STRAUSS, OBAMA SUPPORTER: It's a dig. It was -- if his name had been Steve, they wouldn't have said it.

RICHARD THOMAS, OBAMA SUPPORTER: It's a negative connotation to say -- when they say Barack Hussein Obama. There's a message there's sending to people.

STRAUSS: And people are getting the message.

TOM FRITZSCHE, OBAMA SUPPORTER: With -- with the emphasis on his middle name, it does indicate that -- that at least some of those speakers are trying to -- to sort of raise a question in some voters' minds.

MELISSA BRADLEY, LEANING MCCAIN: I think that, if you're going to play the race card on one side, I think you have to remember that it's -- it's a two-sided game. So, I mean, again...

FOREMAN: A two-sided game in what way?

BRADLEY: Well, if we're going to weigh race, we need to weight it in both sections, you know, black and white.

FRITZSCHE: I -- I disagree, because I think that -- that it's not really the same thing for -- you know, for a black person, who -- you know, who has -- who has gone through racism, which is absolutely still around, to feel excited about the chance that Obama might -- you know, might be in the White House.

FOREMAN: So, are you saying, it's OK for black people to use race as a way to judge candidates, but not OK for white people to?

FRITZSCHE: I wouldn't put it that way, but I think that that's different from a white candidate -- or white folks wanting to make sure that only white people, or predominantly white people, remain in those positions of power.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: That's how those voters saw it.

Tom Foreman, Joe Johns joins me, along with CNN political analyst and radio talk show host Roland Martin, and CNN's Soledad O'Brien.

Soledad, you know, people talk so much about the Bradley effect. There may be some evidence that -- that that doesn't apply anymore, even if it applied back then.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Some of the pollsters we spoke to, especially when we were in Columbus doing those panels of our undecided voters, they said, one of the things that they have seen recently is, people don't lie to pollsters of different colors.

It used to be, back in the time, to factor in the Bradley effect, that they would give one answer to a black pollster and one answer to a white pollster. Their answer would change. And they actually have said, you know, now, when they test for that, the answer doesn't change, which, in this particular pollster's mind, was an indication, he thought, that the Bradley effect would be nonexistent this time around.

You know, I think most people have said, we have got to kind of wait and see.

COOPER: Roland, do you hear -- do you think Americans from different backgrounds hear the same messages differently?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, absolutely. There's no doubt.

I was on a panel today for "Essence" magazine for their women's leadership summit, and we talked about code words. And, when African- Americans hear Wal-Mart mom, soccer mom, when they hear Joe Six-Pack, they hear that differently than whites do. There's no doubt.

I mean, look, let's just be honest. You look at top 10 shows in black households, they're different than the top 10 shows in white households. And, so, there's no doubt that people hear things differently.

Granted, this -- this new generation, Generation X and Generation Y, has played a -- has played a great role in terms of breaking down some of those barriers. But they still are there, in terms of how we things differently.

COOPER: Tom, what -- what did the people you talked to say about that?

FOREMAN: Well, you know, Anderson, this question of code words, I guess code only works if everybody is in on the code.

And one of the things I was struck by is that it seems like there are more -- perhaps more African-American voters who are aware of these code words, or sensitive to them, than white voters. Now, maybe that just means white voters instinctively know it, and they know they are being spoken to, but there was more of a puzzlement, I think, among white voters of saying, what code? They get some code.

(CROSSTALK)

FOREMAN: ... they get that.

O'BRIEN: Let me just jump in and look back historically.

If you look back historically, there was a time when it was very clear, coloreds cannot use this water fountain, right? This is not -- this is not the one you can use. Very clear.

Nowadays, people will say things like, you're not a good fit for this company. We don't know that you're going to mix with -- those are all code words -- and I think...

FOREMAN: Precisely.

O'BRIEN: ... you're right -- minorities are very sensitive to, because they understand, no coloreds is not going to be the sign anymore.

(CROSSTALK)

FOREMAN: But, Soledad, they will say -- but, Soledad, they will say the same thing about a -- a worker who is too old these days, or a worker who simply has a different viewpoint from the rest of the workplace. That doesn't mean that it doesn't apply on racial lines, but it applies on a lot of other lines, too.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Joe, what about...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Let's let Joe in, because we haven't heard from Joe.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Joe, the group you heard from, what did they say?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: They jumped in on the issue of code.

But I have got to say that we talked for 20 full minutes before anybody even brought up the issue of race. But, when I first heard the word race, it had to do with code, a question of something Sarah Palin had said, you know, about soccer moms and so on. One of the panelists said, that's code. That's code for saying the -- Barack Obama and others are not like us.

COOPER: Roland?

MARTIN: Anderson, here's what's interesting.

And I talked to one of my colleagues at "The Fort Worth Telegram" several years ago, who was white, and we were discussing this whole issue. And I asked him, I said, I got a question. When you walk into a room, banquet or whatever, and it's all white, I said, do you notice that -- that it's all the same?

He said, well, no, not really.

I said, but if you're in a room that's all black, do you pick up real quick that you're the only white guy in the room?

He said, yes.

I said, well, as an African-American, I am -- I'm used to picking up on those things, all women, all white, all black, and conditioned in a sense to understand my surroundings.

And, so, when you say -- when you think of code, as Soledad said, we hear it, and, yes, it's perceived and heard much differently than somebody else, who may say, oh, it's no big deal.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: And sensitivity.

A girlfriend of mine was taking her daughter for an interview -- taking her son for an interview -- daughter for an interview at a prestigious private school. And the admissions director came in and said, "I will be with you girls in a second," two black people.

They are like, "We're not coming to this school," you know? Another person would sit there and not hear anything, but a black -- middle-aged black woman hears "girl" from a middle-aged white woman, she doesn't want to enroll her daughter in that school. That is a -- that is a slam, you know. You know, that is a slur, almost. And she said, "That's it. That's the first sign I can't bring my child here."

I thought that was really interesting. She was very sensitive. I think minorities are.

JOHNS: And it also depends on what part of the country you are from, too. You know, you can say -- you can hear something in New York that sounds a lot different, you know, in the area I grew up in, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, around there. Things sound differently to different people, depending on what part of the country they come from.

COOPER: It's an interesting discussion. We're going to have more of it throughout this hour. We've got a lot -- much more on how race may shape the way voters interpret the candidates' messages, rightly or wrongly. Are there code words that raise red flags for African-Americans? We'll be talking about it. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD THOMAS, SUPPORTS OBAMA: Basically, it's race baiting. She's speaking -- it's like winking.

TANYA CALLAWAY CREWS, SUPPORTS MCCAIN: It is not race baiting. I'm from the Midwest and people speak plain. And if people don't want to hear the truth, they can get up and walk away. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, they heard the same words, but their take on the message cannot be more different. More interesting discussion ahead.

Also ahead, is Reverend Jeremiah Wright fair game for the McCain campaign? The campaign spokesman said last week they were considering it. Do black and white voters see what he said differently? We're uncovering America. You're watching 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: It's been a long campaign and after months of campaign trail eloquence, we finally learned what Senator Obama's economic goal is. As he told Joe the plumber back in Ohio, he wants to, quote, "spread the wealth around."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Senator John McCain on the trail today in Denver. It's crunch time, of course, just 11 days to go. Tonight we're uncovering America, trying to understand some of the conversation about race that is playing out in homes and schools across the country.

We're examining whether African-American voters and white voters interpret different meanings in what they hear from the candidates. Are there words that put some voters on alert or turn them off entirely?

The word "terrorist" has come up a lot on the trail, and it may be interpreted differently by different people, including this next clip we showed two of our groups of voters. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE-PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I am just so fearful that this is not a man who sees America the way that you and I see America. I'm afraid this is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to work with a former domestic terrorist.

JOHNS: So who is she speaking to? Who's the "us"? Who's the "them"?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not an "us" versus "them." We are all Americans, and we all love this country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's almost like there's code words there. When you start using terminology like, "This is a man who does not see America like we see," when your audience is predominantly of one race.

THOMAS: It's race baiting. He's speaking. It's like winking...

CREWS: It is not race baiting. I'm from the Midwest and people speak plain. And if people don't want to hear the truth, they can get up and walk away.

FOREMAN: So what's wrong with reaching out to the majority of the country which is white, which is Christian, which is blue collar?

MELISSA BRADLEY, LEANING MCCAIN: She's talking to a certain demographic. It's the neo-conservative kind of -- it's basically they're fear-mongering. I don't -- I don't agree with it personally.

JOHN MANIS, SUPPORTS MCCAIN: I don't think it's a racial issue. I think what she's trying to do is paint a picture of him more of a liberal. And I don't believe that race has much to do with it, because I don't think racial -- I think everybody in this country knows that that issue will not hammer home, in my opinion.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: It's interesting. They saw the same clip, listened to the same word, heard different things.

Our panel joins me again: Tom Foreman, Joe Johns, Roland Martin and Soledad O'Brien.

Tom, we heard some people in Joe's panel accuse Pain of race- baiting. You asked your panel if either candidate injected race into the campaign. How did they respond?

FOREMAN: You know, they responded in different ways, Anderson. At various points some of them said the McCain people were sort of sneaky like, getting into it by using a little bit of code word and that kind of thing.

At other times, some of them said, you know, Obama should be held accountable for some of the things he's doing. But then when I asked them directly has either campaign introduced the issue of race, everybody basically said, "Well, no, not really. It was just always there."

COOPER: It's interesting though, Soledad. I've had some white viewers e-mail me and say, you know, when you're talking about race, there's plenty of people in the African-American community who are going to vote for Barack Obama because he's black. That's what people e-mailing me are saying. Their argument is that it cuts both ways, the racial issue.

O'BRIEN: Well, you know, that's an interesting thing. I don't know if you caught Chris Rock's show where he says, "Listen, Flavor Flav is black, too, and I'm not going to vote for Flavor Flav."

COOPER: I believe he went further than that. He said Flavor Flav could be -- I won't even go into that.

O'BRIEN: Clean that up a little bit. But, you know, if -- that's an interesting question, because of course, is it because he's black or is it because they think he's the most qualified? Is it a little bit of both?

COOPER: Chris Rock is saying black and qualified.

O'BRIEN: Is it a little bit of both when they say because he's black? Is it, well, once you've picked the qualified -- the person you think is most qualified, do you feel motivated by the fact that they would be the most African-American president? I mean, I think that it's more complicated then just, "Oh, I found a black guy, and I'm going to circle that on the thing."

COOPER: Joe -- Roland, it's interesting. There's a CNN poll that shows that 97 percent of registered African-American voters are planning on voting for Barack Obama. How do you interpret that?

MARTIN: Well, first of all, I mean, obviously, here's a first. And what's interesting in terms of getting this far, what's interesting is Carolyn Moseley-Braun, former senator of Illinois, ran in 2004. Reverend Al Sharpton ran in 2004. Did not do well among African-Americans. That's one of the issues there.

But also, we begin to understand what happens with a first run, John F. Kennedy being a Catholic in 1960. Look at the Mormon support that Mitt Romney received during the -- financial donations when he ran this year. Hillary Clinton, the support she received from white women.

You typically find people who are in various groups who identify with somebody and will support them enthusiastically when they are the first. And typically, after you cross that hurdle, then everything sort of just settles back down.

So, first of all, black folks are going to vote 92 percent Democrat. You had with John Kerry and Al Gore and Bill Clinton. So that's a Democrat thing in the primary. But obviously, 97 percent...

COOPER: Joe, it's interesting. The Politico, I think, today reporting or based on their analysis of Pew Research that Barack Obama now has more white support than any Democratic candidate since Jimmy Carter.

JOHNS: Sure. He's a great cross-over candidate. But talking again with...

MARTIN: He's also half white.

JOHNS: Right. The other thing you have to think about, though, there are people in this country who grew up in Jim Crow. They had a hard time voting. They couldn't stand in the same line in grocery stores...

MARTIN: Very true.

JOHNS: ... as -- as white Americans. And in that same lifetime, they're now looking at the possibility of voting for an African- American for president of the United States. So clearly, people are looking at it as a very historic thing.

O'BRIEN: That's a very different question, though, between is it historic and is race an issue? And those are two -- those are two separate things.

JOHNS: Very true.

O'BRIEN: Yes, historic and is race an issue? I would argue, yes, race is always there. And the same people who said -- you know, God, I hate to inject O.J. into anything, but you know, that O.J. was -- O.J. Simpson was not about race. They were wrong in that, too. Race is always present in that, and it's present in this, too.

COOPER: We're going to have more discussion ahead.

Coming up next, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. His sermons were a flashpoint months ago in the campaign. There's some talk in McCain circles of bringing this back. John McCain said he would not.

How do voters see it? Is Obama's former pastor fair game for the McCain campaign? Uncovering America ahead.

Also, new images of the McCain volunteer who falsely said she had been beaten and mutilated by an Obama supporter. Pictures of her in court tonight. She pleaded no contest. We'll tell you what happened. The breaking news when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: You don't want to wait until the last minute, and I think there will be an unprecedented turnout, so I encourage you to vote now before early voting closes on October 31.

You have waited eight long years for a new president. You don't have to wait any longer to cast your ballot to make sure we get the change we believe in.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Senator Hillary Clinton at a rally for Senator Obama in Aurora, Colorado, today. She brought up his relationship with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright during the primaries. That was a big point of contention.

Senator John McCain refuses to discuss Wright. Some Republicans say he should.

Uncovering America tonight, we're looking at issue and the subject of race in the election. We asked a group of six white and six African-American voters what they think about the Wright debate. Let's take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, FORMER PASTOR, TRINITY U.C.C.: Barack knows what it means to be a black man living in a country and a culture that is controlled by rich white people! Hillary can never know that. Hillary ain't never been called a (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

JOHNS: Is it fair game, for example, were McCain to use it in an ad?

CREWS: We have to be very careful when we walk into someplace where someone worships, which this country considers to be sacred, and use that against that person.

JOHNS: So to be clear, you're a Republican.

CREWS: Yes.

JOHNS: And you're a supporter of John McCain.

CREWS: Yes.

JOHNS: But you don't think that tape is fair game to be used against Barack Obama in a campaign?

CREWS: No.

ELLEN STRAUSS, SUPPORTS OBAMA: Think about what he said. Hillary has never been a black man. She's never been called the "N" word. She doesn't know what it's like. If any one of us had to grow up walking in their shoes, we might be a little PO'd, as well. I know I would be.

EDMUND BOGEN, SUPPORTS OBAMA: A statement like that just kind of pulls us back. It doesn't help. It doesn't advance anything. It doesn't make anything better.

DOUG JEFFREY, UNDECIDED: It should be about issues. It should be about what I'm going to do to improve the situation and improve the country.

Yes, there is a racial divide still in this country. There's no doubt about that. But if we really want to move on, we've got to figure out a way to transcend that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Want to thank all those people who agreed to discuss this with us. It was an interesting discussion, very intelligent points of view.

Joining us again, CNN's Joe Johns, Tom Foreman, Roland Martin and Soledad O'Brien.

Tom, what surprised you? What do you think you learned from talking to these groups?

FOREMAN: Well, I think that what surprised me most, Joe mentioned that his panel didn't get around to talking about race for quite some time. My panel almost immediately steered towards it, although we were purposefully not steering that way. Almost immediately, they started saying this race needs to be careful about the rights of black people, of minorities and the issue of race. It came up very quickly.

COOPER: Joe, how about you?

JOHNS: Yes. The thing that was interesting to me, especially about Reverend Wright, is everybody on the panel, Republicans, independent, Democrats, they all said they shouldn't be talking about church. They also said they didn't like it when they talked about Wright. They didn't like it when they talked about the pastor of McCain. They didn't like it when they talked about Sarah Palin's race. Don't hold the words of the pastor against the parishioner, end of story.

COOPER: Do we know, Roland, if Barack Obama gets elected president, how -- will it change the discussion of race in this country?

MARTIN: There's just no doubt. I mean -- I mean, 43 other -- 43 presidents being white male, what it will actually mean, the image of a first lady being Michelle Obama, the children being the first family. I mean, there's no doubt you're going to have that.

But you know, Anderson, something real quick on this whole issue. Sarah Palin the other day was talking to David Brody. She said about faith, people should feel free to worship as they please. The moment I heard that, I wondered if people will apply that quote to Reverend Wright and Trinity United Church of Christ.

COOPER: Well, she certainly said that it should be an issue in this campaign, but she was leaving it up to John McCain. And Soledad, John McCain has said a long time ago that it's not a legitimate issue.

O'BRIEN: Could be the longest 11 days in people's lives, though.

COOPER: Sure feels like it.

O'BRIEN: People say, "I'll never talk about it," and then the time passed by like this and you start rethinking that. So we'll have to wait and see.

COOPER: Yes. Well, Soledad, appreciate you coming in to talk about this. Roland, as well, and Tom and Joe. Thanks so much, appreciate it.

JOHNS: Thank you.

COOPER: Up next, an update to our breaking story, new arraignment pictures of a woman who perpetrated a racially- and politically-charged hoax that's been talked about across the country now for about two days.

And with 11 days until election day, John McCain continuing to pound the drum on the economy while his opponent, Barack Obama, steps away from the trail to be with his ailing grandmother. Details and the best political team on television ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: More now of breaking news. New pictures of the McCain volunteer being arraigned tonight, charged with filing a fake police report. She said she was molested, assaulted and disfigured by an African-American Obama supporter, she said, for having a McCain bumper sticker on her car.

Senator McCain and Governor Palin called to express their sympathy. But then her story changed again and again, until it completely unraveled.

The latest now from CNN's Randi Kaye.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the face of McCain campaign worker Ashley Todd. Notice the bruise under her eye and the backwards "B" sliced into her check. Todd told Pittsburgh police a black man attacked her because she had a McCain bumper sticker on her car. He held a knife to her throat, she said, then knocked her to the ground and carved a "B" into her face using a four- inch blade. That was her story. Police say it was all a lie.

DIANE RICHARD, PITTSBURGH POLICE DEPARTMENT: It could have really blown up into something, a national incident, and I'm glad that we quickly resolved the case.

KAYE: This all began Wednesday night in one of Pittsburgh's middle class neighborhoods. Todd, a white college student volunteering at a McCain phone bank, said a 6'4" black man approached her at an ATM and demanded money. After she complied with his demand, Todd told police the suspect became extremely angry and violent.

RICHARD: She then indicates that she's not certain if he may have seen the bumper sticker while he was assaulting her or if he saw a McCain button on her jacket.

KAYE: Pittsburgh law student Liz Ressler said she helped Todd after the alleged assault.

LIZ RESSLER, HELPED CAMPAIGN VOLUNTEER: She was just a little frazzled, a little out of breath and like holding her face and upset but she didn't seem too upset.

KAYE: Todd's claims made headlines. Conservative commentators were talking about it.

HUGH HEWITT, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: The big story of the afternoon, Wolf, is that a McCain campaign volunteer was assaulted in Pittsburgh, had the letter "B" carved in her cheek.

KAYE: Senator John McCain and running mate Sarah Palin called Todd to offer support. Barack Obama's campaign issued a statement wishing her well. But her account didn't add up. Investigators were troubled by inconsistencies. Police say the ATM surveillance camera showed no video of Todd from the night of the alleged crime. She took a lie detector test Friday morning but, when asked to draw a sketch of her attacker, her story began to unravel.

RICHARD: At that time Miss Todd states that she'd made up the story, which snowballed and got out of control.

KAYE: Police say she told them she has a history of mental problems and that she has no idea how the "B" was cut into her face. Todd was arrested, charged with filing a false report.

RICHARD: We suspect that she may have inflicted the injuries herself. We don't feel at this time that anyone else was involved.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: So she's in a jail cell tonight. She didn't make bail, $50,000 bail. She's going to be back in court October 30. Any word on why she did this? Did she say?

KAYE: No. We tried reaching her tonight. We also tried to find a lawyer for her, Anderson. We didn't have any luck. But we know that she told police that she forgets a lot of things. She has mental problems, as she told them. And so she forgets things.

She knows that she was alone in the car and she said when she looked in the mirror -- this is what they say she told them -- when she looked in the mirror she saw the "B" had been carved into her face. So she doesn't know exactly how it got there. She doesn't know why it got there. And she doesn't even know when it got there.

COOPER: Bizarre. All right. Randi Kaye, thanks.

Still ahead, John McCain's new message on the trail. But will it shake things up enough to move the polls? And Barack Obama taking a couple days off the trail. He's in Hawaii to see his gravely ill grandmother. Coming up, what his wife, Michelle, told his supporters today.

Also ahead, on a lighter note, we watched them duke it out in debates, but what if the election was decided on the dance floor? Tonight's "Shot" when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: All right. Time now for our "Beat 360" winners, our challenge to viewers to come up with a caption better than the one any of us around here could think of.

So here's the photo. It is John McCain and Sarah Palin during a campaign rally in Ohio a couple days ago. Our staff winner tonight is Joey. Joey always wins. We figured out that Joey actually believes his bonus is going to be tied to his "Beat 360" wins. We don't have the heart to tell him it's not. KAYE: Nice.

COOPER: So his caption tonight, "McCain proves he's ready to lead."

(SOUND EFFECT: Groans)

COOPER: Looks like they're dancing.

KAYE: Nice.

COOPER: Our viewer winner is Ian. His caption: "McCain: Oh, Sarah, you are soooo right -- this 'dancing around issues' sure beats addressing them."

(SOUND EFFECT: "Oooh!")

COOPER: Not a McCain supporter there. Ian, your "Beat 360" T- shirt is on the way. Check out all the entries on AC360.com. Ian, you get a T-shirt. There you go.

Randi, time for "The Shot." Now, with the debates over, there's only one thing left for the candidates to do. We've seen them do just about everything. It's time for a no-holds-barred dance-off. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(MUSIC)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: This is great.

Oh, boy.

COOPER: And then Sarah Palin comes in.

KAYE: The surprise challenger.

COOPER: The folks at Mini Movie Channel put this short comedy film together. They're calling it a Mini Movie original. And it is very original. It's amazing how they're able to do this stuff.

KAYE: You know, if it is this tight, come the day after election day, you never know.

COOPER: It's going to be down to a dance-off. I have no doubt. I have no doubt it's going to come down to a dance-off.

KAYE: We'll be here.

COOPER: More on our breaking news. If there's a dance-off for the presidency, I think the 360 crew will have a dance-off to be in the cabinet.

KAYE: Yes.

COOPER: More breaking news at the top of the hour.

Also, John McCain scrambling with barely 11 days to go until election day. And with her husband in Hawaii to see his ailing grandmother, how is Michelle Obama doing on the trail? That and more when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We begin with breaking news on two fronts tonight. A tragedy involving actress Jennifer Hudson. And this: Ashley Todd, the McCain volunteer who said she was attacked, beaten and mutilated at the hands of a Barack Obama supporter, has just been arraigned. Her bail was set at $50,000, which she did not pay. She is still in custody.

It is just the latest development in a bizarre story in which Todd claimed her attacker carved the letter "B" on her face. His rage, she claimed, triggered by her John McCain bumper sticker.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD: At that time she also indicated that she was sexually assaulted, as well. She indicated that when he had her on the ground, he put his hand up under her blouse and started to fondle her. But other than that, she said she doesn't remember anything else, so we're adding a sexual assault to this, as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, tonight we know the real story. That was police when they believed the story in the beginning.