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McCain Fights GOP Pessimism; Dow Tumbles

Aired October 24, 2008 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, to our viewers, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: John McCain tires to convince middle-class voters they would be put through the ringer under a President Obama. Can the Republican score needed points while his rival is off in Hawaii today?

And also, Sarah Palin gets personal in her first policy speech. She managed to draw criticism, though, on an issue close to her heart.

And the Democrats roll out a big gun to go after a prime target in the U.S. Senate. Is Bill Clinton seeking payback for his party? The best political team on television is standing by.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

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

Only 11 days before America votes, John McCain still trying to do his best to convince voters that he is not tone-deaf about the economy. Just a short while ago, he before the cameras at a factory in Colorado springs to talk about jobs lost and the dangers of raising taxes.

Let's go to Dana Bash. She is covering the McCain campaign for us in Colorado.

McCain is doing his best, as I said, to try to jump-start his campaign in the last 11 days. And he is pulling out a lot of surprises.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That is right. And today's surprise was the fact that he had former NFL quarterback of the Denver Broncos John Elway. And I don't have to tell you this, Wolf. He is famous for his last-minute comebacks and he actually told a crowd here with John McCain that he thinks McCain can pull one of those off.

But just like other battleground states, Wolf, for this one to come back would be a big-time turnaround, because right now our latest poll of polls shows McCain down six points, and this is a state, Colorado, that has not elected a Democrat in 16 years.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Coming to Colorado may be more symbolic than politically practical, John McCain's attempt to defy the perception that red states like this are out of his reach.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We're going to win Colorado.

BASH: But his campaign is clearly less optimistic. They reportedly slashed their Colorado TV ad spending this week in half.

Across the board, Republicans are increasingly pessimistic.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: He's got to change the national environment, change the national conversation. And to do that in two weeks, when you haven't been able to do it in two years, is going to be very tough.

BASH: Still, McCain aides insist to CNN their internal data shows traction in key swing states, thanks to Joe the plumber and attacks on Obama's tax plan.

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.

BASH: And McCain is now trying to lure voters by warning about Democrats in charge.

MCCAIN: 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. We can't let that happen.

BASH: McCain is also trying to inject national security back into an election dominated by the economy. After months of unsuccessfully trying to convince voters that Obama's inexperience makes him risky, he's trying again, using Joe Biden's words with this foreboding ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN AD)

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

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ERIN WENTLY, UNDECIDED VOTER: Believe it or not, I am still undecided.

BASH: But independent Colorado voter Erin Wently, who came to see McCain, tells us that argument doesn't sway her at all.

WENTLY: They're both risky, if we're honest. They're both risky.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BASH: Now McCain did not seal the deal with that undecided voter. She told us, after listening to McCain, she still is not sure which way she is going to go.

But, you know, Wolf, McCain aides tell us just the fact that because undecided voters, like Erin, are coming to his rallies, are willing to check him out, that gives them some hope that, despite the long odds, winning is not completely out of the question for them right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana is working the story in Denver, Colorado, a key battleground state.

Barack Obama is relying on his top surrogates to fight the good fight while he is visiting his sick grandmother in Hawaii.

Running mate Joe Biden revisited a subject today that got him into trouble before. He defended his remark that Obama would likely be tested by crisis early in his presidency, a remark that John McCain and Sarah Palin have pounced on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: No, I don't regret the comment. Every new president is tested, Democrat or Republican. I don't know where John has been in the last 20 years, number one.

Number two, I have watched Barack Obama. I have tested his mettle. I have seen him. He is ready to handle any crisis. And based upon the major crises we have had, he has been right and John has been wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's get some more on Senator Biden and Michelle Obama taking center stage out there on the campaign trail.

Let's go to CNN's Jessica Yellin -- Jessica.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Obama sent his top surrogates on the road today, running mate Joe Biden in West Virginia and Florida, and his wife, Michelle, in Ohio.

(voice-over): With Obama gone, the fight for battleground states goes on.

MICHELLE OBAMA, WIFE OF SENATOR BARACK OBAMA: O-H...

CROWD: I-O.

M. OBAMA: O-H...

CROWD: I-O. YELLIN: After acknowledging her husband's absence...

M. OBAMA: He flew to Hawaii to see his grandmother, who he called Toot. She's doing OK.

YELLIN: ... Michelle Obama gave the campaign's closing argument a personal touch.

M. OBAMA: What he gets fundamentally is that the American people are a decent people. American folks are like my parents, like his grandparents, like his mother. The vast majority of people aren't asking for much. But all they are looking for is a Washington that understands that, instead of just talking a good game about family values, that we actually have policies that value families.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BASH: The latest CNN poll of polls shows Obama seven points up in Ohio with 7 percent undecided. The campaign's other top surrogate 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.

YELLIN: And he mocked the campaign McCain/Palin mantra.

BIDEN: They get on these things and they start, I'm a maverick. No, you're a maverick. We're mavericks. They're all mavericks.

YELLIN: In West Virginia, a state once thought out of Obama's reach, CNN's poll of polls shows Obama two points behind McCain with 8 percent undecided. The Obama campaign is aggressively warning against overconfidence.

M. OBAMA: This is a long, hard race. It will be close. Don't be fooled.

YELLIN: And urging supporters to get to the polls now.

BIDEN: And I want once you get out, and you can vote early. So, vote early. Get there and vote.

YELLIN (on camera): And, Wolf, that early voting message is something you hear from all Obama's surrogates and from the candidate himself on the stump. It is clear from my conversations with his aides that they are concerned all these positive poll numbers will make Obama's supporters complacent. So, they are urging supporters to get to the polls now and help bring other voters to the polls on Election Day -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Thanks, Jessica -- Jessica Yellin working the story.

Michelle Obama, by the way, will be taking an even more prominent role on the political stage tomorrow. She will be delivering the Democratic response to President Bush's Saturday radio address. We are told she will talk about the importance of participating in the election.

The U.S. job market is turning even more dismal, Chrysler announcing it plans to slash some 5,000 jobs by year's end, this as both the Dow and home prices nosedived today.

Let's go right now to our senior business correspondent, Ali Velshi, working the story.

Ali, what sparked, what, a 312-point drop on the Dow Jones industrials?

ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf, compared to some of the numbers you and I have talked about in the evenings over the last month, doesn't even seem like much. We started the day thinking that this was going to be mother of all nosedives on the Dow.

In fact, this morning -- you know, we often talk about futures. Futures were down as much as they are allowed to go down. Futures trading, you actually could not trade futures down earlier this morning, before the markets opened. And there were some people talking about a 1,000- or 2000-point drop on the Dow. None of that materialized.

It is still continuing fears about a worldwide recession. And when it is the worldwide recession, how do you get people out of it? Well, you only can get out of a recession, particularly in the market, when people are confident about the economy and they start to invest, and they start to borrow and they start to spend. Well, that is not going to happen, particularly, as you say, as we lose jobs.

We have seen this month some evidence of some very, very big layoffs and we are concerned that when we get those numbers on November 7 about job losses, that they are going to be very serious. We have seen 750,000 jobs lost so far this year.

But, in the end, Wolf, taking a 312-point drop on the Dow has a lot of people, believe it or not, breathing a sigh of relief. There were a lot of people who thought today could be a lot worse.

BROWN: Could have been a lot worse. What about home sales, new numbers out on that front?

VELSHI: Yes, we are seeing the median price of an existing home -- median is the price at which half the homes are sold above that number and half below -- the median price is now under $200,000. It is about $191,000 for a House.

The good news here is that it is starting to seem affordable to some people who heard been wanting to buy houses, but had felt priced out of the market by the increases of the last few years. So, we have seen an uptick in the home buying compared to the same month last year. So, that is a little bit of good news. One month is not a trend. We will have to see if this continues for a couple months.

But, maybe, as homes prices fall and interest mortgage rates remain relatively low, for those people who can get them, maybe people are getting back into the housing market -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Key words, those people who can get them.

VELSHI: Yes.

BLITZER: Yes. Ali, thanks very much.

The global financial fallout is not helping President Bush's low approval ratings. The commander in chief has been out of public sight out there on the campaign trail. Behind closed doors, though, it is a different matter. We will explain.

Barack Obama says, she has been one of the most important women in his life, so important he has now briefly left the campaign trail for an emotional homecoming. We will go out to Hawaii.

And Sarah Palin's very personal message inspired by her youngest child.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: When we hold Trig, and when we care for him, we don't feel scared anymore. We truly feel blessed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Barack Obama on a sharp detour from campaigning, visiting his ailing grandmother in Hawaii.

We have new video of Obama walking from his grandmother's apartment. His visit is a testament to his strong feelings for the woman who helped raised him. It also may something about the advantages he now has over Senator McCain.

Let's go to Hawaii right now. Suzanne Malveaux traveled out there to cover this story for us.

A rather emotional moment for the Democratic candidate, Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you are absolutely right, Wolf.

Barack Obama is with his grandmother now at their apartment. And he said in an interview yesterday, he says, he doesn't know whether or not she's actually going to make it until Election Day. He says hopes and prayers are that she will, but he wants to talk with her and be with her while she is still alert, while she still has all of her faculties, he says. I talked to a family friend who says that the apartment is full of flowers and well-wishes from people across the country. Barack Obama is not only with his grandmother, but with her two brothers, a sister-in-law, during this emotional and difficult time.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice-over): A bittersweet journey home. Barack Obama arrives in Honolulu to go straight to his grandmother's -- 85-year-old Madelyn Dunham, who he calls the rock of the family, is gravely ill. On the night he clinched the Democratic nomination, he made sure the world knew how important she is.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Thank you to my grandmother, who helped raise me, who helped to make me the man I am today. Tonight is for her.

MALVEAUX: She helped raise Obama while his mother was away in Indonesia. Obama told me his grandparents instilled the values he needed to embrace his biracial identity.

OBAMA: They were fundamentally American values and that I could feel comfortable in my own identity, in my own skin, embracing that side of my family, while also embracing the fact of my race.

MALVEAUX: His grandmother has been too ill to travel on the campaign. But Obama's sister, Maya, told me she's been following it closely from home.

MAYA SOETORO-NG, SISTER OF BARACK OBAMA: Our grandmother lives in the same apartment that she's been renting for nearly 40 years, 950 square feet. That is our family estate. When he becomes president, I hope they put a little historical plaque up there.

MALVEAUX: But he's not president, so the campaign is blitzing the country today with high-profile supporters in key swing states.

M. OBAMA: But we could change this nation and maybe even the world.

MALVEAUX: Michelle, Ohio, the Bidens, Joe, Virginia, Jill, Florida, the Clintons, Hillary, Pennsylvania, Colorado., Bill, Kentucky.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: And, Wolf, Barack Obama is going to be leaving Honolulu 5:00 local time. That is 11:00 Eastern. He's going to be heading back on the campaign trail this weekend. And, obviously, he is hitting those battleground states, three that went to President Bush back in 2004. That is Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And staying on the West Coast, before he comes over to the East Coast to try finish up this election campaign.

Thanks, Suzanne, very much. No candidate wants a distraction just 11 days before an election, but Sarah Palin's campaign says she has been looking forward to this day to tell her story. Palin has been giving a deposition in Saint Louis in the investigation into the firing of Alaska's public safety commissioner.

Earlier, she spoke about a very personal cause as well.

Brian Todd is working this story a well.

Brian, what was her message?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the message draws from Sarah Palin's experience with her infant son, Trig, born with Down syndrome. Sarah Palin says specials-need children will be a key focus of hers if she gets to the White House.

It was a central theme in what is seen as a very effective speech today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Her first major policy speech with a personal touch.

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: As for our baby boy, Trig, for Todd and for me, he is only more precious because he is vulnerable. And, in some ways, I think that we stand to learn more from him than he will ever learn from us. And when we hold Trig and when we care for him, we don't feel scared anymore. We truly feel blessed.

TODD: Her own experience with a Down syndrome baby, a peg for Sarah Palin to lay out an ambitious plan for addressing special-needs children.

She promises, a McCain/Palin administration would completely pay for disabled children to get better access to education. The law providing for that hasn't been fully funded since it passed more than 30 years ago. Analysts say this could be an important campaign score.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": It looks compassionate, caring for people who are less able to care for themselves. And, in that way, I think the appeal for this is very broad.

TODD: But her remarks on financial trusts for the disabled draw campaign fire.

PALIN: Many families with special-needs children or dependent adults, they are concerned about, in this race, our opponent in this election, who plans to raise taxes on precisely these kinds of financial arrangements.

TODD: The Obama team claims McCain has voted against some special education funding. McCain's side counters that Palin herself has always increased those funds as governor.

But Sarah Palin has gone unplugged on the personal side, too, trying to diffuse the fuss over her $150,000 Republican-funded wardrobe -- quote -- "My favorite shop is a consignment shop in Anchorage, Alaska, called Out of the Closet," and maintaining the point of attack on Barack Obama's affiliations with Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers: "What did those characters see in Barack Obama? Why would they have wanted to be associated with him?"

PAGE: Well, I think it probably helps the ticket with base Republican voter, who are fired up about this. I don't think it's doing them much good when it comes to independent voters, who are concerned first and foremost about the economy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: And analysts say, Sarah Palin has got to bring in more independents as time runs out in this campaign. That is why they believe this speech on special-needs children was so crucial today, Wolf.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Is she going to be doing more of these policy kinds of speeches in the days to come?

TODD: We spoke to the campaign a short time ago. They not giving specifics on what topics on what days, but they say she's likely going to address substantive issues in the days ahead.

Analysts say, she's got to do that. Independents are crucial. And women voters, she's got to bring them in. These speeches can do it. She has not been scoring well with women voters.

BLITZER: So far.

All right, 11 days to go.

Thanks, Brian, very much.

Bill Clinton, the former president of the United States, he's now in his element. He's out there on the campaign trail, trying to help Democrats get a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

And, as gas prices are dropping, oil-producing nations need to discuss their profits. We tell you what they are doing.

And what does John McCain need to do to win Pennsylvania? You are going to find out why a former governor of Pennsylvania says things might be very different right now if he had been McCain's number two.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: Bill Clinton, the former president of the United States, he is now making a bold prediction.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are going to have an earthquake here on Election Day. I don't care what anybody says.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We're going to hear what else the former president is saying. He is trying to make his best hopes for Election Day come true. He is out there on the campaign trail with a specific mission.

And we have a brand-new look at the battle for Congress and how big Republicans' losses may actually be.

Also, the invisible man -- that would be President Bush -- as the Republican least likely to show up on the campaign trail. We will go to the White House to find out what is going on.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now: George W. Bush, he is missing from the campaign trail as John McCain tries to distance himself from the unpopular president. But is he playing a role behind the scenes? Stand by.

Grim election prospects for congressional Republicans, and now former President Bill Clinton coming out -- coming out swinging at the top Republican leader in the Senate.

Plus, could Tom Ridge have helped John McCain win Pennsylvania if he had picked him as his running mate? The former governor now trying to clarify remarks some see as a swipe at Sarah Palin -- all of this plus the best political team on television.

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

It's not just the White House that the Democrats see within their reach right now. They think they can increase their majority in Congress by big numbers. And that is one reason the -- that the former President Bill Clinton was in Kentucky today, where Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell faces a tough reelection.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: And I want you to understand, you really have not only the fate of the people in your neighborhood and your state, but the direction of this country, in your hands.

We are going to have an earthquake here on Election Day. I don't care what anybody says.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: This thing is going to -- and, in the country, Senator Obama is going to win a great victory, because the American people are going to turn away from what we have done.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right.

John King is joining us now. He's been doing some reporting on what is going on.

You are speaking to Republicans specifically. How worried are they about what could happen on November 4 in the House and Senate?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Increasingly pessimistic, Wolf, these Republicans are.

And, increasingly, they are saying, forget what we said back at the Republican Convention, when we said John McCain would help us in the races for Congress. More and more, they're saying, the direction of the McCain campaign is starting to hurt Republican candidates.

Let's start with the House. And let's look at the breakdown. I think we can put it up on the wall right now. Here is the current breakdown, 199 Republicans -- they're already in the minority -- 235 Democrats, one vacancy there. I talked to six Republican strategists today, none of them directly involved with the McCain campaign, but they're very involved in the Congressional races.

They say that at least two dozen, perhaps 30 or more Republican House seats will be lost.

If you look at that 235 number, imagine adding 30 to the Democratic side there.

BLITZER: Wow!

KING: It would give Nancy Pelosi a huge majority in the House. Again, at least two dozen, they think, are gone, maybe 30 or more, because they say the trends are going against them.

Now let's go over to the Senate. You saw Bill Clinton there going after Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader. The Senate right now, it's 51-49, a very narrow Democratic majority, and really only because two Independents, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Joe Lieberman, the former Democrat of Connecticut, side with the Democrats. But more and more, Republicans are saying they think at least five. They say that would be a victory. If they only lose five seats, they would consider that a victory. Many think the better number, Wolf, will be nine or maybe even 10 at most.

But the consensus among Republican strategists is they will probably lose seven or eight Senate seats on top of perhaps 25 to 30 House seats. That would give the Democrats -- if they get to 60 in the Senate, that would be a pickup of nine. That obviously would give them a filibuster-proof vote there.

But most Republicans think they'll fall just short of that. But Ted Stevens is on trial, the Dole seat in North Carolina is in trouble, even the Republican seat in Georgia now in trouble.

So it is not out of the realm that you could have a 60 seat Democratic majority in the Senate.

BLITZER: You know, if the Democrats pick up that many seats -- here's an intriguing question -- and assuming that Barack Obama is elected president -- Joe Lieberman -- do the Democrats let him remain with the majority and keep his chairmanship of a powerful Senate committee or do they tell him thanks but no thanks.

KING: Paging Machiavelli. It could be one of the most interesting political dynamics, no matter who is the president of the United States, if the Democrats make significant gains, especially -- what if Joe Lieberman were the 60th vote if he stayed, otherwise they'd only have 59?

This will be a very tough calculation for Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, for the entire members of the Democratic Caucus, because they are furious not only that Joe Lieberman is out with his friend, John McCain, but the things he has said about Barack Obama and the Democrats.

They are furious. If he's the 60th vote, they might have detente, if not peace. But there are many who say, you know what, we should dump Joe Lieberman anyway.

BLITZER: Yes, because the assumption -- they thought yes, he would say great things about his good friend, John McCain, but he wouldn't slam Barack Obama. But at the convention, as you remember, in St. Paul, he said some tough things about Barack Obama.

KING: He did. And I should quickly note, he is quoted today in a newspaper interview today with a newspaper back in Connecticut saying after the election, he's still for McCain. He believes McCain can still pull it out, no one should give up. But after the election, he wants to try to broker peace -- bipartisan peace -- with everyone.

So he's getting ready for the day after.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see what happens.

John, thank you.

President Bush took a quick jaunt from the White House today to the National Security Agency headquarters in suburban Maryland. He met with top intelligence officials amid a continuing backlash over secret government eavesdropping. It's one of the many controversies that help explain why the president has been virtually invisible out there on the campaign trail.

Here's CNN's Elaine Quijano -- Elaine, President Bush cast his presidential vote today, but even that was pretty low key.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, it was low key, Wolf, compared to other times when President Bush and Mrs. Bush have traveled to Crawford, Texas to cast their ballots there at the Crawford fire station.

Not so this time. The president in the Oval Office, at his desk, with a White House photographer present, went ahead and filled out his absentee ballot, which was mailed today to Texas.

Now, the president, the vice president, Mrs. Bush, of course, all voted for Senator John McCain, the candidate that President Bush endorsed back in March and has quietly supported ever since.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

QUIJANO (voice-over): This is a picture that we've only seen once this election season -- the president on the campaign trail with a man he's endorsed to be his successor -- on a tarmac after a Phoenix fundraiser in May, with only seconds together before the cameras.

With a 27 percent approval rating, a global financial crisis and wars overseas, President Bush has stayed off the stump.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: John McCain right now is trying his best to distance himself from the Bush administration and certainly from the policies of the last eight years.

QUIJANO: The president has been relegated to raising money for Republicans, largely behind closed doors. Of the four McCain fundraisers the president has attended, none have been open to reporters.

Last month, cameras did capture the two in the same room during a White House summit on the financial crisis. Both McCain and his opponent, Senator Barack Obama, were in seats away from each other and the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM JOHN MCCAIN FOR PRESIDENT CAMPAIGN AD)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The last eight years haven't worked very well, have they?

I'll make the next four better.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

QUIJANO: In the closing weeks of Campaign '08, one journalist has dubbed President Bush "the invisible man on the trail," as McCain has tried to separate himself even more.

MCCAIN: Senator Obama, I am not President Bush.

QUIJANO: Giving comedians ample fodder.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE," COURTESY SNL/BROADWAY VIDEO)

WILL FERRELL, ACTOR: A vote for John McCain is a vote for George W. Bush.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

QUIJANO: Meantime, Bush aides have tried to balance defending the president with staying out of the campaign.

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'll just say that the president stands by his policies. He also stands by John McCain.

QUESTION: Does the president take it personally at all?

PERINO: No, he doesn't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEO TAPE)

QUIJANO: Now, the president and the first lady plan to be here at the White House on election night. And, of course, Wolf, they hope to watch the man they voted for, John McCain, win -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Elaine, thank you.

Elaine's at the White House.

Here's a question for you -- did the former governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Ridge, take a swipe at Sarah Palin?

We're looking at what he said that has raised some eyebrows and what he's saying now.

Also, John McCain's eleventh hour tax and spend argument -- will it work?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: You know, my friends, you've got Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Barack Obama...

(BOOS)

MCCAIN: ...you've got...

(BOOS)

MCCAIN: ...you've got a recipe for tax and spend, tax and spend, tax and spend.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A snapshot of the race for the White House with only 11 days to go. Our new poll of polls, averaging seven separate surveys around the country, shows Barack Obama leading 50 percent to 42 percent, with 8 percent still unsure.

And now new controversy over a remark by a Republican once seen as a top contender for McCain's vice presidential pick.

We're going to discuss this and more with Steve Hayes, the senior writer for "The Weekly Standard;" our CNN senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; and our CNN political contributor, Dana Milbank of "The Washington Post". They are all part of the best political team on television. And Steve Hayes is the newest formal member of the best political team on television.

We want to welcome you.

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: There you go.

STEPHEN HAYES, SENIOR WRITER AT "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": It's good to be here.

BLITZER: Good to have you. Steve Hayes, Gloria and Dana, Tom Ridge caused a little bit of a stir, the former governor of Pennsylvania, the former Homeland Security secretary, quoted in the "Pittsburgh Tribune-Review" as saying: "I think the dynamics would be different in Pennsylvania. I think we'd be foolish not to admit it publicly," if he had been tapped to be the running mate.

Now, he later clarified that a bit.

Do you think it would be different in Pennsylvania?

Would McCain have a greater chance of carrying that traditionally democratic state?

HAYES: Yes, I think it might be different in Pennsylvania, specifically, although I don't think it was wise to say it so publicly. I think it was foolish actually to say so publicly.

But Tom Ridge would have changed the dynamics in Pennsylvania. He's still a favorite son. He's still popular there.

I don't think it would not have helped John McCain with the people -- you know, one of the two groups that we've talked about before who he needed help with the most, and that's conservatives. I think there would have been a fight at the convention...

BLITZER: That's because he supports abortion rights.

BORGER: Right. And so it wouldn't have helped him with the base of the party...

BLITZER: Like Sarah Palin has.

BORGER: ...as Sarah Palin has.

But I want to know what's happening to all these Republicans who seem to be taking truth serums lately. And publicly...

BLITZER: In these final days.

BORGER: ...in these final days, publicly coming out and criticizing the McCain campaign, like Tom Ridge criticizing implicitly sort of the choice of Sarah Palin, it should have been me, it's...

BLITZER: Let me, in fairness to Tom Ridge, read the clarification he later released. He said: "I was asked a question and I delivered an honest answer that was taken completely out of context. I wholeheartedly believe that John McCain made the right choice by selecting Sarah Palin to join him on the ticket. As a former two-term governor of Pennsylvania, I was simply making the point that of course the dynamics of the race in Pennsylvania would be different if the former governor of Pennsylvania were on the ticket."

DANA MILBANK, CNN CONTRIBUTOR "WASHINGTON POST": An excellent clarification there.

BORGER: There you go.

MILBANK: You know, I think that the Republicans this year should get the Heisman Trophy for Monday morning quarterbacking.

BORGER: Yes.

MILBANK: And it's extraordinary, all the second-guessing going on. And it's impossible to know how things might have turned out differently if it was somebody else.

But let's face it, 90 percent of the country think that we're on the wrong track.

BORGER: Right.

MILBANK: That is the lowest number since they've been recording it back to the '70s. I bet they haven't -- Americans haven't felt this way since The War of 1812. It probably doesn't matter who was on it.

BLITZER: Yes, because no matter who the Republican candidate would have been, it would have been a steep uphill climb.

Now, in the last few days -- and we heard it today -- you heard the sound bite, Steve -- he's saying, you know what, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama -- they are going to be in charge of Washington. Get ready. If this is what you want, vote for Barack Obama.

HAYES: Yes. I think they should have probably been saying this all along, you know, for several weeks here now. And I think you can expect the McCain campaign to add something to that in the coming days, because Barney Frank said to -- in an interview with a Massachusetts newspaper -- that he wanted to cut the defense budget by $150 billion. That is sure to be in the McCain talking points going forward.

BLITZER: But even John McCain says he can cut defense spending, there's a lot of fat in there that he wants to look at.

What's wrong with that?

HAYES: I think in that case, John McCain would prefer the scalpel rather than the hatchet, when you're talking about defense spending.

BORGER: There is a lot of logic that John McCain would be saying this, watch out for the liberal Democrats, the liberal Obama.

But if you look at who these people are who might be elected on Obama's coattails, they're what we call blue dog Democrats, which are Southern conservative Democrats. They're not wild-eyed liberals.

And so Barack Obama will have to work with those Democrats in his own party. And it may be a lot less liberal than John McCain would have us believe.

BLITZER: You think?

MILBANK: Yes. I mean they're almost making a concession in going with this argument. It's sort of the unified argument.

BORGER: Right.

MILBANK: But inherent in that is the assumption that John McCain has already lost this election, so you don't want to push that too far. You're assuming you won't have your guy in the White House.

But, you know, as John King was just saying, you're looking at -- even in a good case scenario for the Republicans, you're looking at, you know, double digit losses.

HAYES: But it's...

BLITZER: Yes.

HAYES: I would say it's a good argument for the Republicans to make...

BORGER: It is. Absolutely.

HAYES: ...when you look at how unpopular Congress is.

BORGER: Oh, sure.

HAYES: I mean President Bush is some 20 points more popular than Congress right now. It's a good argument.

BLITZER: And if he's trying to get out the vote among Republicans, that's certainly a very good argument.

HAYES: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Stand by, guys. We're going to continue this conversation.

It's one of Barack Obama's main attacks on John McCain -- that would be tying him to President Bush. And "Saturday Night Live" may be reinforcing it -- let me repeat, did reinforce it last night. The McCain camp probably is not laughing all that much at that one skit. We'll talk about that.

Plus, Senator Ted Kennedy -- homebound by brain cancer, but still working on a cause close to his heart. We'll explain what's going on right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE," COURTESY SNL/BROADWAY VIDEO)

WILL FERRELL, ACTOR: I, George W. Bush, endorse John McCain and Sarah Palin with all my heart. John was there for me 90 percent of the time for the last eight years.

(LAUGHTER)

FERRELL: When you think of me -- when you think of John McCain, think of me, George W. Bush. Think of this face when you're in the voting booth before you vote.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. A very funny skit.

We're back with the best political team on television.

Dana, I don't think the McCain camp -- and millions of people were watching that. That was not exactly the message the McCain campaign wants to reinforce.

MILBANK: No. If this keeps going on, they're going to have to ask for equal time or something like this. But it's been quite an extraordinary ride for the McCain campaign on "Saturday Night Live."

And today we had a case of life imitating art...

BORGER: Right.

MILBANK: What does President Bush do after this?

Oh, they go out and announce that he and Laura just sent in their ballots to vote for John McCain today.

BLITZER: Yes. BORGER: He could have done McCain more good if he had actually voted for Obama. And that might have helped John McCain a little bit -- and announced that. That would have been a little counterintuitive.

BLITZER: Yes...

BORGER: Not going to happen.

BLITZER: ...because there are millions of people who are watching that show. I don't know how many million -- 10 million.

Who knows how many people were watching?

But they've got huge ratings this season...

MILBANK: Many, many.

BLITZER: ..."Saturday Night Live". You know, it's interesting, because I remember covering the 2000 race. Al Gore, he tried to distance himself from Bill Clinton, given the scandals of Monica Lewinsky and all that. And, you know, but even Bill Clinton went out. He was campaigning at the time. He wasn't completely invisible, as George W. Bush, basically, has been this time.

HAYES: Yes. There was a report the other day, I think, by the reporter who covers the White House regularly, who said basically George W. Bush hasn't not done any public appearances on behalf of Republicans across the country...

BORGER: Right.

HAYES: ...which is a pretty remarkable thing to think about here going into the 2008 election.

BLITZER: A two-term president, what do you think?

BORGER: Well, I think he's got 26 percent popularity. Eighty-five percent of the country think it's headed in the wrong direction. I think they're fine to have him raise money.

But what Republican do you guys know, unless they're in a ruby red district, would want George Bush out there singing your praises?

BLITZER: I'm always interested, Dana, you know, if 85 percent think the country is headed in the wrong direction, who are these 15 percent that think the country right now, given the economic crisis we're facing...

BORGER: Because they're going to get their taxes raised.

BLITZER: ...think the country is heading in the right direction?

MILBANK: Right. It's actually even, I think, higher than 90 at this point. I think the others are actually in institutions, at this point.

(LAUGHTER)

MILBANK: Yeah.

BLITZER: I mean it's amazing that there are people out there who think things are going well, given the problems with foreclosures and...

BORGER: But those are Bush loyalists, I think.

Don't you think...

HAYES: Or members of the Bush family.

BORGER: Or members of the Bush family.

(LAUGHTER)

BORGER: But I think those are true, you know, ruby red, loyal Republicans...

HAYES: You know, but there -- there are a lot of Bush loyalists who were Bush loyalists two years ago who are no longer Bush loyalists...

BORGER: That's true.

HAYES: ...especially after this...

BORGER: Well, that's why it's such a small number.

HAYES: Right.

BLITZER: Are the knives already coming out, you know, among Republicans?

HAYES: I think they are. I mean I think you're seeing people more critical of the Bush administration, certainly. You're also starting to see some taking punches behind-the-scenes in the McCain campaign and beyond the McCain campaign by Republicans.

BLITZER: And if you saw that interview that Senator McCain gave "The Washington Times," he was rather blunt in really railing against the Bush administration's record.

BORGER: Yes. He's -- look, he's distancing himself in every way he possibly, possibly can. It's not for lack of trying.

I mean John McCain has an ad out essentially saying things haven't gone so well over the last eight years.

BLITZER: Yes.

BORGER: So I don't see how he could have done any more than he's already done to distance himself.

BLITZER: We'll leave it there, guys. Thanks very much.

Next week, it's going to be a busy, busy week.

BORGER: What's happening?

BLITZER: We'll be reporting from the CNN Election Center in New York.

Guys, thanks very much.

Alina Cho is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What's the latest -- Alina?

CHO: Hey there, Wolf.

While looking after his own health, Senator Ted Kennedy also plans to work on universal health care reform -- of course, something he cares very deeply about. Kennedy's cancer is keeping him homebound. But according to his aides, he is holding videoconferences with lawmakers and is also reaching out to some special interest groups that will help influence the debate. Kennedy is planning to take the legislation to Congress at the beginning of the year.

A Georgia death row inmate gets a stay of execution three days before he's scheduled to die. Troy Davidson is his name. He was convicted back in 1991 in the murder of a police officer. Seven of the nine witnesses against him have since recanted their testimony. The court of appeals granted a 25-day stay. That will give attorneys some time to file a new request for release with a lower court.

British billionaire and adventurer Richard Branson's hope to set a new transatlantic sailing record is, well, sunk, for now. Rough seas are making the crew abandon the attempt to race from New York to England in less than six days. That would have set the record. Branson tells CNN the 40-foot waves knocked a life raft from his racing yacht. No surprise here -- he does plan to try it again.

And it was face the next generation for two men who took the ultimate journey. The son of an American astronaut, along with a Russian man whose father was a cosmonaut, returned safely today after a trip to the International Space Station. The American, Richard Garriott, said he spent most of his fortune to make the trip. Ten days aboard the International Space Station, Wolf, for a cool $30 million bucks. And as I said before, that's $3 million a day.

BLITZER: Ummm. That's a lot of money.

CHO: An expensive trip.

BLITZER: ...just to go up and walk around that space station.

CHO: That's right.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Alina.

Alina Cho reporting.

A blast from the past with a political bent.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY FUNNYORDIE.COM)

RON HOWARD, ACTOR: Ah, gee, Fonz, I sure hope our country gets itself back on track.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Ron Howard bringing back his hit '70s sitcom, "Happy Days," hoping to influence the election. Stand by. We'll explain.

Plus, candid pictures of the presidential candidates on and off the campaign trail, coming up in today's Hot Shots.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at the Hot Shots coming in from our friends at the Associated Press -- pictures likely to be in your newspapers tomorrow.

In Honolulu, Senator Barack Obama takes a walk through his old neighborhood while visiting his ailing grandmother.

In Colorado, Senator John McCain and closest supporters visit with John Elway at Conway's Red Top Restaurant.

In Pennsylvania, artists stand in the middle of a giant replica of Barack Obama's hope poster. The replica took 60 hours to complete.

And also in Colorado, a McCain supporter shows off the John Elway jersey worn by her dog.

Some of this hour's Hot Shots -- pictures worth a thousand words.

On our Political Ticker today, Barack Obama's campaign cash machine isn't what it was back in September. After his record-breaking $150 million haul in September, new campaign finance reports show the Democrat raised about $36 million in the first half of this month. While Obama's fundraising pace may be slowing a bit, John McCain is restrained by spending limits since he accepted federal matching funds. Obama did not.

The Obama camp is using its unprecedented political cash to sell the candidate like a major brand name. Check this out -- Obama has spent more on advertising than most major corporations.

CNN's consultant on ad spending says Obama's big money ad spending over the past four months would translate into some $750 million over a full year. The Campaign Media Analysis Group says only two big companies have a bigger yearly advertising budget -- AT&T, with $1.3 billion, and Verizon, with a $950 million annual budget.

Checking some of the latest presidential campaign endorsements, Barack Obama now has "The New York Times" and the "Philadelphia Daily News" behind him. John McCain has nabbed the support of "The Detroit News" and "The State," one of South Carolina's most influential newspapers.

Remember, for the latest political news anytime, check out CNNPolitics.com. The Ticker there, by the way, is the number one political news blog out there on the Web.

The director and former actor, Ron Howard, mixes some nostalgia and star power for Barack Obama. In an online appeal to voters, he reaches back to the days of "Happy Days" and "The Andy Griffith Show".

Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

So what's Ron Howard doing -- Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this election is so important to Ron Howard that he's bringing Richie Cunningham back to life.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY FUNNYORDIE.COM)

HOWARD: Oh, gee, Fonz, I sure hope our country gets itself back on track.

HENRY WINKLER, ACTOR: You know, I'll tell you something. Eight years ago, I thought to myself, OK, we've got these presidents of the United States, Cheney-Bush. We should give them a shot.

Was I wrrrr...

I was so wrrrr...

HOWARD: You were wrong, Fonz?

WINKLER: OK, that's the word.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TATTON: That's Howard and Henry Winkler, reprising their roles in "Happy Days" for this online video supporting Barack Obama. It's a nostalgic appeal to Americans of all generations using characters they're bound to recognize.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY FUNNYORDIE.COM)

HOWARD: When I'm a grown up, I sure would like to vote for somebody as good as Mr. Obama.

ANDY GRIFFITH, ACTOR: Well, if you stay healthy and strong, avoid any felons and stay away from the butterfly ballot, I bet you'll get a chance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TATTON: That's Howard as Opie with Andy Griffith. This video is on the Web site video funnyordie. It's got a million page views just in the last 24 hours -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Abbi, thanks very much.

We want to check out -- we want you to check out our political pod cast. To get the best political team to go, you can subscribe at CNN.com/situationroom.

Don't forget to watch "LATE EDITION" this Sunday, 11:00 a.m. Eastern. Among my guests, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, Arizona Senator Jon Kyl. Sunday, 11:00 a.m. Eastern, "LATE EDITION".

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT."