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Democratic National Convention

Aired September 4, 2012 - 20:00   ET


DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, Anderson, I was one of those Democrats that became very teary eyed. I mean Ted Kennedy was a giant. He was a giant for equality for all Americans. He never wavered. He embodied the spirit found in scripture, "To whom much is given, much is required."

This was a man who just kept working each and every day for women's rights, for civil rights, but most importantly for children. Child health care. That was another one of his signature issues. So we Miss Teddy Kennedy. I wish he was still out here fighting for us.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: But, you know, he used a word you don't hear at this Democratic convention very often. "I'm a liberal." He represents an older Democratic Party. The Democratic Party that Bill Clinton transformed. The new Democrat. He moved it to the center.


DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I want to make one last point. And that's the torch passing. We saw in Joe Kennedy tonight the new rising hope of the Kennedy family, the whole Kennedy tradition. He's going to win the Barney Frank seat. There are a lot of people running for that seat. He declared. Cleared the field. And he is seen -- everyone knows it now as being a serious Kennedy, someone who studies the issues. Well put together. I thought he was impressive.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I thought it was all about the heart. Putting the heart back in the Democratic Party. And President Obama, which is what we'll see from Michelle, too, I think.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's check in with Candy Crowley as we see the view from the vice president's box up there. Vicki Kennedy, who's going to be speaking to our Wolf Blitzer shortly.

Candy Crowley, you covered that race between Kennedy and Romney, didn't you?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I did. And we forget that at the beginning Mitt Romney gave him actually quite a scare. They were worried that this was a newcomer that was going to -- that was going to be very strong. And for a while, the polls were close. But we saw, you know, certainly during those debates and a lot of other moments during that campaign that Teddy Kennedy was able to prevail.

I was also there on the floor of the convention when Teddy gave that speech that was in the video that we saw, the "Dream shall never die" speech, which was an incredible, emotional highlight. And it's hard to remember that even in that day, in 1980, the convention that Jimmy Carter had actually won and beaten off -- he was then president -- and had beaten Ted Kennedy who challenged him because he -- it was such an emotional high.

And they loved Ted Kennedy. They didn't want him to be president but they truly loved him. And you saw -- you had that same feel here in this arena. That kind of nostalgia for someone that really -- someone whose family and someone who in particular had done so much for the Democratic Party and been such an icon.

So it was -- I agree with Wolf. Not many dry eyes around us either as they kind of went through all those fights that Teddy Kennedy made. And you saw President Clinton, hailing him as so many did, as one of the great legislatures of the last century. So quite an emotional high and I think incredibly effective when he took off Mitt Romney. That got the loudest applause down here on the floor, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, there's no doubt about that. There's really been two moments that I witnessed in the last two hours or so. One when Cory Booker was speaking, many people getting up on their feet, cheering. And certainly during that video watching the old debate.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And a reminder, two takeaways I got from the Kennedy video in addition to it again. He's happy in heaven, that he got to land one last punch in this campaign. But it is a reminder that this is very much a base election. Both campaigns. This is very much like 2004, Bush versus Kerry. Both campaigns realizing the middle, the undecided is such a small slice, the most important thing, energize your base and for the Democrats, that is your liberal base.

The other thing you're reminded of, the Clinton tribute, saying he's the most effective legislature of his generation, you won't find a Republican who disagrees with that. They would say the same thing. Even though they disagreed with him so often, they trusted him. That's missing in Washington. That's missing in Washington right now. And it is one of the cancers on our country that in Washington, Democrats and Republicans view each other as evil, as opposed to just opponents.

COOPER: Well, was compromise a dirty word back then? Because now it seems like compromise is certainly a --


KING: For Senator Kennedy, it was never. Again, some Democrats were furious with him when he cut the deal with President Bush on the Medicare prescription drug benefit. Some Democrats were furious with him when he cut the deal with John Boehner on No Child Left Behind, who John Boehner said, look, the Democrats said you're giving up too much. Ted Kennedy never made perfect the enemy of the good.

BORGER: You know, he said that the biggest mistake of his political career was not compromising with President Nixon on health care reform. He didn't -- he couldn't have gotten it all but he could have gotten a good piece of it. And it was (INAUDIBLE) in his book, he said, "I wish I had taken that little piece and then built upon it." Because he was such a legislature.

COOPER: Brianna Keilar is down on the floor where folks are still talking about the Kennedy video -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Anderson. Looking around here on the floor, you saw a lot of standing ovations from some people during that video. But I'm standing here with Susan Lee. She's with the Illinois delegation. She's from Chicago.

And, Susan, I was struck by the fact that I looked over and you were crying. Why?

SUSAN LEE, ILLINOIS DELEGATION: Well, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2011. And I had to take a leave of school because she didn't have insurance. And I had to look around to find out where I can get her some insurance. Fortunately, for Illinois, we have the breast cancer insurance where we're able to apply. So I had to take care of that and just find ways for her to get the services that she needed.

KEILAR: So what was the part of the video that you are watching that prompted you to tears?

LEE: That just the part of Senator Kennedy and President Obama. Where they passed this great health care reform that now families like mine won't have to worry about whether they can go to the hospital when they're sick. And my mother, she had known -- if she had insurance, she would have gotten yearly mammograms. To find out that she had actually stage 1, stage 2, stage 3 breast cancer. But she didn't have the insurance for that so --

KEILAR: Susan Lee, thank you very much. Obviously, health care reform, very controversial this election, Wolf. But here on the floor of the Democratic National Convention, a whole lot of fans.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: No doubt about that. Brianna, thanks very, very much.

And remember, we're standing by, we're going to be speaking exclusively with Ted Kennedy's widow Vicki Kennedy. She's making her way down here from the vice president's box. She's going to be sitting next to me. We're going to be talking about this very, very emotional few moments, this tribute to the late senator Ted Kennedy.

But Kate Bolduan has a special guest who remembers working with Ted Kennedy very, very closely -- Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, thank you, Wolf. I'm standing here with Reverend Jesse Jackson, civil rights leader who is one of the people who probably knows Ted Kennedy better than any.

You did get a standing ovation yourself when you walked in here, Reverend. We just saw this moving tribute to Senator Ted Kennedy. Tell me -- tell me your thoughts on that.

REV. JESSE JACKSON, RAINBOW COALITION: The governors who blocked those doors didn't make the new south. Ted Kennedy and Dr. King get to make the new south. Because the walls are down. Because we all have the right to vote. You're going to have Boeing and (INAUDIBLE) come to south and North Carolina and Mississippi. You're going to have the North Carolina Panthers and the Atlanta Falcons behind the (INAUDIBLE).

There's a new south. (INAUDIBLE) Mason and Dixon. We are a better nation because of his work. And more American's health care's covered. That's a big deal among some of the working and not so working poor people.

BOLDUAN: Now I caught you as you are walking into the convention. I don't know if you had a chance to see the tribute? Did you have a chance to see the tribute?

JACKSON: Yes, and met with his son earlier today. I mean, Kennedy has earned his place in the annals of American history. And because he lived, others now are able to live longer. Without the health care, many poor people would simply die. They don't have the money or a pre-existing condition, you must be covered. You lose your job, don't lose your health care, you can be covered.

You leave your college without a job you're on your parent's health insurance. The health care bill has been good for America. This is scandalous, there's been attacks. The affordable health care has been a good thing for America.

BOLDUAN: Now if memory serves me correctly, I think this is the first convention in -- decades upon decades that there has not been a Kennedy in Congress during the convention. Can you talk about -- talk about the impact of Ted Kennedy but talk about the impact of, you know, his legacy.

JACKSON: The legacy outlasts the family. The new south which now honors all American's civil rights. We got right to vote in 1965. Blacks can vote. White women can serve on juries, 18-year-olds can vote. Students can vote on campus. You can now vote multi-lingually. All that new stuff we now take for granted, that's the Kennedy movement. And we all benefit from it. And we all adore him for it.

BOLDUAN: And this is the very beginning of this convention. What are you hoping when you take -- when you move from this moving tribute, what are you hoping that how that carries through the next few days?

JACKSON: The enthusiasm is rising. We've been talking about that. The enthusiasm lag. I hope that at least on Thursday night when the president speaks, that there is three pieces of unfinished business. One, the growth of poverty. It is exploding. Fifty-one million of Americans in poverty and 54 million insecure. If they're campaigning in Ohio, 30 counties in Ohio are in Appalachia. What a great time to pick up the Lyndon Johnson legacy.

The urban violence is exploding in cities like Chicago. This is a great moment to address a plan for urban reconstruction and poverty. It kind of completes the message. It's the key to winning and winning the right way.

BOLDUAN: Now, Reverend, I have to ask you. As we've spoken in the airport, we spoke when you were on with Wolf and I earlier, I wanted to ask how your son is. I -- do know that Patrick Kennedy, Ted Kennedy's son, did take the time to go meet with him earlier this month. How is your son doing?

JACKSON: Well, he is regaining his strength slowly. And his priority is his health. He loves this work. He's done this for 18 years now. So we ask people to continue to pray for him and for our family. It's been a tough ordeal. He'll make it in time. He must take his time.

BOLDUAN: And do -- can we hope -- can we expect to see Congressman Jackson back in Congress?

JACKSON: That's a health issue and I'd like that to be addressed at the appropriate time.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, so much, Reverend, for your time. Best to your family. Thank you very much.

JACKSON: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: We of course wish Jesse Jackson Jr., the congressman, a speedy, speedy recovery.

I'm standing by. I'll be speaking exclusively with Vicki Kennedy, the widow of the late Senator Ted Kennedy. She's making her way down here. This is a jam-packed convention, not easy to move around. There are people all over the place.

Also this hour, stand by for this, we're taking an exclusive look at President Obama's private life in the White House. In a rare interview about his family, he tells our own Jessica Yellin how he and the first lady are going out of their way to make sure their daughters have normal childhoods.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: First, they go to the mall. They go to movies. They have friends over here.



BLITZER: We're back here at the Democratic National Convention with a very, very special guest, Vicki Kennedy.


BLITZER: The widow of the late Senator Ted Kennedy. We were watching you up there in the box with the vice president and Mrs. Biden.


BLITZER: I could see that you were having a tough time even breathing. You were so moved by what was going on.

KENNEDY: I was very moved. I thought it was a beautiful film. A beautiful tribute. And I thought the reaction of the crowd was very powerful.

BLITZER: I'm sitting down here on the floor. You -- you know, you look out, Massachusetts delegation is right over there. I can't tell you how many people were openly not just weepy, they were, they were crying big time.

KENNEDY: It was very powerful.

BLITZER: Had you seen that video before?

KENNEDY: I had seen cuts of it but I hadn't seen the whole thing put together.

BLITZER: So what was going through your mind as you were remembering your husband, the great senator Ted Kennedy, especially in a moment like this?

KENNEDY: For me, it's just hearing his voice. As soon as I hear his voice, it's -- you know, I take that deep breath and it's so powerful. But I was just remembering the power of the man. And that huge presence. And that joy of life and that man who would have loved to have been here this year.

BLITZER: Big legislative accomplishments were amazing when you think about it. As some of our analysts pointed out, Republicans will agree he was a great, great legislature.

KENNEDY: I think he was. And I think -- you know, I know I'm biased, I am his wife saying this, but I think he is, you know, the greatest legislator ever. If you look at that history, is that when you saw those blurbs of everything that he's worked on. But for him he never looked back at that. I think that was one of the greatest things about Teddy.

Someone asked him really in the last couple of years, what -- he was writing his book, actually, the editor of the book said, what is your greatest legislative accomplishment? And he really hadn't thought about what legislation he had passed. Because he was always moving to the next thing. He was just thinking about how to improve the lives of people. How to move our country forward. How to keep on what he called our march for progress. And it was so powerful in that film to see frame after frame after frame of that march for progress and what his accomplishments, what he had fought for, with Republicans and Democrats, really. Those were bipartisan achievements by and large.

BLITZER: If he were here, too bad he's not, but if he were here tonight, give us a little sense, what would he be saying to a crowd like this?

KENNEDY: Oh, I think that's too impossible to say. I never predict what he would say. But I know what he said four years ago. And I know how he looked forward to the future. With hope. And optimism. How he thought America's best days are still ahead. That's who he was.

BLITZER: You were sitting up there with the vice president and Dr. Biden. What were they saying to you about Ted Kennedy? Because we know Joe Biden as a senator, he worked at about as closely with your late husband as anyone.

KENNEDY: We had -- we had wonderful private conversations about Teddy. But the vice president and Teddy were very close colleagues in the Senate and very close friends. They served together for all of -- all of Joe Biden's Senate career. Teddy was there when then Senator Biden entered the Senate. They became friends then. They served on the same committee together. And he was talking about the special friendship that they had.

BLITZER: I remember when Ted Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential --

KENNEDY: What a day that was.

BLITZER: Remind our viewers what Senator Kennedy -- because it wasn't easy, you know, he was being opposed by Hillary Clinton as you well remember.

KENNEDY: And he and Hillary Clinton were very good friends. And remained very good friends. But it was an exhilarating day at American University when Teddy endorsed Barack Obama. And you saw a little clip of that in the tribute film where he talked about the torch being passed to a new generation.

And people forget sometime that Teddy was healthy then. That was before he had been diagnosed with cancer. So it was the act of a very healthy vigorous man in the prime of his legislative career. But embracing this young Senator Obama, saying that he inspired him, saying that he believed he could lift our nation and make a difference and make change.

BLITZER: What did you think of those little clips in the -- in the video of your late husband and that debate he had against his senatorial opponent at the time in Massachusetts, Mitt Romney? KENNEDY: I remember that campaign so well. And how much fun. I know it's hard to think of it as being fun because it was such a competitive race. But it was such a fun campaign. And how Teddy in a very real way reconnected with the voters. Because he hadn't had such a competitive race in a long time. He reconnected with Massachusetts where they learned, again, what he had done in a specific way. What his record was.

And I remember someone saying, isn't this the toughest race you've had since your first and he said, no, it's not my toughest. It's competitive but it's not tough because I know who I am, I know what I believe, so I'm enjoying it. Because I'm getting to go out and talk about what I believe and what I want to fight for.

BLITZER: Vicki Kennedy, thanks very much for coming over. Thanks for sharing some thoughts --

KENNEDY: Thank you.

BLITZER: -- on a very, very emotional night for you.

KENNEDY: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And grateful for you coming over here and we'll continue this conversation I'm sure down the road.

KENNEDY: Thanks so much. Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

KENNEDY: Thanks so much.

BLITZER: Don't leave yet. The big headliner of the night tonight will of course be the first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama. We're told that the first lady will keep her remarks positive.

We're about to get a really red meat speech from the current governor of Massachusetts assailing the record of his predecessor, that would be Mitt Romney. First, though, a convention flashback.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For anybody who was at the 2004 convention, Obama's keynote was the moment.

OBAMA: There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America, and Asian America. There's the United States of America.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's one of those times when a keynote address catapults a person, a very young person, with little experience, into the presidency.



BLITZER: President Obama says he and his daughters are staying up late tonight over at the White House as they watch their mother's convention speech.

In her documentary entitled "OBAMA REVEALED" our own Jessica Yellin got the president to open up about the first family's private life.

In the interview the president repeatedly, repeatedly, Jessica, emphasized the importance of his family life. How he tries to juggle what is going on. And you did an amazing job in that.


BLITZER: Thank you so much for doing that.

YELLIN: You know, he did talk a lot about the importance of being a good and present father and what that meant to him. One of the things that I found was that during a campaign season, I think, it's very helpful to him, no doubt, to emphasize his point because he wants to reach women voters. It's also grounding to emphasize that he's a family man as well as the president.

But I also believe that, as Valerie Jarrett said to me in another interview, that he misses, he misses the presence of his own father in his life and he wants to be a present father to his girls.


YELLIN: We've talked terrorism, political gridlock and economic crisis.

OBAMA: Right.

YELLIN: I'd like to ask how that compares to raising adolescent girls.


OBAMA: You know, the girls are just doing great. And one of the big concerns that both Michelle and I had when we moved here was, how are they going to adjust to this weird artificial environment and being in the bubble? And they have thrived. And the reason they've thrived partly is because I think all the staff, the Secret Service, everybody has really accommodated our requests to make sure their lives are as normal as possible.

So they have sleepovers. They go to the mall. They go to the movies. They have friends over here. And there's nothing they can't do that other girls their age are doing. And the other thing is Michelle. Who's just a great mom. And, you know, makes sure that they're responsible, they're doing their homework, they're doing their chores, they treat everybody with respect. You know, they're kind. You know, I think we've done a good job instilling in them the same values that we grew up with. And that helps a lot.


BLITZER: You did a great job in that interview. And you know, the daughters, they're growing up in the White House.

YELLIN: They are. Sasha and Malia 11 and, I believe, 14. Starting -- the 14-year-old is starting high school tonight, or today I think. And it's -- they've been kept out the public eye a lot. I think you'll see them a little bit more. You'll definitely see Mrs. Obama a lot more as the campaign enters into these final stretches. She's one of the president's most effective speakers on the campaign trail.

BLITZER: Some would say the most effective speaker.


BLITZER: And tonight, she's going to probably give an amazing speech.


BLITZER: That we'll look forward to.

Jessica, don't go too far away. We have more of your exclusive interview with the president of the United States coming up throughout this -- our coverage tonight and throughout the week, in fact.

But let's go to John Berman. He's down on the convention floor with Robert Gibbs, a former White House press secretary, now a top adviser for the Obama campaign -- John.

JOHN BERMAN, ANCHOR, EARLY START: Thanks, Wolf. Robert Gibbs, you're now a senior adviser to the -- Obama campaign. But you've been with him since he was a state senator back in 2004. For you tonight personally, what's different?

ROBERT GIBBS, OBAMA CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: Well, it's a little bit of a different atmosphere. Look, I think this place is so excited to hear from Michelle and hear, Thursday, from the president. It's been a tremendous journey. But I think it's one that's always been staked in an American story of hope and opportunity.

BERMAN: You say different. Different how? Less enthusiasm?

GIBBS: No, no, no. Look, I think -- I think this place is really excited. I think we're going to be really excited come November. Because I think everybody here and throughout the country understands what's at stake. Obviously, when I walked in here with a state senator eight years ago, nobody even knew who we were. The morning after he gave that speech, I remember a cop in Boston stopped us and talked to him about how much that speech had meant to him. Telling that story of hope and opportunity in America. That's when he knew it resonated. BERMAN: Robert, there's been a lot of talk about the Democratic Party platform which we saw, really, for the first time today. There is no mention of the word "God." And that's the first time that's happened for a while. What kind of message does that send to the American people?

GIBBS: There's talk throughout the platform about faith and religion. And I think that's what's important. It's what binds us together. All of us here, a lot of us here believe in a higher power. And in a -- in a being. I certainly believe in God. I know there's thousands of God-fearing Democrats in this building here tonight.

BERMAN: Was that a deliberate omission? A deliberate decision not to use the word "God"?

GIBBS: Again, I think all the language about religion and faith I think -- I think that lets people understand and know what this party is all about.

BERMAN: But you didn't answer.

GIBBS: I think I did the first time but you --


BERMAN: Robert, you're also an expert on communications. Over the last 48 hours or so, there has been some different messaging on the answer to the question, are you better off today than you were four years ago? First it was no answer, then it was no, and now it's absolutely. What can we expect tonight to that question?

GIBBS: Well, look, where we sit, four years ago, you know, we were losing hundreds of thousands of jobs. GM was on a pathway to bankruptcy. GM sales were up 10 percent just this month, in fact, in figures that came out today.

You can't look at where we were and where we are and not think we're better. Are we where we all want to be? Are we where the president wants us to be? Absolutely not.

We have to keep pushing forward, strengthen the security of the middle class and put more and more people back to work. So yes, we're better off. Yes, we have a long way to go.

BERMAN: All right, Robert Gibbs, senior adviser to the Obama campaign, thank you so much. Great to see you. Anderson, let's go back to you.

COOPER: All right, talking to Robert Gibbs there on the floor. We are awaiting a number of speeches. Obviously, the big speech tonight, Michelle Obama, a lot of people with a lot of anticipation building to see what happens with that.

How much, John, in the days ahead, in the day ahead, are we going to be hearing about this not having the word "God" in the platform from Republicans? KING: Again, the Democrats went after the Republican platform with vigor. They saw things in the Republican platform they thought were political openings. They went after them with vigor.

Republicans are going to do just the same. But why was God in the platform four years ago and four years before that and four years before that? Who designed to take it out? Those are questions we are trying to get these answers.

Who decided to take it out and we're not getting the answers. That tells you something. It seems to me like a mistake and an oversight. Why was the Israel plank softened? The word's Israel's our strongest ally taken out of the platform?

They were in Senator Obama's platform four years ago. They are not in President Obama's platform. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, was in Senator Obama's party platform four years ago. They're not in the platform this year.

Those are answers -- those are legitimate questions. The platform is not going to decide the election come November. However, in an election this close, when you do things like this, you open yourself up to questions and criticisms --

COOPER: In particular, the Democrats have been making the argument in the last week that Mitt Romney's campaign was behind the Republican Party platform, which did not talk about exemptions in the case of rape or the life of the mother, which is counter to Romney's policies.

Debbie Wasserman-Schultz was saying, look, the Romney campaign is in control of the platform now or the Democrats can be vulnerable on that same argument.

CASTELLANOS: One of the biggest indicators of how you're going to vote in this election is how religious you are and whether you attend church. The more you go to church, the more you're likely to vote Republican. So of course Republicans are going to use that.

COOPER: Brianna Keilar is down on the floor with a guest -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Hi, there, Anderson. I'm standing here with Sandra Fluke who, of course, is the Georgetown law grad who has become quite the insta celebrity talking about the president's contraception policy.

This happened after you testified on Capitol Hill and Rush Limbaugh called you a derogatory name. I'm wondering, do you think that Rush Limbaugh, he called you, these are his words, a slut. Do you think his words represent Mitt Romney and the Republican Party?

SANDRA FLUKE, GEORGETOWN LAW SCHOOL GRADUATE: Well, I think what's more important is what we saw from Mitt Romney in the aftermath of that. We saw that he was either unable or unwilling to stand up to those attacks. The best he could say is those weren't the words he would have used. Now, I'm a strong woman. I don't need Mr. Romney to stand up for me, but I do need to have a president who can stand up to the extreme voices in his party. And that's clearly not Mr. Romney.

KEILAR: How big do you think social issues are going to play in this election?

FLUKE: Well, I don't think they're just social issues. I think that access to the health care that women need, women's access to equal pay, those are economic issues as well because that makes a big difference in a family's budget whether or not they are afraid of going bankrupt the next day because of the health care emergency.

But I think those issues are going to be huge this time around. I've been talking to women across the country. They're very concerned. And they understand that we have a really clear choice between Mr. Romney and President Obama.

KEILAR: Let me ask you this, because the economy is the number one issue, and when Democrats start talking about these kinds of issues, contraception, abortion, they really tend to shore up their female base. Should these be the issues or should the economy be more the issue that people are focused on?

FLUKE: Well, you know, as I said, I see them as connected, but I don't think it's exclusive to either one. You know, we need to be talking about the full agenda of what President Obama can do for America in the next four years.

And when I talk to women who are concerned about these issues, it's really not just the base. I'm hearing this from women across the political spectrum. They really feel this Republican Party is out of step with American women.

KEILAR: And Sandra Fluke, thank you so much for being with us. We really appreciate your time. Sandra fluke will be speaking tomorrow, Anderson, in the 9:00 p.m. hour. No doubt, she'll be talking about the president's contraceptive policy.

COOPER: Brianna, thanks very much. The convention delegates are about to hear an emotional appeal to keep President Obama's signature accomplishment, his health care reform law. We'll hear from a mother who says her child would not be alive today if the Obama program had not passed. We'll be right back.


COOPER: Let's listen in to Tammy Duckworth, congressional candidate from Illinois.

TAMMY DUCKWORTH, CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE, ILLINOIS: -- thank God for the food stamps, public education and Pell Grants that helped me finish high school and college. In time, we pulled through.

With this start, I was able to earn my own commission as an Army officer and I became an assault helicopter pilot working my way up to command a Blackhawk helicopter company. In 2003, my National Guard unit was mobilized, and I became one of the first Army women to fly combat missions in Iraq.

And almost -- almost a year into my tour, I was wounded and recovered at Walter Reed with other wounded warriors. Some of us had an obvious injury. Others had scars on the inside that were less visible but no less real. At the hospital, I realized my new responsibility to honor the buddies who saved me by serving our military men and women.

And I became the director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs. We led the nation -- we led the nation in screening for traumatic brain injury and posttraumatic stress. And we created a tax credit for Illinois businesses that hire veterans.

Then President Obama asked me to help keep our sacred trust with veterans of all eras at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. We worked to end the outrage of veterans having to sleep on the same streets they once defended.

We improved services for female veterans and I reached out to young vets by creating the office of online communications. Barack Obama has also lived up to his responsibilities as commander in chief.

Ending the war in Iraq, refocusing on Afghanistan, and eradicating terrorist leaders, including Bin Laden. President Obama pushed for fairness in the military, listening to commanders, as we ended "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and on how to allow women to officially serve in more combat jobs.

Don't you think, don't you think it's time that we stopped being surprised that America's daughters are just as capable of doing their jobs and defending liberty as her sons? When it comes to our own men and women in harm's way, we have a clear choice on November 6th.

Last week, Mitt Romney had a chance to show his support for the brave men and women he's seeking to command. But he chose to criticize President Obama instead of even uttering the word "Afghanistan."

Barack Obama will never ignore our troops. He will fight for them. That's why he is my choice on November 6th. My choice -- my choice is to do what my family did when times were hard. Roll up our sleeves and get to work.

My choice is to do what my crew did for me in a dusty field in Iraq. On November 12th, 2004, I was co-piloting my Blackhawk north of Baghdad when we started taking enemy fire.

A rocket-propelled grenade hit our helicopter, exploding in my lap, ripping off one leg, crushing the other and tearing my right arm apart, but I kept trying to fly till I passed out.

And that moment, my survival and the survival of my entire crew, depended on all of us pulling together. And even though they were wounded themselves, and insurgents were nearby, they simply refused to leave a fallen comrade behind.

Their heroism is why I'm alive today and ultimately -- ultimately, that is what this election is about. Yes, it's about the issues that matter to me, building -- building an economy that will create jobs here at home and outcompete countries around the world.

But it's also about something else. It's about whether we do for our fellow Americans what my crew did for me, whether we'll look out for the hardest hit and the disabled, whether we'll pull together in a time of need.

Whether we'll refuse to give up until the job is done. So let's finish what we started. Let's keep moving forward with Barack Obama. Let's do what this country has always done. Look adversity in the eye and work together to overcome it.

God bless our military men and women who are in harm's way today. God bless their families and always, God bless the United States of America.

COOPER: Listening to Tammy Duckworth who is in a very contentious race against Republican Congressman Joe Walsh, her second attempt to get into Congress. Clearly, a lot of people, again, this is another one of those moments in the hall where basically kind of the hall stopped, people were watching very closely.

BRAZILE: Well, there's no question. Look last week, Republicans made a huge mistake. They did not mention Afghanistan. And as a result, John McCain mentioned it in passing, but Mitt Romney failed to mention it.

Tonight, what Democrats really want to do is talk about that we stand behind those 70,000 men and women in Afghanistan. We want to bring them home responsibly. Tonight, Michelle Obama will also make reference to their struggle, their plight, and of course, the fallen heroes of this country.

COOPER: Alex, did it surprise you that Mitt Romney did not mention Afghanistan in his speech?

CASTELLANOS: You know, one speech is not a campaign. There are different things you do in different places in a campaign. Should he have at least noted it? Probably, but that's what you have a campaign for. He focused on the economy. He had a job to do and he did it.

COOPER: His campaign said he talked about it the day before. But the reference he made the day before was literally like one or two lines essentially saying there is a war going on in Afghanistan.

CASTELLANOS: Yes, and that may have been something that would have been a little stronger to touch on. What I'm noticing here is how we're seeing some basic political blocking and tackling.

A Democrat wants to move to the mid, strong on defense. You put a war hero on the stage. Republicans want to move to the middle, we care. So we're seeing a lot of the basic political blocking and tackling going on here that for the benefit of the folks at home over that little teeny slice that's left.

COOPER: David.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think if you're running for commander in chief, you talk about the troops who are overseas in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. It was a mistake. It was an oversight.

I can't understand it. There was a lot about that I didn't understand. What is striking to me tonight is the amount of enthusiasm in the hall. It's more palpable than it was at the Republican convention.

It does seem to me just in terms putting on a convention, these folks know what they're doing so far. I've been, like, wow, you guys have got this right. They're catching a real break tonight because there's no storm.

People aren't going over there and wanting to watch. They're able to get their message out in a more consistent way. I think they're off to a very good start. We'll have to see where it goes.

COOPER: There does seem to be -- maybe it's, you know, an unfair comparison, but there does seem to be a certain energy here. Maybe it's a younger crowd. I'm not exactly sure what's behind it.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think there's more energy here because there wasn't any other candidate. Barack Obama's president of the United States. These people are really strong supporters of his.

And what I thought I saw last week in Tampa was a sense that Mitt Romney had been lots of people's number two candidate and that in many ways, he's seen as a transitional figure to the next generation of Republicans.

You look at the people they highlighted, just like the Democrats are highlighting here. When the torch was passed in that film from Ted Kennedy, it was to Barack Obama. It was not to the person after President Obama.

KING: This is not to criticize the Republican delegates. This is just a fact. It was an older, whiter crowd. There are also rules in play here. Donna knows the rules because she helps write them. Democrats have a lot more delegates at their convention than the Republicans do. They have a lot more alternative delegates so part of the enthusiasm is that there are a lot more people in this hall.

BRAZILE: That's because we're more inclusive. We like to bring more people to our party.

COOPER: Quick reminder, we're awaiting First Lady Michelle Obama's speech tonight, her address to the Democratic convention. Her husband and daughters will be watching from the White House according to President Obama.

Also ahead, we have an exclusive interview with President Obama's former personal assistant talking about how his former boss deals with adversity and setbacks. We'll be right back.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're back here in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Democratic National Convention. We're on the floor right now as we await an emotional speech from Stacey Lihn.

She's going to be speaking about her own family, her girl, Zoe, who is now 2, who was born with a major congenital heart problem, talking about Obama care, as it's called.

But as we await for Stacey Lihn, we have a special guest here who's come up to join me. The Democratic presidential nominee from back in 19 --


BLITZER: But who's counting. Michael Dukakis is here. How does it feel to be back in the convention?

DUKAKIS: Good, good.

BLITZER: You're from Massachusetts.


BLITZER: So you know Mitt Romney.

DUKAKIS: Indeed.

BLITZER: You saw him in action as the governor of your state. What do you think about him?

DUKAKIS: He's a disaster when it comes to economic leadership. That's a story that has to be told.

BLITZER: Tell us why.

DUKAKIS: You know, we heard the same thing from him. He was a business guy --

BLITZER: Governor, excuse me for one second. There's a powerful video involving Stacey Lihn. Let me listen to this and our viewers and then we'll discuss.


STACEY LIHN: -- her second surgery took place at 4 months old. And she's awaiting her third and final surgery so her half a heart works for her entire body. Before the affordable care act, health insurance companies were allowed to set lifetime caps on how much coverage each individual was provided. By 6 months of age, Zoe was halfway to her lifetime cap.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's an orange.


LIHN: Here's insurance that you've been paying for, for the past 20 years, but don't have a child that was born with a heart defect because once you reach a certain limit, we're not going to insure them anymore.

Thankfully, in March of 2010, the affordable care act was passed. And I remember getting a letter from our insurance company telling us that there are no more lifetime caps.

It was a huge relief for us to know that we didn't have to worry about that. Zoe's made us live a little bigger and a little brighter every day. So we don't take anything for granted.

My family needs President Obama to be re-elected because we need the affordable care act to stay intact.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Stacey Lihn, Zoe Lihn and Emerson Lihn from Phoenix, Arizona.

STACEY LIHN: Governor Romney says people like me were the most excited about President Obama the day we voted for him, but that's not true. Not even close. For me, there was the day the affordable care act passed.

And I no longer had to worry about getting Zoe the care she need. There was the day the letter arrived from the insurance company saying that our daughter's lifetime cap had been lifted. That was the day the Supreme Court upheld Obama care.

And, like so many moms with sick children, I shed tears and I could breathe easier. Knowing we have that net below us to catch us if we fall or if, God forbid, Zoe needs a heart transplant, Obama care provides my family security and relief, but we're also scared. Governor Romney repealing health care reform is something we worry about literally every single day.

Zoe's third open heart surgery will happen either next year or the year after. If Mitt Romney becomes president and Obama care is repealed, there's a good chance she'll hit her lifetime cap. There's no way we could afford to pay for all the care she needs to survive.

When you have a sick child, it's always in the back of your mind and sometimes in the front of your mind. On top of that, worrying that people would let an insurance company take away her health care just because of politics.

One in 100 children is born with a congenital heart defect. President Obama is fighting for them. He's fighting for families like mine and we need to fight for him.

BLITZER: What a powerful statement. Governor Dukakis, you were the presidential nominee in 1988.


BLITZER: You know something about this issue. That really said a lot as far as the Democrats -- what does it say to you?

DUKAKIS: Well, it's one of the reasons I've always felt that this was a moral issue in my opinion, Wolf. I mean, here's a controversy that's the wealthiest country in the world.

We spend more on health care than any other country by far it and we still have millions and millions of Americans without health insurance. I think it's unconscionable, absolutely unconscionable.

And the irony of all of this is that Mitt Romney had something to do with starting it and has walked away from it. I don't understand it.

BLITZER: In Massachusetts, he got, what, universal health care --

DUKAKIS: Well, he started running away from it even in Massachusetts. We managed to do it --

BLITZER: It's worked out pretty good in Massachusetts.

DUKAKIS: The 99 percent of the people insured. It's worked extremely well.

BLITZER: Tell us why you think and I could use the word he would be a disaster economically because he brings all this business experience. He's got economic ideas.

DUKAKIS: That's what he told us when he ran for governor, but we ended up 47th out of 50th in job creation. Today, we're in the top ten, thanks to a new governor who really works at it.

So the notion that Mitt Romney can provide economic leadership to this country for those of us who watched him in action is ridiculous. In fact, he's 20 points behind Obama in Massachusetts and it has a lot to do with his performance.

BLITZER: Massachusetts is a very Democratic state.

DUKAKIS: But we voted for Reagan twice. We elected a bunch of Republican governors. We elected Scott Brown. Massachusetts is not a down the line Democratic state. We saw him in action. The fact of the matter is, he's a bust when it comes to economic -- BLITZER: Someone who's been in the position as a presidential nominee, one piece of advice you would give the president, your friend, right now?

DUKAKIS: I think he's just got to be himself. He's got to get out there. He's got to do exactly what he's doing for the last week. I like his spirit. He's energized. He's working.

But he's got to tell the American people about this guy he's running against. Because when you've got the kind of economy, you've got to tell people about it. A mistake unfortunately I made, as you'll recall --

BLITZER: Remember covering your run for the White House at that time. We spent some time together. Thanks for sharing a few moments with us. Governor Michael Dukakis. Our coverage continues from the Democratic convention.