This is a rush transcript from "America's Election HQ," September 1, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
BILL HEMMER, CO-HOST: Meanwhile, here, the first lady, Laura Bush, and Cindy McCain, you will see both of them before the hour is out. Earlier today, they spent time encouraging people across the country to give money to the victims of this hurricane today. We should be hearing from her shortly on the stage behind us. That relief effort, by the way, comes after the McCain campaign says everyone should approach this storm as Americans rather than as Republicans.
So, where then does the Republican Party go from — or where do they go, rather, from this stormy start?
• Video: Watch Bill Hemmer's interview
From Saint Paul with me now, the former governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney.
Nice to see you, Governor.
MITT ROMNEY, FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: Thanks, Bill. Good to be with you.
HEMMER: Good to be with you, too.
• More interviews, videos and tools on 'America's Election HQ' homepage
I have never been here before. What sort of challenges do you see just starting today and going into the week, and how has the party dealt with them so far, Governor?
ROMNEY: Well, I think John McCain did a wonderful job. He laid out the fact that this is an American challenge and we as a party are going to step down, we're going to be a little quiet this first day. Our hearts and our eyes are watching what's happening on the gulf coast.
Those pictures you are showing are really quite frightening. Obviously, a lot of people are facing a very difficult day, probably, a very difficult week.
And so, we're going to talk about our message and about politics as well, but we're going to focus our hearts and our wallets right now on helping the people in the gulf coast.
HEMMER: I know they have raised more than $1 million from the phone banks here in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
You mentioned the message. Is there a risk that the message is being diluted, the John McCain message?
ROMNEY: Well, we have four days. And the first day is going to be very quiet but I think that by the end of the convention, people will recognize what John McCain stands for.
They're going to get to know Sarah Palin on a much better basis. They're going to say, "You know what? This is a reform team, this is a team of real mavericks and if we want to see America have a strong economy again with low taxes and trading with the nations around the world, and energy independence, you got to vote for John McCain and Sarah Palin."
HEMMER: I think, perhaps, the most anticipated moment of this entire week might be Sarah Palin — what she has to say and how she performs in front of the delegates here in Saint Paul. What did you think of her as a vice presidential pick.
ROMNEY: Well, I have to tell you, I knew her but I didn't know her as well as I did in the last few days. I got a chance to see her in Missouri. And we had a crowd of some 20,000 people at the stadium in Missouri. And she got up and spoke, electrified the crowd.
Let me tell you, the base of the Republican Party could not be more excited as they are with Sarah Palin. And I think as you find independent voters and if you will, Hillary Clinton voters getting a chance to know her better, they're going to say this is the person who ought to be on the team in Washington. So, I'm pretty excited about it.
HEMMER: How did you become aware that she was his choice?
ROMNEY: The same way with everybody else, that I saw it on TV.
HEMMER: John McCain didn't call you?
ROMNEY: Well, we chatted before he made the announcement. He told me he was going in a different direction than me, of course. And I knew that was coming but I was.
HEMMER: You did know it was coming.
ROMNEY: I was not expecting to be the V.P. No. But I didn't know it was going to be Sarah Palin. And when I heard it was her and when saw her perform in Missouri, I said — you know what? He made a good choice. She is electrifying our party and I think she's going to bring independent voters to John McCain's stead.
HEMMER: But you were in this campaign for a while now. Is there a sense of disappointment that you are not going to contribute directly to 2008, to get Republicans in the White House?
ROMNEY: Look, I wanted to be the nominee. I wanted to run for president. But John McCain ran a terrific campaign and he won. I was not campaigning for V.P. That's not a job most people are anxious to have and I'm delighted that Sarah Palin is our nominee. And, I think, you're going to find here in the convention and in the polls that follow, that Sarah Palin is connecting with the American voters and she's making the kind of impact that we'd hope she'd make.
HEMMER: How best do you think you could contribute if John McCain is successful on the 4th of November?
ROMNEY: Well, to stand up and do my best encouraging people across the country to support his agenda — lower taxes, more trade around the world, energy independence. That's the best thing you can do.
I would not want to be part of a cabinet. I have to tell you, some people say, "Oh, don't you want to join a cabinet?" My dad did that, all right? My dad was in the cabinet. He got soldiered around by the White House and your bureaucracy doesn't do what you want them to do. That's not something anybody wants.
I will support him as a good citizen fighting for the causes that he believes in, that I believe in, and that will make America stronger.
HEMMER: So far you say no to V.P. and no to any position in the cabinet. What do you want to do for, what is your political future?
ROMNEY: I have no idea whether I have a political future, but that's not why I get into this. This I get into this political race because I want to make a difference for America and I want to see America as a stronger nation.
We face challenges unlike anything we have ever faced before, and I'm convinced that we need to have a leader like John McCain who will overcome the challenges and make us stronger. If I can help out by lending my voice to those of other people across the country fighting for that agenda, that's what I'll do.
HEMMER: One more quick thing here, I know we're out of time, and we got to go back to New York for some other news. You just saw the Democrats in Denver. You saw Barack Obama and Joe Biden onstage together. How do John McCain and Sarah Palin beat them? On what does this election hinge?
ROMNEY: Well, the biggest surprise coming out of the Democratic convention for me, what that — according to the polls there was no bump for Barack Obama. They had their big celebration, the Greek temple and so forth, the coronation, but people across the America didn't see what they wanted to see. And they're looking at John McCain and Sarah Palin, I think, you're going to see them get the kind of support we'd hope for.
HEMMER: In this week, you have to prove it. And today is day one, watch out today, but we'll see what the schedule goes tomorrow. It is literally day by day here and the Republican officials will tell you that.
ROMNEY: No question about it.
HEMMER: Governor, thank you for your time, alright?