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CNN Late Edition

Senators Hagel and Levin Discuss U.S. Military Readiness; Michael Dukakis Talks Presidential Politics; Gore and Bush Advisers Square Off

Aired August 27, 2000 - 12:00 p.m. ET

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

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's noon in Washington; 9:00 a.m. in Los Angeles; 5:00 p.m. in Abuja, Nigeria, and 7:00 p.m. in Jerusalem. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks for joining us for this 90-minute LATE EDITION.

We'll get to guests shortly, but first a quick look at the hours top stories.

We begin in Africa where thousands of Nigerians turned out to sing, dance, clap and cheer U.S. President Bill Clinton today in the village of Ushafa near the capital of Abuja. President Clinton won over the crowd by wearing a traditional African robe, a gift from the local chief. The president is also talking to health care workers about the fight against AIDS in Africa.

Wildfires in the Western United States are creating some heat between state and federal officials. Montana Governor Marc Racicot said the federal government is not doing enough to prevent the fires. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt admitted that some mistakes have been made.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

INTERIOR SECRETARY BRUCE BABBITT: Obviously there are lessons to be learned, even from the worst drought since the 1930s. By suppressing the fires, ironically and paradoxically, we've increased the danger, we've made the forests more dangerous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Babbitt said he's trying to balance forest health with fire prevention.

United Airlines and its pilots have reached a tentative contract agreement following two days of intense negotiations. Many pilots refuse to work overtime after their contract expired in April, forcing the airline to cancel thousands of flights during the Summer vacation season. To apologize to its customers, United plans to give extra frequent flier miles to preferred customers and to cancel fees for flight changes.

Turning now to politics, the U.S. presidential race remains tight as Vice President Al Gore keeps his slim lead over Governor George W. Bush. According to a just released "Newsweek" poll, Gore tops Bush 46 percent to 42 percent. The Green Party nominee, Ralph Nader, collects two percent and Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan has one percent. Earlier today, Republican vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney played down the latest numbers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Looks to me like they got a good post convention bounce out of their show in California, but it also would seem that it's starting to fade now, and I think by the time we get to Labor Day, this will be a close race; we always thought it would be, and I think it will be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: U.S. military readiness became a key issue in U.S. presidential campaign this past week with Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush painting very different pictures of America's armed forces.

Joining us now to talk about the presidential race are two senators deeply involved in military and international policy issues. In Detroit, Michigan Senator Carl Levin -- he's the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee -- and here, in Washington, Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee and a Vietnam War veteran.

Senators, always good to have both of you on LATE EDITION and let me begin with you, Senator Hagel first, on this "Newsweek" poll. A week ago, it showed a very nice bounce for Al Gore; that bounce seems to be sustained, at least according to this latest "Newsweek" poll, a four-point difference.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R-NE), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Well, polls are polls, Wolf, and I think until you get into October, we're not going to really get a sense of where we are. A lot of uncontrollables, unpredictables, a lot of issues. We are going to have a new president. I think most Americans are working their way through sorting out some of these issues, personalities, issues, so I'm not surprised by those numbers, and again I'm not sure where we are.

I think what Bush has to do, and Gore as well, is go to America and connect and convince America that they are competent, trusted leaders that can take America and the world into the next century.

BLITZER: Senator Levin, are you surprised by these numbers that are now coming out?

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Not really. I think the vice president showed himself to be the very strong leader that he is and a very warm person that he is, and it came across at that convention. And, I think, the public really is seeing also a focus on issues from the Democratic convention. And those issues are very important to the public, and I think what they saw was a ability on the part of Democrats to really focus on the kind of things that the public is concerned about: education, health care, and so forth.

BLITZER: Senator Levin, the Republican vice presidential nominee, Dick Cheney, is using some strong words, repeating them this morning on some of the Sunday morning shows, accusing the Clinton-Gore administration of being negligent in terms of military preparedness. Listen to what Cheney said just a little while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY: There are problems in the U.S. military today, and anybody who takes an objective look at it knows that. Either Al Gore doesn't know what's going on in the U.S. military, or he has chosen not to tell the truth about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Does Al Gore know what's going on in military, or has he chosen not to tell the truth to the American people about it?

LEVIN: He knows what's going on, but I think the best people to listen to here are not folks in middle of a political campaign, who, in the case of Mr. Cheney, are seeking to make some partisan advantage out of rhetoric which is extremely hollow.

It's not the armed forces which are hollow. It is the rhetoric of Mr. Cheney, and I'm afraid also Governor Bush which is hollow, because our leaders, our top military leadership who are the ones I rely on.

I rely on Secretary Cohen, a Republican, a former Senator who we all know, and who would not know how to lie -- General Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Here is what Bill Cohen says, "We have the finest, best-led, best-equipped, best-educated, best- fighting force in history of the world. We have that today." General Shelton says we can carry out any mission that is required of us, now.

Obviously, there are always some things which you can do better. There are always some shortfalls in readiness, but we have taken some real steps. And the Congress has participated in this, by the way. And Chuck Hagel has been very active in making his contribution to this, to make sure that we do address the readiness shortfalls that we face. But to use this kind of political rhetoric, which we just heard from Mr. Cheney, it seems to me, is way, way off the mark.

BLITZER: What do you say about that, Senator Hagel?

HAGEL: A couple of things, and I would say in front of Carl. Carl Levin is one of the senators who has really studied these issues over the years and will bring a lot of credible debate to it.

Now, with that said, I think there are a couple of things are important to keep in mind here. Number one, is the issue of national security a legitimate presidential campaign debate? Of course it is. We can go back to '52, the bomber gap; '60, John F. Kennedy's missile gap. Sure, we need to explore these things, but we should do it in a way that is an elevated debate with the real numbers. Second, when we...

BLITZER: Are you suggesting with that point that Dick Cheney was out of bounds this morning, when he said about Al Gore either he doesn't know what's going on, or he has chosen not to tell truth about it?

HAGEL: No, no. I don't think he is out of bounds at all, because, I think, debates should be intense. It should focus on the issues, and you can back those issues up by, for example, let's look at the gross domestic product of this country.

We are spending less on defense today than any time since before World War II. Right now, we are at about 3 percent of gross domestic product. That represents a little bit more than 15 percent of our federal budget. When the Clinton-Gore team took office to lead and manage our defense capabilities, it was 4.4 percent.

So, in the bigger picture, there is no question -- take any measurement -- that our resources have dwindled, that we should be applying toward our national security.

Now, one other thing. The other question, the real question, seems to me, Wolf, is, what do we need to back up and protect our national security interests around the world? That is the question.

BLITZER: Senator Levin, what do you say about that, that -- as far as the gross national product, the defense expenditures, now, are at this low?

LEVIN: We have had, happily, a dividend from the end of the Cold War, number one. We shouldn't be spending as much as we did in the Cold War, for obvious reasons. The Cold War is over, so just simply to quote that statistic, it seems to me, isn't relevant.

It is the second point, which is really the important one, that Chuck just gave, is whether we can carry out our current missions, whether we have enough resources there. And what we are assured, by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and by Secretary Cohen, is that we do now have the resources.

We have had the largest increase in defense, the only real increase in defense as a matter of fact, since President Reagan, in the last year and a half. We have had the largest pay increase since President Reagan, in the last year and a half. So we are ready to go, and that is according to our top military leaders.

What really troubles me is when Governor Bush uses the kind of rhetoric that he uses in the examples which are completely false. He said, in his convention speech, that we have two full divisions that are not ready for duty. It is that kind of a statement, very purple prose and very wrong, inaccurate. And the military immediately said he was wrong, and yet he went on to say that kind of a thing.

Those two divisions are on duty. They are on duty. The units, the pieces of those divisions, are on duty in Bosnia and in Kosovo. And, for a governor of this country, who is running for president to make a statement such as that, two divisions are not ready for duty -- his own top security adviser, Richard Armitage, by the way, on this network, said that Bush was wrong when he said that.

BLITZER: Well, let's listen to what Bush said because I want to give Senator Hagel a chance to defend the man he wants to be next president of the United States. On July 28th in his acceptance speech in Philadelphia, this was George W. Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Our military is low on parts, pay, and morale. If called on by the commander-in- chief today, two entire divisions of the Army would have to report, "Not ready for duty, sir."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Got a big reaction in Philadelphia, but he was wrong on that.

HAGEL: Well, let me address that. But let me go back to a couple points that Carl made -- the relevancy of the gross domestic product.

Number one, we've seen more deployments, longer deployments, than we have ever seen during any peacetime under this administration. That means if you are going to continue to draw down national resources, you can't continue to do that, and defend that over here, and then ask for the military to do more over here. That is just a fact. It doesn't work.

The other thing that I want to remind Carl, it was 1997 is when this administration finally started to come in with some budget requests that increased military spending, not decreased military spending.

On Governor Bush's point on the two divisions. In November of last year, it was the Army itself that said two divisions -- and my goodness, the two Bob Dole's Tenth Mountain Division, the other, the First Infantry Division, Big Red One, were not ready. They listed them at C4.

BLITZER: But since then they've become ready.

HAGEL: Well, evidently, they have. But that was all fairly new news. And the other question here is, why did this administration allow two of our finest divisions to get into this shape? That's the question.

BLITZER: Late last year.

LEVIN: There's actually a very good answer. Those divisions were on duty last year in November. They were on duty. The units that the governor was referring to -- Governor Bush was referring to, were on duty in Kosovo and Bosnia. The reason that they were not able to carry out another function, which is to go to a major regional contingency either in Korea and Iraq, is because they were on duty, on duty in Bosnia and in Kosovo.

So, under any description, Governor Bush was wrong when he said "not ready for duty." They were ready under any description when he uttered those words. They were wrong. He should have known it. And they were wrong when he was uttered him -- when they uttered them.

And I've got to tell you, if anything will sap morale of our soldiers, it will be to hear a candidate for president trying to partisanize the defense issues in this country. And I just think it is wrong for Governor Bush to say that two units are not ready for duty when they're on duty and they're ready.

BLITZER: Let me bring in Senator Hagel. Secretary Cohen, a Republican, a former colleague of yours, the Senator from Maine, Monday addressing the VFW in Milwaukee, made this statement. I want you to listen to it and tell me if you agree with your fellow Republican.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM COHEN, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We have the finest, the best-led, the best-equipped, the best-educated, the finest fighting force in the history of the world. We have that today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You're a veteran; you're a Vietnam War veteran. Do you agree with Secretary Cohen?

HAGEL: I do. However, let me add this. Number one, we have had tremendously big recruitment problems over the last three years every service, except...

BLITZER: But there's always been since the Cold War...

HAGEL: Well, let me finish. No, no not in the -- not in the degree that we've had them in the '90s under the Clinton-Gore watch.

Second, my friend Carl talks about morale problems. My goodness, I have in my state one of the premier American bases in the world, Strategic Command. For four years, I've been hammering on the morale issue because of housing.

We put these young people and their families in housing you wouldn't put your pets in. And we brag that there is great morale, and we are going to do everything for these young people and they are very proud. We're not. And any measurement of this issue, we've got to go further, and deeper down.

Are we the best today? Of course, we are the best. The Russians are only putting $5 billion in their defense department budget. But the real, relevant question is how do we sustain ourselves for the future.

Research and development, the budget's down there. If something happens in five or 10 years, the weapons that we used in the Persian Gulf won't be there because we're cutting research and development, as just another example.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to have to take a quick break. We have a lot more to talk about just ahead. Also, your phone calls for Senators Carl Levin and Chuck Hagel.

LATE EDITION will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

We are talking about the state of America's armed forces and how that issue could impact on the presidential campaign.

Joining us, Michigan Democratic Senator and Gore supporter Carl Levin, and Nebraska Republican Senator and Bush supporter Chuck Hagel.

Let's take a quick caller from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Please go ahead with your question.

CALLER: My question is for Senator Hagel. I would like to ask him if the percentage of military on food stamps that they keep harping about on the Democrats has not significantly declined under the Clinton administration from the Bush administration.

BLITZER: What's the answer to that?

HAGEL: I think it has, fortunately. And that issue is a very complicated issue, as Carl knows, because what happens on the food stamp issue, in many cases you take a young enlisted man or a woman who marries someone who has a family, and all of a sudden they're projected into a responsibility to feed three or four people.

We've got housing allowance issues; we've got base issues. So it's a complicated problem. Should we have one young person on food stamps? Absolutely not, but I think it has gotten better under the Clinton administration.

BLITZER: Senator, I think there are about 5,000 military troops now on food stamps, out of over 1 million, obviously, in active duty. But a lot of people, like Senator Hagel, says 5,000 are 5,000 too many.

LEVIN: I admire Chuck Hagel, and I hope everybody heard what he just said. He gave as always a very honest answer to that question.

He said the percentage of people on food stamps has declined under the Clinton administration, and it has. It has gone from 19,000 down to 5,000.

Now we don't want anyone on food stamps, but the idea that Governor Bush would use the food stamp issue as some evidence of low morale or poor readiness when the Clinton administration has reduced dramatically the percentage of people on food stamps from where it was under President Bush or President Reagan is absolutely irresponsible on the part of Governor Bush. And it's incredible and I think it hurts morale. And it's wrong.

And I have got to tell you what Chuck Hagel just said is so admirable because he gave a very straight answer to that lady's question. We have much fewer people, many fewer people on food stamps now than we did previously.

BLITZER: Let's take another caller from the nation's capital, Washington D.C. Go ahead please.

CALLER: Yes, good afternoon. My question is for both senators. Since Vice President Gore did serve in Vietnam and Bush and Cheney don't have that much military experience, don't you think that Republicans for once are on the defensive with an issue that historically has been theirs?

BLITZER: Let's ask Senator Hagel who is himself a Vietnam War veteran.

HAGEL: First of all, I think Dick Cheney's knowledge of military affairs is pretty obvious. He presided over one of the great military victories in the history of our country as secretary of defense.

I don't think anyone has ever doubted his expertise, commitment and leadership. He understands this issue as well as anybody, I think, alive today. Governor Bush served in the National Guard as a fighter jet pilot during the Vietnam era.

Certainly, Senator -- or Vice President Gore gave service to his country in the Army. Nobody has ever, and I don't think anybody should, have said because Vice President Gore served less than five months in Vietnam as an Army journalist, did not see combat, that that wasn't important or worthwhile.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask ...

HAGEL: So Bush's was as well.

BLITZER: The Bush-Cheney campaign put out a press release this past Tuesday saying, "Gore AWOL on veterans' issues." A Vietnam War veteran AWOL.

Senator John Kerry, himself a Vietnam veteran, has been outraged that the Bush-Cheney campaign would accuse the vice president being AWOL, on any issue, given the nature of that word in the military. Do you think it was appropriate for the campaign to use that word on veterans' issues?

HAGEL: Well, I'm not going to comment on what word they used. But I would say this, both sides -- Carl Levin hit on this early on -- both sides have ratcheted this thing up to a point where they need to back off a little bit and be very careful with their words.

And I've heard, by the way, from the Gore campaign how they have knocked Governor Bush around for his service in the National Guard. That's just wrong. I mean, for example, Carl knows this, when we are doing that, we've got to remember that about 60 percent of the Congress never served in the military in any uniform.

BLITZER: So that really shouldn't be an issue in this campaign, should it, Senator Levin?

LEVIN: No, I think the real issue is the experience of Vice President Gore here, not just in Vietnam, which has been commented on, but his experience as vice president in leading us in a whole host of areas around the world. In negotiations for peace, in the strengthening of our defense, I mean, we've had now the largest increase in defense in 20 years, biggest pay increase in defense.

We are addressing the readiness shortfalls that did exist. There were some, and there always are some. I mean, he has been, it seems to me, a leader in strengthening our defense, both actively and proactively, in order to avoid problems where we might have to be drawn into war. So it's Gore's overall experience which it seems to me in such sharp contrast to Governor Bush's.

BLITZER: We only have a little time left. I want to switch gears and talk to both of you and get your reaction to what is shaping up as a huge issues in this campaign, the tax cuts, the size of the tax cuts. In the new issue of "Time" magazine, DeLoitte & Touche, the accounting firm, does an independent study of the Gore plan and the Bush plan. I want you to look at what they have come you with.

Three hypothetical scenarios: The first one, a single mother, two children, income $22,000 a year. Look what they have on the screen. The savings under the Gore plan, this woman would save $878; savings under the Bush plan, zero dollars. It would be a tax credit, in effect, what Gore is proposing for this single mother.

In the second scenario: A middle-income married couple, two children about $59,000 a year, savings under the Gore plan $1,950, almost $2,000; savings under the Bush plan $1,400.

In the third scenario: A wealthy married couple with three children, income of $250,000 a year, the savings under the Gore plan zero; savings under the Bush plan $7,140.

Senator Hagel, when you see these scenarios, the argument, of course, that the Gore campaign is this is going to help the rich and not really help the middle class or the poor as much, that argument seems to be having some sort of impact.

HAGEL: Well, I haven't seen the study, and all I know is what you have shown here. But I think you've got to remember two or three things.

Number one, we've got an awful lot of money coming into Washington that we don't need, that we will most likely spend if we don't do something with it. And, yes, we need to pay down the debt.

We need to take care of Social Security. Both parties have agreed to put that aside. We are not going to break into Social Security surpluses. We need to also insulate Medicare; both parties have agreed on that. We need a prescription drug plan; we're going to do that. Now, whatever we have left, and we have a significant amount left, that in my opinion, I think Governor Bush feels rather strongly about this, should go back to the people, that money.

BLITZER: Well, let's ...

HAGEL: And if, in fact, those numbers, as you say, are as they are, number one, the people that spend the most money -- who send the most money back here, and across-the-board tax cuts, it seems to me, deserve probably more of a tax cut, if they pay more money then obviously...

BLITZER: What's wrong with that, Senator Levin? We only have a few seconds. People who pay the most in taxes, shouldn't they get the most back if there's a surplus?

LEVIN: It's our surplus. It's also our debt. We ought to be paying down the debt with this surplus and not using almost all it, under the Bush plan, that -- in a way which will disproportionately benefit the wealthy.

Eighty percent of the Bush tax cut goes to the wealthiest 20 percent, and, by those statistics that you just showed on your screen, it's obvious that the Gore tax plan is much better for middle-income people, working families, and, also, there is less money spent in tax cuts under the Gore plan, leaving more for debt reduction which is very, very important for all of us.

We can keep interest rates low and benefit all of us with debt reduction, as well as for prescription drugs, protecting Medicare, protecting Social Security, helping build some new schools and repair schools, getting some more kids to college, so it's a much better tax plan. It's fairer under the Gore proposal.

BLITZER: All right, Senator Carl Levin up in Detroit, Senator Chuck Hagel here in Washington, thank you to both of you. This debate is going to continue. Thanks for joining us on "Late Edition."

HAGEL: Thanks, Wolf.

LEVIN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, and coming up, is this year's race for the White House between Vice President Al Gore and Governor George W. Bush showing some shades of 1988? We'll ask the man who carried the Democratic party's presidential mantle that year, former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis.

LATE EDITION will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL DUKAKIS (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: As a proud public servant who has cherished every minute of the last 16 months on the campaign trail, I accept your nomination for the presidency of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, as the Democratic nominee for president, back in 1988.

Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

Joining us now from Boston with his perspective on what some in the political world are calling remarkable parallels between then and now is Michael Dukakis.

Governor, good to have you on LATE EDITION. Thank you so much for joining us.

DUKAKIS: Good to be with you, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: Looked like this was a pretty good week since the Democratic convention for Al Gore; pretty bad week, a lot of people are suggesting, for George W. Bush. What do you see is happening right now?

DUKAKIS: Well, I thought it was a great convention, and it did what a good convention hopefully does for you. And, I think Al Gore and Joe Lieberman are really doing well. But this, as Chuck Hagel said, Wolf, this is very early. Two and half months in politics is a lifetime, and this is going to be a very competitive race right down to the wire.

BLITZER: As you well know from your own experience in 1988.

DUKAKIS: Indeed.

BLITZER: Let's take a look at what Governor Bush said Tuesday, this past week. He was asked on his charter plane about some comments you made giving some advice to Al Gore and Joe Lieberman about responding to the accusations that Bush has been making about restoring honesty and integrity in the White House. Listen to what Governor Bush said on Tuesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I'm going to keep talking about honor and dignity in the office. If Michael Dukakis wants to try to fight old wars and be wed to the past, that's fine. I'm going to rewrite new chapters in the 21st century.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What were you talking about? What drew his ire like that?

DUKAKIS: Well, he and Cheney, as you know, Wolf, have been talking incessantly about restoring character and honor to the White House, which I assume means taking us back to the years of 1981 to 1992 when the Republicans were in the White House.

Now, anybody who remembers those years, with Iran-Contra and "read my lips" and, what was it, over 100 high-ranking officials in the Reagan administration that had to leave office either in disgrace or under indictment, has to smile a little bit at the notion that these guys are going to restore honor and character to the White House.

I'm not saying that integrity isn't always an issue. It is. But I don't think either party has a monopoly on integrity these days. And, frankly, Bush's refusal to accept campaign spending limits, to endorse the McCain-Feingold bill and serious campaign finance reform seems to me raises serious questions whether he is prepared to bring character and honor to the White House.

BLITZER: Well, you think the Gore campaign should go on the offensive in making these points you are making?

DUKAKIS: No, but if there is one lesson Mike Dukakis learned very painfully in 1988, it is that if the other guy comes at you with stuff that is patently false, you can't sit there silently. Otherwise, people are going to begin to believe it.

So I just want to make sure our side is responding forcefully to this kind of thing, so we can make sure that the campaign stays on the important issues, the ones that Senator Levin, among others, was talking about.

BLITZER: You know, you have heard all of this speculation -- the similarities between 88 and 2000. At that time, there was a sitting vice president following in the heels of a two-term, relatively popular incumbent president, a vice president trying to go out on his own, show that he is his own man. Do you see those similarities unfolding right now? Are there some parallels that we should be paying attention to?

DUKAKIS: Not only that, but I was supposedly 17 points ahead in the polls. Remember that?

BLITZER: I have -- in fact, let me show you the poll numbers that we have. We have done some research, Governor. The Gallup poll immediately after the Democratic convention in 1988 had Michael Dukakis at 54 percent, George Bush at 37 percent. Look at this, in the Gallup poll, the CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll, immediately after the Republican convention, George W. Bush, the son, was 54 percent, Al Gore at 37 percent.

DUKAKIS: Amazing.

BLITZER: Now look at these numbers right now. Immediately after the Republican convention in 1988, Bush was at -- now came back a huge bounce for him at 48 percent to Michael Dukakis at 46%. And immediately, only last week, after the Democratic Convention, Al Gore is now at 47 percent in our CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll. George W. Bush at 46 percent. Those are pretty remarkable statistics, aren't they? DUKAKIS: And they only tell one thing, Wolf, and that is that, at this point, these poll numbers aren't worth a plugged nickel. This race is about 35 to 35, with about 30 percent undecided, in my opinion, and that's why it is going to be so competitive right down to wire.

BLITZER: So what did these two candidates have to do to break out and make it less competitive?

DUKAKIS: Well, I'm the last guy to offer advice to anybody when it comes to running for the presidency, I suppose, given what happened to me in '88. I can only speak for my side.

I mean, I think what Al Gore and Joe Lieberman have to do is to focus on those key issues, which they are focusing on, which are the things that concern most Americans, working Americans, older Americans, the broad middle in this country, who, after all, make up most of us. And I think they are doing that. And if they do, they're going to win this election. I have no doubt about it.

BLITZER: Another similarity between '88 and now is that, yes, there were two incumbent vice presidents running for the presidency. Also, two incumbent governors -- you, obviously being a governor of Massachusetts at that time, and Governor Bush running right now. Listen to what you said in 1988, when you were obviously being compared to the huge international resume that then-Vice President George Bush had. Listen to what you said at that time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DUKAKIS: Some of our finest presidents, some of our strongest international leaders, were governors: Franklin Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt.

It's not the amount of time you spend in Washington, it's not the length of your resume. It's your strength. It's your values. It's the quality of the people you pick.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Very similar to what we're hearing from Governor Bush now speaking about the impressive resume that Al Gore has had, as a vice president, as a Senator, as a member of Congress.

DUKAKIS: Well, I think being vice president certainly gives you a leg up, I don't think there is any question about it. You're there. He's been there for eight years. He's has been deeply and actively involved, I think, probably a lot more than President Bush was when he was vice president.

On the other hand, the fact that you happen to be a governor doesn't disqualify you as a potential international leader. I think Bill Clinton maybe had a rocky first year or so, but I think Bill Clinton has been a pretty darn good foreign policy president and he came from a governorship. So I don't think it's by any means a disqualification. And I think what we really have to listen to is where these people are coming from in these important national security and foreign policy issues. Here again, I think Al Gore probably, not probably, is unquestionably the guy for the job. But that doesn't mean that the governor of Texas or any other governor can't be a good international leader.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to continue this discussion in just a minute, Governor, but we have to take a quick break.

When we come back, your phone calls for former Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis about this year's presidential race.

LATE EDITION will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DUKAKIS: We are going to continue to fight with you and with the American people so that every citizen of this country can be a full shareholder in the American dream.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Former Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis making his concession speech in November 1988 after losing the race to then-Vice President George Bush, the father of this year's Republican presidential nominee, George W. Bush.

BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION. We are continuing our conversation with Governor Dukakis.

Let's take a quick caller from my hometown of Buffalo, New York. Please go ahead with your question.

CALLER: Hi, how you doing, Governor Dukakis. I was just wondering which candidate do you think would be hurt most if Ralph Nader was allowed to debate nationally?

DUKAKIS: Well, it's hard to say. I always thought that Ross Perot hurt George Bush more than he hurt Bill Clinton. And you never know when you get a three-way debate.

I mean, I think the conventional wisdom is that Nader's votes come from Gore and Lieberman, but I'm not sure. I mean, I think, if he were on stage with these two guys, he might well hurt George W. Bush a lot more than he hurts the vice president.

BLITZER: And if Pat Buchanan were included, make it a foursome in that debate?

DUKAKIS: That would be wild. I don't know what would happen.

BLITZER: It would be unpredictable, probably be very good television.

DUKAKIS: No question. Certainly would.

BLITZER: Very good television, though. You know, one of the other similarities we're talking about '88 and 2000, Governor Dukakis is, as you well remember, probably better than anyone, then-Vice President George Bush attacked you and Boston Harbor and Massachusetts...

DUKAKIS: Right.

BLITZER: ... your record as governor. Now we're hearing Vice President Al Gore attacking the record in Texas of Governor Bush, saying that on environmental issues, other related issues, he simply -- education, he simply has not done a good job in Texas. Trashing Massachusetts in '88, trashing Texas in 2000, good politics?

DUKAKIS: Look, if you are running for the presidency, Wolf, as a governor and a sitting governor, then you'd better expect your record as a sitting governor to be subject of the campaign. And don't be surprised if the other guy takes a good searching look at it.

Frankly, I thought I had a pretty darn good record as governor of Massachusetts. And I think most people did. I did a terrible job of defending it against those attacks. I mean, I was the first guy in history to clean up Boston Harbor.

You know, I know Willie Horton was a big figure in that campaign. The most liberal furlough program in America was the furlough program in the Reagan-Bush furlough and prison system. I never said that. So don't be surprised if your record as governor is going to be scrutinized carefully, but you better be ready to defend it. And George W. Bush had better be ready to defend his record as governor of Texas.

BLITZER: Then you've probably heard some pundits saying that Al Gore is trying to Dukakisize George W. Bush. Did you ever think your last name would be a verb?

DUKAKIS: It's getting -- it's getting all over the place here. I mean, who knows what else will happen. But nevertheless -- and by the way, people tend to forget this, but in 1992, George -- President George Bush went after Clinton's record as governor of Arkansas with all guns blazing. Fortunately, Bill Clinton did a much better job than I did of defending that record and throwing it back at Bush.

BLITZER: Let's take another caller from Tucson, Arizona. Please go ahead with your question.

CALLER: Hello, gentlemen. How you doing today?

BLITZER: Good.

CALLER: Great. I wanted to ask the governor, basically, why is Al Gore's tax plan more fair than George W. Bush's, when I understand only about 50 million taxpayers will be left off his rolls? BLITZER: Governor Dukakis, did you get that?

DUKAKIS: Well, I'm not -- I can't vouch for your statistics. Why is it fairer? Because it's the people in the middle in this country that aren't sharing fully in this country's prosperity.

You know, the wealthiest 20 percent have done very well over the past 20, 25 years. They've done very well. In fact, the vast majority of the income growth in this country over the past 20, 25 years has gone to the wealthiest 20 percent. It's the other 80 percent, not 8 percent, 80 percent that it seems to me we ought to be paying attention to. And that's what the Gore tax plan does.

By contrast -- by contrast, the Bush plan gives the overwhelming majority of its benefits to the wealthiest 20 percent, the very people who have been doing so well over the past 20, 25 years. Now that is not fair. And I think it's one of the reasons why Mr. Gore's tax plan and why this issue is proving to be such an important issue in this campaign.

BLITZER: Governor Dukakis, I know a lot of viewers are asking themselves, and we only have a few seconds, what Governor Michael Dukakis is doing nowadays? Tell us how you're keeping yourself busy.

DUKAKIS: I am very busy, Wolf. My mission in life these days is to encourage as many young people as I can meet and talk to, to go into public service and politics. I teach nine months of the year at Northeastern University in Boston, three months at UCLA out in Los Angeles. I'm vice chairman of the AMTRAK reform board and deeply involved in trying to get this country a first-class national rail passenger system at long last. And God knows we need it as we try deal with airports and highways. And I'm as busy as can be and enjoying it immensely.

BLITZER: Sounds like you're having a few laughs in the process as well.

DUKAKIS: Indeed.

BLITZER: Thank you, Governor Michael Dukakis, for joining us. Always great to have you on our program.

And just ahead, with both Vice President Al Gore and Governor George W. Bush now squarely focused on victory in November, we'll have our own strategy session with two key advisers to the candidates, Gore strategist Tad DeVine and Bush strategist Ralph Reed.

LATE EDITION will be right back.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will not support a giant tax cut for the wealthy at the expense of everyone else. BUSH: Under Al Gore's plan, he gets no tax relief. The so- called targeted tax cut means that some are targeted out of tax relief.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush talking tax cuts on the campaign trail this past week.

Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

Joining us now to talk about the game plan for both candidates over the next few weeks are two guests. In Atlanta, Ralph Reed, a top adviser to the Bush campaign, and here in Washington, Tad DeVine, the senior strategist for the Gore campaign. Gentlemen, welcome back to LATE EDITION.

Let me begin with you, Ralph Reed. Is it our imagination, or did Governor Bush stumble a bit this past week on the campaign trail, a lot of people suggesting he did not have necessarily a great week.

RALPH REED, BUSH CAMPAIGN ADVISER: I think it was probably the media's imagination. Howard Kurtz, who of course hosts the show on this network as well, has talked about the fact that there is a pack mentality to the media. And when the polls begin to tighten, as we, of course, have been predicting for months that they would, the media probably has a tendency to over-interpret what happened.

Look, we think we had a good week and I'll tell you why. Because we were talking about Governor George W. Bush's plan to cut taxes for working families and to lower the tollbooth for the middle class. And Al Gore was talking about our plan to cut taxes for working families. And whenever we are talking about our plan to cut taxes for working families and Al Gore is doing the same thing, that is a good week for us.

And if Al Gore wants to debate taxes between now and November, we will be happy to do it, given his bad record on them.

BLITZER: Let's bring Tad DeVine into this discussion. And I want you to listen to what your candidate, Vice President Gore, said this week in trying to promote this populist image of himself as a fighter for so-called working families. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE: The job of president is the only job in the constitution that is filled by someone with responsibility to fight not just for one state or one district, not just for the wealthy and the powerful, but for all of the people, especially those who most need a champion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now, a lot of people are saying -- especially, of course, the Bush campaign, this is class warfare. He is trying to pit one group of Americans against another group, and it simply is not going to fly.

TAD DeVine, SENIOR STRATEGIST FOR GORE CAMPAIGN: Well, that's not the case. I mean, this tax policy that the vice president supports favors the middle class, favors working families. And, you know, I agree with Ralph: If we want to have a debate about this, as we did last week, this is a good thing to debate.

It's a good thing to debate from our purposes, because as the "Time" magazine story you talked about in the earlier segment demonstrates, the relief under the Gore plan goes to the middle class, goes to working families. The relief under the Bush plan is targeted as well. It's targeted to the wealthiest Americans.

And that is why the progress that Al Gore wants this country to make can be made under his plan. We can't make that progress under a $1.6 trillion giveaway which is the Bush tax plan.

BLITZER: Ralph Reed, this was a debate that we heard four years ago between Bill Clinton and Bob Dole. And Bill Clinton won that debate.

REED: Well, I think that the difference is that this administration has allowed taxes to rise to their highest level in the post-World War II period. And people are paying far more than they need to. We have record surpluses.

And what Governor Bush is saying is that that surplus should be used to do three things. Number one, it should ensure that Social Security is saved and is there for today's seniors and those to come, Medicare as well.

Number two, it should be used to invest in those things that we need to invest in, to ensure that no child is left behind in education, in modernizing our military.

And, thirdly, Wolf, Governor Bush believes that some of it should be returned to the taxpayers, as a successful company would return a dividend to shareholders.

I mean, after all, this surplus doesn't belong to the government. The American people and entrepreneurs created it. What we are suggesting, Wolf, is that only about 25 to 27 percent of that surplus over the next 10 years be returned to the American people.

This administration, by contrast, and Al Gore, cast the deciding vote for the largest tax increase in American history, twice vetoed a child tax credit, twice vetoed a marriage penalty, and in their current budget document have proposed 88 separate tax increases, totaling $121 billion.

BLITZER: All right. Let's give Tad DeVine a chance to respond to that.

DeVine: Well, listen, you know, the Bush tax plan, I think, is being exposed now for what it is. It is a giveaway. It is a giveaway that will hurt America and risk our prosperity. And it's not us saying it now. You've got DeLoitte Touche doing a study for "Time" magazine demonstrating it.

The facts speak for themselves. Almost all of the money under the Bush tax plan, a huge chunk of it, goes to the wealthiest Americans. And as a result of that, there won't be the money left over to invest in education and health care.

BLITZER: But I'm not -- but Tad DeVine, on that point, Congressman John Kasich was on "Meet the Press" earlier today and he made a simple point. Why not, if there is a surplus, return some of that money to the people who pay the most in taxes. Listen to what Congressman Kasich had to say earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KASICH: The fact is, that if 20 percent of the people, pay 80 percent of the taxes, what should we do? Give them nothing?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DeVine: Well, listen, I think this is the choice that America will make: Should we, at this moment of unprecedented prosperity, follow policies that favor the few at the expense of the many?

That is really the debate on hand. And if you want to invest in education, if you want to invest in health care, if you want to invest in a secure retirement, then you cannot follow the Bush proposal.

You can't give away $1.6 trillion to the wealthiest Americans. Instead, we need a proposal like Al Gore's which has targeted tax cuts for working families and the middle class.

REED: Wolf, can I respond to that?

BLITZER: Go ahead.

REED: I would like to respond by pointing out a couple of facts. First of all, Governor Bush removed 6 million working families from the tax rolls altogether, making between $15,000 and 50,000 a year. Al Gore removes no one.

Secondly, under Governor Bush's plan, every single American taxpayer gets a tax cut. Al Gore tells 50 million taxpayers, "You need not apply."

REED: Thirdly, if you look at some of Al Gore's so-called targeted tax cuts, there are so many loopholes, so many hurdles that people have to jump over, so many complex regulations that they have to comply with. For example, the tax cut -- or the targeted tax credit for college tuition only applies to one child per family, only applies if the child is not receiving other government assistance.

As a matter of fact, it looks like, in preliminary analyses of this, that about three-quarters of American college students wouldn't even be eligible. So it looks to me like when Al Gore talks about targeted tax cuts, what he means is that American taxpayers are going to be targets. DeVine: Well, listen, it is true that the Bush tax cut plan of $1.6 trillion is bigger than the Gore plan of $500 billion. The question is, who's going to get relief. Under the Bush plan, 43 percent of the tax cut goes to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, people who make more than $300,000 a year. Sixty percent of it goes to the wealthiest 10 percent.

So most of that money is going to go to them. I mean, that's just a fact. The fact is that $500 billion in targeted tax cuts under Gore's plan go to the working class -- working families in the middle class. That's just -- that is a fact that is not in dispute.

BLITZER: All right. We have to take a quick break. Gentlemen, stand by.

For international viewers, "WORLD NEWS" is next. For our North American audience, stay tuned for another 30 minutes of LATE EDITION.

We'll check the hour's top stories, then take your phone calls for Ralph Reed and Tad DeVine. Plus our LATE EDITION roundtable and Bruce Morton's Last Word. It's all ahead when LATE EDITION continues.

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BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION. We'll continue our conversation with Ralph Reed and Tad DeVine in just a moment, but first let's go to Miles O'Brien in Atlanta for a check of the hour's top stories.

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: Thank you, Miles. Now back to our discussion about the race for the White House with Bush strategist Ralph Reed and Gore senior adviser Tad DeVine.

Ralph Reed, there was an ad that the Republican National Committee pulled this week, an ad attacking Al Gore. It was pulled after Governor Bush thought it was not an appropriate ad, raising some questions among some who follow this kind of stuff pretty closely about coordinating, coordination of ads between the RNC and the Bush campaign. If the RNC is supposed to be independent of the Bush campaign, how is it possible that Governor Bush said, pull the ad?

REED: Well, I think what Governor Bush did was express his opinion when asked about it, which was that he thought it was out of context, it was based on news accounts, and it's my understanding that we have an ad campaign and they have an ad campaign.

Obviously, as you know, Wolf, under regulations, there's absolutely no prohibition from different entities notifying each other of what they're planning on doing. I think Governor Bush indicated he thought it was out of context; it was inappropriate. We do, however, believe that Al Gore's credibility on a range of issues is going to be an issue in this campaign.

BLITZER: Appropriate ... REED: ... when you say, for example, that you're going to provide a prescription drug benefit, you look at the fine print, and it doesn't happen until 2008, that's an issue. The issue of taxes is going to be an issue.

BLITZER: Let's Tad DeVine respond, too.

DeVine: I don't think it was appropriate. I mean, the fact that they couldn't even run the ad in the first place tells you how inappropriate it was. I mean, this ad was grossly misleading and an incredible distortion and obviously intended not to inform voters but to confuse them.

And I think the reason they had an ad like that, or would even contemplate running it, is they don't want to have a real debate on the issues. I mean, this week, Al Gore's going to talk about health care, a real prescription drug benefit under Medicare. He's got a plan for one; Bush does not. A patients' bill of rights, Al Gore supports it, Bush does not. And so a real debate on the issues is something we want to have and they don't.

BLITZER: Pawtucket, Rhode Island, go ahead with your question, please, for these two campaign advisers.

CALLER: My question is for Ralph Reed, OK? According to George W. Bush -- according to the Bush campaign, he claims that he's going to eliminate taxes for anyone earning $35,000 or less per year. According to George W. Bush.com -- the tax calculator on the site, married couples will pay over $25,000, a single person will pay nearly $4,000, that's assuming standard deductions.

They also -- they neglect to list the tax breaks that would be for people with incomes over $100,000 a year. Now, if you want to debate on the issues, I think some clarity is needed here because it's -- I'm really not happy with the...

BLITZER: Let's let Ralph Reed respond; I think she meant $2,500, not $25,000, but go ahead, Ralph.

REED: Right, and under our tax plan, Wolf, the average, just to answer the questioner, the average working family which makes about $47,000 a year would receive about a $1,950 tax cut under Governor Bush, and about $210 under Al Gore.

And the other thing that we do that I mentioned before is, we take 6 million working families off the tax rolls entirely, which Al Gore doesn't do, and a couple in which both the man and the woman are working minimum-wage jobs, under Governor Bush's plan they'd receive a $542 tax cut, about a 42-percent tax cut, and under Al Gore's plan, they receive about a $210 tax cut.

I want to correct just one thing that Tad said earlier, though, and that is, he said Governor Bush does not support a patients' bill of rights. Not true. Not only does he strongly support one, but Texas was the first state in America to pass a patients' bill of rights and provide it. And, in addition to that, he does support a prescription drug benefit and, unlike Al Gore's, it would happen in the first year of his administration and not get phased-in over eight years and not take effect by the way, until the last year of a second term, if Al Gore were to win, which of course he won't.

DeVine: Let's talk about that. You know, he says he supports a prescription drug benefit but, in fact, he's offered no plan. David Broder wrote a piece a couple of weeks ago that basically said he's got no plan.

When you look at the policies that he supports, he says, prescription drug benefit for those in need. As it turns out, those in need are a very small sliver of people. So, in fact, there's no real Bush plan.

And, on the patients' bill of rights, he has not outlined a proposal that would allow doctors and patients to make medical choices, and not insurance companies or HMO bureaucrats. That's just a fact.

BLITZER: We only have a few seconds. I want to just get Ralph Reed. When will Governor Bush release his specific proposal for a prescription drug benefit for seniors?

REED: We've already said that we proposed -- that we favor a prescription drug benefit for those that need it. Two-thirds of seniors currently have a prescription benefit under their existing insurance, and what Governor Bush has said is that he's willing to work on a bipartisan basis, Wolf, to make that happen.

He doesn't want to preclude those possibilities by saying that he's not going to work with Democrats or independents today, so that's something that he's going to do after he's elected when we get that prescription drug benefit for every senior that needs it.

BLITZER: All right.

REED: What Governor Bush does not believe is that we have a government mandate where the wealthy, who don't need it, receive a prescription drug benefit from the government.

BLITZER: Ralph Reed and Tad DeVine, we are all out of time. I'm sure both of you will be back; good luck on the campaign trail. Thank you to both of you for joining us. And just ahead: Did George W. Bush peak too soon, or is Al Gore's big bounce in the polls just temporary? We'll go round the table with Susan Page, Tucker Carlson and Candy Crowley when LATE EDITION continues.

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BLITZER: Welcome back. Time now for our LATE EDITION round table.

Joining me, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today", and in for vacationing Steve Roberts, Candy Crowley, CNN senior political correspondent, and Tucker Carlson, political writer for "The Weekly Standard".

Candy Crowley, I know you cover Bush a lot. Is it fair that this was not his best week, as a lot of people are suggesting?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think so. That certainly seems to be -- I confess, it was the vacationing Candy Crowley this week. And -- but from what I read, what I hear, what I see, this clearly was not his best week on the campaign trail. And, you know, I think it's even worse when it contrasts to a guy that's having a really good week. So you have -- you have sort of a performance gap there that makes everything -- makes Gore seem better and Bush seem worse.

BLITZER: You know, there were some highly publicized stumbles, and maybe those of us in the news media paying, Tucker, much too much attention to these kinds of things. But listen to a couple of examples we, you know, viciously picked out. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We cannot let terrorists and rogue nations hold this nation hostile or hold our allies hostile.

I'm a free trader. I will work to end terrors -- tariffs and barriers everywhere across the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Those are slips that anybody could make, including me. Are we making too big a deal of this?

TUCKER CARLSON, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Well, those are slips that Bush makes in almost every conversation every day. And that's the kind of phony part about all this. Bush is just a walking malapropism. I don't think it's a reflection of his intelligence, but he does it all the time. And so to somehow discover in a week, you know, boy, Bush mangles his syntax. I mean, this is not news. And I do think it's unfair to sort of emphasize it to this degree in a single week.

SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY": I guess I disagree because I think we're just coming to the point where people are starting to pay attention. They haven't been paying attention to how Bush talks or whether he can defend his tax plan. And that we're now in the period of the campaign where voters tune in and want to know more about these guys, want to hear them explain their plans.

CROWLEY: Well, it's one thing to tune in though and another thing to have us harp on it. I agree with Tucker. I mean, this is not new. This -- I mean, this comes in a week where its relevancy peaked for the Bush reporters because of, you know, where Al Gore was.

I mean, I -- you know, talk about his plan, talk about his whatever, but I mean, this nonsense of saying hostile instead of hostage or whatever it was, it's... PAGE: Well, you know, I actually think what's driven this coverage is the polls that show Gore looking good and Bush looking less good. And suddenly things that seemed endearing or something you wouldn't even notice when a guy is riding pretty high sometimes become a question that you really want to explore when it looks like he's in trouble.

BLITZER: You know, on these polls, the new "Newsweek" poll, and we showed the number, a four-point difference, within the margin of error in the new "Newsweek" poll, but Gore still ahead of Bush a week after the Democratic convention.

But look at some of the specific other questions that were asked. On the question of, does he exhibit strong leadership qualities, Tucker, Gore 58 percent, Bush 68 percent. So, on that, Bush is still ahead of Al Gore.

On another issue, a very important issue, who does a better job of handling the economy? Al Gore, 48 percent said he does a better job; Bush, 35 percent. So one does a better job on the economy; the other one still has better leadership qualities.

CARLSON: Yes. Part of this, I think is, you know, the fabled bounce is partly just a reflection of hearing Al Gore's name a lot. I mean, at this time of the year, after a week of the Democratic convention, I think a lot of people said, boy, you know, there's somebody else running for president. Oh yes, Al Gore, he's vice president.

You know, and I think it's simple as that. I mean, it's going to be hard to convince me, or I think anyone, that a lot, millions of millions of people were paying close attention to the convention, I don't think they were.

BLITZER: You know, Candy, I know, you know you were at both conventions. All of us were at both conventions. You spent a lot of time covering Governor Bush. Maureen Dowd has a column in "The New York Times" today making fun of Governor Bush. She calls him the napster because he likes to take naps.

But that raises a question that some people are saying that he's really not all that hungry to win this election, that Al Gore is much hungrier in that regard.

CROWLEY: Look, I learned a long time ago that unless I, you know, can get inside somebody's head, I can't somehow say this guy is more motivated, that guy is more motivated.

You know, here's what we know. Al Gore has been in politics most of his adult life. He has, you know, aspired to the presidency for some time. George Bush, maybe two or three years -- it occurred to him that he might run for president.

So, you know, if you want to measure, you know, how much either one of them want it, I think you can't. I mean, I just don't think that's any quantifiable thing that you can do. Does -- is Bush more leisurely, is he more laid back? Absolutely. Al Gore is much more intense. Do I think he wants it more? You know, I think it's probably, you know, not one of those things that we can probably say one way or the other.

BLITZER: You know, Susan, in 1980, the same argument was made against Ronald Reagan, that he was sort of laid back and easygoing, where Jimmy Carter was so intense, and he was determined to do everything possible.

Of course, we know what the end result there was.

PAGE: Although Ronald Reagan, I think, was pretty driven and ran for the presidency an awful lot of times, I think he was a guy who wanted it pretty badly. I mean, I don't think there is any question from their demeanor that Al Gore seems to want it more than George Bush.

But I'm not sure that tells you the politics of that. You know, people have found George Bush's manner pretty appealing. Maybe a guy who wants it too much, maybe that's not necessarily a good thing, but I think one thing we found out from the Democratic primaries was how much Al Gore wants this and what a surprise that came to Bill Bradley.

CROWLEY: And Bush, himself, will say to you, I haven't spent my whole life -- I haven't since the third grade wanted to be president, so if that's a measure of...

CARLSON: Well, he says it a lot. The Bush campaign believes that's one of the key selling points for their candidate is that if he loses, he'll go back to whatever, fishing in his fishing hole, or something like that. But I think the Gore campaign, finally, intelligently has dropped this, you know, George-Bush-is-a-secret- right-wing-maniac stuff, which didn't sell.

It was insane; it was ludicrous, and instead, now, is hitting on, I think, a more plausible line of attack, which is, he is light. And so when Gore -- when Bush stumbles, the Gore campaign can use this as more evidence that, you know, he is not ready to be president.

BLITZER: And other candidates who have accused him of being light have paid a price for that in the past, but we'll get to that. We have to take another quick break. When we come back, more of our round table, when LATE EDITION returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our round table.

Susan, a lot of attention this week on military preparedness. The Republicans -- I assume Bush and Cheney thought this was a winning issue for them, but they have been put pretty much on the defensive on this issue, and Al Gore came fighting back.

He went and spoke at the VFW convention in Milwaukee. He put on that military cap to show that he has been a lifelong member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He's a Vietnam War veteran. Is this something that is backfiring right now? You know, and our viewers are taking a look both of them addressed the VFW. Gore wore the military cap.

PAGE: Because he could.

BLITZER: And Bush did not.

PAGE: And, of course, it's just a very subtle, or maybe not so subtle, reminder that he is an Army veteran, and his opponent is not. And I thought it was interesting, the military readiness argument that the Republicans tried to make this week did not work so well for them. You found them, I think, somewhat on the defensive.

Senator Hagel, just earlier in this show, was trying to make the case that there are ways in which you can argue the military has some serious problems, but I don't think the arguments that the Bush team is making -- they don't seem to be able to defend them. They had this comment, two army divisions not ready to serve -- that's not accurate at this time. So I don't think it's worked the way they'd hoped it would work.

And it's not an issue that, I think, has that much resonance in a world in which, you know, frankly, we are -- general peace, wide prosperity. I'm not sure the military issue is one that is going to be a powerful one in this election.

BLITZER: And, you know, we saw, Tucker, Dick Cheney on some of the other shows earlier today. You know, he was the former defense secretary. He should really be on the offensive on this issue, but, by and large, he was really on the defensive, trying to defend his record of cutting military expenditures, bases, while he was defense secretary.

CARLSON: Right, and defending his stock options, too, which is -- what a huge waste of time. But, no, that is absolutely right. And the Gore campaign, I think, has successfully spun this as, A, a slur on the military, that somehow Bush attacked the armed services, and, B, a reckless statement that is going to somehow incite, you know, our enemies abroad to bomb American cities or something. And they've done a pretty good job of it.

BLITZER: Is it coming back to bite the Bush-Cheney campaign?

CROWLEY: Well, the timing of this is interesting, because he did make the two-division remark in have his acceptance speech. In fact, we asked him the day after about it, because we already had the Pentagon coming out and saying it, but it comes up again.

I mean, I think I sort of agree with Susan. I mean, where is this going? I mean, I don't -- you know, it's one of the four things that Bush talks about, but it's never been, you know, the thing, unless we are in some big military area. And I just don't think that this goes anywhere. I don't think that who served and who didn't serve goes anywhere, because there is Bill Clinton.

BLITZER: Something that is not going away, as much as we would like it to go away, will never, perhaps, go away, is the kiss -- the famous kiss that Al and Tipper Gore -- I want you to look at our screen right now and show our audience, here are the two kisses after the two speeches. Look at Al Gore and Tipper, and we saw a very perfunctory kiss by George W. Bush and Laura Bush. But this is resonating out there, isn't it?

PAGE: I can't believe how much attention and analysis it's gotten. I have never before had to analyze the politics of a kiss. How about you, Candy?

CROWLEY: Never, and I'm not going to start now. I mean, I, you know, how much resonance it has, I mean, you know. But it's us talking. I mean, I can't believe that people woke up to their Rice Krispies and said, "Honey, did you see the one Gore laid on Tipper?"

CARLSON: (OFF-MIKE) said he couldn't forget it.

BLITZER: That's what people remember from that convention.

CARLSON: Well, middle-aged people shouldn't be necking on TV; this is rule number-one. Second, I mean, first of all, yuck. Two, I mean, the willingness of Al Gore to use every aspect of his family life.

PAGE: Maybe it was sincere.

CARLSON: Perhaps it was, but, you know, do it in a sincere way in private. There's no reason to do it on stage on national television. Ew, ew, ew.

BLITZER: And, in fairness, Joe Lieberman and Hadassah Lieberman did not go through that extensive kiss when they were on the stage. But we will not analyze the vice presidential kisses on this program.

Thanks to our roundtable: Tucker, Susan, Candy. I know she gets back on the campaign trail. Always good for you to fill in and join us on our round table. Thank you.

And just ahead, we will reveal what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines. Plus, Bruce Morton's last word.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Time now for Bruce Morton's last word.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If you're old enough to remember recessions, you've probably wondered about all those trillions of dollars the U.S. government says it will have in budget surpluses between now and 2010. Might it not be just so much pie-in-the-sky?

Well, two economists, Alan Auerbach (ph) at the University of California at Berkeley and William Gale (ph) of the Brookings Institution, have written a paper that says yes, it looks a lot like airborne pie to them.

The Congressional Budget Office assumes mandatory spending, Social Security interest on the national debt, federal pensions and so on will continue. The question is over what's called discretionary spending, everything else. The CBO has to believe what Congress says, that this spending will be frozen or maybe capped.

But wait, in 1999, discretionary spending was 6.3 percent of the gross domestic product. That's the lowest it's been since at least 1962 and freezing or capping would shrink it even more. Auerbach and Gale assume it will continue at 6 percent, given all the calls lately for increased defense spending, half the total, discretionary spending could even go up. They also assume Medicare funds will get the same hands-off treatment as the Social Security fund, something Al Gore recently proposed.

GORE: We will balance the budget every year and dedicate the budget surplus, first, to saving Social Security.

MORTON: Adding in that, plus some expected changes in tax laws, things already in place, Auerbach and Gale come up with a projected 10-year surplus of just $353 billion, nowhere near $1 trillion, let alone $3 trillion.

What does that mean? It would mean the country couldn't afford Gore's proposed half-trillion dollar tax cut, and George W. Bush's much more generous $1.3 trillion tax cut would put the U.S. a trillion dollars further into debt.

BUSH: The surplus is not the government's money. The surplus is the people's money.

MORTON: Then Auerbach and Gale looked beyond 2010, aging baby boomers and so on. What they see a long-term shortfall, in other words, a budget in the red. They freely admit forecasts can vary. They note that a small difference at the starting point can mushroom into a big difference 10 or 20 years down the road.

But things strongly suggest that official forecasts maybe at variance with reasonable expectation, Congress capping discretionary spending, say, and that more sensible projections show a small surplus in 2010, and deficits further down the road. Look, up there in the sky. Is that a pie?

I'm Bruce Morton.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Thank you, Bruce Morton. Time now for a look at what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines.

"Time" magazine has Kofi Annan on the cover. The United Nations chief is charming and charismatic, but his nervy doctrine for ending wars makes world leaders twitch.

"Newsweek" looks at diabetes; it strikes 16 million Americans. Are you at risk? on the cover.

And on the cover of "U.S. News & World Report," Olympic legends: How some athletes become mythic figures.

And that's your LATE EDITION for Sunday, August 27. Be sure to join us again next Sunday and every Sunday at noon Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk. I'll also be back tomorrow at 8 p.m. Eastern on "THE WORLD TODAY." Coming up next on "CNN.COM," Web passage to India, a Silicon Valley star who's investing his money and time back in his Indian homeland.

For now, thanks very much for watching. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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