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The Political Plan for the President's Vacation; U.S. Buzzes Over Clinton Book Deal; Is Bush Poised in a Comfortable Political Position?

Aired August 6, 2001 - 17:00   ET


JEANNE MESERVE, GUEST HOST: I'm Jeanne Meserve in Washington and this is Inside Politics. While the president kicks back in Texas, our new poll drives home why he's planning to go in some new directions.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I'm John King at the White House. I'll look at the message behind those poll numbers and at the political work on the president's vacation agenda.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I'm Kelly Wallace in Crawford, Texas, where the locals are adjusting to the summer White House and their town's newfound fame.

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Eileen O'Connor in Washington where many Clinton watchers are buzzing about the former president's new book deal.

ANNOUNCER: Now, Judy Woodruff takes you INSIDE POLITICS.

MESERVE: Thanks for joining us. Judy is off this week. On this first business day of the president's month-long stay in Texas, the White House is making a point of calling it a "working vacation" and releasing a picture to prove it. The photo of Mr. Bush meeting with aides at his ranch comes as our new poll shows 55 percent of Americans believe the president plans to spend too much time away from the White House. For more on the poll, the president, his image and his agenda, we begin with our senior White House correspondent, John King -- John.

KING: Well, Jean, as the president begins his vacation, many Bush aides would argue there's a bit a disconnect between what the president has done and all the talk in Washington. The White House especially views the final days of last week as the foundation for future successes. The House passed a version of the president's energy plan. It passed a version of the so-called Patients' Bill of Rights that Mr. Bush says is acceptable. Yet ask many Republican, even White House allies, and many say this president has lost control of Washington's agenda.

Now the White House doesn't like that, but as one senior aide put it, quote, "We have got to change the dynamics somehow. Even if it isn't true, people believe it is true."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KING (voice-over): Priority one for the summer White House is shaking the sense the president has lost his way.

PETER HART, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: He passed the tax cut. He wanted to do that. But what he has failed to do is really to seize the agenda. And instead of controlling the agenda, the agenda has controlled him. And in the end, the president has been defined by others rather than defining the presidency.

KING: In a new CNN-"USA Today"-Gallup Poll, 55 percent of Americans approve of how Mr. Bush is handling his job as president; 35 percent disapprove. Six in 10 have a favorable personal view of the president, and nearly that many consider his first six months in office a success. But Democrats have a clear edge when the question is which party has the best approach to a Patients' Bill of Rights or whether the country would be better off if Democrats or Republicans controlled the Congress.

BILL MCINTURFF, GOP POLLSTER: They probably are going to have to do more events and put the president on the road more so that he gets out of Washington to the extent he can so that he can try to see if he can drive home a message about education or one or two other issues that so far have been lost in the first six months of the administration.

KING: Mr. Bush will make several trips this month alone as part of a renewed focus on education and values and a new effort by the White House to counter concerns that the president has been largely on the defensive since the Democrats took control of the Senate in June.

MCINTURFF: It's critical, critical, critical that people believe that he's got enough job approval and personal popularity to be politically salient, and that people in Washington believe that he can get and does control the Republican majority in the House and has impact in the Senate, and that people need to react to his agenda.


KING: Now this debate in Washington about President Bush at the six-month mark reminiscent to many of the debate of the President Clinton at the two-year mark when Republicans took control of the Congress. Now Bush aides don't like comparisons to the former Democratic president, but in this case, they do note that President Clinton was knocked off stride. People said he wasn't even relevant. He made a few adjustments, coasted to reelection -- Jean.

MESERVE: John, let's also bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

Bill, I'm wondering if George W. Bush has succeeded in coming down where he wanted to be as a new kind of Republican.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: He has shown himself to be a success as a conservative, as a Washington politician. He played tough. He got what he wanted out of Congress. But that is not where he wants to be. He campaigned as a different kind of Republican. And I think his month-long vacation, which he calls home to the heartland, is an effort to reposition him as that different kind of Republican.

MESERVE: John King, would you agree with that? Is that one of the points of this vacation?

KING: Well, certainly, that's one of the points of this vacation: to get him back on issues on which he is viewed as strongest. But this president in a very difficult political dilemma even on the Patients' Bill of Rights. He cut a deal that he believes is a good deal, but the Chamber of Commerce and other business allies are upset. Democrats say it's not good enough with the very narrow margins in the Congress whether it's the Democratic Senate or the Republican House. No matter what Mr. Bush does, he is going to be criticized often from both sides, the left and right.

MESERVE: John, what is the Democratic strategy for dealing with President Bush in the months ahead?

KING: Well, to try to keep him on their issues. They think HMO reform was their issue and the president just debating their issue. When Congress comes back, the Democrats want to talk about raising the minimum wage. Republicans don't like that. They want to talk about a prescription drug benefit. That is one issue on which this White House believes it must outflank the Democrats. So the Democrats will try to dictate the terms of the debate, and certainly, they control the Senate so they can try.

One of the issues that Bush White House wants to do is, (a) strike better relations with Republicans in the House. The House is now the most important body to this president as we learned last week in the Patients' Bill of Rights. This president has his work cut out for him, though, because many moderates in the House now feel emboldened, too, and they don't always see eye to eye with this president.

MESERVE: Bill Schneider, let me ask you about something John mentioned earlier, which is the comparable poll numbers for President Clinton at this point in his presidency.

SCHNEIDER: Well, you know, I think Bush is kind of a reverse President Clinton. President Clinton got very low marks for character, but he had high marks for empathy. Bush is exactly the opposite. People admire his character. They say he's honest and he's trustworthy, but they don't he's in the touch with the problems of ordinary people. They think he's lived a live of privilege, that he's surround by rich people in big business interests, and that he's out of touch with ordinary Americans.

I think one of the purposes of this new initiative is to get President Bush out of Washington, put him in Texas and put him more in touch with ordinary people: the Texas Bush rather than the Washington Bush.

MESERVE: John King, six months after the election, is the question of a mandate still very much hanging over this White House? KING: Well, the Democrats would certainly say so and they control the Senate now, so they have a vehicle to make that case. Out in the country, as Bill just noted, Americans view this president as a nice guy, but there's yet to be a sense that since the tax cut debate -- Mr. Bush drove that debate. Many say he could never get a tax cut that big and he did. So he rightly so takes credit for that.

There is a question, though, if you look at the polling numbers, many Americans tend to favor the Democrats more on the big issues like health care, even on energy, a priority of this president. Our polls shows that the voters evenly divided when asked: Who do you trust more? The Democrats or the Republicans? So certainly, more salesmanship to do by this president. And remember, he won a very tight, contested presidential election. So he had his work cut out for him.

MESERVE: Bill Schneider, John, thanks.

Those political challenges Mr. Bush now is confronting may linger on pass the dog days of summer. Again, John King tells us how the president hopes to present himself on the public stage this fall.


KING (voice-over): The president is not a fan of big speeches, big events, so the goal is to redefine the bully pulpit to suit the Bush style.

FRED MCCLURE, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CONGRESSIONAL LIAISON: The best balance you strike is, No. 1, that fits the president's personality and characteristics as an individual, what works best for him as he performs his duties.

KING: So more interaction with everyday people outside of Washington, in schools and other friendly settings. And when in Washington, to the degree possible, less structured, smaller events where Mr. Bush tends to be more persuasive.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: You're in a group with seven, eight, nine, 10 people, you're sitting around him, he definitely dominates the room, much more that I would have anticipated.

KING: The president gets high marks for shaping the tax cut debate, but has had less success using his unique platform to shape other issues. He urged Congress, for example, to finish work on a major education bill before its July recess, then again before its August recess only to be ignored.

PETER HART, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: There isn't really a sense of command. There's a sense of a nice man, a nice guy, but in the end, it is not a very firm handshake with the American public. It's sort of a weak handshake.

KING: Mr. Bush's challenge as salesman was big to begin with because of the contested election, then complicated all the more when Democrats took control of the Senate. JOHN PODESTA, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: He's got the bully pulpit. He has, you know, the loudest microphone in town. He's got things that he wants to try to get done. But right now, it's more of a power-sharing arrangement, and he's going to have to come to terms with having to deal with some of the Democratic priorities as well.


KING: But the Democrats say even as he has to, as Mr. Podesta noted, come to terms of dealing with their priorities, he's yet to really deal with them in good faith. Last week, he cut his deal on the Patients' Bill of Rights the chief Republican sponsor, many Democrats upset with that. They say if relations between they and the White House are to get better, Mr. Bush needs to practice the bipartisanship he often talks about -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: John, is this fall absolutely critical to the president's agenda?

KING: It sure is in the sense that any president wants to be judged at the one-year mark. And one way this president keeps telling Republicans on Capitol Hill to be loyal to him, the White House message is the single, biggest factor in the first congressional midterm elections is the president's approval rating. So that if Republicans to keep control of the House and be competitive in trying to get the Senate back, they need to stand with this president. To keep selling that message, the president's going to have to do a better job, many say, selling himself.

MESERVE: John King at the White House, thank you.

Among those watching the president and his political successes and defeats, the nation's governors who are meeting in Providence, Rhode Island. We're joined by two members of that group: Democratic Governor Tom Vilsack of Iowa and Republican governor Frank Keating of Oklahoma.

Thank you both for joining us.


MESERVE: I'd like to get an assessment from both of you on this presidency. And let me guess. Because you're of different parties, you have different opinions.

Governor Vilsack, let's start with you.

GOV. TOM VILSACK (D), IOWA: Well, I think it's a little bit too early to assess President Bush's success or failure. I think it is interesting that he has opted to begin changing a focus and making the decision to go out on the road. I think what we're going to have to wait and see is the impact on the tax cut and whether or not we're going to be able to make good on the promises in education and health care and the environment, which I think many American families are looking for. MESERVE: Governor Keating, your overview of the first six months?

KEATING: I think very successful. You have a president who won with 50 percent of the vote. Half of the American public are Democrat voters, half of the American public are Republican voters, and yet the president, with a bipartisan consensus, passed the largest tax cut in American history. He is crafting a bipartisan compromise on the Patients' Bill of Rights. Obviously, the situation in China was handled with professionalism but also with firmness. I think in some, the American people, and your numbers suggest it, like him personally -- that's a good start -- and think that he's doing a decent job as president. Well, I agree with Tom. It's very, very early, but he's surrounded himself with a good team. He has a good heart, a good head, and I think he's doing a good job.

MESERVE: Governor Vilsack, I know one of the topics of conversation at your meeting has been the education legislation supported by the president and its requirements for testing. Is this another unfunded federal mandate?

VILSACK: Well, that's certainly the concern. I don't think any of the nation's governors are concerned about being held accountable and believe strongly that there needs to be a system of accountability. We in Iowa have been testing for 50 years. What we're concerned about is the overlay of another testing requirement without the resources to carry it through. In Iowa alone, it may cost us anywhere from $5 million to $10 million of additional resource, and we're just not convinced, based upon prior federal experience with special education where they haven't kept their promise, that the money will be there to adequately fund this program.

MESERVE: Governor Keating, does this legislation give enough of a role to the governors?

KEATING: Well, it's interesting how this is coming down, because some of my Democrat friends don't like testing because the teachers unions don't like testing. Most of my Republican friends want to see vouchers and choice. They want to see competition in public education and this bill doesn't have a voucher provision. I think both Republicans and Democrats do want to make sure that the product of education is first-rate. But many of us have our own testing mechanisms in place. We've raised standards in Oklahoma, we've raised ACT and SAT scores. We demand more and more from our students, and we have a testing regimen. So want to make sure whatever Washington suggests doesn't interfere with Iowa's answer or Oklahoma's answer to this challenge to make a better-educated workforce.

VILSACK: And I might add to Frank's comments. Another concern that we have about the bill has to do with the whole issue of what the repercussions will be and how you assess whether or not schools are in fact successful. There is deep concern about whether or not there's a real definitive definition of what success is going to be and who's going to set that definition. MESERVE: Budget shortfalls have been a problem in one-third of the states this past year. I'm wondering, Governor Vilsack, if the president's tax cut has complicated the situation for the states made it that much more difficult to make ends meet.

VILSACK: Well, certainly to the extent that it impacts and effects the amount of money states receive from the estate tax, it adds to the situation. But, you know, frankly, this is an opportunity and a challenge for us, which we've met in the past and we'll meet this time. It's an opportunity for us to make government more efficient and more effective and to improve government. And I know that speaking for myself in Iowa, we're going to try to do that.

My concern, however, is whether or not the tax cut will make it more difficult for the federal government to live up to the opportunities and responsibilities that already has assumed or to live up to the promises it's made in the past. If we cannot fund special education adequately, if we can't meet the needs for testing resources, then you're going to impose burdens on states, which in turn will impact potentially local property taxes and other revenues. So we're concerned and we're waiting and watching and looking to see what the signals are going to be.

MESERVE: I can't let the two of you get away without asking you a question about presidential politics.

Governor Vilsack, explain to me why it is that all of the names we're hearing floated as possible contenders in 2004 are senators not governors. What's going on?

VILSACK: Well, because governors are actually focused on solving problems. They recognize that 2004 is a long way away and they have to deal with issues in 2001 and 2002. We're trying to improve education systems trying to expand access to health care, trying to improve the environment, trying to meet the energy needs of our families in our respective states. There will be plenty of time for discussion about presidential politics, but now we're attending to the people's business.

MESERVE: Governor Keating, I'm sorry, I'm having a little bit of trouble hearing your transmission from Providence, but I wondered if you had any thoughts on that From the Republican perspective, why does it seem to be that the senators are the ones lining up to run for the Democratic nomination, not the governors?

KEATING: Well I think the Senate and the House are obviously critically important institutions in America, but they are debate societies. And as Governor Vilsack said, we're out there cutting taxes, reducing welfare roles, privatizing, improving schools, making our states better places. But the reality is Jimmy Carter was a governor, Ronald Reagan was a governor, Bill Clinton was a governor, you know, George W. Bush is a governor. He's our candidate for 2004, and we'll let the Democrats find somebody. But I would suspect that that will be a governor because that's the person with a record. I think most Americans want to see someone who can solve problems and get things done. MESERVE: Governors Keating and Vilsack, thank you both for joining us this evening.

KEATING: Thanks, Jeanne.

MESERVE: And stay with us. This is INSIDE POLITICS.

ANNOUNCER: Bill Clinton on the book. We'll have the latest on his memoirs in the making and how the Democrats are trying to put his history of scandal behind them.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got to move on. We've got to highlight our new leaders.


ANNOUNCER: Speaking of new leaders, we'll look at Senator John Kerry's weekend trip to New Hampshire and his presidential prospects. And later, a hard-won victory in the fight for civil rights that still shapes American politics 36 years later. Live from Washington, there's more of INSIDE POLITICS with Judy Woodruff straight ahead.


MESERVE: Our new poll shows the country almost evenly split on former president Bill Clinton, with 49 percent giving him a favorable rating and 48 percent unfavorable. That represents little change from April. Former vice president Al Gore gets a favorable rating from 52 percent; also little change from April.

Former president Bill Clinton has finalized a deal to write his memoirs for what appears to be an unprecedented amount of cash. CNN national correspondent Eileen O'Connor joins me now with the details.

Eileen, a lot of money involved here.

O'CONNOR: A lot of money. The biggest advance in publishing history and why not? This is a book that could well be wanted by friends and foes alike.


O'CONNOR (voice-over): Is it his personal life...

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Indeed, I did have a relationship with Ms. Lewinsky that was not appropriate.

O'CONNOR: ... or his politics that makes former president Bill Clinton's memoirs worth over $10 million according to sources? That's more than his wife's and more than the pope's, who had held the record with an $8.5 million advance for his bestseller. Robert Barnett negotiated the deal for worldwide rights with publishing company Alfred A. Knopf, and says the president has a lot to say. ROBERT BARNETT, ATTORNEY FOR BILL CLINTON: The president has told me that he plans to write a comprehensive and candid book. With respect to specifically what's going to be in there, you'll have to buy it, because that's the name of the game.

O'CONNOR: Still, just how much can anyone expect him to say about Monica Lewinsky?

SARA NELSON, INSIDE.COM BOOKS EDITOR: There was always the sense with him that there's a real person in there, and that it's almost that sense of almost anything could happen. You know, he might just say something that's a little out of the box, it's a little unusual.

O'CONNOR: But most agree, not too far out, since aides view this book as part of a political reentry strategy for a former president who readily admits feeling sidelined.

CLINTON: Bye. You know, when you're not president anymore, people look at you funny when you walk by them in the airport. They say things like, "You look just like Bill Clinton."


O'CONNOR: A tell-all book could also impact another political career, that of his wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Still, Mr. Clinton's penchant for doing the unexpected has everyone hoping and his publishing company betting that this is going to be anything but boring -- Jean.

MESERVE: Should be an interesting read. Eileen, thanks so much.

Bill Clinton has, of course, exited the political stage, but his party still reaps the benefits of his political skills and feels the effects of his personal faults. In the first of two reports, CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley examines Mr. Clinton's legacy to his party and the challenges Democrats face as they look to the future.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: For better or for worse for eight ears, Bill Clinton was the Democratic Party. Emphasis, please, on past tense.

TERRY MCAULIFFE, DNC CHAIRMAN: Absolutely, we've got to move on. We have got to highlight our new leaders.

CROWLEY: His enormous successes as president and dead-on political instincts promise to reshape and dominate the political landscape for decades.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will also swear to uphold the honor and dignity of the office to which I have been elected, so help me God.

CLINTON: I did not... CROWLEY: But Bill Clinton's personal weaknesses created a kind of moral drag on Democrats that may have cost them the White House.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: I think you could go way back and say that there are still some folks who remember the Democratic Party from the '60s and '70s, and to some extent, to the '80s and see Democrats as a kind of anything-goes party, no sense of right and wrong, taking tolerance so far that there's no capacity to make a judgment that this form of behavior is just not good for society. Obviously, in the last election, with all respect, some of it had to do with the aura and the problems surrounding President Clinton personally.

CROWLEY: For 2004, the Democrats need to shake Bill Clinton or at least his baggage.

KWEISI MFUME, NAACP PRESIDENT: Now is the perfect opportunity to say that was then, this is who we are, this is what we believe in.

CROWLEY: Pondering the direction of post-Clinton Democrats begins with a look at the red states -- Bush won territory -- and some election statistics that have served as a starting point for some intra-party soul searching. Seven out of 10 white voters who regularly go to church voted for George Bush.

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: We need to talk more about some of the moral underpinnings of our own choice to be in public service. I think we need to show that a lot of the things that we advocate and believe in are tied to our underlying religious belief.

CROWLEY: Fifty-three percent of married voters went Bush, 44 percent went Gore.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D), NORTH CAROLINA: They want to know if you are a mother, are you a good mother, if you're a father, are you a good father? If you're a husband, are you a good husband? Are you a person who understands what faith means and how important it is in people's everyday lives. I think people care about those things.

CROWLEY: And six out of 10 rural voters voted Republican.

LIEBERMAN: I wish that -- I wish last year that Al Gore and I had had the opportunity -- let me put it another way. I wish that Al Gore and I had spoken more about our values and our sharing the values, concerns of the broad mainstream of the American people.

CROWLEY: Which begs the question about Al Gore: Can he square this circle, reconcile his relationship with the man who made it possible for him to run and hard for him to win.

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... man I believe will be regarded in the history books as one of our greatest presidents.

CROWLEY: It was a balance he could not find in 2000 no matter what he did or said.

GORE: I understand the disappointment and anger that you feel toward President Clinton. And I felt it myself.

CROWLEY: Would four years of distance make a difference, or does the Democratic Party need a clean slate? It's early, but listen to some of Gore's potential rivals deliver their election postmortems.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I think we just have to be more clear to people that we're not poll-driven, consultant fabricated. People had doubts about both the message and the messenger, and that's in the end what happened to us.

CROWLEY: And it's interesting how often the talk goes to the matter of trust.

EDWARDS: I think people listen to us, they listen to what we have to say and they decide in their gut, you know: Is this somebody I can trust?

CROWLEY: For Democrats, the larger question is whether the party can find that place along the political spectrum where you satisfy both the base of the party that loves Bill Clinton and appeal to red state voters who were turned off by him. It's a difficult spot to find. And tomorrow, a look at some in the party hope to succeed where Al Gore failed. Candy Crowley, CNN Washington.


MESERVE: Tropical Storm Barry is now a tropical depression. We will update this storm and the damage left in its wake in our news update. Also ahead, a notable visit by a neighboring senator. Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry spends some quality time in New Hampshire.


MESERVE: As President Bush considers government funding for stem cell research, we consider the political pitfalls of the decision. Up next: hoe the president's stem cell decision could impact his overall agenda.


MESERVE: President Bush's decision on stem cell research funding could come at any time, according to a spokesman. Our new poll shows the American people, in general, support the idea: 55 percent say they favor federal funding for stem cell research, 29 percent are opposed, and 16 percent say they are unsure. Below the surface, however, many people still have concerns about the practice.

For more on this delicate political issue and what it means for the president, we rejoin CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider.

Bill, as you see it, the central word in this debate for the president is "values," is that is right? SCHNEIDER: That's exactly right.

He's undertaking a campaign now called "a renewal of shared values." That campaign is very important because of the Clinton legacy that Candy just talked about. What Bill Clinton did as president was create a consensus on policy, but a deep division over values. And we saw it in that map that Candy showed in her piece. That was a map of liberal and conservative America; the map of the 2000 election.

Bush is trying to heal that division. That's an ambitious, but a very perilous undertaking because he has to identify shared values that do not set off a culture war. The question is: Where does the stem cell decision fit into that?

MESERVE: Exactly. How do you find shared values on an issue like this, where you have people who oppose stem cells saying there's no possibility, here, of compromise?

SCHNEIDER: Well, you know the problem is that the stem cell issue touches off a conflict that's at the very heart of this nation's culture war, and that's abortion.

Over 70 percent of Americans who describe themselves as pro- choice on abortion favor federal funding of stem cell research. But pro-life Americans, people who call themselves pro-life, oppose stem cell research by nearly two to one. If President Bush decides to ban federal funding for stem cell research, he will certainly please his conservative base, but he will probably endanger any attempt to try to define himself as a, quote, "different kind of Republican" -- Jean.

MESERVE: Bill Schneider, thanks so much for joining us from the West Coast.

And as A leading Democrat stepped out in New Hampshire, was his mind on the White House? Up next, Senator John Kerry's comings and goings in the Granite State and what they may mean for his political future.

And, is the Helms era coming to an end in North Carolina? And if so, can a Dole fill his shoes?


MESERVE: As members of Congress enjoy their August break from Capitol Hill, many are reaching out to their home state constituents. But at least one senator seemed to take the opportunity to test the presidential waters over the weekend.

Our Bill Delaney went to New Hampshire to watch Democrat John Kerry in action.


BILL DELANEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Where John Kerry, senator from Massachusetts, might very well turn up on a summer Sunday: In Massachusetts -- Gloucester, to be exact -- for a ceremony honoring fishermen lost at sea.

(on camera): What is a bit unusual for a senator from Massachusetts in the dog days of August is to make time for a little road trip, just up the road apiece here, to New Hampshire.

(voice-over): Onto political turf, home of the first presidential primary, even now radioactive enough to set off political Geiger counters when a prospective candidate for president shows up.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: This is a quick and easy bob for me from an event in Gloucester.

DELANEY: And yes, Kerry officially bobbed up to support of a Democratic legislative candidate in a special election next week, and for a reception honoring the mayor of Manchester, New Hampshire. Neighborly, though also the first time he came calling since we elected a new president.

Kerry said he's only in the running for the Senate 2002.

KERRY: Well, I'm focused on the Senate run. I've said again and again -- and I'm serious about it -- I think it's a mistake to get ahead of oneself in life, and particularly in politics.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: How are you doing?

DELANEY: Still, in the matter of getting a head start, Democratic Senator Joseph Biden visited New Hampshire back around St. Patrick's Day. House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt a little after that. And then there's Al Gore who, after wrestling through much of last year's presidential campaign with whether or not to wear a suit is now hirsute after several weeks in Europe, though beginning to teach workshops later this week back in the U.S. on campaigning, while forming a political action committee to help congressional candidates.

Kerry spoke warmly of the man he considered challenging in the last presidential go-round, now inching back on the scene.

KERRY: I welcome it. Al Gore is a friend and a respected American political figure. He was the nominee of our party, and I welcome his voice back and the contributions he wants to make to the party and to the country.

DELANEY: As for Kerry's contributions to come to party and country, well, in that 2002 Senate race he's focusing on, he's widely expected to run unopposed. He could be up for a bigger challenge down the line, and just over the border.

Bill Delaney, CNN, Derry, New Hampshire.


MESERVE: And now the scoop on some other senators -- who's running and who's worrying. Stu Rothenberg of "The Rothenberg Political Report" and also Charlie Cook joins us here -- Charlie of the "National Journal." Thank you for coming in.

Charlie, first, Jesse Helms -- a lot of speculation about whether he's going to run or not. What have you learned?

CHARLES COOK, "NATIONAL JOURNAL": Republicans on Capitol Hill are reporting to us that they expect Senator Helms is going to retire. Nothing's official, obviously, until he says so. But they believe he's going to. But he's got to come about, you know the time to do make the decision. He and his wife will decide when that happens; but they expect him to retire.

MESERVE: And if he does, Stu, who steps up to the plate?

STUART ROTHENBERG, "ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": Well, Jeanne, there's some interesting Machiavellian maneuvering going on. National Republican sources want Elizabeth Dole to get in the race.

But two other candidates are maneuvering as well -- really three -- there's a trial lawyer named Jim Snyder (ph). But the two interesting candidates are Richard Vinroot, former mayor of Charlotte and Lauch Faircloth, a former U.S. senator.

And, interestingly, the Faircloth people are trying to make it known that he's in the race no matter what. But this is really an effort to keep Elizabeth Dole out, to intimidate her out of the contest.

Most insiders that I talk to -- my sources suggests that Mrs. Dole is more likely than not to get into the race, and if she does, frankly, she will scare out both Vinroot as well as Faircloth. But the situation is still pretty unclear at the moment.

MESERVE: Senator Fred Thompson, another one about whom there's been a lot of speculation because he's raised so little money. Again, let me ask you Charlie, what do we know?

COOK: Republicans say it's 50/50. They'll say, talk to him one day and he's enthused and he wants to run for reelection and he's pumped up. And then other days he seems sort of lethargic and not really interested in running for reelection. They say it's 50/50, just changes from day to day.

MESERVE: OK, let me ask you again, Stu, what happens if he does decides not to run?

ROTHENBERG: Well, Congressman Bryant has interest in running. He is making it known that he wants to run for an open seat. And, interestingly, there are candidates starting to maneuver for his congressional district, should it be open. So a domino is starting to occur. All -- assuming that the first domino falls.

COOK: The reason this is important is if Fred Thompson runs for reelection, he's reelected automatically. But if he doesn't, that becomes probably a 50/50 race. From the Democratic side you could see Harold Ford Jr., maybe John Tanner, any number of other Democrats potentially jumping in. So that would become a real race, if Thompson retires.

MESERVE: Congressman John Thune, what's the story with him? Is he likely to run for the senate?

COOK: Well, Senator Tim Johnson is up for reelection -- a Democrat -- and he will get reelected without any problem at all unless the at-large Republican Congressman John Thune runs. And if he runs, it would be a heck of a race. Republicans have polls that show Thune slightly ahead; Democrats say it's closer to dead even. But it's going to be a very, very very close race if Thune runs, and it looks like he's going to. That's what our sources say.

ROTHENBERG: Jeanne, I agree. My sources tell me that it's -- it looks like John Thune is a lock to run for the Senate. Again, the dominoes are starting to fall. Former Lieutenant Governor Steve Kirby is getting in the governor's race. The attorney general, Barnett, is getting in the governor's race. They wouldn't be doing that if they thought Thune was going to be running for governor. Everybody that I talk to insist he's running for the Senate. Of course, we're waiting to hear it directly from his mouth.

MESERVE: OK, Governor George Ryan -- a governor in Illinois -- pretty low poll numbers. What does his future look like Stu?

ROTHENBERG: Well I -- again, he's going to make a decision within the next couple days. He's talking about making an announcement on the 8th. I'd be really surprised if he ran for reelection. His numbers are terrible. There's a lot of controversy. He faces a primary. He is returning home to make his announcement, and a lot of people I've talked to suggested that that means he's going to bow out back home and leave the governor's office.

COOK: One of the hardest things in politics you can do is beat an incumbent governor. But when one is so badly damaged by scandal as Governor Ryan is, I don't think he can make it past the primary.

MESERVE: You've noticed an interesting phenomenon, which is that a lot of senators seem to be interested in running for governor.

COOK: You know, it wasn't until the last 10 years or so that you've started seeing this. But we're watching Frank Murkowski in Alaska, where we think he's going to run for governor. His seat is not up, so it's not jeopardizing his seat -- Republicans would hold onto it anyway.

Same thing with Craig Thomas in Wyoming, where he's looking like he's leaning towards running for governor. And it used to be governors would run for the Senate -- that governorship was a step sown. Pete Wilson started a trend back the other way of going from the Senate back to the statehouse.

MESERVE: You know, as part of the story this next time around, there's going to be redistricting and its impact. You have the story of one congressman, a Democrat, who could face a serious situation.

ROTHENBERG: Absolutely. It certainly looks now like Leonard Boswell, Democratic congressman from southern Iowa is going to face a primary. His district was basically chopped up on a nonpartisan redistricting commission -- redrew the lines out there. He now seems to want to run in a district that is centered in Des Moines, Polk County. Remember, he had -- represented primarily in the agricultural area.

Well, representing Des Moines, suddenly another Democratic state senator Matt McCoy decides, no, Leonard Boswell is too conservative and too much a rural representative. He, McCoy, wants to run for Congress. He's raised over $100,000. He looks like he's in it. It's interesting -- it's going to be interesting to see whether Democrats can push him out so that Boswell can run without a primary.

MESERVE: Stu Rothenberg, Charlie Cook, thank you both for joining us for your insight and reporting.

And now an update on the effort in the House to revive campaign finance reform legislation. The House clerk now tell us that supporters of the Shays-Meehan reform bill collected 205 signatures on a discharge petition before Congress went into recess; 218 signatures are needed to bring the measure back to the floor.

Assessing a law that changed a nation 36 years later:


REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: There's one thing about politicians, especially Southerners: They can count. They can count very well.


MESERVE: The Voting Rights Act of 1965 and how it helped revolutionize American party politics.


MESERVE: The Southern Christian Leadership Conference is holding its national meeting in Montgomery, Alabama. SCLC President Martin Luther King III started off the session last night with some personal comments about his role in the organization. King was recently criticized and called an ineffective leader by the group's board chairman. King said he may never rise to the standards set by his father, but he pledged to lead the SCLC into the future.


MARTIN LUTHER KING III, SCLC PRESIDENT: I am deeply honored to have been entrusted by you with the opportunity to serve this organization. And no, I'm not my father. No, I don't have his melodic voice, nor his oratorical skill. God only gave the Israelites one Moses; He only gave South Africa one Mandela; and he only gave the United States one Martin Luther King Jr.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MESERVE: Martin Luther King Jr. founded the SCLC after the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott. The group's national convention runs through Wednesday.

Today marks the anniversary of a law that embodies so much of what Martin Luther King Jr. marched for, a law which changed American politics and society forever.

CNN national correspondent Bruce Morton has that story.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Alabama police attacked the marchers. March leader John Lewis got his skull fractured. Bloody Sunday, people called it. But the march, all the marches, made a difference, lead to a law.

LEWIS: When President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965, he liberated the South.

MORTON: The old South was one party -- Democrats, but conservative, segregationist Democrats. The act changed that.

MERLE BLACK, EMORY UNIVERSITY: It's changed the Democratic Party; made the Democratic Party a much more moderate, liberal party because of the crucial importance of black voters in the system.

MORTON: And it created, you could argue, the Republican Party in the South -- created a two-party South.

CLACK: The South did not have -- it had segregation. It also was a one-party system. And the two-party system in the South is much more competitive. And the Republican Party, the white conservatives eventually left the Democratic Party. They moved over into the Republican Party.

MORTON (on camera): Maybe a few hundred black elected officials in the South when the act was passed. Maybe 9,000 now. Many originally elected in majority black districts, but not all. North Carolina's famous 12th District was originally was 57 percent black and elected an African-American Melvin Watt to Congress. Then, redrawn, it became 36 percent black, reelected Watt anyway; 58 percent of the vote in 1998, 65 percent in the year 2000.

And nobody champions segregation anymore.

BLACK: Oh yes, that's a dead issue. That's a non-issue anymore.

LEWIS: You just -- you cannot do that and expect to get elected.

MORTON (voice-over): Politics changed. Strom Thurmond, who ran for president as a segregationist in 1948, voted to extend the Voting Rights Act in 1975. Alabama's George Wallace courted black politicians in his last years in office. It was where the votes were.

LEWIS: There's one thing about politicians, especially Southerners: They can count. They can count very well.

MORTON: And with the end of legal segregation, the whole region changed. New businesses came in. South Carolina got a Michelin plant, a BMW plant. Virginia elected Doug Wilder governor, the only black ever elected governor of a state. Big changes.


CLINTON: Without Selma, Atlanta would never have had the Super Bowl or the Olympics. And without Selma, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton would never have been elected president of the United States.


MORTON: Because of the law, the old South is gone, and not very many in the new South miss it.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


MESERVE: The ups and downs of being a presidential neighbor: Up next we'll check out the pace and the people of Crawford, Texas, home of the Bush summer White House.


MESERVE: The White House says President Bush is enjoying being back at his ranch in Texas. But while he gets a break from official Washington, residents of the small town of Crawford are getting a taste of the trappings of the presidency, an influx of Secret Service agents, not to mention the throngs of the White House reporters.

Among them, our Kelly Wallace, who has been talking to some of the president's neighbors.


WALLACE (voice-over): Crawford is a place where time seems to pass slowly, with just 700 people and only one traffic light, where everyone knows everyone else.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't have many strangers move into Crawford. It's hot, it's dry and it's full of snakes.

WALLACE: It's a place where the temperatures top 100 in August and where many make a living from the land. But there are also entrepreneurs like Gary Bowdoin, who owns a tent business, sits on the school board and also coaches the high school track team.

(on camera): You've lived here or close by all your life. I mean, what should people know about Crawford, Texas?

GARY BOWDOIN, CRAWFORD BUSINESS OWNER: They're good people. I mean, you have a flat tire, someone is going to stop and help you. They're honest people; they're going to tell you what they think. WALLACE (voice-over): And they are adjusting to their newfound fame at the only restaurant in town.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't see that there's been much change other than just a lot more excitement because of the media coverage and a lot of tourists coming in wanting to see where the president lives.

WALLACE: President Bush gave a tour of his sprawling 1,600-acre ranch last year during the campaign.

BUSH: I'm going to cut across here to keep the dust down.

WALLACE: We are told not everyone is happy the president is here, but the only complaints we could find were about us. While Mr. Bush enjoys a month-long vacation on his ranch, reporters have descended on Crawford's elementary school.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sometimes the kids complain because their gym is being taken, you know. But it's fun. The kids enjoy the activity.

WALLACE (on camera): But with all the media attention, there is another concern: Folks here say there is one misconception about their small, rural town.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That we're all very backwards. Maybe, you know, that we don't have a clue what's going on.

WALLACE (voice-over): But Life here is simpler, and a world away from Washington. The perfect escape for a president who considers this, not the White House, home.

Kelly Wallace, CNN, Crawford, Texas.


MESERVE: And that's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Jeanne Meserve.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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