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CNN INSIDE POLITICS

'Anaconda' Produces Most U.S. Deaths Yet; Do Americans Think Islam Encourages Violence?; Billionaire Businessman Mitt Romney for Governor?

Aired March 4, 2002 - 16:00   ET

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


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. The deadliest day yet for American forces in Afghanistan. We'll discuss U.S. military strategy -- what's right, what's wrong, what's next.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I'm Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon, where U.S. military commanders are defending the surround and pound operation called Operation Anaconda, even though it's produced the greatest number of combat deaths since the war began.

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Bruce Morton in Washington. Do Americans think Islam encourages violence? Our new poll examines U.S. views of the Muslim world.

BILL DELANEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Bill Delaney in Boston, where a draft Romney for governor campaign is building, and incumbent Jane Swift is saying, bring it on.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS WITH JUDY WOODRUFF.

CROWLEY: Thanks joining us. Judy is on assignment.

President Bush is expected to speak shortly about that U.S.-led assault in Afghanistan that proved so deadly. A short while ago, at U.S. Central Command in Florida, General Tommy Franks said as many as nine U.S. military personnel had been killed during the offensive against al Qaeda and Taliban holdouts. Eight died after two helicopters took enemy fire today near Gardez, in eastern Afghanistan. The Pentagon says a ninth American died Saturday.

Despite the casualties, Franks says U.S.-led forces are making good progress against several hundred al Qaeda fighters, who are said to be well dog in and well armed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GENERAL TOM FRANKS, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND COMMANDER: Both I and the secretary of defense have said on numerous occasions we are entering a phase where we will physically go to places on the ground inside Afghanistan to clear out pockets of resistance as we're able to find them. And yes, it is more dangerous, and that is the phase of the operation that we're in right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Our military affairs correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, is with us now. Jamie, why send U.S. troops into that area if intelligence shows that there were hundreds of al Qaeda forces there, well dug in, well fortified?

MCINTYRE: Well, the U.S. intelligence show that there were, as you say, hundreds of forces. But they weren't all necessarily in the same place. They could have pounded the area with bombs, as they've done in the past, but they had no confidence that they would be able to get the job done without eyes on the ground.

These casualties today came from reconnaissance teams that were heading into hostile territory to spot where the -- quote -- "enemy forces" were. And so this operation, it's being explained to the Pentagon, basically, you can't have ground combat operations in which you expect to take no casualties.

CROWLEY: Were these new tactics because of lessons learned in the battle at Tora Bora?

MCINTYRE: General Franks said today that they looked at all the previous conflicts as they drew up the battle plan for this operation. But Pentagon officials deny that this is in response to not having enough U.S. troops in the Tora Bora region.

They say that was a completely different operation. Even if they had a thousand U.S. troops, they couldn't have sealed off all the escape routes. In this case they believe they have these remaining al Qaeda surrounded, and that their only option is to either surrender or die.

CROWLEY: Jamie McIntyre, CNN military affairs correspondent, thanks so much.

We're joined now by CNN military analyst, retired Major General Don Shepperd. And with us on the phone from Cairo, Philip Smucker, who is reporting on the war from "The Christian Science Monitor." Philip, let me go to you first. While you are listening to this news of this latest battle going on in Afghanistan, I think of your writings -- where, basically, what I took away from it is that we really cannot trust forces on the ground in Afghanistan -- that is, Afghan forces, to help us. It seems like all of your writings pointed to helpers that are sort of up for sale. Did I get the wrong impression?

PHILIP SMUCKER, "CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR": Well, yes. And the U.S. military, publicly, is speaking to the line that the liaison elements were appropriate in Tora Bora. But it was a similar terrain and they didn't surround it. They used other people to do the job and they said that the interests of those people, the Afghans, converged with our interests. But the Afghans never thought of al Qaeda as the great enemy that we think of al Qaeda. And there were differences in perception, and there were deals made. And now the sharp end of the operation is being carried out by the Americans, and our allies are involved. And the Afghans seem to be surrounding, helping surround.

But certainly, they're in equal numbers to the Americans, which is a very big difference from Tora Bora.

CROWLEY: Philip, I just wanted to point to our audience that you have written extensively -- just finished writing a major article for "The Christian Science Monitor," on what went on in Tora Bora. Let me ask you this question before I move on to Major Shepherd, and that is, do you believe that it is possible that bin Laden is involved in this particular battle, or do you believe he's moved on into Pakistan?

SMUCKER: Well, we reported last year, based upon al Qaeda sources that were escaping, that bin Laden had left quite early on. About the time the vice president said he was there, bin Laden was trekking out and he was headed into Pakistan. In fact, he called back in. I don't believe that he would want to come back into Afghanistan at all, unless it was to go en route, possibly down south, further south to get to a port or into Iran.

So, I suspect that he's not up north. This is not far from Kabul, by the way. This area is very high altitude, but it's a short drive from Kabul. And, as a matter of fact, we ran into some Chechens up there, not two, three weeks ago. I believe this is a concentration of some hard cores who wanted to stay up there and fight, and take on the U.S. military.

CROWLEY: Thanks, Philip. Let me move on here to General Don Shepperd. General, tell something. When I look at this, I see what looks like a horrific battle going on. Can you set this scene for us? This seems like an awful lot of casualties.

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD (RET), U.S. AIR FORCE: Well, it's not an awful lot of casualties, and it's not really a horrific battle, except for those that are involved. These are not large numbers of soldiers. We're talking about 2,000 people, about half of which are Afghan, half of them U.S. soldiers, many of those being brought in by helicopter. So it's not a huge battle, but it is a fierce battle. And it's taking place, Candy, in some very, very difficult terrain, 11-, 12,000-foot snow-covered mountains.

So this is real difficult to combat. And eight or nine casualties, we regret those. These, again, are not huge numbers of casualties. But we can expect more casualties and more losses the more people we put on the ground, and the more we have helicopters involved. It's a fact of life in war.

CROWLEY: What about the idea of should they have maybe gone in and tried to sort of soften up the resistance with more bombing?

SHEPPERD: Well, we do that all the time. In other words, General Franks made it very clear, that he uses whatever forces he has available appropriate to the target array. He sees how the forces are arrayed, where they are. And if he can remove them with air power without sending in ground troops, he would. But these people are holed up in caves. We can't identify all the caves exactly. You're going to have to have ground power and air power involved in this, and General Franks is certainly doing that, Candy.

CROWLEY: And what can you -- can you give us any sense of how long this sort of battle -- could this be going on for weeks or months, or is it a matter of days?

SHEPPERD: I suspect it's a matter of -- I'm really guessing, but I suspect it's a matter of days to weeks. Remember, Tora Bora was a larger area, a more difficult area. And that took, I believe, about three weeks in December, if you will. It was wrapped up before Christmas. So again, I don't know when General Franks will be done. But he will take the troops out, I'm sure, and he will stop when he thinks he has basically got the target array that he was after.

The difference is here, it appears, at least, that we have a better mechanism of surrounding this area, because it's smaller, than we were able to do in Tora Bora, where you had to use the forces that were available to you. This seems to be a smaller operation. But I think probably a couple weeks wouldn't be a bad guess.

CROWLEY: Major General Don Shepperd, retired, thanks so much for your help. And earlier, Philip Smucker, who has written extensively for "The Christian Science Monitor."

Let's go now to the president, who is in Minnesota at a high school.

(APPLAUSE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They tell me you got a good football team.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: And a good high pom squad.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: But I'm really not interested in talking about athletics.

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH: I'm here because of the achievements, the academic achievements of the students, the quality of the teaching, and the involvement of the parents.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: I'm here because this is one of America's finest public schools.

(APPLAUSE) BUSH: I believe strongly in the hope and promise of the public school system all across America. And I know how important it is to thank our teachers, to thank those who come to your classrooms every day, to wish them the best, and to herald such a noble and important profession for the future of our country.

I'm here to talk about teaching, and its responsibilities, and how our country can do a better job of supporting America's teachers.

I know -- look, I'm sure a lot of you are out there saying, "Guy's talking about teaching. I really get tired of seeing my teacher.

(LAUGHTER)

"Particularly at test time."

(LAUGHTER)

Trust me, you're going to miss your teachers. They're an important part of your life, and they're an important part of our country's future.

I really want to thank...

(APPLAUSE)

I just had a meeting with a group of teachers from all over the area, and I want to thank them for being here to share some thoughts about how to make sure the school systems work as good as they possibly can.

I want to thank Jeff (ph), the school's principal, for, gosh, opening up this huge facility and inviting so many people here.

I want to thank the superintendent of schools, Bill Gaslin. I want to thank my Mark Udall (ph) from the University of Minnesota who understands that...

(APPLAUSE)

About seven people appreciate you, Mark (ph).

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

I want to thank -- the reason, Mark (ph), I want to herald Mark (ph), is that he understands that in order for a teacher to be able to teach, the teacher colleges have got to teach a curriculum that actually works in the classroom.

BUSH: And I appreciate his leadership.

I want to thank members of the U.S. congressional delegation, Gutknecht and Kennedy and Ramstad, for being here, as well. Thank you all for coming.

(APPLAUSE)

I want to thank my friend Norm Coleman, former mayor of St. Paul, Minnesota.

(APPLAUSE)

Mary Kiffmeyer, the secretary of state is here, as well.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you, Mary.

Christine Jax, the education commissioner of Minnesota, is here, too.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you all for coming.

Before I talk about the importance of education and teaching, I do want to talk to the students about my desire to defend freedom and try to put some context to what's taking place overseas and to your life.

You know, I'm sure it must have been troubling for high school seniors to turn on their TV -- or high school juniors or sophomores, for that matter -- to see America is under attack. When we grow up, these baby boomers and everybody else, we never really thought we'd be attacked. I mean, the last thing that entered my mind when I was getting out of high school in 1964 is that an enemy would attack America. And yet, here you are graduating from high school, the first high school class to ever have seen the 48 contiguous states attacked by an enemy. And you're probably wondering, "Why would somebody hit us?" It's because we love freedom.

There are people in the world who cannot stand a free society. There are people who do not believe that you should be able to worship freely. There are people who do not believe you should be able to speak freely. There are people who do not believe that young women should be educated. And when they find a nation that's willing to defend freedom, they try to attack it.

BUSH: And when they attacked us, they thought we were soft and materialistic. They thought our nation had no fiber and no courage. They fell prey to images of a selfish American, a selfish America, and, my, did they make a huge mistake, because this nation...

(APPLAUSE)

... will defend ourselves and freedom at any price. It is too precious a gift for future generations to give up to terrorists.

You know, I laid out an initiative that said, "You're either with us or you're against us." Either you stand with America to defend freedom, so that you can grow up and your children can grow up in a society in a civilized world that values individual freedoms. And most nations in the world chose to be with us, and for that our nation is grateful.

I also said that, "If you harbor a terrorist, if you feed a terrorist, if you try to encourage a terrorist, you're just as guilty as those who murdered thousands of innocent Americans." And the Taliban has found out exactly what we meant.

(APPLAUSE)

I am so proud of our United States military. Many of you have got relatives in the military. You need to tell them how proud I am of their service and of their sacrifice and of their dedication.

(APPLAUSE)

We went into Afghanistan not as conquerors but as liberators. It's hard for you to believe, I'm certain, that Afghanistan, when it was taken over by the Taliban, a government that sponsored terrorism, that allowed Al Qaeda killers to hide and train in their country, would not allow young girls to go to school. It's hard for any American to understand how barbaric this regime was.

We didn't go in as conquerors. We went in as liberators, and now women and children are free from the clutches of these barbaric people.

(APPLAUSE)

People say, "Well, how long is this going to last?" And the answer is for however long it takes to make sure America is secure.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: People say, "Well, the hard part's over with." And my answer is, no, it's not. We're just beginning.

As we learned recently, that there's a group of Al Qaeda killers in a mountainous region in Afghanistan, and we find them bunched up, we find where they are, you can rest assured the United States and our coalition are going to hunt them down; that these are people that if we allow to go free could easily come back and harm the American citizens.

And so we sent teams in, and there's some serious combat as I speak, and lives are lost, and we send our prayers and tears to those whose families have lost life.

But I want to assure the students who are here, and the loved ones of those military, defending freedom is a noble cause, and it is a just cause, and so long as I am the president of the United States I will pursue those who want to hurt America and who want to take away our freedoms.

(APPLAUSE)

I'm confident that over time we'll prevail. I'm confident that this mighty nation has got the patience and the determination and the will to succeed. And when we do, the world will be better off.

And I'm confident that we can do what we need to do here at home to make sure every child is educated. It is so important we achieve that objective.

I was fortunate enough to be the president at a time when the people in Congress realized that -- maybe with a little bit of my persuasion -- that we needed to reform our school system, and I signed an historic reform bill. It was one of those wonderful moments in Washington where a group of us put aside our party politics, said, "It's OK to be a Republican, it's OK to be a Democrat, but what's most important is to function on what's best for America," and we got a bill done.

(APPLAUSE)

It's a good piece of education reform that says that in America we believe in educating every child -- each and every child.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: And that we must...

CROWLEY: The president of the United States in Minneapolis, Minnesota, talking briefly about the fighting going on now in Afghanistan, calling it serious combat. But he said, as long as I am president of the United States, I will pursue those who would hurt America. INSIDE POLITICS will be back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: The president of the United States, as you have just seen, is in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he was supposed to talk about education and do some politicking. But the ongoing battle in Afghanistan certainly has overshadowed that trip. It was, as you saw, how he opened his speech and it also dominated an earlier session he had with teachers in Minneapolis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Well, first of all, we have always known al Qaeda exists in Afghanistan. And from the beginning of this, I have cautioned the American people that this is going to take a while, that it's going to take a while to route out al Qaeda wherever it tries to hide. The American people understand that. And as you well know, over the weekend, we started an operation against a significant nest of al Qaeda fighters.

These are people that, if they were to escape, could conceivably harm the United States again. And therefore we're going to hunt them down wherever they try to hide. And I'm so proud of the men and women who wear a uniform. I appreciate the efforts of our coalition to chase down al Qaeda, to bring them to justice.

I'm obviously saddened by the loss of life. All America is saddened when one of our soldiers loses life. On the other hand, I think most Americans -- and I hope these parents and loved ones understand -- the cause is important and the cause is just. I rely upon the advice of our commanders on the ground as to what is necessary to win. We'll take whatever means is necessary to protect our servicemen and women, and we'll win this battle. And we'll keep battling al Qaeda wherever we find them.

In terms of the overall scope, the international scope, I have always said that sometimes the American people will see us -- see our military in action and sometimes they won't. But we will keep the pressure on al Qaeda. Our country is still under threat. And so long as our country is under threat, this great nation will hunt down those who want to harm innocent Americans. Yes?

QUESTION: Mr. President, how important is it for you to round up a lot of al Qaeda leaders in this particular battle that's going on? And do you have any indication at all of whether Osama bin Laden will be in this area?

BUSH: I haven't heard from him since December the 11th. He's been awfully quiet. I don't know why. But I know he's on the run, if he's running at all. And I know there is no cave deep enough for Osama bin Laden. He hit a country that he thought was weak and feeble. Instead he found out he hit a country that is determined to defend freedom. And that's exactly what we're going to do. We will defend our freedoms.

And the first part of your question, leaders -- we're after any al Qaeda person.

QUESTION: The only reason (UNINTELLIGIBLE) there's a lot of them in this particular area.

BUSH: I believe there are some. And I'm not sure how many -- enough for us to put together a significant coalition of Afghan, American and other forces, to route them out. These are people that have got one thing in mind. They're going to harm innocent Afghan citizens. They want us to leave, they want us to be soft, they want us to let down our guard.

And we're not going to do that, so long as I'm the president of the United States. And we've been called into action. This nation has been called to defend -- a history has called us to defend freedom. And we're going to do that. And you should not be surprised that our troops will go into action in Afghanistan again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: As the war heats up again, our new poll offers some insights into Americans' views in the Muslim world. And it provides a stark contrast to a recent survey of people in mostly Islamic nations. Our national correspondent, Bruce Morton, has the numbers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MORTON: The Americans in our poll don't think the United States is at war with the Muslim world, but seven out of 10 of them say the Muslim world thinks it's at war the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a favorable opinion of Muslim people, but I have an unfavorable opinion of Muslim countries because of the leadership that is currently installed in most of these countries.

MORTON: Americans lopsidedly believe that U.S. military action in Afghanistan is justifiable. A Gallup poll of nine Islamic countries last week showed they don't. Americans have a very favorable opinion of President Bush, the Muslim countries don't. The people in our poll said they don't know a lot about Muslims -- over half of them said "not much" or "almost nothing."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sort of neutral. I don't know anyone who's Muslim.

MORTON: Asked, "Do you think the Islamic religion encourages violence more than other religions?" half our sample said no, but a third said yes.

"How many Muslims admire Osama bin Laden?" Roughly a quarter said most. Almost half said some. And 23 percent said only a few. "Are you angry at Muslim countries?" Twenty-nine percent were; 69 percent were not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are radicals in all walks of life. You just can't narrow it down to Muslim countries or non-Muslim countries or anything like that.

MORTON: Americans think Americans are friendly, trustworthy and arrogant; 68 percent said that. Muslim countries agree only on arrogant.

Americans think Saudi Arabia is not trustworthy, not friendly, and is arrogant. Most Muslim countries agreed the Saudis are not trustworthy and not friendly, but did not see them as arrogant.

Finally, people in our poll say the U.S. and the West respect Islamic values and take fair positions in the conflict between Palestine and Israel. Muslims lopsidedly say that is not true. But Americans remain optimistic, saying the unfavorable views Muslims have of the U.S. are not based on what America have done, but on misinformation. If only they understood.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: The California primary is just a day away. So up next, we will discuss the 11th-hour fireworks in that close and heated contest for the GOP gubernatorial nomination.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CROWLEY: Now we get a little "Inside Buzz" from our Bob Novak.

2004, what is going on?

ROBERT NOVAK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Believe it or not, Candy, there are 11 potential Democratic presidential candidates who all want to run.

Let me count the ways: Al Gore, Joe Lieberman, Senator John Kerry, Senator Chris Dodd, Senator John Edwards, Congressman Dick Gephardt, Senator John Edwards, Senator Joe Biden, and Governor Gray Davis of California, Governor Howard of Vermont...

CROWLEY: Dean.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: Dean, Howard Dean of Vermont -- he is so well known I forgot his name -- and Governor Roy -- this is the one I love -- Governor Roy Barnes of Georgia. Yes, he is interested.

Now, who has a chance out of that lot? Well, of course, the guy with name I.D. is Al Gore. But what if he loses both the New Hampshire and the Iowa caucuses, New Hampshire primary and the Iowa caucuses? All the other primaries are so compacted in, the winners of those might come through and win the whole thing.

John Kerry has a leg up in New Hampshire as a neighbor. Dick Gephardt has a leg up in Iowa as a neighbor. And then the interesting thing is that a guy like Roy Barnes of Georgia would like to follow the path of two other Southern governors, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. They need a long, stretched-out primary. They don't have it.

CROWLEY: Let's go to the other coast -- California.

NOVAK: In California, the big Republican primary, Candy, is tomorrow.

And all the smart money is on Bill Simon, who was not given a chance, a neophyte, never has run for office, the son of the late financier and treasury secretary. And what is worrying a lot of Republicans I talk to out there is that Dick Riordan, the former mayor of Los Angeles, in his commercial is attacking Simon from the lift.

Now, why would you attack somebody from the left going into a Republican primary? What they are worried is that Riordan loses Tuesday night. And they want Riordan -- and they fear that Riordan will come out and attack Simon as a right-wing extremist. To really do a party-supporting thing, Mayor Riordan has never been much of a party man.

So people in California, at this late hour, want President George W. Bush, who played an important, integral role in getting Dick Riordan to run for governor, they want him or somebody close to him to call Riordan and say, "Please, Dick, if you lose, be a good party man." That is going to be very interesting that, if Riordan loses that race, how he is going to act when he goes on national television Tuesday night.

CROWLEY: I guess we'll know 24 -- well, not quite 24 hours from now.

Bob Novak, thanks for the "Buzz."

Joining me with more on California's Republican showdown are Carla Marinucci of "The San Francisco Chronicle" and Mark Baldassari of the Public Policy Institute.

Mark, let me ask go with you first and ask you: What the heck happened out there in California? You had this sort of 40-point lead. And all of a sudden, now it looks like Simon is going to pull this out.

MARK BALDASSARI, PUBLIC POLICY INSTITUTE: It's just amazing.

We have not seen anything like this in a governor's primary ever. Simon came from nowhere. He was certainly helped in the month of February by a heavy advertising campaign by the Democratic governor against Riordan. But I think, also, Simon defined himself as the conservative. And two-thirds of GOP voters in this primary are conservatives. And all those undecided voters said, well, if Riordan is really as vulnerable as he seems he is based upon what we're seeing from the ads of the governor, then maybe we'll go with a conservative anyway. And that is exactly what has happened.

CROWLEY: Carla, let me just take a leap of faith. The election is clearly not over. The primary is not until tomorrow. But let's assume, perhaps, that Simon pulls this out. What are Republicans thinking? Is this a guy that can win statewide?

CARLA MARINUCCI, "THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE": This is a big problem, Candy.

Simon has had some problems in the last days of his campaign. He doesn't have a single woman in a visible role in the campaign. That is a glaring omission in California, where the women's vote is very, very important -- and Latinos, too. Riordan is the one who has made the outreach to Latinos, just as President George W. Bush did, a real inclusive campaign in every way.

Simon does not have that going for him. So this is going to be an issue, because Simon has run this campaign sort of on an ideological bent. And it is something that is going to come back to haunt him. Riordan has already called him too extreme to win against Gray Davis in the fall. Those are words that are definitely going to be used against him by the Democrats.

CROWLEY: Mark, do you see anything in the polling that says to you that Simon, should he win, can undue some of the damage done by a Republican primary, that it does to a statewide race?

BALDASSARI: Well, the best thing that Simon has going for him is a lot of discontent with the governor.

People are unhappy with the way the governor has handled what they describe as the key issues. And so I -- my guess is that Simon hopes that he can focus attention on the governor. But I'm sure that the governor will come back and talk about the lack of experience that Simon might have, or the fact that, for Californians, Simon is too conservative, although, for the GOP electorate, he apparently has hit a very friendly chord.

CROWLEY: Mark Baldassari of the Public Policy Institute of California, Carla Marinucci of "The San Francisco Chronicle," thanks so much for joining us.

Up next, they had a Spanish-language debate in Texas. We will look in and see how that went right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: In Texas, the Democrats are waging a spirited race for governor and the right to challenge incumbent Republican Rick Perry.

CNN's Thelma Gutierrez has more on the debates we previewed Friday and the growing importance of the Hispanic vote.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was an unprecedented prime-time event: a one-hour debate in English followed by another hour in Spanish, two grueling hours that would test the linguistic stamina of two Latino Democrats locked in a fierce primary battle to become the next governor of Texas.

The top contenders: 54-year-old Tony Sanchez, a Texas businessman worth more than a half-billion dollars.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN MORALES (D), TEXAS GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: During my six years as a Texas lawmaker...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GUTIERREZ: And Dan Morales: a 45-year-old Harvard graduate and former state attorney general, who spent the past 15 years in public service.

MORALES: I have made the decision to devote my career to public service. My opponent has made the decision, in his career, to focus on making money.

TONY SANCHEZ (D), TEXAS GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I think it is an absolutely ridiculous statement, OK? He has been raising millions of dollars, millions of dollars for 15 years.

GUTIERREZ: On this night in Dallas, it boiled down to reaching Spanish-speaking voters. (on camera): About one-third of the population here in Texas are Latino. Recent polls show that 80 percent actually wanted to hear the issues debated in Spanish. Debate organizers say this makes Dallas a political trend-setter.

MARCELLO GAEFE, NATIONAL ASSOC. OF LATINO ELECTED OFFICIALS: I think this is truly a celebration for Texas and a celebration for our country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that the people around the United States are seeing the Hispanic population is really coming into their own.

MORALES: The Hispanic segment of our electorate is growing, particularly within the Democratic Party.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): Morales said he would bring years of experience as a lawmaker to office. Sanchez said his strength is in his business acumen.

Among the issues debated in Spanish: bilingual education, which both candidates support. But they are on opposite ends of affirmative action.

MORALES: I think it is wrong for our state to make admission decisions based exclusively on race or exclusively on ethnicity.

SANCHEZ: He went to Harvard under a program of affirmative action. He is a baby, a product of affirmative action. When he got there and he got to the top, he lifted the latter.

MORALES: It is this man, it's Mr. Sanchez spending more than $10 million of his own money attempting to buy this election.

SANCHEZ: The very worst thing we can possibly do, Shelley (ph), is go out and raise taxes and give money to professional politicians like Mr. Morales.

GUTIERREZ: How did they do in the Spanish debate? Analysts say Sanchez was clearly more at ease with the language, while English is Morales' dominant tongue. Will it make a difference?

GAEFE: There is a large segment of Latinos that are Republicans that are not going to vote for either one of these candidates.

GUTIERREZ: The candidate that takes on Republican Governor Rick Perry in the general election might have a shot at something much bigger. We all know what happened to the last governor of Texas.

Thelma Gutierrez, CNN, Dallas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Will he or won't he? Coming up on INSIDE POLITICS: an update on the Mitt Romney question in Massachusetts and the Republican sparks that may follow. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Checking the headlines in "Campaign News Daily": A new poll projects some early favorites in the August Democratic primary for Michigan governor. Among likely voters, Attorney General Jennifer Granholm is leading with 41 percent, followed by former Governor Jim Blanchard, with 34 percent. Congressman David Bonior trails with 12 percent.

Alabama Republican Sonny Callahan and Pennsylvania Democrat Robert Borski are announcing plans to retire. Callahan is Alabama's senior congressman. He's expected to make his announcement later this evening. Borski has indicated he does not want to challenge a fellow Democrat in a redrawn congressional district.

In Massachusetts, the suspense is building as Republicans wait for the political star of the Winter Olympics to decide if he's running for governor.

CNN's Bill Delaney has the latest on Mitt Romney's mullings and whether acting Governor Jane Swift is up to the possible challenge.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL DELANEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Somewhere down around the grassroots of Massachusetts' always thin Republican soil: Ian Bayne's office of his Massachusetts Republican Society, where a Web site got thrown together last week calling for billionaire businessman Mitt Romney, chairman and some say savior of the Salt Lake Olympics, to run for governor in Massachusetts.

IAN BAYNE, REPUBLICAN ACTIVIST: In one day, it was the first day that it really had a full day, we had 500 inquiries.

DELANEY: And counting -- with, says Bayne, who has no formal connection to the Republican Party, more than 50 local GOP chairpersons now telling him they are for Romney, amid dangerous disgruntlement over present Republican Governor Jane Swift's chances this November. Recent polls show she would lose to every prospective Democratic candidate, the same polls that showed Romney defeating the same field.

(on camera): Among those adding up the numbers: a local Republican activist by the name of Neil Chayet. He would not confirm or deny it, but last week he reportedly contacted the president's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card about finding a job for Governor Swift to move her aside for a Romney candidacy.

(voice-over): The trouble is, Swift is not moving. She is running.

ACTING GOV. JANE SWIFT (R), MASSACHUSETTS: In Massachusetts, politics are lively. I am used to people telling me that I am never going to win. And four times out of five, they have been wrong. DELANEY: Republicans sources say, in any event, Romney is unlikely to make his mind up until mid-March, when the Salt Lake Paralympics conclude.

MITT ROMNEY, SALT LAKE CITY OLYMPICS: I am pretty careful not to absolutely rule out anything.

DELANEY: Not ruling out a Republican primary fight: Massachusetts Republican State Chairwoman Kerry Murphy Healey. Romney has told her he is seriously considering going forward.

KERRY MURPHY HEALEY, REPUBLICAN STATE CHAIRWOMAN: It's about the possibility of having two good choices. I don't think we have bad options here. Our governor has stepped up to the plate and said she is not afraid. "Bring it on."

DELANEY: Should the run-up to September primary get bloody, though, Massachusetts Republicans could end up wishing either Swift or Romney had moved on.

Bill Delaney, CNN, Boston.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: We're about to follow up on Letterman vs. Koppel and what it all says about corporate pressure on the news media.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Recent reports that David Letterman might take over ABC's "Nightline" time slot have focused on issues like money and ratings.

Our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield, says the developments are part of a much larger trend in today's "Bite of the Apple."

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: If we are honest about it, a lot of the furor over ABC's reported idea of replacing "Nightline" with David Letterman is self-interest. We are, after all, much more likely to mourn the closing of a newspaper than a steel mill.

But there is something else about this story. It's also about a fundamental change in public policy that has changed the whole shape of the media and its perceived obligations.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): In the old days, up until about 25 years ago, all the networks were pretty much self-contained. CBS was owned by CBS. ABC was its own company. NBC was owned by RCA, but it was a major part of that company. And news divisions were all very important to the networks.

But now look. CBS is part of the Viacom Media empire. NBC is owned by General Electric. ABC is part of the $25-billion-a-year Disney company. CNN: a small piece of AOL Time Warner's $380-billion- a year company. Why has this happened? In part, it is because the government, the FCC, the Congress, the courts, have all given the green light to bigger and bigger mergers.

In a world with so much media, they have all argued, competition can still flourish. But that has also meant that the news divisions of the networks are far less important a part of the giant companies than they once were. Moreover, the whole idea of deregulation has meant that one of the key elements in a broadcast license, the requirement to serve the public interest, has grown less and less important. Media owners are much freer these days to act on the demands of the marketplace.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD: In other words, 30 or 40 years ago, broadcast companies really worried when an FCC chairman called TV a vast wasteland and threatened their licenses if they didn't shape up. Today, no federal official would do such a thing. And maybe that is a healthy retreat from government control.

But it clearly means that, if a network's owners want to replace, say, a prestigious news show with a more profitable piece of entertainment, something that Wall Street may well desire, there is not much of anything to stand in its way -- Candy.

CROWLEY: OK, Jeff, you and I will hold onto the INSIDE POLITICS time slot.

Ahead here: a golden day for a former first couple. Ronald and Nancy Reagan marked their 50th wedding anniversary today. Do you know who served as the best man at their wedding? Their answer when we return.

First, we join Wolf Blitzer for a preview of what is ahead on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

WOLF BLITZER, "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS": Thank you very much, Candy.

We're following the latest U.S. military assault in Afghanistan, the largest since the airstrikes began last October. At least 8 U.S. troops are killed. Was the U.S. taken by surprise? We'll also check in with our reporters at the Pentagon and Afghanistan as well as our military analysts. And the Transportation Department prepares to make flying safer. Wait until you hear how -- all that and more right after INSIDE POLITICS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Ronald and Nancy Reagan were married on this date 50 years ago. Do you know who served as best man? Actor William Holden.

A preview of what is in the works for tomorrow's INSIDE POLITICS: Judy Woodruff will join us from California. She will have the latest on the Republican primary for governor. And part of Judy's report: an interview with one of Hollywood's most visible Republicans, the Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

CNN's coverage continues now "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." I am Candy Crowley.

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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