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Palestinian Leader Opts Out of Arab Summit; U.S. Pressures Israel to Allow Arafat to Attend

Aired March 26, 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.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington. On the eve of the Arab League summit, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat decides not to attend.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I'm Kelly Wallace with the latest from inside the White House, where U.S. officials had been pressuring Israel to allow Yasser Arafat to attend that summit.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm Bill Schneider with new poll numbers that suggest American views are shifting on two different war fronts.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Candy Crowley, with a look at the Kennedy mystique in Maryland. Is it strong enough to help two members of that famous family win elections this year?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS with Judy Woodruff.

WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us. One Palestinian official tells CNN that Yasser Arafat has decided to skip the Arab League summit because Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is -- quote -- "behaving like the head of a gangster state."

Palestinian officials say Arafat rejected the conditions Israel set to lift its ban on his travel, including the right to veto his return to the West Bank. Arafat's decision comes just hours after Prime Minister Sharon told a television interviewer where his deliberations about Arafat's travels stood.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARIEL SHARON, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Unfortunately, the conditions are not yet ripe for Chairman Arafat to leave for Beirut.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: And now let's get reaction from Beirut, where the Arab summit gets under way tomorrow. Joining us, CNN's Brent Sadler. Hello, Brent. BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Judy. There's been a tug of war, as we all know, over the past few days over whether or not Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, will be coming to this summit. Heads of state meet here tomorrow for the opening session. A tug of war between Mr. Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Mr. Sharon there, quite clearly saying that conditions are not ripe for Mr. Arafat to come and attend the summit. And now we know within the past hour or so, Mr. Arafat's information minister, saying quite clearly that Mr. Arafat is indeed not going to show up at this summit. But that doesn't mean the voice of Yasser Arafat will not be heard here in Beirut, possibly tomorrow or the day after.

Because even before this Palestinian announcement was made, there had been arrangements put in place to allow Mr. Arafat to video conference. To link his headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah to here in the Lebanese capital, to the hotel complex you see behind me. So Mr. Arafat can address heads of state after the initiative of Saudi Arabia, initiative envisaging a new peace deal, normal relations with Israel, in exchange for a withdrawal by Israel from lands occupied since June 4, 1967.

So Arafat will, in a dramatic, we understand, teleconferencing speech, address Arab leaders here. And it's being said by Arab commentators, who have expressed no surprise that Mr. Arafat is not going to be showing up here, that it could help Arab leaders market the Saudi initiative more effectively.

Because the very image, they say, strong image of Mr. Arafat, as they say here on the Palestinian side, being held hostage, prisoner, in the state which they want to have one day, if peace is ever achieved with Israel, will have a dramatic impact. And it may help, it's said here by some commentators, the Arab leadership to go back with the Saudi initiative under their arms, because Mr. Arafat did not bow to Israeli conditions attached to any travel arrangements.

Also today, another (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the works, as it were. Announcements that the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will also not be attending this summit. Back to you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: So, Brent, without Mr. Arafat there, without President Mubarak, what can they accomplish?

SADLER: Well, the peace track, as envisaged by the Saudi peace initiative, is still very much in motion. Just a short time ago, I understand, the Lebanese prime minister met with Saudi crown prince Abdullah in the hotel conference center behind me. And they discussed the Saudi initiative. That is still very much on track.

And this what Mr. Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister, said earlier today about the majority of the region, the majority of Arab states, wanting in fact perhaps unanimously the Arab states, endorsing this Saudi vision of peace -- exchanging land for peace with the Israelis. This is what Mr. Hariri had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RAFIC HARIRI, LEBANESE PRIME MINISTER: In the Arab world, the majority of the people are for the peace. And there is minority. There is others who are against. This is for sure.

The governments who are governing, and leading the Arab countries. they are representing the majority. And they are for the peace. But the problem that in Israel today, the government, which has been elected by the people, is a government anti-peace. This is a problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SADLER: So, despite nonappearances by Yasser Arafat and the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, the summit here still very much on track. And the opening session by heads of state will very quickly start looking at and building on that Saudi initiative. Back to you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Brent Sadler, reporting from Beirut.

Now let's go to the White House and to our correspondent, Kelly Wallace. Kelly, the White House, the president, the people who advise the president have been pushing very hard for the Israelis to permit Yasser Arafat to go. Now that he's not going, what's the reaction?

WALLACE: Well, Judy, no reaction just yet from the word that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat will not be attending that summit. But it's clearly a setback, really, for this administration's efforts, as you know, publicly.

Privately, U.S. officials have really been pressuring Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to allow Mr. Arafat to go there, saying it would be helpful to the process, implying it would not be helpful not to allow him to go. So clearly, somewhat of a setback. But it appears U.S. officials continue to be in touch with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

And it also appears, Judy, the administration is trying to do damage some control. If you look at Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, earlier today at his briefing, he was saying that the attendance should not be an issue. He said, regardless of who is at that summit in Beirut, the focus should be on the Arab leaders really trying to move forward on that Saudi initiative.

Clearly that's the administration's hope, but no doubt, definitely a setback if Mr. Arafat does not go in person to that summit -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And, Kelly, what about with the Israeli prime minister, Mr. Sharon? Clearly the administration wanted him to take the lead in letting Mr. Arafat go. He made the statement a few hours ago, saying the time isn't right, giving the conditions and so forth. The White House saying anything about that?

WALLACE: Well, you know, we asked White House officials, are they frustrated, will there be any consequences for the Israeli leader? Privately they said they're not going to address that. Because at that point in time -- this was just about an hour or so ago -- they said that, to their knowledge, Mr. Sharon still had not made a final decision. Clearly, though, the Palestinian leader coming out saying he won't be attending.

White House officials are definitely going to be frustrated. They conveyed to Mr. Sharon privately and publicly that it would be in the best interest for the Israelis and for the Palestinians, a way to try and move forward to allow Mr. Arafat to go there. And now there's lots of concern that instead, that summit will be focused on criticism of Israel, criticism of Israeli policies. Not really moving forward, but maybe even moving a few steps back -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: OK, Kelly Wallace at the White House. Thank you.

And now let's bring in our Bill Schneider in Los Angeles. Bill, there's been a new poll. What does it show about the American people and their view of the situation in the Middle East?

SCHNEIDER: Judy, we're seeing in this poll a shift in priorities. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has taken on a new urgency to Americans. More and more Americans believe that settling the Middle East conflict should be a very important U.S. goal. In January 2000, only a third felt that way. In February 2001, just after President Clinton's failed last-minute peace negotiations, 43 percent felt that way.

Now the figure is up to 58. How high is that? Well, consider it: resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and getting Saddam Hussein out of power are about equally important now to Americans. The Middle East conflict now rivals the Iraq issue in importance and urgency.

WOODRUFF: And in fact, we know that the two issues are linked.

SCHNEIDER: Yeah, apparently they are. Americans have gotten the message that not much progress can be made in the war on terrorism unless the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be resolved.

Now, look at this trend. Since the beginning of this year, fewer and fewer Americans believe the U.S. is winning the war on terrorism. That view has gone down, from 66 percent in January to a bare majority now. The nation's gung-ho mood after the initial success in Afghanistan seems to be wearing off. It's hard to believe that Americans are "on a roll" with daily reports of killing in the Middle East.

WOODRUFF: And, Bill, does that then effect the American resolve to do something about Iraq and Saddam Hussein?

SCHNEIDER: Well, Judy, as we just saw, Americans do strongly endorse the goal of removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. But they want to do it using airstrikes, and by arming and training the Iraqi opposition forces.

Now, what about sending U.S. ground troops to invade Iraq? Well, Americans on that issue are split. And, ominously, that split, we're seeing here on the screen, has become highly politicized. Conservatives and Republicans favor using U.S. ground troops in Iraq. Liberals and Democrats are strongly opposed.

Judy, let us mark this occasion. This is the first time since September 11th that a war issue has become partisan and divisive. It looks like Iraq will be much more controversial than Afghanistan was.

WOODRUFF: Bill Schneider. reporting from Los Angeles. Thanks.

Well, we will turn to the political warfare in the land of Lincoln next on INSIDE POLITICS. The two candidates for Illinois governor go "On the Record" about their race and the nasty turn it has taken.

Also ahead, new inside buzz on the politics of Al Gore's close shave.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: The wide open campaign for Illinois governor features Democrat Rod Blagojevich taking on Republican Jim Ryan, in a race which has already taken a negative turn. In a moment I'll discuss the race with Rod Blagojevich.

Earlier, I asked Jim Ryan, "On the Record," about his opponent's claims that as attorney general of the state, Ryan had -- quote -- "a record of inaction," during the bribery scandal involving the current governor.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM RYAN (R), ILLINOIS GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: People are tired of negative campaigns and negative campaigning. And I think that's why so few people vote, and why so many people are tired of politics as usual. And I tried in the primary campaign to talk about positive issues, things that ordinary people and their communities worry about: education, health care, jobs, economic security and public safety issues, which are very important to people in the state.

You know, it's a shame that Rod hadn't even thanked his supporters for nominating him before he started in on me. And it's the same old thing. This is a playbook that some people use. I reject that. I'm going to fight back where I have to, but I'm going to do what I did in the primary. I'm going to talk about issues.

WOODRUFF: Mr. Blagojevich, in the primary last week, the Democratic primary, is he's a Chicago native, but he did better than expected in down state Illinois. Could this potentially be a problem for you in the general?

RYAN: Well, I think he did better downstate than people anticipated, because he spent so much money early. His opponents didn't have much money and they certainly weren't spending money as early as he did. So I think that explains it, frankly. I did very well downstate. I did well across the state. By the way, let me just say this, so it doesn't go unrebutted. There is absolutely no truth to any allegations that I didn't do my job. I have fought public corruption as attorney general. I have the list of people I have convicted to prove it. I did that when I was state's attorney of Dupage County.

And this one has been, and continues to be, by the way, a federal probe, from the beginning. You don't do parallel investigations unless one agency invites you in. So to say that I didn't do my job is just not true.

WOODRUFF: Let me ask you about something else, Mr. Ryan.

RYAN: Sure.

WOODRUFF: Both of these primaries were rough. But the Democrats Mr. Blagojevich defeated have all come together now and endorsed him. On the Republican side, though, that has not yet happened. In fact, Patrick O'Malley is saying that if you don't address the concerns of conservative voters in Illinois, they may just sit out the election this November.

RYAN: Yeah, well, I am a conservative. Actually, Jack Kemp, when he came here and talked about me and endorsed me, said that I'm a conservative with progressive ideas. And I think that's a fair description of what I believe in.

But no, I will -- I reject that notion. I will unite our party, and I'm working very hard now to reach out to voters -- not just the ones that supported me. Right after the election I flew all over the state and I invited voters that didn't support me in the primary to join me in the general election. Because I do think we have some shared values, as Republicans. And I'll be talking to Senator O'Malley and other conservatives.

You know, the president called me the morning after the election, to offer his help, to congratulate me, to come to Illinois and help me win this election. I've already talked to Senator Fitzgerald, who certainly is a conservative senator, and one of the leaders of our party. And I am reaching out to all voters, including conservatives in our state.

WOODRUFF: Jim Ryan, the Republican nominee for governor of Illinois. We thank you very much for joining us.

RYAN: Thanks for having me, Judy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Jim Ryan's opponent in the Illinois governor's race is Congressman Rod Blagojevich. He is trying to become the first Democrat to win a race for Illinois governor in 30 years, and he's with us today from Chicago.

Congressman Blagojevich, you heard Mr. Ryan say that he's going to focus on the issues. You've been running a negative campaign. He said you didn't even thank your supporters before you had negative things to say about him on election night.

REP. ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), ILLINOIS GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Well, first of all, campaigns are about drawing distinctions. We've had 30 years of the same people who have been calling the shots. And there's been a lethargic way of doing business. I think Illinois is ready for change.

I think the fact is that, if you look at how Illinois performs in areas, whether it be how we educate our children, the level and quality of our social services, our economy, in places that are outside of the Chicago land area and the sense that people have that they can trust their government -- I think on all counts, we perform poorly.

And I think Illinois is ripe for a change, and I think it's incumbent upon the challenger. And that's who I am, I think, in many ways, because I happen to be a member of the party that's been out of power, to make that case. And I don't think it's negative to talk about records and issues and policy differences. I think it is negative when you get personal. And I don't do that, and I suspect Mr. Ryan won't do that, either.

WOODRUFF: You have criticized him for, in your words, looking the other way. He's been attorney general during a time of investigation of a bribery scandal there in Illinois, involving George Ryan, the Republican governor. And you just heard him say that's not the case, he did his job. And he said, besides, this is mainly a federal probe and he had to defer to the federal government.

BLAGOJEVICH: Well, the allegation that I made is one that Mr. O'Malley, who is one of his Republican challengers, made in the Republican primary. He said that Mr. Ryan was asleep at the switch. and I tend to agree. I think when you're the chief law enforcement officer in the state -- and that's what the attorney general is -- and we've had the biggest scandal in Illinois history, modern Illinois history. I think it's incumbent upon the chief law enforcement officer to do more than sit back and look the other way.

Whether there was a federal investigation or not, isn't the point. The point is what kind of leader are you. And if there is corruption, your job is to root it out.

Mr. Ryan has also approached his job as attorney general the same way with the issue of prescription drugs in our seniors. We have among the highest prescription drug costs in Illinois for our senior citizens. And yet the chief advocate for our consumers sat back and allowed our state to be last out of 50 states, in the discounting negotiates for our senior citizens.

It seems to me that that kind of approach to government, that sort of lethargic, sit-back, inactive approach, is precisely why I think Illinois is ready for change. I think the people in our state expect us to do better. And if you look at how we perform in education, social services, our economic conditions in downstate Illinois, if you look at how we decide to build roads and bridges and highways, we perform poorly relative to states in our region, like Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin, which seem to be on the cutting edge of new ideas.

WOODRUFF: Well, Mr. Blagojevich, we're going to leave it there. But we will be watching that campaign, from now until November. Thanks very much for joining us.

BLAGOJEVICH: Thanks for having me.

WOODRUFF: We appreciate it.

The government releases thousands of documents related to White House energy policy. Details after the "Newscycle."

Plus, the president names his nominees for two of the nation's top public health posts.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Updating the headlines in our "Newscycle," Palestinian officials tell CNN that Yasser Arafat has decided not to attend the Arab League summit tomorrow in Beirut. Earlier today, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had said conditions were -- quote -- "not yet ripe" for Arafat to travel to the summit.

Retired Joint Chiefs Chairman Hugh Shelton is suffering some paralysis after falling off a ladder at his Virginia home over the weekend. Apparently that paralysis is temporary. Pentagon sources say Shelton has regained limited use of his hands and legs since the accident.

Arizona trauma surgeon, Dr. Richard Carmona, is President Bush's choice to be the next surgeon general. Mr. Bush also chose Dr. Elias Zerhouni of John Hopkin's University to be the next director of the National Institutes of Health. Both must be confirmed by the Senate.

The Energy Department has released thousands of documents related to the creation of White House energy policy, but has withheld thousands more being sought in legal challenges. The agency made public 11,000 pages covering private meetings with various utilities and industry groups. Another 15,000 pages were not released.

The papers show that Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham met with energy industry leaders at least eight times during the process. The documents contained no record of meetings between the administration and environmental groups. The release is not related to the GAO lawsuit, which demands that Vice President Dick Cheney release some of the same materials.

With us now with their take on some of the issues of the day, syndicated columnist, Ruben Navarrette and John Gizzi, political editor of the weekly, "Human Events." John Gizzi to you first. The administration releasing 11,000 pages. There's still many other pages that weren't released. Is the administration doing enough to cooperate with the request for information?

JOHN GIZZI, POLITICAL EDITOR, "HUMAN EVENTS": Well, I think if they didn't do anything, that would probably be preferable, Judy. The fact is, this is a story more for the business sections of the newspapers than the political pages, certainly the front sections of the newspapers. And it astounds me that this would be page one of papers across the country this morning.

Look, there were meetings held with energy officials, that's correct. The administration was working out an energy policy. The meetings that Secretary Abraham had would be no more surprising than the secretary of labor meeting with, say, the president of the AFL/CIO, or the Teamsters, to discuss the minimum wage.

WOODRUFF: Ruben Navarrette, do you have the same view? It has really no consequence and they're doing as much as they should?

RUBEN NAVARRETTE, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Actually, no, I have a different view. I don't think they're doing as much as they should, and I think the significance isn't really the proceedings. There's no smoking gun here, in these 11,000 pages. We knew, basically, that Cheney hadn't met with environmentalists, that he had met mostly with -- and now Spencer Abraham as well, has met with industry officials. That isn't the problem.

The problem is really the perception, as opposed to the proceedings. The perception, I think, out there is that this is an administration, contrary to the view advanced by some, that this president understands the plight of the ordinary guy. This is an administration that takes care of its rich and powerful friends.

And that is a very dangerous idea. This is not something the Bush administration needs. George Bush is most successful when he's going in the other direction, when he's convincing people, the average guy on the street, that he understands their problems, not when he's holding special meetings with Enron.

WOODRUFF: All right, I'm going to quickly to change the subject to Yasser Arafat: the announcement out of the Middle East that he will not be traveling to the Arab summit.

John Giannone, what bearing is this going to have on developments in that part of the world?

GIZZI: Judy, at this point, it is really irrelevant, because we are seeing the real Arafat. And, in fact, we've been getting a full portrait of him since the Oslo accord in 1993.

And I think we should note that President Clinton's own Middle East negotiator, Dennis Ross, has said that the previous administration turned too much of a deaf ear to incendiary nature of Arafat and company, the PLO, specifically the raids that began when the Oslo accord was promulgated and, more than that, the rhetoric that has come out of the PLO referring to Israelis as Judeo-Nazis.

And even Mr. Arafat's lieutenant, Abu Halabiya, has turned out some of the most reckless, anti-Israel rhetoric of all to stir up the people. It doesn't really matter. I say look at his performance over the past eight years and we find someone who is one step short of a Saddam Hussein.

WOODRUFF: So, Ruben Navarrette, it won't make any difference, the fact that he's not going?

NAVARRETTE: I don't think so.

I agree that Arafat really has defined his own irrelevance in this. The fact that he can't control radical elements of the Palestinian movement, that has already made him irrelevant. Whether or not he goes to Beirut is really secondary. It is, I think, really discouraging to see the same players involved: Sharon, who was once the general, now the prime minister, and Arafat.

The whole process has been poisoned over the years. I really don't think that you're going to get out of this mess until you get new blood and new faces out there pushing new policies, because it is obvious that these two individuals can't work together. There's no love lost there. And I think this week's events prove that.

GIZZI: I heard the same thing a generation ago about a fellow named Menachem Begin. And yet it was because of Mr. Begin, over the protests of this country, that bombings occurred in Iraq and Saddam Hussein never developed nuclear weapons at that time -- or at least they were postponed. General Sharon should be allowed to be General Sharon, the Pattonesque leader that he is. And General Zinni should simply let him deal with this as he knows best.

As for new leadership, I say no. Sharon knows Arafat best and knew him best when he was foreign minister and wouldn't shake his hand.

WOODRUFF: All right, gentlemen, we're going to have to leave it there. Ruben Navarrette, John Zinni, thank you -- John Gizzi. I'm sorry.

(LAUGHTER)

WOODRUFF: You said General Zinni and that was on my mind.

GIZZI: Don't promote me to general yet.

WOODRUFF: Well, they both have a Z.

John Gizzi, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

And you can give us your opinions on these topics and more at CNN.com/INSIDEPOLITICS. And don't forget to e-mail Bill Schneider with your ideas for this week's "Political Play of the Week."

"Inside Buzz" from Bob Novak next -- plus, our "Campaign News Daily." Magic Johnson issues an endorsement and makes some intriguing comments about his own political future.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Al Gore recently shaved the beard that he grew after his election loss last November -- or, I should say, two Novembers ago -- and our new poll shows that that apparently was a wise decision. By a 4-1 margin, those questioned said the former vice president looks better without the beard.

Our Bob Novak has some "Inside Buzz" now on this significant decision.

What are you hearing, Bob?

ROBERT NOVAK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I decided I would call a bunch of people who really supported Al Gore in the last election, some of them who were close to him.

And I have always felt that, if he was going to run for president, he had to buy a razor and a necktie. He's halfway there. But I found complaints about the way he did it, saying that he cut off his beard so his wife, Tipper, could run for the Senate, when she wasn't going to run for the Senate. That's the kind of thing that irritates people.

There's a funny attitude towards Gore. A lot of his old friends really don't want him to run. But they say, "Gee, he'll probably get nominated the way the Democratic primaries are set up."

WOODRUFF: And these are people who supported him?

NOVAK: Who supported him, yes. Not much enthusiasm.

WOODRUFF: All right.

Jane Swift decided to get out of the race for governor in Massachusetts. And you picked up something about the White House involvement or not there?

NOVAK: The buzz around Washington is that the White House got her out, talked her out of it. I've done a lot of reporting on this, and I'm absolutely convinced the White House, there was no direct calls from the White House to get her out. They are a little leery about interfering in primaries.

Now, somebody who did talk to her is the Republican National Committeeman from Massachusetts, Ron Kaufman, who was a very close aide to the elder George Bush, not a White House aide. He did talk to her. I think he might have helped in getting her out. Did the White House know what Ron Kaufman was doing? I'll bet they did.

WOODRUFF: Now, they did get involved in the California primary.

NOVAK: And not happily.

WOODRUFF: And not the way they thought it was going to go. Bob Torricelli is running for reelection to the Senate from New Jersey. And you picked up some information about what he thinks about one of his six Republican opponents?

NOVAK: You know, the Senate Judiciary Committee, acting very silly -- Democratic controlled committee -- wants to do an investigation of Robert Ray, the independent counsel, who is planning to run against Torricelli, using his office to better his candidacy.

If they ask Torricelli, Senator Torricelli, he'll tell them to stay away, because Torricelli is saying privately he would love to run against Ray, the independent counsel, a political neophyte. Torricelli thinks he can really beat him. And a lot of politicians in New Jersey, Republican politicians, agree.

WOODRUFF: Interesting.

All right, Arkansas, Senator Tim Hutchinson.

NOVAK: I have said on this program that I consider Tim Hutchinson the most endangered of the Republican incumbents for 2002, because of a kind of messy divorce. He married one of his aides.

But he has hired, Ed Goeas, who is a very reputable Republican pollster. I've seen the polling information. And among likely voters right now, Hutchinson is 11 points ahead of Mark Pryor. And Pryor is not an unknown name. He is the son of the beloved former Senator David Pryor.

So Hutchinson, I don't think this is a lock, but Hutchinson is in pretty good shape right now. And the most endangered Republican species award would have to go to somebody else. It could be -- I will probably get in trouble on this -- Wayne Allard of Colorado, who is only five points ahead. Bob Smith of New Hampshire is in trouble, but a lot of people don't think he'll get the nomination.

WOODRUFF: All right, Bob Novak, no inside information on Maryland at the Final Four?

NOVAK: Well, it is really an exciting thing. And I know, Judy, you will be cheering for Maryland, won't you?

WOODRUFF: Well, let's put it this way. My team didn't make it to the Final Four.

NOVAK: Who is your team?

(LAUGHTER)

WOODRUFF: Duke.

Bob Novak, thanks very much.

NOVAK: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: We'll talk to you later. Maybe he'll have something to say about Maryland by the end of the week.

Checking the headlines in our "Campaign News Daily": Former Los Angeles Laker Magic Johnson could add some star power to the next L.A. mayor's race. At an event where he endorsed Gray Davis for governor, Magic said he might run for L.A. mayor because -- quote -- "The city needs a new voice, a new vision. And I think I can do the job."

President Bush's cousin, Jamie Bush, is considering a run for Massachusetts lieutenant governor. Jamie Bush has never held elected office. He is expected to make a final decision by the end of the week.

The congressional recess has allowed Democrats with an eye on the White House to take their message on the road. House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt is attending party fund-raisers today in Florida and Arkansas. North Carolina Senator John Edwards is in Texas for three days, raising money for his PAC. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts is attending fund-raisers in California and Utah this week. And Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman just wrapped up a two-day visit to South Carolina -- a lot going on out there. You only think it's not an election year for the presidential candidates.

Well, the race for Florida's 22nd Congressional District is attracting national attention from both parties. Yesterday, I spoke with Palm Beach Democrat Carol Roberts about her campaign to unseat incumbent Republican Clay Shaw.

Well, Congressman Shaw is with me today from Boynton Beach, Florida to talk about the race from his perspective.

Congressman Shaw, how much of an advantage does Carol Roberts have by virtue of all the publicity she got during the recount in the 2000 election?

REP. CLAY SHAW (R), FLORIDA: Good afternoon, Judy.

That's a double-edged sword. Obviously, she is starting out with some name recognition, which is generally a good thing. However, she made some people happy and she irritated some people. So, we'll just have to see exactly how that does come out in the final analysis. We haven't done any polls, so we can only guess, as you can, as to whether that's a plus or a negative for her.

WOODRUFF: Now, you have won election, what is it, 10 times? You're now serving your 10th term.

SHAW: It is 11 now, actually.

WOODRUFF: Eleven now. Thanks for correcting me.

The last time out, you won by just over -- it was close -- just over 500 votes. And, yesterday, Carol Roberts pointed out that, after redistricting, she said 57 percent of your district is now in Palm Beach County; 25 percent of the electorate there have never even seen your name on the ballot. How much of a disadvantage is that going to be?

SHAW: Well, I think, actually, it's an advantage.

The last election, it was really just too close to call. And it was only a 599-vote difference, I believe. But the president lost my district by 20 percent. And that's a huge loss. So I guess I'm lucky to have even survived even by that narrow margin in the last election.

My present district, as I ran in last time, is a Democrat district. I've always had a Democrat district. And, running as a Republican, you've got to build some bridges and be able to communicate with Democrats, too. The new district that I have that was drawn by the Florida legislature is a Republican district. It will be the first time I've ever been able to run in a Republican district. And it's almost a 10-point difference between the Republicans and the Democrats. So, I feel very good about the district as it was drawn by the Florida legislature.

WOODRUFF: Well, Congressman Shaw, we appreciate your joining us. And we hope to check in with you later on this year as the campaign gets under way. Thanks much.

SHAW: Thanks for having me, Judy.

WOODRUFF: We appreciate it.

In the Middle East crisis, there are new developments to report by the day and even by the hour. Next on INSIDE POLITICS: Is it possible that the news media are taking some of those twists too seriously?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: As the Arab League gets ready to hold its summit in Beirut without Yasser Arafat, the Middle East crisis is making headlines around the world.

Our Jeff Greenfield has been thinking about the crisis and the state of media coverage.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Television news is often accused of not being serious enough, of focusing way too much energy and attention on diversion, gossip, stories with a heavy dose of sex, crime and glamour -- preferably all three. But, sometimes when I watch the news, I wonder if we sometimes take events too seriously, investing them with more significance than they are worth.

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(voice-over): Here is PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat at a recent meeting with General Zinni, the latest in a series of, oh, I don't know, maybe 150 American envoys dispatched to the Middle East over the last five decades.

Both of them looked as if they'd rather be undergoing root canal, which is understandable given the news from that region. But we hang on every word, every gesture. Why? Well, to see if Mr. Arafat will utter words promising enough to persuade General Zinni to persuade Israeli Prime Minister Sharon to permit Chairman Arafat to go to Beirut for a meeting of Arab leaders. As of today, Arafat will not be going.

This meeting, in turn, is supposed to be highly significant because Saudi Prince Abdullah, the guy really running that country, has another peace proposal: Israel pulls back to its pre-1967 borders and the whole Arab world then agrees to normalize relations with Israel.

That prospect, in turn, has brought whole regiments of the international press corps to this summit. ABC even sent its anchor, Peter Jennings. And yet stories that have recently appeared in the print press here in the U.S. raised some troublesome questions about this effort. Last week's "New Yorker" magazine had a lengthy, eye- opening piece of reporting by Jeffrey Goldberg spelling out in chilling detail just how determined Iraq's Saddam Hussein is, not just to ally himself with al Qaeda, but also to develop weapons of mass destruction to use against Israel.

Meanwhile, Sunday's "New York Times" reported that Iran has stepped up its effort to arm the Palestinians with more and more powerful weaponry in its battles against Israel, while still other press reports write of growing sentiment within Israel to use massive force against the Palestinians.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD: So, does that Saudi peace proposal have any chance of including Iran or Iraq? If the Palestinian Authority is in fact accepting weapons from the Iranians, would it really mean much if Arafat embraced that Saudi peace plan? If Israel has already decided that Arafat either cannot or will not stop terror attacks, then what would it have meant if it let Arafat go to Beirut, other than public relations?

Do not get me wrong. There may be no region we need to take more seriously than the Middle East. It's just that, given the harsh realities there, there may be much less to this breathlessly-covered stagecraft than meets the eye -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: A lot for us to think about. Jeff Greenfield, thanks very much.

GREENFIELD: Sure.

WOODRUFF: Well, when it comes to attracting media attention, a famous name is almost always an asset. Up next: They are Kennedys cousins and candidates. We will focus on their family ties and their political races in Maryland.

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WOODRUFF: In the Maryland governor's race, a new Mason-Dixon poll shows Democratic Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend leading Republican Congressman Robert Ehrlich by 13 points in a hypothetical matchup. Now, this poll was taken before Ehrlich announced his candidacy yesterday.

CNN's Candy Crowley has more on the governor's contest, on Maryland politics, and the power of the Kennedy name.

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LIEUTENANT GOV. KATHLEEN KENNEDY TOWNSEND (D), MARYLAND: ... a chance to live in a wonderful place where you don't have to sit in traffic.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What's in a name?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am here to enthusiastically endorse Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend as the next governor of the great state of Maryland.

TOWNSEND: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Well, in politics, if the name is Kennedy, it's something to think about before jumping into the fray.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The mystique comes in, in the sense that the national fund-raising structure, what they can bring to bear, the money they can raise, the sex appeal, the Hollywood people they can bring in.

CROWLEY: The power of the Kennedy name is part of what Republican Robert Erhlich weighed before deciding to leave Congress and run for governor of Maryland: at best a blurb in the national headlines were it not for who he will probably run against: Maryland Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, firstborn of the late Bobby Kennedy.

TOWNSEND: Well, you certainly bring it up enough.

(LAUGHTER)

TOWNSEND: Look, you know, I was very blessed to have such a father.

CROWLEY: On the day she picked up a Republican opponent, Townsend, who has not yet declared and may yet have primary opposition, also picked up the endorsement of several Democratic pols.

MARK SHRIVER (D), MARYLAND STATE DELEGATE: Mark Shriver.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you?

SHRIVER: Nice to see you.

CROWLEY: Among the endorsers: State Delegate Mark Kennedy Shriver, AKA cousin Mark, son of Sargent Shriver and Eunice Kennedy Shriver. SHRIVER: It helps with fund-raising. There's no question about it. But, again, people will not help you going door-to-door, they won't help you in parades, and they won't give you money unless you are a strong voice.

CROWLEY: Delegate Shriver is running for a U.S. House seat this year. He will have to get through a multi-candidate primary and then take on a highly popular Republican incumbent.

(on camera): Do you find, thus far in this race, that there's any difference between running against somebody with a name and a political history?

REP. CONNIE MORELLA (R), MARYLAND: It's unique. It gives it more national attention, I think. It is pretty transparent that this is not a country where we coronate people.

CROWLEY (voice-over): The truth is, the lieutenant governor and the state rep are a generation removed from Kennedy magic, though they are resigned to the Kennedy question.

TOWNSEND: If I had grown up in a different family, I would be a different person. But I grew up in a family that believed in politics and making a difference.

CROWLEY: So, too, on the Republican side, where the Kennedy clan is the least of it. Republican Morella's chief concern is not her opponent's name, but the voters who don't know hers. Morella's district was redrawn by state Dems to include more Democratic voters and loosen her grip on the seat she has held 16 years.

For Bob Erhlich, the stats seem more daunting than the name. Maryland is 2-1 Democrat. In the end, this is not about beating a Kennedy, but about beating the odds.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Arbutus, Maryland.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: The results are in in the showdown over Mike Tyson's fight. That story is next.

But first, Kate Snow is filling in on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." She is here with a preview -- hi, Kate.

KATE SNOW, "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS": Hi. Thanks , Judy.

Has the FBI foiled a suicide mission? A developing story straight ahead. Also: a sinking ship off the coast of Florida, and a scientist with a surprising report about anti-depressant medication right after INSIDE POLITICS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Well, after all the political maneuvering here in Washington, the nation's capital has lost a competitive race to host the upcoming brawl in the ring between Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis. Promoters agreed yesterday to stage the heavyweight boxing title fight in Memphis on June the 8th. Memphis landed the fight because it was willing to pay a $12.5 million site fee. That was a move that D.C. Mayor Tony Williams was not willing to make.

Well, CNN's coverage continues now with "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." We thank you for joining us. I'm Judy Woodruff.

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