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CNN INSIDE POLITICS

Democrats Test Presidential Waters for '04; Suicide Bombing Rocks Jerusalem; Interviews With Terry McAuliffe, Marc Racicot

Aired April 12, 2002 - 16:11   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, HOST: I'm Judy Woodruff in Orlando, Florida, where some Democrats are about to get an early test of the presidential waters in 2004.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. I'll tell you how those would-be candidates are staking political ground and trying to get the jump on one another.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm Bill Schneider in Washington with some new poll numbers that pointed us toward the political play of the week.

WOODRUFF: Also ahead, a live report from Jerusalem on today's suicide bombing and what effect it may have on Colin Powell's peace mission.

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

WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us. I'm here at a hotel in Orlando, Florida. And behind me, Democrats are signing up in that corridor over there, and presumably getting psyched up for the first big event of the presidential campaign of 2004.

Now, if it seems awfully early to have a cattle call, it is. But many Democrats feel it's not too soon, because they know the primary calendar has been pushed up in that year. They also know that they are facing a very popular president, George W. Bush.

There are five possible contenders all who will be speaking here tomorrow and Sunday, including Al Gore. They all will be addressing the delegates at this Florida state Democratic convention, and they will be trying to position themselves for the race ahead. We're going to have extensive coverage of the Democratic goings-on here in Orlando.

But first we want to bring you up to the moment on what is happening in the Middle East. First, Secretary of State Colin Powell said to be reconsidering his plans to meet tomorrow with PLO leader, Yasser Arafat after today's deadly attack in Jerusalem.

For the very latest, let's go to my colleague, Bill Hemmer, who is in Jerusalem -- Bill.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Judy, hello and good evening from Jerusalem. That is the biggest question of the hour: will Colin Powell sit down tomorrow with Yasser Arafat in Ramallah? That meeting had been on the agenda for several days. But right now we are hearing that senior administration officials are reconsidering that meeting.

Again, it was expected to take place in about 12 hours time. There is plenty of time to make that decision. However, at this point it appears to be up in the air.

Earlier today, Judy, a four-hour meeting between Ariel Sharon and the secretary of state. When they emerged, they met with reporters. But neither side said that they had reached a deal on a time frame for the Israeli military incursions to end, operating right now in the West Bank.

It was shortly after that time when violence once again rocked the Middle East in central Jerusalem seven hours ago, right about 4:15 local time, on a late Friday afternoon. A woman, belonging to the Al Aqsa Martyr Brigade, blew herself up near a bus stop. At this point, six are dead. At least 65 others are wounded.

Colin Powell had this comment about that in his time here in Jerusalem. Here's the secretary of state.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: I just spoke to Prime Minister Sharon a moment ago and expressed my deep regrets over the incident that took place in Jerusalem this afternoon. And I condemn the terrorists for this act. It illustrates the dangerous situation that exists here, and the need for all of us, everyone, the international community, to exert every effort we can no find a solution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HEMMER: Meanwhile, for those who thought the water was hot in this region for Colin Powell, it got hotter by the minute today, given the events on the ground in central Jerusalem. Meanwhile, we will continue to watch and wait whether or not that meeting happens tomorrow in Ramallah.

Also in the West Bank, getting various reports on the Palestinian side. Reports about what they consider a massacre taking place in the northern West Bank town of Jenin. They say hundreds are dead. There are allegations on the Palestinian side of mass graves being dug.

The Israelis say that's a lie. They counter that. They refute it. However, our efforts to get people on the ground inside Jenin so far have proved less than fruitful. The Israeli government still saying it's a hostile military area. Perhaps, they say, tomorrow we will be given greater access.

Again, it's a day that has seen a number of events -- and violent events -- today, with Colin Powell, the secretary of state, now being in the very center of it. I'm Bill Hemmer reporting in Jerusalem. Our coverage will continue throughout the day here. Back to INSIDE POLITICS and Judy Woodruff live in Florida, when our coverage resumes in about 2 minutes' time.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: While President Bush faces international challenges, his would-be Democratic rivals gathering here in Florida know just how difficult it may be to challenge Mr. Bush in 2004. Our new CNN-"TIME" poll shows only a third of all Americans believe there is any Democrat who can defeat this president. And barely more than half of Democrats think their party has a shot at stopping Mr. Bush's reelection.

Well, clearly the political dynamic has changed since the year 2000 and the election then, when this state became a symbol of division between the presidential candidates and between their parties.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): Remember Florida. What was once a potent rallying cry for Democrats now sounds more like a question. Al Gore, who speaks here Saturday, remains a top choice of Democrats. But the strong support he had right after the bitter recount battle has significantly eroded since the events of September 11th.

A recent CNN-"USA Today"-Gallup poll shows just 43 percent of Democrats want him to run again, down 22 points since August. In recent speeches, Gore has supported the president on the war effort. He has been more critical on the economy.

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: Our nation's economic policy is simply not working. Especially not for the people who depend on it most.

WOODRUFF: Gore advisers tell us he will again take issue with the president on domestic issues Saturday. But in our poll, 82 percent of the Democrats surveyed said Gore should not criticize the president at all. At the same time, lingering doubts about the legitimacy of Bush's presidency are still there, but have been overshadowed.

While the poll finds Americans remain split on whether Bush won the 2000 election fair and square, it also puts his approval ratings at a sky-high 76 percent among all voters, 60 percent among Democrats. While his brother remains largely insulated by the war, Florida Governor Jeb Bush is clearly a target of Democrats.

Going for his job, former U.S. attorney general Janet Reno, versus Tampa lawyer, Bill McBride. Both speak here Saturday evening. McBride has a lot of support among state party leaders. They see him as the best candidate to knock off Jeb Bush. Janet Reno, goes the argument, has too much Clinton-era baggage. But so far, all that buzz has failed to make a dent in the polls. At last check, McBride was trailing Reno by some 30 points. The key to Democratic success: high turnout, especially among African-Americans, the Democrats' most loyal block. If the gubernatorial election comes close to the 70 percent turnout of the 2000 presidential election, the popular governor could be vulnerable.

Beyond the governor's race, a show of strength this November would bode well for Democratic presidential candidates in '04. The job of firing up the troops begins in earnest this weekend.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

And there is still another way that the Florida standoff is shaping politics right now. There are House and Senate negotiators working right now to craft legislation to improve the nation's voting procedures. All of this, after the Senate passed an election reform bill yesterday. For more on this and much more, my colleague, Candy Crowley, our senior political correspondent, joins us from Washington -- Candy?

CROWLEY: Judy, Al Gore's popularity may have diminished since the Florida standoff. But our new poll shows he remains the Democrats' top choice for 2004 presidential nomination, with 32 percent support. His closest competitor, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, with 16 percent. All other potential candidates are in the single digits. I have been out on the trail watching the Democrats try to rally early support everywhere from sunny Florida to snowy New Hampshire.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): She is, she says, nobody special. A lawyer from a small city in a small state, and her cup runneth over.

KATHY SULLIVAN, CHWMN, NEW HAMPSHIRE DEMOCRATIC PARTY: When I meet each one of these people, I say, boy, you know, Edwards is great. Kerry is wonderful. And, oh, Al Gore is just the best.

CROWLEY: Ditto Dick Gephardt and Joe Lieberman. As chair of New Hampshire's Democratic Party, Kathy Sullivan sees them all, even before most of the country knows who they are.

SULLIVAN: I think Howard Dean, the governor of Vermont, has probably been here the most recently.

CROWLEY: It's not love of the game, but a new front-loaded primary season, that has these guys out there. The theory is, the sooner Democrats get a candidate, the sooner they can begin work on toppling a sitting president.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: When the bell sounds, early in January of 2004, you've got to be ready to sprint and sprint and sprint and sprint again. Iowa, New Hampshire, early February. Probably South Carolina, Arizona, Michigan, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

CROWLEY: Translation: candidates are going to need more money than ever, earlier than ever. And so it is that the line for '04 is up and running, to one degree or another.

TERRY MCAULIFFE, DNC CHAIRMAN: I seem to bump into the same candidates wherever I go when I travel around the country. People have told me they are signing on with candidates. They're building their networks.

CROWLEY: Credit the new guy with the most aggressive campaign.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D), NORTH CAROLINA: Hello, how are you?

CROWLEY: North Carolina Senator John Edwards is setting up a donor network and picking up chips, with dozens of appearances with the national and state parties. But Edwards has to be active. Potential rivals are familiar names with grassroots already planted. Massachusetts Senator John Kerry has home court advantage in neighboring New Hampshire, where friends have been on the horn for months.

BILL VERGE, NEW HAMPSHIRE KERRY SUPPORTER: Making calls and talking to people, and trying to get people to commit, if there was a case where John Kerry got into the race. And people are doing that. Dick Gephardt has people that are doing the same things for him right now.

CROWLEY: House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt has perhaps the deepest roots in the part, and the steadiest hand. While most of the Democrat field flock to Florida, Gephardt is in Iowa. So much of this is ego-driven, marveled one Democrat, who gives Gephardt high smarts for shunning Florida's limelight to work Iowa's hustings.

Of them all, Al Gore has been the least vocal but remains the most powerful in the polls and on the ground.

VERGE: He has a campaign organization that -- a structure. And he has people that have worked hard for him in the past. And they'd be ready to do it again.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Some Democrats think Gore, at this early stage, is trying to smoke other candidates out of the race. Senator Joe Lieberman has already said he won't run if Gore does. But all the others have told party leaders they're in the race to stay, Gore or no Gore. "I think," said a top Democrat, "Gephardt would love to go up against Gore in Iowa, and Kerry would like to take him in New Hampshire." Welcome to the '04 race.

We'll have much more on the early presidential campaign maneuvering. Coming up next, the Democratic and Republican Party chairmen will go "On the Record" and head to head. And Judy will sit down with some of the Democratic delegates and discuss the hot topic in Florida: Al Gore's future.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: We continue our national focus on this Florida state Democratic convention with my interview with the chairmen of the two national political parties. Last hour I spoke with RNC chairman Marc Racicot here in Orlando, and with DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe, who's still in Washington, about to head down to Florida.

I started by asking McAuliffe about this new CNN-"TIME" magazine poll that shows that about half of the Americans surveyed don't believe there's any Democrat out there who can defeat George W. Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCAULIFFE: Well, Judy, I don't worry about polls today as it relates to 2004. I'm really focused on 2002. We have 36 governors up, 34 United States Senate seats, the whole House of Representatives. We're going to do very well. I'll predict on your show today that we're going to net governors, we're going to net United States senators, and we're going to net House seats, for the fourth straight cycle in a row. So we're going to do very well in '02.

I don't worry about '04. That's a long way off. We've got to focus on all the candidates we have across the country. When we focus, Judy, on all the kitchen table issues like we did last year, we went all over the country.

So I'm excited about '02. We'll worry about '04 later.

WOODRUFF: Well, I'm asking '04 questions, because you have got most of the Democratic hopefuls here speaking this weekend.

Mark Racicot, it is the case that the president is still enjoying very high approval ratings, in the mid-70s. And at the same time, there is another poll, a CNN/"USA Today"/Gallop poll this week that shows half the American people still believe that George W. Bush did not win this election fair and square. And we're a year and a half out from that election.

Is this potentially his Achilles heel?

RACICOT: I don't even think remotely the case, Judy.

In my judgment, obviously, the whole planet, everyone on Earth has had the chance to observe his capacity for leadership and the clarity of his vision. And regardless of what might be myth or mystery surrounding the election of 2002, it will be performance upon which the American people make the judgment in 2004, in my view.

WOODRUFF: So, even though the poll is saying half the people still have questions about it, you're saying it's not going to be an issue?

RACICOT: Well, I think that, clearly, what that points up is that there was a reason to be concerned about election reform in this country.

Obviously, the state of Florida has made a very aggressive attempt to address those issues. Congress as well is addressing those issues. The president has addressed those issues. So, I think that obviously reflects a remnant of concern about whether or not we have brought about every improvement that we possibly could in this country to make certain that elections are determined with clarity and with precision.

But I don't believe that those questions reflect at all upon the capacity of this president, who obviously continues to enjoy extremely high approval ratings because of his performance.

WOODRUFF: And, Terry McAuliffe, the president is enjoying very high approval ratings. And even some Democrats are questioning whether your party has an issue or issues to run on this year.

MCAULIFFE: Well, Judy, I don't know who you're listening to.

As I say, in November of last year, 2001, we swept the country. We won 39 of 42 mayor's races, both governor's. This year, we're doing great in the polls all over the country for our candidates. We're running on kitchen-table issues, just as we did last year. We are running on job creation, economic stimulus, preserving Social Security for generations to come, a Medicare prescription drug benefit, and fixing the education system in this country. Those are our issues.

WOODRUFF: Then why is there the perception out there, Terry McAuliffe, that many Democrats are timid about taking on this president?

MCAULIFFE: Well, as you know, Judy, you have different standards.

I'm probably to one extreme of the standards as it relates to going out and get the Democratic voice out. But more and more Democrats are going out there. You saw yesterday, your our own poll, "USA Today"/CNN, in the congressional generic match-ups, the Democrats have jumped ahead to a 50 to 43 lead. And the reason was, they figure the Democrats are doing a better job of handling Social Security, prescription drug benefit.

So, the polls -- you wanted to take about polls earlier. As it relates to the '02 congressional races, we now enjoy a seven-point lead. That will translate into many seats in the United States House of Representatives. But you're down in Florida. There are 3,000 people at the Florida state convention this weekend, the biggest crowd ever. We're excited all over the country.

WOODRUFF: Marc Racicot, we all are aware the president is winning high marks for his handling of international affairs. But when it comes to the Middle East, the situation in last the few weeks, of course another tragedy in Israel today, there are people, Republicans and Democrats, who are second-guessing the president and saying this administration waited too long to get involved.

Is it possible that this president waited long enough so that the situation -- so that it's much, much harder now to find a peaceful solution there?

RACICOT: Well, I don't think that anyone could say that with any degree of persuasive force, in my judgment.

I might note, parenthetically, that the polls to which Terry refers, quite frankly, in our judgment, are suspect, in some respects. Congress wasn't even in session. Not anything of any kind whatsoever even happened. And how you can see a seven-point turnaround in a week we think is a bit questionable.

But that aside, we know that these are very evenly divided ballots between Democrats and Republicans and that we have to work every day very, very hard to gain the confidence of the American people. And that's what we intend to do.

WOODRUFF: And then on the Middle East?

RACICOT: In reference to Israel, Judy, we've got a situation there from the year I was born, when the Jewish state was created in 1948, until now has posed an extremely complex and difficult situation for the entire world.

Ten U.S. presidents have tried to deal with this situation in good faith and with dexterity and to move toward the settlement of issues there. They date back, in some instances, in the minds of some, 3,000 years. This president, I know, has been dedicating every effort to make certain that we're of assistance at every moment in time.

But, as well, we have an obligation, I think, to recognize that we simply cannot impose our will upon the situation there without objection or because we choose to move in a different direction.

WOODRUFF: All right, Marc Racicot, Terry McAuliffe, we appreciate it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: And we have this piece of news in from the Middle East. And that is that the Palestinian Information Ministry is announcing that a planned meeting between Secretary of State Colin Powell and Yasser Arafat, the leader of the PLO, a meeting that was supposed to have been held on Saturday morning, has now been postponed, possibly, they are saying, until Sunday.

There's been speculation all this day, since the latest suicide bombing this morning in Jerusalem -- afternoon Jerusalem time -- leaving six people dead, more than 60 injured, speculation about whether that meeting would go ahead as planned, now the Palestinian Information Ministry saying it has been postponed. But it is not clear yet when it will take place.

CNN will be following all of these developments. As we learn more, we'll bring them to you.

We'll take a break. INSIDE POLITICS returns in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WOODRUFF: As we reported just a moment ago, Palestinian officials saying that a planned meeting between Secretary of State Powell and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat has now been postponed.

For the very latest on that and more, let's go to Jerusalem and to our Wolf Blitzer, who is there -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS": Judy, at least for 24 hours -- perhaps longer, but at least for 24 hours -- that meeting originally scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday, in Ramallah on the West Bank, the visiting secretary of state and the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat -- but now, in the aftermath of today's Jerusalem suicide attack -- six Israelis dead, as well as the female suicide bomber -- the secretary of state deciding to postpone that meeting, at a minimum, for 24 hours.

Israeli government sources tell me as well they have been informed that that meeting has been postponed. Israeli interpretation is that postponement the result of concerns among U.S. officials of a linkage between, potentially, Yasser Arafat's Fatah organization, the Al-Aqsa Brigade claiming credit for -- claiming responsibility for that suicide bombing in Jerusalem right now.

Palestinian sources, however, are telling CNN that, if Secretary Powell is demanding some sort of statement from Yasser Arafat condemning these suicide attacks, he's probably not going to hear that condemnation in the face of what the Palestinians say is a continuing Israeli assault against Palestinian civilians.

They are also accusing the Israelis of engaging in what they call a massacre at the Jenin refugee camp on the West Bank. So, once again, the headline: 24-hour delay, at a minimum, the meeting between the secretary of state and the Palestinian leader -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Wolf Blitzer, thank -- Wolf reporting from Jerusalem. And we'll be going back to Wolf again at the top of the hour.

Well, we are still 2 1/2 years away from the next presidential election, but you wouldn't know it here in Florida, because it is a hot topic among the delegates gathered for this Florida Democratic Convention in Orlando.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): Here in the convention hall, they're hard at work preparing for an overflow crowd of 2,500 Democratic delegates. Upstairs, the Reno- and McBride-for-governor campaigns are unpacking the T-shirts and posters, ready for tomorrow's big speeches.

"Turning Presidential," there are T-shirts -- "I'm Bushed" -- and buttons: "Reelect Gore in 2004. Bush stole it." This one speaks to the early uncertainty about the state of the presidential race: "I love them all."

As the delegates began to pour into town, I sat down with three from various parts of the state to get their views of Al Gore a year and a half after the Florida recount.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(on camera): Tony Fransetta, Stella Williams, and Van Church, thank you very much for being with us.

Let's talk about some of the Democrats who want to run for president the next time. Nobody has absolutely declared yet, but we know there are four or five or six who are looking seriously at it. You have got most of them speaking here in Orlando this weekend.

Van, Al Gore, I mean, you were a huge Gore supporter up through 2000. What do you think about him right now?

VAN CHURCH, FLORIDA DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION DELEGATE: It's going to be interesting whether the former vice president decides to run again or not.

I worked very hard for his campaign. I am going to be very interested in seeing if he's interested in running again. I'd like to hear what Senator Kerry has to say. I'd like to hear what Senator Edwards has to say. There's a lot of time between now and the election. And we don't know who's going to jump in, who's going to jump out of this campaign. I'd like to hear what they all have to say about working families issues.

WOODRUFF: And, Stella, on Al Gore, what do you need to hear from him now?

STELLA WILLIAMS, FLORIDA DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION DELEGATE: It's a fair game. I want to hear what everybody has to say. And when I come to represent my co-workers, then I will take back what their messages are.

WOODRUFF: But why wouldn't have he have the advantage? He was the nominee the last time.

WILLIAMS: This is a new game. So everyone has a chance. People change. I don't know the new people that are going to get in the race. And then we'll decide who we support.

WOODRUFF: Same question, Tony. Why wouldn't Al Gore automatically have the advantage?

TONY FRANSETTA, FLORIDA DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION DELEGATE: I don't see Al Gore having an advantage. I think he has a disadvantage. And what I mean by that: The events of the past in these circumstances carry much baggage. The baggage that comes with Al Gore running for president aren't what we need to carry into the next election.

WOODRUFF: What baggage are you talking about?

FRANSETTA: The events that happened, the election, the overtones, the lack of what many people feel that Al Gore should have done earlier, maybe asserted himself more. When the Republicans came out following the election of what I commonly refer to as the 37-day war that we fought, primarily, much of it, in Palm Beach County, the Republicans had asserted themselves, wrapped themselves in the flag. They were coming out and saying: "We won the election once. We've won twice. We've won three times," in reference to the recounts that they were going through.

I think that both Bush and Gore have a lot of baggage from the events that happened there. And I think that I would like to see a new candidate, new faces. The issues remain there. And I think they can be articulated by different candidates, whether it be Kerry, Edwards or so forth.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Those were the three delegates we spoke with. We want to stress, this was not a scientific poll of any sort. They were delegates we talked to at random. We're sure Al Gore has some support here, but not among those three.

Well, in addition to the delegates, there are about 150 journalists covering this Florida convention. Up next: Three national political reporters will give us the "Inside Buzz" on these potential candidates and their audition for 2004.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: As we were telling you, 150 journalists at least covering this Florida State Democratic Convention in Orlando.

We have joining us three of the best national political reporters who are here to cover it. They are Dan Balz of "The Washington Post," Jill Lawrence of "USA Today," Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times."

Dan, I'm going to start with you.

Al Gore is here. I think that's why a lot of reporters are here, because he's spoken out. But we're told that he's supposedly planning to criticize President Bush. On the one hand, a new poll this week shows more than 80 percent of the people don't think he should be critical of the president. How does Al Gore deal with this?

DAN BALZ, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, he's got a tough situation, because there's a cadre of Democrats who are looking for some national Democratic figure -- and a lot of them think it ought to be Gore -- to begin to make an argument as to why Democrats ought to win these elections of 2002.

And they're looking for somebody who can make that case. But there are a lot of people around the country who don't like the partisanship that we see in politics. And so, when the idea comes up of criticizing the commander in chief at a time of war, people sort of begin to pull back from that. Gore has got to try to do something to excite activists, at the same time without offending kind of the broad middle of the electorate. WOODRUFF: So, Jill, how does he do that? Clearly, this is something he and his people are discussing right now.

JILL LAWRENCE, "USA TODAY": Well, I think there may be a way to do it if you keep the tone very policy-oriented and talk a lot about issues.

One thing you have to remember is that, when people are asked, say, if they like or don't like negative ads or negative campaigning, they always say no. But that's not to say they don't listen to the information that comes out of something like that. And so it can be very effective, even if people automatically will fall back -- the default position is to be polite and not criticize, particularly as Dan said, in a time of war.

WOODRUFF: Ron, are the people around Gore unified in feeling that he needs to go after the president or not?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think this week, they've been sending out very mixed signals about what he is going to do, which suggests there is problem some division, and some division and ambivalence inside Gore himself.

But, Judy, presidential races, as a long, long slog through this long process, occur at two distinct levels. You have the mass level with the public, which comes in much later. Right now, the candidates, as they are circling the track, and mostly focusing on elites: the fund-raisers, party insiders, campaign workers. And among that group, I think there is a pretty unambiguous desire for someone in the Democratic Party to begin to be more assertive in laying out a case, and certainly for Gore himself to be more partisan and have a more clear sense of critique of the Bush administration than he has had so far.

So, I think, for him, it really isn't that different to follow at that point. I think, basically, he has to move in a direction of beginning to articulate some themes as a way to reverse what seems to be an erosion of his position in the party since 2000.

WOODRUFF: But articulating themes, Dan, is one thing, and drawing sharp distinctions and criticizing and going after the president is something else.

BALZ: I think there's evidence, Judy, that the public is willing to hear Democrats, particularly on domestic issues, take issue with the president.

I think they don't want division over the war. But there are a variety of domestic issues that the former vice president can go after: environment. He can talk about taxes. He can talk about the fiscal situation. There are a whole variety of areas that are open to him, I think. And, as one Democrat said to me, "It's safe to put your toe back in the water now." And I think that's what Gore has to do.

WOODRUFF: Jill, I know you've been talking to delegates. You all have here. What are they saying about Gore and also about the other Democratic potential contenders?

LAWRENCE: Well, I think there's a real sense that 2000 is past. And, of course, we'll know more when this convention is over.

But these are the people who worked so hard for Gore and who might be expected to think that, of all people, he deserves another shot at this. And yet that doesn't seem to be the case. They seem to be open to some of the new faces they're going to be seeing at this convention, including Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, and Senator Edwards of North Carolina, and Gore's running mate, Senator Joe Lieberman.

WOODRUFF: And that's what we were hearing from those.

Ron, quickly.

BROWNSTEIN: A lot of focus on the governor's race here, too, Judy, among the delegates, a lot of interest in taking out that anger of 2000 and developing a viable candidacy against Jeb Bush, which they're having some trouble doing.

I think this is a surprisingly important event for Al Gore. He is facing some of these bad polling numbers, a lot of negative buzz among insiders. If he can't generate a strong response here, some of the rivals are saying, where is he going to generate a strong response? The party is expecting him to get a good handle here. They have left some extra time for Gore, relative to all the other candidates, for a floor demonstration on his behalf tomorrow. So we'll see how he does.

WOODRUFF: We will see.

All right, Ron Brownstein, Jill Lawrence, Dan Balz, it's good to see you all. We appreciate it. Thanks -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Judy, checking the headlines in "Campaign News Daily": Vice President Dick Cheney is on the trail this Friday raising cash for Republican candidates. Cheney attended a Virginia fund-raiser luncheon for Congressman Randy Forbes. Tonight, he headlines a dinner for West Virginia Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito.

And a reminder: Cities invited to compete for the 2004 Democratic Convention have until the top of the hour to turn in their applications. New York, Miami, Boston and Detroit are among those in the running. Chicago and Pittsburgh declined to bid. As of this afternoon, seven other cities still have not been heard from. The decision is expected this fall.

Boston is pulling out all the stops to promote its Democratic Convention bid. Beantown backers presented their application in style just a few hours ago, complete with patriot Paul Revere. Republicans have invited two dozen cities to compete for their convention. Their deadline is still two months away.

More INSIDE POLITICS in just a moment.

First, we take you to Jerusalem, where we join Wolf for a preview of what's coming up on a special edition of "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Candy.

We're following a major development: a 24-hour postponement, at a minimum, in that meeting between Secretary of State Colin Powell and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. We'll tell you why. Also here in Jerusalem on this day: another suicide bombing -- we'll have all of the details. We'll also speak live with Palestinian and Israeli first-responders, those on the scene when these kinds of tragedies occur.

It's all coming up live from Jerusalem on a special edition of "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" right after INSIDE POLITICS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: As the violence in the Middle East plays out, the loss is clear. But has anyone gained anything?

Here is our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, Candy, President Bush has strong popular support for his leadership in world affairs. How do you compete with the president if you disagree with his policy, say, on the Middle East?

Figure that out and you earn the "Political Play of the Week."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): Israel has a dilemma.

Last week, President Bush shifted policy and called for Israel to withdraw its troops from the West Bank. Israel has resisted. This week, the president started getting impatient.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I meant what I said to the prime minister of Israel. I expect there to be a withdraw without delay.

SCHNEIDER: Are Americans with President Bush on this? Our poll, taken Wednesday and Thursday evenings, says yes. Most Americans say they agree with the Bush administration's policy.

So, how does Israel get its position across to the American people? Enter former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: American educated and well connected in U.S. politics. On Wednesday, Netanyahu had meetings scheduled on Capitol Hill. He told friends in Congress he wanted to make a major speech, open to the press. In his remarks, Netanyahu cited President Bush's own words about terrorism. Then he asked a pointed question.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Will America apply its principles consistently and win this war, or will it selectively abandon these principles and thereby ultimately risk losing the war? SCHNEIDER: He argued Israel is fighting the same war as the U.S., literally.

NETANYAHU: It is only a matter of time before suicide bombers will terrorize your cities here in America.

SCHNEIDER: Did Israel's message get through to Americans? Possibly. A month ago, just after Israel's military action started, Americans were divided over whether Israel was going too far in its response. Now President Bush says they have. Have American views shifted? Not at all.

Exactly the same number, 46 percent, say Israel has gone too far. The public remains divided. You might have expected President Bush's criticism of Israel to move public sentiment, but it hasn't. That can be called a victory for Israel and the "Political Play of the Week."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Possibly a "Play of the Week" in Israeli politics as well. Netanyahu is known to harbor ambitions to succeed Sharon as prime minister in next year's Israeli election -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Thanks, Bill.

Judy, we're going to send it back down to you in Florida.

WOODRUFF: Here's a quick preview, Candy, of what we in store for next Monday's INSIDE POLITICS. I will be interviewing over the weekend actor and political activist Alec Baldwin. He's one of the featured speakers at this convention in Florida. I will also have a complete wrap of all the speeches and other weekend developments, including the battle between Janet Reno and Bill McBride in the party race for governor. And Monday is tax day. Our Bruce Morton will share his thoughts on one of life's unpleasant realities.

So, Candy, we have got a full weekend ahead here in Orlando. We'll tell you all about it on Monday.

CROWLEY: I'm jealous, Judy. Have a good time. Take great notes.

I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. CNN's coverage continues now with a special edition of "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" live from Jerusalem.

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