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CNN INSIDE POLITICS

Democrats Try to Turn Focus of Campaigns Toward Economy; Washington Area Sniper Still on the Loose

Aired October 14, 2002 - 16:00   ET

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

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS with Judy Woodruff.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us.

We begin with President Bush raising concerns that Osama bin Laden's troops are on the move again. The president is speaking in a Michigan -- in Michigan right now at a campaign event for Republican candidates, but before he left Washington, the president offered his condolences for more than 180 people killed this weekend in the massive bomb attack at a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia. And he suggested that that attack and two other recent acts of terror may be the work of al Qaeda.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe the attack on the French vessel was a terrorist attack. Obviously, the attack on our Marines in Kuwait was a terrorist attack. The attack in Bali appears to be an al Qaeda type -- definitely a terrorist attack, whether it's al Qaeda related or not. I would assume it is. And therefore, it does look like a pattern of attacks that the enemy, albeit on the run, is trying to once again frighten and kill freedom- loving people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Our senior White House correspondent, John King, is with us.

John, what is the significance of the president making this connection between al Qaeda and these attacks in Bali and in Kuwait?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, it certainty comes at an interesting time. The president, on the one hand, saying he has said from day one, since September 12, 2001, that the war on terrorism would be a long one. It also comes, of course, at a time when many of this president's critics are saying his focus should be on Osama bin Laden, should be on al Qaeda, that this is not the time to distract attention and, more importantly, military reserve to confront Saddam Hussein.

The president saying, though, that he can do both at once and, in his view, he must do both at once. Mr. Bush saying today that he called Prime Minister Tony Blair of Great Britain to continue to compare notes on the diplomatic challenge of Iraq. Mr. Bush saying he will not be swayed by the critics who say one war at a time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We do know that al Qaeda is still dangerous and while we've made good progress, there is a lot more work to do. As I have repeatedly said, our -- our thoughts about Iraq relate to the war on terror, and that dealing with -- or getting Saddam Hussein to disarm is all part of making the world more peaceful. And it's all part of the war against terror.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And Judy, the president saying this string of attacks overseas makes him concerned about the possibility of new attacks here in the United States. Senior administration officials, though, say despite an FBI alert last week urging some increases in security at places like bridges and ports as a precaution, there is no U.S. intelligence, we are told, suggesting, in any credible way anyway, the possibility of new strikes here in the United States.

So, barring any new information, no plans to raise the nation's alert level, now at yellow, meaning elevated, no plans to raise it back to orange, which would be a high risk of terrorist attack -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: John, what about the U.S. relationship with Indonesia? Of course, that's where Bali is. Does the Bush administration think that the government of Indonesia is doing enough to prevent this kind of terrorism?

KING: In a word, no. The government -- the Bush administration has been frustrated with Indonesia for months, more than a year now believing President Megawati has not done enough to crack down on terrorism throughout Indonesia and on intelligence shared with her government that al Qaeda cells are among the terrorists in Indonesia. Mr. Bush said he would call President Megawati soon and he said he hoped to hear a leader who had the resolve to understand that if you do not crack down on terrorism, the country itself will be weakened.

In the president's tough comments today, evident frustration that, in his view, and in the view of the Pentagon and the CIA, Indonesia has simply not done enough to help in the war on terrorism.

WOODRUFF: All right, John. Thanks very much.

And now we want to bring in our justice correspondent Kelli Arena. Kelli, you've been talking to law enforcement officials. Are they of the view that some bigger plan is in the works? That we do indeed have many more attacks to worry about?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, there are two concerns sort of paralleling each other. One is just that, that there is a major attack in the planning stages that could be launched against U.S. interests either here or overseas. The second concern is that there are lots of these smaller attacks, as evidenced in Kuwait and Yemen and now perhaps in Bali that al Qaeda cells are participating in, although, it is not clear at this point whether or not these are attacks that have been orchestrated by al Qaeda leadership.

Now, the various pieces of intelligence and events all combined are causing this concern. A, we heard from the president on the shootout in Kuwait, that the ship in Yemen, the latest in Bali. You had two audiotapes that were released recently, one from a top al Qaeda lieutenant, Ayman al Zawahiri, along with a tape allegedly from Osama bin Laden, promising new attacks and now most recently there was a statement put out, allegedly signed by Osama bin Laden that appeared on two Web sites.

I'll quote a little bit from that. He says, "The heroic cooperation in Kuwait proves the level of danger that threatens U.S. forces in Islamic countries."

It goes on to say, "We promise the Americans and the Jews won't have peace until they take their hands off our Muslim nation and stop their aggression against us."

This just the latest bit of information in what some -- some in the intelligence community and law enforcement community are calling an al Qaeda propaganda mission, which sometimes precedes a major attack, Judy. We have seen before where the level of communication from al Qaeda leadership builds up right before an attack, although we also have seen, just as a caveat here, events like this, information coming out like this that has not led up to an attack.

So, it could signal something. It could not. But there is a great deal of concern right now within the intelligence and law enforcement community, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Well, Kelli, given all that, we just heard John King reporting that there was no intention right now of raising the threat level. I have to ask you why not.

ARENA: Well, there has been a great amount of debate over that. But the issue is: Is there anything specific? Is there a specific target or date or method of attack? And so far the answer is: No, on all three counts.

And so, so far at least, the decision has been, until we get something specific that we know with about, whether it's the method of attack or a timing of an attack, we'll keep it at yellow, which still, though, Judy -- I mean, so just in case, because these colors mean nothing to most people. Yellow means elevated level of concern. There is an elevated risk of a terror attack. That doesn't mean that everything is a-ok.

So, the decision, at least as of Friday was to keep it -- to keep it at yellow. Discussions continue every single day on whether or not it should change. I am sure that discussions took place today after the events in Bali. But as we see right now, it remains at yellow. And we were told to expect that it would stay there until something very specific came in. They could always change that, but right now that seems to be the status quo. WOODRUFF: OK, Kelli Arena, and you'll be checking on it every day at least.

ARENA: We will.

WOODRUFF: OK. Thanks very much.

Well, amidst all these fears that al Qaeda is regrouping, the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee is criticizing the Bush administration's progress in the war on terror. In "USA Today," Democrat Bob Graham says -- quote -- "It has now been a year since we instituted military attacks in Afghanistan. I'm surprised that we are not further along with the completion of that task."

And by the way, we're going to be interviewing Senator Graham tomorrow here on INSIDE POLITICS.

But a question now, how might all of this renewed talk about terror play in the midterm elections that are now just about three weeks away? I'm joined now by CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein of the "Los Angeles Times."

First of all, Ron, with all -- the vote on Iraq was what wrapped up Congress last week. People who went home having voted against the president on this, against going to the war with Iraq, how are they affected now by all this renewed focus on terrorism and al Qaeda?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, surprisingly, it may actually give them a better line of defense because the best argument, I think, critics had against going to war or giving the president authority to go to war in Iraq was the argument that Senator Graham, among others, have made, that it would detract from the war on al Qaeda. And what these attacks remind us is that the al Qaeda threat is still real and present and, arguably, is what the public is focused on, certainly more than Iraq. It is probably the way that elected officials and the president will be judged, their success at preventing further terrorist attacks in the U.S.

So it does give the critics of the war on Iraq perhaps a stronger leg to stand on in arguing that, See, this does show we need to keep our focus on al Qaeda.

WOODRUFF: But is the public going to make that distinction, Ron?

I mean, you've got Iraq in the headlines one day, then you may have Indonesia, war on terror. At some point does it all get mixed up together?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, there are definitely crosscurrents here. In the big picture you would have to say that a focus on terrorism and national security, again, here with the Iraq vote behind us, where the Democrats thought that would be the moment when they could finally pivot into this economic discussion that they want to before the election. Again, events are pushing that back. More days are being eaten up in which the national focus remains on terrorism, where the public gives Republicans an advantage. So, on balance, that has to benefit the GOP. But, in that narrow since, it may help some of the opponents of the war.

WOODRUFF: OK, so what about the economy? This is the other big issue the Democrats would love to talk about. You just mentioned the clock's running out. Are they going to have enough time to get that out there in a way that the public will listen to them and absorb their message?

BROWNSTEIN: You know, a phrase the political consultants use, The Senate races are big enough, in particular, to create their own weather. So it's not clear that the national sort of storm front here will determine all the way through election day. They may have the time to do that.

But Democrats really do need time here, Judy, because even though the economic indicators are mostly looking south -- poverty is up, job growth is down and so forth, the polls show the public doesn't really blame the administration or President Bush's economic policies for that. That's not something that's going to happen by itself. Democrats have to go out and make a systematic case to try to tie the bad times and the economy to Bush economic policies and they simply don't have the megaphone to do so while we are all focused on these very real security threats.

WOODRUFF: And three weeks is not really enough time for that -- to do that.

BROWNSTEIN: And the clock is ticking.

WOODRUFF: OK. Ron, thank you very much.

Well, President Bush also spoke out today about terror that is hitting the nation's capital, close to home. And that is, of course, the deadly series of sniper attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I'm just sick -- sick to my stomach to think that there is a cold-blooded killer at home, taking innocent life. I weep for those who have lost their loved ones. I am -- I -- you know, the idea of moms taking their kids to school and sheltering them from a potential sniper attack is not the American I know. And therefore, we're lending all the resources of the federal government, all that have been required to do everything we can to assist the local law authorities to find this -- whoever it is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: We'll have a live update on the hunt for the sniper a little later on INSIDE POLITICS.

Well, the countdown continues -- also ahead, the prospect of an emotional rollercoaster on Election Day that could leave the parties with a sense of limbo, much like we saw in 2000.

Well, find out what's cooking in the Iowa Senate race, from flapjacks to questions about fallout from Tapegate.

And later:

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Had nothing to do with "The Sopranos," with Gotti, they're all murdering morons who have nothing to do with being Italian.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If they want to march, let them march. It's a free country, right?

WOODRUFF: Strong opinions on parade as New York marks Columbus Day without a couple of Sopranos.

This is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: The countdown continues here on INSIDE POLITICS. There are now just 22 days left until voters head to the polls.

Even after the voting ends, however, we may not know who controls the House and the Senate. Our Bill Schneider reports there are any number of scenarios that could push this election into overtime.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The two parties are still at a stalemate, with control of both the House and the Senate up for grabs this year. And just like 2000, the outcome may not be decided on Election Day.

Take Louisiana. The Senate race there on November 5 is a primary. Republicans are fielding three candidates to try to hold Democrat Mary Landrieu below 50 percent and force her into a December runoff. If control of the Senate hinges on the outcome, both parties will pour soft money into that race.

In fact, a lot of Senate races look very close this year.

STUART ROTHENBERG, ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: You can imagine, if these contests were close, you'd have, again, lawyers and lobbyists and political insiders in South Dakota, Minnesota, maybe Colorado, arguing over spoiled ballots and legal challenges to ballots.

The Senate could hang in balance for a number of days.

SCHNEIDER: The contest for control of the House could also get stretched out. In Hawaii, Democrat Patsy Mink died recently, too late to have her name removed from the ballot. If she still wins on November 5, Hawaii would schedule a special election within 120 days to replace her. Imagine the money and the attention if that special election determines which party controls the House.

Remember Jim Traficant? He's running for his old Congressional seat as an independent in Ohio.

ROTHENBERG: People have lost lots of money underestimating Jim Traficant's populist appeal in the Youngstown, Ohio area.

SCHNEIDER: Suppose Traficant wins? He's in jail. The House would probably declare his seat vacant, necessitating another special election.

Traficant's endorsement from the big house might decide which party controls Congress.

Here's another possibility:

ROTHENBERG: If the House were hanging by one seat, you can bet both parties would be looking for as many possible switchers as they could find. Sure, they'd be working overtime.

SCHNEIDER: Here is one possible switcher:

ROTHENBERG: Ralph Hall of Texas, Democrat of Texas, has said that if his vote determines who the speaker of the House will be, he will vote for the conservative member. That would suggest that it's going to be Republican Dennis Hastert.

SCHNEIDER: Unless the Democrats keep Hall in line and win their majority by nominating a conservative Democrat to be speaker instead of Dick Gephardt.

What if Republicans end up with a one seat majority in the Senate? Democrats might try to convince Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee to follow in the steps of Jim Jeffords of Vermont.

Chafee, like Jeffords, voted against the Iraq war resolution. He was the only Republican senator who did.

If Republicans end up with 49 Senate seats, there is talk that they may vote for Democrat Zell Miller of Georgia for majority leader. That's a pretty good incentive to get Miller to switch parties.

Bill Schneider, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: And just a little apology, of course, that was Lincoln Chafee's father, the late Senator John Chafee, we showed a picture of. Our apologies to the senator.

Democrats hit the airwaves to keep the economy on the minds of voters, just ahead.

Plus: President Bush and the war on terror. Is Iraq a piece of the puzzle or simply a distraction from more important goals?

But first, let's turn to Rhonda Schaffler at the New York Stock Exchange for a market update.

Rhonda, it was up, and it was back down.

RHONDA SCHAFFLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In the end, Judy, it was a small gain for stocks but actually a potentially big victory for Wall Street. Some market optimists say the fact that stocks held on to last week's rally signals the bottom may finally have been set.

Others reserving judgment, though, until companies start reporting quarterly earnings. We get a lot of them this week. At the closing bell, the Dow Jones Industrial average added 27 points, the Nasdaq rose 10.

General Motors limited the Dow's gains. Merrill Lynch cut its rating on GM and Ford, saying lower car prices stalled profits.

Detroit automakers have been offering deeper and deeper discounts to entice buyers in the face of the weak economy and falling consumer confidence.

A pivotal ruling in a drug patent case gave some investors reason to sell. Late Friday, a judge ruled Andrx could not market a generic version of Astrozenica's (ph) prilosic heart firm medication because of patent infringement. The ruling shocked investors because Andrx already had regulatory approval to bring the drug to market. Its shares tumbling 40 percent. Astrozenica's (ph) surged.

Prilosec is one of the top selling drugs in the world, nearly $6 billion in sales last year.

That is the latest from Wall Street. More INSIDE POLITICS after the break, including new poll numbers revealing a sharp turnaround in the Missouri Senate race.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: With me now to discuss some of the day's top stories, Maria Echaveste, former deputy chief of staff to President Clinton and Betsy Hart of the Scripps Howard news service.

Betsy, I want to come to you first. President Bush today connecting al Qaeda. He said he assumes it's al Qaeda behind this terrible attack in Bali, what we've seen recently in Kuwait and then also today you have a quote from Senator Bob Graham, the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee in "USA Today," and he says ,"It's now been a year since we instituted military attacks in Afghanistan. I'm surprised that we are not further along with the completion of that task," -- end quote.

The question I have is: Is the war on terror hurt somehow by all this focus on the war -- coming war with Iraq?

BETSY HART, SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SVC: I don't know. I think that President Bush would connect the two and say one is part of the other, that you have to go after this behemoth, being Saddam Hussein, in order to take care of the ancillary terrorists around the world, including al Qaeda.

I think we have to be careful of this kind of criticism of the war on terror. For one thing, we've seen tremendous progress in the last year, extraordinary, really, by any means, in terms of coordination with other countries and so forth.

But second, it seems to me when there is this, I think, potentially politically motivated criticism, we're playing into the hands of al Qaeda. They're pretty smart. They know we have an election coming up. Is it possible they timed these attacks accordingly? Not not out of the question.

MARIA ECHAVESTE, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I think this is a very strange kind of situation. On the one hand, President Bush is saying Iraq is closely -- there is a connection to al Qaeda and therefore we need to go to war against Iraq.

Then, on the other hand, we haven't finished the war on terrorism and it's like he's trying to have it both ways. If we've -- I agree with Senator Graham. We haven't seen the kind of promise -- progress that we need to see. And one of the things that President Bush said was that the war on terrorism was going to be a different kind of war because it was spread out and it was not contained by a country or a nation.

And where is that focus? Where is that energy? Instead we're going to go against Iraq. So I think that there's not clarity here and I agree with Senator Graham.

HART: But I think we as -- I think that there's a case to be made that they are part of the same cloth, if you will. And I think...

ECHAVESTE: But where is the evidence?

HART: ...and, it also seems to me that you can make the case and move forward on both legs at the same time.

ECHAVESTE: If the evidence were there, I think there would be absolutely no question.

WOODRUFF: I want to turn you to something else that has to do with this election. I want to show you -- show the audience this little excerpt from this television ad paid for by the pro-Democrat group. They're called Main Street USA.

Basically, they're running this ad and -- starting tomorrow in five battleground states including Missouri, Minnesota, Arkansas. Among other things, the ad is talking about jobs lost in the last two years, income -- household income down. The surplus going -- and so on.

They're spending $1 million almost to run this ad and I guess my question is, Betsy, do the Democrats have enough time to talk about the economy in a way that's going to help them on November 5?

HART: Well, yes and no. They have enough time to talk about it, but what polls are showing, both internal polls at the various committees, and a Pew research poll that's out today show that Democrats are not making gains by any faltering of the economy. We're all concerned about the economy. We all answer that to pollster questions. Then when they say, Well what if -- who can handle it better, it's about evenly split. So there's no guarantee, by any means, that Democrats are in the position to pick up the ball and run with the economy issue.

ECHAVESTE: Betsy said al Qaeda could be political in its timing. I would certainly say that one thing this White House is very good at changing the subject and they've been masterful in shifting people's attention from the failures from the intelligence agencies for September 11, the economy and basically (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the resolution on Iraq, and he's making Air Force One from flying command center to flying campaign headquarters.

(CROSSTALK)

WOODRUFF: But back to the original question: Do the Democrats have time to do anything with this? I mean, we're three weeks out from the election.

ECHAVESTE: It's going to be really really hard and, again, my hats off to someone who's been very astute in changing the subject and it's unfortunate because the America people also are concerned about their livelihood and domestic security, which means the economy.

HART: Even if the Democrats want to change the subject back again, there's no guarantee that they can actually convince anybody that they've got a better plan for the economy.

ECHAVESTE: We had a Democratic balanced budget focused on fiscal responsibility and that worked for eight years. I would suggest that if we could break through the airwaves, we might actually convince people that we have a better handle.

HART: I think you've broken through. The question is you can't convince.

WOODRUFF: We're going to leave it there. Betsy Hart, Maria Echaveste, Good to see you both this Monday.

Thanks for coming in.

An update next on the sniper investigation. That is just ahead.

And later: new poll numbers from the New Jersey Senate race find a strong showing for ballot newcomer Frank Lautenberg.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Once again, let's update the CNN "News Alert" with the latest on the investigation into the recent sniper shootings here in the Washington, D.C. area.

With me once again from Montgomery County, Maryland: CNN's Kathleen Koch -- Kathleen, bring us up to date. KOCH: Well, Judy, again, up to this point, we have been most fortunate, both this weekend and today, the Columbus Day holiday. We have had no new sniper shootings. It's the first three-day respite that we've had since this shooting spree began back on October 2. Chief Moose today, Montgomery County, was asked if this means it's a good day. And he said any day that there is not a killing is a good day.

They have put out a new address for people to contact the Montgomery County Police Department with any tips, because there are those people out there who are maybe uncomfortable with phoning in a tip or with sending an e-mail. That address is P.O. Box 7875, Gaithersburg, Maryland, 20898-7875.

The next thing that we're waiting for in this investigation, obviously, at the site of Friday's shooting down in Virginia, there were several people who saw a white Chevrolet-style, an Astro-style van. And police are saying that they're going to be putting together a composite of that based on what the people saw and getting that out to the public as soon as possible, hopefully to jog people's memories.

The police chief here again very optimistic, says that the investigation is going well, though, again, he won't share any details of the investigation, any of their tactics whatsoever. Federal authorities are saying that, at this point, they are not considering taking over the investigation.

An FBI spokesman said that, at this point, all the resources that the federal government has available are being brought to bear on this case. So the investigation continues. At this point, though, obviously, no suspects and no arrests -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Kathleen, of course, today is Columbus Day. It's a federal holiday. Is that the reason we aren't seeing any more police briefings on this today?

KOCH: Judy, the police briefings have been decreasing daily. And police Chief Moose said not to read anything into that.

We are wondering if there is just simply not information in the case that they have available to share with us. There are also those who believe that, from the beginning, that the sniper has been watching, and that if you decrease the number of briefings, decrease the amount of attention, that that perhaps will lessen the killer or killers' satisfaction and perhaps do something to slow down or even shop these shootings.

WOODRUFF: Well, let's certainly hope so.

Kathleen, thanks very much.

KOCH: You're welcome.

WOODRUFF: Officials in Iowa are reporting that requests for absentee ballots in the state are skyrocketing as the November 5 election draws near. The state is in the national spotlight this midterm election year with several competitive races, including the U.S. Senate showdown.

Our national correspondent Bruce Morton has been following the campaign trail in Iowa.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The challenger, Republican Congressman Greg Ganske, arriving for the candidates' last joint appearance of this campaign. His supporters included a bumblebee. The incumbent, three-term Democrat Tom Harkin, with a nod for the Ganske people.

On Iowa public television, as elsewhere, they disagree about everything. What's their main theme?

REP. GREG GANSKE (R-IA), IOWA SENATE CANDIDATE: I think Tom Harkin's positions are extreme, in many cases, for Iowa. And I think mine are mainstream.

MORTON: But Iowans have been electing Harkin for 28 years now.

SEN. TOM HARKIN (D), IOWA: Iowans have invested in me. And I want to make sure that I return investment to build a good future for Iowa.

MORTON: They differ on Social Security. Ganske would let young people invest some of their payroll tax money in the stock market; on prescription drugs, on President Bush's tax cut, on the huge farm bill Congress passed this year. Harkin chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee.

HARKIN: I'm the first Democratic senator ever endorsed by the Iowa Farm Bureau, along with the Iowa Farmers Union.

GANSKE: Two-thirds of the commodity payments in this bill will go to the top 10 percent. And most of those -- and these are big agribusinesses.

MORTON (on camera): Then there was Tapegate. A former Harkin aide invited to a meeting of Ganske supporters went, carrying a recorder the Harkin campaign had given him. Later, the Harkin campaign leaked a transcript to a reporter. Harkin denied any advance knowledge of this, got a new campaign manager, fired one low-level aide. Has any of this made a difference in the campaign?

MIKE GLOVER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Until there is evidence that somehow he was involved in this whole thing, I don't think it is going to have much impact on him personally.

MORTON (voice-over): The candidates seem to agree. Ganske hit it hard at first, but now says to the voters...

GANSKE: They also want us to talk about the issues. And we don't have much time left in this campaign. And I want to point out how extreme Tom's positions are.

HARKIN: I think people have said: "That's nothing. That doesn't have anything to do with my daily life."

MORTON: The morning after the joint appearance, Ganske was at a pancake breakfast in Pleasant Hill, next door to Des Moines. It's to benefit the volunteer fire department. Tom Harkin was at the Irish Fest in Dubuque. Seniority does matter in this state.

DAVID YEPSEN, "DES MOINES REGISTER": Tom Harkin is an incumbent. Iowans keep incumbents around. He has got some seniority. Independent voters like that.

MORTON: Harkin is ahead, most here think. But like the tug of war at the Irish Fest, it isn't over 'til it's over.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Dubuque.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Love those knee socks.

Well, checking the headlines now in our "Campaign News Daily": A new poll in New Jersey shows Democrat Frank Lautenberg has opened a double-digit lead over Republican Doug Forrester. The latest Zogby survey gives Lautenberg a 12-point advantage, 48-36. Earlier polls showed the two candidates within single digits. Lautenberg replaced fellow Democrat Bob Torricelli on the ballot less than two weeks ago after overcoming a legal challenge by Republicans.

A separate Zogby poll finds a reversal of fortune in the Missouri Senate race: The survey shows Republican Jim Talent now leading Democrat incumbent Jean Carnahan by six points. Last month, a Zogby poll showed Carnahan with an eight-point lead over Talent.

The Illinois State Elections Board is threatening to take Cook County Clerk David Orr to court if he doesn't add two candidate nicknames to the election ballot. They candidates are GOP House candidate Les "Cut the Taxes" Golden and libertarian candidate congressional Stephanie "Vs. the Machine" Sailor. The state board approved the nicknames for the ballot, but the clerk relied on an opinion from the Cook County state attorney's office and he had the ballots printed without nicknames.

Now an update on Al Gore and his band of gold. As you may remember, the former vice president recently acknowledged that he was not wearing his wedding ring because he said he had gained weight. But when we looked closely at some pictures of Gore at a political event in Maryland last night, we noticed a glint on his ring finger. Sure enough, the ring was back in place. No word on whether the ring had been enlarged or whether Gore managed to get it on. We'll ask him the first chance we get.

Just ahead, Jeff Greenfield checks out the California governor's race and finds both candidates suffering from their own sets of problems.

Also: another political figure with prime-time aspirations. Find out which candidate sees herself on "Law & Order." (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: I guess we might say move over, Fred Thompson. Elizabeth Dole not only wants to follow in your footsteps and be elected to the Senate. She reportedly wants a role on TV's "Law & Order," or at least a guest shot. "Glamour" magazine quotes Mrs. Dole as saying it is her secret desire to appear on the legal drama. She says she and her husband, Bob, are fans of the show, and when she watches it, she vicariously relives her days as a defense lawyer.

By most accounts, the California governor's race should have been decided a long time ago, but one candidate's weaknesses have been matched by the other's self-inflicted stumbles.

Our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield, has more from Los Angeles.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD (voice-over): It has more people, more cars, more political clout than any other state, and its problems are just as big.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All members vote who desire to vote.

GREENFIELD: A $24 billion budget deficit. Jam-packed roads. A school system in crisis.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do I spell "discover?"

GREENFIELD: And a future where everything from the quality of it water to the reliable of its energy is in doubt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just want to go on record.

GREENFIELD: So you might think that the race for governor of California, the biggest prize of the fall campaign, would be dominated by big ideas, by clashing visions about the state's future.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You didn't answer my question.

GREENFIELD: You might think that, but you'd be wrong.

(on camera): In fact, this is a race where, to repeat an oft- heard cliche, the leading candidate, if the voters had that choice, might well be none of the above. It's a race where both candidates' principle liabilities are themselves.

CARLA MARINUCCI, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE: This has been a case of an ad campaign run on TV in California where according to the ads, it's a corrupt governor versus a corrupt businessman.

GREENFIELD (voice-over): Carla Marinucci covers politics for the "San Francisco Chronicle."

MARINUCCI: We have heard lots of charges, and all those charges have brought down the voters' enthusiasm for the candidates. They're just not excited about this race.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "DAVIS CAMPAIGN AD")

NARRATOR: Bill Simon. If we can't trust him in his business practices, how can we trust him in the governor's office?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SIMON CAMPAIGN AD")

BILL SIMON (R), CALIFORNIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: You know me. I've survived millions of dollars of Gray Davis' lies and distortions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREENFIELD: But Democratic Governor Gray Davis, with a combination of fund-raising zealotry and a personally grating style, has alienated a fair chunk of voters. Consider this question for Monday's first and likely only debate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Governor Davis, many people simply do not like you.

GOV. GRAY DAVIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Would I like to be liked? Sure. Is it essential for me to do my job? No. I think under the circumstances, we have done a pretty good job.

GREENFIELD: Then there is Republican nominee Bill Simon, who has suffered enough wounds to wipe out a platoon. This week's disaster, photo gate.

SIMON: The evidence is a photograph...

GREENFIELD: The Simon campaign believed they had a smoking gun, this photo, proving that Davis had accepted an illegal campaign contribution in his lieutenant governor's office. But the charge was flat out wrong. The office was a private home. And Simon faced the wrath of the media.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to know if you take full responsibility...

GREENFIELD: Simon says neither the mistake nor his conservative views on social issues should decide this election.

SIMON: He goes around talking about symbols. This person stands for this. That's not going to fix--that's not going to put people back to work. It's not going to make sure that our two million kids trapped in failing schools get an education.

GREENFIELD: For his part, Governor Davis says this about his barely disguised ambition for a higher office, should he win.

DAVIS: My goal is to be the best governor I can for the next four years. If my health is good, and God smiles and it's the right thing to do something down the road after that, fine. GREENFIELD (on camera): Given California' huge Democratic tilt and the continuing fumbles and stumbles of the Simon campaign, Governor Davis should have away put this reelection bid a long time ago. But, Republicans say, he has not done it yet. And that is their principal evidence that he still may yet be vulnerable to an upset.

Jeff Greenfield, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Back here on the East Coast, South Carolina Senate candidate Alex Sanders this weekend got a boost from a man more synonymous with Hollywood than the Palmetto State. Actor Robert Redford appeared with Sanders at fund-raisers in Columbia and Charleston. Redford said he decided to make the trip because Alex Sanders, he said, is an independent thinker.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT REDFORD, ACTOR: I'm for the person. I've supported Republicans in the past, if it was about the person. And I'm here because of the person, because I think the person is what we need to be paying attention to. I think that I'm for an independent thinker, not some fawning sheep that just colludes with special interests that are not my own.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Alex Sanders is running against Republican Lindsey Graham to succeed the retiring Strom Thurmond. A Graham spokesman said that Redford's political views are not shared by most people in South Carolina.

Coming up next: death row politics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARY JO BERKERY, SISTER OF VICTIM: If he chooses to even commute one of these sentences, I truly hope that all the souls of the murder victims haunt him the rest of the days of his life, like the murderers haunt us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: We'll look at the controversy before clemency hearings in Illinois tomorrow and the heat on Governor George Ryan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: The state of Illinois's system of capital punishment will be under the microscope beginning tomorrow, when clemency hearings get under way for more than 100 inmates on death row.

CNN's Jeff Flock explains the reasons behind the hearings and the decisions that will soon face the governor.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GOV. GEORGE RYAN (R), ILLINOIS: Everybody in these books was tried under a faulted system.

JEFF FLOCK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Governor George Ryan shows me the briefing books he is now using to decide whether or not to commute the sentences of the 160 inmates on Illinois's death row.

(on camera): Do you still believe in capital punishment?

RYAN: I think I do to some degree. I'm still kind of struggling with that.

FLOCK (voice-over): Struggling because, since Illinois brought back capital punishment, more than a dozen people waiting to die have been freed, innocent. That's why Republican and death penalty backer Ryan halted executions in Illinois and is now convening unprecedented clemency hearings for essentially everyone on death row. They start tomorrow.

BERKERY: If he chooses to even commute one of these sentences, I truly hope that all the souls of the murder victims haunt him the rest of the days of his life, like the murderers haunt us.

FLOCK: Ryan is getting it from both sides, the families of the victims, as well as the inmates themselves.

LEROY ORANGE, DEATH ROW INMATE: I suppose I would basically beg for my life.

FLOCK: Leroy Orange claims police tortured him to confess to a murder he didn't commit. There was no physical evidence against him and another man admitted to the crime. He told us he wants a pardon, but is begging the governor to at least spare him.

ORANGE: That's what I'll settle for, because I can stay alive to fight the case.

FLOCK: Others are outraged that killers who don't even claim innocence may get clemency. Ronaldo Hudson (ph) admits to a heinous murder, but has become a model prisoner. Ryan told us the presumption is, he won't block his execution, but...

RYAN: But I don't know.

FLOCK (on camera): You don't know.

RYAN: I don't know at this point.

FLOCK: Well, if you don't know, nobody knows.

RYAN: Well, I haven't looked at his case. I just know...

FLOCK: It sounds like you have.

RYAN: Well, I only know -- yes, I did look up... FLOCK (voice-over): Ryan has done more studying than he lets on. The briefing books has color photos of each of the condemned men, women, black, white, the faces of death row. Ryan is considering commuting every current death sentence to life in prison. There will be two weeks of hearings. Then their fate is in his hands.

I'm Jeff Flock, CNN, in Chicago.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE PATAKI (R), NEW YORK: It's a great day celebrating the contribution of Italian-Americans and the contribution of the Italian-American culture to our great city and our great state and our great country. And I'm just proud to be here.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) kind of controversy?

PATAKI: I'm just proud to be here. I think everybody is having a good time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: New York Governor George Pataki on Italian-American heritage in today's Columbus Day parade in New York City, which he and a number of other politicians attended. But the city's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, skipped the event because two actors from the hit TV show "The Sopranos," his friends, were not welcome. But Bloomberg did show up at a holiday celebration yesterday.

And CNN's Jason Bellini was there to record the great "Soprano" debate.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JASON BELLINI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New York's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, showing his respect for the Italian-American community in New York, marching in Sunday's Columbus Day Parade in the Bronx.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: It's great to be in the Bronx. And it's great to be in a parade where you can march with all your friends.

BELLINI: But in Monday's Columbus Day Parade in Manhattan, he won't be marching. Parade organizers say he's unwelcome if he insists on bringing two friends along, Lorraine Bracco and Dominic Chianese, from HBO's TV show "The Sopranos."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "The Sopranos" television program has the worst stereotyping of the Italian culture of any program I have ever seen.

BLOOMBERG: We should all lighten up a little bit. But this is an actor and an actress who have done a great thing.

BELLINI (on camera): Even though the mayor won't be marching in the parade on Columbus Day, he's spending a lot of quality time with the Italian-American community here in the Bronx. He's walking the entire parade route, shaking hands with everyone along the way.

(voice-over): Most people on today's route in the Bronx are happy to see Mayor Bloomberg, others not so thrilled.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because, obviously, he has no idea about my heritage and what it means to be Italian. It's got nothing to do with "The Sopranos," with Gotti. They're all murdering morons who have nothing to do with being Italian.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE SOPRANOS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: That better not be Columbus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BELLINI: Ironically, a Columbus Day Parade controversy came up in a recent episode of "The Sopranos" in which Native Americans protested the parade, hanging Christopher Columbus in effigy. In a very real Italian community in Brooklyn, most patrons agree with the mayor and want the folks in Manhattan to lighten up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They should be fired.

BELLINI (on camera): You think so?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

BELLINI: Maybe you should organize a hit on them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't do that.

BELLINI: You don't do that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

BELLINI: Why not?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why should we kill them because they're the committee? We don't do those things.

BELLINI: Yes?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do that reporters that don't mind their own business.

BELLINI: OK, well, it was nice talking to you.

(LAUGHTER) BELLINI (voice-over): They say that real Italian-Americans are nothing like "The Sopranos" characters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whoever wants to march, let them march. It's a free country, right? So that is totally ridiculous.

BELLINI (on camera): Ridiculous?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

BELLINI: Why do you think the committee is so...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You just asked me that question.

BELLINI (voice-over): Any chance the mayor will change his mind and march on Columbus Day? He says no. So forget about it.

Jason Bellini, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: And that's it from New York.

Tomorrow, INSIDE POLITICS will be in New York and in New Jersey. We'll be talking to New Jersey Republican Senate candidate Doug Forrester, who is campaigning with John McCain. We hope to talk to both of them.

I'm Judy Woodruff.

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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