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CNN INSIDE POLITICS

Washington Area Sniper Case Stirs Gun Control Debate

Aired October 23, 2002 - 16:00   ET

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

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: I am Judy Woodruff in Washington where the sniper is still free to kill again. Will D.C. area voters be in danger on Election Day?
PARRIS GLENDENING (D), MARYLAND GOVERNOR: We are considering the possibility for Election Day of using the national guard to make sure that every polling place is absolutely safe.

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Bill Schneider in Washington. Sniper fears may be high, but voter anxiety is surging for another reason.

WOODRUFF: Also ahead, the tortoise versus the hare in Texas.

And Democrats shaking their heads over an ad mocking some party big wigs.

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

WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us. The serial sniper gunning at people in the Washington D.C. area also has taken aim at their sense of freedom. A potentially dramatic example of that could be the image of national guard troops protecting polling places on Election Day.

Maryland's governor, Parris Glendening, says he is seriously considering that option and he's talking to officials in Virginia and the District of Columbia about joining in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GLENDENING: We must ensure that the elections proceed calmly, safely, that no one is discouraged from voting because of fear of what will take place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Police confirm today that a bus driver killed in suburban Maryland yesterday was the sniper's 13th victim, the 10th to die. Sources say a note was found at the site of this latest shooting similar to a letter found at the scene of the previous attack.

Our justice correspondent Kelli Arena has been tracking the investigation.

Kelli, what is the latest in terms of a communication with the sniper?

KELLI ARENA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, sources tell us, Judy, just as you said, that a note was found in the vicinity of the latest shooting where the bus driver was shot dead. That note has been described by sources as being similar to the note that was previously found in Ashland, Virginia. As you know, that note containing a list of demands, time tables, criticism of law enforcement.

We have not been able to get as many details on that communication yet. When we do, though, of course we'll update you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: And what about, Kelli, any more information on the letter found Saturday night after the shooting down in Virginia?

ARENA: Well, obviously, the headline to that, that we've been reporting all along, that there was a P.S. threatening children, "your children are not safe anywhere at any time."

But there was also some detail by the writer alleging that he had tried to reach authorities six times with information and was hung up on. He said that as a result of that incompetence, that five more people had to die. Law enforcement sources have at least confirmed for us that there were of at least two attempts by the -- who they believe to be the sniper to call in and say that their colleagues just didn't realize that they were actually dealing with the killer and did indeed hang up.

The note, as we've been reporting, was at least three pages long. It was handwritten. Lots of grammatical errors in the note. And, again, the note matching the Tarot card in that the writer refers to himself by saying, "I am God." Threats and demands, demands for money, $10 million, we know, to be deposited in a bank account that had unlimited withdrawal ability.

And we believe -- or at least investigators that we've spoken to believe that when Police Chief Moose was saying this is electronically impossible for us to do, when he was communicating, they believe he was indeed referring to that request to put $10 million in an account that the writer of the letter would have access to electronically to be able to take out any amount that he wanted.

And I don't know any team around that will give you $10 million, so...

WOODRUFF: As far as we know, that doesn't exist. But, Kelli, we'll let you go back to your reporting. Thank you very much.

Well, Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose did appeal today to legal and illegal immigrants to come forward if they have witnessed any of the sniper shootings. But when pressed by reporters, he indicated he could not guarantee that illegal immigrants who provided information would be protected from deportation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHIEF CHARLES MOOSE, MONTGOMERY COUNTY, MARYLAND, POLICE: Certainly, I have no authority to give anybody carte blanche with regards to immigration status, criminal status or anything else.

And we will put our energy to help them, but nobody gets a guarantee on anything. Life doesn't work that way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: However, the INS is telling illegal immigrants that they do not have to worry about coming forward with any tips about the sniper.

The INS commissioner, James Ziglar, is with us now.

Explain this to us. Are you offering any illegal immigrants who come forward a blanket amnesty, in effect, if they have information?

JAMES ZIGLAR, INS COMMISSIONER: What we're doing is joining with Chief Moose in encouraging the immigrant community to come forward with information. What we will not do is seek information from the local authorities or use that information in any proceedings against an illegal immigrant.

So what we're doing is very similar to what we did in New York in the World Trade Center matter, where families of illegal immigrants who were in there were given this same assurance that if they identified the fact that they had family member in there, that that information would not be sought from the authorities or used against them. And it was a very successful approach.

WOODRUFF: How does what you were saying and what the INS was saying square with what Charles Moose say, that they could not guarantee that these people be protected?

ZIGLAR: Well, Chief Moose is not in the immigration business. He is in the law enforcement business. That is a federal function. As commissioner, I can, though, state that we will not use that information or seek that information from Chief Moose.

WOODRUFF: So in essence, what you're saying overrides what he's saying because you're in charge of immigration matters?

ZIGLAR: Where it comes to immigration.

WOODRUFF: What about the two men who were picked up over the weekend -- on Monday, rather -- down in Richmond, who were thought to be involved with the sniper. They were found, apparently, to have no involvement, and yet now they've been turned over for deportation.

ZIGLAR: Well, of course, that's a totally different situation. Those fellows just happened to be caught in an operation and they were not working with the authorities or providing information or anything like that. So it's a totally different situation.

WOODRUFF: But aren't you sending very different signals here? are two people caught up in the whole investigation. They're being shown the door, being sent back to their home countries, and you're saying to others, Oh, but you should feel all right and safe about coming forward.

ZIGLAR: Well, once again, these fellows just happened to be at this phone booth, and they were in illegal status, and they were caught as a result of that operation. They weren't involved in the cases we know, and they weren't providing information or helping the authorities. That's a very different situation.

In fact, let me, if I could, make one other point.

WOODRUFF: Sure.

ZIGLAR: There is a special visa status that I'm authorized to grant to people that come forward and help law enforcement in solving crimes. If -- and I've stated today that if there is information that is provided that is proven to be provided and materially help this investigation working with the local law enforcement and others, we will look very favorably on granting that special status. And I might add that the person who gets that status also can get the same status for their family. So this is a way that we can encourage the immigrant community to help in this investigation.

WOODRUFF: Are you offering this incentive because you, authorities have reason to believe that there are immigrants, either legal or illegal, involved in these sniper shootings?

ZIGLAR: Well, you'll have to ask the folks that are doing that investigation. All I know is that we are looking for all the information we can to find this person, and it's very possible that it's among communities that might fear coming forward. And that's why we're doing what we're doing.

WOODRUFF: And just quickly, if there is someone listening who may have information, what should they do? They should contact the police, but then the immigration aspect of it, you're saying...

(CROSSTALK)

ZIGLAR: They should contact Chief Moose. And he is not going to provide us information about their status, nor are we going to seek that information.

WOODRUFF: All right. James Ziglar is the commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. We thank you very much for talking with us.

ZIGLAR: Thanks for the opportunity of being here.

WOODRUFF: We appreciate it.

ZIGLAR: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Thank you.

To President Bush, now, who today urged Americans to pray for a quick end to the sniper attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm deeply saddened by the recent tragedy that we've seen here in Washington. There is a ruthless person on the loose. I've ordered the full resources of the federal government to help local law enforcement officials in their efforts to capture this person.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Meantime, our new poll shows most people around the country believe police will eventually find the sniper. Nearly half of all Americans say they are worried that similar sniper attacks could happen where they live. Fifty-two percent say they feel a great deal of anxiety over the sniper on a par with the level of angst over terrorism. Most Americans say they are closely following the sniper shootings with half saying they are following it very closely.

Well, the sniper isn't the only reason many Americans are feeling stressed. Let's bring in our senior political analyst Bill Schneider.

Bill, what are you learning?

SCHNEIDER: We're learning that voter anxiety is rising. Now is it snipers, Iraq, the war on terrorism? No, it's something else, stupid.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER: I think the American people fully appreciate the magnitude of the economic problems we're facing.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Yes, they do. When President Bush took office in January 2001, 82 percent of Americans thought the economy was in good shape. At the end of 2001, only 50 percent thought economic conditions were good.

By last month, that number had gotten slightly better, 54 percent. But look at it now. Just 41 percent of Americans say the economy is good, down 13 points in one month.

For the first time since President Bush took office, fewer than 50 percent of Americans say the economy is good. In fact, the number who say the economy is good has fallen by half since Bush was inaugurated.

Uh-oh, is President Bush turning into his father? In some ways, yes. In 1992, 68 percent of Americans said they thought then President Bush was not spending enough time dealing with domestic problems. Sixty-one percent now say the same thing about his son.

But in another way, the two Presidents Bush are not alike. In 1992, a year after the Gulf War, 50 percent of Americans said they thought then President Bush was spending too much time on international problems. But only 28 percent say the same thing now about his son. September 11 made a difference.

The Democrats hope economic discontent will pay off for them at the polls next month.

REP. DICK GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: I think everybody today ought to ask themselves a simple question: are you better off than you were two years ago?

SCHNEIDER: And the payoff? Among all registered voters, Democrats have a nine-point edge in the nationwide congressional vote. But among those likely to vote, the Democratic lead nearly disappears. Which suggests that Republican voters are more highly motivated. And in a midterm election, motivation and turnout are everything.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: What do Republicans have to motivate them? Two words: President Bush. And what do Democrats have? Two possibly less compelling words: the economy. We'll see which force is stronger -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. When you put it in such stark terms we've got something to look at here. All right, Bill. Thank you.

Dueling voices in the gun debate are still ahead. I will ask gun control activist Sarah Brady why the sniper spree has not prompted more politicians to talk up her cause.

And we'll hear the NRA's rallying cry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. SCOTT MCCALLUM (R), WISCONSIN: When they try to take the guns, they'll fail. When they try to take our ammunition, they'll fail.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Also ahead, who came out on top in the latest Florida governor's debate?

And who's getting a little help from Mr. Margaritaville? This is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCALLUM: When they try to take the guns, they'll fail. When they try to take our ammunition, they'll fail. And they will fail because you're here, you care and you will continue to fight for the Constitution, our rights and our heritage in Wisconsin tonight. Thank you so much. Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WOODRUFF: That was Wisconsin Governor Scott McCallum at last night's National Rifle Association rally near Milwaukee. The event is part of the multi-state Gun Rights Campaign Tour that is headlined by NRA President Charlton Heston. McCallum, who's locked in a tight reelection race. was joined by Heston and the NRA's Executive Vice President Wayne La Pierre.

CNN producer Danna Bash (ph), who was in the audience, reports that the theme of the night centered on getting out the vote on election day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WAYNE LA PIERRE, NRA EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT: It's the same suspects. You know who they are, Hillary Clinton, Joe Lieberman, Schumer, Kennedy, Feinstein, not to mention Doyle here in your state.

They want to take away the freedom to own firearms, they want to shut down firearms shows leave Americans defenseless. They're on the wrong side of the American public an the wrong side of freedom and ware going to show them so again on election day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: For NRA members who attended that event, the sniper shootings, which now dominant national headlines, provided a chance to defend gun ownership and to argue more guns in the hands of citizens halls a safer society.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One nut doesn't spoil the whole basket, let's face it. You've got one guy out there that his mind is gone or he wouldn't be killing innocent people. It's not the instrument. It is the person behind the instrument.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a right to protect myself and if somebody is going to attack me, I need to protect myself in any way I can. And if it's having a gun, then it's having a gun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is only one thing that can stop a madman with a gun, and that's the arrival of many more guns. That's what happened in Columbine. There were two madmen running around with guns and what finally stopped them? The police arrived with a lot more guns. The answer to the gun problem is putting guns in the hands of responsible citizens, not taking it away from them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Well, it's fair to say the sniper shootings have energized advocates on both sides of the gun debate. There are of course those who don't agree with groups like the NRA.

Among the most outspoken is gun control advocate, Sarah Brady, the wife of former White House Press Secretary James Brady. Of course, he was shot back in 1981. Earlier I spoke with Mrs. Brady. I started by asking her about the gun control laws already on the books in Maryland and if gun control really helps prevent violence.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARAH BRADY, GUN CONTROL ACTIVIST: Of course gun control helps. It's not a panacea and it won't stop all guns -- shootings or gun violence, but it does help. Since the Brady law and the assault weapon ban were passed, gun violence has gone down by 27 percent nationwide. Pardon me. We're down to 29,000 from 35 or so thousand deaths a year and that's a great stride, but it's not enough. Nationwide, we still see too many. And these are preventable.

There are many things we can do. We can stop guns from getting in the wrong hands by doing background checks on all purchases. We also have an assault weapon ban that's going to expire during this next Congress. We need to keep that intact. We need people focused on maintaining these laws.

WOODRUFF: But when you talk to people who follow the politics of this, even gun control advocates say that the political climate has changed, that the gun rights lobby is so strong and so powerful and so relentless, that it's hard to make a difference.

I mean, how do you keep going in this situation when even your own advocates are saying, the climate is just not right?

BRADY: Well, you know what? I disagree with them. The people are with us. And we have to keep focused. We have to remind people that when they go to the polls, they're going to have to vote for candidates who are willing to maintain an assault weapon ban. Who are going to fight for it. Who will fight to keep guns out of the wrong hands. It's an aberration that this issue has been bad for candidates. Almost on every level where the gun issue has been brought out and the difference between two candidates has been delineated our candidates win.

WOODRUFF: These terrible sniper killings, shootings in the Washington area, have they in a way helped candidates like Kathleen Kennedy Townsend?

BRADY: Well, it's a shame to ever think that anybody would want to capitalize -- and nobody has capitalized on this. It has brought it to the fore. Of course, everybody is thinking about guns again and they should because nationwide, not just what's -- this terrible thing that's happening in our area, but nationwide, gun violence is a big issue.

And I don't think there's been any capitalization on the issue. Because of terrorism occurring as a result of 9/11, we didn't quit talking about terrorism or how to prevent it or what to do about it. And the same is true with guns. Gun violence is there nationwide and we need to talk about it. We need when we go to the polls to know which way our candidates are going to vote.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Sarah Brady talking with me yesterday.

And we have some news to share with you from the Montgomery County police and that is police have pulled over a white box truck on Interstate 270. This is an Interstate just northwest of Washington D.C. It runs into the perimeter highway, Interstate 495.

Police are saying that at this point, there is a report -- separating -- this is not from police. There is a report that one of the people inside the truck, inside the vehicle was seen with a weapon. Police have closed off Interstate 270.

At this point, it is not known that there is any connection with the serial shootings, but police have done this as a precautionary measure. That is all that Montgomery County police are saying about this at this time.

Once again, a report that one of the individuals inside that white box truck had a weapon, but at this point, it's very early and we are trying to collect information, as you can imagine, right at this moment.

We'll take a break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Just to quickly recap some information just coming into CNN Montgomery County Police say they have closed off Interstate 270, just north, northwest of Washington D.C. They -- we are told that a white box truck has been pulled over. There are reports that one of the individuals inside that truck has been seen with a weapon. We are trying right now to confirm this.

But as of now, we don't know for sure of any connection with the serial sniper shootings. We're gathering information as we speak and we'll give that to you as soon as we get it.

Well, to the Florida governor's race now where the Democratic nominee for governor, Bill McBride, and the incumbent Republican, Jeb Bush, have put their final debate before Election Day behind them.

How did they do last night?

CNN's John Zarrella reports from Orlando.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL MCBRIDE (D), FLORIDA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Everybody in this state deserves an equal opportunity to live the American dream

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This time around, Democratic challenger Bill McBride seemed far more at ease.

TIM RUSSERT, "MEET THE PRESS": What's the best thing you can say about Jeb Bush? MCBRIDE: Well, I like his mom very much.

ZARRELLA: The final debate between McBride and Florida's Republican Governor Jeb Bush was refreshing debate watchers said, in its frankness. McBride and Bush fought over a full plate of meat and potatoes issues. Education has been the election special. Bush and McBride differ on an amendment that would mandate smaller class sizes.

MCBRIDE: The fourth graders in the state of Florida, over half of them are in classes over 25 students. That's wrong for kids. The governor needs to acknowledge it and he needs to own up to it.

GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: We don't have enough qualified teachers to be able to fill all those spots. We will have unqualified teachers, teachers out of field teaching our kids.

ZARRELLA: Neither man hit a home run, but the governor may have come the closest, hammering McBride for being a big spender without explaining where the money is coming from.

J. BUSH: To suggest that you're not going to raise taxes, I think, is just being disingenuous.

ZARRELLA: Political analysts say McBride lost a key opportunity to lay out his plan.

SUSAN MCMANUS, POLITICAL SCIENTIST: My guess is that many voters who were undecided -- and there aren't that many, frankly -- are still a little worried about how these candidates are going to pay for everything, especially Mr. McBride, and that's going to be his challenge for the next two weeks, because the question is not going away.

ZARRELLA: With less than two weeks to go before the election, the polls show McBride within five points of the governor.

AL CARDERAS, FLORIDA GOP CHAIRMAN: We like the margin we have. It's not a comfortable margin, but it's better where the other fellow is.

BOB POE, FLORIDA DEM. CHAIRMAN: The fact that right now Jeb Bush can't get above 49 points in any single poll shows that he's got a problem.

ZARRELLA: Analysts say weekend polls should provide clear indications which way the race is going, whether Bush gets breathing room or McBride tightens the noose.

John Zarrella, CNN, Orlando.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: And with us now from Miami, CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times.

Ron, you were at the debate last night. Do you think there was a clear winner?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I actually do, Judy. I mean, I think that with one possible caveat, Jeb Bush was clearly, and at times decisively, stronger in making his case. He was more articulate, he was more focused, he was more specific. I think he gave a much clearer vision of where he wants to take the state.

The one caveat would be it reminded me a little bit of the first George Bush, Al Gore debate with Jeb Bush in the Al Gore role of having more facts at his fingertips and more concise, crisp answers, and yet, at times, seeming a little perhaps overbearing and overmuch, and I wonder if Bush clearly won on points, there may have been aspects of McBride's personality that wore well with voters, seeing him more as a regular guy, more of a conciliator, in some of the same way that George Bush seemed to lose on points in that first debate, but came out the winner.

I don't think so in the end. But that was the one, I think, saving grace for McBride last night.

WOODRUFF: Bush's campaign has been saying that McBride has been vague on the issues. It's pretty much what you're getting at now. Are you saying that that was born out in the debate?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think McBride did not really fill in on a lot of the key questions, especially the one that Bush is trying to make the centerpiece of the campaign's final days and in fact is out there hammering Mr. McBride on as we speak today.

And that is: How will he pay for the various agenda items that he's put forward without raising state taxes? The real key here is this ballot initiative to reduce class sizes in the state, which is not part of McBride's program, but which he has endorsed. And Jeb Bush is saying: "Look, that is going to cost an enormous sum over the next decade. It will require a state income tax or other tax increases."

McBride was, I think, pretty weak. That may have been his weakest part of the whole debate in trying to explain how he would do that without taxes. He had other moments that were better. But that was not a good one for him. And that's a question he really has to answer down the stretch.

WOODRUFF: One of the most contentious exchanges, Ron, was when Governor Bush challenged McBride to repudiate the statements made by an African-American -- in fact an NAACP leader in Miami.

Here's Tim Russert's question. And here's how they dealt with it. I want to ask you about this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCBRIDE: I don't know enough about Bishop Curry to speak -- to condemn him as a person. If those comments are accurate, he shouldn't have said them. And I don't believe them. I was not on the show, or didn't know about them until subsequently asked by a newspaper reporter. And I just think they're bad comments.

J. BUSH: Mr. McBride, if he's going to have someone who he listens to that calls myself, but more importantly the leader of the free world a neo-Nazi and someone who is close to Hitler, who is doing business with Osama bin Laden, should do them more than just kind of do the Heisman and just kind of get out of the way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Well, it didn't seem all that contentious as we showed it just then. But, Ron, what did you think about that?

BROWNSTEIN: It was very heated.

And, oddly enough, Judy, many of McBride's supporters felt -- and I kind of agree -- that that ended up buy being his best moment of the debate, because what he was saying was: "Look, I'm a reasonable guy. I'm clearly not endorsing statements like that. It's sort of political gamesmanship for you, Governor, to suggest that I am. And you're trying to put me in a political untenable position of having to condemn this individual."

It was part of the way in which McBride does come across as more conciliatory than commanding. He is a former Marine. He's a trial lawyer. And yet the basic aura he sends out is of someone who will sit around the table and bring people together and sort of lower the partisan and political temperature. That's what he did most effectively last night, as I said, in some ways analogous to George Bush in the very first presidential debate.

And, oddly, in this moment where he was on the defensive, it gave him a very clear chance to contrast. And Bush may have over-reached in trying to associate McBride with statements that I think any reasonable Floridian would recognize that he would condemn.

WOODRUFF: All right, Ron Brownstein, in Florida, thank you very much.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: When we come back, we'll have a report on what we've been telling you, a live report that a white box truck, an Isuzu truck has been pulled over on Interstate 270, just north of Washington. The interstate has been shut down for several miles.

And we're going to have a live update on that right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: When we come back: more on the closing of Interstate 270, the pulling-over of a white box truck.

We'll be back with a live report.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WOODRUFF: As we've just been reporting, police in Montgomery County, Maryland, have closed a portion of Interstate 270. That's just northwest of Washington, D.C. A white box truck has been pulled over.

Let's go now to my colleague Kathleen Koch in Montgomery County.

Kathleen, what have you learned?

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, what we have learned is that CNN was told, apparently by a bus driver of a school bus that apparently was in the vicinity of this white box truck, that someone in the bus -- we don't know if it was the driver or if it was students. We don't know the age of the students.

But someone in the school bus spotted a weapon in the white box truck. Now, I don't know if this was a weapon in the driver's side, the passenger's side, in the rear of the box truck, if that was open. We have very few details. But we know that they have shut down I-270, this major north-south artery in Montgomery County, shut it down all the way north to Frederick County line.

Now, there may mean there may be some confusion as to whether or not this box truck has actually been stopped. We had been told that there was at least one pulled over. But perhaps that is not the one that authorities are indeed seeking. So perhaps they are still on the hunt for another white Isuzu-style box truck.

And, of course, Judy, as everyone knows, back when this all started, back October 2, it was back around that time that police said that a witness to one of the shootings on the 2nd or the 3rd spotted this white box truck in this area. And they've been looking for it ever since -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Kathleen, thank you very much. And, of course, as we get more information, we'll bring it to you as soon as we know it. Thank you.

Well, as the sniper investigation continues to dominate headlines all over the country, I'm joined by two political reporters from beyond the Washington Beltway. Tom Baxter is with "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution." Carla Marinucci joins me from San Francisco. She is with "The San Francisco Chronicle."

Carla, Tom, you both are in states where there are hot races.

In Georgia, Tom, there is a hot Senate race: Max Cleland, Saxby Chambliss.

Carla, of course, in California, Governor Gray Davis being challenged by Bill Simon, and yet the sniper incidents here in Washington getting a lot of attention. How is it affecting political coverage, the coverage of these campaigns?

Tom. TOM BAXTER, "ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION": Judy, I think the big impact is, it's just sucking the air out of these races. You have candidates who are just desperate to get airtime now. And the Montgomery County police chief is the most visible public official in the country.

WOODRUFF: Carla, what about in California?

CARLA MARINUCCI, "SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE": Judy, same thing.

Californians have had the luxury in the last couple of days of worrying about something a lot more positive, which is the all- California World Series. That sucked up a lot of coverage. But this has resonated, too, with California, particularly the Bay area, where, of course, we had the Zodiac killer -- a lot of similarities there.

This has been a front-page story. It takes up an entire page in our paper today. And the candidates, Gray Davis and Bill Simon, have made gun control an issue. And this is where it matters to voters. California, of course, has some of the strongest gun control laws in the nation. Davis has put those ads on the air, pointing out that he supports those laws and that Bill Simon has been endorsed by the NRA.

So this has mattered to voters here and I think will continue to be a topic as we go forward in the next two weeks.

WOODRUFF: Tom, what about in Georgia? We know it's somewhat a different climate there when it comes to gun rights.

BAXTER: It's a very different climate. And I think what has happened, really, is, it has raised this issue without really moving voters in any big degree on the issue, so that I think that what the candidates right now are trying to do is just reinforce their NRA credentials for those NRA members who are nervous about the possibility of gun control in the wake of this.

WOODRUFF: I want to ask you both about a CNN poll that Bill Schneider was talking about a little earlier in the program. And that is, among other things, it found that the number of Americans, the percentage of Americans who think the economy is in good shape has dropped by something like 13 points since last month. The president's approval rating on his handling of the economy has dropped below 50 percent for the first time since he was elected.

I guess my question is, are you seeing any evidence of that where you are, Carla?

MARINUCCI: Well, certainly, Judy, Silicon Valley, where I was last night with Governor Davis, has been hit harder by the economy than just about any place in the nation. This is a major concern.

And we've seen the president's approval ratings as a whole be lower in California than in the rest of the country. Huge concern about the economy, and it's a huge issue in our election here. So this will continue to be interesting as we go forward. Silicon Valley, more than any other place, wants this economy back and have specific goals and interests. And both the candidates here have had to address that.

WOODRUFF: And has it benefited one party or another?

MARINUCCI: Davis, who was there last night, has a lot of friends in Silicon Valley, has been able to push trade issues, intellectual property issues, and has been very, very tough, coming out with -- supporting research facilities in the University of California to help create more jobs in high tech. That has gone over well with the people in Silicon Valley on the economy...

(CROSSTALK)

MARINUCCI: ... and in that issue.

WOODRUFF: I'm sorry to interrupt.

Tom, what about in Georgia? What are you seeing in terms of the economy and how it's affecting the race, if at all?

BAXTER: Well, our governor announced a new Daimler-Benz auto plant over near Savannah last week. And now Daimler-Benz is saying that they may build that plant. If they do build, they'll build there, but they're not sure they're going to building the plant. That just shows you how anxious the governor is to show that he's doing something about jobs and how difficult a climate it is to guarantee jobs right now.

WOODRUFF: And in the Senate race, any effect?

BAXTER: In the Senate race, I think there is some effect, but not really nearly as direct as the impact on the governor's race, because we've lost a lot of jobs in Georgia in the last four years.

WOODRUFF: OK, we're going to have to leave it there.

Tom Baxter, Carla Marinucci, it's great to check in with both of you. Thanks very much. We'll try to talk to you again before the election. We appreciate it.

The bobblehead phenomenon comes to politics next in our "Campaign News Daily." A trio of Democrats gets the treatment in a new political ad -- the shaky details next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Checking the headlines in our "Campaign News Daily": The anti-tax group Club for Growth is hopping on the bobblehead doll craze with a new ad featuring likelinesses of Senators Tom Daschle, Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy. The ads portray the Daschle-led Senate as blocking tax White House initiatives like tax cuts and homeland security. The Club for Growth says it plans to spend at least $600,000 on the ad in six states with tight Senate races.

Montana Republican Mike Taylor has decided to resume his Senate race against incumbent Democrat Max Baucus. Taylor suspended his campaign shortly after Democrats released this ad, which is old footage of Taylor from his days at a Colorado beauty school. Taylor said the ad implied that he was gay. Back on the trail, Taylor says he wants to -- quote -- "Send a message against mudslinging."

In Colorado, Republican Senator Wayne Allard says his campaign has nothing to do with phone calls which appear on caller I.D.s with the message, "Win $100,000 cash." People who answer the calls hear a recorded message asking voters to support Wayne Allard. Allard's campaign has reported the calls to law enforcement officials. They say the calls are meant to damage Allard's campaign against his Democratic challenger, Tom Strickland.

One more campaign note: A campaign worker for Tennessee Democrat Bob Clement claims that Republican Lamar Alexander injured his hand and his index finger with an angry handshake. An Alexander spokesman dismisses the allegation. The incident happened when a Clement supporter tried to give Alexander a phony dollar bill that's been used by Democrats to criticize Alexander.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHELBY HUNTON, CLEMENT SUPPORTER: He looked down and saw the dollars, was very angered, grasped my hand very tightly, twisted it.

KEVIN PHILLIPS, ALEXANDER SPOKESMAN: It's pretty ridiculous. It's a last-minute, desperate publicity stunt on behalf of a losing campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: No word on whether the fellow had to go to the hospital. Police are investigating the incident, which Alexander called -- quote -- "a media stunt."

Coming up: another indication that election night could be a cliffhanger.

Also ahead: the White House role and other factors that could swing the Texas Senate race.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: This development in the search for the deadly sniper: A section of Interstate 270 north of Washington in the Germantown, Maryland, area was shut down this afternoon in response to a tip from a citizen who reported seeing a white van with a person who was armed -- now, this according to authorities.

Montgomery County police would not elaborate further. Maryland State Police would only say that the interstate was shut down due to an incident. We want to tell you that it was just the northbound lanes that were shut down. And we're told that traffic does now appear to be moving again.

In the state of Texas, Republican John Cornyn and Democrat Ron Kirk debate tonight in their heated Senate showdown.

We sent our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, down to the Lone Star State to get a firsthand look at that race.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If this Senate race were about charisma, Ron Kirk would win. Easygoing, gregarious, Kirk is a natural-born campaigner, a pro-business, conservative-leaning Democrat, who, over the past decade or so, became an overnight star.

RON KIRK (D), TEXAS SENATE CANDIDATE: A year ago, when I'm in Washington trying to get people interested in my race, neither the national media or the Democratic Party is paying a bit of attention, because you guys deal this 30,000-foot view that says: "Oh, Texas has got George Bush and Dick Cheney and all those. He is an engaging guy, but he ain't got a chance."

CROWLEY: But this former mayor of Dallas does have a chance.

CAL JILLSON, SOUTHERN METHODIST UNIVERSITY: This is a tortoise- and-hare race, with Ron Kirk being the hare, spurting out, sometimes catching, becoming even, which, in Texas, was really quite astounding, much better than he was thought to do.

JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS SENATE CANDIDATE: Did you soften them up for me a little bit?

CROWLEY: Meet the tortoise.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How's it going?

CORNYN: It's going too good.

CROWLEY: More formal, more reserved Republican John Cornyn has a lead in the polls and a friend in high places. If this race were about President Bush, John Cornyn, attorney general under Governor Bush, would win.

CORNYN: It shouldn't surprise anybody that, because the president and I are friends and have worked together when he was governor and share a common philosophy, that we're going to agree about many things.

KIRK: This isn't junior high. And we're not picking the class favorite, that you've either got to be George Bush's friends or you've got to be Ron Kirk's friend. That's bull.

CROWLEY: To win in Texas, Kirk, who will not rule out voting for George Bush in '04, needs both Bush voters and Democratic Party money, a tricky Texas two-step his opponent has seized on.

CORNYN: Campaigning in places like Hollywood, Martha's Vineyard, New York and Washington, D.C., and getting support from people like Hillary Clinton and Tom Daschle. And the question is, whose values is he going to represent?

CROWLEY: And now the issue both candidates say is not an issue. You may have noticed Kirk is African-American, if elected, the first black U.S. senator from Texas.

KIRK: You can be a bad black mayor, you know? And you can get voted out of office, just like anybody else. It's not about race. It's about competency. But, yes, it would be cool. It would be so neat.

CROWLEY: The major impact of race is broader than the color of the candidates. Texas has grown steadily less white, increasingly Latino. Democrats believe their so-called dream team, Tony Sanchez, a Latino for governor, and Kirk for senator will tap in to a changing state.

CORNYN: Some of this is hype. But I think what's happening is that people are deciding who they're going to vote for based on issues, not on race or ethnicity.

CROWLEY: In fact, the latest poll shows Sanchez and Kirk with double-digit deficits. Democrats say a huge effort to attract first- time voters is under way.

(on camera): In politics, who lives in a state is less important than who votes there, which is why this race about policy and charisma and George Bush is, in the end, most importantly about which campaign gets their people to the polls.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Waco, Texas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: That's it for this Wednesday edition of INSIDE POLITICS.

I'm Judy Woodruff. Thank you for joining us.

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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