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CNN SATURDAY MORNING NEWS

America Votes 2002: 'Reporter's Notebook'

Aired November 2, 2002 - 09:30   ET

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

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: This really is the moment everybody's been waiting for.
HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: It is.

O'BRIEN: I know you have.

COLLINS: I've been shaking in my boots.

O'BRIEN: Reporter's Notebook. We've been actively going through your excellent e-mails, and to field them, as well as some questions on the phone, because we have ...

COLLINS: Oh, yes, this is lovely.

O'BRIEN: Wow, look at this. I don't know if there's (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

COLLINS: Yes, it looks pretty good.

O'BRIEN: And we have our illustrious panel. First of all, that number, once again, if you want to dial in, be a part of this, is 800- 807-2620. Operators standing by.

Kelly Wallace, Bill Schneider, Bob Franken, among our correspondents who are fielding questions for you today.

COLLINS: Yes, that's right. We also have Tyler Bridges of the "Miami Herald"...

O'BRIEN: Tyler Bridges.

COLLINS: ... who we spoke with a little earlier, so...

O'BRIEN: All right, good to see you all. And I tell you what, we're going to -- ladies first, of course, always the rule. But in this case, Kelly Wallace has to catch a plane to continue her itinerant behavior following the president.

This one comes from Mark O. Purvis for you, Kelly. "How do you think the legal battles will play out after the election on November 5?" Mark puts it as a virtual certainly that there will be legal battles. Kelly?

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, that is certainly hard to say, of course. Obviously there will be some legal challenges. And Bob can talk about one, certainly some concern even in Minnesota about, concern about Paul Wellstone's name being on the ballot there in that state.

So, you know, that is hard to say. Right now the focus is certainly on what happens on November 5. There'll be a lot of attention exactly on what happened and then what role the president played in it. You already have the White House saying that if Republicans win back control of the Senate, well, they're saying that the pundits out there will say it's all due to local issues. But they will believe, in part, it will due to the president, Miles.

COLLINS: All right. Thanks, kelly. Let's go to Bill Schneider now. Bill, we have someone standing by on the phone from Georgia. So he's right near you, I'm sure. Joe has a question about the Senate race and GOP control. Joe, what's your question?

CALLER: Yes, thank you very much. CNN does a great job of covering the elections. Bill Schneider and Bob Franken, will the Republicans be able to take over the Senate? And how about my man Saxby Chambliss in Georgia? Does he have a chance to upseat -- you know, up -- win an upset over the incumbent Democrat, Max Cleland?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Those two questions are very closely related, because if Saxby Chambliss does upset and win the race here in Georgia over Max Cleland, then the Republicans will have a pretty good chance of taking over the Senate. They only have to gain one seat, and each party has about five seats that are too close to call right now. And Georgia is one of them.

O'BRIEN: Real nail-biter. Bob Franken, it's -- this is just like old times. You and Joe McCutcheon there, go ahead, take it away.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, in Minnesota, as a matter of fact, one of those key states, everything has been tossed up in the air because of the tragedy that befell Paul Wellstone, and the subsequent problems that could come up, including the possibility of a challenge to absentee ballots. The irony there, that Minnesota is a state that has prided itself on holding immaculate elections.

Well, this could be a little bit messier than that. But one of the states that is key, of course, is this one, it's going down to the wire, completely new formula now with Walter Mondale, the icon brought out of semiretirement and running, and the Republican with the dilemma, how does one run against an icon, or, as he put it, how does one run against Mount Rushmore?

O'BRIEN: All right. Let's get another e-mail in. "The Democratic Party has demonstrated an appalling disregard of the election laws in both New Jersey and Minnesota in efforts to win Senate seats. It also is sending a small army of lawyers to places like Florida and Missouri with the express purpose of reenacting Florida 2000 if necessary. Do any of the panel think this will backfire on Democratic candidates?"

And that comes from Miles O'Brien. That's my dad. That's my dad. All right, dad, he's got a little in here. Tyler, go ahead, take that one, will you? TYLER BRIDGES, "THE MIAMI HERALD": I don't know that it's going to affect the election, but both sides, not only the Democrats, but both sides have assembled a team of lawyers. They're ready to go on election day, and they're ready to go after election day if there's any problems.

O'BRIEN: Anybody else on that one?

WALLACE: And Miles -- well, I was just going to jump in. It is -- Miles, it's -- I'm going to jump in there, if I can.

O'BRIEN: Yes, go, jump in. Dive in.

WALLACE: It very interesting, I jumped in, it is so interesting, because you do have the Democrats sending a whole team of lawyers to Florida. You even have a lot of campaign operatives who are connected to the Gore presidential campaign in 2000. You have the Republicans sending a lot of people who are part of the recount effort in 2000 as well.

Some people are really looking at the Florida race in particular as sort of revenge, according to Democrats. So a lot riding on this race, both Democrats and Republicans really kind of putting all the stops trying to get everyone to the polls. And again, some looking at it as sort of a revenge of two years ago.

SCHNEIDER: And I don't think that anyone in Minnesota manipulated the election laws, I think they followed the election law scrupulously after Paul Wellstone's tragic death. They had to find a candidate who could run in the last week of the campaign. That's what the law required.

You might make that argument in New Jersey, where Robert Torricelli got out, and it was so close to the election that his name was supposed to stay on the ballot. They did find another candidate. There you could make the argument Democrats skirted the law. But the court said it was OK, and there does not to seem to have been a backlash in New Jersey.

FRANKEN: And, you know, there are two things that happen in every election. Each party seeks every advantage it can, and each party expresses shock at what the other party is doing.

O'BRIEN: Imagine that. Bob Franken, reminding us of some axioms of politics.

All right, go ahead, Heidi.

COLLINS: I believe we have another phone call, and the phone call queen here. We've got Jerry from Florida. And I think you have a question about, is it President Bush's travel you're wondering about?

CALLER: Yes, I am. I would like to know whether or not you would use the term fund-raiser in chief for President Bush like they did President Clinton. He has raised more money in a shorter time than Clinton did. He's been traveling the country for the last three weeks. And I'd just like to know who's paying for these trips and why?

WALLACE: Well, you raise...

COLLINS: Kelly Wallace?

WALLACE: ... a very good question -- Yes, Heidi, Gary raises an interesting question, because a lot of people certainly looked at President Clinton and his fund raising. This president, President Bush, breaking all previous records, raising more than $140 million this year.

Interesting, earlier on in the campaign, the president would often do a policy-related event and a political event. And that would mean that the Republican Party would pay half the cost of the trip. The taxpayer would pay the other half.

All these trips right now, though, all political, which means the party is responsible for paying the cost of his travel. And I will say, Gary, there are some risks here for the president.

Some people, some observers believe by campaigning so much, number one, he's putting his own record on the line, if Republicans don't do well on Tuesday, but also, perhaps, you know, his approval ratings come down a little bit. He's been talking a lot about the imminent threat posed by Iraq. Some question whether he could be hurting his own agenda by doing so much campaigning, and in some view, being a divisive, you know, candidate, pumping it up for Republicans out on the campaign stop.

O'BRIEN: All right, let's get back to the e-mailbox. Graham Robertson up there in Toronto, Canada, has this for us. "Even though the Democrats are pushing to take the House and Senate, the effort seems lacking a leader to speak on their behalf. Who is their midterm Newt?" Dr. Schneider, why don't you take that one?

SCHNEIDER: Well, that's the really big question, because an election tends to be a personality, even a midterm. In 1994, it was anti-Bill Clinton. In 1998, it was really anti-Newt Gingrich. While this the Republicans hope will be a vote on President Bush, because he's very popular, and they think that he can turn things around for them.

The problem is, who have the Democrats got to compete? just as the questioner asked. Well, there's Al Gore, but his image is very divisive. So is former president Bill Clinton. There's Tom Daschle, Dick Gephardt, the leaders of their respective chambers. But when we look at the polls, we find out they have a moderately favorable image, but a whole lot of voters all over the country have never heard of them.

So the Democrats really don't have a messenger in this election.

COLLINS: All right, Bob Franken, I've got one for you. I'm going to try and handle an e-mail here, so bear with me. "What will be the each party's spin if elections do not go their way?" This is coming to us from Alan in Charleston, South Carolina. And he gives the example, "If the Democrats fail to pick up any House seats, or the GOP loses both the Senate and the House." What are they going to say?

FRANKEN: Well, first of all, it's almost as if everybody is really looking at this as a way station on the way to the presidential election, and if President Bush is successful, that is to say that he is able to gain control of Congress, the Democrats will then try and turn that against him in the election two years hence.

If there is a divided government, then the president has a better chance of running against the Congress, perhaps a better way of winning. Everything in politics is temporary. Bill Schneider can tell you that. Everything is temporary, and a victory today can turn into a loss tomorrow.

SCHNEIDER: I'll tell you the spin will be, it's very simple. Whoever loses will say, All politics is local.

O'BRIEN: All right. Once again, way out on the limb there.

All right, Tyler, let's get you in here. This comes from Brian LeSieur in Brownsville, Kentucky. "If you think one man, i.e., the president of the United States, should have even more power and control than the office already has, then vote Republican. If you, like me, prefer to see some reasonable checks and balances over the rule of the country, then vote Democratic."

I'm curious, how much is that is in play when people actually go into voting booths? Are they trying to create a check and balance, or are they just voting on the congressman they like or don't like?

BRIDGES: Well, this year's election in Florida, the governor's race, is really not a national issue, if I can address that for a moment. Everybody thought it was going to be a replay of 2000, and today we have President Bush here, former president Clinton here.

But ultimately, people in Florida are going to be deciding this election on local issues, particularly the issue of education and taxes. Are -- a lot of classes are overcrowded, teachers are not paid particularly well. Florida doesn't do well in state-by-state educational rankings, and that is the weapon that Bill McBride, the Democratic candidate, has used against Governor Bush.

Governor Bush said, Hey, taxes, your taxes are going to go up, Bill (UNINTELLIGIBLE) if Bill McBride is elected, so reelect me. So it's really a local issues that are driving the electorate in this race in Florida.

O'BRIEN: All right. You better answer that phone, Tyler. Thank you very much for being with us.

COLLINS: That's right, we want to take a minute to thank everybody. I'm so sorry, Bob, and I know how cold you are there in my home town. You look very cold. You're doing such a good job with your lips when they get so cold like that. We want to thank you all...

FRANKEN: You actually lived here?

COLLINS: I did, I know, it's still frightening. Bill Schneider in Atlanta, Tyler Bridges of the "Miami Herald," Kelly Wallace traveling with the president in Blountville, and Bob Franken in Minnesota, thank you so much to all of you.

O'BRIEN: Got to wonder why people live in a part of the world where you got to plug your car in at night. All right.

COLLINS: It's true. You're right.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it's true. Thanks very much to everybody. Thanks for your e-mails, thanks for your calls. Sorry we couldn't get them all on, but we really do appreciate your participation.

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