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CNN INSIDE POLITICS

Lieberman Announces Candidacy for Democratic Nomination for President

Aired January 13, 2003 - 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: INSIDE POLITICS begins right now.
ANNOUNCER: Joe Lieberman makes his entrance in the presidential race. Does he jump to the head of the Democratic class?

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: I'm a different kind of Democrat. I will not hesitate to tell my friends when I think they're wrong, and to tell my opponents when I think they're right.

ANNOUNCER: We'll have a one-on-one interview with Lieberman and new poll numbers on the Democratic field.

Florida's condo commandos. What's lined up behind Lieberman? Are they in synch with him now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Much as I love the man, and he's a brilliant and good -- he's everything. But, my opinion, he won't make it.

ANNOUNCER: Calculating the stimulus. Has the president's economic plan boosted his approval rating?

On his last day in office, a governor's bold but controversial legacy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yesterday, from the grave, I heard Patty-Ann (ph) screaming out to me, Governor Ryan, why are you doing this?

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

WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us.

On the day Senator Joe Lieberman proclaimed himself a presidential candidate, our new poll gives him a slight edge over the rest of the Democratic pack.

In this "Newscycle," Lieberman has the support of 19 percent of registered Democrats. That's two points ahead of John Kerry, Dick Gephardt and John Edwards round out the top four. The remaining Democratic prospects are in the single digits.

When the 2004 votes are cast, the Voter News Service will not be around to project a winner. Six major news organizations announced that they are disbanding VNS after two major election night failures in a row. We'll have more on that ahead.

Joe Lieberman hopes to make history by becoming the first Jewish presidential nominee of a major party. But he tells me he doesn't want to be pigeonholed because of his religion. That interview is just ahead.

First, our Candy Crowley reports on Lieberman's announcement in Stanford, Connecticut.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The president of the senior class of 1960 returned to Stanford High for some hometown mojo to start him off on his next election.

LIEBERMAN: I am ready to announce today that I am a candidate for president of the United States in 2004! And I intend to win!

CROWLEY: Joe Lieberman is the fifth Democrat to jump in the '04 pool, the first to do it with all the trappings and traditions, a nostalgic venue with family and friends.

LIEBERMAN: This one here, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), I had a big crush on her in the fourth grade.

CROWLEY: There was a television blue backdrop with 22 cameras to shoot it, a cameo appearance in classroom to pass on wisdom of the ages, or at least of Broadway.

LIEBERMAN: If you don't have a dream, how are you going to have a dream come true?

CROWLEY: And, natch, there was a photo op at the local diner, or, as his staff calls these events, a cup of Joe with Joe.

He's already a big enough deal to draw protesters.

Religion almost always comes up. Lieberman is an Orthodox Jew and a strong supporter of Israel. In a recent trip to the area, the senator found how tricky can be. While there he voiced support for a Palestinian homeland, it was seen as an effort to show Lieberman can be evenhanded, but he came home to criticism in the Jewish community.

Still, for now, Lieberman's diplomatic skills will be tested more in Iowa and New Hampshire than the Middle East.

Lieberman has a primary problem. Democratic primary voters are usually to the left of the party and Lieberman is to the right.

He supports the president on Iraq, sees value in capital gains tax cuts and has flirted with school vouchers and Social Security privatization.

Lieberman intends to sell it as a campaign above partisanship.

LIEBERMAN: I intend to talk straight to the American people and show them that I'm a different kind of Democrat. I will not hesitate to tell my friends when I think they're wrong, and to tell my opponents when I think they're right.

CROWLEY: It will take some sorting out, having reconfigured some of his views to fit on to the...[AUDIO GAP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

You can expect that Lieberman will have some explaining to do over the course of the primary, but you can also expect Lieberman to take a page from the Bush campaign of 2000, telling primary voters, Elect me as your nominee, because I can win. It's all about electability -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Candy, we noticed that Joe Lieberman didn't want to get into much detail today about where he differs from the other Democrats. Is there a strategy there? Is that smart of him not say more about that right now?

CROWLEY: Sure. I mean, I think it's to every sort of Democrats' advantage at this point to have George Bush as their target.

Also, as you're sort of sorting out the field, they try to do that. But, you know, as we get closer Judy, you know very well as we get some of those straw polls in Iowa and the primaries and the caucuses get closer, they're going to have to take on each other.

But why do that now? Aster all, most of them have to work in the Senate together, and George Bush is a much healthier target for a Democrat to have right now.

WOODRUFF: OK. Candy Crowley, reporting from Stanford. Thanks very much. We'll talk to you later.

Well, when I talked to Joe Lieberman today, I asked how he confronts what Candy called his primary problem. How does he attract labor unions, women and minorities, groups that traditionally Democratic activists and traditionally groups more liberal than he is.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LIEBERMAN: By being myself, by talking about my record as somebody who's been an independent Democrat, who's been willing to fight for average people and their rights and now wants to continue doing that as president.

I mean, I have a record as attorney general, as a senator. I've protected our defense. I've been a leader in creating opportunity and jobs for middle class people. And I've worked to uphold mainstream values.

And the fact is that the early -- I never like to talk about polls, but the early polling I've seen, including some done by CNN, says that I'm fortunate to be running quite strong at this point in exactly some of those groups that are at the heart of the Democratic Party. WOODRUFF: But those activists who are going to be voting in those early, crucial primaries, they look at you, they see a more moderate, a more centrist record. Aren't there going to be other Democrats who appeal to them more directly?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I hope not. I mean, I'm going to be myself. And you know, these are not ordinary times. We were attacked by terrorists a year plus ago in a way that was unprecedented. Our economy is in a rut; it's really hurting the ability of people to stay in the middle class or work their way up to it.

So I don't think that the average voter, including in the Democratic primaries, is going to vote based on some kind of label. I think they're going to look at each of us and say, "Does this person understand me and my values and needs, and will they fight for me?"

And I think I'll pass that test.

WOODRUFF: You mentioned a national poll, but what really does matter, you know Senator, as well as anybody, in getting that nomination is how you do in those early primaries. Especially in Iowa and in New Hampshire.

And right now, you've got two opponents. In Iowa, you've got Dick Gephardt, next-door neighbor. He's running very well there, better than you are at this point. In New Hampshire, John Kerry, in neighboring Massachusetts. He's running, I think, something like 3- 1...

LIEBERMAN: Sure.

WOODRUFF: ... ahead of you. Can you win the nomination unless you win one of those two earliest states? Nobody's ever done that before.

LIEBERMAN: Oh, yes indeed. I mean, I don't know the history, but first off, I'm going to take my message and my life story and my hopes and dreams for America to each one of those states. And I'm confident that the people will listen to me.

But this is not going to be a sprint. It's going to be a marathon. And I will have both the ideas, the policies, the energy and the financial support to stay in there for the duration.

And then you get to some states where, I'm pleased to say, right now I'm doing quite well. South Carolina, Arizona, big states like New York, Florida.

So this is all about ideas. And the first caucus and primary are about a year away, so let's let the voters have their say. And most of all, let's us, the candidates, have a good debate about why we think we're each the best to lead America to higher, safer ground. I think I'm that person.

WOODRUFF: The Middle East: Senator, as a Jewish candidate, how are you going to demonstrate that you are not too close to Israel, too sympathetic to Israeli interests, in order to make decisions that are going to be in the best interest of the United States?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I think my record speaks to this, and I said it, not with regard to this issue, in my announcement statement. But this is all about a president who will put partisanship and everything else aside and put America first. That's been my record.

My positions on the Middle East are well within the bipartisan mainstream of people in American public life. I'm committed to doing what's right for America. And that's what I'll do.

WOODRUFF: Somewhat in connection with that, my colleague Bill Schneider spent the weekend talking with some elderly Jewish voters down in South Florida. And they all say, "Oh, we like Joe Lieberman; we admire Joe Lieberman. We're not so sure we can support him, because we don't think he can beat George Bush, George W. Bush, and that's what we really want."

I mean, do you start out with a disadvantage with people like this? I mean, these are your own people.

LIEBERMAN: But I'm an American. I mean, I don't pigeonhole here. And my message will be the same to every group in this country.

In fact, I think I have the best chance of any Democratic candidate to defeat President Bush because of the combination of programs and values that I bring: strong on defense, very strong on the kind of economic programs of the Clinton-Gore era that brought us such prosperity. A very different record than the current administration on environmental protection, education, health care, civil rights.

We're just at the beginning. And I think those folks in Florida were very good to me in 2000, and I bet they will be again this time around.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Joe Lieberman, talking to us just a couple of hours ago.

Well, now to a place where Joe Lieberman's religion could be an issue in a positive way, as I mentioned.

Our Bill Schneider went on a fact-finding mission in South Florida.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: In Joe Lieberman expects to get the Democratic nomination, he's going to have to get a lot of support from these huge, heavily Jewish condominium complexes here in South Florida.

How hard can that be? (voice-over): Start spreadin' the news! A Jewish candidate is running for president. And here in the great condominium complexes of South Florida, you've got a lot of Jewish voters. Meet, Trinchitella, one of the last of the so called condo commandos. He is Italian- American, not Jewish, but he's the go-to guy here. He knows these voters.

AMADEO TRICHITELLA, PRES. DEMOCRATIC CLUB, DEERFIELD BEACH: All of them, Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson. Social Security, unemployment insurance, everything that's for the man, that's where these people come from.

SCHNEIDER: Go to Trinchi and he'll tell you, Joe Lieberman is hot here.

TRINCHITELLA: Lieberman will be a big favorite down here.

SCHNEIDER: But these Democrats also want a winner.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think everyone is searching for an alternative to Bush. We know we don't want Bush.

SCHNEIDER: And they worry a little about Lieberman.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Much as I love the man, and he's a brilliant -- he's everything, but smart thinking, he won't make it.

SCHNEIDER: Wouldn't it than he's Jewish, will that be a problem?

BARBARA SCHINDLER, DADE COUNTY DEMOCRATS: I personally do not feel it will be a plus.

SCHNEIDER (on camera): Why not?

SCHINDLER: Because I think there is too much anti-Semitism

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Do they fear he's not electable?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes that will be a question mark. That is something that I think is going to take time.

SCHNEIDER: If not Lieberman, who will they line up behind? Remember, these are not just Jewish voters. They're also Florida voters.

SCHINDLER: There will be a great deal of excitement if Bob Graham decides to run.

SCHNEIDER (on camera): Do you have a favorite candidate in the race?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bob Graham.

SCHNEIDER: This is Joe Lieberman's fate. The voters here respect him and would like to support him. But first they'll have to deal with the serious concern. Can a Jewish candidate get elected president? Can he beat George Bush?

Bill Schneider, CNN, Deerfield Beach, Florida.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: We liked the music.

We have updates on other potential Democratic hopefuls in our Monday edition of "Campaign News Daily." Florida's Senator Bob Graham, you just heard his name, says he is close to making a decision about running for president. But he says a report over the weekend went a little too far. Graham was reported to have said he plans to be the nation's next president, but he says those comments were taken out of context. He does say however, it won't be long before he makes a decision. His wife and daughters have give him a green light to enter the race.

In Delaware, Senator Joe Biden is still considering a presidential run. Biden tells his home state "Wilmington News Journal," that he'll wait until this fall at the latest to make a decision.

Civil rights activist Al Sharpton is disputing claims that he canceled a Friday speech to young people in Oakland so he could accept a higher speaker's fee in Beverly Hills. Aides say Sharpton canceled because his speaking time was changed, and they say he was not paid for his speech to a conference of black newspaper publishers. But the Oakland NAACP says Sharpton informed them that the other simply offered more money.

Well,the Democratic hopefuls will take heart in the results of our new poll which shows the president's approval rating has fallen to its lowest point since before the September 11 tragedy. A closer look at the new numbers later in this hour.

And much more ahead on INSIDE POLITICS.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm Jeff Greenfield in Washington. I'll tell you why the demise of voter news service could lead to dramatic differences on the next big election night.

WOODRUFF: Also ahead, Republicans and African-Americans. How the president's party is reaching out again after the Trent Lott embarrassment.

Plus, more on Joe Lieberman. We'll have the inside buzz on why Senate Republicans are angry at him. This is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.

(Commercial Break)

WOODRUFF: A change at the top here at CNN. Walter Isaacson, announced today that he is leaving his job as chairman and chief executive of the CNN News Group at the end of the spring. He will head up Aspen Institute which runs education program for world leaders. Isaacson will be replaced by current CNN News Group Executive Jim Wanton. Both of them are guests on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" coming up in the next hour.

Coming up. He left office today and he left behind a major controversy. Later on INSIDE POLITICS, a firestorm over outgoing Illinois Governor George Ryan's decision to spare death row inmates.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: The Voter News Service is no more. The media consortium created to count votes and conduct exit 308s on election day has been disbanded. The decision comes after two high-profile failures. The 2000 presidential election, of course, when information twice led news outlets to declare a Florida winner incorrectly. And more recently, when VNS was not able to provide exit poll information for its client last November.

With me here in Washington is our senior analyst Jeff Greenfield.

Jeff, from the public's point of view, the people watching, does this make any difference?

GREENFIELD: It could. First, as you remind us, the 2000 fiasco twice calling Florida wrong, could have an impact on the outcome. The first premature for Gore, could have affected voting in other states. Certainly the Bush campaign was terrified that their voters, at least some of them, would decide all was lost, wouldn't turn off those western states. And the second call, that said Bush had won the presidency, helped set a tone that Bush had in fact won conclusively, and I think put the Gore campaign on the defensive for the rest of that 37 days.

I think the second thing is that depending on what happens over the next 20 months, the disbanding of VNS could radically change how the next presidential election is covered.

WOODRUFF: Yes, so how does it change the coverage?

GREENFIELD: Well, there are two possibilities. Let's say the networks can't figure out a common source. And they did that in the first place to save a lot of money. It they all go off on their own, you could have an election night where different networks, if it were close enough, will call the outcomes differently, which could be fascinating but even add more to the confusion.

And second, if they can't put together an exit poll structure, you'll see what happened in 2002, the networks will project winners on the basis of actual votes cast.

Now, in some ways, that's a very good thing. You will remember fortunately for all of us, there were no incorrect calls on election night, and it could lessen the concern, I think exaggerated, but it's out there, that projected results from early states in the East affect what happens out West.

But on the other hand, if we don't have exit polls, the public really does lose something.

WOODRUFF: Yes. I think I know the answer to this, but why do we really need these projections at all, Jeff?

GREENFIELD: Well, you probably do know the answer, but since I'm here...

WOODRUFF: But I want you to answer it.

GREENFIELD: The projections are the least of it. I mean, you know, we can project off real votes. That's fine. It's an understanding of what voters did and why.

What exit polls are really good at, and much better at this than pre-election polls, they only interview voters who have actually voted. And voters are a lot clearer about what they did after they've done it than what they intend to do.

So it is very useful to understand, for instance, the two parties are increasingly divided on matters of faith. We know from exit polls that the more regularly people go to church, the more likely they are to be Republican. That's going to change in the last 20 years. Or, that higher income professionals are leaning more Democratic than in years past. Or that late deciding voters in 2000 went just enough for Gore to give him the popular vote.

To me, those numbers, the canvas of paints of what the public did are way more important than projections, because they tell us, really, who we are and what we've decided. And that, I think, would be a shame to lose. We can throw out those projections, no problem on exit polls.

WOODRUFF: But the rest of it we really need to understand why the electorate did what it did.

GREENFIELD: I think it has really -- when you get those numbers, you look at them after an election, you go, oh, I see. And if the public wants a better understanding of what it is up to, this aggregate of 100 million people, exit polls really do make a difference, and we can prevent them from being misused.

WOODRUFF: And now CNN and the other news organizations have to decide whether they're going to come up with a replacement for VNS or do something else.

GREENFIELD: Several million dollar question there.

WOODRUFF: We'll see. All right, Jeff, thanks very much.

The president and the polls. Is Mr. Bush's plan to pump up the economy playing on Main Street? Coming up on INSIDE POLITICS, we'll gauge the pulse of the people.

But first, some professional hockey teams are in the financial penalty box. Our Rhonda Schaffler joins us live from Wall Street with the score -- Rhonda. RHONDA SCHAFFLER, CNN FINANCIAL NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Judy. The Buffalo Sabres are the team. The latest pro hockey team to file for bankruptcy protection. You may remember, the Ottawa Senators filed for court protection last week.

Sabres have been in trouble for a while. The NHL took control of that team last June after owner John Rigas and his Adelphia Communications suffered financial disaster. Adelphia itself is under bankruptcy protection. The team is up for sale.

Also, from the bankruptcy files, the parent of upscale toy retailer FAO Schwarz filed for bankruptcy protection today. FAO warned it was close to bankruptcy last month. The chain has been hurt by weak sales and intense competition by discounters.

Overall, very quiet day on Wall Street. Investors are gearing up for the earnings reporting season. It starts tomorrow. Stocks ended the session virtually unchanged, the Dow adding just a point. Nasdaq lost 1 1/2.

Shares of AOL/Time Warner did get a boost from the resignation of Steve Case as chairman of our parent company. AOL stock rose 1 percent. That's the latest from Wall Street.

More INSIDE POLITICS after the break, including the debate over policy toward Iraq. How long should the U.S. wait for inspectors to do their job?

WOODRUFF: It's time to check your "I.P." IQ. Joe Lieberman first won his Senate seat in 1988 by beating, A, Lowell Weicker, B., John Rowland, or, C, Prescott Bush, the current president's grandfather. The answer coming up a bit later on INSIDE POLITICS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: With us now to talk about the Iraqi situation, Maria Echaveste, who is a former Clinton White House deputy chief of staff, and Betsy Hart of the Scripps Howard News Service. I want to talk to you both about Iraq. We now have weapons inspectors saying it could take six months to a year to finish their job. Meantime, in the CNN poll that's out today, people were asked, do you believe Iraq has weapons of mass destruction? More people said, yes, but some doubts, than said, yes, no doubts. And then you got 10 percent saying a lot of doubts.

Betsy, what -- are people losing confidence that Iraq, that there's going to be a firm case made here?

BETSY HART, SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE: Well, there still seems to be about 80 percent who say, yes, who believe that at some level that he does have weapons of mass destruction, which makes sense. When he kicked out the inspectors in 1998, he already had chemical and biological weapons. He was trying to build nuclear weapons even 20 years ago. But the point is, Judy, that the president has to lead. Once he actually pulls the trigger, so to speak, and goes into Iraq, I have no doubt that the American people will come right behind him because he'll make the case to them directly. Yes, he needs to do that sooner rather than later, as soon as it's militarily feasible.

WOODRUFF: Maria?

MARIA ECHAVESTE, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF: I think what's interesting is that there are people who have doubt. And I mean, if you're leading and your justification for going to war is that this person has weapons of mass destruction and that's why you have to go there now, that's what he said, and the fact that the public is so divided. I mean, they believe that something is there, but they're not confident, and I think that says that he's not made his case.

WOODRUFF: Well, the other pieces of the evidence question -- I want to throw at you one other poll. CNN asked, if U.N. inspectors report they have found no evidence, should the U.S. invade Iraq? Yes, based on U.S. evidence, 23 percent; 52 percent, yes, but only if the U.N. finds the evidence.

HART: But Judy, this again goes back, you can look at just before Pearl Harbor. Most Americans were against getting into World War II, for instance. That goes back a long way, but we've seen this over and over again. There is a real reticence about committing American troops, as there should be because it should be done -- something that's done very deliberately and carefully.

But once we commit troops, over and over again, when the president makes his case, we forget that Americans were behind Vietnam until well into the later '60s. Once he makes his case and moves deliberately and correctly, the American people do tend to follow him, so I just would not put much stock in these polls at this point.

ECHAVESTE: Well, what I think is so interesting is that the American people, as they always are, are very common sensical and reasonable and they understand the value of multilateralism. The majority of them want to have verification by the U.N., because they understand that the risk of high -- increased terrorist attacks when the U.S. acts alone would be lessened if we go in with allies. So this is an opportunity.

And frankly, the president was operating on his own time schedule.

WOODRUFF: It is more complicated for the administration. People are saying, we want to see some evidence.

HART: I agree, and I think that to a large extent, he has made a very strong case about what is there on the ground. I also think that the administration certainly knows things that we've seen and all the people out there don't yet. When the time comes, I have no doubt he'll make that case and that he would not commit troops if he were not absolutely confident and had intelligence far apart from what the U.N. is doing that there are weapons of mass destruction with our names on them in Iraq.

ECHAVESTE: I totally agree that he and his staff know more than we know, having been in those briefings. I would tell you that if he got up there and said, I am confident that there is evidence and we should go in there, I would believe him. He hasn't said that.

HART: And I think that that's exactly what's going to happen.

WOODRUFF: Some members of the administration have said that, and clearly it's been suggested, but you're right, the president himself has not...

(CROSSTALK)

HART: And I think when he's ready to move, Judy, he will say that. But I do agree that it needs to be sooner rather than later, as soon as we can do it reasonably militarily.

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

ECHAVESTE: Thank you.

HART: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Thanks very much.

New numbers on the president's stimulus plan are coming up next. Is the public any more bullish on Mr. Bush now that he's unveiled his ideas for improving the economy?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Is President Bush slipping in public opinion? The latest poll numbers are moments away.

(NEWS ALERT)

WOODRUFF: It was almost a week after unveiling his economic stimulus package. Our new poll is showing the president's approval rating has moved in a direction all too familiar in the financial markets, down; 58 percent of Americans now say they approve of the way Mr. Bush is handling his job. Now, that is a five-point drop since just late last week.

Our Bill Schneider is with us again, this time right here in Washington, all the way back from south Florida.

So, Bill, President Bush did not get a boost from his economic plan.

SCHNEIDER: Well, Judy, apparently not.

Take a look at the president's ratings on economic issues. His plan includes a big tax cut. So, does the public approve of the way President Bush is handling taxes? Just narrowly favorable: 49 yes, 45 no, not a resounding cheer. The economy? People are split; 48 percent approve; 47 percent disapprove. The federal budget, not so good: 43 approve; 47 disapprove.

People have heard what this plan could mean for the deficit. OK, so, do Americans want Congress to pass the Bush economic plan? Yes, but only with major changes. Just a quarter say pass the plan as the president proposed it; 40 percent say pass it only, only after making major changes. Only 15 percent want Congress to reject it outright. An unusually large number, 20 percent, have no opinion. People think there are some good ideas in the president's plan, but they have problems with it -- all in all, a tepid response.

WOODRUFF: Well, Bill, you're not saying the president has problems for reelection, are you?

SCHNEIDER: Could be. Just over a third of registered voters now say they will definitely vote to reelect President Bush. About one- third say they would definitely vote against him. And a third say they could vote either way. The economy has now eclipsed the war on terrorism as the country's major concern.

And here's the evidence. We asked people, which issue will be more important to your vote next year: economic conditions or terrorism? And a majority say the economy. Just a third say terrorism. And 13 percent say both equally. Now, among people who say they'll vote on the economy, only a quarter say that they will definitely vote to reelect President Bush. Among those who say their main issue is terrorism, nearly half say they'll definitely vote for the president.

Is this President Bush in danger of turning into his father? Remember how his father was criticized in 1992 for being out of touch? Do people think this President Bush is out of touch with the problems ordinary Americans face? Uh-oh. Half the country says yes. Just under half say no. That's not a good sign.

The president's economic plan may have sent a damaging message; 56 percent, 56 percent of Americans -- that's a clear majority -- now say President Bush favors the rich -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And that's a message Democrats have been trying to get out there. So...

SCHNEIDER: They have.

WOODRUFF: ... they've got to be pleased their message is getting out.

All right, Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

When we return: Republicans decide to face another political challenge head-on. GOP leaders and black conservatives hold a strategy session to consider ways to broaden the party.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: One result of the recent Trent Lott controversy was a meeting today here in Washington among Republican Party officials and leading black conservatives.

CNN's Jonathan Karl has more on the meeting and the reasons behind it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Republican Party's looking for a little diversity and it's starting with a small but determined band of black conservatives.

ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: So, the Republican Party has to realize that it cannot be lily-white any longer. And it does not mean, being lily-white, that they're racist. But change must come about and it must start within our house. And we were here today to do some house cleaning and to get a diagnosis of what's wrong. And I think, from this day forward, we can talk as much as we want. Anybody can give rhetoric. But the proof is in the pudding.

KARL: It's phase one of the party's effort to repair the damage done by the Trent Lott controversy, a meeting between Republican leaders and black conservatives. If this is outreach, the civil rights community is not impressed.

WADE HENDERSON, LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE ON CIVIL RIGHTS: All the meetings in the world will not replace the agenda of the party and the substance that they pursue.

KARL: But Armstrong Williams, who helped organize the meeting, is a take-no-prisoners conservative who once worked for Strom Thurmond. He doesn't want the change the GOP's ideology; he wants to get more blacks supporting it, especially black candidates. The party's chairman says he's on board.

MARC RACICOT, RNC CHAIRMAN: Our strategy is to appeal to every American, because we believe that, in spite of their race or creed or color, they are endowed by God with the capacity to know and understand and to do the right thing. And so that's our strategy, is to appeal to every American.

KARL: In contrast to the presence of high-profile African- Americans, especially Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, in the Bush administration, the retirement of J.C. Watts left the party in Congress without a single African-American. To change that, the party seems to be considering a little conservative-style affirmative action.

RACICOT: When you talk about the practical things we're going to do, we're talking about everything from staffing patterns inside this committee, inside local committees across the country, to recruiting candidates who want to become involved, who have the courage to become involved.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KARL: Republicans are calling this meeting simply a first step. The next step will come at the end of the month, when this group of black conservatives meets with Dennis Hastert, Tom DeLay, and the rest of the Republican leadership in the House -- Judy. WOODRUFF: Jon, so, what is the outlook? They're looking at recruiting more African-American candidates to the Republican Party. What's the outlook for that?

KARL: Well, in the last cycle, the Republicans only had four candidates that they considered serious contenders, serious black Republican candidates for the House. Of course, none of them won in the last cycle. They're promising to have more this cycle, but no real specifics yet.

There is a scenario, however, for a very serious candidate, black Republican candidate, for the Senate. And that would be that, if Don Nickles of Oklahoma decided not to run for reelection, Republicans would be looking for J.C. Watts to come back, this time as a candidate for the Senate -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: OK, the man who just left.

All right, Jon Karl, thanks very much.

Well, among the African-American leaders who plan to attend this series of meetings is Ohio's secretary of state, Ken Blackwell. Secretary Blackwell is with me now from Columbus. He was not able to attend today's meeting because he was being sworn in to a second term in office.

So, congratulations.

KENNETH BLACKWELL (R), OHIO SECRETARY OF STATE: Thank you very much, Judy.

WOODRUFF: You were part of the planning of these meetings. What's the purpose here? I mean, there was no outreach to the broader civil rights community. So, is the Republican Party reaching narrowly to conservative whose are already supporting it or what?

BLACKWELL: No.

I think what we wanted to do with this first meeting, the first in a series, is to establish that this wasn't about a summit, where everybody came in, put their cards on the table, sang "Michael, row the boat ashore," do a group hug, and then go home. This is talking about how we change the party in a number of ways: how we make sure that its policy agenda speaks to a broad slice of the American public.

Operationally, right now, there are 22,000 people who do the business of Congress on the Hill. That's staffers. Minorities are woefully underrepresented. African-Americans in key positions in the Senate, for example, are about less than 4 percent -- working on how we begin to recruit people of experience and who are bright to fill those positions, very, very important. So, we're looking for sustainable discussion. We're looking for meaningful action in a timely fashion.

WOODRUFF: Well, that sounds like a from of affirmative action, and yet that's something that the Republican Party has always opposed. BLACKWELL: Well, I think it is, one, affirmative access. It is affirmative action. It is actually creating an opportunity, touching a touchstone in American democracy.

The American democracy is the most adverse in all of human history. The last census showed that we have represented in our country people from every other country on the face of the Earth. The question here is whether we take this diversity and make it a strength or whether we see it become destruction, fragmentation.

We want the Republican Party not to be a replica of the Democratic Party and their failed strategies, but actually change people's lives by educating our children and creating jobs for anybody who really wants to get up and go to work. And that means making the American dream available to all people, regardless of color.

WOODRUFF: Just quickly, the fact that President Bush has renominated Charles Pickering of Mississippi to be on the federal bench, is this something that you and other black leaders in the party support?

BLACKWELL: Well, it is a discussion and a debate within the Republican Party, just as it is in the general public. It's going to be vetted. And I think that the Senate will do its business and make a decision.

WOODRUFF: How troubled are you by the fact that, of all the Republicans in the United States Congress, not a single one is a Republican (sic)?

BLACKWELL: There is a glaring -- and right now, not a single one in the Senate is there period. And that is troubling.

But what we need to do is to make sure that America understands that diversity is a strength, and we, in fact, can deal with that diversity without relying on quotas and without relying on racial preferences. We can tap the brightest and the most experienced at the candidate level, the staffing level, to make sure that our policies reflect the interests of a broad cross-section of the American public.

This is one of those situations, Judy, where the right thing runs parallel with good politics.

WOODRUFF: Ken Blackwell, Ohio's secretary of state, involved in setting up these meetings in this week and the weeks to come with African-Americans and the Republican Party, thanks very much for talking with us.

BLACKWELL: Thank you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: We appreciate it.

Up next, Bob Novak has new "Inside Buzz" on President Bush's choice for treasury secretary.

Plus: a red-letter event in crossword history. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): It's time to check your I.P. I.Q. Joe Lieberman first won his Senate seat in 1988 by beating, A, Lowell Weicker, B, John Rowland, or, C, Prescott Bush, the current president's grandfather? The answer: A, Lowell Weicker. Two years later, Weicker ran for governor of Connecticut as an independent and won.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Bob Novak is here now with some "Inside Buzz."

All right, I understand that Republicans are already upset with Joe Lieberman and he's just announced today.

ROBERT NOVAK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Announced for president.

They really haven't gotten the funding for the next Congress straightened in the Senate. So, theoretically, the Democrats are still in charge of the committees, even though the Republicans had a majority. So, Joe Lieberman, who is chairman of the Government Affairs Committee, has called a confirmation hearing for Wednesday on Tom Ridge, the new secretary of home front -- homeland -- what is it called?

WOODRUFF: Homeland security.

NOVAK: Homeland security. And guess what? The Republicans on the committee are going to boycott the meeting. They will not show up for Chairman Lieberman.

WOODRUFF: Just over a little thing over funding. Is that it?

NOVAK: Yes.

WOODRUFF: All right. The new treasury secretary-designate, you learned something about his hearing?

NOVAK: His hearing was supposed to be Thursday, John Snow. And that is being postponed until January 28. And that is not just because of this funding problem. The Republican chairman-designate of the Finance Committee, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, is looking at the tax returns of the railroad company that Snow headed, the CSX Corporation.

And they have to go through them. They are interviewing people in the finance division of CSX. Now, what is this about? This is, they fear, another Enron. And they want to look at all these corporate officials to see if they have got any skeletons in the closet. But nobody, in my experience, has ever had the corporate tax records of a president's appointee examined.

WOODRUFF: So, these are not safety matters. This is financial.

Over at the State Department, somebody new has been chosen. NOVAK: It was announced on Friday that Roger Noriega, who is a very strong conservative, not a foreign service officer, was named by the president as assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs.

That's a defeat for Colin Powell. The secretary of state wanted the present U.S. ambassador to Colombia, Ann Patterson, to be named. She is not popular with conservatives. And besides, Otto Reich, who is a very prominent Cuban-American, is being eased out, because they couldn't get him confirmed without a huge fight. And the president decided he had to name an anti-Castro conservative to that post, Roger Noriega. But it's a defeat for Colin Powell.

WOODRUFF: The secretary of state doesn't get to name his own people.

Last but not least, the state of Indiana, a candidate for governor, and that's going to affect the budget office of the president?

NOVAK: The president may have to hunt for a new Office of Management and Budget, because the present director, Mitch Daniels, is considering running for governor of Indiana. I think he's going to decide to do it. He's going to have to move pretty fast and get out after this present budget is unveiled.

Frank O'Bannon, the Democratic governor, is term-limited. So, it's wide open. Mitch Daniels is a very savvy politician. He's never run for office, but he would be able to raise a lot of money. He would certainly be the favorite for the Republican nomination.

WOODRUFF: Well, if he's watching, he's going have to make a decision, quickly.

NOVAK: Soon.

WOODRUFF: All right, Bob Novak, thanks very much.

Politics sometimes can be puzzling, but we like to think that viewers of this program have an advantage in putting the pieces together. Well, that definitely was the case if you did "The Washington Post" Sunday crossword puzzle. The clue to four down was: "INSIDE POLITICS broadcaster." The three-letter answer is, of course, CNN.

I guess they didn't have enough spaces for Woodruff.

(LAUGHTER)

WOODRUFF: Bob Novak is still laughing about that with me.

Coming up next: Talk about ending your political career with a bang.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. GEORGE RYAN (R), ILLINOIS: I know that my decision will be just that, my decision, based on all of the facts that I could gather over the past three years. I may never be comfortable with the decision that I make in the final decision, but I'll know in my heart that I did my very best to do the right thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Death row and George Ryan's legacy.

Bruce Morton reflects on the clemency controversy in Illinois.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: For the first time in more than a quarter-century, a Democrat is governor of Illinois. Rod Blagojevich was sworn in today, warning of tough times and tough choices ahead. He succeeds Republican George Ryan, who ended his term with a bombshell decision to spare the lives of all inmates on that state's death row.

Our Bruce Morton looks at Ryan's legacy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RYAN: I have to add, our capital system is haunted by the demon of error: error in determining guilt, error in determining who among the guilty deserves to die. Because of all of these reasons today, I'm commuting the sentence of all death row inmates, 157 of them.

BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Prosecutes didn't like it. The new governor doesn't like it.

ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), ILLINOIS GOVERNOR-ELECT: But I disagree with his decision to provide blanket clemency. I think a blanket anything is usually wrong. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this. We're talking about convicted murderers. And I just think that that is a mistake.

MORTON: Some of the murder victims' relatives also disagree.

TOM NOLAND, MURDER VICTIM'S BROTHER: Yesterday, I heard Patty- Ann (ph) screaming out to me, Governor Ryan, why are you doing this?

MORTON: One reason is doubts about the fairness of the system. Ryan halted all executions in Illinois three years ago after courts found that 13 death row inmates had been wrongly convicted. A Maryland survey shows those who kill whites are more likely to get a death sentence than those who kill nonwhites. Those accused of death- eligible murders in Baltimore county, suburbs, were 23 more times to likely to be sentenced to death than those in Baltimore City. Polls show that skepticism about the death penalty's fairness is growing.

KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLING DIRECTOR: Seventy percent say that they approve of the death penalty in general. But only 53 percent believe that it is being applied fairly in the U.S. today. That means at least one in five Americans think the death penalty is a good idea, but don't like the death penalty system as it currently exists.

MORTON: The governor, whose term has been marked by scandals and indictments of aides, now has a different legacy. It is controversy. One prisoner he pardoned says he's right.

AARON PATTERSON, PARDONED BY GOVERNOR RYAN: There are more innocent locked up. There are more innocent people locked up.

THOMAS RAMOS, MURDER VICTIM'S BROTHER: I know, when you're looking at the mirror every day, you're going to say you made the right decision. But you're wrong, Governor Ryan. You're absolutely wrong, what you did.

RYAN: I know that my decision will be just that, my decision, based on all of the facts that I could gather over the past three years. I may never be comfortable with the decision that I make in the final decision, but I'll know in my heart that I did my very best to do the right thing.

MORTON: Hard choices.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: With enormous repercussions.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff. Thank you for joining us.

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