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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Democratic Presidential Contenders Square Off in South Carolina; Will Court's Finance Reform Decision Impact Presidential Elections?

Aired May 5, 2003 - 16:00   ET

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: The collision in Carolina.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the senator made a mistake in criticizing me. I don't need any lessons in courage from Howard Dean.

ANNOUNCER: Nine months before the first primary, the nine Democrats clash.

REV. AL SHARPTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Republicans are watching. Let's not start fighting.

ANNOUNCER: Who were the winners and losers from the debate?

A massive court ruling months in the making. Will the decision on campaign finance reform dramatically change the next presidential election?

President Bush on the road, looking for votes for his tax plan. We'll hear from one senator who is getting the full-court press from the White House.

SEN. BILL NELSON (D) FLORIDA: As a matter of fact, I got a call from the vice president shortly, just a little while ago.

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Thank you for joining us.

Well, the nine Democratic presidential hopefuls have fanned out across the country after spending the weekend together in South Carolina, trolling for support among state party activists. The weekend highlight, of course, was Saturday night's first televised debate of the 2004 election cycle. It was a very early exercise in presidential politics featuring the usual stump speech rhetoric, as well as some genuine policy differences.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KERRY: I believe that anybody who thinks that they have to prepare for the day that we're not the strongest is preparing for a day when we have serious problems.

HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No commander in chief would ever, and I'm no exception, willingly allow our military influence to shrink. Unilateralism is a mistake. That's what I said for it. I think the senator made a mistake in criticizing me.

SHARPTON: Republicans are watching. Let's not start fighting and going ...

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've got to get everybody in this country covered with good health insurance. This plan can pass and it will do it.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have proposed taking away from the FBI the responsibility of fighting terrorism here in this country and, simultaneously, setting up an independent watchdog group, office of civil liberties and civil rights.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: With me now to talk a little more about the debate, our political analyst Ron Brownstein of the "Los Angeles Times." Ron, before I ask you about the winners and losers, other than the fact that learning that nine people is a lot to get on the stage at one time, what did we learn about this Democratic contest?

RON BROWNSTEIN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, Judy, like many, I was not able to be there. So like many people I watched it on television yesterday. And I think you got a really clear sense of what the argument is going to be about for the next few months in the Democratic race. I think the first thing that I left the debates feeling was that Iraq is not going to go away as an issue of division among the Democrats simply because the war is over. The question of whether it's the right thing to do, the broader questions of how America pursues its goals in the world, and also the level of military strength the Democrats should be talking about I think are all going to be there as dividing lines to the race with candidates as diverse as Lieberman and Dean emphasizing them.

Secondly, on the domestic side, we could be in for a replay of 2000 with health care, at least for the next few months, emerging as a central difference among the Democrats. Dick Gephardt, by putting out that plan a few weeks ago, has really staked his campaign on being able to sell a vision of universal health care that is, as we talked about when it first came out on the show, subject to attack from both the left and the right. And we saw from the left John Edwards and from the right Joe Lieberman saying that, ultimately, it was a give- away to big corporations or unaffordable. So, we got a sense of what the debate is going to be about. And, finally, we got a sense that they do want to debate. These candidates are ready to begin engaging, much more than they've been at any point any joint appearance they've made so far this year. WOODRUFF: Ron, on the winner-loser scale, who were the standouts, both positively and negatively?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think, clearly, the most vivid presence on the stage was Joe Lieberman. He really needed a good performance. He's been rather lackluster in the joint appearances. But, Judy, he did so by defining himself in a way that could be problematic in the long run, that at least is risky. He went very much towards the center, even the right on issues like Iraq, national defense, saying we basically could not afford health care. We had to move an incremental direction. That was all very strong last night and good in an audience like South Carolina, but not clear if it is in the long run a way that will appeal to enough Democratic primary voters.

Dean I thought also was a strong presence, but again, he has to worry about the opposite, being pigeon holed too far on the left. On the loser side, I thought John Kerry was rather lackluster, as he has been somewhat for the last few weeks. He doesn't seem to really have as clear a niche on the stage as Lieberman or Dean. Gephardt also I think has to do better at defending his health care plan. He is going to have to, since so much of his campaign is now based on it.

WOODRUFF: And, Ron, what about Bob Graham? He is going to be announcing his candidacy tomorrow. How did he do?

BROWNSTEIN: I though he has to be also a more vivid presence. He's a laid back kind of person on that stage. He's coming in late. A lot of support has already been allocated to the other candidates. I think he has to break a little crockery to get noticed, and he didn't really do that Saturday night.

WOODRUFF: All right. Ron Brownstein of the "Los Angeles Times." Thanks very much. Only a few to go, nine months until the first contest in '04. Thank you, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: This debate was just one part of a two-day main event for South Carolina Democrats who are visually thrilled to be in a new and more prominent spot on next year's primary calendar.

CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley has more from Columbia.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fried fish on white bread, mustard and hot sauce and a little white zinfandel to wash it down. Politics doesn't get better than this. Oh, right, there were politicians too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to South Carolina.

CROWLEY: Next February, South Carolina will hold the first southern primary, just a week after New Hampshire. Nearly half the state's primary voters are expected to be African-American. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This gives these candidates a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate that they can hone a message that will play well with African-American voters, while at the same time, hold fast to those values and those traditions that white southerners tend to tilt toward.

CROWLEY: Attendance of the '04 hopefuls was quite good this year at Congressman Jim Clyburn's annual fish fry. In fact, '04 attendance was quite good over the whole 48-hour Democratic jamboree designed to be the beginning of the end of the Bush administration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I represent the electable wing of the Democratic party.

CROWLEY: From fish fry to fund-raiser, from breakfast meet and greet to convention stand and clap, to the first televised debate of the season, the members of the '04 field strutted their stuff and made their presence felt, some more than others, in a state which may be pivotal to choosing the Democratic nominee.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is earth shaking for us, and we're glad that you've all come to let us hear. We need to learn, to hear, to see, to feel these candidates, because we have got to get Bush out of the White House.

CROWLEY: A recent poll shows Joe Lieberman leads the field in South Carolina, but 48 percent hadn't decided yet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we talked about that coming over here tonight. I kind of think Gephardt. I think Lieberman, and after that, for me, it falls off.

CROWLEY: So, this weekend was about window shopping.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, I've seen John Edwards and I was here last year to hear his speech. He's a wonderful speaker. I think he looks too generic. And I saw Mr. Kerry, and I personally think he's too ugly.

CROWLEY: The gold in the applause meter contest goes to Al Sharpton, considered unelectable but entertaining.

SHARPTON: The way to move a donkey is to slap the donkey out of the sack and dunk it until the donkey kicks and you kick George Bush out of the White House. I'm going to slap the donkey.

CROWLEY: South Carolina loved the attention, some more than others. But after the primary, they don't expect to see much of the Democratic nominee in this very Republican place. Nine Democrats in the state are not as big a headline as a single Bush on the way.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Columbia, South Carolina.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: You don't get any more candid than some of those voters.

Some intriguing political news to report among Republicans on this Monday. GOP sources tell CNN that the White House has started to narrow a list of potential replacements for Republican Party national chairman Marc Racicot. He is expected to leave the RNC to assume the post of chairman of the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign. Republican sources say former House aide and lobbyist Ed Gillespie is under serious consideration to be Racicot's replacement, but party officials caution that no final decision has been made.

The president makes a campaign-style appeal to the grass roots when we return.

Mr. Bush goes to Arkansas and puts political pressure on a certain member of the Senate.

Also ahead, the subway series returns. The president's tax cuts are the topic as we ride along with John Karl and Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

And later, so many candidates, so little time. Bruce Morton on the crowded Democratic field and the challenge of facing a wartime president.

You're watching INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: He is vowing to kick the habit. That is the word today from conservative moralist William Bennett. In a statement released today, the former cabinet secretary and family values campaigner admits to gambling large sums of money. Bennett says, quote, "I have done too much gambling, and this is not an example I wish to set." No word from Bennett on how much money he either won or lost.

Coming up, will a major court ruling on soft money change the face of the next election? INSIDE POLITICS back in just 90 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: As he presses Congress to move more quickly on his tax cut plan, President Bush is targeting possible swing votes on Capitol Hill. Mr. Bush was on the road today visiting a battle ground political state, Arkansas. It's the home state of Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln. She supported the president on tax cuts two years ago, but she voted in March to trim his proposed cut. During his stop in Little Rock, Mr. Bush took aim at members of Congress who are against his plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's time for them to move. The debate has started in Washington, D.C. The message I hope you send is the more tax relief, the more work is going to be available for your fellow citizens. I would hope you'd call members of your Congressional delegation to let them know what you think and let them know your opinion. Democracy can work. Particularly when a lot of people get on the phone or by e-mail and just let them know what's on your mind.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Arkansas's Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln stayed in Washington and did not attend the event in Little Rock.

Well, Republican Senators Olympia Snowe and George Voinovich are being targeted again for opposing the Bush tax cut. The Club for Growth will release new ads against the two senators tomorrow. The television spot already started running in Maine over the weekend, and it calls on Snowe to support what it calls the Kennedy-Reagan-Bush tax policy. Last month, the same group ran ads comparing the two senators' position against taxes to the French opposition to the war in Iraq. Senator Snowe will be a guest tomorrow right here on INSIDE POLITICS.

On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, there is some new developments in the debate over the president's tax cut plan.

Let's go to CNN congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl. Jonathan, how much of what the president wants is actually going to make it into the plan that is being proposed by the Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, who is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What we've learned, Judy, is the biggest component of the president's plan, the plan to eliminate the double taxation of dividends will not be included in the plan that Chuck Grassley, the finance chairman, will release tomorrow. Nothing in there on reducing the taxation on dividends. Now, Republicans will get a chance to fight for it this week in the Finance Committee, but it's not in Chairman Grassley's plan. That's bad news for the president.

But there's also bad news for Democrats out there. One key Democrat that we spoke to says, first of all, he could vote for a higher tax plan, and he also kind of likes the plan to limit dividends. We caught up with this senator on the subway.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KARL: Senator Nelson, welcome to the "Subway Series."

NELSON: Hey, John. Thank you. Good to be a part of it.

KARL: So, the White House is tied up in knots because a group of moderate Republicans will not go for any tax cut over $350 billion, but you're saying you could go a lot higher than $350 billion.

NELSON: I didn't say a lot higher. I say I've never been hung up on the number. And I would go higher. I don't know what a lot means. I want to be careful. But I've never been stuck on the $350 billion number. It's all about the contents. Tell me what the contents are, tell me how much stimulus there is, and how fast it will be there, how fast the economy will grow so it will grow faster than the deficit.

KARL: But if the content is right and meets your specifications, you could vote for a tax cut of $550 billion?

NELSON: $550 billion, $500 billion, that second number is less important to me than the fact that the actual package would grow the economy faster than it grows the deficit. Deficits do matter.

KARL: Is the White House working with you on this point? Clearly, they've run up against a brick wall with people like Olympia Snowe and George Voinovich on the size. Are they working with you?

NELSON: Yes, they are. As a matter of fact, I got a call from the vice president shortly, just a little while ago, and we had discussions about it. And I think now there's a recognition that it's a lot better to work with you than it is to work on you. And that we can find ways to make this work, but it's got to involve one or two other people, not just me. If they've lost Senator Snowe and Voinovich, doesn't much matter what I do.

KARL: So what about the -- really the center piece of the president's plan, this idea of eliminating -- and they've been clear, eliminating the double taxation of dividends. Could you go along with that?

NELSON: Lowering it, working into lowering it, something to send the right message, I think, to the equity markets. I'm not averse to helping Wall Street when it helps Main Street.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KARL: Now, as for the Democratic leadership, Senator Tom Daschle will unveil the Democratic tax plan tomorrow. It will be about $150 to $180 billion, and Democrats will say it is more targeted towards short-term stimulus and helping out lower and middle class workers, not the wealthy -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, interesting, John, you got out of him that the vice president had called him, Senator Nelson. OK, John, thanks very much.

This programming note. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley. We've just been talking about it. He will be talking taxes later today on "LOU DOBBS' MONEYLINE." That's at 6 p.m. Eastern.

Well, White House adviser Karl Rove prepares to take a New England road trip. We'll tell you why he's headed to New Hampshire next in our "Campaign News Daily."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Checking the headlines in our Monday edition of "Campaign News Daily," top White House political adviser Karl Rove is taking a trip to New Hampshire later this week. Rove will be in the granite state Wednesday to speak with students at St. Anselm's College. He's also expected to attend a GOP workshop for party activists.

Meanwhile, the Democratic hopefuls back on the trail. Senator Joe Lieberman is in Ohio where he met this morning with Cleveland firefighters. The Reverend Al Sharpton is attending an event in Stamford, Connecticut, Lieberman's hometown. And Gary Hart, still not a candidate but still making speeches, is discussing energy policy at this hour on the campus of UCLA.

More INSIDE POLITICS in 90 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Last Friday's federal court decision on the campaign finance reform law did little to settle the issue. In a long and at times conflicting ruling, the court ruled that the national political parties are permitted to raise so-called soft money. The court let stand the law's ban on issue ads in the days preceding an election. The judges did not address the law's $2,000 limit on so-called hard money contributions by individuals.

With me now from New York to talk more about all this is our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. Bill, what could all this mean in terms of what we know right now for the 2004 campaign?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Nobody knows. But a spokespersons for the National Party Committees told us today that they're waiting to see if the Supreme Court issues a stay of Friday's ruling, in effect, telling the political parties don't do anything until we say it's OK. Now, the Supreme Court could take up this case on an accelerated schedule and rule this summer, before it goes on recess, but most observers think that's unlikely. If the Supreme Court waits to hear arguments until the fall, then it probably won't rule until January. Now, look at the 2004 political calendar. The Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary are both in January. The presidential campaign will be in full swing before we find out what the rules are.

WOODRUFF: Well, the court has to be very mindful of that. Bill, as it stands right now, though, which political party is advantaged by the law?

SCHNEIDER: Well, you know, Democrats would like to have it both ways on this issue. They want credit for pushing campaign finance reform through Congress, but they also need soft money more than Republicans do. So, first, look at the so-called hard money that each party raised in 2000. This can be used for any purpose. Republicans do a lot better raising hard money and that advantage will get bigger because the new law doubles the hard money an individual can contribute to $2,000. And the court let that new limit stand.

Now, look at the soft money raised in 2000, which comes mostly from big contributors, almost exactly the same amount. So if the Supreme Court allows the parties to raise soft money again, the Democrats will be in better shape. We don't know what the court's going to do. We don't know when they're going to do it. My feeling is anyone who understands what the impact of this court decision will be is grossly misinformed.

WOODRUFF: Well, one can imagine if you're sitting on the Supreme Court, you're used to complicated cases. But you might even get a headache just looking at this 1,600-page opinion from the lower federal court.

SCHNEIDER: That's right.

WOODRUFF: All right, Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

WOODRUFF: Well, right now, the race for the White House is between President Bush and a group of nine Democrats. But can those challengers compete with the president who is celebrating a war victory? Our Bruce Morton weighs in on that dilemma for the Democrats when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: If image is everything, how can the Democratic presidential hopefuls compete with a president fresh from a war victory?

Our Bruce Morton offers his thoughts on their predicament.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In South Carolina, the Democrats had a fish fry, and signs And buttons. But how could that compete with the thunder and lightning? The warrior chief with his warriors, dressed as a warrior, flew the plane part of the way, a pilot confides, heavy stuff.

SHARPTON: It is time for the real Americans to stand up and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the Democratic Party.

MORTON: OK, but halfway around the world, the commander was standing up for what? Liberty, America, pictures voters will see often in the fall of 2004.

GEPHARDT: We are going to beat George Bush in November of 2004.

MORTON: Hard to do when you're running against the victor, the war leader. In the debate, the audience was urged to be silent so the many candidates could speak.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, DEBATE MODERATOR: So, I'd ask each of them to keep their answers short and everyone here in the audience to hold their applause.

MORTON: Not a requirement when the war leader spoke.

BUSH: In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.

MORTON: In South Carolina, so many candidates, so little time. How will they compete. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I think the TV image is going to be extremely important.

MORTON: She's got that right. But it's uphill for the Democrats. Nine players, ninety minutes versus the warrior chief George W. Bush in what was probably the greatest photo op in the history of the world.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff.

"CROSSFIRE" starts right now.

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