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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Bush Slipping in Polls Despite Fund Raising Success

Aired July 21, 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: He raised $7 million this weekend. But President Bush is slipping in our polls. We'll speak with one of the Democrats who wants Mr. Bush's job.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think we've learned that we don't need a learning curve in the presidency on foreign policy and security.

ANNOUNCER: Just six months until the Iowa caucuses. We'll count down to the first presidential contest by judging which candidates are hot and which are not.

The Reagans. From the White House to a TV movie. But who's going to play the Gipper?

Now live from Washington, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us.

For the second time in less than a week, President Bush is playing host to a world leader who was a solid supporter of the U.S.- led war in Iraq. And like his earlier comments when joined by Britain's Tony Blair, Mr. Bush took time at today's news conference with Italy's prime minister to defend the decision to go to war and to vow success in his post-war policies in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... extension of hostility is really a part of the war to liberate Iraq. There are people in Iraq who hate the thought of freedom. There are Saddam apologists who want to try to stay in power through terrorist activity. And I explained to the prime minister we're patient, we're strong, we're resolute and we will see this matter through.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Those comments came as the president's post-war policies are under continued assault from his political rivals. A new ad paid for by the Democratic National Committee points to the now- discredited line from the State of the Union Address and accuses the president of misleading the nation. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: The ad will see limited airtime. It will run for about a week in the Madison, Wisconsin market.

Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry has been increasingly vocal in his criticism of the president on Iraq.

I spoke with the senator a short time ago from San Francisco and started by asking him if his vote to authorize the president to go to war was a mistake.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KERRY: No. What I authorized was the president to be smart, to go to the United Nations, to do what he said he was going to do, which is build a coalition and go forward in a way that represented the highest values of our country. And I believe that I made it very clear in my speech on the Senate floor.

In fact, I warned the president in January, don't rush to war. Do this in a way that builds the position of strength of the United States, because it's not the winning of the war that's complicated; it's the winning of the peace. And I believe it was correct to protect the security of our country, but to do it in a smart way. And I think the president didn't do the hard work of diplomacy.

WOODRUFF: But right now, the administration is working hard to get international support. They're even considering going to the U.N. Do you think it's helpful for you and others to be criticizing the president on this at a time when U.S. soldiers are dying practically every day in Iraq?

KERRY: Judy, when I was in Vietnam and people were dying, I learned that we were forsaken by the leadership. And if you look at the wall in Washington, almost half of the wall is made up of the names of people who were lost because pride got in the way of our decision-making. I read in "The New York Times" on Saturday that the administration thinks it would be, quote, "humiliating" to go the United Nations now and bring them into this.

I believe that that is false pride. You want to build the strongest international coalition possible, because that's the way you share the burden, that's the way you end the sense of American occupation, and that's the way you take the target off of American troops.

WOODRUFF: Senator, what do you say to former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who says the Democrats who voted for this war now have a credibility problem; that it's not enough to say the president misled them -- meaning you? KERRY: Oh, well, that's just politics. Look, I voted to protect the security of the United States of America based on the information that we were given, and I voted correctly to put the United States in a place to go to the United Nations and hold a clearly miscalculating evil person accountable to the United Nations standards.

We had every right in the world to expect the president would live up to his promise of making the words "last resort" mean something. I believe the president didn't do that. The president did not do this as a last resort. And clearly the information, which was given to the world, as well as to the United States Congress, has enormous credibility questions.

WOODRUFF: I do want to ask you about the campaign. You are probably the best-known candidate among those -- the Democrats running. You've got more money in the bank than anyone else. You've certainly got a top staff of people supporting you.

And yet, the former governor of the little state of Vermont raised more money than any other, including you, in the second quarter. He's got so-called buzz. He's holding his own in the polls. How are you going to beat Howard Dean?

KERRY: I'm just going to continue to tell the truth. We're on our game plan. I'm doing exactly what I wanted to do and what we set out to do, and I'm very confident about my campaign. It's growing day by day.

I believe that I present our party with the ability to bring experience in making America safer and stronger to the table. I think we've learned that we don't need a learning curve in the presidency on foreign policy and security. I bring years of experience in foreign policy and national security. I think I can bring the strength to our party that we need to make America safer and stronger. I know how to put people back to work. I have a health care plan that will insure all Americans. I have the strongest and longest, broadest record of protecting the environment.

And I'm going to continue to talk to the American people straight-forward, candid, with a clarity about what we need to achieve in our country. And I'm very confident about my campaign.

There's always going to be somebody else who is going to be contesting. I understand that. But in the first quarter, it was someone else; in the second quarter, it's someone else. But I've been there both times, Judy, and I intend to be there through the end.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

Senator John Kerry talking to us just a short time ago from San Francisco.

Well, our Bill Schneider's been checking out new poll results on how the Iraq issue has affected President Bush's political standing. Bill, first of all, how is the president doing in the polls? WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know the victory bounce he got after the war in Iraq? Gone. Both our CNN/"TIME" poll last week and our new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll show that.

In the CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll, President Bush's job approval was 58 percent in March just before the war. It rose to 71 percent in April just after the Saddam Hussein regime fell. Now it's back to 59.

And that trend closely follows people's feelings about Iraq. In March, 56 percent approved of President Bush's handling of Iraq. In April that figure jumped to 76 percent. Now back to 57.

By comparison, assessments of the president's handling of the economy have hardly changed at all. They've been below 50 percent for the most part since last fall.

President Bush needs strong ratings in world affairs to compensate for his weakness on the economy. But you know, the payoff from Iraq is getting weaker.

WOODRUFF: Well, do these numbers mean he's in trouble for reelection?

SCHNEIDER: Could be. When we asked registered voters before the war are you more likely to vote for President Bush or for the Democrat in 2004, Bush had a three-point lead. After the war, Bush's lead swelled to 13 points. And now? President Bush is back down to a four-point lead. He's beginning to look vulnerable, again.

WOODRUFF: So meantime, have the Democrats been picking up anything on the issues?

SCHNEIDER: Well, yes. At the beginning of the year, the two parties were just about tied when people were asked which party in Congress would do a better job handling the economy? Now the Democrats have opened up a 17-point lead on the economy.

And on world affairs? In January, Republicans were 17 point ahead. Now the GOP lead has diminished to just five.

The Democrats are clearly in a stronger issue position now than they were six months ago. Victory in Iraq notwithstanding. Maybe the Democratic nomination is going to be worth something after all, Judy.

WOODRUFF: We shall see. Bill Schneider with our Monday look at the polls. Thanks.

Democratic presidential hopeful Al Sharpton, meantime, is in Africa, focusing on the increasingly violent situation in Liberia. In recent days the civil rights leader has met with representatives both for and against embattled President Charles Taylor. Sharpton cells CNN he's not taking sides, he only wants to see an end to the fighting.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) AL SHARPTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're meeting tonight and in the morning with (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to try and appeal to let any he emergency assistance through. We're not on either side. We are on the side of getting help for the children, medical care as well as for those who have been displaced.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: CNN's Tucker Carlson is traveling with Reverend Sharpton in Africa. More on that at the bottom of the hour on "CROSSFIRE."

Well, the Iowa caucuses just six months away, which gives us an excuse to look at which Democrats running for the White House are hot and which are not. We'll rate the field when INSIDE POLITICS returns.

California's massive budget crisis is just one reason Gray Davis faces a recall. But will the drive to oust the governor make matters worse?

Plus, political casting. Which actor will step into the shoes of the Gipper? The answer coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Oh, here we go.

Political junkies, listen up. It's time to test your political knowledge.

Which Congressional district handed President Bush his worst defeat in the 2000 election? Stay tuned for the answer later in the show.

And coming up next, the Iowa caucuses, six months out. Who's got the edge, and which candidates are already seeing trouble? We'll look at the field.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Checking the headlines in our "Campaign News Daily," citing a desire to spend more time with family, Washington's state's Democratic Governor Gary Locke has decided not to run for a third four-year term. Locke is perhaps best known outside his state as the Democrat chosen to deliver his party's response to President Bush's State of the Union address. Gary Locke is also the nation's first Chinese American to be elected governor.

Members of the Green Party look ready to move forward with their own candidate for president in 2004. Participants at a weekend meeting tell "The Washington Post" that the party informally chose to field its own ticket instead of backing the future Democratic nominee. 2000 Green Party nominee Ralph Nader as well as former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney are among those mentioned as possible candidates. While his potential opponents devise strategy, President Bush keeps filling his campaign treasury. Over the weekend in Texas Mr. Bush raised $7 million in just a pair of fund-raisers in Dallas and Houston. The events increased the Bush campaign fund-raising total to more than $41 million.

And turning now to those poor Democrats. With the Iowa caucuses just six months away, no clear frontrunner for the party's nomination, so who's going to break out of the pack? With me to handicap the contest, Chuck Todd, editor-in-chief of "The Hotline," and CNN's own senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

Candy, I'm going to start with you. Is there any -- since both of you have crystal balls, can any one of these Democrats -- does any of them have the potential to beat George Bush at this point?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, sure. I mean, I think they absolutely do. I mean, certainly you look at the upper tier, and they obviously do. And I think we've pretty much known that all along. I mean, we'd love to do a year and a half outgoing he's unbeatable, but then we have the Clinton lesson and all that. So, sure.

I mean I have to say that when I saw the promo for this about who's hot, I'd have to tell you that they're all pretty lukewarm right now with the possible exception of Dean. But I mean, they're all kind of bunched up there in the top tier, and it's hard for them to break out. And so it looks less like they might be able to take on George Bush from this far out. But, you know, as they start to sort of build the -- build up their campaigns and as it becomes one or two or three people, they'll begin to look more presidential.

WOODRUFF: Chuck, if you're sitting in the White House and you look at these guys, and woman, is there anybody who you're particularly spending a little more time thinking about?

CHUCK TODD, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "HOTLINE": Well, I think it's the guy they see in the mirror every day. I mean, George Bush is still George Bush's toughest foe, and it may -- you know, as Candy pointed out, not matter which one they nominate. That said, we did see Karl Rove cheering at a 4th of July parade cheering "Go, Dean, go." So obviously we know who Karl Rove would like to run against.

CROWLEY: Be careful what you wish for.

TODD: That's right. You know, he's got this Howard Dean dream scenario. But beyond that, I think that they believe there are ways to run against all of them. But they -- you do feel like they do fear any of the guys that hug the middle.

WOODRUFF: All right. Let's talk about four of them, anyway. We've picked out four that we want to talk about today.

Candy, what did Dick Gephardt? A lot of news, talk last week about the fact that he didn't raise as much money as he was supposed to and whether -- you know, where is his candidacy headed? CROWLEY: Well, it was beat up on Dick Gephardt week last week after the numbers came out. And rightly so, because he lost his own expectations game, which is, you know -- you don't want to do that very much. But Dick Gephardt is a seasoned politician. He does have deep roots in Iowa. He has deep roots across the nation. And by the way, a lot of jits from a lot of people.

And, you know, he can still pull this out. But he's got something to prove, by the way, as they all do. And what he has to prove is that the Dick Gephardt you saw in 1988 is still viable in 2004.

WOODRUFF: What about Gephardt?

TODD: Well, you know, he seems to be -- the losing your own expectation game is a blow. But he seems to be just missing something with his labor base and with the House Democratic caucus base. And then when you throw the money thing in there, it only shines a brighter light on those other two problems -- that is that labor isn't unified behind him yet, and that the House Democrats aren't -- and so then, people start saying, "What's wrong?"

This money has the very big danger of becoming a snowball.

WOODRUFF: All right. John Kerry, we talked to him earlier today on -- for the show. Candy, he's still in the race. No question. He's right in there. He's hanging in, as he pointed out. But he's got to fight off some buzz from Howard Dean.

CROWLEY: Well, he does. And I think, you know, the stronger Howard Dean gets, the worse it looks for Kerry, only as we judge it. And that is because they're fishing in the same pond. They have the same voters.

But Kerry's still strong. I mean, he's got a lot of money. And so does Howard Dean, but at this point, I still think if you had to pick a frontrunner, which we're not going to do, Kerry is still pretty seated pretty well. He's got to get, I think, most people out there and a lot of people in here will tell you he needs to get a little more, you know, what is that, warmth to him, a little more -- that aloof still holds true, I think.

TODD: He's the one constant in this campaign. You know, in his interview with himself, he was sort of almost pointing that out. Hey, it was me and some other guy -- the other guy was John Edwards in the first quarter -- me and Howard Dean this quarter. You know, the one thing that's the same is that it's me.

WOODRUFF: He's still there.

TODD: He's still there. They've done -- you know, they've hit every mark that we've all set for these candidates. Kerry's the only one that hit the mark other than Dean.

You know, they relish running against Dean. They love the fact that they get the one-on-one race, they think, against Dean. WOODRUFF: All right. What about Dean, Candy?

CROWLEY: Well, he's a -- you know, again, a guy with something to prove. He certainly has been able to get early buzz, as Joe Trippi,his campaign manager, will point out to you. You know, that no sort of maverick candidate or long shot has so early on gotten so much attention. The question is, Can he now take all of this attention and are there more mainstream votes in there? They'll tell you it's mainstream votes, but it's awfully hard, I think, and unproven that you can take Internet votes and somehow make that a grassroots you have to have in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Maybe he can do it. I have no idea. But it's very unproven technology at this point, as far as grassroots, getting out the vote things that you need in both those two states.

WOODRUFF: Do they have a game plan that looks solid to you when you talked to them?

TODD: Well, you know, we've all made fools of ourselves underestimating Howard Dean the last six months, so I am not going to....

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: I'm done underestimating Howard Dean. The guy -- they seem to have a pretty solid plan. They seem to know what they're doing.

You know, the conventional wisdom says Howard Dean hurts John Kerry. I think the irony of this is Howard Dean has really hurt guys like Joe Lieberman and John Edwards more who were both hoping to become more buzz candidates. Kerry was always going to be the establishment guy. Who was going to get the buzz? Edwards and Lieberman, I think, both thought they would be buzz candidates. Now it looks like Dean's going to be that buzz candidate. I don't know if there's room for another buzz candidate.

WOODRUFF: All right, very quick last word on Joe Lieberman, Candy.

CROWLEY: Well, you know, it has to be disappointing for him. I mean what was interesting to me about when the numbers came out last week was that Joe Lieberman did better than he thought he was going to do, raised over $5 million, I think.

TOOD: Better than Dick Gephardt.

CROWLEY: Right. Nobody paid any attention. You know they were too busy looking at Dean. And I think it's exactly problem. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Dean has so taken up what air space there is that it's hard for the other guys.

TODD: Yes, I mean, Lieberman's got to figure out how -- there's no primary electorate for a moderate centrist like -- there's no Republican wing of the Democratic Party. If there were, Joe Lieberman would be set to carry it.

WOODRUFF: There's no state you can go to.

TODD: And there doesn't seem to be a state where he's going to easily win, and that's going to be the biggest challenge for Joe Lieberman.

WOODRUFF: All right. What is today? The 20th of July 2003?

CROWLEY: Only six more months until a vote is cast.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: More importantly, only two more weeks until the Iowa State Fair.

(LAUGHTER)

WOODRUFF: All right. Chuck Todd, Candy Crowley, thank you both. See you back here very soon.

The bid to push governor Gray Davis from office goes on in California. Just ahead, we'll have the latest on the recall effort.

And we will tell you who some Democratic activists are courting as a progressive alternative if Davis is ousted.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Supporters of California Governor Gray Davis are trying once again to block the voter recall effort. The group Taxpayers Against the Recall has asked for a temporary restraining order to prevent the signatures from being certified. All legal efforts to block the recall so far have failed.

Meanwhile, some of California's cash-strapped counties are having to cancel vacations and hire temporary help to count and verify the recall signature petitions.

One-time conservative activist Arianna Huffington is the latest prominent name to be mentioned as a liberal alternative on the recall ballot. Huffington's politics have evolved toward the left in recent years. Faced with a possible Davis defeat, though, some progressive leaders in the Golden State argue Huffington has the star power to keep the office out of Republican hands.

Here in Washington, House members will have the August recess to let their tempers cool before they have to vote on the pension reform bill that caused Friday's Capitol Hill rumble. Republicans and Democrats engaged in a heated floor debate after an early morning Ways and Means Committee hearing turned ugly.

One Republican leadership aide told CNN that the decision by the Republican committee chairman, Bill Thomas, to call Capitol Police made things worse. House Democrats will meet this afternoon to decide whether to ask the Ethics Committee for a formal investigation.

Still to come, we'll check in with Rhonda Schaffler with a look at how the start of the new week has unfolded on Wall Street.

And producers choose the actor who will play the actor who made it to the White House. We'll tell you who will star as Ronald Reagan in a new TV movie.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Time to test your political trivia knowledge. Earlier we asked you which Congressional district handed President Bush his worst defeat in the 2000 election? The answer, New York's 16th Congressional District, which includes most of the south Bronx. That district voted almost 95 percent against candidate Bush in the 2000 election.

All these political nuggets can be found in the 2004 edition of "The Almanac of American Politics" which hits the bookstores tomorrow.

Well the producers of a new TV movie -- and you don't want to miss your copy -- the producers of a new TV movie on Ronald Reagan's life have settled on the lead actor. James Brolin will play the former Republican president in the CBS movie "The Reagans" set to air November. Australian actress Judy Davis will play Nancy Regan.

Brolin's role may not play real well at home. His wife Barbra Streisand has helped to raise millions of dollars over the years for the Democratic Party. But perhaps she'll forgive him.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.

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