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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs and the President's Future; Interview With Senator Bob Graham; Interview With Scott Maddox

Aired December 5, 2003 - 15:30   ET

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: The '04 Democrats do Disney World. Which candidate has the edge in Florida? Are their dreams of beating President Bush there reality or fantasy?

Jobless in America. What does a mixed employment report mean for the president's career?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've overwhen a lot. We're a strong country and strong economy.

ANNOUNCER: Move over Trista and Ryan. Bachelor Dennis Kucinich is about to get fixed up with a would-be first lady right here on INSIDE POLITICS.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Now, live from Orlando, Florida, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.

JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Thank you for joining us from Orlando today, where Florida Democrats are gathering in conventions this weekend. All nine, it is believed, all nine of the Democratic presidential candidates are going to be here to talk to them as they look, as they take a look at these candidates and hear what they have to say. Much more about Florida and the Democrats in just a few minutes.

But right now, we want to turn to an issue that could sway the presidential election one way or another. And that is jobs.

The government reports today that payrolls outside the farm sector rose by 57,000 jobs in November. Far weaker growth than economists had expected. But the unemployment rate did fall to its lowest level since March, edging down a tenth of a point to 5.9 percent last month. President Bush put the emphasis on the positive during a trip to Baltimore today.

Let's bring in our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Judy, president Bush is capitalizing off those good economic numbers. As you had mentioned before, 57,000 new jobs, as well as an unemployment rate now dipping to 5.9 percent. The president's message in Baltimore, Maryland today, essentially, is that his economic plan is working, that he deserves a second term, that if he is reelected, he will continue to make those numbers go up to those good economic indicators. And again, making that message very clear before employers at the Home Depot earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We're growing. This economy's good. It can be better so more people find work. One of the ways to make sure the economy continues to grow, is to make all the tax relief we pass permanent. See, it's about -- it's going to go away in phases.

The child credit is going to go back down. The marriage penalty will go back up. Taxes will go back up unless we make this permanent. It doesn't make any sense to have a tax code that gyrates like that. You need stability in your tax code.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Now, Democrats certainly are not buying this message. Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi coming out with a statement of her own, again reminding Americans that there are still nine million Americans who are out of work, three million who have lost their jobs under President Bush's watch. The Democrats are arguing that they want an extension of the unemployment insurance -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And in fact, Suzanne, I asked Commerce Secretary Don Evans about that a little while ago. We're going to be showing that a little later on the program.

Separately, Suzanne, I want to ask you about the announcement out of the White House today that the president named someone who actually was instrumental in his winning the Florida recount three years ago to a position in Iraq. Tell us about that.

MALVEAUX: Well, one thing this Bush administration realizes is that the president is responsible for two economies, the state of this economy at home, and also the state of the economy inside of Iraq. Today, the White House announcing former Secretary of State James A. Baker, III, is going to be a special envoy to the president to help deal with the Iraq debt situation.

That is a $125 billion in Iraqi debt. That, as you know, James Baker being an international heavy-hitter. Also, a close friend of the Bush family.

It really underscores the importance of getting that accomplished. They're certainly hoping that with his ties to the international community and world leaders, that it can convince some of those European allies, as well as Arab nations, to try to forgive some of that debt and allow for Iraqi reconstruction to move forward. This is a very big issue, an important issue for the reelection -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Suzanne Malveaux covering all the bases for us at the White House. Suzanne, thank you very much.

Well, we have more news now from the Democratic hopefuls in our "Campaign News Daily." Howard Dean plans to air a 30-minute infomercial Sunday afternoon in Madison, Wisconsin. The program is designed to introduce viewers to Dean and his policies. It will also encourage the audience to log on to Dean's Web site and to donate to the campaign.

Meanwhile, Joe Lieberman starts running a new ad in New Hampshire this weekend criticizing Dean for sealing documents related to his term as governor of Vermont. Two Democrats who ran unsuccessful campaigns for president back in 1988 are endorsing Howard Dean, meanwhile. Former Arizona Governor Bruce Babbitt and former Illinois Senator Paul Simon both have announced that they're supporting the former Vermont governor.

Bruce Babbitt is among the leaders of a new group criticizing President Bush on environmental issues. Just last hour, former EPA administrator Carol Browner told us that the organization plans to pour big money into key states, including Florida.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAROL BROWNER, FMR. EPA ADMINISTRATOR: The Bush campaign is going to raise an amount of money unprecedented in a presidential campaign. They're raising a lot of that from the special interests. We are a group of people who have come together to reach out to voters and give them information about what the Bush administration is doing to their environment. It is a very important message, one we think will resonate with voters.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Carol Browner's group, which is called Environment 2004, says it plans to spend up to $5 million.

Well, joining me now is someone who was part of the presidential campaign until just a short time ago. He is Florida Senator Bob Graham, who was in this race for months, Senator. And you made the decision to get out.

But what I want to talk to you about, because you're now coming up on this convention this weekend of your Democratic colleagues here, the polls in Florida right now show that President Bush is well ahead of any one of the Democrats. Do you really think the Democrats have a hope in your home state?

SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D), FLORIDA: Judy, did you see the headlines in today's "Miami Herald?" This was a poll done by a Republican and a Democratic pollster which showed that President Bush's approval in Florida in six months has dropped from 60 to 53, and that now Florida is exactly split as to whether the president's policies in Iraq are appropriate or not. It also indicates that several candidates are within one digit of -- or in single digits of reaching the president.

WOODRUFF: But the president now, not only is he the incumbent with all of the power of the presidency, he has a brother who is the governor of this state. Between them, they've now won, what, three elections in the state of Florida, two for governor, one for president? This is a big mountain to climb for the Democrats, isn't it?

GRAHAM: Well, I would say that they've won two elections in Florida. We'll discuss whether George Bush carried Florida in 2000 or not. But...

WOODRUFF: Are you still going to be fighting that battle, do you think, in '04?

GRAHAM: No, that's history. But what's not history is the fact that Florida continues to be a very competitive, closely divided state. And it is the largest of the states that is really up for grabs in 2004. So it will be a major battleground.

WOODRUFF: And we know you're going to be part of it. Senator Bob Graham, great to see you. Thank you for coming by to say hello.

GRAHAM: Great. Thank you.

WOODRUFF: We'll see you again on the campaign trail. Thank you.

Well, meantime, here in Florida, the Democrats running for President Bush's job will try to impress the state party faithful this weekend. That's what we've been talking about. Up next, we'll look at the field and the future battle against Mr. Bush with Florida's Democratic party chairman.

Also ahead...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm hoping that very soon somebody that's running will really step out and grab hold of the imagination of the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: ... does any Democrat have the South Carolina primary sewn up? We'll hear from voters in that southern battleground.

Plus, behind the scenes with Al Sharpton, rehearsing for his gig on "Saturday Night Live."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: As Florida Democrats come together this weekend to listen to the nine Democrats who are running for president, we are pleased to be able to talk with the chairman of the Florida State Democratic Party. He is Scott Maddox, and he is with me now.

Good to see you, Scott Maddox.

SCOTT MADDOX, FLORIDA DEMOCRATIC CHAIRMAN: Good to see you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Is this going to be a beat up George Bush weekend?

MADDOX: I don't think -- you know, I think there will be a certain amount of that, because I think it's time for a change in this country. But in reality, what we're going to talk about is where we want to go in 2004. There's some hard feelings from 2000, but we're focused on the issues that we ought to be focused on, foreign policy, the economy and healthcare.

WOODRUFF: I just talked to former -- to Senator Bob Graham. He's not former yet, as I'm sure you heard. And he pointed out that there is some shifting in the president's approval in Florida, but still, this is a president well ahead of any one of the Democrats running. How do you overcome that significant gap?

MADDOX: Well, of course, presidential incumbency is an awesome thing. And I think he'll be ahead for quite some time. But as we get closer to the election, I think people are starting to question our foreign policy. They're starting to question our jobless rate and the fact that health insurance is so hard to get in the state of Florida, as well as the other states. So I think as we get closer, that gap will start to narrow.

WOODRUFF: Well, let's talk about the candidate who is seen by many as the frontrunner this race right now, Howard Dean. Could he win in Florida today? The polls show he's eight or 10 points behind President Bush.

MADDOX: There is no question in my mind that Howard Dean can win in Florida. He's got an "A" rating from the NRA. He can win in north Florida.

He's concerned about healthcare and about Social Security. He can win in southeast Florida. Howard Dean can do very well in this state.

WOODRUFF: Well, let me quote to you from an independent pollster named Jim Cane (ph). He's quoted today in the "Orlando Sentinel" as saying, Dean's main platform, which has been against the war in Iraq -- in Cane's (ph) words, he said, "When it comes to rallying around the flag, Florida is very conservative. Right now, the anti-war sentiment, which is driving the Democratic primary process, doesn't sit very well with the Florida electorate."

MADDOX: I don't know if it's anti-war as much as it's making sure that we have a plan to get out of the current mess we're in, in Iraq. And even the people that are running for the United States presidency who voted for this, when they were in the Senate and other places, and voted to go to Iraq, they want us to have a plan, a long- term plan. And it's painfully obvious that we do not.

WOODRUFF: How much of a disadvantage are Democrats at, given the fact that the governor of this state is not only a Republican, but the brother of the president? MADDOX: It gives him a tremendous advantage. Not only can George W. Bush sell policy on a national level to raise money for special interests, but in Florida, he gets a two-fer because his brother can sell it here in the legislature to raise tremendous amounts of money.

But we've got people. They've got checkbooks, and we have shoe leather. I like our odds.

WOODRUFF: All right, we'll let it go at that. Scott Maddox. And this convention, you're going -- no straw poll?

MADDOX: No straw poll.

WOODRUFF: But you think you've got, what, eight of the nine candidates coming?

MADDOX: We may have all nine. We're working on it right now, trying to get everybody here. We're going to be talking about issues like outsourcing and voting machines, things that are unique to Florida, but also matter on the national scale.

WOODRUFF: Scott Maddox, chairman of the Florida Democratic Party, good to see you.

MADDOX: Good to see you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thank you very much.

MADDOX: Thanks for having me.

WOODRUFF: We appreciate it.

Well, some eight weeks from now, the political focus will be on South Carolina and six other states. They are the first battlegrounds after Iowa and New Hampshire. There's a new South Carolina poll that is showing Howard Dean leading the pack by a very slim margin over Wesley Clark and Joe Lieberman. South Carolina native, John Edwards, is tied for fourth with Dick Gephardt and Al Sharpton in the first southern showdown of election 2004.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And here we have a handsome outfit.

WOODRUFF (voice-over): After decades of dressing the gentlemen of Charleston, Arnold Prislawski (ph) knows how to pick a fine suit. Finding the right man to fill it is another matter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm still open-minded. And I'm very anxious for someone to take the role of leadership.

WOODRUFF: Like many South Carolina Democrats, Mr. Prislawski (ph) finds himself without a candidate in the February 3 primary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope that the Democrats will spend more time discussing what they have to offer the country and less time criticizing.

WOODRUFF: This first showdown below the Mason-Dixon line is make or break for two sons of the South, retired General Wesley Clark and Senator John Edwards.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If John Edwards loses South Carolina, he's over, he's through. And he's having difficulty.

WOODRUFF: Edwards has pumped time and money into the state. His supporters say he could have what it takes to beat Bush.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we get a southern Democrat there, you generally have good luck with southern Democrats.

WOODRUFF: But Marty Mosely (ph) doesn't think his candidate will be his party's nominee.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think he'd have a pretty fair chance of winning, but I don't think he's going to get it.

WOODRUFF: Back on King Street, Arnold Prislawski (ph) lays out clothes, while upstairs, James Wright (ph) tailors them. African- Americans could make up half the vote in the South Carolina primary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only thing I know, that we have candidates out there. But I'm not hearing what they're saying. But I'm hoping that very soon, somebody that's running will really step out and grab hold of the imagination of the American people.

WOODRUFF: But one candidate has caught his eye.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wesley Clark. I've been hearing a lot about him lately. And he seems to have a little more charisma than the rest.

WOODRUFF: Clark's wartime credentials make him especially attractive here, where respect for the military runs deep. Margaret Taylor (ph) works alongside Mr. Wright (ph) and brings up an x-factor in the contest.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think they all are great, but the particular one I like is Al Sharpton.

WOODRUFF: The reverend could make a splash in South Carolina, siphoning black votes from other candidates, like Dick Gephardt and Joe Lieberman, both of whom have been courting the community. Even if they know Sharpton can't win...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel a black person would be a president maybe in my grandchildren's time, and they're only four.

WOODRUFF: A large number of African-Americans may choose to side with the minister. And what of the frontrunner in the race for the nomination?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If I just went with my heart, I'd probably be going with Dean. And I just wonder whether or not he's got a chance of winning.

WOODRUFF: The fiery Yankee, darling of the doves, hasn't had much of a presence in South Carolina, but he's got some fans here. And a strong showing in Iowa and New Hampshire could give him momentum in the South. Still, in the kitchen of the hominy grill, skepticism runs high.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Republicans are probably going to pick him apart on a lot of his issues and background.

WOODRUFF: Leaving this chef undecided with only one sure bet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cream of turnip soup and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ham. Yum yum.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: A taste of South Carolina.

Well, two presidential candidates take the stage in search of laughs. Up next, the Reverend Al Sharpton prepares to go live on "Saturday Night," but do his rivals need equal time?

Also ahead, Senator Joe Lieberman tries out his best one-liners before an audience of legendary comedians.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Administration officials say that a Bush cabinet member intends to quit in order to run for the U.S. Senate in Florida. Sources say HUD secretary, Mel Martinez, will announce his decision to design as early as next week. Martinez has his eye on the Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Bob Graham, who we talked to just a moment ago. Although Martinez is near the bottom of early Florida Senate polls, the White House reportedly encouraged him to run next year, over several other high profile Republicans, including Florida Congresswoman Katherine Harris.

INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Presidential hopeful Al Sharpton's appearance tomorrow on "Saturday Night Live" is triggering concerns about the equal time provision for political candidates. As we have reported, Sharpton has been in New York this week rehearsing for his "SNL" appearance. But his show biz debut will not be seen in the early caucus state of Iowa because the state's four NBC affiliates have all decided that his appearance would trigger requirements that they offer the same amount of air time to all the other candidates.

Back in New York, Sharpton told CNN that the equal time concerns were "all about nothing." Sharpton also told our Kelly Wallace that he's not sure how his appearance will turn out. CNN got a sneak peek at his rehearsals.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL SHARPTON (D), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I always wanted to host "SNL."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really?

SHARPTON: No, I'm just desperate for votes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He loves to go clubbing.

SHARPTON: And I do love the ladies.

This is a goofier than Bush's healthcare plan.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're the only Democratic presidential candidate hosting "Saturday Night Live." What do you think about that?

SHARPTON: I'll tell you Sunday morning after it's over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: We'll see how it turns out. A quick reminder, Al Sharpton will also step into the "CROSSFIRE" Monday afternoon right here on CNN. Be sure to watch Monday at 4:30 Eastern, 1:30 Pacific, right after INSIDE POLITICS.

Well, Joe Lieberman is also showing off his comedic skills, you might say. The presidential hopeful tried a few one-liners at the presentation of the fifth annual Alan King Award in American Jewish humor.

Mort Saul was this year's winner. Lieberman pointed out that he's not the only White House hopeful with Jewish heritage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT.), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I mean, I'm sure you've noticed that several of the other candidates have found Jewish lineage. You know, John Kerry, Wes Clark.

And I went to my mom, and I was talking to her about it. God bless her, she's 89. And she 'fessed up to something, that she really is not really Marcia Manger Lieberman (ph), she's Mary Margaret O'Mally (ph). Apparently, we were Irish and my parents decided to pretend to be Jewish so they could take Saturdays off.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: I don't know how that one went over. We'll see. Joe Lieberman also joked that he knows a lot about being around comedians because he's taken part in Democratic debates. That one may go over better.

Still ahead, the who wants to be a first lady contest came down to the wire. But which lucky woman actually gets a date with presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich? Stay with us. We're going to talk to her and to the congressman when INSIDE POLITICS continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: The Florida factor. As Democrats converge on Orlando, do they have a shot at winning the Hispanic vote in 2004?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't trust the Democrats and anything that has to do with Cuba.

ANNOUNCER: The southern strategy. Republicans optimistic about an '04 blitz in the region may not be whistling Dixie.

A saga of sunken dreams. It's not quite the Titanic, but someone may feel like the king of the world after winning the political "Play of the Week."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

Now, live from Orlando, Florida, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS>

WOODRUFF: Welcome back to our program live in Orlando. The '04 Democrats are hoping to make some headway with Hispanic voters, considered influential, especially here in Florida. But are they likely to succeed?

CNN's John Zarrella has an update on the Latino vote heading into next year's election.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Bush may not have as strong a headlock on Hispanic votes in Florida as is the general perception. Pepe Lopez, an Independent, heads the Latin chamber in Broward County.

PEPE LOPEZ, BROWARD COUNTY LATIN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE: Hispanics, including Cubans, will vote for whoever at that moment they think is the right person for the country. It doesn't matter if you're Republican or Democrat.

ZARRELLA: Among Miami's Cuban-Americans, the president still appears unbeatable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't trust the Democrats in anything that has to do with Cuba.

ZARRELLA: But there has been steady criticism of the administration from a once powerful ally, the Cuban American National Foundation.

JOE GARCIA, CUBAN AMERICAN NATIONAL FOUNDATION: This administration began with a series of expectations to movement on Cuban policy. Those have obviously not come to pass, and there's an undertow of very strong sentiment, of frustration with this administration.

ZARRELLA: In October, the president gave a Rose Garden policy speech on Cuba aimed at easing that frustration.

BUSH: No matter what the dictator intends or plans, Cuba (speaking in Spanish).

ZARRELLA: It played well in the Cuban community, but the foundation says it was just more lip service, no new initiatives.

Besides Cuba, experts say the biggest issues for Florida Hispanics are education, health care and immigration. The Democrats, the experts say, can take Hispanic votes away from the Republicans, particularly on social issues.

DARIO MORENO, FLORIDA INTL. UNIV.: There's an opening for the Democrats in Florida. The question is, are they capable or willing to take it?

ZARRELLA: Orlando is one of the two test markets for this political ad that tells Hispanic voters that Democrats have always been the best friend to Hispanics.

But so far, Hispanic leaders say the Democratic candidates have shown little interest in proving their friendship to the 7.45 percent of Florida voters who are Latin. And they say come November, Hispanic votes could be the difference between winning and losing in Florida.

John Zarrella, CNN, Miami.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: As we've been telling you, we're here in Orlando because Democrats in the state of Florida gathering at a convention here over the weekend. They're going to be hearing from eight and maybe all nine of the Democrats who are running for president.

This state holding special significance not only because of the 2000 vote that was so close in the state of Florida, but also because Florida is a place where there is many electoral votes as there are. You can see the numbers, a new poll coming out today showing Howard Dean, Wesley Clark and Joe Lieberman bunched together, each at about 15 percent. With Dick Gephardt and John Kerry trailing by several percentage points.

In just a moment, we'll have a report from our Candy Crowley on the state of play for Florida for Democrats in Florida right now.

President Bush raised another $1 million for his reelection campaign in Baltimore today before heading to a nearby Home Depot to talk about America's finances. He touted new unemployment and job reports as evidence that the economy is rebounding even though some analysts call the November payroll growth disappointing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BUSH: Today, the unemployment rate dropped, as you may know, from 6 percent to 5.9 percent. More workers are going to work, over 380,000 have joined the work force in the last couple months.

We've overcome a lot. We're a strong country a strong economy, a lot of it has to do with the fact that we've got the best workers in the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Despite some improvement in the job picture, Democrats are calling for an extension of long-term unemployment benefits, fearing, they say, that some 2 million more Americans could be out of work during the first half of next year.

I spoke a little while ago with Commerce Secretary Don Evans. And I asked him if the administration will support that extension?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DON EVANS, SECRETARY OF COMMERCE: We haven't made a decision on that but we have made a decision on as long as there's one person out of work that needs a job, then we've got work to do. And we know we've still got work to do.

As you said, unemployment, though, is improving. It peaked at 6.4 percent this last summer, it's now below 6 percent. That's very encouraging. It means there are more jobs during this holiday season for American workers and American families, means that American workers and families will have more money to spend during this holiday season. And it's good news for the economy.

But yes, we've got more work to do and we fully understand that.

WOODRUFF: Let me ask you about the president's decision, announcement yesterday that he's going to lift the tariffs on imported steel.

You, the Bush administration, are saying you're doing this because the steel industry is now in stronger shape. But the steel workers union, the president of the steel workers union, is saying that a lot of this productivity improvement was done because of concessions, was accomplished because of concessions by labor.

They say that these workers still need help, still need support. The industry still needs support. And they say the implications of what the president has done are profound. What do you and the president say to the steel workers?

EVANS: Judy, I talked to the president of the U.S. Steel Workers Union, Leo Gerard yesterday. And he said to me how much he appreciated the courageous action the president took in March of 2002. And it was the right decision in March of 2002 to put safeguards in place. But the president said then that this was -- would be temporary. We would continue to monitor the industry, and see if economic circumstances changed. They, indeed, have changed. And I would give credit to both the workers and labor, as well as management. Groundbreaking labor agreements that means productivity is much higher, costs are much lower.

The industry itself says now they can compete with anybody in the world. And so you've got an industry that, once again, is globally competitive and you've got a strong domestic economy, a strong global economy.

And so the president made the right decision again to lift the safeguards at this time.

WOODRUFF: Let me ask you a broader question about the economy. We do know that productivity is growing. You just mentioned that it is growing in a number of sectors. But we also know now that the dollar, the U.S. dollar is dropping in value against the euro.

And without getting into all of the arcane lingo of currencies, the concern here is that the United States is going to end up needing to raise interest rates in order to protect the dollar. Is this something that you and others in the administration are concerned about, the falling U.S. dollar?

EVANS: Judy, I would just say to you that we continue to be concerned on having this entire world put the fiscal policies in place, monetary policies in place that create the conditions for long- term economic growth. Not just here in America, but all around the world. And that's a wide variety of fiscal policies, as well as monetary policies.

You know, I don't think it's -- I don't think it helps to try and get focused on one micro area of the economy. Let's continue to encourage the world to create the conditions for growth which, by the way, Judy, I think that's one of the real encouraging indicators at this moment in this holiday season as we see the global economy beginning to grow which is good for the domestic economy and good for American workers.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Commerce Secretary Don Evans. He talked to me just a short time ago.

Florida, where we are, may be unique in the South. But it is part of the region. Nonetheless, does President Bush have a firm lock on this part of the country? We'll talk Southern strategy ahead.

Plus, our own version of "The Bachelor." Online voters have chose an prospective first lady for Dennis Kucinich. We are going to announce the winner and talk to her live.

And later, a bridge over troubled waters. Polls in "The Political Play of the Week."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WOODRUFF: We're here in Orlando to cover the Florida state Democrats' gathering and convention this weekend. We all know that Florida is still something of a Holy Grail for Democrats, still smarting from what happened in this state back in 2000.

My colleague, Candy Crowley, CNN's senior political correspondent, is here with me. She's been taking a look at where Democrats are right now. She has some snapshots of the state and the race right now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Florida, state of frequent sunshine and endless summers. A place for seniors to kick back into retirement and young families to play.

Florida, land of chads.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fact, don't let them steal the election again. Yes, that's going to be an issue with us. I know that.

CROWLEY: Almost three years to the day that butterfly ballots became a part of political Americana, and the Supreme Court settled an election, Florida Democrats are set to meet and greet the '04 team of candidates who hope to make a one-termer of George W. Bush and -- this is no know small thing -- score a definitive win in Florida.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got the energy. And we're going to take him!

CROWLEY: Party officials say there are more volunteers for this convention than they've seen in the long time. These are the non- forgivers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In Florida, we want to make sure we win again.

CROWLEY: These are the non-forgetters.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's in the back of people's minds, but it's going to cause people to come out north stay home.

CROWLEY: It's not as though 2000 is the issue for 2004. Medicare, homeland security, foreign policy, those are the issues. But 2000 is a motivator.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think there's no question that the election in 2000 will strike a chord in the delegates here this weekend. And if it's mentioned, I think they'll let you know emphatically their feelings on the fact that their votes weren't counted.

CROWLEY: If it's mentioned? You think?

HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This time, the person with the most votes is going to the White House.

REP. DICK GEPHARDT (D-MO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'll try to win even Florida.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: The 2000 election is a staple item on the campaign trail. It resonates among diehard Democrats in the country, maybe in other states more than Florida.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that the Democrats will try to make it as such. You can see just from this week, they had a press conference talking about paper ballots again. And I think they're going to try and use the issue. They used it 2002 and it fell flat.

CROWLEY: A couple funny things happened on the way to the '04 election. First, a governor named Bush got reelected and a president named Bush got over the 50/50 divide line.

Put up against specific Democrats in a Florida poll released today, President Bush beats Dean in Florida by eight, Clark by eight, Lieberman by 11, and Gephardt by 11.

Still, the gap is smaller than it was in the last poll, and even Republicans here say politically, Florida is pretty much where it was in 2000, a 50/50 state, only with better voting procedures.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: And, Judy, just in case, you know, they don't get to hear the candidates talk about 2000, they could read about it first. Brought you a little something here, Judy. The "Re-Elect Joe Lieberman" sign. But he put in all those little goodies that you saw in that piece, so it's says re-elect. So I think they might mention it a time or two.

WOODRUFF: So the Lieberman campaign is handing this out?

CROWLEY: Yes.

WOODRUFF: OK, Candy Crowley, thank you very much. Deja vu all over again. OK, thanks a lot.

As Florida Democrats prepare for their annual convention here, we've been telling you about it, they face a strong political reality. That is the Democratic presidential ticket lost Florida and every other Southern state in 2000.

Political analyst Stu Rothenberg joins us now in Washington. Stu, you heard the poll numbers that Candy was citing. Dean is 8 points behind the president. Clark, 8 points behind. John Edwards, 18 points behind here in Florida. Do Democrats have any hope in Florida of turning this around?

STUART ROTHENBERG, "ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": Well, actually, Judy, those Florida results are not terrible for the Democrats, for this reason.

In a race like this, you're going to look at the president's numbers first. What percentage of the electorate is he drawing? And all those numbers had George W. Bush between 48 percent and 51 percent of the electorate in Florida.

Florida voters know who he is. The seen him on television every day, he's on the front pages of the newspapers and he's only drawing about 50 percent of the vote.

So even though he's leading the Democrats, I think it's far too early to suggest he's put the state away and you can put it in the Republican column. Not at all. Those numbers seem to me to suggest an open race.

WOODRUFF: Let's talk about the rest of the South. Where do you see any opening for the Democrats across Dixie?

ROTHENBERG: It's a good question, and there are small openings in a couple of states.

What I did was I went and looked for states where the Democrats held large majorities in both houses of the state legislature and Southern states where they held both U.S. Senate seats and states that performed reasonably well or relatively well for Democratic presidential candidates. In fact, states the Democratic candidates from the South admittedly had won.

And two states, other than Florida, jump out. And they're Arkansas and Louisiana, states that have not quite moved -- realigned as much as the rest of the South has, states with white Democratic voters who continue to hold on to their partisanship.

If Democratic presidential candidates are going to win elections in the South, whether it's 2004 or 2008, those are the two states that jump out. It's still not going to be easy. There are still Republican tilting states in a presidential contest. But there's a little opening there for Democrats.

WOODRUFF: But bottom line, Stu, is it's tough everywhere else?

ROTHENBERG: Oh, the region is just not made for the Democrats these days. It has gone from lock solid Democratic 50, 60, 70 years ago to very strongly Republican.

And in most cases states like North and South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, border states like Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas, they're really off the table for the Democrats.

There are two or three states they can focus on in the region, including Florida. Otherwise, they're going to have to look elsewhere.

WOODRUFF: All right. Stu Rothenberg, the man we depend on. Thanks a lot, Stu, we appreciate it.

ROTHENBERG: Thank you, thank you.

WOODRUFF: Well even in the hardball world of presidential politics, there's room for possible romance. Up next, who won a date with Democrat Dennis Kucinich? We will announce the results of the "Who Wants to be a First Lady Contest."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK).

WOODRUFF: There is new information just in to CNN on those highway shootings near Columbus, Ohio. Deputy police chief in Franklin County, Steve Martin, has announced there have been 14 confirmed shootings near the city's perimeter highway. And he says that five of them have now been linked by ballistics evidence.

Until now, there were a dozen confirmed incidents and four of those shootings had been connected. One person has been killed in the string of shootings, the others have resulted only in damaged vehicles.

INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Whatever the outcome of the Democratic presidential race, voters already have made some decisions about Dennis Kucinich's future. We are pleased to be the first to report that Gina Marine Santore has won a date with the unmarried Kucinich in the "Who Wants to be a First Lady" contest sponsored by the Web site PoliticsNH.com.

Ms. Santore has edged out the other finalist Margie Jessup (ph) of Wisconsin, 52 percent to 48 percent. So it was close.

Gina Marie Santore is on the telephone with us from New Jersey. Ms. Santore, what has attracted you to Congressman Kucinich?

GINA MARIE SANTORE, WINNER, "WHO WANTS TO BE A FIRST LADY" CONTEST: I think he has a great platform and I was very interested in becoming part of the primary process, so to speak. And it's been a lot of fun.

WOODRUFF: So is it mostly his politics that attract you, or something about the person?

SANTORE: I think it's basically been his platform. I think his platform's very attractive. Probably should be more attractive to more Democrats. But I definitely think he's doing a great job.

WOODRUFF: Doing a great job as a candidate, or as a congressman, or both?

SANTORE: I think that he's right on the money on a number of federal issues. And I think he's been getting his message across on the campaign trail. Of course, we've been hearing about New Hampshire. The primary process in New Jersey is one of the latest. So we're just trying to stay tuned to what's happening in New Hampshire at this pint.

WOODRUFF: New Jersey your home state, of course. Now are you actually going to meet the Congressman at some point? This date is actually going to happen, is that right?

SANTORE: It appears so. I think I will fly to New Hampshire and we'll be able to have dinner with Dennis. And I'm looking forward to that.

WOODRUFF: All right. Gina Marie Santore from New Jersey. Thank you very much.

Joining us now the congressman himself. Congressman Kucinich, what do you have to say about this?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, it's just wonderful to have CNN participating in this, and I'm looking forward to meeting Gina in New Hampshire.

WOODRUFF: Well, what do you say about the fact that she says it's your politics that she's primarily attracted to, Congressman?

KUCINICH: Well I think the response that I've received from women across the country to this really relates to a response to my politics. And that's good news.

WOODRUFF: The truth is, Congressman, you probably hardly have time for any sort of private life, for dating. As a presidential candidate, aren't you just extremely busy and, I mean, this is really going to take the kind of time that you normally wouldn't give for your personal life, isn't it?

KUCINICH: Well you know what? As you know, it is very demanding to be in public life, and at the same time, it's nice to know that, you know, an opportunity can come up where you can meet someone who is interested in the same things that you are.

So I'm very interested in having the opportunity to meet with be Gina and I'll look forward to meeting her in New Hampshire.

WOODRUFF: So where are you taking her to dinner?

KUCINICH: You know what? I don't know that. I guess that's being arranged through Politics New Hampshire.

(LAUGHTER)

WOODRUFF: All right. You won't even say what kind of food you're going to have?

KUCINICH: Well, you know what? I will tell you that everyone knows my diet. But I'm sure it will be a wonderful dinner and I'm looking forward to meeting her.

WOODRUFF: All right, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, candidate for the Democratic nomination for president. We know that he is a vegetarian. So perhaps they'll go to a vegetarian restaurant.

Gina Marie Santore of New Jersey having won the "Who Wants to be a First Lady" contest, sponsored by the Web site, NHPolitics.com (sic). Thank you, Ms. Santore and Congressman Kucinich.

A party proposal that sank like a rock. Up next a convention, a cruise ship, and "The Political Play of the Week."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: This week saw the end to a political standoff that threatened to become a public relations nightmare. Our Bill Schneider joins me now from Washington to explain -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Judy, New Yorkers may try to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge, but try to sell them the Titanic and they'll sink the idea and turn it into "The Political Play of the Week."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Here is the scene last January when Republicans announced they would meet in New York City next year.

MARC RACICOT, FRM. RNC CHAIRMAN: We are very, very excited about the opportunity for us to be so intimately involved and engaged in the life of New York City.

SCHNEIDER: Not all that excited, it turns out, because this fall, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay suggested chartering a cruise ship and anchoring it in New York Harbor during the convention. Is he serious, Mayor Michael Bloomberg asked?

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), NEW YORK: ... gives you good visual. You can have a picture in the paper of a big cruise ship and we can talk about the food on cruise ships...

SCHNEIDER: Speaking of the food, you've got your French, your Asian, your Mexican, you've got housing for 2,200 delegates and politicians. Why stay in a cramped New York hotel room when you can have this? Why go to see the real Statue of Liberty when the one on the ship talks?

MECHANIZED VOICE: Hello. I'd like to welcome this ship, its crew, and its passengers to my hometown, New York.

SCHNEIDER: New York's leaders were outraged.

REP. CAROLYN MALONEY (D), NEW YORK: We're Apparently not good enough for the Republican convention. They would rather stay on a floating fortress.

SCHNEIDER: It was threatening to become a P.R. disaster for Republicans.

JONATHAN BING (D), N.Y. STATE ASSEMBLY: This is -- it's really inexplicable why the Republican National Convention Committee would even consider taking money away from New York City, a city which it chose, in part, for the symbolism that it represents. SCHNEIDER: Like 9/11 and the problems that caused for New York's tourist industry. So Bloomberg called DeLay and offered a face-saving deal. The cruise ship line would withdraw the offer.

BLOOMBERG: I don't know what goes on on ships. I can tell you exactly what goes on in the streets of New York City. You are safe, people are nice, it is exciting, it is easy to get around. We have rooms reserved for every member of Congress and for every delegate.

SCHNEIDER: Done. DeLay scuttles the ship. And Bloomberg, master and commander, claims his prize, "The Political Play of the Week."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: By the way, Democrats have been talking about chartering a ship for their convention. But they have an excuse. Boston is said to be short on hotel rooms.

You know, maybe the parties should both charter ships and have a battle on the high seas. How does that sound?

WOODRUFF: Pretty intriguing. All right, Bill. Thank you very much.

SCHNEIDER: Sure.

WOODRUFF: And finally, on a personal note, I want to say good bye to a number of people who have been crucial to getting this program on the air every day, day in and day out. Ralph Marcus (ph), our director in Washington, a number of others, you know who you are, we couldn't have done it without you. We are going to miss you, and we thank you for the bottom of our hearts.

That's it for us here in Orlando, Florida. I'm Judy Woodruff. Thanks for joining us. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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