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AMERICAN MORNING

Democrats Debate

Aired December 10, 2003 - 09:35   ET

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

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: After deciding not to run for president again, Al Gore pushed his way into the race after all. When the Democratic candidates debated last night in New Hampshire, Gore's surprise endorsement of front-runner Howard Dean, and rejection of former runningmate Joe Lieberman was center stage.
CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein of the "L.A. Times" joins us from Manchester, New Hampshire to talk about the debate and the upcoming primaries.

Ron, nice to see you. Thanks for joining us.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Good morning, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Let's first and foremost talk about what I'm going to call about the Al Gore effect. Did you see any sort of uptick for Howard Dean or some kind of impact from this big announcement earlier in the day from Al Gore and Howard Dean?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, there's no question this is a huge boost for Howard Dean. There's really no way around it. Dean started this race as the classic outsider insurgent with little money, little name recognition. He surged to the top of the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, largely on a message of criticizing the party establishment, especially around the war in Iraq, the Democrats who supported Bush. Now what we're seeing is even with that outsider message, he's beginning to garner insider support, raise more money than any of the other candidates. We've had two of the largest unions in the AFL-CIO endorse him. And then yesterday, this dramatic imprimatur from Al Gore, the nominee in 2000, saying that Dean is the man who can best take the case to George Bush in 2004. That's a very strong tailwind for the former governor.

O'BRIEN: Big question in the debate coming from Ted Koppel. Can Dean win against President Bush? And here's what Senator Lieberman had to say about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This campaign for the Democratic nomination is fundamentally a referendum within our party about whether we're going to build on the Clinton transformation on our party in 1992, that reassured people we were strong on defense we were fiscally responsible, we cared about values, we were interested in cutting taxes for the middle class and working with business to create jobs. Howard Dean and now Al Gore, I guess, are on the wrong side of each of those issues. (END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Agree with the way he's phrasing that? A referendum?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, clearly, you know, without the pejorative spin, just as a statement of fact. Howard Dean is offering a very different vision of how Democrats win than Bill Clinton did in 1992 and 1996 in campaigns that Al Gore was part of. And to some extent, even Al Gore in 2000.

Dean is arguing that the Democrats need a very sharp-edged message to motivate their base. He says they've spent too much time focusing on swing voters, which is precisely the opposite of the political strategy that Clinton employed with Gore under sort of the new Democrat mantra that they ran on, in which he said they had to develop policies that appealed both to the base and swing voters. So in a sense, yes, Dean is offering a very different direction. The problem Joe Lieberman has is that right now, the Democratic Party really doesn't seem to be in the mood for a centrist alternative. George Bush has very a low approval rating, under 20 percent in some polls among Democrats, they're angry, and they seem to want someone who is going to take it to George Bush.

Even Al Gore said yesterday one of the main reasons he was supporting Howard dean is because he was alone among the major candidates at the time in opposing the war in Iraq.

O'BRIEN: Here's what Al Sharpton had to say. First, listen to it, then I'm going to ask you a question about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL SHARPTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Al Gore went to New York today. He should have known the Tammany Hall is not there anymore. Bossism is not in this body. To talk about people ought not run, and that people ought to get out of this race is bossism, that belongs in the other party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: End of the day, though, as you well know, expensive to carry on these campaigns, and there are some people who ought not run. Fair to say?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I mean, look, this is in the making lemonade out of lemons category. There's no way to deny that the gore endorsement is a huge boost for Howard Dean. But the candidates last night tried to chip away at it from several angles. You saw Joe Lieberman make the ideological argument that Al Gore, in effect, was renouncing his own past by siding with Howard Dean. And here, you saw what several of the other candidates tried to do, to say look, this should belong to the voters, it should not be decided by the bosses. What an irony, Howard Dean starts as an insurgent outsider denouncing the establishment, and we end up in the final debate of 2003 with the other candidates denouncing him as the choice of the bosses. It's really a reflection of his remarkable evolution and transformation in this year before the vote.

O'BRIEN: Ron Brownstein, from the "L.A. Times." I have a feeling we're going to be talking together a lot more over the next weeks and months. Thanks, Ron.

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