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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Ohio Highway Shootings: Police Update; Howard Dean on Defense

Aired December 18, 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: Democrats hunt for ammunition. What can they use against President Bush now that Saddam's behind bars and the economy is approving?

Countdown to Iowa. One month and one day until the first big presidential contest. Are Democrats ready to make tough choices?

A snowbird for the Senate? Wait until you hear who wants to run for the seat opening up in Florida.

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us. Judy is off today. I'm Candy Crowley.

We expect two live events in the coming hour: a news conference from Columbus, Ohio, where school was canceled today for more than 20,000 students after authorities found bullet strikes in two school buses. The incident comes amid a series of highway shootings.

And at 4:00 Eastern, we'll go live to Santa Maria, California, where authorities will formally file charges against pop star Michael Jackson, for allegedly molesting a young boy.

Now, to the presidential campaign trail and Howard Dean on the defensive.

In New Hampshire today, the Democratic frontrunner stood by his statement that Americans are no safer now than Saddam Hussein has been. And he is out swinging at fellow Democrats.

But right now, as we told you, we have a live event to go to. This is an Ohio news conference. We believe it will be Franklin County Sheriff Deputy Steve Martin talking about those bullet strikes found in two school buses.

(INTERRUPTED BY LIVE EVENT)

CROWLEY: We want to go back now to some politics. Howard Dean, as we were saying, is fighting back now against his critics who have taken out after Dean when he said that the U.S. is no safer now than they were before Saddam was captured. A New Hampshire poll taken after Saddam's capture shows that Dean still has a huge lead there. Twenty-five points ahead of his nearest rival, John Kerry.

We have CNN's Kelly Wallace with more on Dean's speech in Manchester.

Kelly, what did he have to say?

KELLY WALLACE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Candy, a short time ago, Governor Dean did a news conference, and he said that it's not his nature to be a wallflower when people go after him. He says he's been exercising what he calls admirable restraint, but he clearly decided to go on the counter-attack today, adding a few paragraphs to a previously scheduled speech on domestic policy. He never mentioned any of his domestic rivals by name, but he accused of this them of doing what is politically popular when it comes to the war in Iraq and the seizure of Saddam Hussein.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: For four days, the Washington politics as usual club have taken every opportunity for attacks on me and my campaign that go far beyond questioning my position on the war. So now, it's time for the truth.

I think the Democratic Party has to offer a clear alternative to the American people. We must make it clear that the capture of one very bad man does not mean that this president and the Washington Democrats can declare victory in the war on terror.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: And Dean did something else, something that is likely to raise a few eyebrows inside the Bush administration. He said he does not believe that the United States is any safer than the day planes rammed into the World Trade Center.

Now, at that news conference after the speech, we asked Governor Dean if he decided to come out swinging because he's worried these attacks might be hurting his standing nationwide in the polls. He said no. He said he wanted to stand up against these attacks, which he says are not good for the Democratic Party. But now he runs the risk of going on the counter-attack and possibly being accused of doing just what he says his Democratic rivals have been doing for the past few days -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Thanks, Kelly. Always a conundrum for a politician. Also, wallflower, never anything I would have attached to Howard Dean. Thanks.

Also in New Hampshire today, Wesley Clark is trying today to get some traction by touting his own stance on Iraq and targeting early supporters of the war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) WESLEY CLARK (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Those who have gotten us into the mess in Iraq refuse to admit they were wrong. But now we need to succeed. This means putting Iraqis back in charge, international authority to help, and NATO to keep the peace until Iraqis can protect themselves. I'm Wes Clark, and...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: The Clark campaign is spending $130,000 to air that spot in New Hampshire for at least a week beginning today. Both Clark and Howard Dean also talked today about the economy, jobs and working families.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, reports on the '04 Democrats casting about for the campaign issue.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): With the capture of Saddam Hussein, it's beginning to dawn on Democrats, Iraq may not be their best issue. OK. What else have they got?

There's the economy, stupid. In the recent CNN-"TIME" poll, more than 60 percent of Americans say the nation's economy is bad.

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's lot more jobs than the last 11 presidents put together.

SCHNEIDER: But 60 percent of Americans also say things are looking up.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The tax relief is working.

SCHNEIDER: All plans the Democrats have proposed for boosting the economy start with repealing some or all of President Bush's tax cuts, which leaves them open to attack.

AD ANNOUNCER: Howard Dean says he'll raise taxes on the average family by more than $1,900 a year.

SCHNEIDER: Many Democrats are seizing on the deficit.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They pledged fiscal responsibility. But then what did they do? They ransacked the American people's treasury.

SCHNEIDER: But President Bush has an answer.

BUSH: We have a deficit because of, one, a recession, two, a war.

SCHNEIDER: Health care could be a big issue for Democrats. Costs are surging, and the number of uninsured Americans has grown to almost 44 million. Republicans try to inoculate themselves by passing a Medicare reform bill. Democrats claim their measure will backfire.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: We estimate that about one quarter of all senior citizens will be worse off virtually the day this bill passes.

SCHNEIDER: But most of the reforms will not go into effect until 2006. Democrats are eager to make an issue of the business scandals.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's looked the other way while corporate crooks in the corner office have defrauded everyday investors and destroyed the retirement savings of countless numbers of workers.

SCHNEIDER: President Bush responded by adopting a familiar posture. He pledged to go after the wrongdoers.

BUSH: Corporate misdeeds will be found and will be punished.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Speaking of wrongdoers, the failure to find Osama bin Laden could be an issue, especially if there are more attacks on Americans. And watch for the 9/11 Commission report next year. It could turn homeland security into the Democrats' big issue.

CROWLEY: Lo and behold, guess what Wesley Clark discussed on a conference call today? The 9/11 Commission. He addressed a report that commission chairman Thomas Cane (ph) said the September 11 attacks could have been prevented. Clark charged President Bush consistently ignored warnings about Osama bin Laden before 9/11, and the retired general says he has a real plan to find bin Laden and take down al Qaeda.

Now let's bring in our White House correspondent, Dana Bash.

Dana, you know Democrats making an awful lot of noise. Wondering if they have anything to say over there about the Democrats' apparent strug toll find a message about Iraq and the war.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Candy, they are responding to all of that that is going on in the Democratic race with very, very quiet applause. In talking to Bush's political aides, they are watching this, how all of the -- the fact that Saddam Hussein was captured, how it is affecting the dynamic in the Democratic race, really just like all of us are. And that, as one senior advisor said, has given them at least temporary relief, at least probably for the next few weeks, if that, from the attacks that we've seen from them against President Bush.

At this point, they are certainly attacking one another much more than we saw them attacking the president. But that is, of course, in large part a function of the calendar, the primaries. And the primary season are now just a short while away, just a few weeks away.

But there's one other interesting dynamic, Candy, and that is when it comes to Howard Dean. What they are saying, they're not going public with any attacks against any Democrats. They're being very careful to do that. But privately, you're hearing them point out what is being said about Howard Dean by some of his opponents, what is being said by him in some of the newspaper articles, even in today's "Washington Post" editorial, for example.

The word that I heard a couple times from some of the president's political advisers today was "reckless." That was, of course, in private. Not going to hear that, at least in public, for the near future, but perhaps they're planning their future attacks against Howard Dean if he is, in fact, the nominee.

CROWLEY: Dana, let's talk first about something that maybe they would like to talk about, and that's about the polls. He's gotten quite a boost from the capture of Saddam Hussein. So are you picking up anything from them about the latest in the polls?

BASH: Well certainly, Candy, they're very happy about all of the polls that have come out, ours and some others, showing that not only is the president doing much better when it comes to his approval rating, but also in other aspects of the polling, not only on international affairs, not only on Iraq, but on the economy. And in talking to one of the president's advisers earlier, he said that they're hoping that it's not just this one news story, Saddam Hussein's capture. That this is almost going to be, they hope, the catalyst to bring along other positive indicators around the world -- around the country, I should say -- and help the president.

But they are being very careful, again, to stay on message in public, saying it's a 50-50 country. Once next year comes, once there's a Democratic nominee, they expect things to even out and it to be a very tough race -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Thanks, Dana. They're very good at that on-message stuff.

BASH: Yes, they are.

CROWLEY: Thanks.

The presidential election year is practically upon us. Up next, snapshots from Iowa and questions about how close the Democratic contest will be.

Also ahead, does Howard Dean deserve all the potshots from his Democratic rivals? Bay Buchanan and Donna Brazile will spar over that one.

And at the top of the hour, we plan live coverage when authorities formally file molestation charges against Michael Jackson.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: The Iowa caucuses are just one month from tomorrow, and the pressure is building on the Democratic hopefulling to rise to the challenge posed by party frontrunner Howard Dean.

With me now from Des Moines is Gordon Fischer, the chairman of Iowa's Democratic Party.

Well, all the talk here has been about Howard Dean's statement in California that we're no safer now than before Saddam was captured. He's certainly getting a lot of assaults from his Democratic rivals. Do you notice any change on the ground there?

GORDON FISCHER, CHAIRMAN, IOWA DEMOCRATIC PARTY: It's difficult to say, Candy. Thanks for having me on, by the way. It's very difficult to say.

I think right now, this race is really wide open. I would say up to half of all potential caucus goers are undecided or soft supporters of a particular candidate. So I think we have a very, very fluid situation on the ground here in Iowa right now.

CROWLEY: And we forget our manners in our rush. Thank you for joining us. Let me ask you...

FISCHER: No problem.

CROWLEY: ... when you say there's a large amount of undecided, so all of these polls, basically, you think might be meaningless at this point?

FISCHER: I do. I don't trust the polls, frankly, for a couple of reasons. One is this is a caucus state and, historically, it's been very difficult to poll accurately in a caucus situation because it just requires more of a voter than simply walking into a voting booth. You actually have to show up at a date or time certain.

And asking somebody whether they're going to go to a caucus or whether they plan -- are planning on attending their caucus I'm afraid is a little like asking somebody whether they're planning on going to church this Sunday, you know? I think there's a lot of good intentions, but not everybody makes it to mass.

The second thing is that, quite frankly -- the second thing is that I think the media don't have access to the Iowa Democratic Party list, which is all the caucus-goers -- all the caucus attendees from past caucuses. So again, I think the media's at a little bit of a disadvantage because we've got this list. But the folks in the media don't have it, and it's difficult to see what the turnout will be then.

CROWLEY: But you're an old hand out there, and I know that politics is 90 percent gut feeling. I also know you're walking a fine line here as the chairman of the part ofy out there.

FISCHER: Sure.

CROWLEY: But who do you sense, in terms of -- is the momentum shifting any way? Is somebody picking up interest that before wasn't getting as much?

FISCHER: Well, you're right, I am walking a fine line in that, as chair of the party, it's my job to provide an open, fair, free election. Open, fair, free caucus that everybody can participate in and feel good about.

But my honest feeling is, my gut feeling is that this thing, just about anything can happen. That this thing is very much up for grabs and there are lots of folks that just haven't decided yet. And it might be after the holiday season to get any sort of sense of what's really happening on the ground here.

CROWLEY: And one last question, we don't have that much time. But I wanted to know, with nine candidates in the race, which is probably the biggest field you've hosted for a while, what do you sense that does to turnout?

FISCHER: It is.

CROWLEY: Do you get the feeling, oh, gosh zillions of Democrats are going to show up, or do you get the feeling that everyone goes, OK, never mind?

FISCHER: My sense is that it's going to be extremely high turnout for two reasons. First, Iowa Democrats are just really mad, angry at the Bush administration. They're angry about the economy, the war, health care, education. And I think Democrats have really been energized by George W. Bush.

The second thing is I think they've also been energized by the nine candidates. We have candidates here all the time talking to folks in coffee shops and union halls and church basements. And I think they're really reaching out to voters. And I expect that we'll have actually a record turnout, probably above 100,000 for the Iowa caucuses.

CROWLEY: Thanks so much, Gordon Fischer. We have to leave it there. Hope you'll come back later. Thanks.

FISCHER: I would love to, Candy, thanks.

CROWLEY: So far, the post-Saddam capture bounce is going all President Bush's way. Can Howard Dean recapture any of his post-Al Gore endorsement momentum? Bay Buchanan and Donna Brazile are standing by to take issue next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEAN: I think the Democratic Party has to offer a clear alternative to the American people. We must make it clear that the capture of one very bad man does not mean that this president and the Washington Democrats can declare victory in the war on terror.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Howard Dean is talking about the economy and, as you heard, of the war on terror. But the latest numbers all seem to be going George W. Bush's way. We're taking issue on the presidential race with Donna Brazile of the Democratic National Committee Voting Rights Institution, and Bay Buchanan, president of the American Cause.

It seems to me there's two questions here. First of all, has Howard Dean been hurt in the past couple days by these assaults from his Democratic rivals, or do they just look mean and ugly?

BAY BUCHANAN, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN CAUSE: I don't think they've been hurt, particularly. If you look at the polls, certainly he hasn't been. He seems to be just firming up his position. And they look as if they're trying to get something going against him.

I think, Candy, what we'll see is, if in the next couple weeks if it starts taking some ground there and they are more effective at defining him as somebody who cannot beat George Bush, especially on the issue of national security. But so far, I don't see it hurting much.

DONNA BRAZILE, FMR. GORE CAMPAIGN MANAGER: You know, Howard Dean is still lighting fire under the Democratic activists. He's picking up today the DNC Hispanic caucus. There's rumors that Congressman Menendez will be embracing Howard Dean. He's picking up Governor McGreevey.

He's still the person to beat. He's in the driver's seat. He's the only one that's charging up the Democratic electorate. And unless one of these eight candidates really focus on their message and take him on over the next couple weeks, I think Howard Dean is safely in the drivers seat for the Democratic nomination.

BUCHANAN: Donna is correct. It's no question he is the person to beat. But I'll tell you, I think that there's a certain expectation now in Iowa that he should win because his poll numbers are so great. But as Donna and I can both tell you, having been out there, done caucuses ourselves, poll numbers are not that significant.

Gephardt has the numbers high enough that he could bring the 34,000. George Bush won the caucus with 34,000 people. That's not huge numbers. If Gephardt -- and he has the organization, he knows how to do it -- can do that, he's the experienced one. I think he's the man to watch in Iowa, I'll be quite honest.

BRAZILE: But the person that I would also put on my radar screen is John Kerry. Now, the reason why is that Michael Hooley (ph), who is -- Michael Hooley (ph) is a good friend, he's been sent out to Iowa. He is perhaps one of the leading Democratic strategists on the ground, and he understand how to convert twos to ones. That is, get people who are undecided to go with his guy. So I would put John Kerry in that mix in Iowa as well.

CROWLEY: We've just got about a minute, but, OK, let's go the next step. Let's say Dean does lose in Iowa. What does that do to Dean?

BRAZILE: Nothing, because Dean is still capable of getting oxygen in New Hampshire and going on to run a national campaign. For Dick Gephardt, however, if he loses Iowa, then I think it will hurt his chances to capture the nomination. BUCHANAN: I don't say nothing. You don't want to lose the first big one. That throws it all into the unknown. And I think if Gephardt were to have a solid win out there in Iowa, it will give him enormous momentum.

He's running behind in New Hampshire, but I think the other candidates will collapse. He could pick up the Kerry vote and some of the other anti--Dean vote and be running and be competitive in New Hampshire.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Let me stop you there.

BRAZILE: Oh, sorry.

CROWLEY: Sorry. Let me stop you there, because you all graciously said you'd stick around for a while. So thank you very much. Let me move on here just for a second.

We are standing by for breaking news out in California, where we expect that prosecutors will announce the filing of formal charges in the child molestation case against singer Michael Jackson. We are going to take you there live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(INTERRUPTED BY BREAKING NEWS)

CROWLEY: Welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS coming back from Santa Maria, California where charges have been filed against pop rock star Michael Jackson.

We want to get back to something we're a little more comfortable with, that is politics. We were talking about the Saddam capture and its effect on the Democratic race. I want to move you back -- sorry, Donna Brazile, Bay Buchanan, thanks for being here.

What do you think, Donna, Bay, this does to George Bush, if anything, in the long run?

BUCHANAN: I tell you what it does. Nothing in the short -- in the short run, obviously, he's doing really, really well. But it tells us that politically this issue, the war, is very, very important and that the president's very much identified with it.

So as the people see this war's going well, his numbers go very, very well. The long run says that if Osama bin Laden is captured or killed in October, the only thing between George Bush and four more years is divine intervention.

BRAZILE: Don't count all your eggs before they're hatched. George Bush reelect numbers are still under 50 percent and against an unnamed Democrat. He is practically running neck and neck in some parts of the country. So George Bush must continue to go out there, campaign before the American people, and to remind the American people what he's accomplished. And Democrats, on the other hand must demonstrate that they have a message and they have something to tell the American people to capitalize on some of his mistakes.

CROWLEY: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a Democrat running for office. Somebody in his camp said to me, You know, Bush has got a Medicare bill. The economy's going well. He's captured Saddam. You know, shoot, if he finds Osama, I'll vote for him.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: At some point, don't the Democrats have to find an issue? Isn't it homeland security, isn't safety?

BRAZILE: I totally agree. I mean, the stocking is half full, not completely full yet. And for Republicans to going around to saying that it's over before it even starts is wrong.

I think Democrats should focus on homeland security, the fact that we haven't secured our ports, we haven't given first responders what they need to do their job just in case.

BUCHANAN: But the problem is the basket may be only half full for Republicans, but this stocking looks pretty empty for the Democrats. Issue after issue goes with the president, Donna.

And that's where I think this individual's talking about. Homeland security is key. And if Dean wins this thing, because it looks like he's going to, that is not going to be in your best interest to the Democrats. I think issue after issue, this tells us one thing: It's not going to be the year of the Donkey.

(LAUGHTER)

BRAZILE: I wouldn't give the elephant too much of a head start until the voting begins.

CROWLEY: And there is danger, though, isn't there, Bay, when your fortunes are so tied to such a mercurial place and such an unpredictable thing?

BUCHANAN: You're right. And also, you don't want to be too overenthusiastic here because you could misplay your cards.

But the key here is that if you look at the numbers, even when things aren't going so well, he doesn't drop that low.

CROWLEY: I got to stop you because we have more on Michael Jackson. We want to go back to Atlanta and Kyra Phillips.

(INTERRUPTED BY BREAKING NEWS)

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