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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Countdown Iowa; Politics and Terrorism: Assessing new Threats

Aired December 19, 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: Food for thought. In Iowa, are the '04 Democrats serving up a strong message?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whole pack in general seems to be running in a pack to me. I don't see a great deal of difference.

ANNOUNCER: Betting the House on the White House. What does it say about John Kerry's campaign?

The Patriot Act: one candidate's "Hail Mary" pass in New Hampshire.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

BOB FRANKEN, HOST: And by now you've probably figured out that I'm not Judy Woodruff. Thank you for joining us. I'm Bob Franken. Judy is off today.

And while many Americans are getting into the holiday spirit, those of us who love politics are downright tingly with anticipation. No, not for Hanukkah nor Christmas nor Kwanza, but for the Iowa caucuses. That's right. The first big caucus of the presidential election is exactly one month away, and frontrunner Howard Dean is one of several Democratic candidates in the Hawkeye State today.

In the competition for the most days spent in Iowa, Dean is now tied for first place with John Kerry, followed by Dick Gephardt. The campaign activity is another barometer of how crucial Iowa is expected to be in the '04 election. And my colleague, Judy Woodruff, reports on the pre-caucus action by the dueling Dean and Gephardt camps.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Brett Voorhees (ph), of the Steel Workers Union, is organizing labor in Iowa for Dick Gephardt. Tuesday, he took the message to a job site in downtown Des Moines.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's going to take care of us.

WOODRUFF: In some respects, he's preaching to the choir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's who my union's backing. You know, you come from a union background so I'm for Gephardt.

WOODRUFF: But even under the labor blanket, there is wavering.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No I'm undecided.

WOODRUFF: Top of mind, the economy and jobs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That and the war that Bush got us into. I don't think we ought to be over there.

WOODRUFF: With the caucuses just a month away, many Iowans remain largely in limbo, torn between a former sweetheart and this year's star.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey, this is Vanessa. And I'm volunteering for Howard Dean's presidential campaign.

WOODRUFF: Tuesday is high school night at Howard Dean's Iowa headquarters. Many of the volunteers admit the future of the nation wasn't really their biggest motivation for signing up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We needed extra credit and we came here. And we basically just picked it because it's the closest one to our house.

WOODRUFF: And senior Abigail Masters (ph), who will attend her first caucus next month, says she's not even sure whom she'll support.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Really, for me, it's either between Edwards or Dean.

WOODRUFF: Another undecided Iowa voter. Gerri Powell (ph) is going door to door on behalf of John Edwards.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would you mind if we got you a yard sign?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, good. I'll be back and bring a yard sign for you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.

WOODRUFF: You see a lot of shoe leather campaigning here, workers taking their message right to Democrats' door steps.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The caucus is so personal, you know, we're asking people to actually go amongst their neighbors and family and friends and actually stand up in support of a candidate.

WOODRUFF: And just 31 shopping days left.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One is over easy and one is sunny side up.

WOODRUFF: At Drake's Diner, that may not be enough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whole pack in general seems to be running in a pack, to me. I don't see a great deal of difference.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm looking for someone that has got the charisma that will get the people behind him, and I haven't seen that yet.

WOODRUFF: Some thought they had it figured out, until U.S. troops found Saddam Hussein.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was for Dean, and now I'm against him because of his statements against the war.

WOODRUFF: But at an adjoining table, an enthusiastic group of Dean supporters stands firm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are our troops back from Iraq? No, they're still, like, over there. And are we safe from, like, terrorism? No, we're still not.

WOODRUFF: So the game is still open and the competition is fierce. So many visits to the diner.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, we've had, let's see, Dennis Kucinich, John Kerry, Gephardt, Hillary Clinton. She's not running, but she came in.

WOODRUFF: But still no guest of honor.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FRANKEN: That was our own Judy Woodruff reporting.

Given the heightened interest in the Iowa results, the state Democratic Party has decided to go high tech this time around. Officials say precinct captains will phone in their caucus results using a special 800 number, just like when you check your bank account or credit card balance. The results will automatically appear on the official Democratic caucus Web site and can be viewed in real time by anybody who has Internet access. Another innovation, each caucus-goer will get a bar code to better keep track of who is participating.

And now, turning to the political debate over the war on terror, home security officials say they are working to determine the credibility of information regarding potential threats against New York, Washington, and Los Angeles. For their part, New York police say they have no intelligence pointing to a credible threat.

And also today, on audiotape, a tape reported to contain the voice of al Qaeda's second in command, it was played on the Arab TV network Al Jazeera. And, among other things, the voice claims that American forces are on the run in Afghanistan.

Well, the irony is that since the capture of Saddam Hussein, some of the Democratic hopefuls have focused their attention away from Iraq and toward wider concerns about the war on terror. Among them is retired General Wesley Clark, who told CNN yesterday the Bush administration should have made terror threats a higher priority before September 11.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WESLEY CLARK (D), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We don't know all the details of this. We'll have to wait and see the report. But I've seen from the beginning that there was a massive failure of government and, as I said in a speech maybe two months ago, I said you cannot blame this on mid-level FBI and CIA officials.

It's a lot bigger problem than that. It starts at the top.

FRANKEN: Well, I'm joined now by our senior White House correspondent John King.

And John, what about the irony in this week after Saddam Hussein was captured that there so is much Democratic criticism on terror issues?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bob, you see a boost in the president's approval rating in the poll. And they attribute that directly to the capture of Saddam Hussein. But at the same time, Republicans, including those on the Bush political team, say that catching Saddam Hussein has reminded the American people that Osama bin Laden remains at large.

So that remains a key concern. And the White House message will be that just like the search went on persistently for Saddam Hussein, it is going on persistently and consistently for Osama bin Laden.

They also know that report of the 9/11 Commission will be out early next year. They expect some criticism of how the administration dealt with intelligence. And they say they'll deal with it when it comes out in public. They do expect very aggressive criticism from the Democrats at this point.

But Bob, the bottom line here is this: they say right now this president still enjoys, despite all the criticism, a very big gap, a very big advantage when compared to the Democrats on the issue of terrorism and national security.

FRANKEN: But it hasn't been a grand slam for the administration. There was the New York appeals court ruling yesterday about Jose Padilla, who is the suspected al Qaeda operative who was being held as an enemy combatant. And now the court is saying that he cannot be held more than 30 days. What's the administration's view?

KING: Well, there's both a legal strategy and a political strategy. The administration appealing the decision in the Padilla case, asking for a stay. The court ordered him to be released in 30 days. That is one challenge of the Bush administration's broad powers in the anti-terror fight.

And the Supreme Court also concerning the issue of whether the enemy combatants held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba should have access to lawyers and the legal system. So there is a legal challenge. From a political standpoint, the administration believes the president's on pretty steady ground, that those who flatly oppose this broad use of powers tend to be liberals, tend to be Democrats. Most of the Democratic candidates take after Attorney General John Ashcroft almost at times as much as they take after the president. But the administration believes as it fights the legal fight, on the political terrain, that, yes, the Democrats can use that issue to rally the left. They believe at the same time, though, it just has a reactionary rallying point on the right as well.

FRANKEN: John King at the White House.

And still ahead, we'll talk more about the possible fallout for the president from that ruling on Jose Padilla and the questions that it raises about civil liberties.

Plus, more on the '04 Democrats and the countdown to Iowa. We'll put it all in perspective and have some Friday fun in our journalist roundtable.

This is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FRANKEN: What we're seeing now is the vehicle carrying Kobe Bryant. Kobe Bryant, who is facing trial, of course, charged with rape in Eagle, Colorado. He's here for a hearing. His lawyers, among other things, are asking the judge if evidence can be admitted, the jury can hear about the sexual history of his accuser, and alleged mental health problems that she's having.

Kobe Bryant, of course, is here. Ironically, his team, the Los Angeles Lakers, is playing the Denver Nuggets today. It could be the first time, however, because of this court appearance, that he doesn't have the chance to actually make the game. He says he still wants to, but, of course, has this all-important event that he has to take care of right now.

As you can see, he, too, has to go through the magnetometer in the court building, and has to, of course, continue with this ordeal, this legal ordeal that he is facing and the charges that he is facing, which of course carry with it the possibility of very heavy imprisonment. Anyway, as you can see, Kobe Bryant going into the courtroom.

Now, get back to INSIDE POLITICS. And let's move from Colorado to Iowa.

And few people, of course, know Iowa and the politics there better than veteran reporter and columnist, Dave Yepsen of the "Des Moines Register." And he's with us now to continue our countdown to the caucus.

Dave, there are two things that you have to do at least every four years when you go to Iowa. One is to eat lots of red meat and the other is to spend as much time with you as possible. And what is intriguing is -- and I've been reading your columns, of course, everybody has to -- is that there is such a confused tangled race, not just for number one in Iowa, but for number two, number three, et cetera.

Help us sort this out.

DAVID YEPSEN, POLITICAL COLUMNIST, "DES MOINES REGISTER": Well, Governor Dean is ahead, I think, by a little bit, not much ahead of Dick Gephardt. And an interesting thing has developed in the battle for third and second.

John Kerry has picked up some. He's actually closing in, I think, on Gephardt for the second place right now. So it's a very bunched-up race.

We've seen both Gephardt and Kerry put a lot more into Iowa, trying to get a bigger bounce going into New Hampshire. This has prompted Howard Dean to ramp up his campaign. He could conceivably knock them both out of the race here.

And it's a lot of pressure. I've never seen this much intensity leading into a caucus campaign this close to the holidays. Usually, everybody knocks off. Today, they're out here in Iowa working.

FRANKEN: Well, what's interesting is that part of the intensity is that a lot of people are intensely undecided.

YEPSEN: That's right. And I think...

FRANKEN: Go ahead.

YEPSEN: That's right, Bob. And I think Judy had it right in her piece. There is a lot of undecidedness here. And the reason for that is these caucus-goers are pretty sophisticated people and they know they've got an important choice here to make for their party: who do they want to field against George W. Bush?

And so they'll have some initial favorites, they'll have some old favorites, but they know there are a couple of more debates to go. They always know that these unexpected events, like the capture of Saddam Hussein, can have an impact on the race. And so they're perfectly content to watch this thing play out to the very end before they decide. It should make an interesting on caucus night.

FRANKEN: Well, it should be. Now there's an interesting point that has to be made, and that is the expectations game. Howard Dean has gone from the lowest of expectations to, if he doesn't really hit a home run in Iowa, his campaign can be hurt. Is that how you look at it?

YEPSEN: I think so. And I know Governor Dean's people are worried about that.

A candidate has to be in a position to surprise people like you and me on caucus night. It's called beating the expectations. Howard Dean is now expected to win Iowa. And by some of these polls, there's an expectation that he has to win it big. I think he's got to keep his expectations in check.

FRANKEN: And then there's another name, John Edwards. It's not a name we're hearing a lot these days. What kind of prognosis do you have for him?

YEPSEN: Well, you know Senator Edwards is doing everything right in this state. He's spending a lot of time here, he's got good people working for him here. His problem, I think, is he's so young. I hear this from caucus-goers.

They like John Edwards, but they just wonder if he isn't a little too green, a little too new to be president. And so you tend to see more support headed to Howard Dean, John Kerry, or the old favorite, Dick Gephardt. But I don't want to get too predictive about this, Bob, because, as I point out, a lot of undecided, and John Edwards is certainly not rolling over and playing dead by any stretch of the imagination.

FRANKEN: With just a little bit of time left, there is a month left. Just a month, but that's a full month. Is this still all up for grabs?

YEPSEN: I think so. I mean, we saw the Saddam Hussein event sort of toss this thing up for grabs a little bit. I think there's a lot of water to go over the dam yet here in Iowa, Bob.

FRANKEN: Well, Dave, we'll look forward to seeing you in Iowa. We'll spend a lot of time together, as I said. And of course there's a long time to go before the caucus, at least in political terms.

And let's see now. We have Howard Dean leading the headlines in our Friday "Campaign News Daily."

This morning, Dean picked up the support of New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey. McGreevey is the first sitting governor to endorse Dean for president. He says that Dean shares his concern for middle class families.

Howard Dean is showing new signs of strength among Georgia Democrats. He has an 18 percent now in a new "Atlanta Journal- Constitution" poll of likely voters in the Peach State. And he had a seven percent in a similar poll in October. Forty-two percent -- that's a large group -- remain undecided.

Meanwhile, John Kerry is taking steps to inject some of his own cash into his campaign. He has mortgaged his Boston home and loaned his campaign $850,000 of his own money. The home is in the historic and, might I add, pricey Beacon Hill neighborhood. The transactions, by the way, do not involve his wife's personal fortune, estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Well, the Bush administration, as we pointed out earlier, didn't get its way with everything this week. And coming up, the court fight over a man suspected of plotting a terrorist attack

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) FRANKEN: As we reported earlier, the Bush administration's treatment of a terrorism suspect has run afoul of the courts. An appeals court panel in New York ruled that al Qaeda dirty bomb suspect Jose Padilla must be moved from military custody. And the judges criticized the Bush administration for declaring Padilla an enemy combatant and holding him incommunicado since May of 2002.

With us is Joseph Onek, who is director of the Liberty and Security Initiative and senior counsel for the Constitution Project, which filed an (UNINTELLIGIBLE), a Friend of the Court brief in the case. And you supported what the judges ultimately ruled, which was that the administration doesn't have the right to unilaterally right to declare somebody an enemy combatant and deny him his constitutional rights.

JOSEPH ONEK, DIR. LIBERTY AND SECURITY INITIATIVE: That is correct. And I think it's a very, very important ruling. They found that the president does not have the authority to take an American citizen captured in the United States and place him incommunicado in a jail. Instead, if the United States needs to, it can prosecute him through the criminal procedure.

FRANKEN: Well, there seem to be two points. Number one, the fact that he was captured in the United States, not on the battlefield. And number two, that Congress had not explicitly authorized that the president could do this.

Now, the administration says that "Under the authorization for the use of military force" -- I'm quoting now -- "from forces against nations, organizations or persons determined to be planning some evil action against the United States." And the administration says that's the authority that declares somebody like Padilla an enemy combatant is implicit there.

ONEK: I think the problem with that is, is that the authorization for the use of force contemplated military force, it contemplated the invasion of Afghanistan. It was not meant, I think, to give the president the power to detain civilians. Congress, if it wants to give the president that kind of power, has to do so much more explicitly than it did in the authorization for the use of force.

FRANKEN: And that, of course, is going to be an argument that's going to be continued if the administration continues to want to fight this. The other question has to do with the whereabouts of the person who was taken into custody. This court said that this was not a question about somebody who was arrested on the battlefield, but in the case of Jose Padilla, he was arrested at O'Hare Airport as a U.S. citizen. The administration makes the claim that September 11 proved that the battlefield is the United States.

ONEK: I think, Bill, if you take that definition, you give the president just extraordinary power to arrest anybody, anywhere. And I think the court was correct to say that under the laws of war, which would be the only laws that would give the president the power to do this, a person has to be captured on the battlefield. FRANKEN: But your concern is that the president is given extraordinary powers. Nobody argues that under a circumstance, an emergency circumstance, the president does have extraordinary powers.

ONEK: There may be circumstances under which he has extraordinary powers. But in general, the president cannot detain anybody unless there is an act of Congress authorizing it, or unless it is authorized by the laws of war. Here, there is no act of Congress, we submit, that authorizes it. And secondly, the law of war doesn't authorize it because he was not captured on the battlefield and he was not an enemy soldier.

FRANKEN: But quickly, don't you worry that by interfering with the administration's -- the administration's plan here, you're undermining the war on terrorism?

ONEK: I think there are two points. If the president believes that he needs more power, the correct solution is for him to go to Congress and seek it. And Congress may pass a bill. It would have necessary time limits and other restrictions, but the president might get what he wants.

Second, the administration keeps saying that if Jose Padilla see as lawyer, the lawyer is going to tell him, "Don't talk." But, in fact, lawyers tell their clients to talk all the time in order to get reduced sentences. Some of the other terrorists are now talking. So it's not 100 percent clear that this is necessary in order to get the intelligence information we need.

FRANKEN: This is something we're going to be hearing a an awful lot about. This is a story that is ongoing. Joseph Onek was our guest today.

And this presidential campaign, during the campaign, we're hearing plenty from the left and right of the political spectrum. Has the political center that Bill Clinton and other have made famous been forgotten or ceased to exist? Coming up, I'll talk with a well-known Democratic moderate.

And Saddam Hussein doesn't get the "Political Play of the Week," but his capture figures into the winner's strategy.

And, does Wesley Clark have a favorite uniform? We'll tell you why the Kerry campaign wants to know

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Howard Dean versus Bill Clinton? The frontrunner gives moderate Democrats more reason to feel put out.

HOWARD DEAN (D), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, Bill Clinton said that the year of big government is over. I think we have to enter a new era for the Democratic Part.

ANNOUNCER: We'll get reaction from the centrist group Clinton helped build.

Something special. How some early elections will help decide the battle for the House.

Just in time for Hanukkah, a miracle of sorts shines bright in the political "Play of the Week."

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

FRANKEN: And welcome back. I'm Bob Franken, sitting in for Judy.

The Clinton wing of the Democratic Party is not exactly masking its anger at Howard Dean today or its anxiety about the prospect of Dean as the party's presidential nominee. Centrists in the Democratic Party were already chafing when, in their view, Dean added insult to injury by dissing the former president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FRANKEN (voice-over): This is not going to please at least eight Democratic candidates, but it's hard to avoid the fact that the party's campaign has become a battle between Howard Dean and the anti- Deans. And right now, Dean is winning.

DEAN: It's become clear to me there's a fundamental disconnect between the working people of America, middle class people in this country, and corporate America and our government.

FRANKEN: The message of anger at the system has resonated among Democrats who feel the system has failed them, a party that has strayed from the populist roots when it was the politically expedient thing to do.

BILL CLINTON, FRM. PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: The era of big government is over.

DEAN: While Bill Clinton said the era of big government is over, I think we have to enter a new era for the Democratic Party. Not one where we join the Republicans and aim to simply limit the damage they inflict on working families.

FRANKEN: But several from the Clinton era, from that center non- wing of the Democratic party worry while Dean may being rousing the alienated left wing of the party, he's alienating everyone else.

They worry about Dean winning the primary battles and losing the election award while some of the other candidates scramble to become the leader of the anti--Dean pack. So far, that would be Joe Lieberman.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He seems to believe if you're just against everything, that's enough. Against removing Saddam Hussein, against middle class tax cuts, against knocking down the walls of protectionism around the world so we cancel more products made in America, by Americans. Dr. Dean has become Dr. No.

FRANKEN: Of course, Lieberman's running mate the last time around, the leader of the ticket, Al Gore, has declared his support for Dr. Dean. And now, New Jersey Governor James McGreevey has also climbed on board the Dean bandwagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FRANKEN: So the new question is has Dean gone from prohibitive underdog to prohibitive favorite or does the law of gravity apply? What goes up comes down. The old question raised by the Clinton centrists, does a Howard Dean candidacy play right into the Republicans' hands? Which is a question I asked of Al From, who is the leader of the Democratic Leadership Counsel.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AL FROM, DEMOCRATIC LEADERSHIP COUNCIL: I think, first of all, I don't think President Bush's reelection is automatic. I think we have a very good chance of beating him.

But I think the key for a Democrat beating George Bush is not just tapping the anger out in the country against George Bush, which is a great deal among Democrats, but offering an agenda for the future of the country that is better than the one he is offered or that he's offering.

If we do that, I think we'll be fine. Howard Dean can do that, but that's up to Howard Dean.

FRANKEN: But there are a lot of Democrats who believe that this centrist wing of the party, or the non-wing of the party, meaning the people who are advocates of our your organization and, in fact, abandoned Democratic principles. You've become, in effect, Republican.

FROM: That's just silly. What new Democrats are the modernizers of Democratic politics for the 21st century. We believe in traditional Democratic principles, like opportunity for all. We believe in modern means, like growing the private economy to achieve that. We believe in John Kennedy's ethic of civic responsibility, asking people to give something back to the country. We believe in the muscular, tough-minded, internationalism of Roosevelt and Truman and Kennedy.

And we believe in activists government, but it ought to be modernized. And when we had a chance in the '90s to put our policies into place, we had the greatest decade of progressive achievement in modern times in terms of jobs, 22.5 million, in terms of poverty going down in terms of welfare rolls cut in half, in terms of crime going down. I don't know what people are talking about.

FRANKEN: Well, what they are talking about is, in fact, an abandonment of some Democratic principles. You talk about crime going down and the people who oppose what was done in the 1990s and of what is advocated by the centrists are saying that is done by abandoning some of the principles...

(CROSSTALK)

FROM: What are the principles liberals stand for? Being soft on crime? Look, who have been the victims of crime? People who are our core constituents. And what we did, in the 1990s, is we put cops on the street. That's a progressive way to deal with crime.

FRANKEN: There was also deterioration in the civil rights people have. Let me move on to the other issues you raise.

FROM: I think that's wrong.

FRANKEN: Let me move to the issue of welfare reform. You know of course that it continues to this day to be controversial. That in fact, welfare reform, as you'd define it, in fact, met meant an abandonment of many people who need the help of welfare.

FROM: First of all, what we did was passed the largest anti- poverty program in the history of the country, the expanded earned income tax credit, which moved people -- which made welfare -- work more valuable than welfare and then we said, OK, welfare ought to be a second chance and not a way of life.

And one of the proudest achievements and most progressive achievements of the Clinton administration has been to move 8 million people from the welfare rolls to the work rolls.

Now that's an abandonment of the people by making them full citizens and not wards of the states? We're abandoning Democratic principles? That's silly.

FRANKEN: , first of all, we're running out of time. What Howard Dean's basic message is is that he is the person who is opposing the status quo, and that the people who you might be more aligned with are trying to preserve a status quo that is failing the Democratic Party.

FROM: My view is we oppose the status quo of George Bush. We want to get the economy growing again. We want to make sure that middle class people have an opportunity to get ahead again. We want to make sure this country is truly safe against terrorism.

But what we don't want to do is move our party backwards. We're a party dominated by the interest groups. We want to be a party of great national purpose. We want to make this election about the future and not about the past. And if we do that we'll do just fine this election.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FRANKEN: That was Al From of the Democratic Leadership Council. The Dean, by the way, camp says, and I'm quoting, "The desperate Washington candidates are trying to create a policy rift between Dean and President Clinton that doesn't exist."

In fact, in an e-mail, the Dean campaign says the former governor has nothing but respect and admiration for Clinton and what he accomplished as president.

The anti-Dean forces stepped up their campaign this week with a certain degree of success. That brings us to our senior political analyst, Mr. Bill Schneider.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: John Kerry once remarked in frustration in a press conference where all he was asked about was the Democratic front runner. He said, "Dean, Dean, Dean, Dean, Dean. Aren't are there any other Democrats worth talking about?"

Yes, and one of them merits the "Political Play of the Week" this week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LIEBERMAN: It's been quite a week, hasn't it? It really has been. First, Howard Dean captured Al Gore's endorsement. And then our armed forces captured Saddam Hussein.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): It was certainly quite a week for Joe Lieberman, whose campaign got a second wind blowing from a negative direction. Last week, anti-Gore.

LIEBERMAN: There's been a remarkable reaction to the Gore endorsement in my favor. Our phone lines, our Web site are jammed with people wanting to help. We raised more money in my campaign in the last 24 hours than in any day in this quarter. And I'm encouraged by it.

SCHNEIDER: This week, anti-Dean.

LIEBERMAN: I'm afraid Howard Dean has climbed into his own spider hole of denial.

SCHNEIDER: Lieberman's favorability among Democratic primary voters jumped over the weekend. He's found his voice. It's the leading anti-Dean voice warning Democrats, "Think hard before you nominate this guy."

LIEBERMAN: Governor Dean has made a series of dubious judgments and irresponsible statements in this campaign that together signal he would take us back to the days when we Democrats were not trusted to defend our security.

SCHNEIDER: On Thursday, Dean appeared to repudiate president Clinton's third way.

DEAN: Democrats need to do more than damage control.

SCHNEIDER: That really got Lieberman going. "I could not believe it," he told reporters on a telephone conference call. "It more clearly than ever makes the point that Howard Dean would take the party and our country back to where we were before Clinton was president," Which was out of power for 12 years. The Stop Dean Movement is on the move, thanks in part to Joe Lieberman. Is it enough to propel Lieberman to the Democratic nomination? We'll see. But it is enough to get him the "Political Play of the Week."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Can Lieberman stop Dean? Well, tonight is the first night of Hanukkah and the first letters of -- the four letters on this Hanukkah dreidel stand for a Hebrew phrase, "a great miracle happened here" -- Bob.

FRANKEN: Giving new meaning to the term political spin.

SCHNEIDER: Not on this show. This is a no-spin zone. But happy Hanukkah.

FRANKEN: Happy Hanukkah.

Saddam Hussein's capture has certainly changed the political landscape. Coming up, we'll take stock of who's on the peaks and valleys and stuck in the valleys after this momentous week.

And also, some high-stake showdowns that congressional leaders from both parties are watching.

And find out why tomorrow's Jets-Patriots game, of all things, has political implications.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIEBERMAN: Clearest choice is between Howard Dean and me and I (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a little bit about it. I'm afraid he'd take us back to a time when Democrats were seen as soft on defense, tough on the middle class, against tax cuts, and silent on values.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FRANKEN: So we're going to talk about the political highlights and perhaps the low-lights of the week. And joining me for that, our CNN political analyst, Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times" and James Carney of "TIME" magazine. And James, I'll start with you.

Do you feel the irony that I do about a week in which the president was able to bask in the glow of the capture of Saddam Hussein still being the week that the Democrats really revved up their criticisms about the war on terror?

JAMES CARNEY, "TIME" MAGAZINE: The Democrats had two choices. One was to throw in the towel and basically say oh, well, the president got Saddam Hussein, Iraq is a success after all and everything we've been saying for the past six, eight, ten months means nothing. Or counter-intuitively to say actually, it doesn't mean anything at all, things in Iraq are just as bad as they were before Saddam was captured.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I thought, this week, they showed more emotion in going after Howard Dean as a result of Saddam Hussein than George Bush. I mean, you really saw two distinct line of criticisms emerge this week, Bob.

One was a nonideological line of argument that said Howard Dean is a flip-flopper and he doesn't have the depth of experience to handle this.

And the other was really, for the first time since really all year, since conditions have begun deteriorating in Iraq, you began to see Joe Lieberman, very aggressively, even John Kerry a little bit, argue that an ideological argument, Howard Dean was wrong, it was the right thing to go into Iraq.

So it really put more energy into that line of argument for the Democratic party. Now whether that's enough to stop or erode his lead is another question.

FRANKEN: Well, of course, it raises the question, has this been a bad week for Howard Dean?

CARNEY: No, I don't think so because Howard Dean has managed, after the capture of Saddam, to maintain his lead, solid lead, over other Democratic rivals in the key states, Iowa, New Hampshire and others.

And he's put out a couple of -- made a foreign policy speech, an economic policy speech that at least gives him something on paper to say that he stands for and policies that he says that he has beyond -- to represent himself beyond this anger towards Bush that has mobilized his base.

BROWNSTEIN: I disagree, Jay. I think it was a bad week for Howard Dean. I think that sentence that he put himself in the speech Monday when he said we're no safer as a result of Saddam being captured is something that is going to come back and hunt him both in the primaries and if he gets in the general election.

What he meant to say was, obviously, there are other challenges out there that are still unresolved. But by phrasing it that way and also by getting into this contretemps about Clinton, that wasn't really a great move out there.

FRANKEN: Well, but what if, in fact, the problems that the United States is having in Iraq continue? Might not he be viewed as the prophet, the man who said what needed to be said?

CARNEY: Well, that's what he has to count on. His position can't change at this point. Iraq was a bad idea, that's where he's been and he has to keep hitting that point. Now I would agree, you're right. Long-term, the things that Dean has been saying could really hurt him and doom him as a general election candidate against President Bush. But I think that he has not hurt himself this week, particularly in his chances for the nomination. FRANKEN: Well, James brings up a point, too. There's still a feeling among many that Howard Dean would be the best Democratic candidate that the Republicans could have.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, you really have divided views on this. On the one hand, Howard Dean has qualities like George Bush in that he inspires and activates and energizes his base. A lot of Democrats would turn out to vote for Howard Dean if he's the nominee.

The problem he's got is that a lot of the things he said, the positions he's taken on paper make him a tough sell for swing voters, especially more culturally conservative swing voters. The question about Dean, I think, Bob, is not whether you get more votes where Democrats are already strong, but whether he can pick up votes where they're now weak, border states, rural areas, places like that.

CARNEY: And I think that's a big problem. It's a difference because he is like Bush in being able to motivate the base but the Democratic party is not as unified as the Republican party is around several core principles and you can't reach Democrats in some of these swing states with a very liberal message. And Dean will have to change that if he wants those votes.

FRANKEN: And Howard Dean is the man who says that the system must be changed. His opponents are saying that, yes, but the Dean system might be worse.

BROWNSTEIN: If you want to look at why Democrats are nervous, look at the confluence of the possibility of Howard Dean and where he's strong and not and the congressional map. They're going to have five Democratic open seats in the South, five Democratic senators stepping down.

Right now, Howard Dean doesn't look like a strong competitor in the South. I mean, that is a real risk -- almost a generational retreat there for Democrats. Certainly, you see Wes Clark's going to be campaigning next week, doing a barnstorming, touring the South, trying to make that argument. If Dean cannot show more appeal to those more culturally conservative, you're going to a lot of Democrats nervous if he's the nominee.

FRANKEN: But isn't it fair to say that from the beginning, all of us has underestimated Howard Dean?

CARNEY: It's true and perhaps the Republicans will underestimate him as well if he becomes a nominee. However, I think there's a real chance here of a Waterloo for the Democrats across the board at the White House level, Congressional level Senate, and House of Representatives.

BROWNSTEIN: What's fascinating to me about this is that half the party thinks this is potential Waterloo, absolute disaster, half the party thinks that it's absolutely essential. I mean, you just have this sort of schizoid view among Democrats. There's enormous division right now. Dean has a lot of momentum, but there are also a lot of people worried about him. FRANKEN: And quickly, what about the proposition that the Democrats really suffer from the fact they have nobody out there who can even touch George Bush as far as electability is concerned?

CARNEY: Well, I mean, that remains to be seen. Remember that Bill Clinton at one point in the general election was in third place behind Ross Perot and George Bush the elder. Now, things change in politics. Electability could look a lot different six or eight months from now than it does now.

BROWNSTEIN: The country is polarized enough that both parties are always within reach of that electoral college majority. The question for the Democrats is which candidate can bring that last piece in, which can win back states that Bush won? That's the challenge they have. Not necessarily to make the rubble bounce more in places where they're already strong and that really is the issue looking forward to November.

FRANKEN: Ron Brownstein, James Carney, thank you very much.

Ahead, a look at several key house races. South Dakota voters have to select a replacement for Bill Janklow. Democrats smell a potential victory. We'll break down what's at stake when INSIDE POLITICS returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FRANKEN: There are a couple of special elections coming up to fill open seats in the House of Representatives. With me now to talk about these and other races is Amy Walter, the house editor for "The Cook Political Report."

Let me start with a fundamental question. Is there a snow ball's chance that the Democrats are going to take over the House of Representatives?

AMY WALTER, "THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT": Bob, you know, this is going to be a very tough year for the Democrats in the House, just to say it nicely.

Here's the problem. There are very few seats that are competitive, very few seats in play. So while Democrats are only down 12 seats, that doesn't seem like a big number out of 435, there just aren't that many seats to pick from in order to pick up the 12 seats. So without a breeze or something else, it's hard for Democrats.

FRANKEN: Let's look at what is out there right now. In South Dakota, the sad story of Congressman William Janklow, who is quite probably -- possibly going to go to prison. His seat is up. The Democrats have a chance in that Republican seat.

WALTER: They do. It's a very Republican state, has two Democratic senators. But at the same time, this is a state that Bush ran very, very well in. Democrats have a good candidate in Stephanie Herseth. She ran against Bill Janklow last year, came close. She's a rising star in the party. She's young, attractive. She comes from a political family. Her grandfather was the Democratic governor of the state.

So she's in a very good position. She also got a bit of good news this week when John Thune, the former Congressman who ran for the Senate last year, said he wasn't going to run for the House seat. So that puts her in a very good position.

The problem, we come back to, it's a very Republican state.

FRANKEN: Very Republican.

WALTER: We have a June special election, which in this case doesn't work out well for Stephanie Herseth. It would be better to have a shorter time frame where her name I.D. could be to her benefit.

FRANKEN: Let's move to Kentucky, the circumstance there.

WALTER: The circumstance there is the governor's race. Ernie Fletcher, from Lexington, the Congressman from that district, ran for governor, won. His seat now is up. The special election date, February 17. In this case, the short time frame helps Democrats, because Ben Chandler, state attorney general, outgoing attorney general was the nominee for governor, lost to Fletcher.

He's going to be the Democrats' candidate. Good name I.D., comes from a very political family. He would start off much better name I.D. than the Republican, a state senator, Alice Forge-Kerr (ph) from Lexington. Gives him a little bit of an advantage.

The district is a little bit Republican leaning, and look for Republicans really to make this race about Bush and about Fletcher trying to tie their candidate to her as much as possible.

FRANKEN: So that's the state race prospect. But as far as the national prospect is concerned, to get is back where we started, no sweat for the Republicans in the House?

WALTER: You're looking at because there are so few seats, these special elections take on much more importance. If Democrats are going to pick up seats, they're going to be able to chip away at the Republican majority. They have to take advantage of seats like this, even though on paper, they're not great seats. There is not a lot of low-hanging fruit left for them. That's what we're left with.

FRANKEN: A seat is a seat.

WALTER: Take what you can.

FRANKEN: Amy Walter of "The Cook Political Report," thank you very much. Always fun to watch the Congress.

WALTER: Thanks.

FRANKEN: It's always fun to watch football, of course. Wesley Clark is getting ready to make a pass at football fans. In a minute, we'll tell you why a rival campaign is blowing the whistle.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FRANKEN: You'd expect a general to be comfortable in a uniform, wouldn't you? But which one?

Retired General Wesley Clark is running an ad during tomorrow's New England Patriots game in which he wears a New England Jersey and declares "We're all Patriots." And that provoked a blitz from the Kerry campaign.

They put out a press release showing pictures of Clark wearing jerseys from the Green Bay Packers and the University of Tennessee Volunteers. The Kerry release goes on to say that Wesley Clark's football allegiances seem to be as flexible as his party affiliation.

It's nice to know the holiday spirit hasn't affected politics yet.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Bob Franken. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.

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