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CNN CAPITAL GANG

Will Rumors Of Kerry's Infidelity Hurt His Campaign?; President Bush Authorizes Release Of National Guard Records; Latest Poll: Dean Behind Kerry By 42 Points In Wisconsin

Aired February 14, 2004 - 19:00   ET

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

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.
MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to THE CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields, with Al Hunt, Robert Novak and Margaret Carlson. Our guest is House Republican whip Roy Blunt of Missouri.

It's good to have you back, Roy.

REP. ROY BLUNT (R-MO), MAJORITY WHIP: It's good to be here.

SHIELDS: Thank you.

Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts scored easy wins in two Southern presidential primaries, in Virginia and in Tennessee, as he lengthened his lead for the Democratic nomination.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - FEBRUARY 11, 2004)

HOWARD DEAN (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Kerry's behavior supporting the Bush agenda has made him suspect from the beginning. What I see here is a candidate who is not standing up for ordinary middle class people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: On Don Imus's national radio program, Senator Kerry was asked -- asked about rumors concerning an alleged relationship with a young woman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, there's nothing to report, so there's nothing to talk about. And I'm not worried about, no. The answer is no.

Well, I've led a very public life for, you know, 27 years or more, 30 years almost. I've been attacked and vetted by Richard Nixon, by Charles Colson, by countless opponents in the races that I've run.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Meanwhile, Republicans began their attack on Senator Kerry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - GOP INTERNET COMMERCIAL)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: More special interest money than any other senator? How much? Oh! For what? Nominations and donations coincided? Wait! Watchdog groups -- facts -- Kerry! Brought to you by the special interests, millions from executives at HMOs...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, are the Democrats about to nominate a vulnerable candidate?

MARGARET CARLSON, CAPITAL GANG: You know, all candidates are vulnerable to what they -- - what they did and what they didn't do. It's all going to come out, and rumors are going to come out. I don't think Senator Kerry's vulnerable on this particular point. He was vetted in 2000. As he said, he led a public life. And the most important thing is that Teresa Heinz is no Hillary Clinton. I don't think that she'd let...

SHIELDS: She would tolerate a...

CARLSON: She's not going to tolerate it, and she doesn't want to be senator from New York, so she's not going to go along with is.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: On this other thing that happened this week, with the Republicans going aggressive on special interests -- you know, Bush dwarfs anything Senator Kerry has ever done. I mean, 10 times the amount has gone into the -- into the Bush coffers than have gone into Senator Kerry. And one little thing came out which I found so interesting, which is that Republican donors -- the utilities, the pharmaceuticals, telecommunicators -- are told to code their checks, so that Bush knows who the money came from and they get credit and...

SHIELDS: By...

CARLSON: ... as they're ranked.

BOB NOVAK, CAPITAL GANG: Shocking.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: Shocking! Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: But I mean, isn't it shocking that Bush...

NOVAK: This so...

CARLSON: ... would go on the offensive?

NOVAK: Just shocking that a contributor wants the politician to know who gave him the dough!

SHIELDS: Bob!

CARLSON: Yes.

AL HUNT, CAPITAL GANG: Are you shocked?

SHIELDS: Bob, are you going to -- are you going to come back and speak English to us now? OK, what's -- what's going on here, Bob?

NOVAK: Well, I think this special interests thing is the silliest thing I have ever seen.

SHIELDS: The charge?

NOVAK: The charge. It is -- and Dean, who is a -- who is one of the silliest candidates I've ever seen, all this stuff about he is the worst and the Republicans -- what is a special interest? Are the pro- abortion people, are the homosexual lobby, are they special interests? Of course. Anybody that wants something done by the government is a special interest. And this -- this rumor -- the whole idea of this ridiculous rumor being talked about -- why are we talking about it? Because everybody else is talking about it. But not very much, I hope.

The problem where John Kerry is vulnerable is that he's a liberal. He doesn't want to call himself a liberal. They say it's labeling him. But when you're 95 percent voting liberal, you're a liberal! And that's his vulnerability?

SHIELDS: Al Hunt?

HUNT: Bob Novak's about -- about 75 percent right. Look, when right-wing hit squads start resorting to spreading rumors about personal affairs or 30-year-old doctored photos of a war hero -- and John Kerry is that -- with Jane Fonda, it means that they are worried. Kerry was a terrific underdog. It remains to be seen whether he's going to be a good general election candidate with a clear vision. We don't know the answer to that.

But you know, I tell you what I do think. There's every reason to think this is going to be one of those close 51-49 elections. It's going to be decided on jobs, on health care, on Iraq, not on innuendoes and What did you do 30 years ago? And Kerry will be, I'm convinced, a better candidate than Al Gore, tougher than Michael Dukakis. He'll be ready for Karl Rove's tactics.

SHIELDS: Roy Blunt, who's right here?

BLUNT: Well, I think that part of the problem with that ad is -- I saw it one other time on this show and another show on this network. I'm not sure. But I think the set-up was, where John Kerry is saying he's spent his entire life fighting this group he defines as special interests. And as Bob said, what is special interests? Is that -- is that a group working for more NIH funding? What is special interests? But when you say you spent your whole life fighting something, you need to be able to defend that. Now, that ad makes no sense unless you -- unless you point out at the first of it, as I think it did, that Bob (SIC) Kerry says he's never done anything...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: John Kerry.

BLUNT: ... John Kerry -- and he's going to clear the town of this kind of activity...

SHIELDS: You know...

BLUNT: ... if he's elected.

SHIELDS: ... I found it rather fascinating that six million of these were sent out to the -- on the Bush list. Now, one of the more interesting developments in McCain-Feingold and one of the reasons there've been few attack ads in the Democratic presidential primaries is you have to put your name on it. Everybody puts his name on it. This is -- This ad was paid for by Dick Gephardt, This ad's paid for by John Kerry...

NOVAK: That's the law.

SHIELDS: Huh? That's the law, OK? So this is a nice little circumvention to get it out without any attribution, no fingerprints.

BLUNT: Or This ad's paid by Bob Torricelli? What was that all about?

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: That was sleazy, is what that was.

SHIELDS: That -- I agree. And I condemned it. But I mean, I'm waiting for the first Republican to say, Wait a minute. This is kind of violative, isn't it?

BLUNT: Doesn't everybody know who paid for this ad?

SHIELDS: I don't know.

BLUNT: It was on their Web site, wasn't it?

SHIELDS: It was sent -- it was sent out. Now it's being discussed.

BLUNT: Actually, it seems like to me a pretty interesting way to sort of focus-group an ad and get an awful lot of free coverage on an ad you don't pay to put on TV.

NOVAK: Al brought up the Jane Fonda thing, and there's no question in my mind that John Kerry was doing things as draft -- not draft resister, as a war resister after he came back as a hero...

HUNT: War opponent, not...

NOVAK: ... a war opponent -- that were over the line. He was -- he was -- as Kate said the other day, and she was exactly right, he was saying things that -- making blanket accusations of atrocities. And I would say forget it. That is not part of this campaign. But if you're going to forget that, Mr. Hunt, you better forget this ridiculous AWOL thing, which we're going to talk about...

HUNT: Hey, Bob!

NOVAK: ... in the next segment.

HUNT: Hey, Bob! Hey, Bob! I agree with you. I -- you know, don't -- you know, that's not what -- if you'd listened to me, which I know you usually do...

SHIELDS: Yes.

HUNT: ... I said this is going to be...

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: ... fought over big issues...

NOVAK: I'm just -- I'm just being -- I'm just being emphatic, that's all.

HUNT: ... not what you did 30 years ago. So we're emphatic together, which is really nice.

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: What is this, preemptive attacks...

(LAUGHTER)

SHIELDS: ... to the next segment? Will you pay attention, Novak!

CARLSON: Mutual emphasis destruction here!

(LAUGHTER)

SHIELDS: Thank you. Thank you, Margaret. Bring some sanity to this...

CARLSON: Let's be -- yes, let's be in the here and now. But you know, Bush is -- it's the pot calling the kettle black on the special interest thing, and the special interests are the pharmaceuticals and the telecommunicators and the energy industry, which all got something from the Bush administration by giving 10 times as much...

SHIELDS: Let's not talk about Billy Tauzin. Let's not...

(CROSSTALK)

BLUNT: Not when -- not when the kettle says, I've never done this. I've never done this. This is evil. I've never done it. I've spent my whole career not doing something. CARLSON: Well, it's a matter of proportion. It's a matter of proportion. But I -- I think it was...

SHIELDS: Your special interest is my public good.

BLUNT: There you go.

SHIELDS: Roy Blunt and the GANG we'll be back to question whether George W. Bush has lost his once magical touch.

ANNOUNCER: Now time for the CAPITAL GANG "Trivia Question of the Week." Roy Blunt got his first taste of politics as a driver for which politician running for Congress in 1972? Was it, A, Richard Gephardt; B, John Ashcroft; or C, Kit Bond? We'll have the answer right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: Before the break, we asked which politician Roy Blunt was a driver for during the 1972 campaign. The answer is B, John Ashcroft.

SHIELDS: Welcome back. Beginning the week with an hour-long interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," President Bush was asked about charges that he did not show up for Air National Guard duty in 1972.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Political season's here. I -- I was -- served in the National Guard. I flew F- 102 aircraft. I got an honorable discharge. I've heard this -- I've heard this ever since I started running for office, and it's -- you know, put in my time, proudly so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: The issue triggered this exchange between Secretary of State Colin Powell and Democratic congressman Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: ... the president may have been -- may have been AWOL...

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: First of all, Mr. Brown, I won't dignify your comments about the president because you don't know what you're talking about.

BROWN: I said he may have been AWOL, right?

POWELL: Mr. Brown, let's not -- let's not go there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: The ABC News/"Washington Post" poll showed that by more than 2-to-1, Americans feel the Bush National Guard service is not a legitimate campaign issue. However, a bare majority, 52 percent of the public, believe that President Bush is "honest and trustworthy." That's down from 70 percent in December.

Al Hunt, has President Bush lost his touch, or is he a political victim?

HUNT: As Bob Novak and I agree, the National Guard is no big deal, but he's not a political victim, Mark. I was in an airplane last Sunday, and the airline pilot got me aside and said, Why would a guy go on "Meet the Press" when he has nothing to say? It was just not a good performance.

He -- Bush has had a lot of problems in the last month, and they've all been self-created. The State of the Union was a dud. The budget doesn't even have any credibility with many conservatives. His big vision, Mars -- it was dropped after a day. The inspector, David Kay, his own inspector, was the one who said there are no weapons of mass destruction in Saddam's Iraq. They mishandled the Guard issue, even though I don't think it's a big issue. And finally, his own economic report says that outsourcing of jobs, you know, is a -- is a good thing. It has his signature on it, even if he didn't know what was in it.

So I think it's been a terrible month for Bush, and it -- there's only one or two explanations. Either you have a war-weary White House or you have a White House that doesn't want to hear dissenting voices that say, Hey, we may be doing this badly.

SHIELDS: Roy Blunt?

BLUNT: Well, I think the president is ready to get out there. He -- this has been the season for Democrats. All the focus has been on Democrats. There've been now months and months of Democrat candidates saying everything you can possibly say about the president -- his credibility, his integrity. You know, he's ready to get out there and -- and when that happens, we're going to see a very different kind of environment than we see right now. It's been about as good a four or five weeks for John Kerry as a politician could hope for and about as tough a three or four weeks for the president as he could hope for. That'll change. I think, you know, we've always expected, the president's always expected to be behind a couple of times in this process. This was one of those times. At the end of their nominating process, right after their convention, I'd expect we'll be behind again. I don't think we're going to be behind, by any measure, on election day.

SHIELDS: It's interesting, Bob. Historically, parties get divided in the course of the primaries. If anything, the Democrats seem more united now than they were, and that -- that kind of puts the president on the defensive.

NOVAK: A little bit. I think -- I think there are still some hard feelings, but that -- the situation -- I don't think you can just brush off, Al, this -- that you have a reasonable attitude on the -- on the so-called National Guard issue because the chairman of the Democratic National Committee has played that. We had Charlie Rangel on "CROSSFIRE" the other night and -- very disappointed in Charlie, who has a great war record in Korea, and he is -- he's bringing this up. They just -- it just -- there's such a passionate desire to beat George Bush, such a hatred of him, that they bring up this phony issue. And I think -- I don't think that is what's hurting him, but it is -- I think it is a coarsening of -- of politics.

But I do believe much of the other stuff you said, regrettably, is true. I think that going on "Meet the Press" was a mistake. Not having anything to say was a mistake. And what bothers me is that there was nobody at the White House who said to him, Hey, this is a bad idea, Mr. President, going on with nothing to say.

So I think there are some -- there are some problems with this -- with this campaign that they have to solve, and there's certainly no time for any kind of false -- false attitude of serenity by the Republicans.

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: Go ahead, Margaret. Just a second. Go ahead, Margaret.

CARLSON: Well, like Charlie Rangel, I'm pleased to disappoint you in that I think that because the country is at war, it's more of a salient issue what you did in the past, in terms of your own military service. Certainly, the Republicans used it against Senator Max Cleland, a triple amputee in Vietnam, against -- against him, and the guy who won...

NOVAK: On his past military...

CARLSON: ... hadn't served at all.

NOVAK: On his past military service?

CARLSON: No, they...

NOVAK: No, they didn't.

CARLSON: They tried to characterize him, as Republicans have done since -- since 9/11...

NOVAK: Please!

CARLSON: ... as unpatriotic for not voting the way they thought he should vote.

NOVAK: Because of the way he voted.

CARLSON: And he lost the election to somebody who never served at all. I mean, the idea that Senator Max Cleland was unpatriotic was just hogwash. So I think the National Guard becomes more relevant. And everybody knows that back then, the National Guard was the way -- it's not today's National Guard -- was the way you blew off going to Vietnam.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: ... very disappointing, Margaret.

CARLSON: Yes, and I'm pleased to disappoint you.

SHIELDS: Well, I'm going to disappoint you, too, Bob...

NOVAK: Oh!

SHIELDS: ... because 40 percent -- no, you accused me of not bringing it up when Howard Dean was a candidate. I've always been consistent on this, Bob. I was consistent on in Bill Clinton, as well, and you know that.

CARLSON: And so was I.

SHIELDS: OK. And...

CARLSON: I criticized Clinton for it.

SHIELDS: And the reality -- the reality is this, Bob...

HUNT: We broke the Clinton story.

SHIELDS: ... that what you've got is that you've got the -- a great American statesman said in his autobiography, "I'm angry that so many sons of the powerful and well-placed managed to wangle slots in the reserve and National Guard units during Vietnam. This raw class discrimination damaged the ideal that all Americans are created equal and owe an equal allegiance to the country." That was Colin Powell talking about the Guard placement. Forty percent of the American force in Vietnam -- in Iraq today is National Guard and reservists. I mean, and that's -- and Margaret's absolutely right. What we're talking about here is a pattern of privilege, jumping over 500 people to get in...

NOVAK: This is really disappointing.

SHIELDS: ... jumping over 500 people to get in and then being trained at half-a-million-dollars expense to be a pilot and then just walking away from it.

NOVAK: Let me just -- let me just say this. If you're going to have -- if the Democrats -- not you, if the Democrats are going to have this kind of campaign, bring on Jane Fonda because then it's all up for grabs! I'd like to see a campaign on the issues, instead of this crap!

HUNT: I don't think you want to go there. Let me agree with one thing Roy said. I think -- if we're going to go back -- I have no doubt we're going to be sitting on this show, whether it's six weeks from now or ten weeks from now, and we're going to be saying that John Kerry had a bad couple weeks and George Bush had a good couple weeks. But Roy, I think what should worry you is something that Bob said. There does -- ever since Karen Hughes left, there do not seem to be voices in this White House who say, Hey, Mr. President, you're wrong. BLUNT: Well, I think the president was, you know, in a very difficult situation in that hour-long interview because you keep getting exactly the same questions. Lots you could talk to the president of the United States about for an hour, and I -- you know, there is, in fact...

HUNT: Those were pretty darn good questions.

CARLSON: Oh, no...

HUNT: You can't do much better than Tim Russert did.

CARLSON: Tim Russert was very fair in that. He did not...

BLUNT: But I think you have to look at how many times he had to answer the same question. And by the end of an hour doing that, it looks like you don't have anything to say because you keep get asked...

HUNT: Then why do it, Roy? Why do the show, then?

(CROSSTALK)

BLUNT: ... for a wider range of topics...

CARLSON: When Bush said he was young and...

BLUNT: ... to talk about.

CARLSON: When Bush said he was young and irresponsible -- when hue was young and irresponsible, he was young and irresponsible, he got away with a lot. He should have done this so now we wouldn't be questioning...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: ... his candor today about what you did 30 years ago. That's all we're talking about.

Next on CAPITAL GANG: Will the president veto one of the bills most popular with members of Congress?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If that legislation comes to his desk, the president will veto it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: That warning by President Bush's spokesman followed the passage by the Senate of the highway bill by a vote of 76 to 21. The bill is over $60 billion above the limit set by the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: How does this party, the party of fiscal sanity, the party of smaller government, the party of lower taxes, the party that insisted that any revenues to fund highways should come out of the trust fund, is now supporting a bill, according to the last vote, overwhelmingly, when the president of the United States and the American people are saying, Enough?

SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D), MONTANA: The president hasn't vetoed any bill in his presidency. None. And I doubt that his first veto would be a highway bill, a jobs bill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, will the president exercise for the first time the veto and veto the very popular, politically popular, highway bill?

NOVAK: Yes, unless there is some kind of a backdown by Congress, which I don't think there will be, he will veto it. But it's not on the level. Like much else in Washington, it's not on the level, Mark, because what's going to happen is it's going to be overridden. The president gets credit for a veto. The Congress gets credit for all its pork. The Congress is mad because the president has this huge spending bill on Medicare, which is just going through the roof to satisfy the -- on the prescription drug issue, and he wants to veto their pork bill. So he'll veto it, but it's not on the level.

SHIELDS: Point of personal privilege. Roy Blunt, you're the Republican whip of the Republican House. Is it on the level? We just got to go through with a little minuet? President vetoes it, then the House and Senate override it?

BLUNT: Oh, if the president vetoes this bill, we'll work hard to sustain his veto. I think we can do that on the House side. But we're a long way from finishing this bill. We'll mark up a bill somewhere between the president's number and the Senate number. This bill will eventually be written in conference, and the president will be involved in that. I think we've got to wind up pretty close to the number that he's put in the budget.

SHIELDS: Margaret?

CARLSON: Well, Bush is so lucky. This is a bridge too far. He gets to have the veto. It's great theatrics. Listen, Senator John McCain said the Republicans are the party of fiscal sanity? Since when?

SHIELDS: Historically.

CARLSON: Historically. Did he -- did he say historically? I didn't...

SHIELDS: No.

CARLSON: ... hear that part. But you know, Democrats tax and spend, Republicans are don't take and spend. And on "Meet the Press," to go back to that interview, Bush said that Clinton had raised discretionary spending by 15 percent. It was 3 percent. Since Bush has been in office, it's 31 percent.

BLUNT: No, no.

CARLSON: It's just totally irresponsible.

BLUNT: The non-homeland security, non-defense number, the big number everybody complains about went up 15 percent in December, after the election. I voted for that final agreement. The president wasn't even here. It's fair to blame me. It's not fair to blame him. He's cut that number from 15 to 7 to 5, now to virtually a freeze in this proposal.

CARLSON: Well, I'm...

BLUNT: It's one half of 1 percent.

CARLSON: I'm willing to blame you. I'm willing to do that, but I...

BLUNT: Well, you know, I should be...

CARLSON: I -- I think there's...

BLUNT: If somebody's going to be blamed...

CARLSON: ... aiding and abetting.

BLUNT: ... we're the ones that voted for that, and we had -- it was kind of a -- whatever it takes to get this guy out of town, we're willing to do, and it was not a great settlement on our part.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, could I ask you one question? It seems the Republicans...

HUNT: Two.

SHIELDS: All right. Republicans are for general economy, but they seem to invariably vote for specific expenditures. You know, We're going to cut the overall budget, but some of them -- we're going to get this highway bill.

HUNT: Well, I don't know who "they" are. I don't know who we blame now. That's why George Bush is veto shopping. He's veto shopping because he hasn't had one...

SHIELDS: Yes.

HUNT: ... which is sort of remarkable after three years in office. Look, this bill -- Robert's right about this. This isn't about ideology. This bill's about pork. Yet conservatives like -- Senators like Bob Bennett and Wayne Allard who voted for it -- why? Because it's pork. That's how they get reelected. That's all this is about. I'll tell you what I think you ought to do. I think Ronald Reagan gave us the guide. You ought to increase the gasoline tax, because that's a user tax, in order to -- for users to pay for it. And that way, we could then have the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) infrastructure that...

NOVAK: Al, have you ever -- have you ever seen a tax increase you didn't like?

HUNT: Yes, I have, Bob.

NOVAK: I have never heard you say...

HUNT: I have. I have.

NOVAK: I mean, you love -- you love to take money out of the pocket...

HUNT: Can I answer?

NOVAK: ... of the people and put it in the pockets of the government.

HUNT: May I answer your personal question?

NOVAK: Yes.

HUNT: Yes, I have. I think taxes that fall disproportionately on lower-income and working-class people really bothers me. I make an exception for some user taxes. But I tell you what. I think we ought to offset them with taxes on the wealthy, Bob.

BLUNT: Well, the president's numbers are 20 percent higher than the number we had six -- five years ago. That should be enough of an increase.

SHIELDS: OK, Roy. Thank you very much for being with us.

BLUNT: Great to be here.

SHIELDS: It's really been...

Coming up in the second half of THE CAPITAL GANG -- there will be a second half -- Al Hunt is "On the Beat" this week in Howard Dean's must-win state of Wisconsin. "Beyond the Beltway" looks at the armed uprising in Haiti with Carol Williams of "The Los Angeles Times" reporting from Port-au-Prince. And our "Outrages of the Week." That's all after the latest news headlines.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back to the second half of CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields with Al Hunt, Robert Novak and Margaret Carlson. With 72 delegates at stake in Tuesday's Wisconsin primary, the latest poll by American Research Group shows a huge lead for Senator John Kerry, with Howard Dean some 42 points behind. Earlier this week, our own Al Hunt was "On the Beat" in Wisconsin.

HUNT: There are two reasons this state, which is the only primary next week, is important. It will be a key battleground in the fall, and it could settle the Democratic contest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HUNT (voice-over): The Wisconsin primary played a key role in the candidacies of John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter, and doomed the dreams of Hubert Humphrey and Morris K. Udall, has been out of the limelight for decades. But next Tuesday, all political eyes will be on the Badger State. John Kerry could put away his final two serious challengers.

After an eight-month absence, Kerry returned to Wisconsin yesterday, where he was endorsed by former rival Wesley Clark, and appeared with Democratic Governor Jim Doyle.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Wisconsin has an opportunity, as other states have before you know, to make a huge difference. You're choosing not just the president of the United States, you're choosing the leader of the free world.

HUNT: Howard Dean, once thought to have a lock on Wisconsin, which personifies his brand of anti-war, socially liberal and fiscally frugal politics, is waging a desperate last stand, trying to capitalize on the state's maverick traditions. He's attacking the frontrunner as a Washington insider.

HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think John Kerry is capable of changing the political culture in Washington.

HUNT: But a bigger threat to the Massachusetts senator may be John Edwards, whose youthful populism is a natural fit for many Badger voters.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have one America that controls what goes on in Washington, D.C. They only care about the bottom line. They own this White House. They don't hear the other America. They don't see the face of this father, who had to come home and tell his little girl that he longer had a job, that he lost more than a job and a paycheck, that he lost some of his self- respect, some of his dignity, some of his soul.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HUNT: Senator Edwards, however, lacks two critical elements, time and money, and most Wisconsin politicians expect John Kerry to register another big victory next Tuesday.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, why is the outlook in Wisconsin now so one- sided for John Kerry? I think he just flew into the state for the first time this year this past week.

NOVAK: Because the system is so front-loaded, particularly with the changes that were made by the Democratic chairman Terry McAuliffe. Mark, the first primary, contested primary I covered was in 1960, between Kennedy and Humphrey.

SHIELDS: April.

NOVAK: It was in April.

SHIELDS: Yeah.

NOVAK: They were out there for weeks. I was there for about a month. And they were - they ran a real campaign, like it was a general election campaign, in Wisconsin. Now, you still do that in New Hampshire, you still do that in Iowa, but those are the only states. That's why they're so important. And these are not really campaigns. There is not a chance for anybody to contest them. So the person who comes out of those two states has such a momentum it's impossible to stop him, and that's the way Terry McAuliffe wanted it and that's the way he's got it.

CARLSON: Well, you learn an awful lot about the candidates as they come out of those states. Dean will lose in Wisconsin, and because of that, he's now moved the goal posts again. He keeps changing the standard, and now he says he doesn't have to win Wisconsin. He doesn't seem to be playing fair.

Dean will come out of this smaller than he went in, but Senator Edwards, no matter what happens, comes out much larger. He's run a great, great campaign.

SHIELDS: Al, John Edwards was endorsed today by "The Madison Capital Times" newspaper, a liberal newspaper, and by the mayor of Madison, right?

HUNT: I wouldn't be surprised on Monday if he got "The Milwaukee Journal" endorsement, but it's too late. Bob is right. By the way, 44 years later...

SHIELDS: That's the third time you've said on this show that Bob's right.

HUNT: They are still talking about Bob's trip to Wisconsin in 19...

SHIELDS: Oh, you've visited the home?

(LAUGHTER)

HUNT: ... in 1960, but you know, I talked to Russ Feingold the other day, after I got back from Wisconsin, and they talk about John Kerry - a John Kerry win as fait accompli. And they're talking about what kind of general election candidate he'll be, and Howard Dean, if he doesn't get out after Tuesday, he's not only toast, he's really deeply burned charcoal. NOVAK: Don't you think this front-loaded system is...

HUNT: I don't like it.

SHIELDS: I agree. And, but you know, I've always argued that you ought to stagger - it was Mo Udall's idea. They ought to be quarterly, and there ought to be a division so that there is some sensibility to it, so all one time zone are on one Tuesday, in March, one in April, one in May, one in June.

HUNT: As long as you start with the retail states.

SHIELDS: You can start with small states, but you can take small states - it doesn't have to - I love New Hampshire. I love Iowa. But it doesn't always have to be Iowa and New Hampshire.

NOVAK: The point of the matter was, if you had two days to campaign in New Hampshire and Iowa as you do in Wisconsin...

SHIELDS: I agree.

NOVAK: Dean would have won both of them.

SHIELDS: Right.

NOVAK: There's no question.

HUNT: Right, same thing.

SHIELDS: I think the idea of the retail states early, intensive campaigns first, but I think then you need it further. I mean...

NOVAK: That's true.

SHIELDS: The only way you test somebody, you test them over a long, extended period of time.

HUNT: Isn't this consensus marvelous on this show? It's so nice for us all to...

SHIELDS: Well, at least I didn't say...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: Well, at least I didn't say like some toady, Bob is right, though. Coming up on the CAPITAL GANG Classic, an apologetic George H.W. Bush 12 years ago, confession to a big political mistake.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back. Twelve years ago, President George Herbert Walker Bush, stung by unimpressive performances in primary elections against Pat Buchanan said he made a mistake in breaking his own anti-tax pledge to make a budget deal with the Congress.

THE CAPITAL GANG discussed this on March 7, 1992. Our guest was then Democratic Congressman Vic Fazio of California.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HUNT: What does admitting a tax mistake do to the president's reelection, Robert?

NOVAK: It doesn't help it a bit, because it makes him look like somebody who doesn't believe in anything. And although in the White House, they've conjured Buchanan into some kind of a demon, their real problem is George Bush.

REP. VIC FAZIO (D), CALIFORNIA: This is a man who is blowing back and forth across the political spectrum. The guy doesn't understand; his problems are not with the right, they're with Republicans left, right and center, because they don't know where he's coming from.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Needs to go back to the White House and start acting like a president. He needs to do the line-item veto, which he can do by presidential authority. He needs to cut - he needs to index the capital gains tax, which he can do by presidential authority. Take on the Congress.

SHIELDS: This is a man who changed his mind on taxes and said, it's political grief. That was the explanation he had for them. This guy is moving right so hard - he's moving right harder than a Paraguayan junta at this point.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, are there any lessons - brilliant metaphor - for the current President Bush to be drawing from the performance of his father?

CARLSON: By the way, that wasn't me in that clip.

SHIELDS: No, it sure wasn't.

CARLSON: In case there's any confusion. So President Bush did the right thing, and then he apologized for it under - in the heat of battle. And so then he was in a no man's land. But boy, he did the right thing. And that President Bush, I think, did have more courage than any of you gave him credit for for doing it then. Tax cutters, however, are an unforgiving lot.

SHIELDS: An unforgiving lot, Bob Novak?

NOVAK: They should be. It's the Republican Party's purpose in the world to cut taxes, and he made a terrible mistake and he couldn't make amends for it.

SHIELDS: Bob, if I may, isn't that why the Republican Party was put on Earth?

NOVAK: That's right.

SHIELDS: To cut taxes?

NOVAK: Right.

SHIELDS: OK.

HUNT: Mark, three months after that tax increase, George Bush's popularity was 91 percent. That's not what cost him the election. What cost him the election was after the first Gulf War, when he was so popular, he went to the joint session of Congress, and he had nothing to say. And basically, Mark, the problem was, he trained all his life to be a president during the Cold War, Berlin Wall came down and George Bush really didn't have anything to say.

NOVAK: What a - what a tortured explanation of his fall, when the reason he fell was he raised taxes, and his son knows that.

SHIELDS: Is that it, Bob?

NOVAK: Yes.

SHIELDS: I guess that's it. I guess Bob Novak...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: The unified theory of politics, right here.

SHIELDS: Yeah. That's right. Cut taxes. You know, widows and orphans - cut taxes.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, "Beyond the Beltway" looks at the violence in Haiti, with Carol Williams of "The Los Angeles Times," live from Port-au-Prince.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back. In Haiti, a nine-day rebellion seeking to oust President Jean-Bertrand Aristide continued as rebels seized another town today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE, HAITI PRESIDENT: We condemn that violence, and we want the world to realize that the opposition, acting through terrorist actions, used in Gonaives, kids, children, human beings as shields to protect those terrorists when they are shooting on the police.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: What we need from President Aristide now is action and not just expressions and words of support.

President Aristide was elected by the Haitian people, and his departure from the scene as president can only be by democratic, constitutional means.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Joining us from Port-au-Prince is Carol Williams, Caribbean bureau chief of "The Los Angeles Times." Thank you for being with us, Carol. Carol, who are the rebels and can they overthrow President Aristide by force?

CAROL WILLIAMS, "L.A. TIMES": Well, the rebels who are raising arms against the government now are a criminal gang that Aristide empowered four years ago to fight against his opponents during their political rallies. The numbers that are active right now could not possibly overthrow the government. There is maybe 100 or so men with very old arms, and they are not in any kind of coordinated campaign against other cities and towns in the country. These other rebellions are arising for reasons, you know, germane to each locale.

NOVAK: Carol, how could - how is that possible that they could take over, as I understand, two towns in the north? Are these some of the political opposition that were so opposed to Aristide before the U.S. military intervention took place?

WILLIAMS: No, these are politically inspired gangs. They're - they exist in most towns and cities, they are sort of a rent-a-crowd or rent-a-thug operation. The one in Gonaives, which is causing the rebellions and inspiring some, you know, like-minded actions in other towns is a gang that used to be aligned with the government, that used to fight for Aristide against legitimate political opponents, or mainstream opposition, parties and campaign activities. It's turned on the president because their leader was assassinated in September and the entire town ascribes this to Aristide as a retaliation for the gang leader's attempt to blackmail him.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Carol, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that the policy of the United States government is not regime change in Haiti, and so they are still backing Father Aristide. But what is - what is the policy, what can the United States do - what do they want to happen?

WILLIAMS: I think the United States would like nothing to happen. I have the impression that, you know, they are being told exactly what they want to hear, which is that there is nothing the international community can or should do at this point. Aristide wants the eyes of the world off of Haiti. He has an incredible problem on his hands with having lost the support of the masses of Haitians, which he enjoyed through most of his presidency. But there is nothing that he sees to be gained by having international media here who will see that, you know, what he claims - that there is a some sort of coordinated, nationwide move against him is not the case.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt.

HUNT: Carol, the general inclination in, I think, political Washington is to say that Haiti is not really a terribly important place for the U.S. strategically. But there is a potential political ramification, it would seem to me, namely Florida, which would be one of the most hotly contested states in this year's presidential election. If there is - if a civil unrest accelerates, the violence gets worse in Haiti, is there a danger of -- of a new exodus of Haitians trying to get to Florida?

WILLIAMS: I think that depends on what happens in the next weeks or months. What is happening right now is there is a sort of standoff. The rebels have control of Gonaives, and the president cannot recover control of that city without, you know, waging a major battle that will take a lot of casualties. Even though there aren't as many armed men, the entire city is behind them, and they would stand up, they would go out with their machetes and knives if they didn't have guns. That's going to be a very bloody confrontation, if and when it does happen, and it could give rise to, you know, retaliatory actions by other disgruntled groups in Haiti, and there are legions of them.

SHIELDS: Carol, for many of us in Washington and in the United States, this story began as sort of a Cold War story, with the colonels, the junta, being anti-communist, even though they were charged by some with brutality and worse, and Aristide seen as a sort of a liberal reformer. Is it fair to conclude at this point that Aristide has been a disaster as a leader?

WILLIAMS: I think so, primarily because he did engender such hope in the beginning. He was elected by a landslide. He was the first popularly, democratically elected leader in Haiti's now 200-year history. And people have pinned their hopes that a man who came from the ranks of the poor would pursue their interest, would create a more equitable society. And the - you know, the reality has been that he has followed the path of many dictators and bad leaders over the past decades, and, you know, isolated himself from the people. The living conditions are worse now than they were when he came into office, and they were already the worst in the Western hemisphere then.

SHIELDS: We have just one minute. Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Carol, what does the - what were the - the mainstream opposition forces in Haiti, people who wanted to have a democratic Haiti, want to have a decent country, what do they want from the United States as you talk to them? What do they - they certainly don't expect another expeditionary force, do they?

WILLIAMS: No, not at all. They say they don't want that. But they would like the international community, led by the United States, to whisper in Aristide's ear that, you know, the gig is up, he is not going to recover the popularity he had, that he can't rule this country. There is going to be unrest and instability and chaos until he leaves. Their view is that, you know, it's better for that to happen now than to allow him to serve out the remaining two years of his term.

But the American position, and that of most of the international alliances that are - trying to mediate in this crisis is that he is the elected president of this country and he should be allowed to finish his term.

SHIELDS: Carol Williams, thank you so very much for being with us. THE GANG will be back with "The Outrages of the Week."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Wolf, the iron man. And now for "The Outrages of the Week."

The chairman of President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers stated that, quote, "outsourcing," end quote, the sending of jobs by U.S. companies overseas to maximize corporate profits, quote, "is just a new way of doing international trade," end quote. Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert exploded: "(UNINTELLIGIBLE) theory fails the basic test of real economics," end quote, said the speaker. Which it does. The painful human reality is that encouraged by administration's tax policies, which encourage companies to move their headquarters to Bermuda and their jobs to China, the loss of nearly three million jobs has damaged profoundly lives, families and futures. That's not theory.

Bob Novak.

NOVAK: CBS has stopped broadcasting a 30-second government- financed television ad explaining the new Medicare prescription drug law, an ad bitterly opposed by Democrats. That is CBS' privilege. The problem is that the decision was made by Martin Franks, who is in charge of standards and practices at CBS. He is a partisan Democrat, who has contributed nearly $60,000 to Democrats, including John Kerry's current presidential campaign. Should he be making a highly political decision at CBS? Maybe so, at the network that put on the Super Bowl halftime sleaze show.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Mark, so far we know Halliburton has overcharged the government $61 million for gas and $27 million to feed the troops. And now this week, two former procurement officers have come forward to show that gouging Uncle Sam is the way Halliburton does business. Still, Halliburton was awarded another $1.2 billion contract, the day after it fessed up to employee kickbacks. Now, Halliburton is spending millions on image ads, blaming everything on being in war - in a war zone, adding a machism (ph) - a macho quote, "Criticism is OK, we can take it." Who's paying for the ads? You can bet it's Uncle Sam.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt.

HUNT: Mark, a right-wing hit lady named Ann Coulter charged that Max Cleland, who won a Silver Star in Vietnam and is a prominent Kerry supporter, lost his three limbs while getting ready to drink beer with pals. She said it just as easily could have occurred in the Texas Air National Guard. That's irrelevant, that's vicious, and that's a lie. Captain Cleland lost his legs and an arm on a reconnaissance mission in Vietnam. They don't usually carry live grenades and M-16s in the Texas Air National Guard. This despicable venom was carried on the Heritage Foundation Web site.

SHIELDS: Martin Franks is a proven professional, for whom I have the highest regard.

NOVAK: I don't care if you do or not. If a guy gets...

SHIELDS: I'm just telling you.

NOVAK: If a guy gives $60,000 to the Democrats, he should not be making political decisions for a network. If you don't understand that...

HUNT: They also - they also refused to run the MeetUp (sic) ad during the Super Bowl that's anti-Bush.

NOVAK: What do you want - (UNINTELLIGIBLE) - do you think a guy giving $60,000 to Democrats should be making those decisions?

HUNT: I don't know...

SHIELDS: What about Rupert Murdoch? You want to give Rupert Murdoch another 40 percent of the...

CARLSON: How about Rupert Murdoch?

SHIELDS: ... country's market?

NOVAK: He owns it, for crying out loud.

CARLSON: Owners, I see.

SHIELDS: The golden (UNINTELLIGIBLE). The gold rules?

NOVAK: That's right. And if you don't understand that's the way America works, I feel sorry for you.

SHIELDS: If that's the way you think America works, Bob, then you are a sad figure.

This is Mark Shields saying good night for THE CAPITAL GANG. Coming up next, CNN PRESENTS looks at the dramatic rise in infidelity. At 9:00 p.m., LARRY KING WEEKEND, our last interview with the late Dr. Robert Atkins. And at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, a look at whether single people are discriminated against under the current tax code.

Thank you for joining us.

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



President Bush Authorizes Release Of National Guard Records; Latest Poll: Dean Behind Kerry By 42 Points In Wisconsin>


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