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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Paul Bremer; Interview With Elizabeth Edwards

Aired February 15, 2004 - 12:00   ET

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

JUDY WOODRUFF, GUEST HOST: Welcome. It is noon in Washington, 9 a.m. in Los Angeles, 5 p.m. in London and 8 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you are watching from around the world, thank you for joining us for "LATE EDITION."
I'm Judy Woodruff. Wolf is away today.

We'll get to my interview with the chief U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, in just a few minutes. But first, let's get a quick check of the hour's top stories.

(NEWSBREAK)

WOODRUFF: And we have more now on that top story, which is the capture of number 41 on the most-wanted list of former members of Saddam Hussein's government. His apprehension comes as coalition authorities try to determine who engineered this weekend's deadly attacks in the city of Fallujah.

CNN's Jane Arraf is in Baghdad. She joins us with details.

Jane?

JANE ARRAF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Judy, it was a piece of good news for the U.S.-led coalition and a coup for Iraqi security forces -- the capture of Muhammad Zimam Abd al-Razzaq. Now, as you mentioned he was 41 on that original most-wanted list. And he head of the regional Baath Party command in the north, which included the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk.

He was caught yesterday in what coalition officials said originally was a joint U.S.-Iraqi investigation. But it was the Iraqis who nabbed him and turned him over to coalition authorities.

Now, there's the list and then there's the list. And on the alternate list is one of the top most-wanted men, a fugitive named Zarqawi, whom officials say they have intensified their search for.

But one of the few things he is not being blamed for is a daring attack yesterday on a police station in Fallujah in which more than 25 people, most of them police officers, were killed.

Coalition and military officials tell us that there's no evidence that foreign fighters were behind that one. And suspicion is being turned to former Baath Party loyalists and other elements of the former regime. Judy?

WOODRUFF: All right, Jane. Thank you very much for that report.

As could you tell from what Jane said in Iraq, security remains the top concern as insurgents continue to launch these deadly attacks, not just against U.S. troops but, increasingly, Iraqi civilians.

A short time ago, I spoke with the U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Ambassador Paul Bremer, thank you very much for joining us.

PAUL BREMER, U.S. CIVIL ADMINISTRATOR IN IRAQ: Nice to be with you.

WOODRUFF: I want to talk to you, first of all, about the ongoing, disturbing violence in Iraq. As you know very well, two incidents this week, both of them near Baghdad, left over 100 Iraqis dead. Then this terrible brazen attack yesterday on the police station in Fallujah. Dozens of prisoners were freed.

How concerned are you, Mr. Ambassador, about the kind of attacks, the level of attacks that go on almost daily?

BREMER: You have to look at the security problem in two dimensions here, Ms. Woodruff. The one that has killed the most Iraqis over the last three or four months is a concerted effort by al Qaeda-related terrorists.

We've got a very good insight into that strategy with the release of a letter by an al Qaeda terrorist, Abu Musab Zarqawi, earlier this week. And his intentions are very clear. He wants to kill security forces because he thinks they will be able to defend the Iraqis, and he wants to set off a sectarian war here.

The second kind of attack, which we apparently saw yesterday, is attacks by people related to the former regime who may now be linking up with some foreign fighters. We're not sure yet. And those people -- those attacks are the ones that have been directed mostly against the coalition, though the one yesterday was against the police.

WOODRUFF: To what extent does all this, Mr. Ambassador, raise questions about the ability of the Iraqis to run their own country?

BREMER: I think we have to be realistic that Iraq is going to have a serious security threat, perhaps both of these threats, for some time to come. Which means that even after there is a sovereign Iraqi government at the end of June, they're going to need help from outside until such time as their security forces can, in fact, handle it themselves.

And I think it's quite clear the Iraqi security forces, brave as they are, and beaten and attacked as they are, are not going to be ready by July 1st. So there will have to be an international presence here after the sovereign government comes into power the 1st of July.

WOODRUFF: Well, is that June 30th handover date set in stone?

BREMER: If you go back and read what the president of the United States said at the State of the Union address, he said we will transfer sovereignty on June 30th. That is our intention. Mr. Brahimi spoke of it in his press conference, the U.N. representative, on Friday. Iraqis all want sovereignty back as soon as it can be done. And we believe June 30th is a date that can be hit and will be hit.

And, you know, it's not just a question of a date. It's a question of serving our broader security needs here. We want to be here as invited guests and no longer as an occupying force. The Iraqis don't want to be occupied. And what happens when we turn sovereignty back over to them on June 30th is we're no longer an occupying force. Our forces become partners in the defense of Iraq.

WOODRUFF: I hear you, Mr. Ambassador, but I'm asking, because on Wednesday of this week, Secretary of State Powell, testifying before Congress, seemed to leave some flexibility. I just want you to listen very briefly to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: We're looking forward to transferring sovereignty at the end of June, if all goes well. And we're pressing to that end. We have a difficult security problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: I'm asking because he said, "if all goes well."

BREMER: Our intention, as stated by the president, is to return sovereignty by June 30th. And that's the agreement we have with the Iraqis, and we intend to carry it out.

Obviously, we're going to continue to have security problems here. I think we're realistic about that. There'll be up days and down days. Yesterday was a down day.

But we're on track to return sovereignty by the 30th. That's the direction the U.N. is working toward, we're working toward, and the Iraqis are working toward.

WOODRUFF: And the other piece of that is former secretary of state Henry Kissinger had an op-ed in The New York Times this week. I don't know if you saw it or not, but he -- in there, he talked about this not being the end for the U.S. but the beginning of a new phase for the U.S. He talked about an important continuing role that the U.S. military will play, that the U.S. will play diplomatically.

I mean, how do you see Iraq changing, the running of Iraq changing, after June 30th? BREMER: Yes, I saw Dr. Kissinger's article, and I agreed with it. I think all of us who are here recognize that there isn't a magic wand we're going to wave over this country on June 30th and have it suddenly change.

There will still be a security problem. There will still be huge needs for reconstructing an economy that was brutalized over 35 years, and a political system that was fragmented and repressed by Saddam's tyranny. There will be the problems Dr. Kissinger pointed out about the relations of Iraq with its neighbors.

The U.S. is here for a long commitment that the president has said we will stay until the job is done. The job is to get a democratic, stable, unified Iraq, at peace with itself and with its neighbors. And that will take time. It isn't going to end on June 30th.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Still ahead, more of my interview with Ambassador Bremer. He talks about the prospects for direct elections and the possibility of ethnic conflict in Iraq.

And later, could America's next first family hail from North Carolina? An exclusive interview with Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards.

"LATE EDITION" continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Up next, more of my interview with the top U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer.

And we want you to weigh in on our Web question of the week: Did President Bush clear up questions about his military service? You can go to cnn.com/lateedition to cast your vote. We'll have the results later in the program.

"LATE EDITION" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Knowing what I knew then, and knowing what I know today, America did the right thing in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: President Bush defending his decision to go to war in Iraq.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

We return now to my interview today with the U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Well, the Bush administration, as you know -- you're very much involved in this -- is asking the United Nations to weigh in on when elections can be held in Iraq. Again, as you well know, the U.S. arguing the Iraqis need more time to get themselves together before elections can be held. But now it appears that the U.N. envoy may be recommending elections sooner than the U.S. had wanted.

Let me just ask you to listen. This is something that the U.N. envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, had to say when he was in Iraq this week -- very brief.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAKHDAR BRAHIMI, U.N. ENVOY TO IRAQ: It is the government that comes out of the ballot box that is going to take the important decisions for the future of Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: In essence -- and his point is that these elections are important; they need to take place as soon as possible. It's not likely to be by June 30th. But now we're hearing, Mr. Ambassador, that he may recommend elections as soon as the end of this year. If he does, would the U.S. go along with that?

BREMER: We've always been in favor of elections. How can Americans be against elections? We've had more than 200 years' experience. We know how important elections are to a viable, legitimate democracy.

In fact, our plan calls for no fewer than three separate national elections in the course of 2005, the first of which is supposed to be held by January 31st next year.

If we can do it sooner and have it be legitimate, and if the U.N. and we agree that that can be done, that's not a problem if it's the end of the year or early January.

I think Mr. Brahimi, when he left here, said he had to go home and talk to Secretary-General Kofi Annan about his report. And we'll have to see what his report says.

WOODRUFF: So if he were to come back and say, "We think elections could feasibly be held by the end of this year," even though the U.S. has talked in terms of 2005, you're saying you think that could be worked out?

BREMER: Yes. I think, let's see what he says. But the difference between holding an election in December 2004 and January 2005 is not that great. And we already have plans for elections in January 2005. So that's not a big difference.

WOODRUFF: All right. I see. My impression was that the U.S. was talking about elections later than that.

What about the idea, without going into all the detail, Mr. Ambassador, of these caucuses that you and others had discussed? The opposition to this idea on the part of the Shiite Muslims is just unbending. There seems to be no give in their position.

I'm hearing here in Washington this idea is dead. What is your sense of that?

BREMER: I think we have to start with understanding that we have a very complicated situation. I think there's general agreement that there is not time to hold elections in the timeframe of June. Indeed, I think that will be the conclusion of the U.N. The secretary-general as much as said that three weeks ago.

So then the question is, how do you get a process in place that can produce a legitimate government, sovereign government by June 30th? That's a complicated process. Caucuses are complicated. Partial elections are complicated. There are a lot of ideas around.

The U.N. representative, Brahimi, on Friday said it was a complicated problem, and he didn't offer a solution. But he's gone back to consult with Kofi Annan about it. And we're looking forward, as is the Iraqi government, to his recommendations. Let's see what he says.

WOODRUFF: How confident are you at this point, Mr. Ambassador, that when this handover takes place, assuming it is the end of June, the 1st of July, that the Iraqi people are going to be able to pull together?

I mean, again, without getting into all the details of the different groups -- the Shiites, the Sunnis, the Kurds -- this is a daunting exercise on the part of the Iraqis.

Are you comfortable with the U.S., in essence, walking away at that point?

BREMER: First of all, we're not going to walk away. We will be here with probably the largest American embassy in the world, the largest aid mission, by a factor of 10, we've ever done. More than 100,000 American troops, a coalition of 35 nations. We're not walking away.

What is happening on June 30th is that the coalition no longer will be sovereign in Iraq, and an Iraqi government will be sovereign.

Now, you're quite right, this is a fragmented society. And for 35 years, Saddam Hussein exacerbated those fracture lines in the society.

But what is important is, so far, there has been remarkably little of the sectarian violence that people like the terrorist Zarqawi are trying to incite here. Remarkably little of that.

It's going to be a tricky thing. I'm confident the Iraqis, the vast majority of them, want to live together and get back in charge of their country and get on with their lives for them and their families and their kids.

WOODRUFF: But when you have incidents like the one yesterday, which you yourself said appeared to have been fomented by Iraqis and not by foreigners, could there be a breaking point on the part of the Iraqi people?

BREMER: No, I don't think so. I don't think there will be.

It's interesting, if you read this terrorist letter, this Zarqawi letter, he's really very pessimistic about the outlook for the terrorists. He says, "We're being suffocated by the Iraqi police and army. They're getting to good for us." He says, "Time is not on our side." He says, "When democracy comes to Iraq, there will be no pretext for continuing to attack the Iraqi people."

And I think he has figured out that the Iraqi people do not want these terrorists running around here. I hope we'll catch Mr. Zarqawi, and that'll help us here. But there will be, certainly, still violence.

WOODRUFF: Mr. Ambassador, the report that came out, now some days ago, by former chief weapons inspector David Kay, in essence saying he believed there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the war, this is now having, apparently, an effect on American opinion of the war.

A poll done this week for the first time showed more than half the American people don't believe the war in Iraq was worth it.

How does that affect what you're trying to do over there?

BREMER: You know, I think we have to continue to tell the American people that, in fact, we are involved in a noble cause here.

I read the intelligence assessments before the war, and I agreed with the administration's assessment of what those reports said. That, incidentally, was the assessment of the previous administration and most of the international community.

We have freed 25 million people from one of the most vicious tyrannies of the last century. And I think we have to show the American people the mass graves where tens of thousands of Iraqis are buried. We have to show them the cemetery where 5,000 people were killed in an afternoon by chemical weapons from their own government. We have to show them the torture chambers and the rape rooms.

And when they see that, the American people will understand very well that what we've done here is a noble thing.

WOODRUFF: Is Mr. Kay wrong?

BREMER: I'm not a, you know, weapons inspector. I met his successor, Charlie Duelfer, here, who just arrived on Friday. The search will go on, and let's see what they find. WOODRUFF: But it sounds as if you believe there still are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

BREMER: Well, nobody has concluded that there aren't. And the purpose of the Iraqi Survey Group that Mr. Duelfer now heads is to try to find that out. What Mr. Kay did find was evidence of programs of biological and chemical weapons, and clear violations of the missile regime that Saddam was under. Now, let's see what Mr. Duelfer finds.

WOODRUFF: All right, we're going to have to leave it there.

Ambassador Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator of the coalition's provisional authority, thank you very much for being with us this Sunday.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: And just ahead, we'll get a check of the hour's top stories.

Then, will the release of President Bush's military records put to rest the controversy about his service in the Air National Guard? We'll talk with two top U.S. senators about that and much more, on "LATE EDITION."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Although the Bush administration is sticking to a June 30th deadline for transferring power to a sovereign Iraqi government, others are questioning whether the handover will occur under the best circumstances.

Joining us now are two members of the United States Senate: in Miami, Republican Senator and Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas. And in his home state of Connecticut, Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd. He's a member and ranking Democrat, we should say, on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Gentlemen, I want to start with the date for the U.S. handover in Iraq. I was just talking with the U.S. ambassador, Paul Bremer, the top administrator there. He's saying the administration's intention is to stick with that date.

But, Senator Dodd, given the ongoing violence -- another attack yesterday on a police station, a very brazen attack, 25 people dead -- are you comfortable with this turnover?

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: Not really. And, listen, I understand they have a very difficult job. And Paul Bremer and his staff and our troops over there are doing a magnificent job. Like Pat, I've been over there. I was in there in December, and just deeply impressed with the efforts they're making.

But it seems to be -- and I'm not going to argue about a June 30th or fall date or winter date. The question is, how quickly can we create a legitimate government in Iraq? And so, obviously, security is a major factor here. But the idea of having sort of a caucus-elect leadership here doesn't seem to me to be working.

With all due respect to the Governing Council that's operating now, I'm told that only about eight out of the 24, 25, ever show up with any regularity here. There's no sense of urgency you get.

I think the sooner that we're able to have a legitimate election in which Iraqis themselves are able to choose their leadership -- it may not be the prettiest election ever held -- but as quickly as we can have a government that enjoys the broad support of the people of Iraq, rather than one that's been hand-chosen by the United States, then I think we're going to do a better job of having not only democracy come to Iraq but also the credibility of that government be restored in the minds of the Iraqi people.

WOODRUFF: And, in fact, Ambassador Bremer seemed to be at least willing to entertain the idea that the caucuses may not be the solution. And he said the U.S., if a December election date were proposed by the U.N., the U.S. might be willing certainly to consider that...

DODD: Well, I think that's what -- I'm sorry. Go ahead.

WOODRUFF: I was going to turn quickly to Senator Roberts and ask how confident you are that this date of June the 30th can be met, and how worried are you about security after that?

SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R), KANSAS: Well, I'm very worried about security. We're always worried about our war-fighters in the field. And we worry about the Iraqis. They are now the target of foreign jihadists and also some of the Baath Party people who are still there.

I don't know. I think events of the day will probably prove correct. It's going to be interesting how strong a stand the U.N. will take in its negotiations with Sistani and others of the Shiite population.

I don't think you want an election where the Shiites simply take over and you go back to a situation that could lead to even more strife down the road.

But I would agree with Chris. I think, down the road, that you're going to have to have an election to really prove that any kind of sovereign takeover, or any turning over of sovereignty, with Iraq would be backed by an election.

And let's hope it does take place. And I would prefer to see it according to the deadline set by the president, or the suggested deadline. But if that doesn't work out, why, it's going to have to happen.

WOODRUFF: I want to ask you both about, in the wake of the former chief weapons David Kay has had to say in the last few days, that he doesn't believe there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the war. Now, we see polls showing that half of the American people say they don't believe the war was worth it.

What bearing does this, Senator Dodd, have on the ability of the U.S. to see its commitment through in that country?

DODD: Well, the polls, obviously, can shift back and forth here. And, obviously, Pat is deeply involved in this as the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, so I'll defer a bit to him. He and Jay Rockefeller are working at this.

I was impressed -- I haven't had a chance to tell Pat this, but that the committee the other night moved to apparently not only just deal with how the intelligence was gathered and why it wasn't as reliable as it should have been, and I think properly pointing out that this was not just on this watch but it goes back. And, in fact, some of the most critical governments in the world had assessments on intelligence that were even more dark and stark than the ones we were collecting.

And also then, how that information was being used. And I think it's a very important issue. We need to know how the political operatives were using the intelligence information and formulating the decision to go to war when they did. So this is very important.

And the polling data will move, but it's also going to be important, I think, that whether the Bush administration continues in office or we have a Democratic administration elected in November, that we're going to have to stick with this for a while here. If we don't, then, of course, we could end up having a far more severe situation in Iraq than the one that we were able to get rid of.

WOODRUFF: Well, in connection with all that, Senator Roberts, we know the president has now appointed an independent commission to look into the intelligence before the war.

ROBERTS: Right.

WOODRUFF: I'm curious to know, you know, what is that commission going to be able to do that your committee in the Senate and the parallel committee in the House hasn't done over the last eight months of your investigation?

ROBERTS: Well, I think that the committee, in terms of the independent commission, has a broader scope. They're going to look in on the whole issue of WMD, and also the spread of WMD, and seven different nations.

The president made a very far-reaching speech at Fort Lewis before the Defense University, the National Defense University, in which he listed seven goals that he wanted the U.N. and the G-8 nations and the survey group of nations, I think there are 40 of them, that can provide all sorts of access to these kind of things, to make any kind of nuclear weaponry and, also, the international association of atomic agency, the one that's now in Iran doing the investigating. It's a very far-reaching speech. I wish it had certainly gotten a lot more press coverage.

I'm a little more optimistic that despite the problems we're having in Iraq, you see some real progress in regards to Libya. And you see some real progress in regards to the exposure of A.Q. Khan and that entire network. And then, for the first time, we have the U.N. inspection team in regards to Iran.

So the resolve we're showing in Iraq, I think, led to these developments. And if we can get more international support on the WMD threat, I think we'll be a lot farther ahead.

WOODRUFF: All right. Much more to ask you both. I want to take some time to ask you both about domestic politics, as well.

We're going to take a quick break, but when we come back with the senators, we're going to continue our conversation.

And later: "NASCAR dads," will they determine the outcome of this year's U.S. presidential election?

"LATE EDITION" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're continuing our conversation with Republican Senator and Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas and Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senators, I want to ask you about the word the White House is putting out now that the president is prepared to support an amendment to the Constitution that, in effect, would ban gay marriage.

Senator Dodd, is this something that should be in the Constitution?

DODD: I don't think so, in my view. This is a -- historically, if we start writing into the federal Constitution marriage laws -- we've left this up for 220 years to the states in this country. And the Constitution, it seems to me, ought not to be a place where you start to take on matters like this at all.

Now, obviously, each state has to make up its own mind on what they want to do. And we passed the Defense of Marriage Act in Congress, which says that you didn't have to recognize a marriage of another state if you don't agree with that policy in your state.

But the idea that you'd amend the federal Constitution of the United States, to get into this area, seems to be overreaching.

WOODRUFF: Senator Roberts?

ROBERTS: Well, basically, in Kansas, what we have is a re-look by the state legislature to make it part of the state constitution. We do not permit, at the present time, same-sex marriages.

I don't know if the constitutional amendment is the right way to go. Number one, you've got to have a tremendous majority -- I think it's three-fourths -- both in the House and the Senate. That would be a tough job, I think. And then you got to have it ratified by 34 states, which would be a tough job. But something like what happened in Kansas in regards to the state legislature passing their state constitution is happening all across the country. In addition, you have different groups that are simply not paying any attention to that.

I do think it's a very important topic. I don't think we'll see action on it during this year, but you may see action on it next year, and it may well be necessary to have a constitutional amendment.

WOODRUFF: I want to turn you both broadly to the presidential campaign, and I understand we may have some live pictures right now of President Bush on Air Force One arriving in Daytona, Florida. He's going down there to pay a visit to the Daytona 500 NASCAR race. I'm not sure what that picture was, but if we have it, we'll show you in just a minute.

But about this campaign, some people are saying, Senators, that this already feels like October. We have things heating up so much. We have the Bush-Cheney campaign putting out 6 million videos going after John Kerry for being a tool of special interests.

In fact, just listen quickly to a piece of what the Bush-Cheney campaign put out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Fact: Kerry, brought to you by the special interests. Millions from executives at HMOs, telecoms, drug companies. Ka-ching. Unprincipled?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Now, here, quickly, is what the Cheney -- I'm sorry, the Kerry campaign came back with just last night. If you would listen briefly to this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Who's the politician who's taken more special interest money than anyone in history? The same one who's attacking John Kerry's record, because he can't defend his own.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Senator Dodd, who's really vulnerable on this special- interest question?

DODD: Well, my view is the president. And there has not been much -- this isn't (ph) about campaign issues, and we've seen it now for the the last time three-and-a-half or four years.

And so, obviously, they're going after John Kerry at this point, who appears to be on his way to winning the Democratic nomination. We haven't decided that yet, obviously.

But, clearly, we're not going to sit at -- take this sitting down. We've done that in the past, to our detriment. We're going to respond to it. We want to get back to talking about the issues here.

The jobs issue, for instance. Why the administration, this week, came out and suggested that outsourcing of jobs was good for America, when you have 3 million people who've lost their work in this country, the worst record on job creation since the Great Depression. Budget deficits, trade deficits...

WOODRUFF: I'm going to cut in here.

DODD: There's a huge credibility gap. So it's a serious problem they have.

WOODRUFF: I want to cut in and ask Senator Roberts, is President Bush vulnerable in this question of special interests?

ROBERTS: Well, obviously, Chris Dodd is not sitting down. He's standing up and punching a little bit there on the economy.

Let me just say this. I think the Democrats during their primary aimed at each other, and I think most people got, to be perfectly frank, very darned tired of it. And then all of a sudden, it turned positive. And that seems to be the thing that one does in a campaign these days, is that you try to define your opponent in certain ways, and then on down the road, you get to talking about issues and, hopefully, something positive. And I would hope that that would happen.

But this has come way too early, when you have the chairman of the Democrat National Committee saying the president was AWOL in regards to service. I think that's an outrageous statement. You know, nothing hurts the truth like stretching it, and he stretched it just a lot.

In regards to his service in the military, which I think somebody brought up, I wonder how many people, how many captains and majors would remember a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) lieutenant named "Roberts" in the Marine Corps some 40 years ago.

I mean, I really don't think that's relevant, and so consequently I think it's gotten heated up. I know politics is not beanbag, but it's gotten pretty sharp here early, and I hope both sides would sort of calm down a little bit.

WOODRUFF: Senator Dodd, has the White House put an end to all these questions about President Bush's National Guard service, which Senator Roberts was just referring to, by putting all these documents out there?

DODD: Well, apparently not, but I didn't raise that. That's obviously the media is asking those questions, and the president's trying to answer them.

I think the far more important issue -- and that's an important one, I suppose, in credibility -- is the one that I raised, and that is, here you have record deficits, the largest deficits ever accumulated by any president in the history of the United States, the largest trade deficits in the history of our country, and the largest job loss: 90,000 people a week are losing their unemployment benefits. This administration is spending a million dollars more each minute than it takes in.

That's the issue the people worry about, those issues.

WOODRUFF: We're going to have to leave -- Senator Roberts, a two-part answer, I don't want to leave it without letting you get your word in.

ROBERTS: Well, on the economy, we saw a 7.2-point percent growth in the GDP in the third quarter, 4 percent in the fourth quarter, that's 11 percent. In Kansas City, Kansas, GM has just increased their production by 20 percent.

WOODRUFF: All right.

ROBERTS: There's some outfit called "Garment Industries" in Olathe that has just increased their sales 26 percent.

This is going to turn around, and I'm not sure that -- I know about the outsourcing of jobs, but I think the economy is improving.

WOODRUFF: All right. We're going to have to leave it there.

Senator Pat Roberts, Senator Chris Dodd, we could go at it a lot longer.

(LAUGHTER)

But since it's Sunday, we'll give you a break. Gentlemen, thanks very much.

ROBERTS: Thanks.

DODD: Thank you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: "LATE EDITION" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: John Edwards's wife, Elizabeth, is playing a key role in the North Carolina senator's presidential campaign. Today, I spoke with her from the campaign trail in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Elizabeth Edwards, thank you for talking with us.

ELIZABETH EDWARDS, WIFE OF SENATOR JOHN EDWARDS: Great to be here.

WOODRUFF: We want to talk with you, not only because you're the wife of the candidate, but you're also one of his most, if not the most, important adviser. And I want to start by asking you, at this point, John Kerry has won, what is it, 14 out of 16 states. He's way ahead in terms of delegates. In the state where you are, in Wisconsin, he's far ahead in the polls.

What gives you hope that your husband can stop this Kerry steamroller?

EDWARDS: Out on the trail, I'm either with him or I'm on my own, I see people really responding to his message. He has, I think, a unique perspective and a unique voice in this race.

And it's really important that his voice be part of the process, if not just for him, but frankly for the people who are really responding to it, who feel like -- feel that there's not enough people talking about the issues that affect them, not enough people talking about how trade has hurt their lives or how a failure to fund education fully has meant that their schools are failing without help and their teachers are struggling without respect.

WOODRUFF: So you're not daunted by the Kerry bandwagon rolling along?

EDWARDS: Well, you have to remember that, if you look back just a few weeks, you're going to have found an entirely different inevitable candidate.

So, no, if we thought John's voice was not important in the process, if we thought people were not responding to him, then we would be discouraged. That would be discouraging. But this is not.

WOODRUFF: Mrs. Edwards, what do you say, though, to prominent Democrats around the country, like New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who said this week, "It is time now for Democrats to rally around Senator Kerry. He has won every region of the country, and we should unite behind him"?

EDWARDS: Of course, Governor Richardson is entitled to his opinion. I've also heard a number of prominent Democrats say that this process is good for the party. It is good for the issues that are important to the Democratic Party, to be part of the national debate, to be the headlines of the day in different areas.

So that's not the reason that John is pursuing this nomination without rebate. The reason that he's doing it is because he thinks his voice is necessary.

WOODRUFF: Let me quote you something, Mrs. Edwards, that the governor of Wisconsin, the state where you are, Governor Jim Doyle, said this week. He was quoted in The Washington Post today as saying, "Wisconsin voters are like voters all over the country." He said, "The winner of this primary is somebody who's got to reach out to the same voters who are going to decide in November."

And contrasted with that, he said, "With all due respect to South Carolina" -- which your husband won -- he said, "Does anybody really think a Democrat's going to win in November in South Carolina?"

What do you say to that?

EDWARDS: I'm confident, actually, that the Democrats are going to win in South Carolina in November.

Governor Doyle, I think, makes a good point about Wisconsin. It is a state that is was a swing state in 2000. I hope that the Democratic position would even be stronger in this state, considering 70,000 jobs have been lost in Wisconsin.

But trade issues, I think, will be a permanent part of the debate in November, particularly if a candidate like John is the nominee, a candidate who has, in fact, opposed the complete free trade perspective taken by this president and other candidates.

But South Carolina is a legitimate barometer as well. And if you look at the numbers behind John's great win in South Carolina, you find that he had favorability across the board, not just favorability with Democrats, but also with Independents and Republicans, which says to me that South Carolina and states like it are in play this November.

WOODRUFF: What are the substantive differences, Mrs. Edwards, between your husband and John Kerry?

EDWARDS: Well, there are some differences. I think that, you know, for -- we just talked about trade. I think that John -- that my husband, John Edwards, has been, from the very beginning, when he began to campaign, campaigned against NAFTA.

He comes from, for those who don't know this, came from a small town that has really been devastated by the loss of businesses. The textile mill in which his father worked is now closed. The mobile- home plant where John had his very first job is closed. The lace plant is gone. The chicken plant is gone. A town of just 900 people is devastated.

Well, that's happening across the country. John's connection with this problem is not something that he reads about as a headline. It's something he's deeply and personally committed to.

WOODRUFF: But is that the only substantive difference between the two?

EDWARDS: Oh, no. There -- I mean, there are -- I think that in a number of areas, they're very close to alike. I think that -- but I think that there are some other differences that have come up.

One has come up in the news fairly frequently recently, which has to do with the willingness to accept lobbyist money. John accepts no money from Washington lobbyists. That's, I guess, more a procedural difference than a substantive difference. But then there are small differences with respect to other issues, as well.

By and large, both of them support the Democratic platform as we have come to know and love it. But the differences that they have -- there's also a difference in tone in what they talk about. John talks more, I think, about what we think of as core Democratic values. He talks about race and the continuing problems with race in this country. He talks about poverty and our unwillingness to address this important issue.

WOODRUFF: I want to show you very quickly, Mrs. Edwards, a clip from "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" Friday night. Your husband was a guest. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY LENO: You're running for the vice -- for the presidential nomination. Excuse me...

EDWARDS: Oh!

LENO: I didn't say vice.

(LAUGHTER)

EDWARDS: Oh, buddy. Was that planned?

LENO: I was going to ask you -- I was going to say who would you pick as your vice president?

EDWARDS: Well, I'm thinking...

LENO: Anybody out there that you like?

EDWARDS: I'm thinking Edwards-Leno ticket. What do you think?

LENO: Yes, that would work.

(LAUGHTER)

Yes, I'd do it. Yes, I'd...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: All kidding aside, Mrs. Edwards, the assumption is that if your husband doesn't win the nomination for president, that he would be a very strong contender for vice president. Wouldn't that be very hard for him to turn down?

EDWARDS: I think that -- I'm going to answer this the way I always have always answered it. And that is, there isn't a single thing that any Democratic candidate would not do to make certain that this ticket was important, this ticket would win in November.

But John is not running for the vice presidency. He has no interest in the vice presidency. We don't ever have any conversations about it. Our conversations are focused solely on one thing.

WOODRUFF: One last question: What did he give you for Valentine's Day? EDWARDS: He gave me some roses with some willow stuck in it. It's quite beautiful. Sitting in our hotel room next to it is the little bowl of tulips that our children, who are here, gave us as well.

WOODRUFF: All right. And we just -- we know you've had a lot of time to enjoy both of them. All right.

(LAUGHTER)

EDWARDS: At night, anyway.

WOODRUFF: Elizabeth Edwards, thank you very much for taking time on the campaign trail to talk with me. We appreciate it.

EDWARDS: It's great to be with you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thanks.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: So, Elizabeth Edwards got some roses yesterday.

Up next, we will get a check of the hour's top stories. And then President Bush at the Daytona 500, courting NASCAR fans. Will they put him on the fast track to victory in November?

"LATE EDITION" continues at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." I'm Judy Woodruff. Wolf is away today.

We're going to check in with CNN reporters on the presidential campaign trail. Their stories in just a moment, but first, let's get a quick check of the hour's headlines.

(NEWSBREAK)

WOODRUFF: Well, having notched two more decisive victories this weekend, Democratic presidential front-runner John Kerry is now counting on a big win in this Tuesday's Wisconsin primary.

CNN's Kelly Wallace is on the campaign trail in Milwaukee.

Hi there, Kelly.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Judy. Well, before that Tuesday primary, John Kerry and the other Democratic candidates will engage in what will be their 15th debate of this presidential primary season. And this debate perhaps one of the final chances for John Kerry's rivals to try and alter the dynamics of this race.

The senator from Massachusetts, though, going into Sunday evening's forum with a record of 14 wins and two losses, as well as winning with Democrats abroad. His strategy going into this: Don't change a thing. He'll try and keep up the momentum, avoid making any mistakes. And also, his aides say, be prepared if any of his rivals go on the attack. The senator was out shaking some hands at a cafe here in Milwaukee earlier.

The challenge from North Carolina Senator John Edwards, who is rallying with Wisconsin Democrats as we speak, he needs to demonstrate why voters should vote against John Kerry and for him, without being seen as going on the attack, since he continues to say he will run a positive campaign.

Democratic sources say one issue we might see John Edwards bring up: the issue of trade. His opposition and John Kerry's support to the trade deal linking the United States, Mexico and Canada -- a deal some believe cost the United States a large number of jobs.

And as for the former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, he has to do something to try and turn around a campaign that once was viewed as a lock, really, for the Democratic nomination. Many believe that Howard Dean will try and attack John Kerry on the issue of political donations, but at the same time, Howard Dean continues to be facing this question: What will he do if he doesn't win in Wisconsin on Tuesday? His latest answer is he will go back to Vermont and reassess.

WALLACE: And, Judy, this is the real challenge now for Howard Dean and John Edwards. Just looking at the polls, the most recent poll showing that John Kerry goes into the Wisconsin primary with a nearly 40-point lead.

Judy?

WOODRUFF: All right. Kelly Wallace, reporting from Milwaukee, thanks a lot.

The Democrats aren't the only ones campaigning, though, today. President Bush is in friendly -- we think friendly -- NASCAR territory, attending the Daytona 500.

CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is traveling with the president. We find her in Daytona, as well.

Hi, Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Judy. It's very friendly territory. We saw Air Force One fly over the racetrack about 15 minutes ago, and President Bush is going to call the racers to rev up their engines and begin this event.

There is an estimated 2,000 fans here, as well as millions watching on television. This has really become a cultural phenomenon. It was President Bush's father who visited back in '92, Reagan before that.

And President Bush realizes that he needs to court a very important voting bloc here. It is called the "NASCAR dads." Now, political analysts call this group middle-aged, mostly white, socially conservative, essentially blue-collar and patriotic. They once voted Democratic, but then turned when they voted for Reagan. A lot of these voters are considered swing voters.

Now, President Bush got a lot of support from this group back in 2000. About 70 percent of Southern white males voted for the president. But they're not taking anything for granted. That is because Democratic presidential hopefuls believe that they can tap into some of the frustration of this group, because of the loss of manufacturing jobs, because of the state of the economy, because of health care.

So this is a group that the Republican National Committee is courting as well. They have set up a voter registration booth here. They hope to get 3 million new voters by the time the election is here. So President Bush, trying to rev up his supporters right here at Daytona 500.

Judy?

WOODRUFF: All right. Revving it up, Suzanne Malveaux. Thanks very much. And I know you'll be following the president as he spends the afternoon there at the racetracks. Thanks.

Well, joining us now to talk more about just who these NASCAR dads are, and as well as other NASCAR fans, and all about how the race for the White House is shaping up: Tucker Eskew, he's a consultant for the Bush-Cheney campaign; Dave "Mudcat" Saunders, a Democratic strategist; and Steve Jarding, he's also a Democratic strategist.

Steve Jarding, let me talk to you first, and I want to get all of you to talk about this. Smart thing for the president to be going down to this NASCAR event?

STEVE JARDING, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, it's a smart thing. I think it's smart to court any bloc of voters that are sitting in a captive place and you can get at them. And I think it's smart for him to go.

Where I think it could be problematic if the Democratic take advantage of it is, instead of setting up a voter registration booth outside, the Democrats should be harping, "You should set up an unemployment booth outside."

I mean, these are voters that have been hit hard. They tend to be rural voters, predominantly white voters. But they're male, female NASCAR fans. About 40 percent of NASCAR fans are female.

But the president's policies have hit this group of voters, I think, particularly hard. And I believe it's a very ripe voting bloc for the Democrats.

WOODRUFF: Well, I want to ask you about that, Tucker Eskew, because we've checked in with NASCAR, and they did say, you know, 40 percent of their fans are women. They talked about how more affluent they are than the average American. Is this a voting bloc that is ripe for Democratic picking, or can the president count on these folks?

TUCKER ESKEW, CONSULTANT, BUSH-CHENEY CAMPAIGN: Well, I suspect the Democrats may want to invest some time in trying to peel it off. But the president enjoys really strong ties in this part of the country and with people who enjoy sports. You know, for the president, this isn't a political calculation as much as a personal enjoyment. If we get some voters out of the deal, that's another good thing, too.

But I'd like to take Steve's point up. You know, economically, these are people who understand that they've got a president fighting for them. If we hadn't cut taxes, the recession we were handed would have been worse. If we hadn't done that, the employment rate would have been a full percent lower than it is today. This president's fighting with a six-point plan on the economy in ways they know.

It's not about a political campaign. This has been about his whole presidency.

WOODRUFF: Mudcat Saunders -- if I may call you by your nickname -- is Tucker right that the president is doing everything he can to deal with the economic problems these folks are facing?

DAVE "MUDCAT" SAUNDERS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, absolutely not. You know, Tucker's assuming that George Bush is a son of the South. And, you know, this is absolutely not the case. And, you know, if we do our job between now and November, we can prove that, I mean, without question, George Bush is a son of Southern oil.

And, you know, we sit down in the South -- not all of us are Republicans. We still have a strong contingent of conservative Democrats in the South that don't like the way things have been going.

And, you know, we see George Bush going down to Texas, you know, and cleaning up brush, for instance. Seems like he's got more brush there than anyplace in the world, cleaned up more brush than a California wildfire, but...

(LAUGHTER)

WOODRUFF: Well, Tucker, pick up his point about, you know, the oil point...

ESKEW: You're going to have trouble selling that point with the NASCAR fans, whose favorite cars run on petroleum products. You know, Mudcat will have a tough time with that one down south.

Look, this president is a real guy. He's a guy's guy. He's a people's guy. I've taken this president, when he was governor, in to meet with high school football coaches and to be around NASCAR drivers and to sit with working people in their place of work.

And it's a real thing to him. He doesn't need consultants, even very good ones, like these two Democrats. He doesn't need a consultant to help him get to NASCAR. JARDING: What he does need a consultant on is what he's doing on the economic policy. I mean, I don't doubt that George Bush is a wonderful guy, and I don't doubt that he would be a fun guy to sit around, and if he can come in and meet with football coaches or race fans.

But at the end of the day, these are real people whose lives have been affected by his policies in an adverse way. Unemployment is up, health insurance is down. These are people that, every night, while they may watch NASCAR, they go home and sit around the kitchen table and say, "You know what, it isn't working. Our jobs are getting exported."

We have the president's own economic advisers this week saying, you know, that's the way it's supposed to happen, that's not a bad thing.

ESKEW: That's not what he said. But you're welcome to twist that. I'll take that up in a minute.

JARDING: But the problem is, it's that attitude. It's the attitude that, at the end of the day, I can go and maybe do some sort of a photo shoot with these people, but I'm not offering policies that help them.

WOODRUFF: In fact, there was the president's head of his Council of Economic Advisers who said that sending jobs overseas is an acceptable thing because it means we'll import goods at cheaper prices.

ESKEW: Americans have been sending jobs and various things overseas for decades. Let's remember: Free and fair trade that is toughly enforced has served America's interests for decades.

And even some Democrats who have believed that for years, John Kerry is one, who is currently trying to shade it a little bit, but he's made some votes that are in favor of free trade.

So let's set that aside for a minute and look at what the president is doing for job creation, because it is significant.

Under this president, 25 million small-business owners -- and they're the real engine, to use a NASCAR phrase, of economic growth -- have enjoyed thousands of dollars in tax cuts because this president pushed it through. Without them, we'd have higher unemployment and more misery, because of a recession that started when he took office.

WOODRUFF: Mudcat Saunders?

SAUNDERS: Well, you know, I think the Republicans -- I'm an outside-the-Beltway guy. And when I came to Washington, this is not only true of Republicans, unfortunately it's true of the Democrats, they don't understand the culture of the South.

Now, I mean, you got a bunch of people in Washington and, you know, Tucker, I don't mean to pick on you, but who's on the pole today for the Daytona 500?

ESKEW: Hey, listen, it might be the Wood brothers (ph), who are clients of yours and pay you money to spend more time around NASCAR than I do.

(CROSSTALK)

ESKEW: But let me tell you something, I'm not running for office. And I can tell you about Michael Waltrip being on Whitehouse.gov, and encourage your Internet savvy.

(CROSSTALK)

ESKEW: Yes, one of the drivers, one of the really good ones. And there are a whole lot of them.

And there are a lot of debates going on in NASCAR, and I expect our president might be able to talk about some of the new rules in place in NASCAR, so if you want to make the show about that, I say bring that on.

SAUNDERS: Well, Greg Biffel (ph) is not on the pole. I was wrong. He blew an engine. Elliott Sadler (ph) is going to be on the pole. So I want to get it correct.

ESKEW: You know, I don't need to dress like I'm doing yard work in order to show that I know about the South. And I've been around with the president doing things in the South, Mudcat. So think for you to take on his attitude, which you just said, is something most Americans would reject.

JARDING: No, but I applaud his attitude. I applaud his attitude. I applaud anybody going down talking to voters.

What I don't applaud is, here's a president that's going into the South, Tucker, going into your backyard, into the South, and I just don't see that he backs up his rhetoric with policies that matter in people's lives.

There are people hurting in the South. There are people in rural areas that are hurting. We've lost jobs since the president's been president. We've lost health insurance. I mean, people's lives are adversely affected.

And at the end of the day, if the Democrats were smart, I believe they're going to take this guy on in all corners of the country, and they're going to take him on in the South and say, "Come down here, and let's have a debate on economic policy. Let's have a debate on values."

WOODRUFF: Is the president vulnerable at all in the South? Because some parts of the South, South Carolina comes to mind, there have been significant job losses.

ESKEW: The president takes no vote for granted in this country. He won South Carolina over Al Gore by a 266,000-vote margin. He takes none of those votes for granted.

I think, though, when you talk about where a candidate's going and how he is with people, George Bush passes that test. You've been kind enough to say the same thing. I think it's an open question whether the Democratic nominee will.

And, Judy, let me -- I mean, if you look at, say, the front- runner, John Kerry...

SAUNDERS: I disagree.

ESKEW: Hold on just a minute. John Kerry, a man you haven't been a consultant to, didn't even have to go into the South to have trouble with this. Let me make this point...

WOODRUFF: We're going to go to a break. And I want you to hold that thought. We'll come back, and we will continue this right after a break.

We'll be right back. No shortage of live talk right here. We'll be back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Back now with our discussion of the presidential campaign. President Bush today at the Daytona 500, looking at a NASCAR event.

Joining me: political strategist on the Democratic side Steve Jarding and Mudcat Saunders, on the Republican side Tucker Eskew, who's advising the Bush-Cheney campaign.

Very quickly, what was your point about John Kerry?

ESKEW: Well, John Kerry or Howard Dean, they've had trouble connecting with voters outside their home regions. Howard Dean had this trouble in Iowa, not quite to the Michael Dukakis and endive degree, but John Kerry goes to Philadelphia, not even the deep South, and orders a cheese steak with Swiss cheese on it. That doesn't portend well for his connecting with people with a sort of local flavor.

(CROSSTALK)

JARDING: I'd ask John Edwards whether he connected in the South. I mean, John Kerry went to Virginia and Tennessee, and he cleaned house. He showed that he could get votes in all parts of Virginia. I know a little bit about Virginia, something about it, and it didn't surprise me. I mean, this is an individual whose message I think will resonate, and it will resonate in the South, including, as it did, in southwest Virginia.

WOODRUFF: Mudcat Saunders, are the Democrats, though, to have any real chance in the South, going to need to put a Southerner on the ticket, whether it's John Edwards...

(CROSSTALK)

SAUNDERS: I think you've got to get through the culture (ph). I'm an angry Southerner. I'm with my friends in Henry County, looking at 20 percent unemployment, and this president has allowed jobs to leave this country.

I think he's disingenuous. I'm not going to go along with his good-guy rhetoric. I mean, I think Bubba's going to see through it, but I mean, the guy goes to Texas and he hunts, you know, pen-raised quail. You know, in the South, to a real Southerner, that's like hunting chickens.

WOODRUFF: So, Tucker Eskew?

ESKEW: My friend Mr. Mudcat can hunt votes with all the rhetoric he wants. The president will run on the record. John Kerry, if he's the nominee, will have to run on his record, and it's a record where he's come down firmly on both sides of a lot of big issues.

So, I think the subtext of our conversation here is reality, what's real? The president really fighting for jobs, really fighting for fairness, really fighting for our country and defending us, going on offense against terrorists.

SAUNDERS: Tell that to Henry County.

ESKEW: And I think -- I will tell it to Henry County, and the president will tell it to Henry County and every corner of this country, where he's got a message of steady leadership during really tough and changing times.

(CROSSTALK)

ESKEW: And if you put -- hold on -- if you put John Kerry up against us, a man who has run 15 negative ads against this president already, he doesn't have a very strong message to send to the South or anywhere else in a general election.

WOODRUFF: Let's give Mr. Jarding and Mr. Saunders a chance to speak.

JARDING: Again, you know, I mean, I appreciate the argument that says this is a good guy, and, whether you believe it or not, but, at the end of the day, when you say this president's going to go and talk about his record, and talk about jobs and what he's done, I've got to tell you, as a Democrat out there, I'd say I welcome that. Bring that on.

This is an individual president that has not done Middle America very good, and I think he's going to have to defend it in all corners of the country. And I think John Kerry welcomes that debate in all corners of the country.

WOODRUFF: Mudcat Saunders, is John Kerry vulnerable on what Tucker Eskew just said, the fact that his positions, as he put it, he's been on both sides of some of them? SAUNDERS: I think in the South right now, I think, you look at the rest of the country, and especially in the South, where we've been disproportionately hit with loss of jobs, the one point that's a fact in politics is that you don't have to hire the challenger, you fire the incumbent. In the part of the South I'm from, Mr. Bush has done plenty to get fired.

WOODRUFF: You're making it sound like this whole election is going to be about the economy and nothing else. Is that what you...

ESKEW: No, it won't be. It'll be about, if it's John Kerry as the nominee, it'll be about a record where he proposed $6.5 billion in defense cuts after we started suffering terror attacks, where he proposed $1.5 billion in intelligence funding cuts and now claims to be strongly in favor of fighting a war on terror.

He's been on both sides of Iraq, not just once, but twice, when the president...

(CROSSTALK)

JARDING: ... take a position. I mean, the president gets us into a war that he didn't work very hard to get international support, he doesn't seem to have an end strategy...

ESKEW: I don't think Southerners are going to need to have a veto or a permission slip at the United Nations...

JARDING: No one's asking for that.

ESKEW: That didn't work too well.

In the part of the country you come from, Mudcat, they say, get the U.S. out of the U.N. and the U.N. out of the U.S. Well, our president has worked with the U.N. until they wouldn't work. And then he's gone to work...

(CROSSTALK)

JARDING: That's a debatable issue, whether he worked with the U.N.

(CROSSTALK)

SAUNDERS: I want to clear that up. The part of the country I come from...

ESKEW: And me too.

SAUNDERS: That's fine, but you're a Suwannee (ph) boy, I'm a Virginia Tech boy...

ESKEW: You want to play the class game?

SAUNDERS: Well, I'm playing the class game. The part of the country... (CROSSTALK)

ESKEW: ... old Democratic trick.

SAUNDERS: The part of the country that I'm from had a president one time named Roosevelt, who said the only thing we had to fear is fear itself. We've got a president now who's telling us, the only way I can get reelected is to make the people fear fear itself.

This election is about the economy, it's about working Americans and working Southerners.

JARDING: But I'll tell you -- Judy, I'll take the debate on patriotism, with John Kerry as the standard...

ESKEW: With the debate on patriotism, I brought that up. The Democrats should bring it up all the time. They seem a little defensive on that.

JARDING: No, Republicans bring it up (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the issue, and they do not. I'll put John Kerry up against George W. Bush any time, any place, and let's have that debate.

WOODRUFF: A quick last word.

ESKEW: Sure. The records are pretty clear. John Kerry has got a record that's weak on defense. His past serving in Vietnam and the president's past serving in the National Guard, let's set that aside. I think today's debate makes clear we can do that and talk about the issues.

WOODRUFF: It's only February 15th and it's already a heated, to put it mildly, debate about this presidential election.

Steve Jarding, Mudcat Saunders, Tucker Eskew, great to see all you. Thanks very much.

And, as we said, the president is at a NASCAR event at the Daytona 500.

Coming up next, we will get a check of the hour's top stories. And later, how is President Bush measuring up to his predecessors? We'll talk with a panel of distinguished historians.

"LATE EDITION" continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM HARKIN (D), IOWA: Thanks to this president, America now has a new number-one export: jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Maybe tongue in cheek. Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, one of many Democrats critical of President Bush's handling of the U.S. economy.

For some perspective now on where the economy really stands, we turn to two guests. Joining us from London, Laura D'Andrea Tyson, she served as the chief economic adviser in the Clinton administration. And in New York, Forbes Inc. CEO and former Republican president candidate Steve Forbes.

Steve Forbes, to you first, let's talk about jobs. The economy, growth in the economy -- clearly there is evidence of that. But people, particularly Democrats, keep saying, well, we've lost over 2 million jobs since President Bush took office.

But the White House now is saying we're going to create, in this country, 2.6 million jobs this year. Are you that optimistic?

STEVE FORBES, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the economy -- yes, I am. I think this economy's going to have very good growth this year, 4 percent to 5 percent. I think capital expenditures are already starting to grow by double digits. Consumer incomes are up.

And the jobs picture, while not very good, is better than some of those numbers indicate. Because, as you know, Judy, there are two ways to measure jobs in this country. One is surveying businesses, existing business that they know about. The other's actually going to households and finding out who's working and who isn't.

The household survey shows a much brighter picture. We had positive job creation last year, with new businesses and sole proprietorships. And I think that record's going to continue this year.

WOODRUFF: What about that, Laura Tyson? Is the White House right with this projection?

LAURA D'ANDREA TYSON, CHIEF ECONOMIC ADVISER IN THE CLINTON ADMINISTRATION: Well, first of all, on the payroll-versus-household survey, I think most of the evidence -- most of the experts would agree that the payroll survey is the more reliable of the two. And that was the point that Alan Greenspan reiterated in his testimony last week. So that would suggest that we haven't had strong job growth.

The truth is, no one knows, Judy. We have had an atypical economic recovery. Compared to previous economic recoveries, we are down about 8 million private-sector jobs, relative to what predictions, based on the past, would tell us.

We are in atypical territory. Anybody who's saying 2.6 million jobs over the next 12 months is assuming we're going to move into some pattern that we haven't seen at all during this recovery. It's a very risky prediction.

WOODRUFF: Is that how you see it, Steve Forbes?

FORBES: It may be a risky prediction, but what's made this downturn or slowdown atypical was the collapse of business spending in 2000, when the bubble burst.

But all the surveys show that business spending, capital spending is up, and that's how ultimately jobs are created.

And I think that this recovery has been a very slow one at the beginning, just as the 1990s recovery was very slow. It wasn't until the mid-1990s that most Americans really felt this thing was for real.

So it may be in a period where recoveries are slow to start, but they have much, much longer duration. The '90s was long. I think this one, barring some terrorist act, should be a long recovery as well.

WOODRUFF: A quick response, Laura Tyson?

TYSON: This recovery is even worse than the recovery of the early 1990s, in terms of job creation.

And I would say that a real issue here is not just what happened to capital spending but the whole new phenomenon of outsourcing. And this has become a very important factor, breaking the link between output growth in the United States and employment growth in the United States.

So we may indeed have an economy that grows at 4 percent this year with much slower job growth than anything in our history would have predicted.

WOODRUFF: On that question of outsourcing, the head of the president's current Council of Economic Advisers, Steve Forbes, Gregory Mankiw, quoted in the economic report to Congress this week, is praising the outsourcing.

Now, he's since sought to qualify that a little bit, but in essence the point was, he said, when a good or service is produced more cheaply abroad, it makes more sense to import it than to make or provide it domestically.

This is obviously a sensitive political issue. What about it?

FORBES: Well, it's a sensitive political issue, but the fact of the matter is, if our companies don't stay competitive and go out of business, we lose jobs.

And the other factor to keep in mind is the United States imports more jobs than it exports. You look at South Carolina: thousands of people working at BMW, Siemens, 60,000 workers here. See the same thing with Honda in Ohio and Nissan in Tennessee. We are importing more jobs than we're exporting. But that practice seems to be lost in the heat of a political campaign.

WOODRUFF: Laura Tyson?

TYSON: Well, actually, I don't think that is true. We're running a massive trade deficit. And a massive trade deficit means net on-balance trade is not creating demand at home and it's not creating jobs at home.

The real issue, I would say, is let's assume that we're going to continue to see U.S. companies move around the world looking for less expensive workers. The point of the economist's (ph) response, as I'm sure Steve knows, is let's spend more on education and the flexibility of the U.S. workforce, so that our workers can, through education, be competitive with lower-wage workers around the world.

The problem with saying that right now is we have large and growing projected deficits over the next decade, and it's going to be very hard for us to spend money on things like community college education programs to retrain workers. So we're not in a very good fiscal situation to deal with this challenge.

FORBES: But the fact of the matter is, Laura, government receipts are already starting to grow because of economic growth. State and local receipts are now at a record level. When you get economic growth, you get more resources, and by reducing tax rates...

TYSON: Not as a share -- Steve, not as a share of GDP. As I'm sure you know, we are at record lows.

FORBES: Well, the revenues are going up. And when revenues go up, you get to spend more.

TYSON: We are at record lows. Receipts as a share of GDP, looking at the federal government, are now at levels we haven't seen in terms of federal income tax for the last 50 years.

FORBES: That gets a little esoteric, Laura. The fact of the matter is, more money is coming in. And when more money comes in, you have more money to spend. Very simple.

TYSON: As a share of GDP, when the economy grows, one would expect that receipts would grow. But receipts are not growing fast enough to...

FORBES: Receipts are growing, both in the federal, state and local levels.

TYSON: Receipts are not growing -- Steve, Steve, I said they are not growing fast enough to meet the challenges that we face. I said we do not have enough receipts to spend on community college...

FORBES: And in terms of education, we're spending more per capita than we ever have before.

WOODRUFF: We're going to have -- we'd love to listen to you all for the rest of the day, I assure you, because everybody I know is interested in this question of not just jobs, but where the economy is headed, but we are going to have to cut you off.

And we just want to thank both of you for joining us.

FORBES: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Steve Forbes with us from New York...

TYSON: Thank you very much, Judy.

WOODRUFF: ... Laura Tyson joining us from London. We appreciate it.

And up next, a divisive war of the past looms over this election. We'll talk about that and more with a panel of presidential historians.

"LATE EDITION," right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Americans are rising to the tasks of history, and they expect the same from us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: President Bush in his State of the Union address last month.

Here in the United States, tomorrow is Presidents' Day. So we thought it would be the perfect occasion to talk with three men who follow the U.S. presidency very closely.

In Boston is David Gergen. He served as adviser to four presidents. In New Orleans is presidential historian Douglas Brinkley. And here with me in Washington, presidential historian Robert Dallek.

I'm going to start with you, Doug Brinkley. Tomorrow, Presidents' Day, I think, traditionally, it was intended to celebrate the birthdays of presidents Washington and Lincoln, which happen around this time.

What about the leadership that those presidents showed compared to the leadership we look for from our presidents today?

DOUG BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, George Washington had the great advantage of being the first. And he was somebody with a military background, a general. We think of Washington at Valley Forge, or we think of Washington with his ragtag band of militia men beating the British. And so his military background's what gave him a great deal of credibility.

Lincoln, on the other hand, was, before the Civil War, he did have a little bit of -- took part in the Blackhawk war skirmishes in Illinois and Iowa, but really had no background as a commander in chief.

But Lincoln sets the model, because never has our country had a crisis like the country ripped apart at the seams. And Lincoln's steadfast guidance, the fact that he was able to lead the country through the dark hour, he becomes the number-one president on most polls.

WOODRUFF: Robert Dallek, how does that leadership example compare with what we need and expect from our presidents today, right now?

ROBERT DALLEK, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, you know, Washington was so great because people trusted him. They saw him as a man of his word.

And this is what seems to come into play so often nowadays, that people don't trust politicians. Presidents, senators -- they don't trust what they say. They see them manipulating and ducking and bobbing and weaving. And I think it bothers people a great deal. And it's made for tremendous cynicism about politics in this country. Last time around, what did we have, 51 percent of the electorate turn out?

So, you know, what I always think of is that famous anecdote, after FDR died, somebody stopped Mrs. Roosevelt on the street and said to her, "I miss the way your husband used to speak to me about my government." It's such a telling anecdote.

WOODRUFF: David Gergen, given that background, how does this president figure in, and this contest for the presidency this year, and the man who's emerging as the Democratic front-runner?

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, this president has emerged as a much more polarizing figure in time of war than we're ordinarily used to. The last time around, of course, in a war, Lincoln was a very polarizing figure, some people think, because half the country broke off and opposed him.

But I think in terms of most of the wars that we've fought, Americans have rallied around and there's been a strong sense of support for the president. There certainly was for George Washington during the American Revolution before he became president -- for Woodrow Wilson and for Franklin Roosevelt.

Only in the Vietnam War and this war on terrorism have we had so much internal division about what we're trying to do and how we're fighting it.

WOODRUFF: Doug Brinkley, with questions alluded to just now about credibility on the part of President Bush or any president, but specifically with regard to President Bush, is this the sort of thing that a president can erase with a vigorous campaign for re-election? Or is this something that, once it sets itself in the minds of voters, it's difficult to change?

BRINKLEY: Well, it will change if America seems to be victorious in Iraq. We like commanders in chief that win wars. Harry Truman didn't run for re-election in 1952 because we were stuck in Korea. The Vietnam War destroyed the presidencies of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.

And so the key thing is, somehow, in this year, for President Bush to try to show that we really did win this war in Iraq, and he's having trouble getting that message across because of the weapons of mass destruction debacle that's occurred.

WOODRUFF: And, Robert Dallek, hand in hand with that, you have very recently this whole flap, if you will, over President Bush's service in the National Guard. The White House putting out just piles of documents about his background.

How does all that figure in to anything you've ever seen before, in terms of the campaign?

DALLEK: Well, you know, Judy, what it figures into is, again, this issue of credibility, trustworthiness.

See, I don't think this would have been an issue if there weren't the erosion of President Bush's credibility in relation to weapons of mass destruction and job creation and balanced budgets and the excessive costs now of the Medicare reform.

So it just adds to this. And I think it became an issue because these other doubts, not because of the National Guard service in particular. But it's a kind of piling on of matters.

And that I think is his big challenge in this election year. And your question is right on the mark. Can you repair the damage?

And I think Doug makes a good point. If job expansion is all that substantial in the coming months, if the United States seems to be victorious, not simply in the war in Iraq but in establishing something resembling democracy, it will change.

WOODRUFF: David Gergen, are you surprised that this campaign seems to be so joined early and so vigorously this year?

GERGEN: I am indeed. This is the most volatile campaign we've seen in years. And I think what's happened, Judy, is that there was already a backlash building up against the president among Democrats that was big enough to seemingly give Howard Dean the nomination.

But this backlash has really taken off here in the last few weeks. The president himself has suffered this erosion, his credibility as Bob Dallek talks about. And meanwhile, the Democrats have come together in such a way that the election's been turned on its head.

Six weeks ago, I think, sitting here, most of us would have assumed that George Bush would cruise to re-election victory. Now that's very much in doubt. The Democrats have joined this battle.

I think the Vietnam flap is mostly an attempt to even the playing field, to neutralize the normal Republican advantage on national security issues, by calling into question the president's own credentials as commander in chief, raising the credentials of John Kerry, so the Democrats can go into this with an even better position in the fall campaign.

I think the Vietnam flap is mostly a surrogate for a larger issue, not about Vietnam, but about Iraq and the future of the war on terrorism.

WOODRUFF: Well, in connection with that, Doug Brinkley, obviously John Kerry is not the nominee of the party yet, but he does seem to be moving certainly in that direction. You've written an important new book about his time in Vietnam back in the late 1960s.

Is what you write about, is that the sort of thing that qualifies someone, helps qualify them to be president of the United States?

BRINKLEY: Well, it certainly helps. Military, with the exception of Bill Clinton, look how many generals we've had as president. It's not just Washington and Jackson and Grant and Eisenhower, but many of the presidents after the Civil War always put their military credentials first.

Theodore Roosevelt became a legend because of what he did in Kettle Hill and the Spanish-American war. And John Kennedy, PT-109. Even Jimmy Carter's autobiography was "Why Not the Best," a phrase from (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And Carter in '76 often put first and foremost that "I know something about nuclear power and nuclear issues because I was a nuclear submariner."

So it helps Kerry's biography. It helps make people see that he has these unambiguous chest full of medals and makes him a little harder to rip down and make fun of, the way the Republicans did Michael Dukakis and the tank.

WOODRUFF: But in a larger sense, Robert Dallek, we have elected -- Americans have elected two presidents now who did not serve in Vietnam. We have yet to elect someone who did serve in Vietnam. What does that say about that war and its effect on our thinking?

DALLEK: Well, I think what's really important here is the Cold War came to an end, and the country didn't have as much focus on the need for a military chief or someone who had military experience.

But that's changed again now. Since 9/11, I think, there's a premium once more on having someone who knows something about the military and can give assurances of defending the national security in effective ways.

WOODRUFF: And Dave Gergen, quick last word: What bearing is all of that going to have on this election?

GERGEN: Well, what's really interesting to me about this Vietnam issue is that all of our presidents in the last -- since from Kennedy up through George Bush, Sr., came out of the World War II experience. And they came from a united background, a united country.

We now have presidents who are coming out of the Vietnam war era. And that Vietnam war split this generation asunder and, I think, has given special poignancy and emotional force to the arguments about the past.

And the irony, of course, is that it's the Republican in this case who is not the one who served but it's the Democratic candidates likely to have served. And that's turned this a little bit on its head.

But I think it's given -- I think the fact that this generation was so split apart about Vietnam in the '60s has made this a deep, deep division that we bring into our politics, and we're still working our way through and will for some time.

WOODRUFF: Still working our way through. All right. Important point to make.

David Gergen, Robert Dallek here with me in Washington, Doug Brinkley, it's wonderful to see all of you. Thank you very much for being part of our conversation. We appreciate it.

And coming up next, the results are in on our Web question of the week: Did President Bush clear up questions about his military record? We'll have a tally of how you voted.

Plus, Bruce Morton's last word on politics and the sleaze factor, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: All right. "LATE EDITION"'s Web question of the week. It was: Did President Bush clear up questions about his military service?

Here is how you voted: 16 percent of you said yes; 84 percent said no.

Please remember, this is not a scientific poll. People calling in.

And now for Bruce Morton's last word on whether American voters are being distracted from the real issues of the 2004 campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's just a wild hunch, of course, but I'd bet five bucks that if you cornered the average voter in a room somewhere and ask him or her, do you really think the election ought to be about George W. Bush's National Guard time, or whether John Kerry ever saw Jane Fonda at a protest rally, they'd look at you as if you were nuts.

The voters, I'll bet, would want the candidates to -- and us newsies to -- write about real stuff, like, how are you going to have elections in Iraq if they won't stop blowing us and each other up?

Or, how long do you think we'll have to stay there, anyway?

Or, is it fair to ask reservists to keep extending their tours?

Or, why am I supposed to love a prescription drug bill that doesn't kick in until 2006?

Or, where did all the jobs go? Or -- the real killer question nobody wants to talk about -- what's your plan when Social Security and Medicare costs go through the roof because the Baby Boomers are starting to retire, which will happen in just a few more years?

The voters might like that, but we newsies seem always to get hung up on whatever is low-down and personal. The notion is that news consumers want to be entertained. And maybe they do. So you give them lots of celebrity news, and you cover the candidates the same way you cover show business.

If some candidate -- well, a female, one would hope -- were to expose a breast, that's probably all you'd see on TV for a week, at least on the political news.

The fuss is puzzling. Surely most Americans have seen a breast, maybe several, and probably even most kids have. But look at the fuss it stirred up: congressmen demanding penalties, regulations. And the poor old FCC can only regulate broadcast channels, anyway, not the flood of stuff on cable, on the Internet and so on.

If you want gossip, celebrity chitchat, it's out there in lethal amounts.

And what about those voters who actually want to hear about the issues? They're admirable, quaint, of course. But, you know, if that interferes with the celebrity stuff, with the Martha verdict, with jury selection in Michael's trial, with Kobe's next court appearance, if that interferes with the real ratings builders, we newsies may not even tell you who won the November election.

I'm Bruce Morton.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: And that would be lamentable. All right, thank you, Bruce.

And now, let's take a quick look at what's on the cover of this week's major U.S. news magazines.

Newsweek is featuring Bush and Kerry: What the Vietnam years really tell us about them.

Time magazine looks at the secret killer: The link between inflammation and deadly diseases.

And U.S. News and World Report has a special double, focusing on history's great explorers.

All of them good reading.

That's your "LATE EDITION" for Sunday, February the 15th.

Wolf will be back next Sunday and every Sunday at noon Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk. And be sure to join me, Monday through Friday at 3:30 p.m. Eastern, for "Inside Politics."

Until then, thank you for watching. I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington.

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



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