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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

Wisconsin Primary

Aired February 17, 2004 - 21:00   ET

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

LARRY KING, HOST: The polls are just closing in Wisconsin. Will John Kerry keep rolling as expected? And what will that mean for John Edwards and Howard Dean? We'll bring you the official results as soon as we get them.
Also ahead this hour, Bob Dole, former Republican presidential candidate, George Mitchell, Democrat of Maine, the former Senate majority leader, and CNN's own Wolf Blitzer. Waht a night it's been.

Couple of reminders: The big primary is two weeks from tonight, 10 states. On the night of February 26, I'll get to moderate a debate between teh Democratic candidates. It's sponsored by CNN and "The Los Angeles Times." It will take place at the University of Southern California, here in Los Angeles. That debate will feature the remaining Democratic Party candidates. That's the night of February 26.

Right now, the special edition of LARRY KING LIVE is under way. The polls are closed right now in Wisconsin. Let's get an update are from Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Larry. With the polls closed, we can report that, based on our exit polls, John Edwards, the senator from North Carolina is showing a stronger than expected race in this contest against John Kerry, a stronger than expected contest. As a result, we are in no position right now, we don't have enough information to go ahead and project a winner. A close contest, at least stronger than expected contest between John Kerry and John Edwards. Based on our exit polls, we can project that Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, will emerge as a distant, a distant third, but a much closer race than many of us had expected, based on our exit polls -- Larry?

KING: Thanks very much, Wolf. We'll stay in touch throughout the hour. Wolf will host his own hour two hours from now and in view of that we'll be back live at midnight, 9:00 pacific with a second edition of LARRY KING LIVE, since it would be hard to repeat this hour, when we don't have a winner. Bob Dole, what do you make of, based on exit polling the Edwards showing in Wisconsin?

BOB DOLE, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It sounds good to me. I'd like to have them battle it out for another three or four months as a Republican. I think you'll see Edwards now, if it is a close race start taking on Kerry. In fact, he said we would take on Kerry on certain issues where they differ so it would extend the Democratic race and I think that bodes well for President Bush. KING: Are you surprised at his showing?

DOLE: Somewhat. I've been watching the polls, but he did get the endorsement of the biggest paper the "Milwaukee Journal" this past couple of days and that may make a difference for the undecideds. I was told that in Iowa, for example, a large percentage made up their minds the last three days and there are a lot of people particularly in these very heated primaries who make last-minute decisions. John Kerry is riding high, but you know, this could be a little bump in the road. May not mean anything, but I'm certainly it will make John Edwards feel very, very much like going on. John -- Howard Dean is probably on his way out.

KING: George Mitchell, this is the first time you've had us on our election coverage. What do you make of what happened to Howard Dean? What's your read on that?

GEORGE MITCHELL (D), FMR. SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Well, Larry, it's hard to know for sure. It will take time to make a final judgment, but it looks as though he peaked a little early. There was a huge sort of press frenzy to declare him the winner before any votes were cast, and I think that the voters kind of resented that, and I think Democrats, more than was anticipated at that time, are more interested in a winner, someone who they think can win against President Bush. That tended to dominate the feelings as people actually went to the polls as opposed to when they were responding to public opinion polls in the weeks before that.

KING: If these exit polls hold up, are you surprised at Senator Edwards' showing?

MITCHELL: It appears to be better than the public opinion polls predicted, but if Senator Kerry wins the race, that will mean he's won 15 out of 17 races, and most significantly, Larry, in the next two weeks, there are 13 races ahead. Only one of them is in the south that's in Georgia, and it's difficult to see where Senator Edwards is going to make a break-through if you have a situation where one candidate has won 15 out of 17, the other one won one out of 17. It still looks like Kerry, although I think Bob Dole indicated it could be a bump in the road. I thought Bob was rather frank as usual to say the Republicans would like to see a race. I think there are two groups that would like to see a race. The Republicans and the press. I think the Democrats, at least those who support Kerry would like to see the race over quicker.

KING: But that makes it a very long election, doesn't it, George Mitchell, if Kerry is the designee by March 2nd?

DOLE: Except he'll be broke.

MITCHELL: I haven't noticed any Republicans complaining about the fact that President Bush has been the nominee for the past four years. They haven't had any contest at all. I must say, Larry, to be fair, the press interest in a race isn't limited to the Democrats. Bob will recall four years ago, the Dole -- the Bush/McCain campaign generated a great deal of press interest. In fact, if the reporters had their way, that contest would still be going.

KING: I moderated the debate in South Carolina that night, a 90- minute debate between Bush and McCain. That was an extraordinary night. By the way, Bob Dole, can Kerry -- can Edwards help himself by having a good night in the February 26 debate, where there will be four maybe in it, where it will be sort of him against Kerry?

DOLE: Yes, there only should be two. I don't know how long you'll put up with Kucinich and Sharpton, but that's up to the networks, CNN, whatever. But it can be a big help. There's a chance here to draw the differences to say why I'm more electable, I haven't cast all of those votes and Senator Mitchell knows if you're in the center for a long time, anybody can find votes you've made to make an issue of. I'm sure the Bush team are going over Kerry's records and are going to try to define Kerry before he could define himself, much like the Clinton people to me in 1996 which was very effective. Because they can pick out out of 12,000 votes and something that might disturb almost every constituency.

KING: Good point, isn't it, George?

DOLE: Absolutely right. John Kerry has been in the Senate for 19 years, times and circumstances change but the records of the votes don't change and it's hard to recreate the context in which you voted at a particular time. I was in the Senate for 15 years and I had thousands of votes and anybody who didn't like me and they were plenty could find something to argue about. So I think that will be a factor in the campaign. I think it's one reason why governors have tended to win more elections. They tend not to have a specific legislative record like members of Congress do.

KING: Wolf Blitzer, we understand Howard Dean has gone back to Vermont tonight to mull it over. Getting any advance word on what he might be thinking?

BLITZER: I've been speaking to a lot of his advisers, a lot of people close to Howard Dean and I keep getting sort of conflicting assessments. No one, I don't think, really knows for sure what Howard Dean is going to do. Maybe Howard Dean himself doesn't really know for sure what he's going to do. He's got to make up his mind over the next day or two. I wouldn't at all be surprised to see him drop out.

On the other hand, I wouldn't be surprised if he's at that debate in Los Angeles which you will be moderating here on CNN. He's looking for a platform. He believes he's generated a lot of excitement out there with a new generation of Democrats and others, and he thinks he should continue that in some sort of format. Some of his advisers have told me he thinks running for president over the next few weeks through Super Tuesday and beyond would give him a platform from which he could go raise money and try to spark some sort of excitement for political movement so he could go either way.

KING: Gentlemen, Bill Schneider is standing by with some interesting analysis of early exit polls -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we have the key to John Edwards' very strong showing in the race here in Wisconsin. Wisconsin is an open primary, Independents and even Republicans, if they choose, can participate. Only about 60 percent of the voters who voted today in Wisconsin were people who called themselves Democrats. Take a look at how they voted. They voted overwhelmingly for John Kerry. He led Edwards by almost 20 points among self-described Democrats as you see here.

What about the nearly 30 percent of the voters in that primary today who called themselves Independents? That is where Edwards built up a sizable lead. he's running 12 points ahead of Kerry, among self- described Independents. Independents, they're voting in the Democratic primary. This is one of the states that allows it. Some other states do, too.

100 years ago, Independents were called the third sex, who needs them? And a lot of Democrats will say, they're invading our primary. Why should their preference for John Edwards count? A very simple reason. The United States of America right now, the electorate is divided about one-third Republican, one-third Democratic and one-third Independent. Democrats and Republicans cannot win without Independent voters and today in Wisconsin, John Edwards is showing very strong appeal to those crucial Independent swing voters.

KING: Is that, Bob Dole, a strong talking point for John Edwards?

DOLE: Oh, I think so. If I were John Edwards, the press is going to talk about it if he does, as well as Bill just indicated and Bill is one of the real experts in reading the tea leaves there, but yes, I think he'd be a very positive point. I can appeal to Independents, I can appeal to some Republicans and I'll keep my Democratic base.

KING: George Mitchell, you agree?

MITCHELL: Yes, I do. It will be a very strong talking point. He's an attractive candidate, he makes a very good impression and I think it will help him. The problem he will have, of course, is that as Bill just pointed out, some states permit Independents to vote. He clearly was overwhelmed by Senator Kerry among Democratic voters. In the 13 states coming up in the next two weeks, I don't know how many of them permit Independents to vote but I'm guessing not many and therefore he's back in the same situation he was before. And again, look at the arithmetic, if he loses, even if it's close, he's won 1 out of 17, Kerry has won 15 out of 17. That's a tough math to go against.

KING: The delegates aren't proportionate. You don't win all of the delegates by winning a state, you win a proportion. Let me get a break. We'll come back with lots more to go and as we go to break, we remind you that Senator Edwards is due to be a guest with us very shortly. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In the essence of good reporting, we tell you George Mitchell, the former majority leader of the senator did endorse Senator Kerry two weeks ago and Senator Bob Dole another former endorsed the incumbent president.

Let's get an update, if there is any, from Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Still we're reporting what we reported at the top of the hour, Larry, right when the polls closed in Wisconsin. Senator Edwards, John Edwards of North Carolina running a stronger than expected race in Wisconsin, and we are in no position, at least not yet, to be able to project a winner between Edwards and Senator Kerry of Massachusetts. Based on our exit polls we can project that Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, will come in a distant, distant third but it's shipping up to be a nice battle between Kerry and Edwards.

KING: Bob Dole, if you were John Edwards, would you come on rough with John Kerry?

DOLE: No, I think he's had sort of a positive campaign. I mean, you have to -- he's got a tough call to make. He has to now show the American people that he does very well -- the Democratic voter, that there's a stark difference between he and John Kerry.

KING: Right.

DOLE: He's going to have to go on the attack to some extent but I think there's a way to do that without being perceived as being mean or nasty, something I'm an expert at.

KING: The definition -- George, one of the key differences in Wisconsin was NAFTA, George Mitchell, in that Edwards was opposed and Kerry is supportive of NAFTA.

Would you take him on in that area?

MITCHELL: I think he will. And can he do it without being nasty. I think John Edwards has run an excellent campaign, and part of it has been not only his personal attractiveness and his ability to address issues in a way that people understand, but also that he's run a positive campaign. I think it would be difficult for him now to make headway by radically changing that approach and going negative, but he certainly can point out differences and there are differences in the records and that's a fair thing to do in the campaign.

KING: We understand there are now some fragmented votes coming in.

Wolf, what do you have?

BLITZER: Very preliminary votes numbering coming in right now, Larry. Lets put them up on the screen and show our viewers precisely what we have as of the early numbers coming in. With only 1 percent of the vote actually now in, 40 percent going for John Edwards, 39 percent for John Kerry, 16 percent for Howard Dean, 3 percent for Dennis Kucinich, and 1 percent for Al Sharpton. This is with only 1 percent of the vote. We have been able to report as we've done since the top of the hour that Senator Edwards is running a much stronger than expected race in Wisconsin, and with 1 percent, that would give that impression, but remember, this is still very early. We may be counting these votes throughout the night, Larry, the old-fashioned way, wait for the official numbers, wait for the official balance lots to be counted.

KING: Bob Dole, based on all of this, does this look like a bad night for John Kerry, even a close win, is that considered a bad night?

DOLE: Well, I wouldn't know. A win is a win. I think it would be a good night as Senator Mitchell pointed out, he's won 15 of 17 but it would probably shake up the campaign a bit and puts Edwards in a much stronger position going into super Tuesday. He has a lot of appeal. He does attract independents, and others. But if he wins this, it will be sort of a bombshell, because everybody, all of us experts, of course, have been looking at the opinion polls and saying Kerry has it locked up. I still think the odds are on favor by far, but this will be a very sobering moment fort Kerry campaign if Edwards should win.

KING: George Mitchell, why -- now this very early.

Why does it appear the polls miss?

MITCHELL: Probably because they didn't poll as accurately or perhaps as in detail among independent voters. That's the only thing I can think of right now, Larry. Also, the fact that a cording to what Bill Schneider said earlier very large numbers of Edwards' voters made up their minds in the last few days. So a poll taken four days ago might have been accurate. It simply didn't reflect what people would do on election day. But you know, Larry, the other thing that ought to be considered, you said what's it look like, a win is a win, and it really is. I believe that. On the other hand, it's how you do against expectations that really matters. Wolf Blitzer has already said five times tonight, better than expected. I remember when I worked for Ed Muskie. Bob Dole will remember this. He's as ancient as I am. When Ed Muskie he won by nine percentage points and the press described it as a devastating defeat for him. And it was the expectation that ruled, not the reality. So I think that's a factor that the press will take into account in terms of Edwards and this race tonight.

KING: In fact Lyndon Johnson -- Lyndon Johnson, Bob Dole, won New Hampshire in 1968, and was called a major defeat.

DOLE: Right. And I think -- Well, again, I think another thing to think about Edwards, he hasn't spent that much time in Wisconsin, as I think about it. I don't think he's been there that often so he has this appeal apparently when it gets into a two-person race, he's going to be a real contender.

KING: Hold on, Senator Dole. We have Senator Edwards ready from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Senator John Edwards now joins us on "Larry King Live." Are you surprised that the apparent -- with exit polls and the like, that you're showing among independents tonight and that this is a close race?

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Honestly, yes, Larry.

All the opinion polls that all of us have been looking at had John Kerry a couple of days ago ahead anywhere from 25 to 35 points. I'm surprised by the strength in the surge. I'm not surprised by the surge. We've surged in a lot of states at the end when people got a close look at me and my campaign. But I am surprised by the strength of it.

KING: What does it say that on the early -- Bill Schneider did a run-down for us. The Democrats, Kerry is ahead of you by 11 percent, around there. Independents, you're ahead of him by about 11 percent. What do you make of that appeal to independents?

EDWARDS: I think it means I can beat George Bush. As I also heard Bill say, I believe, the electorate is divided into a third Democrats, a third independents, a third Republicans. If we're going to win the general election, we're going to have to get independents. This is another in a long series of examples of me being much more attractive to independent voters.

KING: We have a big debate coming February 26th. I'm going to moderate it at Southern California University. It's in advance of the Super Tuesday with 10 primaries. Are you going to have to take on John Kerry that night?

EDWARDS: I will make distinctions between Senator Kerry and myself. I've already been doing that, Larry, over the last several days here in Wisconsin. I won't in any way be personal. I like John Kerry. I have a high opinion of him, but there are differences between us on issues.

For example, NAFTA, which I was opposed to, he supported. Some of these trade agreements that have been so devastating to the loss of jobs, I take very personally. And I've seen the impact of plants closing and factories closing, in my own hometown, as a matter of fact, in the mill that my father worked in. So there are differences between us, and voters deserve to know the differences.

KING: What do you think, as an observer, happened to John Dean?

EDWARDS: To Howard Dean?

KING: Yes, I'm sorry, Howard Dean. Everybody's a John tonight.

EDWARDS: I don't know. I think Howard Dean -- I have to say, Larry, I think Howard Dean's brought a lot to this race. He's a good man. He has been a powerful voice during the course of this campaign, a voice for change. I share his view that we desperately need change. He's brought people into the Democratic Party that were not part of the process. He's excited a whole group of people, particularly young people who otherwise weren't engaged. And I think he deserves a lot of credit.

KING: Could February 26th be a key night, a couple of days in advance of March 2nd?

EDWARDS: Absolutely. You know this, Larry, we've talked about it before. I've been looking forward to the time when this is a two- person race and people will focus on Senator Kerry and myself. It now appears that we're very close to that place and maybe already there. And so this is the moment I've been looking for.

I believe if that happens, the choice that I give voters, which is different than Senator Kerry, is somebody who comes from them, who understands the problems that they have in their life, who understands what the loss of a job means, who has both trade policy and tax policy that will work for all Americans and not just a privileged few. And I think there are real differences between us. And that's the moment I've been looking for.

KING: So that will be a big night because it puts you in all ten states at one time?

EDWARDS: It will be a terrific night. I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to it.

KING: Do you have a question, Bob Dole, for our friend, Senator Edwards?

DOLE: Yes. Is Senator Kerry on your short list for a running- mate?

(LAUGHTER)

EDWARDS: Bob, I'm finally glad somebody asked me that question. I would certainly give him very serious consideration.

DOLE: That sounds good to me. Thanks.

KING: George Mitchell, do you have a question?

MITCHELL: Yes, congratulations. First, congratulations, Senator Edwards on a great race so far, including today. What do you think the continuation of Governor Dean, Al Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich would mean to your race? Would it complicate your situation, since you have been encouraged by the prospect of a two-candidate race, particularly in the big two weeks coming up?

EDWARDS: Well, you know, George, you have a lot of experience with this. The more focus I can have on Senator Kerry and myself, the better it is for this campaign. I think that's a choice that voters deserve.

But it is not for me to say that Al Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich and Howard Dean, all of whom have brought an important -- have played an important role in this debate, should leave the race. That's for them to decide. It's for them to decide how long they want to be involved, even up to the convention. My job is to make sure the focus is on Senator Kerry and myself, and I believe that will be true.

KING: I only have 30 seconds left, Senator. Are you going address your followers in Wisconsin tonight?

EDWARDS: I am, in about 10 or 15 minutes, Larry.

KING: OK. We'll look forward to it.

Thank you very much.

EDWARDS: Thank you. Thanks for having me. Thank you.

KING: Thank you. Senator John Edwards, the Democrat of North Carolina, who was running very strong tonight, again, in exit polls. The results are fragmentary. We'll see him again on the night of the 26th in that big debate, and we'll be back with more right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Nineteen percent of the Democratic delegates will be chosen after tonight for their convention in Boston. By the way, just a point of reference in the 2000 presidential election, Gore beat Bush 47.8 to 47.6 in Wisconsin.

Any further update -- Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: Well, let's take a look at the latest numbers we're getting right now. These are official numbers, Larry, that are coming in from the Democratic party in Madison. Look at this, with 3 percent of the vote now in, John Edwards clinging to that slight lead over John Kerry, 40 percent to 37 percent, 18 percent going to Howard Dean, Kucinich and Sharpton well behind. We are not able, based on our exit polling to project a winner. The only thing we can project now, Larry, is that Howard Dean will come in a distant third. A nice battle brewing between Edwards and Kerry.

KING: Is he making a major case, George Mitchell, tonight?

I know you supported John Kerry. Is, just on his manner, his attitude, his results, is Edwards making a case for electability?

MITCHELL: Oh, I think so. He's a very attractive candidate as I said earlier. He's articulate. He has a good appeal, and he appears to connect with voters in a personal way. And I think the message that he's delivering is resonating at least among some voters and certainly in Wisconsin independent voters. And I think the point that Bob Dole made earlier is an important one, that independents are a third of the electorate. It's where the contest occurs in presidential races. You assume that the voters from each party tend to support their candidate by wide margins, and so the contest is really in the middle in American presidential campaigns. So that will be an argument that he will press in the days and weeks ahead, and I think to his favor.

KING: Bob Dole, would you regard him from a Republican standpoint as a tough opponent, Edwards? DOLE: I think so. I thought early on he ought to be on "West Wing," the NBC show. Now the more you see John Edwards, and he never really says what he's for, but he says there are two Americas out there and there ought to be a better America. And he talks about things that resonate. So, he's come a long way as a candidate and I think if it gets down to a focus on just Kerry and Edwards, it's going to be very interesting just to watch, whether you're a Democrat or Republican, is to watch the different, you know, different approaches these two qualified men have.

KING: Do you share the view, Dole, Bob Dole, that this is going to be a close November?

DOLE: I think so. I don't see how you can cut it any other way. I think the country, and I listened to Bill Schneider as often as I can, and he keeps talking about how they're still about 50/50. I don't see any great change. Something could happen in some part of the world or the economy suddenly, the jobs start really coming in, a couple hundred thousand a month, that would be a big, big plus for President Bush. I think Bush will win, but it's going to be close.

KING: George, may I ask you, just for a moment, as more votes start to come in, we'll be concentrating on the election. A business question, I know you're on the board of Disney. You voted against the Comquest (sic) -- Comquest (sic) -- Comcast purchase price.

Would you listen to an increased purchase price?

MITCHELL: Well, I would refer you to the statement that the board made today, in which it said it would give careful consideration to any offer that is made that takes into account fully the intrinsic value, and future capacity at Disney.

I don't think I should go beyond the statement by the board, Larry.

KING: One other thing, how low were they?

MITCHELL: How low was the offer?

KING: In your opinion, if you're saying someone else wants to get involved, how up do they have to go?

MITCHELL: Uh.

KING: I'm just trying to get an answer here, George.

MITCHELL: I know, and I'm trying to stick with the statement that the board made, Larry, in which it said it would give careful consideration to any offer that is made that takes into account fully the intrinsic value, and future capacity at Disney.

I don't think I should go beyond the statement by the board, Larry.

KING: One other thing, how low were they? MITCHELL: How low was the offer?

KING: In your opinion, if you're saying someone else wants to get involved, how up do they have to go?

MITCHELL: Uh.

KING: I'm just trying to get an answer here, George.

MITCHELL: I know, and I'm trying to stick with the statement that the board made, Larry. As our statement noted as of the closing of the stock market on Friday, the offer was less than the then value of the Disney stock. Obviously, not only not a premium, but a discount. Now, that will change as the values rise and fall each day, but we said we'd listen to, as, again, referring to the statement, we'd reject this offer as inadequate. But we'd consider any offer that fully reflected the Disney's true and intrinsic value, and future prospects. We also said, however, Larry, that we think the current structure is the best one for Disney.

KING: And you support Mr. Eisner of course?

MITCHELL: Yes, we do.

KING: We'll take a break and come back and get back to the election. Just thought I'd get that in, the big business story of the week. Bob Dole, George Mitchell, Wolf Blitzer, lots of others coming aboard. John Edwards about to speak to his supporters in Wisconsin all that ahead.

And another edition of LARRY KING LIVE, because this race is too close to call. We'll be back live at midnight Eastern, 9:00 Pacific. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: As we come back on this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE, you're looking at Kerry headquarters in Madison, Wisconsin. With Wolf Blitzer, Bob Dole and George Mitchell as our panel. We're also going to include some of your phone calls momentarily.

But, now let's get an update from Wolf Blitzer in Washington -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Larry. This is emerging as a very, very close contest between John Kerry and John Edwards. Let's show our viewers the actual numbers that we're getting in right now. Take a look at this, with 8 percent of the vote in, 38 percent for Kerry, 38 percent for John Edwards. Look at, this only about 100 votes separate Kerry and Edwards right now, with 8 percent of the vote in, a distant third, Howard Dean. Kucinich and Sharpton obviously way, way behind.

But Senator Edwards is running a much stronger than expected contest right now, and we're going to have to wait and actually see the results officially come in before we're going to be able to project a winner. Looks like it's going to be some time. We'll have to just wait and see, Larry.

KING: All right, let's take some calls. The first caller appropriately is from Gainesville, Wisconsin. Go ahead, you're on.

CALLER: Yes, Larry, I was wondering if the panel members believe that Edwards is doing well in Wisconsin because he is opposed to NAFTA, where we have lost thousands of manufacturing jobs.

KING: Bob Dole, do you think NAFTA is the key in Wisconsin?

DOLE: I think so. I've been watching it as close as I can and NAFTA has made a big difference. They had a big rally. People lose their jobs, it's hard to explain to them the benefits of NAFTA. And it's probably a factor because we've got a clear distinction between how Kerry voted and Edwards opposition. He wasn't in the senator, I might say. I should clarify that, but he apparently he would have been opposed to it.

KING: George Mitchell, what do you think, NAFTA as an issue.

MITCHELL: Clearly a factor, but you have to ask yourself, Democrats tend to be more opposed to it than independents and Republicans, and yet Kerry has done very well among Democrats. Edwards has done well against independence. So, it's unclear how much of a factor, a factor, we'll have to wait for further analysis to judge whether it's the dominant or even a significant one.

KING: San Diego, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Larry. Good evening. I wanted to ask the panel if they thought the media played a role in bring down Howard Dean.

KING: All right, let's start with Wolf. You're the media, Wolf.

BLITZER: There's no doubt that the replay of that concession speech he delivered in Des Moines, Iowa, certainly hurt him. I think everyone watched that came away asking questions about how stable Howard Dean must be. At the same time, though, I want to remind our viewers and remind our caller, Larry, that that concession speech was made in Iowa, after he came in a distant third. He did not do well in Iowa, even though he devoted an enormous amount of energy there, spent almost a year in Iowa, didn't do well in New Hampshire either. The media sure were blamed for a lot of stuff, and sometimes rightfully so, but I don't think you can blame us for Howard Dean's poor performance in Iowa.

KING: Bob Dole, what do you think?

DOLE: Well, the speech in Iowa didn't bother me that much. He was trying to speak to his supporters and try to make them feel good. It had been a bad night. I remember I fell off the stage in Chico, California because the secret service hadn't nailed down the guardrail. People said this guy's too old to be president. And it was played hundreds of times. I know Clinton must have slept well that week. That's the way it goes in politics. And that's why it's hard to say that this person's going to be the nominee until you really get it wrapped up.

KING: What about the media and Howard Dean, George Mitchell?

MITCHELL: It is a fact of life in American politics that the media play a role in the rise or fall of every candidate of every party. It's simply a significant factor in American politics. But the media helped Howard Dean rise just as they contributed to his decline.

KING: Newport Richie, Florida hello.

CALLER: Hi.

KING: Hi.

CALLER: Something I've never understood and maybe with these gentlemen's experience they can help me. Is, why Gephardt, who couldn't carry any seats and virtually lost the House, where Pelosi had to take over so he decides, I've failed there, I'll go ahead and run for president. So I don't know why anybody would think it was a good idea for him to do that, after his failure at the House and why would they want him to be vice president with that experience?

KING: George.

MITCHELL: Well, of course, that's a long history of that in the United States. Abraham Lincoln was elected to the House once. He retired because he faced certain defeat. He had opposed the Mexican War. He then ran for the senator and lost, so that qualified him of course to run for president, and he turned out to be the greatest president in American history. So, I don't think prior defeats -- the first President Bush ran for the Senate and lost and then he ran for president. It's not unusually in American politics for people to lose at one level and figure I might as well go up one step up the ladder and sometimes they do well up there.

KING: Every time we put up results as they come in fragmented, a different guy takes the lead.

BLITZER: It's a close see-saw battle unfolding in Wisconsin right now. The numbers are actually coming in, Edwards on top a little bit, then Kerry on top a little bit. We're going to have to wait and see who eventually emerges when that number at the bottom of the screen says 100 percent of the vote now in. We might know who the winner is at that point. It looks like it could go on for some time.

KING: We'll take a break and take more phone calls. Again, we'll be with you again live midnight Eastern, 9:00 Pacific with the second edition of LARRY KING LIVE.

And don't forget the big debate is here on CNN at 9:00 p.m. Eastern on February 26 from the University of Southern California. I'll be the moderator. It's cosponsored by CNN and the University of Southern California. It'll take place on campus. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: I think I failed to mention that the "Los Angeles Times" is cosponsor of the debate along with CNN on February 26. That's southern California. Before we take more calls let's get another update on this ever changing night in Wisconsin. Here's Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Larry. Let's take a look at the numbers that we're getting in right now. The numbers have been going back and forth. So far Kerry and Edwards, a real battle underway. Edwards still on top with 13 percent of the vote officially now in 38 percent for Senator Edwards. 37 percent for Senator Kerry, Howard Dean who will emerge as a distant third place finisher with 19 percent. Kucinich and Sharpton way behind. 13 percent and we don't know if that vote is from Madison, Milwaukee, what part of the state but we do see a battle unfolding in Wisconsin -- Larry.

KING: Let's take another call. Potomac, Maryland, hello.

CALLER: I wanted to ask the panel if Mr. Edwards wins tonight how much of a shakeup do you think it will have on Super Tuesday?

KING: What if he wins, Bob Dole?

DOLE: He'll be in a stronger position. I don't want to downplay John Kerry's position right now. I'd like to have his position, but it's certainly going to strengthen John Edwards's hand. He's going to be more focused, be more money coming in to him and more effort on his behalf, particularly if other candidates drop out, but if he wins tonight it's going to be a big win. Let's face it. Kerry is still the odds on favorite but it's a big win for Edwards.

KING: George?

MITCHELL: It will be a significant win. It will be the second time he's won and for the first time in a nonsouthern state, and there have been rapid momentum shifts in this race, Larry. As everyone knows, Governor Dean had tremendous momentum and it turned around very quickly. Senator Kerry had a long down period. Then he gathered momentum. You can't rule anything out. It's still highly likely that Senator Kerry will be the Democratic nominee, but as we've seen, it's never over until it's over.

KING: Wolf?

BLITZER: There's no doubt that a lot of Democrats who want to make sure that they don't wind up with what they call buyer's remorse and to a certain degree if John Edwards winds up doing as well as he looks like he's going to do right now, even if he comes a very close second it will give Democrats a chance to go through the vetting process and make sure there's nothing out there that could derail Senator Kerry down the road or for that matter, Senator Edwards down the road.

A lot of Democrats I've been speaking to over the past few days say it's healthy for the party to let the contest go forward another two or three weeks, and at the same time, they also know that they're going to get a lot of publicity, a lot of attention over the next few weeks, if Senator Kerry had blown out Senator Edwards tonight everybody would have assumed it's all over and Senator Kerry might not have gotten the kind of attention he presumably would like. So this whole vetting thing is a very important factor for a lot of Democrats.

KING: Good point. Grand Ledge, Michigan, hello.

CALLER: My question is for each of the panel members, Republican, Democrat and for the media. Since our country is well divided amongst Democrats, Republicans and Independents, how does each one of our, either Mr. Bush or Mr. Kerry, whoever that candidate will be in November, how are they going to unify the country?

KING: Good question. Bob Dole, if it's that much cleavage, how are they going to bring it together?

DOLE: Well, it's going to be the message and it's going to be the message that talks about unity and bringing people together. You can't just wave a wand and run a TV ad and say we're going to bring the country together. It could take some outside catastrophic event that might occur in the United States or somewhere else where Americans were involved. It could take, could be an economic problem, but it's very, very difficult. When we're split as we are right now in this period of history, it's going to take strong leadership. The Congress is split, too, almost down the middle. So it's not just the closeness in the presidential race. It's the entire political system is about one-third, one-third, one-third.

KING: George Mitchell?

MITCHELL: The country is evenly divided, but there was also a long history in this country of rallying around a new president, an incoming president, and giving that president the opportunity to unify the country and keep it together. That's the real challenge of leadership, Larry. That's the test that anyone elected to the office has. The country's been very divided on many occasions in the past. We've had minority presidents. Lincoln was a minority president. Woodrow Wilson was a minority president. There have been many in the past able to rally the country under the specific circumstances in which they served but it is very difficult. I don't doubt that, but on the other hand, Americans do rally around their leader, particularly in times of crisis and when new people take office.

KING: Wolf, what would you add?

BLITZER: There's no doubt that when a president is elected, there's a honeymoon for an extended period of time and the country wants to rally around a new president. I have to say, though, Larry, over those past few years, the country was divided in 2000, bitterly divided. There's a strong split right now. No matter who gets the Democratic nomination it's going to be a close race in November. There's a long time between now and November but the country remains seriously divided on so many of these key issues.

KING: We'll take a break and come back and try to get a few more phone calls in, wind it up, take it to Aaron Brown at the top of the hour. Wolf Blitzer will host a special hour at 11:00 p.m. We might have final results then, maybe not. That will be 8:00 Pacific and then we'll be back live at midnight. We'll be back with our remaining moments with Bob Dole and George Mitchell and Wolf Blitzer right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Wolf Blitzer is going to host a special hour a little over an hour from now, so he's going give us a final report and then get preparing on his own show in one hour. So what's the latest as you leave us, Wolf, and we'll be seeing you back again at midnight, too.

BLITZER: Thanks, Larry. The latest is that Kerry and Edwards are in this really, really fierce battle unfolding right now. Let's put the latest numbers we're getting. These are official numbers coming in from Wisconsin. Take a look at this, right now, 22 percent, almost a quarter, 22 percent of the vote now in. It's still 38 percent, 38 percent. We just lost it off the screen, but it's been going back and forth between Kerry and Edwards atop. These numbers remaining remarkably consistent.

As you remember at the top of the hour, we couldn't project who would win. Edwards showing a stronger than expected capability in Wisconsin with 1 percent, he was slightly ahead, but now with almost a third of the vote in it's still way too close to call. We're going to have to stay up for some time and see who wins this contest, Larry, in Wisconsin.

KING: Thank you, Wolf. We'll see you at 11:00 Eastern time. Hold on, Wolf, I think we have got another question coming from Wolf -- Wolf, we go back to you right now.

BLITZER: I'm not sure -- I'm not sure what we're expecting.

KING: I think they gave me the wrong information. Wolf, we'll see you in a hour.

BLITZER: Hold on, I just want to be precise, Larry, and take a look. Take a look. We are now, based on a third of the vote in, I was wrong. John Kerry, we are projecting, will win this contest. Take a look at this, with -- based on the exit polls that we had, based on the actual vote, nearly a third of the vote that's coming in. It looks like John Kerry, we're projecting, will be the winner in Wisconsin. Clearly a close race. Senator Edwards showing a much stronger than expected per -- second place, but take a look at this, with 23 percent of the vote in, both have 38 percent. John Edwards and John Kerry, but based on our exit polling, based on the information we got there, plus the actual votes that have now come in, almost a third of the vote in, we are projecting that Senator Kerry will go on and win this contest. So that's that, Larry.

KING: OK, Wolf. I'm sure a lot of that has to do with what has been reported, where (UNINTELLIGIBLE) came in or Madison came in.

Let's take a quick call, Fort Lauderdale, projecting Kerry the winner. Fort Lauderdale, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Larry. Hi, panel members. I'm feeling like a very disenfranchised voter. In 2000, my vote didn't count, and now I'm watching all these key primary states decide who is going to be our candidate, and there's nothing I can do. If I wanted Gephardt, forget it, it doesn't matter, and at the rate we're going, Senator Dole, you mentioned we might have more people dropping out. So how are people like me supposed to feel as they watch this happening around me and there's nothing I can do?

KING: When is your primary -- in three weeks, right?

CALLER: No.

KING: Your primary is farther away?

CALLER: That's correct.

KING: Is there any way to correct this, Bob?

DOLE: Well, we've worked on -- Senator Mitchell, I think and me worked together on regional primaries and national primaries. But when you start looking at that, that gives the person with the most money, the most name idea big advantage. It's not -- so I don't know, it's not a fair system, totally fair now, but a lot of people have tried to make it possible so that everybody could vote on the same day. So far it hasn't happened.

KING: George, you have a thought?

MITCHELL: There is no...

KING: She has a point, right? She has no say in her nominee.

MITCHELL: She has a very good point, Larry, but there is no perfect system. As Bob indicated, he and I worked on a proposal for a regional primary that would rotate every four years, so the Northeast would vote first one year, fourth the following year. But there are as many arguments against every system as there are for, and in our country, where we give great leeway to the states, states are very reluctant to give it up, especially Iowa and New Hampshire, because of the attention and the primacy that their voters get in this process.

KING: Bob, we'll be seeing you on March 2, of course. Any quick thoughts on the projection of Kerry?

DOLE: Well, again, it's a win is a win, as I said earlier, but you've got to give John Edwards credit. The few times he made a visit there, and the fact that the race is so close, and I know CNN never makes a mistake, but it still might turn out the other way. But I look forward to seeing you and have a good debate.

KING: Thank you very much. George, you supported Kerry. This may be a close win for him tonight. Your quick thoughts?

MITCHELL: It's going to be a good couple of weeks for Kerry, I think. He's now won 16 out of 18 contests, and interestingly, of the 13 states coming up in the next two weeks, only one, Georgia, is in the South and many of them do not permit independents to vote. So I think John Edwards has acquitted himself extremely well, but I think it's still highly likely that John Kerry will be the Democratic nominee.

KING: Thank you, George Mitchell, the former Senate majority leader, and Bob Dole, the former Senator majority leader, for an outstanding hour. We're going to take a break. I'll come back in a minute and a half to tell you what's coming up, what's coming tomorrow, and turn it over to Aaron Brown. I'll be right back. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Boy, what a night. I'll be back live at midnight, 9:00 Pacific with another hour of LARRY KING LIVE, and of course a complete show tomorrow night, looking at the Green River serial killer.

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