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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

By The Numbers: Bush V. Kerry; Bush and the Base: Firing Back

Aired March 8, 2004 - 15:30   ET

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: It's Bush versus Kerry, but who's on top? We've got brand new numbers from the first national poll taken since Super Tuesday.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ladies and gentlemen, this is my idea of spring break.

ANNOUNCER: John Kerry soaks up the sunshine in Florida, but can he beat George Bush in a key battleground state?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you can't count on your home state in politics, you're in deep trouble.

ANNOUNCER: George W. Bush does a Texas two-step. We're with the president as he swings through the Lone Star State.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks for joining us. I'm John King. Judy is off today.

President Bush and John Kerry are both on the road campaigning today in two of the biggest prizes in the race for the White House. Mr. Bush is in Texas, shoring up his political base, and adding to his campaign war chest. Senator Kerry is in Florida, the state that has come to symbolize this nation's political divide.

A new CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll offers a fresh snapshot of where American voters stand at this early date. And our Bill Schneider has a first look at the early results.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BUSH: Gentlemen, start your engines.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: And they're off. The early lead among likely voters goes to John Kerry by eight points. Let's see what happens if you throw Ralph Nader into the mix, even though he may not get on the ballot in every state. Nader gets 2 percent, at Kerry's expense. The race gets even closer.

Nader actually gets 5 percent among all registered voters. But most of them are unlikely to vote.

Want to see a picture of polarization? Here it is. Republicans are voting 95-3 for George W. Bush. Democrats are voting 95-3 for John Kerry. Wow. Coming out of the primaries, Democrats are just as united as Republicans.

KERRY: I believe that in 2004, one united Democratic Party, we can and we will win this election.

SCHNEIDER: The outcome is in the hands of swing voters, Independents who make up a quarter of the electorate. And they favor Kerry right now. He who controls the agenda controls the outcome. The public rates Kerry as better than Bush for handling health care, the deficit, Social Security, and the economy.

Domestic issues: the public rates Bush as better than Kerry for handling terrorism, Iraq, and world affairs. International issues -- here's a surprise. The two candidates are rated the same on taxes, despite President Bush's big tax cuts.

Here's another surprise. Bush has only a slight advantage on gay marriage, within the margin of error. There's no broad consensus behind the president's call for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages.

President Bush has been criticized for using images of 9/11 in his campaign ads. His response?

BUSH: Well, I will continue to speak about the effects of 9/11 on our country and my presidency.

SCHNEIDER: The people's response? Most say it's not appropriate for President Bush to use those images.

President Bush criticizing Kerry for flip-flopping on the issues.

BUSH: My opponent clearly has strong beliefs. They just don't last very long.

SCHNEIDER: The people's response? The public sees Kerry as more likely than Bush to change positions on issues for political reasons.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Less than a week into the campaign, score one hit for each side. Many more to come -- John.

KING: Bill, stand by just a second, because we want to also tell our viewers about this poll now in the key state of Florida. A new poll showing Senator Kerry with a six-point lead over President Bush. Kerry received 49 percent support, Bush 43 percent, and Ralph Nader 3 percent.

That survey taken after Kerry effectively clinched the Democratic nomination last Tuesday. Only 5 percent of Florida voters were undecided. Bill, you've looked at the breakdown. Anything noteworthy?

SCHNEIDER: Something very noteworthy. Seniors make up more than a third of the voters in Florida, and Kerry has a lead now among Florida seniors of 14 points. That's Kerry's strongest constituency in Florida. It looks like President Bush's delivery of that prescription drug benefit and Medicare reform did not impress seniors, particularly in the battleground state of Florida.

KING: It worked for the president. Bill, thank you very much.

And Senator Kerry is looking to hold that edge in Florida. He has three events in the state today. The final stops on a four-day swing through tomorrow's southern primary states. Earlier, Kerry questioned the president's commitment to investigating intelligence failures preceding the September 11 terror attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: If the president of the United States can find the time to go to a rodeo, he can find the time to do more than one hour in front of a commission that is investigating what happened to America's intelligence and why we are not stronger today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is traveling with the Kerry campaign. She joins me now by phone from West Palm Beach.

Candy, let's begin with Senator Kerry's references today to what he says are foreign leaders approaching him in private and saying they want President Bush to lose this election.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: This was during an early morning donor meeting when we first started out in Hollywood, Florida. They let just a couple of people in the pool for reporters, and when the senator was talking to the donors, he said, you know, I've met with foreign leaders, and they can't say this publicly. But privately, they tell me, you know, that they want him to lose, that they hope that Kerry can win.

Certainly sort of startled most of us. And obviously ticked off the Republicans a bit.

KING: Did he give any sense, Candy of who these foreign leaders are? Are we talking about presidents, prime ministers? Any sense at all?

CROWLEY: Well, at the moment -- I mean, we checked with the Kerry campaign. We haven't had a chance to talk with the senator. But his campaign says, well, he talks with people all the time.

He specifically said (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to this group. And we can't find anyone who can remember in the past year of a foreign leader that the senator met with, although, again, his campaign says oh, he talks to -- he's had so many years on various Senate committees and dealing with foreign relations that he talks to people all the time.

KING: And Candy, obviously the senator in Florida, ostensibly because of the primary, but obviously looking forward to the general election. What is your sense of the Kerry campaign's strategy to try to, shall we say, make the state not so close as last time?

CROWLEY: Well, first of all, they're stoking that particular fire, kind of pricking that wound which still is so deep in Florida that he gets questions like, "How are you going to stop George Bush from stealing the election this time?" So that's the sort of thing that you get from the Democratic crowds.

And what Kerry said today was that he's already putting together a legal team. And they will pinpoint regions and districts where there has been trouble before, people going to the polls and being told that their registration wasn't there. And that if they have to, they'll file injunctions before the election.

He said, look, we want a record turnout, but we want every vote to count. So a lot of echoes of 2000, which can be very handy for a Democrat running in Florida.

KING: Candy Crowley, thank you very much. Traveling with Senator Kerry in West Palm Beach, Florida. I suspect the weather is a little nicer than it is here in Washington today.

CROWLEY: It's very nice.

KING: And word travels fast -- take care, Candy. Word travels fast on the campaign trail. And it didn't take long for Senator Kerry's remarks about certain foreign leaders to reach Bush campaign officials.

Our Dana Bash is traveling with the president in Texas.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The Bush campaign is stepping up its rapid response operation. Within minutes of Senator Kerry saying that foreign leaders have told him they want President Bush out, the Bush campaign gave us a reaction. Terry Holt, the spokesman, saying, "Kerry's foreign friends may prefer him as U.S. president, but the election is in the hands of the American people."

Now, Bush advisers are well aware that Senator Kerry is trying to paint Mr. Bush as a unilateralist, somebody who has made some of the U.S. allies quite angry, particularly after the war in Iraq. But they are saying, and at least hoping privately, that statements like this might backfire. One even saying that this statement was something like Howard Dean making the allegation that President Bush knew about the attacks of September 11 before they happened.

Now, the Bush campaign is trying to defend itself against Senator Kerry, but also waging its new offensive against him. And the president here in Dallas, at a fund-raiser, added a new line to his -- part of his speech where he says that Senator Kerry is not the right man to lead the war on terror. He said that the senator voted to cut intelligence spending for operations.

BUSH: In 1995, two years after the attack on the World Trade Center, my opponent introduced a bill to cut the overall intelligence budget by $1.5 billion. His bill was so deeply irresponsible that he didn't have a single co-sponsor in the United States Senate.

Once again, Senator Kerry is trying to have it both ways. He's for good intelligence, yet he was willing to gut the intelligence services. And that is no way to lead a nation in a time of war.

BASH: This speech here in Dallas, and one later in Houston, will bring $3 million into the president's campaign coffers. He's already raised more than $150 million.

Now, the president, of course, doesn't exactly have to worry about Texas. Thirty-four electoral votes getting into his column in November. But nevertheless, he is attending later today one of Houston's most important, and the state's most important events. That is the Houston Livestock and Rodeo Show.

No speeches there. But certainly a photo-op or two of George W. Bush as cowboy.

Dana Bash, CNN, Dallas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: And the president's stop at that rodeo this afternoon is not considered an official campaign event. The White House classifies the appearance as a policy event. So that portion of the president's trip will be charged to taxpayers.

Poll after poll shows the U.S. economy is voters' top concern this primary season. Coming up, how the issue of jobs may affect George W. Bush's prospects of keeping his.

Also ahead, the latest attack ad in the presidential campaign's ad wars.

And later...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KING, CNN "LARRY KING LIVE": Do you expect to speak at the convention?

REV. AL SHARPTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I expect to accept my nomination.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: ... his one-liners were a source of comic relief during the Democratic debates. Could they also be the key to Al Sharpton's future?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: As he campaigns for re-election, many Democrats, and even many Republicans, say President Bush is most vulnerable right now on one key economic issue, jobs.

Joining me now with his take on the major issues and the state of the presidential campaign, CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein if the Los Angeles Times.

You wrote a piece that said, "In the Bush family, jobs is perhaps a four-letter word."

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: By now it must be. Look, slow job growth was one of the principal factors that drove the first President Bush out of office in 1992. He only created 2.6 million jobs over four years, only a quarter as many as were created under Jimmy Carter, a period that was considered an economic disappointment.

Now he where are better than three years into the second Bush presidency, and the economy, John, is down over 2.2 million jobs since he took office, with only 41,000 created in February. It will take an enormous acceleration to get him over the break-even point by Election Day. Clearly, a key vulnerability in this campaign.

KING: A Bush weakness. How does Senator Kerry -- and do you see any signs that Senator Kerry is making it a Kerry strength? Can he just criticize the president? Or has he articulated any coherent policy that might lead people to believe a change would mean jobs?

BROWNSTEIN: That's a good question. I think he is not -- most Democrats feel he has not gone as far as he will need to, to develop an alternative vision of how the economy can create jobs. Obviously, many factors are at work beyond a president's policies and the overall job growth in any given period.

Kerry so far has talked about a manufacturing tax credit, cutting employers' health care costs, grants to states, and a tougher line on trade. Does that add up into a better strategy? Unclear.

But what is clear is that the incumbent president does bear the weight. And I think your polling and most polling now shows, in key states, like Ohio and Florida, President Bush's job approval on the economy is negative, and that's going to be a problem for him regardless of what Kerry comes up.

KING: Senator Kerry said something this morning that raised some eyebrows. In a meeting with donors, he said that foreign leaders have approached him privately. He said they can't say this publicly, but they said, "Boy you've got to beat this guy. We need a new policy."

Is that something that Kerry wants to be talking about right now?

BROWNSTEIN: That really feels like blue America and red America. I think that in the portion of America that leans toward the Democrats, already, the idea that Bush has isolated us in the world is a very powerful argument. But in Bush's states, the idea that we are standing up regardless of what others thinks, is an equally powerful argument.

It's part of the same phenomenon that Bill Schneider talked about. In a 95-3, 95-3, it's not unlike gay marriage in that way. Very polarizing, and probably an argument that Kerry does not want to repeat that often because it doesn't help him expand beyond his coalition.

KING: Ron Brownstein, of the LA Times, thank you very much.

A new political attack ad uses the familiar MasterCard advertising campaign to ridicule Senator Kerry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: Massachusetts Senator John Kerry: hairstyle by Christoph's $75; Designer shirts, $250; 42-foot luxury yacht, $1 million; four lavish mansions and beachfront estate, over $30 million. Another rich liberal elitist from Massachusetts who claims he's a man of the people. Priceless.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That ad is from the conservative group Citizens United, which says it began running Sunday on cable and in local markets around the country.

Spending in the political ad wars has ignited a battle all its own, as we found out in today's "How it Works" segment. The recent and well publicized anti-Bush ads from the group MoveOn.org have sparked Republican complaints, and not because of their content.

MoveOn.org and other so-called 527 organizations are independent of the political parties. 527s get their name from Section 527 of the tax code, which applies to groups whose main purpose is to influence elections.

Right now, 527s can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money. Critics argue that is a major loophole in campaign finance reform efforts, and that those groups should be subject to the same spending limits as the parties themselves.

The Federal Election Commission is considering a set of new rules to clamp down on 527s. But the commissioners say they are not targeting social welfare and nonprofit groups that are not 527s but occasionally run political ads. Those groups include the AARP and Citizens United, the sponsor of that anti-Kerry ad we just showed you.

Political pedigrees, they're a part of the mix this year in some House races. When we return, we'll hear about some candidates who are hoping to keep it all in the family on Capitol Hill.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: The sons and daughters of some prominent political leaders are battling for seats in the U.S. House this year. Recently, we caught up with Amy Walter, of "The Cook Political Report," who has been taking a closer look at some of these political offspring.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AMY WALTER, "COOK POLITICAL REPORT": It's really no surprise to see the sons and daughters of politicians decide that they want to try to follow in their parents' footsteps. This happens every year; we see that these offshoots try to come and take their parents' place in Congress.

This year, it just seems like we have a large number of candidates who are related to the people who happen to be leaving office. In Michigan, we have a longtime congressman, Nick Smith, who has decided to retire. And his son, who hasn't been particularly active in politics, is trying to take his place.

Now, the more interesting thick about this race is actually what happened in Congress with his father. Nick Smith was lobbied very heavily to vote on the prescription drug Medicare bill that passed at the end of last session. There was talk from the congressman actually that the pressure got to be so intense that there was talk of either retribution on his son and his campaign if he did not support it, or actual help for his son if the congressman supported this legislation.

There are more men than women who are the political offspring running for office this year. But there's at least one woman who's getting a lot of attention. Her name's Stephanie Herseth. She's running in South Dakota for the at-large congressional seat.

Now, her political pedigree is pretty impressive. Her grandfather was the governor of South Dakota, her grandmother was also a statewide elected official. Her dad was in the State Senate.

She ran for this seat in 2002, came close, but lost ultimately to Governor Janklow. Now, this is an open seat, a special election in June. Phil Janklow is not there. And she starts out with an incredible lead in the polls.

Out in Missouri, we have a state rep named Russ Carnahan. Now, that last name is very, very well known if you're from the Show-Me State. His father was -- his late father was the former governor. His mother was a United States senator. She just lost her election in 2002.

Russ has been a state rep from St. Louis, and he's trying to fill the shoes not of one of his parents, but actually another very famous St. Louis politician named Dick Gephart. He's in a pretty crowded primary. His last name certainly gives him some cache, helps to raise some money. Certainly, a lot of people have seen it on the ballot before.

Connie Mack IV comes from a long line of politicians. His father was United States senator. He was a congressman. Interesting part about this story is that Connie Mack has been in elective office. He's a state rep. Except that he's a state rep from the complete other side of the state where he's deciding to run.

He grew up in the Naples area. His father represented this district, Fort Myers, in Naples. His son lives on the other side of the state, represents a district that's closer to Broward County and Palm Beach. He's moved all the way back across the state and is running to try to replace his dad, who wasn't the immediate congressman, but had held it earlier.

Having the last name of a politician usually can be very helpful. But it doesn't guarantee that you're going to win that seat. It's helpful in that it can help you raise money, certainly back at home where your parent was well known.

Here in Washington, also very helpful. People here have worked with your parent before.

It can help clear out a crowded primary when other aspiring politicians may not want to go up against somebody with a pretty popular last name. So you can -- it brings with it its own set of very important attributes, but it's not always enough to win, especially a competitive district.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: The Deep South takes center stage in tomorrow's Democratic primaries. Coming up, is Dixie a lost cause for the Democrats come November? We'll have reports from the region's two biggest states.

I'll also talk with a southerner who is being mentioned as a possible John Kerry running mate, Senator Bill Nelson of Florida.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: This sad update just into CNN. Almost two months after the disappearance of writer and actor Spalding Gray, police in New York have discovered his remains. A badly decomposed body turned up in the East River consistent with eyewitness reports putting Gray on the Staten Island Ferry back on January 10.

CNN's Jason Carroll looks back at Gray's unique and celebrated career.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He may not have been a household name, but writer-actor Spalding Gray was known throughout the entertainment industry as the man with wit, an artist who could be introspective, humorous and outrageous.

SPALDING GRAY, ACTOR: My god, look how much of the jungle this movie controls.

CARROLL: Gray, 62, was known for writing and starring in the autobiographical "Swimming to Cambodia" and "Monster in a Box," and appearing in films such as "The Killing Fields" and "Beaches." But at an awards show, he said he felt more in step with smaller projects.

GRAY: It's the only thing that's worth doing, independent film, for me.

CARROLL: Gray suffered a head injury in a car accident three years ago. He spoke in several interviews about the depression that followed, telling the "Harvard Gazette" his work provided some degree of therapy. His family and friends knew how much he struggled with depression.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's an incredibly talented guy. He's a really, really sweet, lovely man. And I know that he's had his setbacks and his reversals in the last couple of years with his health and everything.

CARROLL: Gray's wife finally remembers the last time she saw him, on the morning of January 10, when Spalding thanked her for a Christmas gift she had given him, a ski trip to Aspen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I helped him carry his bags down from our apartment to the street, where the car service picked him up at 6:00 in the morning. It was very tender, and we hugged each other, said we loved each other. And he said, "Thank you for the trip, honey."

And he never called me "honey." He just -- that was really sweet.

CARROLL: Jason Carroll, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Again, authorities in New York confirming the remains of Spalding Gray have been found. The cause of death remains under investigation.

We'll return now to our second half of INSIDE POLITICS, which begins right now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Will this year's election come down to Florida again? And, if so, is courting Cuban-Americans the key to winning the Sunshine State?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whoever wants to win Florida better come here and say what we want to hear.

ANNOUNCER: He's still in the race for the White House, but is Al Sharpton angling for a radio or TV host gig? We'll take a look at his post-campaign plans.

Was Martha Stewart treated fairly? Should she go to jail? How do Americans feel? We've got new numbers out this hour. Now, live from Washington, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Welcome back. I'm John King. Judy is off today.

The one-on-one race for the White House is not quite a week old. And Senator John Kerry and President Bush both out on the trail in full campaign mode. A new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll just released shows Senator Kerry getting 52 percent support and President Bush 44 percent.

Senator Kerry is spending the day in Florida, where he said he's taking steps to make sure the state does not endure another overtime election recount.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are putting together a legal team, and we will be looking at those districts which have had problems in the past. We will look at the Diebold machines, because I don't think we ought to have any vote cast in America that cannot be traced and properly recounted in this country.

And I intend to ask this legal team -- and we will identify those districts where people have had trouble voting in the past, trouble showing up and being told, well we don't have you registered. Or you didn't do this or that. And we're going to pre-check it. We're going to have the legal team in place. We're going to take injunctions where necessary ahead of time. We'll pre-challenge if necessary.

But I guarantee you, not only do we want a record level of turnout to vote, we want a guarantee that every vote is counted. And we will do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The Cuban-American vote is one key to victory there Florida. Historically Republicans have enjoyed the inside track with this small but critical voting bloc. But CNN's John Zarrella reports some Cuban-Americans are showing signs of frustration with both parties.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): Florida, political experts say, is a difficult state for any candidate. The message has to appeal to a diverse population: retired and active military, elderly voters, affluent young suburbanites and minorities. Among them, traditionally Republican Cuban-Americans. One party message, maintaining a tough stance against Fidel Castro, has for decades played well in south Florida.

PEPE LOPEZ, HISPANIC INDEPENDENTS: Whoever wants to win Florida, better come here and better say what we want to hear. I mean, I'm not even going to say do what we want them to do, because I know in 41 years they haven't done it. But at least I want to hear it.

ZARRELLA: Among a large majority of Cuban-American voters, President Bush is still their man. But recently, there have been uncharacteristic grumblings. The Cuban-American National Foundation, once a powerful Republican ally, has expressed frustration that the administration hasn't done enough to put pressure on Castro. But so far, political science professor Dario Mareno says Democrats haven't taken advantage of the opening.

DARIO MARENO, FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY: The Democrats' problem in Florida is that they haven't had a very powerful outreach program toward Hispanics.

ZARRELLA: Even if Democratic candidate John Kerry doesn't strike a chord with Cuban voters, the Republicans can't, political analyst Jim Kane says, rely on the old saying, who else are they going to vote for?

JIM KANE, POLITICAL ANALYST: It doesn't work with Cuban- Americans, because they'll stay home and sit on their hands and turnout will drop dramatically. And the Republican candidate can't win Florida without an energized Cuban-American vote.

ZARRELLA: That energized vote is one Republicans have counted on. And the president will, no doubt, do everything he can to make sure it stays that way.

(on camera): A just-released poll of 800 registered Florida voters by "The Miami Herald" and "The Saint Pete Times" shows that Senator Kerry has a 49-43 percent lead over President Bush. Political experts say they expect that number could flip-flop several times between now and November.

John Zarrella, CNN, Miami.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Former housing secretary, Mel Martinez, a Cuban-American, is neck and neck with a former Congressman in the race to become Florida's Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate. A new "St. Petersburg Times"/"Miami Herald" poll finds Martinez and Bill McCollum in a virtual tie with McCollum leading 19 percent to 18 percent. A big 44 percent of those polled say they are still undecided.

On the Democratic side, former state education secretary Betty Caster leads Congressman Peter Deutsche by a 2-1 margin.

It's no surprise the nation's second most populous state, Texas, is considered Bush country. And today the president is focusing on the homefront. He's attending the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and beefing up his campaign war chest with a couple of fund raisers in Dallas and Houston. At his stop in Dallas, the president took aim at John Kerry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My opponent clearly has strong beliefs. They just don't last very long.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: With Mr. Bush's popularity in the lone star state so high are Democrats making an effort in Texas? To Austin and CNN's Ed Lavandera.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A popular saying around Texas is that Democrats here are an endangered species. But this wounded animal wants to fight back.

HENRY CISNEROS, FRM. HHD SECRETARY: This is a city with a Democratic heart and a Democratic soul. Always has been, always will be.

LAVANDERA: Henry Cisneros is one of the best-known Texas Democrats. And he's helping to rally the faithful against Republicans.

CISNEROS: Democrats do well when we answer. Bill Clinton taught us that. Answer their attacks. Answer their flaws. Answer their mistakes. But when we are timid and silent and quiet, they roll us.

LAVANDERA: Republicans have been rolling over Democrats routinely in Texas. No Democrats hold statewide office here. Republicans control 107 of the 181 seats in the Texas legislature. Both U.S. senators from Texas are Republicans. And Democrats stand to lose as many as seven of their 16 congressional seats this year.

Veteran political writer Paul Burka doesn't see much of a silver lining.

PAUL BURKA, "TEXAS MONTHLY": The Democrats are completely without a farm cloud. They have no statewide offices at all, no legislative offices at all. So the only way they're going to be able to accomplish anything is for some rich guy to come in and try to buy the seat.

KERRY: (speaking Spanish)

LAVANDERA: To turn the tide, political experts say Democrats need to tap into a booming Hispanic population, the same way Republicans have appealed to suburban voters.

Susan Hayes is the Democratic Party chairwoman in Dallas County. She's looking at minority voters to make this wish come true.

SUSAN HAYES, DEM. CHWM., DALLAS CO.: It's my personal goal to beat George Bush in one of the counties he has called home in Texas.

LAVANDERA: Texas Democrats don't expect George Bush will lose here in November. But their pushing for a few small victories, at least, to tarnish Republican dominance.

HAYES: We were going to go down fighting. It is the Texas tradition from the Alamo to present day.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA: Well many political observers here in Texas say that the Democrats still have a long way to fall before they can start to recover. Some observers say reason it could take -- if they tap in to all of those Hispanic voters that are arriving here in Texas, it could take as many as 20 years to get back on the same playing field.

Although talking with many Democrats in the last couple of days, they say that they're starting to see the changes and they're hoping this year will mark the comeback and that that comeback will only take about four to six years -- John.

KING: Ed Lavandera live for us in Austin. Thank you very much, Ed.

More news from the Democrats in our Monday "Campaign News Daily." Al Sharpton is expected to make an announcement tomorrow. What he's expected to say is not exactly clear. Sharpton's campaign confirms the candidate has retained the William Morris Agency to help him sort through possible offers to become a radio or TV talk show host. Sharpton is also said to be interested in a reality show once the campaign is over. Stay tuned.

Dennis Kucinich finds a campaign by telephone today. Kucinich had to take a few days off from the campaign trail due to illness. Aides say he will resume a full travel schedule later this week.

Also today, Democrats in American Samoa are holding caucuses to choose their three delegates for the party's convention. In case you've forgotten American Samoa is a U.S. territory made up of seven islands. It's about 2,300 miles southwest of Hawaii.

Checking the Democrats overall delegate total, Senator John Kerry has a big lead with 1,626 delegates. But even with big victories in tomorrow's four primaries it is unlikely Kerry will be able to reach it the 2,162 delegates he needs to clinch the nomination.

One of John Kerry's possible running mates has seen the world from a unique perspective: outer space. Coming up, I'll ask space shuttle veteran and now U.S. senator Bill Nelson if he would consider joining the Democratic ticket.

And later I'll talk with a former leader of the Christian Coalition who is now the Republican Party's point man for the South.

Plus the question everyone seems to be asking. Should Martha Stewart go to jail?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Senator John Edwards is the overwhelming choice of Democrats for the No. 2 spot on the John Kerry ticket according to our new CNN poll. The North Carolina senator was named by 30 percent of the survey taken shortly after he pulled out of the presidential race. Senator Hillary Clinton was a distant second at 4 percent, followed by Howard Dean, Wesley Clark and Al Gore all at 3 percent. Nearly half the Democrats were undecided.

Another name being mentioned for the No. 2 spot on the Democratic ticket is U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida. Although he's in his first Senate term, Nelson's resume includes a long stint in the House of Representatives and even a flight aboard the space shuttle back in the 1980s. When we spoke earlier this afternoon I asked Senator Nelson if it was appropriate for Senator Kerry to say some international leaders have told him in private they hope he wins the election.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: Well, the country is so divided, we need a president who can bring us together. And over and over, it's almost as if the White House wants to pick a fight on every issue. I mean, we've got enough stuff like the war on terror, and all of the lack of funding on education and the environment, and health care. In this kind of political cauldron you need a leader that can bring folks together. And I think that's what Senator Kerry is saying.

KING: Let me follow on that point. You mentioned the war on terror. We have a new national CNN poll out today that shows Senator Kerry in the lead. Good news for your candidate. But when you go through the specific issues the senator does quite well on health care, does OK on the economy. But compared to President Bush, when voters are asked who do they trust more to fight the war on terrorism, the president has a 26-point advantage. How can Senator Kerry deal with that, sir?

NELSON: Well, you would expect that kind of lead for an incumbent president. Because, everyone looks up to the presidency to protect us. But then when you get into the particulars, was this a war that we were told the truth about what was immediately the -- the threat to the interests of the United States?

And then when those things start to come out, then the American people start asking the questions. Is this the kind of leader that we want for this decades-old war on terrorism that is going to be. And I think you can simplify it by just asking the American people, do they think this country is going in the right direction or the wrong direction? And you will find a substantial lead that says this country is not going in the right direction.

KING: Let me ask you about a poll that's probably a lot more to your liking. A new Florida poll out this morning that shows Senator Kerry up 49 percent to 43 percent. Just outside the margin of error. So obviously a very close race. But Senator Kerry with a slight advantage right now. What is your sense, sir, of what is the big issue in your state, and what is the key swing voter group, do you believe?

NELSON: Well, at the end of the day, Florida will be a close race. This poll of a six-point lead for Kerry now doesn't surprise me. Because, he has the momentum, he's articulating the message, he's found his voice. He's found his legs. But as you get on into the dog days of summer, there's going to be the question of health care and education, and protection of veterans. And the protection of this country from terrorists, and how you plan that for the future. Those are going to be the issues that will emerge. And that's the issues that not only Floridians are going to decide on, but Americans are.

KING: I heard, sir, as you were getting wired up for the interview, one of your constituents tell you, I believe it was a woman, that you'd make a great running mate. Have you managed to set up a meeting between that constituent and Senator Kerry just yet?

NELSON: No. And this is way too early to speculate on that. I think he's going to go about this in a very deliberative fashion. As he should. His first question is who would be prepared to take over in the case that that day ever came? And on the basis of that, and some of the electoral politics, he'll make a decision in due time. I expect it will be a late decision, probably in July.

KING: You've been spending a little time with him. Has he mentioned at all, say, perhaps said you or your colleague Bill Graham might be considered. Would that be OK with you?

NELSON: Well, if Florida becomes key, then Senator Kerry's going to look at Florida. And Senator Graham is the most distinguished public servant in come out of this state. He's certainly going to look at him. But I think he's going to look at others like Senator John Edwards, who has earned the right to be looked at. And there are a host of others, as well.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Very modest, Senator Bill Nelson a bit earlier today.

President Bush is getting a mix of support and criticism for his campaign ads that show images from 9/11. Now First Lady Laura Bush is weighing in on the controversy. That story just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: First Lady Laura Bush is adding her voice to the debate over the use of images from September 11 in those new Bush/Cheney campaign ads. During an appearance today in New Orleans, Mrs. Bush called the 9/11 attacks a defining moment in history.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Most people who are our age or younger, it was really the only happening in the United States in our whole history that was like that. And, a lot of the policy, what's happening in Afghanistan, what's happening in Iraq, was driven by what happened on that September day, when we found out that we weren't totally protected by the two oceans, and that terrorists would attack our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Now who could forget what happened in the race for the White House in Florida back in the year 2000? Is round two coming up. With us from Atlanta to talk more about this key battleground state and other issues in the presidential campaign, Ralph Reed, the Bush/Cheney campaign's southeast chairman. Ralph Reed, thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS.

New poll out in Florida today showing Senator Kerry up 49-43. What do you need to do?

RALPH REED, BUSH SOUTHEAST CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: Well, first of all we should point out that there's another survey by the "Tampa Tribune" that shows the president up by five points. This is a survey among all registered voters. It generally overstates Democratic appeal on a registered as opposed to a likely voter poll. But in any event we think this is going to be a very close race. We think it's going to be as close as 2000, if not closer.

The thing that's interesting about it, John, is I think the Democrats, and you saw this in John Kerry's remarks today in Florida, want to re-run the 2000 campaign. And I think that's a mistake. They're looking backwards. We're looking forwards. And Florida is such a dynamic state, with a lot of new people who come in regularly, it has a very transient population. It has a lot of people that come there looking for economic opportunity that if John Kerry continues to go down there and bang the drum of the Florida recount, I think it's going to hurt it.

KING: I'm going to let it go that you said it could be even closer than last time. 500 -- let's hope not. You heard Senator Kerry today talking about legal teams. They obviously believe it could be very close again. The Democrats apparently are putting together some organization of lawyers to go and check voting sites. And Senator Kerry says there are irregularities. Where do you think he's going with that?

REED: Again, he did the same thing when he came down earlier this year and spoke to the Florida Democratic Convention. They continue to harp on last time. They continue to try to energize their base by looking backwards instead of forwards. By stressing pessimism instead of optimism. And by stressing anger instead of a positive vision for the future of the country. What people want to hear is what is John Kerry's plan to create jobs and strengthen this economy? And the answer is, you can sum it up in two words, raise taxes.

This is going to be the first Democratic nominee for president since Walter Mondale in 1984 who's going to go to the voters of Florida and say if you vote for me I pledge to raise your taxes and I pledge to do it in the first 100 days. That's not going to go over well with Florida's 1.3 million small businessmen and women. It's not going to go over well with Florida's seniors, who he voted eight times to increase taxes on their Social Security benefits. And so I think he's out of the mainstream with voters in Florida, and that's why George W. Bush is going to win Florida again.

KING: Let's look beyond Florida and across the south. Senator Kerry obviously has been in the region because of the primaries up tomorrow. He went to Texas. No one is expecting to see him much in Texas. But he did go into Louisiana. You remember back in 1992, one of Bill Clinton's keys to success was plucking a few southern and border states. Louisiana and Georgia. John Kerry have a chance in any of those places this year?

REED: We're not going to take anything for granted and we're going to run hard. John Kerry, in a rare outburst of candor during the Democratic primaries said that, quote, "it was a mistake to look to the south to win the election." And he said Al Gore proved you could win the south -- without -- you could win the presidency without carrying a single state in the south. Obviously that statement, which he has never repudiated, in fact denied saying, has been a political problem for their campaign, so they're trying to fix it.

But in the end, if you look at the Kerry thesis, it is on cultural and values issues, I'm out of the mainstream in the south, so I'm going to talk about other things. Well here's the problem. When you talk about other things you're either talking about higher taxes, more spending, bigger deficits, or voting to gut 27 weapons systems or cut intelligence spending by $1.5 billion, contemporaneous to the first World Trade Center bombings.

He wanted to cut intelligence spending $300 million a year every year for the five years leading up to the attacks of September 11. I can tell you right now, John, that is not going to sell in the south. I don't think it's going to sell in the heartland of America. And I think if you consider the fact that the 153 electoral votes in the south are 57 percent of what is necessary to win, and if you don't win any of those you have to win 70 percent of the remainder, I think it's going to be very uphill for John Kerry in the electoral college map.

KING: Ralph Reed, first week of March, doing his homework. We need to end it there today. Thank you very much. Because it's so important we're sure we'll have you back.

She's a convicted criminal, but should Martha Stewart go to prison? That's a question Americans are weighing in on. Just ahead we'll find out what they're saying in our new poll.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Should Martha Stewart go to jail now that she's convicted of criminal charges? Americans have some definite opinions about that. In our new CNN/"USA TODAY"/Gallup poll, just over half of the respondents say yes to jail time for Stewart. 40 percent say no. But check out this generation gap. Just over two-thirds of younger people ages 18-29 think Stewart should spend time behind bars. Only about a third of those 65 and older agree. When asked whether Stewart was treated fairly, 66 percent say yes, 27 percent say no.

And that's it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Judy will be back tomorrow. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.

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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