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The Iraq Factor: Politics and Policy; Return of Misery Index; Interview With Senator Carl Levin, Senator Lindsey Graham; Schwarzenegger Rescues Bodyboarder

Aired April 12, 2004 - 15:30   ET


GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, U.S. ARMY: It has been a tough week of fighting.

ANNOUNCER: A very deadly week in Iraq.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But I know what we're doing in Iraq is right.

ANNOUNCER: But do American voters agree?

RONALD REAGAN, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Are you better off than you were four years ago?

ANNOUNCER: It worked for Ronald Reagan, but can John Kerry use the politics of misery to unseat another incumbent president?

He was John Kerry's last major rival for the Democratic nomination. Now, does John Edwards want to team up as Kerry's running mate?

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANIDIDATE: My focus now is making sure that John Kerry becomes the next president of the United States.



JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Thank you for joining us.

President Bush has decided to face the latest criticism of his national security policies head on. He has announced plans to hold the year's first primetime news conference tomorrow night. There will be no shortage of topics to talk about. At a media briefing today in Crawford, Texas, with Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, Mr. Bush faced new questions about a range of U.S. security issues, including pre-9/11 intelligence warnings and the recent surge in violence in Iraq.


BUSH: The situation in Iraq has improved. But you're right, it was a tough week because of -- there was lawlessness and gangs that were trying to take the law in their own hands. These were people that were trying to make a statement prior to the transfer of sovereignty that they would get to decide the fate of Iraq through violence.


WOODRUFF: Word of tomorrow's news conference comes as some members of the Army's 1st Armored Division learn that they might have to remain in Iraq longer than expected.

Also today, commanding U.S. General John Abizaid acknowledged that some U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces have refused to fight. And in a few cases, some Iraqi police have defected and joined insurgent Iraqi missiles.

For more now on Iraq, national security, and the political challenges facing the president, I'm joined by CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times.

Ron, we were just talking about how much is going on with all the bad news coming out of Iraq with the news over the weekend about this warning before 9/11, the president got a briefing, terrorists determined to strike inside the United States. Which at this point politically is the bigger headache?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: An extrary confluence of events. I think in the long run, though, Iraq is going to be more of a challenge for the president than the pre-9/11 questions. That's not to say there won't be some very difficult moments for him in the weeks and months ahead.

I think there will be a lot of focus in the coming week, as the commission moves forward, on what the president did, if anything, in response to the briefing that he received on August 6. And that's important, Judy, because it goes to the central image that the campaign is trying to sell of him as a decisive wartime leader.

But in the end, I believe that, you look at the polls, the public feels that no one did enough before 9/11. And they are reluctant to pin the blame on any one individual, whether President Bush or President Clinton.

As a result, I think he'll be judged more what he did after 9/11. And in that period, clearly, the war in Iraq is his signature contribution to the war on terror. It is something for which he will be held, I think, accountable one way or the other.

WOODRUFF: And yet, Ron, you ask people, you know, what do you think should be done, people still are supporting the idea of the troops being there. They're not saying bring the troops home. So what are they expecting the president...

BROWNSTEIN: Well, actually, those numbers have been rising. Look, I think what's been striking about Iraq is how strong support has maintained -- how strong public support has maintained for the mission despite the inability to find the weapons of mass destruction. And I think that's largely because the public believes that even without the WMD, that removing Saddam will make the region more stable and thus America more secure in the long run.

If that conviction begins to crack, if it appears that Iraq is sort of descending into chaos, there is not an ideological majority in support of the war. It's a pragmatic majority. If people feel that it's not meeting goals, I think that that will become very difficult for the president.

WOODRUFF: What does the president need to say about Iraq tomorrow night at this news conference?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, one thing I think he needs to do is give people a sense that he is leveling with them. I think there is a certain danger to the president in seeming somewhat out of touch with events on the ground which he has been going out of his way to minimize.

Secondly, I think he has to show them that there really is a clear plan for this handoff of sovereignty on June 30. Yesterday, Paul Bremer was asked, "Who are you turning over the keys to on June 30?" And he said on "Meet the Press," "That's a good question."

David Broder of The Washington Post, later on the show, said, "That's a good question is not a good answer." And, in fact, I think the president needs to reassure people that there is a direction here that makes sense and we do have a plan for this increasingly controversial idea of reverting sovereignty to the Iraqis on June 30.

WOODRUFF: Very quickly to John Kerry. If all of this is very difficult for the president, what does it mean for John Kerry, the man who wants to replace him?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think John Kerry is caught a little bit in between. He has faced a question about whether he has been clear enough in delineating his alternative. He did give a very clear speech going back to last September, saying that we should be turning this over to the U.N. But he's been, I think, cautious in how much he wants to press that alternative at a time when troops are literally dying in the field, how hard he wants to go at the president in criticizing the way it's going.

So he has been sort of caught in I think in a kind of a no man's land in between. On the one hand, he does feel the need to show that he has an alternative. On the other hand, he doesn't want to be seeming to do anything that undermines the troops in the field.

WOODRUFF: All right. Ron Brownstein, tough times for all involved. Appreciate it.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: And a quick reminder. CNN does plan live coverage of the president's primetimes news conference scheduled for tomorrow night in the White House East Room. The news conferences scheduled to begin at 8:30 Eastern, 5:30 Pacific.

A New CNN-TIME Magazine poll does shed some light on how Americans view the president and his Iraq policies. When asked if they approve of current military policy in Iraq, 48 percent said they strongly or at least somewhat approved. Now, that is down from 59 percent approve in January. While 45 percent now say they strongly or somewhat disapprove.

Asked if the Bush administration has a clear plan to deal with Iraq, 43 percent said yes, 51 percent said no. And as for whether the war in Iraq has made the U.S. safer from terrorism, 40 percent said safer, while 48 percent said less safe.

Now, turning to the campaign trail, Democrat John Kerry is in the showdown state of New Hampshire. An event scheduled this hour at the University of New Hampshire is the first of several stops planned this week, targeting students on college campuses. We plan to bring you some of John Kerry's remarks once the event gets under way.

Kerry also plans stops later this week at the University of Rhode Island, the City College of New York, and the University of Pittsburgh. Kerry began his day at the other end of the eligible voter demographic with a visit to a Massachusetts senior center.

Earlier today, the Kerry campaign released what it is calling a middle class misery index. Now, you may recall a misery index from a presidential campaign more than two decades ago. But our Bruce Morton reports the similarities are in name only.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not a trace of difference among...

BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jimmy Carter, running for president against incumbent Gerald Ford, campaigned on what he called the misery index, a combination of the inflation and unemployment rates. Under Ford, the index was 13.5 percent. Not too goo, the voters decided, and put Carter in charge of the economy.

Unfortunately, things then got much worse. And by the time Carter was running for reelection in 1980, the misery index had shot up to 20.6, allowing Ronald Reagan in their debate to ask a famous question.

REAGAN: Are you better off than you were four years ago?

MORTON: The answer, Reagan aide Michael Dever (ph) said, was clear to everybody who had been standing in gas lines and couldn't buy a house. Reagan, of course, won the election.

So now, can John Kerry campaign on the misery index? Well, not on the old one. Commerce Secretary Donald Evans said this month that the old Carter misery index, inflation plus unemployment, is now a very low 7.7 percent. So the Kerry camp has unveiled a new middle class misery index. It has seven components, not two. They are: median family income, college tuition, health costs, gasoline costs, bankruptcies, the home ownership rate, and private sector job growth. Each of the seven weighted equally.

Using this index, which includes neither inflation nor unemployment, using this Kerry index, we learn, surprise, surprise, that under George W. Bush, things are just awful. The index -- high scores are good in this one -- has dropped 13 points under Bush; incomes have declined slightly; college tuition is up by record amounts; health care up more than any year since 1977; gasoline up 15 percent.

(on camera): Using Kerry's middle class misery index, things got slightly worse during Ronald Reagan's presidency. It dropped five points. Or still, under the first President Bush, down 12.

Good news. During Bill Clinton's watch, up 23 points. And again down 13 under this president. The biggest drop since 1976, which is as far back as the research goes.

(voice-over): The Bush campaign says this Kerry index is bogus. And certainly the results are very different from what you get using the old Carter formula. Maybe misery, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


WOODRUFF: And now, checking the Monday headlines in our "Campaign News Daily," a new nationwide presidential poll finds John Kerry leading President Bush. The latest survey by Newsweek gives Kerry a seven-point edge, 50 percent to 43 percent.

It's still not clear how many states will include Ralph Nader on the ballot. When Nader is added to the mix, Kerry's lead is trimmed to four points, as Nader picks up 4 percent.

Political pranksters on the Internet are trying to have a little fun with the John Kerry Web site address. The practical jokers are trying to make the first answer to the search of the word "waffles" on Google, the number one Internet search engine.

It's not an original idea. Last year, anti--Bush pranksters made the official Bush biography at the first result to a Google search on the phrase "miserable failure." No end to their sense of humor.

In a minute, what President Bush admits was a tough week in Iraq. I'll talk Iraq policy with two members of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, including the ranking Democrat.

And later, John Kerry goes back to college. And Senator John McCain says "no" again. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: In the Democratic response to President Bush's weekly radio address, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan warned of a possible civil war and increased violence against U.S. troops in Iraq. Levin said this could occur if the U.S. turns over sovereignty to a political entity that does not have broad support from the Iraqi people.

I spoke with Senator Levin just a short time ago and I asked him why the United Nations wasn't involved when the crisis in Iraq started.


SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: That's the mistake we should not repeat. We made a mistake in not having the international community with us before we initiated the attack, and we have been paying a price for it because we are now a western-occupying power. And we ought to not repeat that mistake by, at a minimum, going to the U.N. and asking them whether or not they concur in a date which we set unilaterally with the governing council that we in turn created and with our own Ambassador Bremer.

So we need the advice, we need the support of the international community. And the more we do things unilaterally, the more difficult it is for us to get that support.

WOODRUFF: Well, here's what President Bush said just yesterday -- or over the weekend -- about this in his radio address. He said this is precisely what our enemies want, to push that date back. He said they want America and our coalition to falter in our commitments before a watching world.

What do you say to this, to the president?

LEVIN: That setting a date with the international community isn't faltering, it's just common sense. That if we want to get the support and the strength politically that the international community's presence will bring to us, then we have to truly make them a partner with us, an equal partner.

We can't just go ahead, set a date unilaterally, and then say to the international community, well, we don't even know what the entity is that we'll be restoring sovereignty to is, but, nonetheless, we want you to support us. That's not the way to set up a partnership.

So we could be worse off if we delay it. But on the other hand, if we don't delay it, we could be much worse off because, if we just select some entity in Iraq, we pick the government as a western nation, an occupying power, and we say, OK, you're going to be the sovereign government of Iraq, unless we have international support for that decision, we could have much bigger trouble than we're going to have without doing it that way.

WOODRUFF: Senator Levin, let me ask you about the troop levels in Iraq. The number is over 120,000. There's more and more of an indication that U.S. troops are either going to be increased or will be increased. Many of these troops are being asked to stay longer. You and other Democrats really don't have any choice but to go along with this, do you?

LEVIN: It's not just that we don't have any choice. I think that when the combatant commander out there, General Abizaid, says that he needs more troops, that we have to give him what he needs out there.

We're there now. And we want it to succeed there now. I've been focusing on the importance of getting the international community involved in order that we have a chance of success for the political clout that they had. But we have to, it seems to me, give the commander there what he says that he needs.

WOODRUFF: So you wouldn't put any restraints on the number of troops needed even if it means expanding the size of the U.S. Army, Marines?

LEVIN: Well, you know, I don't want to just say, you know, here's a blank check. I wouldn't go that far. But it seems to me this is a reasonable request on the part of the commander.

These are troops that are basically already there. I think it's regrettable that we're in this situation. We're so alone, where we've got 90 percent of the forces of ours, where we don't have any Muslim nations with us because we did not get the support of the U.N. going in.

But, nonetheless, that's where we're at now. And it seems to me that we've got to have a combination both of military strength, but try to internationalize that by getting the political support of the U.N.

So, yes, I'll give him what he requests now. But I can't say that no matter what anybody asks for, that that would automatically mean in advance that I would support. But, in general, I think it's the right principle to give that commander what he needs in terms of troops and in terms of equipment.


WOODRUFF: Senator Carl Levin. I spoke with him just a short time ago.

When we return, a Republican member of the Senate Armed Services Committee will give us his thoughts on what's going on in Iraq. Senator Lindsey Graham straight ahead on INSIDE POLITICS.


WOODRUFF: As we reported, the situation in Iraq today is calmer, but still tense after a bloody weekend. A little over an hour ago, I spoke with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, about what's happening in Iraq. My first question concerned the upcoming handoff of sovereignty to the Iraqis and whether the United States should get more international and U.N. backing before there's any sort of handover.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I think it's sending the wrong signal. The coalition is going to hand over authority to the Iraqi Governing Council. It's going to be confusing for a while, because militarily we'll still be the dominant force.

But, Judy, the U.N. is not going to be able to do any better than we've done. They don't have the military capacity to make sure that the country's pacified. And politically, the sooner Iraqis can have a voice, the better.

The U.N. can help. We need other people involved in the coalition. But at the end of the day, as soon as we can get the Iraqi people voting on their own leadership, the better off we'll be. So I'm for pressing forward.

WOODRUFF: But I think Senator Levin's point and the point of others who have said this is that the more you have an international consensus behind this handover, the less of a target the U.S. is in Iraq.

GRAHAM: Well, they blew up the U.N. compound. They kidnapped Chinese people. They've kidnapped people from Australia. They've killed the Spanish, they've killed the Italians.

The people who are killing different groups have one common purpose, and that is to drive democracy out of Iraq. So I don't buy that at all. If you left it up to them, there would be nobody there but the extremist fundamental Islamic people running the country. So, no, I don't buy that at all.

WOODRUFF: What of another point that Senator Levin made, that to turn the authority over to an entity that has been blessed or endorsed by United States in essence is not going to be an Iraqi-endorsed authority?

GRAHAM: Well, here's what we need to have happen quickly. The Governing Council needs to be voted on and have a mandate from their own people, not from the U.N., not from the United States. But the truth is -- and this is not going to go away -- the only military power in the world that can really bring military stability is the United States working with its allies. But we are the dominant military power.

We're going to have to accept that burden. We need more international help. We have international help. But internationalizing the operation is not, to me, the goal.

The goal is to get the Iraqi people having a voice in their own governance. And the people who are speaking now through guns and violence are not the voice of the Iraqi people. And we need not mistake them for the voice of the Iraqi people. They are what they are, thugs and killers.

WOODRUFF: Are you worried, though, that this is hurting the president politically? The polls showing the number of Americans supporting U.S. policy in Iraq is dropping, something like down to 45 percent, 48 percent from 57 percent -- 59 percent, I'm sorry, in January?

GRAHAM: You know, the politics of this will take care of itself. I am convinced that most Americans believe that Saddam Hussein being removed has made us safer and the world safer, that most Americans understand you can't go from a dictatorship to chaos to a democracy without chaos in the middle.

It is a mess. There's no way to say it. It is a confusing time. But we have to fight back.

I'm not worried about the president's political future. I worry about our troops on the ground. And I would like to say to their families that your loved ones are doing what needs to be done.

The people that we're fighting in Iraq, if they had their way, the Mideast and the whole region would be worse off, not better off. And we can beat these people if we stay together. And it's in our common interest to beat these people.


WOODRUFF: Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina noting at the end he would be the first to say the Bush administration, in his words, has undersold the complexity of what is going on in Iraq.

Well, John Kerry wants to make a compact with the next generation. Coming up: the senator's new efforts to attract young voters.

Also, our "How it Works" segment explaining how that checkout box on your income tax form gets money to the presidential candidates.



ANNOUNCER: From presidential hopeful to running mate...

WOODRUFF: It was pretty clear you wanted to be president. You thought you were the best person to become the next president. Do you want to be vice president?

ANNOUNCER: Judy sits down with Senator John Edwards.

John McCain tries to stamp out speculation that he would join John Kerry. But we're not done discussing it. Get ready for our "Ticket Talk."

From bodybuilder to action hero to governor, that's old news. Stick around, and we'll tell you about Arnold Schwarzenegger's latest role.



WOODRUFF: Welcome back.

As a new political week begins, President Bush again today offered a strong defense of his policies in Iraq. And in spite of the recent violence there, he repeated his determination to transfer Iraqi sovereignty at the end of June.

Here in the U.S., Democrat John Kerry is staying away today from the Iraq issue. He's in the battleground state of New Hampshire this hour kicking off a multiday tour of college campuses and using what his campaign calls a "misery index" to describe the economy under President Bush.

Our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is here with me now for more on John Kerry's day. Candy, what is all this about a misery index.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: In some ways, it's the products of a very long campaign. We've seen this in years past.

You take basically what you've been saying before and you repackage it and misery index rings a bell as we know from the Jimmy Carter era and Ronald Reagan used it quite effectively.

This is a different misery index as Bush's piece showed. But the fact of the matter is, the campaign felt this was a very good week to talk about this. Americans are writing out their checks for taxes. They claim this is a time when you sit down with your checkbook you know how much money you have and you're plotting your kids' tuition and doing all these things.

So what better time to tell Americans how miserable they are with these seven components? So it's a repackaging and it's to students because they looked ahead at the calendar and where are students going? They're home. It's just really time and place and opportunity. We're in that lull in the campaign where you have to go places but not quite sure how you do it.

And they packaged this neatly around a misery index and a college campus tour.

WOODRUFF: But at the same time, the headlines and the newspapers, television is full right now of these terrible stories, most of them bad stories coming out of Iraq. Do they really think they can get the word out about the economy when all this is going on?

CROWLEY: Well sure they get it our locally. That's No. 1. It plays heavily in the local papers. Iraq is a sticky wicket for a couple of reasons. First of all, people are dying at a faster rate than they have been in weeks and months past. That makes it hard to come out and blast the president on Iraq.

Second of all, you get heavy push back from the Kerry campaign on this. They say we have been out there, we do have a policy. But you know, we don't have the details. We haven't talked to the commanders on the ground, we haven't talked to the troops, we haven't talked to this.

So they feel that they have done that. And that you know, given some time, they'll do it again. But the fact of the matter is the commander in chief is the one supposed to be putting this plan out.

We've seen this before. It's a little chicken. He's the president. He needs to do this. And frankly they don't need to force the president out because he's being forced out by events.


CROWLEY: One Kerry supporter said look at the latest "Newsweek" poll. Kerry is up by 7, 8, 9 points. He must be doing something right or Bush might be doing something wrong. So they're kind of letting this ride at this point and it looks like it's working.

WOODRUFF: OK. Candy Crowley, thank you very much.

Just a short time ago, I spoke with John Kerry's former Democratic primary rival Senator John Edwards of North Carolina. We covered a range of topics starting with Iraq.

I asked Senator Edwards if he would do anything differently in Iraq than what the Bush administration is doing right now.


SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), FRM. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, what should have been done a long time ago.

What's happened here is the president has put us in a mess. He set this arbitrary deadline with no plan in place. He's been for a long period of time refusing to bring in our friends and allies to this process, which means America's been carrying this burden by itself. It's one of the reasons the Iraqis are so hostile toward America right now.

Now this policy that the administration's following is not working and we're seeing the results of it.

WOODRUFF: What though exactly would you do right now? You're not advocating pulling troops out, I understand.

EDWARDS: No, no. We have responsibility there.

WOODRUFF: What exactly would you do differently? EDWARDS: Well, first of all, we wouldn't be in this place if John Kerry were president of the United States, if we had a Kerry administration instead of a Bush administration, we wouldn't be where we are right now.

I mean the critical thing that has been needed in Iraq for a long period of time is an international presence, a serious international presence, giving the United Nations, for example, control and authority over the civilian authority. But then we have the United Nations there now conducting really important negotiations.

In fact, the administration has largely stayed on the sidelines and given them that responsibility. But we still haven't given them the authority they need.

WOODRUFF: Would you stick to the June 30 handover date?

EDWARDS: I think we have to see what happens. We know the United Nations is there negotiating right now with the Iraqis trying to find some way to put a governing body in place as of July 1. I think we have to see how that plays out.

WOODRUFF: But assuming the U.N. says all right, we'll try to make this work, are you saying the U.S. is stuck with that date even though...

EDWARDS: No, here's what I'm saying. I'm saying we should not be where we are right now. The Bush administration is completely responsible for us being in this place.

And, Judy, I have to say, it's not like we just started saying this a month ago or six months ago. I've been saying this, John Kerry's been saying this for a couple of years now, that what needed to be done from the beginning is have an international presence and a clear plan.

This administration is responsible for what's happening right now.

WOODRUFF: The American people are looking what's going on right now and saying why should we turn control over to somebody else, John Kerry, when we are in the fix that we're in?

EDWARDS: Here's why we should turn control over to John Kerry. Because he's had a clear plan to have success in Iraq from the beginning witch this administration does not have. Which mean NATO presence, international troop presence, it means giving the United Nations more authority.

Instead of us doing this alone, we would have had an international presence in this operation. We would have a very different Iraq right now if Kerry were president of the United States.

WOODRUFF: Let's talk about 9/11. Over the weekend, the White House released the contents of a briefing the president received over a months before 9/11 that warned of possible terrorist strikes within the United States.

The president said yesterday that this warning was not specific enough to warrant his taking action. He pointed a finger in fact at the FBI and the CIA And said they were looking into it.

Is George W. Bush off the hook on all this?

EDWARDS: Absolutely not. When the president of the United States is briefed as he was in August of 2001 at his ranch in Texas while he was on vacation, it's his responsibility to do something.

I mean, at a minimum, he should have called a meeting that he presided over or his security advisers engaged in. The president needed to take some serious steps to respond to this warning.

WOODRUFF: He says it wasn't specific enough.

EDWARDS: But we knew -- what we knew from this briefing and I suspect over a long period of time the briefings the president had been receiving is that he was aware that this terrorist threat existed, that al Qaeda was a serious threat. And that the warnings were becoming increasingly intense over time.

That requires the president of the United States to take some action. He did nothing from what I can tell.

WOODRUFF: So what do you do about that? You just say gee it's a shame and move forward? I mean, right now there are calls to revamp the intelligence gathering community. Is that really all you can do at this point?


EDWARDS: What we should have already done and what I believe we need to do now, I'm for and I think Senator Kerry is also for is actually changing the way we conduct domestic intelligence in this country.

We're going to find out this week, Judy, when the commission starts interrogating the FBI leadership, that we've had a huge problem within the FBI -- structural problem within the FBI in gathering intelligence and fighting the war on terrorism which is their law enforcement agency. They're linear in their approach to this problem.

They investigate, indict, prosecute and get a conviction. The problem is that's not the best way to conduct intelligence and what we should be doing is having a different agency responsible for fighting terrorism here in this country.

WOODRUFF: Let me talk about the advice presidential search. You indicated you talked to John Kerry about this.

EDWARDS: I've indicated that I've talked to John Kerry about a lot of things, and I'm going to keep my conversations with him private.

WOODRUFF: Including about the vice presidential?

EDWARDS: Again, private between John Kerry and me.

WOODRUFF: So you won't say one way -- have you talked to anyone representing John Kerry about the vice presidency?

EDWARDS: Same answer.

I think this is -- my focus now is making sure that John Kerry becomes the next president of the United States. I intend to do absolutely everything I can to make that happen. And I believe it's important, and by the way, not just for the country but my own children and grandchildren. And I'm going to do everything I can to make that happen.

WOODRUFF: It is clear you wanted to be president. You thought were the best person to become the next president. Do you want to be vice president?

EDWARDS: I want to make John Kerry our next president. That's what I intend to spend high time focusing on.

WOODRUFF: That sounds like yes.


EDWARDS: Can I just say one other word about this? This is an important decision for Senator Kerry, one of the most important decisions he'll make between now and November.

I think he should be given room to make it. omen it's an important issue for him personally and the country and it says a lot about the kind of administration he wants.

WOODRUFF: Well let me ask you this: if you were not chosen, what is John Edwards going to do? You're not going to run for your Senate seat for North Carolina, you've said. What's in store for John Edwards?

EDWARDS: I'm going to be out over the country campaigning for our Democratic Senate candidates. In fact I'm going to Washington state this week to campaign for Patty Murray, Inez Tennebaum in South Carolina, Brad Carson in Oklahoma. I'm going to provide as much help as I can to those candidates, to some House candidates.

But the most important focus of my work between now and November is making sure that John Kerry's our president.

WOODRUFF: And after 04?

EDWARDS: We'll worry about that when it comes.


WOODRUFF: John Edwards is not the only prominent name who's being mentioned as a possible running mate for John Kerry and they're not all Democrats. CNN's political editor John Mercurio is with me for what we're calling "Ticket Talk."

All right, John, what about this John Edwards talk? He wouldn't tell me anything. What are you hearing about him?

JOHN MERCURIO, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Make no mistake about it, John Edwards is still definitely interested in running for vice president. What you're seeing today, you're seeing in the interview, he's being a little more restrained than a couple weeks ago.

Remember there was a perception at the beginning that he was kind of overtly, aggressively seeking the vice presidential nomination. I think he's trying to retrain himself a little bit.

What he has done over the past couple of weeks is retool and rename his political action committee. This was the New American Optimist during his presidential campaign. From now on it'll be called the One America Pac.

And he's sort of appointed some of the key people in his campaign to this pac. Skye Dave (ph) his political director during the campaign, she's now going to run the pac, Kim Ruby (ph) was his press secretary in Iowa during the presidential campaign, she'll now be doing press. So he's still out there, he's still campaigning for other Democrats but also for himself, I think.

WOODRUFF: Let's talk about that non-Democrat whose name has been talked about. John McCain. He went on "Meet the Press" yesterday and said no, no no, I'm not interested.

MERCURIO: I don't know what else he can say.

WOODRUFF: Where does it leave him?

MERCURIO: I guess it leaves it that he's not interested. I sort of take him at face value. We'll continue to talk about it just like we are right now. Karl Rove was in Texas last week in El Paso and he was campaigning and he offered some advice to the Kerry campaign, some probably unsolicited advice about how they should treat this McCain stuff. And Karl Rove said, quote, "it's a sign of the Kerry's campaign technical weakness and shortsightedness if they keep talking about McCain because it raises expectations that they are serious about him and what happens when it turns out that it wasn't serious at all?"

In a way, Karl Rove has a point. He's right. It does turn out to be sort of an expectations game. If they don't end up choosing McCain, some people are going to be upset. But on the other hand, I think the Bush White House is -- every day that this McCain story goes on, it's highlighted the McCain/Bush rivalry, McCain/Bush conflict is highlighted. We have to hear about the fact that McCain is good friends with John Kerry so that's also in the way of a good day for John Kerry.

WOODRUFF: Well, there is buzz out there whether the McCain thing has a chance of becoming a real thing or not. There's a lot of buzz out there still about it, isn't there? MERCURIO: There is definitely a lot of buzz. We did a Nexis search and John Kerry -- I'm sorry, John McCain is the far and away front-runner in the Nexis hits.

WOODRUFF: This is just over the last week, right?

MERCURIO: This is just over the last week. This won't necessarily tell us who Kerry's going to choose, but it does give us a good read on who's generating the most buzz in the media. We typed in these candidates' names, we typed in the words John Kerry and the words vice president. We found out, as you just showed was that John McCain is a far away front-runner with 76 articles that include those words, John Edwards far distant second with 56 hits, Tom Vilsack, Iowa governor and Bill Richardson the Mexico governor tied for third with 27 and Dick Gephardt fifth with 23.

WOODRUFF: And very quickly though. There are some real names we presume under consideration even though they don't come up on Nexis.

MERCURIO: There's two other names I want to mention really quickly. Bob Graham, sources of mine confirmed that he has been contacted by the Kerry campaign as a potential candidate and Mark Warner, the governor of Virginia. He only got 11 hits on the Nexis search we put together. You haven't heard as much about him over the past couple of weeks. Democrats, though, tell me that once he finishes the budget morass (ph) that's going on with him and Richmond (ph) over the next couple of days, his name, I think, in this vice presidential search will start to rise.

WOODRUFF: You heard it here.

MERCURIO: You heard it here first.

WOODRUFF: John Mercurio, CNN's political editor. Ticket talk. Thank you, John. I appreciate it.

Well, the first stop on John Kerry's tour of college campuses was in New Hampshire and it was not a coincidence. Coming up, Bill Schneider takes a closer look at why New Hampshire will be getting a lot of attention this year.

Later. How a little box on your income tax form means big money to presidential candidates, some of them.

Plus, California's governor becomes a lifesaver.


WOODRUFF: The state of New Hampshire is in the spotlight again today as Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry goes back to school. As we've said, Kerry at this hour kicks off his campus tour at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. So why is this small state still getting attention after its presidential primary? Here now Bill Schneider with some answers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: New Hampshire becomes the center of political attention once every four years when it holds its first in the nation presidential primary. Then the state disappears into political obscurity. Why? The No. 4. That's how many electoral votes New Hampshire has but four is also the number of electoral votes by which George W. Bush beat Al Gore in 2000 so if New Hampshire's four puny electoral votes had gone to Gore, things would be mighty different.

New Hampshire is also highly competitive. In 2000, New Hampshire was an island of red in a sea of blue. The only northeastern state that went for Bush. It's also the only state east of the Mississippi completely controlled by Republicans. Governor, the entire congressional delegation, the state legislature, all Republicans. Why? one word. Taxes. New Hampshire's got a libertarian tradition, like the state motto says live free or die. It's one of only two states with no state income tax and no sales tax. Bob Dole refused to sign the state's famous no tax pledge in 1988.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're one of the few candidates that hasn't signed it. Sign it.

SCHNEIDER: His campaign died in New Hampshire. President Bush has lots of things going for him this year in New Hampshire, including tax cuts. John Kerry says he'll raise taxes. Why is he even competitive in New Hampshire? For one thing, he's from neighboring Massachusetts.

JAMES PINDELL, "POLITICSNH.COM": Many of the people moving to New Hampshire have voted for John Kerry once before because they lived in Massachusetts. They may be definitely more open to voting for him again.

SCHNEIDER: Remember, New Hampshire is libertarian. Many voters think Bush is too right wing on social issues.

PINDELL: New Hampshire is definitely in step with New England in terms of social values. They favor gay marriage. They are in terms of abortion, they are very much pro-choice.

SCHNEIDER: In 2000, Bush carried New Hampshire with 48 percent of the vote, 1 point ahead of Gore. Where do things stand now in New Hampshire? A poll taken at the beginning of April shows Bush with a five-point lead over Kerry and Nader getting just 3 percent. But with 48 percent support, Bush is doing no better than he did in 2000, which is why both campaigns are pouring resources into a state with four measly electoral votes.


SCHNEIDER: The best argument for New Hampshire's first in the nation presidential primary is that the state is so small. Campaigns can be highly personal. Being small usually makes New Hampshire virtually irrelevant in the November campaign, but not this time.

WOODRUFF: They're going to be back there and back again. SCHNEIDER: That's right.

WOODRUFF: Bill, thank you very much.

Thursday's income tax deadline, ouch is quickly approaching. Coming up, a look at how a little checkoff box on your tax form can be a presidential candidate's best friend.


WOODRUFF: The April 15 deadline for filing your income tax forms is just a few days away. As always, there's a small check-off box asking you to donate to the presidential election fund. This seems like a good time to explain how it works.


WOODRUFF (voice-over): All it takes is one little check mark on your tax form and the IRS will deposit $3 into the presidential election campaign fund. And that money will go to candidates who qualify for federal matching funds.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't even know how to do a tax filing. I'm trying to figure it out myself.

WOODRUFF: Don't stress, check the box, don't check the box. It won't cost you either way. $3 earmarked for the presidential pot won't add to your overall tax payment. That said, if no is your answer, don't expect a bigger refund either.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have decided to give up federal matching funds in this campaign.

WOODRUFF: Times are tough for the presidential election campaign fund. This year, three candidates passed on the matching fund program to avoid its spending caps. To make matters worse, with each passing year, fewer and fewer taxpayers are choosing to contribute to the fund. Participation peaked in 1978 when 28.9 percent of all returns were filed with a yes box checked. Compare that to last year when the number stood at just 10.6 percent. The reason for the drop? Unclear. Theorists point to public dissatisfaction with the election process or computer tax programs that discourage "yes" votes. One thing's for sure. The fund is solely subsidized by the tax checkoff and dwindling "yes"checks mean a dwindling pot of cash for future hopefuls.


WOODRUFF: So look at that, make your decision this Wednesday. Just ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger jumps into the surf off Maui to play the role of rescuer. We'll tell you what happened.


WOODRUFF: Arnold Schwarzenegger took on a new role while vacationing in Hawaii, rescuer. The California governor was in the surf off Maui when he noticed a bodyboarder in distress. Schwarzenegger, a former body building champion helped the man get safely back to the beach. The man apparently was suffering from cramps.

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson apparently has no plans to follow Arnold Schwarzenegger into the political arena. "People" magazine asked the wrestler and actor whether he plans to become the next Schwarzenegger. Rock's answer, quote, I follow politics, but I don't see myself doing that. I don't know if I'm a Democrat or a Republican. I guess he wouldn't run as an Independent. We'll see. That's it for today's INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff. Thank you for joining us. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.


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