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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Rumsfeld's Visit to Baghdad; Interview With Senator Pete Domenici

Aired May 13, 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: The Pentagon chief rallies the troops in Baghdad. But can Donald Rumsfeld put the prison abuse scandal and calls for his resignation behind him?

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: It's a fact, I'm a survivor.

ANNOUNCER: The new segregation, it's not about black and White, but red versus blue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People are moving to places where they feel comfortably socially. And that social comfort now has a political meaning to it.

ANNOUNCER: Gay marriage and the showdown States: a surprising connection between a hot issue and the presidential battlegrounds.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Thank you for joining us.

Donald Rumsfeld says if anyone thinks his surprise trip to Iraq was designed to "throw water on a fire," they are wrong. But there's no denying the defense secretary felt that U.S. troops could use a pat on the back in the wake of the prisoner abuse scandal. Rumsfeld visited the prison, where he says a few servicemen and women betrayed America's values. And he promised that those few will face the consequences.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUMSFELD: The people who engaged in abuses will be brought to justice. The world will see how a free system, a democratic system functions and operates transparently with no cover-ups, with the world seeing the fact that we're not perfect. And goodness knows, we're not perfect. But don't let anyone tell you that America is what's wrong with this world, because it's not true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: And now, let's bring in our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre. Jamie, clearly calls in the last few days for Rumsfeld to resign. What did he hope to accomplish with this trip, and did he accomplish it?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, he said it was not an inspection tour, and he's not an inspector. He said what he really wanted to do was get a firsthand look on the ground, talk to commanders, look troops in the eye and tell them what a good job that they were doing, and to also give them a pat on the back to reassure them that this prison abuse scandal, as bad as it is, does not define what they're doing in Iraq.

So that was the main purpose of his trip. He told the troops that the idea actually came up when he was talking to President Bush here at the Pentagon earlier this week of making a quick trip with the joint chiefs chairman to see the troops there in Baghdad. Of course, it was unannounced for security reasons.

And again, he said it was simply to take a look on the ground and give the troops a pat on the back, reassure them that, while it's been a tough time, they will get through it. And he told them that in the end, he believes they will look back on their service in Iraq and be proud of it -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: On the surface, it looks like he's feeling more confident about his own job. Separately, Jamie, the debate back here in Washington over the methods of interrogation of prisoners of war, some of them al Qaeda, what is that -- where is that leading?

MCINTYRE: Well, a lot of questions about not just the allegations of abuse, but the so-called approved methods of interrogation that the Pentagon has been using to try to get information from people in Iraq and other places, including detainees at Guantanamo. And you saw some of that reflected in the exchanges that were going on today on Capitol Hill with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and also the vice chairman, Peter Pace.

Listen to this exchange from Senator Jack Reed as he's trying to pin down Wolfowitz about whether some of the interrogation techniques used and approved by the Pentagon fall within the Geneva Conventions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: Seventy-two hours without regular sleep, sensory deprivation, which would be a bag over your head for 72 hours, do you think that's humane? And that's what this says, a bag over your head for 72 hours. Is that humane?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ, DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY: Let me come back to what you said...

REED: No, no. Answer the question, Secretary. Is that humane?

WOLFOWITZ: I don't know whether it means a bag over your head for 72 hours, Senator. I don't know. REED: Mr. Secretary, you're non-responsive. Anybody would say putting a bag over someone's head for 72 hours, which is sensory deprivation...

WOLFOWITZ: I believe it's not humane. It strikes me as not humane, Senator.

REED: Thank you very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCINTYRE: Now, the Geneva Conventions specifically say that prisoners or even civilians detained by the military should not be subjected to acts of violence, intimidation, insults or public curiosity. Ironically, Judy, it's that provision that the Pentagon is citing now as the legal justification for, in all likelihood, not releasing any more of the photographs or videos of the abuse because the release, according to Pentagon attorneys, would violate the provisions of the Geneva Conventions about subduing prisoners to humiliation. So that's the legal basis they're standing on at this point.

WOODRUFF: Ironic, indeed. All right, Jamie, thank you very much.

And now let's get the White House take on Secretary Rumsfeld's trip and the ongoing controversy about the mission in Iraq. We're joined by our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux.

Suzanne, what are they saying at the White House about this trip?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Judy, White House officials are saying that the President felt it was important that Donald Rumsfeld deliver his message personally to U.S. troops, that have hope, encouragement inside of Iraq. But they do say that it was Rumsfeld's decision, his idea to go there. These two discussed it on Monday in their meeting at the Pentagon.

We also heard from the President earlier today at an education event in West Virginia. He made it a point to back Rumsfeld, once again emphasizing that he thinks this prison abuse scandal is an aberration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me say one other thing about our troops. Like you, I have been disgraced, and -- about what I've seen on TV, what took place in the prison. But the actions of a few do not reflect on the fantastic character of the over 200,000 men and women who have served our nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And Judy, expect that that's a message that you're going to hear from the President over and over and over again, despite the fact that he is delivering a message about education and other items on his domestic agenda. I should also let you know as well the focus of the White House is to talk about the transfer of power, how that is going to work to transfer power back to the Iraqi people.

This afternoon, we have learned that there is going to be a group of lawmakers, Republican lawmakers, about 10 of them or so, including House Speaker Denny Hastert, who is going to sit with the President and talk how this whole thing is going to work. We understand from some officials who say that the President, the administration has been under some criticism and even some pressure from conservative Republicans who have been asking for really a more comprehensive idea about the strategy that's supposed to unfold in the next couple of months.

Should also let you know as well, Judy, there is an international push, a public relations campaign that the White House has embarked on. We are going to see National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who's going to be leaving, traveling today to Russia and Germany for the next couple of days.

She's going to be meeting with her counterparts there. She's also going to be meeting with the Palestinian prime minister. And we know that Secretary Powell is going to be traveling to Jordan to talk with Arab allies to try to repair the damage with relations over the last couple of weeks -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Suzanne, thank you very much. Suzanne Malveaux at the White House.

Well, just hours before Donald Rumsfeld left for Baghdad, he talked about Iraq and the mission's price tag before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. Joining us now, a member of that panel. He is Republican Pete Domenici of New Mexico.

Senator Domenici, good to see.

SEN. PETE DOMENICI (R), NEW MEXICO: It's great to see you, Judy. I haven't seen you in awhile. It's really a pleasure.

WOODRUFF: It's been too long. Senator, just let me start out with a very basic question. Are you on board with the Bush administration policy of promoting democracy in Iraq even against -- even facing the resistance of many Iraqi people and the casualty of many American soldiers?

DOMENICI: Well, I'm strongly in favor of the United States' effort. We're already there. Now, let me say what I mean by effort.

I don't know that we will get democracy that we can define as such. But I believe we'll get a kind of representative government that is far better than anything they've had, and that it will be a government that will enforce four or five principals that we believe a government ought to provide: civil rights, equal protection, property rights, religious freedom. Those kind of things will be part of a government.

Will it be part of governance? Will it be a pure democracy with something like we've got? I don't know. But I think we're on the right track. The problem is, with all the things that have happened, and the opposition and their determination to stop it, can we succeed?

WOODRUFF: Well, Senator, one of your colleagues, Republican colleagues in the Senate this week is quoted as saying, "We need to restrain what are growing U.S. messianic instincts, a sort of global social engineering, where the U.S. feels it's both entitled and obligated to promote democracy, by force if necessary."

DOMENICI: Well, I don't know who that was.

WOODRUFF: Pat Roberts. I'm sorry, Senator Pat Roberts.

DOMENICI: See, I don't believe what we did in Iraq is what Pat Roberts is talking about that he says we shouldn't do. There was a big problem in that country. There was something festering there that was well beyond something that we ought to be concerned about with reference to more countries being democratic.

There was a festering sore, a despot. That part of the world was doomed if we didn't do something. So I think our object was perhaps twofold, and we're not doing what Pat Roberts has said.

And I tend to agree with him. We can't do that all over the world. But democracies are coming in this world. Fast and furious, they're coming.

WOODRUFF: Senator, the administration is asking for $25 billion more to get Iraq through the first, we understand, few months of the 2005 fiscal year. What do you think the total price tag will be?

DOMENICI: I don't know. But look, I think it's a shame when senators vote for the resolution to go there and then they turn on it. And I will have to say, when it comes to money, there has been a spirit of making sure the troops got what they need that has been bipartisan. So I assume that will happen. And I don't know how much more there will be.

But I was very pleased yesterday. In fact, I would ask you as a competent reporter to take yesterday's response at the Armed Services Committee hearing and extract for the people the comments of General Myers about how we're going to have -- what our exit strategy is as far as security. It was excellent, and I think it will work.

WOODRUFF: So when you said yesterday to Secretary Rumsfeld -- you said, "I can envision that this situation will not work, that we won't have an organizational structure that will do anything other than have Americans fighting and us supplying those fighters with more and more money"...

DOMENICI: Yes, I said that because I have been very worried that the administration might not be doing the planning for the economic transition, the infrastructure-building transition. And we asked about it and got very good answers yesterday.

On the security part, I was worried that we wouldn't know how to merge the Iraqis in. I got a marvelous answer. We will see within two months a joint headquarters of the Iraqi and American military.

It will become pervasive in the system, and we'll be moving out of it. And the Iraqis will be moving into it. I think of anyone that will do it right, the military will do that part right.

WOODRUFF: All right. Senator Pete Domenici, pointing to some answers yesterday by the chairman of the joints chiefs, Richard Myers. Senator Domenici, thank you very much.

DOMENICI: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: We appreciate it.

And one other note on military funding. John Kerry issued a statement today saying that he will vote for the administration's $25 billion emergency request for the troops. Kerry says the money is "urgently needed because the situation in Iraq has deteriorated." You'll remember that Kerry got political flack for voting for and then against a previous $86 billion funding request for the troops.

Well, the Kerry camp probably is feeling good about a new poll from one of the most important battleground States, Ohio, the first done there in about two months. In a three-way match-up, Kerry is leading Bush 49 percent to 42 percent in the American Research Group Survey. Ralph Nader getting 2 percent. Without Nader, Kerry still leads Bush by seven points.

We focus on the campaign travels of George Bush and John Kerry in today's "Campaign News Daily." The President headed to West Virginia to promote his education initiatives for a third straight day. Mr. Bush called for high schools to get back to the basics of English, math and science. And he promoted a program that spends hundreds of millions of dollars on students who fall behind. His visit was met by critical radio and newspaper ads paid for by The Media Fund, the same group that has been running anti-Bush States in showdown States around the country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to putting our state in jeopardy, the show that's all about what will President Bush has done to West Virginia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll take Bush for 10 points, please.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The answer is 20,000.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's the number of West Virginians who have lost their health insurance since Bush became President?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Correct.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Meantime, John Kerry started the day in Arkansas, where he wrapped up a four-day campaign swing devoted to health care issues. At a speech at a Little Rock senior center, Kerry accused President Bush of failing to maintain health benefits for the nation's veterans.

In this election year, Donald Rumsfeld certainly has become a political lightning rod. Up next, will his surprise trip to Iraq help him and the President keep their jobs? Bay Buchanan and Donna Brazile go a few rounds on that.

The old line about all politics being local takes on new meaning given America's great partisan divide. Our Bill Schneider will explain.

And later, Bush and Kerry senior campaign advisers go head to head over the prisoner abuse scandal and all the political fallout.

This is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: With me now here in Washington, former Gore campaign manager, Donna Brazile, and Bay Buchanan, president of American Cause.

Donna, is Donald Rumsfeld saving his job by going to Iraq a few days after the president marched the to the Pentagon and said, "I have full confidence in you"?

DONNA BRAZILE, FMR. GORE CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I don't think he'll save it long term, but in the short run, I think it's an important symbol that he goes. You know, pat the troops on the back. Perhaps he should have brought a construction crew to raze the prison, to try to deflect more criticisms of his actions. But no, I think Donald Rumsfeld will have to go at some point.

BAY BUCHANAN, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN CAUSE: I think Donald Rumsfeld is here to stay as long as the president wants him. And the president has indicated, Judy, that he definitely wants him and supports him. But I think it was an important part on his part to go there.

It's not only a message to the troops, which I agree with Donna was extremely important, to let them know we do support them, we recognize this is a very isolated situation, very few young people involved in this, and our troops are really a courageous group, but the message also, Judy, is to Americans to let them know that this is a concern. It's an outrage to the people in the highest ranks of government. We are concerned, and the secretary is looking into it personally to make certain that this problem is resolved.

BRAZILE: But Bay, this may have been official United States policy in terms of the way we treated those prisoners, and it may have cost us irreparable damage in terms of the country's reputation around the world. So I think the secretary going there is good in terms of the troops' morale, but, at the same time, he should have had a crew behind him to raze that facility so that we can tell the world that we want to put that behind us after there's a complete, thorough investigation. BUCHANAN: And you are incorrect entirely when you suggest that what went on there, those abuses, was in any way approved policy. That was absolutely not. And that's why many young people are being court-martialed in the next few weeks.

BRAZILE: So they just walked into Iraq and decided to torture people and take nasty pictures of them? No way, Bay.

This came from somebody. Somebody gave them permission to do that. I know troops on the battlefield, and they follow orders.

BUCHANAN: These are military police that were in there that did it, and they did it on their own. This was not following orders from the top. And if it was, we're going to get to those, too. But as of right now, there's no indication of that.

WOODRUFF: Bay, should the president be concerned about conservative questioning of the Iraq policy right now?

BUCHANAN: Well, you know, there's a number of conservatives and liberals who are opposed to the president taking us into Iraq, and they're very vocal about it. And so they are alarmed now.

I think the key, though, I think what's important for America is that we look at the fact we are there. Now what do we do? Now that we're there, we want to give an opportunity to the Iraqi people to have self-determination.

And the president has got to show the American people we're going to do that, we're turning it over to them. And then we're going to get out of there.

WOODRUFF: Let's talk about John Kerry. Donna, the polls are showing, yes, the president is struggling. He's had a lot of bad news in recent weeks. But John Kerry isn't doing very well. It's pretty much a tie in most polls.

Why isn't he doing any better? I mean, Democrats are asking.

BRAZILE: Well, look, at first I said I would mute my criticism for two weeks. But let me tell you, I looked at some of the polls and Kerry's doing quite well, especially in battleground states.

Look, the wills are now on Kerry's operations, and they are picking up the steam. He's doing quite well. The American people understand that there's a difference between John Kerry and George Bush.

This is not a case of just George Bush going badly, but it's John Kerry presenting his bio, getting his ideas out there, trying to lift the curtains on some of these issues that the American people care about. And he's doing quite well in the polls.

BUCHANAN: You know, John Kerry has a real problem here. The key issue right now is the war, and John Kerry does not offer an alternative whatsoever. He believes we should stay there. He's going to support the $25 billion, which I agree with. But the key is there is somebody, there is somebody that is presenting an alternative, and that's Ralph Nader. He's saying get out in six months.

BRAZILE: Oh, here we go.

BUCHANAN: If indeed he touches that core within the Democratic base, which Howard Dean did, he could pick up some points there and very much hurt John Kerry.

WOODRUFF: That's a problem for Kerry, isn't it?

BRAZILE: Well, that's a concern a lot of Democrats care about now that he has the backing of the Reform Party. But look, that aside, John Kerry is not going to allow Ralph Nader to siphon votes from him the way we did in 2000.

WOODRUFF: How is he going to stop him?

BRAZILE: Well, clearly, by presenting an alternative, an alternative that progressives understand, that John Kerry has an agenda not just on the war, but on domestic issues that progressives care about.

BUCHANAN: There's an anti-war sentiment that's very, very strong in the Democratic Party. We saw it all last year. They're not going to accept John Kerry as the alternative.

BRAZILE: They want to win and they want to beat Bush. And they're not going to give Ralph Nader the time of day or the light of day.

WOODRUFF: All right. We've only got till November 2nd to figure this out.

BUCHANAN: We can stay right here, though, and debate it till then probably, Judy.

BRAZILE: She's trying to (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I'm trying to stop her from doing something bad.

WOODRUFF: Bay and Donna, thank you. To be continued. Thank you both.

Well, the experts say get ready. A new avalanche of soft money is on the way. Political ads by outside groups the wave of the future? The impact of today's vote by the Federal Election Commission on so called shadow parties.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: The Federal Election Commission today voted down a proposal that would have placed new limits on outside political groups attempting to influence the presidential election. Today's vote means that so called 527 groups are free to continue pouring millions of dollars into political ads like this one by the anti-Bush group moveon.org.

The vote also means that more pro-Bush groups, like the Club for Growth, will be hitting the airwaves, as well. Until now, many Bush supporters have been holding back, waiting to see if the FEC adopted the proposed fundraising or spending limits.

According to CNN's advertising consultant, Democratic-leaning groups have so far spent more than $36 million on TV ads since early March. Republican-leaning groups have spent just $35,000.

Still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, Bruce Morton explains the real mission behind today's trip to Iraq by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld.

And a closer look at how Iraq is affecting both the Bush and Kerry campaigns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: When it comes to getting out of Iraq, do these two men agree more than they disagree?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Bush and John Kerry have, in fact, quite similar positions in general about how to get out of Iraq.

ANNOUNCER: New polls show the race for the White House closer than ever. What do the campaigns say? We'll talk to the top Bush and Kerry strategists.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm going to pick somebody before the convention. And that's my story and I'm sticking by it.

ANNOUNCER: But whom? Today, two men in the running as Kerry's running mate share the same stage. We've got the latest "Ticket Talk."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

WOODRUFF: Welcome back.

Donald Rumsfeld's trip to Iraq today is about more than making amends for the prisoner abuse scandal. The defense secretary tried to assure the troops that their mission would ultimately be successful. He said he was optimistic that more countries would contribute troops to the coalition to help Iraq be secure, as well as free.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUMSFELD: It's a tough path. And there will be plenty of potholes in the road. And mistakes will get made, and people will have to be picked up and put back on that path towards a freer system. But one day you're going to look back and you're going to be proud of your service. And you're going to say it was worth it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: There are still many unknowns, of course, about the future mission in Iraq, including the possibility that a new president could take charge next year. National correspondent Bruce Morton compares the Bush and Kerry exit strategies.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Of course, President Bush and John Kerry differ over Iraq, don't they? Well, Kerry says the president went to war in the wrong way. Too few allies, misleading the voters about those weapons of mass destruction. But in terms of what do you do now, they're not so different.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States strongly supports the efforts of U.N. Security Generals Special Adviser Brahimi to work with Iraqis to develop an interim government.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: To do this right, we have to truly internationalize both politically and militarily. We cannot depend on a U.S.-only presence.

ROBIN WRIGHT, "WASHINGTON POST": President Bush and John Kerry have, in fact, quite similar positions in general about how to get out of Iraq, and that's calling on the international community, including the NATO military alliance and the United Nations to play key roles after the hand over of sovereignty on June 30.

MORTON: They follow different roads. Bush has a messianic view of America bringing democracy to the world.

BUSH: Freedom is the almighty God's gift to each man and woman in this world.

MORTON: Kerry seems less committed to such a world mission. But he and the president do agree on the need for international help.

KERRY: The president must also go to NATO members and others to contribute the additional military forces and go to NATO to take on an organizing role.

MORTON: The trouble is NATO and other countries may not want to help.

WRIGHT: The United States will probably have to bear the burden. And I think events over the past two weeks will probably also make it more difficult for the United States, even to keep the coalition together in part, because it will be difficult for many of these nations to justify renewing their mandates after June 30. It's not very popular to side with what is perceived as a loser.

MORTON: So Bush and Kerry more or less agree on an exit strategy, international help to keep things calm until Iraq holds elections. But getting to the exit may be very hard. Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: While John Kerry has been trying to keep his remarks about Iraq to a minimum on the campaign trail, he told a local reporter in Arkansas that he had spoken on the telephone to the father of Nicholas Berg, the American whose beheading in Iraq was captured on videotape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: I talked to the father of Nicholas Berg the other night. And you know, there's no word to describe how as a father -- I know I would feel if I lost one of my daughters or one of my stepsons.

I just -- you know, I think every American is pained by what has gone on. On the other hand, we have to be strong. We have to do what's smart to be able to win the war on terror.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Asked later to talk more about the conversation with Berg's father, Kerry refused saying that it was private.

Recent developments in Iraq have weighed heavily on the presidential campaign, even when both Bush and Kerry have tried to talk about something else. I'm joined by Bush campaign senior strategist Matthew Dowd and by Kerry campaign senior adviser Tad Devine. Gentlemen, good so to see both of you.

Matt Dowd, let me start with you. You've had all this news coming out of Iraq. And it may be apparently having an effect on the president's standing in the polls. His approval rating, three of the most recent polls we've seen, 44 percent, 44 percent, 46 percent. History shows presidents don't get reelected with those kind of numbers.

MATTHEW DOWD, BUSH CAMPAIGN SENIOR STRATEGIST: You have to look at obviously the numbers that matter on his approval rating is going to be what it is in October. That's sort of been reflective of how presidents do in the election year.

But we are in that place and time where the approval ratings aren't so high that you know somebody's going to get automatically elected or (UNINTELLIGIBLE) defeated. We're in that between time where Senator Kerry's positions and his policies and our positions and policies are going to matter a great deal. And we're in a competitive environment.

WOODRUFF: Tad Devine, the polls show some frankly concerning news for Senator Kerry, as well. There's a recent "Wall Street Journal"/NBC poll showed only a quarter of voters think that John Kerry would do a better job keeping the country safe, only 21 percent said they think he's consistent and stands up for what he believes in. TAD DEVINE, KERRY CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: Judy, The polls I'm seeing, particularly this week are just full of good news for Kerry and bad news for the president.

The Pugh poll yesterday, for example, five points ahead in the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) national race. You showed a poll earlier in Ohio. John Kerry's ahead 7 points ahead in Ohio. Saw a poll yesterday in Florida, two points ahead in Florida.

I mean the president is in deep trouble right now. It's reflected in his job approval ratings...

WOODRUFF: But John Kerry's not benefiting...

(CROSSTALK)

DEVINE: ... some of the benefit right now in some of the most recent polls. I mean the CBS poll came out yesterday. It was a disaster for the president. And the president's job approval very, very low.

And Matt's right. You know, October numbers are going to matter. But no president, incumbent president who has been as low as the president is today has won reelection. That's a huge problem for President Bush.

WOODRUFF: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

DOWD: Again, I think we're in a situation where we're in that place where the numbers aren't low enough that it means you're going to be defeated or high enough it means you're going to win reelection automatically. We're in that in between place where the comparisons between the two candidates are going to matter a great deal.

And I learned long ago in political campaigns, don't dance in the end zone and don't cry in your beer. We're in a race that I have said for two years is going to be extremely tight, extremely competitive. I know Tad believes that, as well. We're going to -- some are going to show us up, some are going to show us down. But in the end, this is going to be a very close race.

DEVINE: I think that's right. But if you're the president right now, you've got to be deeply disturbed about the trend lines, not just in one poll or two, but now in a half dozen polls in the last week.

WOODRUFF: Well let me ask Matt Dowd about something else. There have been some comments by conservatives, people who support this president recently questioning the mission of this administration.

Pat Roberts, conservative Republican senator from Kansas, questioning U.S. messianic instincts. You've got the columnist Bob Novak saying the president can be faulted for a lack of interest and accountability. George Will you've got talking about the president being blankly incapable of distinguishing hopes from disappointing facts. And so on and so on. DOWD: As the president has said from the beginning on the situation on the war on terror in Iraq, there was going to be times that were really bad and difficulties that we'd face and challenges that we'd face. And we are at one of those times and in one of those places that we do face a lot of challenges and a lot of difficulties.

But I think in the end, what the president cares more about, not as what a pundit might say in Washington, but what the American public says about this. And in the end...

WOODRUFF: What about Senator Roberts?

DOWD: Obviously the president's is going to respond to what congressmen say and senators say. But in the end what he has to do, he's got to do what's right for the country. And he's got to do it regardless of the political consequences, and he has said that.

WOODRUFF: Conversely, Tad Devine, here's an editorial from the Madison, Wisconsin "Capital Times." You may be familiar. "John Kerry's post-primary campaign has been so seriously unfocused and ineffectual that even as George Bush has taken more serious blows to his credibility than any sitting president since Richard Nixon, Kerry has not opened up a lead nationally or in the critical battleground states."

DEVINE: I guess they didn't read the Pugh poll that was out yesterday. But, you know, listen. I can understand that. In the beginning of March, they had $110 million cash on hand and we had $2.3. So we had a strategy, raise an unprecedented amount of money, have the ability to broadcast a national message in battleground states.

We've extended the battlegrounds, by the way, going into Colorado and Louisiana. And we're not done yet. We're going into the red states and we're take the president on all across the country.

WOODRUFF: Are you looking forward to this, Matt?

DOWD: I'm looking forward to it. I love the race. I mean obviously I love the president, I want him to win and I think he would be better off for the country. But these are trying and tiring times. And campaigns are about now become 24-hour a day operations. I'll be glad when it's over. But hopefully we'll be celebrating a victory.

WOODRUFF: Tad, when you see that sort of criticism of the Kerry campaign and you all have had several months since John Kerry wrapped up in essence the fact that he's going to be the nominee.

DEVINE: I think John Kerry's doing better right now than any challenger has ever done in history. It's an unbelievable comeback from a state where they were 55 to 1 over us in cash on hand.

(CROSSTALK)

DOWD: They obviously had a strategy, and I'm not going to fault for their strategy was. But if you go back and look at the polls when the primary process ended up, they were eight, ten, 12 points ahead in this process. Today the race is basically even today.

So the movement in this race, if you look at it over the last two months, has gone from an eight or ten point loss to an even race. That's where the movement (UNINTELLIGIBLE). But I do -- and I expected that to happen. I do expect us to be behind at times and ahead at times.

DEVINE: The movement in this race is that the president is in free fall right now. And I don't think we've seen anything like this.

DOWD: This is dancing in the end zone, dancing in the end zone.

WOODRUFF: I want the viewers to know that these two gentlemen were actually smiling...

(CROSSTALK)

WOODRUFF: Tad Devine, Matthew Dowd, thank you both. We appreciate it. Good to see you and I hope to have you back often.

Now the latest on John Kerry's search for a running mate. Listen up. He appeared for a second day in a row with former rival Wesley Clark in the retired general's home state of Arkansas. Kerry was asked about Clark's vice presidential prospects.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Would you choose general Clark to be your vice presidential candidate?

KERRY: Do you know this guy?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), FRM. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't know. That's my cousin up there.

KERRY: Did you talk to this guy earlier?

Folks, I have huge respect for General Clark. I think all of you know that. I have affection for him. We're becoming great friends in this process. But I have promised I'm not going to discuss publicly how, when, where, what. The only the thing I've said is I'm going to pick somebody before the convention and that's my story and I'm sticking by it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Two other contenders for the bottom of the Democratic ticket appeared side by side today in Boston. Governors Tom Vilsack of Iowa and Bill Richardson of New Mexico joined staffers from the Democratic Governors Association in a walkthrough of the convention site, the Fleet Center.

And Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano may be trying to bolster her credentials for the VP job. Last night, she went public with the White House response to her letter asking for an inquiry on rising gas prices and she said she got, quote, "no new answers," end quote. The choice of running mates certainly matters, but ballot initiatives can make a difference in November. Up next how votes on gay marriage in the showdown states could affect the race for the White House. Two candidates, two groups of supporters. Our Bill Schneider outlines America's great divide.

And later, the stars come out for Kerry. Big names planning to perform at two concerts benefiting the Kerry campaign.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Gay marriage initiatives could be on the ballot in more than a dozen states this fall. Chuck Todd is with me to talk about how the issue could play in the so-called showdown state, he, of course, is the editor-in-chief of the "Hotline", and insider's political briefing produced daily by the "National Journal." He's also a brand new father. Congratulations on Margaret (ph) born just a few days ago.

Chuck, we're delighted to see you. I know you're going to rush home and help your wife after this.

CHUCK TODD, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "THE HOTLINE": Absolutely.

WOODRUFF: Let's talk about politics. How many of these showdown states could have a gay marriage initiative on the ballot?

TODD: As many as seven could have them. Five look almost probable that some form of referendum is going to be on the ballot, Ohio, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oregon. Some of these are citizen-based petition drives to get a constitutional amendment passed. Some of them are state legislatures who vote on it and then have to get voters to approve the referendum. When you think about states like Ohio? How many times do we hear Ohio? It's something that could be a big deal as far as at least organizationally.

WOODRUFF: Is there one particular state we should be keeping an eye on?

TODD: Missouri is something very interesting because they have an interesting law there. The governor, the currently Democratic Governor Bob Holden, it's going to be his decision whether it appears on the August primary ballot where everybody comes and votes on this gay marriage ban or will it be on the November ballot. He's up for not only a tough reelection fight in November but a tough renomination fight in August. He's got his own politics to worry about but there's going to be enormous pressure, most likely, to keep it off the November ballot because no one believes this is good for Democrats.

WOODRUFF: I know it is early to ask this question but what at this point might the effect be on the presidential race in these states?

TODD: It goes back to organizationally. Most importantly, for the Republicans, firing up for the social conservative base. Karl Rove, very publicly, said after the 2000 election, one of the demographic groups they did surprisingly poor with was with evangelicals or religious conservatives. They didn't turn out in the same numbers they had turned out in elections like 1984 or 1988, and a lot of people think this might be what gets evangelicals motivated to come out to the polls, but more than just come to the polls, to do a lot of work.

WOODRUFF: Whose behind all these initiatives? Is there some bigger hand at work here?

TODD: If you believe Terry McAuliffe, there's a vast right wing conspiracy to get these ballot initiatives going. He was saying today that he thinks that the Bush campaign is pushing this but it really is social groups like Focus on the Family, James Dobson and these folks, as George Bush knows, aren't easily controlled. These people fought against him in that Pennsylvania Senate primary that was very close. This is -- these things, once they get on the ballot, they're slam- dunks. None is ever not passed, one of these gay marriage bans and Democrats, as many as one in two are against gay marriage.

WOODRUFF: They will draw voters in many cases who are going to vote for George Bush. The White House not unhappy about that. Chuck Todd, somebody who has gotten not too much sleep over the last few nights but still knows what he's talking about.

TODD: It's all happy adrenaline.

WOODRUFF: Congratulations again. Good to see you. The "Hotline" of course, an insider's political briefing produced every day by the "National Journal." You can go online to Nationaljournal.com for subscription information about the "Hotline."

Just ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, a look at the new segregation that is dividing the United States and we are not talking race. We'll explain the great divide when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: A study concludes that America is seeing a new kind of segregation involving politics more so than race. Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider explains in this segment we call the great divide.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): America is becoming more segregated between Democrats and Republicans. That's the startling conclusion of "Austin American Statesman" reporter Bill Bishop who sees a trend going back nearly 30 years.

BILL BISHOP, "AUSTIN AMERICAN STATESMAN": People are moving to places where they feel comfortable socially and that social comfort now has a political meaning to it.

SCHNEIDER: According to Bishop's data, in 1976 when Jimmy Carter beat Gerald Ford in a close election, just over a quarter of Americans lived in landslide counties where either Carter or Ford got at least 60 percent of the vote. In 2000, there were a lot more landslide counties, nearly half of all voters lived in counties where either George W. Bush or Al Gore got at least 60 percent of the vote. Americans are less likely to live near someone with a different political point of view and more likely to live in a place that is overwhelmingly Republican or Democratic. A place like Cobb county, Georgia, for example, which voted 60 percent for Bush.

MARILYN GILHULY, AUTHOR, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: This area has voted for the conservative Republican in every election in every election.

SCHNEIDER: What attracts people to Cobb County? The values.

GILHULY: People feel strongly about family values, strongly about church and faith.

SCHNEIDER: And the lifestyle, one that includes guns.

DALE ROBERTSON, OWNER, HAROLD'S PAWN SHOP: I truly don't know what percentage of people would have a gun in their home, but you can assume that everyone does. You know, and if the assumption is there, it makes people feel comfortable being here.

SCHNEIDER: A place unlike Montgomery county, Maryland, which voted 63 percent for Gore.

MEREDITH WELLINGTON, MONTGOMERY CO. ZONING & PARKS COMMISSIONER: You have to have friends of Democrats if you live in Montgomery county or you won't have many friends.

SCHNEIDER: Montgomery county residents are attracted by the lifestyle.

PAT BAPTISTE, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: People are very tolerant of different lifestyles here and in general, it is a -- it's just very liberal socially.

SCHNEIDER: And the values which do not include guns.

WELLINGTON: We don't want guns doing anything.

SCHNEIDER: Politics is becoming more and more about values and lifestyle and less and less about economic interests.

BISHOP: The parties have aligned themselves to sort of ideological divides that already existed geographically in the country.

SCHNEIDER: Which means the great divide between Democrats and Republicans in Washington has deep roots in places like Cobb county and Montgomery county.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: The parties today seem to occupy two different worlds, in part because their voters occupy two different worlds. Segregated worlds, separate and in this case, equal -- Judy. WOODRUFF: It's fascinating how this trend has developed. Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Yes, it is.

WOODRUFF: Thank you very much.

And ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, find out how presidential candidate John Kerry plans to rock the vote in June.

And see a rare moment when Kerry sounds like a certain former president.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: Bill Clinton said to me, you've got to listen. You've got to watch those Razorbacks so I heeded it and I've watched a number of Razorback games because of President Bill Clinton.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: That, of course, was John Kerry doing his best Bill Clinton impersonation last night in Arkansas. Today he lifted Little Rock's landmark restaurant Doe's which was a favorite stop for Clinton in his 1992 bid for the White House.

Walking in some shoes. The Kerry campaign and Democratic National Committee hope to rock the vote with two concerts benefiting the Kerry victory committee. One is set to take place in Los Angeles on June 7, scheduled performers include Barbra Streisand, Neal Diamond, and Willie Nelson and look for Bette Midler, James Taylor, Jon Bon Jovi, John Mellencamp and several comedians to perform on June 10 in New York City. That's it for today's INSIDE POLITICS. Thanks for joining us.

I'm Judy Woodruff. "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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