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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

What will President Bush say about the handover of power in Iraq? New poll numbers on the Kerry challenge to Bush. Interview with Dan Senor. Tough new standards issued by Colorado Bishop.

Aired May 24, 2004 - 15:29   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: The warm-up before tonight's main event. What will President Bush say about the handover of power in Iraq? And how badly does he need to score with voters?

In the ballpark: we have new poll numbers this hour on the Kerry challenge to Bush.

Communion consequences: the flap involving Catholic politicians and abortion could work in strange ways.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Thank you for joining us.

We are 37 days away from the handover of power in Iraq, and 162 days away from the presidential election here in the United States. Both timetables figure into President Bush's speech tonight outlining the Iraq transition. We'll have more ahead on what the president may say, but first why he needs to say it. Here now, our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): President Bush's reelection prospects look shaky. Forty-seven percent of Americans approve of the way he's handling his job, down from 53 percent in late March, before the insurrection began in Iraq. The same percentage of likely voters say they'd vote to reelect President Bush. That's two points behind John Kerry, a statistical tie. But with fewer than half the voters willing to support the president, right now he's in trouble.

How much trouble is President Bush in on Iraq? Look at his job ratings on Iraq. Down 20 points since the beginning of the year, shortly after Saddam Hussein was captured. In a poll taken two weeks ago, the president's approval rating on Iraq was just over 40 percent. When a president's ratings get that low, he's in big trouble.

Do people believe the U.S. can win in Iraq? Yes, by a solid two to one. But only a bare majority, 52 percent, believe the U.S. will win in Iraq, because most people do not believe the U.S. is winning in Iraq.

The issue is competence. Since the insurrection began last month, more and more Americans are concerned that the U.S. does not know what it's doing in Iraq. Most do not think the Bush administration has a clear, well thought out plan. There are two sure signs the president is in trouble. One is the opposition party becomes reckless. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi outraged Republicans when she charged that President Bush's incompetence was causing Americans to get killed.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: I believe that the president's leadership in the actions taken in Iraq demonstrate an incompetence in terms of knowledge, judgment and experience in making the decisions that would have been necessary to truly accomplish the mission without the deaths to our troops and the cost to our taxpayers.

SCHNEIDER: The other sure sign? The president's party gets restless. The president has to go to Capitol Hill to reassure his own people, as President Bush did last week.

SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R), PENNSYLVANIA: The president is staying the course, and has encouraged us. And I think got a good response to stay with him.

SCHNEIDER: Now President Bush has to do the same thing with the voters, convince them he has a plan. One that's on track towards a goal.

SEN. GEORGE ALLEN (R), VIRGINIA: He's very firm on the June 30 date, how important that is to transfer that sovereignty.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: A new Annenberg Poll shows a dramatic change in public perceptions of the prisoner abuse scandal. Two weeks ago, the prevailing view, 47 percent, was that the soldiers who mistreated the prisoners were acting on their own. Now the prevailing view, 48 percent, is that the soldiers were following orders. They believe the abuse was not a violation of policy, it was policy -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Bill Schneider, thank you very much. Our political analyst.

In just a moment, we're going to be speaking with the spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, Dan Senor. He will be with us in just a moment.

By the way, we want you to stay with CNN to see live coverage of President Bush's address tonight outlining the steps leading up to a transfer of authority. We're going to be talking more about that in the moments to come.

And now, checking the headlines in our "Campaign News Daily."

John Kerry plans to spend time this week highlighting the continued rise in gas prices. The Kerry campaign has been hammering away at the gas price issue for weeks now. He plans to continue the drumbeat starting today during interviews with local reporters.

Television journalists working for local and national media outlets appear somewhat divided over how reporters are treating the Bush administration. In a New Pew Research Center poll, more than half of the national journalists say White House coverage has not been critical enough, while only one-fourth of local reporters agree. Only eight percent of national journalists say the press has been too critical of the president, while 25 percent of local reporters say the media have been too critical.

Former Vice President Al Gore is joining forces with moveon.org to promote a new disaster movie as a way to criticize Bush environmental policies. Gore is attending a rally in New York sponsored by the liberal Web-based group to publicize "The Day After Tomorrow," a movie about global warming. The film depicts massive destruction around the world due to a rise in Earth's temperature. It opens nationwide this weekend.

And now we go back to Iraq and live to Baghdad. Let's talk more about the handover and the president's speech with the spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, Dan Senor. He's with us from Baghdad.

Dan Senor, first of all...

DAN SENOR, COALTION SPOKESMAN: Good to be with you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thank you very much. We're seeing in these new polls out today more than half of Americans are saying they don't think President Bush has a clear plan in Iraq. What is he going to say tonight to persuade them otherwise?

SENOR: Well, first of all, I think it's important to keep these polls in perspective. They strike me as a snapshot in time, which is understandable. They capture some of the chaos conveyed by the exposure of the photos from Abu Ghraib or the decapitation of Nick Berg, all very ugly and tragic events. But again, do not reflect the long-term strategy.

I'll let the president speak for himself in the speech, but overall, we have a plan here to hand sovereignty over to the Iraqis on June 30th. Seven months after that, Iraq will have its first direct elections in its entire history. Something that's unheard of in this part of the world.

Iraqis will be able to hold their government accountable. Iraqi leaders will be running Iraq. Not Americans, not Brits, but Iraqis will be running Iraq. And you'll see a ramping up of Iraqi security forces. So Iraqis really will be on the front lines of defending against the very serious terror threats in this country.

WOODRUFF: So Iraqi leaders will be running Iraq. Will they have control, though, over U.S. forces? Will they be able to determine whether U.S. or multinational forces remain in Iraq? SENOR: You know, I wouldn't focus so much on the word "control," as I would partnership. America has partnerships with host governments around the world where our troops are stationed. And I think you will see something akin to that sort of relationship here in Iraq.

The overwhelming majority of Iraqis I deal with daily on the one hand want the occupation to end. They want political control of their destiny and of their government. But they want American security forces on the ground here because they recognize that there's a serious terror threat, and they're not up to defending against it by themselves.

So I think partnership is the way to focus on it, and to consider the fact that, regardless of how things go -- and there may be ups and downs in any bilateral relationships that exists around the world, and Iraq will be no exception -- but the majority of Iraqi leaders will want American forces here on the ground.

WOODRUFF: So those forces will be staying, regardless, in the months and months to come, is that right?

SENOR: Well, yes. I mean, look, if Iraqis do not want American troops on the ground here, then obviously we'll be respectful of that. The administration has been clear on that point. But we think it's a wild hypothetical, Judy, because, as I said, this is not something that is any concern of any serious Iraqi leader or any Iraqi citizen that we've interacted with.

WOODRUFF: I ask because the polls that we've seen of Iraqi citizens in the last few weeks indicate a large number of them are unhappy with the American presence. But I also want to ask you, Dan Senor, about these comments by retired and current U.S. military leaders, Anthony Zinni, talking about U.S. policy being like headed over Niagara Falls, you have retired General Joseph Hore (ph) talking about -- he said it's like we're looking into the abyss. You have current General Charles Swannack saying we are losing strategically.

These are not just public -- you know, members of the American public looking at the news. These are people with military experience.

SENOR: Sure, and we have obviously tremendous respect for them, and certainly welcome their insights and observations. But the ones we really need to rely on right now, who are the firsthand commanders on the ground, General Sanchez, General Abizaid, and the division commanders spread throughout Iraq, with whom we work daily, the military planners who work under them, they've been quite clear about what they think is necessary to move forward to win the terror war here in Iraq.

My understanding is they've been quite clear to the president in terms of what's needed. And the president has reciprocated by telling them that they will get the resources they need, whatever they need to finish the job. They pretty focused. They understand what's at stake, and they seem to be pretty confident in the strategy here moving forward.

WOODRUFF: How many other nations do you believe will ultimately provide troops to work with Americans and what exists of the coalition now?

SENOR: You know, it's premature. Obviously, we're going to let this Security Council process move forward before we take an assessment. But you've got to keep in mind, right now we will have over 30 nations that have some sort of troop commitment on the ground. We have over 17 nations that have civilians on the ground.

So it's already a very international effort. Something like 15 of the NATO countries have troops on the ground. So you go from north to south here, and you interact with citizens from other countries, be they on the military side or the civilian side, every single day.

WOODRUFF: All right. Well, we are going to have to leave it there. Dan Senor, again, he's the spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. We thank you very much.

SENOR: Good to be with you.

WOODRUFF: We appreciate it.

And back to one of the stories we referred to a moment ago. John Kerry still is mulling whether to put off accepting the Democratic presidential nomination. Coming up, we'll tell you what Kerry is saying today coming about his plans for the big party in Boston.

Also ahead, will the growing political controversy over communion wind up working to the Democrat's advantage?

And next, a Kerry rally on the Iraq handover and President Bush's speech tonight. I'll talk with former national security adviser, Sandy Berger.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Joining us now from New York to talk more about Iraq and the president's speech later tonight is Samuel Berger. He was the national security adviser under former President Clinton. He now serves as a senior adviser to John Kerry.

Mr. Berger, you were just listening to Dan Senor, the spokesman for the coalition in Iraq. He said they have a plan, they are on track, and that most Iraqis he talks to want U.S. security even as they want the occupation to end.

SAMUEL BERGER, FMR. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, if they do have a plan, I don't think they've conveyed that very clearly to the American people, and that's really what the task of the president is tonight. We can either stay the course, which is unilateral American force creating increased Iraqi resentment. We can withdraw, we can cut and run, which is equally disastrous. Or we can create the conditions for real transition on June 30 that enables Iraqis to take control of their own lives. And that really will involve an international framework for security, an international framework for civilian cooperation, a much accelerated process of training Iraqi troops, and a political process that brings the groups together in a way that enables elections and enables us ultimately to draw down our forces. But we've not heard that kind of clarity from the president with respect to what he sees the future in Iraq.

WOODRUFF: But isn't the president at this point doing largely what John Kerry's been calling on him to do? He's internationalizing the effort in Iraq. He's trying to get other nations involved. He's gone to the U.N. with a resolution. Aren't the two positions almost becoming indistinguishable?

BERGER: Well, to the extent that the president is moving in the direction that Senator Kerry and other critics have been advocating for a year or more, that's a good thing. But I still would like to see the president tonight spell out how he intends to create an international framework in Iraq to work with Iraqis on civilian reconstruction, how he intends to create an international framework for establishing security. We still really have an American occupation and an American confrontation here with Iraqis rather than a true international enterprise.

WOODRUFF: Sandy Berger, John Kerry has not been talking very recently in specifics himself. Doesn't he, at the same time, have to come forward with his own plan for how to make Iraq a success?

BERGER: Well, you know, we have one president alt a time, Judy. We have not had a campaign for presidency in the midst of a war since 1972. And I think under these circumstances, a challenger, on the one hand, cannot micromanage from the sidelines.

On the other hand, I think he has a clear obligation to set out principles that he would follow if he were president. And I think that's exactly what Senator Kerry has done. I think he's offered a very serious critique of the mismanagement of this effort from the beginning. And I think he's laid down a set of principles that would head us in a different direction.

WOODRUFF: But I keep hearing from Democrats, Independents and others. They say, why isn't John Kerry laying out what he thinks he would do that's better than what George Bush is doing?

BERGER: Well, I think he's done that. I think he's done that over the last year, and certainly over the last several months, by talking about bringing NATO into this, by talking about putting a high commissioner, an international framework in Baghdad as we have this transition, so that it's not just a very weak Iraqi transitional government and a very large American embassy. There really needs to be a third leg to that stool in the form of an international presence.

He's talked about accelerating the training of Iraqi forces. He's talked about creating a political process that will bring the factions together in a way that will enable elections and stability. And so I think he's laid out -- I think he's laid out a very clear direction without, as a challenger, I think is constrained in the midst of a war without in any way endangering or second-guessing what commanders do in the field.

WOODRUFF: But again, similarity with President Bush. President Bush is talking about a sovereign new Iraqi government.

BERGER: Well, I welcome the fact that finally President Bush seems to be moving. But, you know, with each passing month and each passing phase, you know, it's a day late and a dollar short. The president ultimately embraces going to the U.N., but if he had gone six months earlier, we would have been in far better shape.

WOODRUFF: But he's going now.

BERGER: Well, why didn't he go a year ago? Why didn't he go in May, when that statue fell? Why didn't he go to the international community in May and say, OK, I know you didn't agree with me on the war, but this is a time now where we can internationalize the peace? We need your help. Let's make this an international enterprise.

It would have been a lot easier to do what Senator Kerry and others were asking and seeking last May than now.

WOODRUFF: We're going to have to leave it there. Samuel Berger, former national security adviser to Bill Clinton, now a senior adviser to John Kerry. Thanks so much. We appreciate it. Thank you.

And coming up, some conservative Republican candidates could face a loss of support from conservative Catholic voters. We'll tell you why when INSIDE POLITICS continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Author and political commentator Michael Barone has written a new book outlining what he sees as not one, but two different Americas. The book is called "Hard America, Soft America." When I spoke with Michael Barrone a couple of days ago, I asked him why he thinks the nation's newest high school graduates are not prepared for the world that awaits them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL BARONE, AUTHOR, "HARD AMERICA, SOFT AMERICA" Well, I think that's often true. The basic thesis of this group, hard America, is the parts of American life that have competition and accountability. Soft America, parts of American life where you don't have those things.

And up to age 18, kids are living mostly in soft America. The high schools over the last long generation have tended to have little in the way of testing accountability. They have social promotion. No accountability for the teachers.

It's changing somewhat now. They're hardening up a little. But the experience they've had is soft. And my experience, my observation is, most American 18-year-olds are incompetent. They don't score as well in tests as 18-year-olds in other parts of the world. But American 30-year-olds are the most competent 30-year-olds in the world.

WOODRUFF: You also point out that American soldiers, troops abroad, perform very well in a very different environment.

BARONE: Well, that's right, because....

WOODRUFF: And they're 18, 19, 20.

BARONE: Eighteen, 19, 20, but they're thrust into the hard culture of the military, where you have accountability and standards, and where people learn to live up to those standards and learn pretty quickly. I mean, notwithstanding the recent headlines, the fact is most of these troops have been performing incredibly ably under very difficult conditions.

WOODRUFF: Give me some other examples of what's hard America and what's soft.

BARONE: What's hard America? Well, our treatment of crime and welfare was soft for a long time. In the late '60s and early '70s we softened crime and welfare, we put restrictions on police practices. And for a while, we put fewer people in jail, even as the crime rate was going up.

On welfare, we expanded vastly more benefits and didn't require anything of the recipients. And the result was to create a sort of permanent welfare culture in the high crime rates in central cities that seem to be self-perpetuating. We were trying to create a sort of heaven. We created a sort of hell.

And what happened is that people on the periphery, not the centralized elite, decided to harden things. Governor Tommy Thompson on welfare, Mayor Rudy Giuliani on crime, and other officials, most of them Republicans, but many Democrats, as well. And they experimented and they showed the national elite the way to success, which we got ultimately with the Welfare Reform Act of 1996.

WOODRUFF: Michael Barone, you are known for many things, one of which is the "Almanac of American Politics," which all of us who care anything about politics read. One could look at this and say, well, is this just another way of saying conservative and liberal?

BARONE: I don't think so. I mean, because you could argue that George W. Bush's program, his main education program, the tax cuts and so forth, are consistently hard, but Democrats are not consistently soft.

You had Bill Clinton signing the Welfare Reform Act and campaigning to end welfare as we know it. You had a number of Democratic governors and mayors hardening the process on crime and welfare and education reforms. We're seeing some hardening of education now, school choice, vouchers, more testing and accountability. It started out there in the periphery in the states, and it's only now with President Bush's bipartisan bill in 2002 that it's become a national government.

WOODRUFF: And your argument is that we need more hardening of America, that America has just gotten too soft. And in schools in particular, we need to focus on hardening.

BARONE: That's right. I think that's one of the major areas that we need to harden. I mean, the fact is, we'd all like a soft niche and a place where we don't really have to live up to standards. But we know that we perform better, more productively, and more creatively when we have conditions of competence and accountability.

You know, soft America lives off hard America. It's hard America that provides the huge economic creativity and growth that provides the military strength that protects us.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Michael Barone, the author of "Hard America, Soft America."

Well, John Kerry apparently is torn between acceptance and delay as he prepares to get his party's presidential nomination. We'll look at how Kerry's possible strategy fits into convention history ahead on INSIDE POLITICS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: In the spotlight, President Bush goes primetime to make his points on Iraq.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is really an opportunity for the president to talk in more detail to the American people.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to have a great convention in the city of Boston.

ANNOUNCER: But will he accept the nomination in Beantown? We'll have the latest on John Kerry's convention conundrum.

It's the question everyone wants answered, when will John Kerry pick his running mate? We may have some clues in our weekly edition of "Ticket Talk."

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Welcome back.

President Bush, no doubt, understands the international and the political implications of his speech tonight on the Iraq handover. But does he truly have a handle on what he's up against in primetime, that is?

At 8:00 p.m. Eastern, he'll be competing with broadcast television ratings grabbers, including the reality shows "The Swan" and "Fear Factor." For the more cerebral, there's the Academy Award winning movie "A Beautiful Mind."

The White House did not ask the broadcast networks to air the president's speech and they are not going to. But cable news networks, including this one, of course, will have live coverage of his remarks at the Army War College in Pennsylvania.

Our White House correspondent Dana Bash is there already with a preview. All right, Dana, basically what is the administration's goal?

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Judy, several political aides I talked to today used the same exact phrase in talking about the goal for tonight, and that is they say to "clear through the clutter," they called it, of bad news that is continuing to come out of Iraq.

They understand at the White House and over at the campaign that the bad news is overshadowing really everything else that they're trying to do at the campaign, even the economy. The economy has shown good new signs over the past few weeks. They simply can't clear through that.

And they understand that there is almost a feeling of despair or depression in America. That is something that is not what they want for an incumbent president five months before an election. So the White House wants to have the president out there.

It's unlikely that those of house cover the ins and outs of the transition in Iraq -- we're going to hear very many new details, the details about the interim government, what that will look like, what the U.S. forces' role will be after June 30, the political handover, the fact there will be a multinational force.

But what they want over at the campaign, at the White House is Americans to hear it from the president himself in an organized way and put it into context, as one put it from 30,000 feet.

Also, you're going to hear some almost implied hitback to Senator John Kerry who time and time again says that the president's policy has failed because it's a go it alone policy. The president will talk a lot about his efforts to bring in the international community, to bring in the United Nations. Today, of course, the United States and great Britain offered a U.N. resolution that will encompass or bless the process the president will be talking about tonight.

But there is a sense, a little bit of fear they might have raised expectations too high tonight, that this could bring back the president's dropping approval rating. They're saying at the campaign that they understand it's not this speech or other speeches to come, they hope that they all will contribute. But, Judy, there is one thing that they are a little bit concerned about. They noticed when the president was practicing in the White House theater today, they're trying to figure out how to cover up the raspberry on his face that he got from his bike spill at Crawford over the weekend.

WOODRUFF: Yes, we read about that over the weekend, while he was, I guess, motor biking or mountain biking in Texas.

BASH: Mountain biking.

WOODRUFF: Dana, one follow up. You mentioned the president's approval rating. New poll numbers out today showing essentially it's unchanged from two weeks ago at 47 percent. What are they saying about that?

BASH: The president's political aides say that, obviously, they wish it was out of the danger zone, as they call it. the danger zone is below 50 percent for an incumbent president.

But they're trying to look at the bright side. The bright side is that it's not bottoming out. They think that means they still have the base intact and the president might not have the same trouble that his father had that ultimately might have led to his defeat that the conservatives, the base didn't go out for him -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Dana, thank you very much. She's already in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Our new poll, by the way, shows Bush and Kerry in a tight race whether or not independent candidate Ralph Nader is figured in. Kerry leads by one point among likely voters with Nader in the mix. He leads by two points without Nader.

Well, John Kerry's campaign has had several days to gauge reaction to a possible five-week delay of the Democrat's acceptance of his party's presidential nomination, and they've been studying ways to carry out a delay designed to level the financial playing field, as they put it.

Senior political correspondent Candy Crowley has been following the story, reporting on it. Candy, basically, how do they see this working, this delay?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, they say look, it's still one of many options and it's not at all a done deal. But they do say a couple things, first, that should they decide to go this route, they will blow this by the FEC, see if everything's on the up and up and that it's all in accordance with FEC rules.

Beyond that, I asked them about the idea that -- they get $15 million or so for a convention. Each party does. What happens to that money? They don't see that as a problem because they say this is something you that could write into the rules of the party convention. As you know, there's a rules committee and they set up all the rules for the convention. It could be something as simple as, you know, the nomination will become effective on September 1 or August 31 or August 30, whatever it happens to be.

So they think that that covers any kind of question about that money. The money they're worried about, obviously, the money they would ask the FEC about would be if they continue to raise and spend, doing that personally in that five-week interim.

WOODRUFF: Makes you wonder whether he would actually say, "I accept the nomination."

CROWLEY: "I'll be glad to accept on August 30."

(CROSSTALK)

WOODRUFF: So bottom line, how serious do you think they are about this?

CROWLEY: I think they're fairly serious. And from several people that I've talked to, and one of them said, you know, when you look at the options, OK, let's say they decide to raise money and funnel it through the Democratic committee or the local parties. They're limited both in money and in control of what will those ads would be like.

They do admit that there's a perception problem with not, you know -- it's one of those -- you saw the Republicans put out there only John Kerry would be for a nominating committee and against the nomination. So they're aware, but they think that that's well handlible. They say the delegates that have been calling them, the feedback they've gotten has been whatever you have to do to win, do it.

Boston, they think, you know, has some problems with the traffic and any number of things. But they think they can get past these perception wise. So in the talk, you hear the seriousness of this option over others, which doesn't mean that the others won't eventually bubble to the top. Right now, I think this seems like a fairly serious deliberation.

WOODRUFF: It sure has given political reporters something to look at. It's kind of fun for a few days. Candy, thank you very much.

In addition to the possibility of delaying his crowning moment as nominee, will John Kerry put off naming his running mate? CNN political editor John Mercurio joins us for our weekly edition of "Ticket Talk." John, first of all, what are you hearing about timing?

JOHN MERCURIO, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: I hear we've got a new deadline. This is sort of the latest deadline, but they can't get much later than this.

At first we heard it was going to be a very early decision in May and then we heard it was taking a little bit longer than Jim Johnson and John Kerry wanted it to. That it was going to sometime in June.

Now Democratic sources are confirming for us that -- the campaign that John Kerry is going to announce his VP choice in July. One official I talked to said it could be as late as one week before the convention, which starts on July 26.

Now there's a couple reasons for this, but the most important one and the one most cited by the party is that President Bush is going to be traveling abroad during the months of June. He's probably going to be grabbing most of the headlines. And if you're John Kerry and you want to make a big splash with your VP announcement, you don't want to compete with President Bush for attention.

But obviously, the good news is that we have another five weeks of "Ticket Talk," Judy. So look forward to it.

WOODRUFF: We're going to keep talking about it every Monday and any other day when there's news.

MERCURIO: Exactly.

WOODRUFF: John, we know that when Ralph Nader went over there to see John Kerry last week, he gave him some advice about a running mate. What about that?

MERCURIO: Everybody's got advice, it seem like, for John Kerry. So why shouldn't Ralph Nader?

He apparently last week when they met at Kerry's campaign headquarters, told him that his two top choices for VP would be John Edwards and Dick Gephardt. He said the two of them are, quote, "very careful." He said this yesterday on "ABC News This Week With George Stephanopoulos."

They're very careful, they're not going to cause him any sort of embarrassment and they could do things to bring additional voter support to the campaign.

Nader apparently also tried to urge him not to appoint or to select two other people, John McCain and Evan Bayh. He called Evan Bayh, quote, "a soft Democrat."

But think about how weird this is. I mean this is Ralph Nader, he's an opponent, he's technically Kerry's opponent, running against him, advising him on who he should pick to make himself more electable. It just sort of shows how weird this whole campaign is.

WOODRUFF: We all wish we could have been a fly on the wall watching this conversation.

You mentioned Evan Bayh, John. There was a poll in Indiana a few days ago. Tell us about that.

MERCURIO: It's actually a new poll out I think today or over the weekend. It showed that President Bush would be decisively beat John Kerry whether or not he has Evan Bayh on his ticket. Now Evan Bayh was a two-term governor, he was extremely popular when he served, he's been a U.S. senator since 1998, he's running for reelection this year without too much strong opposition. And yet, he really doesn't do much to help Kerry. So that's not very good news for his VP prospects.

On the flipside, there was a poll out last week in North Carolina that showed that John Edwards actually could make a decisive difference if Kerry chooses him. The poll showed that if Edwards was chosen he took Kerry from a seven-point deficit against President Bush to sort of a -- pretty much a dead heat. So as far as VP's prospects are concerned, you've got Edwards on the upside and Bayh not doing too well.

WOODRUFF: You don't think they really look at these polls, do you? ,

MERCURIO: Of course not. Of course not.

WOODRUFF: John Mercurio, our political editor. Thank you, John.

We are less than four hours away from President Bush's speech on Iraq. Up next, we'll consider the political stakes for the commander- in-chief tonight and come election day.

And our Bruce Morton has been to his share of nominating conventions and will reflect on Kerry's possible delaying tactic. This is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein of the "Los Angeles Times" is with me now to talk more about the president's speech on Iraq. First of all, what does the president need to do?

RON BROWNSTEIN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": I think above all, he needs to reassure Americans that he has a plan to move this toward success. In April, when he held his press conference, the emphasis was overwhelmingly on ends, not means. It was on why this was important to Americans, why we had to show resolve, why we had to stay the course, a phrase he used more than once. What was missing was a sense of how we were going to achieve those ends. And if you look at polling out as recently as today from the Annenberg elections to the University of Pennsylvania, by two to one now, a higher number than before, Americans are saying they don't believe he has a clear plan to take us to success. Obviously, one speech can't answer all these questions but that's what he's got to begin laying down.

WOODRUFF: We had our White House correspondent Dana Bash reporting a moment ago that she's beginning to sense some White House folks saying maybe they've raised expectations too high.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. I've had conversations like that today and yesterday also. They are not saying this is going to be some new breakthrough, some dramatic shift in course. What they're trying to do is give the public context, a sense that, yes, there are a series of steps that we envision. We do have a blueprint, we do have a road map, that may be about all that they're hoping to do but even that, the question is even if you can make that argument successfully tonight, does that endure, does that endure with the public if events on the ground don't cooperate.

WOODRUFF: Well, that's my question. If it's simply a rhetorical thing where you're just sort of rephrasing or restating what your objectives are and how you plan to get there, is that enough to change opinion?

BROWNSTEIN: The second part maybe. I think it will be news to many Americans that the president does have a series of steps that he envisions happening that we are moving forward at the U.N., that they have an idea what they want to do after the handover on June 30, but that will only take you so far. After the April press conference we also saw a temporary rallying around the president in the polls but it literally bled away in the violence of April and May and I think that's the clear precedent. Unless they can get progress on the ground, any kind of rhetorical gains are likely to be shortlived.

WOODRUFF: Who's the audience they're reaching out to tonight?

BROWNSTEIN: I think it's two audiences. First of all, you have a elite mass opinion question. Part of their problem they have now is so much of the opinion leadership, whether it's members of Congress, people like Anthony Zinni, others are saying, look, we are not on a course to win this. That obviously has its impact on the public when they get those cues, when you have people saying, like Jim Steinberg, the former deputy national security adviser to Clinton, we need to set a date to pull out, that line of opinion develops more appeal.

But in terms of the public, clearly he is doing poorly with swing voters. In this poll today, 70 percent of Independents said they do not believe he has a plan. The numbers on the overall approval of Iraq are very weak among swing voters. His base is still there. The Democrats are probably gone. We're talking about that 10 or 12 percent of the electorate that's still out there.

WOODRUFF: But Dan Senor whom I talked to a few minutes ago, a spokesman for the coalition forces in Iraq, said a lot of this is reflecting the bad news on the ground. He was making it sound very ephemeral.

BROWNSTEIN: I think that's right. To some extent, people are reasoning backwards. The reason they think they don't have a plan is because of what they see on television every night. It doesn't look like anything moving towards success. Look, reality counts the most in presidential politics. No matter what the president says not only tonight but in a series of speeches over the next month, the meetings that he's going to be having with international leaders, are we getting more help on the ground, are we getting more progress on the ground, that's probably what's going to matter the most.

WOODRUFF: Ron Brownstein, watching it all with us. Thanks very much. Still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, we will get a history lesson from Bruce Morton on the presidential nomination process and how some of the nominees have not always played it by the book.

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WOODRUFF: As we reported, John Kerry is considering whether to wait until after the Democratic National Convention to accept the party's nomination for president. That way, Kerry would not face some spending restrictions. The plan might seem controversial, but nominees don't always stick to the script. Our Bruce Morton has more on this and some options Senator Kerry might consider.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Conventions? Well, the Democrats' first one was in a bar in Baltimore in 1832. They've grown since. Traditionally the nominees are there but don't appear until after the formal nominating vote. Contender Adlai Stevenson sort of broke that rule in 1960 scrambling through a huge demonstration, eventually reaching the stage to proclaim "I know who your nominee will be, it will be the last survivor." You can say something like that, leave them in suspense.

(UNINTELLIGIBLE) to Sherman in 1884, " if nominated, I will not accept." You probably don't want that, Senator, too definite. Of course, you could say something like, "if nominated I will not accept -- just yet." That might do it. And you don't have to be there. Franklin Roosevelt accepted renomination in 1944 in the middle of World War II in a radio speech from San Diego. He was on his way to Pearl Harbor. Delegates loved it but were confused over who he wanted for vice president. Henry Wallace, Harry Truman, who?

This could be tricky, Senator. If you've chosen your running mate and you say you want to do that before the convention and he accepts the nomination and you don't, is he the new presidential candidate instead of you? Back in '44, Harry Truman knew he was Number 2.

In 1872, the Republicans had two conventions, one nominated Ulysses Grant, the other didn't. But that's probably too complicated to arrange this late in the season this year. You could have Mrs. Kerry make a speech, she's a good speaker and what if they nominated her?

Maybe you just walk up and say, I accept your nomination and then while they're all cheering turn around so they can see that you have your fingers crossed behind your back and didn't really mean it. Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: All right, John Kerry. Are you listening to Bruce?

The debate over politics, Catholics and communion. Up next, Jeff Greenfield considers the potential consequences for Republicans, as well as Democrats.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Senator John Kerry's views on abortion and stem cell research could cost him some votes among conservative Catholics, but some conservative Republican candidates could lose votes as well if tough new standards issued by a bishop in Colorado become the rule. CNN's senior analyst Jeff Greenfield explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST (voice-over): John Kennedy never had to face the question in 1960. Abortion was illegal, euthanasia was not an issue and there was no such thing as embryonic stem cell research. John Kerry may well have to face the question. As an abortion rights advocate who favors embryonic stem cell research, the Democratic candidate may find himself denied communion if bishops in New Orleans, St. Louis, and other cities have their way. Now that could conceivably hurt Senator Kerry among some Catholic voters this fall, but now there's a new far more sweeping edict that's been proposed by another bishop that could, oddly enough, wind up hurting Republicans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bishop Michael Sheridan.

GREENFIELD: On May 1, Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs issued a pastoral letter that set down the toughest standards of all. Quote, "any Catholic politicians who advocate for abortion, for illicit stem cell research or any form of euthanasia ipso facto place themselves outside full communion. Moreover any Catholics who vote for candidates who stand for those things suffer the same fateful consequences." Unquote.

Now why could that hurt Republicans more than Democrats? Well, consider. Last month, some 200 House members signed an appeal to President Bush urging him to permit more research into embryonic stem cells. More than 35 Republicans signed that appeal, including such staunch abortion foes as Randy "Duke" Cunningham and Dana Rohrabacher. Under Bishop Sheridan's standard, Catholic voters would be forbidden from supporting those conservatives. It's a fair guess that the more conservative a Catholic is, the more likely he or she will be to follow the rule.

So who winds up losing? Conservatives who oppose abortion but who also back stem cell research. There are other odd consequences. In Pennsylvania, Senator Rick Santorum who opposes abortion backed Senator Arlen Specter, longtime backer of stem cell research and abortion in a recent primary. Under Bishop Sheridan's edict, Senator Santorum would be denied communion. In New York state's last gubernatorial race, both Republican Governor Pataki and Democrat Carl McCall were supporters of abortion rights.

Under the Sheridan rule, a Catholic voter would be barred from voting for either major candidate. And if Rudy Giuliani runs for the Senate against Hillary Clinton in 2006, the same situation applies. Catholic voters could either vote for a minor party candidate or stay home.

Now, right now, Bishop Sheridan is the only Catholic leader who has proposed so sweeping an idea. But consider the strange consequences that would follow if other Catholic prelates followed this lead. In at least some cases, an observing Catholic voter who followed these dictates would wind up depriving the conservative candidate of votes. Jeff Greenfield, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: A lot to think about. That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Thank you 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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