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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Rating President Bush's Speech; Kerry's Battle Plan; Truth in Advertising?

Aired May 25, 2004 - 15:30   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We want there to be a complete and real transfer of sovereignty.

ANNOUNCER: The follow-up after the president's speech on Iraq. Is rival John Kerry holding anything back?

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are going to present America with the truth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John Kerry? He voted for the Patriot Act. But pressured by fellow liberals, he's changed his position.

ANNOUNCER: Another Bush campaign ad pegs Kerry as a flip- flopper. Does the spot stretch the truth?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A wall of water is coming toward New York City.

ANNOUNCER: Global warming, the movie. It may prove to be a hit, but has it cooled off as a political issue.

AL GORE, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And the consequences can be utterly catastrophic.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Thank you for joining us.

A day after trying to reassure Americans about the transfer of power in Iraq, President Bush is playing to an even tougher crowd today as he lobbies for international support. Bush again talked about America's role and the transition during a White House meeting with Iraqis receiving medical care in the U.S. In reference to his speech last night, the president was asked if it is imperative that Iraq end up with a democracy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: What's imperative is that the Iraqi citizens develop a constitution that they can call their own. A constitution written and approved by Iraqis. As I said last night, our intention was never to have Iraq look like America. Our intention is for Iraq to be free and stable and whole, at peace with its neighbors.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: We'll have much more ahead on Iraq and the president's speech, including a report from our White House correspondent.

Prominent Bush supporters and critics still are offering their reviews of the president's speech, but what about the people who count most, the voters? I went to the showdown state of Pennsylvania last night to York County to watch the speech with some residents and talk with them afterwards.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BUSH: A free Iraq will always have a friend in the United States of America.

WOODRUFF(voice-over): The first of a series of speeches on the future of Iraq through the watchful eyes of six voters. From the Republicans among them, hope.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he's saying that it's time and it's about time that we do let them live their own lives and start to rebuild their country the way it should be.

WOODRUFF: But from the Democrats, suspicion and lingering doubt.

RHEA SIMMONS, DEMOCRAT: I'm hearing a lot of double speak when it comes to the war. And, again, I can't help but remember that we created this situation. We are the ones who went in there without the U.N.

RAY VAN DE CASTLE, DEMOCRAT: This five-point plan is something that I would of been more encouraged by if we had heard it soon after we had attacked them.

WOODRUFF: One Democrat complained Bush used references and even chose the location for maximum political effect. But a Bush supporter in the group said the president did what he had to do.

DAVE THOMAS, REBPUBLICAN: I don't think in an election year there is anyway of avoiding politicizing a speech.

WOODRUFF: Which he pronounced a success.

THOMAS: I think he answered the questions that the critics wanted him to answer.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: I spoke at length with those voters about the issues and about the candidates. And we're going to hear much more from them tomorrow on INSIDE POLITICS.

Well, as John Kerry evidently sees it, the president's speech was mostly a rehash of broad themes that the Bush camp has laid out before. Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, has more on Kerry's response and how it fits into his campaign strategy.

All right, Candy. Kerry put out a fairly terse comment about all this.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Pretty mellow.

WOODRUFF: What's going on?

CROWLEY: You know, it was minimalist, saying, look, this looks like the same old thing. A couple of things were behind it.

First of all, there was some talk about, OK, this puts the pressure on John Kerry, that now John Kerry has to come out and give his point-by-point plan and show how it's different from the president's. What we've seen so far is that what they're doing in the pushback is saying, listen, there can only be one president at a time.

It's an old trick I know that you're familiar with on the Hill. When you're in the minority party and you're criticizing the majority party's budget, and a reporter says, well, what's your budget, they say, well, we're not in charge, this guy is. What are their details? So that kind of thing.

Then, too, there's also -- it's a different time in the campaign right now. And one of the things that John Kerry said recently on the plane was that he'd been watching some old footage of himself for some speeches that he'd given. He sort of winced at parts. It turns out that the harsher stuff sort of made him cringe, which fits very nicely to where he is in this campaign, and that is 96 percent of the Democrats are with him.

So the people that like the pounding, pounding, pounding on George Bush are with him, 96 percent of them. Now we're moving into the centrist territory, and they're less likely to find the -- you know, George Bush is arrogant, George Bush is this, George Bush is that as appealing as a party base. So there's consideration there, and there's also consideration that it's a country at war and you have to take that -- take some account into that. So there are three real reasons that right now they're trying to kind of walk this very carefully.

WOODRUFF: But Kerry is going to be talking about Iraq himself in the next few days. We are going to hear from him.

CROWLEY: We are. He's going to set off on about 11 days of talking one way or the other about various aspects of national security.

Memorial Day is coming up. D-Day is coming up. And he'll make a couple of major speeches in through there, focusing, yes, on Iraq, because how can you talk about national security and not bring that out. But there's also, we are told by people who were in on speech- making process, that he wants to talk about weapons of mass destruction, he wants to talk about the fact that, while the president has looked at Iran and has looked at North Korea, that, in fact, the biggest nuclear threat is all that material running around that terrorists can get a hold of, and that the president should be taking a much more hands-on approach to that and looking after that, rather than just focusing on these two countries that Kerry -- the Kerry camp says, look, they're a problem.

But they want to start to make those differentiations between the candidates. They say one of the ways is it's not just about North Korea, not just about Iran. It's about all of that nuclear material running around that can get into the hands of terrorists.

WOODRUFF: That's interesting. So they are broadening the discussion, so to speak, at least about that piece of it.

CROWLEY: Right.

WOODRUFF: OK. Candy, thank you very much.

Well, the last Democratic presidential nominee apparently has no reservations about blasting President Bush on Iraq. Al Gore is planning to call tomorrow for the resignation of five members of the Bush team and one military official, blaming them for the, "fiasco in Iraq." Gore's speech in New York City is sponsored by the anti-Bush moveon.org political action commit.

Some Democrats are lambasting a new Bush campaign ad, saying that it falsely attacks John Kerry and plays politics with the Patriot Act. The TV spot begins airing tonight in some showdown states and on national cable outlets. Here's our ad fact checker, Howard Kurtz, of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": John Kerry voted for the Patriot Act and President Bush signed it into law after 9/11. On that, at least, both sides agree. But now the Bush campaign in the latest in a series of negative ads is accusing the Massachusetts senator of flip-flopping on the issue, a continuing theme in the aerial assault against John Kerry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John Kerry? He voted for the Patriot Act. But pressured by liberals, he's changed his position. While wiretaps, subpoena powers and surveillances are routinely used against drug dealers and organized crime, Kerry would now repeal the Patriot Act's use of these tools against terrorists.

KURTZ: Kerry says he would keep 95 percent of the Patriot Act, but replace it for a new law that better protects civil liberties. He'd require a judge to look at the evidence before a person's library records could be searched and set a higher bar before investigators could do other kinds of searches. Bush campaign manager, Ken Mehlman, says Kerry's call to end the era of Attorney General John Ashcroft with a new law amounts to repeal, but Kerry has not called for dropping wiretaps and other law enforcement tools against terrorists.

What about the ads that claim that Kerry was pressured by fellow liberals? The Bush camp says Kerry began his criticism after Howard Dean was denouncing the law during the Democratic primaries, but that doesn't prove Kerry was pressured. So is this charge true?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John Kerry, playing politics with national security.

KURTZ: The Kerry camp countered with a list of Republicans, including Arlen Specter, Dick Armey and Chuck Grassley, who also voted for the law and later criticized the way it's working.

(on camera): Voters may not follow every nuance of the Patriot Act debate, but the subtext is clear. Did John Kerry change his mind about the law for political reasons or is he speaking out against the law's excesses out of principle? Either way, this ad moves the debate toward the president's preferred territory, fighting terrorism.

This is Howard Kurtz of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Well, today, Republicans and Democrats are fighting and spinning over the president's Iraq's speech. Up next, we will get dueling takes on the speech and the handover from high-level allies of the Bush and Kerry camps.

Plus, "The Day After Tomorrow." Could a summer disaster movie make the environment more of a burning campaign issue?

And later, Bush's base. Are there signs of shakiness buried in the pages of some recent polls?

This is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Anmerica's task in Iraq is not only to defeat an enemy. It is to give strength to a friend, a free representative government that serves its people and fights on their behalf. And the sooner this goal is achieved, the sooner our job will be done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: As we continue our focus on U.S. policy in Iraq, and reaction to the president's speech, I am joined from the White House by Sean McCormack. He is the spokesman for the National Security Council.

Sean McCormack, thank you very much. Already, the critics are saying, all right, number one, there was nothing new in the speech. And, number two, why didn't the president say this a year ago? You know, I even talked to voters in Pennsylvania last night, and one of those in the group who liked President Bush, she said the president should have said this a year ago.

SEAN MCCORMACK, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL SPOKESMAN: Well, I think the president hit all of the right notes last night, Judy, in talking about the five-point plan for Iraqis' self-government. What he wanted to do is talk directly to the American people at this point and let them know what they can expect over the coming weeks and month as the Iraqis moved to effective self-government and eventually elections and full democracy.

WOODRUFF: What do you say, Sean McCormack, for those who say what the president really did here, though, was to paint a relatively rosy picture of what's going on in Iraq, whereas they watch the news and they see that there's still dying, they're their's still fighting, people are still being wounded, there are still problems?

MCCORMACK: Well, Judy, I think what the American people heard yesterday was the president laying out his plan, but also giving a realistic perspective as to what we've been seeing over the past couple of months. Make no mistake about it, it's been a tough couple of months in Iraq, and some of the images that people have seen on the screen. And I think the president talked a little bit about that.

It's been a tough couple of months. There's going to be difficult -- some difficulties ahead, but we're also very optimistic about being able to move forward and return sovereignty to the Iraqi people.

WOODRUFF: Let me quote -- or let me cite to you something Prime Minister Tony Blair of Great Britain is saying today. In effect, he's saying that the new interim government will have complete control over foreign troops, including U.S. troops in their country. Now, the Bush administration is saying that's not the case. Which is it?

MCCORMACK: Well, Judy, we, in concert with the British, yesterday tabled a new Security Council resolution, and it talked a little bit about the relationship between multinational force and the new Iraqi interim government. And what we have -- what we will have is a partnership between the Iraqis and the multinational force.

There's going to be consultation and coordination. This is something that we do every day in Afghanistan, in Bosnia. And it's something that we do within the coalition today. So there's going to be a lot of consultation and coordination, but make no mistake about it, we'll be working with a sovereign Iraqi government.

WOODRUFF: So is Tony Blair correct to say the Iraqis will have full political control over U.S. troops?

MCCORMACK: Well, I think what Prime Minister Blair talked about was consent from the Iraqi government concerning military operations. And I think what we are going to be working with, the new Iraqi government, when they're put in place in the coming weeks ahead, is working out a good coordination and cooperation mechanism.

This is something, again, that we do every day around the world in Afghanistan and other places. So I have every confidence that we'll be able to work in partnership with a new Iraqi government.

WOODRUFF: All right. We will have to leave it there, Sean McCormack, spokesman for the White House National Security Council. Thank you very much.

MCCORMACK: Thank you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Good to see you.

MCCORMACK: Yes.

WOODRUFF: And in just a moment, we will be hearing another perspective from Democratic Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut. Of course, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. He'll be with us in just a few moments.

Meantime, Al Gore and Moveon.org think voters should be concerned about environmental issues this election year. Just ahead, we'll get Bruce Morton's thoughts on environmental politics and why such issues apparently are not getting much attention on the campaign trail.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Now back to the situation in Iraq. We heard moments ago from National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack. Now for a Democrat's perspective, let's turn to Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut. He's, of course, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. He joins us from New York.

Senator, the president laid out a five-point plan. Among other things, he said the American people need to be with him and he's seeking their patience. What more can you ask of a president at this point?

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: Well, listen, I think all of us, you know, want this to succeed. We want our country to succeed. We want it to succeed for obviously the Iraqi people, but also for ourselves. There may be some who don't want that, but I think the overwhelming majority of Americans want this to work.

Secondly, we all have tremendous respect for the people in uniform who are there doing a tremendous job under very stressful circumstances, despite, obviously, the allegations and the highly disturbing evidence about our own personnel engaged in the activities they did at Abu Ghraib prison.

So having said that to you, there's no desire for this not to work or the president not to succeed. But this speech, I hope with the next four speeches, are going to give us a bit more clarity than the one last evening was.

We still don't have any idea who's going to be getting this authority 36 days from now. We've had conflicting testimony. The president said last night full sovereignty will be turned over to this new governing body on July 1, and yet administration witnesses last week before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and before the Armed Services Committee of the Senate indicated something far less than full sovereignty.

So we're not getting a clear picture here of exactly how this is all to work, and there's a growing sense this is cratering. It's falling apart, and that's troublesome to all of us.

WOODRUFF: We'll, among other things, we just heard Sean McCormack of the National Security Council say it will be a partnership between the Iraqis and the multinational force.

DODD: Well, that's great, but that's a bit different. Who will have the authority over the troops? What's the status of forces agreements going to be? If our troops decide we must go into a certain city in Iraq and this new governing body says, no you're not, we don't want you going there, who will prevail in that debate? Do our troop goes in anyway, or does this new sovereignty that we've extended to this new governing body prevail?

And, you know, look, again, I want to emphasize, Judy, we want this to work. This is not someone who's wishing to see this fail somehow. But the president didn't even suggest in any way that we made some mistakes, there were miscalculations.

I think he'd do a lot better -- and I don't expect major mea culpas here, but at least admitting that we miscalculated, we made mistakes, and we've got to get this right. He's unwilling to even indicate the slightest indication that there was some real problems here.

WOODRUFF: Senator, doesn't John Kerry now need to come forward with a detailed version of his own plan, his own vision for Iraq?

DODD: Well, I think what Senator Kerry has done is exactly appropriate. He said, look, we should have internationalized this in the beginning, there's still an opportunity to do that, we ought to get NATO forces there. He's painted a broad picture of how we ought to respond to this.

I don't think the country needs necessarily to have detailed dotted I, crossed T completed plans here. We want the president -- he is the president, and he'll be so for the coming months. He's got to lead here. He's the commander in chief, and responding to it in general terms -- but I don't think the country expects John Kerry to have a detailed opposition plan to this.

WOODRUFF: Do you think, just quickly, his goal would be the same as the president's: a free and Democratic Iraq? .

DODD: There's no question about certainly a free Iraq and an Iraq that is going to determine its own future. Ideally, a Democratic one, but I was at least pleased to hear the president this morning pull back a little bit, suggesting we're not trying to recreate sort of Jeffersonian democracy unrealistically in Iraq, but allowing the Iraqi people to decide for themselves freely what sort of governmental structure they want. That's good news, and I welcome that announcement.

WOODRUFF: All right. We're going to leave it there. Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut, good to see you. Thank you very much.

DODD: Good to see you, Judy. Thanks. WOODRUFF: And we appreciate it.

A new movie is raising awareness of environmental issues in this year's race for the White House. But is the environment something that's getting the attention of voters? Our Bruce Morton weighs in now on that question.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Save as many as you can.

BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Wow! Big stuff. Catastrophic global warming, New York in peril.

It's a movie, of course, "The Day After Tomorrow," but is it a political issue? The liberal moveon.org thinks so. Their Web site calls it the movie the White House doesn't want you to see. And they sponsored an Al Gore event about how bad things really are environmentally.

GORE: We are conducting an uncontrolled experiment with the entire planet. And the consequences can be utterly catastrophic. And according to the scientific community, will be unless we make changes.

MORTON: You could argue that the Bush administration is strongly pro-business, less concerned with the environment, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) drilling for oil in the Alaskan Native Wildlife Preserve, for instance. But will the movie change votes? Probably not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The storm is just going to get worse.

JIM DYKE, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: I think this is probably an entertaining movie and people would enjoy it. I think some people may be turned off by an anti-war group and Vice President Gore trying to take advantage, some sort of political advantage or some sort of political statement by a movie.

MORTON: And is the environment on voters' minds this year? CNN pollster Keating Holland.

KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLSTER DIRECTOR: Don't think so. Gallup asked people what the most important problem in the country is. Only one percent said the environment this year. So that's one indication that there's not an awful lot of people that are very exercised about the environment.

MORTON: Fair enough. They've had other things to think about, gas prices, say, Iraq, say, and one other point.

HOLLAND: Environmentalism tends to be something that makes people vote on a local level. If you want a park, if you want to preserve a mountain, you are more interested in county council or the mayor's race, not the president.

MORTON: So relax, Mr. President. And you might want to go see the movie. It looks like swell fun. Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: The campaign debate keeps coming back to Iraq. Up next, more on last night's speech and a look at whether the president is losing support among voters in his own party.

Plus, a conversation with top strategists for both Bush and Kerry. Matthew Dowd and Tad Devine join me when INSIDE POLITICS returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: New battlegrounds in the race for the White House. Are states once thought safe for Bush or Kerry now in play? We'll look at the changing electoral map.

It's being dubbed Hair France.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In the event of an emergency my hair can be used as a flotation device.

ANNOUNCER: We'll take a tour of John Kerry's new wings.

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Welcome back. The day's banner headlines and lead stories may be all about Iraq, but both President Bush and Senator John Kerry are intent on showing voters they care about other issues as well. This hour Kerry is in Oregon to talk to teachers and community leaders in Portland about his plan to lower gas prices. The president turned his focus to the homefront in Ohio this afternoon, but in this political environment the conversation often comes back to Iraq. CNN's Elaine Quijano traveled with the president to Youngstown.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Bush making a stop here in Ohio, a key state for the president, one that he won in 2000 by a small margin, four percentage point, but the president today turning his attention to domestic issues, specifically the issue of health care.

Here at Youngstown State University the president met with local doctors among others among others to promote his health care, agenda. The president says he wants to open 1,200 health care centers, primarily, he says, help the uninsured and underinsured. Of course, reaction still echoing to the president's speech last night in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The president laying out what he called five steps in the administration's plan for Iraq's future.

Leading up to that speech, aides had said it was meant to show that the situation in Iraq was not as chaotic as it might seem. There was a concrete plan that critics contend that the speech which did not include any new initiatives was not detailed enough especially regarding the U.S.' role with respect to the Iraqi government, the interim government. This morning he met with a group of Iraqis who were tortured under Saddam Hussein's regime. They had their hands cut off as punishment but eventually received prosthetic limbs here in the United States.

Their visit came at a time when the White House has been very mindful of the need to counter some of the negative images coming out of Iraq with the prisoner abuse scandal and the continued violence against coalition forces and Iraqis. Now on the diplomatic front, the president today reached out to French President Jacques Chirac in a 20-minute phone conversation looking for backing on a new U.N. resolution supporting the interim Iraqi authority.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But what President Chirac and others have said is they want to make sure that the transfer of sovereignty to the interim government is a real transfer. And that's what we want.

QUIJANO: So the president today taking yet another step in trying to broaden international support for the Iraq mission. Also look for the president in the coming weeks to deliver more speeches on Iraq. Those speeches aimed not only at a domestic audience, but at Iraqis as well, all leading up to that June 30 deadline for the transfer of sovereignty to the interim Iraqi authority. Elaine Quijano, CNN, Youngstown, Ohio.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Most of the president's campaign swings have been to been to battleground state, but as our senior political analyst Bill Schneider explains, they are signs that Mr. Bush has to work harder to protect his Republican base.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BUSH: The removal of Saddam Hussein's regime last spring...

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: On Monday night, President Bush spoke to the people. His message was stay the course.

BUSH: We must keep our focus. We must do our duty.

SCHNEIDER: The president's speech appeared to be aimed less at critics than at believers. Is the president having trouble with his base? Republicans in Congress have been feeling uneasy and ignored.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: For whatever reason, the experience and judgment and expertise of the Congress is just not being used.

SCHNEIDER: So last week the president went up to Capitol Hill and held a pep rally for his party. And what happened according to a reporter with good GOP sources?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do they say about it?

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": It was a bust.

SCHNEIDER: Why?

NOVAK: The president went on for the better part of an hour and left without a single question being asked.

SCHNEIDER: There some are indications that President Bush may be seeing an erosion of support in his base out there in the country. The CBS News poll shows a nine-point drop in President Bush's job approval rating among Republicans. A sharper drop than among Independents or Democrats.

The ABC News/"Washington Post" poll shows a six-point drop among Republicans, but little change among Democrats and Independents. In March, according to the CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll, President Bush had a solid 16-point lead over Kerry among southern voters. Now the race is essentially tied in the south.

Polls show the biggest shock has been the prisoner abuse scandal. Early this month, according to the ABC/"Post" poll, the public approved of the way President Bush was handling the scandal. 48 to 35 percent. Now that's completely reversed. A solid majority disapproves the way the president is handling the controversy, including nearly a third of Republicans. The military scandal has shaken the president's base which may be why the biggest piece of news in the president's speech Monday night was this.

BUSH: Then with the approval of the Iraqi government we will demolish the Abu Ghraib prison as a fitting symbol of Iraq's new beginning.

SCHNEIDER: And he hopes his new beginning.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: In the latest national Annenberg election survey, Americans say they now believe the soldiers who committed the abuse were not acting on their own. They were following orders. So the court martials now carry a political risk. The public may see ordinary soldiers taking the fall for a policy that was set by higher ups -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Interesting and in fact that came up among some of those voters we talked to last night in Pennsylvania.

SCHNEIDER: Yes, it is an issue.

WOODRUFF: Including among, again, those who support President Bush. All right, Bill, thank you very much.

Bush campaign senior strategist Matthew Dowd recently said that the president would have to suffer a serious decline in Republican support in order for his poll numbers to drop much lower. I spoke today with Dowd and with Kerry campaign senior strategist Tad Devine. I began by asking Dowd if we are now seeing an erosion of the Bush base.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEW DOWD, BUSH CAMPAIGN SR. STRATEGIST: No, none of the polls that I've seen are reflecting a drop in support from the Republicans and actually the CNN/"USA Today" poll has a 47 percent job approval which is one point up from what it was two weeks ago. We're still getting 90 percent of support among Republicans and it's stayed that way for about two years.

WOODRUFF: There's a CBS/"New York Times" poll that has it at 84.

DOWD: But CBS/"New York Times" has had Bush's support among Republicans between 80 and 90 over the last two years. So it's not surprising it would be the mid eighties in their poll.

WOODRUFF: So this is not something you're focused on?

DOWD: No. In order for, again, in order for us to drop below that line in -- the poll I look at for historical reasons is Gallup. If it dipped below the 45 or 44 percent line that I think indicates you start losing your Republican support, that hasn't happened yet.

WOODRUFF: All right. Tad Devine. John Kerry doing well in some measures but his support is much more tenuous than the president's. You ask people how wholeheartedly do you support this candidate, about a third of John Kerry's voters are saying they're with him all of the way. 57 percent of George Bush's supporters are saying the same thing. You've got a lot of work to do.

TAD DEVINE, KERRY CAMPAIGN SR. STRATEGIST: We do. We just started this process. I think it's remarkable the progress we've made. I think John Kerry today at this juncture in the process is stronger than any challenger to an incumbent president and it's been enormous progress and that's not withstanding. Now over $70 million in advertising from the other side, almost all of it negative and it really hasn't taken the toll I think they expected it to take so we're making good progress. People have to come to know who he is. He will name a running mate. There will be debates. I think all of those things will help John Kerry.

WOODRUFF: Matthew Dowd, last night, the president laid out his plan for Iraq, but you're fighting an uphill battle here, something like 60 percent of Americans are saying they're not comfortable with his policy in Iraq and he didn't announce a policy change last night.

DOWD: I think last night was part of a dialogue that you will see over the course of the next few weeks where the president will lay out what his vision and sort of what's going on happen in Iraq and the future and what's the plan toward sovereignty and how that's going to change and them taking over the security. So I don't think any single speech will adjust those numbers. I think you'd have to see it over a lengthy period of time as the president lays out to the American public where the situation in Iraq is and where it's going.

WOODRUFF: So you don't think the president needed last night to signal something more dramatic which is what his critics are calling.

DOWD: I don't think anything more dramatic than trying to establish democracy in a country in the Middle East where it's never existed before and that's obviously something that the world and this country is trying to do, but in sort of laying out new policy initiative, I don't think that's necessary. I think what's important is him talking to the American public about the situation, about what he expects to happen over the coming months and think as the public learns more about that, they will begin to support more and more of the president's plans there.

WOODRUFF: By the same token, Tad Devine, people are looking at John Kerry and they're saying the onus is now on him to come up with what he's going to do about Iraq. Yes, he's been talking about it but there's no sense that his plan is that different, that dramatic a turn than what the president is saying.

DEVINE: In some ways it's not because it's almost 600 days ago that John Kerry called on the floor of the Senate for more international involvement in Iraq. Essentially what the president talked about last night. So it's good that the president is coming in many ways to John Kerry's position. There are differences. Senator Kerry has called for an international high commissioner, Senator Kerry says we need a NATO mission under U.S. command in Iraq today.

And the biggest difference, Judy, and I think this is the difference that voters will focus on is John Kerry believes we need presidential leadership in Iraq and George Bush has yet to exercise that kind of presidential leadership. This isn't about a series of speeches. This is about changing events on the ground and until that happens I think the president will continue to suffer.

DOWD: One point to that is if you look at the other polls that have come out this week, ABC is a perfect example, and they ask who do you trust more to handle the situation in Iraq, the president has a six-point lead on that and when the primaries were over, the president was one point down on who can handle Iraq better, who the public trusts to handle Iraq. They asked who they trust to handle the crisis situation. Bush has a 17-point lead on that issue. This is a race between two styles of leaders and two types of leaderships and visions for the country and the public will be able to make that choice and as of right now they trust this president more than they trust Senator Kerry on Iraq.

DEVINE: We've seen a lot of polls in the last couple of days and trying to find good things in the polls which -- by the way, Matt's doing a great job -- is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. From the Bush perspective -- the polls right now have been very, very bad. One after another for the president, whether it's the wrong track number which is through the roof. The president's job approval which is through the floor. I think what voters are telling us, listen, we want a new president and we want to go in a new direction.

DOWD: Races still bet even which as I've said on this show and a number of other times, I expected this to be until our convention.

DEVINE: And I think it will be close, too. I agree with Matt on that.

WOODRUFF: Matt Dowd, is George Bush, though, at the mercy of events in Iraq?

DOWD: As an incumbent you have to deal with events and the situation in Iraq is a huge issue for the world and for this country. And so, he accepts the responsibility for those things going on and they obviously accept the country's view of him and where we're headed, but obviously he's showing that he'll have leadership and he'll demonstrate what he wants to do in Iraq, but as an incumbent you deal with events.

WOODRUFF: And Tad Devine, isn't John Kerry also at the mercy of events in Iraq because if thing goes well there, it will help the president.

DEVINE: The president better get things going well pretty soon because we're beginning to run out of time. We're about a month away allegedly from this transition and I think there are numerous unanswered questions about who will take over all of the facts on the ground. Still 138,000 American troops there now and probably for the foreseeable future. I think unless circumstances change dramatically in Iraq, the president will continue to suffer.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Tad Devine with the Kerry campaign, Matthew Dowd with the Bush camp. We thank them both.

Now an update on what you might call John Kerry's convention conundrum. As we reported Kerry is considering delaying his acceptance of the Democratic nomination for five weeks in order to continue spending primary funds until Bush gets his party's nomination. A Democratic source familiar with convention process tells us Kerry is likely to make a decision on that by the end of this week.

Meantime, the head of the Democratic senatorial campaign committee says he is against the idea of a delay. Senator Jon Corzine of New Jersey told a radio interviewer there are other ways for Kerry to stay financially competitive after the Boston convention.

Both the Bush and Kerry camps are keeping close watch on a few states that could become battlegrounds. Up next, we'll talk about the states on the bubble and how the candidates may burst expectations there.

Plus, one would-be Kerry running mate shares his thoughts on another often-mentioned candidate for the job.

And some people can't do a thing with their hair. Kerry says he can. The joke is on the senator next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: You won't be surprised to know that George Bush and John Kerry are working hard to win those 18 all-important showdown states, but what about the states that could be close, but don't quite qualify as showdowns? Chuck Todd is here to talk about all of that. He's the editor-in-chief of "The Hotline," an insider's political briefing produced every day by the "National Journal." First of all, what about those bubble states?

CHUCK TODD, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "THE HOTLINE": These are states that either polls are showing that one candidate is doing surprisingly better than they should be or they're states where there are down ballot races that are going to be so competitive that that there's so much national money that will come in that could level the playing field or sometimes there's just some unpopular local figures that are bringing down a political party and sort of the three states we want to talk about represent sort of all three of those facets.

WOODRUFF: Let's go through these so-called bubble states. Let's start with Louisiana.

TODD: Louisiana is interesting in that it's the one southern state where Democrats still win races. They won a very high-profile Senate race in 2002, one that President Bush put himself on the line and yet it was almost seen as a referendum against Bush when Mary Landrieu won reelection. The governor's race down there was -- in 2003 -- was one of the only big high-profile races in the entire country going on in 2003 and Democrats won that one. So it's one that they do better, the Democrats do better than they realize and it actually has gone with the winning presidential candidate every single election back until 1968 when it went for George Wallace. So it has all of the elements of being a swing state and of course, John Kerry is French and Louisiana is French. Maybe he might play a little bit better than we realize.

WOODRUFF: There is a French connection. Another so-called bubble state. Colorado. What makes it that?

TODD: Well, Colorado has the down ballot. It's the down ballot races that are almost bringing it into competitiveness. There's an open Senate seat there. Ben Nighthorse Campbell chose not to run for reelection. Democrats are very excited about their likely nominee, Ken Salazar, a Latino. There's a very sort of undeveloped, potentially unregistered electorate out there in the Latino community in southern Colorado that Democrats think if they somehow tap into and with a Latino Senate nominee that they might level the playing field.

Republicans went out and found themselves a very charismatic candidate in Pete Coors, the heir to the Coors Brewing Company. So the down ballot race may bring the race close. Polls have shown it's a lot closer than people expected and the last two times Colorado had an open Senate seat fight it went with the winning presidential candidate in 1992 and in 1996. So there is precedent with the Senate seat, but neither candidate has been there too much yet. Bush only five times and Kerry only three times.

WOODRUFF: One more state to watch. What about New Jersey? Polls are showing some surprising numbers. TODD: It's funny. A lot of us are trying to figure out what's going on in New Jersey. It's more than one public poll that's shown it a lot closer than we all thought it would be. New Jersey was supposedly thought of as a very strong Democratic state, but it actually has a very Republican history. From '68 to '88 it voted Republican in every single presidential election.

WOODRUFF: It had Republican governors.

TODD: It had Republican governors. The suburbs used to be more Republicans. In the 90s, the suburbs went Democrat. New Jersey is an entirely suburban state. It's the suburb of Philadelphia and New York City so it naturally went Democratic, but George Bush is saturating the Philadelphia airwaves. He saturated cable and cable is a very influential television market in New Jersey more so than other states. So that may be why he's doing better in polls and the Democratic governor there, Jim McGreevey is about as unpopular as Gray Davis was in California. So that's not going to help John Kerry.

WOODRUFF: McGreevey's been having some problems. All right. We are going to add up our almost showdown states.

TODD: We are coming to 21 states. We'll just keep expanding.

WOODRUFF: Pretty soon we'll get to 50. Chuck Todd, thank you very much. "The Hotline" is an insider's political briefing produced daily by the "National Journal." You can go online at Nationaljournal.com for subscription information.

Campaign news from around nation including Ralph Nader's latest attempt to get his name on the Texas ballot. 80,000 signatures, a missed deadline and one Texas Longhorn. It's all ahead in our "Campaign News Daily."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: These are live pictures from Portland, Oregon where the man with his back to the camera, John Kerry, has just arrived on his brand new campaign plane, a Boeing 757. You see him talking to supporters there at the airport in Portland.

John Kerry on his way to an event at a bus depot. He'll be talking about high gas prices, spending the day in Portland and then on later to Seattle, spending the next few days in the Pacific Northwest. I guess we're not going to see his face. This is what we've got.

Checking the headlines in our "Campaign News Daily," a new poll finds both George Bush and John Kerry having trouble exciting younger voters. In a "Newsweek" survey of people ages 18 to 29, 44 percent said they support Kerry, 42 percent said they support Bush. Ralph Nader picks up 10 percent in the poll.

Congressman Dick Gephardt is a frequently mentioned one as a possible running mate for John Kerry. Yesterday Gephardt had some positive comments about the chance that Republican Senator John McCain might join the Democratic ticket.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DICK GEPHARDT (D), MISSOURI: He is a very bipartisan figure. He is someone that a lot of Democrats could get interested in. Whether he will do it or not, I don't know. He says he won't, we'll see, but he would be accepted by the Democratic Party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: And one more "Ticket Talk" item. Indiana Senator Evan Bayh said today he is flattered that his name is mentioned as a possible Kerry running mate, but in his words, "I doubt that's going to happen." Bayh says he's focused on winning reelection to a second Senate term.

Ralph Nader is supporters in Texas have turn turned in thousands of signatures to get Nader's name on the Texas ballot, but they missed the deadline by two weeks. A Nader backer delivered the signatures at a colorful rally yesterday complete with a Texas Longhorn. Nader filed a federal suit against the state on May 10 when he was unable to meet the original deadline. He says the state signature collection requirements are unconstitutional.

From now on, John Kerry will be zipping across the country as we just said, in a Boeing 757. Just ahead, light-hearted moments in Washington today as the Democratic presidential candidate shows off his new plane dubbed "Hair France."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: John Kerry will no longer have to share a chartered jet with the band Fleetwood Mac. The Kerry presidential campaign now has a spiffy jet of its own, a Boeing 757. The senator from Massachusetts showed it off this morning.

The plane has been dubbed "Hair France" for the ribbing Kerry has taken over his French connections and his hair.

Among other things, the new campaign plane has five cabins, two conference tables and a stand-up bar for socializing. But we're sure they don't have time to do any chatting on those campaign trips.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff. Thank you for joining us. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.

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