The Web    CNN.com      Powered by
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
SERVICES
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
SEARCH
Web CNN.com
powered by Yahoo!
TRANSCRIPTS


 

Return to Transcripts main page

JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Kerry Takes Aim; Bush vs. Kerry; McGreevey's Bombshell

Aired August 24, 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: Getting back to the issues...

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm here today to call for a truthful and a robust debate.

ANNOUNCER: ... or striking back on the Swift Boat attacks?

KERRY: My duty is to be a president who tells the truth instead of hiding behind front groups.

ANNOUNCER: John Kerry comes to New York just days before the Republicans invade the Big Apple.

Showdown New Jersey. Will the scandal over the Garden State's governor put New Jersey into play in the presidential race?

ANNOUNCER: Now, live from the CNN Election Express in Hoboken, New Jersey, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Thank you for joining us. We are just across the river from New York City. That's the Democratic-leaning city set to become a Mecca for Republican insiders.

As we make our way to the GOP national convention, few political stories can compete with the presidential race, except, except perhaps the upheaval right here in New Jersey at its state house. From right here in Hoboken, to the capital, Trenton, people still are buzzing about Governor Jim McGreevey and his announcement that he is gay and resigning. We're going to discuss the New Jersey political scene and the possible national implications ahead.

But first, today, John Kerry outlined what his campaign is calling the fundamental choice facing voters in this election. But in the process he offered up another headline about the Vietnam Swift Boat controversy. CNN's Joe Johns covered Kerry's speech in New York.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In New York, trying to get out ahead of the Republican message machine before the start of the GOP convention, John Kerry spoke indirectly about the Swift Boat controversy, but his audience got the message. KERRY: The Bush campaign and its allies have turned to the tactics of fear and smear because they can't talk about jobs, health care, energy independence and rebuilding our alliances. They can't or they refuse to talk about the real issues that matter to the American people.

JOHNS: A line about his war record, which he has used in speeches before, drew a long-standing ovation.

KERRY: I defended this country as a young man and I will defend it as president of the United States.

(APPLAUSE)

KERRY: Thank you.

JOHNS: Behind the scenes, the Kerry campaign and its surrogates were trying to make the case that the Swift Boat controversy was backfiring on Bush based on news reports, editorials and responses from some veterans. And they continue to charge that Republicans were working in tandem with the Swift Boat Veterans group in making the ads, though Republicans deny it. Kerry, who spent much of his speech focused on the campaign's central issues, tried once again to weave in a broader attack on the administration's credibility, a continuing Democratic theme.

KERRY: And mark my words, they're going to bend over backwards with last-minute proposals and last-minute promises to make up for all that they haven't done and to pretend that they're not who they really are.

JOHNS (on camera): Well, Kerry delivered a hard-nosed speech here in New York and covered little new ground. Aides were saying they're happy to debate Vietnam with the president, that challenges to Kerry's resume cannot go unanswered.

Joe Johns, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: And now we get the Bush camp's reaction to Kerry's remarks, along with a late-breaking story about some striking comments by Vice President Cheney. CNN's Jill Dougherty joins us now from Crawford, Texas.

Hello, Jill.

HILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Judy.

Well, for that response, we talked with Scott Stansil (ph) from the Bush-Cheney campaign, and he said the Kerry campaign seems intent on trying to cover up the fact that we want a debate on the senator's Senate record. What about that "failed" record by President Bush? He said there's no failed record. It's a record of accomplishment and "we intend to run on it." Then he went through several points that he says are accomplishments by the president. He said tax relief, prescription drug benefits for Medicare recipients, educational reform, creation of the Department of Homeland Security and, finally, the war on terror. And one last note on those attack ads, Judy. Scott Stansil (ph) saying that liberal groups are actually outspending conservative groups 25 to one.

WOODRUFF: Now, Jill, separately, I want to ask you about a comment that people are making note of. Vice President Cheney out on the campaign trail today asked by a voter about his position on the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and he made a very interesting comment in his answer.

DOUGHERTY: Very interesting and very personal, Judy, because, after all, the vice president does have a gay daughter, Mary Cheney. In fact, she was there at this town hall event. She happens to be the head of operations for the vice president's campaign.

Now, here's what the vice president said, "Lynne" -- that is his wife -- "Lynne and I have a gay daughter. So it's an issue that our family is very familiar with. At this point, my own preference is as I have stated. But the president makes basic policy for this administration, and he's made it clear that he does, in fact, support a constitutional amendment on this issue."

Now, we joined a couple of quotes there. So, as he said, "As I stated," what he said at that town hall is, essentially, in his view, people have a right to enter any type of relationship that they want to. The question comes up, what does the government do it about it, sanctioned, approved, et cetera?

He said the states should decide on that. And interestingly, Judy, he pointed out that in his view, at least, that 1996 Defensive Marriage Act might be enough to resolve this issue. But then he went on to say that the president sets the policy and the president believes in a constitutional amendment. But you have to say that there is a nuance difference there, that the vice president saying maybe the Defensive Marriage Act actually could be enough.

WOODRUFF: Jill Dougherty in Texas, covering the president and the vice president. Interesting, as you say, on two counts. Number one, because he openly talked about the fact that his daughter is gay. And, secondly, because one of the rare occasions we hear the vice president saying his views are different from the president.

Jill, thank you very much.

Well, Independent candidate Ralph Nader is still trying to get his name on a number of state presidential ballots. In Virginia, the state attorney general has ordered elections board to reverse an earlier decision rejecting Nader's signature petitions. The signatures will now be verified and processed.

Meanwhile, Nader is taking his cause to the courts in Michigan, where his petitions have been rejected by a state canvassing board. Michigan Democrats are accusing Nader of accepting illegal help from Republicans.

That same claim is made in a new anti-Nader TV ad paid for by the liberal National Progress Fund. Now, this ad features a mock campaign banner that reads "Bush-Nader '04." Nader is officially on just two state ballots so far. One is Nevada, the other is right here in New Jersey.

Also here in New Jersey, FBI agents reportedly have interviewed Governor James McGreevey about his allegation that he was blackmailed by his former aide, Golan Cipel. The legal and political implications of this continue to unfold almost two weeks after McGreevey's announcement that he had a gay affair and that he would resign. We talked to New Jersey residents about what they think about the bombshell.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF (voice-over): From her perch, Mindy Martinez is used to a steady stream of rush hour customers. But some days the papers go faster than others. Like the day after this...

GOV. JAMES MCGREEVEY (D), NEW JERSEY: I am a gay American.

WOODRUFF: ... for instance. At the newsstand, readers were rocked.

MINDY MARTINEZ, NEWSPAPER VENDOR: "Oh, my god, I can't believe it." She was like, "I like McGreevey now."

WOODRUFF: But now, New Jerseyans have had nearly two weeks to adjust to Jim McGreevey's revelation. And most we talked to seemed to accept it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's up to him if he decides to be gay or just a regular man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's probably good for him, for his soul, that he can finally be free. He said he was living a dual life all these years, and now he can't can be free.

WOODRUFF: But many aren't comfortable with the steamier side of the story, allegations the governor gave his purported lover a job for which he was unqualified.

SANDY SOBANSKI, MASSAGE THERAPIST: What do I care if he is gay? You know? I would just rather see the state in a healthier economic situation and our security in better hands than his lover, who has no background.

WOODRUFF: Should McGreevey stay or should he go? The verdict is mixed.

ROBERTO ROJAS, CONSTRUCTION WORKER: It's about a 50-50 thing. Some say he should get out and he shouldn't -- the older group, the older guys say he shouldn't be there. You know, he's gay, he should leave, you know, he shouldn't be in that position. Well, your younger people say, oh, it's fine.

WOODRUFF: The governor has his supporters.

JENNIFER PLACE, GRAPHIC DESIGNER: I think he's been a good governor. I think it's a shame that he's gotten caught up in a turmoil of political corruption.

WOODRUFF: But others say it's time to turn the page.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you resign, it should be right then and there. That's the whole point of resigning. You know? Not wait to fall and make another mistake again.

WOODRUFF: Everyone we talked to said they were shocked by the news. But as we found out, this drama is already diminishing in the Garden State.

SOBANSKI: This is just another notch on our belt buckle in New Jersey.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Some comments from New Jerseyites.

Well, local politics very much in flux here in New Jersey, but what about the presidential race? Up next, an inside view of New Jersey politics 2004 from the state party chairs.

Also ahead, President Bush's road to Madison Square Garden. New details on his travel plans and companions in our convention countdown.

And later, Vietnam veteran and former Senator Bob Kerrey talks to us about the controversy over John Kerry's war record.

With 70 days until the election, this is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Here in the Garden State, Senator John Kerry has a big lead in the polls. And with me now to talk about the presidential race in New Jersey, maybe a little local politics, state Republican Party Chairman, Joe Kyrillos.

Thank you for being with me.

JOE KYRILLOS, NEW JERSEY GOP CHAIRMAN: Thanks, Judy.

WOODRUFF: And in Trenton, joining us, the Democratic chairwoman of the state. She is Bonnie Watson Coleman.

Thank you for being with us.

BONNIE WATSON COLEMAN, NEW JERSEY DEMOCRATIC CHAIRWOMAN: Thank you for having us. WOODRUFF: Joe Kyrillos, to you first. Let's talk about the governor, Jim McGreevey, issue.

KYRILLOS: Right. Right. Right.

WOODRUFF: Is it going to have an effect on the presidential race?

KYRILLOS: Well, I think it will have an effect on the presidential race. I think that your set-up piece might have been a little soft. I think that there is -- in my opinion, Judy -- and I think I speak for a lot of people out there in New Jersey -- a degree of outrage there that New Jersey is splashed across the front pages of newspapers all across America, that we're talking about it on CNN, that people all over the world are watching this drama unfold.

And it's not about the governor being gay. It's about his but putting his lover on the payroll as the homeland security advisor four months after 9/11, and all his other problems. They want him to get on with his life and move on with New Jersey's life.

WOODRUFF: All right. Some people are asking, Bonnie Watson Coleman, since this happened, why shouldn't the governor go ahead and step down now? Why wait until November?

COLEMAN: Well, New Jerseyans are OK with the governor staying where he is. He says he has things to complete, like property tax form, like the task force that will look at the constitutional issue of property taxes, and also this whole issue of stem cell research and creating this institute.

He has work to get done. He's going to get it done. The people in New Jersey now are going to focus on the presidential. And as we look at the numbers in New Jersey, the Kerry campaign has a significant lead because the two most important things to New Jerseyans are the economy and that the -- that the president has taken this country in the wrong direction.

WOODRUFF: All right. I want to ask you...

COLEMAN: Nearly 60 percent of the people polled believe that.

KYRILLOS: Yes.

WOODRUFF: I do want to ask you about the presidential race in just a minute. But just -- just to close the circle, if you will, on -- on Governor McGreevey...

KYRILLOS: Yes.

WOODRUFF: ... you hear the argument they're making, that there is work the governor has to get down before he can step down.

KYRILLOS: Yes. There is work that needs to be done, Judy. And that is why he ought to step down. Look, the governor, by his own admission, by virtue of his resignation, has said, I can't govern effectively. And so there's no reason to prolong this drama.

Let the governor get out and sort out his life. Let's have a real election here in New Jersey. New Jersey Democrats, frankly, really need to weigh in on behalf of their constituents and call for a free, fair election.

WOODRUFF: And...

KYRILLOS: Senator Corzine on down.

WOODRUFF: And Bonnie Watson Coleman, isn't that being done? Isn't the governor hearing from some -- a number of Democrats that he should go ahead and step down now?

COLEMAN: The governor made his decision. Everyone understands that that is his decision to make. New Jerseyans are moving forward.

The state of New Jersey is not suffering in any way, shape or form by Jim McGreevey continuing to be there with his initiatives, with the property tax reform, the property tax rebate, stem cell research and a whole host of other things that have empowered middle class and working families and senior citizens and children. So now, when we need to be focusing on the important issue of unseating a president who fabricates a war and loses all confidence on behalf of citizens of this great country and this great state, Republicans want to stay on this one-note Johnny issue.

KYRILLOS: Hey, Judy...

(CROSSTALK)

WOODRUFF: All right. But I do want to move on now.

KYRILLOS: ... your piece reported on the -- on the FBI...

(CROSSTALK)

WOODRUFF: OK. But I do need to move on to the presidential.

KYRILLOS: Sure. Yes. Yes.

WOODRUFF: It is the case that right now John Kerry in the latest poll, 19 points ahead of George W. Bush. Can the president turn that around?

KYRILLOS: Listen, there have been a lot of polls out there. Most of the polls, most of the survey research, has had it very close within the margin of error. This is, has become...

WOODRUFF: Within the margin of error? Most polls...

KYRILLOS: ... welcome to New Jersey. Unfortunately, a Democratic-leaning state in recent years, but we did our own poll and a big paper here in New Jersey, the "Bergen Record," did its own polls, showed it 42-42. This is much closer than people would want to have it portrayed.

WOODRUFF: All right. Very quickly...

COLEMAN: As of August 19, Judy, the "Bergen Record's" poll shows that John Kerry has a 12-point lead, 11-point lead. Not only does it show that, but the polling in the state of New Jersey shows that nearly 60 percent of the people believe that the president has taken this country and this state in the wrong direction, that the economy is suffering because of him, and that the war -- he created a war that was unnecessary. People want a change, and that is evident in New Jersey.

KYRILLOS: Judy, New Jersey is a 9/11 state.

WOODRUFF: We are going...

KYRILLOS: We are very sensitive to this war on terror more than most places.

WOODRUFF: All right. We're going to have to leave it there.

COLEMAN: But we want to believe that we're really fighting the right enemy.

WOODRUFF: We so want to continue this, but we're going to have to leave it there.

KYRILLOS: Thank you very much.

WOODRUFF: Peter Kyrillos, Bonnie Watson Coleman, thank you both.

COLEMAN: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: We appreciate the hospitality in New Jersey. Thank you.

KYRILLOS: Thank you for being here.

WOODRUFF: Coming up, President Bush gets ready to leave the ranch and head out for his party's national convention. But the road to New York will be a grueling one, we are told. Our political editor, John Mercurio, checks in with his convention countdown.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Just ahead of his party's convention, President Bush is getting ready to hit the road. Just six days from now, the curtain goes up on the political -- the Republican National Conconvention in New York City right behind me. We go to Washington now, and to our political editor, John Mercurio, with his convention countdown.

All right, John. We've got new information today about how the president is going to arrive at the convention. Should we be shocked? What's happening? JOHN MERCURIO, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: I don't think we should be shocked. It's actually pretty traditional.

They are calling this the Moving America Forward, America's Heart and Soul Tour. It's sort of a long name for a long trip. Basically, a week-long romp across eight battleground states that's going to lead Bush from New Mexico -- President Bush -- from New Mexico on Thursday to New York City next Thursday, September 2nd. It's the same thing that John Kerry did right before the Democratic convention.

As I said, Bush's trip starts Thursday in New Mexico, three stops that he will appear with Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, who obviously will also speak at the convention. On Friday, Bush heads to Florida, where he will campaign in Miami with governor -- I'm sorry, with Georgia's senator, Zell Miller, who obviously is the convention keynote speaker.

On Saturday, Bush heads to Ohio. On Sunday, he then moves to West Virginia, another battleground state. Now, on Monday, he heads to Michigan and New Hampshire, where he will campaign with Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. And next Tuesday, Bush goes to Tennessee and Iowa, joined there by Senator John McCain, who will have just addressed the convention the previous night.

The next day, of course, Bush will stop in Ohio again, before he arrives that evening in New York City. And, of course, Bush accepts the nomination on Thursday in New York.

Now, one sort of interesting note, Dick Cheney will arrive in New York City on Sunday. He won't appear whatsoever at any point during this -- during this tour with President Bush.

WOODRUFF: That's interesting. But sounds like quite a journey across the country.

All right. John, you've also learned that the Republicans are planning to highlight at the convention what they like to call John Kerry's double speak. What's that all about?

MERCURIO: Well, for the past month or so, Republicans have been promoting this film. It's basically a compilation of tape that they have of Kerry speaking in what they say is sort of speaking on every side of the issue on Iraq.

There's been a debate within the party and within the campaign as to whether or not they should air this -- this film from the podium at the convention. Some people I think worrying that it might come across as too negative.

Well, one person who actually supports the idea of airing it prominently is Ed Gillespie, the chairman of the party. Now, he held a press conference earlier today in New York City, where he announced that they expanded the tape -- the film with new tape of Kerry. He announced also that there are almost six million people who watched this thing, the film on their -- on their campaign Web site, kerryoniraq.com. Let's listen to what else he had to say. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ED HENRY, GILLESPIE, RNC CHAIRMAN: The Kerry on Iraq documentary exposes Senator Kerry's inconsistencies and contradictions, his mind- boggling inability to be decisive when it comes to one of the central issues of our time. After months of attacking President Bush's motives and credibility during the Democratic presidential primary, going so far as to declare himself at one point an anti-war candidate, John Kerry now says, knowing what he knows, now he would still have voted for the Iraq war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Now, John, we know the Republicans were busy during the Democratic convention. So what the -- what are the Democrats going to be doing during the Republican convention?

MERCURIO: Yes. I mean, Democrats plan to be just as aggressive in countering the Republican messages. Republicans were encountering the Democratic message in Boston.

We know on Thursday the DNC is going to announce a little bit about their strategy. They're going to tell us who their surrogates are going to be. One person we should be looking for, obviously, would be New York's junior senator, Hillary Clinton.

Now, Democrats are also taking another page out of the Republican playbook. Right before the Democratic convention, George Bush's pollster, Mark -- Matthew Dowd, set up sort of expectations for what Kerry's bounce should be following his convention, saying it should be somewhere around 15 points.

Well, today, Mark Mehlman, who's John Kerry's pollster, set up his own expectations for where Bush should be and what Bush should look like, what his campaign should look like after the convention. Let's look at some of his claims.

Now, Mehlman said that incumbents have had approval ratings on or about 60 percent going into successful conventions. Bush's approval rating, according to Mehlman, of course, is much lower than that.

In order for incumbents to win, at least half of the voters should be saying in current polls that the country is on the right track. According to Mehlman, that number is now closer to about 37 percent.

Now, Mehlman says that every successful incumbent has had a double-digit lead in the polls going into his convention. As we all know, Kerry and Bush are now about statistically tied. And Bush is actually trailing by a few points in some polls.

Mehlman also said that winning incumbents, successful incumbents, have led on average by about 27 points after the convention, or getting a bounce of about eight points. Now, I talked to a Bush- Cheney campaign aide today who said that Melhman's numbers are just "wrong." She said she couldn't believe that Mark Mehlman, a respectable pollster, would actually put his name on a poll like this.

WOODRUFF: Imagine trying to raise the bar of expectations for the other party. What are we to think?

MERCURIO: I know. Who are these people?

WOODRUFF: John Mercurio, our political editor. Thanks, John. We'll see you this week.

MERCURIO: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Well, President Bush's twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara, have signed on to a campaign e-mail in support of their father's re-election campaign. Much of the letter is geared toward younger voters, with references to school work and other activities that can keep students away from the voting booth. Jenna and Barbara Bush have also traveled with their father to campaign events and they took part in a recent online chat sponsored by the campaign.

Straight ahead, John Kerry accuses George Bush of practicing what he calls "fear and smear" tactics. When we return, Kerry's comments on the economy and his latest response to attacks on his Vietnam War record.

The president's persistence pays off in Ohio. I'll talk with the Democratic mayor of Youngstown who says he's backing Bush for re- election.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know John Kerry is lying about his first Purple Heart because I treated him for that injury.

ANNOUNCER: How did one little commercial change the course of the race for the White House?

Another man named Kerry who has a controversial Vietnam war story of his own speaks out against the president over the Swift Boat ads.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are his friends funding an advertising campaign. These are his supporters that are organizing a campaign against John Kerry

ANNOUNCER: Why is the Democratic mayor of an overwhelming Democratic city endorsing George Bush for president?

Now, live from the CNN Election Express in Hoboken, New Jersey, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Welcome back to Hoboken here at Frank Sinatra Park honoring the city's most famous native son. Across the river behind me in New York City John Kerry gave a speech today, something of a preemptive strike before the Republicans open their convention in the Big Apple next Monday.

In that speech today Senator Kerry accused the Bush campaign and its allies of turning to tactics of fear and smear. It was an indirect, but still clear reference to ads attacking his Vietnam war record. The Bush camp says it's Kerry who is trying to smear the president. Our Bill Schneider explains in this ad war of words, perception does not always match the reality.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: The Swift Boat Veterans have hijacked the presidential campaign. They spent only about half a million dollars to run their ad for eight days in a few battleground states, but the ad generated a bonanza of press coverage.

EVAN TRACEY, TNS MEDIA INTELLIGENCE CMAG.: Every presidential election seems that there's one ad that has great timing and great messages and the press wants to jump on that ad and run with it. Swift Boat Veterans were exactly that.

SCHNEIDER: The perception encouraged by the Kerry campaign is that the Bush campaign has allowed independent so-called 527 groups like the Swift Boat Veterans to do its dirty work.

KERRY: The president keeps telling people he would never question my service to our country. Instead he watches as a Republican-funded attack group does just that.

SCHNEIDER: In fact, most the spending by independent groups by far has been to help Kerry, not Bush. Since March, pro-Kerry groups have spent more than $40 million on more than 56,000 ads in the top 100 markets. That's nearly 15 times as much as the 2.7 million dollars spent by pro-Bush groups on 2,700 ads in those markets. The Bush campaign raised so much money, Bush supporters saw no reason to form independent spending groups.

TRACEY: Democrats knew whoever the nominee was in March was going to be flat broke and they would need some sort of outside help.

SCHNEIDER: The disparity in spending explains why President Bush denounces 527 groups at every opportunity.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think we ought to have 527s. I can't be more plain about it.

SCHNEIDER: That sounds hypocritical to many people. The president benefits from the Swift Boat Veterans ads while he denounces such spending. Kerry gets to play the victim.

KERRY: The Bush campaign and its allies have turned to the tactics of fear and smear because they can't talk about jobs, health care, energy and independence and rebuilding our alliances.

SCHNEIDER: The entire campaign has been put off message by one ad run by one independent spending group.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: The campaign finance law was designed to limit negative campaigning by the political parties by cutting off special interest contributions. Instead that money is going to independent groups and theoretically, the campaigns cannot control the message anymore -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Good point. Bill Schneider. Thanks very much.

Well, since the Swift Boat ads first aired, several Vietnam veterans have gone public with accounts that support John Kerry's version of what happened in Vietnam. Much of the debate continues to center on the incident that led to Kerry being awarded the Bronze Star.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF (voice-over): March 13, 1969, John Kerry was commanding a Swift Boat on the Bay Hap River when a mine detonated close to Kerry's boat. Military records show Kerry received shrapnel wounds in the left buttocks and bruises on the right forearm and the blast knocked a special forces soldier Jim Rassman into the water.

JIM RASSMAN, SERVED WITH KERRY IN VIETNAM: All these rounds kept coming in and John ran up and dropped down on his hands and knees and pulled me over and had he not come out on that bow like that I'd be dead.

WOODRUFF: Rassman's account has been repeatedly and consistently supported by Kerry's Swift Boat crewmates, but the so-called Swift Boat Veterans For Truth claim there was no enemy fire during the operation, raising questions about Kerry's honesty and his bravery. Van Oeddel (ph) was on one of the five Swift Boats taking part in the March 13th mission.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John Kerry lied to get the Bronze Star. I know, I was there. I saw what happened.

WOODRUFF: Larry Thurlow was there, too. Like Kerry he was in command of a Swift Boat and won a Bronze Star that day.

LARRY THURLOW, SWIFT BOAT VETERANS FOR TRUTH: I distinctly remember we were under no fire from either bank, .

WOODRUFF: But Thurlow's own Bronze Star citation mentions all units being under fire. Thurlow says that's not accurate and suggests Kerry wrote the after-action report. There is no evidence to confirm that and a document says Thurlow's boat had three 30-caliber bullet holes in it.

In recent days a number of Vietnam veterans have come forward to dispute the anti-Kerry group's ads and allegations. One of them is Jim Russell (ph) assigned to the Swift Boat behind Kerry on that day. Russell took part in a Kerry campaign conference call with reporters yesterday. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My recollection is that we were under fire during -- off and on during the whole time that this incident took place. For anybody to say that we weren't is -- was on a different river, I think.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: In addition, CNN has obtained the citation of a third soldier who earned a Bronze Star that day along with Kerry and Thurlow. As first reported by "The Nation Magazine," Robert Eugene Lambert's citation also states that all units came under fire.

A little earlier today I spoke with former Nebraska senator Bob Kerrey who for 12 years was a Democratic colleague of John Kerry's in the U.S. Senate. Bob Kerrey also saw combat duty in Vietnam. He was awarded a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and later the Congressional Medal of Honor. I began by asking Bob Kerrey what he thinks about the attacks against John Kerry by some other Vietnam veterans.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BOB KERREY (D), FMR. U.S. SENATOR: I don't like it. I don't like several things about it. I don't think like they're calling themselves "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth." I mean, seven out of the 10 things they said have already been shown not to be true. So they should call themselves "Republican Swift Boat Veterans Against Kerry." That's who they are.

They're funded by Republican individuals. They're supported by people who have worked in Republican campaigns. They don't exist. They'd be a footnote in this campaign were it not for money coming from some of George Bush's most important political supporters.

So it is a Republican effort to discredit John Kerry's service in Vietnam. And I don't like it. I defended Bob Dole. I'll defend anybody who gets attacked in this fashion. I just think it takes us down a notch below where the American people want to go.

WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of Bob Dole, it's not just these Vietnam veterans, but Bob Dole himself who's been saying over the last few days that John Kerry only had superficial wounds. He said at one point, "Well, I don't think he bled."

KERREY: I love Bob Dole, and he's a wonderful human being. He's wrong on this point.

You don't get a Purple Heart because you bleed a certain amount or you're hospitalized a certain number of days. I mean, we should not be doing this, trying to -- how many stitches did you get? Did you lose enough of your leg? Was there enough damage? This is not what we should be doing. This is not how awards should be made and how they should be debated.

We all know what goes on in this kind of a situation. Look, we should not be doing this. I wish Bob had not said that. I think there's some anger there as a consequence of him being for (ph) the Vietnam War back in the early 1970s, a terrible time. And I think a lot of the energy of this effort is coming from people who are angry with the things that John Kerry and other anti-war people were saying in the early 1970s.

WOODRUFF: And when it comes to John Kerry's anti-war record, Bob Dole among others, are saying maybe John Kerry should apologize. He said that the two and a half other million...

KERREY: He's taking the advertising content of the Republican Swift Boat Veterans Against John Kerry as if it's true. It's not. They're not telling the truth on their ad. He didn't get before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and say these things happened. They left that out. They left the most important thing out, which is I just came from a meeting from Detroit and the following things were said. The advertisement leaves a completely different impression and Dole's responding to the ad. He's being misled by the Republican Swift Boat Veterans Against John Kerry. They're misleading him, and they're misleading the American people.

WOODRUFF: So does John Kerry have anything to apologize about when it comes to his coming home from the Vietnam War and talking about alleged atrocities committed by other Vietnam soldiers -- soldiers in Vietnam?

KERREY: I don't think he needs to apologize. John understands that he went further than he should have. He understands that he used language that he shouldn't have. He was 25 years old for God sakes, angry as hell that his country had misled him and everybody else that was over there. Angry that this thing was heading into a bad conclusion.

He knew where it was going. So look, a lot of the energy that is coming in this thing is coming from that. Look, I know some of these guys. I know them very well. They're mad at John Kerry because he chaired the POW/MIA Commission, because he led the effort with the first President Bush to get normal relations to Vietnam.

It was an enormously important thing and a very brave thing that produced a lot of enemies. That's what's going on here, and you can't apologize for that. You can't apologize for the fact that we finally overcame the bitterness and the hard feelings that we had and normalized relations and the trading (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

And oh, by the way, we increased the chances of getting the full accounting that everybody was demanding before we normalized. So he led that effort with John McCain. It's why John McCain has condemned these attacks and called on President Bush to do the same thing, and President Bush should; even though they're his friends, even though they are people who have contributed to him, even though they may be people he liked, this is a level of politics that we should not reach down to.

WOODRUFF: President Bush is saying that all these independent 527 groups should stop. He's not singling out these swift boat veterans. Is he going far enough? KERREY: No. He, of all people -- look, he and John Kerry made different choices in 1968. John chose to go to Vietnam. He can argue it was a bad choice given what was going on then. Bush chose to go in the National Guard.

He of all people should understand, these are his friends funding an advertising campaign. These are his supporters that are organizing the campaign against John Kerry, to slime his military record. He of all people needs to stand up and say, along with John McCain, enough's enough. This is much further than we ought to be going. No, he should single them out.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Former Senator Bob Kerry talking to me earlier today in New York City.

Well, the debate over John Kerry's vietnam service is also on the nation's bookshelves, the book "Unfit for Command" went on sale about two weeks ago and it already sold out on barnesandnoble.com. The bookseller says new copies are not expected to be available until later this week. The book is co-written by John O'Neill who served in Vietnam, and by Jerome Corsi. O'Neill is among the leaders of the anti-Kerry group calling himself Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

The Bush and Kerry camp both are battling hard in the battleground states not just for votes, but for endorsements. Up next I'll talk with a Democratic mayor from Ohio who has stirred things up by endorsing President bush.

Also ahead, what is Howard Dean doing in New York just days before the Republican Convention?

And later, we couldn't leave Hoboken without a political flashback starring "Old Blue Eyes."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

President Bush has picked up the support of a Democratic mayor in the state of Ohio. George McKelvey is in his second term as the mayor of Youngstown, part of an industrial region where Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by five to one. Mayor McKelvey joins me now from Youngstown.

Mr. Mayor, you can imagine the Democrats in your neighborhood are pretty upset. One of them is saying this is a result of that invitation to the White House, they say that was transparent and shallow. The White House is just trying to pick up votes in Ohio. What's this all about?

MAYOR GEORGE MCKELVEY (D), YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO: Well, Judy, I believe President Bush is the best man for the job. It's that simple. And to my Democratic colleagues I would say I didn't think I gave up my First Amendment rights when I became a Democrat.

I happen to be a Democratic officeholder for the last 30 years and I happen to be supporting President Bush in this race. They might be able to be bought for a state dinner, but this guy can't be bought for any price.

WOODRUFF: What's wrong with John Kerry?

MCKELVEY: My endorsement of President Bush is more on what I believe his strengths are. I just -- I don't have a lot of faith in John Kerry. I've watched what the rest of you have watched over the primary season and since then and he just impresses me as a traditional politician, Judy, who if I ask him what he had for breakfast he'd say to me, what did you have for breakfast? And then after I told him, he'd say, I had that, too.

I just -- I can't get a warm feeling about him. I don't know where he stands on anything. He's for things, he's against the same thing. I'm sorry. In my relationship, both professional and personal, with President Bush, I have learned one thing on I'm most comfortable with, he does say what he means and he means what he says and I like that in a public figure.

WOODRUFF: Mayor McKelvey, I want to ask you about something you were quoted as saying, that you thought this endorsement would help bring economic assistance to the Youngstown, Ohio, area. I guess some people are asking how can that be? What can the Bush administration do if the president is elected that they haven't been able to do over the last four years that President Bush has been in office?

MCKELVEY: Judy, I'm sorry, Judy, is that your question?

WOODRUFF: Yes.

MCKELVEY: Oh, Judy, the No. 1 economic development issue on our plate right now is early in 2005 decisions are going to be made about closing an air base adjacent to us that provides thousands of jobs and a $100 million payroll. The competing air base is in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Now, you know, Judy, I'm not the brightest guy in the world, but I can figure out that there's a Heinz Field in Pittsburgh and that there's a ketchup made in Pittsburgh and that if John Kerry is the president of the United States, I know which base is going to close. It's the one outside of Youngstown, Ohio. So all politics is local, I'm working for Youngstown.

WOODRUFF: I hear you. Mayor George McKelvey up front with his endorsement of President George W. Bush. Mayor, thank you for being on the program. We appreciate it.

MCKELVEY: Judy, thank you so much for having me.

WOODRUFF: We appreciate it.

Coming up on INSIDE POLITICS, the Kerry-Edwards campaign keeps the spotlight on Ohio. Today John Edwards is on his first solo trip to that state since his nomination as John Kerry's running mate. Details when we return. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Checking the headlines in our "Campaign News Daily." Two new polls reveal close White House races in two showdown states. In Arizona, a Behavior Research Center poll gives Bush a five-point lead over Kerry. 46 to 41 percent. Down in Florida, the race is as tight as ever among registered voters. The latest CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll finds Bush and Kerry deadlocked at 45 percent.

Across the river from us in New York City today Howard Dean rallied with Democratic officials and union leaders. He put in a good word for Brooklyn Congressman Major Owens and he repeated his stance against the war in Iraq and in favor of the Kerry/Edwards ticket.

Many Frank Sinatra fans knew him as the heartthrob from right here in Hoboken, New Jersey. Up next, others knew Sinatra as an entertainer who at various times sang the praises of both political parties.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: You can see the little crowd that's gathering for "CROSSFIRE" here but before we wrap things up for INSIDE POLITICS after spending time right here in Hoboken, New Jersey in Frank Sinatra Park, we couldn't help but turn our thoughts to the legendary entertainer and his political leanings over the years. Sinatra was at John F. Kennedy's 1961 inaugural to sing "Camelot" and to cheer on the new Democratic president. He had an in with the Kennedys through fellow rat packer and JFK brother-in-law Peter Lawford.

20 years later, however, Sinatra was in the Republican camp, a star at the inauguration of another Hollywood veteran, Ronald Reagan. Politics and in life, Hoboken's native son did it his way. And we love his singing.

Remember you can always keep in touch with where the CNN Election Express is headed next by logging in to CNN.com/bus. There you can read the latest dispatches about what's going on with this vehicle parked right behind me. That's it for INSIDE POLITICS on this Tuesday. I'm Judy Woodruff. Be sure to join us again tomorrow as we continue our march toward the Republican National Convention. We'll be live from outside the TIME Life studios in Manhattan. Time Warner, that's at 3:30 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN. Have a good evening. "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


International Edition
CNN TV CNN International Headline News Transcripts Advertise With Us About Us
SEARCH
   The Web    CNN.com     
Powered by
© 2005 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us.
external link
All external sites will open in a new browser.
CNN.com does not endorse external sites.
 Premium content icon Denotes premium content.
Add RSS headlines.