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General Franks Endorses Bush; Former Bush Adviser Previews Bush Speech; Florida GOP Delegates Go Home to Deal with Storm; Bush Speechwriter Gives Inside View

Aired September 2, 2004 - 20:30   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer here at Madison Square Garden. They've reconfigured the podium for the president of the United States to make it somewhat different. They've created a theater in the round, if you will, to let him walk out and be right in the middle of some delegates, right in the middle literally of Madison Square Garden. Judy Woodruff and Jeff Greenfield are here. Judy's he's going to be taking center stage, as well he should, once he accepts the nomination.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is George W. Bush's big night, Wolf. And, you know, for the last few nights, we've heard ridicule of John Kerry, we heard some raw meat from Zell Miller. Tonight, we are going to hear from the man who wants reelection. And, you know, It's too simple to say good cop, bad cop but there's going to be a smiling face on George W. Bush tonight. He's going to talk about the future. We haven't heard so much about that during this campaign. But their campaign knows they have got to start to fill in some pieces about what people can expect over the next four years.

BLITZER: He will lay out his agenda, if you will, at least in broad strokes for their second term.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I think, by the way, this setup owes a lot to television, particularly to Phil Donahue and Oprah Winfrey who discovered that TV personalities who are at eye- level with an audience, who speak with, not to them create a sense of community and create a sense of nearness rather than distance. So I think that's what's going on here tonight. We should also mention that the Kerry campaign, which has had its bumps the last few weeks is not intending to let this night go unchallenged. Midnight tonight in Dayton, Ohio, John Kerry is going to speak at a rally. You guys, we have all gotten the advanced text. It is going to be a very tough speech specifically referencing the military career or lack of it of Dick Cheney and George W. Bush.

BLITZER: Do you remember the last time when another candidate on that same time at midnight after the acceptance speech immediately had a rally in a key battleground state? Do you remember, Judy?

WOODRUFF: It's never happened. And, Wolf, it is one more reminder of how close and how hard fought this campaign has been for the last seven months and how hard fought it's going to be for the next two months. These campaigns are going to be all out, full bore for the next 62 days. GREENFIELD: And it seems to me, Wolf, that the Bush campaign quite deliberately set a very tough tone on Kerry the first three nights so that whatever the president says tonight is going to seem by contrast, to use that wretched cliche, kinder and gentler, a much more positive vision set up by what we heard the first, particularly last night from Zell Miller and Dick Cheney.

BLITZER: Let's stand up. They're having the color ceremony, and we'll watch this together with our viewers.

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome two of our favorite all-American heroes, Mary Lou Retton and Kerry Strug.

Olympic champions, Mary Lou Retton and Kerry Strug will lead this entire Republican convention in the pledge of allegiance.

KERRI STRUG AND MARY LOU RETTON: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

ANNOUNCER: Growing up in a loving family where music was always a central part of the home, Nicole C. Mullen's dynamic voice and writing ability have earned her a Dove Award for song of the year in 1998. Please stand and welcome Nicole C. Mullen to lead us in the national anthem.


BLITZER: Sung by Nicole Mullen, a beautiful rendition indeed. Always wonderful to hear the national anthem at these conventions, whether a Democratic convention or a Republican convention. Jeff, our political unit -- we've been taking a look at the electoral college math, which is critical as our viewers know remembering what happened only four years ago, where it might stand right now if, and this is the key, if the election were held today?

GREENFIELD: Well, we can show you the change, and it's a marginal change, in what's happened since the last night of the Democratic convention to show you why people are talking about a movement toward Bush. When the Democratic convention ended or on the last day, the map showed that if the election were then held, John Kerry would take 300 electoral votes, George Bush, 238.

As of now, because of shifts in the polls in Ohio, West Virginia, Missouri and most recently, Wisconsin, if the election were held today, and we'd all be surprised if it were, George Bush would win with 284 electoral votes, John Kerry, 254.

And it has to be said that a shift of any one of the big states would put it back in Kerry's column. If that map looks familiar from 2000, the only states that shifted, New Hampshire, from Bush in 2000 to Kerry, Wisconsin from Gore in 2000 to Bush. And we also have to mention how close these are and why these numbers have to be taken with, say, a glass of salt. Two points separate the two in state after state after state. Kerry up by three in Minnesota, Bush up by two in Missouri, Bush up by three in West Virginia, Kerry up -- I'm sorry, in Wisconsin. So that these states are almost all in the margin of error, but they do show this tiny movement towards Bush. And what it really shows is the race is really close.

BLITZER: It's a statistical dead heat. There's a new American Research Group poll, Judy, that came out today and most of that, almost all of it done before the bulk of this convention last night, certainly, which shows it's basically too close to call.

WOODRUFF: It is. And, Wolf, what's interesting again, is this is yet another poll that shows George W. Bush behind by a point among registered voters. But when you took a look at likely voters, you know, and there are different ways of measuring who's likely to vote, Bush moves ahead by a point. So, you know, we've seen this in a number of polls. But I think just quickly to put a button what Jeff was saying, there's only been glacial movement maybe in the polls. But everybody's trying to figure out why that is, and everybody keeps coming back to these swift boat attack ads of the last few weeks. And there has been criticism the Kerry campaign didn't handle it very well.

BLITZER: Well, let's check in with some of our reporters.

GREENFIELD: Yes, if I just might, the Kerry people who were briefing us today fully are telling us to get ready for a Bush bounce after this to increase that national margin, Wolf.

BLITZER: That's a significant development. I want to go down to the floor. We have some of our reporters on the convention floor watching what's going on, especially in these battleground states where this election will be won or lost. In New Mexico, CNN's Dana Bash, in Ohio, our Candy Crowley, Dan Lothian in New Hampshire. Dana, let's begin with you. How close is it in New Mexico?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you just look at where I'm standing to tell you how close it is. This real estate is really prime, as you can see. And you may wonder why New Mexico has this real estate. Well, it's 366 reasons why, Wolf. Those are the number of votes that George Bush lost the state by in 2000 and is still very close, just five electoral votes. But still, the people here say that they are really riled up. They've got 10,000 volunteers, 200,000 phone calls made. But they say it is the president tonight that's got to seal the deal for them. And he's got to give them a message they can take back home especially because they say there are a lot of new voters in the state that they're trying to reach out to. They say that the domestic issues that the president will talk about tonight, healthcare, helping with retirement, education, those are the things these new voters really care about. They're hoping that the policies they hear are really going to appeal to these new voters. That's what they're hoping to hear tonight.

BLITZER: And John Kerry has a strong advocate in New Mexico, the governor, Bill Richardson. Candy, you're in Ohio. I think these two candidates, Kerry and Bush, they're basically taking out residency in Ohio.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I was just about to say, I'm always in Ohio. But the truth is look, this is an extremely important state because it has 20 electoral votes. But it's more important because it's so close. Talking to people here tonight about how they view the situation on the ground, they view it the same way the polls show it, as very close. They have been in a struggle with the other side to, in fact, get out new voters, to register them. Now, the key is to get those people that have registered to go to the polls in November. Talking to them also about what they'd like to hear tonight. As it happens, they want to hear what all of us have been talking about, which is what about the next four years, what would you do with the next four years. They believe that certainly helps in Ohio, which has been hard hit, particularly in the manufacturing areas. A lot of the manufacturers have closed down in Ohio. They believe here that, in fact, the employment situation is getting better. Whether it will get better fast enough and high enough in Ohio, I guess we'll find out in November -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, we know that two additional residents of Ohio, at least for tonight, will be there. In Springfield, Ohio, John Kerry and John Edwards -- they'll have a midnight rally tonight, in Ohio, underscoring the importance of that state. Dan Lothian in New Hampshire. It was very close there four years ago. How close is it now?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, President Bush did win in New Hampshire just by a slight margin, less than 5 percent in 2000. He's currently -- in one of the last polls he's currently trailing Kerry but by a slight margin. Some of the folks here believe that he is gaining momentum in their state. They also have good real estate on the front row. So that shows how important New Hampshire is. These delegates are not really wanting to hear anything more about Kerry. They said they enjoyed the attacks that took place this week on Kerry. But they said that that was nothing new to them. He is their neighbor, and so, they've been able to follow his career all along. They know about his record. What they want to hear about tonight is what President Bush has in terms of vision for the future of America. They want to be inspired so they can go back to New Hampshire, go door-to-door, get out the vote.

BLITZER: Dan, you would think that New Hampshire would be a slam-dunk for John Kerry since he is from neighboring Massachusetts? Is that good or bad, the fact he lives right next door?

LOTHIAN: Perhaps it could be bad because they do know so much about him. I was talking to one of the delegates. He says all along we have been able to follow everything that he does in that state. We know his record very well. And that goes back to what I was saying earlier that they didn't have to be reminded of all of these attacks that they heard this week. They say they know him. And so, that's why they just want to hear now about the future, not about what John Kerry has done in the past.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks, Dan Lothian, very much. Thanks to all our floor reporters. Suzanne Malveaux is also on the floor right now. Suzanne, the president won't be wasting any time tonight, either, will he?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: absolutely not, Wolf. President Bush is not even going to spend the night here. We are traveling to Pennsylvania, as you know, a very important state for the president. And really the key voters there are the undecided women. That's who they're trying to win over. But I have to tell you, traveling with the president the last couple of weeks, they have left nothing to chance here. This president has been practicing every theme, every line on friendly audiences around the country, very much like the ask President Bush type of format that they have had, very much controlled, even some critics saying too much staged. But they believe that this format today, the theater in the round, really highlights the president's strengths, he is comfortable and intimate with his audience. And again, Wolf, we are taking to the road and counting down those days, two more months to the elections.

BLITZER: Suzanne, the president has done this several times at various rallies when he's gone out into the crowd, this theater in the round, Oprah like format. He does it very well, but I dare say he's never had as big an audience out there, whether in Pennsylvania or Ohio or any place else as he's going to have tonight.

MALVEAUX: Absolutely, Wolf. Generally those audiences are very small, intimate crowd. But what is interesting to note is that the president is so comfortable in those type of forums, he has had more of these ask the president rallies and forums than he has had solo news conferences in the last 3 and-a-half years.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux on the floor for us. Thanks very much. Let's go up from the floor to the podium. It's not very high. CNN's John King. our senior White House correspondent. John, you had a chance to sit down with the first lady today, get a sense of where she's at going into this important speech by her husband.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I did, Wolf. And she answered one of the questions many of the delegates have asked our correspondents and relay to our correspondents, that will the president be more positive, will there be fewer attacks on John Kerry and more look ahead to the next four years. The first lady said yes, that she does expect and she knows her husband will be much more forward-looking in the speech tonight. But she also was quite pointed in dismissing the Democratic criticism that all we've heard at this convention is bitterness and unfair attacks, angry attacks on Senator John Kerry. She suggested perhaps the Democratic nominee is a bit too thin skinned.


LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I think we've seen the record of the senator that's running against my husband examined. And that's what happens when you get into politics.

That's what happens when you run for office. And, you know, it happens to everybody. You get criticized, and that's just a fact of life in American politics. KING: When you were coming out for your big speech the other night, advisers to the president in the campaign say one of your key roles in this campaign is to help give a softer side to the president. Implicit in that is that perhaps voters have a harder view of him.

BUSH: Well, you know why, because we've had years of war, and he's been a war president. And, you know, that's just also what happened. That's what we got dealt.

KING: We've talked before about your role in the campaign. There was a poll recently. I believe it was the Los Angeles Times. It asked who would you prefer as first lady. Fifty-six percent said Laura Bush. I think it was 26 percent said Teresa Heinz-Kerry. What's your reaction to that?

BUSH: Well, I like that, of course, absolutely, I think that's great. I'm flattered.

KING: She in this campaign has been harsher, I would say, in her language than you have been in characterizing. She has said wouldn't it be nice to have a president who understands complexity, enjoys complexity, for that matter? Is that a role for a first lady?

BUSH: Sure. I mean, you know, this is politics. And, you know, certainly, absolutely. I have a lot of empathy for her. We're in the same boat. She and I know are the only ones who know what it's like for your husband to be running in this race in 2004. It isn't easy. You know, it's not easy. It's very, very difficult to run for president. It's difficult on the families, but it's also exciting and thrilling and a privilege and, you know, a really wonderful part of our American history.

KING: You say that politics is a tough business. Your twin daughters spoke to the convention the other night, and some of the reviews were not so kind.

BUSH: That's right.

KING: What do you think of those?

BUSH: And that's exactly what their dad said today. He said, you know, when you put yourself out there, you're going to get criticized. You'll be praised, too, by some people, but criticized by others.

KING: Now, you say the president discussed the reviews with them. Were they hurt by them at all? Will we see them again?

BUSH: Sure, you'll see them again. Definitely they'll be here the whole time. They're going to go on the campaign trail. They were speaking to young people. We wanted them to speak to young people. We want the Republican party to reach out to young people. And that was the purpose.

KING: One of the moment is in this hall last night, the vice president gave his speech and his family came on stage afterwards. But his daughter Mary did not. Liz came on stage with her husband and her children. And Mary made a decision not to come on stage. And there has been some debate about her in these halls because she's a gay American. And she decided not to come on stage. And the Democrats immediately said was she not welcome on the stage at a Republican convention?

BUSH: I think she made that decision. But I certainly hope she'll be on the stage with us tonight.

KING: You do? Do you believe she will be?

BUSH: I hope so.

KING: You noted at the top 60 days when we leave New York.

BUSH: That's right.

KING: That's a pretty intense stretch to the election. Have you ever set around with the president and talked about what if we lose, what do we do next?

BUSH: Sure. Absolutely.

KING: And what does he say?

BUSH: I mean, you know, we talk about what our plans are either way. And, you know, I think he's going to win, though.

KING: But does he ever say what he would feel like or what he thinks he would feel like if he lost?

BUSH: No, of course not. I mean, we all know what we would feel like if we lost. Disappointed.

KING: Disappointed. All right, Mrs. Bush, we thank you so much for your time.

BUSH: Thanks so much. Thanks, John.

KING: Thank you.


KING: I think disappointment a dramatic understatement. Of course, the first lady protecting her husband, as she does on the campaign trail as well. She toured this theater in the round approach with him earlier today. He is very comfortable in this format. He said he is looking forward to it, that he is very relaxed and loose. He knows how critical this speech is to the campaign. But the speech has essentially been done, Wolf, for more than week. They've tinkered with a few words. The president ready to go tonight.

BLITZER: One quick question, John, how significant is the fact that General Tommy Franks, retired U.S. Army who led the U.S. military into the war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq will be speaking this hour before this convention endorsing the president? KING: It is incredibly significant from the White House perspective. First John McCain, a man with broad support among the American people, including independent voters and even some Democrats. Now, General Tommy Franks, a man who became a household name during the Iraq war, a gruff talking, viewed as a tough talker. What the president wants to say if you question my decision to go to war in Iraq, listen to John McCain, listen to Tommy Franks. I did this based on sound intelligence. I did it with what I thought was a very good military plan. If you don't believe me because I'm a politician, believe the general.

BLITZER: All right. John King, thanks very much. And we'll stand by to listen to the general. He's speaking coming up. We'll take a quick break. Much more coverage from Madison Square Garden and the Republican National Convention when we come back.


BLITZER: Madison Square Garden in New York and the last night of the Republican National Convention here. Welcome back, to our viewers. Throughout all of these conventions, the Democratic convention in Boston, the Republican convention in New York, we've given these small mini cameras to some delegates to take us behind the scenes, get a little flavor of what's going on. Here is today's delegate diary.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is John Cappler (ph), a delegate from Jacksonville, Florida.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm Georgette Mossbacker (ph), New York committee woman to the Republican party.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am Andreas Navares (ph). And I am a delegate from Puerto Rico.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:. I'm Catarina Cavalares (ph). And I'm a delegate from California.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A delegate is there to cast a vote for the Republican nominee, to be the official nominee of the party. Bush is running on his record, and he's very proud of his record. And we're proud of his record.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a roll call. Each state has the opportunity to cast their votes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Puerto Rico casts all 23 votes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nevada, 33 votes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Florida, the sunshine state, casting 112 votes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: New York State proudly casts 100 votes for our great president, George W. Bush. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My brother, George, he's a good man, a decent human being. He's leading this country in troubled times.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know who the nominee is. So it's really the ability to highlight them, obviously through their speeches and highlight some other major players.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, (R) CALIFORNIA: One of my movies was called "True Lies." And that's what the Democrats should have called their convention.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Together, we will make George W. Bush president for another four years.

SENATOR ZELL MILLER, UNITED STATES SENATE: No matter what spider hole they may hide in or what rock they crawl under.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Zell Miller stole the show.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president will, of course be giving a speech. The American people want to know what this president has planned for the next four years. They also want to understand his vision for the future. I think this has been a home run week for the Republicans. What we've seen and heard this week is who we are, who Republicans are, and what we represent.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're very proud of what the president's done so far, and we're looking forward to building upon that footstool that he's already built.


BLITZER: And that's today's delegate diary. Let's go to California, the delegation from California. One of our delegates who's been taking one of these small cameras around, Kathy Talavaras (ph). She's down there. You see her camera. That's what we're seeing from her camera right now. These are the images from the delegate camera of Kathy Talavaras (ph), our delegate, the delegate we've given these cameras to. She's from Orange County, California. She's 34 years old, a first generation American. Interesting to take a look at that. CNN's Carlos Watson is living in California right now, but he's here at the Republican National Convention right now. California doesn't seem to be in play right now, Carlos, but could it be?

CARLOS WATSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Not this year, although Republicans have impressively added about 15,000 newly registered Republicans a week over the last several months, so a major voter registration effort going on there. But very few people think it's seriously in play in 2004.

One of the interesting things, though, Wolf, when you mention California, you think about Arnold Schwarzenegger, one of the major impacts of this convention will be a series of new surrogates that come forth, not only Arnold Schwarzenegger, but Tommy Franks and on the Democratic side, people like the former speaker of the Texas House, Ben Barnes, who will make a strong critical challenge to President Bush, perhaps as early as this Sunday on one of the major programs about his service in the National Guard.

So while California is not playing a role in terms of being in play, some people like Arnold Schwarzenegger may actually play a key surrogate role during the campaign.

GREENFIELD: Carlos, you raise an interesting point.

BLITZER: Jeff Greenfield, Carlos, he wants to ask a question. Go ahead, Jeff.

GREENFIELD: The Ben Barnes incident -- he's going on 60 minutes specifically to talk about how he helped get a lot of rich kids in Texas, including George W. Bush, into the National Guard. And one of the questions that this convention raises is whether or not the kinds of criticism about John Kerry has opened the door as far as the Kerry campaign is concerned for a really tough hit-back. As you know, tonight, John Kerry is raising the issue of the service of Bush and Cheney in Vietnam. My question was whether or not...



BLITZER: The first lady is being introduced right now here at the convention. Everybody is getting up and standing. They're excited. The first lady, Laura Bush, will be walking in. Here she is. She's in the presidential box, right across from the podium. She'll be sitting there throughout this night listening to her husband. Then eventually after he speaks, she and the rest of the family and other guests, the vice president, Lynn Cheney, their family, all of them will be walking over to the podium for the balloon drop, the confetti drop and all the activity. There's Laura Bush kissing her mother-in-law. Her father- in-law is there, the entire family, her sister-in-law. There's a lot of in-laws, Jeff Greenfield and Judy Woodruff as we watch. Let's talk about this family for a second, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Well, at one point, Wolf, we were told there were something like 90 members of the extended Bush family. And it's a remarkable relationship. As we know, this is only the second time father and son have served as president of this country. We have also been reminded that the first father and son -- that was John Adams and John Quincy Adams -- didn't get reelected. This Bush hopes to make history by getting reelected.

GREENFIELD: Do we turn to Carlos?

BLITZER: No, no, no. But just finish up the thought.

GREENFIELD: Well, it's also -- I mean, this is probably at this point, a dynasty that outdoes the Kennedys. If you think about Prescott Bush, the grandfather who was a United States senator and Jeb Bush, the governor of Florida with potential presidential possibilities and George P. Bush, a young man who clearly has political potential, do you realize a Bush has spoken, has been on the ticket of almost every convention but one since 1980. That's a heck of a run for the Bush family.

WOODRUFF: But, Wolf, the family is very sensitive about the appearance of dynasty. In fact, we heard a little of this on the floor last night. The Jeb Bush 2008 signs surfaced in the Florida delegation. And one of the convention officials made sure that it was removed before anybody in the press could get hold of it, including our producer. So they're sensitive about that.

BLITZER: It's a -- I think it's fair to say a powerful family right now.

GREENFIELD: Well, it's a powerful family enough that the best seller list is filled with books, mostly critical, I might say, about the power of the Bush family. And as we know, one of the things that could foil this election on September 14, a book on the Bush family by Kitty Kelly, a very well known purveyor of -- some people would call it gossip -- which has got a lot of people scratching their head saying just what is in this book and could it conceivably affect this presidential race. None of us know the answer, Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, one of the things we're standing by for now is an introduction of flag officers, retired military officers who have endorsed this president. We saw something similar in Boston at the Democratic convention. Let's watch this a little bit and get a flavor. This will then become a setup for the speech that General Tommy Franks will be delivering.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Major General William Lyon (ph), Major General James Mookoyama (ph), Vice Admiral James Sagaholm (ph), Rear Admiral Grant Holland, Jr. (ph), Rear Admiral Robert Mandivel (ph), Rear Admiral Robert Owens (ph), Brigadier General Duane Allans (ph), Brigadier General John Bonson (ph), Brigadier General Jimmy Dishner (ph), Brigadier General Ward Lahardy (ph), Brigadier General Patrick Ray (ph) and General P.X. Kelly (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you're going to have another Marine tonight, and when you put a microphone in a Marine's hand, you may be in trouble.

My fellow Americans, during my Marine Corps career, I've served with nine presidents, from Harry Truman to President George Herbert Walker Bush, and I know a commander in -- I know a commander in chief when I see one.

A commander in chief must have calm resolve, clear purpose, and the courage to make difficult decisions. And then, he must stand by them in the same way that the troops in the field must hold their objectives.

My colleagues and I are here tonight, and I'm ready to admit that not all are Democrats or Republicans, but we all are Americans, Americans whose highest mission in life has been the defense of our country.

And each of us on this platform, along with countless others, including more than 250 retired admirals and generals, whose names you see on the screen behind me, stand united, united in the firm conviction that the best way to defend America today is to stand by a resolute commander in chief and reelect George W. Bush.

And now I am honored to introduce a recent addition to our group, a highly decorated and widely respected retired general from the United States Army, the former commander of the U.S. Central Command, the man who led our forces to victory in Afghanistan and Iraq, General Tommy Franks!


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!

FRANKS: Thank you so much. That made me -- that made me want to step out here. Thank you. That introduction made me want to step out here and say, hi, "I'm Tommy Franks, and I approved that message."

Wow! This convention rocks!

As P.X. Kelly said, I'm not a Republican, I'm not a Democrat, but I believe in democracy and I believe in America.

For almost four decades as a soldier, I've been independent. Now, there are those who would -- who would say very independent. But here I stand tonight, endorsing George W. Bush to be the next president of the United States.

Look, America is a land of opportunity. America is a land of choice. And a great wartime president, Franklin Roosevelt, once said, "Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely."

Delegates, friends, I am prepared to choose wisely, and I choose George W. Bush.

BLITZER: General Tommy Franks, formally endorsing the president of the United States for reelection, not a huge surprise. He's been hinting about this now for the last several weeks since he did a round of television interviews in connection with his book. That recently came up and rose to become No. 1 on "The New York Times" best-sellers list.

We have a special guest up at our platform, Gate 64, Karen Hughes, for many years one of the closest advisers to the president.

You're not formally working in the White House. I don't know if you're formally working in the campaign. But you're certainly very involved. Let's get right down to business. John Kerry tonight at midnight at the rally in Ohio, this is what he's going say. They've already released reaction. "We all saw the anger and distortion of the Republican convention. For the past week they attacked my patriotism and my fitness to serve as commander in chief..."

KAREN HUGHES, FORMER BUSH ADVISER: Well, let me stop you right there, because no one has questioned John Kerry's patriotism. That is simply not true.

BLITZER: The Swift Boat Veterans -- The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

HUGHES: That is an independent expenditure ad that has nothing to do with our campaign or with President Bush.

BLITZER: But three members of your campaign had to resign because they were involved.

HUGHES: Senator Kerry said nothing for a year as $63 million was spent by independent expenditure committees against President Bush. Now that there's one ad that apparently attacks Senator Kerry, he's suddenly interested in this.

Senator -- Senator McCain and President Bush have been calling for an end to this kind of independent expenditure activity for more than a year.

Now, let's get back to the other point. He...

BLITZER: The other point is he goes on and raises questions about the military service of the president and the vice president. Among other things, he says, "The vice president even called me unfit for office last night. I guess I'll leave it up to the voters whether five deferments makes someone more qualified to defend this nation than two tours of duty."

HUGHES: Well, I have to wonder which Senator Kerry is saying that. Is there at the Senator Kerry who several years ago said we should not divide this country based on the status of who served and where they served in Vietnam? I think again, this is another flip- flop that the voters are not going to appreciate.

And the president has said repeatedly that he respects Senator Kerry's service. He honored Senator Kerry's service. The president was even asked several days ago, "Do you think Senator Kerry served more heroically than you did?"

He said, "Yes, I do, because he saw combat." It takes a big person to say that.

BLITZER: But -- but -- but...

HUGHES: And I think this is a very unfortunate tone. And it's not... BLITZER: But speaking of tones, Zell Miller last night raised all the most serious questions about the credibility of John Kerry to ever serve as commander in chief.

GREENFIELD: He questioned the motives.

BLITZER: And he was -- he was your keynote speaker.

HUGHES: And the best thing I can offer in his defense is that Senator Miller is accustomed to Democratic conventions. He is, after all, a Democrat. The most passionate speaker here at our Republican convention was...

BLITZER: But do you -- do you agree with what he was saying last night?

HUGHES: The most passionate speaker here at our Republican convention is a loyal, proud Democrat, who -- who has served. Let me -- who has served.

GREENFIELD: But point is, he questioned the motives of the Democratic Party. He said, "In their manic obsession to bring down a president they're weakening America."

Now that may not be questioning the patriotism, but he's saying, in effect, that trying to defeat the president of the United States is weakening the country. And I have to say that sounds like questioning someone's motives.

HUGHES: I think what he's talking about there, Jeff, is some of the -- to the vitriolic statements we've heard and seen: the charges of liar, the sort of vitriolic nature of the hyper partisanship that has come from the left and from the Democratic Party in this campaign.

Now Senator Miller is in a unique position. He knows both of these candidates for president well. He got to know President George W. Bush when he was governor of Texas and Senator Miller at the time was governor. And he then served with Senator Kerry in the United States Senate. So he has seen both men first-hand.

As he said last night he is worried about his grandchildren and about what the future of this country will be. He believes that it's very important that President Bush be reelected.

Now tonight, the principal speaker at this convention is, of course, the president. And he is going to talk tonight in the very optimistic, visionary speech about what a new Bush term would look like, what the next four years would look like under the leadership of President George W. Bush.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CO-HOST: But can't the president do that because the so-called attack dogs last night and earlier this week went after John Kerry? This convention, the Democrats are saying, is most negative, nasty convention they've seen ever.

HUGHES: That is quite revisionist history, Judy. Actually, this convention -- let's look at the speech of the first lady, where she talked about her husband and his accomplishments and the personal nature of the decisions she's watched him make.

Let's talk about Governor Schwarzenegger, and it was a very -- it was a fun, a feisty, a rollicking speech. Mayor Giuliani and Senator McCain. I think this convention has been a very upbeat convention. We have focused on Senator Kerry's record. And that's something that Senator Kerry doesn't want to do, because he knows that his record is very much out of the mainstream of typical American thinking.

WOODRUFF: But wouldn't you agree that you've opened up this whole discussion again about patriotism, about service to the country by what has come out of the podium for the last few nights at this convention?

HUGHES: We talked about Senator Kerry's voting record. And if he is embarrassed by his voting record, then that's something he's got to explain to voters of Texas.

BLITZER: Let's talk...

HUGHES: Voters of -- Listen to me, I'm still campaigning for governor of Texas.

BLITZER: Let's talk about some specific initiatives -- let's talk about some specific initiatives he's going to raise tonight. We understand he's going to try to cut through in a second term if he's reelected with simplifying the tax code, making the tax system easier to understand.

Give us a preview of what he's going to say.

HUGHES: Let me explain the construct by which he's going to talk about his domestic policy. Because I think it's, again, very interesting, and I don't think it's been done by a presidential candidate of either party in the past.

He's going to talk about the fact that the way Americans live and work is changing dramatically. It has changed over our lifetime. Most of our parents' generation went to work for one company, and they stayed at that company for most of their careers and the companies provided...

GREENFIELD: ... his presidency. I was struck by this. He's taking a page from Bill Clinton's analysis of the economy.

HUGHES: Isn't that interesting? Well, I didn't realize that.

GREENFIELD: Absolutely.

HUGHES: But I do think -- I do think -- he was going to talk tonight about the fact that two-thirds of the women in America who had children used to stay home and work inside the home. Now, more than two-thirds of them work outside the home as well as care for children. So they juggle jobs and families. And what he's going to talk about is transforming the systems of government in order to help government take the side of those working families...

BLITZER: But is this...

HUGHES: ... making our healthcare more portable.

BLITZER: Is this something government can do, because as you know, there are budget deficits, $450 billion this year. It's a record. Does the government have the money to start funding new initiatives like this?

HUGHES: I think in a couple trillion dollar federal budget, if you set priorities, yes, we have -- obviously, the president will set priorities. He will spend money in the areas that are his priorities.

Obviously, funding the war. He believes once we commit soldiers to battle we need to fund them, unlike Senator Kerry, who voted against funding them after voting for the war.

He will fund homeland protections, and he'll fund key initiative that he believes are important. And tonight, you'll hear him talk about education reform. You'll hear him talk about healthcare in rural and poor communities and for low-income children. You'll hear him talk about creating an economic environment which produces jobs in America.

GREENFIELD: Isn't it a question of, well, he's been there for four years. And the numbers still say that more people want a new president, straight up or down vote, than want to keep one?

So isn't there a danger that Democrats say, "This sounds really neat, but the guy who's been there already for four years is much more likely to continue on the path he's taken than to change. If you want change, you better get somebody else"?

HUGHES: Well, you know, that's an interesting question, because I think really -- I remember sitting here four years ago and talking about the things that then Governor George W. Bush wanted to accomplish as president.

Tax relief, it's happened. Education reform, he's enacted it. Medicare prescription drug coverage for senior citizens, leaders in both parties have talked about that for years. He was able to bring both parties together and get it done. And so I think he will build on a record of results.

We've got a lot of things we've got to accomplish in this country. We need to reform our intelligence. He's the candidate with a record of reforming. Senator Kerry has no such record.

WOODRUFF: Karen, I'm curious what the president can say to reassure people about the economy. We all know about the 1.2 million jobs; the Democrats keep talking about that. The new unemployment numbers... HUGHES: By the way, Judy, let me make a point on that. They don't talk about how many jobs we lost after September 11, and I think that's, you know -- September 11.

WOODRUFF: Clearly that's a part of the formula here.

HUGHES: It's a big part, the jobs that were lost.

WOODRUFF: We're 3 1/2 years into the administration. Jobs continued -- they're being created but not at the rate you like.

Just today, General Motors and Ford announced they're going to have to cut back production, because consumers weren't buying over the last few months. That's going to affect some of the battleground states in the Middle West that your campaign and the Kerry campaign are fighting for.

HUGHES: And the president will talk tonight about the way to create jobs. And he recognizes that in this changing economy, there's increasing competition for the jobs of American workers. We've all seen that. The best way to keep jobs in America is to make this the best place in the world to do business. And he will talk about his plan to do that.

BLITZER: We know -- we know you have to go, but you've been kind enough to spend a few moments with us, Karen.

GREENFIELD: Did you write the Bush twins' speech?

HUGHES: I worked with them. I can't -- I'm not hip enough to have written it myself.

GREENFIELD: Just had to ask.

HUGHES: Well, some of the young people in the campaign helped, and our media team, Martha, Ken and Stewart and I all helped.

But you know, Jeff, and I really think that the Bush twins have been treated unfairly over that. They're -- they're 22-year-old fun, young women who are very intelligent. I think it was great that they had the self-confidence to stand up and poke a little fun at themselves and at the famous members of their family, including their grandmother. You know, we...

WOODRUFF: This is a tough environment here.

HUGHES: I know that. We want to appeal to young women, though. We don't want to get the grumpy old guy votes. You know? We need to appeal to young voters.

BLITZER: We want to see the president shake it like a Polaroid.

HUGHES: I do, too.

BLITZER: Can you make that happen?

HUGHES: They asked me. They said, "Do you get that?"

I said, "Not really, but I think it must be hip."

BLITZER: It's very hip. OK, thanks.

WOODRUFF: Thanks, Karen.

BLITZER: Karen Hughes, thanks very much.

BLITZER: Let's go upstairs. CNN's co-hosts of "CROSSFIRE," Tucker Carlson, Paul Begala standing by.

Tucker and Paul. Tucker, first to you.

What do you think the president has to do tonight in order to hit a home run, if you will?

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Well, I think he needs to, in contrast to what Karen Hughes has said, appeal to the grumpy old guys. Without the grumpy old guys, you don't have a Republican Party. I think they're worth defending. I kind of like them.

I do think, though, he should probably -- I personally think -- I don't think he's going to do this -- but he ought to just continue the essential theme of the convention, which is "We'll protect you better than John Kerry will."

And I think there's probably the temptation to, you know, respond to the call to pull out all sorts of, you know, detailed policy proposals, and I think he may end up doing that. But that's the theme. That's actually the theme that helps Bush. It's kind the only theme that matters, which party will protect you. And I think he wins if he presses that.

BLITZER: Paul, like Karen, you're from Texas. So what do you say to her message tonight, which is the message we'll hear from the president?

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": It's a good idea for the president to lay out the agenda for the second term. That's very smart. But the speech to do that in was the State of the Union address eight months ago in January, not 50, 60 days before an election. It's just too late. So there's going to be a credibility problem.

And as Jeff pointed out in the interview with Karen, he's been there for four years. And so Democrats are going to say, "Yes, let's look at the promises he made the last time."

He promised not to raid the Social Security surplus. He did. He promised not to run a deficit. He's running the biggest in history. He promised to run a humble foreign policy. Nobody believes that. You know, he promised to be a uniter, not a divider and change the tone. Good lord.

So he's got a credibility problem tonight that he didn't have four years ago when he first made a set of policy proposals. Still, I like policy speeches. I disagree with Tucker about that. But I think that he's got a real problem with credibility tonight.

BLITZER: Is there an element, Tucker, of good cop, bad cop? Last night, Zell Miller and, to a certain degree, the vice president being the bad cop, the good cop being the president tonight who will come in and take a very high road, speaking about his initiatives for the next four years, not necessarily getting into the mud against John Kerry?

CARLSON: Well, there's nothing high road about anything in politics, it seems to me.

But yes, I mean, he'll -- you know, he'll be kindler and gentler. I mean, the advance portions of the speech we've seen, you know, refer not to mothers or parents, but to moms and dads. And, you know, that's to highlight the gentle part of Bush.

But I must say, you know, the fashionable opinion is clearly outrage by the harshness, the unprecedented harshness of Zell Miller's speech last night.

Look, you know, he came off a little humorless, but put it in context. It is, again, a political convention. People bark at political conventions. It's happened before.

I think it's -- you know, it's not that. Look, you win by not saying simply how great you are but how terrible the other guy is. I don't know; it's conventional for a convention to do that.

BLITZER: But Paul, you've worked closely with Zell Miller for many years. You know him quite well. You describe him often as your mentor to a certain degree. How surprised were you by his speech last night?

BEGALA: Very. I was very astonished. He is a brilliant orator. And it didn't -- it didn't look like Zell. It didn't sound like Zell. I suspect some, you know, right-wing thug wrote it for him, and he got up there and read it like the big Marine that he is.

It just wasn't -- in fact, Zell is very tough, and he can be mean. But he usually -- if you look back at 1992, when he took it to President Bush Senior and to Ross Perot, he did it with some laughs; he did it with a smile. I mean, Zell has a great sense of humor.

It just didn't look or sound like Zell. It was just a harsh, mean-spirited -- And it does hurt -- it's not -- it hurts their attempt to get swing voters. I think some undecided voter is going to look at that and run away from the Republicans like a devil runs from holy water. It was not the kind of speech that President Bush is going to give tonight.

BLITZER: All right. Paul Begala, Tucker Carlson, the co-hosts of CNN's "CROSSFIRE." We'll be back to you. Thanks very much.

Meantime, amidst all of this, there's a hurricane that's approaching the East Coast of Florida right now. Let's go down to the Florida delegation. CNN's Candy Crowley is there.

I think -- I suspect, Candy, a lot of nervous Floridians where you are.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And a lot of absent ones at this point. We think about 20 of the delegates and alternates from Florida, as far as they can guess, have gone home.

Among them Congressman Mark Foley, who's in West Palm right now at the emergency center. He says he will ride out the storm there. We talked to him last night. Obviously, there was sort of a growing concern. So he did leave, as much as he said last night he'd like to say.

So what they've done is moved some of the alternates down to the great seats that they have here on the floor.

But you know, when you talk to them, this is a very much of a kind of polled delegation. I talked to someone from Palm Beach who said we just feel awful watching the storm come while they're sitting up here, but they also, of course, wanted to listen to the president. So they will do that. But about 20 of them had to go home -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Our best wishes, of course, to all the Floridians down there. They've just gone through Hurricane Charley, now Hurricane Frances, heading that way. An awful situation.

All right. We'll take a quick break, and we'll be right back. Much more coverage from the Republican Convention.


ANNOUNCER: At the 1968 Republican convention 11 names were placed in nomination for the presidency. The winner was Richard Nixon on the first ballot.


ANNOUNCER: He did win, becoming the first former vice president to take the Oval Office without succeeding the president he served under.


BLITZER: The Republican convention here in New York City at Madison Square Garden. We're standing by. In about an hour or so from now, the president will be delivering, no doubt, one of the most important speeches of his life.

Our senior White House correspondent, John King, had a chance for a rare sit-down interview with his chief speechwriter.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain. Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty have always been at war. And we know that God is not neutral between them.

MICHAEL GERSON, CHIEF PRESIDENTIAL SPEECHWRITER: Well, it's interesting. I mean, you learn early on that he has a certain set of rules and approaches that you have to respect. And he wants a speech to do certain things. He likes clear outlines. He likes short sentences. He likes active language, not passive language. He likes to mix directness with a kind of element of elevation.

BUSH: We must choose between a world of fear and a world of progress. We cannot stand by and do nothing while dangers gather.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How do you feel personally as someone who helps this president communicate, when you see ads like, saying, "misleader." Critics getting up to say that this president has deliberately misled the American people to take them to war.

How has that affected you personally?

GERSON: Well, the way it affected me personally is that at a certain level, it is offensive, because I know the man in a lot of ways that, you know, most Americans don't.

The fact of the matter is, the president puts a premium on forthrightness and honesty. He is a -- occasionally blunt. But his -- in public and in private. But, you know, these are -- that's his style and approach.

And -- and so I think that's actually a fundamental misreading of the president.

BUSH: The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax and nerve gas and nuclear weapons for over a decade.

GERSON: I've faced some difficult communications tasks. And you don't always get everything 100 percent right. But the president has been forthright about -- in approaching matters. And -- and puts a premium on being honest.

KING: What makes him mad?

GERSON: What makes him mad? Well, I guess I would say two -- there are two answers to that question. He doesn't get mad about the big things. He actually -- there's a calmness in approaching major questions that is, you know -- that I have found encouraging.

I would say, in all honesty, that he finds a typo in a speech, if he finds that something hasn't been adequately checked and we have to change it late in the process. He'll sometimes, you know, show that he doesn't like that.

KING: Do you see him in ways a lot of people don't? What are the one or two things that you think perhaps the American people, even people who might support this president, just don't know about him? GERSON: I would say probably the care that the president takes in the content of speeches. He puts a lot of time into speeches in a way that not every president has. You know, the fact of the matter is, we'll go through 20, 25 drafts of major speeches, and that represents a lot of presidential time.

The immediate aftermath of September 11, we spent hours together on these speeches, at a time when he was making fundamental decisions that were military decisions and other things. But he took the time basically because he knew it was important. He doesn't sleight it or think that it's unimportant.


KING: The proof in that interview that Michael Gerson knows his president quite well. He said 20, 25 drafts, unusual for a major presidential speech.

Wolf, this one will run about an hour with applause, they think. It went through about 23 drafts, essentially finished about a week or so ago. Michael Gerson said the president started talking to him back in June about the themes and got a draft, a first draft in Crawford, Texas, a little more than a month ago.

BLITZER: All right, John King. Thanks very much.

We're going to take a quick break. But we're standing by for something extraordinary here at the Republican convention at Madison Square Gardens: three generations of Bushes, including the first President Bush, Larry King's special guests, coming up on "LARRY KING LIVE."

We'll take a quick break. There he is, the first President Bush. He's standing by to be the guest of honor during the coming hour. We'll be right back.



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