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LOU DOBBS TONIGHT

A Horrific End to Hostage Crisis in Russia; Florida Braces for Hurricane Frances

Aired September 3, 2004 - 18:00   ET

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


KITTY PILGRIM, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, a horrific end to the school hostage crisis in Russia. Radical Islamist terrorists killed more than 200 children and adults.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through interpreter): One woman terrorist blew herself up with a suicide belt right among us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PILGRIM: Florida braces for the impact of Hurricane Frances. Governor Jeb Bush says the hurricane is very unpredictable.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: We still don't know exactly where landfall will be, and we don't know whether or not the storm will strengthen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PILGRIM: Former President Bill Clinton faces heart bypass surgery possibly as early as tomorrow. We'll have the latest on his condition.

And in Heroes, the remarkable story of an Army sergeant who defied death after insurgents shot down his helicopter in Iraq.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT for Friday, September 3. Here now for an hours of news, debate and opinion, sitting in for Lou Dobbs who is on vacation, Kitty Pilgrim.

PILGRIM: Good evening.

Tonight, we bring you the very latest on the Hurricane Frances. We'll also have a live report on Bill Clinton's heart condition.

But we begin with the bloody end to the school siege in Southern Russia. More than 200 people were killed, many of them children. Russian troops say they killed 20 radical Islamist terrorists, at least nine of them from Arab countries.

ITN's Julian Manyon reports from Beslan in Southern Russia. We warn you his report contains graphic images.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JULIAN MANYON, ITN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The child hostages were in a state of shock after more than two days of real nightmare. These children had been held at gunpoint with explosive charges placed among them. Some of them had apparently been used by the rebels as human shields.

Now they were saved, but there was still fear in their eyes. Some were injured and were rushed away in ambulances and civilian cars. Many of them just looked lost and bewildered. One young girl I managed to talk to briefly gave a glimpse of the horror that she survived.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): In the room where we were held, they had 18 big bombs hanging over us from the ceiling. One woman terrorist blew herself up with a suicide belt right among us, and another one was pushed outside before she could do the same thing.

MANYON: Then she was quickly led away. Some lucky children were immediately reunited with their families. And as more and more hostages came out, many of them the parents and teachers who also had been held, there was utter pandemonium.

But while many were saved, the battle of the school went on. The building was soon on fire, and there were reports that part of the roof had fallen in. As the first bodies came out, the question was: How many of the hostages had lost their lives?

Moving through gardens and back alleys, we got through the Russian lines and approached the school. And, as we got there, it became clear that it had suffered terrible damage.

(on camera): The battle for the school itself has just ended, though, as you can hear, there are some sounds of shooting from just beyond it. The Russian troops still seem to be meeting some resistance.

What's going on here is a cleanup operation. Most of the hostages seem to be taken away, but the emergency workers are here seeing if there's anybody left, anybody that needs help.

(voice-over): Near us a Russian soldier was hit. His friend helped him away to safety. Firemen worked to put out the blaze in the school's gym where many of the hostages had been held and where the roof had collapsed.

Our cameraman, Sasha Lamarkin (ph), managed to get inside. There appeared to be a large number of charred corpses lying in the ruins. There is, unfortunately, no doubt that many innocents died in the murderous chaos of the school.

Bodies are still arriving at the town's morgues, and some have been identified. Already, there is the sight that will be more frequent in the coming days of relatives in despair over the loss of loved ones. (END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: Julian Manyon reporting from Beslan, Russia.

Tonight, Russia said the terrorists held 1,200 hostages, including more than 800 children, and officials said 700 people were wounded, another 200 were killed.

Turning now to another rapidly developing story, the monster hurricane charging towards Florida. Hurricane Frances has slowed as it approaches the Florida coast. But emergency officials say Frances could strengthen by the time it makes landfall tomorrow.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM (voice-over): Hurricane Frances pounded the Bahamas today with hurricane force winds and storm surges as high as 14 feet above normal. Forecasters expect Frances to hit the central section of Florida's East Coast. Tropical storm conditions have already begun.

ED RAPPAPORT, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Expect that there will be even further deceleration. So this is going to be an unnerving period for Florida. It may take as much as two days for the hurricane to get all the way across the state.

PILGRIM: Up to 20 inches of rainfall is possible in some areas, and officials are concerned about severe flooding.

CRAIG FUGATE, DIRECTOR, FLORIDA DIVISION OF EMERGENCY SERVICES: The storm is only the beginning of the hazards. The recovery and the immediate aftermath are as deadly as the storm itself if people do not use caution.

PILGRIM: Florida's governor reminded residents that, despite the hurricane's slowing pace, this remains an extremely dangerous storm.

BUSH: There are some indications as it slows down, it might gather steam and also gather strength. If you're on a barrier island or in a low-lying area and you haven't left, now's the time to do so.

PILGRIM: This is the biggest evacuation in Florida's history, and 2-1/2 million people are seeking safer ground.

At a West Palm Beach shelter, evacuees were relieved to be out of the path of Hurricane Frances.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My husband's nervous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't want to take any chances.

PILGRIM: The Kennedy Space Center has been shut down, and airports in Orlando and Fort Lauderdale are closed. Hurricane Frances is expected to hit the Florida coastline tomorrow.

(END VIDEOTAPE) PILGRIM: And parts of Florida are already feeling the effects of Hurricane Frances.

Anderson Cooper is on a barrier island in Melbourne on the East Coast of Florida, and Sean Callebs is further south in West Palm Beach.

And we go to Anderson Cooper in Melbourne first -- Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Kitty, good afternoon.

We are in Melbourne Beach. As you said, it is a barrier island just off Melbourne. The scene here is sort of surreal. I mean, the sun is shining, the sky is still blue, waves are coming in, the wind is blowing, and yet the place is empty, shut down under mandatory evacuations.

Everyone knows there is just a monster storm, some 200 -- more than 200 miles south-southeast of here, and it is coming straight for this area at this point. That is what is believed. Most of the people here, as I said, have been evacuated.

As you said, some 2-1/2 million Floridians have been under mandatory evacuation orders. Some 16 counties -- parts of 16 counties here in Florida have been under mandatory evacuation and others under voluntary evacuation.

There are hundreds of shelters that have opened up. The Red Cross has opened up more than 81 shelters. Last night, I think some 21,000 people actually spent the night in those Red Cross shelters. Tonight, that number will grow much more as many people have just left.

It's interesting as you drive in here. There has been a run on all sorts of supplies. Plywood is in great short supply. A lot of the big chain stores, Home Depot and the like, have closed down. Even getting gas canisters to fill up your car if you want to store up on gas -- it is virtually impossible to get those. It's also virtually impossible to find water coolers, anything to put ice in because people are just stocking up. There's been a run on that.

But, as I said, the scene here sort of surreal as people are just waiting and as this storm has slowed down over the Bahamas, moving around nine miles per hour. It is making people -- the people who have remained here -- just more anxious. It is -- there's really nothing left to do but just sit and watch the water and wait -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: All right. Thanks very much, Anderson Cooper. Stay safe, Anderson.

Anderson will have a lot more on the hurricane later. He will anchor his show, "ANDERSON COOPER 360," live from Melbourne at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Turning to Sean Callebs in West Palm Beach, Sean, what's the latest on the hurricane in your area? SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kitty, pretty much the same story as Anderson. This is a warning that has been out now for more than 24 hours; 1.3 million people living in this county. A lion's share of those under a mandatory evacuation.

Behind me, you can see Palm Beach separated by the Intracoastal Waterway. A mandatory evacuation in this area. Some 81,000 people living in this town, and they, too, are running into problems with gasoline shortages and also struggling with the difficult decision -- Do they leave? When do we leave? -- concerned about trying to make some kind of run at the last moment on I-95 or the Florida Turnpike.

But the wind is blowing pretty steadily now. We're getting gusts at least 25 miles an hour or so. A wicked squall came through within the past hour and a half or so bringing some very severe rain, but only for a short time, just an appetizer of what this area and a large portion of Florida will, no doubt, experience over the next 24 to 48 hours.

During a briefing a short while ago, state officials said that, unlike Hurricane that blew in three weeks ago -- and they knew exactly where the eye came into the state -- this storm is so big, they say they aren't going to be able to narrow it down to one town, perhaps even one county, and they say this storm has all four concerns: hurricane force winds, a tidal surge, punishing rain.

They did think it would bring as much as 5 to 10 inches in urban areas. Now they're expecting as much as 20 inches. And, also, they fully expect Frances will spawn tornadoes once it blows through.

And here's an example of what people have had to do all along this area. This a condo here. You can see part of it they have a metal area protecting the windows and, above that, plywood. As Anderson said, plywood is also in great demand here.

But many people have left this area. It's virtually a ghost town. But anyone who's been down here -- we were through the downtown streets in this main drag in front of the Intracoastal and -- just very quiet tonight, like everybody else in the state. They can only wait when Frances makes her appearance -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: All right. Sean, take care.

Sean Callebs reporting.

Later in this hour, the director of the National Hurricane Center, Max Mayfield, will give us the very latest on the direction of Hurricane Frances and when exactly it will make landfall. And I will also talk with the lieutenant governor of Florida, Toni Jennings, about the state's emergency preparations.

Also ahead, former President Clinton faces heart surgery, and we'll have a live report on Bill Clinton's condition from outside his hospital in New York City.

Dramatic new poll numbers after the Republican National Convention. Three of this country's top journalists will join us.

And in Heroes, the remarkable story Sergeant Rick Diaz (ph) who survived a helicopter crash that killed 16 other soldiers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: A dramatic health scare for Bill Clinton today. The former president is in a hospital in New York City facing heart bypass surgery. Today's news caught many people by surprise as Bill Clinton has recently lost weight.

Ed Henry reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just this past Sunday, the former president looked vigorous denouncing Republicans at New York's historic Riverside Church.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The other party about to convene here, putting on its once-every-four- years compassionate face.

HENRY: He hit the campaign trail Monday in Pittsburgh and did a book signing, but, on Friday morning, Mr. Clinton called close friends to reveal he needed heart bypass surgery. He was said to be upbeat and optimistic about a full recovery.

The trouble started Thursday, his office said, when he went to the hospital near his New York home with mild chest pain and shortness of breath. Mr. Clinton was sent back to Chappaqua and was expected to join his wife Friday at the New York State Fair in Syracuse.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: He said he -- you know, he felt fine and not to worry and he' see me at the fair. But his doctors asked him to come back early this morning for some additional tests, and, as a result of those additional tests at Westchester Medical Center, they did advise him to have bypass surgery and to do it soon -- as soon as he could.

HENRY: Sources say an angiogram showed significant blockage. Senator Clinton cut short her trip and headed to New York Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, as did daughter Chelsea.

CLINTON: Have you got any of the apple fritters?

HENRY: During the 1992 presidential campaign, Clinton became known for having a soft spot for fast food, especially McDonald's. Late-night comics had a field day with is appetite.

PHIL HARTMAN, COMEDIAN: The McNugget is relief from Great Britain to Somalia intercepted by world...

HENRY: Despite his well-known jogging, he struggled with his weight throughout his presidency. But, since leaving the White House, Mr. Clinton has dramatically trimmed down and touted the benefits of a popular low-carb diet.

CLINTON: I work out a lot, and I went on the South Beach diet for a while. That helped. But the combination -- I have a wonderful man who comes in two, three times a week, and we work out. You know, when you get older, you've got to really watch it. It's harder. The older I get, the harder it is.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: Mr. Clinton, who's 58, has no known history of heart trouble. Democratic Party officials say he had agreed to a slew of political events this fall, but officials are now bracing for the fact that one of its biggest fund raisers will be on the sidelines for a long time -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks.

Ed Henry.

Now, for the very latest on Bill Clinton's condition, let's turn to Alina Cho outside New York Presbyterian Hospital.

Alina, any word tonight from the doctors as to when the surgery will begin?

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kitty, it is still unclear when that surgery will happen.

We can tell you there was a dramatic development a moment ago. A hospital spokesman came out and said there will be no press statement tonight here at the hospital.

Earlier, police sources had said that Mr. Clinton's office and the hospital were working on a statement and that it would happen tonight. Now, whether it will happen tomorrow or at all, it is still unclear.

What we can tell you is that Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived here at the hospital to be by her husband's side at about 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time, about three hours ago.

As Ed Henry reported earlier, she was at the New York State Fair in Syracuse when she cut that visit short to come here to be by her husband's side. She is not expected to make any press statement. She has said she -- through an aide that she just wants to be here with her husband.

As for the former president, we can tell you that he is staying at a private VIP wing on a high floor here in the building behind me. It is here where bypass surgeries are performed, though we can tell you that the hospital spokesman would not confirm when the surgery is happening or that it was even happening in the building behind me.

What I can tell you is that, earlier today, I did speak to a man whose wife is staying on the same floor as Mr. Clinton. He said that he noticed a dramatic increase in security today. He said he was stopped, asked who he was going to see upon arriving on the floor, and then said that there was a list of patients.

He even asked a security guard how the former president was doing. That guard told him he was doing well -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: All right. Thanks very much.

Alina Cho.

Now President Bush offered President Clinton best wishes for a speedy recovery. The president is campaigning tonight in Iowa, which is a state Vice President Gore won by a very slim margin in the 2000 election. Senior White House Correspondent John King is traveling with the president in Cedar Rapids -- John.

JOHN KING, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kitty, a gorgeous evening here in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the third state of the president's first day after his New York convention. He campaigned this morning in Pennsylvania, earlier this afternoon in Wisconsin as well. He is due here at this rally in Cedar Rapids within the hour.

Mr. Bush striking very much the same tones today as he has campaigns in these key battleground states, as he and others did at the convention, painting Senator John Kerry as too indecisive, somebody with a record of waffling, too indecisive, the president says, to take command of the war on terror.

The president also sounding conservative themes. He's been campaigning in largely conservative small cities saying Senator Kerry is on the wrong side on issues like abortion and gay marriage and gun control.

The president also today dealt with a new economic report that the Democrats say underscores a key Bush weakness. Job growth and the economy relatively modest right now. The unemployment rate nationally, according to the new numbers, is down to 5.4 percent. The president said today that's a good trend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Overall, we've had about 1.7 million new jobs since August of '03. The unemployment rate is now down to 5.4 percent. That's nearly a full point below the rate last summer and below the average of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You might notice the volume turned up. The president and the first lady taking the stage here in Cedar Rapids.

Kitty, the Bush campaign believes it does have momentum coming out of its convention. It doesn't necessarily believe that new "TIME" poll, showing the president up over 50 percent, but that will be a key test as we look at the polls over the next several days.

Never has this president been over 50 percent in a horse race poll against Senator Kerry. That will be something to watch -- Kitty. PILGRIM: John, it's a bit loud, but, if you can hear this, I -- let's turn to the news that President Clinton is going to undergo bypass surgery. You covered President Clinton's eight years in the White House and were with him on some of the campaigns. You read the medical reports every year. Is today's news a surprise?

KING: No, there -- yes, it's a surprise in the sense that there is no history of heart trouble in Bill Clinton's medical history.

I campaigned with him sometimes into the wee early mornings, and he did have a habit of what we call grazing back in those days, and many of us who covered him were guilty just as well. Pizza in the early mornings. Too much fast food on the road.

But since leaving office, the president has committed -- and you heard him in Ed Henry's piece -- to being better about his health. So no history of heart trouble. So, in that way, it is a surprise.

We should note President Bush did call the former president from Air Force One today to wish him well and say he was in his prayers. Senator Kerry offered also condolences, his thoughts and prayers to President Clinton.

And, Kitty, I was told a few minutes ago that top aides to the former president are in a meeting as we speak and will soon issue a statement saying the surgery will not be tomorrow on Saturday and hope to clear up the confusion over just when that surgery will be -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: OK. Thanks very much.

John King.

Senator John Kerry today strongly defended his ability to lead this country. Senator Kerry told supporters at a rally in the battleground state of Ohio that it is President Bush who is "unfit to lead."

Congressional Correspondent Joe Johns is traveling with Senator Kerry in Newark, Ohio, and he has the report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Senator Kerry had two stops in Newark, Ohio, on Friday. At the first stop, he didn't mention former President Clinton. But, at the second stop, a very large crowd greeted him in the Newark Town Square. He gave them a status report.

SEN. JOHN F. KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We want to extend our wishes and our prayers and our thoughts to him. President Clinton went into the hospital today, and he's -- he's going to be fine. He's going to have -- he's going to have a bypass surgery that's going to take place, I think, tomorrow.

But every single one of us -- every single one of us -- wants to extend to him our best wishes, our prayers and our thoughts, and I want you all to let a cheer out and clap that he could hear all the way to New York -- all the way to New York.

JOHNS (voice-over): Meanwhile, Senator Kerry was back on the attack Friday, going after the Republicans. The big new thing, that jobs report indicating jobs increased in the month of July, but not as much as expected. Kerry said that's not good enough.

KERRY: At that rate, you won't have a net new job created in the State of Ohio until 2011. John Edwards and I have a plan to put America back to work now, not 10 years from now.

JOHNS: Since securing the Democratic nomination, John Kerry has spent almost 20 days in the State of Ohio. His running mate, John Edwards, is in Wisconsin. The Democratic ticket is getting off to a quick start for the fall campaign.

Joe Johns, CNN, Newark, Ohio.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: And we want to turn now to more on Hurricane Frances where emergency officials in Florida tonight say Frances could strengthen dramatically as it approaches the coast. Officials say the hurricane could cause catastrophic damage. I'm joined by now from Tallahassee by the lieutenant governor of Florida, Toni Jennings.

Thanks so much for joining us and taking the time.

Give us your assessment of how well positioned you are. After all, back-to-back hurricanes -- not an easy thing to marshal these kind of resources.

LT. GOV. TONI JENNINGS, FLORIDA: Absolutely not, but I will tell you that we are prepared as any state can ever be when Mother Nature decides to make her the object of their affection. So we've got our resources where they need to be.

This is a huge storm, as you just mentioned, much larger than Charley. It's moving slower. So, consequently, we are going to have a lot more wind, a lot more rain for a longer period of time. So the damage may be substantially more.

The breadth of the storm or the cone, as they call it, will come in over Florida, and parts of Florida will be covered for a long period of time. Our resources are where they need to be. We have deployed as many as we can for mass care, the ice, water and food areas -- into expected areas of the state. You can't put people in harm's way yet. But we're ready for that.

We can't forget that we're still dealing with Hurricane Charley and the victims of Hurricane Charley as well. FEMA has been here on the ground with us as our -- as part of our partnership with the federal government since the beginning of the storm warnings, and we believe we're as ready as we can be. We're working, of course, to make sure that people be -- are safe. The evacuation orders were taking place yesterday.

Because there's going to be so much water, there's going to be a whole lot more flooding than there was in Hurricane Charley, and we're trying to convince people that are still staying that it's time to get out and leave because this water is going to be impacting them substantially.

PILGRIM: Well, you're talking about millions trying to move out of harm's way and the fact the storm is moving very slowly. That makes the damage, basically, hover over the top of Florida for a longer period of time.

JENNINGS: Yes, it does.

PILGRIM: Is it more critical that people just get a move on and take this very seriously?

JENNINGS: Absolutely. And, based on our road projections today, which are not as -- nearly as heavy as they were -- I, myself, was traveling I-75 northward yesterday. We were moving at about two miles an hour for a very long period of time, maybe 20. but it was pretty slow. The roads are not nearly as heavy.

We hope that means that most people have left. We're anticipating that means that a lot of people are still staying, and it's not -- we can fix trees. We can fix houses. We can fix roads. People are a lot harder to fix, and that's why we're trying to encourage people to do, to make sure that their own personal safety and that of their families is taken care of, and then we can work on the rebuilding, and there will be a lot of that.

There's going to be a lot of damage in this storm, and, of course, it's going to cross paths with Charley somewhere in the middle of the state in areas like Polk and Osceola Counties which have already been tremendously impacted.

PILGRIM: All right. Thanks so much. And we wish you the best.

Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings.

JENNINGS: Thank you so much.

PILGRIM: Thank you.

Coming up, the lowest unemployment rate in years. It sounds like good news. But a closer look reveals a troubling trend for the nation's unemployed.

And then the race for the White House breaks wide open as one candidate takes a commanding lead in a national poll for the first time in months. We'll have those numbers, and three of the nation's leading political journalists will join us.

And bracing for Hurricane Frances. The powerful storm is on track to hit the Florida coast in a matter of hours. We'll have the very latest from the National Hurricane Center coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: A surprising numbers on the job market today. The economy created more than 140,000 new jobs, and at first glance it appears to be good news for the nation's 8 million unemployed workers. But a closer examination reveal a fairly disturbing trend. Louise Schiavone reports.

LOUISE SCHIAVONE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The economy added 144,000 jobs in August, nudging the unemployment rate down to 5.4 percent, That's the lowest unemployment figure since September of 2001. But several analysts are underwhelmed.

ROGER ALTMAN, KERRY CAMPAIGN ADVISER: You need 150,000 jobs a month to keep even with the rate of growth in population. Now, over the past three months, we've averaged about 100,000. That's not enough, of course.

SCHIAVONE: In fact, the figures show that 153,000 workers dropped out of the labor force in August. The labor department calls that statistically insignificant. Of the 8 million jobless workers in the United States last month, 1.7 million were unemployed for 27 weeks or longer. In the lowest point of the recession from January of 2001 to August of 2003, the U.S. economy lost 2.6 million jobs. The government says that figure has been whittled now by 1.7 million with President Bush now presiding over the loss of 900,000 jobs. Republican officials concede a prolonged weak patch.

TIM ADAMS, POLICY DIRECTOR, BUSH/CHENEY CAMPAIGN: Remember, we inherited an economy that was suffering from near catastrophic set of conditions, an economy that was shocked by a variety of events over the past three and a half years.

SCHIAVONE: Analysts at Challenger, Gray and Christmas looked at presidential races going back to 1948. In 10 of 14 races if the unemployment rate was 5.5 percent or lower in the three months before November, the incumbent party was reelected.

JOHN CHALLENGER, CHALLENGER, GRAY AND CHRISTMAS: It's a crucial issue. Many Americans vote their job security. Do they feel comfortable in their jobs? Are they seeing their neighbors laid off? Do they think that their income is going to be steady? If they feel the economy is not strong, that often leads to a change in party.

SHIAVONE: Ronald Reagan's reelection and Al Gore's defeat were notable exceptions to Challenger's overall findings. Republicans are hoping that the electorate will concede that the past three and-a-half years have placed an extraordinary stress on the economy and that they'll give the president some credit for helping create the jobs that did emerge. Louise Schiavone, CNN, Washington.

PILGRIM: Now, as we reported, striking new poll numbers tonight show President Bush in a double-digit lead over Senator John Kerry. And for details and a wrap-up of the week's Republican convention, I'm joined by three of the nation's leading journalists. We have Mark Morrison, managing editor of Business Week, E.J. Dionne, political columnist for the Washington Post and Karen Tumulty, national political correspondent for Time Magazine. And thanks for joining us. We have to start with the poll. And, Karen, I turn to you. Fifty-two percent for Bush. Let's put up the numbers and take a look at them. How do you assess this? Is this a post-convention bounce?

KAREN TUMULTY, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, TIME MAGAZINE: Well, it looks very significant because ever since the spring when this became a two-man race, this race has basically been stuck in margin of error territory, basically a dead heat. And this also marks the first time that the president has cracked the 50 percent mark. But I think it's going to be a while, at least a few weeks perhaps, before we know whether this is just a convention bounce, which mean it could come down again. Don't forget in 1988 Michael Dukakis got a 16-point bounce, and what good did that do that do him? Or whether this is the sign of true momentum that is going to carry through until election day.

PILGRIM: Let's ask E.J.. And the terrorism part of this poll is interesting. Bush leads on terrorism with a 21-point lead over Kerry. E.J., how do you assess that?

E.J. DIONNE, POLITICAL COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON POST: Well, first of all, I'm going to wait - I mean, this poll may well be right. But I want to wait to see a bunch more because there's been a fair amount of variability among the polls. But I think the trend is there. And what the trend shows is that, as we've all been saying, August really wasn't a good month for John Kerry. I think one of the reasons Bush is so high in this poll is because he had already taken a lead on Kerry before his convention started, and that came, in large part, from the incessant focus on the terrorism issue. The president has been lucky so far in the flow of the news. There's been much less news on Iraq. And if you look at the situation in Iraq, when that was in bad trouble, his numbers on terrorism deteriorated. So for now, I think there's a kind of another bounce, which is if bad news about Iraq is not on the front pages all that often, I think it helps him across the board and especially on the terrorism number.

PILGRIM: Mark, let's turn to the economy. And Kerry was leading Bush. That's not particularly the case. We have new numbers today. How do you feel about the new data and how that may play in the political campaign?

MARK MORRISON, MANAGING EDITOR, BUSINESSWEEK: Well, once again, the numbers this week didn't work very well for Kerry. The job numbers were fairly mediocre. But nevertheless, unemployment went down. And as you heard, President Bush is out on Labor Day weekend talking about a positive story that unemployment is going down, and the jobs are being created, although at a slower rate than anybody would want.

PILGRIM: We have just talked numbers for the first five minutes of this interview. But, Karen, let's just talk about nuance. And how do you assess the speech last night?

TUMULTY: Well, to me, it was really two speeches. The first half of it was almost like a State of the Union speech. It was a laundry list of programs, none of them particularly fresh or new, in fact, some of them things that have been gathering dust, that have been on the Bush agenda for a long time. But I think it was the president's way of trying to say he does, in fact, have a domestic agenda. It was really the second half of the speech when he began to talk about the war on terrorism that you heard the real eloquence and the real emotion in the speech.

PILGRIM: E.J., go ahead.

DIONNE: No, I just wanted to piggyback on that good point. It was so striking that he had so much more energy when he was talking about foreign policy than when he was talking about domestic policy. A friend of mine said after the speech that, you know, if he had stopped halfway through the domestic part and looked up and said, you know, this stuff bores me to tears, I would vote for him, said my friend.

PILGRIM: That's funny. You know, E.J., I'd like to get your thoughts on the two conventions. And do you think that the Republican convention conveyed a strong message of what the Bush platform is, or did it do a better job in debunking the previous convention?

DIONNE: I think the best line on this convention was said on this show by our friend Roger Simon when he said the convention was about, you know, reelect President Bush or die. I mean, it was really about telling people that Kerry is dangerous, that only Bush can handle a war on terror. And it was putting the war on terror as almost the only issue on the ballot in the fall. And I think that was one of its central purposes. There was a disconnect in the convention. I think the first two days were quite successful. And then you had that attack night on Wednesday with both Zell Miller and Vice President Cheney. Either that will, indeed, help this trend to tar up Kerry's image, or I think it will be the reason if this election turns around, we'll look back and say that was overkill, that was over the top. And that gives Kerry an opening to fight back and counter-punch, if you will.

PILGRIM: And, Mark, we did have a rebuttal speech by Kerry. Give me your thoughts on that.

MORRISON: Well, it was a very smart idea to come right back out swinging, and he did that at midnight last night. So I didn't quite stay up that late. I turned on the TV this morning.

PILGRIM: It was, like, the timing, one hour after.

MORRISON: And, you know, it was unfortunate because who was on television this morning but Jeb Bush fending off the hurricane in Florida. So it was very hard for him to get traction with the story on a heavy news days like this with the hostages, with all sorts of things going on, and including the former president's health problems this afternoon.

PILGRIM: That's right. It's a week which was full of news. And on the terrorism front, a lot of news, internationally. But in the two conventions, who do you assess more successful in getting the message out, the Republicans or Democrats? MORRISON: Well, I think the Republicans got nastier, and by this very preliminary poll it looks like that worked, which it often does in American politics. We'll see if it holds up as a lead. I still think that the president is fairly vulnerable on the economic issue. We've got very high oil prices, energy prices. We've got slowness, sluggishness in a lot of sectors, retail, manufacturing. Autos are going to be cutting back in the next few months. And it's going to be a good issue for Kerry if he can get his message straight on it.

PILGRIM: Well, we have a ways to go. Thanks for all of this, Mark Morrison, E.J. Dionne and Karen Tumulty. Thanks a lot.

MORRISON: Thank you.

TUMULTY: Thank you.

PILGRIM: That brings us to the subject of tonight's poll. Do you think the Republican convention increased President Bush's chances of getting reelected, yes or no? Do cast your vote, cnn.coke/lou. We'll bring you the results a little bit later in the broadcast.

Let's look at your thoughts now. And Joe from Michigan writes, I'm sick and tired of hearing politicians say the American worker can compete against anyone. It's not true. The fact that America lost millions of jobs to cheap foreign labor during the last four years is proof of that. And Lloyd from Maryland writes, I'm always amazed when politicians come on your show and explain the great economic recovery that we are experiencing. It is just further proof of how totally out of touch they are with the middle class. Thanks for trying to keep them honest. And Clarence from South Carolina writes, please help me to understand why neither party discussed illegal immigration and securing our borders at the conventions. Well, we absolutely do loving hearing from you. Send us your thoughts at loudobbs@cnn.com. And do remember to send us your full name and address. Anyone who has an e-mail read on the air will receive a free copy of Lou's book, which is Exporting America.

Still ahead, the countdown to Frances in Florida tonight. We'll go live to the National Hurricane Center for the very latest predictions on where and when the hurricane will strike.

And also ahead, the Latino vote could be a difference in the presidential election. And Maria Elena Salinas is one of the most respected Hispanic journalists in this country. She will be our guest.

And in heroes, the story of survival that some have called simply miraculous. Sergeant Rick Diaz shares his truly exceptional story.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: Now, for the very latest on Hurricane Frances as it barrels towards Florida, we go to Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Where do we stand now? What's your biggest worry at this point?

Max you follow all of these -- where do we stand now? And what's your biggest worry at this point?

MAX MAYFIELD, DIR NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Well, right now, the northwest Bahamas are really getting pounded. The Abacos Islands were just reporting sustained winds of 78 miles per hour from north to Luthra (ph). Grand Bahama will get it later tonight. And it's going to continue moving towards the Florida coast.

We really need to be concerned with all the hazards, 4 to 5 feet of storm surge and very dangerous waves on top of that near and to the north of where the center crosses the coast tomorrow afternoon. The winds moving this slowly, and it's moving about 8 miles per hour toward the West/Northwest, those winds will diminish once it starts moving over land. And then we have to focus more on the landfall.

And just one thing I'd like to really emphasize here is that you don't have to have a major hurricane to have a lot of damage and loss of life. I would still expect some massive power outages with this one as it moves across the peninsula. And even in Isabel, if you look at how the 16 direct deaths were cause, most of those deaths occurred outside the hurricane force winds.

So people still need to be very, very vigilant.

PILGRIM: And so, evacuation critical, you think, at this point, given the slowness of the storm?

MAYFIELD: Kitty, I've talked to all the emergency managers up and down the coastline. The people have already evacuated. They really have done an outstanding job, I think here in Florida, at the local and state level in preparing for this hurricane. People just need to stay hunkered down. And those winds are going to come. It's a slow, slow moving storm. It would be a lot easier if they all stayed on a straight line and moved about 15 miles per hour, but this one's not doing that.

The warnings are well placed. People just need to be calm and stay tuned here as our winds increase.

PILGRIM: Max, we're almost out of time, but I really do have to ask you. Is this expected to move up the coast? Will other areas be hit?

MAYFIELD: It will move up the peninsula. The winds will diminish. And then the folks will shift over to rain. And by Sunday afternoon, Sunday evening it will be up in the Northwestern portion of the peninsula most likely.

PILGRIM: All right. Thanks very much, Max Mayfield. Thank you, Max.

Still ahead, Heroes, the inspiring story of an Army sergeant who for fought for his country and for his life.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: In "Heroes" tonight, a remarkable story of survival. Sergeant Rick Diaz was badly wounded in Iraq, and now he's determined to honor those soldiers who weren't so lucky by making his life a success. Casey Wian has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A morning visit to the park is a special joy for Rick Diaz and his son, Montana.

SERGEANT RICK DIAZ, UNITED STATES ARMY: I knocked on the grim reaper's door. And I got away with it. So I think that's good enough for me.

WIAN: Last November, Sergeant Diaz boarded a Chinook Helicopter near Fallujah. He was on his way home for R&R, 15 days away from the heat, the sand, the war in Iraq.

DIAZ: We flew about five minutes and in just a blink of the eye I was in Washington. When I woke up in Washington, that was about two to three weeks later.

WIAN: A missile took the helicopter down. Sixteen soldiers died. Diaz was one of the survivors, but barely. He had a head injury. His bladder, colon and spleen were torn. He had numerous fractured and broken bones.

DIAZ: They were actually basically stabilizing me to send me to Germany so my parents could go over to Germany and see me before I passed away.

WIAN: But Diaz was defiant. After nearly a month in a coma, he came around, his mind cleared. But he still wasn't expected to walk again. Weeks later doctors cheered as he quickly progress from a wheelchair to a walker to a cane and then to walking on his own.

DIAZ: Basically it's just a miracle. You know, I can't understand it right now. And, you know, everybody that I work for is, like, well, you are a walking miracle.

WIAN: Diaz's nine-year military career is over and so his physical therapy. But the mind takes longer to heal.

DIAZ: All the guy that is didn't made it, you know, I always ask myself why I made it and they didn't. You know, it's something that's going to haunt me for the rest of my life.

WIAN: But it also motivates.

DIAZ: And, you know, the guys that didn't make it, they should have been in my spot. So I'm trying to make the best out of myself and take care of him, my son.

WIAN: Diaz hopes to start a new career as a graphic artist. Casey Wian, CNN reporting.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: What an incredible story. We wish Sergeant Diaz and his family all the very best.

When we return, the Latino vote, what Republicans and Democrats are doing to ensure support from the Latino community.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: The presidential candidates this year are paying more attention to the Latino voters than in any election in this country's history. Both candidates have spent about $1 million dollars on Spanish language advertising. Earlier, Lou Dobbs talked with Latino journalist, Maria Elena Salinas, the anchor of Noticiar Univision about the importance of the Latino vote. And he began by asking her whether Republicans have been successful this week in attracting Latino voters.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARIA ELENA SALINAS, ANCHOR, NOTICIAR UNIVISION: Well, they've tried very hard. Right before the convention began, we got a press release saying that this would be the most diverse convention ever in history, that there will be an increase of 15 percent of delegates that are Hispanic. But at the end, it's really only 297 people and 6 percent of the total of 4,800 delegates. You know, we're wondering whether or not there really is a commitment at least in the convention itself.

DOBBS: And compare that to the Democratic National Convention?

SALINAS: Well, the Democratic National Convention had 11 percent of Hispanic delegates. And, of course, Bill Richardson, who is the first and only Hispanic governor in the country, was the chair. That's the first time that has ever happened. But I do want to mention that the Republicans here have been holding briefings every morning in Spanish for Spanish language media. So they are trying.

DOBBS: And advertising heavily in Spanish language media as well, correct?

SALINAS: Right. Both parties are advertising heavily.

DOBBS: Immigration policy, both parties advancing ideas on immigration policy, the Republicans, President Bush putting forward a guest worker program. Has that been helpful to the president in his reelection efforts and seeking the votes of the Latino voter?

SALINAS: No, it has not been helpful because this was early this year that he proposed here in the U.S. a program, a temporary worker program, that would allow them to be here for at least three years, maybe up to five years and then return to their country. However, it hasn't gone beyond that. It was never presented as legislation. The White House never pushed the Congress to present legislation on this issue. Kerry has proposed also an amnesty program, a limited amnesty program that had a lot of requirements, including having lived here in the country for five years.

DOBBS: As you know, Maria, a highly controversial issue that's going to boil up in the new Congress irrespective of who wins in November. In terms of the Hispanic population of this country, Democrats and Republicans are also represented in this, quote, unquote, "voting block."

SALINAS: Right.

DOBBS: Is it your sense that you're seeing more Latinos shift to the Republican party as opposed to the historical preference for Democrats?

DOBBS: Well, what we've seen, especially this year, is Hispanics being the ultimate swing vote and being much more open than before. In 2000, President Bush got more votes from Hispanics than any other Republican presidential candidate before him. He got 35 percent of the vote. Now, what the Democrats did last time around was just take the Hispanic vote for granted. And Al Gore got 64 percent of the vote without trying very hard. But now that has changed. And I think Democrats have realized they cannot take the Hispanic vote for granted. Definitely the Hispanic vote is up for grabs. And one of the main reasons is that there are a lot of new voters and naturalized citizens that don't have a tradition of loyalty to either party, therefore, they are open to be convinced or, like I say, open to be romanced.

DOBBS: Maria Elena Salinas, thank you very much for being here.

SALINAS: Thank you. It's my pleasure.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: Now staying with election politics, President Bush last night said he fix the nation's Social Security program. But this is not the first time the president made that promise. Bill Tucker reports.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President George Bush wants to reform Social Security.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: It's a the huge baby boom generation approaching retirement. Many of our children and grandchildren understandably worry whether Social Security will be there when they need it.

TUCKER: Four years ago, he made the same promise in Philadelphia as he accepted his party's nomination there.

BUSH: Social Security has been called the third rail of American politics, the one you're not supposed to touch because it might shock you. But if you don't touch it, you cannot fix it.

TUCKER: But he didn't touch it. And circumstances now are dramatically different from four years ago. There's no longer a budget surplus to help pay for any proposed reforms and the stock market is considerably lower. What the president wants to do is privatize Social Security, offer individual retirement accounts that each American worker would control in terms of investment. It is an idea that has the strong opposition of the American Association of Retired People who say any fix of the system should and could be far less dramatic.

JOHN ROTHER, AARP: AARP believes that some fairly minor adjustments to the program can be sufficient. For example, we can bump up the so-called tax ceiling on how much income high earners pay into the program.

TUCKER: There is no argument that the Social Security program is facing changes. Just last week Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan warned that the program will soon be facing liabilities which will far exceed its ability to pay. If not fixed, it could leave many of the retirees who are depending on those weekly checks out of luck, Kitty.

PILGRIM: All right. Thanks very much, Bill Tucker.

Still ahead, the results of tonight's poll.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: Thanks for joining us tonight. Good night from New York. "ANDERSON COOPER 360" is next.

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