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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Kerry - Iraq War Hurt Economy at Home; Bush Reverses Position on National Intelligence Director; Senator Questions Saudi Connection to 9/11; Early Voting Becoming More Common

Aired September 8, 2004 - 15:30   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... after school programs for our children.

GEORGE W. BUSH (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's important we get our intelligence gathering correct. After all, we're still at war.

ANNOUNCER: President Bush addresses the 9/11 Commission's proposals and the mounting death toll in Iraq.

New questions about Saudi connections to the 9/11 attacks.

SEN. ROBERT GRAHAM (D), FLORIDA: Whenever we got close to Saudi Arabia the FBI, admittedly at the direction of the administration, stonewalled.

ANNOUNCER: Judy asks Democratic Senator Bob Graham about the allegations in his new book.

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Thank you for joining us.

We begin with Senator John Kerry trying a new approach for his dilemma on Iraq, an issue that hasn't seemed to help his campaign of late, but at the same time an issue he believes can work to his advantage.

Today Kerry casts the war as a domestic policy failure, charging President Bush's choices have cost Americans jobs and much more.

CNN's Ed Henry reports on Kerry's speech in Ohio.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The next president of the United States.

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): John Kerry launched his latest attack from the historic Union Terminal, a major transfer point for American soldiers in World War II, the very spot where President Bush made the case for war in Iraq nearly two years ago. KERRY: Here in Cincinnati he promised to lead a coalition, but he failed to build the kind of broad, strong, real coalition, and he rushed to war without a plan to win the peace.

HENRY: While reminding the audience that more than 1,000 American soldiers have died in Iraq, Kerry continued to bear down on the domestic front, repeatedly talking of the war's other costs at home.

KERRY: Because of George W. Bush's wrong choices, we're spending $200 billion in Iraq while we're running up the biggest deficits in American history, the biggest deficits announced yesterday and the biggest debt.

They're raiding the Social Security trust fund in order to pay for their mistakes in Iraq.

HENRY: Bush/Cheney campaign officials fired back that Kerry's speech marks his eighth different positions on the war.

And they say Kerry erred when he charged that the president had fired Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki for arguing that more troops were needed in Iraq.

KERRY: When he didn't like what he was hearing, he even fired the Army chief of staff.

HENRY: Officially, Shinseki retired, but Kerry officials tell CNN that the general was ostracized for speaking out, and the candidate stands by his statement.

Aides say Kerry wants to take the gloves off amid Democratic grumbling that he's not hitting back hard enough. The speech came as the campaign unveiled a tough new ad.

ANNOUNCER: George Bush's wrong choices have weakened us here at home.

HENRY: And Kerry's running mate called on the president to denounce Vice President Cheney's claim Tuesday that a Democratic victory in November might invite a terrorist attack.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is un-American. The truth is it proves once again that they'll do anything and say anything to keep their jobs. Protecting the American people from terrorist attacks and from vicious terrorists is not a Republican issue, and it's not a Democratic issue. It's an American issue.

HENRY (on camera): Aides say Kerry will continue to pound away at the theme he laid out here, that the mistakes in Iraq have had severe consequences here on the home front. He will spend the rest of the week hitting that message in the battleground states of Minnesota, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri and Pennsylvania.

Ed Henry, CNN, Cincinnati, Ohio. (END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Kerry's speech in Cincinnati was disrupted early on by a protester who stood up and began shouting about atrocities. Kerry supporters held him down until Secret Service agents could remove him. No arrests were made.

The Kerry camp says the protester was an active Republican who served as a Kentucky spokesman for the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. That's the group challenging Kerry's service in Vietnam and his anti- war record after returning home.

Well, with the U.S. death toll in Iraq now above 1,000, President Bush said today that he and his administration mourn every loss of life.

Bush spoke during a meeting with congressional leaders about the 9/11 Commission's recommendations.

CNN's Elaine Quijano was at the White House with more on that meeting and the president's plan for reform.

Hi, Elaine.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Judy.

Until now, President Bush had indicated his limited support of one of the 9/11 Commission's key recommendations, and that was the creation of a National Intelligence Director.

The president felt that person should not have full budgetary authority. The commission, though, had said they felt in order for the person to be effective in their role that he or she would need to have full budget powers.

Well, today at his meeting with congressional leaders here at the White House this morning, Mr. Bush appeared to embrace the commission's proposal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I will be submitting a plan to the Congress that strengthens intelligence reform, strengthens the intelligence services.

We believe that there ought to be a National Intelligence Director who has full budgetary authority. We'll talk to the members of Congress about how to implement that. We look forward to working with the members to get a Bill to my desk as quickly as possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

QUIJANO: Now, a senior administration official says at that meeting Mr. Bush indicated to lawmakers that he is willing to go ahead and overrule any objections that might come from the Pentagon or the CIA, which control much of the intelligence budget. As for lawmakers, so far with no specifics, no real reaction from Republicans yet. From Democrats, however, some skepticism.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: The president did not say -- he didn't even indicate that it was a change of mind, but he did say that he supported it and the budgetary authority.

But as you know with all of this, the devil is in the details. In what manner do they support the budgetary authority going to the National Intelligence Director? That remains for us to see in print on paper so that we can make a judgment about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

QUIJANO: Now the president has been under pressure. He has faced some criticism from his Democratic rival, Senator John Kerry for not acting soon or intelligence reform.

But with his statement today, Judy, certainly the president moving forward on the issue, perhaps even able to get ahead of it. Basically, the president now putting the ball squarely in Congress' court -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Elaine Quijano at the White House, thank you very much.

Well, Senator Bob Graham is closely following the Bush administration's response to the 9/11 Commission recommendations in his new book, "Intelligence Matters." The Florida Democrat and former Senate Intelligence Committee chairman has leveled some strong charges against the president and the administration in connection with the 9/11 investigation and the war on terror.

Senator Graham joins me now on INSIDE POLITICS.

GRAHAM: Thank you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: We have the book here. We appreciate your being with us.

Senator, among other things, you say the 9/11 hijackers, two of them, had support in the United States from Saudi Arabian agents, and that the Bush administration blocked, you say, and covered up a thorough investigation of that.

However when the 9/11 Commission looked in, they say an investigation was done, no links were found, no support inside the U.S.

GRAHAM: Yes, and I don't know what the basis of the 9/11 Commission conclusion was. They did not give any of the facts upon which they reached that conclusion. I've laid out my facts in this book, and I'd be happy to have an open discussion. It's clear to me, and I think it was clear the majority of a bipartisan House/Senate investigation on this issue that there was foreign involvement in supporting the terrorists. And that was a code word for Saudi Arabian involvement in providing housing, providing things like social security cards, flying lessons, and a substantial amount of cash.

WOODRUFF: The Saudi government is saying these are unsubstantiated and reckless, not to mention false.

GRAHAM: They are neither unsubstantiated -- the information that we have comes largely from reports filed by the FBI and the CIA. In fact, in August of '02, a CIA agent said there was incontrovertible evidence that the Saudi government was involved in assisting the terrorists in the United States.

WOODRUFF: Are you saying the 9/11 Commission was just wrong about this?

GRAHAM: I'm saying I don't know what the basis of their facts are. I've laid out in this book fact after fact, as I say, largely from the files of the FBI and the CIA, which build the case that there was Saudi relationships, connections, and funding to at least two of the terrorists.

And the question that I've asked is: If two of these terrorists received the support, why were they picked out of the 19? What made them special?

My answer is I don't know why they would be picked out. Therefore, the suspicion that similar support was provided to others. The difference was, Judy, these two people had befriended -- and in the case of one of them and actually lived with -- an FBI informant for four months. That's why we happened to know more about them than we do about the other 17.

WOODRUFF: But the part, of course, that this jumps out -- in addition to that -- is you're saying the administration blocked and covered up.

GRAHAM: Well, what they did is we submitted a report which had a 27-page section on this issue of the Saudi connections to terrorists. Guess what part of the report was totally censored? That's it.

So, this administration has denied to the American people information that would allow them to assess Saudi Arabia's role in terrorism.

WOODRUFF: Something else -- I mean, there are so many important things in the book. One other I want to ask you about is you say four minutes after combat began in Afghanistan, General Tommy Franks told you that the Bush administration ordered him to downgrade the mission in Afghanistan from a war to a manhunt. That his interests was not in Iraq, but in moving on to Somalia or Yemen.

If that's the case, why would Tommy Franks be enthusiastically endorsing George W. Bush?

GRAHAM: General Franks was saying on February the 19th, 2002, what the situation was as of that time. That important personnel and equipment were being redeployed from Afghanistan to get ready for a war in Iraq. That he had a different concept of how the war on terror ought to be fought. And that he was very suspect of the intelligence that we had in Iraq.

The world has moved forward since February of '02. General Franks' statements that he has made at the Republican convention and elsewhere are based on events subsequent, but that was his assessment of the situation four months after Afghanistan started and 14 months before we went to war against Iraq.

WOODRUFF: Vice President Cheney said yesterday, with regard to this election, he said if voters make the wrong choice, then the danger is that the U.S. will get hit again in a devastating way.

Is he right or not?

GRAHAM: He's right, except the wrong choice would be to continue. The people who told us there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, we found out there were no such weapons of mass destruction. The people who told us that there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. There was no such connection.

The people who removed the very equipment and personnel that was necessary to continue the war on terror in Afghanistan to success and then move to the other areas of the world which have a substantial al Qaeda presence.

WOODRUFF: So, you're saying there's more of a danger if the Bush administration is reelected?

GRAHAM: I would say -- we're not talk about rhetoric. We're talking about actual -- what they did. And what they did was downgrade the war in Afghanistan to allow al Qaeda to regroup and become a more lethal organization today than it was on September 11th.

We've erected recruiting billboards across the Middle East as a result of what we have done in Iraq, and we have cut our alliances with allies that will be critical to winning the war on terror.

WOODRUFF: Senator Bob Graham with some serious charges. The book is "Intelligence Matters," and we thank you very much for coming by.

GRAHAM: Good. Thank you very much, Judy.

WOODRUFF: We appreciate it.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Well, the Bush camp is ready to fire back at its Democratic critics. Coming up, I'm going to talk with a top Bush ally in the Senate about John Kerry's Iraq speech and more. Senator Graham's comments.

Plus, the president's return to hurricane-damaged Florida.

Also questions are being raised once again about Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard. We're going to sort through the latest articles and allegations.

And did Vice President Cheney cross the line by suggesting a Kerry win would heighten the risk for a terror attack?

With 55 days until the election, this is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: President Bush is in Florida this hour with Kerry's expected remarks at the National Hurricane Center ahead.

Earlier he surveyed damage in Port St. Lucie, hard hit by Hurricane Frances just days ago. And he signed a Bill delivering $2 billion in emergency aid to Florida, a crucial state this election year.

The latest Florida poll, taken more than two weeks ago, showed Bush with a slight lead over Kerry.

INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: With me now for reaction to John Kerry's remarks earlier today as well as other political issues, Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia.

Senator, thank you very much for being with me. We appreciate it.

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), GEORGIA: Good to be with you, Judy. Sure.

WOODRUFF: Let me start with what we heard from John Kerry today. And just a very quick quote.

He said, "The cost of the president's go it alone policy in Iraq, now $200 billion and counting, at the expense," he said, "of domestic programs in this country."

Considering that the deficit is something like $420-some billion, doesn't he have a point?

CHAMBLISS: Well, the fact of the matter is, Judy, that the United States demands that we have strong leaders who don't put a price tag on freedom.

It's imperative that we win this war and -- and, you know, whatever it costs, we've simply got to continue to persevere until we do win it.

It's interesting that John Kerry would say that when a year ago on "Meet the Press," he said that irrespective of what amount money it cost to win the war, we had to spend it. If it were billions more, so be it.

So, once again, it's a matter of John Kerry flip-flopping on this particular issue now.

WOODRUFF: Let me move quickly, Senator, though, to what Senator Bob Graham just said. I interviewed him about his book on some pretty serious allegations he makes in there, among other things about what he accuses the Bush administration of doing.

He says essentially they have blocked and stood in the way of any meaningful investigation of the role of the Saudi Arabian government in supporting the 9/11 -- two of the 19 9/11 hijackers.

CHAMBLISS: Well, I'm not sure where Bob's getting his information. I served on the House Intelligence Committee at the same time that Bob was on the Senate intel committee and now serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

And even from a classified standpoint, I'm not sure where he'd be getting that kind of information.

But you know, the fact of the matter is that this administration has continued to pursue and to press the government of Saudi Arabia to be more cooperative in the war on terrorism.

The fact is that I don't think they were very cooperative at the point in time of September 11. But since then, they have now discovered that there is no limit to which these terrorists will go from a standpoint of killing individuals who are innocent bystanders, including other Muslims and particularly Saudi Arabians.

As a result of that and as a result of the questions imposed by the administration, the government of Saudi Arabia is now arresting and prosecuting individuals and being much more cooperative in the war on terrorism.

WOODRUFF: Senator, do you agree with what Vice President Cheney said yesterday? He said when it comes to this election, he said if we make the wrong choice and he was referring to electing John Kerry, he said then the danger is that we're going to get hit again by the terrorists and hit in a devastating way.

Do you think he's right?

CHAMBLISS: Well, it's pretty obvious what the vice president meant there, and I do agree with the fact that we're going to get hit again. I think Senator Graham would agree with this.

Those of us who have been involved in the intel community over the last several years have thought since September 11 that it was only a matter of time before the terrorists struck again. And they have tried, and we have disrupted their plans to strike us.

But the question is...

WOODRUFF: But the vice president's suggestion was that this -- it would -- that the likelihood is it's going to happen if a Democrat's elected.

CHAMBLISS: No. What the vice president said was that if we're hit again, and we're likely to be hit again, who would you rather have leading this country in the war on terrorism and responding to that attack? Would you rather have John Kerry or would you rather have George Bush?

And I think that's a very strong statement but a very positive statement and one that we have said all along: it's a question of leadership. If there is another attack, and there's likely to be, who do you want in the White House?

It's not a matter of if John Kerry were there, we're more likely to be hit. That's not at all what he said.

WOODRUFF: Well, some people are certainly interpreting it that way.

CHAMBLISS: Well, that's -- it's politics, Judy. It's that time of year.

WOODRUFF: All right. We are going to leave it there. Senator Saxby Chambliss, we thank you for your time. Appreciate it.

CHAMBLISS: Thank you. Sure.

WOODRUFF: Thank you.

The polling place, is it headed for the history books? Coming up, Bruce Morton gives us a closer look at early voting. Early voting and how it is changing the dynamics of American politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: This news just in from the Clinton Foundation, which on its Web site reports that two days after undergoing quadruple bypass surgery, President Bill Clinton has been moved from intensive care to his regular hospital room.

The Web site reports that the president has been sitting up in bed. He has walked across the room with assistance and has been sitting in a chair.

Again, all this from the clintonfoundation.org. That's the Web site for the former president's foundation.

Before long, election day might be a term from the past. In fact, early voting is spreading across the United States, and it is changing the way campaigns are run.

More now from CNN's Bruce Morton.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good morning, sir. Are you coming in to vote?

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Remember election day? Polling places, people's leaflets saying vote for so and so. Take a good look, because it's disappearing.

Voting early is the new thing. In Oregon, they've abolished election day.

JEFF MAPES, "THE OREGONIAN": Instead of election day we now have election two weeks.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: We are interrupting Bruce's report -- we're interrupting Bruce's report to take you to Florida live, Miami, President Bush at the National Hurricane Center.

(BEGIN LIVE NEWS EVENT)

BUSH: ... just toured the National Hurricane Center. The people I met today are committed and they are compassionate. They're doing a fantastic job, and I appreciated their dedicated service to our country.

Once again, Florida's faced the devastation of a hurricane. And once again, the people of Florida are showing their character and their strength and their deep concern for their neighbors.

The damage from high winds and flooding reaches the Atlantic coast to the Panhandle. Some have lost their lives. Many have had their homes damaged, some have lost their homes, families have lost power, small businesses have suffered. Citrus growers have lost much of their crop.

And all those here in Florida are in the thoughts and prayers of the American people. People all across this country know what you've been through and care deeply about you.

I want the people of Florida and other affected areas to know that the federal government doing everything we can to help you. This morning I signed legislation providing $2 billion in additional funding for cleanup and FEMA relief operations in emergency, food, shelter and medical care.

I want to thank the members of Congress for their bipartisan support of this bill.

I've also directed the Department of Agriculture to help compensate citrus growers for lost crops and trees, to help fund the clearing of debris, and with other agencies to help migrant farm workers find shelter. As the damage is assessed I will ask Congress for additional resources for infrastructure repair and disaster loan assistance to businesses and homeowners.

Jeb's doing a really fine job down here.

And I appreciate, Jeb, you and your staff for working so hard on behalf of the people of this state.

I want to thank Mike Brown of FEMA and the FEMA staff that have worked long hours to help coordinate efforts for the people of Florida.

I want to thank the local officials for their outstanding work as well in preparing and responding to Hurricanes Charley and Frances.

And of course -- and I want thank Max and his staff for doing a really fine job of helping to predict these hurricanes and watching them carefully and using all the technology available to them to better prepare the people of the United States if a hurricane were to hit.

I want to thank the emergency operation centers all across the state of Florida, the first responders and the police and firefighters. People are working long hours here to help bring stability and helping the communities in this state, and they're doing a really fine job.

I want to thank the Red Cross. And I appreciate the president, Marty Evans, joining us today. It seems like every time I've been to a disaster, the Red Cross is always there first, and that means a lot to the people of our country.

I want to thank the people from the Convoy of Hope. Jeb and I had a chance today to pass out ice and water and food supplies to people who needed help. We were there because the Convoy of Hope set up an aid station of compassion, and I want to thank those people there. They're from all around country.

I want to thank the Salvation Army. I want to thank all the faith-based groups and citizens who have showed up to help somebody who needs help.

I want to thank the power and telephone crews who have worked so hard to restore service. A lot of people lost their electricity, and thanks to the good work of people here in Florida and repair folks from around the Southeast, electricity's being restored as quickly as possible.

I know the people of Florida will always remember the nurses and others who have worked incredibly long shifts at shelters to care for the elderly and the vulnerable.

People of this state are overcoming adversity once again. Government's responding with needed resources. Businesses and community and faith-based groups are helping to speed the recovery. And in tragedy the people of this state and the people across America are responding with goodness and generosity.

May God bless those who hurt. May God bless those who mourn the loss of life. And may God continue to bless this state and our country.

Thank you very much.

(END LIVE NEWS EVENT)

WOODRUFF: President Bush meeting at the National Hurricane Center there in Miami, Florida, with officials. You heard him thanking all of the public and private people who have been involved in a relief effort earlier today at Fort Pierce, Florida.

The president toured some of the devastated area and also earlier today he signed an additional $2 billion in disaster relief for Florida now hit hard by two hurricanes in recent weeks.

We're going to pick up Bruce Morton's piece. We were just starting to show that to you when the president began speaking. We're going to show that to you tomorrow. Right now, we begin the second half hour of INSIDE POLITICS.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Fear factor?

DICK CHENEY (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because if we make the wrong choice then the danger is that we'll get hit again.

ANNOUNCER: Are Republicans trying to scare voters into re- electing President Bush?

EDWARDS: Dick Cheney's scare tactics today crossed the line.

ROBERT MINTZ, TEXANS FOR TRUTH: I heard George Bush get up and say, "I served in the 187th Air National Guard in Montgomery, Alabama." Really?

ANNOUNCER: From a new ad to new articles, President Bush's military service during the Vietnam war is back in the line of fire.

Showdown Ohio: We've got new poll numbers out this hour in a state that could decide who wins the race for the White House.

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Welcome back. As we dive head on into the heart of the fall campaign, you may want to fasten your seat belts or perhaps put on a flack jacket. RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie warning Republicans to brace themselves for vicious attacks on the president and vice president.

And many Democrats are irate about Dick Cheney's suggestion yesterday that the risk of a terror attack would increase if John Kerry were elected. Call it what you will, but as our senior political analyst Bill Schneider sees it, the fear factor, very much is in play.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): A presidential race can be a choice between fear of the unknown and fear of the known. John Kerry, like all challengers is running on fear of the known.

KERRY: This president rushed to war without a plan to win the peace and he's cost all of you $200 billion that could have gone to schools, could have gone to health care.

SCHNEIDER: The Republicans' answer? Fear of the unknown.

CHENEY: Because if we make the wrong choice then the danger is that we'll get hit again.

SCHNEIDER: Democrats were outraged and quick to respond.

EDWARDS: Dick Cheney's scare tactics today crossed the line. This is un-American.

SCHNEIDER: But not unheard of. Fear tactics usually work best against a challenger, someone largely unknown like Barry Goldwater in 1964.

AD ANNOUNCER: Seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are the stakes -- to make a world in which all of God's children can live or to go into the dark.

SCHNEIDER: Jimmy Carter tried the same thing against an unknown and scary challenger in 1980. Ronald Reagan.

JIMMY CARTER (D), FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This radical and irresponsible force would threaten our security and could put the whole world in peril.

SCHNEIDER: It almost worked until the final few days of the campaign, Americans were afraid to vote for Reagan until they saw him in his one and only debate with Carter. In 1984 the Reagan campaign turned the argument against the Democrats.

AD ANNOUNCER: Isn't it smart to be as strong as the bear? If there is a bear?

SCHNEIDER: Notice how fears had shifted from Republican recklessness to Democratic weakness, a fear Republicans exploited again in 1988.

AD ANNOUNCER: And now he wants to be our commander-in-chief. America can't afford that risk. SCHNEIDER: Scare tactics work if they're based on real concerns about a candidate. Goldwater as trigger-happy. Dukakis as weak. Are there concerns about John Kerry? Americans were asked whether they felt the chances of terrorist attacks would be less if Kerry wins or if Bush wins

Half the public said it wouldn't make any difference. But among the rest, twice as many said the chances of attack would be less if Bush were re-elected than if Kerry won.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (on camera): The concern about Kerry is out there among a minority of voters right now. Cheney aims to make that minority bigger.

WOODRUFF: We're all quaking in our boots.

SCHNEIDER: Yes, we are. Be afraid.

WOODRUFF: But it is serious.

SCHNEIDER: It is serious.

WOODRUFF: Bill Schneider, thank you very much.

Senator Kerry and President Bush are covering different ground on the trail today in Ohio. Kerry delivered a major speech on Iraq putting his criticism of the president's policy into a domestic context. Kerry charged that $200 billion cost of the Iraq war is robbing Americans of jobs, health care and other benefits at home. President Bush is in Florida offering aid as you just saw and comfort to victims of Hurricane Frances.

Bush told residents he plans to ask Congress for more emergency relief soon after signing a $2 billion aid package into law earlier today.

The president flew to Florida after discussing intelligence reform with congressional leaders at the White House. Bush said he is prepared to give a new National Intelligence Director broad powers over the entire intelligence budget. That key recommendation by the 9/11 commission is opposed by the Pentagon and the CIA.

President Bush's military service during the Vietnam war is being questioned again today on several fronts. A pilot who served in the Alabama Air National Guard in the early seventies says he never saw George W. Bush. Robert Mince makes the charge in the "New York Times" today and in a new TV ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MINTZ: I heard George Bush get up and say, "I served in the 187th Air National Guard in Montgomery, Alabama." Really? That was my unit, and I don't remember seeing you there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: The group called Texans For Truth is spending $110,000 to air that spot in big markets in several battleground states. Our political analyst Ron Brownstein reports that the group is a spin-off of a spin-off of the anti-Bush group moveon.org. A senior Bush campaign advisor dismisses the ad today as untrue and irrelevant.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TUCKER ESKEW, BUSH CAMPAIGN SR. ADVISOR: The president served honorably and was discharged honorably. The president has made a point of underscoring that Senator Kerry served honorably. In fact, Senator Kerry was applauded at the Republican convention in New York that you and I were just both at and yet from the Democrats we've heard a lot of this kind of talk.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: We want to tell you that one of the pilots or rather one of the officials of the Air National Guard in Alabama is going to be a guest on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" at 5:00 Eastern. In the meantime, late yesterday the Pentagon released additional documents on Bush's military record in response to a lawsuit by news organizations.

In the meantime, today "The Boston Globe" has been re-examining Bush's service records and has now concluded that he fell well short of meeting his military obligation. I'm joined now by "Boston Globe" reporter Walter Robinson.

Walter Robinson, first of all, what is the most important thing that you learned that was not publicly known before.

WALTER ROBINSON, "BOSTON GLOBE": Well, we learned that the president agreed in 1968 to perform a specific number of days of Guard duty each year or face an involuntary call up to active duty and in his last two fiscal years in the Guard in 1972 and 1973, he did not come close to completing that.

He also agreed when he left the Texas Guard to go to the Harvard Business School to find a Reserve unit in the Boston area and finish his remaining nine months of duty and he did not do that either.

WOODRUFF: Weren't there, though, a number of others or let me ask you, were there a number of others who were doing similar things at that time, who were not fulfilling their Guard obligations?

ROBINSON: Well, I think that's true in every state. There are people who had political connections who did not perform duty and sometimes their superiors look the other way. I think one of the unusual aspects of this case is that President Bush was a fighter pilot which -- that took a lot of guts to do and he had a five-year commitment to fly a jet and after just two-and-a-half years of doing so he stopped flying and didn't return to the jet.

And the documents that the AP, the Associated Press got yesterday show that his unit continued to fly this airplane until 1974. The White House has previously said that the president didn't need to go back to fly this plane because they stopped flying it. So, that turned out not to be true.

WOODRUFF: Did he get -- were you able to prove that he did get favorable treatment?

ROBINSON: I think that's been widely acknowledged. It was reported in 2000 that Ben Barnes, then the speaker of the Texas House, interceded to get young George Bush a spot in the National Guard in Texas. There was a long waiting list at the time.

He, as you know, went to Alabama and, for a six-month period in 1972, performed no drills. There was no sanction whatsoever, even though under the rules he'd agreed to, he could have been called to active duty.

He returned to his base in Houston, did no drills for three months, then did a flurry of days near the very end. But under the regulations at the time, even many of those should not have counted, because you can't make up drills months and months after you missed them.

WOODRUFF: How does that square, though, Walter Robinson, with the fact that he was discharged honorably, as the White House points out?

ROBINSON: Well, as the White House points out, he was, in fact, discharged honorably by the Texas Air National Guard. It was the Texas Air National Guard and his own superiors who apparently looked the other way when he was not showing up for drills.

The issue here is whether or not he performed his service obligation, and the records on that are now quite clear. He did not.

WOODRUFF: And so -- but some people would say, well, if he didn't perform his -- if he didn't fulfill his obligation, then how did the service end up giving him an honorable discharge?

ROBINSON: Well, we don't know the full answer to that, but it is apparent from the records that his superiors knew he was not fulfilling the obligation, and they chose to let him go without anything.

WOODRUFF: Have any of them gone on the record explaining why that was?

ROBINSON: Well, his two immediate superiors from that period of time are long dead, and it's been difficult to get others to talk about that period.

There were two senior officials at the Guard base in Texas who said that they believed he finished his Guard duty in Alabama and never returned to the Texas base. And the officers, who are now dead, wrote in May of 1973 that Lieutenant Bush had not been seen at the base in Houston for the prior 12 months. WOODRUFF: All right. Walter Robinson, part of a team of "Boston Globe" reporters coming up with new information after poring over Pentagon and military records about George W. Bush's service in the National Guard, both in Texas and Alabama. And they also looked into records in the State of Massachusetts.

All right. Walter Robinson, thanks very much. We appreciate it.

ROBINSON: You're welcome.

WOODRUFF: Thank you.

And now, checking the headlines in our "Campaign News Daily." A group of gay and lesbian Republicans has decided to not endorse President Bush. The leader of the Log Cabin Republicans says the group made its decision in response to the president's support for a Constitutional amendment against gay marriage. Patrick Guerriero said, quote, "Using gays and lesbians as wedge issues in an election year is unacceptable to Log Cabin."

Bush advisors are hinting that the president may skip the second of three proposed presidential debates this fall. The second debate is proposed for October 8th in a town hall format. "The Washington Post" quotes a Bush aide who says campaign officials are not convinced that the preselected crowd of undecided voters will be completely nonpartisan.

Georgia Democratic Senator Zell Miller's fiery speech at the GOP convention has provoked a response by former President Jimmy Carter -- and we should say fellow Georgian. Miller used his speech to assail John Kerry's Senate record and Democrats in general. Miller also described Carter's policies while president as, quote, "pacifist."

In a letter to Miller printed today in "The Atlanta Journal- Constitution," Carter called the speech rabid. He goes on to say, quote, "Perhaps more troublesome of all is seeing you adopt an established and very effective Republican campaign technique of destroying the character of opponents by wild and false allegations" -- end quote.

We are headed to the battlegrounds. Next on INSIDE POLITICS, we'll get a new snapshot of the race in Ohio from my colleague, Paula Zahn -- our hot-off-the-presses poll.

And we'll branch out to the Bush-Kerry contest in Pennsylvania and Florida in our reporters' roundtable. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Ohio, we know, one of the biggest prizes in the race for the White House. Among the so-called battleground states, only Florida and Pennsylvania have more electoral votes.

CNN's Paula Zahn recently hosted a town meeting with Ohio voters, and she joins me now to talk about the results of a new presidential poll there in Ohio. Paula, tell us what you're finding. PAULA ZAHN, HOST, "PAULA ZAHN NOW": Well, Judy, if John Kerry was in Ohio hoping for some good news, he certainly did not get it from this latest CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll. The president has already made headway among likely voters in Ohio with, as you can see on the screen, an eight-point lead opening up over Senator Kerry.

What's interesting about this, as you just mentioned, is we did the town hall from Canton, Ohio, just three weeks ago. And our polling shows that even since then, the president has gained six points among likely voters, while Senator Kerry has won four points among likely voters.

Now, our polling numbers also looked at registered voters from Ohio -- and this is critical, because there's a big difference between those two polls of voters. Three weeks ago, Senator Kerry had enjoyed a 10-point lead over the president. Now those numbers are almost dead even. As you can see, the president is up about six points from when we polled registered Ohio voters just three weeks ago, while Senator Kerry is down five points.

And remember, the difference between likely voters and registered voters is that the poll for registered voters is drawn from a much larger pool of people.

Now, there are a lot of guesses as to why the president has made these gains. Some analysts are saying it's reflective of this post- convention bounce, but it could also have something to do with what Ohio voters see as the most important issues in this election.

When we did our town hall meeting in Ohio, voters told us that the economy and terrorism were the most important issues. And as you can see from today's poll's numbers, those numbers have grown even stronger over the past three weeks, whereas healthcare and Iraq have dropped off a little.

Some attribute the president's lead among likely voters to his honing in on terrorism and the economy on the campaign trail. And Senator Kerry has recently been focusing on Iraq, which ranks as the number four issue on this list that you're looking at now. Although today, he actually tried to tie that issue to the economy, Judy, talking about the vast expense of the war in Iraq and how that same money could have been used to grow the economy and provide jobs for folks in economy.

WOODRUFF: Right. These numbers are so interesting.

And tonight, Paula, at 8:00, you're going to have some numbers -- poll numbers from three other battleground states.

ZAHN: I'd love to share those with you now, Judy, as we usually share this information, but I'm not going to do it. We're going to take a look at numbers coming out of Missouri, Washington State, and Pennsylvania. Some really interesting numbers.

And of course, we're talking about big electoral votes along with these battleground states. So, a lot at stake here. WOODRUFF: OK. Paula, we will certainly be watching for all that. Thanks very much.

ZAHN: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: We'll see you at 8:00. Thanks again.

Well, firsthand reports from Ohio and two other showdown states. Straight ahead, I'm going to talk with reporters from Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio when INSIDE POLITICS returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: George Bush and John Kerry racking up a lot of frequent flier miles to the nation's showdown states.

With me now to talk about three of shows are reporters from Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Tom Fiedler is with "The Miami Herald," Dick Polman with "The Philadelphia Inquirer," and Alan Johnson is with "The Columbus Dispatch."

Tom Fiedler, let me begin with you. Hurricane Frances on the heels of another hurricane -- is this going to be a factor in the way people vote November 2nd?

TOM FIEDLER, "MIAMI HERALD": Well, it's hard to know if it'll be a factor November 2nd. I think, in the short term, it's a factor in a couple of ways, although I wouldn't want to suggest that President Bush is coming here for political reasons.

It's certainly useful that he comes to this state in the wake of a disaster and exercises the symbols and the power of leadership that he can do. That's certainly got to help him in the eyes of people. He's doing his job.

And in the other side of it, as far as the people who have been victimized by this hurricane are concerned, the campaign for them is off their radar screens. And so, to the extent that that means that the John Kerry campaign sort of operates in the dark. That's got to be a factor, too.

Whether that's a factor two months from now or not, it's pretty hard to project.

WOODRUFF: Alan Johnson with the "Columbus Dispatch," let's talk about Ohio. We were just discussing the latest in-state battleground poll with my colleague Paula Zahn. Those numbers showing President Bush doing better among likely voters just in the last few days.

Does that square with your reporting?

ALAN JOHNSON, "COLUMBUS DISPATCH": Well, I was going to say, with all due respect to your poll, I think it's a little bit tighter than that. I do think the president has picked up several points in the convention bounce, and the Swift Boat ads definitely made a difference in Ohio. But our last poll a couple of weeks ago had them 46-46. I think it's more than that now. The president's ahead, but I don't think it's anywhere close to double digits. It's very tight, very polarized state right now.

WOODRUFF: Even with the bump the president got at the convention?

JOHNSON: Even with that bump, I still think that we're probably more in the five percent, six percent range. I saw one poll today, 11 percent, and I just don't buy that. I've been out around the state, as have my colleagues at the "Dispatch," and it's just much tighter than that in all areas of the state to say it's a double-digit or close to that, in my opinion.

WOODRUFF: Dick Polman, "The Philadelphia Inquirer," give us a sense of what things are looking like in Pennsylvania.

DICK POLMAN, "PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER": Well, I don't have the benefit of your poll results that you're talking about for later, but the latest that we've seen has been that it's fairly -- that it's pretty tight. I mean, the last polling was done sometime right before the Republican convention, and it seemed to be -- to indicate a fairly stalemated race.

The key really here more than anything else is going to be who prevails in the Philadelphia suburbs. There's three counties in the Philadelphia suburbs that account -- at least in 2000, they accounted for 17 percent of all of the votes cast in Pennsylvania. And they've trended Democratic.

President Bush is going to be here tomorrow in one of those counties, and one of the things he's trying to do is to argue that his commander-in-chief credentials in time of war should trump all the concerns that a lot of moderate Republican suburbanites have over things like the social issues, such as abortion and gay rights.

WOODRUFF: I want to quickly ask all three of you about something that we've been reading about here in Washington, and that is new voter registration.

Is that going to make a difference, very quickly, Tom Fiedler in Florida?

FIEDLER: Well, I think it could, because a lot of the new voter registration that we're seeing here are people -- Hispanics moving in who are non-Cuban Hispanics. And they tend to sympathize with the Democratic party, particularly in central Florida.

So, that could be the difference between 2004 and 2000.

WOODRUFF: Alan Johnson, what about in Ohio, new registration?

JOHNSON: Absolutely. We've got a lot of different groups -- America Coming Together -- and a lot of other groups that aren't technically aligned with Kerry, but more or less are supporting him that are out canvassing neighborhoods door to door, picking up a lot of new voters.

And in this state, a few voters here and there will definitely make a difference. So, yes.

WOODRUFF: And Dick Polman, very quick answer from you?

POLMAN: Yes. Certainly Karl Rove, on the Republican side, has talked about flooding the new excerpts, the new suburbs. In Amish country, where McMansions are rising, and there's a lot of new churches. And he's trying to emphasize registering and turning out a vote among people who are sort of religious conservatives. He sees a bumper crop out there that hasn't been tapped yet.

WOODRUFF: My apologies for having to keep it so tight. We're going to be checking in, though, again with all three of you, we hope, in the very near future in the days to come. Thank you all three -- Tom Fiedler, Dick Polman, Alan Johnson. We appreciate it. Good to see you.

INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.

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