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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

More Ammo in the Presidential Ad Wars; Early Voting; Ivan Not Done Battering the Eastern U.S.; Kerry Taking on Cheney; Bush Camp Accuses Kerry of a Baseless Attack

Aired September 17, 2004 - 15:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: John Kerry borrows from Donald Trump to take on Dick Cheney.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've got two words for companies like Halliburton that abuse the American taxpayer and the trust: You're fired -- that simple.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

DICK CHENEY (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Senator Kerry said today that leadership starts with telling the truth. But see...

(LAUGHTER)

CHENEY: That's not the laugh line.

ANNOUNCER: The Bush camp accuses Kerry of a baseless attack, while the president tries to show his softer side to women voters.

Both sides fire new shots in the ad war. We'll find out if truth is a casualty.

Will Election Day become a thing of the past?

JIM MAPLES, "THE OREGONIAN": Instead of Election Day, we now have election two weeks, you could say.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us. I'm Candy Crowley, sitting in for Judy today, as we take you INSIDE POLITICS for the next 90 minutes.

John Kerry is -- whoops.

First we're going to take you out to Santa Maria, California. That, as you know, is Michael Jackson, the singer. He has been in court this morning with brother and other of his relatives, two sisters, all of them dressed in white, as they did in a similar court appearance a couple of weeks ago. Jackson, this is the first day that he will be seeing the mother of his accuser.

They are in trial. This is a pretrial motion going on. They're trying to quash some of the evidence that was taken from Jackson's home. His attorneys trying to quash that.

We want to listen in now to what is going on out there.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His brother Jackie and his wife, Victoria, Mrs. Katherine Jackson, his mother, Mr. Jermaine Jackson, his sisters, Janet Jackson and LaToya Jackson, and his brother, Randy.

Tom Mesereau should be coming shortly.

(CROSSTALK)

THOMAS MESEREAU, ATTORNEY FOR MICHAEL JACKSON: Regretfully, we are compelled to vigorously respond to numerous and false statements being made about Mr. Michael Jackson.

Michael Jackson was recognized as a musical genius as a child. His life and development were devoted to cultivating his musical talents and extraordinary gifts. Discipline, hard work and a desire to heal and better this world through his creativity were emphasized throughout his youth. It was recognized very early that Michael Jackson's musical talent and genius could generate many millions of dollars to him and others around him.

From the time he was a little boy, others have sought to exploit and take advantage of his creative talent and inherent goodness. Mr. Jackson has donated large sums of money around the world to foster the interests and welfare of our world's children.

Early in his life, he learned to believe that while others sought to exploit and take advantage of his vulnerabilities and idealism, children did not. Believing that children are the true example of God's beauty, innocence and purity, Michael has devoted much of his life to helping the world's children. He has donated millions of dollars to healing children with disease, helping children with AIDS, and traveling the world to emphasize the importance and welfare of our children.

Michael Jackson would never harm a child. Mr. Jackson has been a target of frivolous lawsuits throughout his career. To date, well over 1,000 ridiculous lawsuits have been filed or threatened against Mr. Jackson for all kinds of reasons by those who sought to obtain money by exploiting his achievements and love for people. None of these claims involved allegations that he ever harmed a child.

However, they involved, for the most part, creative and outrageous attempts to take money from Mr. Jackson. Throughout his career, Mr. Jackson's desire to create and help our world has been subjected to efforts to exploit, undermine and take advantage of this wonderful human being. Mr. Jackson has been repeatedly advised by those who stood to make fortunes in his business affairs to pay money, rather than face certain false allegations.

As a result, many years ago, he did pay money, rather than litigate two false allegations that he had harmed children. People who intended to earn millions of dollars from his record and music promotions did not want negative publicity from these lawsuits interfering with their profits. These two false allegations must be placed in a proper perspective.

Mr. Jackson has interacted with millions of children. Many millions of children around the world love Michael Jackson and never alleged that he harmed them in any way. Those who wanted to profit from this good deeds and vulnerabilities are also threatening to destroy his ability to raise his own children and to champion the welfare, integrity, humanity and interest of children around the world.

Michael Jackson occupies a world where his privacy is continually violated. Michael Jackson now regrets making these payments. Nevertheless, these efforts to settle are now being used against him, regardless of the merits or the truth behind them. These settlements were enter into with one primary condition. That condition was that Mr. Jackson never admitted any wrongdoing. Mr. Jackson always denied doing anything wrong.

Mr. Jackson had hoped to buy peace in the process. He was advised that while these sums of money appeared large, they were actually very small compared to money he could make in music. Mr. Jackson has earned well over $1 billion in his career. Placed in this perspective, they were very small sums, indeed.

Greed begets greed. Mr. Jackson now realizes the advice he received was wrong. He should have fought these actions to the bitter end and vindicated himself. The recent publicity about these settlements is unfair and damaging to him, his family and his dedication to the world's children. The charges he faces are false and will be battled in a court of law within our justice system. He is innocent and will be vindicated.

CROWLEY: OK, so that was the lawyer for Michael Jackson, Thomas Mesereau, explaining why it was a bad idea that Jackson previously settled a couple of cases out of court dealing with child molestation charges, which the attorney says were not true and it was a bad idea for Jackson to settle them. The question is why we got that statement.

For that, we want to go to CNN's Miguel Marquez.

Miguel, as we watch the Jacksons leave from what we believe is a lunch break, what was that all about?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are leaving for the lunch break. And my guess is they're leaving for the day now that the principal witness for the day, the mother of the accuser, has left the stand.

That statement was made at the request of Thomas Mesereau Jr. because of two different reports that have come out, one on NBC's "Dateline," the other on "The Insider," a new entertainment television show. Those reports deal with -- the NBC show, anyway, dealt with some accusations made from 1993 that yet another individual had been paid off by Jackson, a person who claimed that Jackson had molested him.

And the "Insider" report had some information about the mother of the accuser from this time. Mesereau expressing frustration to the judge in the courtroom yesterday, got the judge to agree to release a statement, so obviously they wanted to mitigate some of the damage they feel was done by those stories being out there about Mr. Jackson, and his -- his relationship with certain people.

They paid off, as we've understood, one individual, one 12- or 13-year-old boy from 1993. There is now apparently a second boy that was paid off, both of them making accusations. Neither of them went to court and Mr. Jackson never was found guilty of any of that. He has said he is innocent of all those charges and the current charges against him.

Jackson, if you guys can see this now, and his entire entourage, are not in buses this time, as they were the last time, but in a series of SUVs. Michael Jackson talking to the crowd a little bit, as he always does, goes out there and waves. It seems -- it's not sure if these are fans gathered here or an audience. But certainly, anything that resembles an audience to Michael Jackson he seems to enjoy being in front of.

The entire family marching in today into a court hearing that was incredibly difficult for the lawyer for Jackson to get any information out of the accuser's mother. She was very combative throughout the entire day's testimony, not wanting to budge on the question of whether or not she knew that Bradley Miller, a private investigator, worked for Mark Geragos, Michael Jackson's former attorney.

If they can prove that and that she passed that information on to investigators to some degree, then all of the evidence seized from Bradley Miller's office may be off limits to a jury because they will claim it was taken under attorney/client privilege -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Thanks so much, CNN's Miguel Marquez, out in Santa Maria, California, as we watch Michael Jackson's car taking off, listening to the screams of what appear to be fans that are behind the fence.

In any case, we thank you so much, Miguel.

We're going to return now to the world of politics. John Kerry is trying to get a little more traction out of his criticism of the president's Iraq policy, pointing a finger at Vice President Cheney and the energy company Cheney used to run.

CNN's Frank Buckley traveled with Kerry to Albuquerque, New Mexico -- Frank.

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Candy, the company, of course, Halliburton, and the Kerry campaign stepping up criticism on this issue in two forms: one, direct criticism of Vice President Dick Cheney; and two, a new ad that is being released today that also takes up this issue of Vice President Dick Cheney and his former employer Halliburton.

Senator John Kerry criticized Vice President Dick Cheney here at this town hall meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, claiming that Vice President Dick Cheney's claims that he has no financial interest in Halliburton, his former employer, isn't true. And in fact, he's received $2 million in deferred compensation. Here's what he had to say about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: As president, let me make it crystal clear. I will never tolerate companies like a Halliburton profiting at the expense of our troops and our taxpayers. I will make absolutely sure...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

KERRY: I will make absolutely sure that all of our government funds are accounted for. And I will tell you what. As commander in chief, I've got two words for companies like Halliburton that abuse the American taxpayer and the trust: You're fired -- that simple.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BUCKLEY: Bush campaign officials saying that this is just a tired, old, baseless line of attack. But Kerry strategists saying today that they believe this is the most radioactive issue, as they put it, of this campaign season.

And so, Candy, we can expect to hear more on that. Separately, the day after Senator Kerry spoke to the National Guard Association, Senator Kerry suggested that President Bush is quietly planning additional call-ups of National Guard members and Reservists.

Here's what he said about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: He won't tell us what congressional leaders are now saying, that this administration is planning yet another substantial call-up of Reservists and Guard units immediately after the election. Hide it from people through the election, then make the move.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BUCKLEY: Bush campaign officials said about that, that that was John Kerry conspiracy theory stuff and they called it irresponsible. Kerry aides say that they got this information from Congressman John Murtha's office of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

Murtha has since issued a statement in reaction to Kerry's statement here and the questions from reporters like myself, saying that he based his information on conversations he had with Pentagon officials that there would, in fact, be some additional call-ups beginning in November of 2004.

So, Candy, this was a new line of attack for us. But with all of the attacks taking place on the issue of Iraq, you might expect to hear more of it -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Thanks so much, Frank Buckley, in Albuquerque with the Kerry campaign.

On the Republican side, the Bush campaign is using strong language in response to Kerry, accusing him of an attempt at character assassination.

CNN's Elaine Quijano is at the White House with more on that and on the president's campaign day -- Elaine.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Candy.

The Bush campaign is firing back. They are calling Kerry's charges baseless accusations, saying they are false and meant to distract from what they say is Senator Kerry's shifting position on Iraq. Now, today on the campaign trail, no mention of Halliburton by President Bush, neither from Vice President Dick Cheney. They were both out campaigning today. Instead, we heard a continued emphasis, that strategy of trying to hammer away at Senator Kerry on Iraq.

At a GOP fundraiser here in Washington, Mr. Bush used a new attack line that we first heard yesterday, saying Senator Kerry was sending mixed signals by voting for the use of force in Iraq, but not funding the troops. The president saying that those are the wrong signals to send. And as the Republicans continue with this strategy of trying to portray Senator Kerry as a flip-flopper, we heard from the vice president in Oregon a strong emphasis on the idea of President Bush as a decisive leader.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY: He said when he spoke to the National Guard earlier this week that, you know, he'll level with the American people on the good days and the bad days. And I look at his performance, and sort of my conclusion is that, when the headlines are good, he's with us. And when his poll ratings decline, he's against the policies we've been pursuing. And sort of the on-again, off-again proposition I find deeply disturbing in a man who wants to be commander in chief.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

QUIJANO: The vice president saying that President Bush, by contrast, is a man who sticks to his decisions no matter what the polls show.

Meantime, the Kerry campaign, though, has said that Senator Kerry's position remains that he would have done everything differently in Iraq. As for President Bush, he continues with his campaign days today, going on to North Carolina for an event there in Charlotte. He will be focusing on women's issues, and then wrapping up today with a closed fundraiser there in Charlotte, before heading up to Kennebunkport for the weekend -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Thanks so much at the White House, Elaine Quijano. Appreciate it.

The Bush camp is likely to be heartened by a new Gallup poll showing the president with a sizable lead over Senator Kerry. Bush is 13 points ahead in a Gallup survey of likely voters nationwide. Among the wider pool of registered voters, Bush has an eight-point lead. That finding is different from surveys released yesterday. Pew polls of likely and registered voters showed Bush and Kerry neck and neck, as did a Harris poll of likely voters.

We asked CNN polling director Keating Holland about the discrepancy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLING DIRECTOR: I have a tendency in circumstances like this to believe in the majority. In other words, if three or four polls are showing one thing, one poll showing something else, it's the outlier, the one that's not showing what everyone else is showing, that's probably not correct.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Still, Keating is not prepared to write off the Gallup poll given that a number of state polls also point to gains for Bush and slippage for Kerry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOLLAND: If this is really a tie, Kerry should be way ahead in New York, New Jersey, and Illinois, where current polls are showing he's only got a small lead. And he should have at least a small lead in states like Pennsylvania and Minnesota, where polls are repeatedly showing it to be a tie race.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Gallup editor in chief Frank Newport showed in to say his new poll is consistent with trends his organization has been seeing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRANK NEWPORT, EDITOR IN CHIEF, GALLUP POLL: Our main interest at Gallup is in understanding public opinion and why, in our polling, Bush is still doing well. We're looking at internals on that and we'll be reporting on those. One example is that Kerry's favorable numbers have gone down. His unfavorables have actually gone up.

In a more general sense, the polls in the volatile fall campaign can be different. Things move fairly fast at times in the fall, with all of the attention on the race. And that's part of why we continue to poll, to see what happens as we move forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: CNN, of course, will be watching additional polls as they come out to get a clearer picture of the state of the presidential race.

In Florida, the state Supreme Court is considering whether independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader qualifies for the Reform Party slot on the November ballot. Earlier this week, a state judge ruled the Reform Party is no longer legitimate and barred Nader from the ballot. That was in response to lawsuits by the Florida Democratic Party and individual voters.

A nonpartisan election reform group headed by Senator John McCain today urged the court to rule in favor of Nader. McCain says it would be a mistake to let inequitable ballot rules prevent voters from supporting a legitimate candidate. A ruling is expected soon since tomorrow is the legal deadline for absentee ballots to be sent to Florida voters overseas.

From the polls to the potshots, there's plenty for the Kerry and Bush camps to disagree with. Coming up, we'll give dueling campaign honchos equal time to sound off about the other guys and answer hard questions about their own strategies.

Also ahead, a fact check of the latest campaign ads from media analyst Howard Kurtz.

Plus, hot off the presses, our new CNN electoral map. We'll tell you who has gained a smidgen of ground.

With 46 days until the election, this is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: We're going to talk more now about the state of the presidential race with key figures from both campaigns.

Joining us first, Tad Devine, senior strategist for the Kerry campaign.

Tad, thanks for being here.

You know, it is obvious over the past week that you all are going after the character issue. The president enjoys a huge double-digit advantage on the issue of leadership. Is it enough for your candidate to go after George Bush's leadership? We've seen him repeatedly say that the president's lying to you. He's not telling you the truth. Today, he suggested the president's going to call up troops and more Reservists and Guards and is not telling us about it. Don't we need to hear from the senator what he would do?

TAD DEVINE, SENIOR JOHN KERRY CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Well, I think you are hearing what he would do. He's talking about taking this nation in a new direction. He's talking about the major differences he has with the president. The president has decided because of the choices he made that it's more important to spend $200 billion in Iraq than it is to take care of the problems we confront here at home, to take on challenges like health care. The president's proposals really don't suit the problems that we face today. So, John Kerry is talking about the issues. But there are big differences, big differences between these two candidates, big differences in where they want to take the nation.

And that debate is something the American people deserve. And we're making it.

CROWLEY: But would you disagree that you all have been going after character and leadership in this past week?

DEVINE: Well, I think John Kerry is talking about the big issues that the nation confronts. And I think there are elements of these issues, for example, the fact that the vice president of the United States in the last couple of years has received $2 million in deferred compensation from Halliburton at the same time that that company has received $7 billion worth of no-bid contracts in Iraq. I think that's important.

CROWLEY: While we're on the subject of vice presidents, where is your vice presidential candidate? Why isn't he out making this case against his counterpart? Instead, he's having a down day, and you've got John Kerry out there talking about Dick Cheney. There's been a lot of talk about where he is. What's going on?

DEVINE: Well, I'll tell you, John Edwards has been campaigning all through this country, all through the battlegrounds, six or seven days a week. John Edwards has been a remarkable candidate. He's someone who enjoys incredible favorability, for example, in places like Iowa, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, major battlegrounds.

He's been energetic campaigning. Now, what he is not going to do is attempt to out Dick-Cheney Dick Cheney, OK? He is not going to run a relentlessly negative campaign full of lies, like the vice president has done for more than a year now.

CROWLEY: But doesn't that leave it to your candidate? Then we don't have Senator Kerry saying out there Bush is lying, Cheney's Halliburton, he's all about big money?

DEVINE: John Kerry's been talking about real issues for months now. And he has a real plan, he and John Edwards, to make this nation stronger here at home and respected once against in the world. They've been talking about issues like jobs and how to create them, the big fact and difference that John Kerry believes we shouldn't be outsourcing American jobs overseas, a policy that is endorsed and supported by the Bush administration.

So, I think John Edwards has been enormously effective. He's someone who can campaign all across this country in battleground states and someone who's been very, very well received. His energetic campaigning is something that has added enormously to this ticket. CROWLEY: Let me just ask you, if you add up all the polls from this week and take an average, you're about five points down. What has happened there?

DEVINE: Well, first, I would disagree with that. If you add all the polls this week, the public polls, we're 3.9 percent down, OK? We were six points down two weeks ago.

CROWLEY: Well, you're south of the polls where you once were north, where you're not -- you're out of Missouri at this point.

DEVINE: No, we're not at all. We have a strategy for these states. There's a large battleground where we intend to compete. If you look at the polls the week after their convention, we were down six, the next week, 5.2, this week, 3.9.

This race is coming back where it's been for a long time, a close race with the nation divided. And they're divided because this president has polarized the country. They think the nation's going on the wrong track. More people don't want to reelect the president than want to reelect him. He's not in a safe, comfortable zone in terms of his job approval. I think the president is in deep trouble right now. And you're seeing that reflected in terms of what they're doing.

And I think it's a harbinger for very good things to come for our campaign.

CROWLEY: Tad Devine, senior strategist, we'll check back in with you at another time. We appreciate it.

DEVINE: Good to be with you.

CROWLEY: Now, having just spoken to Tad, we want to get the other view from now the other side. Joining us, of course, is Marc Racicot, the Bush campaign chairman.

Thank you, Marc, for joining us.

Let's look at those polls. There isn't the bounce that first came out of there. It does appear to be coming back down. Where do you see the polls? And is it that the president is losing ground and why?

MARC RACICOT, BUSH-CHENEY CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: No, we believe that the race is right where we thought it would be, very closely contested.

And quite frankly, we know and have known from the very beginning we were going to have to work very, very hard. It would be very close all the way through until November 2. So, we take heart. We believe that the president discussing his positive agenda and focusing upon health care and security, homeland security, international security, education, those issues are important to the American people. He's had a positive agenda.

And that we believe is what is causing some movement or change in some of the numbers that you're seeing. But we would still, at the end of the day, make note of the fact that this is going to be a very, very close contest.

CROWLEY: How much has the National Guard issue slowed you down? This has been a continuum. Do you see anything in your polling that suggests that that is adding to the president's downward movement at this point?

RACICOT: Well, we think it's one of the attacks, this scorched- earth policy of trying to run for president that's being employed by the opposition. The fact of the matter is, your question was right.

There's an effort here to try and by firing in every different direction, whether you have evidence or not, some missile that is meant to try and somehow tarnish the character and the capacity of the president. And today, John Kerry did it again, talking about things like Halliburton, which is absolutely preposterous.

You know, there's a Clinton appointee who wrote about this particular issue and says it's absolutely absurd. Dick Cheney has absolutely no interest in Halliburton, and that's been established over and over again. Yet, John Kerry spent quite a bit of time talking about it today. He's done the same thing with the National Guard issue that you mentioned earlier. It's a baseless accusation, and, quite frankly, I don't think that that dismal, dark, dim, dithering view of where it is that we are is the kind of thing that exhibits to the American people that, in fact, you're qualified by reason of character and capacity to lead this country.

CROWLEY: One of the things that the senator did bring up, and you have seen, I know, the report from intelligence officials that was given to the president some months earlier, that painted a very bleak picture in Iraq, whichever scenario you took, for the next 18 months. And Senator Kerry's point was that when George Bush went before the National Guard, he kept talking about how things were going well.

So, Senator Kerry is saying, look, this is a guy that's out of touch. How are you all going to walk that fine line without looking like you're not really looking at the situation on the ground and yet, saying, hey it's all going the way we thought it would?

RACICOT: Candy, it's not a fine line.

Take a look at the national intelligence estimate. In the first place, it just speaks in common sense terms about an array of possibilities. And there's always been an array of possibilities. The people in this country know that this is a very difficult challenge. The president talks about it every single day. The choice, as John McCain pointed out, isn't between war in Iraq and something better.

The choice is between dealing with this issue now before our babies, our children and grandchildren, have to deal with it in this country after it's more lethal, more precarious and more dangerous than what it is today. That's the choice. And John Kerry complains constantly and has a very depressed view of the possibilities for people as a result of their noble nature to be able to embrace liberty.

But frankly, if they do not, then the possibilities for us as a nation are ever more threatened to live in peace and harmony. The president talks about that virtually every day. So, there's really no fine line at all. The American people understand that this is a very, very serious sacrifice that we're being called upon, the men and women in uniform particularly are being called upon to make. But there's no question, I don't think, that they know exactly what it is that is at stake here. It's civilization and our institutions as we know them.

CROWLEY: Bush campaign chairman Marc Racicot, thanks for your time. Appreciate it.

President Bush handily won Colorado the last time around. But will he have a tougher time this November? We'll look at the latest numbers when we come back.

Plus, will the term Election Day become a thing of the past? Our Bruce Morton has some thoughts.

(STOCK MARKET UPDATE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Welcome back. Yes, welcome back. We have expanded to 90 minutes through the November election to better cover the race for the White House. If you are just tuning in, you are 30 minutes late.

Today we are following the campaign trail from East to West. President Bush is on his way to North Carolina this hour. Earlier today, he spoke at a Republican fundraiser here in Washington.

John Kerry is on his way to a town hall meeting in Colorado. He campaigned earlier today in New Mexico.

More now on the new attack ads from the Bush and Kerry camp. What's fact and what's fiction? For that we turn to our fact checker, Howard Kurtz, of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES" (voice-over): John Kerry's advertising usually touts himself or attacks the president. But now Kerry is firing away at a new target, Dick Cheney. And he's using perhaps the Democrats' favorite corporate bogeyman, Cheney's former oil company, Halliburton.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The truth? As vice president, Dick Cheney received $2 million from Halliburton. Halliburton got billions in no- bid contracts in Iraq. Cheney got $2 million. What did we get? A $200 billion bill for Iraq.

KURTZ: Kerry is connecting an awful lot of dots here. Cheney's $2 million is deferred compensation from his days as Halliburton's CEO. Nothing unusual about that. And it doesn't give him a stake in the company's fortunes. Congressional hearings found no evidence that the vice president had anything to do with Halliburton's contracts in Iraq. The estimated $200 billion cost of the war has far more to do with the bloody Iraqi resistance to the U.S. occupation than anything Halliburton did.

The clear implication here is that Cheney pushed the war as a way of helping his former company, rather than to topple Saddam Hussein. And there's zero evidence of that.

The president, meanwhile, is returning to one of the oldest pages in the Republican playbook, accusing his opponent of being a big taxer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The liberals in Congress and Kerry's plan raises taxes on small business. Nine hundred thousand small business owners would pay higher tax rates than most multinational corporations.

KURTZ: The Bush campaign has produced no independent experts to support this claim. Kerry, whose plan has nothing to do with liberals in Congress, says he'll raise taxes only on those earning more than $200,000 a year, which, of course, includes some small business owners. Kerry aides note that the Congressional Budget Office found that Bush's health plan could raise premiums for many small businesses.

Taxes are a tried and true campaign issue. But slamming the vice president? Not since Democrats went after Dan Quayle has the number two man on the ticket been a front-and-center issue. Cheney may be the most powerful vice president in history, but the name at the top of the ticket is still Bush.

Howard Kurtz, CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Staying on the topic of political ads, the Bush campaign is calling on Kerry to denounce the latest TV ad by moveon.org. The ad shows an American soldier sinking chest deep into the desert as he tries to keep his rifle above his head. It notes that more than 1,000 American soldiers have been killed and billions spent on the war.

Then it says, "George Bush got us into this quagmire. It will take a new president to get us out."

Bush officials argue the image looks like a soldier surrendering. And former senator, Bob Dole, chairman of the Bush campaign's Veterans Coalition, says showing an American soldier surrendering is "beyond the pale."

Meanwhile, the group calling itself Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is out with a new TV ad that acts if voters can trust anything Kerry says. It attacks Kerry on his anti-war activities in the early '70s after he returned from the Vietnam War. The group says the ad will start airing today in Nevada and New Mexico.

Checking the headlines in "Campaign News Daily," the latest CNN electoral map is out. And it shows President Bush gaining a bit of ground in John Kerry's native New England. The CNN analysis found Bush gaining one of four electoral votes in Maine, a state that has voted Democratic in every presidential race since 1992. Otherwise, the map is unchanged from last week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN MERCURIO, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Still enjoys something of a post-convention bounce. Even his own aides admit that. The second thing is that the race remains extremely close.

If John Kerry were to pick up support in a state like Florida, he would surge into the lead. And if he were to beat Bush or lead Bush in Ohio, the race would actually be tied in the electoral college.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: By CNN's count at this moment, Bush has 290 electoral votes, 20 more than needed to win the election. Kerry has 248 electoral votes.

A new poll from Colorado shows a tight race there suggesting the state is, indeed, a campaign battleground. The survey of likely Colorado voters shows Bush a hair ahead of Kerry, 45 percent to 44 percent. Ralph Nader gets 3 percent.

And in New York, the Catholic Church has broken with tradition and decided not to invite President Bush or Senator Kerry to its annual Alfred Smith Dinner. In past election years the charity dinner has been a lighthearted showcase for presidential candidates. Both Bush and Al Gore attended four years ago. But the New York Archdiocese says the divisiveness of this year's race could detract from the spirit of the event.

Before long, Election Day might be a term from the past. And it's a fact that 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. You coming in to vote?

BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Remember Election Day? Polling places? People with 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.

MAPLES: Instead of Election Day, we now have election two weeks, you could say. Ballots will go out in the mail to every registered voter between October 15 and 19. And then voters either return them by mail, or they can drop them off at a drop box.

MORTON: Does that change campaigning? You bet. Making sure your voters vote is critical.

MAPLES: So, you have two weeks long, or a period of about two weeks to get your voters to the polls. And campaigns can find out every day who has voted.

They don't know how they voted, but they can find out who has voted, and then go and, you know, harass the voters who haven't voted yet. And they keep doing that day after day. We call it Groundhog Day.

MORTON: It isn't just Oregon. In Iowa, they'll mail out absentee ballots to anyone who wants one September 23. And you can vote even before the first presidential debate.

Last time, just over 20 percent of Iowa's votes were absentee. This time, the registrar in Polk County Des Moines, the most populous county, thinks a third may be. In all, election-wise a group that studies elections says 31 states either give absentee ballots to anyone who wants one or have some other form of early voting. It's a big change.

STUART ROTHENBERG, ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: It used to be that you saved advertising, you built it. You started buying from Election Day back a week, two weeks, three weeks. But now, if people are going to be voting in September, or early October, you've got to be on the air heavy.

That means advertising. That means dollars. It's expensive.

MORTON: The idea behind early voting was to make voting easier and get more people to vote. But turnout seems to be up only slightly.

ROTHENBERG: If they want to vote, they vote. If they don't, it doesn't matter what we do to make them vote. They don't seem to care.

MORTON: Still, Election Day, the polling place, may some day be history. I'll miss them.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: From Iraq to health care to the economy, John Kerry's been on the attack this week. But are his blasts at President Bush and Vice President Cheney sticking? And is the flap over the president's National Guard service hurting his re-election bid? We'll debate both questions when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Joining me now with their take on the week's hot campaign issues, Jonah Goldberg, editor of "The National Review Online"; Liz Marlantes of the "Christian Science Monitor"; and Jeff Zeleny of "The Chicago Tribune."

Welcome all.

Want to play a quick bit from John Kerry's speech today. He was talking about how George Bush is planning on the secret call-up of more Reservist and National Guards. Let's just play that a second.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: The true test of leadership is the willingness to tell the truth even when it's hard. And I believe this president has failed that test.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: So, all this week, it doesn't matter, assault weapons, Medicare, whatever the subject happened to be, it wasn't really the subject matter for John Kerry. It was, he's not telling you the truth, he's lying, he hasn't led. Is this going to work?

JEFF ZELENY, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Well, it's one thing that they're trying. I mean, it's -- the bumper sticker message this week is truth and credibility. Look, John Kerry has to convince voters why President Bush does not deserve a second term. That's what he really has to do in the next couple weeks. And this is one of those efforts by taking on trust and credibility that they hope will work.

CROWLEY: Liz, what's the -- what's the downside of doing it?

LIZ MARLANTES, "CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR": Well, there's a couple. One of the things that I would -- I would argue is that the Bush campaign has been the ones that have already very successfully framed this race as being about character. And they've framed it in such a way that they've -- they've sort of argued that Bush is a decisive, strong leader and Kerry is a flip-flopper.

That was the frame they've used all along. And so, to some extent, Kerry's reacting to that. He's having to sort of put a dent in that character argument that Bush has been making.

The problem is, so far, to me, at least, he hasn't been making a consistent character argument. We have him out there saying, you know, Bush doesn't tell the truth, he's a liar, which is really in some ways one of the harsher comments that he's made recently. But he's also, at the same time, sometimes saying that Bush is out of touch.

That's what the National Guard flap has been about, that he's not in touch with the average -- the concerns of average Americans. He's had sort of a messy character argument. It's coming at him from a lot of different directions.

JONAH GOLDBERG, EDITOR, "NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE": Forgive me for being a little more cynical about it, but I think that we're seeing another plot line develop here this week. I think one of the things we're seeing is that John Kerry's base, the liberal leftist base, has been going soft on him, and these attacks on George Bush are what those guys want to hear.

I mean, gun control? Even Paul Begala and Bill Clinton think it was idiotic for Kerry to bring up gun control. Halliburton does not play well in the sticks that much, but it plays great with the -- with the leftist base.

Kerry's campaign is coming off the rails, and this -- this week may be about attacking Bush. But the reason they're attacking Bush is because he's losing even the Bush haters, which are the base of the Kerry campaign.

CROWLEY: Which is -- you know, certainly there's some -- some truth to what Jonah's saying. I mean, that a lot of people are saying this is about going back and picking that base back up. Is that -- will you go along with that?

ZELENY: It's true. But I mean, I think the reality is, you know, if the polls show him up 13, or down, whatever, one factor that's not changed is a lot of people in this country are not pleased with George Bush. They disagree with (INAUDIBLE).

I'm not sure how much the base needs fired up. I think you can sort of flick the switch and in about 10 second they'll be there. So, I don't think that will take that long. When you've seen him out on the road, a lot of those people are fired up.

CROWLEY: But in fact, he has been out there on -- on issues that -- and in places, by the way. Madison, Wisconsin, I mean, that's not exactly a swing area. So, he's been in places that you would think shouldn't we be kind of moving on to other...

GOLDBERG: Well, I think the astounding thing about the Kerry campaign is how unbelievably reactive it is. It's reactive to the calendar in terms of what events.

Oh, the Brady bill is about to expire. Let's talk about gun control. Oh, I have to go talk to black Baptists. Let's talk about black people.

He's reacting to that, plus he's reacting to the punditocracy. Every time there's a new bit of advice that comes from -- you know, from the chattering classes, he starts following it. It seems to me that this campaign really -- it's sort of -- you're looking for a theme and a pudding that has no theme.

MARLANTES: The one thing that some Democrats are at least happy about this week is that -- that -- the mere fact that he is attacking. He's looking a little more like a fighter. That was one of the complaints during all the Swift Boat in the month of August, that he looked -- ended up looking weak because he didn't fight back. And I think some Democrats are just relieved to see him putting the gloves on.

GOLDBERG: That's the theory which says, at least you can tell he's alive when he's attacking.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: Let me ask you, on the other side, the National Guard issue seems to have, at least, you know, for the moment, it hasn't been our lead. So, has this hurt Bush at all? Do you see any signs that it has?

ZELENY: I think one of the things it's done is it's actually energized his base. You know, there are these questions out here, these media conspiracies, et cetera. That really has energized his base.

But one thing I'm watching are the number of National Guard troops right now who are deployed. In Iowa, you have almost three- fourths of the National Guard troops who are deployed. In Wisconsin, you have a high number as well.

And all those people have family members, they have -- have colleagues who -- who see their empty chair across the office every day. Some of these people have been gone from work for a year or more. And their deployments have been extended. So, I'm watching for a ripple effect potentially of this in these battleground states.

GOLDBERG: But Jeff, doesn't Bush have something close to a double-digit lead or more in -- among members of the Guard and members of the military?

ZELENY: Right, but these are co-workers and families and people who are a little bit more detached, too. I've talked to a lot of families in Wisconsin who are -- who are family members of the Guard and co-workers of people in the Guard because they've had a lot of extended deployments, and, you know, those people wouldn't show up in polls as being members. So, that's just something to keep an eye on in the next six weeks.

MARLANTES: I think, though, for average voters, I think this looked like a very petty discussion. I think one of the real dangers about this whole National Guard document flap that we've had for the past couple of weeks, I've just spent some time out in Ohio and I was rally struck by the number of swing voter types who seemed entirely turned off by the campaign at this point, and met several who said that they weren't even sure they were going to vote anymore. And I think that's a real danger for Kerry, actually.

CROWLEY: Let me just turn, because we've got less than a minute. On our "USA Today"/Gallup poll that we took between the 3rd and the 5th -- so earlier this month -- we ended up showing that, among women, Bush is polling at 48. And John Kerry is polling at 49.

This to me is a huge danger signal. We've got a W is for Women event that the president is doing. What's happened between John Kerry and women?

MARLANTES: Well, one of the things that's happened is the issue of security in this election so far seems to be trumping a lot of the issues that traditionally might have led suburban women to the Democratic Party, like abortion, like education, those types of issues. Another point that I would make that I think is kind of interesting is that the Kerry campaign has not had particularly strong female surrogates out there, particularly the candidate's wife.

They've really kept her under wraps recently. She tends to say things that are a little bit controversial. She's not the kind of spokesperson that they want front and center, whereas the Bush campaign, Laura Bush has been out there a lot.

ZELENY: I think that's right. I traveled with Laura Bush this week and people like her.

CROWLEY: Yes. So, the guy gets the last. I'm sorry, Jonah. We'll start with you first next time.

Jonah Goldberg, editor of "National Review"; Liz Marlantes, of the "Christian Science Monitor"; Jeff Zeleny, Chicago paper, we love you all. Thank you and come back.

ZELENY: Thanks, Candy.

MARLANTES: Thank you.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Up next, we're switching gears. It was the deadliest hurricane to hit the United States in five years. So, where's Ivan now? Our meteorologist has the latest on the storm and its strength coming up. And we'll have a live report from one of the hardest-hit communities.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: The storm that was Hurricane Ivan isn't done battering the country yet. It's now a tropical depression on a soggy path over the eastern part of the nation. Our meteorologist, Jacqui Jeras, is tracking the storm and joining us now from the weather center in Atlanta -- Jacqui.

(WEATHER REPORT)

CROWLEY: Wow. That really is soggy. OK, thanks so much.

Before it weakened, Hurricane Ivan truly was terrible along the Gulf Coast. One of the hardest areas hit, Pensacola, Florida. Governor Jeb Bush toured the devastation there today while his brother, the president, is expected to visit the area Sunday.

CNN's Chris Lawrence is in Pensacola and joins us now -- Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Candy, right now from where we're standing west is virtually cut off from the rest of the state of Florida. That's because Hurricane Ivan destroyed an entire section of Interstate 10 right along Escambia Bay. Let me step away now and you can take a look. Witnesses say it looks like a giant hand grabbed the highway and jerked it out of place. Officials tell us it's going to be closed for a significant amount of time. And with I-10 being the main east-west route through the panhandle, that's going to have a big effect on the entire state.

Now, there's also a truck, if you can look, the back half of a trailer torn in two. The cab of that truck and its driver are missing, and police say there is an oil slick in the water right by the break. Just about an hour ago, we did see the divers out searching for the driver of that truck.

Now, earlier today, Governor Jeb Bush did get his first-hand look at some of the devastation. Governor Bush took a tour of the damaged areas, an aerial tour, beginning downtown and touring many areas of the panhandle.

It's something the governor has become accustomed to in the past couple months after hurricane's Charley and Frances. And basically what he saw was just sheer devastation: homes destroyed, trees down, power lines snapped.

Right here now we are without power. It is completely dark at night. You can't flush a toilet. There is no running water. And it may be several weeks before things get back up to speed and running -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Thanks so much. CNN's Chris Lawrence. It's hard to believe, Chris, looking at you against that backdrop, which is beautiful, that there is so much devastation to be seen from where you are. Appreciate it.

Bare knuckle fighting on the campaign trail. Coming up, the take from the left and the right on the latest polls in the race for the White House and on the changes in the Kerry campaign.

Also, the Russian president's controversial plans for political reform. Are they a dangerous move? We'll hear from Bill Schneider, joining us live from London.

And mixing sports and politics. We'll tell you about a new anti- Kerry group.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: From the West...

KERRY: Let me make it crystal clear, I will never tolerate companies like a Halliburton profiting at the expense of our troops and our taxpayers.

ANNOUNCER: ... to the East... GEORGE W. BUSH (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My opponent's plan is a massive, big government plan.

ANNOUNCER: ...we're covering the tough talk out on the trail.

Lots of changes at the Kerry campaign. But will the behind-the- scenes moves affect the course of the race for the White House?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

CROWLEY: Welcome back. I'm Candy Crowley, sitting in for Judy today as we head into the final half hour of INSIDE POLITICS, now a full 90 minutes of campaign news and interviews.

President Bush is in North Carolina at this hour trying to win over women voters. Our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is with the president in Charlotte -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Candy, the president being introduced by the woman who once shared (INAUDIBLE) Republican Senator Elizabeth Dole who is introducing him. Really this is all about the campaign of "W is for Women," trying to capture that all-important voters bloc. (INAUDIBLE) the president is trying to go out there.

You know, there are essentially two groups: single women. This is a voting bloc that is larger than Jewish, African-American as well as Latino voters put together. All combined this is 22 million, represents 22 million single women who did not vote back in 2000.

The other group, of course, is not necessarily the soccer mom, but what they are calling the security mom. These are the women, of course, who have young children. They're the ones that are worried about the country's safety. They don't necessarily resonate with the issues the president is talking about -- they do talk about -- they do actually identify with women in Iraq, who they say have a better life.

That is something the Bush campaign is focusing on, as well. Just to give you a sense of the numbers here. The importance of these folks (INAUDIBLE) Mr. Bush falls slightly behind Kerry when it comes to this group. This is the -- the latest CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll showing that likely (INAUDIBLE).

CROWLEY: Well, Suzanne gets an A for effort from us here, fighting with the noise of the crowd there, and what obviously is a very echo-y place. Thank you so much, Suzanne.

John Kerry is headed to a health care event in Colorado after unleashing a new campaign assault on Vice President Cheney. CNN's Frank Buckley is traveling with Kerry. He filed this report from New Mexico.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Senator John Kerry went after Vice President Dick Cheney on what one senior strategist called the most radioactive issue of the campaign, Halliburton, Cheney's former employer. Kerry said the company has received billions in no-bid contracts and the Bush administration hasn't provided adequate oversight of the money.

KERRY: As commander-in-chief, I've got two words for companies like Halliburton that abuse the American taxpayer and the trust, you're fired. That simple.

BUCKLEY: The criticism coincides with a new ad from the Kerry campaign, suggesting the vice president is still profiting from his previous work for Halliburton.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT: I have no financial interest in Halliburton of any kind. I haven't had now for over three years.

AD ANNOUNCER: The truth, as Vice President Dick Cheney received $2 million from Halliburton.

BUCKLEY: Vice President Cheney was campaigning in Portland, Oregon, and didn't address the Halliburton issue. But a Bush/Cheney spokesman called it a tired, old, baseless accusation. Kerry strategists say the re-emergence of the Halliburton issue in their campaign is part of an overall criticism of the Bush administration's handling of Iraq. And on Iraq, Senator Kerry accused the president of quietly planning additional national Guard and reservist call-ups.

KERRY: He won't tell us what congressional leaders are now saying, that this administration is planning yet another substantial call-up of reservists and Guard units immediately after the election. Hide it from people through the election. Then make the move.

BUCKLEY: A spokesman for the Bush campaign said, quote, "John Kerry's conspiracy theory of a secret troop deployment is completely irresponsible. John Kerry didn't launch this attack when he spoke to the National Guard because he knows they know it false and ridiculous."

(on camera): Bundling the Halliburton and Iraq issues together as part of the Kerry campaign's effort to portray the president is out of touch with average Americans, and dishonest about the war in Iraq. They are themes we will hear repeatedly over the next 46 days. Frank Buckley, CNN, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: One more thing about Kerry's charge that the president has a secret plan to call up more troops after the election, CNN senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre says that the Pentagon adamantly denies the allegation that was made by Kerry. There is no hidden plan, a Pentagon official told CNN. The official said that future mobilizations are part of a long plan, and well publicized troop rotation. So, with us now, former Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile, and Bay Buchanan, president of American Cause. Welcome. Thank you for being here.

I want to talk first about the state of the Kerry campaign. He has brought on another Clintonista, as they are called, Mike Curry out there doing due diligence on the campaign. What's going on on that campaign, Donna?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, first of all, I think what they're doing now is adding people to the team that will help Senator Kerry get his message out on a day-to-day basis. These are people who had planned for months to come on board, and this is the normal time that new recruits are brought in to the fold.

CROWLEY: I'm technically that no, they didn't want to come on board. As you know Tony Coelho has said, look, this campaign is in chaos, there's too many cooks. This isn't an unknown thing to happen inside Camp Kerry. Do you sense that there is one person in control of strategy, directing strategy and who is it?

BRAZILE: There's one chief bottle washer in that campaign. There's one chef. And there are a lot of pastry chefs, trust me. But they're involved in every campaign. But Mary Beth Cahill is running the campaign. She's making sure that the trains are running on time. Of course like every campaign you have somebody who is in charge of message and strategy and someone who is in charge of the "get out the vote" operations. I think the campaign is doing quite well. And I say this as someone who talked to numerous Kerry aides and those who want to be future aides to John Kerry, as well.

BAY BUCHANAN, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN CAUSE: Maybe next week they could bring them on, Donna. We could have some more people come on board and tell them how to...

BRAZILE: It doesn't matter, Bay. There's -- bottom line is that we're going to win in November.

BUCHANAN: The bottom line is clear, the situation here is you've got a $400 million investment and it's going under and these guys are trying to get aboard, they're trying to build this up but Humpty- Dumpty has gone and fallen off this wall, and all these fellows are not going to be able to put him back together. This is a very serious time for John Kerry's campaign.

BRAZILE: It's not true, Bay. This campaign is still winnable. John Kerry is rebounding now. The president's lead is evaporating. And this campaign is running as planned.

CROWLEY: Let's talk about the polls a little. Because, in fact, even if you read it the way the Kerry camp would like to read it, and add all the polls together and take out the Gallup poll that shows the big lead that -- the night before last night, you still have George Bush on the north side, and John Kerry on the south side and it used to be reversed. So, that does show some movement, does it not? BRAZILE: Well, it showed that George Bush had a lead coming out of the convention. But that bounce has evaporated. Voters are still questioning the president's decision in Iraq, and the ongoing conflict, and they believe that some things are not going as planned.

So, I think that's going to undermine the president's credibility at a time that Senator Kerry has once again demonstrated that he understands what it takes to win the war in Iraq and win the war on terrorism as well.

CROWLEY: So, it sounds like you're depending on the headlines in October. Do you worry about that?

BUCHANAN: Candy, what's happening here, and it's a lot deeper problems than their staff concerns is it appears to be an early break. A lot of campaigns break a weekend before, a week before. But it looks like there could be an early break and if the electorate is actually making up their mind. They've seen enough of Kerry, they've looked at Bush, many of them have questioned him but they've turned and they've decided that John Kerry is not an acceptable alternative. And so, they're moving. Once that movement starts it's very hard to stop it. And that's where the Kerry campaign is in real trouble. If the electorate is making their minds up now, I don't know how he can turn this thing around.

BRAZILE: There's still a lot of romance left in this election, Bay. Everyone that Bush is courting has not necessarily gone over for the dance. I think Kerry has an opportunity to still swing with them. It's still wide open. It's not, you know, in the bag so to speak. That's what Republicans want you to believe. But there's still a lot of ground that John Kerry will cover over the next 45 days and win this thing.

BUCHANAN: Those battleground states do not look good. Those battleground states should be a real strong mix there. Bush is either pulling ahead strong or he's hot by a couple points and in a few he's dead even. John Kerry is not running strong in any of them anymore.

BRAZILE: Look. He's -- those polls will shift in the next two weeks. And the debates will once again move to be the decisive moment in this campaign.

BUCHANAN: Divine intervention is possible.

BRAZILE: And I believe that. As a family that survived a hurricane this week in Louisiana I do believe in divine intervention.

CROWLEY: Look. What is the Democratic candidate for president doing talking about Cheney and Halliburton in September? Isn't that a base issue? Isn't that an issue that rouses the base? And isn't it true that they seem to be out there trying to bring back that enthusiasm?

BRAZILE: Halliburton is still in the news. It's in the news this week. Halliburton is not off the front pages of this paper...

CROWLEY: Are people sitting around going, gosh, that Halliburton thing is really worrying me?

BRAZILE: I believe that it's part of the larger story of how this administration has just sold out to corporate interests and not standing up for working people in this country. And John Kerry is right to talk about it. And let's hope that John Edwards is talking about it, as well.

CROWLEY: Before you get -- where is John Edwards?

BUCHANAN: I remember that name.

BRAZILE: John Edwards, the charismatic running mate of John Kerry is out there on the stump. He's campaigning very hard. He's taken a down day today because he has two strong days ahead of him.

BUCHANAN: Nobody is seeing that fellow for weeks. I hear more and more people say: Is he still in this campaign? Are they hiding him or something?

BRAZILE: Well, he's been -- yes, well, Bay, he's been making the rounds in Cheney's undisclosed locations...

BUCHANAN: I guess so.

CROWLEY: Bay, let me ask you, though -- when you look at the situation on the ground in Iraq, Republicans have to be worried that October is going to be nothing but the -- I mean, we've seen now a report from intelligence operatives that say, you know, three scenarios that all sound terrible -- for 18 months.

Republicans have got to be worried about the headlines in October.

BUCHANAN: No, I think there's two points here. As an American, of course we're concerned about Iraq. And we would like to see the thing, you know, stabilized and the elections come and be able to transfer power in a more peaceful manner than appears it's going to happen. There's no question about that.

But at the same time, if the decision that the American people have actually made, Candy, is that John Kerry is -- does not have the president timbre to be commander in chief, then all that's going to happen is they're going to read Iraq and they're going to think more and more we have to have President Bush as commander in chief.

BRAZILE: Bay, the NIA estimate -- it came out this week, and it said essentially that the situation there is bleak. It's Bleak.

Now, I know the Republicans want to paint a rosy picture and once again say hooray, hooray -- the mission is not accomplished. And that's what the voters will be paying attention to as we enter the final stretch of the campaign.

CROWLEY: You each get like one-word answers. How many debates?

BUCHANAN: There'll be two. BRAZILE: Three.

CROWLEY: OK. Guess it's not settled yet. Thank you so much. Bay Buchanan, Donna Brazile, we appreciate it.

President Bush alludes to his past, and we go looking for political pork when Bob Novak opens his notebook ahead.

Plus, from Britain, our Bill Schneider takes a closer look at an official move rocking Europe and the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Bob Novak joins us now with some inside buzz.

So, there was a big private luncheon, the donors, with George Bush. Did they learn anything?

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Yes, this was at Stephen Decatur House, not far from here, in Washington. And he told -- over the closed-door luncheon, he told them that they had nothing bad to learn about him. They knew everything about him. And that was a -- everybody thought a reference to these -- this old chestnut about drug use.

He also said -- for the first time, I think, that he almost lost the election because the DUI charges against him at the end -- came out at the very end, saying he didn't put them out earlier because his teenage twin daughters would have learned about it. He was trying to give a good impression. He now admits that was a huge mistake. He almost lost the presidency because of it.

CROWLEY: Seems like he's still trying to reassure them that there's nothing else left out there.

NOVAK: Absolutely.

CROWLEY: No other Kitty Kelley revelations.

The Hurricane Relief Bill -- that's always a magnet for lawmakers.

NOVAK: The president has asked for a new one, $3.1 billion. And this is the last train out of the station in this Congress. So bipartisan, but behind closed doors, they're putting in all kinds of non-hurricane material.

So far, we have home heating assistance for dairy farmers, aid to western firefighters, drought relief for the upper Great Plains, and more funding for space exploration in the Hurricane Bill. And goodness knows what else is going to be added on.

CROWLEY: I'm tempted to ask about home heating assistance for dairy farmers, but we have to move on.

Some ethics complaints coming up early next week? NOVAK: Monday. The House Ethics Committee meets on the complaints against the House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, accused of using funds illegally in the House redistricting fight in Texas.

I am told it's going to be a partisan party-line vote. And since this -- all the Democrats voting against him and Republicans for him, this is whether to take up the issue, and since the committee is split evenly, they won't take it up.

Incidentally, the billionaire financier George Soros, who has been funding all these anti-Bush ads, has a -- asked for an ethics complaint again Speaker Hastert, because Hastert has accused him of using drug money. And the Ethics Committee will turn that down because somebody outside Congress cannot complain to the Ethics Committee. To complain about ethics in the House, you have to be a Congressman.

CROWLEY: Sounds like it's about time for them to pack it in up there in an election year.

And you have an interesting guy coming to speak at a Trent Lott fundraiser.

NOVAK: Yes, I always try to keep people -- you and other people -- aware of good fundraisers. There's one Friday afternoon at the St. Regis Hotel in downtown Washington. It's the new Republican Majority Fund, which is Trent Lott's fund. You can get in for only $1,000 per lunch; if you want to be a host, $5,000.

And the speaker is Bill Clinton's old consultant, Dick Morris. You remember Dick Morris...

CROWLEY: I do.

NOVAK: ... very well. He was also Trent Lott's consultant. So, he's always an exciting guy. He doesn't like the Clintons much these days.

So, if you want some raw meat about the Clintons, Candy -- it'll be $5,000, you can be on the host committee.

CROWLEY: I forgot my checkbook, but thanks. Flexible -- consultants are flexible.

NOVAK: They are, indeed.

CROWLEY: Bob Novak, thanks very much.

Please be sure to catch Bob tomorrow morning at 9:30 Eastern on "THE NOVAK ZONE."

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin reacts to terrorist attacks. Just ahead, are his latest moves justified, or a dangerous grab for even more power. Our Bill Schneider joins us live in London with his take. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: This is normally the time our senior political analyst Bill Schneider joins us with his political play of the week. But Bill is on special assignment in Europe -- a gig I'd like to get someday. He is joining us now live in our London studio with a look at an event having significant international ramifications -- Bill?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Candy, because I've been in Europe this week. And it turns out that the event which may have the greatest consequences for the United States and for the world didn't happen in the U.S.; it happened far away. It happened in Russia.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): Here's the Bush doctrine.

BUSH: By promoting liberty abroad, we will build a safer world.

SCHNEIDER: Here's the Putin doctrine.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): The fight against terrorism demands a deeper shaping of our policies in the region. One of the main, most important issues is the weakness of state executive powers.

SCHNEIDER: With that, President Putin made breathtaking moves to centralize power in Russia and cut off support for his opponents. Governors in Russia will no longer be elected -- Putin will appoint them. And in elections for Parliament, Russians will no longer be able to vote for candidates, only parties. That way, fewer Putin critics will get in.

The justification -- some would call it a pretext for such sweeping changes -- two airline bombings, followed by last week's horrifying seizure of an elementary school by terrorists. More than 300 adults and schoolchildren were killed. It was Russia's 9/11.

President Bush has a lot invested in Putin, starting with their first meeting in June 2001.

BUSH: We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul.

SCHNEIDER: Russia stood by the U.S. after 9/11, and President Bush has called Russia...

BUSH: A country in which democracy and freedom and rule of law thrive.

SCHNEIDER: Putin's power grab could be a dangerous development to the U.S. and for the world. A European commissioner expressed concern that Russia's answer to terrorism will be to increase the power of the Kremlin.

CHRIS PATTEN, EU EXTERNAL RELATIONS COMM.: Frankly, there is not much good history on the side of that proposition.

SCHNEIDER: Back to the USSR?

BUSH: I'm also concerned about the decisions that are being made in Russia that could undermine democracy in Russia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (on camera): Think of it this way: In the past, which has presented a greater threat to the U.S. -- a corrupt dictatorship in Iraq, or a corrupt dictatorship in Russia? Candy?

CROWLEY: Bill Schneider in our London Bureau. Cheerio, Bill. Have fun on your "special assignment."

SCHNEIDER: Cheerio.

CROWLEY: There's a new 527 group in town, and it's also set its sights on John Kerry. Coming up next, what he's done to rub its founders the wrong way. Hint: It's football season.

Details after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(WEATHER REPORT)

(STOCK MARKET UPDATE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Some Republican sports fans aren't content to sit on the sidelines when it comes to John Kerry. They have formed a group called Football Fans for Truth. It is registered as a 527, just like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

But this group's mission has nothing to do with Kerry's Vietnam war record. Instead, it is dedicated to exposing his sports gaffes. One example, Kerry called the home of the Green Bay Packers Lambert Field, which is an airport in St. Louis, instead of Lambeau Field.

The men behind the Football Fans for Truth dismiss Kerry as just a, quote, "sports poser." We will add, however, that Kerry played three sports while in college and is an avid Patriots and Red Sox fan.

That is it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Candy Crowley. Have a great weekend.

"CROSSFIRE" up now.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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