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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Battleground Florida; New Attack Ads; Associates of Tom DeLay Indicted

Aired September 22, 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 in Florida fighting to claim a crucial battleground.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yesterday, I was in Orlando, right next to Fantasyland. And the difference between George Bush and me is, I drove by it. He lives in it.

ANNOUNCER: Kerry adviser Mike McCurry joins Judy for his first TV interview since signing on with the campaign.

George Bush in Pennsylvania, while his campaign surfs for a new line of attack.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: John Kerry, whichever way the winds blows.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Clouds over the campaign. Floridians are still trying to recover from recent hurricanes, not to mention the 2000 vote.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kind of embarrassing to be a Floridian. At least it was last time.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Now, live from the CNN Election Express in West Palm Beach, Florida, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us.

From time to time, we do like to get out on the campaign trail. Today and last night, we have been following John Kerry here in Florida. We hope to tag along with the Bush campaign next week. Senator Kerry wrapped up an event right behind me here in West Palm Beach a short while ago. He responded to continued efforts by the Bush campaign to portray him as a flip-flopper on Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: Today, the president's made some comments about Iraq. Once again, he's avoiding the truth and the reality of what's happening. I -- I am an optimist about what could be achieved there. I'm an optimist about what our young men and women deserve. They're the best fighting forces in the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: We're going to have a full report on John Kerry's day, and we're going to talk with a campaign senior adviser, Mike McCurry, just ahead.

President Bush is campaigning in Pennsylvania this hour. Back in Washington, his political team is assessing the effect of its new ad attack on Senator Kerry.

Let's quickly go to our White House correspondent, Dana Bash.

Hi, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Judy.

And you know, John Kerry's stepped-up attacks against the president on all things Iraq are not going unnoticed at the Bush campaign, and there are two things that Bush officials privately say concern them. One is just the renewed and sharpened focus by John Kerry on the Iraq issue with regard to the president, but the other is something that they really can't control. That is the increased violence in Iraq, namely the beheadings that American voters have seen on their television screens over the past 48 hours or so.

Now, Bush officials have decided that, with that combination, they can't be complacent and that, while they do think there's evidence that the months of calling John Kerry a waffler on Iraq has paid off, they're not taking anything for granted. So today a multifront campaign push to say not only is John Kerry a flip-flopper, but to sort of shift that into that means there will be serious consequences to having him as president.

Now, the vice president will make a statement about this in about an hour on Capitol Hill, and the president earlier today in Pennsylvania said that Senator Kerry's changing positions on Iraq hurts not only Iraqis, but also hurts the morale of U.S. troops.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My opponent is sending mixed signals. He has had many different positions on Iraq. Incredibly, this week, he said he would prefer the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein to the situation in Iraq today. You cannot lead the war against terror if you wilt or waver when times get tough.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, a top Bush aide says that the goal here is also to continue to hit John Kerry on credibility. They made a new ad, you see here using pictures it seems they have been saving for a while, John Kerry windsurfing. It's an image that in and of itself Bush officials don't think is all that flattering. But the narration questions how John Kerry would lead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: He claims he's against increasing Medicare premiums, but voted five times to do so. John Kerry, whichever way the wind blows.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, as to the Kerry campaign's immediate outrage and dismissal over this ad, a Bush official said, the more they do that, they hope the more that voters will actually get to see this ad, because news organizations will be running it more and more -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Dana, reporting from the White House, thank you.

Well, the so-called Swift Boat Veterans For Truth also have a new ad out today once again targeting John Kerry's anti-war activities after returning home from Vietnam. It is a huge buy, $1.3 million in five battleground states. Our Bill Schneider will look at this ad and the claims that it makes later on INSIDE POLITICS.

Well, back to the Kerry campaign. They are releasing themselves a new ad responding to the Bush windsurfing spot, condemning the president for airing what they call a juvenile and tasteless attack. And Kerry adviser Mike McCurry is calling on Bush to repudiate the ad.

Mike McCurry joins me now in his first television interview since joining the Kerry camp.

MIKE MCCURRY, SENIOR KERRY CAMPAIGN ADVISER: How about that? Just like old times? And here I am.

WOODRUFF: And just like old times. Thank you for being here.

Mike McCurry, no sooner did John Kerry get a little bit of a lift from a tough speech on Iraq this week than the Bush/Cheney campaign coming back, saying, there he goes again, yet another position on Iraq, flip-flopper. How do you get on top of this?

MCCURRY: You know, I think the Bush campaign is totally tone deaf about what this country is going through right now.

We have great anxiety about what we're seeing happening every single day in Iraq. This is dreadful, the beheadings, the danger that our brave young men face. And how they could make light of this and be lighthearted at a time when many, many Americans are deeply troubled and heavy-hearted about what is happening in Iraq is stunning to me.

And I -- I think it's a bad miscalculation. I think that they're gleeful about putting these images on. Clearly, they have been saving this ad up. And it was to be expected they probably would pull it out at some moment. But this is a highly inappropriate moment to do that. And President Bush ought to think about this and ask them to take that ad off the air right now.

WOODRUFF: But as we just heard Dana Bash say, it's the flip- flopping that they go after, but also this...

MCCURRY: Look, that's not -- at this point, yes, they've been wailing away on that now for over a month.

But you know something? We're at the point, as Senator Kerry laid out in New York this week, a very serious policy speech about Iraq, and we haven't heard President Bush seriously respond to that yet. He's walking out there and talking about things that Senator Kerry did not say.

He hasn't responded to Senator Kerry's assessment of what's happening on the ground, what we need to know now with the four-point plan that he laid out that I think could do something about that. And I think people are looking for these two candidates to have a serious debate on where we go from here. And that's what we're going to be talking...

WOODRUFF: But he did give a speech at the U.N.

And beyond that, Mike McCurry, you just heard Dana Bash saying, and quoting the president as saying, you can't wilt or waver when the times get tough. They're going to the credibility of the leadership qualities.

MCCURRY: Look, John Kerry knows something about wilting and wavering in the face of enemy fire. And that's not what this is about.

This is about what we do at this point going forward to get it right on Iraq. And Senator Kerry has laid out some ideas. President Bush went to the U.N. General Assembly this week, which is the forum in which he could have engaged foreign leaders in a serious way and rallied people to kind of work with the United States to get this right, and he came away empty-handed. And that is not tolerable, given what's going on, on the ground in Iraq right now. And we're going to continue to press him on this.

WOODRUFF: Quick question about the debates. It turns out the debate commission itself and perhaps some of the moderators are now raising questions about this unusually detailed and lengthy agreement.

Might the Kerry campaign be flexible on some of that?

(CROSSTALK)

MCCURRY: Negotiated by two very good lawyers, Jim Baker and Vernon Jordan.

WOODRUFF: Might the Kerry campaign be flexible on some of those points? MCCURRY: We don't really need to be flexible on it. We said all along in response to the presidential commission that we would accept their format. Let's go. Let's have debates. I think the American people are entitled to them. They laid out a good formula for three debates. We then had discussions with the Bush campaign about how to make them happen and what -- how they would be structured.

WOODRUFF: So you're saying all these details came from the Bush campaign?

MCCURRY: No, no, no, no. I'm saying that Vernon Jordan and Jim Baker worked out a good memorandum of understanding with the commission.

And look, good point. The commission is concerned about the journalistic integrity of those four moderators who will be running the program. And that is a concern that they've raised. And certainly, that's a legitimate concern on their part.

Now, they have got to speak to whether or not they're going to sign this commission, but I think Senator Kerry feels we're going to have these debates. They're going to happen. We're glad they're going to happen. Let's get on with it and let's not get caught up in a debate on debates.

WOODRUFF: Very quick last question, the women's votes. John Kerry was running ahead among women for the longest time this year, but in the last month, George Bush has made serious inroads. What happened and how do you turn that around? Or can you?

MCCURRY: Well, I think, as you've pointed out and will be pointing out, the Bush campaign has spent millions and millions of dollars in negative advertising to tarnish John Kerry.

They ran a whole convention that was focused on being negative about John Kerry, rather than talking positively about what George Bush would do for the country. That has an impact. There's no question of that. And as we seen the impact of that kind of advertising and that kind of negativity, it does begin to impact John Kerry. But that's why now we turn around and begin to make an argument about where we're going.

Tomorrow, we're going to be talking about terrorism, which is the subject that many women are deeply concerned about, mothers who saw what happened in Russia. And I think as that message begins to get out to people, they'll see a real turnaround in some of those numbers.

WOODRUFF: Mike McCurry, fairly new to the Kerry campaign.

MCCURRY: Fairly new, fairly new, but an old hand.

(CROSSTALK)

WOODRUFF: But somebody we've known since he worked in the Clinton White House. Very good to see you, Mike. Thank you for coming. We appreciate it. Thank you. MCCURRY: Good to be with you.

WOODRUFF: Well, we are going to get an opposing view from a member of the Bush campaign ahead. Coming up next, though, House Republicans and Democrats offer two different takes on their accomplishments and their futures. I'll talk with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Majority Whip Roy Blunt.

Plus, snapshots of the political scene here in Florida, one of the most coveted prizes in the presidential race.

And my talk with fellow reporters on board the Kerry campaign plane.

With 41 days until the election, this is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: House Republicans took time out today to pat themselves on the back. Led by conference chair Deborah Pryce of Ohio, the Republicans are celebrating 10 years as the majority in the House, and they vow to continue their dominance for the next 10 years.

Not to be outdone, House Democrats today outlined their plan to help middle-class families. They call their agenda the New Partnership For America's Future. We're going to speak with the Republican House whip in just a few minutes.

But we are joined now on Capitol Hill by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Nancy Pelosi, good to see you, and thank you for talking with me.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: Nice to see you, Judy. My pleasure.

WOODRUFF: I want to ask you about what you talked about today and the agenda for the future. Your focus is primarily on domestic issues, but with so much concern on the part of Americans on terrorism and the war in Iraq, are domestic issues really getting through and your positions on them getting through to the voters?

PELOSI: Well, we don't always talk -- only talk about domestic issues. Prosperity, fairness, community, accountability, all of that are very important parts of our Democratic New Partnership For America's Future.

But national security is, of course, the preeminent issue, to protect the American people from the clear and present danger of terrorism, to have a military second to none, to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, to build alliances with other countries that will help us keep the peace in the world, to honor to our commitments to our veterans, and not just honor them with words, and, of course, to keep our homeland safe from terror. They're key, important parts of the Democratic Partnership For the Future, and in addition to which we talk about prosperity for a wide range of Americans, opportunity through education, fairness, especially in our health care system, where health care is a right, not a privilege, a sense of community, where we have a safe and healthy environment for our children, accountability.

All of what we are proposing is pay as you go, rather than the deficit situation that we're in now. But national security is our first responsibility to the American people.

WOODRUFF: Well, one of the things you do talk about is middle- class tax relief, and yet just yesterday your Republican counterparts in the House talked about three different times -- kinds of middle- class tax cuts and extending those. Have they in a way taken that issue off the table because they have moved first on it?

PELOSI: No, they haven't.

In fact, they're a little disingenuous in what they propose because what they really want is their 23 percent national sales tax. And tomorrow -- today, we rolled out our positive agenda, the New Partnership For America's Future, and tomorrow we'll be pointing out some of the differences between Democrats and Republicans under the leadership of Charles Rangel. Our senior Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee will be telling the American people about their 23 percent national sales tax, which is very regressive and damaging to prosperity in our country.

So they can talk about any tax cuts they want right now. Their real agenda is to eliminate them all and just go for the 23 percent tax cut -- not tax cut, the sales tax. But we're today -- very delighted. We have consensus in the Democratic Party. Democrats are unified. They are focused. They have established their priorities around six core values to secure and strengthen the middle class, to protect our country, to build our prosperity, to expand opportunity for our children, and to make the future better for the next generation.

WOODRUFF: Well, a couple of the social issues, what we call social issues that the Republicans are talking about, among them abortion and banning gay marriage, in fact, that's something -- the latter is something they want a vote on, is something that I gather you do not address in the statement that you're issuing today. Is that because these issues are working against Democrats now?

PELOSI: Well, we do talk about guaranteeing the constitutional rights of all Americans. And that includes a broad range of issues, as you know.

But this is a consensus document where we have credible proposals, clarity in our presentation to the public, and it's all paid for. So, again, I'm very, very proud of what we were able to do and what is included here. And I know that the American people will judge us for what we are pledging to do for them, rather than look around for what isn't in it.

WOODRUFF: All right, we are going to have to leave it there. PELOSI: Thank you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: The House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi.

PELOSI: Here it is, the House Democratic New Partnership For America's Future.

WOODRUFF: Thank you very much.

PELOSI: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Getting in her plug. All right, the minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, thanks very much.

Well, 10 years as the majority. Just ahead, can the Republicans stay on a roll in the House? I'll get Majority Whip Roy Blunt's take on that and some other issues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Back here in West Palm Beach, where John Kerry has just finished a town meeting.

As we mentioned, House Republicans today celebrating 10 years in the majority.

Joining me now, the House majority whip, Roy Blunt of Missouri.

Congressman Blunt, I want to talk to you in just a minute about some of the issues I just spoke to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi about.

But first, I want to ask you about the indictments yesterday in Texas of three associates of your colleague, the House majority leader, Tom DeLay. They were indicted for funneling illegal campaign money to Republicans running for office in Texas, including to Mr. DeLay. Now, we know the House Ethics Committee is investigating this. Mr. DeLay is saying it's all politics. But how can you be sure it's all politics?

REP. ROY BLUNT (R-MO), MAJORITY WHIP: Well, one way to be sure it's all politics is, it's 40 days before the election. I think you've got to look at the calendar, look at the timing of these indictments.

And then you have to look at the history of this prosecutor. He started his career by indicting Kay Bailey Hutchison when she was elected to the Senate, actually went to court and got to court and refused to present his case in court, I guess admitting he didn't have one. My guess is, he doesn't have a case this time either.

But if he does, obviously, it didn't involve Tom DeLay himself, and I don't think any of these charges, as I've looked at them, are any charges that are reasonable by any standard that I know of in terms of how political fund-raising is done in the country today.

WOODRUFF: Congressman Blunt, we are told that the House Republican leadership is planning a vote soon on the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. As we know, this did not pass the United States Senate. Even Republicans are saying they don't think it will pass the House. Since there are so many other pressing issues out there, what is the point of bringing this up for a vote?

BLUNT: Well, I think this is an issue that we do need to move forward on. We just had a vote in our state, my state of Missouri; 71 percent of the people wanted to amend our state constitution. And I think that's probably pretty reflective of the sentiments around the country; 79 percent just voted in Louisiana. But state by state doesn't solve this problem.

I don't know that we'll send the Senate exactly the same amendment that they've already defeated. We may give the Senate a second look at this by the amendment we send over. We committed long ago to have a vote on this issue. I think, if we didn't have a vote, it would look like we were dodging an issue that Americans clearly care about and that states one at a time can't deal with, and so we'll be doing that, Judy.

WOODRUFF: And you expect it to pass?

BLUNT: I expect -- you know, we haven't really counted the numbers yet, but I think we'll have a substantial majority and we're still working towards the two-thirds it would take to actually amend the Constitution and seeing if we can come up with a strategy that really allows the Senate to look at this one more time before they leave this year as well.

WOODRUFF: We just heard the minority leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi, say it's the Democrats who've got the right answers for the middle class. She talked about their proposals for middle-class tax relief. How is it that the Republicans can come out on top in this issue when the Democrats are making the arguments that they are and the kind of arguments that she just did?

BLUNT: Well, I think the kind of arguments that I think that the Democrats are presenting today, looking at the small booklet they sent out, is basically slogans vs. substance.

We've really done the kinds of things that we said 10 years ago Republicans in the majority would do. Tomorrow, we're going to pass another tax cut that makes permanent these tax cuts that really affect families. If you look at what's happened over the last 10 years, you see a real effort to do the kinds of things we stand for. We're looking toward the future, as well as celebrating the past. But the past gives Americans a sense that Republicans in control of the Congress will do the kinds of things to create jobs, help families, lower the tax burden, lower the regulatory burden, and defend the country that Republicans committed to do a decade ago.

I think we're clearly about to enter now our second decade in control of the House. And I think our friends on the other side, as much as they'd like to say that's not so, know that's about to happen.

WOODRUFF: The House majority whip, Roy Blunt, predicting 10 more years in the majority, speaking optimistically.

All right, Roy Blunt, thank you very much. It's good to see you.

BLUNT: Nice to be with you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: We appreciate it.

Well, it is apparently the biggest prize still up for grabs in this November election. So who has the edge right now here in the Sunshine State? We're going to hear from Floridians. And I'll talk with a reporter who covers politics down here when we come back.

(STOCK MARKET UPDATE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Coming up at 5:00 p.m. Eastern, in about 90 minutes, dozens have been killed in the latest violence in Iraq. And there's no word yet on the fate of a British hostage.

CBS News has picked former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh to help conduct an independent investigation into the National Guard documents controversy. There's also talk of a possible criminal probe.

And the pop singer once known as Cat Stevens has been refused entry into the United States. His Muslim name, Yusuf Islam, is on a terror watch list.

Those stories and much more coming up on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." Now back to JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS in West Palm Beach, Florida.

WOODRUFF: President Bush back on the trail and pushing his education plans in the important state of Pennsylvania. And Senator John Kerry on the ground in the Sunshine State right here, talking Social Security, among other things, with Florida voters.

Welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff, live from the CNN Election Express on the campaign trail in West Palm Beach, Florida. Right behind me, John Kerry has just finished a town meeting.

The White House race here in Florida is playing out against the backdrop of three devastating hurricanes in the last two months ad the more distant but still memorable overtime election of four years ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF (voice-over): Few political battles are as hard fought or as passion-fueled as the battle for Florida.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The next president of the United States, John Kerry! WOODRUFF: And so there they were, John Kerry and John Edwards, reunited briefly in Orlando, as both men barnstormed the Sunshine State in a two-day swing.

KERRY: Tonight I'm going to talk softly and carry a big stick.

WOODRUFF: He sounded pooped, but the crowd was pumped.

(APPLAUSE)

WOODRUFF: A stone's throw away, at a roadside watering hole called Jack's Fifth Avenue, Floridians were more circumspect. Their reality still reeling from the devastation of Hurricane Charley.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think people are thinking about the election at all. Everyone's more concerned about their businesses, their houses, all the money that they need to fix everything.

WOODRUFF: Still, 18-year-old Barrett Pearlman (ph) says she will vote this year, and for Kerry. This is her first election, and the last one, with all its backyard drama, hammered home the "every vote counts" message better than any high school civics class.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's definitely weird. It hit so close to home.

Like I'm from West Palm Beach. So it was kind of like my county almost that swayed the whole state one way or the other. It's definitely a horrible election to have to have gone through. I don't think Bush won rightfully.

WOODRUFF: She's praying the same thing doesn't happen again this time around. A fear shared by a fellow Kerry supporter who saddled up to the bar.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope not. God, I hope not. I hope not, because it's going to make us look stupid again, which is not what I want.

So it's kind of embarrassing to be a Floridian. At least it was last time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think John Edwards needs to go back to law practice, and I think John Kerry should retire.

WOODRUFF: But out on the patio, one Bush supporter was sounding pretty confident.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think that this state is going to be what it was in 2000, where it was so hotly contested. I truly believe that -- that Florida has definitely prospered during the Bush era, and I don't think it's going to be contested.

WOODRUFF: His friend, Bob Clark (ph), seems frustrated by the focus of the race. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Medicare, health insurance, world economy, world politics, domestic politics are all important issues to me. And those are the things that I'd be more interested in hearing about. I'm not really interested in hearing about Vietnam and who served what and where and when and how good their record was.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The day I got back from Iraq...

WOODRUFF: That was about two weeks ago. Now Shane Campbell's (ph) trying to readjust to civilian life, find a new job, start again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't sleep. It's hard for me to deal with people on a regular basis.

WOODRUFF: But he says the war taught him a lesson, one he will take with him to the voting booth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What I learned most was that it's good to be here. This country has been in a lull lately here, ignoring the problems of the rest of the world. We need our country right now to face the problems that are around the world right now with a stiff hand, if necessary.

WOODRUFF: This young vet thinks there's only one candidate up to the task, and he's already in the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(on camera): That's a sense of what some of the voters are saying.

We are, as we've been telling you, in West Palm Beach at the convention center where John Kerry has just finished a town meeting. And before I turn to my guest, I want to say that yelling you're hearing in the background is one gentleman who apparently, I'm told, shows up at a lot of political events here in south Florida, both Democrats and Republicans, and makes a lot of noise. So that's the story.

We've been hearing from our viewers, wondering what's going on. That's what we can tell you.

Well, for more now on the battle for Florida's 27 electoral votes in the race for the White House, I'm joined here in West Palm Beach by Brian Crowley. He's a reporter for the "Palm Beach Post."

Brian Crowley, the hurricanes, the state has been so clearly focused on dealing with the aftermath. You've had 60-some people killed. Are people even paying attention to these elections?

BRIAN CROWLEY, "PALM BEACH POST": I think there are a lot of people who are not paying attention to the elections right now. If you have four feet of sand in your living room, you're probably more concerned about removing the sand than who the next president's going to be. But I think in the coming weeks that will change dramatically, and I think people will start focusing more on the election. This is a very important election.

WOODRUFF: We've been reading that the polls are not considered that accurate right now because the pollsters are figuring they can't really get a true count. Is that your sense of it as well?

CROWLEY: It's true. If you don't have electricity, if your phone lines aren't working again, if you've got a tree on your roof, you've got other concerns. So the pollsters have all said that it's very difficult to poll in this atmosphere.

WOODRUFF: Having said that, I'm told some private polling shows the race still very close here. What is your sense of it from talking to people, talking to the political experts?

CROWLEY: I think the race is close. I suspect that Bush has an edge, in large part, because I think at this point his -- the help that he's going to get from his brother and his enormous grassroots effort that they've had in play for a number of months now I think is going to help the president enormously in this state. And I think it's going to take a lot of effort on the Democratic part to match that -- that program that the Republicans have in place here.

WOODRUFF: The -- there's been a lot of focus, too, Brian, on the -- Florida's problems with counting votes. The rest of the country's watching that very closely, and now the rumbling we're hearing is, you know, these electronic machines, there's going to be no paper trail, people are worried about that. How much of an issue is that going to be, do you think, right now?

CROWLEY: You know, it's an issue for a certain segment of people. I think it's becoming less and less of an issue.

I think as each -- you know, we had an election two years ago, we've had a successful primary on August 31, where there were no notable problems in the counting of the votes. I think confidence is building. But I think as we get to November some of those old issues will come back.

WOODRUFF: What are the issues that are going to be on the minds of these voters when they go to the polling places on November 2?

CROWLEY: Well, number one, Iraq and national security. Obviously, Social Security, Medicare, prescription drugs. The kind of issues that John Kerry was talking about a few minutes ago in the hall behind us are vital to a significant segment of voters in this state. And I think those are the issues we'll see the candidates hammering at in the Sunshine State over the next few weeks.

WOODRUFF: You mentioned, of course, everybody knows the president's brother is the governor, as you said. How much of an edge -- I mean, can you quantify how much of an edge that's going to give him?

CROWLEY: Well, I don't know that you can quantify it. The governor's very popular.

Frankly, he's handled the hurricanes, the three storms, very well. I think he got very high marks for his handling of those. I

think there's positive feelings right now about the Bush family in regard to that. The president made several trips here during the storm. So I think there's an edge there, but I can't put a number on it.

WOODRUFF: Falloff in vote because of the storms?

CROWLEY: Yes. And I think that could hurt the Republicans.

I think in the panhandle, where we've had the most severe storm, Ivan, you could see a drop-off in the vote there. Much of the Republican horseshoe has had some damage from the storm, although many of those areas are recovering.

I think there's a question mark, though, about voter turnout. And I think that's why you're seeing both sides push very hard in this two-week window of early voting.

WOODRUFF: Brian Crowley, the "Palm Beach Post," very good to talk to you.

CROWLEY: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Thank you for stopping over. We appreciate it.

CROWLEY: Glad to do it.

WOODRUFF: Thank you.

Well, a view of the campaign from those who live it every day. We climb aboard the campaign plane -- at least we did earlier today -- for my conversation with reporters assigned to cover John Kerry every move.

Florida's battle for the Senate. I'll talk with Democrat Betty Castor, who is taking on Republican Mel Martinez.

And later, more outside groups buy TV ad time. The Swift Boat Veterans are back. And the Texans for Truth are not far behind.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: And a quick update on a story I want to tell you about. And please forgive me for reading this. It is just into CNN.

The Justice Department has reached an agreement with a U.S. citizen who has been held as an enemy combatant for the past two years. It clears the way for this man to return to his home in Saudi Arabia.

The agreement also means that despite his long incarceration, Yasser Hamdi, which is his name, will not face any criminal charges in the United States. It was not immediately clear exactly when Hamdi would be flown to Saudi Arabia, where the Louisiana-born man grew up. He was first captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan back in late 2001, fighting alongside the Taliban. It was back in June that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Hamdi and others like him, described as enemy combatants, could not be held indefinitely without being able to see an attorney.

We're following this story. Much more INSIDE POLITICS back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: We spent this day and last night with the Kerry campaign here in Florida, and one of the ways to get to know what's really going on inside a campaign is talk to the reporters who cover it day in and day out. Here's part of my conversation a few hours ago with three of the regulars.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Have you seen anything different, you know, over the last few weeks, since Labor Day?

GLEN JOHNSON, "BOSTON GLOBE": Well, I think especially this week there's been a change in the mood and the energy surrounding the candidate. He gave this speech on Monday in New York talking about Iraq and cataloging what he felt were the failures of the administration. And I don't know if it resonated completely with the American people yet, but it certainly energized the campaign.

From the candidate on down, they felt like it was something that they finally needed to do, that they did, they think well. And then that night Teresa Heinz in New York called her husband a rock star and talked about how this was the kind of moment, you know, where he's been backed in a corner and now has begun to fight back. And I think there's more of that sense within the campaign now.

WOODRUFF: Perry, do you see any change? And if so, what's the source of it?

PERRY BACON, "TIME" MAGAZINE: They seem to have realized that I guess they're down in the polls at this point a little bit, and they need to take a more aggressive track against President Bush. So every day is -- essentially we go to town halls now.

Kerry used to go into a lot of detail explaining his policies, and he still does it to some extent, but there's a lot more aggressive tone. Any question he hears, he sort of turns it into an attack on Bush, and much more sharply than he's been doing in the past.

WOODRUFF: And Candy, you've been watching this candidate all year. How do you account for this? What do you see?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the poll -- I mean, I think Glen's perfectly right. You look at the polls, you have to do something to shake it up, you have to get attention. They were looking at a week where George Bush looked like he was going to dominate the agenda because he was up at the U.N., he was bringing in the prime minister from Iraq. You know, certainly the speech was the toughest, the most sustained assault on what's on the ground in Iraq in terms of, you know, the completion of going from having voted for the war the resolution, how problematic that was, and turning it to, OK, but what's going on around now, has given them energy.

We've got no way of knowing -- I mean, we're talking Monday. This is Wednesday. We have no way of knowing how, you know, high this resonates.

Does this -- if you're saying, oh, my gosh, they're beheading people and they're doing this and he's really messed it up, is that a message that grabs in Iowa? Is it a message that grabs in Ohio?

And we don't know. All we know is they think that they've, you know, got a candidate that's energized.

WOODRUFF: What is your sense, Glen, in terms of going forward? What are their -- I mean, are they -- is there the sense that the debates are all that matters? I mean, what do they think they need to do, or your sense of what they think they need to do?

JOHNSON: Senator Kerry is somebody who has a reputation as a strong closer, and he's also somebody who's known for holding back some of his most potent arguments until the end of a campaign. He did that with Bill Weld in '96, where they had nine debates. And the first few people felt that Weld did very well, and then at the end Kerry really turned it on.

And I think that they feel that they can now see the finish line, and that -- and that making strong remarks about the president, warning people who may be concerned about it, that the Supreme Court may shift to a conservative majority if President Bush is re-elected, some of those arguments that might lose their potency over time, they now feel they can start making. So that while the debates may be sort of a firewall, where they can capture people's attention, I think that they feel that last month is, you know -- it's not just all September 30 or the two other debates after that, but that whole month of October, this is going to become the front page story in the country.

WOODRUFF: Perry, you're not picking any sense up from them that maybe it's too late? I mean, of real pessimism?

BACON: I mean, when you talk to a few of them you get a sense that they are worried about what's going on and worried the dynamic may have changed after the Republican convention, it may not change again. But I think they feel like these debates are three moments where they're going to catch the electorate very energized and very, very active in watching this campaign. And these are three times -- these are three opportunities to sort of change the dynamic again and get it more toward Kerry's end, and sort of bring down Bush's numbers and his approval rating, which has jumped up in the last month or so. WOODRUFF: Candy, one other thing. What about just in terms of the -- the reaction time, just in terms of their ability to be quick on their feet, to deal with the campaign? Are they getting any better at that? Here we are six weeks from the election.

C. CROWLEY: I think we have the quickest turnaround time from the time George Bush made his remark in the photo op with the prime minister of Iraq about the CIA just guessing. And then he had an event last night in Orlando where he referenced it. That is -- this was warp speed for this campaign.

Very often we would get a piece of paper, and then we'd expect that the candidate was going to say something about the news of the day, and he completely ignored it. I mean, it was all this -- and you'd say to him, "Come on back and talk to us. We want to ask you about X, Y or Z." And he said, "Oh, it's off message. It's going to get off message."

They finally realized that the message isn't always entirely up to the candidate, you know. It is the headlines, and they've begun to do that and be quicker on their feet. Again, we're talking about yesterday. So we'll see.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Our thanks again, Glen Johnson of the "Boston Globe"; Perry Bacon of "TIME" Magazine: and of course our own Candy Crowley.

Deadly storms and politics. Coming up, are Florida voters even interested in politics right now as they struggle to recover from three hurricanes? I will ask a Democratic candidate involved in a tight Senate race.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Back here in West Palm Beach, where John Kerry just finished a town meeting, the fight in Florida over who will replace retiring Democratic Senator Bob Graham is starting to heat up. Democrat Betty Castor is firing a new salvo of advertising aimed at her opponent, Republican Mel Martinez.

Castor, the former state education chief, questions Martinez's positions on a number of domestic issues, including stem cell research. Martinez resigned as Bush's secretary of Housing and Urban Development a year ago to get into this race. If he wins, he would be the first Cuban-American in the Senate.

A little while ago, I spoke with Castor about the campaign and started by asking her that, given the fact that three major hurricanes have hit the state lately, are voters in Florida focused on politics, much less on her own race?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BETTY CASTOR (D), FLORIDA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Well, they may be getting back on track now, but I certainly agree, this has been a very difficult period for all Floridians, their families. There's been great devastation. And you know, whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, people aren't interested in partisan politics at a time like this.

They're interested in how we're going to help, how the federal government's going to help them, what are the state and local resources that -- that can be of assistance. And it really has been an interesting period, because people have come together and they've worked together.

Just now, I think people are beginning to refocus, but there's still a lot of recovery going on. And I think it's a period when we as politicians have to be very, very sensitive to -- to what people are thinking.

WOODRUFF: You are in the Tampa area today. I'm down here in West Palm Beach.

I read news reports that say you haven't spent a great deal of time so far campaigning in south Florida. They also point out you're up against a very popular Hispanic politician who can appeal to Hispanic voters in this part of the state. How are you going to make up for all that?

CASTOR: Well, of course, I've been elected twice statewide. I'm the only -- only one that has ever been elected successfully statewide. So I still enjoy high name recognition.

I served as the state commissioner of education for two terms before becoming president of the University of South Florida. So I have statewide appeal, and I was the very top vote-getter, of course, in the Democratic primary, and won almost every county in the state. I will be campaigning very hard in south Florida, as well as central and north Florida.

WOODRUFF: Mel Martinez, your opponent, Republican opponent, says that the differences between the two of you on the issues, he says, are as wide as the Gulf of Mexico. In particular, he says you're for abortion rights and he's not. Is that a liability for you?

CASTOR: I don't think so. There are tremendous differences between us, but I'll tell you, I think the biggest difference is that I'm Independent, I'm going to be independent, I have views on subjects. When I agree with the president, I'll be up there cheering him on. When I disagree, I'll be pointing out where I don't agree.

I'm not going to take a position that i'm going to stand with the president come what may. So there are a lot of differences, differences in health care, differences in our positions in education. Certainly the differences recently in stem cell research I think is a major issue. So yes, there will be a lot of differences, and we can keep a clean campaign because people will have a clear difference in this race.

WOODRUFF: Mel Martinez also says that he is for permanent middle class tax cuts and you are not. Is that a liability for you? CASTOR: Well, I think he's quite incorrect. I'm for middle class tax cuts. I certainly support the child care tax credit. I support an end to the marriage penalty tax.

I do not support the tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, which is something that Mr. Martinez supports. I also support an increase in the minimum wage, which I think is going to be an issue that is very important, especially to those Hispanic voters, one-third of whom we know are working at minimum wage, and a lot of them in Mr. Martinez's back yard, in central Florida, in our hotels and restaurants. They're disproportionately women, and I think they're going to come out in this race because they'd like to see a higher wage.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Democratic candidate Betty Castor.

By the way, we did invite Mel Martinez to join us today, but he had a scheduling conflict. But he will be on INSIDE POLITICS tomorrow.

Well, Vice President Cheney is set to go after John Kerry again, we are told. We've been hearing all day long that he will be critical of the senator. We plan to carry his remarks from Capitol Hill live in our next half-hour.

Plus, more on the messages of the day from Bush and Kerry.

And the latest crop of presidential poll numbers. So don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: The Swift Boat Veterans are back. Likening John Kerry to Jane Fonda.

AD ANNOUNCER: John Kerry secretly met with enemy leaders in Paris.

ANNOUNCER: We'll examine the new ad, its accuracy and its impact.

Bush versus Kerry. Another day of duking it out on different battlegrounds and opposing issues.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Every promise broken.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's a lot even for a senator from Massachusetts.

ANNOUNCER: The Tom DeLay connection. We'll look at the House majority leader's link to new indictments in Texas. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When anybody drops indictments, you know, 40 days before an election, there's a political spin to it.

ANNOUNCER: Now live from the CNN Election Express in West Palm Beach, Florida, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Welcome back. We are here in West Palm Beach where John Kerry has just finished a town meeting and we're expecting Vice President Dick Cheney to go before the cameras on Capitol Hill this hour to offer yet another attack on John Kerry. We do plan to carry the vice president's remarks live.

Meantime, the group known as the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth is taking aim at Senator Kerry again as well with a new $1.3 million ad campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AD ANNOUNCER: Even before Jane Fonda went to Hanoi to meet with the enemy in mock America, John Kerry secretly met with enemy leaders in Paris though we were still at war and Americans were being held in north Vietnamese prison camps. Then he returned and accused American troops of committing crimes on a daily basis. Eventually Jane Fonda apologized for her activities, but John Kerry refuses to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider has been studying this ad and the fallout from it. Hi, Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the question of course is how accurate is this ad. Now here is the statement released by the Kerry campaign. They say, quote, "this group has as much credibility as a cheap tabloid magazine. Their charges have been completely discredited, the American people see through this kind of over-the-top junkyard politics. They want the truth about the future, not lies about the past. They want answers, not insults.

Now it is true that Kerry did go to Paris in May, 1970 and he met with representatives of the North Vietnamese government and the Viet Cong at a time when the peace talks were stalemated. The ad calls it a secret meeting because it was unbeknownst to the U.S. government. Kerry did not make a secret of the meeting. Ultimately he told the foreign relations committee about it when he testified in April of 1971.

I just spoke to John O'Neill who is one of the organizers of the Swift Boat Veterans, who said Kerry inadvertently disclosed the first meeting at the Senate and later a second meeting in Paris with communist representatives. That was disclosed only this year in the "Los Angeles Times."

I also interviewed Stanley Karnow, a Vietnam war historian who is now a John Kerry supporter. He said meetings in Paris between Americans and the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong were routine, especially for anti-war leaders like Kerry. Kerry calls the fact -- the meeting a fact-finding mission, in which he tried to learn facts about American...

WOODRUFF: Bill Schneider, I'm going to interrupt you -- Bill Schneider, my apologies. I'm going to have to interrupt you because I'm told that Vice President Cheney before the cameras on Capitol Hill with some criticisms of John Kerry.

(BEGIN LIVE CONFERENCE)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT: Given the nature of the enemy we face today and the fact that their ultimate objective is to force us to change our policies and to retreat within our borders, the last thing we need is to convey the impression that terrorists can change our policies through violence and intimidation, that they can force the government of the United States to change course if they inflict enough violence on innocent civilians.

Prior to 9/11, we were struck repeatedly, and never responded effectively. And on more than one occasion, we retreated. George Bush has changed all that since 9/11, tracking down terrorists, going after regimes that sponsor terror, working to establish viable democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The choice the American people will make on November 2 is whether we will continue with the tough, aggressive and effective policies of this administration or we'll revert back to the pre-9/11 mindset by electing someone whose views on these issues are marked by indecision, confusion and contradiction.

John Kerry gives every indication that his repeated efforts to cast and recast and redefine the war on terror and our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, of someone who lacks the resolve, the determination and the conviction to prevail in this conflict. He has demonstrated throughout the course of this campaign that he lacks the clarity of vision and purpose necessary to lead our country during extraordinary times...

(END LIVE CONFERENCE)

WOODRUFF: Vice President Dick Cheney speaking on Capitol Hill. We had gotten word much earlier today that the vice president would be criticizing John Kerry, and we are able to bring you just a portion of what the vice president is saying. We're going to attempt to get a comment from the Kerry-Edwards campaign. We're working on doing that right now.

Quickly, back to Bill Schneider with our apologies. Bill, we interrupted you in your report on these latest attack ads against John Kerry on his anti-war activities after the Vietnam War. So please pick up where you left off.

SCHNEIDER: OK. Well, Kerry called his meeting in Paris a fact- finding mission, in which he was trying to learn the facts about American prisoners of war and the conditions that might have led to their release. He claims he did not negotiate with the communists, which would have been illegal for a private citizen. But he did tell the Senate committee he realized that his visits in Paris were, quote, "on the borderline of private individuals negotiating."

Mr. Karnow, the historian, called it irresponsible to lump together what Kerry did and what Jane Fonda did when she went to Hanoi and gave aid and encouragement to the enemy, for which she eventually apologized. Now John O'Neill who was one of the Swift Boat Veterans said he thinks what Kerry did was worse than what Jane Fonda did for three reasons, he told. Because Kerry was a military officer, although at the time of the meeting he was in Reserve. He was pursuing a political career and he met with the chief negotiators of North Vietnam and the Viet Cong.

Now, Karnow, the historian noted that Henry Kissinger had met secretly with the enemy in a Paris suburb to reach the deal that eventually earned both men the Nobel Peace Prize.

In his Senate testimony, Kerry did accuse U.S. troops of committing atrocities. And those atrocities have been documented and Americans were prosecuted for them. Mr. O'Neill does acknowledge that atrocities occurred, but he objects to Senator Kerry saying that they were a matter of policy directed from the top with knowledge of leaders at all levels of command.

O'Neill says that's simply untrue and he believes a betrayal of the country -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Bill Schneider reporting on the fourth round of attack ads on John Kerry by the group calling itself Swift Boat Veterans For Truth.

Yet another ad assault involving military service, this one against President Bush. The so-called Texans For Truth is going up with a new ad, we are told, tomorrow calling on Mr. Bush to release all records on his service in the National Guard before the presidential debates begin next week.

Still more shots in the ad war as we reported earlier, the Bush campaign has a new ad featuring pictures of John Kerry windsurfing and accusing him of going whichever way the wind blows.

Here is a look at the Kerry camp's rapid response ad accusing Bush of airing what it calls a juvenile and tasteless attack ad while terrorists threaten the U.S. and Iraq turns into a quagmire.

Amid all the back-and-forth over war and military service, both Bush and Kerry actually addressed domestic issues on the trail today. For Kerry, it was right here behind me, in West Palm Beach. He was talking about Social Security something that hits close to home for many senior citizens here in Florida. CNN's Bob Franken is covering the Kerry campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the world of campaigns, Social Security is known as the third rail, touching it is political death. John Kerry is hoping to apply that to President Bush's support for a plan that would partially privatize Social Security.

KERRY: Let me make it clear. I will never privatize Social Security. Ever. Ever. Ever.

FRANKEN: In West Palm Beach where an elderly population keeps a wary eye on Social Security, Kerry cited a new study by a University of Chicago business professor claiming the financial services industry, one of the largest sectors contributing to the Bush campaign, would reap a $900 million plus bonanza over 75 years from administering private accounts. And the study says seniors could be hit with a drop of up to 45 percent in benefits at a cost over ten years to the treasury of $2 trillion. The author of the study is an informal adviser to the Kerry campaign.

A Bush campaign spokesman called Kerry's record on Social Security a raw deal contending he has voted eight times for higher taxes on benefits. Kerry insists his solutions when fully developed will take care of retirees, not campaign contributors.

KERRY: My approach is not to cut the benefits, not to raise the retirement age, it's to be fiscally responsible and fix the economy of our country.

FRANKEN: An emphasis on Social Security is a tried and true campaign tactic for Democrats and an important one.

(on camera): Retirees, by definition, have time to vote -- and they do, particularly when they perceive a threat to what pays for at least part of that retirement: social security.

Bob Franken, CNN, West Palm Beach, Florida.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: In Pennsylvania today, President Bush took aim at Senator Kerry on several fronts, including his charge that the Democrat is sending mixed signals on Iraq. But the focus of Bush's event in King of Prussia this afternoon was education, the president pushing the school reforms that he pushed through Congress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: My opponent and I, he supported No Child Left Behind. Then, of course, he gets in a tough campaign and starts talking about weakening the accountability standards. That makes no sense to weaken something that's working. We want to know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: While in Pennsylvania, the president took an aerial tour of parts of the state hard hit by flooding that was triggered by Hurricane Ivan. Well, checking the headlines now in our "Campaign News Daily," two new state polls give both Bush and Kerry reason for optimism out west. A "Pueblo Chieftain" survey of Colorado voters gives Bush a comfortable lead over John Kerry: 50 percent to Kerry's 38 percent. Ralph Nader will also be on the ballot; he has three percent. Colorado poll taken earlier this month showed Bush with just one point lead.

In Washington State, Senator Kerry appears to have the advantage. A survey commissioned by the "Columbian" newspaper, Kerry has a nine- point lead over Bush, Nader getting two percent.

And checking in on the vice presidential candidates, Dick Cheney is in Washington today, as you just saw. John Edwards, however, is sharing the Florida spotlight with John Kerry. Edwards held a town hall meeting in Miami this morning, where the discussion focused on healthcare issues. He now heads to South Carolina tonight for a party fundraiser.

While the Democrats are campaigning here in Florida, President Bush has been here numerous times recently. Ahead, we're going to talk about his bid to win the Sunshine State. More with a member of the Bush camp.

Also, the odds in Nevada: My colleague Paula Zahn will be along to unveil some new poll numbers.

And Tom DeLay's political predicament, now that some of the House Majority Leader's associates have been indicted.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: My colleague, Paula Zahn, has been tracking the presidential race in various showdown states during this general election season. Paula is with me now from New York with some new poll numbers from Nevada.

Paula, tell us about these numbers. What are they?

PAULA ZAHN, HOST, "PAULA ZAHN NOW": Hi, Judy.

Well, it's an interesting snapshot of the overall race. George Bush won that state in 2000, but today's CNN poll shows that John Kerry is still in the game among likely voters in Nevada. The president, as you'll see shortly, has a significant lead, 52 to 43 -- that is a nine-point lead. But among registered voters, Kerry, as you can see here, is within two points inside the margin of error.

Now, in a sign that the Kerry campaign thinks the state is still in play, last week they added Nevada to the states they are advertising in. And both Cheney and Edwards have visited the state in the last 10 days.

Now, here's an interesting footnote on the issue of the economy. Our new poll shows that, unlike several other swing states, a majority say economic conditions are either good or excellent in Nevada. And Democrats may be pinning their hopes on the issue of the economy in other battleground states, but in Nevada, that doesn't seem like too much of a smart bet here, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Lots of -- we want to look out for that. What about your program tonight, Paula? Tell us about who you're talking about. We know your complete focus is on this campaign.

ZAHN: Yes, just like yours.

We're going to take a look at the impact of those numbers on both campaigns, and we'll have high-ranking numbers of both the Bush and Kerry campaigns with us this evening.

We're going to take a look at the Republicans' answer to "Fahrenheit 9/11" -- of course, the devastating Michael Moore film that people have been abuzz about.

And we'll take a look at some of those ads Bill Schneider touched on earlier with you, the surfing ad and the new Swift Boat ad out, and debate whether those will give any traction to either one of the candidates.

Lots to talk about tonight.

WOODRUFF: All right. Paula, thanks very much. We will be watching. Appreciate it.

ZAHN: Thanks.

WOODRUFF: Well, earlier in the program, I spoke with John Kerry's advisor, Mike McCurry. With me now from Bush campaign headquarters outside of Washington is Nicolle Devenish. She is the campaign's communications director.

Nicolle Devenish, first of all, when we talked to Mike McCurry about your campaign criticizing John Kerry with these new ads showing him windsurfing and changing direction, McCurry made the point that with all the serious things going on in the world -- the deaths we've seen this week in Iraq, the war on terror -- that, in effect, what your campaign is doing is not treating this campaign seriously. That this is just too lighthearted, given what we're dealing with right now.

NICOLLE DEVENISH, BUSH COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, we are happy to explain how gravely serious John Kerry's vacillation and tendency to buckle under political pressure is in this election. And I think they're a little disturbed by the image of their candidate on a surfboard. But we certainly didn't have any role in putting him on a windsurfboard. So -- I'm not even sure if that's what you call it.

But John Kerry's vacillation is a gravely serious issue, and it is the central issue, and it should be debated and discussed. And the American people should realize, I think it's amusing that John Kerry's folks are very proud of this message he delivered on Monday. It happened to be his tenth position on Iraq, which is the central front in this war on terror, and his message where he seems to have settled for a couple of days is on a message that amounts for real defeatism for the United States of America.

And this last thing -- I know you played the vice president's comment, but this is very important. This is now a hallmark of the Kerry campaign, to be governed by what they see as bad headlines, and set their policy based on what happens in bad times. Presidents don't get to change their mind when things go badly. It's about staying the course, and that's the central debate in this election.

WOODRUFF: But it is not just John Kerry and Democrats; it is Republicans, as well. Several Republican Senators -- John McCain, Richard Luger -- who are pointing out concerns with the Bush administration policy in Iraq.

Just yesterday, I interviewed Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island who says he may not vote for the president -- a Republican -- because he says he doesn't think he's getting the whole truth from this president about what's going on on the ground in Iraq.

What do you say to these members of your own party?

DEVENISH: Well, look, the president gets his information about how things are really going on the ground in Iraq from his commanders in the field, from Prime Minister Allawi -- who was in the country. And I think Americans will hear from him and make their own decisions.

And I think to downplay the heroic work of U.S. troops who are on the ground doing the hard work. Now, President Bush said on September 20th, 2001, that this war against terror is going to be hard. There are going to be hard days. But what comes into focus for all of us, and for those of us involved in campaigns, we have a responsibility to not insert daily political events and exploit them.

The choice in this election is between two men with very different visions for how to win the war on terror. This president has a plan, the American people understand his plan, and they understand that it's going to be hard. And we certainly have an open dialogue with the American people and with people in our own party about the best way to win this war on terror.

But this president isn't getting his advice or taking his cues or passing judgments based on things he reads in the paper. He's listening to our allies, who are standing by our side in Iraq. He's with Prime Minister Allawi this week. And I think people will hear for themselves about what's really going on.

WOODRUFF: We're going to have to leave it there. Nicolle Devenish, communications director for the Bush/Cheney campaign. Nicolle, thank you very much.

DEVENISH: Thanks, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Well, a political storm in Texas, apparently, hits Capitol Hill. Coming up, the House Majority Leader struggles to distance himself from the legal troubles of three aides. We're going to go live to Capitol Hill for the latest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Well, we are here in West Palm Beach following the Kerry campaign. Back in Washington, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay finds himself embroiled in controversy in his home State of Texas. Three officers of a political action committee founded by DeLay were indicted yesterday on charges of illegally raising political money from corporations two years ago.

Our Congressional correspondent Joe Johns has more on the reaction in Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One day after three close associates of Tom DeLay were indicted in Texas in a fundraising investigation, Speaker Dennis Hastert expressed confidence in his top lieutenant.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: It's a crazy season. It's a political year when anybody drops indictments 40 days before an election, there's a political spin to it. Tom DeLay has been somebody that I've stood for -- stood with. You know, we've fought a lot of fights together, and we've had a lot of -- good 10 years together in this leadership, and we continue to look forward to the future.

JOHNS: DeLay has not been named in the investigation. The Travis County District Attorney, a Democrat, is investigating allegations that money from corporations was funneled to Texas candidates in violation of state campaign finance law.

The indictments charged DeLay political aide Jim Ellis with money laundering, fundraiser Warren Robold and John Colyandro, the head of Texans for a Republican Majority, are charged with violating the Texas law against giving or receiving corporate political contributions.

Several companies were also charged. There's no word on whether future indictments are to be expected.

RONALD EARLE, TRAVIS CO. DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I've been asked whether Mr. DeLay was a target. And my response has been consistent in that anyone who has committed a crime is a target.

JOHNS: DeLay declined comment on Wednesday.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What fallout do you expect from these Texas indictments, and will they affect your ability to lead?

REP. TOM DELAY (R), MAJORITY LEADER: I've already spoken to that yesterday, and I spoke to you about it.

JOHNS: But on Tuesday, DeLay said, "This investigation isn't about me. I haven't been asked to testify. I haven't been asked to provide any records. I haven't been asked to come as a witness, and that's about all I know."

DeLay denies wrongdoing or any knowledge of it and suggests the indictments were politically motivated. But the charges come at a time when the House Ethics Committee is considering what to do about a complaint against DeLay that partially overlaps with the Texas investigation. And the Texas Democrat who filed the ethics complaint in Congress used the latest development to pressure the Ethics Committee to step up its investigation of DeLay.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a very dark day for Tom DeLay, because the more information that comes out about everything that he's been involved in, the worse it's going to get.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (on camera): DeLay calls the ethics charges frivolous. He spoke today to rank and file Republicans in the House of Representatives. We're told he was warmly received -- in fact, that he got a standing ovation -- Judy?

WOODRUFF: All right. Joe Johns, thank you very much, on Capitol Hill.

INSIDE POLITICS will be right back from West Palm Beach.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: We were not able to get a reaction from the Kerry campaign to some of the vice president's comments. We will bring that to you, though, tomorrow.

That's it for this special edition of INSIDE POLITICS from West Palm Beach, Florida. Again, we hope to be on the road with the Bush campaign next week.

I'm Judy Woodruff, thank you for joining us.

"CROSSFIRE" starts right now.

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