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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Don Evans; Interview With Ralph Nader

Aired October 17, 2004 - 12:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's noon in Washington, 9 a.m. in Los Angeles, 5 p.m. in London, 7 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "LATE EDITION."
We'll talk about the economy and presidential politics with U.S. Commerce Secretary Don Evans in just a moment. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's making news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: With just over two weeks left in the U.S. campaign, President Bush and the Democratic nominee John Kerry are turning up the tempo in a pitch for votes.

In their third and final debate this past week in Arizona, both men highlighted stark differences in their approach to a number of issues, domestic issues, foreign policy, jobs, the economy, much more.

Joining us now from Austin, Texas, is the U.S. commerce secretary, the longtime close friend of President Bush, Don Evans.

Mr. Secretary, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

DON EVANS, COMMERCE SECRETARY: You bet, Wolf. It's always good to be on your program.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

We've got a new CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll just out right now, first time we're releasing these numbers, taken over the past few days. Among likely voters, take a look at this, 52 percent for President Bush, 44 percent for Senator Kerry, Ralph Nader at 1 percent. Registered voters, 49 percent for President Bush, 46 percent for Senator Kerry, 1 percent for Ralph Nader.

It looks good, at least those numbers. Other polls show slightly different numbers. By all accounts, though, I think you'll agree, Secretary Evans, it's going to be very close.

EVANS: Oh, Wolf, it is. I mean, it's been encouraging to see the trends and momentum begin now to move toward President Bush. I think that's been clear over the last two or three days in some of the releases of the poll numbers, including this one that you've talked about. But the president knows full well, and I know full well, there's only one poll that matters, and that's the one on November the 2nd.

And I've got to tell you that, on November the 2nd, I'm very, very confident the American people are going to turn to this president once again because of his extraordinary leadership that he's delivered over the last four years in some very challenging times for this country.

Our country is more secure than it was when he took office. Economic security of this country continues to strengthen. And so I'm very confident on the only poll that really matters, which is November the 2nd, the president is going to be reelected.

BLITZER: Your colleague in the Cabinet, the Treasury secretary, John Snow, was on this program last week. And he's made some controversial comments out in Ohio this week suggesting that the notion of job loss over these past four years is a myth.

Listen to this campaign commercial the Kerry campaign has now come out with.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: How out of touch is George Bush with Ohio? Over the last four years, it lost over 230,000 jobs in our state. Now, George Bush sends his treasury secretary to Ohio to tell us these job losses are a myth. Do you think it's a myth that we've lost jobs?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Do you think it's a myth that 700,000, 800,000 or at least 600,000 jobs net have been lost over the past four years?

EVANS: Well, Wolf, let me tell you, this is a very, very important issue. The president always has said his top three economic issues are jobs, jobs and jobs.

I'm someone that comes from the private sector. I'm a citizen and now serving the American people, and I'm honored to do be able to do it. But let me talk about this point for just a minute and talk about what Senator Kerry seems to want to ignore.

The government's primary source of data on employment status is called the household survey. That's their quote. That's how they define the survey. The survey said that at the end of August 2004, there were more Americans going to work ever in the history of our country, about 140 million.

Now, Senator Kerry wants to ignore that survey. And he wants to ignore the some 10 million workers in that survey that are the entrepreneurs who are self-employed like truck drivers, like painters, like child-care workers, like hairdressers, like auto mechanics -- many, many entrepreneurs in this country, 10 million of them, he wants to ignore. BLITZER: Let me interrupt for a second, Secretary. As far as the Department of Labor is concerned, though, there is a net loss of, what, at least 600,000, 700,000 jobs, maybe more. Is that right?

EVANS: Wolf, how could there be? How could anybody draw that absolute conclusion when I just said what I did? The government's official primary survey for employment status is the household survey. It says that there are more Americans working at the end of August 2004 than ever.

I've got to make one more point on this. This is a very important point, Wolf, because it goes to the character of this person and how he will selectively use data to give himself more power, make himself look better. The other workers he excludes are the public workers of this country. That would include his own job.

BLITZER: All right. So let me just be clear. You're saying, as Secretary Snow said, it's a myth there has been a net job loss?

EVANS: No, no, no, Wolf. I'm not saying that at all. What I'm saying is, look, we don't leave anybody out in America, and we don't leave anybody behind in America. And as long as there's one person out there that needs a job, wants a job, we've got work to do.

And there are places in this economy where we know we continue to have work to do. That's why I focus so hard on the manufacturing report that we deliver to the American people.

All I'm saying is that what Senator Kerry wants to do is ignore 30 million of the workers that are in the workforce and growing to come up with this number he uses to try and scare people for his own political gain. That's all I'm saying.

BLITZER: All right. Well, let's move on, because I can see we're not going to get very far on this issue. But let's talk about Social Security.

The president's quoted in The New York Times Sunday magazine today as saying this: "I'm going to come out strong after my swearing-in with fundamental tax reform, tort reform, privatization of Social Security."

As you can imagine, privatization of Social Security, the Democrats, the Kerry campaign, they're are jumping all over this.

How serious is the president about wanting to privatize Social Security? Because this scares a lot of older people.

EVANS: Wolf, he has been saying for over five years that we must address the Social Security system. And what he has said consistently, as he always is -- I mean, this is a man that means what he says and says what he means.

And so he has consistently said, for the last five or six years, that we need to give serious consideration for the young people of this country to be able to have private accounts within the Social Security system, so that, over a 30- or 40-year period, they will have a nice nest egg to retire on.

But has also said, consistently, that there are not any out there that are the baby boomers or getting ready to move into retirement that are going to lose one cent, not going to lose one cent of their Social Security benefits that they have coming to them.

BLITZER: Even though it's going to cost perhaps, as the Democrats suggest, $1 trillion or $2 trillion in the short term?

EVANS: They don't know that. I mean, that's just a number, you know, they're drawing out of the air.

But, listen, you know, when you think about Social Security, Wolf, you have to think about a 30-year time horizon. They want to talk about, well, here's what it may cost in this short period of time. What we need to think about are our children and our grandchildren, and make sure we have a system in place, so that when they in fact some day get to retirement there is something for them to retire on.

BLITZER: All right.

EVANS: They want to try and focus, once again, on one little short period of time, this may be trouble. But let's get the right policies in place for the next 30 or 40 years.

BLITZER: Secretary Evans, unfortunately we have to leave it right there. Thanks for spending a few moments with us.

EVANS: You bet, Wolf. Always good to be with you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

And just ahead, John Kerry's battle plan. Can he close the deal with voters? I'll speak live with Kerry supporter, former NATO supreme allied commander, General Wesley Clark.

Then later, the Nader factor. What impact will he have in November? My interview with the independent presidential candidate, that's coming up.

Plus, the flu vaccine shortage. Can the United States government avoid a serious crisis?

"LATE EDITION" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: "LATE EDITION's" web question of the week: Will Ralph Nader's candidacy affect the outcome of the presidential election?

You can vote. Go to cnn.com/lateedition. We'll tell you the results later in our program.

Up next, from the military battlefield to the combat of presidential politics. We'll size up the race for the White House with Kerry supporter and former NATO commander General Wesley Clark.

You're watching "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: These are dangerous times. I believe I offer tested, strong leadership that can calm the waters of the troubled world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry speaking during the final presidential debate this past week in Tempe, Arizona. Will the number-one question with voters be, who will make the best commander in chief?

Joining us from Little Rock, Arkansas, the former Democratic presidential candidate, the former NATO supreme allied commander, retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark. He's, of course, strongly supporting John Kerry.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION," General Clark.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's get to this Time magazine poll that asks this question just out: Which candidate do you trust more to provide strong leadership in difficult times? Bush, 52 percent; Kerry, 40 percent.

Why is the president doing so much better on this important issue?

CLARK: I think it's very hard for the American people to recognize what's really happened in our country. We all want to trust the president.

But, Wolf, the truth is that, after 9/11, the president pushed this country into a war with Iraq. He did it the wrong way. He did it prematurely. The intelligence shows it wasn't really necessarily. And he had that intelligence. He hyped the intelligence to mislead us into Iraq.

Accepting that is very difficult. We're very patriotic. We all support our troops. And it's a really tough thing to recognize that we went to war when we didn't have to.

BLITZER: It's especially true among your comrades, military personnel, active duty and their families. There was an Annenberg poll that came out, showed decisive support for the president over Senator Kerry.

But on this question, who has a clear plan for a successful conclusion in Iraq, 47 percent said the president did. Only 18 percent among active-duty military personnel and their family thought John Kerry does.

Why does he have such a problem convincing the military that he has a plan for dealing with Iraq?

CLARK: Well, I don't think he has a problem with it. I think it's rather the fact that men and women in the military are -- they're bound by law to obey the orders of their commander in chief. And when you are over there in combat -- I've been there -- it's really hard to step back and put it in perspective.

And you are asking military people to put their lives on the line, to follow the orders of the commander in chief, and then step back and say, well, now, are these orders really necessary? That's a tough thing for anybody to do.

But I'm doing this, Wolf, and I've been speaking out on this and supporting John Kerry, because, as a retired officer, I have spent my life in public service. I've looked at commanders in chief. I know what kinds of qualities it takes.

To be an effective commander in chief, you have to listen to your subordinates. You have to take and evaluate information. You have to be able to push the arguments around and analyze them.

I've watched presidents at work. I've watched other heads of state at work. And I can tell you that John Kerry has the qualities to be a great commander in chief.

George Bush hasn't. He made bad judgments before 9/11 and after 9/11. And we just can't trust this country with another four years with George Bush.

BLITZER: On Friday, Senator Kerry was quoted in the Des Moines Register as saying this: "With George Bush, the plan for Iraq is more of the same and the great potential of the draft. Because if we go it alone, I don't know how you do it with the current overextension of the military."

Now, listen to what the president said flatly in the debate in St. Louis, Missouri. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Forget all this talk about a draft. We're not going to have a draft so long as I'm the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A lot of people claiming that Senator Kerry simply using a scare tactic now, especially with younger voters, to raise this possibility of the president reviving the draft if reelected. What do you say? CLARK: Well, I think that no one really knows what the future will hold. Right now, the recruiting is good, the reenlistment is OK. It's working because we're not producing the kinds of jobs we need, good jobs, in this economy and people are drawn into the military.

But as our soldiers, who are mostly married, go back for their third and fourth tours, and some of them are getting less than one year back with their families before they're thrown back in for another year-plus in the combat zone, we're going to see the volunteer force under great stress.

As for the president's statement, Wolf, I can only remember in 2000, when President Bush assured us that he would really work with allies and he would have a humble foreign policy.

The truth is that nobody knows what's going to happen. But if you look at the armed forces and look at the stress that they're under -- the Army is very much overextended right now; we don't have the reserves we need to handle a second contingency and maintain our commitment in Iraq -- then the president's going to have to do whatever it takes.

So, he can say no draft, but I think there's a groundswell of concern out there across the country that really he's got a foreign policy that's overextended the military so far that anything might be possible.

BLITZER: Well, what if Kerry is elected president? Will he have to revive the draft?

CLARK: I think what John Kerry can do that George Bush can't do is he can give us a fresh start in geopolitics, with our allies in Europe and in the region.

What we really need to do in Iraq, Wolf, is, we need to talk to the neighbors of Iraq -- Syria and Iraq, Turkey, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. We need to put together a contact group, like we had in the Balkans, to reassure the neighbors that a peaceful, stabilized, democratizing Iraq is in their best interest. Right now they don't feel that way.

BLITZER: One final question, General, before I let you go. These reservists, these U.S. Army reservists, who refused an order to go on a field convoy north of Baghdad, saying it was simply too dangerous, there's been some speculation that this could have been a political statement on their part, as opposed to simply being concerned about their security because they didn't have the proper armor on their vehicles.

What do you make of this whole development that has now erupted? The military saying they're going to have a full-scale investigation of what happened, although they insist it was an isolated incident.

CLARK: Well, I think it was an isolated incident, from all reports, and it should be investigated.

Look, the troops are totally out of line. You go and follow the orders of your chain of command unless they're illegal or immoral.

On the other hand, the chain of command's got a responsibility to make sure the troops have the best safety and best protection possible. That's why it needs to be investigated.

This is entirely a military matter. Politics is not in this at all, as far as I'm concerned.

BLITZER: General Clark, thanks very much for joining us.

CLARK: Thank you.

BLITZER: Let's take another quick break.

Up next, a quick check of what's making news right now, including fresh violence in the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City.

Then, very dangerous days in Iraq. We'll talk with two key U.S. senators about the escalating insurgency there and what it means for the U.S. presence.

More "LATE EDITION" straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

We're joined now by two key members of the United States Senate. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is the Senate's second-ranking Republican. Democrat Evan Bayh of Indiana is a member of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, as well as the Armed Services Committee.

Senators, thanks very much for joining us.

Before we get to Iraq and politics and everything else, Senator Mark Dayton of Minnesota this past week said he is shutting down his office in the Senate because he is concerned about terrorists striking, didn't want his employees there, didn't want Minnesotans to come to Capitol Hill.

Listen to what he told me earlier in the week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARK DAYTON (D), MINNESOTA: I do have the responsibility to protect the security of my own staff. Their lives are my responsibility. For me to be leaving them in Washington on Capitol Hill exposed to what I consider to be an unacceptable risk, knowing what I know about the situation, not sharing that with them, leaving for the relative safety of Minnesota, I think is immoral.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. I want both of you to weigh in. I take it, Senator McConnell, you have not shut down your Senate office. SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: Well, there are 99 other senators who have heard the same briefing, and as far as I know, no one else has shut down. In fact, I'm on the same floor as Senator Dayton in the Russell Building, and we're open for business.

BLITZER: Does he know something that the rest of you don't know?

MCCONNELL: I don't think so. We all had the same briefings. And, with all respect to Senator Dayton, I think that's an overreaction.

We've known for a long time that the Capitol is a target. We have done everything we can to secure it. I think our staff should be at work and visitors should come to the Capitol. We're happy to have them.

BLITZER: Senator Bayh, you're on the Intelligence Committee. How concerned are you?

SEN. EVAN BAYH (D), INDIANA: Wolf, I share Mitch's reaction. You know, there is some heightened risk. I've sat in some of these briefings that, frankly, were a little hair-curling. But it's a fact of life.

I don't think there is an imminent risk. There are some reasons to believe there is a heightened threat at this time. You look at the situation in Spain as an analogy, for example.

But we've got to get on with our daily lives. And the fact of the matter is, we can't let the terrorists succeed in shutting down our government.

BLITZER: All right. Let's get to an issue, a substantive issue, that came up during this last debate. The president denying a charge from Senator Kerry that he once suggested that Osama bin Laden was really not all that important.

Listen to what the president actually said in March of 2002.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Terror is bigger than one person, and he's just -- he's a person who has now been marginalized. I don't know where he is, nor do I -- you know, I just don't spend that much time on him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The president seemed to deny something that he had actually said in that debate.

MCCONNELL: I think the point he is trying to make is that the war on terror is bigger than one person. And it's actually bigger than al Qaeda.

If you remember, in World War II, we were attacked by the Japanese but the first invasion after that was in North Africa against the Germans. President Roosevelt understood it was a broader conflict.

President Bush understands the same. We're after al Qaeda. We have destroyed two-thirds of the leadership. We certainly would like to capture bin Laden. But it's much broader than that. You have problems in Iraq...

BLITZER: But he is central to the whole war on terror, finding, capturing, killing him.

MCCONNELL: Look, capturing Saddam Hussein didn't eliminate every problem in Iraq. Capturing or killing Osama bin Laden would not eliminate al Qaeda.

Would we like to do it? You bet. But it doesn't mean that the war on terror comes to an immediate end.

BLITZER: What do you think?

BAYH: On a strategic level, Wolf, I think it would be very important to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. And I suspect the White House would make a big deal out of it if in fact we did that. They would claim it is an important step forward.

But on a tactical level, on a day-to-day basis, he's no longer running the daily operations of al Qaeda. But it would be a tremendous blow to their prestige, to their morale and an important step forward, but it's not going to end the war on terror regrettably. We've got a long way to go.

BLITZER: Time magazine had some interesting numbers in the last issue in terms of U.S. troops deployed around the world. In January of 2000, there were 203,000 troops deployed around the world. Now, October 2004, 500,000 American troops deployed overseas.

In Iraq, in January of this year, there were 122,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. It's gone up now in October to 137,000 troops.

What do you make of this massive deployment and the whole uproar, Senator McConnell, of reviving the draft?

MCCONNELL: Well, of course, no one has suggested the draft be revised except Charlie Rangel and a couple of Democrats in the House. That's just a complete fabrication.

The key to getting the troop level down in Iraq is the training of Iraqi troops. General Petraeus, the hero of the 101st, who led them into -- up through Iraq and up to Mosul, is back over there working on training not only the Iraqi military but the Iraqi police.

And our exit strategy for Iraq is to help them get their government up and running -- they're going to have elections in January -- and to help them have a military and a police force that can deal with our own security problems. And that's well under way.

BLITZER: Is that well under way? BAYH: Well, we hope it's well under way. General Petraeus is a good man. And that is the central challenge that we face, enabling the Iraqis to provide for their own security.

But this raises a broader question, Wolf, which is that our ability to protect ourselves abroad is now stretched to the breaking point with the commitments that you outlined. That's why more Guard units are being called up. Reservists' tours of duty are being extended.

And my concern is that, if we were to have something else unexpected arise, whether it's Iran, North Korea or somewhere else, where would we get the troops to deal with that unexpected eventuality?

That's why we're increasing the strength of the Army by a couple of divisions. But right now we're stretched very, very thin.

BLITZER: Forty-three percent of the U.S. troops are Reservists or National Guard personnel. That's an extremely large number.

I suspect many of them are from Kentucky.

MCCONNELL: Absolutely. And, of course, the 101st Airborne is from Kentucky. So we've been right in the middle of this fight.

Look, the overall strategy is to stay on offense. It's no accident that we've not been attacked again here at home for the last three years. The principal reason for that is we've been fighting these people where they are so we don't have to deal with them in Washington and in New York.

BLITZER: Although you've acknowledged that al Qaeda's modus operandi is to space out their big attacks against the United States every three, four, five years.

MCCONNELL: Yes, but who would have predicted on September 12, 2001, that we would not be attacked again here at home in three years? Everybody thought we'd be hit again. And I'm not saying we never will be. But it's clear that staying on offense, going after the bad guys where they are, is the key to protecting us here at home.

BLITZER: Senator Bayh?'

BAYH: Well, we have to be proactive, Wolf. We saw what happened on September the 11th when we waited too long.

But that being said, it is still a difficult challenge because it's what they call an asymmetric threat. In order for us to succeed, we have to stop them every time. In order for them to achieve their goals, they only have to succeed every so often.

But I share Mitch's view. It's much more important to be on the offense than just trying to sit back and seal off the country.

BLITZER: There were some relatively surprising remarks from General Tommy Franks, retired head of the U.S. military Central Command, down in Florida this past week on Tuesday. Let me put it up on the screen.

"What I would have liked to have seen done better in Iraq, once they were gone" -- referring to Saddam Hussein regime -- "is hire them back," the Iraqi military personnel. "Congress never appropriated money for that purpose. No other country offered to pay for it."

In other words, suggesting that that was a big mistake to just let that Iraqi military disband without getting them back on the ground to make them part of the solution.

MCCONNELL: Well, it's a legitimate observation. There's been a lot of discussion about whether or not it was a mistake to disband that military. There were some who suggested -- hindsight, of course, is always 20/20 -- that if we had just taken the leadership and removed them and kept the rest, it might have been easier to get the job done in Iraq.

BLITZER: Four-hundred-thousand Iraqi troops basically go home with their weapons and sort of blend in. And they are, by almost all accounts, many of them, the source of a lot of these Saddam Fedayeen loyalists.

MCCONNELL: Well, look, you know, D-day probably wouldn't have been completed if we'd had a bunch of retired World War I generals second-guessing Eisenhower, particularly after what happened on Omaha Beach. It's pretty hard to conduct a war with perfection. John McCain always says, "As soon as it begins, things go wrong." And I'm sure we can find things that might have been done differently.

BAYH: Wolf, the genesis of a lot of our troubles in Iraq has been the fact, as John McCain and others have said, we did not have enough forces at the beginning and we've never had enough forces. Why was that?

Our generals were asked how many troops they needed. Well, to defeat the Iraqi army and to overthrow Saddam, we needed the number of troops we had.

But because their army melted away, because their police forces went home, that's not the mission that we took on. It was to try and secure an entire country of 26 million people. We have not had enough forces to do that. That allows lawlessness to take root. And we're reaping the unfortunate fruits of that today.

One other thing I'd say: Sending all of the Baathists home, I think, was also a mistake. The top ones, absolutely. But the file clerk, you know, those kind of people, that sent a message to the Sunnis that they weren't going to have a place in the new society. It made a lot of them hostile, and we're paying a price for that as well.

BLITZER: Does the U.S. have enough troops have enough troops on the ground right now to get the job done, or do you think they need more? BAYH: In the short run, we may need a few more, particularly as we're trying to clear up Fallujah and some of these other places leading up to the elections.

But as we were discussing earlier, with General Petraeus, the key to all of this is training Iraqi troops and police forces to take that mission over, so that in the longer term, we can begin to pull our troops out.

BLITZER: Senator McConnell?

MCCONNELL: Yes, Evan's got it right. The key is more Iraqi troops, getting them trained. It's their country. In the end, they need to be able to defend their own country.

Also, it's important to remember that two-thirds of the country is relatively safe and secure. We're talking about the Sunni triangle. And the future of Iraq ultimately rests with the Iraqi military and the Iraqi police that are being trained by General Petraeus now.

BLITZER: Senator McConnell, Senator Bayh, thanks to both of you for joining us.

MCCONNELL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

With just 16 days until the U.S. presidential election, what we can expect from both sides? Republican Party Chairman Ed Gillespie and Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe face off right here when "LATE EDITION" returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

BUSH: To listen to them.

(LAUGHTER)

To stand up straight and not scowl.

KERRY: Well, I guess the president and you and I are three examples of lucky people who married up.

(LAUGHTER)

And some would say maybe me moreso than others.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

BLITZER: President Bush referring to what the first lady, Laura Bush, told him, and Senator Kerry talking about his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry in one of the lighter moments of last Wednesday's debate.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Did the dual in the desert change the dynamics of this campaign? Joining us, two guests: Republican Party Chairman Ed Gillespie, Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe.

Gentlemen, thanks very much for joining us.

Let's get back to this brand new CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll. We'll put some more numbers on the screen.

Among registered voters' choice for president, take a look at this. Earlier in October, Bush has 48 percent. It's gone up to 49 percent. Kerry at 48; it's gone down 46. Nader remains steady at 1.

But among likely voters, Terry McAuliffe, earlier in October, Bush was at 48. He is now up 52. Kerry was at 49. He's now down to 44.

It looks like, among likely voters, our sampling, that Kerry slipped a little bit even though, by most accounts, he did very well in those three debates.

TERRY MCAULIFFE, DNC CHAIRMAN: Well, he did. He won all three debates. There's one poll that matters, Wolf, and that's on November 2nd. There are many out today that have it within the margin of error.

What we now have to do over the course of the next 16 days is mobilize our voters. We are putting together at the party the largest voter mobilization in the history of our party. We knocked on a million doors last weekend. We've made 15 million voter contact calls already. We have our new "Demzilla," which is cranking, our 170- million-name voter file.

You're going to see something extraordinary on Election Day. But that's what it's about. Both Ed and I are now responsible. We've got to build our field operations and get the vote out.

BLITZER: Ed, a lot of people say these Democrats have organized a very impressive so-called ground game to get their base, to get those Democrats out, especially in Ohio and Florida and Pennsylvania, these tight battleground states.

ED GILLESPIE, RNC CHAIRMAN: So have we, Wolf. There's no doubt that it's -- well, in our case, the function of party. On the other side, it's a lot of these third-party organizations.

But the fact is, the reason you're seeing these leads in the polls -- and it's consistent. It's not just the Gallup poll. There is a range, 2, 4, 6, 8, literally, the last four polls that have come out, showing the president ahead.

And I think it's because in the debates people saw. They saw that Senator Kerry is someone who has a long record of voting for higher taxes. He has stood by his statement in the New York Times magazine of a week before last that we need to return to when terrorism was a nuisance and treat it akin to illegal gambling and prostitution. That's...

BLITZER: Well, he expressed hope that would happen one day.

GILLESPIE: Hope that you treat terrorist activity as, like...

BLITZER: He was hoping it would be a nuisance, as opposed to a real threat.

GILLESPIE: When was it a nuisance? Was it a nuisance when 1,000 people were injured in the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993? Was it a nuisance when 17 servicemen died on the USS Cole? Was it a nuisance when 225 of our ambassadorial corps were killed in the embassies of East Africa?

MCAULIFFE: Well, if we want to talk about The New York Times, as we've seen today in their magazine...

BLITZER: Well, first of all, respond to that nuisance issue.

MCAULIFFE: Clearly, we say that John Kerry will keep you safer here at home and abroad. There's no question about it. George Bush has pulled our troops out of Afghanistan. He let Osama bin Laden walk away.

This is what this election's all about. If you want more of the same, then, listen, George Bush is your man. If you want change, John Kerry. John Kerry will keep you safer. There's no question about it.

If you look at what's happened just this week in Iraq, today.

But speaking of The New York Times magazine...

BLITZER: All right. Hold it. We'll get to that in a moment. He didn't pull out U.S. troops from Afghanistan. What you're saying, at the battle of Tora Bora, he missed an opportunity.

MCAULIFFE: If you look at how many troops he has pulled out of Afghanistan today -- now we have al Qaeda back in doing training camps. We took our eye off the ball. We took our focus off of Afghanistan.

BLITZER: But the only point I was making is there are still plenty of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

MCAULIFFE: Not nearly as many as we should have. And we don't have them there, because they're in Iraq today.

GILLESPIE: Wait a second. Tommy Franks has said correctly that there were 80,000 troops in Afghanistan when we went into Iraq. After we were in Iraq, there was 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. There was not a withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan as a result of the invasion of Iraq. And as for Tora Bora, Tommy Franks has said that we should stop insulting our special forces who were engaged very directly in the battle of Tora Bora.

BLITZER: Let's move onto another number that's in the poll, and then you can talk about this comment that the president is quoted as saying in The New York Times Sunday magazine.

Among favorable ratings -- do you have a favorable attitude toward Bush, it's gone up from 51 to 55 percent. Kerry has stayed steady at 52 percent, even though, once again, he did very well in those debates.

MCAULIFFE: Well, clearly, here you have an incumbent president, George Bush, while at war, and his favorable ratings are at historic lows. John Kerry is challenging George Bush. But the reason is people don't think that George Bush is out fighting for them.

The New York Times magazine today, George Bush was meeting with a group of his big donors, big pharmaceutical, big insurance folks, behind closed doors. And he made it crystal clear. He said that I will privatize Social Security. It is his January secret plan that somebody heard that was in this meeting, and it was with big donors in a private...

BLITZER: I'm going to let Ed respond to that. But he's always said, for a small portion of individuals, they could have a certain private account as far as their Social Security.

MCAULIFFE: That's not what he said today. That's not what's reported. He said he would privatize Social Security.

We have known all along that the president wants to privatize all of Social Security. It will cost us trillions of dollars. People will lose their benefits.

GILLESPIE: Wolf, I'm at these events where the president spoke.

BLITZER: Were you at that event where he was quoted?

GILLESPIE: I'm not sure. I don't know the date of it, but it's likely that I was. The president never said that. I've been around him many times in these events. He never said it.

Suskind, the author of the piece, is a registered Democrat. The fact is that, unlike the interview that John Kerry was quoted in The New York Times -- it was verbatim, out of his mouth to the reporter -- this is a secondhand report, and it is just flat inaccurate.

BLITZER: He said he spoke to people who were there. But how do you know he is a registered Democrat?

GILLESPIE: Because he's a registered Democrat in the District of Columbia.

BLITZER: All right. MCAULIFFE: I don't know what his -- I don't go around chasing what reporters' political affiliations. The New York Times, very important publication, I think their journalists report news accurately.

And, you know, if you think Ron Suskind lied about -- the bottom line is George Bush wants to cut benefits. He wants to move to privatization of Social Security, at a time now when many of the baby boomers are moving into it.

GILLESPIE: This is Kitty Kelley journalism. This is reporting what somebody purported to have said, taking it from somebody else, not from talking directly to the source.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the newspaper endorsements today.

The Chicago Tribune endorsing President Bush: "There is much the current president could have done differently over the last four years, but for his resoluteness on the defining challenge of our age, a resoluteness John Kerry has not been able to demonstrate, the Chicago Tribune urges the re-election of George W. Bush as president of the United States."

Were you surprised an important newspaper in Chicago like that endorsed Bush?

MCAULIFFE: Well, if you look at how many newspaper endorsements there are today, today John Kerry has many more endorsements. You have The New York Times, in a major endorsement today of Senator Kerry.

Well, the issue is, if you think George Bush is doing a good job on the economy, on health care, education or on Iraq, then he's your man. But if you want a change, it's John Kerry.

George Bush, in the three debates, could not defend his failed policies. And that's why, if you look at the polling data, last week we were up a couple. These numbers are moving all over the place, but I promise you, you're going to see the largest vote turnout percentage-wise that we have seen since 1960. I mean, you see it all across the country, the record volunteers coming into headquarters. I've never seen such passion that we have on the campaign trail today.

BLITZER: You did get an endorsement from the Minneapolis Star Tribune today. Among other things, it said this: "At the very least, the presidency requires stewardship of America's people and the economy that sustains them, of the Constitution that guides and protects them, and of the United States's singular leadership in the world. President Bush has profoundly failed these requirements."

This in Minnesota, Minneapolis, a key battleground state.

GILLESPIE: Sure.

Look, Wolf, you know, the Republican candidate will never win the contest for editorial board endorsements. The major dailies across the country tend to skew liberal, their editorial boards. The New York Times the premiere liberal newspaper in America. No surprise they today endorsed the...

(CROSSTALK)

GILLESPIE: Look, I don't think it's any coincidence that, the same day they come out with an endorsement of Senator Kerry, they print this hearsay report of something that they know would be politically damaging and taken by the Kerry campaign against the president, even though it's not accurate.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the Mary Cheney flap that happened in the aftermath of the last debate. Let's play what Senator Kerry said, and Vice President Dick Cheney's response. Let's listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: I think, if you were to talk to Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian, she would tell you that she's being who she was. She's being who she was born as.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Senator Kerry was out of line to even bring my daughter into it. I thought that was totally inappropriate. And, frankly, I was surprised that he would do something like that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: There was a poll in The Washington Post today saying that a lot of -- most Americans thought it was inappropriate for Senator Kerry to bring up Mary Cheney.

MCAULIFFE: Well, obviously Dick Cheney had talked about her on the campaign trail before. What John Kerry was trying to talk about, a strong family unit. He was trying to do it in a nice way. It was not trying to be negative at all.

What's happened here, obviously John Kerry won all three debates. They're trying to divert attention away from that to talk about this issue.

But, you know, look at the Republican Party. I mean, the Republican National Committee has just sent a very hate-filled gay- bashing letter under the Republican National Committee banner in West Virginia. You have the Republican Senate nominee from Illinois who called Mary Cheney hedonistic.

I mean, if you want to be so offended about all these comments, where is the outrage when Republicans do these type of activities?

John Kerry was trying to be nice. That's all I can say.

We need to talk about real issues, like privatization of Social Security. A barrel of oil was 54 bucks...

GILLESPIE: The fact is -- and Terry knows this full well. First of all, it was awkward, it was odd, anybody watching it, it was forced. And it just kind of came out of left field.

And it's clear, it was a calculated, cold, calculated decision on the part -- I'm not sure what the political calculation was. But it's a political calculation he made that somehow this would be helpful to him, to invade Mary Cheney's privacy.

The fact is that, I think if you look at it, you know, his own campaign manager said afterward, "She's fair game." This was not meant as a compliment. "Fair game" is not something you say, that somebody's fair game, when you're paying them a compliment.

Again, I don't know the calculation. I really don't...

BLITZER: You don't accept he just was trying to be nice?

GILLESPIE: No, I don't. I don't think that was the case at all. And I think the people watching it certainly didn't take it that way.

BLITZER: All right.

MCAULIFFE: I've known the man for 25 years. He was trying to be nice.

Let's talk about real issues. Unemployment claims up this week. You've seen a barrel of oil go to $54. Heating oil is up. We have a lot of real issues that we need to be talking about.

BLITZER: Hang on, we have to take a quick break, but I'm going to ask both of you to stick around.

Let's take a quick break. We'll continue this conversation with the party chairmen right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We'll continue our conversation with the Democratic and Republican Party chairmen and also with the independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader in just a moment.

First though, let's get a quick check of what's making news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: We're continuing our conversation with the Democratic and the Republican Party chairmen.

Terry McAuliffe, Ed Gillespie, once again, thanks to both of you.

A fascinating 66-page document distributed by the Democratic Party about voter intimidation, especially minority voters, says this: "If no signs of intimidation techniques have emerged yet, launch a preemptive strike, particularly well-suited to states in which these techniques have been tried in the past."

What does that mean?

MCAULIFFE: You bet. We need to make sure, in places where there's been a history of the Republican Party trying to disenfranchise voters, we want you now -- we can't wait until the day before the election -- to talk to the press, be on alert for these types of activities.

So we want you to aggressively go out, talk about what's happened in the past. Because we can't allow anyone to be disenfranchised this year, as happened in 2000. So we want everybody on the ground talking to voters and to pollsters.

GILLESPIE: This is in keeping with the Mary Cheney comment. This is a campaign that will say anything. They will invade the private lives of a candidate's family. They will allege intimidation where none exists. They will go out and say that if the president's reelected, he's going to reinstate the draft, even though he's made clear he's opposed to it and the Pentagon is opposed to it.

They've said that, if you elect John Kerry, people in wheelchairs will be able to get up and walk in the course of their term. I mean, they will say anything. And I think that is incredibly revealing. And people -- they're rejecting that kind of politics.

MCAULIFFE: I have no idea the question you just asked him and how he answered it.

Let me be very clear. I want every person who is watching this show who is out there who wants to make sure people have the right to vote, I want them, particularly in places where there has been voter disenfranchisement in the past, to talk to reporters, to talk to people. Let's be on the alert.

We don't want the instances that happened in 2000, where millions of fliers were handed out in black churches that said "Vote," and they gave the date a week after the election or you can't vote if you have unpaid parking tickets. That's just plain wrong.

So we can't wait until the last day to do it. Let's be out there. All we want is everybody to vote. It is a laudable goal. Let's make sure everybody can vote this time.

GILLESPIE: Wolf, we want everybody to vote as well. We've registered over 3 million voters as a party in this election cycle. We have increased our participation in the minority community, amongst African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanics.

And the fact is, we are as interested in getting people to vote. The most dangerous place to be on Election Day is between Bush supporter and a polling place.

BLITZER: All right. Ed Gillespie, thanks very much.

Terry, McAuliffe, we're about to speak to Ralph Nader, the independent party presidential candidate. Are you going to appeal to him one more time, "Drop out?" MCAULIFFE: Yes, I would appeal to Ralph Nader, you have fought your whole life for corporate governance and you have fought your whole life on the issues, the environment and so many things that you have cared about.

And it's important for Ralph Nader to support John Kerry. This nation cannot afford four more years of George Bush on these key issues of corporate governance, these key issues on the environment.

Ralph, I'm appealing to you: please help us. We have got to beat George Bush for the...

GILLESPIE: This is an important, if I may, because it ties into our discussion of the voting and getting ready to vote.

The fact is, the Democrat Party's efforts to keep Ralph Nader off ballots across the country, denying people the choice in the election first of all, secondly, is running the risk that our the men and women in uniform fighting for our very right to vote are going to be denied that opportunity because they are missing deadlines as a result of these lawsuits being filed by the Democratic Party on the ballots.

MCAULIFFE: Maybe the Republican Party shouldn't have told all their donors to give Ralph Nader money. Why is Dick Armey, who wouldn't agree with Ralph Nader on one single issue, spending thousands of dollars, telling people, "Please go out and sign Ralph Nader's petitions; it can help us beat John Kerry"? Republicans are doing it...

(CROSSTALK)

GILESPIE: ... stop the men and women from uniform from being able to vote just like they did in 2000.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: We're going to leave it right there.

Terry McAuliffe, thanks very much.

MCAULIFFE: You bet.

BLITZER: Ed Gillespie, thanks to you as well.

Ralph Nader coming up.

First, though, let's go to the White House. Our White House correspondent, Elaine Quijano, standing by.

What's the latest on the campaign trail, Elaine?

I don't think Elaine Quijano, unfortunately, is hearing me.

Elaine, can you hear me? Elaine Quijano?

Well, let's take a quick break. We'll get to the White House. We'll get to Ralph Nader. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Independent in party label as well as in spirit, presidential candidate Ralph Nader is in the race, although way behind. But he's tough-skinned enough, some would say stubborn enough, to stay in this race where a percentage point or two could very well determine the outcome in several key battleground states. Ralph Nader joining us now live.

Mr. Nader, thanks very much for joining us.

RALPH NADER (I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: I want you to listen to what John Kerry told our Candy Crowley in an interview on Friday. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: If people want a change and they want responsibility for the middle class in America, don't throw away your vote. There's only one choice here. Either George Bush is going to be president or John Kerry. And that's the vote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. He's basically telling the truth, that you're not going to be the president of the United States. Why stay in this race?

NADER: We all have a right to run for election. We all have a right to push the agenda the two parties are ignoring -- how to get out of Iraq, our transformation of our tax system, a real living wage for 47 million Americans and all these other issues.

BLITZER: When you say they're ignoring though, that was the focus of those three debates. They're not ignoring those issues.

NADER: Not how to get out of Iraq. It's who's going to pursue the war even more aggressively. And a $7 minimum wage by 2007 by John Kerry? Shame on him. Nobody can live on that.

The point is this, that the press has got this idea, there should be no underdog candidate. The two parties and two candidates own all the voters. Well, they don't. They don't own all the voters.

BLITZER: But you just heard Terry McAuliffe say on this program that on so many of the issues that are so close to your heart, John Kerry and the Democrats are so much closer to you than George W. Bush.

NADER: We've been experiencing how not close they are for 40 years now, as the Democratic Party has become more and more corporatized, more and more funded by corporate money, more and more surrounded by corporate Democratic Leadership Council types.

We can't get anything done in Washington anymore, like the old days, when the Democrats really supported workers, consumer, environmental. You can't get anything done. It doesn't matter whether it's Democrat or Republican. The corporations control every department agency in Washington.

BLITZER: But you well remember, you met in May with John Kerry, a meeting right after you were on this program, "LATE EDITION," on April 18th, during which time -- and I want to play this bite, so you can hear it -- this is what you said on April 18th of this year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NADER: I hope that there will be enough collaborative effort between John Kerry and myself, in addition to competing, to go and dislodge the corporation in the White House known as George W. Bush.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NADER: Exactly.

BLITZER: Now, have you switched?

NADER: No, they repudiated offers to collaborate, even offers to collaborate in the spillover vote for my candidacy to help the Democrats win the House and Senate.

BLITZER: But do you still want to collaborate with him to dislodge George W. Bush?

NADER: Absolutely. I'll make this -- on your program -- I'll make this offer, after listening to Terry McAuliffe.

If any of the Democratic fat cats want to finance a one-minute national television ad, I will go on and take Bush and Cheney apart on their record without even mentioning my candidacy or asking anybody to vote for me.

We're going all over the country going after Bush-Cheney. Anybody who wants to see how we're doing it, just visit our Web site, votenader.org.

In area after area, the Democrats are not doing. In fact, we actually had 10 of our people dressed up in white coats and went down with silver platters to the Kerry-Edwards headquarters bannering 10 ways to beat George W. Bush.

The Democrats are a decadent party. They can't even register actively 9 million African-American voters, which would win for them.

BLITZER: But basically you're acknowledging, from your perspective, the country would be better off with Kerry in the White House as opposed to Bush?

NADER: Least worse off, that's right.

BLITZER: Well, can you say it, it would be better off? NADER: Well, it's least worst. Because they're both so out of it, both parties, in terms of the necessities of the American people, in terms of standing up for them, instead of knuckling under these corporate lobbyists that control Washington as corporate-occupied territory.

BLITZER: You saw what Winona LaDuke said this past week. She was your running-mate on the Green Party in 2000. She said, "I'm voting my conscience on November 2nd. I'm voting for John Kerry."

NADER: Well, she comes from a close state, Minnesota. There are 32 states that are slam-dunk Bush, like Texas, and slam-dunk Kerry, like New York, where people can vote their conscience and still get the least worst.

BLITZER: In the next 16 days, are you going to go to states to campaign where it isn't a battleground, or are you going to be going to Texas, California, New York, Maryland, where the races are not very close?

NADER: You know, the Democrats have shoved us out of states like Texas and California and Illinois, where we wanted to campaign. So they're driving us into more of the close states.

And the answer to your question directly, we're going to go into both. For example, we're going to go into Alabama, Louisiana, we're going into Connecticut and New York, which are, you know, not battled, and we're going to go into some of the battleground states.

BLITZER: Which battleground states are you going to go to?

NADER: We're going into Wisconsin, Minnesota. We're going to go into Iowa. We're going to go into -- well, I don't know if it's battleground -- New Jersey. It's getting close.

BLITZER: What about Florida?

NADER: Possibly Florida.

But here's another thing. I've been to Florida three times. Kerry and Bush have been there 30 to 50 times.

The point is, I'm not segregating the Nader-Camejo campaign. We're going to go all-out to get as many votes as possible.

The youth vote is up for grabs in a significant amount. We have a very good position on tuition increases, on health insurance, on the failed war on drugs, and on the military draft, which they're very concerned about.

BLITZER: I want to put these numbers up on the screen. We've looked at some of the more recent battleground state polls. Florida, you've got 3 percent. Iowa, 4 percent. Maine, 3 percent. Minnesota, 2.7 percent. New Hampshire, 1 percent. New Mexico, 1.7 percent.

Look at this. In Wisconsin, you're getting 4 percent in a recent battleground poll up there as well.

What -- how...

NADER: You make it sound like it's terrible. It's healthy to have more voices and choices.

BLITZER: But if you're a Democrat, and you're going to win this presidency -- it is terrible if you're a Democrat. You understand why the Democrats are so nervous about the potential 1 or 2 or 3 percent you could get and the fact that that could tilt the scales in favor of Bush?

NADER: Well, it's because they're not looking at the way we're helping modestly to depress Bush's vote, among many conservatives and liberal Republicans who are furious with Bush over the deficits, over the Patriot Act, big government, over the sovereignty-shredding impact of WTO and NAFTA, over their dollars going to corporate welfare. They crack down on corporate crime too. They've lost their 401(k)s to Enron-type criminality, which is spreading, according to The New York Times.

These corporate scandals are spreading and implicating an entire industry.

BLITZER: Here is what the presiding judge, James Gardner Collins, in Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, wrote this week in deciding you shouldn't be on the ballot in Pennsylvania.

"This signature-gathering process was the most deceitful and fraudulent exercise ever perpetuated upon this court. In reviewing signatures, it's become apparent that, in addition to signing names such as Mickey Mouse, Fred Flintstone, John Kerry and the ubiquitous Ralph Nader, there were thousands of names that were created at random and then randomly assigned either existent or nonexistent addresses by the circulators."

That's a shocking -- given the Ralph Nader good government, the fact that you could submit names like this in Pennsylvania and be admonished by this judge, you yourself must have been shocked.

NADER: Watch the rebuttal.

First, this judge has already been overruled by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on two issues. We're appealing to this Pennsylvania Supreme Court to overrule him.

Second, when you're out collecting signatures through a signature-gathering firm, some people are nasty. They sign things like Flintstones or Mickey Mouse. And you can't cross them out on a whole sheet, because then the officials will say the whole sheet is disqualified.

And then he knocks out 10,000 signatures because the people have moved their addresses from the original address where they were registered. Then he knocks out thousands of signatures because they're not registered voters. BLITZER: The fact is, the most experienced judge in Pennsylvania in reviewing petitions for elections.

NADER: And the most politically partisan for the Democrats. He's well known as a partisan Democrat. He's been overruled once. We hope he'll be overruled again.

BLITZER: But given how close it could be in Pennsylvania, and how critical that is to John Kerry, who you acknowledge yourself is the least bad of the options right now, why not just forget about Pennsylvania and not get on the ballot?

NADER: Because we're pushing for a major political reform movement long after November 2. We will never turn our back on the millions of Americans who are coming into our Web site, voteNader.org, for real, important reasons about why the country needs an independent political movement and more voices and choices.

BLITZER: All right. Final question, is there any chance at all between now and November 2nd you'll drop out?

NADER: Of course not. No, less chance than John Kerry and George W. Bush dropping out. We're pushing for the future directions of our country in the ways that a majority of the American people want. And a majority of the American people think our country is going into the wrong directions.

BLITZER: All right. Ralph Nader, we'll leave it there. Thank you very much.

NADER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Good luck to you.

NADER: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Straight ahead, perspective from two key political players. We'll ask Kerry supporter and former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean about what Ralph Nader just said and about the tight race for the White House.

Then, another medical doctor, the Republican leader in the U.S. Senate, Senator Bill Frist, on how he views the campaign in Iraq, the economy and more.

And later, assessing a serious shortage of flu vaccine in the United States. Is the American public in danger? We'll get insight you need to know from a top government medical expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health.

"LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KERRY: If you want us to do the things that the great middle class of America that builds this country needs done, then help me be president on November 2nd.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, courting voters in the battleground state of Ohio.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Howard Dean once battled Senator Kerry on the campaign trail. Now he's fighting for him. Joining us now from his Democracy for America headquarters in Burlington, Vermont, is Howard Dean.

Governor, thanks very much for joining us.

HOWARD DEAN (D), FORMER GOVERNOR OF VERMONT: Thanks for having me on, Wolf.

BLITZER: What do you say to Ralph Nader? I assume you just heard what he had to say.

DEAN: I did.

BLITZER: He's staying in until the bitter end, even though he acknowledges that John Kerry, in his words, would be less bad for the country than George W. Bush.

DEAN: First, let me say that I have a lot of respect for Ralph Nader's career. He had 40 great years of doing tremendous things for reform politics in this country.

He's beginning to sound -- remind me of George Bush, though. Blame everybody else for all the things that are wrong.

He gets thrown off the ballot in Pennsylvania for doing something that even the Republicans haven't done, in terms of election fraud. I mean, enough is enough already with Ralph Nader. He's bank-rolled by Republicans. He got put on the ballot in Oregon temporarily by catering to a virulently anti-gay right-wing group. Enough of this.

You cannot run as a progressive and get your support from right- wing Republicans, anti-gay people and crooks who put people's signature on the ballot who didn't sign the petition. This is ridiculous.

BLITZER: Governor, what do you say though about his proposal? You heard it here on this program. He says he would like a Democratic fat cat, in his words, to give him enough money to go on national television for a minute or so and rail against the president and the vice president, not say a word about John Kerry. Is that a nice gesture on his part?

DEAN: You know, he can get that money from the Republican fat cats. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who have been busy attacking John Kerry, are also funding Ralph Nader's campaign. He can just ask them for the money. I'm sure they'll give it to him.

Frankly, I've had it with Ralph Nader. Enough self- righteousness, we've got an election to go here. Four more years of radical right-wingism in the White House is not what this country needs. We need to get John Kerry elected.

I'm tired of debating about Ralph Nader. Ralph Nader may be a factor in some states. There's nothing we can do about it. But I think it's gotten to the point now where most people who want a progressive change in this country are going to support John Kerry. And I certainly do.

BLITZER: How worried are you, though, about the 1 or 2 or 3 percent he might get in some of the states?

DEAN: I'll tell you what's happening. I am worried, but I'm not as worried as I was, because he's gotten to the point now where only his hardcore followers and some disgruntled Americans who are not going to vote for either side are going to vote for him.

I really don't think he will take as many votes from John Kerry as I thought he originally would. But he will take some. And in some cases, every single vote counts. The ones I'm most concerned about are New Hampshire, which we should win. I'm concerned about Iowa. And I'm concerned about Florida.

But, you know, this is a very close election. People have a right to run as third parties in this country. Ralph's had a great career. I just wish he weren't doing this, because he's demeaning and debasing himself in the process. And it's very painful to watch.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about the whole flap over Mary Cheney, the Democratic candidate John Kerry's decision to go ahead and mention the fact that she's gay, a lesbian, during this last debate in Arizona.

The Washington Post has a poll now and asked, "Was Senator Kerry's comment appropriate or inappropriate?" Sixty-four percent of those responding said inappropriate; 33 percent said appropriate.

Looking back with hindsight, was it appropriate?

DEAN: Well, here are the issues.

The first is that, Dick Cheney himself, much to his credit, has mentioned his daughter's sexual orientation.

My attitude of course is, so what? I mean, there are plenty of gay Americans who have contributed enormously to this country. And Mary Cheney is one of those people. I don't see why this is a big deal. And I wish the Republicans would shut up about it.

BLITZER: Well, you understand, though, a lot of Americans think it's nobody's business, the nature of somebody's private sexual orientation.

DEAN: I agree with that. I don't think it's anybody's...

BLITZER: It's one thing for Dick Cheney to mention it or for Lynne Cheney to mention it, but it's another thing for someone else to mention it. And they accuse him of mentioning it to try to score political points, to weaken the Republican base, if you will, against the Cheneys and the Republican ticket.

DEAN: Might it also be possible that Karl Rove is making such a big deal about this and Lynne Cheney is making such a big deal about this because they don't want to talk about the fact that we lost a million and a half jobs under George Bush? We don't want to talk about the fact that, in 2001, the General Accounting Office warned the Bush administration that they might run out of flu vaccine if they didn't do something about it?

What about these colossal failures...

BLITZER: Looks like we've lost our connection over there, unfortunately, with Howard Dean. We're going to try to fix that. Apologize to Howard Dean right away for that. We'll try to reestablish our communication with Burlington, Vermont, get right back to Howard Dean.

But we'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get back to Burlington, Vermont. Governor Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont joining us.

Happy we've reestablished connections with you, Governor.

DEAN: Thank you.

BLITZER: I apologize for that little technical lapse over there.

Your name keeps coming up on the campaign trail, not in ways that you would like, by the Republicans. They keep bringing it up. Listen to what the vice president said this past week in railing against John Kerry, bringing your name into the equation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY: The real reason he turned his back on our troops was Howard Dean. Dean was the anti-war candidate, and Dean was surging ahead in the polls. And so John Kerry, in order to advance himself in the Democratic primaries, turned his back on our troops.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He's referring to that vote from John Kerry and Senator Edwards, for that matter, when they first voted to fund the $87 billion and then they voted not to fund the $87 billion. You were the front-runner at that time, and you had a clear anti-Iraq-war position. DEAN: I'll tell you something. Dick Cheney, once again, did not tell the truth. This is one of the least truthful group of people I've ever seen running the country.

I saw George Bush whacking John Kerry's health plan. First of all, the president has no health-care plan. Second of all, John Kerry's health care plan is not a takeover by the federal government.

These guys are just lying through their teeth. And I'm getting tired of it, and I think the American people are getting tired of it.

John Kerry never turned his back on the American troops. He was one of those troops, which is more than I can say for Dick Cheney.

And I am fed up with people questioning John Kerry's patriotism. Here's a guy who served his country honorably, more than either George Bush, who never set foot overseas to defend his country in his life, or Dick Cheney, who never put the uniform on and had five deferments.

I am not going to listen to that kind of stuff about the person who I believe is going to be the next president of the United States.

BLITZER: All right. Well, listen to what John Edwards said this week on the whole issue of stem-cell research in the aftermath of the death of Christopher Reeve, the actor. Because a lot of people are outraged by what John Edwards said this week. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EDWARDS: If we do the work that we can do in this country, the work that we will do when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to get up out of that wheelchair and walk again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. The accusation against Senator Edwards is that he's being cruel. He's raising expectations, unrealistic expectations that people who do have spinal cord injuries or other injuries -- that if John Kerry is elected president, they're going to be cured.

DEAN: Now, this is an area that I happen to know something about. Because unlike everybody else who's been talking about this, including George Bush, Laura Bush, Dick Cheney and John Edwards, I'm a physician.

The truth is that stem-cell research ought to be done in this country because it does provide hope for people like Christopher Reeve.

It is true that there is no breakthrough on the horizon tomorrow that would have let Christopher Reeve walk. But it is also true that the president has been cruel in shutting down hope for millions of diabetics, millions of stroke victims, millions of people who did become quadriplegic or paraplegic like Christopher Reeve. There is hope. There is promise in real stem-cell research. I'm tired of listening to the Republicans pontificate and become self- righteous about something they, frankly, know very little about.

BLITZER: But was Senator Edwards raising false hope to all these millions of people out there by suggesting, just get John Kerry elected and you're going to walk?

DEAN: I don't think he was suggesting that. I think that he was suggesting that John Kerry offers hope, where George Bush offers none.

George Bush has cruelly deprived an enormous number of Americans of the hope that this stem-cell research may at some time develop, as we know it's possible to do theoretically, into a cure for the things that I've talked about.

And I think it was pretty cynical of them to have Laura Bush, who is popular and deserves to be popular, come out and defend the president's position, which is indefensible from a medical point of view.

The president has taken a political view on stem cells. My biggest objection to the administration: they never care about the facts. They care about politics.

The fact is the president is wrong on this issue. And he owes an apology to every diabetic in America, to every stroke victim in America, to every family member who has a quadriplegic in their family.

We don't know if this will work or not, but we know it might. And the president's taken that hope away, and that's wrong.

BLITZER: Governor Dean, we're going to leave it right there. Thanks very much for joining us.

DEAN: Thank you.

BLITZER: When we come back, we'll get a very different perspective. The Senate majority leader, Dr. Bill Frist, he's got a different perspective on this whole issue of stem-cell research and more.

"LATE EDITION" will continue with Senator Frist when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: My hope for America is a prosperous America, a hopeful America and a safer world. I want to thank you for listening tonight. I'm asking for your vote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A direct presidential pitch for votes in the final weeks of the campaign.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

The U.S. Senate's top Republican is playing a high-profile role in the president's reelection effort. The majority leader, Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, is joining us now.

Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: Great to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about this whole issue of stem- cell research. Because I know you're a physician yourself. You went to Harvard medical school, like Governor Dean. You speak with medical authority on this matter.

Here's what you told me on my program on June 8th when I asked you about embryonic stem-cell research. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRIST: It's been three years now since the Bush policy was put forward. The number of cell lines hasn't been as many as anticipated from that initial policy.

So I do think that, in the coming months, probably after the elections, there will be a review, including hearings and oversight to see if the intended policy has accomplished its objectives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is that statement still operable?

FRIST: It is. And I think, with technology and science moving so fast, with there being real hope in stem-cell research, that we constantly, as public officials, need to have oversight.

What bothers me is what Senator Kerry said yesterday on his radio address and he said again and again, and he said that President Bush's policy has been that there is a ban on stem-cell research. There is nothing further from the truth.

What also makes me mad is when you have John Kerry say people can jump out of their wheelchairs if only the Bush policy were not in effect.

And the facts are this, that President Bush has no ban on stem- cell research. In fact, he is the first president to use public funding for embryonic stem-cell research.

There's no dollar limit on private funding for embryonic stem- cell research, no dollar limit on funding for adult stem-cell research. There is no dollar limit from taxpayer funds on embryonic stem-cell research or adult stem-cell research.

What does make me mad is, first of all, to say that there's a ban, because that is a lie.

BLITZER: But there's a restriction in the number of embryonic stem-cell lines, as they say, that can be used for research. And some experts and some who aren't necessary experts are saying, you know what, that's not enough to really do the thorough scientific study.

FRIST: But there is no ban. And the reason there's a restriction -- and there's a restriction around my own field of heart transplants. In fact, in all of medical science you have ethical restrictions for the purposes of protecting humanity.

And there is a restriction, but there is not a ban. There is not a dollar limit on the amount of funding. And that restriction makes sense. It's about limiting...

BLITZER: When you say there should be hearings and a review, does that mean opening up new lines of embryonic stem cells?

FRIST: No, not necessarily. It really comes back to the fact that the president has a balanced policy. And the balanced policy is to give hope to allow research, to fund research, both embryonic and adult stem cell, but at the same time, to do it in an ethical framework.

Why? Because the human embryo is biologically human. It's living. It's fully genetically differentiated and therefore deserves moral respect. And the only restriction is that the president has said, you don't create living, human embryos to destroy them for experimentation.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk another medical issue out there. And you speak with authority, since you're a physician.

Listen to this Kerry campaign ad that was just released. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Three years ago, medical experts warned George Bush that a dangerous shortage loomed. Instead of fixing the problem, production of the vaccine was sent to a factory overseas. The vaccines were contaminated. Seniors and children wait. Not enough vaccines for pregnant women. A George Bush mess.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: There's a horrible shortage of the vaccine for the flu. And there are a lot of nervous Americans out there, especially elderly, parents of young kids, who need that flu vaccine. Should the president say, "I'm responsible for this crisis?"

FRIST: The president is not responsible. In fact, if you look, 30 years ago, there were about 25 companies making vaccines. Today, there are five in the world. There are only two that make children's vaccines. There used to be 15. And you have to ask why. The business itself is somewhat risky. Year to year, you have to make new vaccines. But first and foremost, I believe, is the issue surrounding medical liability.

I'll give you one example. Right now, the overall vaccine market is about $6 billion in the world. There was one lawsuit filed last year for $30 billion. So if you're a manufacturer and you're in the United States and you have frivolous lawsuits in a tort system that is out of control, as it focuses on medical issues generally in vaccines, you're not going to stay in the business.

BLITZER: But there are reports all over the place, as you well know, that three years ago, the administration was warned there could be a crisis unless you do something about it.

FRIST: We acted. And under the president's leadership, the Healthy Act, which addressed head-on this liability in vaccines, passed the House of Representatives. It came to the United States Senate, and guess who was absent for the vote? John Kerry. Guess who voted against it? John Edwards, the personal injury trial lawyer who is part of that other team, the opponents today.

They have fought again and again medical liability, tort reform. And this is a perfect example of why companies do have to move overseas, where there aren't these huge issues of tort liability.

BLITZER: Are you doing anything -- can you do anything in the coming days or weeks to deal with this crisis in the Senate?

FRIST: Yes, I think. First of all, we have done a lot. It used to be, in terms of spending, $39 million were spent in 2001. Right now we're spending $283 million focused on the flu vaccine, to look, do research and development, better ways to make that vaccine, where you don't have to depend on individual inoculation of individual eggs.

We have a strategy, a plan right now in the short term. It is unlikely that more than the 50 million doses will be available. Long term, there's a lot we can do. We've been doing it the last three years.

Again, I'll come back to the medical liability, the tort reform, which we passed in the House. It was blocked in the Senate by John Edwards and John Kerry.

BLITZER: Let's move on to another issue that a lot of hopes were raised after the 9/11 Commission came out that the House, the Senate would implement these reforms, bipartisan reforms that were passed. What's happening right now?

FRIST: Huge progress. The 9/11 Commission recommendations came out in late July. We started meeting in August, through the recess, had about 22 different hearings. Immediately when we came back from the recess, went to work.

A bill has passed the United States Senate that is the most significant, far-reaching reforms of our intelligence community in over 50 years.

BLITZER: But it's vastly different than the House version.

FRIST: It is. And the House did the same thing in a parallel fashion. Two independent bodies.

And right now, on Wednesday, on Wednesday, the conference report, the conferees, the senators and the House members, will meet to pull those two bills together.

And I'm very hopeful that over the next several weeks we will send a bill to the president of the United States which will be the most far-reaching reform in over 50 years of our intelligence community.

BLITZER: Because, as you know, the key difference, one of the key differences is how much authority, budget authority the new national intelligence director would have. The House really restricts it; the Senate doesn't.

FRIST: That's one of the issues. Basically, both have a national, an NID, a director of the overall intelligence services. Both have a counterterrorism entity itself. Both break down the stovepipes of communication.

There are differences between the House bill and the Senate bill. I'm confident, absolutely confident that those will be resolved here in the next several weeks.

BLITZER: So the conferees, the House and Senate members of this conference effort to find a compromise solution, they start meeting, you say, on Wednesday?

FRIST: They will start meeting on Wednesday. The staff is meeting right now, including today and over the next several days, to pull those two bills together. And just as soon as possible, we'll pull those together. And, if necessary, call back in the Senate and House to have a final vote and send it to the president.

BLITZER: And is it realistic to assume that you could work out compromise language that you could send to the president before Election Day?

FRIST: Well, it could be before Election Day or it could be after. I would love to have it before. We worked all through the August recess. Now that we are out, since last Friday, we've been working nonstop. And, as I said, the conferees will be working nonstop from Wednesday, beginning Wednesday.

We're talking about the safety and security of the American people. That is first and foremost our obligation. And we're going 24 hours a day to accomplish that.

BLITZER: I want you to listen to what John Kerry said during the final debate in Tempe on this notion of how divided, bitterly divided the country is right now, especially the Congress. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: I regret to say that the president, who called himself a uniter, not a divider, is now presiding over the most divided America in the recent memory of our country.

I've never seen such ideological squabbles in the Congress of the United States. I've never seen members of a party locked out of meetings the way they're locked out today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is it as bitterly divided up in the Senate as the impression that we're getting right now?

FRIST: It is bitterly divided, which is all the more call for leadership, the sort of leadership that President Bush provides, bold leadership, courageous leadership, leadership with moral clarity.

In the United States Senate in the last six months, I've seen obstruction and filibusters on 10 circuit court nominees -- never been done in the history of the country -- by the Democrats. I've seen blockage of an energy bill. Two out of three Democrats filibustered that on the floor of the United States Senate.

I've seen medical liability reform obstructed three times on the floor of the United States Senate. One of the great crises, we just talked about it, applying to the flu vaccine.

BLITZER: But it takes two to tango. There is bitterness on the other side as well.

FRIST: It is time to move America forward, to principles, to values, to prosperity. And that's what this presidential election is all about. And forget the partisanship, the doom and the gloom and the politics as usual from the past.

And that's why President Bush will continue to lead America forward in this very positive, optimistic view.

BLITZER: All right, Senator Frist. Thanks very much.

FRIST: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, more on the flu crisis in the United States. Not enough flu vaccine to meet demand this year. I'll ask Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health what happened, what are the risks, what can we do right now.

"LATE EDITION" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Questions this week about how the United States stumbled into the flu vaccine shortage and how to avoid such problems down the road.

Here to help us better understand what's going on, with information you need to know right now, is the director of infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Dr. Fauci, thanks very much for joining us.

ANTHONY FAUCI, NIH: Nice to be here.

BLITZER: First, perspective. The flu -- we hear about the flu. This is a killer.

FAUCI: Right. It's a serious disease. There are about 36,000 deaths each year in the United States and about 200,000 hospitalizations.

Critical, among those 36,000 deaths, the vast majority, more than 90 percent, are among individuals who are greater than 65 years old, and many of the remainder of those deaths are among young children, infants between 6 months and 23 months.

That's the reason why they're the major risk categories that we're trying to get vaccinated in the highest priority before anybody else gets vaccinated.

BLITZER: Are you saying people between the ages, let's say, of 2 and 65 should avoid a flu shot this year?

FAUCI: If you are healthy. If you have a chronic disease or if you fall in some of the other categories, like you're pregnant or you're a child, on chronic aspirin or you're a health-care provider in a nursing home.

Fundamentally a young, healthy individual should voluntarily forestall getting their vaccinations so we can cover the people who the CDC have designated as high risk. Because, when you look at the statistics, those are the ones that get into trouble with hospitalizations and with deaths.

BLITZER: Well, you say voluntarily. Shouldn't you just impose an order to doctors and hospitals out there, health-care providers, you know what, if somebody's healthy and they're between the ages of 2 or 2 1/2 and 65, don't give him or her a shot?

FAUCI: Well, you know, that's going -- that's a pretty draconian move. But if we find out that people are really violating those suggestions -- and right now we're getting reports in that doctors' offices, nurses, pharmacies and others are really for the most part adhering to that. There are some that are still giving it out, likely because they weren't aware of the CDC recommendations.

But as we hammer it down every day, we're clearly hearing reports that people are not giving it out to people who are otherwise healthy, which is a good thing because we've got to cover those people who are high risk.

BLITZER: There's 100 million doses that you wanted originally.

FAUCI: Right.

BLITZER: You're only going to have...

FAUCI: About 54 million, plus or minus 1 or 2 million that we're trying to squeeze out extra, plus 2 million from the company that makes the FluMist, the spray, which is a...

BLITZER: Is there enough FluMist around?

FAUCI: Well, there's only 2 million doses. But again, FluMist is for people who are from 5 years old to 49 years old and healthy, because it hasn't been licensed yet for the elderly or for younger ones. Particularly the elderly don't respond very well to vaccination. So we need to make sure they get the classic one.

BLITZER: And the FluMist is more expensive than the vaccine?

FAUCI: It's more expensive, but it's a good vaccine. And I think what we're going to be seeing, as part of the long-term solution in the future, is that hopefully that company will gear up, partner with the federal government, and get many, many more doses, because it's a good vaccine.

BLITZER: We've got a problem in the United States this year.

FAUCI: Right.

BLITZER: What about next year? Will there be a problem, or are you already working to make sure there will be 100-plus million doses next year?

FAUCI: Well, several things need to be done, and these are the things that we've been talking about now for a while, and we need to make sure they get executed.

And that is, we've got to remove some of those disincentives that Senator Frist spoke about. Namely, this is a market for vaccine developers, which is very low profit margin. If they have a choice of either making a blockbuster drug that people take all year long for billions of dollars versus a vaccine -- which not only isn't a big profit margin, there's risks, liability risks, and there's risks of glitches to make it, because it's a seasonal thing. If you don't get that vaccine ready to go during the fall season, you've lost out for the year.

What can we do? Some regulatory relief, some guaranteed purchases. Go to a company and you say, "OK, we need 120 million doses next year. You make 120 million doses, if you only sell 90 million, we will guarantee we will purchase the rest."

Those are the kind of things on the table. I'm not saying they're going to happen, but we need to address it.

BLITZER: How serious is the problem of price-gouging out there for the available flu vaccine? We've heard normally $80 or $90 for 10 vaccines, some suppliers charging $800 or $900.

FAUCI: Yes, right. It's really shameful. And in fact, Secretary Thompson has written to the attorney general and asked Attorney General Ashcroft to work with the attorneys general in the local areas to make sure that this is very seriously looked upon with penalties, perhaps even criminal penalties.

We've got to stop that. This is no time for gouging when people who are at risk really do need this vaccine.

BLITZER: Could we call this a crisis?

FAUCI: Well, you know it will be a crisis if we don't get it addressed in the way that we're talking about.

If we can get those risk people vaccinated -- we have 54 million doses; many of them have already been distributed. But if you look at the number of people in the risk group, there's about 90 million people in the United States. In any given year, about half of those come in to get vaccinated. That's 45 million.

Within the framework of what we have, it'll be a close call. But we may be able to vaccinate all of them if we forestall the vaccination of healthy people long enough to get those people covered.

BLITZER: Dr. Fauci, as usual, thanks very much.

FAUCI: Good to be here.

BLITZER: Good luck to you and your colleagues. This is a big a problem.

FAUCI: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, we'll tell you the results of our Web question of week. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our "LATE EDITION" Web question asked this question: Will Ralph Nader's candidacy affect the outcome of the presidential election? Look at the results. Split down the middle, 50 percent say yes, 50 percent said no. Remember, not a scientific poll.

Let's take a look and see what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines in the United States.

U.S. News and World Report goes inside the deep divide: why voters for both sides are so angry.

Newsweek focuses in on the battle over stem cells.

And Time magazine explores what it calls the God gene.

That's your "LATE EDITION" for Sunday, October 17th. Be sure to join us next Sunday and every Sunday at noon eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

This note: Our executive producer of "LATE EDITION," Linda Roth, will be getting married later today here in Washington to U.S. Marine Major David Gerfine. The wedding here. Congratulations to the bride and groom.

Thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

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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