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PAULA ZAHN NOW

Bill Clinton Enters the Fray; Iraqi Weapons Vanish

Aired October 25, 2004 - 20:00   ET

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


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening and welcome to PRIME TIME POLITICS. Glad to have you with us tonight.
It is the return of the warhorse. With eight days to go, not even major surgery could hold him back. Bill Clinton joins the final sprint to Election Day.

And the Iraq issue. How could hundreds of tons of highly dangerous explosives vanish into thin air and who is best to handle the mess?

We begin tonight on the campaign trail. Look at the pictures, listen to the candidates, and you can feel the sense of urgency. Our latest CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll shootings President Bush has a five-point lead among likely voters. Among registered voters, though, the race is, in effect, a dead heat. So both sides are desperately trying to motivate their supporters.

And today, John Kerry played his trump card.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): At least 100,000 people jammed a Philadelphia park to cheer Bill Clinton's return to the campaign trail.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If this isn't good for my heart, I don't know what is.

ZAHN: In his first public appearance since heart surgery last month, the former president lavished praise on Senator John Kerry.

CLINTON: I am very proud of John Kerry and the campaign he has run. He never gives up. He never gives up.

ZAHN: Kerry had some new ammunition to use against the Bush administration, today's headline that 380 tons of high explosives have disappeared in Iraq, despite warnings before and after the 2003 invasion that the U.S. needed to secure Iraqi weapons stockpiles.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The unbelievable incompetence of this administration, step after step, has put our troops at greater and greater risk, overextended the American military, isolated the United States, put a greater financial burden on the American people. George W. Bush has failed the test of commander in chief.

ZAHN: Campaigning in Colorado, the president didn't even mention the missing explosives. But in what his aides describe as a new speech on fighting terrorism, the president answered Kerry's frequent charge that his administration let Osama bin Laden get away in Afghanistan.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is an unjustified and harsh criticism of our military commanders in the field. This is the worst kind of Monday-morning quarterbacking.

ZAHN: Our latest poll shows President Bush clearly ahead on terrorism and Iraq, but Senator Kerry holding a strong lead on the economy and health care. Today, both men pressed their advantages.

BUSH: My opponent has the wrong strategy for the wrong country at the wrong time.

KERRY: And every single thing that makes a difference to the quality of your life is on the ballot on November 2.

ZAHN: But today, the last word went to Bill Clinton.

CLINTON: Now, one of Clinton's laws of politics is this. If one candidate is trying to scare you and the other one is try get you to think, if one candidate is appealing to your fears and the other one is appealing to your hopes, you better vote for the person who wants you to think and hope.

ZAHN: From Pennsylvania, the former president went to Florida. Al Gore is there already. President Bush and Senator Kerry are concentrating on battleground states in the Midwest.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison is one of President Bush's strongest supporters. She joins us tonight from Dallas, Texas.

Always good to see you. Welcome.

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R), TEXAS: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: So how much do you think President Clinton is going to help John Kerry in battleground states?

HUTCHISON: Well, certainly, President Clinton has a loyal following in the Democratic base. And this is a turnout time.

Really, at this point, it's hardly matters what they say. It is getting their vote to the polls. And I think that our base is energized. I think their base is energized. And I think there are more of us.

ZAHN: Are you worried, though, that President Clinton might have energized that base too much today?

HUTCHISON: Well, he certainly an energizer. There's no question. And having had the heart surgery, everyone was very happy that he survived that and that he was feeling good. And everyone wishes him well. And I think that added to it.

But the bottom line is, we're voting between John Kerry and George Bush. And one of them has shown absolutely determined leadership in the war on terror. And the other just seems to be criticizing, but not coming up with an alternative.

ZAHN: Let's talk a little bit about the criticism, Senator John Kerry blasting the president today for -- quote -- "his blindness, the stubbornness, and arrogance of an administration that would allow some 380 tons of highly dangerous explosives to go missing in Iraq, explosives that were supposed to be under American control."

How does the Bush administration defend that?

HUTCHISON: Well, of course, everyone is sick that we have learned this. But I do want to put it in perspective, Paula.

We have uncovered 400,000 tons of explosives and weapons in that country. It really makes you wonder what in the world Saddam Hussein was doing but just collecting weapons. This is about one-tenth of that. And it's very serious. There's no question about it. But I think we need to put in perspective all we have done, and this is something that concerns the president. And he is trying to find out exactly what happened. This is a new challenge, and he will meet it.

ZAHN: But the head of the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, says it's not such a new thing, that when the inspectors were pulled out, that his team, in fact, warned the president about the importance of securing these sites and they weren't secured properly. Who's at fault here?

HUTCHISON: Well, I think when we first got in to Baghdad, and it was a quicker victory than we had even thought it would be, that there was an effort to secure sites, but something clearly was amiss here.

And I don't think the president's going to try to explain it away. He is going to try to find out what happened and where these weapons might have gone and try to recover from this. There's no question about that.

ZAHN: Doesn't this reflect a leadership crisis?

HUTCHISON: Paula, I think you have to look at the big picture. And the president has been resolute. He is not going to walk away from Iraq, even though it has been more difficult than we ever thought that it could possibly be.

And I think you're seeing the choice here between the president who is absolutely clear and determined. John Kerry called him stubborn. I think he's determined to protect the American people, and he is going to do everything in his power to do it. But we didn't expect every single thing that has happened here. War is not tidy. You can't put it in an outline form and expect everything to go exactly the way you thought it would.

So he's making adjustments. We're making adjustments. And we're going to see this through.

ZAHN: But there are not only Democrats sniping at the Bush administration now. You've even got some Republicans that are very unhappy with what's going on in Iraq. And I wanted to play for you something the vice president had to say earlier today to defend the record.

Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's been a remarkable success story to date when you look at what's been accomplished overall. I think the president deserves great credit for it. The other credit, most of the credit, a good part of the credit, needs to go specifically as well to the men and women of the United States armed forces. They've done a superb job.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Senator, how can the vice president call this a great success in Iraq, when you know the insurgency movement is raging and that even a poll done by a Republican-backed group shows that Iraqis themselves feel the country is moving in the wrong direction?

HUTCHISON: Well, Paula, it's a very difficult situation. And no one could say otherwise. But there is progress being made. There have been setbacks for sure, but progress is being made.

The prime minister, Allawi, is a courageous and visionary leader who wants the right thing for this country. But it is going to take time for a people who have been so oppressed by Saddam Hussein and his henchmen -- and we are seeing his henchmen right now and how awful they can be -- to come forward and to be able to get their courage back up, to help bring their country together. But it will happen.

And we are making progress, and it is essential that we have a democracy in Iraq, so that other people in the Middle East can see that people can govern themselves and that there can be a better quality of life. We're not where we need to be.

ZAHN: Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, thank you for your time tonight. Appreciate it.

HUTCHISON: Thank you.

ZAHN: And now for the Democratic point of view, I'm joined by Senator Joe Biden of Delaware. Senator Biden is the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee. And he joins me from Dubuque, Iowa.

Welcome back, Senator. Thank you.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: Hey, Paula. How you doing? ZAHN: I'm fine, thanks.

I don't know how much of Senator Hutchison you could hear tonight, but we were talking about Senator Kerry's harsh criticism of the Bush administration today when it comes to that story of some 380 tons of highly dangerous explosives going missing. In spite of him lashing out at the Bush administration, it doesn't seem like his attacks on the president have had much traction when it comes to his numbers out there in relationship to Iraq.

Why does the president still enjoy a huge lead when it comes to leadership issues regarding Iraq?

BIDEN: Paula, I really don't know. And that's, as the old joke goes, above my pay grade.

But I remember you asking me on your program, almost a year ago, when I made -- quote -- the outrageous assertion there were over 800,000 tons of ammunition in Iraq that were not being guarded that we knew about. Generally Sanchez, and before him, General Abizaid, a year ago, indicated that these weapons were there.

The IAEA told us specifically of this particular site with over 340 tons, metric tons. We knew full well we didn't have enough troops there. Abizaid has indicated we didn't have enough troops. Bremer now said we didn't have enough troops. This administration is divorced from reality. This has nothing to do with John Kerry or President Bush. This is so much more important than both of them.

We have made an absolute disaster of what could have been a success. And our military, whether you look at what General Franks has recently said about diverting attention from Iraq, to this guy Zarqawi, there is evidence now -- and we knew it at the time but I couldn't prove it at the time, but now it has been pointed out there's three memos that went to the president before the war pointing out that Zarqawi was in northeastern Iran, where Chuck Hagel and I went up there to see Barzani and Talabani.

And we asked why, and offering and suggesting we could take out Zarqawi up there. They didn't do it. It's just been one folly after another.

ZAHN: Let me try to put this...

BIDEN: It's divorced from reality.

ZAHN: Senator, into perspective for our audience, because Senator Hutchison made the point that once we got into Iraq, we uncovered almost a million tons of this stuff. Why the heck did Saddam have it in the first place? And she conceded that this is a serious problem.

Realistically, how would you ever get your hands on all of this stuff, given the insurgency movement?

BIDEN: Absolutely easy. It was all identified. They actually identified where it was, Paula. They had all these locations laid out. This location had been tagged by the IAEA and ElBaradei. This had been told to our intelligence community.

We actually went in and inspected it. We listed it as a minimum security area. And the reason why we didn't do it, Paula, is Mr. -- the vice president of the United States and the secretary of defense and Mr. Wolfowitz were sticking to this ridiculous notion we didn't need more forces. Remember when John McCain and Dick Lugar and Chuck Hagel and I a year and a half ago started talking about this?

ZAHN: Sure.

BIDEN: This is nothing new. And all it took, Paula -- it was all there. It took another 30,000 to 40,000 American troops that we should have put in then, so we could be taking the troops out now. But, instead, the irony is, we turned it into a bazaar, a weapons bazaar.

ZAHN: Senator, I'm still not going to let you get away with dodging my first question when you said it was above your pay grade. Does it concern you that poll after poll show that for some reason John Kerry is not gaining traction on this issue?

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: For whatever the reason, the American public seems to have more trust in George Bush when it comes to Iraq than they do in John Kerry.

BIDEN: Well, this isn't over yet, Paula. There's five more days -- eight more days. The public is focusing. Now it's only in the last two weeks that the man, Bremer, who was in charge over there said he told the administration we needed more forces.

Look, when you had General Sanchez this January coming out, sending a memo to the White House saying that we needed over 34,000 more pieces of body armor, we needed more equipment, we needed more spare parts, and the president walks out in the Rose Garden and says they have everything they need, the truth is starting to come out here.

And it is -- I'm less concerned about the election than I'm concerned about, what are you going to do with the people we have there now? When are we going to start to tell the truth?

ZAHN: All right. But do you really see -- and I am going to need a real brief answer -- John Kerry closing in on this number? The president has a huge lead...

(CROSSTALK)

BIDEN: The answer is, I don't know, Paula.

Look, honest to God, you got it to do this presidential politics every day. I'm not doing it every day. I've been focusing on the details of what's going on in Iraq for the last two years. I don't know enough to answer your question. I'm not being a wise guy. I truly don't know why. It baffles me.

But I do know one thing, that if President Bush gets reelected, he better have a second coming here. He better get leveling with the American people. He better start taking care of our troops. He better start saying what we need. He better start acknowledging this or we're going to be in worse trouble than we are now. And if John Kerry gets elected, he's going to have a very difficult problem to deal with here because of the absolute ideological approach taken by this administration, denying the requests of their military, denying the reality of what's going on, not listening to the secretary of state.

If I sound angry, I am.

ZAHN: OK. I can hear that in your voice, Senator. I didn't miss that.

(CROSSTALK)

BIDEN: See, this is a tragedy. This is a tragedy.

ZAHN: I know you feel very passionately about this. We appreciate your time tonight. And, unfortunately, we've got to move on.

BIDEN: Thanks, Paula. I'm sorry.

ZAHN: Look forward to having you back.

BIDEN: Sorry.

ZAHN: Please stay with us.

Our full hour of PRIME TIME POLITICS is just getting started.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): The best campaigner of his era jumps in to energize the base.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Clinton gives me an extra push to get to the polls.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. It was like, that's my idol.

ZAHN: Can Bill Clinton push John Kerry over the finish line?

And our question of the day: Former President Clinton's appearance with Senator John Kerry today makes me more likely to vote for Kerry or makes me less likely to vote for Kerry? Go to CNN.com/Paula and make your choice as PRIME TIME POLITICS continues.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And we're back.

The Kerry campaign is counting on former President Clinton's ability to get African-Americans to show up to vote for John Kerry on Election Day. Mr. Clinton's campaign appearances are especially important in light of a recent poll by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. According to that survey, since the year 2000, President Bush has doubled his support among African-Americans.

Here's Maria Hinojosa.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARIA HINOJOSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With just eight days left in John Kerry's campaign, former President Bill Clinton took the stage, a massive crowd running in to get just the right spot to see the new Democratic duo.

Some people had to wait for hours in the autumn chill. It is no secret why the former president was asked to make his first post- surgery campaign appearance in Philadelphia. The city has a substantial African-American population. And it's been the site of the country's most successful Democratic voter registration drive. The plan here was to rally black voters, labor, the Democratic base. And there was clearly still some rallying to be done.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't know too much about Kerry in our community.

HINOJOSA (on camera): Do you blame Kerry for that? Who do you blame for that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I guess Kerry.

HINOJOSA (voice-over): With Bill Clinton on board, the Kerry campaign hopes voters will become energized.

(on camera): Do you think that Clinton coming out here and speaking is actually going to draw people out from the -- from your community? Draw them out to vote?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do. I really do. I mean, I think that just very generally, in terms of the black community's perspective, that Clinton was a well-loved president.

HINOJOSA (voice-over): What the energetic crowd got was a former president looking several pounds lighter, walking in with the candidate as if this was a victory celebration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: William Jefferson Clinton!

HINOJOSA: And probably one of Clinton's shortest speeches ever.

CLINTON: I thank all the people of Philadelphia throughout the country for their e-mails and letters and prayers and support.

HINOJOSA: Just about 10 minutes and heavy on John Kerry rallying points.

CLINTON: From time to time, I have been called the comeback kid. In eight days, John Kerry's going to make America the comeback country.

HINOJOSA: Bill Clinton has his office in Harlem. As president, he carried overwhelming numbers in the African-American electorate. Today, he didn't mention black voters specifically. He didn't need to.

CLINTON: When your governor was the mayor of this city and before when he was prosecutor, we worked together to bring down the crime rate. We did it with more cops on the street and assault weapons off the street. That's the Kerry policy. Their policy is to take 88,000 cops off the street and put the assault weapons back on.

HINOJOSA: The crowd responded with high energy. But what they got back was a decidedly low energy Bill Clinton, whether by design or because of his surgery. The result was that he did not outshine John Kerry.

KERRY: I asked the president before we came out here, I said, Mr. President, can you tell me anything that you have in common with George W. Bush? And he thought for a moment and he said, in eight days and 12 hours, we will both be former presidents.

HINOJOSA: But many people in this crowd said they were drawn here by the former president.

(on camera): So, are you really here to see Kerry or are you really here to see Clinton?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm here to see Kerry and Clinton.

HINOJOSA: Yes?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

HINOJOSA: Would you have come if it was only Kerry and not Clinton?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.

HINOJOSA (voice-over): Crowds around the country are going to get a lot of both in the next eight days. Whether that will make a difference won't be clear until the ninth day. In the meantime, there are lots of voters who are happy just to come out and see Bill Clinton.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Clinton was running for president, I'd vote for him. But I think Bush is doing a great job, so I'm voting for Bush.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And that was our Maria Hinojosa reporting from Philadelphia for us.

And today, President Bush's senior political adviser, Karl Rove, had this to say about Bill Clinton back on the campaign trail: "They had to roll Clinton out of the hospital room and on to the campaign trail to help Senator Kerry with his core constituencies, who are weak."

This evening, the former president is campaigning for John Kerry in Florida. Later on this week, Mr. Clinton speaks to voters in Nevada, New Mexico and his home state of Arkansas.

Well, one reporter who knows Bill Clinton just about better than anybody else out there is "TIME" magazine columnist Joe Klein, who's also a CNN contributor. Joe joins us from Boca Raton, Florida.

Always good to see you, Joe.

JOE KLEIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Hey, Paula.

ZAHN: Hey.

So, does John Kerry really have a problem with his base?

KLEIN: I don't know that he has a problem with his base.

If you look back at the numbers, Bill Clinton didn't do as well as Al Gore did with the African-American community. Gore had 90 percent. Clinton had about 85 percent. And Kerry is running at about 82 or 83 percent now, according to these polls, and these polls use very small samples. So you've got to be careful about that. George W. Bush has reached out to the black church, though, and that has done him an awful lot of good.

ZAHN: Is there any risk that Bill Clinton will overshadow John Kerry in the waning days of this campaign?

KLEIN: I don't -- I don't know.

One of the striking things to me today is, you know, Bill Clinton has always been the biggest guy in the room, maybe except for when Jesse Ventura is in the room. Today, he seemed so slight. He's lost so much weight that Kerry seemed bigger and more substantial than he did. I think he gave a very effective speech, but a short one. He is going to be effective in places like Arkansas, where we now have a poll that has it as a dead heat.

That was supposed to be a Republican state. So this endorsement, and this tour, this surrogacy, is more important than most. But, still, people are going to vote for either John Kerry or George Bush, and most people have pretty much made up their minds at this point.

ZAHN: All right, Joe Klein, we've got to leave it there tonight. Thanks so much. Appreciate your joining us.

And in these final days, it's all about which campaign gets the most supporters to actually show up on Election Day. When we come back, those foot soldiers of fortune knocking on voters' doors.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Over the past month, we have talked a lot about the record high numbers of people who have registered to vote in this election. But that is just half the battle.

The other half, perhaps the more important half, is getting those prospective voters to the polls.

Here's Judy Woodruff on how that is done.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

NARRATOR: Kerry has voted for the largest military and intelligence budget increases in our nation's history.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): If campaigns are waged on the air...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

KERRY: I'm John Kerry and I approved this message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: ... they're won on the ground by soldiers like the Pattersons (ph), Brian (ph) and Tiffany (ph), and their cousin, 14- year-old Shawn Walsh (ph). Together, they knocked on 100 doors in Clyde, Iowa, this past Sunday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi there. We're with the President Bush campaign.

WOODRUFF: The weekend before, the Bush brigades hit 37,000 Iowa homes. That's a lot of doors.

PAT WRAY, BUSH VOLUNTEER: It's not work. It's not work when you believe in someone. We really believe in him.

WOODRUFF: In a nondescript Des Moines warehouse, Pat Wray and her church friends are labeling literature for the final push for Bush. Ed Failor Jr., who's running the GOP's Iowa effort, will make sure the flyers find their way into receptive hands.

ED FAILOR JR., VICTORY IOWA: You're going to see a full-court press. You're going to see tens of thousands of Iowans, Republicans in Iowa going door-to-door, neighbor to neighbor.

WOODRUFF: And that's how the end game is played, as the parties and their allies try to tap a ballooning electorate in a year that has seen record voter registration. Their secret weapons? The two T.'s, targeting and technology.

At Democratic headquarters in Des Moines, state party chairman Gordon Fischer demonstrates his prized Web-based voter file.

GORDON FISCHER, IOWA DEMOCRATIC CHAIRMAN: Every single voter, Democrat, Republican, Independent, whatever, they're in here.

WOODRUFF: Thousands of bits of information he uses to identify specific groups of voters.

FISCHER: What I've done now is built a list of Democratic women who are interested in prescription drugs. You could turn this into a walking list, and say -- you know, and go to those doors and say, you know, I'm the candidate who cares about the prescription drugs. Here's my plan.

WOODRUFF: Iowa Republicans have their own database, as do the national parties on a mega scale.

ALEC JOHNSON, ACT ORGANIZER: It helps us target our message more specifically to people to draw the clear and distinct difference between the two candidates.

WOODRUFF: But once that's done, it's back to more traditional methods.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, this is Connie Addie (ph) with the Iowa Democratic Party headquarters.

WOODRUFF: Across the country Democrats have made more than 18 million phone calls on behalf of John Kerry, cajoling supporters to vote on election day, or well before.

DOUG PETERSON, KERRY/EDWARDS VOLUNTEER: We're calling today to see if he's received his absentee ballot.

WOODRUFF: As the battlefield narrows, the parties are sending volunteers into a dwindling number of key states. Doug Peterson came here from Houston. He's living out of a suitcase in a nearby motel.

PETERSON: I felt drawn to come up here when I saw the polls showed Iowa at nearly 50/50. I thought that I could come up here and make even more of a difference.

WOODRUFF: The parties are just part of the puzzle. Republicans are relying on religious groups to help rally the faithful, while Democrats count on independent left-leaning coalitions like ACT, America Coming Together, which trained 750 volunteers across Iowa on Sunday.

ALEC JOHNSON, TRAINER: Break up in twos. One of you is going to be the knocker, the other is going to be the knockee. OK?

WOODRUFF: Veteran canvasser Alec Johnson moves among the newbie activists, dispensing wisdom.

Big...

JOHNSON: Make it exciting. Make it worth their while.

WOODRUFF: ... and small.

JOHNSON: I'd stand up a bit more.

WOODRUFF: After months of door knocking he considers himself heavily invested in the race.

JOHNSON: I'd like to think that I'm responsible for over 4,000 votes for John Kerry.

WOODRUFF: Add 144 votes to that number, and you've got Al Gore's margin of victory in Iowa last time around, which is why this year, every exercise...

JOHNSON: Role-play.

WOODRUFF: ... every phone call...

PETERSON: She has not received it yet. OK.

WOODRUFF: ... and every knock...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was just coming by today to encourage people to get out and vote.

WOODRUFF: ... is as precious as the votes they'll deliver.

Judy Woodruff, CNN reporting.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: The knocker versus the knockee. And in a race this tight, one newspaper's endorsement in a battleground state could very well tip the scales.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JANE HEALY, EDITORIAL BOARD, "ORLANDO SENTINEL": That may rile some of our readers. But there's a reason we're taking that position.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: One paper's break with decades of tradition when we come back.

And don't forget our "Voting Booth" question tonight, "Does former President Clinton's appearance with Senator John Kerry make you more or less likely to vote for him?" Go to CNN.com/Paula and vote now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ZAHN: Nobody is really sure just how much weight newspaper endorsements carry with voters. But they can't hurt. And right now John Kerry leads George Bush in total newspaper endorsements 128-105.

And our David Mattingly got a rare look at the decision-making process at one Florida newspaper.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Making sense of all the political rhetoric has been a challenge for reporters and editors at the "Orlando Sentinel," who according to editor Charlotte Hall, find themselves under a microscope.

CHARLOTTE HALL, EDITOR, "ORLANDO SENTINEL": Many people who are real partisans are unhappy. They see agendas in our coverage which is -- are not there.

MATTINGLY: Orlando sits in the middle of the hotly contested I-4 corridor, home to the state's largest concentration of swing voters, who could swing the state, and possibly the election, either way.

(on camera) And some of the editors here are about to face one of their biggest decisions yet, who to endorse for president. It's never an easy decision. And this year comes at a volatile time in the campaign, when the state is clearly up for grabs.

(voice-over) Jane Healy presides over the "Sentinel's" editorial board which determines the paper's choice.

HEALY: We see our role as, again, it's in the community's best interest. That may rile some of our readers. But there's a reason we're taking that position, because we do want to affect some change. We do want to persuade people.

MATTINGLY (on camera): Any idea how this is going to go?

HEALY: No, no, I wouldn't want to predict. I won't be withdrawing anything (ph).

MATTINGLY (voice-over): The board consists of editorial writers, a cartoonist and columnists. They haven't endorsed a Democrat for president since Lyndon Johnson way back in 1964. The publisher, Kathleen Waltz, says don't call them conservative.

KATHLEEN WALTZ, PUBLISHER, "ORLANDO SENTINEL": The newspaper as a whole is moderate.

MATTINGLY (on camera): But how do you explain endorsing a Republican candidate for decades?

WALTZ: Well, you know, I don't explain that other than to say maybe it was more reflective of the way our community has been over the years.

"Orlando Sentinel" should endorse... MATTINGLY (voice-over): We were granted extraordinary access to the meeting the "Sentinel's" own reporters weren't allowed to attend. We listened as board members on behalf of each candidate made presentations.

PETER BROWN, EDITORIAL COLUMNIST: Bush says if you believe in democracy you have to stand up for your beliefs.

DAVID OWENS, EDITORIAL WRITER: John Kerry is a better fit for the core values of this newspaper.

MATTINGLY: But, much like the campaigns themselves, both pitches turned sharply negative.

OWENS: The president's "my way or the highway" style of leadership has fail alienated other world leaders.

BROWN: To think that President Kerry would be more bipartisan is a pipe dream. He was rated the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate, according to the "National Journal."

MATTINGLY (on camera): This body of twelve, six men, six women, you look like a jury. And it seems very serious in here. How much more serious is this choice this year compared to previous years when you've had to do this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You could figure that we could tip it either way depending on who we go with. Someone might say, "Well, I'm going to vote the way the 'Sentinel' goes." You know, you go for one candidate or another, you know? Who knows what sort of impact we have.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): But this is where we were asked to leave. The deliberations and final decisions by the editor and publisher were to remain secret.

Then on Sunday morning, a dramatic turn. The "Orlando Sentinel" endorsed John Kerry under the harsh headline, "The Bush Presidency has Disappointed us on Almost All Counts.

HEALY: We thought he was a uniter, and I don't think he's turned out to be a uniter. We thought he was fiscally responsible, and we have these huge deficits. And in good conscience, we really could not endorse somebody again when they weren't the person we thought they were when we endorsed them four years ago.

MATTINGLY: A 40-year Republican tradition broken. And already editors report thousands of impassioned responses. From a sharply divided electorate during a campaign that is so close, every headline could matter.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And that was our David Mattingly in Orlando.

But what about the voters themselves? Joining me now from Orlando, two undecided Florida voters, Roy Otterson, Becky Davis. Good to see both of you.

So, Roy, we are a week away from the election. You are still an undecided. Why?

ROY OTTERSON, UNDECIDED VOTER: The beliefs I can't -- on both parties with Senator Kerry and Senator Bush (sic) is, you know, what they both say. It's tough to believe in.

ZAHN: What are you waiting for? Do you think there might be something that happens in the waning days of this campaign that will trigger your vote one way or the other?

OTTERSON: I hope so. It's tough.

ZAHN: What could it be? Is there a particular issue that you're focused in on?

OTTERSON: The economy is really important to me. And the security of the nation. With the economy, the deficit growing, and Senator Kerry saying he's not going to raise taxes. I mean, to pay for some of the programs that he wants, it seems that he's going to have to raise taxes.

ZAHN: Becky, where are you in this arc, besides being undecided?

BECKY DAVIS, UNDECIDED VOTER: I am having a hard time with Kerry in that I -- to vote for him I almost need him to say he won't raise my taxes. This affects us personally.

And with Bush, I -- I wish that he was more open to embryonic stem cell research. And also had a better plan for retraining the Iraqis so they could take over their terrorism that exists in their country.

ZAHN: Becky, your concern -- yes, your concerns mirror what a lot of Americans concerns are. And they tend to favor John Kerry when it comes to the issue of the economy, and the president when it comes to the issue of Iraq. So you well understand that divide, don't you?

DAVIS: Yes, yes, I do.

ZAHN: What could happen, do you think, in the next week, that you could hear on the campaign trail that might cause you to cement your vote?

DAVIS: That John Kerry might say that he wasn't going to raise my taxes.

ZAHN: That's it? That's the one thing you need to hear?

DAVIS: Yes. That's a big one, because that really hits home for us. In '84 when...

ZAHN: And what about the president?

DAVIS: I wish he would strengthen the coalition, get more forces in, maybe through the United Nations to help train the Iraqis. And we not just go it alone.

ZAHN: I want to close tonight about the importance of the "Orlando Sentinel" endorsement, a break with some tradition of 40 years, going with John Kerry instead of President Bush. Will that impact your vote in any way?

OTTERSON: No, not really. Just how they -- what they decide is not how I decide. I decide on the issues that affect myself and my family.

ZAHN: And what about you, Becky?

DAVIS: It won't affect me at all. I was very surprised they endorsed Kerry with their track record. But I'm -- I've got specific issues that obviously are different from "The Sentinel's."

ZAHN: We understand that. Roy Otterson, Becky Davis, thank you both for joining us tonight.

And one week from tonight, Roy and Becky will join us at our town hall meeting in Florida with more undecided voters. That is Monday, November 1 on the eve of the election to get under way at 8 p.m. Eastern.

And the sparks fly next. Our campaign strategists debate today's political high points or low points, depending on how you want to look at them, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: As we mentioned a little bit earlier tonight, we learned that 380 tons of high explosives are missing from a storage dump in Iraq. They were supposed to be guarded by U.S. forces.

And the political question now, of course, is what effect, if any, this could have on the presidential race.

Joining me from Los Angeles, Democratic strategist Bill Carrick and Republican strategist Mike Murphy. Always good to see you guys. Welcome back to you.

So, Mike.

MIKE MURPHY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Hello. Yes.

ZAHN: Were you, and please don't spin me on this, were you a little uncomfortable...

MURPHY: Me? No.

ZAHN: ... with Dick Cheney out there on the campaign trail pointing to the great success of what has gone on in Iraq on a day when this story broke?

MURPHY: No, I don't have -- I don't have those tactical kind of issues about whether or not we're in what news cycle. I think we make way too much of that process stuff.

Bottom line is Iraq was a success. We eliminated a bad dictator. Now, the peace is less than a success, but we've got to slog it on to save Iraq. It's our destiny as the world's superpower. And we've got to do it. And we've got...

ZAHN: You're not going to tell me the story doesn't hurt the president, Mike, are you?

MURPHY: I think -- I think any bad news story hurts the incumbent president. I do. But I don't think it has that much of an impact, because I think most people have decided, except for the two people we've dredged up from Orlando there. I think most Americans know how they're going to vote, and we're in a turnout battle now. And I don't see this election swinging wildly off a news story one way or the other.

ZAHN: Bill, what about that?

BILL CARRICK, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I thought it was very bad for the president. It speaks directly to the mismanagement of the war in Iraq. They were supposed to go over there to get rid of ammunition and weapons, and here we -- they got rid of it. We don't know to where. Who's got it? It's a really bad story, and I think it was driving a lot of news today.

ZAHN: You think it might be driving a lot of news, but there's nothing, Bill, in the polls that would suggest that it's helping John Kerry at all.

He blasted the president today for blindness, for stubbornness, says that the administration was incompetent. But so far the president, even in our own poll, enjoys an 18-point lead over John Kerry when it comes to the issue of the management of Iraq. Why?

CARRICK: I think that the president is the president. That's the reality. And he's been the commander in chief. It's tough to do battle with the president when he's in wartime.

But I think John Kerry's done an effective job of making his case. And I think, you know, we saw in the debates. He's made -- it's -- does a good job of arguing his position.

ZAHN: Bill, hang on a minute. How can you say he's made an effective case when he's lagging that far behind the president's numbers? Those numbers haven't moved that much, even since the debate, when it comes to Iraq.

CARRICK: You know, I don't get hung up on these internals as being all that determinant.

MURPHY: That's because they're bad.

CARRICK: The bottom line is we've got a dead heat race. And I don't think we'd be there unless John Kerry was credible on the war in Iraq. MURPHY: Look the American people -- yes.

ZAHN: Mike, I want to move you on to a new ad out today from MoveOn.org...

MURPHY: OK.

ZAHN: ... based on some of the president's jokes at a correspondents dinner in the year 2003. Let's watch this together.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Those weapons of mass destruction got to be somewhere. Nope, no weapons over there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My brother died in Baghdad on April 29. I watched President Bush make a joke, looking around for weapons of mass destruction. My brother died looking for weapons of mass destruction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: That doesn't make the president look like he used very good judgment there. Does that hurt him, Mike?

MURPHY: No, I think it actually helps him. These Move On ads are an incredible cheap shot. These guys are...

ZAHN: Cheap shot? The president said that stuff, Mike.

MURPHY: Paula, you've been to those dinners. You know...

ZAHN: I was at that dinner.

MURPHY: You know well that you cut that tape...

ZAHN: There was this stony silence.

MURPHY: Well let me finish, please. To cut that tape out of context, with jokes like that. I remember the stuff Clinton used to tell at those dinners. Made me ashamed that he was president of the United States.

ZAHN: There wasn't a war going on.

MURPHY: To make an ad out of it -- to make an ad out of it like that and then to exploit that woman, I think it's horrible. These Move On ads are way beyond the pale. I think people see right through them for the fraud (ph) that they are.

ZAHN: Cheap shot, Bill Carrick?

CARRICK: You know, I think the president used incredibly poor judgment at the radio and TV dinner. It was a bad thing to do. I think the ad is fair game. You know, I don't know, people are going to be -- they're so polarized right now I don't know that any of these last-minute ads are going to have much impact on either side. ZAHN: What do you think, Bill, is one thing that John Kerry could do in the next week that's going to really help him break through here?

MURPHY: Stop campaigning.

CARRICK: Listen to that, "Stop" -- He needs to frame the choice of this election, and it's about new direction, moving forward differently. Or keeping -- or staying the status quo. And I think that's the case he's got to make. And he's got -- And that's all you can make.

ZAHN: All right, Mike.

CARRICK: You've got to rally the troops.

ZAHN: You get 15 seconds for a final thought.

MURPHY: Every poll agrees that a majority of Americans believe that Kerry is a weak leader and he's not up for the job. He's got to focus on that for the close and turn out our vote and we win. It's tight.

ZAHN: Bill Carrick, Mike Murphy. I don't think Bill likes that prediction and doesn't believe that will be the case.

CARRICK: No.

ZAHN: But we've got to cut it off there. Thanks, gentlemen. Look forward to seeing you soon.

No matter where the candidates go you can be sure they are trying to put on their best face, and every four years, so do a lot of other people. Jeanne Moos on pumpkin time and politics, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: We are just days away from an event of national importance. But not the one you're thinking of. Jeanne Moos reports on an upcoming convergence of ancient tradition and modern politics. And you know, that's downright spooky.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Why just vote for one of them when you can actually be one of them? That devil Bush or that scary Kerry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kerry's got a great face for a mask, you know? Because he's a little like Lurch.

MOOS: The question at BuyCostumes.com is which candidate's mask is ahead. Bush has been leading. And they say that over the past six presidential elections, the candidate with the best-selling mask has ended up winning the real race.

But here at Halloween Adventure in New York...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The more unpopular you are, the more the masks sell.

MOOS: New York mask buyers tend to lampoon the president. They even improvise, adding a Pinocchio nose. And then there was the Pennsylvania bank robber who wore a Bush mask.

JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": You know it wasn't actually George Bush, because apparently the guy had an exit strategy to get out of the bank.

MOOS: The Bush bank robber got away with the cash, like a scene out of "Point Break."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keep your hands where I can see them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are the ex-presidents.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am not a crook.

MOOS: Richard Nixon's mask has legs. So does Bill Clinton's.

(on camera) What's with the wig?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First black president.

MOOS: Oh, look at Arnold. Wow.

(voice-over) We had to go to a store called Abracadabra to find Colin Powell and Condi Rice. New this year, Al Sharpton.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somebody called up for 300 Al Sharpton yesterday.

MOOS: Why would they want 300 Al Sharptons?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. We were trying to figure it out.

MOOS: The Bush mask left behind by the Pennsylvania robber was made by Cesar.

BRUCE BRUN, CESAR INC: It's a French company. It's called the Cesar Group.

MOOS (on camera): That's some irony there, a French company is making a Bush mask?

(voice-over) Both the Kerry mask...

(on camera) Who am I?

(voice-over) ... and the Bush mask...

(on camera) Now who am I? Who am I? (voice-over) ... were equally effective at scaring kids.

And while you can buy a Laura Bush mask, we couldn't find a Teresa Heinz Kerry one.

After the Bush/Gore standoff last election, they came out with a two-faced mask. But loser beware, Al Gore is now on sale, and gathering dust.

As we lurch toward election day, the Bush mask is ahead by a nose, a long one.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Go, Jeanne, go. You do not want to see her office. She buys all this stuff, and she never throws it away.

We're going to be right back with the results of our "Voting Booth" question of the day. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And now on to our "Voting Booth" results. We asked how former President Clinton's appearance with John Kerry on the campaign trail might affect your vote.

Ninety percent of you said, "It makes me more likely to vote for Kerry." Ten percent said, "It makes me less likely to vote for Kerry."

Again not a scientific poll. Just a snap shot of a web site vote. Thanks for logging on.

And just one week from tonight, we will hold our final town hall meeting of the political season on Monday, November 1, the night before the election. I will be with voters and representatives of both campaigns in Kissimmee, Florida. And you can submit a question for the campaigns at CNN.com/Paula. Last time you flooded it with some 10,000 ideas. We're looking forward to even more than that. We've had a lot of good questions.

That wraps it up for all of us here tonight. Thanks so much for joining us. Tomorrow, a race Democrats cannot afford to lose: Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle in the fight of his political life.

And "LARRY KING LIVE" is next. Senator John Edwards will be joining him. And Senator John Kerry's daughters are Larry's guests, as well.

Again, thanks so much for joining us tonight. Hope you'll be back with us same time, same place tomorrow night. Good night.

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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