The Web    CNN.com      Powered by
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
SERVICES
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
SEARCH
Web CNN.com
powered by Yahoo!
TRANSCRIPTS


 

Return to Transcripts main page

PAULA ZAHN NOW

New Evidence in Explosives Story; Predicting Tuesday's Winner

Aired October 28, 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. Thanks so much for joining us tonight.
Just five days from the election and a load of bad news gets dumped on the doorstep of the Bush campaign. Halliburton, faked photographs and missing munitions all combine to supercharge the candidates' accusations.

Also, there may be dramatic new evidence in the disappearance of the those tons of how-powered explosives in Iraq.

And forget about the crazy polls. We're going to show you some of the offbeat ways people swear can predict the winner of Tuesday's election.

Well, tonight, there's a lot of breaking news to share with you buffeting the Bush-Kerry race. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): Five days and counting and the Bush campaign is still on the defensive about the missing explosives in Iraq and now about a new campaign ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because of your service and sacrifice, we are defeating the terrorists where they live and plan and you're making America safer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: A closer look shows this image of soldiers is doctored. The same groups appear several times in the photograph. The Bush campaign initially denied any manipulation, but now concedes that the image was changed from this 2002 photo. The ad will be corrected.

Camp Kerry says -- quote -- "If they won't tell the truth in an ad, they won't tell the truth about anything else."

Out on the campaign trail, the president gets a helping hand from General Tommy Franks, but is still trying to counter Senator Kerry's onslaught about the missing explosives in Iraq.

BUSH: A president needs to get all the facts before jumping to politically motivated conclusions.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ZAHN: But now Senator Kerry is turning that attack right back on the president.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: George Bush, jumped to conclusions about 9/11 and Saddam Hussein. George Bush jumped to conclusions about weapons of mass destruction and he rushed to war without a plan to win the peace.

ZAHN: Even former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, speaking on behalf of the Bush campaign this morning, gives the Democrats an opening.

RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: No matter how you try to blame it on the president, the actual responsibility for it really would be for the troops that were there. Did they search carefully enough? Didn't they search carefully enough?

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And this is what Rudy did. He blamed the troops. He said they didn't do their job. And he couldn't be more wrong.

ZAHN: Today at least, the Kerry campaign seems to be calling the tune and Bruce Springsteen is playing it.

Tomorrow, President Bush counters the boss with the Terminator when he campaigns with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. And it all terminates in just five days.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Joining me now from the campaign trail, senior White House correspondent John King, who is traveling with the president in Yardley, Pennsylvania, and senior political correspondent Candy Crowley, who is with the Kerry campaign in Columbus.

Good to see the two of you.

John, day four of the missing explosives story. The president continues to be on the defensive. How much is this hurting him?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the White House, Paula, is making the case publicly that they believe this helps the president.

Karl Rove, the president's senior adviser, telling us just a few minutes ago that 65 percent of the American people in our own CNN polling already believe John Kerry will change his mind and say anything, shift, if you will, for political gain. Karl Rove says this crystallizes that perception with the American people. But make no mistake about it. The ferocity with which they are fighting back on this issue certainly reveals a bit of nervousness on the Bush campaign that this question about his leadership could stick in the final days of the campaign.

ZAHN: And, Candy, doesn't it tell us an awful lot about what the Kerry campaign thinks is working for them? CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. This has been day four of this story. They do think that it's working, but they also know that you can go too far with this.

For instance, on the issue of whether or not that ammunition that's missing has been used against U.S. soldiers at this point, they have dialed that back a little. So they know that they're kind of walking an edge here but they believe overall this is a plus for them.

ZAHN: But is there any evidence, Candy, that it's helping John Kerry improve that gap where he trails so far behind the president when it comes to the issue of Iraq and the war on terror? People still seem to trust the president more than John Kerry.

CROWLEY: They do, and that's always been something that they've been trying to go at.

Every speech we get, no matter what the topic is, almost always begins with, I will fight a smarter war. I will fight a smarter better war.

Welcome to the campaign trail, Paula. I think we're going to here Bruce Springsteen here fairly soon. But the fact of the matter is that they believe that the whole missing ammo story is a metaphor somebody said today for the rest of the Bush administration and that it's another example of mismanagement and misjudgment. So they're playing it as part of a whole, not as a whole unto itself.

ZAHN: And the other story that the Kerry campaign, John King, thinks helps them is this whole Halliburton story, a new angle to that, with the FBI confirming that they want permission to talk to an Army Corps of Engineers, the chief contracting officer who alleged just last week in public that in fact that these no-bid contracts were handed out unfairly to Halliburton.

KING: Well, White House officials, Paula, would stress and our own source reporting stresses so far that they know nothing about any investigation that involves the vice president or the White House in any way, shape, or form. The White House says and our own sources at CNN at least so far are saying that this is an investigation that does not involve Dick Cheney or the White House, but certainly, the word Halliburton is a bit nuclear, if you will.

The Kerry campaign uses it to suggest this administration is too cozy with big business, too cozy with energy and interests, although the Bush campaign would say that anyone who is making up their mind in this election based on Halliburton or something like that has long ago made up their mind.

ZAHN: But, Candy, very quickly, we're going to continue to hear from the Kerry camp on this one, aren't we?

CROWLEY: Halliburton is a good issue for them in general. I don't know if specifically they will go after this. I wouldn't be surprised, because their focus groups tell them that while people can't explain Halliburton or what it does, they think big oil, they Dick Cheney, they every time they bring that up, it's a good thing, and the crowds kind of bear that out, as partisan as they are.

Democrats always roar at the mention of Halliburton in a negative fashion.

ZAHN: Candy, I am so jealous of you tonight hanging out with the Boss. Enjoy.

CROWLEY: Isn't this great? I know.

ZAHN: You're a lucky woman.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Candy Crowley, John King, thank you both. Travel well.

And last night about this time, I had a conversation with White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett. Well, today, it is the Democrats' turn.

And for that, we turn to Kerry campaign senior adviser Mike McCurry, who joins us from Columbus, Ohio.

Good to see you, Mike. Thanks for joining us.

MIKE MCCURRY, SENIOR KERRY CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Great to be with you, Paula.

ZAHN: Thank you.

So I wanted to start off by looking at a new photo the Pentagon has released showing an image of the al Qa Qaa weapons site on March 17. Based on this photo, is John Kerry willing to accept the possibility that some of these explosives were moved before the war ever got under way?

MCCURRY: Well, we have not seen that declassified photo. Apparently, it was just declassified in something of a rush by the Pentagon.

And our argument, Paula, is very simple, that it's very clear from the reports of the commanders who were initially on the scene at that facility that they did not have orders to secure that facility. Now, we're not sure what we're looking at in that photo. We don't know if that's a truck headed off to Syria with the help of Russian intelligence, which is also something that the Pentagon said today.

I think it's up to the Pentagon to explain what it is that we're looking at. And if, in fact, those materials are being removed from that facility prior to the invasion, then the administration now has a lot more explaining to do. They need to say, where are they what do we know about where they have been trans-shipped to? If they went to Syria, are they now on the black market? Are they being sold back into the insurgents so they can bomb and maim our kids who are over there fighting?

This opens up even more questions that we think the administration needs to answer. Our argument is a very simple one. There was a lack of planning prior to the war. This facility should have been on a target list to be secured, inspected. We ought to know a lot more now than we are finding out minute by minute about this facility because it should have been taken care of long ago in the early days of the invasion. The argument...

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: You're admitting there's an awful lot of gray area here.

MCCURRY: We have said from the beginning that there are a lot of questions that President Bush needs to be held accountable for and answer to.

But there's one thing indisputable, a lack of planning prior to the war, no clear orders given to our troops on the ground, what they were supposed to do at this facility, and no clear idea now why looting continued even after the invasion, because that clearly did happen according to various news reports. And my guess is the administration still has a lot more explaining to do on this story.

ZAHN: And the administration is out there hammering your candidate, saying he is being irresponsible in jumping to conclusions that just aren't warranted.

MCCURRY: Well, you know, look, Vice President Cheney today was giving an account early in the day that he then had to reverse later in the day. It's a fast-moving story.

But what has remained rock solid and the same is Senator Kerry is correct when he suggests that the administration did not go to war with sufficient planning to safeguard and secure this facility. They did not have enough troops on the ground to seal the borders, protect our troops and do the necessary work. Look, we know that. We see that now day by day, the deteriorating conditions that exist in Iraq.

We have heard the stories today what's happening in Ramadi and elsewhere. And the simple fact is that the administration didn't do the necessary preparation going to where that's been at the heart of our critique from the beginning.

ZAHN: On to your least favorite subject, the issue of battleground states. And President Bush seems to be gaining some ground in some reliably Democratic states like Michigan and Minnesota. Why is that happening?

MCCURRY: Look, I am at the point now where I'm not sure I know what to believe from any pollster, including our own.

We hear minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour different and conflicting reports from all these battleground states. One minute we're up in one poll in Michigan and the next minute, we're down. Same in every single one of these other battleground states. I think, for us, now, in the closing hours of this campaign, the important thing is to go and campaign aggressively. We're here at Ohio State with a huge crowd behind us with a lot of momentum. Most of these folks who are here are going to go out and work hard right up through Election Day to turn out a massive vote for John Kerry and the Democratic ticket. And I think that is our edge as we go into Election Day. I think that will probably mean more in the end than the way the polls bounce around in the last few days. I know that's always of great fascination to the press, but this might be a year in which these polls are less reliable than they ever have been before.

ZAHN: And in spite of what you describe as the unreliability of the polls, most polls show the president with a lead in Florida. Does that worry you?

MCCURRY: We're going to be there later tonight and campaign hard there. And, you know, we have good reason to believe I think that we're showing some momentum there. There's no question that we are much closer now in any poll to President Bush than Al Gore was four years ago going into the final days of that campaign and we know how the race turned out in Florida that day.

So the important thing to us is, don't worry about the polls. Worry what we're doing to create energy, momentum and enthusiasm and we think we've got a lot of it going with us today. We've had a great day today, 80,000 people with us in Wisconsin as we campaigned earlier today, and that tells us a lot more than polls.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Mike, I wanted to close tonight with the issue of photo- gate. A lot has been made by your campaign today of a photo that the Bush campaign put out where they conceded this afternoon that they had digitally enhanced it by filling in the gaps by repeating groups of soldiers a number of times within this doctored photo. Is this that big of a deal?

MCCURRY: No, I don't think.

Look, it's an ad. Probably the last thing they wanted to have to deal with on one of the last days of the campaign is an ad that just was misleading because it tried to represent the president in a setting that he was not in, but it sounds like they are taking the ad down. They're going to recut it and put it back up.

I've got to believe it's not the thing they wanted to have happen to them on one of the last days of the campaign. Is it as important as changing directions so we get new policies on the economy, dealing with this situation in Iraq we were talking about? Not at all.

ZAHN: You're over it, but will the candidate, Kerry, still talk about it on the campaign trail?

(CROSSTALK)

MCCURRY: Knowing how many hours of the day you have to fill with political chitchat, I'm sure someone in our campaign will be willing to talk about it.

ZAHN: Mike McCurry, thanks for joining us.

Well, that was an honest admission there.

A few moments ago, we talked about the heavy hitters joining the candidates on the campaign trail. Well, we want your opinion. Who do you think might persuade more voters to support their candidate, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger or Bruce Springsteen. That's tonight's voting booth question. Vote now at CNN.com/Paula. The results at the end of the hour.

But, coming up, a look at a slash-and-burn campaign for a key seat in the Congress.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): Republicans gunning for one of the most powerful Democrats on Capitol Hill. Can Senate Minority Leader Daschle survive the challenge, a race his party can't afford to lose?

And predicting who will be the next president. Is the answer already in the cards, on the gridiron, or on the baseball diamond? If you're not afraid to look into the future, stick around as PRIME TIME POLITICS continues.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: There may be videotape showing some of the explosives at the al Qa Qaa weapons storage site when U.S. troops were there during the war. Now, that is important because the Bush administration says Saddam Hussein's forces may have removed those explosives before his regime was toppled last year.

Dean Staley, who was then a reporter for KSTP-TV in Minneapolis, was embedded with the Army's 101st Airborne Division and was with a cameraman who believes he took pictures of what could be those explosives when he was there nine days after Saddam's defeat. Dean Staley joins me from Seattle. Also joining us tonight from San Francisco is Michael Lysobey, a former U.N. weapons inspector who was in Iraq from 1996 to 1998.

Glad to have both of you with us.

First of all, Dean, are you convinced of the fact that you actually were at the al Qa Qaa weapons site?

DEAN STALEY, REPORTER, KSTP-TV: Almost certainly.

I think in terms ever what I've been able to learn about where it is, just how big it is and where it is in relation to the place that we were camped with the 101st Airborne, I don't think there's any question that we were in some part of the al Qa Qaa compound.

ZAHN: Did anybody try to stop you from entering it?

STALEY: Oh, absolutely not. The place was absolutely deserted. There were bunker after bunker after bunker of munitions. There were also some places where you could tell they had been making munitions. There were bombs laying around on the ground.

Other places we poked around actually had shoulder-fired rockets and rocket-propelled grenades actually sitting on the ground, just all sorts of weapons.

ZAHN: Now, we're looking at some large barrels. We can't see any discernible seals here, but we are told these were definitely taken at al Qa Qaa.

When you were embedded about with the 101st Airborne Division, or with a division, did they tell you that they had been asked to search these sites, that they seemed to be aware that the IAEA had warned our government about the danger of the site?

STALEY: No, not at all.

In fact, we were absolutely ignorant about this place. We went there only because we were with the 101st Airborne. We were sort of stationed outside of Baghdad at the time at an old airfield. And the 101st at the time didn't have a new mission. So everyone was just sort of waiting around. And so were getting antsy. We were ambitious. We wanted to try to find if there was some other story outside the camp.

And so we left the camp on a very unofficial sort of trip with a couple of other soldiers, a couple soldiers in our unit, got in a Humvee and just drove around to see what we could see. And this is one of the things we came upon.

ZAHN: Let's check in with Michael for a moment here.

What do you make of these highly conflicting stories? You hear Dean's account. We know the date is on that tape. It's encrypted on the tape. So, on one hand, that would seem to indicate that some of those weapons were there after the war began, and yet, the Pentagon today releases a satellite photo that they claim was taken two days before the war got under way showing activity which appear to be trucks perhaps maybe moving some of these materials away from the site.

MICHAEL LYSOBEY, FORMER WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Well, the materials at that site or the materials that I saw in the video are not necessarily the HMX, which is the high explosive used in a nuclear implosion device.

What we saw in the tape were a bunch of barrels and a bunch of explosive caps. Al Qa Qaa is an explosives facility. So that's what we'd expect to see. The explosives that we're worried about, we don't know. This isn't definitive proof that those explosives were there.

ZAHN: So which theory do you favor at the moment? LYSOBEY: Well, it seems to me, if the question is whether or not there were explosives at the facility that we saw and those explosives were taken by insurgents, I would say yes. I ascribe to that theory. It seems logical to me.

With the HMX, I couldn't say that that was at the facility when the U.S. troops arrived. And I think that gets to the problem of whether or not there were qualified weapons inspectors with the troops at the time.

ZAHN: And, Dean, based on your observations, you don't think that was the case, do you?

(CROSSTALK)

STALEY: Well, I should be clear. I don't think -- I'm not saying for a minute that I know that the munitions and the explosives that we stumbled upon were in fact the munitions or the explosives in question.

All I can say with certainty is that, on that day, there were bunker after bunker after bunker of explosives, tons of them, that were unguarded. We went in and looked at some of them. I don't have the sort of expertise to tell you whether or not those were exactly what they're talking about when they say that these -- how many odd tons of explosives went missing.

I know that these explosives existed, that they were not guarded either when we got there or when we left. And some of the bunkers weren't even locked. We had to break a couple of padlocks to get into some of them. Others, we did not. They were wide open.

We also saw Iraqis at the time driving around in a pickup truck, an old beat-up pickup, clearly scavenging, clearly sort of looking around. We kept an eye on them because this was sort of no-man's land. It was a deserted, obviously old military facility. And so we were wary about who was around us, keeping an eye out for anyone else. So, clearly, it was a place that Iraqis had access to, Iraqi civilians did.

ZAHN: Michael, we want to shift our attention to a different source of video now, this video from several years ago provided by the IAEA. And it shows us some seals that were placed at the site by teams there. Exactly what materials would the IAEA mark like this?

LYSOBEY: The IAEA would mark prohibited items that were identified by Security Council Resolution 687.

This would include the high explosives. It would also include a wide variety of other items that the Iraqis or someone else could use in a nuclear weapons program. So I just saw very quickly there a seal and it looked to me like an IAEA seal. These are tamper-proof, so that the inspectors know whether or not the site has been opened or the barrel or whatever it is has been tampered with since the inspectors were last there. ZAHN: Now, Dean, your station actually managed to try to compare the image of that seal that we just saw in that video with some of what you saw as you wandered through the site. What kind of conclusions did you come up with?

STALEY: Well, I think some of the video is similar. I don't think it's definitive.

But I will say, in terms of the seals, one of the bunkers that we entered, we actually broke a seal on. And it was a thin wire. It was the sort of thing that could have been nothing else but a seal, because it didn't serve any purpose in terms of keep people out. In fact, at the time, it was this very thin wire, the sort of thing you see maybe like on an electric meter, those sort of seals to make sure things aren't tampered with.

We thought it might have been some sort of booby trap, because it was such a thin wire. But we broke the lock and broke that wire to get in. Now, I don't have the sort of expertise and didn't then to look at it and say, well, I know who put this there and I understand what the acronym is or who these people are who sealed this. But I do know that at least one of those bunkers had one of thin wire seals on them.

ZAHN: Mike, I need a brief answer to this question. Do you think we'll ever know exactly when these 380 tons of explosives vanished?

LYSOBEY: From the evidence that I've seen, I don't think we'll ever know, but it does appear if there was a seal there and if they broke it to get in to one of these barrels or whatever it was, that the site contained some type of prohibited items which aren't there now.

ZAHN: Dean Staley, Michael Lysobey, you for both of your perspectives. Appreciate it.

STALEY: You bet.

ZAHN: And that is where the story stands tonight.

When we come back, two top senators weigh in. We'll be back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And joining me now to talk about all of today's late developments on the campaign trail, on the telephone tonight, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, and from Salt Lake City tonight, Republican Orrin Hatch.

Good to have both of you with us.

Senator Hatch, I'm going to start with you this evening.

The FBI has begun investigating whether some no-bid contracts were put out to Halliburton during this war on Iraq, of course, the issue being that Dick Cheney, our vice president, was once the CEO of that company. Is this going to hurt the president?

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: I don't think so. They have never been able to show that Halliburton has done anything wrong. And I think one reason that some of the contracts were no-bid is because the only other competitors were French. And I think some people just plain didn't want to deal with the French the way they'd been treating us.

ZAHN: And, Senator Feinstein, it's not just the issue of the French. There are a lot of people that would argue that Halliburton was the only company that was equipped to deal with this large of a project. What do you make of this FBI development?

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Yes.

I don't know whether that's true or false. I do know this, that all these big contracts should be bid. And if they can be bid very quickly, and not to bid them leads them to exactly the problem that they're in today. So I think the absence of bidding is a big mistake.

ZAHN: Is there any suggestion to you, Senator Feinstein, that something illegal was done here?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I just don't know, and you know, and I really don't want to speculate, but these are big contracts. And I think there's going to be an afterlife as we take a look at the contracting practices of the Defense Department and see what they are, see what they cost, see what the problems have been.

And it's clear to me that we've got to tighten our policies.

ZAHN: Senator Hatch, I want to move on to the issue of the missing explosives.

(CROSSTALK)

HATCH: Could I say something?

ZAHN: Sure.

I appreciate Dianne's comments, because they're fair comments. The fact of the matter is, is that Halliburton has some unique capabilities that others don't have. But they've been a punching bag ever since someone on Dianne's side found out that Vice President Cheney worked for them. So I get a little tired of that. And I'm pleased with Dianne. She always tries to tell it straight.

ZAHN: OK, now back to the missing explosives story.

HATCH: Sure.

ZAHN: Senator Hatch, do you understand how these explosives could have gone missing when, in fact, the IAEA warned the United States government about the existence of them and they had marked these things with seals and, still, somehow 380 tons of them have disappeared?

HATCH: Well, the chief foreign policy adviser for John Kerry, Richard Holbrooke, and even Jamie Rubin admitted that they don't know whether they were taken before our -- our G.I.s got there. And they probably were.

ZAHN: What evidence do you have that would support that, sir?

HATCH: Well, I don't know that we do have any evidence other than the -- the satellite photos of the trucks and the fact that they're now admitting that there were only three -- three tons of RDX explosive at the time, rather than 141 tons.

You know, it's -- it looks to me like they must have cleaned that up before. And they could have done so without breaking the seals by going through the ventilator screens and they could easily be removed. And they could have taken the stuff out then.

One other thing, the commander on the ground said that it would have been virtually impossible for the insurgents to come in and take those materials, and Paul Bremer says the same, because the -- our country controlled all the roads there. It would have been virtually impossible.

So I think that at least Richard Holbrooke and Jamie Ruben, two foreign policy advisers to Senator Kerry, were honest in saying that they don't know.

ZAHN: Senator Feinstein, do you think there is a possibility that these explosives disappeared before the start of the war?

FEINSTEIN: I think, Paula, the jury's out. I have followed this for more than a year now. I've written to Secretary Rumsfeld. I've written to George Tenet. I wrote to Secretary of State Powell. I asked questions at a defense appropriation subcommittee of both Rumsfeld and Abizaid.

I was told that the major sites had been secured. That clearly is false. They had not been secured.

I then went to work in appropriations. Thanks to Senator Stevens, we were able to put in an additional $100 million.

It has been very clear to me that we have been deficient. We've been deficient without enough troops to secure these facilities immediately. And there are probably between two and 3,000 of them with huge amounts of ammo, explosives, small weapons, ordinance, et cetera.

And I think that this is one of the great lapses of the war. I think we're going to find, if we look back on it, that much of the stuff that was pulled out of not this particular al Qa Qaa dump, but others have been used against us in various ways.

ZAHN: Right.

FEINSTEIN: It is a real omission of the planning and the carrying out of the mission.

ZAHN: A lot of questions that we're going to be discussing in the days to come. Senator Feinstein, Senator Orrin Hatch, thank you both.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you.

HATCH: Thank you.

ZAHN: Our pleasure and with five days to go, who's ahead in the all-important electoral votes? Stick around. You might be surprised.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: It's my favorite time of the night now. Time to play another round of stump the pollsters. For the last time before the big vote, we unveil our latest CNN electoral map, a snapshot of where the race would stand if the election were held today, based on polls, trends and talks with strategists.

President Bush would win in at least 200 -- or win at least 227 electoral votes, and Senator Kerry would get 207, which you'll notice leaves 104 electoral votes up for grabs. That's a change from a week ago.

So joining me now to sort it all out, CNN political editor John Mercurio.

Good to see you.

JOHN MERCURIO, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Good to see you.

ZAHN: What's with all the gray? If you had to push it...

MERCURIO: If I had to push it...

ZAHN: ... how are these going to go?

MERCURIO: If I had to push it, you know, this might not surprise you in a race as close as we've been seeing, we actually that think these states, these gray states would fall evenly between the two candidates.

Now again, as you said, the states are tossups. These eight gray states are tossups. It's almost impossible to call them, but if you had to force them into one column or another.

ZAHN: I'm going to do that right now. I'm going to force you.

MERCURIO: We believe -- we believe that Bush would pick up these pink states: New Mexico, Iowa, Wisconsin and Florida down here. Almost forgot about that. And Kerry would pick up Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire up here.

Now we're not just being fair and balanced. We actually think that this is how these states fall -- this is how these states could fall.

Now, look at what this does to the numbers, though. If Bush actually picks up these gray states, these pink states, he would gain 49 electoral votes. Kerry would gain 55. That actually forces the number, the race even closer. Not close enough for Kerry, though. Bush would still hold the lead with 276.

That's a lot of numbers, probably more numbers than most people want to absorb right now. But the bottom line, close race.

ZAHN: Let's move on to a map where you're going to show even a closer breakdown of what happens in Florida...

MERCURIO: Right.

ZAHN: ... Ohio and Pennsylvania.

MERCURIO: The battle for FLOHPA.

ZAHN: FLOHPA. We love FLOHPA.

MERCURIO: The imaginary state of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

ZAHN: And what do we learn from this?

MERCURIO: Well, if Kerry were to actually pick up these states, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, for Bush to actually win, for Bush to actually figure out a way to win, he would have to get some -- he would have to get a couple lucky breaks.

He would have to win almost all of these gray states that we have here and he would also have to pick up -- he would have to dig into these Democratic states, these blue states, pick up a big one like Michigan or New Jersey or even a combination of some sort with New Mexico, Oregon or something like that.

So you know, you have to, you know, remember here, also on top of that, if Kerry is having a good night, if Kerry is winning FLOHPA, there's probably a national trend that's turning his way. The same would be the case for Bush. So if he's actually winning in these states, then it's sort of hard to see how Bush can reverse that trend to pick up Michigan, to pick up New Jersey.

ZAHN: All right. Let me reverse that a little.

MERCURIO: Sure.

ZAHN: Let's say the president takes Florida and Ohio.

MERCURIO: Sure.

ZAHN: Can Kerry still win?

MERCURIO: It's a pretty steep uphill climb for Kerry at that point, even if he is still winning the state of Pennsylvania. He'd still have to dig into these red states, these Republican states where Bush is doing pretty well, states like Missouri, states like Arkansas or Colorado where we think Bush is still doing pretty well.

The problem for Kerry is that he's been playing -- he's much more playing defense than Bush is at this point. I mean, there's only three or four states...

ZAHN: How can you say that with the missing weapons story?

MERCURIO: Well, those are issues. I'm talking specifically about how these -- these states are playing out.

The polls that -- there's only three or four states that we see that Bush won in 2000 that are competitive right now. There's probably six or seven states that Gore won in 2000 where Kerry is playing out.

Now one interesting scenario that we all like to talk about, the potential for a tie. If Bush is winning in Florida and Ohio and Kerry picks up all these gray states and a state like Nevada or West Virginia, we could have a 269 that would vote for (ph).

ZAHN: You got a lot of possibilities swimming in that smart head of yours.

MERCURIO: Tune it on Tuesday.

ZAHN: Well, we'll all be here all night long. Thanks so much, John Mercurio.

If you want to predict who will win next Tuesday, you can consult a fortune teller, but of course, that would probably be kind of silly. But headlines tell us about who will win the White House. That and other sure fire predictions when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: So do you want to know who's going to win the election? Ignore the polls. There are signs everywhere. And our Tom Foreman went looking for them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): No one should celebrate the Red Sox more than John Kerry because when the American League wins the World Series, as his hometown Sox finally did, 60 percent of the time, the Democrats win the White House.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're on our way! We're on our way!

FOREMAN: There are many presidential predictors. Long hemlines favor Republicans; good Bordeaux toasts the Democrats. But no one knows the serious alternatives better than presidential historian Allan Lichtman.

ALLAN LICHTMAN, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: I believe that there are predictors other than polling that are more accurate and reliable than the polls.

FOREMAN: Lichtman has devised 13 questions about presidential performance, social attitudes and the military. He says the answers are keys to predicting the winner, and they are pointing to Bush. He's been right for five elections.

LICHTMAN: So my system looks at the big picture: foreign policy successes and failures, the long and short-term economy, scandals, social unrest, third parties. And is able to come up with a prediction a year or even more out from the election.

FOREMAN: On the Iowa electronic market and trade sports web sites, millions of Americans bet money on who will win, and Bush is substantially favored there, too.

Coleman Strumph is an economist who studies these markets.

COLEMAN STRUMPH, ECONOMIST: I think one of the reasons these markets work so well is they take advantage of the wisdom of a lot of people where the people who have very strong views can make their intensity of views -- they can express it through this very interesting mechanism of investment.

FOREMAN: History backs him up. A century ago, betting on the presidency was hugely popular, front-page news. And long before polling, the betting markets were almost always correct.

Still, predicting the presidency is tricky. You can flip a coin and be right 50 percent of the time.

(on camera) But a few odd heads or tails, and your success rate could soar to 70 or 80 percent. So you see, any pattern that mimics election performance could be called a predictor.

But then there are the Redskins.

(voice-over) For 70 years, every time the Washington Redskins have won their game before the election, the incumbent party has kept the White House. They play the Packers on Halloween.

Go Pack, go Skins. Go figure.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Go Yankees. That was our Tom Foreman.

If you tuned in late night television for campaign news, Jon Stewart tossed you curveball last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": As we speak, as I am talking to you, the Boston Red Sox may be a few outs away from winning the World Series, or may be a few outs away from the beginning of what could be the greatest collapse in the history of sports. Either way, high drama in St. Louis right now. And for God sakes, and I plead with you, switch to the game. Honestly. You're not going to miss anything here. I mean, honestly, here's the show tonight. Bush said this. "Blah, blah, blah." Kerry said blah, blah. Lewis Black is angry. "Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah."

All right. It's your life. If you want to sit and watch this, whatever.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: And I do. And ahead, one of the biggest political bats of the year. And we're not talking about the race for the White House. A top Democrat in the toughest fight of his political life. That story when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And the talk of talk radio today. From the left, missing explosives. From the right, voting rights. Here's a sample.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RANDI RHODES, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: And now the explosives are blowing. They're blowing everywhere, and our troops are getting hit with the exact explosives that they were briefly allowed to visit. And Bush is running around saying Kerry doesn't have the facts. Kerry doesn't have the facts.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I hate coming on the air and talking -- saying things like the liberals or the Democrats. It just sounds like it's out of the talk radio handbook.

In this case, I have to say the liberals and the Democrats are the first to jump to their feet and support the rights of felons to go out and vote. But when you're talking about soldiers on the front lines, they're all sitting on their hands.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: The highest ranking Democrat in the U.S. Senate is facing a serious challenger from a former Republican House member.

According to the latest polls in South Dakota, Republican John Thune is just two percentage points behind Democrat Tom Daschle. It's a race Democrats can't afford to lose, and congressional correspondent Joe Johns brings us up to date on the battle.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's open season in South Dakota.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ready for the start of 2004 pheasant hunting? Let's go. Come on, hunt them up.

JOHNS: A deadly time to be a bird. And almost as bad for politicians.

Tom Daschle, the top Democrat in the Senate, has a long record of delivering for his state. But now he's in the fight of his political life against an aggressive Republican challenger, John Thune.

David Kranz is the dean of South Dakota political reporters.

DAVID KRANZ, POLITICAL REPORTER, "SIOUX FALLS ARGUS-LEADER": It's a contact sport. But I don't think they want to see them bleed. I think they want to see them hit hard. And I think both candidates are bleeding right now.

JOHNS: Daschle's high profile and the fact that he's running in a solid Republican state have made him the most valued prize of the 2004 congressional elections.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For years, Tom Daschle's been telling us one thing in South Dakota and then doing the opposite in Washington.

JOHNS: Tom Daschle's main argument is that South Dakota can't afford to elect a rookie.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are 100 United States senators, some more powerful than others, and while South Dakota is a small state, we've got a strong voice in Washington.

JOHNS: And that he sits at the center of power on the Senate floor.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D), SOUTH DAKOTA: Can someone have our South Dakotans believe that there's nothing wrong with trading that office and that desk and the front row at the center aisle for one of the decks in the far corner in the back. But I think there's a big difference.

JOHNS: The campaign reached a new low when somebody played a dirty trick on Daschle. Voters received a mailing with a sticker that said, quote, "Vote for Daschle and vote for sodomy." The mailing had Daschle's office as the return address.

On a bus ride between campaign stops, the mailer brought a rare flash of anger from Daschle.

DASCHLE: I think it's outrageous. I think it's indicative of the kind of campaign that the other side has run from the very beginning. They spent the last couple of years trying to demean my character and spend as much money as we've ever seen in South Dakota running negative ads.

JOHNS: Republicans deny any involvement with the mailer.

A couple of hours' drive across a windswept countryside populated by cows, a few buffalo and expansive farms, John Thune is stumping at an outdoor barbecue.

JOHN THUNE (R), SOUTH DAKOTA SENATE CANDIDATE: How are you, Sir? Nice to see you.

JOHNS: Thune ran for Senate in 2002 and lost by only a few hundred votes. This time, he sharpened his message and has become more aggressive.

THUNE: It's more about Washington than it is about South Dakota.

JOHNS: He says Tom Daschle uses his power to obstruct, not legislate.

It's barbed wire politics with both sides playing rough, and after a year, South Dakotans are about ready to bolt.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And Joe Johns joins me now from Columbus, Ohio. So good to see you, Joe.

So let's talk about the big picture here and whether you think the Democrats have any chance at all of winning back the Senate.

JOHNS: Well, it would be very tough because quite frankly, Republicans do have the edge. Right now, the grand total in the United States Senate is 51 Republicans, 48 Democrats and one independent. That is Jim Jeffords of Vermont. He frequently votes with the Democrats.

Now Democrats only need to pick up two seats, but frankly, Paula, this is a real math problem for them, because they are defending more seats than the Republicans are. That makes it very hard for them to pick up the Senate in the next election.

ZAHN: So what are the Senate seats that are most vulnerable that both parties are really concerned about?

JOHNS: Well, there are nine competitive seats, the pundits say, across the United States. Democrats are defending five of those seats.

Now, one of those seats is a seat in Georgia. That is assumed to be changing over from Democrat to Republican, but it's going to be canceled out by the seat changing from Republican to Democrat in Illinois.

That leaves four open seats, all in the South. That's North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and Louisiana. Of course, that makes it very tough for the Democrats.

The Democrats are in a good position, because they do have some very good candidates in some of these races, but they're mighty tight. And the problem is, the Republicans have also come back with some exceptional candidates of their own. That means we're looking at very close races, at least a potential for it, in all of these states, Paula.

ZAHN: What are we going to do when we don't have to remember this stuff anymore, Joe? What are we going to fill our heads with?

JOHNS: I know. The math is daunting, and when you have close races, it gets even tougher. You really do need a scorecard and a map at some point.

ZAHN: Do you want to run through other interesting races for us tonight?

JOHNS: Well, I guess probably beyond the Daschle race, I'd have to say at the current time, the most interesting race we're looking at is the race -- is in the state of Kentucky.

It's an interesting race, because you have an incumbent there, Jim Bunning, the hall of fame pitcher, and he is up against a very tough candidate. That is Daniel Mongiardo. He is a doctor running a very good race.

The problem there for Bunning is that he's had some missteps. He's had some statements that have been publicized that people didn't like, people are concerned about, the media really harping on. And Daniel Mongiardo is starting to close there in Kentucky.

The question still, though, is whether he'd actually be able to beat Jim Bunning, who's pretty popular in the state and very well known, especially for his athletic prowess back in the day.

ZAHN: We'll have our tentacles out watching all this. Joe Johns, thanks for the update.

JOHNS: You bet.

ZAHN: And when we come back, the results of tonight's "Voting Booth" question. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: It's time for the results of tonight's "Voting Booth" question. Who do you think might persuade more voters to support their candidate?

Fifty-six percent say Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, 44 percent say Bruce Springsteen. Remember, this is a sampling of visitors to our Web site, not a scientific poll. I think Arnold would like those numbers.

With our election five days away our final town hall meeting takes place the night before the polls open on Monday, November 1. I will be with voters and campaign representatives in Kissimmee, Florida. That town hall will get underway at 8 p.m. Eastern.

You can take part in it by clicking on to CNN.com/Paula and send us your questions for the candidates. Last time you flooded it -- us with your questions. Some 10,000 of them were sent our way. We look forward to more response for you for next Monday night.

That is it for all of us here tonight. Thanks so much for joining us. And tomorrow, millions of young people registered to vote for the first time. We'll look at how this could affect this year's election.

Thanks again for joining us tonight. "LARRY KING LIVE" is next.

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


International Edition
CNN TV CNN International Headline News Transcripts Advertise With Us About Us
SEARCH
   The Web    CNN.com     
Powered by
© 2005 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us.
external link
All external sites will open in a new browser.
CNN.com does not endorse external sites.
 Premium content icon Denotes premium content.
Add RSS headlines.