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PAULA ZAHN NOW

A Look at How Bush Won a Second Term

Aired November 3, 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. Thanks so much for joining us tonight.
Tonight, we look at the winners and losers and what the future holds in a nation deeply divided. For Americans who didn't accept George W. Bush the first time around, this time, the voters' decision is clear, the first president in 16 years to win more than 50 percent of the vote, the most votes since Ronald Reagan, and a larger Republican majority in the House and the Senate to help carry out the president's political agenda. Tonight, how it happened and where we are getting.

Just 24 hours ago, the Kerry campaign was beginning to sense that things were slipping away. It took a very long night of vote counting and a morning of studying the numbers before the senator from Massachusetts faced the inevitable, President George W. Bush had won Ohio and a second term.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): In the end, the numbers just weren't there for Senator John Kerry. Nationwide he trailed the president by about 3.5 million votes, 51 to 48 percent. He could have held out in Ohio, but Kerry decided to avoid the long, divisive fight.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In America, it is vital that every vote count and that every vote be counted. But the outcome should be decided by voters, not a legal a protracted legal process.

ZAHN: In conceding, he called for unity.

KERRY: America is in need of unity and longer for a larger measure of compassion. I hope President Bush will advance those values in the coming years. I pledge to do my part to try to bridge the partisan divide.

ZAHN: In claiming victory, President George W. Bush also called for unity.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A new term is a new opportunity to reach out to the whole nation. We have one country, one Constitution, and one future that binds us.

And when we come together and work together, there is no limit to the greatness of America. ZAHN: For now, there were only outlines of his new agenda.

BUSH: We will continue our economic progress. We'll reform our outdated tax code. We'll strengthen the Social Security for the next generation. We'll make public schools all they can be. And we will uphold our deepest values of family and faith.

We'll help the emerging democracies of Iraq and Afghanistan...

ZAHN: The campaign may be over, but the real problems remain, war, deficits, the threat of terrorism. But armed with a new mandate, the president told the country we're entering a season of hope.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Well, the president won't get much time to savor his victory. He has an important summit meeting come up, not to mention a legislative agenda to prepare for and a new, more Republican Congress.

Joining me now from Washington are senior correspondent John King and senior political correspondent Candy Crowley in Boston, where the Kerry campaign is now folding its tents.

Good to see both of you. Maybe you won't have to move around in the weeks to come.

John, my first question to you tonight, it is clear that the president had enormous success in solidifying his base, but less progress in reaching beyond that base. What are the president's specific plans to try to unify this country?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is a major governing challenge.

The president reached out rhetorically today. How does he reach out from a policy perspective? That's a big, open question, because his major initiatives, tax simplification, health care, Social Security revamping, all of the things, the details are out there and that most Democrats don't like them. So it is a major challenge.

The president will come back with the elements of his faith-based initiative that were rejected in the last Congress, largely because Senator Tom Daschle, no longer around, told the Democrats they weren't going to give this one to the president. And there will be some other modest gestures. But that is the biggest challenge, turning this promise of bipartisanship into some action, some policy proposals that Democrats will respond to. So far, there is nothing obvious. The president will put Democrats on the Social Security Commission he wants, but that's more of a long-term project, no sense of what comes immediately.

ZAHN: And, Candy, before we look ahead on the Democratic side here, what is the Kerry campaign staff telling you about why they think their candidate lost?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, they can come up with a million reasons. Was it because in the final weeks of the campaign he reached into the headlines to kind of bolster his case that the president was incompetent?

Remember, we spent nearing a week where the entire story was about the missing ammunition in Iraq. Some on the staff say, it was too complicated a story? Was it shoved in there and did it look desperate? On the other hand, others say, look, should we have spent more time in Ohio and less time in Florida? They knew they needed two of the three, Pennsylvania, Ohio, or Florida. Pennsylvania looked very good for John Kerry.

Should he maybe have spent more time in Ohio, kind of let Florida go? The problem, when I talked to somebody, they said, look, we wouldn't have spent more time in Ohio. We can't have put more ads on the air. It was just already at saturation point. There's lot of that going on at this point. It will go on for years. Was he too liberal? Was he too conservative?

All of that will go on, while the Democratic Party reconnoiters to figure out how to reach into some of those places that the president has reached into. But I have to tell you that today was not really a time for what did we do wrong and who helped and who didn't help. They were just all-out sad today, Paula.

ZAHN: It didn't appear as such when you watched John Kerry deliver what many thought was an inspired speech and a gracious speech.

But, John, let's come back to the president for a moment here. The exit polls are quite stunning, at least to some folks looking at these numbers for the first time, when it appears that moral issues trumped just about every other issue on the map here. How did the president successfully cover his hide when it came to the issue of Iraq, an issue that the majority of Americans were quite incensed about?

KING: By building a loyal base that would vote for him even if they disagreed with him on such a giant issue like the war in Iraq. And it was a four-year plan.

Karl Rove was stung when Al Gore won the popular vote four years ago. Candy knows it well from that campaign. They thought they were going to win Pennsylvania. They thought they had a chance in Michigan. They thought they were going to win big in Florida. It didn't work out that way four years ago. They started on day one being a database of evangelicals, rural Americans, possible Republican voters.

They spent four years recruiting them. Everyone last night said higher turnout would benefit John Kerry. The Bush campaign and specifically Karl Rove proved them wrong, a record high vote for this president.

ZAHN: John King, Candy Crowley, thank you both. Look forward to more conversations down the road here. Thanks for all your hard work during this whole cycle. And so what happened to the Kerry campaign and what is ahead for the Democrats? Let's turn to Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, who is a former Democratic national party chairman, who joins me from Philadelphia tonight.

Always good to see you, sir.

GOV. ED RENDELL (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Good evening.

ZAHN: So we have heard dozens of explanations about why John Kerry lost. What do you think happened to him?

RENDELL: I think he was running against an incumbent president in the middle of a war who had successfully defended this country for three years from another terrorist attack. And I think that was just too heavy a burden.

If we could have shifted the conversation to just the domestic issues, I think we would have won handily. Had 9/11 not happened and the war not happened and the Bush administration had the same record on domestic issues, I think we would have won. I'm not sure there is much that John Kerry could have done differently, except respond to those swift boat ads much more quickly with a greater sense of outrage and blow them out of the water.

ZAHN: Do you think that would have changed anything?

RENDELL: I think it might have. I think we lost a tremendous amount of time. It took us six, seven weeks to -- and a great performance in debate No. 1 by John Kerry and a mediocre performance by the president to get over the damage of the swift boat ads. We lost a ton of time.

ZAHN: You've been in this world of politics for a long time. And I've been covering it for a long time, I guess. I was amazed today to hear the extent of the self-flagellation among Democrats today. You hear them openly talking about we were tone-deaf about a whole range of issues. We didn't understand that these social issues would be so important to the American voters. Do you agree with that degree of self-criticism?

RENDELL: No, I don't.

Like I said at the beginning, I'm not sure there's much we could have done. The nation -- even forget the evangelicals and the religious right. I think a lot of people who disagreed with George Bush's handling of the war thought you can't go against the commander in chief in the middle of a war. It would be too disruptive. It would be too difficult. I think that was a tremendous plus.

I think the fact -- the unspoken issue in the campaign, three years since 9/11, no further incident on American soil, those were powerful things. And I'm not sure we could have overcome them. I know we came close in the electoral vote. But I'm not sure we could have changed the popular vote. Your intro said the Republicans did a great job getting out the vote. But so did we. If we hadn't done great job getting out the vote in Pennsylvania, we would have lost. The Bush campaign in 2004 was so much better in Pennsylvania than the Bush campaign in 2000. But we responded in kind. What happened in Philadelphia was just awesome, over 670,000 people voting, just incredible.

ZAHN: But it is still interesting to look at a range of numbers particularly for the voters that make up that 18- to 29-year-old age group. The Kerry campaign was counting on them. And it turns out they didn't turn out in any greater numbers this time or in ratios going back to the last three elections.

RENDELL: Well, they did in terms of raw vote. The percentage didn't change. They turned out at a greater level than they did in the past. But so did everybody else. So the percentages didn't change.

There was a good younger voter turnout in campuses all around Pennsylvania. But, again, everybody else turned out, so their percentage stayed basically the same.

ZAHN: How much do you think the issue of social issues hurt John Kerry? Because I heard a number of very powerful Democrats today say, look, the whole issue of gay rights hurt us and the whole emphasis on abortion from time to time in this campaign hurt John Kerry, that he's tone-deaf to what Americans really want.

RENDELL: I don't necessarily think that's true.

I think the people who voted against John Kerry on those issues were probably never voting for a Democratic senator from Massachusetts. I don't think they were ever fair game for us. Democrats get elected in moderate and conservative states who are pro- choice and generally support gay rights, as Senator Kerry did. I'm a perfect example. And we don't get hurt by those issues. We lose votes, but those are votes we might not have gotten in any case.

ZAHN: Governor, final question for you tonight. How bummed out are you not only that the president was reelected, but that he gained strength under his leadership in both houses of Congress?

RENDELL: Well, I'm really bummed out.

I said during the campaign I never thought George Bush was an evil or bad man. And we all ought to find common ground on energy, renewable energy, and health care and things like that. But I'm really bummed out because a lot of great people lost yesterday. I think John Kerry is a wonderful American. Fortunately, we'll have him in the Senate.

But I'm most bummed out about losing Tom Daschle. I thought Tom Daschle was -- I've been in this business 27 years. He's the single best person in politics I have ever met. And, gosh, I don't know what is in the water in South Dakota.

ZAHN: Maybe you'll have to go find out.

RENDELL: I'm not sure.

ZAHN: Governor Ed Rendell, thank you for your time tonight.

And when PRIME TIME POLITICS continue, the Election Day surprise.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): Tonight, it is the decisive issue, the one pollsters didn't see coming, millions of people voting their moral values.

BUSH: My faith is very personal. I pray for strength. I pray for wisdom.

ZAHN: Why does George W. Bush own this issue?

And the Democrats, they have been here before, down in Congress and out of the White House.

KERRY: I know this is a difficult time for my supporters. I will also do everything in my power to ensure that my party, a proud Democratic Party, stands true to our best hopes and ideals.

ZAHN: What is ahead for a blue party in an increasingly red nation?

And tonight's voting booth question. Did the election go the way you thought it would? Go to CNN.com/Paula and let us know. We'll have results at the end of the hour.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Mel Martinez gave up his Cabinet post as housing secretary in the Bush administration to return to Florida politics. He heads back to Washington soon as one of the 55 Republicans in the new-look Senate.

And senator-elect Martinez joins me tonight from Orlando.

Good to see you and congratulations, sir.

MEL MARTINEZ (R), FLORIDA SENATOR-ELECT: Thank you very much. Pleasure to be with you.

ZAHN: Let's go back to this time last night when the Bush camp was not all that optimistic it was going to win this election. Were you worried that John Kerry was going to win?

MARTINEZ: I surely was. And all the signs during the day had not been that positive. And as the election returns began, I began to feel a little better that we were doing well in Florida and that he would carry the state. It looked like he had a decent lead and it held all night. And so once Florida was in place, then the heart- pounding became Ohio.

ZAHN: How much do you think your success helped the president?

MARTINEZ: Well, I hope we helped each other. And I think we did.

I think that I energized a lot of voters in Florida, Hispanic community of Florida to vote. And I think that that helped the president with a large turnout among Cuban Americans particularly. And then I think he helped me in other parts of the state where we ran as a ticket. And I think some North Florida conservative voters also voted for me and they turned out for him. So I think we made a good ticket for Florida. We made a good team.

ZAHN: In spite of the fact the president pulled over 50 percent of the popular vote in this election, we do know from exit polling that a quarter of Americans who voted are very angry about this administration's policies.

What do you think the president has to do to unify this country after this bitter, blistering campaign?

MARTINEZ: I think we all need to come together as Americans.

You know, I think today is a day to forget the labels, to take off the donkey or the elephant off of our shirt and to pick up the red, white and blue, I guess, just begin to think of ourselves as Americans and as a country to come together. We're at a very difficult time in history.

I think the president will reach out. I think he already has today. And I think we'll continue to do that, to not look for ways to polarize, but to look for ways in which he can also help heal the country. President Bush in Texas had a very successful record as someone who could work across party lines, as someone who could work with Democrats and Republican both.

And I know one of his great regrets in his time in Washington is that he's been unable to pierce that deep divide. I think maybe a decisive victory -- I remember coming into the Cabinet four years ago. The country was so divided. And the outcome here in Florida had been so bitter that I thought it was difficult for us to come together as a nation.

We today may disagree with the outcome, if someone was on the other side. At least we can all agree that we had a decisive outcome. And now maybe it's time to begin to pull together all as Americans.

ZAHN: So you essentially just acknowledged that perhaps you don't think the president did as much in his first term as he could to unite the country. What will change this time around? There are a lot of people cynical or pessimistic that he won't be able to do just that.

MARTINEZ: Well, I think he wants to. I think his intent has always been to do that. And I think what we must do now is give him a chance as well. I think those people, that 25 percent that is that anti-Bush feeling, give the guy a chance. He is our president. We live in a democracy. And for better or worse, we only get one president at a time. This is a good man, a man with a good heart, a man who means to do well for America.

And why you may disagree with an issue or a policy, I think we all owe him the benefit of giving him a chance. And now we should begin anew. We have a new morning. We should have a new beginning. And I think it is time for America to begin to think of ourselves as people who are at war against terrorists who wish us evil, and I don't think we should forget that. And so we need to come together.

And while the policies, we may differ on how to get there, I think we all share the goal of a safer, better America.

ZAHN: Senator-elect Mel Martinez, we really appreciate your time. And we know probably about this time after being up all night long you probably need some sleep like the rest of us. Good luck to you, sir, in Washington.

MARTINEZ: Absolutely. Good sleep would be good. Thanks.

ZAHN: For the Democrats, the economy was supposed to be the winning issue in Ohio, given the job losses over the last four years, some 230,000 manufacturing jobs. But that's not how most Ohio voters saw it -- why they didn't vote their pocketbooks coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: There was an awful lot of hand-wringing during the campaign that Ohio would be the new Florida. Well, it didn't quite work out that way, but Ohio did keep us in suspense and on overdrive last night. Of course, the voters in Ohio ultimately decided for President Bush, and for many of the same reasons as voters in the rest of the country.

Here's Dan Lothian.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN BOSTON BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): The headlines in Ohio screamed cliffhanger. Protesters screamed for every vote to be counted. But in suburban Columbus, where manicured lawns were decorated with Bush-Cheney signs, loud amens from the evangelical faithful, like Lynn Ransbottom (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I think he has a deep commitment.

LOTHIAN: Her vote tied to her strong belief in values.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that that can be the basis of more good things happening in the future.

LOTHIAN: In the mother of all battleground states, where near record turnout stretched voting into the wee hours, a surprising and convincing showing by the Republican Party base, Christians who proudly wear their faith on bumper stickers next to W. signs.

This car belongs to Bonnie and Lester Pifer, who say, even with the war and worries about the economy, President Bush was the only choice because of what he believes.

LESTER PIFER, VOTER: We appreciated his viewpoint on the stem cell issue.

BONNIE PIFER, VOTER: He conducted his campaign with grace and honesty. I like him.

LOTHIAN: The evangelical community in this state is strong and, unlike 2000, more energized, in part, say some voters, because of the anti-gay marriage initiative which passed.

CHRISTY LIEDTKE, VOTER: Bush was so adamantly against that stuff.

PASTOR BILL SNELL, GRACE BRETHREN CHURCH: The family is basic to our country and its welfare, and so goes the family, so goes the nation.

LOTHIAN: In exit polling, 23 percent of Ohio voters surveyed said moral values was the most important issue. And of those people, 85 percent voted for Bush.

But how did faith take a leap over the most pressing issue in this state, job losses? More than 200,000, mostly in the manufacturing sector, gone since President Bush took office.

PROF. BERT ROCKMAN, OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY: We tend to associate rational voting with pocketbook voting. But rational voting can be a function of whatever is the most salient set of preferences you have.

LOTHIAN: But driving her vintage VW, Gina Ginnetti, who is proud of her faith, isn't convinced. She voted not with her heart, but with her pocketbook.

GINA GINNETTI, VOTER: Senior citizens, they need help with the medicine and with hospitalization. They don't having no help at all.

LOTHIAN: But evangelicals in this state say this election was a wakeup call.

SNELL: The heart and soul of America is much more biblically centered and God-centered than many people want to think and this election brought them out by the thousands.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're thankful. We're thankful for what has taken place.

LOTHIAN: They believe their prayers were answered.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ZAHN: That was Dan Lothian reporting.

Joining me now, Bush campaign adviser the Reverend Joe Watkins, who is also the director of Hill Solutions.

Always good to see you. Congratulations.

REV. JOE WATKINS, BUSH CAMPAIGN ADVISER: It's nice to be back. Well, thank you. Thank you.

ZAHN: It didn't look that way this time last night, did it?

WATKINS: Well, we were all waiting.

ZAHN: You thought he was not going to win Ohio.

WATKINS: I was very anxious, like everybody else, of course, but just delighted. When I saw James Carville, I saw his face, I realized that our chances were getting better by the second.

ZAHN: Well, I think he was the first one in any of the coverage that I have seen -- and he was sitting next to me -- who was honest before midnight that this was not going to happen for John Kerry.

(CROSSTALK)

WATKINS: That's exactly right. Yes.

ZAHN: Let's go back to some of those numbers, because I find them fascinating, that these moral issues trumped in two out of 10 voters' minds all the issues of the economy, taxes, Iraq, terrorism.

(CROSSTALK)

WATKINS: This is so real.

I have a radio show if Philadelphia. And I had callers calling in saying, I'm an African-American, I am a Democrat, and I normally vote Democrat, but this year because of my faith, I'm voting for George W. Bush. I rode on the train just about two weeks ago with a friend, African-American. We had never talked about politics before.

He told me on the train that he was a Democrat, said it kind of quietly. And then he said to me, but, you know, I'm voting for George W. Bush. I said, why? He says, I'm voting for him because of the partial-birth abortion issue. I just cannot vote for John Kerry if he was against the ban on partial-birth abortion.

So, for a lot of voters, African-American and otherwise, moral issues, issues having to do with values are very important. They're central.

ZAHN: What still doesn't make sense to me, though, are the disconnect between the numbers that you saw in exit polling about the issue of Iraq and how it appears as though the president got off the hook. Now, I know you have been concerned throughout the campaign, the exposure the president had. You have evangelicals who were widely critical of the president and this war. Why the disconnect with those numbers?

WATKINS: Well, you know, at the end of the day, I think it has to do with the silent voters. There are a lot of voters who were not protesting. They were not out there in the streets. They weren't waving banners. They didn't have signs in their hands protesting one thing or the other.

But it was clear to them from day one that the thing that they most cared about was the fact that George Bush was a person of faith and they were going to support George Bush because of his faith. And these were Democrats, as well as Republicans, as well as independents.

ZAHN: That is also an issue that makes people very uneasy.

And there were a bunch people we have talked to as we have traveled around doing these town hall meetings in these battleground states who are fearful that, though they respect the president's deep convictions, they think it will seep over into his policies. They fervently believe that if he gets the justices he wants on the Supreme Court, that Roe v. Wade...

(CROSSTALK)

WATKINS: Well, this is not a president who wears his faith on his sleeve. His faith is just part of who he is. And that is what I like about him.

It's not about spin for him. It's not about, how can I figure out a way to share with people the fact that I'm a Christian person? Rather, it is really just who he is. And he's not afraid to let people see that part of him. But I don't think that he's going to -- obviously, it will have some impact.

ZAHN: You are saying he's not going to blur the line between separation of church and state.

(CROSSTALK)

WATKINS: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. He understands the separation of church and state. And he's going to continue to do a great job of leading our country.

ZAHN: There are a number of Republicans I have talked to, though, buoyed by this great win believe that it is going to be difficult for this president to unify this country. Why don't you think he did a better job of bringing together this bitterly divided nation over the last four years?

WATKINS: Well, I certainly think that, going forward, the president is going to do a great job.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: No, I meant for you going backwards, Reverend. (LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: You didn't answer my question. Could he have done a better job? Could he have done more/

WATKINS: Well, this president has done a wonderful job, given the difficulties.

Think about it. On September 11, 2001, we were attacked. We were coming out of a recession. Then we got attacked by the terrorists on September 11. We lost lives and jobs. It hurt our economy -- it hurt -- it really hit us in so many different ways. And this president helped to bring us back together again. And, of course



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Coming out of a recession and then we got attacked by terrorists on September 11 and we lost lives and jobs. It hurt our economy and it hit us in so many different ways. And this president helped to bring us back together again. And of course...

PAULA ZAHN, HOST: But he -- you acknowledge he could have done more. Do you wish more could have been done to bridge this great divide?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. I think he's doing everything that can be done. And I think that he'll even better the second term. I think that this president understands that the American people need to continue to be brought together, and I think he's going to do that.

ZAHN: Who would have a fight with a man of the cloth (ph)? Thanks for dropping by, Rev. Joe Watkins (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Glad to be here, Paula.

ZAHN: The full arrivals (ph) may be focused on uniting the country but a powerful Senate Republican had this warning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. GEORGE ALLEN (R-VA), NATIONAL REPUBLICAN SENATORIAL COMMITTEE: The message to the Democrats is stop the obstruction, stop the pass interference, stop the delays.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: On Capitol Hill a stoplight for the Democrats. A green light for the Republicans. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Tonight, Republicans certainly celebrating. Democrats, however, are taking stock of their defeat and starting to plan for their future. And there is talk about trying to work with the president, but there is also concern about his agenda.

Here is congressional correspondent Ed Henry.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Senate Republicans broke out the champagne after a stunning sweep on election night. Republicans see it as a repudiation of Democratic efforts to block President Bush's agenda. Their biggest prize: beating the Democratic leader, Tom Daschle.

ALLEN: The message to the Democrats is stop the obstruction, stop the pass interference, stop the delays. Stop the filibustering. Move forward. Get through the elections. And act for the American people.

HENRY: Majority leader Bill Frist flew around the country to celebrate with his winning candidates.

Republicans picked up four Senate seats. That gives Frist 55 seats, making it easier to push through the president's second term agenda.

Republicans want more tax cuts and tort reform. And after solidifying their grip on the House and Senate, they now want to reshape the federal judiciary, including the Supreme Court.

Democrats fear conservatives now also will be bolder on social issues like abortion and gay marriage.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: I am very concerned about the radical right-wing agenda of President Bush and the Republicans in the Congress.

HENRY: Shell-shocked Democrats are now struggling to figure out how hard to fight the president. The man likely to replace Daschle as leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, is pledging a conciliatory approach.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY WHIP: Now is the time for everyone to come together. We've had an election. The American people have spoken.

HENRY: Pelosi says she's disappointed that more Democratic voters were not mobilized to stop the president's social agenda. But she said this could be a wakeup call. If President Bush is able to shape the Supreme Court, Democrats may now see elections have consequences.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ZAHN: And that was Ed Henry.

Joining us now from Washington, "CROSSFIRE's" Paul Begala and here with me in New York, CNN contributor and "TIME" columnist, Joe Klein.

JOE KLEIN, "TIME" COLUMNIST: Hi, Paula.

ZAHN: Good to see both of you. We all had a long night together here.

Paul...

KLEIN: Still going on.

ZAHN: The election with no end.

BEGALA: No one I'd rather spend an evening with, Paula.

ZAHN: No. Well, thank you, Paul. I'm flattered that you would say that.

How much life support are the Democrats on right now, Paul?

BEGALA: You know, they're really in a lot of trouble. I think that after the 2000 election, Democrats could blame Chief Justice Rehnquist and Katherine Harris and Ralph Nader. And so they didn't do a really fundamental reexamination of the party.

A lot of them blamed Al Gore: "Well, it's the candidate, stupid."

I hope that this time, instead of just banging on John Kerry or attacking his staff, that the party will actually look at the fundamentals here. Why are people in 30 states standing in line for three hours to vote against Democrats on moral issues? That seemed to be the thing that percolated up.

I think Democrats were ready to argue the war, ready to argue the economy. But didn't engage the debate on cultural issues, moral issues, social issues at all. And apparently, that's what drove them out.

ZAHN: What's striking about the exit polling is it shows that one in five voters put these moral issues ahead of terrorism, ahead of the war in Iraq, ahead of the economy. Did Democrats make a complete miscalculation here?

KLEIN: Well, first of all, let's put it in perspective. I did my first "wither the Democrats" story about Democrats 25 years ago in "Rolling Stone" magazine, and the quadrennial bloodletting among the Democrats is something I'm not anxious to participate in again.

Especially since, on foreign policy, especially the war in Iraq, the critique was very solid, as you'll see in the next few months. And on domestic policy the public essentially agreed. The problem here is that the Democratic Party really needs to have a serious conversation within itself about positions on social issues, which tend to be very extreme, extremely secularist and -- and not paying enough attention or respect to people of faith.

ZAHN: But doesn't it go a lot further than that, Paul, when you see these statistics that show the majority of Americans believe the country is moving in the wrong direction. And yet they reelected the guy who's presided over this country for the last four years.

BEGALA: Really stunning. The only other president who's ever pulled it off is Harry Truman in 1948, and just by the skin of his teeth. The president won a slightly more comfortable victory yesterday.

And so I do think that Joe's got a good point. The Democrats probably ought to reassess this. People do think the country is moving in the wrong direction, yet they want the president, at least enough of them to give him a majority because they feel like he understands and respects their cultural values.

And I think that that's -- that's a place that Democrats haven't wanted to tread in this election cycle.

ZAHN: Is it that or do they have a problem with John Kerry, the candidate, Joe? Don't you have to separate those two things?

KLEIN: We go back to the wrong track question here. A lot of people think that this country going in the wrong direction because abortion is legal and every third commercial on television is for erectile dysfunction.

I mean, I think that a lot of the people who voted for George W. Bush think the country is on the wrong moral track. We have to be able to get beyond our simplistic reading of polls.

ZAHN: But you're not telling me tonight that the economy has nothing to do with that equation.

KLEIN: Oh, no. Oh, no.

ZAHN: That also enters into people's decision making.

KLEIN: You have to hold three different ideas in your mind at the same time. One, people have very mixed and confused feelings about what's going on in Iraq. Two, they're concerned about the economy. Three, they're scared to death about the -- about the society that their children are consuming on a nightly and afternoon basis from television.

ZAHN: How comprised as a candidate was John Kerry, Paula Begala?

BEGALA: You know what? He's a perfectly able candidate. I mean, he could have done better at this or that. The president was a pretty good candidate and Kerry beat him in all three debates. I'm not as interested in that, really, you know, because that's water under the bridge.

I think Democrats ought to try to really reassess these things that Joe is talking about. Every liberal -- this is a generalization, but most liberals believe they're intellectually superior to conservatives. They just do. They want to think of themselves as smart.

Every conservative I know wants to think of himself as morally superior. And each of them holds the other, and the other's strength, in contempt.

That is to say a lot of the liberal elites I know have contempt for the strong religious values and the sort of sense of moral superiority that conservatives have, and most conservatives, who feel morally superior, don't like intellectualism. The president is a case in point.

And I think that divide is the one that Democrats haven't been able or willing to try to bridge, at least not since Bill Clinton. We need someone like that who can speak to folks of faith and values again.

ZAHN: Where is the next Bill Clinton coming from? Joe Klein, you've got 10 seconds to wrap it up.

KLEIN: The South?

ZAHN: That was brief. You can get your eight seconds back on another night.

KLEIN: Come on, I haven't gotten to sleep yet. You're asking me to start 2008. No!

ZAHN: Well, at least you got a geographic region for us tonight.

Joe Klein, Paul Begala, thanks so much for your time.

And for a while there yesterday things looked really good for John Kerry, if you believed the exit polls. But in the end, they couldn't be trusted. That story when we come back.

And remember our "Voting Booth" question tonight. Did the election go the way you thought it would? Go to CNN.com/Paula and vote now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: If there was ever an election dependent on polls it was this latest one. For the past two months, we have been swamped with them: horserace polls, tracking polls, state polls, even polls of other polls. Well, it seemed as if every day there was this refrain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES CARVILLE, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": I don't know what difference it makes what an exit poll says. KAREN HUGHES, SENIOR ADVISOR, BUSH/CHENEY CAMPAIGN: The only poll that counts is...

HOWARD DEAN (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... the poll on election day. And that's the one that we ought to be focusing on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: And of course in the end they were all right. Even the exit polls got it wrong yesterday. And that fooled a lot of people, including the president's team.

Here's "Washington Post" media critic and host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES," Howie Kurtz.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES" (voice-over): As word of the exit polls began spreading Tuesday across the nation's newsrooms and across such Internet sites as the Drudge Report and Slate, the presidential race was, at least briefly, looking pretty good for John Kerry.

And there were hints of that in the television coverage.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": And it's an uphill climb in Ohio. It hasn't been lost yet. But I think the Republicans have got to count on possibly losing Ohio.

SUSAN ESTRICH, FOX NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: What you have to say right now is that either the exit polls by and large are completely wrong or George Bush loses.

KURTZ: But while no one made the kind of blunder we all remember from 2000...

JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST, "INSIDE POLITICS": A big call to make. CNN announces that we call Florida in the Al Gore column.

KURTZ: ... the initial exit polls, once again, off base. Or at least, far enough off base to convince many journalists that President Bush was in deep trouble.

Could that have had an impact on people who were still considering whether to vote? It's hard to know for sure.

(on camera) The problem is that the initial morning wave of exit polling was pretty raw stuff, not yet adjusted for the voting population or the flood of absentee ballots.

And by the time the later waves were ready to be sent out, the system crashed for as much as an hour.

(voice-over) Meanwhile, as the actual votes came in and Bush began building a lead in Florida, the tone of the coverage shifted to reflect, not exit poll projections but real world numbers. CARVILLE: One never wants to give up but one has to be a realist. And tonight doesn't seem to be a very good night.

KURTZ: The president did a little video spinning of his own, allowing the networks to film him with his family in the White House and sending an unmistakable message, as interpreted by ABC's George Stephanopoulos.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: He's relaxed. He's confident he's going to win.

KURTZ: But the networks were cautious, remarkably cautious, considering how competitive the business is in making predictions.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS": The last thing we at CNN would ever want to do again is call a state for a president -- a presidential candidate and have to retract is later.

KURTZ: And with Ohio hanging in the balance, network anchors remained cautious until 12:41 this morning, when Fox News' Brit Hume projected Bush the winner in Ohio, bringing him just one measly electoral vote from victory.

NBC followed suit at 1 a.m.

TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: This race is all but over. President Bush is our projected winner in the state of Ohio.

KURTZ: But unlike four years ago, when everyone jumped on the Bush bandwagon within minutes, the other networks refused to be stampeded.

DAN RATHER, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: Yes, we're aware that in some other quarters, perhaps they have decided that they can project it as a winner, but we have to go by our own rules, our own traditions of being -- we'd rather be last than to be wrong.

KURTZ: Brokaw says NBC decided not to call any more states to avoid anointing a president-elect.

Despite the two network projections, nearly all newspapers went with carefully hedged headlines. Fortunately for the news business, John Kerry took everyone off the hook by conceding this morning.

In the new media zeitgeist, being second or third or fourth is not such a bad thing, at least compared to making an early call that turns out to be wrong.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Media critic Howie Kurtz.

The clear cut victory for the president and for his party on Capitol Hill means some major changes are ahead. Turning campaign promises into realities when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: A Republican in the White House for a second term, Republicans with a tighter grip on the House and Senate. So what will they do with the next four years?

Here to look at that, Frank Sesno, former Washington bureau chief and White House correspondent, now a special contributor to PRIME TIME POLITICS.

Good to see you, Frank. Welcome.

FRANK SESNO, SPECIAL CONTRIBUTOR: Good to see you again, as always.

You know, Paula, it would be a fair thing to say that this is today in some ways the divided states of America. I've talked to a lot of people around the country, voters. And those on the winning side are jubilant. Those who are on the losing side are in deep, deep despair.

But forget the emotions for just a moment and look at the presidency. I think this presidency could well be -- will be -- will be a transformational presidency. That's what the historians call it. And you know what? The paint on the canvas isn't even dry yet.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SESNO (voice-over): Like a portrait up close, you see the colors and the swirls. Ohio, Pennsylvania, the I-4 corridor. Whatever.

Step back and see the big picture. The real picture. A sweeping victory for Republicans that consolidates a political revolution. A president who can do what he wants in ways no president has in two generations.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you all.

SESNO: George Bush firmly holds the levers of power now. A popular vote margin in the millions and commanding majorities in the Senate and the House.

BUSH: Because we have done the hard work, we are entering a season of hope.

SESNO: So look for the president to make changes that will last generations, because the promises he made as a candidate are big ideas that, by their very nature, will reshape the future, and Republicans have the numbers to do most of it in their sleep.

Most likely, his tax cut will be made permanent, deficit and debt warnings notwithstanding.

Supreme Court justices will be nominated, maybe several. Social Security will be partially privatized.

The Bush doctrine, the war on Iraq and the war on terrorism will be pursued. Social and cultural issues: gay rights, abortion, faith- based initiatives, stem cells will move down conservative tracks.

BUSH: I'd proud to lead such an amazing country, and I'm proud to lead it forward.

SESNO: But here's President Bush's paradox. He's got a united government but a divided country: regionally, politically, culturally. His challenge is not nearly how he will govern but how he will lead.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESNO: And how he will lead, Paula, he can be the hammer or the healer. Whether he goes for ideological gain and tries to drill his political realignment into the bedrock of America or whether he tries to be like Lincoln and heal the wounds, bind the wounds and take the country into a new and different kind of place.

ZAHN: But realistically, given the divide in the country among the electorate, you've also got the same kind of sort of division in Congress. How much running room is he really going to have to heal these wounds that everyone wants healed?

SESNO: Well, I think -- he's got as much running room as he wants. He's got a very strong majority in the Congress, and they're very enthusiastic. They're motivated. We talked a lot about motivation of the voters, well, the Congress is motivated, especially the Republicans. And they're going to march behind. Also...

ZAHN: The question is whether the president is motivating.

SESNO: That's right. And history is conspiring, in a sense, to make him transformational.

Think about this. The first Baby Boomer will cash his or her first Social Security check during this administration. Sixty-two, early retirement, 2008, when there will be 32 million Americans endorsing their Social Security checks.

So something's got to be done, and that's the biggest social program we've got going.

ZAHN: I think often in these election cycles we all get so hung up on numbers and very specific issues, we forget about the consequences that these issues have on folks. You've been traveling around the country as I have to all these battleground states. Describe how these issues are hitting home. In a very personal way.

SESNO: Well, I met one family that really stayed with me. He's a Coca-Cola truck driver. Been doing that for 25 years. Worried about Iraq, worried about fuel costs, worried about his job.

She works for Kroger's Grocery. She's a manager of the deli department. She's worried about the Wal-Martization -- that's what she called it -- of the work force. She sees people being hired in her supermarket, 20 hours a week, no benefits, no health care.

He didn't like Kerry, even though he was going to vote for him, because of the social -- too liberal, he said. From Massachusetts. He does all that welfare stuff.

But these -- the problems that these folks have, and they have a daughter, single mom on welfare. Complicated family. Real issues. Real problems. How will they be dealt with? How will the president today who said he wants to be everyone's president reach out to them?

ZAHN: What also is striking are these polling numbers showing the extent to which social issues trumped almost all other issues if you really look at them in a meaningful way. More than the war on terror. More than the economy, more than the war in Iraq.

SESNO: And that, too, is where, if he wants to be a transformational president -- I think he does -- there's going to be ample opportunity.

Take the Supreme Court. Supreme Court deals with all of these things in one way or another. And the mark that the Supreme Court puts on its decisions can shape America for generations, for hundreds of years in some cases.

There may well be a nomination coming from George W. Bush for justices of the Supreme Court before he's even sworn into his second term. And who knows how many more?

So again, history conspires. He could really be a pivotal place in history.

ZAHN: Frank Sesno, do stop by more often.

SESNO: Will do.

ZAHN: Good to be here in person.

And we'll be right back with the results of tonight's "Voting Booth" question. Please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: In this election, it's not the winners who have the last laugh, it is late night comics. Here's a sample for you tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW" Why do you have all the bells and whistles? Can we just see the electoral map again?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, yes, fine, John. I don't know why. OK? The electoral map isn't even that useful, since more than 80 percent of the country is out of play, except for the swing states. This is the United States tonight, Ohioda. Ohioda. Pennsylconsin. Pennsylconsin. New Mexico. I don't know. Forget it. The rest of the states, dead to me. Especially you, Georgia. Dead. You know why.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ZAHN: And time for the results of tonight's "Voting Booth" question for you. Did the election go the way you thought it would? Fifty-two percent of you said yes; 48 percent said no. Once again, this a sampling from our web site. Not a scientific poll, but we always appreciate your logging on and hearing your response.

And that wraps it up for all of us here on PRIME TIME POLITICS tonight. Tomorrow, a conservative president and a conservative Congress, how they will shape our courts and our nation. That is tomorrow night, among other things that we'll be looking at.

"LARRY KING LIVE" is next with legendary journalist Ben Bradley. Again, thanks for dropping by tonight. I'm Paula Zahn. For all of us here at CNN, have a 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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