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THE SITUATION ROOM

John Kerry Defends Controversial Remarks; Interview With Maryland Congressman Ben Cardin; E-Voting Worries

Aired October 31, 2006 - 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: And to all you out there, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are getting to us all the time.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you tonight's top stories.

ZAHN: Happening right now: Only a week to go until the midterm election, President Bush and Senator John Kerry are fighting 2004 all over again. This latest battle began with a botched joke on Iraq. Or, at least, that's what John Kerry says it was. Now it's an all-out verbal brawl, and each of the men demanding the other to apologize to the troops.

BLITZER: And, as the mood gets nastier, some races get tighter. Just a handful of states could decide control of the United States Senate. Our latest CNN polls will show you who is ahead in several key showdowns.

ZAHN: And, for Democrats, it's seen as a safe seat, but is it safe enough for 10-term Congressman Ben Cardin to move over to the Senate? We're going to ask him about that surprisingly tough race in Maryland.

I'm Paula Zahn.

BLITZER: And I'm Wolf Blitzer.

From CNN election headquarters in New York, You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ZAHN: Tonight, we have yet another explosive new election controversy raging at this hour.

Republicans are demanding that Senator John Kerry apologize for something he says he never said, or at least meant.

White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux has this latest unpredictable turn of the 2006 campaign.

Are the Republicans thinking this is manna from heaven?

(LAUGHTER)

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, really, this is a gift for the White House. Republicans tell us, the strategists, at least, say, look, this was a chance to change the subject, get the criticism off of them for once over the Iraq war, and put it somewhere else.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice-over): It was the fight the White House had been itching for, a rematch between the president and his 2004 opponent, Senator John Kerry.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The senator's suggestion that the men and women of our military on somehow uneducated is insulting. And it is shameful.

MALVEAUX: The president's attack on Kerry at this George fund- raiser was the latest jab in a verbal brawl that began 24 hours earlier. The White House's poster boy for Democrats' weakness in the war on terror threw the first punch.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, you know, education, if you make the most of it, and you study hard, and you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, you -- you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq.

MALVEAUX: Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran, made those remarks to college students at a campaign stop in California Monday afternoon. The next morning, the White House's spokesman had talking points in hand, eager to pounce.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Senator Kerry not only owes an apology to those who are serving, but also to the families of those who have given their lives in this.

MALVEAUX: The rhetoric got even hotter, when Republican Senate John McCain, a fellow Vietnam vet, weighed in.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The statement, in itself, is incredibly offensive.

MALVEAUX: The controversy exploded when it hit conservative blogs and talk show radio.

The White House and Republican candidates, having been pummeled for weeks for the failures in Iraq during much of the campaign season, saw an opening.

But a Kerry aide tells CNN the senator's prepared remarks were mangled, that he meant to say, if you don't study, if you aren't smart, if you are intellectually lazy, you end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq.

Kerry twice tried to explain himself, first in a written statement, addressing who he called Republican hacks and right-wing nut jobs, saying, "I'm not going to be lectured by a stuffed-suit White House mouthpiece standing behind a podium or doughy talk show host Rush Limbaugh," then, with a hastily called press conference. KERRY: My statement yesterday -- and the White House knows this full well -- was a botched joke about the president and the president's people, not about the troops.

Let me make it crystal clear, as crystal clear as I know how. I apologize to no one for my criticism of the president and of his broken policy.

MALVEAUX: After Kerry's comments, the White House stoked the controversy by releasing excerpts of how the president would respond 90 minutes later in his Georgia speech.

BUSH: The members of the United States military are plenty smart.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BUSH: And they are plenty brave.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BUSH: And the senator from Massachusetts owes them an apology.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: And, of course, Paula, what is really telling here is that Kerry, for most of the day, was alone in his explanations, and trying to figure all of this out -- Democrats quietly saying that they really wish Kerry had kept quiet on this one.

But, late in the day, Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer released a statement, criticizing President Bush's criticism of Kerry. And, then, Paula, late in the day as well, we got yet another press release from Kerry, criticizing, reacting to Bush's criticism of him earlier in the day, calling it smear.

So, we hope and we think that all of this is going to go away tomorrow. But we will just have to wait and see.

ZAHN: Oh, I don't know whether we can count on that or not, Suzanne Malveaux. But we will see how it plays out.

MALVEAUX: We will see.

ZAHN: Thanks so much.

MALVEAUX: Sure.

ZAHN: After the 2004 campaign, John Kerry took an awful lot of heat for not punching back hard enough when he was attacked.

Well, today, as Suzanne just said, he launched a quick counterattack, some almost 24 hours after the alleged joke was told. But, tonight, even Democrats are fearing the Kerry effect might hurt this campaign and the Democrats.

Let's turn to senior analyst Jeff Greenfield.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Hi.

ZAHN: Always good to see you.

What the heck was the senator thinking?

GREENFIELD: Well, I think he was thinking he was going to make a clever joke about how, if you are not smart enough, you will get us stuck in Iraq.

And, even if you assume that that's what he meant, and he just stumbled over his words, you have to wonder, is that the way to attack the president of the United States, I mean, or doesn't it raise exactly the kind of issues or sense that hurt Kerry in '04?

Here is this Brahmin. He's not -- you know, from Massachusetts, looking down his nose on this Texan, who is not smart enough and can't pronounce nuclear. It is an attack that partisan Democrats love. And late-night comedians love. And, as far as I'm concerned, it always helps the president.

It always -- because it just -- it has the ring of being kind of snarky and condescending.

ZAHN: Sure.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: And is that mostly how the blogosphere is receive this tonight?

GREENFIELD: Well, I mean, again, if you look at -- at, for instance, Daily Kos, a very important liberal, left blog, he was cheering on Kerry for the reasons you cite. Yes, he's not going to take this nonsense. He is going to hit back.

The -- the line of the day, Max Cleland, former senator from Georgia, he said: Today is the day we showed those people they can't attack us and intimidate us.

And Kerry's statement itself says: You know, it disgusts me that these Republican hacks, who have never worn the uniform of our country, lie and distort so blatantly.

I think what you are going to hear from the conservative side of things is the phrase Freudian slip. My betting to you, Paula, is, they're going to say, see, that slip of the tongue shows what he really thinks. And it is because he's locked into the Vietnam era, when there was a draft army, unlike today's voluntary army -- there -- many were less educated -- and that he doesn't understand how the military has changed.

So, I have a feeling -- what I would really love is if you and Wolf could get 10 Democrats in here and shoot them up with sodium pentathol.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: See what they would really tell us?

GREENFIELD: Yes, because I -- we're hearing from our...

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: I could tell you what I think they're going to tell you.

(CROSSTALK)

GREENFIELD: Well, you don't have to guess.

ZAHN: In these razor-thin-margin races, this could kill some momentum, could it?

(CROSSTALK)

GREENFIELD: Well, OK. Two things.

Our colleagues, Candy Crowley and John King and Dana Bash, all out there are telling us that the Democrats are telling them off the record, who needed this? You do have to ask, though, whether the fact that Kerry is not on the ticket is actually going to move races.

I mean, for instance, in Virginia, a very close race, Vietnam veteran Jim Webb, very hawkish on Vietnam, very angry at the anti-war demonstrators, it's a very long journey he's been on, is he going to be hurt by this statement by John Kerry's? That, I -- I doubt.

But, at the last week of the campaign, do you really want used to be called the titular head of your party coming out and making a statement that can be interpreted, fairly or not, as a slap on the troops, and, at the least, indicates a kind of approach, a kind of wise guy approach that, given where the -- the Iraq war is, in the view of most Americans, was utterly unnecessary.

The public clearly has turned against this war.

ZAHN: Sure.

GREENFIELD: It is what is going to cost the Republicans Congress, if they lose.

And there is an old saying. You know, never interfere with the enemy when he's in the process of destroying himself. And I think this raises an issue that, if I had to bet, most Democrats would just as soon this had never been said.

ZAHN: Yes. That's what I have been hearing on the phone this afternoon.

GREENFIELD: Yes.

ZAHN: Jeff Greenfield, thanks.

GREENFIELD: OK.

ZAHN: Always good to see you -- Wolf.

ZAHN: Thank you, Paula.

A fresh look tonight at the battlegrounds where control of the Senate may ultimately be decided.

We have some brand-new CNN poll numbers from Virginia, New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee, and Missouri. The big picture, Democrats are ahead in three states. The Republican leads in one. And another is dead even, that tied race right now in Missouri. Democratic challenger Claire McCaskill and Republican Senator Jim Talent each get 49 percent support among the likely -- likely -- voters.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is joining us now live from Saint Louis with more -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, 49-49 less than a week before the election, you know what that means. It is time to get on the phone, knock on some doors, and bring it down to that simplest of campaign activities: shaking hands.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): In Saint Louis, at the Goody Goody Diner, Democrat Claire McCaskill is running for the U.S. Senate, courting her base.

CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSION SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Nice to see you. Thank you.

CROWLEY: These are urban voters, reliably Democratic, but there are not enough of them to win an election.

MCCASKILL: And we have invested a lot of time in -- in rural Missouri. You know, Democrats in the state for too long have thought that, well, don't go to the country, because you get on defense, and there's no point, and we can do enough in the cities to make up for the margins in the country.

CROWLEY: Small towns and rural areas have not been friendly turf for most Democrats. Rural voters gave George Bush a 19-point edge over John Kerry. Springfield, Missouri, out-state, as they call it, is strong Republican country.

David Lutz voted twice for George Bush.

DAVID LUTZ, MISSOURI VOTER: But as the Democrats went so far to the left, then we started -- or I started to vote much more Republican, and so on. And now it's just -- to me, the pendulum has kind of swung past me, gone the other way. So, it's -- it's -- I'm trying to just get in the middle.

CROWLEY: Lutz plans to vote for McCaskill, the Democrat. And so will his Republican wife.

ELLEN MCLEAN, MISSOURI VOTER: They're not -- they're not representing me, and they keep moving further right. And there's simply nowhere to go. I don't know where a moderate is supposed to go.

CROWLEY: This is an uh-oh for Republican Senator Jim Talent, who needs to keep his base intact and get them to the polls.

SEN. JIM TALENT (R), MISSOURI: I believe in the dignity and value of life at all stages. I strongly supported the ban on partial- birth abortions. My opponent opposed it.

(APPLAUSE)

CROWLEY: A stem cell research initiative on the ballot complicates Talent's task. It might bring out his conservative Christian voters, but it might prompt his business community voters, more moderate and pro-stem cell, to pull the lever for McCaskill.

Talent splits the difference, saying he opposes the initiative, but others should make up their own minds. But, basically, he avoids the topic, turning to more tried-and-true subjects.

TALENT: Marriage, I think, is a relationship between a man and a woman.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CROWLEY: In five stops through southeastern Missouri, Talent mentioned same-sex marriage and abortion in most of them, reaching out to the base with what he calls commonsense Missouri values.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Now, Talent's campaign says that he's relying on what they say is a great turnout machine on steroids.

As for McCaskill, she says she's depending on a real need in Missouri, a real feeling by voters that there needs to be change -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Candy, thank you for that.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider and Marcus Mabry, the chief correspondents and a senior editor at "Newsweek" magazine.

Marcus, I will start with you.

What do you make of this, 49-49 in our new poll in Missouri? It doesn't get much closer than that.

MARCUS MABRY, CHIEF OF CORRESPONDENTS, "NEWSWEEK": That's right, Wolf. It doesn't get any closer than that.

And the amazing thing about this is that, somehow, in this campaign, we have managed to -- or, really, the candidates have managed to -- or the GOP has managed to make a red state look purple. That's extraordinary. And it has to do with the disillusionment by Democrats and independents with the GOP, and also of the conservative base with the GOP and with the president.

This is really going to be a test of the get-out-the-vote campaign of the Republicans. They have this vaunted, much-vaunted 72- hour program, in which we're going to see if, in 72 hours, they can motivate their voters, not only to get themselves to the poll, but to get other supporters to the polls as well.

Now, last time, in 2002, this was a race that was only won by Talent by one point, even though polls had him ahead by several points. Clearly, the get-out-the-vote campaign then did not work. The question here is, have the Republicans learned from their mistakes? And we are going to find out in one week.

BLITZER: You are looking at all these polls that we did today, five states, battleground states. You have seen some trends emerging?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm seeing this as down to the wire, Wolf.

The Democrats need to gain six seats in the Senate to win a majority, assuming they hold New Jersey, which our polls suggests they have a good chance to do. Right now, polls are showing the Democrats picking up Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Montana, and, in our poll, Ohio. That leaves three states. They need to win two of those Republican seats. They are behind in Tennessee in our poll. That leaves Virginia and Missouri.

And both of those are very close. Virginia, our poll shows the Democrats slightly ahead, within the margin of error. Missouri is a dead heat. And that's symbolic. You know why? Missouri -- if I had to pick any single state that was most typical of the entire country, it would be the state of Missouri.

BLITZER: Are you surprised that Virginia is showing a slight lead for Webb right now?

MABRY: I am surprised. You know, we have had lots of problems. Allen has had tremendous mistakes that he has made over the last few weeks.

Is it still surprising that Webb still has maintained this lead, while we have gotten -- while we have gotten farther away from that macaca comment.

SCHNEIDER: And he's doing well with women. Webb is doing well with women, despite all the charges that his writings in the past have been insulting to women.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by. We are going to have you back, Bill and Marcus. Thank you very much.

We are going to check some other powerful numbers in the Senate contest in Virginia and Tennessee. That's coming up.

But let's go to Jack Cafferty first with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Wolf. I have been exiled back to the basement now. Too crowded up there on the fifth floor.

I do this stuff for a living, and even I am getting sick and tired of listening to myself talk about this election. Between the endless commercials, the non-stop interviews with all the slugs that are trying to get themselves elected, and the unsolicited opinions of people whose credentials are probably questionable at best, well, it is all becoming a bit much.

The editors at Maxim.com came out with a ranking of who they think the most appalling political pundit on television is. Guess who won? Ann Coulter. Personally, I would have voted for that fat drug addict Rush Limbaugh, but they didn't ask me.

Nevertheless, they are out with a whole list of names that you will no doubt recognize. But who needs Maxim.com? We can do our own poll, can't we?

So, here's the question: Who do you think is the most appalling political pundit on television? E-mail us at CaffertyFile@CNN.com, or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile.

BLITZER: Did you notice a very familiar face, Jack, who made that "Maxim" list?

CAFFERTY: Who is that, Wolf?

BLITZER: That would be me.

CAFFERTY: Oh, is that right?

BLITZER: Yes. I'm very appalling, apparently, according to some -- some editors at "Maxim" magazine. But that's another story.

We will talk about this later, Jack. Thanks very much.

Maryland voters are just seven days away from doing something they haven't done in 20 years. They will be electing a brand-new U.S. senator. And the candidate who is ahead in the polls is in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Later: a close look at Virginia's U.S. Senate race, where new poll numbers show an incumbent Republican in big trouble right now.

We're live at the CNN election headquarters in New York, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Thanks to the retirement of Democratic Senator Paul Sarbanes, Maryland voters will be electing a new United States senator for first time since 1986.

ZAHN: A long time.

And that race actually pits Republican Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele against 10-term Democratic Congressman Ben Cardin. Recent polls put Representative Cardin ahead by two, or 11, or even a dozen points, depending on how you crunch the numbers.

And, tonight, he joins us in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Good to see you. Thanks so much for being with us, sir.

REP. BEN CARDIN (D-MD), MARYLAND SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Oh, it's -- it is a pleasure to be with you. Thank you.

ZAHN: Before we talk about the specifics of your race, John Kerry is getting an awful lot of attention tonight for what he's describing as a botched joke. The president is calling it insulting, calling it shameful. One of your colleagues, Senator McCain, is calling on him to apologize to American troops.

Does John Kerry owe American troops an apology for what he said?

CARDIN: Well, I think John Kerry has clarified what he said. And I think he -- it was the wrong choice of words. I'm sorry he did what he did.

But I think the issue, that we want to make sure it doesn't confuse the -- the -- the subject of the war in Iraq. The war in Iraq, we need a new plan. I voted against the war in Iraq four years ago. But we need a plan to get our troops home.

And I think what the Republicans are going to try to do is use this as a distraction. But the voters are smarter than that. They know things are not going well. And they know the president does not have a plan to get us out of Iraq. And they want to see action.

ZAHN: All right.

So, you think the Republicans are going to use this to -- to take some of the -- the heat off of the whole battle over the American public, obviously, being overwhelmingly against this war.

But were you, in any way, offended by John Kerry's remarks, the way they came out of his mouth? This is before he clarified all this.

CARDIN: Well, actually, I -- I heard about it after he had clarified it.

And I think what he was trying to do was -- is -- is put some -- some attention to the president. And he didn't do it the way it should have been done. That's no question about that. But I -- but I really do come back to the point that October has been the deadliest month of the year in Iraq. We have a right to expect that the president will engage the issue of Iraq. We are seven days away from a national election. This is a critical issue. So, let's talk about the issue.

BLITZER: Well...

CARDIN: John Kerry is not on the ballot.

BLITZER: Congressman, here's a -- here's an issue that some are raising, that, if the Democrats are the majority in the U.S. Senate, if you are elected, one way to stop the war would be to cut off funding for the war.

Would you support such an initiative?

CARDIN: Well, what we want is a plan from the president to start bringing our troops home.

I think Democrats and Republicans both want this. I know the American people want this. So, I think Congress has a responsibility to take action, so that the president does submit to us a plan for a change in direction in Iraq.

BLITZER: Does that mean you would support legislation, as was the case during the Vietnam War -- and you are old enough to remember the opposition to that war -- that would cut off funding for the operations in Iraq?

CARDIN: Well, we will never put our troops in jeopardy. I can assure you of that.

But I think Congress has a responsibility to use every means it can to get the president to submit a plan to Congress that changes the course in Iraq. We need to start bringing our troops home.

ZAHN: And what would you do right now, if you had the power to try to stem the sectarian violence in Iraq, and -- and try to start drawing down U.S. troops from Iraq?

CARDIN: Well, as you know, we are in the middle of a civil war. We need to start bringing our troops home, so that it is clear to the Iraqis and the international community that we don't intend to be there forever.

We want the Iraqis to stand up and defend their own country. But we also have to engage in the diplomatic and political side to bring in the international community. We need to negotiate a cease-fire with the militias, both from the Sunnis and the Shiites. We have got to get some peace and calm in that country. But it's going to only happen when we engage the international community.

ZAHN: But -- but, Representative, as you know, there are a lot of people out there who think you are never going to get a consensus of the international community, and that's sort of pie-in-the-sky thinking.

CARDIN: Well, you have to do the best we can at this stage, because to continue the current course is not working. We know that. That's not going to bring about peace in Iraq.

We do know, though, that the international community can also help us in delivering the humanitarian aid, help us with the training of the troops. There's a lot of things that can be done, once it is clear that the United States is not intending to stay the course or wait it out, that that's not going to work.

BLITZER: Are you surprised, Congressman, by the -- by what some suggest is the very strong campaign your opponent, Michael Steele, has been waging against you? It is -- it's a lot closer than a lot of experts thought it would be.

CARDIN: Oh, I knew this was going to be a competitive race. I knew the Republicans were going to concentrate on the state of Maryland.

But one thing is clear. Michael Steele was recruited by George Bush. And he brought George Bush into Maryland to raise money. And he supports George Bush's agenda, including the war in Iraq. He supports staying the course or -- or waiting it out.

And I think the voters of Maryland are going to want a change. And I think I'm going to be successful on November 7.

ZAHN: Congressman Ben Cardin, thanks for your time.

CARDIN: Thank you.

ZAHN: Appreciate your dropping by here tonight.

And our producers have been in touch with the campaign of Mr. Cardin's Republican opponent, Michael Steele, who you just saw in the videotape. He will be getting a turn in THE SITUATION ROOM in the coming days.

BLITZER: We hope he joins us. He's welcome to come into THE SITUATION ROOM as well.

And still to come: one of the country's tightest, some say dirtiest U.S. Senate races. That would be in Virginia. We have got a brand-new poll that's out. And we are going to share it with you.

And later: Florida attempts to correct its election disaster in 2000, and how it may cause even bigger problems right now.

ZAHN: Live from CNN election headquarters, Wolf and I join you from here in the heart of New York City.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.

Happening now: ups and down in the battle for the U.S. Senate one week before Election Day. New CNN poll numbers capturing the landscape in Virginia and Tennessee. Who is gaining? Who is losing ground right now?

And e-voting anxiety -- will the systems that were supposed to fix balloting problems make matters worse? We will get a new read on recounts fears.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The Senate race in Virginia is one of the key races we are watching tonight -- Paula.

ZAHN: It has been wild and weird for months -- and, today, a physical confrontation caught on tape. A heckler who shouted a question at incumbent Senator George Allen was pushed to the ground by at least two men. He later said he should be allowed to ask his senator questions, and will press charges against the people who restrained him.

That scuffle comes as the Virginia Senate race is turning into a real nail-biter. Our new poll offers up a slim edge for one candidate, but still no clear front-runner at this hour.

Congressional correspondent Dana Bash joins us from Alexandria, Virginia, with the Very latest on this very tight race -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, Allen campaign aides tell us that their internal polls still do show the senator up. But, as you just mentioned, CNN's poll does not. And other polls out in the past -- in the past week or so matches ours.

And that all is giving Democrats some hope that this Senate seat could turn their way.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): George Allen was preparing a 2008 run for the White House, thought his reelection to the Senate was in the bag. He doesn't anymore.

SEN. GEORGE ALLEN (R), VIRGINIA: Reach out to people. Reach out and let them know where we stand on issues that matter.

BASH: Just a few months ago, the Virginia Republican held a double-digit lead. That has vanished. Now he's at 46 percent, Democrat Jim Webb, 50 percent, a statistical dead heat, according to CNN's new poll conducted by Opinion Research Corporation.

ALLEN: This fellow here, over here, with the yellow shirt, macaca, or whatever his name is.

BASH: Most trace Allen's plummet in the polls to this August moment, what sounded like a racial slur aimed at a Webb aide. But Allen also suffers from more typical Republican troubles, an unpopular war and disgust with Washington. He's trying to squeak out a victory by following a classic GOP playbook.

ALLEN: Marriage should be between one man and one woman.

BASH: Rally conservative voters with social issues, like banning gay marriage, on the ballot in Virginia.

But Allen's opponent, Jim Webb, isn't your average liberal. Until recently, he was a Republican. In fact, he was Navy secretary under Ronald Reagan. Opposition to the war drove him to run as a Democrat.

JIM WEBB, DEMOCRATIC SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: George Allen is wrong on foreign policy. He's one of the reasons that we are in this disaster in Iraq.

BASH: In this intensely anti-incumbent environment, Webb's outsider persona and military credentials have serious appeal here.

So, Allen is trying to make Webb unpalatable to so-called value voters and women. Last week, Allen's campaign highlighted what it called disturbing, sexually graphic passages from several military novels Webb has written.

Now the senator talks about it non-stop.

ALLEN: My opponent says he's proud of being an author, a novelist. Those passages that were brought up, not just I -- just not me, but others have found them to be demeaning to women.

BASH: Webb responds by reading reviews of his own books.

WEBB: I have led a literary career. And I'm very proud of it.

BASH: It's a campaign certainty: The tighter the race, the closer Election Day, the nastier it all gets. And each guy blames the other for taking it into the gutter.

WEBB: In the last couple of weeks of your campaign, the best you can do is to try to dissect your opponent's novels, you really don't have much to bring to the table, folks.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, Virginia is one of those states with a pretty deep north-south divide. This is Northern Virginia, which is much more liberal than the south. And it also has a growing population, Paula.

And that means, according to Democrats, if they do well here, they believe -- exceptionally well, like 60 percent -- they do think they can take the state of Virginia -- Paula.

ZAHN: Dana Bash, thanks so much. So, let's turn now to some other experts, our senior political analyst Bill Schneider and Marcus Mabry, senior editor at "Newsweek."

This is a guy who understands that geographic divide well.

(LAUGHTER)

ZAHN: You live in that great state.

SCHNEIDER: Well, I grew up in Virginia.

And, you know, Virginia has a lot of people who are not Southerners there now. Northern Virginia, as Dana just mentioned, is an area where Jim Webb is doing very well. Also, the Tidewater area, Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth, where I grew up, a lot of people -- that's a naval area -- have come from outside the South. Those are the areas where Webb is doing well. And they are very fast-growing.

ZAHN: Marcus, do we have any sense at all how John Kerry's comments might play in this race?

MABRY: Well, you know, Paula, Virginia...

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: ... this great naval history and...

MABRY: Absolutely. Virginia will be the place we see it, because I think the risk here -- and Bill is absolutely right.

In the Tidewater -- and this is -- this is Norfolk. This is Virginia Beach. These are places that are nothing but Navy. And, so, the fact that Webb, a Democrat, former Republican, former naval secretary, reached out to those folks, has strong support there, has been really key.

The question is, will John Kerry's flub today -- Kerry says it was about the president. The White House says it what about our fighting men and women in Iraq. If that flub actually directs attention away from the problems that the White House has had in Iraq, and in fighting this war, toward Kerry, reminding both, some independents and some conservative Republicans voters, what they don't like about Democrats when it comes to military policy, then, we could see this hurting Webb, which is terribly ironic.

ZAHN: Let's move our focus on to Tennessee now. And we are going to look at some numbers showing the Republican up, and surprising a lot of folks that thought that this might be a much easier race for Congressman Harold Ford.

How is race playing out in that battle?

SCHNEIDER: Well, it is always a problem for an African-American candidate in a Southern state. They have never elected one. There were some in after -- during Reconstruction. But Ford would be the first African-American to represent a Southern state in the United States Senate. It's going to be difficult, because polls are kind of unreliable. But I would say if his support right now is 44 percent, then, it is going to be tough for Ford, because I wouldn't feel comfortable unless he was showing over 50 percent in the polls.

ZAHN: How much do you think the negative ads have hurt him?

MABRY: You know what?

ZAHN: And I know one was ultimately pulled by the RNC. But it has been aired over and over again on news programs.

MABRY: One interesting point about that ad, though, Paula, is that, in a "Newsweek" poll recently, we asked people who had seen the ad, was it too extreme or was it appropriate?

ZAHN: And we should explain to folks who have not seen the ad, it is basically indicating, what, that Harold Ford might have shown an interest in dating white women?

MABRY: In a blonde, you know, attractive white woman. And, then, she winks at him at the end. And, you know, that -- that -- that attributes, some might say -- speaking of Southern traditions and some southern bugaboos from the past, that speaks to certain racial issues in the South.

Seventy-seven percent of people, though, who saw that ad thought it was too extreme. So, there is a danger of backlash here for Corker.

The other thing I would point out is that, while the CNN poll has Corker eight points ahead, right now, that poll is an outlier, meaning most polls have it closer, more like Corker ahead by three or four.

But Bill's point is exactly right. There's something that pollsters talk about called the Tom Bradley effect. And what that means is, when you have an African-American or a minority candidate running, really, pollsters often hear from responders who say that they will vote for that candidate, but they don't.

(CROSSTALK)

MABRY: And, so, that's a four- to five-point margin that we actually could see, in reality, Ford's support is actually lower than what people are saying in polls.

ZAHN: Nevertheless, it is a race we are going to be following very closely from here. Gentlemen, thanks.

MABRY: Thank you.

ZAHN: Bill Schneider, Marcus Mabry.

Now, none of us is ever going to forget the mess that we saw in Florida after the 2000 election -- but, next, how the state's new voting machines could cause an even bigger disaster. Wait until you hear some of the details of this story.

Plus: a look at John Kerry's attempt at political humor. Is the joke on the president or on his fellow Democrats?

This is America's campaign headquarters. You're live in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

The midterm election only a week away, and there are already deep concerns about accuracy in the state that was ground zero for the election debacle six years ago.

CNN's Kitty Pilgrim is here. She has been watching this story literally from day one.

You are doing an excellent job, too, Kitty.

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks very much, Wolf.

Well, Wolf, you know Florida was the scene of one of the worst election disasters in this country's history. And many are worried that Florida has a new set of election problems because of electronic voting machines.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM (voice-over): Voter activists are warning there have been problems with electronic machines in Florida in early voting. They are worried about Election Day.

Some of the most populous counties, Broward, Pinellas and Volusia counties, have reported serious problems. In Pinellas County, the machines malfunctioned. In 7 percent of precincts, the number of votes didn't match the tally of registered voters.

PAMELA HAENGEL, PRESIDENT, VOTING INTEGRITY ALLIANCE: In Pinellas County, in the primaries, we found over 150 calibration errors from precinct workers' logs. That's when a voter goes to touch the screen and it hops to a candidate that they didn't necessarily vote for.

PILGRIM: Today, Governor Jeb Bush gave his full vote of confidence to the machine.

GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: We're a model for the reset of the country, and we're a model on how we certify equipment as well.

PILGRIM: The Florida hanging-chad debacle of 2000 is what really launched the Help America Vote Act and the funding for most of the country to switch to electronic voting. But, even now, Florida does not have a voter-verified paper trail. REGINALD MITCHELL, FLORIDA LEGAL COUNSEL, PEOPLE FOR THE AMERICAN WAY: Despite all the problems that are going on all over the country and all of the reports and all the tests verifying that it's possible to rig a system, we have nothing in place for a paper trail in Florida.

PILGRIM: Volusia County has 300,000 registered voters. Last Saturday, during early voting, seven churches mobilized buses to take voters to the polls.

SUSAN PYNCHON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, FLORIDA FAIR ELECTIONS COALITION: The voting started at 8:00. At five minutes before 10:00, the power failed. It's probably coincidental, but one of the surefire ways to disenfranchise voters with electronic voting machines is a power failure.

PILGRIM: That power outage kept the electronic voting machines down for hours, and hundreds of voters were turned away.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: Well, another problem is, in some places, representatives of voting machine companies are employed to run the software that is counting the votes, instead of local election officials. And that's because not enough election officials can be trained in time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, what do voter activists recommend, that people who are concerned about this -- and there are a lot of them in Florida, and, in fact, all over the country -- what do they recommend these voters do?

PILGRIM: Well, there's not much you can do about the machines right now.

But they do say take a look at the ballot before you go to the polls. You understand what it is. And, if there is a problem with the machine, you will understand it right away. Also, call attention to a problem right away. They can maybe fix it before you cast your vote.

BLITZER: A lot of nervous people out there right now. We will see what happens next Tuesday.

Thanks very much, Kitty, for that.

And a lot more ahead in our special expanded edition of THE SITUATION ROOM from CNN's election headquarters in New York.

Coming up: Will John Kerry's attempt at humor be forgotten in a few days, or a few hours, maybe? Or will it haunt the Democrats all the way to the election?

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ZAHN: And welcome back to CNN election headquarters right now here in New York, where politicians should never underestimate the power of being able to tell a joke.

John Kerry's one-liner at a California college has launched another bitter Bush-Kerry battle, one that could affect next week's election.

BLITZER: And joining us now, two guests from Los Angeles., Congresswoman Maxine Waters -- she is a Democrat from California -- here in New York, "The Wall Street Journal" columnist John Fund.

Congresswoman, let me start with you, and ask you a blunt question, the same question I asked Congressman Ben Cardin.

If -- if -- the Democrats are the majority in the House of Representatives, would you support legislation that would cut funding for the troops in Iraq?

REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: No. That's certainly not what we are all about.

We are about not only protecting our troops. We want to get them out of there. But we know that they have to have the kind of gear and equipment that is necessary to protect them. And it's been Democrats who have led on making sure we get them the kind of armor that they have needed in order to fight this war.

We are not about cutting money from the troops. We are about stopping this war and bringing our soldiers home.

ZAHN: And that was a point John Kerry tried to make today, John Fund, and all the noise surrounding this -- this joke he said he tried to pull off at this event.

JOHN FUND, COLUMNIST, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, wait a second. Have you ever heard John Kerry tell a joke? This would be the first time he had ever attempted one.

ZAHN: Well, he attempted one. And he said he botched it badly. The president has called the joke insulting. He has called it shameful. People are asking for him to apologize. And he said he has no reason to apologize for criticizing the president and the president's policies.

FUND: Well, his fellow Democrats are the ones who are taking him to task.

CNN's Web site already has a piece in -- which all the Democrats saying, this is a needless distraction -- Steve McMahon, who was a top Democratic strategist, saying, John Kerry muffed this. He should have apologized, simply said, if anyone misunderstood me, move on.

Kerry's refusal to apologize brings back all of the bad memories about his nuanced stand on Iraq in 2004 and all of these other problems. (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Let's let Congresswoman Maxine Waters weigh in.

What do you make about of this to-do about...

WATERS: Well...

BLITZER: ... about John Kerry?

WATERS: Well, it is clear that the White House is trying to make something out of -- the Republicans are behind. They are in desperate shape.

The Republicans are distancing themselves from George W. Bush. So, they grasp on to this mangled joke, and they try to make it sound as if Kerry does not respect the troops, and, somehow, Democrats don't respect our soldiers. That's not true.

He may have mangled a joke. But the president of the United States has mangled a whole war.

ZAHN: But, the bottom line, Representative Waters, some of the Democrats we have spoken to tonight, particularly our correspondents in the field who are out in the country where there are some really close races, are saying they are concerned that what John Kerry has done here might hurt any momentum they have.

WATERS: Well, I'm sure that they are concerned.

These are some close races. And, as you know, the president has been involved with accusing us of cutting and run. He has been involved in attacking our patriotism. So, we know that, whenever they take this kind of posture, that they may be able to get some people to believe them, because he is the president of the United States.

So, they are simply trying to turn this little bad joke into something that it is not. But it won't work. We are down the line now. Americans know...

FUND: Well...

WATERS: ... that this has been a bad mistake...

FUND: Congresswoman...

WATERS: ... that it has been mismanaged, and that we need to bring our soldiers home.

FUND: Congresswoman...

WATERS: Yes.

FUND: ... first of all, if you watched the tape, he wasn't telling a joke. He was deadly serious when he said this. Secondly, John McCain, who defended John Kerry against the swift boat attacks in 2004, says this is beyond the pale, he should apologize. And Kerry is rejecting the advice of his good friend John McCain. That's what's keep thing story alive. It is not the Republicans. It is John Kerry.

WATERS: It is all politics.

And it is an attempt to try and make John Kerry look as if he does not respect our troops. He is a decorated war hero. Give me a break. Not only does he respect and support the troops; you cannot turn him into someone who does not simply...

FUND: John Kerry is the titular head of the Democratic Party. And, clearly, in 2004, his position on Iraq was completely muddled.

And I think the problem is, this distracts from the Democratic message, and it makes people ask: All right, the Republicans are leading an unpopular war. But what is the Democratic plan to get the troops home?

And it is unclear. Nancy Pelosi wants to end the war. The only way to end the war, realistically, if the president doesn't want to, is to cut funding. This leaves this ambiguous.

WATERS: That's -- that's absolutely ridiculous.

As a matter of fact, the Out of Iraq Caucus that I have to organize have been working for over a year to try and get all of the members of Congress to have enough courage to pressure the president into correcting his wrong. He started this war.

FUND: Congresswoman, you...

WATERS: And those of you who -- those of you who protect him are simply...

FUND: No.

WATERS: ... trying to say, yes, he started it.

FUND: Congresswoman...

WATERS: ... but, somehow we must come up with the answer about how to get our troops back out.

FUND: ... I'm not protecting President Bush. But I am from California.

WATERS: Yes, you are.

FUND: And I know lots of people in your district. And you have told people in your district you want to end funding for the war.

WATERS: No, I have not. And you don't know lots of people in my district. FUND: Yes, I...

WATERS: I'm sure...

FUND: I know lots of people in Compton.

WATERS: ... you would like people to believe that.

FUND: I know lots of people in Inglewood, absolutely.

WATERS: I do not represent anybody in Compton. So, let's get it straight.

You have been protecting the president. You have been trying to make sense out of this war that he got us involved in. We have almost 3,000 soldiers that have been killed, almost $400 billion of taxpayers' money that's been spent, between Iraq and Afghanistan. There's no end in sight.

FUND: So, you -- so, you would continue...

WATERS: We want our soldiers home.

FUND: So, you would vote to continue funding for the war as long as it takes?

WATERS: We want them back with their families.

FUND: You would vote to continue...

WATERS: I beg your pardon?

FUND: You would vote to continue funding for the war...

WATERS: No. I will not...

FUND: ... as long as it takes?

WATERS: No. What I said is, I will always...

FUND: That's an ambiguous statement, then.

WATERS: No, it is not. I will always support the soldiers. Democrats support the soldiers.

You're trying to turn this into...

FUND: So, you would vote to continue funding as long as it takes?

WATERS: You -- you are trying to turn this into the kind of debate...

(CROSSTALK)

FUND: No, I just want a yes-or-no answer. WATERS: ... once again try and make Democrats say that they are against the soldiers.

We are not. We love them. We support them. We want the president to straighten out this mess.

BLITZER: All right.

FUND: So, you would vote to continue funding?

WATERS: We want the president to straighten out the mess that he initiated, that he started. He started this mess. And he should have...

BLITZER: All right.

WATERS: ... enough wisdom to straighten it out.

BLITZER: Congresswoman...

WATERS: It has been mismanaged.

BLITZER: ... one final question for John Fund.

WATERS: Yes.

BLITZER: How much will the Republicans suffer next Tuesday because of the president's policies in Iraq?

FUND: Badly.

The war is not popular. And the president has not articulated a clear winning strategy. So, clearly, I would say about two-thirds of the Republican problems in this election are related to Iraq.

BLITZER: We got -- unfortunately, we got to leave it there, but a good, serious debate, and a good discussion.

John Fund, thanks very much for coming in.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters, as usual, thanks to you as well.

WATERS: You're welcome.

ZAHN: And, I think, a debate that reflects the temperatures that have flared over this whole controversial issue of this war in Iraq.

So, who do our viewers think is the country's most appalling political pundit? Jack Cafferty has the answers next.

BLITZER: And, from CNN's election headquarters here in New York, stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File."

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: According to the editors of Maxim.com, Ann Coulter is the most appalling political pundit on television.

So, we asked our viewers for this hour, who do you think that honor ought to go to?

Ray writes from Lubbock, Texas: "Rush Limbaugh is the easily the most repellent of the right-wing demagogues."

He actually got the most votes.

Joe in San Diego: "Sean Hannity. He tries to project the image of being a bulldog. In reality, he's a Republican lapdog."

William in Palm Desert, California: "Keith Olbermann, by a landslide. He thinks he's Edward R. Murrow reincarnated. But clothes do not make the man."

Dwight writes: "I think that Bill O'Reilly is up there with Ann Coulter. Actually, Jack, you're a bit like castor oil, hard to swallow at times, but good for what ails one."

John in Saint James City, Florida: "Come on, Jack. It's too easy. The answer would be the illegitimate child of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, in other words, the infant Satan."

(CROSSTALK)

CAFFERTY: M. writes: "Katie Couric. I know she isn't a pundit, but, God, she is terrible."

And Joe in Maryland: "Ann Coulter, hands down. She's like a mentally challenged chimpanzee on methamphetamines."

And, finally, Chris, writes: "You don't know, Jack? Well, it's you. Take Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews, and Wolf Blitzer, and get on an airplane to nowhere."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile, and read more of these online.

BLITZER: Tough crowd out there, Jack.

CAFFERTY: I like them.

BLITZER: Always -- always a tough crowd.

(CROSSTALK)

CAFFERTY: Those are my people. I like them.

ZAHN: They are drawn to you.

CAFFERTY: That's right. BLITZER: You know, it's -- the good thing about our viewers is, they don't hold back. They really tell us how they feel.

CAFFERTY: They are very forthcoming. That's true.

BLITZER: When you take a look at this election, a week to go, are you ready for...

CAFFERTY: I'm sick of this election.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Don't be sick of it.

CAFFERTY: I'm sick and tired...

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: You have got to keep that energy level up for another week.

BLITZER: We're going to be on the air for a long time, Jack.

CAFFERTY: I -- I'm tired of doing this for four hours a night. And I'm sick of the election already.

BLITZER: Don't be tired.

CAFFERTY: What else you want to talk about?

BLITZER: I want to talk about the election.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: All right.

ZAHN: We were hoping you were going to stoke voter turnout, since those numbers are always so dreadfully low during midterm elections.

CAFFERTY: No, I think the -- the turnout this time may be a little bigger than usual, because I think people are steamed.

ZAHN: But the numbers are just depressing.

CAFFERTY: Everybody is agitated. You know, the country is divided. Everybody is pissed off.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: So, more people will probably go out and vote.

BLITZER: I think that's the history, although it sort of -- midterm elections, people don't vote like a presidential election. But, this time, I think you are right. There's a lot of anger out there. CAFFERTY: Well, most midterms, we don't get to a place in the country where there's so much animosity and angst, and -- and, you know, general anxiety about the state of the nation. So, I think people are probably more interested.

(CROSSTALK)

CAFFERTY: Plus, there's nothing else going on right now. I mean, we didn't have a Katrina. We don't -- you know, we're not playing the World Series anymore.

BLITZER: Give it a...

CAFFERTY: So, this is it.

BLITZER: Give it a few days.

CAFFERTY: OK.

BLITZER: Jack...

ZAHN: Let's just hope people get out there and vote.

BLITZER: ... see you tomorrow.

CAFFERTY: All right.

BLITZER: And, right now, we are only a few minutes away from the top of the hour. That means "LARRY KING LIVE."

ZAHN: And he has a very special guest tonight, Steve Bridges, who plays two presidents, even Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger -- very funny man.

From our election headquarters here in Newark -- New York -- New York, right? You used to live here...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: New York. Not Newark, New York.

ZAHN: New York, New York, so nice, they named it twice.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And that wraps it up for Wolf and me. We hope you join us same time, same place tomorrow night.

BLITZER: Another two hours, 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. Eastern -- lots more coming up from CNN election headquarters.

Let's go to "LARRY KING LIVE."

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