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Kerry Apologizes For Clumsy Attempt At Joke; Some Report Current Level of Violence in Iraq Getting Ominously Close To Chaos; Marty Meehan Interview; Dick Armey Interview

Aired November 1, 2006 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.
Happening now, as a bad joke about Iraq being stuck, it plays on and on. A sudden apology now, though, from Senator John Kerry. That may end the latest Iraq controversy. But our latest poll shows Iraq will be on the voters' minds on election day, only six days from now.

Is Iraq just one step away from chaos?

A startling admission from the U.S. military. U.S. troops are now out of their deadliest month in a year.

But is the violence moving off the chart?

And a dozen years after they seized control of the Congress, will they watch Democrats do the same thing?

What went wrong with the Republican revolution?

I'll ask one of its architects, the former House Majority Leader Dick Armey.

I'm Wolf Blitzer from CNN election headquarters in New York.


Six days from now, Americans head to the polls.

Will they be taking a new controversy with them into the voting booth or not?

Only within the past hour, a new statement from Senator John Kerry, now apologizing for his clumsy attempt at a joke about getting stuck in Iraq. And there's a response to that just in from the White House, which has been accusing Kerry of insulting American troops.

Will all this matter to voters next Tuesday?

Our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, is standing by.

But let's get the latest from our Congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel -- Andrea. ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just one day after Senator Kerry insisted he had nothing to apologize for and after a day in which Senator Kerry was forced to cancel a couple of campaign appearances across the country because Democratic candidates worried that to appear with him side-by-side could hurt them at the polls next week, Senator Kerry made an about face and issued this apology, saying: "I sincerely regret that my words were misinterpreted to wrongly imply anything negative about those in uniform and I personally apologize to any service member, family or American who was offended. It is clear the Republican Party would rather talk about anything but their failed security policy. I don't want to my verbal slip to be a diversion from the real issues. I'll continue to fight for a change of course to provide real security for our country and a winning strategy for our troops."

But, Wolf, while this firestorm may quiet down in coming days, it remains to be seen what kind of lasting impact this could have on -- on Senator Kerry's presidential aspirations in 2008 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're going to have more on that coming up.

Thank you, Andrea, very much.

Let's go to White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux.

Reaction to the Kerry apology came very quickly from the White House -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I talked to Dana Perino. She's the deputy White House press secretary. And she said that: "Senator Kerry's apology to the troops for his insulting comments came late, but it was the right thing to do. Our military is the best and the brightest, the most courageous and professional of any military in the world and the president is honored to be their commander-in-chief."

And as you know, Wolf, this comes after two days of the White House exploiting this Kerry controversy to try to make the case here that Democrats are weak on terror. It was just early this morning President Bush, on the conservative radio show, "Rush Limbaugh," again addressing Kerry's comments.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Anybody who is -- who's in a position to serve this country ought to understand the consequences of words and our troops deserve the full support of people in government. People here may not agree with my decision. I understand that. But what I don't understand is any diminution of their sacrifice. We've got incredible people in our military and they deserve full praise and full support of this government.


MALVEAUX: So what you've been hearing, Wolf, of course, is this White House trying to frame the debate for the mid-term elections that Democrats are weak when it comes to national security, Republicans are strong.

It'll be interesting to see just how much legs this story really has. Vice President Cheney, in excerpts released by the White House, is supposed to make a joke, saying that Kerry was for his joke before he was against it, in a campaign rally in a couple of hours. We'll see whether or not he actually makes those remarks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, thanks very much.

Suzanne Malveaux at the White House.

You may have seen our promotion, by the way, of an interview with Senator Kerry for THE SITUATION ROOM today. Senator Kerry's office had confirmed that the senator would be joining us. Earlier this morning, though, a spokeswoman for Senator Kerry's office told us the senator had wanted to join us, but, in her words, he's on a plane all day and would be unavailable.

That struck us as a little odd because we're very happy to have Senator Kerry here in THE SITUATION ROOM at any time. We checked flights, learned Senator Kerry would be landing in Washington some time mid-afternoon. We're still hoping that he will be joining us. We're working to bring you an interview with Senator Kerry.

Stay tuned on that. We'll have more on the Kerry controversy coming up later.

But let's move on right now.

The war in Iraq certainly has dominated the run-up to next week's election. And as our latest poll shows, it will weigh heavily on voters' minds on election day.

Asked how important Iraq is to their vote, 49 percent said extremely important; another 34 percent said very important. Only 4 percent suggested that Iraq won't be a factor in their decision.

Meanwhile, is Iraq spiraling downwards toward all out chaos?

U.S. military commanders weighed in on that question recently and their assessment is startling.

Our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, is standing by with details -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's no secret that October was a bad month for the U.S. in Iraq. But the question is which way is the trend?

And the answer may depend on how much difference you think one day makes.


MCINTYRE (voice-over): With 105 U.S. deaths in Iraq last month, October was the deadliest for U.S. forces in two years. But at the Pentagon, the defender-in-chief of Iraq policy argues the war torn country is still headed in the right direction.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: It is not a smooth road. It's a bumpy road. We know that. We've said it repeatedly.

MCINTYRE: However, an internal briefing slide from two weeks ago, obtained and published by the "New York Times" has a different take. It shows Iraq, at least on October 18th, as inching closer to chaos and away from peace.

The White House says the chart reflects a single bad day.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And that was a snapshot taken at the height of the Ramadan violence. If you got the same report last week, you would have found out that national sectarian incidents from the 21st to the 27th dropped 23 percent.


QUESTION: Do you think the chaos...

SNOW: No, don't...

QUESTION: ... is the same as winning?

SNOW: No, because what you have just done is you've attached your interpretation to a single chart. It doesn't say devolving into chaos. And, furthermore, I've just told you since then you've had a pretty dramatic reversal.

MCINTYRE: Still, critics who have argued for months Iraq is slipping into a full scale civil war say the chart, which includes a note at the bottom that violence is at an all time high and spreading geographically, offers an unvarnished view of what military commanders really think.

COL. DOUG MAGREGOR (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Our forces are now islands of impotence in a sea of violence and chaos over which we exert, frankly, very little strategic influence.


MCINTYRE: Now, Pentagon sources confirm to CNN that the briefing slide is genuine. The U.S. Central Command, in a statement to CNN, said that the top general, John Abizaid, has been "discussing the reality of the situation in Iraq with his commanders for a month" and noted that just in August, Abizaid warned that Iraq could slide into civil war if the rising violence isn't stopped -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I read that piece earlier today by Michael Gordon in the "New York Times" with that chart. It was very, very disturbing.

Jamie, thanks very much for that report.

Meanwhile, today there are more examples of Iraq's chaos. Police found 35 bodies, some with gunshots to their head, and two sports figures, including the man who coached a disabled volleyball team, were kidnapped. All the violence is being closely and carefully watched.

And joining us now from Baghdad, our correspondent Michael Ware -- Michael, thanks very much.

The "New York Times" published a chart today. It says it got it from the U.S. military's Central Command, which oversees the entire region, including Iraq, and it's very ominous because it shows the current level of violence in Iraq right now getting ominously close to chaos as opposed to the other side, which is peace.

Does this square with what you're actually seeing on the ground?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the short answer is absolutely. I mean, where this graph, you know, illuminates the situation is we see the pointer teetering further and further away from the green of peace and closer into the spectrum's end of red in chaos. It is arguably the most accurate reflection we've seen of the situation here on the ground to come out of either the U.S. military or the administration.

I mean, despite the tonnage of words that comes from politicians and generals and commanders trying to put things within a certain political reference, here it is. And you see it for yourself in this graph. Iraq is within a fraction of all out chaos. I mean the best that you could say right now, if such a term exists, is that it's contained chaos. All that it needs now is for it to break out and to be unleashed.

I mean when you walk on an Iraqi street today, when you go down any avenue here in Baghdad, the most dominant feeling, the most gripping emotion among ordinary people is fear. And that fear is legitimate.

BLITZER: And this comes only six days before the uses here, elections which are clearly being dominated by what's happening on the ground in Iraq.

You've been doing a lot of reporting on the rift, on the strain in the relationship between the prime minister of Iraq, Nuri Al- Maliki, his government, and the Bush administration. And it's now surfacing to a certain degree in terms of the U.S. abandoning some checkpoints around Sadr City, where their suspicion is this American soldier could be held.

What's the latest on that front?

WARE: Well, what we saw yesterday is that following a demand by the rebel anti-American cleric and the leader of the Jayshul Mahdi Militia, Muqtada al-Sadr, for a general strike, civil disobedience in Sadr City until the checkpoints and the lockdown was removed, is that, you know, by lunchtime, we had the Iraqi prime minister, in his words, according to his statement, ordering that these checkpoints be opened.

And within hours, the permanent checkpoints that existed before the lockdown and still exist now, which were closed, suddenly opened. Other temporary checkpoints in another part of the city, which were designed primarily to serve the hunt for the U.S. soldier, were completely removed.

Now, a senior U.S. diplomatic official conducted a teleconference with journalists last night to try and explain that this was not a sign of the rift and the Iraqi government was not countering the U.S. military.

But I have to say, Wolf, it was less than convincing.

BLITZER: Michael, thanks very much.

Michael Ware reporting for us from Baghdad.

WARE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And he does a fabulous job for us -- Jack Cafferty, I think you will agree.


BLITZER: Michael Ware...

CAFFERTY: He's as good as it gets.


CAFFERTY: He's terrific.

BLITZER: A brilliant, courageous reporter.

CAFFERTY: He could have your job.

BLITZER: You said that before.

CAFFERTY: I'm just kidding.

Then we wouldn't -- then we wouldn't have that great coverage coming out of Iraq.

I skated on that pretty good.

All right, so there was Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. He was on "Imus" this morning. I was listening to this at home. And he's trying to explain how he doesn't want to be a distraction for the Democrats in the days before the election.

Of course, by continuing to talk about his screw-up in that speech in California the other day, he was, in fact, being a distraction. It was painful to listen to. It was like watching somebody trying to do brain surgery while wearing boxing gloves -- it just didn't work. Kerry violated the first rule of holes, which is when you're in one, you've got to stop digging.

Not John Kerry. He had a shovel in each hand and he was going huckledy-buck.

"It was a joke," he insisted. "Then why don't you just apologize?," he was asked?

"I'm not going to apologize for messing up a joke," he said.

Finally, mercifully, the senator decided this afternoon to stop digging the hole and issued an apology.

The senator was scheduled to be a guest here today on THE SITUATION ROOM, but he canceled. Someone with some common sense must have gotten a hold of him and said you've really done quite enough, senator, it's time you stopped now.

Here's the question -- did Senator John Kerry's comments hurt the Democrats' chances in next Tuesday's elections?

E-mail your thoughts to or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.

We'll continue this conversation over the next hour and then more, from 7:00 to 9:00. We're on for two hours later today.

CAFFERTY: I got in the mailboxes, both THE SITUATION ROOM and "The Cafferty File" when I came in. And I looked at the mail all the way back to the end of last night's show. Every other letter in both mailboxes is about John Kerry. It's unbelievable the interest that this thing generated. And it's, you know, it's kind of an empty paper bag, when you look at it.

BLITZER: Well, the White House says case closed now. They've accepted the apology.

CAFFERTY: Isn't that big of them?




BLITZER: Up ahead, with only six days before the election, what are his Congressional colleagues saying about the Kerry controversy?

We'll talk about it with Massachusetts Congressman Marty Meehan.

He's standing by to join us live.

Also, why some moderates are facing a tough battle for reelection. Our Mary Snow right now in Connecticut, where Tuesday's vote could change the landscape of the state's Congressional delegation.

Plus, the former House majority leader, Dick Armey, he's going to join us to talk about Republican ties to the Christian right, where he says the party went wrong, and -- get this -- why this Republican is actually a Nancy Pelosi fan.

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


BLITZER: Welcome back.

With only less than a week to go before election day, the Kerry controversy has brought some Democratic campaigns an issue they certainly didn't need, didn't want. Some candidates have begun- keeping their distance from the party's former presidential nominee.

Will Kerry's apology now, though, put the issue finally to rest?

Joining us now from Boston is the Democratic congressman, Marty Meehan.

He's a close friend of Senator Kerry.

Thanks, congressman, for coming in.

Is it over with right now?

Because, as you know, there's been a lot of anger at Senator Kerry, not only from Republicans, but some of his fellow Democrats who think he should have done this two days ago.

REP. MARTY MEEHAN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, certainly, Wolf, I'm glad that he apologized.

But that's the way the White House goes about their business. They want to get attention off of the war in Iraq. As you just heard -- Michael Ware just had an excellent report -- Iraq is more dangerous than it's ever been. We are getting increasingly closer and closer to a civil war. We have an administration that won't change course.

So they look for candidates and people, maybe, that have a slip of the tongue or that mess up on the campaign trail and they try to divert attention to that.

So I think now that Senator Kerry has apologized, we can move on to the real issue, which is this administration's mismanagement of the war in Iraq and the need to go in a new direction.

BLITZER: But you would agree, I assume, that Kerry should have done this earlier and maybe this whole little uproar would have never taken place.

MEEHAN: Well, I would agree he should have done it earlier. But, you know, the fact of the matter is he's been a victim before of this White House and the campaigns that they run. It's always amazing to me that somebody who served, as John Kerry did, in the military, somebody who worked hard with many of us to get our men and women who are serving unarmed in Humvees, to get them the Kevlar vests that the administration sent them into harm's way without providing, that they somehow attack him and attack his military sensitivity is amazing to me.

And I don't think John Kerry for a second thinks that the men and women who serve in the military aren't smart. He graduated from Yale and then volunteered to go in the military, something that -- in the front lines, I might add, of the war in Vietnam -- something that neither the president or vice president did.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about another strategy Republicans are using, trying to scare a lot of voters that if the Democrats like you become the majority in the House, their taxes are going to go up. Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, said this recently. He said: "The left is completely wrong to put Nancy -- to put San Francisco-left-wing values third in line to be president by electing Nancy Pelosi to speaker of the House. If every American knew the Pelosi voting record, the Democrats would lose seats this fall."

What about this line that the liberal Democrats are going to raise your taxes?

MEEHAN: That's just not true. There's no one in the Congress that wants to increase the taxes for any working families across this country, and, in fact, Republicans' tax cuts that they passed don't expire until 2009, 2010. Some even later. So it's clear that this Congress is simply going to provide a change in direction, an opportunity to audit the books, if you will; an opportunity for the American people to look at our policy in Iraq and other issues, clean up Washington with ethics reform. And we've seen more members of Congress going to jail over the last few years. We need to get a new direction and clean up the Congress.

But no Democrats want to increase taxes. That simply isn't true.

BLITZER: Marty Meehan, thanks very much for coming in.

MEEHAN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right.

Coming up next, the former House majority leader, Dick Armey, he's standing by to join us live here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll find out why he says Democrats are reaping rewards from Republican neglect.

And this note. Coming up in our special 8:00 p.m. Eastern hour, Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. -- he's in a tight race for the Senate in Tennessee and one of the few Democrats who called on John Kerry to apologize. John Kerry has now apologized. Harold Ford will be joining us, 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

We're live from CNN election headquarters and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Zain Verjee for a quick look at some other important stories making news -- Zain. ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf.

We're following a developing story near Greensboro, North Carolina, a fire at a high school. We're told it started with an accident in a chemistry lab and it spread. Students were safely evacuated and there are no reports of any in just right now. This is at Eastern Guilford High School, just outside of Greensboro.

Six victims so far and officials in Reno, Nevada are afraid that they may still find more bodies in the rubble of a residential hotel. It burned overnight in a fire police now blame on a 47-year-old woman they say deliberately set fire to a mattress in her room. She's under arrest, but there's no word on any motive.

The Salmonella outbreak that sickened more than 170 people in 19 states appears to be over, according to federal health officials. But they say they still don't know exactly how the bacteria spread, although they suspect fresh produce. No deaths are attributed to the outbreak and the investigation is continuing -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thank you very much.

Coming up, from the top of the heap to untouchable in only two years. We'll take a closer look at the declining fortunes of Senator John Kerry.

Can he now bounce back, though, for another potential presidential run?

Plus, Republicans bracing for defeat next week.

Where did the party go wrong?

I'll ask their former House majority leader, Dick Armey.

He's standing by live.

And we're live from CNN election headquarters in New York. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


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

Happening now, no malice toward American troops. That's how Senator John Kerry is characterizing his recent comments about Iraq. The Massachusetts Democrat has just released a statement apologizing for his botched joke, saying he never intended it against troops and saying he's sorry if a service member, family member or anyone else was offended.

Also, standing by his men -- President Bush reportedly says he wants Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney to stay in their jobs as long as he's in his job. That according to the Associated Press, which interviewed the president. They're quoting the president as saying both those men are doing fantastic jobs.

And former Republican Congressman Mark Foley will stay in rehab for alcoholism beyond his initial 30-day stay. That according to Foley's attorney. Foley checked in after resigning from Congress over sexually explicit Internet messages he sent to underaged male Congressional pages.

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

A dozen years ago, Republicans took control of the House and the Senate in midterm elections. Six days from now, will they watch Democrats take power in the same way. Joining us now, the former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, he was one of the architects of that Republican revolution, which he now says went astray. Congressman, thanks very much for coming in. A lot of talk about that article you wrote in the "Washington Post" last Sunday.

Among other things, you wrote "Republican lawmakers forgot the party's principles. Became enamored with power and position and began putting politics over policy. Now, the Democrats are reaping the rewards of our neglect, and we have no one to blame but ourselves." Those were very powerful words, congressman. So where did the Republicans go wrong?

DICK ARMEY (R), FORMER HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Well, if you look back at how we took the majority, unexpectedly after four years was because we nationalized the vision of our party. And we committed and told America we commit to doing big things about this country in the future. And made it very clear it wasn't about ourselves. We were bold, we were innovative, we were creative, and people said hey, yes, let's go with these guys.

They really have something they'd like to accomplish. What has happened over the course of the years ensuing is the Republicans in the majority. Are more and more attendant to become preoccupied with my position, my next committee assignment, will I win my next election. Instead of long-term policy commitments, they became more and more enamored of short-term political actions, oftentimes in terms of what do we put on the floor, and why do we do it.

It was more about the political consequences and the next few months. They forgot the governing adage of behavior and the legislative body. If you're a small government conservative, good government makes good politics. And they just, they just got too insecure about their own retaining their own majority.

BLITZER: And you also complain that Republicans got too enamored with the religious conservatives. You write this, "America's Christian conservative movement is confronted with this divide. Small government advocates who want to practice their faith independent of heavy-handed government versus big government sympathizers who want to impose their version of righteousness on others through the hammer of law." Explain your concern here.

ARMEY: Well, first of all, let me again, remind you the winning coalition for conservatives is small government conservatives whether they be on the social policy issue or the economic policy issue. That are sort of bonded together by a commitment to individual freedom and relief from big government. What happened on the social policy side and the Schiavo case is probably the best example. Is the social policy conservatives said let's use the power of the government.

Let's preempt the historic separation of powers. Let's embrace judicial activism when it is in fact ordered by a legislative power to compel the judiciary to impose a concept of morality that we happen to believe in. That's a horribly dangerous precedent. It's certainly counter intuitive to any devotion to liberty.

And while it did very little to endear the Republican to the already existing base of evangelical supporters, it deeply offended a very broad spectrum of other voters that were otherwise available. Said no, wait a minute, these guys are supposed to be about liberty, appreciation for the constitution, separation of powers and against judicial activism. So it was a clear choice to say we think righteousness trumps freedom in political -- in public policy. And that of course is a politically losing proposition.

BLITZER: Congressman, is there someone or several people to blame in terms of, do you want to name names? Who is to blame for turning the Republican Party in the wrong direction?

ARMEY: I think I want to get out of the business of talking about names. The fact of the matter is this becomes a matter of consensus of the people in office working together, reinforcing positive behavior among one another. It becomes a matter, I think more of almost the atmosphere within which we work was census of insecurity. Ronald Reagan's great faith was in the American people. His feeling was if we do right, they'll know it, they'll reward us.

That happened. A lot of our members who are plagued by a fear of the public wouldn't understand. I remember saying to one member one time, you mean they are smart enough to vote for you but not smart enough to understand the issues? And so I think it's not helpful to point fingers at any individual.

BLITZER: Here's what James Dobson from the group Focus on the Family said reacting to your criticisms. He could be trying to reposition himself as an erstwhile Republican leader by discrediting the Religious Right, hoping to step into the vacuum after the upcoming election. Come to think of it, that may explain everything." You want to respond to James Dobson?

ARMEY: Well, again, I think Dr. Dobson who happens to be a very good family therapist apparently and so forth, has been one of the more aggressive voices pushing Congress into such decisions as the Schiavo case. My own view was it was a misjudgment in terms of what is the legitimate role of a legislative body, a role of the federal government relative to the judiciary.

It was a misjudgment in terms of the extent to which the American people would rather embrace freedom in our constitutional traditions than the morality play that was being worked out in Florida at the time. And quite frankly, I think if I'm trying to position myself, around an idea, the idea being freedom works.

Let's remain devoted to freedom. Let's put principles of freedom and restraint of big government. Lower taxes, let's put that out ahead of all of our short run concerns about our own political destiny, and we will prosper as we did after the contract with America, with Ronald Reagan, and even in fact of the aftermath of Barry Goldwater.

BLITZER: Here's a quote that was in "The New York Times" that jumped out at me on Monday. Dick Armey on Nancy Pelosi who might be the next speaker of the House of Representatives. Quote, "I'm a big fan. She is an able person and serious about her work and a very pleasant person with whom to work." Did you say that?

ARMEY: I did say that. And Nancy is all those things. She is also by the way seriously misguided about what is appropriate public policy. The fact of the matter is the policies she would embrace of big government, government meddlesomeness, even more laxness in the tort laws. Given more licenses to the trial lawyers to run amuck in the country.

The fact is I'm not a fan and I've never professed myself to be a fan of what Nancy Pelosi embraces as a system of understanding of the world or philosophical premises for government. But the fact is she's a decent person. Just because she is misguided on virtually every subject that I can think of doesn't make her a bad person.

BLITZER: Congressman Dick Armey, always outspoken. Thanks very much for coming in.

ARMEY: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much. This note to our viewers. Please tune into CNN primetime Tuesday night beginning at 7:00 p.m. eastern. I'll be joined by Anderson Cooper, Paula Zahn, Lou Dobbs, clearly the best political team on television as your votes are counted. The races, the results, the ramifications. Tuesday night beginning 7:00 p.m. eastern.

And still to come, two years ago he was the party's presidential nominee. Now some say he's becoming radioactive. We'll take a closer look at Senator John Kerry's falling fortunes.

And coming up in our 7:00 p.m. eastern hour tonight, who approved of these ads? CNN's Jeanne Moos looks at campaign commercials. We're live from CNN election headquarters in New York and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Welcome back. Only six days before the midterm election and the man who carried the Democrat's torch only two years ago now finding himself a little too hot to handle. Senator John Kerry has cancelled multiple appearances in the wake of what he says was a bundled joke. Which Republicans seized upon quickly accusing Kerry of slamming U.S. troops. CNN's Brian Todd is standing by with more on Kerry's falling fortunes -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we all know stars can fall quickly in politics. John Kerry seems to have been sliding even before this incident, but for the past 48 hours, many have been asking has the coffin been nailed shut?


TODD (voice-over): Searing insult or botched joke? John Kerry's untimely remark has made him radioactive on the 2006 campaign trail. And in a span of just hours, analysts like CNN contributor James Carville say, his fortunes in 2008 have seemingly evaporated.

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I'm sure he was thinking about running for president, but I think this is -- he was not the front runner Monday and he's less a front runner today.

TODD: Even before the suddenly infamous stuck in Iraq statement, a new CNN poll by the Opinion Research Corporation showed Kerry trailing four others as the Democrat's choice for their presidential nominee in 2008. In the previous CNN poll, only two hopefuls were ahead of him. Now observers believe even if the remark was an honest misstep, Kerry's fighting a battle of perception.

WILLIAM BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: This is the limousine liberal and it's terribly destructive to him.

TODD: And in a party not inclined to nominate a candidate who lost a previous election, even with a respectable showing in 2004, analysts say there's a new Democratic star racing past Kerry in the opposite direction. A comer who doesn't have the baggage of Kerry or any other presidential hopeful.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Obama looks like the outsider. The new face, the fresh face. And there's a tremendous desire for change right now in the country. Obama looks like change, Kerry looks like well, we tried that last time.

TODD: But the Democrats have hardly cornered the market on falling stars. Senator George Allen once the darling of conservative Republicans seen as an ideological heir apparent to President Bush, has with his own campaign mistakes, dropped to seventh on Republican's list of potential nominees in our poll. Compared to his fourth-place showing in our previous survey.


TODD: Still, two years is a lifetime in politics. Allen and Kerry could come back, analysts say, if either can offer a message that's right for the times in 2008. But if either are seen as a principal reason their parties take a beating in this election, forget it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We've seen some pretty amazing comebacks in American political history over the decades. We'll see what happens this time. Brian, thanks very much for that. John Kerry's comments in California are being felt on the front lines. We're seeing instant reaction almost from members of the U.S. military online. Our internet reporter Jacki Schechner standing by with more on that. Jacki?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, one clip of John Kerry's speech is the most viewed video on today with close to half a million views. Part of that's organic. Part of it is because top conservative bloggers like Michelle Malkin are encouraging people to send it around. Now we do know that some U.S. servicemen on the front lines have seen a clip of the speech. And some of them are reacting also online.

This image is making the rounds today, it's a picture of U.S. servicemen holding a banner that reads help us John Kerry, we are stuck here in Iraq. Clearly misspelled. Their riffing on Kerry's speech. It showed up first online from what we can tell on Charlie Sykes' Web site. He is a conservative radio talk show host based out of Milwaukee.

And the station tells us he got it from a caller who says he got it from a friend in Iraq. The army says they think that it is genuine but they don't know where and when the image was taken. Now we have other soldiers who are blogging from the front lines. This is Michael who's an infantry man. He says he has a college degree and he calls Kerry blinded by his own arrogance.

Kristen's a captain in the Air Force, she says she's in an office of nine military people in Baghdad, five with graduate degrees, some even with Ph.D.s. And Matt Burden who runs, one of the widely read U.S.-based military blogs says he is flooded with e-mails today. Most of them cursing John Kerry -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jacki, for that. Jacki Schechner reporting. And as we head into the crucial midterm elections, stay up to date with the CNN political ticker. The daily news service on gives you an inside view of the day's political stories. Check it out.

Up ahead, did Senator John Kerry's comments hurt the Democrats' chances? Jack Cafferty wants to know. He's standing by with The Cafferty File.

Plus, why some congressional moderates are facing a particularly tough battle to hold onto their seats. We're live from CNN election headquarters in New York and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: One of the nice things about being in New York, I get to see Lou Dobbs up close and personal.

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: And it's terrific. It's great to have you here. Look forward to working with you, Wolf. Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Tell us what's coming up in a few minutes on your show. DOBBS: Absolutely, I'd be delighted. I know my role here. Come on Wolf. Coming up at the top of the hour, we'll be reporting on the president's determination to keep Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in his job despite rising chaos in Iraq and a rising number of American casualties. Three distinguished retired officers will be joining me to say that Rumsfeld should resign. He'll tell us why.

Also, outrage over state bureaucrats who are ignoring our laws and helping illegal aliens receive public assistance benefits they're not entitled to. We'll have that special report. And, the story of one state worker who tried to obey the law and nearly lost his job as a result.

And independent voter activists are responsible for defending our democracy. They're trying to protect this democracy from the dangers of e-voting while government officials continue to either remain silent or defend flawed e-voting machines. We'll have that special report in our series, democracy at risk. All of that and a great deal more coming up at the top of the hour. We hope you'll be with us. Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Since we last spoke 24 hours ago, John Kerry now has done what I guess everyone thinks he should have done right away, namely apologize.

DOBBS: Wolf, it's, it befuddles me covering politics. This is the simplest thing. He said something utterly stupid and then wouldn't say I'm sorry. And he could have recast the entire discussion as a result, he's eaten through his misstep. He's eaten up two days that could have been used for the Democratic national apparatus to get out their messages, at least. And perhaps the damage is even greater than that.

BLITZER: I know you'll be doing more on this story coming up at the top of the hour.

DOBBS: Not too much. I'm getting kind of tired of it Wolf, to be honest with you.

BLITZER: A lot of people are getting tired of me to. Thanks very much.

DOBBS: You bet Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see you later. Lou, coming up right at the top of the hour. Six days to go until Election Day and some Republican incumbents may be nervously watching the clock as every minute ticks by. Caught between an unpopular war and an unpopular president, they are really feeling the heat right now as they try to hang on.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow, she's joining us now live from Torrington, Connecticut -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, behind me is Torrington's historic theater. And some here like to brag that it was used as a testing ground in the 1930's for movies. The theory was if the movie did well here, it would do well in the rest of the country. Now the question is whether or not the congressional race here in 2006 is symbolic of what's happening around the United States.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. I'm your Congresswoman Nancy Johnson.

SNOW (voice-over): Republican Nancy Johnson stresses her experience.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm obviously one of the younger guys running for Congress.

SNOW: Her Democratic challenger Chris Murphy stresses a need for change.

CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONN. CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: People are sick of what they are seeing from Washington. The corruption, the lack of any challenge to this president. And they want somebody who is going to speak for them.

SNOW: The 33-year-old Murphy says he considered himself a long shot when he first entered the race against the popular 12-term incumbent. Two years ago, she took 60 percent of the vote. A poll this week shows Johnson slightly behind the new comer. But she's fighting hard.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a huge thrill for me to be able to stand with Congresswoman Nancy Johnson.

SNOW: Johnson welcomed the first lady on the campaign trail, but makes a point of distancing herself from President Bush.

REP. NANCY JOHNSON (R), CONNECTICUT: I exude the independence that you have to have if you are going to serve your district on the national scene. So, yes it's a different environment and his rhetoric plays entirely to it, my opponent's.

SNOW: That different environment could change the landscape in Connecticut's congressional seats. Three Republican incumbents are now on the defense. Besides Johnson, ten-term Republican Congressman Christopher Shays is in a tight political race against Democrat Diane Ferrell. And the race between Republican Congressman Rob Simmons versus Joe Courtney is considered a dead heat. For many voters in this state Iraq is the big issue.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to vote democratically because I think there has to be a change. I want to see some of our guys come home.

LEON DELROY, CONNECTICUT VOTER: I think we did what we had to do. Everybody forgets what happened on September 11th. And why we're over there, to stop the terrorism.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SNOW: And it's not just here in the northwestern part of Connecticut where Republicans are seen as vulnerable. There are several races throughout the northeast where Republicans, particularly popular moderate Republicans are in very tight races -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're going to be watching all of those races Tuesday night together with you Mary. Thanks very much. Mary Snow reporting from Connecticut. Up next, Jack Cafferty is wondering did Senator John Kerry's comments hurt the Democrats' chances. Jack's standing by with "The Cafferty File." We're live from CNN election headquarters in New York and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Here's a closer look at some of the hot shots coming in from our friends at the "Associated Press," pictures likely to be in your hometown newspapers tomorrow. Republican Congressional Candidate Raj Bakda stands in front of body bags meant to represent Philadelphia murder victims.

In Connecticut, Senator Joe Lieberman shares a laugh with constituents at a campaign stop. In Athens, Tennessee, Republican Senate candidate Bob Corker drops by a Hardee's restaurant and chats up the staff.

And in Memphis, Tennessee Corker's opponent Democrat Harold Ford Jr. listens to President Clinton deliver a speech during a campaign event at a church. Some of today's political hot shots. Pictures often worth a thousand words. Let's check in with Jack for "The Cafferty File."

CAFFERTY: I don't know if it was a thousand words, but John Kerry uttered a few that I'll bet he wishes he could take back. You know he might have shot himself right out of the water for the 2008 presidential bid.

BLITZER: Well, it's still two years.

CAFFERTY: That'll make a good campaign commercial. The question is did his comments hurt the Democrats' chances?

Timothy writes from Syracuse, New York, "Hurt their chances? Well, all day we've seen his fellow Democrats scrambling to get away from it as fast as some Republicans are running away from Bush. I'm not saying he hurt their chances, but he certainly didn't help them any."

Kate in Hamilton, New Jersey, "If the American people are stupid enough to let Kerry's words affect their vote, then they deserve the awful policies that will be enacted when they elect Republicans once again. It's just a shame the rest of us will have to pay for their stupid mistakes."

Guenter, Bryan, Texas, "I heard someone say a few weeks ago the election won't be a sure thing for the Democrats because they have the natural ability to shoot themselves in the foot. Kerry did just this. If someone cannot express himself clearly enough and has to explain for two days what he really meant to say, he should not talk at all."

Shirley in Atlantic Beach, South Carolina, "Maybe if John Kerry admits himself to rehab all will be forgiven. It seems to work for Mark Foley and Rush Limbaugh."

And Jim writes, "Jack, the only people who make a mountain out of a molehill are you and Wolf running something that was said into the dirt. You guys have gone on and on and will until you get an apology for nothing said in the first place. You won't read this letter, you only read the ones that you view that suits what you want people to believe."

Fooled you. If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to and read more of them online. Guilt by association, they blame you too.

BLITZER: No, they can blame us. I got a lot of e-mail saying enough with this Kerry stuff, let's move on. There's a war going on in Iraq right now. There's a missing American soldier. Other U.S. troops are dying all the time. That's a pretty important issue we should be looking at very closely.

CAFFERTY: And The Cafferty File will look at that. Specifically that issue of abandoning the search for that kidnapped soldier on the orders of the Muqtada al-Sadr. We walked away from a missing soldier in the field. The United States military doesn't usually do that kind of stuff.

BLITZER: Let's hope we find this guy and find him quickly. Jack, thanks very much. And this note to our viewers, remember, we're here in THE SITUATION ROOM weekday afternoons from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. eastern. This week, a special two hour edition from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. eastern, Paula Zahn will be joining us. Much more of our political coverage, lots of other news. Let's go to Lou meanwhile, for "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.


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