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President Bush Continues to Strongly Defend Iraq War; Tom Reynolds Interview; Michael Steele Interview

Aired November 2, 2006 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Ali, thank you very much.
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 -- President Bush's mission to bolster Republicans weighed down by the war in Iraq. This hour, there is new evidence that voters have a one-track mind about the war five days before they go to the polls.

Plus, two endangered Republicans in THE SITUATION ROOM hot seat. I'll ask Congressman Tom Reynolds about the GOP's fight to keep control of the House and about his own political problems in New York. And I'll also ask the Maryland Senate candidate Michael Steele about the Michael J. Fox factor in his race.

And gay marriage vows. Some Republicans are plunging into the culture wars in hopes of rallying conservatives. How much will values influence the way America votes? I'm Wolf Blitzer at CNN election headquarters, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up first this hour, the inescapable death and danger in Iraq. It's the issue politicians in this country can't ignore five days before America votes. In Iraq, a massive search continuing for a kidnapped American soldier against a backdrop of new bloodshed. At least 30 people were killed in shootings, bombings and raids in the past 24 hours.

On the campaign trail here at home, President Bush continues to strongly defend the war knowing the violence and the fate of American troops are first and foremost on many voters' minds. Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider is standing by but let's go to our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux with the latest -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, President Bush today is campaigning in the red states of Nevada, as well as Montana. This is where Republicans are struggling.

But Wolf, it really doesn't matter where the president travels there is always that elephant in the room. That is the Iraq War, the Iraq War being the number one issue for voters. The Iraq War, as well as the president very unpopular at this time so what you're seeing is a strategy from this White House to put the onus on the Democrats to try to come up with a solution to fix the problems in Iraq. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Imagine this. We're in the middle of a war on terror. And one of the most fundamental fights is in Iraq. And, yet, the Democrats have no plan for victory. They have no idea how to win. Harsh criticism is not a plan for victory.


MALVEAUX: The president's strategy also, of course, Wolf, is to emphasize that, yes, he gets it, realizes it's a tough fight in Iraq and secondly to convince Americans that he does have a plan, a strategy of his own that ultimately will mean that they win.

Now, also the president recently ditched his rallying cry, the war cry "stay the course in Iraq," but it was yesterday telling that he send a clear signal for to his Republican base he is not veering very far from that course, saying that he is keeping in place the architects of his Iraq War policy, that, of course, being the vice president and the secretary of defense -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, thanks very much.

A new CNN/"New York Times" poll out today shows only 34 percent of Americans now approve of the way the president is doing his job. Several other recent polls show an approval rating ranging from the high 30s to low 40s. When those surveys are averaged together in the so-called poll of polls, the president's job approval rating stands at around 38 percent.

If the president and his party need any more reminding that Iraq is the driving election issue, they only need to check the polls or turn on their televisions. Let's bring in our senior political analyst Bill Schneider -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, the 2006 midterm will come to be known as the Iraq election if the Democrats have their way.


BUSH: I think the elections will be decided by security and the economy.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): What about Iraq? Asked what should be the top priority for the new Congress, more than four times as many people say Iraq than any other issue, according to "The New York Times"/CBS News poll. In the most recent CNN poll nearly 60 percent say they oppose the war.

CNN has learned that congressional Democrats will close their campaign with a heavy ad push on Iraq. The ads charge the Republicans want to stay the course.

ANNOUNCER: Despite a war gone wrong and no plan for victory, politicians like Rob Simmons keep voting to stay the course. Again and again. Following George Bush's failed leadership, no matter what the cost. Stay the course with Rob Simmons? All we'll get is more the same.

SCHNEIDER: They show Republicans as a herd.

ANNOUNCER: From special interest tax breaks to staying the course in Iraq, Mike Fitzpatrick just goes along with George Bush and the special interests and we get left behind.

SCHNEIDER: They say Republicans are staring the country toward disaster.

ANNOUNCER: Before they let the president steer us into an iceberg maybe we should think about a new direction.

SCHNEIDER: Republicans ask what do Democrats want to do in Iraq?

MARK KENNED, SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: You can't negotiate with people who want to kill you. I'm Mark Kennedy. Securing the peace is a lot harder than wishing for it. I approve this message even though I know it may not be what you want to hear.

SCHNEIDER: Many Democratic ads are emotional.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Iraq is a complete disaster.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's heartbreaking.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For me it is very personal having a brother who is serving.

SCHNEIDER: This new Republican ad is also emotional.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I served in Iraq and I've had 13 operations on my leg to prove it. The war on terror isn't easy but it's worth the sacrifice.


SCHNEIDER: Republicans want to broaden the focus to the global war on terror. That's the issue that brought them victory in 2002 and in 2004 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill, thank you very much. Bill Schneider and Suzanne Malveaux are all part of the best political team on television.

And remember, for the latest campaign news at any time, check out the political ticker. Check it out at

Let's check in with Zain Verjee for a quick check of some other important stories making news. Hi, Zain.


A judge, a university professor and three police officers among at least 30 people killed in most recent wave of violence in Iraq. It comes as U.S. military officials in Baghdad are touting what they call promising statistics showing a drop in violence over the past week. Separately military officials are now reporting that an air strike west of Baghdad killed a high-ranking al Qaeda in Iraq leader.

A top U.S. general says more than 2000 coalition forces and 1000 Iraqi troops are directly involved in intensive search for a kidnapped American soldier. Speaking to reporters just hours ago the general identified the soldier as Ahmed Qusai al-Taii. The 41 year old Iraqi American translator was abducted 10 days ago after leaving Baghdad's fortified Green Zone to visit his Iraqi wife.

And east of Iraqi capital, near the Iranian border, Iraqi security forces reportedly intercepted a large shipment of explosives being transported on donkeys. More than 50 anti-tank mines and an anti-tank rocket are among the fights said to have been confiscated -- Wolf.

VERJEE: Thank you, Zain, for that.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He is here with us in New York for the "Cafferty File."

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Wolf. It was sort of a John Kerry moment in reverse. House majority leader John Boehner was on this program yesterday afternoon and once again stood by defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his handling of the war in Iraq. Boehner said that we shouldn't blame the mess in Iraq on Rumsfeld. He said, quote, "The generals on the ground are in charge and Rumsfeld works closely with them and the president."

Proving that neither side in the political debate has a patent on saying stupid stuff. This is the same guy, Boehner, who, earlier this week, said Rumsfeld was the best thing to happen to the Pentagon in 25 years.

The Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean and Senate minority leader Harry Reid jumped all over Boehner's comments demanding that he apologize. Meanwhile, President Bush, as you've just heard, chose yesterday to announce that he plans to keep Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney around until he leaves office.

Time doesn't permit an exploration of the implications of that statement. Here is the question. Who is responsible for the problems in Iraq, the generals or Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld?

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

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

Jack Cafferty will be back shortly.

Coming up in battle for Capitol Hill, every seat counts. Up next I'll speak to Congressman Tom Reynolds, the captain steering Republican efforts to try to keep control of the House of Representatives.

Plus, he's running an unconventional campaign as he tries to make history. But can Michael Steele become just the second black Republican ever elected to the United States Senate? He's my guest.

And later, gay marriage was a key issue in the last election. Will it impact voters this time around? We'll find out in today's "Culture Wars." We're at the CNN election headquarters in New York. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: These next five days until America votes will be dicey for many Republicans but Congressman Tom Reynolds may have it tougher than most. He is not only in jeopardy in his own reelection bid in Upstate New York. He is also the man who is charged with leading the battle to keep Congress in Republican hands.

And joining us now from beautiful Buffalo, New York, the congressman, the incumbent Republican Congressman Tom Reynolds.

Congressman Reynolds, you're fighting now for your political life. It was not supposed to be this close but it's apparently very, very close right now. What happened?

REP. TOM REYNOLDS (R), NEW YORK: Well, Wolf, it's a close race. Probably a lot of variables. New York, particularly in Buffalo, we've got a local county situation under a control board. We've got circumstances of a election where we do not have a strong top of the ticket as we've had incumbent George Pataki running. We've probably had early questions on Foley. All of that kind of in play just means it's what Buffalo politics is about. It's a spectator sport right behind the Bills and the Sabres.

BLITZER: He's what the Rochester "Democrat and Chronicle" wrote the other day, last month. "Two years ago, a magazine headline called Representative Tom Reynolds 'Mr. Clout' and deemed him western New York's most powerful politician. Now the Erie County Republican is trying for another name. 'Mr. Survival.'"

Is it simply because of the Mark Foley scandal that your problems are erupting or a bigger issue out there?

REYNOLDS: I think some of the reaction in the western part of my district, Buffalo, where we're from and Erie County, we've had some where Joe Jamble's (ph) approval ratings, county executive, are low. There is some frustration with that. We got frustration on jobs which is the number one issue in this district. And we also have my opponent who is a self-made millionaire who has spent millions on this race.

BLITZER: What about Iraq? That seems to be nationally the dominant issue right now. A lot of Americans angry with the Bush administration's policies in Iraq. Is that factoring in because you've been aligned with the Bush administration on the Iraq policy. REYNOLDS: Wolf, I only really see -- and I work in these races pretty close across the country. I only see one race where Iraq is the central theme of a campaign and that is Chris Shays campaign in Connecticut and he has walked right in and wanting to make Iraq the central issue of his campaign.

If you look at the issues going on between I and my opponent, it's job, it's taxes and it's Social Security. My view versus his.

BLITZER: Is there any daylight between and you the administration when it comes to Iraq?

REYNOLDS: Well, I think one of the things that I believe is you can't cut and run. And let the generals work through what is the best strategy to win this war on terror. But I also believe the House and Senate has oversight responsibilities that they must continue.

BLITZER: Here is what your Democratic opponent Jack Davis is quoted as having said. "I want to beat Reynolds on my issues, but of course, it's nice to have him screwed up. When Reynolds heard about the problems with the pages, he should have shown due diligence and investigated. This is all about power and all about money and it stinks."

Do you want to respond to that charge?

REYNOLDS: Well, Jack Davis and his colleagues that have been throwing mud on that campaign for weeks, it's to be expected but I'm on the issues. Those issues are jobs, taxes and Social Security. I believe you cut taxes, you'll create jobs and I want my community to know that.

He doesn't support bringing federal investment back to western New York. I'm just the opposite. I believe that you need to bring back federal dollars to help, not only the University of Buffalo where you graduated from, but also so many other both higher education institutions, job creating companies, anyplace where we can assist in road and bridge construction.

Those types of things have helped this community move forward in the aspect of keeping jobs and creating more jobs. So I think there's a lot of difference in us. It's about choice and that is really what I've said to my colleagues running across the country. All politics is local.

You want these races to be between you and your opponent on the issues that matter at home. And if you're doing that and you raise enough money to get your message out you're going to have an opportunity then to get to the point where we are right now and that is turning out to vote.

BLITZER: I want to get on to your role as the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee but I want to play a clip because it generated a lot of commotion out there when you first responded to the allegations of Mark Foley and the pages. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REYNOLDS: I don't know what else I could have done.

I reported the incident -- sometimes I think, you know, as we look at -- what is a good citizen do? I mean, we have been taught that if you see a circumstance that isn't right, take it to your supervisor.


BLITZER: Now that -- a lot of people say wasn't good enough. With hindsight, what else should you have done once you got word that there were these inappropriate exchanges?

REYNOLDS: There wasn't word there were inappropriate exchanges and that is exactly it. Many of the Democrats that were working in alliance with my opponent tried to combine all these instant messages and e-mails into one.

There are two distinct actions I took. The first was when Rodney Alexander talked to me about overly friendly e-mails, that a page he had sponsored had received, but his parents were aware and they were professionals and they did not want the privacy of their son affected and not to do anything about it. I still took that to the speaker of the House.

A constitutional officer, a second in line to the presidency, because I had access and the ability to talk to the speaker. When you look at the second incidence, that's on Friday, September 29th, when ABC News released these despicable, deplorable e-mails that Foley admitted that he had sent. At that point, we moved forward, very quickly, to ask and get Mark Foley's resignation from Congress and that is the difference.

Once that became public, that any of us were aware, within hours, Mark Foley had resigned from Congress.

BLITZER: How many seats do you think, congressman, the Republicans are going to lose on Tuesday?

REYNOLDS: I never count seats exactly where we are. I've always said, Wolf, we have wind to our face. It's the second term, midterm election with our president being a Republican president in power, some call it the sixth year itch. I call it wind in your face.

We need to work very hard to make sure that we can hold the House. We've done that by recruiting first of all, our incumbents to run and, second, by having very good recruiting across the country, raising money in these final days.

There is about three dozen competitive seats and when we look at that, two-thirds of those seats, our candidates, the Republican incumbents had more money than their opponents in two or three instances and so as we look at the final days now, the partnership of the campaigns and the Republican National Committee and the states is turnout.

We did that in 2002 in the midterm election and we grew seats and we did it in 2004 in the presidential year and we grew seats. Now, we plain need to make sure we get a turnout in these hotly contested seats in order to hold a Republican majority in the House.

BLITZER: Representative Tom Reynolds is the Republican incumbent from western New York. Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

REYNOLDS: Thank you, Wolf. Have a good day.

BLITZER: And this note. We invited Congressman Reynolds's opponent, the Democrat, Jack Davis, to come on this program and the Davis staffer says the candidate is now checking his schedule. We hope he'll join us.

Up next in the battle for the U.S. Senate Democrats have their sights on seven Republican-held seats. Are they now going, though, after and an eighth? Find out in today's "Political Radar."

Plus, he is gunning for reelection as California governor what to do with the polls that show only five days out for Arnold Schwarzenegger. What do those polls show? We're at the CNN election headquarters in New York and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: On our "Political Radar" this Thursday, the Democrat overseeing the battle for the control of the U.S. Senate says his party now has the advantage of Arizona and that is a sign of things to come on Election Day.

Senator Chuck Schumer cites internal polling showing the Democratic candidate Jim Pederson four points ahead of the incumbent Republican Senator Jon Kyl. Schumer says the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee will spend $1 million on TV ads for Pederson and the National Republican Senatorial Committee begs to differ, telling CNN that John Kyl is, quote, on pace to win the election.

By the way, Bill Clinton is out there in Arizona today campaigning, campaigning for Pederson. I'm told by a source close to Bill Clinton that Clinton believes Peterson has a shot, a real shot of upsetting Jon Kyl. We are going to watch this race very closely.

Meanwhile, two new polls offer somewhat different portrait of the New Jersey Senate race. The nut Rutgers-Eagleton poll of registered voters show Democrat incumbent Bob Menendez with a four-point lead over Republican challenger Tom Kean Jr. A new Farleigh Dickinson survey of likely voters shows Menendez ahead by 10 percentage points.

She's the Republican's real star this campaign season, that would be the first lady. She is all over the campaign trail as Election Day nears. Laura Bush is really earning her frequent flyer miles. Today alone the first lady is campaigning for Republican candidates in Michigan, Illinois, Iowa and California. It was one year ago that he had a number of referenda slapped on by California voters and it seems like Arnold Schwarzenegger is flying high right now as he runs for reelection. What a difference a year makes.

The Golden State governor is up by double digits in two new polls out today. Schwarzenegger is being challenged by Democrat and California treasurer Phil Angelides.

And remember, for the latest campaign news at any time, check out the CNN political ticker. Go to

He's fighting to make history and to help the Republicans keep control of the Senate. Up next Michael Steele who hopes to be become the only black Republican ever elected to the United States Senate and he is standing by to join us live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And later, the president on the campaign trail nonstop until Election Day. But does George W. Bush help or hurt the candidates he is campaigning for? I'll ask Bill Bennett and Donna Brazile in today's "Strategy Session."

We'll be right back.


Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in New York at CNN election headquarters.

In our "Strategy Session," the battle for Congress. A referendum on the Iraq War and the president of the United States five days before America votes. We're joined by CNN political analyst and Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile; and CNN contributor Bill Bennett, the host of the radio program "Morning in America."

Bill, I'll start with you. In this latest CBS/"New York Times" poll, when asked about the president's job approval on the issue of his handling of the war in Iraq, only 29 percent, only 29 percent of the American public think he is doing a good job. Sixty four percent disapprove. Yet the White House, the president seems to be going out there speaking about Iraq all the time. If it's a losing issue, why is he doing that?

BILL BENNETT, HOST, "MORNING IN AMERICA": I remember Dick Morris used to tell a story about Bill Clinton asked Morris to poll what would be more popular for a summer vacation rafting the rapids or hiking. Hiking won, so he went hiking.

George Bush is a conviction politician. His convictions about Iraq are clear. He is going to stay, he says he will stay if it's just him and Mrs. Bush and the dog. He's put his stake on the line here, and he's going to stick to it. There is a lot -- there are a lot of differences of opinion. There's a lot unhappiness. There's a lot of disapproval. Some people want more troops. Some people want fewer troops. In the future, should there be a Democrat Congress, it will be very interesting to see exactly what it is they will propose differently, if they have the responsibility.

BLITZER: Do you have a clue, Donna, what a Democratic House of Representatives, shall we say, would do differently than what the president is now doing?

BRAZILE: Well, there's no question that Democrats have offered a set of proposals to change the course in Iraq.

Look, the Iraq Study Group will be presenting their own proposals soon after the election. And we hope this president, who some would also call stubborn, will listen to James Baker and Lee Hamilton and others.

What we do know is that over 100 of our brave troops lost their lives in Iraq. Over 42 Iraqis civilians are dying each day. That's an 18 percent spike. That's the reason why the president has limited his travel to a couple of ruby-red states, like Georgia and Nebraska and Montana, and he's not able to be the cheerleader he was four years ago.

BLITZER: Is that right, Bill Bennett?

BENNETT: The president is very busy. He's going to a lot more states than that. And it's interesting how much demand the president is in.

This is a war. And it's horrible and terrible. But people die in war. And it's the president's view, it is the president's calculation, it's his sense that, if we were to withdraw from Iraq, more people would die, more Americans would be at risk.

This is not a game where all lives can be saved. It's not a game where nobody loses, where nobody has to put their life on the line. This is an entirely new world that George Bush inherited. He's showing a persistence and leadership, which may not be popular at this time, but history will be the final judge.

BLITZER: We're showing a live picture, Donna, of the president. He's in Nevada right now, campaigning there, with Air Force One in the backdrop, always a popular setting for a president to drop in.

He's in Nevada right now. I don't know how you would characterize Nevada. Various parts of Nevada fall blue.

BENNETT: Not so red.

BLITZER: ... fall red. It's, I think it's fair to say, somewhat of a mixed state...


BLITZER: ... right now.

BENNETT: Not a true red state.

BRAZILE: But, look, look, I was there four years ago. I saw the president campaign in -- in Missouri and Pennsylvania and Ohio.

That's not on his schedule this time. That's because most Americans -- in "The New York Times" poll, Wolf, you mentioned, 70 percent of the American people do not believe the president has a plan to get us out of Iraq. Most Americans, Republicans and Democrats, both say that it's time for us to begin to withdraw our troops.

That's a bipartisan consensus that has formed in this country. And it has nothing to do with whether people like George Bush or dislike George Bush. It has to do with whether or not we have a strategy for success.


BRAZILE: ... and that's what the American people want right now.

BENNETT: And leadership has nothing to do with polling, absolutely nothing.

BLITZER: What about...


BENNETT: Go ahead.

BLITZER: What about this Thursday before an election on the following Tuesday? What should Republicans, Bill Bennett, be bracing for right now? What should the strategists, the pollsters, the advisers be telling their respective candidates?

BENNETT: Well, stick to your guns, stick to your convictions. You know, say what you think. Say what you believe.

I have seen a lot of the -- supposedly the most wise pundits here, Wolf, watching CNN. You have heard them say, you know, 18 to 20, maybe 25. And 15 or so of those guys are running so conservatively that you might get a Democrat House, but, in terms of political coloration, there's some awfully conservative Democrats going out there that will be responsible, if they do win the House, for the House shifting.

So, this is not some kind of major ideological revolution, should it occur. I still have my doubts that it will occur.


BRAZILE: Well, look, Democrats right now are making their closing arguments: Why should we rehire Republicans to run the government, when they have done such a bad job in Iraq, done such a bad job in Katrina?

I think Democrats are going to continue to focus on getting out just about everybody they can. That same "The New York Times" poll showed that over 50 percent of the American people believe the Democrats have better ideas, better solutions on so many of our domestic issues. So, right now, it's victory equal turnout. That is what you will hear Democrats talking about. And that is what they will be doing, getting out their vote.

BLITZER: Donna Brazile and Bill Bennett are...



BLITZER: ... both part of the best political team on television.

Guys, thanks very much. We're going to be busy over these next few days.

BENNETT: See you in New York, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank...

BRAZILE: See you in New York.


BLITZER: Thank you.

And coming up: Iraq and a hard place for Republicans. Will the war define the election for the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Maryland? We will be speaking live with Michael Steele.

And, later, the view from the White House from the always outspoken press secretary, Tony Snow. He's standing by to join us live as well.

Tough questions for him, for Michael Steele, for our other guests, that's all coming up.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

Now to the midterm election and the culture wars. In some critical battlegrounds, a vote on gay marriage could help turn the battle for Congress one way or another.

Our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash has more on this issue and how it's playing in Indiana -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in 2004, the same-sex marriage ban was on the ballot in 11 states. President Bush campaigned hard on the issue. And he lost just two of the states where this issue was on the ballot. Now Republicans are trying to hard to use this issue again to rally the frustrated faithful.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): God bless America.

BASH (voice-over): Reelect him, and Republican John Hostettler says he will protect Indiana voters from threats to their values, what he calls a homosexual agenda.

(on camera): What is a homosexual agenda?

REP. JOHN HOSTETTLER (R), INDIANA: Well, the homosexual agenda is expanding, for example, so-called -- expanding discrimination to another area of -- in my opinion, of chosen behavior.

BASH: His radio ad is less subtle.


NARRATOR: Speaker Pelosi will then put in motion her radical plan to advance the homosexual agenda, led by Barney Frank, reprimanded by the House, after paying for sex with a man who ran a gay brothel out of Congressman Frank's home.


BASH: Hostettler is trying to lure conservatives by warning, a vote for the Democrat is a vote for same-sex marriage, something his Democratic opponent calls a scare tactic, because they agree on the issue.

BRAD ELLSWORTH (D), INDIANA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I'm opposed to gay marriage. I think marriage is between a man and a woman.

BASH: Hostettler hopes a state ban on same-sex marriage will be on Indiana's ballot in 2008. But it already is on this Tuesday's ballot in eight states.

Two, Virginia and Tennessee, have hotly contested Senate races, where GOP candidates are jumping on the issue.

In Tennessee, Republican Bob Corker is accusing Democrat Harold Ford of supporting same-sex marriage, forcing Ford to run this ad.



And now they have attacked my faith, said I'm for gay marriage, when I voted against it.


BASH: In Virginia, GOP Senator George Allen will vote for the state ban.

SEN. GEORGE ALLEN (R), VIRGINIA: And I believe that marriage should be between one man and one woman.

BASH: Democrat Jim Webb opposes same-sex marriage, too, but calls the ballot initiative too restrictive.

Republican activists hope that will energize a frustrated GOP base.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's been negative enough that people might be discouraged from voting. But I think they see here a clear opportunity for the people of Virginia to -- to define, and not redefine, marriage.

BASH: Back in Indiana, a conservative state where supporters of gay marriage are hard to find, Mark St. John quietly works against a ban. It's easy this year, he says, because voters are focused on other issues.

MARK ST. JOHN, LOBBYIST, INDIANA EQUALITY: They're really more concerned about their neighbors that are going to war and coming back in coffins. They're more worried about, what the economy is going to like, their job future here.

BASH: Congressman Hostettler is worried about his job. Behind in the polls, he says convincing so-called value voters to vote Republican is how to win.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): My home, sweet home.


BASH: Now, there are some conservatives who think that Republican leaders in Washington are disingenuous about this issue. President Bush, as I mentioned, campaigned hard on it in 2004, but was virtually silent about it, until this past summer, when the Senate took up the issue in a pre-election vote.

But, Wolf, if this issue does rally enough conservatives in tested -- tight places like here in Indiana, that's all that could make the difference, potentially, in these very tight races -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And people will closely be watching if this issue has a big impact on the races, as you point out in Tennessee and Virginia, especially -- very close Senate races in those two states.

Dana, thanks very much -- Dana Bash reporting.

Up next: He is running for the United States Senate, but is he running away from President Bush? We will speak live with Michael Steele, the Republican candidate in Maryland.

And, before you vote, you can get the big picture on the biggest ballot issues around the nation. We're going to show you how. And that's coming up online.

We're live from CNN election headquarters in New York. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're standing by to speak live with Michael Steele, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from Maryland. We will get to that shortly.

But, in the meantime, let's get to Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File."

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: That's much more important.


CAFFERTY: Thank you, Wolf.

Appearing on this program yesterday, House Majority Leader John Boehner said that we should not blame the mess in Iraq on Donald Rumsfeld. You know, the boss at the Pentagon, the secretary of the defense, the guy in charge of our military? Boehner said -- quote -- "The generals on the ground are in charge, and Rumsfeld works closely with them and the president."

So, we asked: Who is responsible for all the problems in Iraq? Is it the generals or the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld?

Here is what you have written thus far.

Ralph in New York writes: "Jack, during World War II, our greatest ally was Hitler himself. By taking over control of his armies and overruling the suggestions of his generals, he dug his own grave, and ensured the defeat of Nazi Germany. The parallel with what is happening in the Mideast is exactly the same. Rumsfeld follows the wishes of the commander in chief, and our troops are led into disaster and death. Who said history doesn't repeat itself?"

Gary in Lincoln, Michigan: "As a veteran, I can promise you that generals take orders, just like the rest of us. Rumsfeld and the rest of the administration are to blame for the mess in Iraq, not the military. Interesting that so many retired generals have come out to say that Rumsfeld should resign or be removed."

Barbee in Utah writes: "The generals are only as competent as their leaders. Hence, Von Rumsy," she refers to him as...


CAFFERTY: "... is responsible. He silenced those who spoke out, either by firing them or demoting them or forcing them to quit. Jack, I served under Caspar Weinberger. And he took ownership for mistakes and made the military an honor to serve in. Rumsfeld will never own up to his incompetence, let alone quit. The man has got power fever."

Steven in Denver: "Maybe Secretary Rumsfeld was a cheerleader. And perhaps generals who had reservations ought to have resigned. But the responsibility clearly rests on the president. And history will remember that and what he cost America in lives, reputation, and constitutional liberties."

And, finally, George writes from Ellington, Connecticut: "Who is to blame for Iraq, Rumsfeld or the generals? How can you ask such a stupid question? If you followed the news the last couple of days, it should be obvious. John Kerry is to blame."


BLITZER: Good to know that people have a sense of humor out there.

CAFFERTY: Oh, yes. They're great.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.


BLITZER: So, how will some of the key House and Senate races across the country play out in your state on election night? You can actually track every race live as it happens online.

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, standing by with details -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this is a new tool that has just been launched the last couple of hours on

What you're going to do is punch in your zip code. It's called the CNN Race Finder. We're taking you here to Maryland. Follow that. And it's going to take you to a personalized page with your congressional district, information about the Senate, House, governor races in your state around you, along with ballot measures.

If you see a race there in green, this is a key race that is tracking. And you will notice that, along these on the pages that you're looking at, you're going to see these empty squares right now. Those are the ones that are going to be populated with real-time results, as they come in on election night -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Still to come: The Maryland Senate candidate Michael Steele, he's standing by live. He has downplayed his ties to President Bush. Will that prove to be a winning strategy for this candidate in Maryland? We will ask him.

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


BLITZER: Welcome back.

It's become one of those must-watch Senate races in the nation. And there's new evidence today that it may be tightening in Maryland. A new "Baltimore Sun" poll of likely voters shows the Democratic congressman, Ben Cardin, leading Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele by 6 percentage points. Cardin had been ahead by as many 11 points in a similar poll back in September.

We spoke to Ben Cardin here in THE SITUATION ROOM earlier this week.

Joining us now, the Republican candidate, the lieutenant governor of Maryland, Michael Steele.

Lieutenant Governor, thanks very much for coming in.



We're -- we're always excited...


BLITZER: ... this time of the year, as we get close to elections. I know you're working hard. You're very -- you're -- you're getting close in this election. It wasn't supposed to be this close in a so-called blue state like...


BLITZER: ... like Maryland.


BLITZER: But a lot of people are saying that you're doing well, in part because you're running away from President Bush. Is that true?

STEELE: Look, no, I'm not running away from the president. I'm not running towards the president.

I'm running for the United States Senate. And I -- and I will keep saying it over and over again. This election is about my state, it's about the people in the state. I have had a conversation with them now for over a year.

And they're responding to the conversation. This is not about Ben Cardin. I could care less about Ben Cardin. This is about my putting myself out here before the public, and having them evaluate me, the qualifications that I bring to the job, and the kind of senator I'm going to be.

And, as of at least the "Sun" poll, I'm down by six, with a plus- or-minus-three. Our internal polls have us much closer. This race, I'm going to follow all the way through to the end, buddy.

BLITZER: Have you asked the president to stay away from Maryland?


STEELE: No, I have not. No.

The president came in for me in the early phases of the campaign, back in November. He did a great event for me. I have had his father in and his mother. We have had the vice president in. We -- we have had a great deal of support from -- from Republicans around the country.

But I have also had a great deal of support and endorsements from the likes of Russell Simmons, Cathy Hughes, Charles Dutton, and a host of other folks...

BLITZER: You know...

STEELE: ... who -- who see the value of this campaign, and want to be a part of it.

Lieutenant Governor, I have a suspicion that, if you were to call the White House, or the Republican National Committee in the next few hours and say, can the president or the vice president drop by the state of Maryland, I'm sure they would be happy to come in and try to help you.


STEELE: Absolutely.

BLITZER: You're not making that call between now and Tuesday?

STEELE: No, no, look, the president has got enough to do.

My focus right now, in the next five days, is going to be on this state and on the people of this state, to have a conversation about the things that are important to them.

BLITZER: A lot of signs behind you, "Michael Steele, U.S. Senate." I have been watching a lot of the commercials. You never see the fact that you're a Republican in those signs, in those commercials.

STEELE: Well...

BLITZER: Are -- are you running away from that? That is the criticism you have heard that has been leveled against you.

STEELE: No, look. Hey, Wolf, I have -- I have been the lieutenant governor of the state of Maryland for four years, elected as a Republican. I was state party chairman. Oh, that's Republican. I was a county chairman. That's Republican.

I have been a Republican 30 years of my life. And I have never hid -- hid it. I have never run away from it. I'm a Lincoln Republican. I'm very proud of that. I'm proud of the history of -- of my party and its relation to African-Americans. We walked away from that relationship. Over the years, I have been trying to rebuild it. And we have had some success.

And, so, you know, I'm the only candidate that's required in this race to put its party affiliation on the -- on the placard. I don't see why.

But, you know, in case your viewers don't know: Hi, I'm Michael Steele, and I'm a Republican.

I mean, so...


BLITZER: Well, I think they...

STEELE: ... beyond that, the question...

BLITZER: I think they know by now.

I want you to listen to what the Reverend Al Sharpton...

STEELE: Well, but my -- but my point is, beyond...

BLITZER: Yes. Go ahead.

STEELE: I was going to say, beyond that, though, the important thing is, what are you going to do? And that is part of the problem.

I mean, you saw what happened yesterday with Kerry. I mean, all he had to do was apologize. But he retreated to this, you know, position of defensive, you know, plugging and fighting, and instead of just stepping up. Leadership needs to step up. That's what the people of this country want us to do. It's not about labels anymore. It's about getting something done.

BLITZER: Here is what the Reverend Al Sharpton said about you the other day, when he was here in the "THE SITUATION ROOM."

Listen to this.


AL SHARPTON, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Steele is trying to run away from his party. He has spent the last couple of weeks distancing himself from his party. The problem with that is, if you're on the field with the other team, even if you run the other way, you still have on their uniform.


BLITZER: He has a way of phrasing it, as you well know. You want to respond?

STEELE: Oh, he does. He does.

Well, the only response to Al is, I look forward to having a cigar with him when this is over. And I welcome him to my Senate chamber, and we can talk.

BLITZER: Here are some of the issues where you and Ben Cardin clearly disagree. Correct me if I'm wrong.

We will go through them one at a time: abortion rights for women.


BLITZER: You -- you oppose abortion rights for...

STEELE: I'm a pro-life Roman Catholic.

BLITZER: ... for women. And he...

STEELE: I'm a...

BLITZER: He supports abortion rights for women.

STEELE: I'm a pro...

BLITZER: So, there's a clear difference there.

STEELE: ... pro-life Roman Catholic.


BLITZER: What about embryonic stem cell research?

STEELE: And this is again where Ben has been engaged in the big lie.

I support stem cell research. I support adult -- adult and cord blood. I draw the line on federal funding for research, embryonic stem cell research, that destroys the embryo.

But I'm also heartened by the promising science that's beginning to emerge with respect to saving that embryo, as they extract those stem lines. So, the -- the future is still unfolding on embryonic. My only caution is, let's not rush to judgment. Let's use a -- a moral compass. Let's use an ethical compass, as well as a scientific compass, to guide us.

BLITZER: Because Michael J. Fox has been running those commercials in the state of Maryland. He has Parkinson's, as well -- as you well know.


BLITZER: And he and many other experts believe that it's only really embryonic stem cell research that -- potentially that holds the cure for not only that disease, but others.

STEELE: Not proven. Not proven. And this is my point.

BLITZER: Well, what do you say...

STEELE: Let's...

BLITZER: What do you say to Michael J. Fox?

STEELE: Well, I say to him what I said to my sister, who suffers with M.S., who, herself, has responded to -- to this particular approach by Michael.

And that is, we still have work to do here. I'm not saying that -- I mean, look, in the private sector, there's embryonic stem cell research that is ongoing. My line is drawn with respect to federal funding of that research. And, so, you know, I think we just need to be very careful there. There is some moral and ethical concerns that I think we don't discount, that we have to take into consideration.

And -- and you look at what happened in London this week with the very promising developments with respect to adult stem cells. We have a lot of good things that are going on. I'm -- I'm not saying that embryonic is the only way. I'm just saying that it is a way that is just beginning that we need to be careful as we go down that path.

BLITZER: What about a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage? Where do you stand on that?

STEELE: My preference on that is, that's a matter that should be left to the states.

I -- I really have a problem tinkering with the Constitution. But to the extent that the states are in deadlock conflict, and it becomes a federal question, then, yes, I would support such a ban.

BLITZER: A final question, because we're -- we're almost...

STEELE: ... because I believe, fundamentally -- I believe, fundamentally, marriage is between a man and a woman.

BLITZER: A fundamental -- a -- a final question. Do you disagree at all about with the president of the United States, when it comes to his strategy in trying to win the war in Iraq?

STEELE: I do. I have some real concerns there.

I noted in the piece before the comments about the Defense Department. I think the Defense Department and Secretary Rumsfeld have an obligation to step up and put the proper strategy on the ground, and listen to the generals. They will tell you the strategy that should be in place. This should not be emanating out of the Pentagon. It should be emanating from the generals on the ground.

And I think it's important that this administration, in partnership with the White House -- with the Pentagon, and the State Department, and the Senate and the House leadership, put the onus on Iraqi government to step up and take control of the insurgency, take control of building up the democracy that they voted three times for.

The strategy of using a conventional means against an insurgency is -- is incorrect. It's out of step and out of tune with trying to win this thing. I would like to see them correct the course immediately, because the course we're on right now is not achieving the objective. And that is stabilizing an Iraq that will be an ally for the United States, not an enemy.

BLITZER: Would -- would you agree with the president, what he said yesterday, that Donald Rumsfeld is doing a -- quote -- "fantastic job" when it comes to Iraq?

STEELE: Let's put it this way. He wouldn't be my secretary of defense.

BLITZER: All right. We will leave it right there.

Michael Steele is the lieutenant governor of Maryland. He's running for the U.S. Senate, a much closer race than a lot of the pundits predicted.

Lieutenant Governor, thanks very much for coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

STEELE: Thank you, my friend. Good to see you.

BLITZER: Thank you, Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele of Maryland.


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