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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Tony Snow; Interview With Barham Salih

Aired November 5, 2006 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's 11:00 a.m. in Washington and here in New York, 8:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 4:00 p.m. in London and 7:00 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for this special "Late Edition: America Votes 2006."
We'll get to my interview with the White House press secretary, Tony Snow, in just a moment or so. First, though, let's check in with T.J. Holmes for a quick check of what's in the news right now. Hi, T.J.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Thanks very much, T.J. And we're going to have details, now, on a historic day in Iraq. The country's former president, Saddam Hussein, convicted, sentenced to death for crimes against humanity.

Let's turn to CNN's John Roberts. He's in Baghdad. He's joining us now with more. The immediate reaction, John, has been -- describe, a little bit, what it's been like in the past few hours since the word of the execution came down.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It all depends on which side of the fence you're on, Wolf. If you're a Sunni living in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, you were part of the outrage that boiled over today after the verdict was delivered. They took to the streets, despite a curfew in that area, firing off some rounds in the air, carrying placards of Saddam Hussein, in an impromptu demonstration attracting about 1,000 people to the streets of Tikrit.

Here in Baghdad, though, a completely different reaction in the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City, the stronghold of the Mahdi militia. People took to the streets there, today, in their cars, in carts, on foot, despite the fact that there was a curfew declared here in Baghdad as well.

They were celebrating the fact that Saddam Hussein and two of his henchmen got the death penalty and that a third, the former vice president of Iraq, was handed a life sentence for his part in the killings in Dujail.

But at the same time, the Iraqi Islamic party, which is headed by Tariq al-Hashemi -- he's the vice president of this country -- a little more moderate in its response, saying, you can't really argue with a trial of someone who's been involved in crimes, but the real question that they were asking in their release a little bit earlier today, Wolf, was, but is this government any better?

Are things any better for Iraqis after Saddam Hussein?

BLITZER: And in terms of a timeline, we know the appeals process is going forward. Is there any indication when he might actually be executed?

ROBERTS: There's a couple of timetables, Wolf. First of all, the verdict has to be handed off to the Iraqi appeals court within 10 days. It has to be referred to them. And then the sentence has to be carried out within 30 days of the appellate court making its decision.

Now, here's where the timetable gets a little bit fuzzy. The appellate court can take as long as it wants to consider the facts in the case, consider the process of the trial.

It's not going to review all of the testimony. It's not going to call new witnesses. It is, just like most appellate courts in the United States do, just going to review the trial process to make sure that it was absolutely fair.

So ten days here at the beginning, 30 days at the end. How much time in the middle: that's the open question, Wolf.

BLITZER: John Roberts reporting for us from Baghdad. John, thank you very much.

And to our viewers, don't forget, coming up, for our North American viewers, right after "Late Edition," 1 p.m. Eastern, John hosts a special edition of "This Week at War" from Baghdad. You're going to want to stick around and see that as well.

Back here in the United States, Iraq looming very large, as voters prepare to go to the polls in Tuesday's key midterm elections -- the political stakes, enormous.

Just a little while ago, I spoke with White House Press Secretary Tony Snow. He joined us from the president's ranch near Crawford, Texas.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Tony Snow, thanks very much for joining us on "Late Edition."

Saddam Hussein sentenced to death today, execution. He's going to go through the appeals process. You know there are already some who are suggesting that the U.S., the Bush administration manipulated the timing of this to come two days before the midterm elections.

Can you say, categorically, that the United States government had nothing to do with the timing of this verdict?

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Yes. I mean, the idea is preposterous. This is one of these tinfoil hat sort of things, where people suddenly decide, if there is news that may call into questions the things that they've been saying, that somehow we've been scheming and plotting with the Iraqis.

Wolf, the important thing about this is we've got an independent Iraqi judiciary. The Iraqis are the ones who conducted the trial. The Iraqi judges are the ones who spent all the time poring over the evidence from July 27 to the present.

It's important to give them credit for running their own government. As Prime Minister Maliki said, he's not Iraq's man in -- I mean, he's not America's man in Iraq. And for that matter, the judiciary is operating independently, and we need to give them credit for doing their job and doing it in the way that they saw fit and proper.

BLITZER: Do you think this was a fair trial, given the fact that at least three of Saddam Hussein's defense attorneys were killed during the course of the trial?

SNOW: Yes, we do, although it's just horrifying that that happened. And it's certainly something that both we regret and the Iraqi government regrets, and it shouldn't have to happen.

One of the things you see, though, Wolf, is that there have been attempts and will continue to be attempts to bring to justice those who were responsible for killing the attorneys.

But if you go through -- and there's going to be complete transparency in this case, because the judges will in fact publish everything they used to come to their verdict.

You know, there are things like handwriting analysis to make sure that it was Saddam's handwriting that condemned the 148 people to death. They go through, very painstakingly, with the evidence, and they match the evidence to specific charges.

And they also go through each of the 148 people who were killed in this incident -- or these series of incidents, really -- so yes, I think the entire world is going to get an opportunity to see that they were both scrupulous and fair.

And furthermore, as you just pointed out, Saddam has an automatic right of appeal. And so he will get to appeal the case. And it will be heard in a court as well.

So I think, actually, if you take at this, for a young judiciary, to take on a hard case like this, with the entire world watching, and to do it with such care and deliberation under trying circumstances -- and as you know, some of the people on the prosecution side themselves were also subject to threats of violence -- to go through all that and to do it carefully and do it in the way that they've done it, I think, speaks volumes about their seriousness in terms of developing a rule of law.

BLITZER: So speaking for the United States government, you hope Saddam Hussein will be executed?

SNOW: No, I'm not going to say that at all. We don't hope. What we do is we respect the Iraqi judiciary for doing its work. We're not rooting. We're not holding up score cards.

We simply think it's important that you establish a rule of law where people have their rights protected, where they have rights to appeal, where they have right to counsel but also where victims of violence have redress.

And you know, there is a another trial going on right now, as you know, Wolf, that talks about Saddam killing 180,000 people. There's a big difference, because in both of these cases, Saddam simply signed a sheet of paper and essentially consigned people to die. It doesn't work that way anymore in Iraq. And that's a good thing.

Even somebody like Saddam Hussein having the right of every other citizen to have his day in court, to have defense, to have an automatic right of appeal, that ought to be heartening for people who believe that you need to have a fair judiciary system.

BLITZER: Should we anticipate a spike in violence, though, in the aftermath of this verdict? Do you think that there's going to be an angry, violent reaction among the Saddam loyalists, those that still support Saddam Hussein?

SNOW: I don't know, Wolf, but keep in mind that a lot of what's been going on recently in Iraq does involve either acts of Saddam loyalists -- the rejectionists, we've called them -- or Al Qaida members trying to stir up sectarian violence. And they're going to continue trying to do this.

But on the other hand, we are now seeing real signs of an Iraq government. And this one's only five and a half months old. What's amazing is the government of Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, is beginning to assert itself in the justice area with this trial.

Has asserted itself in law enforcement. Yesterday, a police action in southern Baghdad. They took down 53 members of Al Qaida and apprehended 60 more. That was the police, and those have been units the United States is helping train up.

Prime Minister Maliki says he wants the ability to do security operations in a way that is swift and precise. All of those are evidence of an Iraqi government that is very serious about the hard and necessary work of building a democracy. Trying to take -- trying to reconcile differing factions within the country, building a shared economic interest, developing international investment in Iraq. Taking on the security problems, working with the Americans to do that.

This is all part of a much larger picture in Iraq, and what you have seen is a very assertive government, and a man of action, Nouri al-Maliki, at the head of it.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about what the American public sees and has been seeing now in recent weeks. We'll put some numbers up on the screen. U.S. troops killed in Iraq, according to the Department of Defense, back in July, 38; in August, 58; September, 63; last month, 105. That was the highest in some two years. It's now November 5th. At least 12 more American troops so far dead this month.

This is very worrying, as you well know, three and a half years into this war, that this death toll continues.

SNOW: Well, Wolf, it's interesting, because the statistics you didn't cite were not only how many of the bad guys were taken down. But there is no attempt to try to tabulate successes of Americans. And it gives the misleading impression that the people doing the fighting are sitting ducks, and they're not.

General George Casey a couple of weeks ago made it clear that there has not been a single engagement in which the American forces have lost. You mentioned 103 deaths. Everybody ought to grieve for each and every one of them, but you also ought to note that they did not die in vain. During the same month, you had 1,500 of the terrorists killed and apprehended by U.S. and Iraqi forces.

And yeah, it's tough. General Bill Caldwell, who does the briefings in Baghdad, warned everybody before Ramadan that they expected a spike. And now you have a concentration of violence, especially in the 30-mile radius around Baghdad, and these guys, the terrorists, are not only trying to wage a big fight, they are also doing everything they can to drive public opinion and to weaken America's will.

Now, the interesting thing is Americans, if you do ask them, should we win, must we win? My guess is, the answer is yes. And that leads you to the proper question of, OK, if you must win, do you go ahead, when they're giving you their best shot -- and that's what's going on right now -- do you fight through it and do you work with the Iraqis? The Iraqis themselves took a lot more in terms of casualties in the last month, because they are standing up and defending themselves.

So what I'm telling you, Wolf, is that violence is going to be part of this, and there will be times when the violence levels spike, and there will be times when the violence levels fall. But the important thing is, on a day-to-day basis, Iraq becomes more and more capable of governing, sustaining and defending itself, an economy that is growing -- I'm sorry, go ahead. I keep trying and you keep trying to interject.

BLITZER: I -- yeah, I know you're enthusiastic about this, but let me perhaps dampen that enthusiasm by quoting Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, himself a veteran. He said this on October 23rd, quote: "We're on the verge of chaos in Iraq, and the current plan is not working." This is an ally of the Bush administration, Lindsey Graham.

SNOW: Right.

BLITZER: He's not a liberal Democrat.

SNOW: Yeah. In the following week, you had the briefing by Lieutenant General Bill Caldwell, where he started going through and laying out not only what's going on in Baghdad but around the country. Let me just repeat: You've got terrorists who are giving it their best shot, and this is not the time for Americans to say, uh-oh, it is awful. Let's walk away. Instead, this is precisely the time that you train your efforts on going into those areas. One of the things General Caldwell pointed out, for instance, is that you go into neighborhoods in Baghdad that we've gone and we've tried to clean out, and 70 percent of the people there now feel that their lives are safer. That's an important metric of what's going on. One by one, you go neighborhood by neighborhood, you try to clean them out. You hold them, you try to give them the ability to grow and prosper, and that is the strategy.

No question that it's going to be tough. Absolutely no doubt about it. But on the other hand, don't question the competence or determination, either of the American troops or the Iraqi security forces who increasingly are taking the lead, which is what you and I and the American people all ought to want.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And there is much more of my interview with Tony Snow coming up, including his reaction to the latest surprising criticism of the Bush administration's Iraq strategy. That criticism coming in from so-called neoconservatives, early supporters of the war. You'll be able to see part two of that interview on our special "Late Edition," an election preview that's later today, 5 p.m. Eastern, a live "Late Edition," 5 p.m. Eastern.

Just ahead, Democrats are calling for a new strategy in Iraq, but do they have a better one? We'll speak with former Democratic Senator Max Cleland. And with concerns over meeting timelines and controlling militias, signs of a shaky alliance between the Bush administration and the Iraqi government. We'll talk about that with Iraq's deputy prime minister, Barham Salih.

From CNN election headquarters in New York, our special "Late Edition: America Votes," continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Democrats have no plan for victory. They have no idea how to win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush telling voters on the campaign trail that a vote for Democrats won't mean progress in Iraq. Welcome back to our special "Late Edition: America Votes 2006." I'm Wolf Blitzer at CNN election headquarters in New York.

What would Democrats do differently in Iraq? Joining us now from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, former Democratic Senator Max Cleland of Georgia. Senator, thanks very much for coming in. I want to get your reaction, first of all, to this guilty verdict for Saddam Hussein. He's now been found guilty and will be executed following an appeals process. What do you think?

MAX CLELAND, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Well, you can hang Saddam Hussein from the rooftops, but it's not changing the situation on the ground, except to make two million Sunnis more mad against Americans and against Shiites. So, you're going to have more violence here.

The truth of the matter is that ever since we captured Saddam Hussein, things have deteriorated in Iraq and in Baghdad, in particular. We had about 400 attacks in '03, when we captured Saddam Hussein, 400 attacks against Americans daily. Now, you have 800 attacks against Americans daily.

Now you have 22,000 troops more on the ground than you had in '03, when we captured Saddam Hussein. The truth of the matter is, you lost 103 Americans last month, you've lost 13 this month. Talk about no plan to win. Talk about no strategy. This president has no strategy.

And that is why the American people, I think, are going to send a resounding message to take back at least the House, maybe the Senate, and at least put in place a strategy to withdraw our forces, redeploy our forces out of Iraq, bring our Guard and Reserve home and refocus our active military efforts on killing or capturing Osama bin Laden. And that's what we should have been doing for the last five years.

BLITZER: I want to get to your strategy in a moment, but was this a just trial? Does Saddam Hussein deserve to die, now being convicted for crimes against humanity?

CLELAND: I have no idea. I wasn't there. The truth of the matter is, though, you can hang him from the rooftops, and it's not going to change anything. We captured him three years ago. Hasn't changed anything. Made everything worse.

I remember a conversation I had with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Hugh Shelton five years ago, when I was on the Senate Armed Services Committee. He says, you take out Saddam Hussein, and you'll have the Sunnis, the Shiites and the Kurds fighting each other like banshee chickens. Now, the Pentagon, the officers in charge in Iraq describe Iraq as chaos. So that is the wrong place for our forces to be.

We're in a turkey shoot, and we're the turkey. And we need to withdraw our American military forces and bring them home, especially the Guard and Reserve, and then refocus them on the real war on terror, which is killing or capturing Osama bin Laden and his terrorist cadre. That's what it's all about.

BLITZER: Here's what the president says about the Democrats and Iraq. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: They are in agreement. They will leave before the job is done. However they put it, the Democrat approach comes down to this: The terrorists win, and America loses. And that's what's at stake in this election. The Democrats want to get us out of Iraq, and the Republican goal is to win in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Do you want to respond to what the president says?

CLELAND: Well, first of all, I think the president is right here. The Democrats want to withdraw our forces, redeploy our forces out of harm's way in Iraq, because we think that losing over 100 kids a month is not the right course. It's time to change course.

Secondly, it is time to let the Iraqi people decide this among themselves. Let the Iraqi government do what it is they want to do. But the truth of the matter is, this president has no plan to win. This president has no plan to end.

Franklin Roosevelt and a Democratic Congress cranked up and ended World War II in the amount of time this president is trying to figure out what to do in Iraq. The truth of matter is, we are not defeatists as Democrats. We are realists. We understand the reality on the ground. And that is that this is chaos, and our American troops should not be there. We should make sure we withdraw them and leave the future of Iraq up to Iraqis.

BLITZER: Their argument, though, and you've heard it from the president on down, the vice president, Donald Rumsfeld, the defense secretary, if the U.S. were to leave quickly, right now, civil war, chaos, a bloodbath, there would be an enormous amount of death and destruction. It would make what's happening right now look like small potatoes. That's what their argument is.

CLELAND: No. What is happening now -- and one of the reasons what's happening now is that we are there. We're the ones that took out their government. We're the ones that fired their security force. We're the ones that didn't put enough troops to secure the population. We went after Saddam Hussein and secured the oil fields. That's it.

We put in just enough troops to lose, which is one reason why all the major newspapers of the military services tomorrow are calling for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation. Rightfully so. It is time to have at least a strategy for withdrawal, a strategy for redeployment. That would be the first real strategy we will have had in Iraq.

BLITZER: Here's what the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Duncan Hunter, told me earlier this week, because as you know, the president is saying that Donald Rumsfeld, the defense secretary, is doing a fantastic job right now. Listen to what Duncan Hunter says.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R-CA), CHAIRMAN HOUSE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I think Don Rumsfeld, our longest serving defense secretary in the history of this country, is doing an outstanding job. And I think what Americans realize, Wolf, is it's just a tough job. He's revamping the military all the way through. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. You want to respond to the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee?

CLELAND: Well, I will say that in Bob Woodward's book, "State of Denial," the secretary of defense denies that he's responsible for any of the casualties. He says that the battlefield commanders are responsible.

Wait a minute. You know, it's Donald Rumsfeld who appointed those division commanders, those military commanders. He is responsible. He is in the chain of command. So is the president. They look for other people to put the blame on, the Democrats or somebody else or the battlefield commanders.

No. It's their responsibility. Rumsfeld ought to go, and the military services are correct by wanting him to go. Cheney says full speed ahead. Full speed ahead to 100 casualties a month? No, American people are not going to tolerate that because there is no strategy to win by this president.

He took out Saddam Hussein, yes. But there has been no strategy to follow up on that. Things are getting worse and worse, and even the Pentagon says it's chaos. We don't need our forces involved in chaos. We need to make sure they come home, guard our country, and we go after Osama bin Laden like we should have been for five years.

BLITZER: Here's what the president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, himself a Kurd, what he said on Thursday. I'll read it to you. He said, "We need time. I believe two to three years could be enough to build up our forces before can say goodbye and thanks to our friends."

That would be the United States and the other coalition partners. He says he's appealing for two or three more years of U.S. military involvement in Iraq. What do you say to Jalal Talabani?

CLELAND: No, we've been there going on four years now. Where have they been? Where they been? You know, it's their country; 27 million Iraqis. It's their country. They're never really going to take responsibility until we back off and let them have it. Let them have the oil fields back. Maybe we'll get a better price on oil, too, and gasoline prices will get lower, because they were when the Iraqis ran it before Halliburton took it over.

So, it's time for the United States to have a strategy for redeploying our military forces out of harm's way in Iraq. Period. That is the biggest issue before the voters on Tuesday, and I think the voters are going to respond overwhelmingly that it's time to change course. And they're right.

BLITZER: Senator Max Cleland, the former U.S. senator from Georgia, thanks very much for coming in.

CLELAND: Thank you. BLITZER: And coming up, with less than 48 hours until the voters have their say, Republicans and Democrats are locked in a very tight battle for the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. We're going to hear from both sides of the aisle coming up next. Republican Congressman Peter Hoekstra and Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters. They're standing by. And please stay with "Late Edition" and CNN for the best political team on television for all your campaign news, right through Election Day and beyond.

Up next, we'll also have a quick check of what's in the news right now, including today's verdict against Saddam Hussein. From CNN election headquarters in New York, our special "Late Edition: America Votes" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special "Late Edition: America Votes 2006." I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting today from CNN election headquarters in New York.

Two days and counting until the midterm elections, both Republicans and Democrats now pulling out all the stops for victory.

Joining us now, two veteran members of the United States Congress. In Los Angeles, Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California. She's a key member of the House Judiciary Committee. And in his home state of Michigan, Republican Congressman Peter Hoekstra. He's the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Thanks to both of you for coming in. Mr. Chairman, I'll start with you. Your reaction to the Saddam Hussein guilty verdict? He's now slated to be executed.

REP. PETER HOEKSTRA (R), MICHIGAN: Well, I think this is a very good step, but I put it in a much larger context, Wolf. This is another step forward in making sure that we defeat radical Islam and keep the homeland safe.

You know, we've been safe, now, for 5 1/2 years, no attacks in the United States. We've been on offense against Al Qaida and the Taliban. We removed them from power in Afghanistan. We removed Saddam from power in Iraq.

This is now one more step in building a safe and a more secure Iraq. And we've had other victories that people don't focus on. Moammar Gadhafi renounced radical Islam. He gave up his nuclear weapons program, packed it up, put it in crates and sent it to the United States.

And Algeria has eliminated the radical Islamic threat. This is just one more step in a very difficult and long process.

BLITZER: All right. Maxine Waters, your reaction to the Saddam Hussein guilty verdict?

REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I fully expected that he would be found guilty. We've known about Saddam Hussein for quite some time. We were all focused on the fact that he invaded Kuwait. And he became a very convenient target for this administration in the so-called war on terrorism, when they should have been going after Osama bin Laden. This is not going to change very much in Iraq, unfortunately. Our soldiers will continue to die and be killed in a war where there's no direction, that has been mismanaged by this president.

And you know, the interesting thing about it is, not only do you have Americans who are more convinced that this president does not understand how to get us out of Iraq, the military is now coming out, all of the newspapers, all of the military newspapers, the Army, the Air Force, the Marine Corps, the Navy -- they're going to come out with their editorial demanding that the president of the United States do something about the fact that he has been leading this war without any direction.

BLITZER: Hold on one second. Congresswoman, they're recommending in their editorial that Donald Rumsfeld, as the defense secretary, be fired.

WATERS: Yes.

BLITZER: But remember, The Army Times, The Navy Times, The Air Force Times, these are private publications. They're owned by Gannett. Even though they report about the U.S. military, these are not military, per se, publications. I do want to speak a little...

WATERS: They speak to the military.

BLITZER: They, of course, speak to the military, and they're widely respected, but these are private editorials, private publications.

Congressman Hoekstra, let's talk a little bit about Donald Rumsfeld. In the new issue of Vanity Fair Magazine, Ken Adelman, one of these so-called "neoconservatives," a very early supporter of getting rid of Saddam Hussein -- he said it would be a cake walk; he wrote that op-ed piece in the Washington Post -- to overthrow the Saddam Hussein regime.

He, now, is quoted in Vanity Fair as saying this: "I'm crushed by his performance. Did he change, or were we wrong in the past?"

Or is it that was never really challenged before?"

I don't know. He certainly fooled me."

There's an increasing chorus of people who are saying Rumsfeld should go. What do you say?

HOEKSTRA: Well, Wolf, I really think that this is much bigger than Donald Rumsfeld. I think that we need to go back to the American people and not ask them, does Donald Rumsfeld stay or not?

I think they need to answer three questions, as they move toward Tuesday. Number one, do they believe that radical Islam has declared war on the United States? I think, overwhelmingly, the evidence is yes. The second question they need to ask is, is this a war that is worth winning? We walked away from Vietnam. We walked away from Korea. We didn't win.

I think the threat is so grave that this is a threat in a war that we need to win.

And then they need to ask, what does war look like, or what does winning look like?

Winning does not look like leaving Iraq before Iraq is safe and secure. Winning looks like what we accomplished in Libya and Algeria.

BLITZER: I want Maxine Waters to respond. But before she does, the question on Rumsfeld -- do you have confidence in Rumsfeld, as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, knowing what you know?

HOEKSTRA: Well...

WATERS: Rumsfeld is...

BLITZER: Hold on, Maxine Waters. Hold on for a second. I want the chairman of the Intelligence Committee to respond first on whether or not he has confidence in Rumsfeld.

HOEKSTRA: Wolf, I think it's clear that some of the decisions that were made in Iraq, in hindsight, were inaccurate and they were not the correct decisions.

And so we need to re-evaluate the strategies. And the president needs to determine whether he's got confidence in Rumsfeld and the people that work for Donald Rumsfeld. They need to indicate to the president and to Congress whether they still support him as secretary of defense.

BLITZER: All right, it sounds, Congressman Hoekstra, that's less than a ringing endorsement of the defense secretary.

HOEKSTRA: I think it's less than a ringing endorsement. Like I said, this is not about Donald Rumsfeld. This is about winning this war with radical Islam.

BLITZER: All right. Let's bring back Maxine Waters.

The congressman makes several points. If you leave Iraq precipitously, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, the situation is going to deteriorate. The United States is going to find itself even more endangered because the terrorists will then have an Afghanistan- like base in Iraq from which to go out and try to kill Americans. That's the thrust of the Republican argument.

WATERS: That's an absolute distortion of what has taken place. Donald Rumsfeld must go. He has led this war. He's defied all of the generals and the military establishment about how to win the war. They were improperly equipped. They didn't have the right numbers going in.

And the president is holding on to him when, in fact, anybody with any sense is saying that Donald Rumsfeld is wrong, he must go. And I think that my colleague is still trying to look for weapons of mass destruction when, in fact, there are none. I think that it is absolutely irresponsible to support Donald Rumsfeld when he has been really the poster boy for what is wrong in Iraq.

BLITZER: All right, Congressman, do you want to respond? Are you still looking for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

HOEKSTRA: Well, you know, there's 48,000 boxes of documents that we've acquired. I think it's important to declassify as much of the information. I don't know whether there was WMD or not. But what we should do is make sure that we go through the process and fully explore what Saddam was capable of doing. We know that he wanted nuclear weapons. We know that he used WMD in the past. What were his capabilities before the war began?

BLITZER: We've got to take a quick break. But I want you, as chairman of the intelligence committee, Congressman Hoekstra, to respond to that New York Times story over the weekend which said that the U.S. inadvertently declassified some of those Saddam Hussein documents and put them out on the Internet, on the Web, and, in effect, allowed potential terrorists out there to use that as a guide to building a crude nuclear device. As the chairman of the intelligence committee, did the U.S. intelligence community screw up?

HOEKSTRA: Well, you know, we have a process in place. It looks like they screwed up. How valuable that information was, I really don't know. The New York Times has it both ways. They said Saddam has no capabilities. Now we release -- or they inadvertently release some of these documents and they show that the Iraqi program may be much further along than anybody ever anticipated. Now, what was it? And as we go through specifically looking at those documents, we'll have a much better idea as to, again, what Saddam wanted to do and what his capabilities were just before the war.

BLITZER: All right, hold on, both of you. But that nuclear capability was in effect before the invasion of Kuwait in the late 1980s. That's what they're talking about.

WATERS: Absolutely.

BLITZER: And not talking about a nuclear program after the U.S....

WATERS: That's right.

BLITZER: ... liberated Kuwait. But we'll get back to that. We've got a lot more to talk about, including the elections, only two days away. We'll get insight as we count down to the midterm elections. More coming up with Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Congressman Peter Hoekstra.

Don't forget that "Late Edition" will also be back at 5 p.m. Eastern, later today, live, for a special election preview. We'll get insight and analysis on the key races and the issue. That's at 5 p.m. Eastern, later today.

From CNN election headquarters in New York, we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special "Late Edition: America Votes 2006." I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting today from CNN election headquarters in New York. With only two days before America votes, we're talking with two veteran members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Republican Congressman Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California.

Congressman, let me put up two polls. And perhaps these polls underline why the Republicans are in potential danger right now of losing their majorities in the House, maybe even in the Senate. Among registered voters, their choice for Congress in this new Newsweek poll, Democrats get 52 percent, Republicans 36 percent, 12 percent undecided. That so-called generic poll, closer in other polls.

Economic conditions today, according to our CNN poll, 62 percent of the public say economic conditions are good, 37 percent say they're poor. How do you explain that dichotomy, Congressman? If the economic conditions are good, why are Republicans seemingly in trouble of losing the majority?

HOEKSTRA: Wolf, I can't really explain the polls. And we'll find out on Tuesday whether they're accurate or not. The bottom line is, you're absolutely right. Economic conditions are very, very good. That's shown by the confidence that people are showing in the stock market. You know, unemployment is at 4.4 percent.

Thirty-eight months of job creation, and real wages are growing. Then you put that, you know, the real difference between Republicans and Democrats on national security, you know, Democrats talk about it, Republicans have delivered. You know, Democrats talk about...

BLITZER: But is it Iraq? Is that hovering over this election that's making life potentially miserable for Republican candidates?

HOEKSTRA: It may be, and that's why I think Americans -- the American people need to ask whether they believe we're at war with radical Islam and whether we need to win this war. Republicans have talked about -- or Democrats have talked about national security. We've provided the tools necessary to the intelligence community, the American people, to keep us safe.

BLITZER: Congresswoman...

HOEKSTRA: Democrats...

BLITZER: Let me let Congresswoman Maxine Waters respond. Go ahead, Congresswoman.

WATERS: Well, first of all, Americans are fed up with the Republican Party. Even their base is fed up with them. They have created a huge deficit. They're big spenders when, in fact, they're supposed to be conservatives.

They have lied about the war in Iraq. They got us there based on weapons of mass destruction. There are no weapons of mass destruction. They have mismanaged this war, and they refuse to recognize that they have mismanaged it. They come up with no plan to get us out.

We're less secure than we were even before 9/11. First of all, they talk a good game, but they don't fund the first responders. Our police and our firemen all over this country are screaming for resources that they thought were coming after we organized homeland security.

And in addition to that, our ports are still not safe. In the belly of these airplanes that we're flying around in, they still don't have the cargo that's inspected. And so, again, we find that they lack credibility.

BLITZER: All right.

WATERS: The American people are voting against them. They're in trouble. They cannot win. We're winning because we have more credibility and they want a change in America.

BLITZER: Go ahead and respond, Congressman.

HOEKSTRA: Well, I think, Wolf, as you see, we're going to talk about results. The economy is doing very, very well. Republicans have delivered on national security. We haven't had a tax...

BLITZER: What about the charge, Congressman, that the national debt, the debt of the American people, has doubled over the past six years?

HOEKSTRA: Hey, I'm disappointed in the spending levels as well, but we've gone through a war and we went through a very deep recession after 9/11. But now with the economy coming back, the deficit is shrinking very, very quickly.

BLITZER: But it's still significant, though.

HOEKSTRA: Oh, absolutely. It is still significant. But you know, we are moving directly in the right direction.

You know, the thing that you really take a look at here, Wolf, is Democrats are being great at attacking Republicans, but if you ask them for the plan, it is cut and run in Iraq.

That does not look like winning. That encourages radical Islamists. They say they support the troops, but then they go out and...

BLITZER: Well, let me ask Maxine Waters.

HOEKSTRA: ... they question their intellect. They question their capability. And they oppose the mission.

BLITZER: Do you -- what is your plan?

Go ahead and just simply respond, in a nutshell. What is your plan for Iraq, simply to leave?

WATERS: Simply. The president of the United States has been given a chance to come up with a plan. He's not done that. Mr. Murtha came up with a plan. He said, send no more soldiers to Iraq; redeploy; keep some over the horizon in case we need to support our allies there; and wind us out of this war.

They come out with a sound bite, simply talking about cut and run. Americans don't believe them anymore. They do not have the answers. They know that they got us there under false information and so they're trying to make the American public believe that we're going to win this war and we've got to stay there until we do.

We are not winning. We're not going to win. They've exacerbated it. It's a civil war going on, now, in Iraq. And it's going to be even worse after the Saddam sentencing.

BLITZER: Congressman Hoekstra, I interviewed the former House majority leader, Dick Armey, in "The Situation Room," earlier in the week, the Republican leader. And he was very outspoken, blunt, in putting a lot of the blame on the Republicans themselves for their own political problems right now. Listen to this little clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK ARMEY (R-TX) FMR. HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Republicans in the majority have more and more tended 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is that a fair criticism from Dick Armey?

HOEKSTRA: Well, there's no doubt, Wolf, that we've made some mistakes. And we take credit for that. We need to be held accountable for that.

But the bottom line is, we're still the only ones that have a plan forward on the economy. We're the only ones that have a plan forward, with any credibility, that lets us attack the threat of radical Islam with the expectation that we want to and that we need to win it so that this war does not -- that we don't hand this threat to our children.

BLITZER: All right. We're out of time, but I'll give you the last word, Maxine Waters, since Peter Hoekstra had the first word.

WATERS: Well, Peter said that they need to be held accountable for the mistakes that they have made. And they will be. And the people will go to the polls and they will vote them out of office.

They have been in charge; in charge of the House, in charge of the Senate. They have the presidency. They have taken this country in a wrong direction. They have mismanaged. They've been irresponsible. They have been big spenders.

They have not done much for this economy. Yes, for the people at the top of this economy. They've given tax breaks to the richest 1 percent in America.

The poor people at the bottom who are begging for just a dollar increase in minimum wage have been denied, have been ignored, have been undermined by this Republican party.

And you're right. You will be held accountable. People are going to vote, and it's going to be a Democratic win.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see on Tuesday. Maxine Waters, Peter Hoekstra, a good debate. Thanks to both of you for joining.

And coming up, what clues are the latest polls giving us about Tuesday's results?

We'll get analysis on the campaign as it heads into the home stretch from Time Magazine Joe Klein, the Cook Political Report's Amy Walter and CNN's own Lou Dobbs.

And a reminder, you can stay up to date on the big political news with our CNN ticker. Just go to CNN.com/ticker. From CNN election headquarters in New York, we'll be right back.

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BLITZER: This is a special "Late Edition: America Votes 2006."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I want you to think about the Democrat plan for success. There isn't one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: With only two days until the midterm elections, the campaigner in chief hits the trail. But which party has the better plan for victory? We'll ask two key U.S. senators, Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Barbara Boxer.

Then, the Iraq factor. Saddam Hussein is sentenced to hang for crimes against humanity. What happens next? Will the Iraqi government be able to stand up so U.S. troops can stand down? The Iraqi deputy prime minister, Barham Salih, is our guest.

Plus, insight on all the key issues in all the hottest races from our political panel: Time magazine's Joe Klein, The Cook Political Report's Amy Walter and CNN's Lou Dobbs. Thanks very much for joining us. Welcome back. We'll get to my interview with Iraq's deputy prime minister, Barham Salih, in just a moment.

But, first, we're getting significant news coming into CNN right now from Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Reverend Ted Haggard is now changing his story. In a statement, he is now calling himself -- and I'm reading -- specifically, he's calling himself a deceiver and a liar, and he admits, quote, "I am guilty of sexual immorality." The Rev. Ted Haggard acknowledging now that he is, in his words, guilty of sexual immorality. We'll have more on the story coming up shortly.

But first, also, let's check in with T.J. Holmes for a quick check of some other stories making news right now. T.J.?

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: Thanks very much, T.J. Despite the ongoing sectarian violence, a significant milestone and symbolic victory for the Iraqi government today with the conviction and the death sentence of Saddam Hussein. Just a short while ago, I spoke with Iraq's deputy prime minister, Barham Salih, in Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Barham Salih, thanks very much for joining us on this very important day. Saddam Hussein found guilty, sentenced to hanging. Do you think this is going to lead to an even greater escalation in violence, at least in the short term, in Iraq?

BARHAM SALIH, IRAQI DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Perhaps in the short term, because I think we are still dealing with the remnants of the regime. And the government has taken some important precautions to prevent the former regime loyalists from taking advantage of the situation.

But nevertheless, I hope this verdict will bring to closure a very tragic and brutal episode of Iraqi history, and it will allow us the -- give us opportunity to move on to build the peaceful nation that we all aspire to.

BLITZER: Given -- you are obviously the deputy prime minister of Iraq, a leading political figure, but you are also an Iraqi. What does this mean personally for you, knowing the history of Saddam Hussein, the fact that now, presumably, he's going to be executed?

SALIH: Well, Wolf, I mean, today when the sentence was announced, it was a moment for reflection for me personally, I have to say. I was a prisoner under Saddam's regime. And I remember one day in which 10 of my cell mates were taken to court.

And it did not take more than half an hour before sentences of death was passed onto them and immediately the sentence was executed. This to me is about justice. The only sorrow that I have, this justice came too late for so many victims of Saddam Hussein. This vindicates the morality of liberation. One can question the war and debate the war endlessly, but at the end of the day for the overwhelming majority of Iraqis, liberation of Iraq was a moral act, was a courageous act. If anything it came too late to save so many victims that Saddam Hussein has killed.

My hope is that we learn from that episode and we build the institutions that will prevent the rise of tyranny ever again in Iraq.

BLITZER: One final question on the Saddam Hussein verdict before we move on, Minister. As you know, this happens two days before major midterm elections here in the United States. And there's already widespread suspicion among some political observers that the timing of this verdict was not coincidental, that it was perhaps timed to coincide with the U.S. elections, to help the president and his Republican Party.

What do you say about that accusation?

SALIH: I think it's preposterous. The judicial process here has proven to be professional and just and ethical as well. And there was very little that the government of Iraq could do or for that matter others to influence his decisions and his timing. And from everything that I have seen, the court has taken its time to look at the evidence. And it was coincidental.

BLITZER: Let's talk about some of the serious strains that have been emerging in the U.S. relationship with Iraq in recent weeks. One of those strains involving comments by the prime minister, Nouri al- Maliki.

He said this on October 25th: "I want to stress that there is a government of the people's will, and no one has the right to set a timetable for it. This is an elected government, and only the people who elected the government have the right to make time limitations or amendments."

This after the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, and other U.S. officials started talking about the need for some sort of timetable. How serious is this strain in the relationship with the United States right now?

SALIH: I have literally come from seeing the prime minister. I just had a meeting with him. And he was talking to me about the imperative of a genuine and a strategic partnership between the new Iraq and the United States.

We are grateful for what the United States has done by way of empowering the people of Iraq to overcome tyranny. Without the help of the United States, we would still be ruled by Saddam Hussein.

People are not ignorant of that fact. Partners do have differences about issues, and we are a sovereign government. We represent the will of the Iraqi people. And there's bound to be differences of opinion on issues here and there. But on the issue of the timetable, let me remind you as a matter of fact that this timetable was originally declared by the national security council of the Iraqi government itself. It was not an imposition by the U.S. government, definitely not.

We understand as Iraqi government, and the prime minister understands, that we do not have an indefinite time, not for the United States or the coalition's timetable, but from the perspective of Iraqis.

Iraqis demand of their government delivery of basic services and improvement in security. We recognize that we need to deliver.

BLITZER: Here is a concern that's been expressed by top officials in Washington, that the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, does not appear to be very grateful to the United States for the enormous help in Iraq.

He said this the other day, Maliki: "If anyone is responsible for the poor security situation in Iraq, it is the coalition. I am now prime minister and overall commander of the armed forces, yet I cannot move a single company without coalition approval. I have to be careful fighting some militias and terrorists. They are better armed than the army and police. The police are sharing rifles." He seems to be blaming the United States, which is the leader of the coalition, for so many of the security problems in Iraq, when U.S. officials say he has not done enough to deal with the militias and the death squads.

SALIH: I do not discount the fact that there have been some tensions or discussions recently about how to handle the security situation. It has been our view as the Iraqi government that it is time that the Iraqi forces assumed responsibility. And it is time that the Iraqi forces were in the lead.

And to be fair, the coalition have always maintained that their mission here is to empower Iraqis and empower security services to assume full security responsibility.

I believe that we are able to solve these issues. The question of gratitude to the United States, the prime minister can speak for himself, but from everything I have heard him say, and including just half an hour ago, no one takes away from the immense gratitude that we all feel to the coalition, to the United States, because without their sacrifice, we would still be ruled by the tyranny of Saddam Hussein.

BLITZER: One final question, Minister, before I let you go. Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric, a lot of American officials consider him a terrorist and would like to see him arrested.

On the other hand, within Iraq, within the political structure, he seems to hold the influence of a lot of members, 30 or so members of the Iraqi parliament.

And he clearly has the ear of the prime minister. What is your assessment of Muqtada al-Sadr? SALIH: This is one of the tough challenges that we are dealing with. The prime minister has met with Muqtada al-Sadr recently and he has explained to him very clearly the need to abide by the law and abide by the authority of the government.

People cannot maintain a situation where they have one foot in government and one foot outside. At the end of the day this is about a constitutional government representing the will of the Iraqi people.

Armed groups operating outside the scope of the government will not be acceptable. And the prime minister had been emphatic about this. And I think in the next few weeks and months, serious decisions need to be made because the levels of violence that we are witnessing in Iraq are unacceptable.

The people of Iraq do not accept it. And the dynamics of violence need to change fundamentally. One aspect of that is the issue of disarming and demobilizing militias. And this has a political track. But at the end of the day, those who would not abide by the rule of law, have to be dealt with by force.

The prime minister has been emphatic about that. And we need to support him to do the right thing.

BLITZER: Barham Salih, the deputy prime minister of Iraq, Minister, thanks very much for joining us on "Late Edition."

SALIH: Thank you for having me, sir.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And this reminder: later today we're going to have a special live "Late Edition," 5:00 p.m. Eastern, including a different view from the Iraqi government. We'll speak live, at that time, with the country's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari.

But up next, as Republicans and Democrats fight to the finish for control of the House and the Senate, we're standing by to speak live with senators Lindsey Graham and Barbara Boxer about their respective parties' plans for victory.

And later, we'll talk with our political panel about what Republicans and Democrats are now doing to try to win on Tuesday. And remember, CNN's prime time election night coverage begins Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Join me and the best political team on television as your votes are counted. From the CNN election headquarters, here in New York, we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting today from CNN election headquarters in New York.

Joining us, now, to talk about the situation in Iraq, the upcoming elections, and a lot more, two key members of the United States Senate: in his home state of South Carolina, Republican senator Lindsey Graham. He serves on the Armed Services Committee; and in Los Angeles, Democratic senator Barbara Boxer of California, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senators, thanks very much for coming in.

Senator Boxer, I'll start with you. What's your reaction to the guilty verdict for Saddam Hussein?

He's now scheduled to be executed.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: Saddam is getting what he deserves for crimes against humanity.

The tragedy is those crimes against Sunni, against Shia are happening every day in Iraq. Our military are right in the middle of it, ethnic violence, ethnic killings, tortures and the rest. And 60 percent of the Iraqi people, in a recent poll, said it was OK to shoot an American soldier.

So yes, he got what he deserved, but we have a long way to go. It's a mess over there in Iraq.

BLITZER: Well, let me let you pick up on that, Senator Graham, because you were recently quoted, in an Associated Press interview, as saying, "We're on the verge of chaos (in Iraq) and the current plan is not working."

You want to respond?

Tell us what you mean by that, also in the context of this guilty verdict for Saddam Hussein.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, we don't have enough troops security to get democracy moving forward. It's hard to have democracy, Wolf, when you've got armed groups roaming around the country assassinating people.

It's hard to have a legal system where the lawyers and the judges get kidnapped and assassinated. So I don't want us to leave Iraq by artificial deadlines or set timetables. I want us to win.

And winning to me is having institutions of government that deliver justice, not vengeance.

Saddam Hussein's trial is a step forward because it was a result of a legal system in operation, not a dictator in operation, so that's the good news.

But when you look at the institutions of government in Iraq, they're all under siege. We're asking a lot of the Iraqi people to overcome religious disputes that are longstanding. And you can't do that if people are getting kidnapped and shot and executed.

So we need better security. I'm optimistic because the Iraqi people are dying for their own freedom. We just need a strategy to provide better security to get this right. BLITZER: Senator Graham, are you saying the United States should deploy more troops to Iraq right now?

GRAHAM: Yes, I think we -- one thing I have learned, over the last two years, when I go to Iraq for the fourth time -- the political process is moving forward.

Saddam Hussein's trial, now, is coming to an end. That shows that the institutions are beginning to work. They had an election. I was there in December. They had 11 million people voting.

But the violence is worse. And I don't think we've ever had enough troops on the ground. The goal is to have more troops...

BLITZER: How many more troops are needed?

GRAHAM: That's a good question. I think we need a bigger Army and a Marine Corps. I'm not a battlefield commander, but I do have common sense.

You'll never convince me that the security apparatus that we have in place now is working. We need more Iraqi troops. We need more American troops, coalition troops, in the short-term.

To have a democracy, you can't have this level of violence.

BLITZER: What about that, Senator Boxer?

BOXER: Well, I just totally disagree with my friend on his solution. I agree with him that we're seeing chaos, but I think what he is doing is taking American ownership of this sovereign nation, 60 percent of whom say it's OK shoot an American.

And he wants to send more Americans there?

Seventy percent of the Iraqi people say the fact that we're there is causing terrorism. Our own intelligence estimate said the same thing. We are fueling terrorism by our presence there.

So while I agree with Lindsey that the place is in chaos, the last thing I would do is send more Americans to a place where they're in the middle of civil strife.

BLITZER: All right. Senator Graham?

GRAHAM: What happens if we lose in Iraq? What happens if we withdraw and Iraq fails?

The big winner is Iran. Iran is run by a crazy guy. I think, if he had a nuclear weapon, the president of Iran would use it against Israel.

The biggest loser in a failed state in Iraq would be Turkey, because you'd have an independent Kurdish state in the North.

So it is important to me that we win. It is the central battlefront in the war on terror.

And in World War II, we threw everything we had to win the war. We need to throw everything we have to stabilize Iraq so we can get this right.

BLITZER: Here's what the president, Senator Boxer, said to Democrats this week. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: There's still time for the Democrats to tell the American people their plan to prevail in this war on terror. So if you happen to bump into a Democratic candidate, you might want to ask this simple question: What's your plan?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I know you're not a candidate this time around, but I'll ask you the question that the president wants Democrats to answer. What's your plan, Senator Boxer, because Senator Graham does paint a picture, as bad as the situation in Iraq is right now, if the U.S. were simply to pull out, potentially it could be a whole lot worse.

BOXER: Wolf, the president said, what is our plan for the war on terror. He didn't say the war in Iraq. They're two different things. My plan and the Democratic plan is to listen to the recommendations of the 9-11 Commission. Congresswoman Pelosi has said in the first 100 hours, if they take back the House, they would adopt those to truly protect the American people and stop scaring them.

My plan would be to focus on getting Osama bin Laden and al Qaida. And my plan -- and the Democrats have said this, and we voted for it in the Senate -- is to begin redeploying the troops out of Iraq, where they are fueling the terrorists, fueling al Qaida, and return to fighting the war on terror.

BLITZER: Senator Graham, here's what Richard Perle, a so-called neoconservative and a former adviser to the Pentagon, served during the Reagan administration, is quoted as saying in the new issue of Vanity Fair in criticizing the decisions that were made: "President bush did not make decisions, in part because the machinery of government that he nominally ran was actually running him."

Is that a fair criticism?

GRAHAM: Well, I think the president's been very aware of what's going on in Iraq. We're trying to adjust, but so does the enemy. You know, the big difference between us and the Democrats is, I do believe Iraq is part of the war on terror. They don't.

Bin Laden says it's the central front on the war on terror. The terrorists believe it's a key to their victory in the Mideast is to have this democracy fail. So that's the big difference between us and them. I think it is a big part of the war on terror, and if we leave, set timetables or withdraw, then it will be a big victory for the terrorists, and it will create regional chaos, so that's the big difference in this election, really.

BLITZER: All right, senators...

BOXER: Well, I think Lindsey Graham...

BLITZER: Senator Boxer, hold on for a second, because I want to continue this conversation. We have to take a quick commercial break.

BOXER: OK.

BLITZER: I'm going to have Senator Boxer, Senator Graham, please stand by. Lots more to discuss. We'll get back to both senators. We'll talk about the midterm election, which party is poised to take over control of the Senate.

And don't forget, for our North American viewers, right after "Late Edition" 1 p.m. Eastern, our own John Roberts hosts a special "This Week at War." He's in Baghdad. Up next, we'll also have a quick check of what's in the news right now, including today's public admission by a prominent evangelical leader, Ted Haggard. He's now changing his tune and saying he did engage in sexual promiscuity. From the CNN election headquarters in New York, we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special "Late Edition: America Votes 2006." I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting today from the CNN election headquarters in New York. We're continuing our conversation with Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

The president this week, Senator Graham, gave the vice president and the defense secretary a strong vote of confidence: "Both those men are doing fantastic jobs, and I strongly support them." What do you think, Senator Graham?

GRAHAM: Well, I think the president is defending people in his cabinet and his vice president against political attacks. My criticism has been very simple. I do believe Iraq's outcome determines the fate of the war on terror in many ways.

We haven't made the commitment that we need to make. The idea of Secretary Rumsfeld being the scapegoat for everything bad in Iraq is not fair. He should accept responsibility, in my opinion, for the mistakes we've made in the past. But replacing him is not going to win the war or lose the war.

What will win the war, in my opinion, is to have the security apparatus in place to allow democracy to emerge out of a dictatorship. We're beginning to adjust in the right way, so standing by his people, the president standing by his people, I think, is an appropriate thing for him to do.

BLITZER: What do you think, Senator Boxer?

BOXER: Well, I don't see how we're adjusting in the right way when we have a horrible, horrific death toll in October, the worst in a couple of years, where every day in November we've had one, two, three dead American soldiers. We're not adjusting in the right way, and my colleague, Senator Graham, agrees we're in chaos.

His answer is more troops. He doesn't know how many. He doesn't even know how to get them. There's an army recruiting scandal that ABC broke this week where the recruiters are telling kids, join the military, the war in Iraq is over.

This thing is a mess: $400 billion and counting. Seventy percent of the Iraqi people say, please leave. We'll be better off without you. Sixty percent say it's OK to shoot a soldier. Why don't we listen instead of to Osama bin Laden, as my colleague suggests, why don't we listen to a leader like Joe Biden, who has said, why don't we figure out a political solution to this?

Get the Sunnis, the Shia, the Kurds together, semi-autonomous regions, one area dividing the oil. There are other solutions than digging deeper with a bigger shovel. When you're in a hole, stop digging.

BLITZER: Senator Graham, I want to move on, talk a little bit about politics. Tuesday, a big election, as everyone knows. The president's job approval numbers in several recent polls, Newsweek has them down at 35 percent, CBS/New York Times at 34 percent, NBC/Wall Street Journal at 39 percent. Our own CNN poll has him at 37 percent.

Is this election that will take place on Tuesday a referendum in effect on President Bush?

GRAHAM: They're trying to make it that. What I have seen in the last two weeks is a surge by Republicans. And I'm trying to figure out why. I think a lot of it is that Republicans who have been disenchanted with the way we've run Congress are beginning to come home. Independents are beginning to look at the different choices on taxes and national security between Democrats and Republicans. And when you look at the polling recently, Republicans have closed the gap in Senate races. There are about three dozen House races that are very much in play.

But traditionally, the second term, the last two years of a second term are not good for the incumbent party. Part of it's about the president, and part of it's about individual candidates and what they believe. We're going to do better than I thought two weeks ago. I think we're going to hold the Senate, and the House is very much in play again.

BLITZER: You know, in California, Senator Boxer, a lot of people thought that the Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, didn't have much of a future. But now it looks like he is going to almost coast to re-election. What happened in a predominantly blue state, a Democratic state like California? you got a Republican governor who is going to be re-elected, presumably.

BOXER: Well, remember, my state is not only the state of Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, but Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon and Pete Wilson and on and on. We are very independent state. Once Arnold Schwarzenegger started acting like a Democrat and he stopped attacking the nurses and the firefighters and the teachers, he's trying to make people forget that.

But after spending $40 or $50 million, he's way ahead in the polls, but he's not over 49 in any poll. So it's not over until it's over. But in terms of the national election, I think the people finally realize that this whole country is being run by Republicans. They run the House. They run the Senate. They run the White House.

They're not happy with Iraq. They're not happy with the culture of corruption. They're not happy with the deficits. They're not happy with the debt. They're very worried about the cost of health care.

Student loans cost more than anything else. They're worried about homeland security. They see that with all the talk, the 9-11 Commission recommendations have still not been followed. So there's lots of issues, but it's a government run by the Republicans. So, if you want change, you got to vote for the Democrats.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it right there, senators. Good discussion. Thanks to both of you for coming in.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

BOXER: Thanks.

BLITZER: And still to come, President Bush takes on the role of campaigner in chief, but will he be the difference in victory or defeat for Republicans? We'll get special insight from our expert political panel.

And, remember, you can get an inside view of all the big political stories on our CNN political ticker. Just go to cnn.com/ticker.

And this note, don't forget to join us once again later today, 5 p.m. Eastern, for our special live "Late Edition" election countdown. From CNN election headquarters in New York, we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special "Late Edition: America Votes 2006." I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN election headquarters in New York.

Joining us now to talk about the midterm elections, only two days away, our political panel: Time magazine columnist Joe Klein. He's the author of the book, "Politics Lost: How American Democracy Was Trivialized by People Who Think You're Stupid." The Cook Political Report Senior Editor Amy Walters. She's also a CNN political analyst. And Lou Dobbs, the host of CNN's "Lou Dobbs Tonight." He's also an author. A new best-seller, "War on the Middle Class: How the Government, Big Business, and Special Interest Groups are Waging War on the American Dream and How to Fight Back." Guys, thanks very much for coming in. Let's start off with the news that's coming in. The Reverend Ted Haggard now acknowledging what has been charged against him, this leader of the evangelical Christians, a big 30-million umbrella organization. Listen to what a spokesman at his church read today, a statement from Ted Haggard.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PASTOR LARRY STOCKSTILL, BETHANY WORLD PRAYER CENTER: The fact is, I am guilty of sexual immorality, and I take responsibility for the entire problem. I am a deceiver and a liar. There's a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I've been warring against it all of my adult life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Amy, is this likely to have a political impact Tuesday?

Because, as you and our viewers know, so much of the Republican base are these evangelical Christians who were supposed to be mobilized to get out the vote.

AMY WALTER, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: Right. And we've heard so much about this: Will Republicans be motivated to come out in this election?

But I think the bigger problem, and this has always been the problem here for Republicans, and it's not as much a problem about their base and turnout among their base as it is the problem that they're having among independents.

The polling that we continue to see shows that independents are the ones who are breaking 2-1 against the Republicans.

How many of those voters decide to turn out? That's going to make the big difference in the election.

BLITZER: Joe?

JOE KLEIN, TIME MAGAZINE: Well, Wolf, let me just say that I forgive him.

BLITZER: You do?

(LAUGHTER)

KLEIN: You know, and I think that that is a good part of what the reaction against the Republican Party has been about, intolerance on the part of a lot of the religious right leaders.

I was just in Colorado, where Reverend Haggard's ministry is. And you've had the Democratic Party take over that state over the last couple of cycles, in part in reaction against religious extremism.

And so I think that, you know, it is splashing across the country. You're seeing lots of sex scandals this year. And I think that this is just more fuel for the fire and another reason for Christian conservatives to stay home.

BLITZER: What do you think, Lou?

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: I think he has just confirmed what nearly everyone who has been reporting or covering or reading the story knew, that he is a deceiver and a liar. And in that, he's heading into the mainstream of politics in this midterm election and these campaigns leading up to it.

He seems to have caught the cultural center in our...

BLITZER: Because this comes on the heels of former Congressman Mark Foley and that whole scandal.

DOBBS: Absolutely. This is one of the ugliest midterm elections I have ever seen. And there's a great deal at stake. But I am really fascinated to see what happens with turnout because this is really a disgusting atmosphere, from my perspective.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask Amy. Do you think that this is going to lower the turnout, or it's going to mobilize and bring people out to vote?

WALTER: Well, I think that's -- obviously, if we knew the answer to that question, then we would know what the election is going to look like on Tuesday night, but, look, what we do know is this, that voters are definitely saying they're frustrated.

And how you decide to put your frustration out is really the question. For some people, the way to express their frustration with the direction of the country, with the war in Iraq, with what they're seeing with these scandals in Washington, or these scandals that we just talked about is to go out and cast a vote against something. That's, sort of, an empowering feeling.

For other people, it's to say, look, I think all of this is bad. I don't know if my vote is going to matter at all. I'm just going to sit at home.

BLITZER: By all accounts, when you ask the American voters what's the dominant issues that you are thinking about, Iraq is first and foremost at the top of the list.

And in our CNN poll, we asked if you favor or oppose the U.S. war in Iraq; 38 percent, Joe, favor the war; 59 percent oppose the war.

That's very similar to a lot of other polls. And when you ask the follow-up question -- and this was in the New York times-CBS poll -- your view about the U.S. military strategy in Iraq, only 8 percent, 8 percent say keep the current strategy; 61 percent say change the strategy.

Will this election be a referendum on the war in Iraq?

KLEIN: Oh, I think it absolutely is a referendum on the war. And furthermore, you know, my sources in military and intelligence are telling me that, when the vice president says it's full speed ahead in Iraq, that statement is going to go down with some of the other statements the vice president has made in the past that seem foolish in retrospect. I think we're headed for a significant change. I don't think that we're headed for an immediate withdrawal but a phased one. And the most important fact on the ground is that the government in Iraq is near collapse. And the U.S. military mission is failing badly.

BLITZER: Lou?

DOBBS: I think we're -- as we approach almost the four-year point in the length of this war in Iraq, the American people have not heard from this administration a clear articulation of the strategy to win.

The disconnect between -- as the poll there reveals -- the disconnect between this administration and popular opinion, not only in Iraq, but on a host of issues, is, I would think, a very negative sign for the Republican Party in this election Tuesday.

BLITZER: What they're saying, though, Republicans, they're pointing to the unemployment number, 4.4 percent in October. That was a 5 1/2-year low, 92,000 new jobs added in October.

And Lou, they're saying, you know what, this economy is good, and whatever happened to the notion, "it's the economy, stupid?"

DOBBS: Well, I think, when you have 3,000 American lives lost in Afghanistan and Iraq, more than 20,000 wounded, again without a clear articulation of strategy, nor a certain path to at least achievement of basic success in Iraq, I think that will trump election economics every time.

I find it remarkable, frankly, that the administration and Republican Party are pushing the economy at this time.

KLEIN: But in the few races where Republicans are coming back, like the Senate race in Montana, where Conrad Burns is coming back, it's the low tax issue. It's an economic issue that apparently is making the difference, that's hurting the Democrats.

BLITZER: Is that true?

WALTER: Here's what I think is also the case. I agree, really, with Lou that, when voters are coming in the end of the day to say why am I going out to vote, they are picking Iraq over the economy.

I have seen, in race after race after race, the number of ads run by Republicans that try to use this tax message in areas that you think it would work. Is it working?

BLITZER: Because if you vote for Democrats, your taxes are going...

WALTER: Your taxes are going to go up and they're going to spend all this money on these social programs. And what voters are saying is that just doesn't matter to me this year. It would have mattered a year ago. Remember in the 2002 elections when Democrats came out and said, look, the economy is not doing well. Voters say they're frustrated about the economy. Let's make this election about the economy. Obviously, it wasn't.

BLITZER: OK, guys, stand by because we have a lot more to talk about. Much more of our conversation with Joe Klein, Amy Walter, Lou Dobbs: what we can expect, the ramifications of Tuesday's outcome.

And this programming note: Part Two of my conversation with the White House press secretary, Tony Snow; that will air on our special "Late Edition" later today, live at 5:00 p.m. Eastern. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special "Late Edition: America Votes 2006." We're talking about where things stand, only two days to go, with Time Magazine's Joe Klein, the Cook Political Report's Amy Walter, and our own Lou Dobbs.

The Senate: the Democrats need six seats to become the majority. Is that doable, because a lot of the polls, at least at this late stage, showing Republicans picking up a little momentum in some of those battleground states?

WALTER: Some of those tightening up.

Look, we've known for quite some time -- you and have I talked about this for a long time, about this idea of a firewall, that for Democrats to take control of the Senate, they're going to need to win two out of three in the Tennessee, Missouri, Virginia. They can't lose any of their own.

And right now what we know is, yes, the race looks like it's tightening up a little bit in Montana, a state that we haven't talked about in quite some time.

Rhode Island, a state that is very, very blue, but where the Senator, Lincoln Chafee, is actually pretty well-liked. Voters here have not made the break yet, even though from a -- at a presidential level, they've continued to vote for Democrats, but they do like their own (inaudible).

BLITZER: So, Joe, basically for the Democrats to get six seats, that's a huge, huge uphill fight.

KLEIN: You know, for them, I'd be very surprised if they ran the table. There are so many close races out there, Wolf, but we have to think about what the bottom line is going to be after the election. It's going to be a very closely held Senate. And it's going to be very difficult for the president to get his programs through.

BLITZER: Is that good or bad if it tightens up that Senate?

DOBBS: Well, I think the fact is that if you believe in checks and balances and, you know, co-equal branches of government, I happen to be a fan of having those checks and balances in place. We haven't seen government function quite that way.

BLITZER: Because then there would be more oversight.

DOBBS: But the issue that I find interesting here is that this race was pretty much -- two weeks ago we could have handed this over to the Democrats based on the polling. The Cook Report. All of the Mason-Dixon polls that have come in. This shows a remarkable tightening.

And part of reason, I think -- and I -- is that we have ballot initiatives in a lot of states ranging from everything to, your point, on the economy, minimum wage. A very important issue. Eminent domain. In other states, we have the issue of gay marriage. Either defining traditional marriage...

BLITZER: Stem-cell research.

DOBBS: These are going to have, I think, an interesting play in some of these states where otherwise it might have gone a different direction.

BLITZER: So, uphill challenge in the Senate. Let's talk about the House for a moment, because we have a limited amount of time. The Democrats need 15. Everybody assumed a few days ago that that was a done deal. Is that still a done deal? WALTER: No, I think that Democrats are still poised right now to take those seats. It's just a question of how much over 15 that they get. I mean, right now, I really do have my floor more like in the 20 to 25 range and going from there.

When these waves tend to break, they break really big, and even if you see polls that are very close, our assumption in close races the last few elections we've had are, well, they're going to break evenly or maybe the incumbent wins. What we see in wave years is that if you are an incumbent, you're at 46, 45, 47 percent, you're probably going to lose. That's probably your high-water mark, rather than a tightening.

BLITZER: Joe?

KLEIN: You know, once again, tilting forward, the most interesting thing to look for here is that these Democrats who are coming in are moderates. The Democrats who are going to be leading the committees...

BLITZER: Some are pretty conservative.

KLEIN: Yeah. Some of them are pretty conservative. The Democrats who are going to be leading the major committees, should they take over the House, tend to be from the old liberal wing of the party. Nancy Pelosi's going to have to be a very, very good politician to hold this together.

BLITZER: What do you think? DOBBS: I'll put it this way. I would be surprised if the Democrats did not take control of the House. I would be surprised if the Democrats were able to take control of the Senate at this point.

BLITZER: You want to offer a final prediction in terms of the Senate?

WALTER: I do think it is sort of a toss-up. I would say that Republicans probably hold on.

BLITZER: In the Senate. And in the House?

WALTER: Yeah. And in the House, Democrats pick up, let's say, 20, 25, 30 seats.

BLITZER: Joe?

KLEIN: My prediction is that we get the comprehensive immigration bill that Lou Dobbs doesn't want to see in the next term. And President Bush will sign it.

DOBBS: Nor just about 80 percent of all Americans.

KLEIN: Except for the fact that it's losing for the Republican Party in those states in the West where it's been an issue.

BLITZER: You want to make a prediction, Lou?

DOBBS: My prediction is, I think that the Republicans lose the House and hold the Senate.

BLITZER: We'll leave it right there, guys. Thanks very much. Good discussion. Lou will be with us all night too. Get ready for a long, long night.

DOBBS: All set.

BLITZER: We're all going to be working hard. Up next, in case you missed it, what was said about Iraq, the midterm elections on the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States.

And don't miss CNN's primetime election night coverage, beginning Tuesday 7 p.m. Eastern. I'll be joined by Paula Zahn, Anderson Cooper, Lou Dobbs, Larry King. Your votes are counted. Plus, expert analysis from the best political team on television. Stay with us.

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BLITZER: And now, in case you missed it, let's check some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States. The conversation focused on the war in Iraq and the final push toward the midterm elections.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Primary opposition to the war is coming from the Democratic Party. They haven't offered up a plan, but they've got several different positions: Withdraw, withdraw at some future date, cut off funding. There's been legislation introduced in the House now by House Democrats to do that.

The fact of the matter is, this is the right thing for us to be doing. We need to succeed here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SENATOR JOE BIDEN, D-DELAWARE: So what's going happen is, if we make gains in the House and Senate, whether we win them or not, I think you'll see a lot of Republicans willing to join me and others in a plan for Iraq that is a rational way in which we can responsibly bring home more troops and leave a stable Iraq behind. But it requires a fundamental change in the course we're on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. REP. TOM REYNOLDS, R-NEW YORK: What I look at is there's about three dozen hotly contested races across the country. They're in the margin of error, and right now, the 72-hour efforts by the Republicans to turn their vote out will make a difference of what it looks like on Election Day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. REP. RAHM EMANUEL, D-ILLINOIS: Every decade the American people have a big election where they say no to the status quo and yes to a new direction. And this election is yes to a new direction, which is what Democrats are offering.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-OHIO, HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: I have been in all these tough districts, and our candidates are doing what they need to be doing. They're running their grassroots operation, their get-out-the-vote effort, and they're talking about the issues the American people care about. Whether it's keeping taxes low, securing our borders, or making sure the president has the tools to fight the terrorists. And if we continue to mobilize our voters here over the next two days, we're going to be fine on Election Day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk. Let's take a look now at what's on the cover of this week's major newsmagazines in the United States. U.S. News and World Report asks, can this man, the national intelligence director, John Negroponte, keep America safe?

Newsweek explores the politics of Jesus. And Time magazine has God vs. science.

And that's your "Late Edition" for this Sunday, November 5th. Please be sure to join us right here once again later today, 5 p.m. Eastern, for another special "Late Edition." We're live. "America Votes 2006." I'll also be here next Sunday and every Sunday at 11 a.m. Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

We're in the "Situation Room" Monday through Friday 4 to 6 p.m. Eastern. Later, starting Tuesday night, 7 p.m. Eastern, please join me and the best political team on television for our CNN election coverage.

Until then, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer at CNN election headquarters in New York. For our North American viewers, "This Week at War." Just ahead, right after a quick check of what's in the news right now.

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