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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

First Hour of Pre-Debate Analysis

Aired June 3, 2007 - 17:00   ET

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


ANNOUNCER: This is a special edition of "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT: America Votes 2008" for Sunday, June 3. Live from Manchester, New Hampshire with news, debate and opinion, Lou Dobbs.
LOU DOBBS, CNN HOST: Good evening, everybody. We're here at Sullivan Arena at St. Anselm College, the location of the Democratic and Republican presidential debates.

Tonight it's the Democrats. In just two hour, eight Democratic candidates take the stage behind me. They'll be stating and defending their positions on some of the critical issues facing this nation.

We'll have expert reporting from the best political team on television, including John King and Candy Crowley. They will be with us here tonight.

We'll have the best analysis from people who know these candidates and the issues very well. Donna Brazile and James Carville will join us here tonight.

And leading up to all of this, the Democrats, taking control of the Congress in last November's election. Have the Democrats followed through on their campaign promises? They promised a lot. They promised voters they would change the way government is doing business. But have they?

Lisa Sylvester has our report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Democrats won last year's election by promising the American people a do- something Congress.

REP. RAHM EMANUEL, DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS CHAIR: When the speaker's gavel comes down, it intends to open the people's House not the auction house.

SYLVESTER: Democratic leaders offered a host of reforms. Remember the campaign promise of six in '06? Many of their agenda items passed the house in the first 100 hours, but foreign policy issues quickly overshadowed domestic issues.

JENNIFER DUFFY, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: Their biggest failure may be simply losing the momentum they had at the beginning of this Congress. They have gotten very bogged down in their funding issue. SYLVESTER: Democrats promising to implement all of the 9/11 recommendation, but disagreements over port security stalled that plan.

On prescription drug prices, the House passed a bill that required the federal government to negotiate bulk prices on behalf of Medicare beneficiaries. The Senate stripped out that requirement.

House Democrats moved to cut interest rates on student loans, but that still is not a reality. The Senate has been slow to act.

And then there was the promise to achieve energy independence. What have gas prices done? Gone from $2.20 on November 6, to $3.21 last week, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The scant progress is giving Republicans plenty of political fodder.

REP. TOM PRICE, (R), GEORGIA: Look at the number of bills that were passed. There were 28 bills passed through Congress. Thirteen of those were to name a post office or a building. I think the American people are extremely disappointed in the kind of leadership they've had to date.

SYLVESTER: But it hasn't been a complete wash for Congressional Democrats. A bill raising the minimum wage $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour was signed into law.

Democrats also made headway on lobbying reform. Legislation that calls for more disclosure and penalties passed both chambers.

On Iraq, Democrats have reasserted their position.

PAOL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: The country wants a change in the Iraq policy. And I think we want the plan basically that the Democrats passed. Ultimately I think the Democrats are going to win the war about the war because the public is on their side.

SYLVESTER: But as a new election season winds up, voters are looking for results and outcomes, not just rhetoric.

(on camera): Political analysts say Democrats faced a rough road when they took office because of the razor thin margin in the Senate. But their biggest accomplishment may have been more public oversight, with hearings that put a new spotlight on the federal government.

Lisa Sylvester, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOBBS: Joining me now are three members of our political team, the best political reporting team on television. John King and Candy Crowley are joining us.

Lisa Sylvester's report showing that the Democrats haven't succeeded in moving all of their issues forward. Candy, just in your opinion, how is that lack of progress affecting the candidates on the campaign trail?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, at the moment, I got to tell you, Democrats are so excited there's an election coming up in 2008. There is a lot of Bush fatigue. And that's the best that can be said among the Democrats.

So far they're not holding them accountable except on the issue of the war. When it comes to the issue of the war, they are -- certainly the Democrats that are the activists that are going to vote in the primary season, they want to see tougher stances on the war. So that's the one place where the Democrats are being held accountable.

The rest of it, I think, down the line they will be, but at the moment, the enthusiasm for a Democratic president is so high it kind of trumps being disappointed in these first four months.

DODD: Candy, thank you.

John King?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, I think, A, Candy is dead right, but the war is the big issue right now. Number two, the Democratic presidential candidates used, to some extent, the lack of progress to their advantage, saying you need a Democratic president, one of the reasons you can't get these initiatives into law because there's still a Republican in the White House who opposes, or who wants significant modifications of these measures.

Another factor I think will play out down the line is, if the Democratic agenda is not making its way to President Bush's desk, because it's stalled in Congress, then more and more you'll have the outside, those who are not in the Congress, the governors in the race, the former members of Congress in the race, maybe questioning the votes or missed votes for some of the candidates for president.

That's one of the reasons Senator Clinton's staff will tell you she's careful to try to be in Washington as much as often. You're seeing this play out on the Republican side where Senator McCain has missed a number of key votes.

So down the road it could be more of an issue than right now, but again the candidates for president say we need a Democratic president. That's their rallying cry right now.

DOBBS: John, thank you.

Candy, thank you.

Candy Crowley and John King will be joining us throughout the next couple of hours.

Joining me now three of the best political analysts in the country.

Donna Brazile joins us, as does J.C. Watts and James Carville.

Thank you all for being here.

Donna, this debate tonight, are we going to learn a lot about the candidates? Are you expecting something new to come from the candidates and their performance here?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. As you well know, this is a very important state not just for the Democrats, but, of course, in terms of the top tier candidates.

They want to, tonight, talk about the issues that the American people care deeply about -- Iraq, health care. They want to talk about education.

So this is going to be an opportunity for them not just to get out their sound bites and stump speeches, but to details the plans they've been laying out on the campaign trail.

DOBBS: James?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: If I had to watch one candidate tonight, I think I would watch John Edwards.

I think Senator Clinton is going to do fine. She traditionally does fine in these kind of settings.

I think Senator Obama probably will have an improved performance. I think he realizes he was slightly off his game in the last debate. I expect him to play up.

I think Edwards wants to be sure he doesn't lose contact with the front-runners. And he clearly established himself as the third candidate, as an alternative.

So I would look for Senator Edwards, maybe if anybody is going to do something unique or be a little aggressive, I suspect it maybe Senator Edwards tonight.

DOBBS: J.C.?

J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think, Lou, you're going see tonight Democrats preaching to their choir just like on Tuesday night you'll see Republicans preaching to their choir.

I think tonight, with the audience they've got to, one, do not harm. I think Obama has to put more meat on the bones in order to kind of beef up the substance.

I think Senator Clinton -- I've said all along, I think she's going to be the nominee. She's the one that everybody is -- she's got the big target on her back. I think she's the one that people will be looking to make sure she doesn't lose any ground.

DOBBS: Do you believe that she has that significant a lead?

BRAZILE: Oh, absolutely. Look, I think tonight she's going to perform very well.

But I also think a candidate we should look at tonight is John Biden. He voted for the supplemental and he wants to defend his vote.

On the other hand, Joe Biden is out there. He's talking about a different strategy for Iraq than the other candidates. He will do well.

I also think that Chris Dodd, who's also doing well in this state -- he's running three ads. He's another candidate to watch tonight.

DOBBS: The fact is Senator Biden has been the only one -- see if you agree with me -- who has really laid out some detail about what he thinks should transpire in Iraq. That is, try...

CARVILLE: Right. He does. He's got the clearest answer on Iraq. He also, by the way, I report, that he won the sign derby on the way into the debate.

BRAZILE: Depending on what street you came in on.

CARVILLE: Let's put it this way. Let's be more precise. On the street I came in...

WATTS: Where did you come in, James?

CARVILLE: And he does have that advantage.

DOBBS: J.C. is looking for that Republican street sign.

WATTS: I didn't see any.

DOBBS: You raise the idea that Edwards has to perform tonight because he has not shown great strength. He is struggling for that third position in the most recent polls, particularly in this state, third and fourth.

Another candidate that has shown some traction, however, is Governor Bill Richardson. What is your impression of what he can do and how important this is to him tonight?

WATTS: Well, I know Bill Richardson. I served with him. I think Bill is a good guy, qualified to be governor, but he hasn't gotten any traction. I think he's kind of -- I think Bill Richardson and Joe Biden and Chris Dodd are kind of like Duncan Hunter and Mike Huckabee on the Republican side. They're trying to crack the code. They can't get into that first tier.

I think on the Democrat side, it's Clinton, Obama and Edwards first tier, and then you've got Richardson trying to crack the code. I'm not so sure that he's going to be able to do that. I think the first tier -- it is that much separation.

DOBBS: James?

CARVILLE: Again, I think his analysis is right. But if I'm Edwards tonight, I want to clearly establish myself as the alternative. He has a real job to do. Obviously Senator Biden and Dodd are going to looking for ways to present themselves as an alternative. It's a good opportunity to scope on up to do something.

DOBBS: How does Edwards do it?

CARVILLE: We'll wait and see. He's a pretty clever guy. My mind tells me he's thinking overtime and he may try to position himself maybe on the war, maybe on health care to say, you have Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. I'm different. I'm somebody else.

I just suspect if I'm Edwards, I'm nervous about losing contact with the top tier of the field.

BRAZILE: I think Bill Richardson, who is running number four in the polls here in New Hampshire, must stay consistent, especially on issues like immigration.

DOBBS: All right.

We're going to be back with our panel of experts, political analysts and strategist.

And one thing everybody agrees on, a grand compromise for immigration, a bill that would provide amnesty for millions of illegal aliens. What's the deal? We'll have a report. And the best political teams in television continues to bring us their perspectives right here. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: We're back with Donna Brazile, J.C. Watts and James Carville.

There's also that skepticism that's a subtext here, that it's early in this campaign, that this debate, while as critically important as it is for the people running, particularly in the latter half of the pack, that not much can be achieved here tonight. Is that subtext wrong?

BRAZILE: Absolutely. I think the second tier candidates tonight can really make a name for themselves. They can, once again, distinguish themselves on the issues. They can point out some of the weaknesses or inconsistencies with the top tier candidates. And they come up with a good one-liner or respond in such as we that can make headlines tomorrow.

DOBBS: James?

CARVILLE: They could, but they also could make a fool of themselves. The danger is it doesn't always work out the way you want to work out. And in the case of Senator Biden and Senator Dodd and Governor Richardson, these are very serious kind of accomplished people. They don't have to have the news available to them that Kucinich or Gravel have. They're not going to do that. They don't view themselves that way. So it's going to be a kind of difference here. They're entirely...

DOBBS: So the breakout for them is more difficult.

CARVILLE: More difficult, exactly. Much more difficult for Richardson, Biden and Dodd. They can find some opportunities but they have to do in a Senatorial or gubernatorial way, where Kucinich and Gravel don't have that burden.

Edwards is a little bit in the middle. I just think he's senses he's in danger of losing contact with the field of the top two and he doesn't want to do that.

WATTS: Lou, I think Edwards and Richardson could gain some ground, if, I think, the top three, Clinton, Edwards and Obama, if they stumble in some way.

If they go out and have a good performance, I still don't think those second tier candidates crack the code, but I do think the two that could crack the code and gain some ground would be Richardson -- or the three, Richardson, Dodd, Biden. But it's a do-no-harm for the top three.

DOBBS: We're talking strategy. We're talking basically don't make a mistake as some caution in performance.

CARVILLE: That's right.

DOBBS: In terms of the issue, these candidates are very difficult to differentiate among, are they not?

BRAZILE: No, I think there are a lot of differences among these candidates on some of the top issues. Iraq, we mentioned. Immigration, as you well know, is now a hot issue. The Senate will resume debate this week.

Even on that issue, you have Democrats, some coming out for the immigration compromise and others expressing grave doubts.

Senator Clinton put forward a bill with Senator Menendez that would reunite family, of course. Senator Obama questioned the so- called merit system in the bill. So there are differences among the candidates.

CARVILLE: The point is, though, by and large, the Democratic field shares a pretty common kind of issue terrain as the Republican field is going to share a common terrain.

I think what Donna is pointing to is they're going to be looking for some of these nuances and different things. You can assure you that Senator Biden is going to bring up the fact that he's the only one with a clear plan to deal with Iraq.

It's going to be interesting to see if Senator Obama brings up Senator Clinton's vote on the Iraq war. That's something we're looking for. It's going to be a moment.

There's some danger in doing that, Remember, the crowd in New Hampshire here is probably more important than the crowd on CNN, the crowd that's going to be watching this on channel 9, WNOR. It is really important to these candidates. These New Hampshire Democrats don't like attacks on each other. So it's a rally risky thing to get in the middle of.

WATTS: Joe Biden, I think, is the guy that could maybe separate himself in terms of the war, but how do you do it if there's an anti- war sentiment on the Democrat side. Joe voted for the war. I agree with his vote. I thought it took a lot of courage but I'm not so sure that was the right political vote for him. I think he made that vote out of conviction. So I'm not sure so he can gain any ground or, again, crack the code with that particular vote.

BRAZILE: He said he supported the troops and he thought this was one way to express support for the troops.

DOBBS: In voting for the supplemental war funding?

BRAZILE: That's correct.

CARVILLE: That's right. I would tell you this, that Senator Biden has got to be pleased with us because for somebody that's getting one percent of the vote, he's getting a lot of air time. I promise you that.

DOBBS: He's clever nuance on strategy is working here.

CARVILLE: That's what I'm talking about.

DOBBS: Well, we're going to see a lot of strategy at work here through the either and a lot of analysis of that strategy in the performance and the run-up to these debates that will be beginning at 7:00 p.m. eastern right here on CNN.

We're talking with Donna Brazile, James Carville and J.C. Watts. I'm pleased to tell you these folks will be back with us as we continue our coverage here of the debates. We'll be bringing you those debates, as I said, 7:00 p.m. eastern.

Just ahead, the moderator of tonight's debate, none other than Wolf Blitzer. He joins me to take a look at the lineup tonight and where do they stand on the president's grand compromise on illegal immigration? The candidates and their positions on granting amnesty to millions of illegal aliens, creating a path to citizenship in the words of some.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) DOBBS: All of the Democratic presidential candidates that you will see and hear from that stage tonight here on CNN are unified on at least one issue, that of illegal immigration and border security.

Their support of the Senate's so-called grand compromise on illegal immigration, however, is alienating much of their traditional Democratic base.

Casey Wian has the report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CASEY WIAN, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The eight Democratic candidates seeking President Bush's job all share the Republican president's goal of granting amnesty to millions of illegal aliens.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There are those for whom toughening the border is the answer and nothing more. Well, we have to be realistic. And we have to deal with the 10, 11 million people who are already here.

WIAN: Senator Barack Obama even praises the president's stance on illegal immigration.

BARACK OBAMA, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: All of us believe in stronger border security. All of us want to see stronger employer verification mechanisms. But I also strongly believe in creating a pathway to citizenship so that people can come out of the shadows and not be fearful that their families are going to be broken up.

WIAN: Democrats are hoping to court Latino voters. John Edwards visited farm workers who lost jobs during a freeze in California, and promised to ask the president for help.

JOHN EDWARDS, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I can make sure that he knows what the plight is. He knows how serious it is.

WIAN: But endorsing the grand compromise, as the Senate immigration bill is being called, there's no guarantee of Latino votes. Many Latino advocacy groups are angry the proposal, in their view, doesn't grant amnesty to enough illegal aliens. And they don't like the thousands of dollars of fines and other requirements favored by the bill's supporters.

BILL RICHARDSON, (D) GOVERNOR OF NEW MEXICO, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The legalization plan that tested the 12 million undocumented workers already in America -- look, if you learn English, pay back taxes, pass a background check, you embrace American values, you can stay and you can work.

WIAN: It's perhaps surprising that no Democrats are siding with their party's traditional ally the AFL-CIO. The labor union opposes the grand compromise because legalizing millions of illegal aliens could take jobs away from industrial union members. But other unions, such as the Service Employees and Unite Here, back amnesty because their members work in jobs already dominating by illegal aliens.

With labor and the Republican Party split, Senator Obama predicts immigration reform will be left to President Bush's successor.

(on camera): Governor Richardson says there are no votes to be gained on the issue of illegal immigration, but if 10 to 12 million illegal immigrants are given a path to citizenship, a lot of future voters are at stake.

Casey Wian, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOBBS: Well, those Democratic presidential candidates will begin debating in just an hour-and-a-half from now. Eight Democratic candidates seeking the nomination will take the floor to debate their positions on the critical issues that face this nation.

Joining me now are our own distinguished panel of political analysts, Ed Rollin, former White House political director; and Republican strategist Michael Goodwin Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, New York Daily News; Democratic strategic, Democratic National Committeeman Robert Zimmerman.

Well, let's start.

Ed, this panel has one thought in mind, I'm sure, and that's to decide who the one winner will be. Will there be one winner tonight?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: The critical thing is Hillary is the front-runner. Everybody is going to try to take a shot at her. They've got to bring her back to the field.

You've got some serious people there who are not serious candidates. And the only way they're going to get any attention is to basically make some inroads on her.

Obviously, Barack Obama is still a curiosity for a lot of people. And the rest of them are significant Senators, but not significant presidential candidates.

DOBBS: Michael?

MICHAEL GOODWIN, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: I think that Hillary will play it safe. Her trademark is not to make mistakes, so I think they may go at her but I think she'll be prepared for that and be cautious in how she answers.

I hope that there are some substantive discussions about Iraq and the War on Terror, with John Edwards saying there is no such thing as the War on Terror. I hope we get into that because that is the most important question facing America. ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It would really be a strategic mistake if these candidates start duking it out with each other. Amongst Democrats there's no tolerance at all for seeing intra-party fighting when they feel victory with such a great opportunity.

I think what's critical to this debate is for each candidate to try to find a way to define themselves better to the electorate.

In the last debate you saw Joe Biden do it with humor and Hillary Clinton did it in her response on the commander in chief question. Barack Obama has to show gravitas and Bill Richardson, who is making some headway in New Hampshire, has to step up to the stage and articulating a clear message.

DOBBS: How about Dennis Kucinich, Mike Gravel?

ROLLINS: They're clear.

ZIMMERMAN: They're clear. I don't think they're a factor to be concerned about.

ROLLINS: They're a distraction. One of the tragedies of a debate like this-- and I've seen anybody who runs gets to be on the stage. But people like that, go out and throw a hand grenade or do whatever and become a distraction or get the sound bite.

This whole drill is about getting a sound bite. It's not how many million are watching tonight, it's what the sound bites are tomorrow, the stories tomorrow.

DOBBS: Let me ask you the same question -- I was talking with J.C. Watts and James Carville and Donna Brazile. Will there be an impact to the presentation and the performance and the statements of the candidates in these debates tonight?

ROLLINS: I don't think so. I think they get so very programmed they don't want to make mistakes or take risks. I think immigration is a perfect issue. Every one of them are for immigration. Every one of them says they're for border security. I hope somebody presses them and says why haven't you done anything about border security in the last couple of years? They certainly have had tremendous opportunities to do something and they haven't.

GOODWIN: Yes, I mean, the format often dictates whether they break out of the script. Follow-up questions, pressing them for more answers, I think those are the things that can make a difference in the debate.

DOBBS: Robert?

ZIMMERMAN: The worst mistake that these candidates do is to come across too programmed or talking point oriented. Senator Clinton has got to project humanity in a presentation. She did that well when she ran for the senate. That's going to be her challenge. Senator Obama has to project gravitas. This is a unique opportunity. And they loose it if they just rely upon talking points and overall programs.

DOBBS: All right. We're going to turn now to my colleague Wolf Blitzer. He will be the moderator of tonight's presidential debate. The commercial-free event will mix debate with a town hall-style meeting, appropriate since we're in New Hampshire.

Wolf has more from the set of tonight's debate. Wolf, you've heard the panel say you've got a tough job ahead of you. Tell us what you're going to do?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN MODERATOR: Well, we're going to try not to disappoint not only the panel, but the voters out there, Lou.

Let me walk you through what we're doing from 7:00 p.m. eastern, a little more than an hour-and-a-half or so from now, until 9:00 p.m. eastern. Two hours of uninterrupted commercial free television.

Starting off with the eight candidates, I'm going it take you on a little tour of what's going to be going on. All of the candidates are going to be standing here for the first hour behind these podiums. And they're going to be answering questions from our reporters we've invited from WMUR, our affiliate here in Manchester. The New Hampshire Union Leader, all of them have will have an opportunity not only to answer the question that is asked, but then we're going to follow up.

And if they don't answer the question, I'm going to point out, you know what, they didn't answer the question. That's what's going to go on. We're going to try to allow the candidates to interact a little bit as well.

In the second hour, they're going to come down, we're going to have chairs, eight chairs that we're going to put a little bit in front of these podiums and then the viewers out there -- the town hall meeting, a traditional almost New England kind of town hall meeting, they're going to be able to have chance to go ahead and stand up, ask a question.

I'll probably follow up if the question isn't answered, maybe we'll let some of the other candidates weigh in, get their reaction. What we want to do, and this is important, is differentiate. We want to show the potential voters out there where these candidates agree and where they disagree. I think that will be important especially for the undecided in coming up with some decisions.

So we've worked on this format, and let's hope it works.

DOBBS: Well, I'm sure it will work, Wolf. And you look pretty good down there. I think you're ready to go on that stage. It's ready-made for you. And those eight candidates who will be joining you tonight. And I know you will do a terrific job. And I love the fact that you're going to hold them to the fire. And make them...

BLITZER: We're going to try our best, Lou. We're going to try not to disappoint.

DOBBS: Well, I know you won't disappoint me or our viewers. Our panel is a little tougher though. Our distinguished panel of political analysts, Ed Rollins, Michael Goodwin, and Robert Zimmerman will be back with us.

Also, this nation's massive trade deficit. You don't hear a lot of talk about that, it has reached historic levels. And why aren't candidates talking about this critical issue? That may change tonight. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: We're back with our panel of political experts, including Ed Rollins, former White House political director, Republican strategist; Michael Goodwin, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, New York Daily News; Democratic strategist and Democratic National Committeeman Robert Zimmerman.

And let's -- the strategy tonight for these candidates. What is each candidate going to try to do in your estimation, Ed?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think, as I said, Hillary has to basically -- I would be on the offense against Bush if I was in Hillary's camp. I would make as strong an effort as I could to tie him down on the war.

DOBBS: Taking the position of the presumptive nominee.

ROLLINS: Absolutely. And that is -- and she certainly has the expertise to do that. Everybody else I think has to project, and particularly Dodd and Biden, who are chairmen of major committees, I would somehow get it back to, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, this is what I think we should do. They're getting -- they're back on the turf here and they need to get out front.

DOBBS: Do you think voters are impressed by being chairman of this committee or that?

MICHAEL GOODWIN, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: No, no. I think it's very much an inside Washington game. And I don't think it works in a debate. It makes you sound like you know what you're talking about and that have you gravitas. But I think most voters, you know, it doesn't really matter.

I do think that the real onus here tonight is going to be on Edwards -- among the top tier candidates, Edwards, and to a lesser extent, Obama. Edwards is slipping, I think he is kind of stalled. He is probably doing well in Iowa, but that's about it.

And I think Obama, too, seems to have peaked, so I think both have something at stake tonight.

DOBBS: Your candidate, Robert, Senator Hillary Clinton, is leading in the polls. That has got to be terrific, it has got to have her camp absolutely thrilled and excited and I'm sure it's an absolutely concrete lead that you don't fear evaporating at all.

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, of course, you just totally destroyed the theory of managing expectations. But the more important point...

(LAUGHTER)

DOBBS: I was trying to.

ZIMMERMAN: But the more important point is, the whole concept of a front-runner is obsolete political thinking in fighting for the Democratic nomination. How a candidate does in Iowa, how they do in New Hampshire, how they will compete in the Nevada caucuses and South Carolina, those early contests will be very important in determining the position they're in going into February 5th, especially someone who is perceived of as a front runner.

DOBBS: OK. We're looking -- excuse me just a second, Robert. That's Senator Dodd arriving here on the campus, getting ready to prepare for tonight's debate at St. Anselm College here. And entering the arena, just as we speak, all of the candidates arriving.

ZIMMERMAN: I want to go back to the point that Ed made that I think was very...

DOBBS: Robert, don't you want to talk about Senator Dodd? You seem to be driven by...

ZIMMERMAN: I'm talking about -- I'm going into Senator Dodd.

(LAUGHTER)

ZIMMERMAN: You know, with all of these candidates basically similar on most key issues, the ones who can show they can get things done and can show they're competitive in the general election, that's going to motivate the Democratic voters. Democrats are driven by winning. And they're driven by who can deliver.

DOBBS: Well, let's put this some perspective, because it oftentimes, at least sometimes in my view, it is lost, nationwide, an average of our polls by -- CNN/Opinion Research polls over this year, show not the Democrats in the lead amongst those identifying themselves to one party or affiliation, but rather independent voters, which has risen to 42 percent nationwide, 33 percent for Democrats, 25 percent for Republicans.

New Hampshire is an independent-thinking state in every way. Is that going to be beneficial to Senator Clinton or perhaps another candidate?

ZIMMERMAN: Well -- OK.

DOBBS: You know, this is destiny for you, Robert.

ZIMMERMAN: This is destiny.

DOBBS: Governor Bill Richardson is arriving at this very moment, Robert. And would you like to lay some plaudits at his feet as well?

ZIMMERMAN: As a matter of fact, he's a fine governor, qualified. But here's the point though in terms of that issue, too, about how a candidate does position themselves.

DOBBS: Right.

ZIMMERMAN: And I think this debate really gives Bill Richardson who is now emerging a bit in New Hampshire a chance to really stand out. And I think while the polls show independent voters being critical, in New Hampshire, independent voters can vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary. And that saved Al Gore when they voted for John McCain.

DOBBS: What's the impact, in your judgment, Ed?

ROLLINS: Well, I think it's a tremendous impact. I think, first of all, if they vote in the Democratic primary, they'll probably vote for the Democratic candidate for president. So Republicans really have to make an inroad. So it's -- which they haven't done to date.

GOODWIN: Right. Well, I think that the temptation of the lower candidates to try to score a touchdown early, say something sharp, I think is something that will just be a distraction. I think the question is, you know, can Clinton make a good showing for herself to fend off Obama and Edwards who I think will be coming after her?

DOBBS: And preserve that lead that Robert Zimmerman wants to manage all of those expectations about.

ZIMMERMAN: I'm not her spokesperson, but look at that independent voter not to vote for Senator Clinton. And I think you have seen that, an independent voter could easily shift to another candidate.

DOBBS: You know what, though, on occasion, Robert, you sound a little like her spokesperson.

ROLLINS: He does. Sounds a little programmed.

(LAUGHTER)

DOBBS: You two are going to have -- you and Ed Rollins are going to have to take that up, Robert. Michael Goodwin and I will repair to the zone of absolute neutrality and objectivity. Thank you very much, gentlemen.

We'll be back, and when we are, Robert Zimmerman and Michael Goodwin and Ed Rollins will be among those joining us and staying with us.

Up next, the Democrat-led Congress under fire for selling out middle class Americans with a new trade compromise. How does this deal affect America's already massive trade deficits and trade debt, and most importantly, American workers? And how does all of that relate to the Democratic Party traditions, values and ideals? We'll have that report. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Now some numbers that you may not hear in the debate tonight, and they're big numbers. For example, our national debt now stands at $9 trillion, a historic level, an all-time record. Our trade debt also at a record high $6 trillion, and it's rising faster than the national debt.

Our trade deficit rising to over $800 billion last year, yet not one of the leading candidates are talking about trade, the deficit, its consequence. The Democratic Party and their nominees -- or those seeking that nomination, seem to want to avoid this issue. That may be about to change.

Bill Tucker now has the report on our trade agenda.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Current trade policy has cost Americans more than 3 million jobs since President Bush took offense. Americans now have to borrow more than $2 billion a day to finance our foreign trade habit.

ALAN TONNELSON, U.S. BUSINESS & INDUSTRY COUNCIL: Anybody who is concerned about the living standards of their children should be very, very concerned about globalization and U.S. trade policy.

TUCKER: Last year for the first time ever, Chinese exports of manufactured goods surpassed U.S. manufacturing exports. Trade critics are frustrated at the president's failure to stand up for American workers.

REP. STEVE KAGAN (D), WISCONSIN: This nation is hemorrhaging our jobs. They're bleeding overseas, you can't fix that with a Band-Aid. He needs to stand up, put his foot down and say, look, you can't undervalue your currency, you should not be illegally funding your corporations and your businesses with grants and illegal subsidies.

LLOYD WOOD, AMER. MFG. TRADE ACTION COALITION: Industry after industry, for example, if you take the textile industry, we've lost nearly 500,000 jobs in the last six years. We've seen a substantial amount of market share loss. So certainly when you lose market share, you're going to lose jobs.

TUCKER: And when jobs are lost, incomes decline, the tax base erodes, yet the administration has seemed more interested in playing nice and being friendly with China and talking.

PETER MORICI, UNIV. OF MARYLAND: We've been talking for five years now through three Treasury secretaries. The Chinese are very happy to talk about this issue because the longer this goes on, the more factories they can move from Indiana and Michigan to Shanghai.

TUCKER: The administration has filed complaints with the World Trade Organization that China's export subsidies amount to an illegal business practice, and that China has failed to live up to WTO rules to protect intellectual property rights.

(on camera): But those are limited measures to those who say the real problem is China's currency being pegged to the dollar, giving it a 40 percent price advantage.

Bill Tucker, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOBBS: And of course, the problem for the Bush administration is that its trade policies have effectively endorsed all of those issues and complaints against the Chinese as they have pursued wide open free trade no matter the economic cost.

Turning now to Ed Rollins and Michael Goodwin and Robert Zimmerman. The Democrats here on trade, not wanting to talk about it apparently. Yet this is a very -- this a critical month. This is when so-called trade promotion authority, the means by which, the United States Congress traded away its constitutional authority and responsibility for trade to the presidency by creating fast track authority.

ROLLINS: One of the major problems is they don't have an answer. And many of those 3 million jobs are manufacturing jobs from many of the union groups that were very supportive of the Democratic Party.

So I think to a certain extent they can't address it because they don't have an answer. And they should address it. Bush can't address it either, but at the end of the day, you know, this is their constituency that they're losing jobs. And it's their constituency that is frightened.

GOODWIN: And politically, it's both a challenge and an opportunity. I mean, take Ohio for example, which is a swing state in the general election, lost a lot of manufacturing jobs, I think more than any other state in the last go-round.

So it's the kind of thing they have to look at the -- what really is good for the country if you're going to be the president, but also politically what's good for me in the primaries and in the general election.

So they've got to work their way through both and so far they seem to be staying out of it more than anything else.

ZIMMERMAN: Well, you saw the power of this issue in the 2006 midterm election. And many states, particular in Ohio and Indiana and other regions of the country, in New Hampshire, this issue really resonated with the voters. And it's really a very powerful issue with the freshmen members of the House in particular.

So I think it's going to be an important issue here and they really have to address it. It's not just good politics, it's good policy.

DOBBS: Good politics, good policy. The fact is that this Democratically-led congress has to decide whether or not to restore, to extend, fast track trade authority to the president. Do you think they will have the guts to reassert their constitutional role in trade?

ROLLINS: Absolutely not.

DOBBS: Absolutely not.

ROLLINS: Absolutely not. I don't think they want the responsibility. I think this way they can blame Bush for two more years, then it's all theirs.

DOBBS: Will that be an analog to what has happened in the votes on Iraq, withdrawing, the last time, the supplemental, withdrawing the timetable? Voters in the midterm elections last November thought they were also voting for a change, of course, in Iraq.

GOODWIN: Right. I think what has happened with the Democrats really, it was easy just bashing Bush leading up to 2006. There is a lot of it going on now. But when you get the control of Congress, as they have, and then you're running for president, as these guys are tonight, it gets more tricky. It gets difficult.

You've got to take on the issues. You can't just say, he's no good. You've got to say what you're going to do. And so far that has been harder for them to come up with.

ZIMMERMAN: But they have been doing it on a lot of key issues.

(CROSSTALK)

DOBBS: Well, let's talk about -- wait, OK. But, let's defend them on the basis of trade. Let's defend them on basis of Article I Section 8 of the Constitution of the United States. Let's defend them on the basis of these jobs. Let's defend on the basis of Democratic ideals for working men and women and their families who are getting hammered.

ZIMMERMAN: Let's be clear about this. If in fact the Democrats give up their fast track authority and don't take it back, they're missing a great opportunity. I think it would be a very unfortunate situation, and very frankly, you can't run against...

DOBBS: And on cue, Robert Zimmerman, arriving is Senator Joe Biden, who is going to be certainly one of the people most interested in performing well here tonight and establishing himself, because he has not been able to break out.

Do you think he'll be able to do so tonight?

ZIMMERMAN: Well, he showed great momentum -- by the way, if you folks cut (ph) for Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel, I'm going to give up. But...

DOBBS: Well, we just might because, by golly, this is a Democratic debate and we're going to give -- I guarantee you we're going to give voice to every one of your party's candidates.

ZIMMERMAN: Well, it's a fair point. But I will tell you something, Joe Biden does have the credentials, does have experience. Did well in the last debate. He's a very skilled debater. I think he's in a position where he really can stand out.

DOBBS: Great. We're going to have to -- we're going to be back, three of the best political analysts and strategists in the country will be with us throughout these hours.

And we're just an hour away now from the main event here in New Hampshire. The lounge act continues for just about an hour. But by the time we're through here, you're going to know exactly what to expect and what the expectation are for each of these candidates. What they're risking and what they're likely to win tonight on the debates on CNN. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: We're back now with Ed Rollins, Michael Goodwin and Robert Zimmerman.

Robert did not seem to want to swear in blood that these candidates would be dealing with the traditional Democratic values of working -- for working men and women in this country and the family.

ZIMMERMAN: Let me just clarify that. If they don't...

DOBBS: You know the more you talk -- the more you talk, the more likely it is that one of these candidates will show up here. And as a matter of fact I'm told that we just -- that John Edwards has arrived? Senator Edwards, is that correct? Is that correct? Perhaps I've been -- I've been misinformed.

ROLLINS: One very important subject for New Hampshire, besides the war and everything else, this has always been a low-tax state and I'm sure no Democrat is going to talk about their tax policy tonight because every single one of them up on stage has advocated some spending program that's going to cost more taxes.

DOBBS: And we should point out, we're talking nationwide, according to our polling, 42 percent of those people in our -- that's an average in our polls, identify themselves as independents. But in this state, in New Hampshire, 44 percent are registered as independents.

GOODWIN: Right. And I think -- but, Lou, one of the challenges for Democrats early is what do they do with the Bill Clinton legacy on free trade? Bill Clinton, I believe, more than anything else he believed in, was globalization and free trade.

The next -- if the next Democrat -- if a Democrat is going to be the next president, you would think they would want fast track authority.

DOBBS: Fascinating. All right, we're going to turn here, you see Senator Edwards arriving. The senator has quite an entourage there, they seem to have broken away there.

OK. And Robert Zimmerman, quickly.

ZIMMERMAN: Quick point, what Democrats are going to talk about is the deficit Bush has given us, and how he has underfunded our troops, underfunded our health care programs. So that's what they're going to talk about, talk about fiscal responsibility.

DOBBS: You got it. All right. We're going to be back with our panel throughout the next hour. In our next hour, New Hampshire, of course, one of the most important primary states and early bellwether on the political fortunes of the eight Democratic candidates for their party's nomination.

Political analyst Bill Schneider will be joining us to report on the impact of the primary on the leading democratic candidates. And there is the leading candidate at this hour, arriving here, those are live pictures, Senator Hillary Clinton, as we continue our countdown to the Democratic debate, live here on CNN, coming up at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Stay with us. We continue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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