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This Week in Politics; Politics of Smear Campaigns

Aired March 15, 2008 - 18:00   ET


TOM FOREMAN, CNN ANCHOR: (voice-over): Is racism is coming between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama? Political minds want to know.


FOREMAN: Will John McCain's disappearing act cost him the White House?

How much mud is being thrown in this campaign?

And Eliot Spitzer is splitzer. What was he thinking? It's all in THIS WEEK IN POLITICS.


FOREMAN: Plus, the story we probably should not tell you, even at the end of a scandalous week like this one.


FOREMAN: It was a week suited for the supermarket tabloids, sex, scandal, bitter accusations, all front-page news.


FOREMAN (voice-over): A front page flash: Bigfoot spotted in Mississippi. Barack Obama stomps all over Hillary Clinton's hopes in the mud cap state primary, his delegate lead, bigger than ever.


She had been floating a trial balloon about a joint ticket, but even before the Gulf state win, he had pulled out a pin.

OBAMA: I don't know how somebody who's in second place is offering the vice presidency to the person who's in first place.

FOREMAN: Is it the end of all hope for what some call a Democratic dream team? Sounds like it now.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's premature to talk about whoever might be on whose ticket, but I believe I am ready to serve on day one. FOREMAN: But look out, political visitors from a parallel universe. Clinton campaigner Geraldine Ferraro suggests Obama is getting undue attention because he is black. The Obama team calls it ridiculous, and Ferraro does not back down, even as her official role with Clinton comes to an end.

CLINTON: I rejected what she said, and I certainly do repudiate it and regret deeply that it was said.

FOREMAN: Then, an old sermon Obama's pastor pops up on YouTube.

REVEREND JEREMIAH WRIGHT, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: Barack knows what it means to be a black man living in a country and a culture that is controlled by rich white people. Hillary can never know that. Hillary ain't never been called a (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

FOREMAN: In what's now almost a ritual, the Obama campaign says the senator profoundly disagrees.

Not the Florida/Michigan fight.


FOREMAN: The battle over how, when, and if their delegates will be seated is back from the dread.

HOWARD DEAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: That's going to be not so easy to do. This is going to require some delicacy, some diplomacy.

FOREMAN: And a Democratic governor's career goes down in flames.

GOV. ELIOT SPITZER (D), NEW YORK: The remorse I feel will always be with me.

FOREMAN: While pics of the young woman "The New York Times" says is the one the allegedly seen and probably obscene steamed up MySpace, not the headlines Dems were hoping for at the end of a very hot week in politics.


FOREMAN: We will have more on Spitzer's personal bad in just a bit, but first let's get serious and turn to the issue that could rip holes in the Democratic Party, race.

In Chicago, radio talk show host and CNN contributor Roland Martin, and covering the Clinton campaign in Pittsburgh, CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux.

Roland, why? How? How can it be that the Democrats are getting into such a mess over racial accusations?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, actually, I think it has to be expanded. It is really a matter of race and gender. Senator Clinton's -- her strong support has been frankly among white women. For Senator Obama, it has been among African-Americans, two core constituents of the Democratic Party. In every single primary thus far, women have been at least 55 percent.

And, so, what you're facing here is, you're facing two historical firsts and you have folks on both side who say, look, we want our person in the White House. And it's definitely gotten rougher. And it's going to get rougher unless both candidates say, enough is enough. Forget the focus on race and gender. Let's stay focused on issues.

FOREMAN: Let's ask Clinton, Suzanne, if we can.

Time and again people connected to her campaign have raised issues or they have said something about him being black, they have said something about racism, and then they have said, we don't mean it.

Why doesn't she come out and say definitively nobody connected to my campaign say anything about this?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think she did come out definitively and repudiate those remarks from Ferraro.

There is one thing that is happening here, however, that African- Americans are looking at. And they believe that it could be perhaps a double standard. They say that Barack Obama, when there was this endorsement and link to the Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, that there was a lot of pressure for him to immediately denounce, repudiate, that she put pressure on him to do so.

So, they were turning to Hillary Clinton and asking the question here, why did it take the time that it did or why wasn't she as forceful as she could have been in distancing herself from Ferraro's remarks?

And, so, you get a sense here from a lot of the black voters that I spoke with that they felt that there was a double standard. They didn't appreciate that. And they also felt as well that perhaps it's not Hillary Clinton's words itself, but her supporters that are getting her into trouble. They want to give her the benefit of the doubt, but they're feeling a sense of unease with the campaign.

FOREMAN: But, even though she repudiated what Ferraro said, why, Suzanne, why doesn't she come out and say in one of her statements, listen, I want no one connected to this campaign to say anything about this?

Because I think one of the suspicions from the Obama people, whether it's founded or not, is that these surrogates are stepping out and saying it because they want to make it an issue and then deny it later.

MALVEAUX: Certainly. We hear Senator Clinton say that she is not supporting this. We hear Senator Obama even said as well he didn't think that there was some sort of directive that was coming from her campaign.

But we have seen these incidents where race has been brought up as an issue. We saw it with the former President Bill Clinton. So there is a sense here at least from folks inside that perhaps this is an issue that puts Obama in a box.

Senator Clinton came out over the week before black journalists, black publishers, and said -- essentially was doing kind of a mea culpa, apologizing for various things. I think what she's trying to do is push this out here that there has been these situations in the past, and that she's trying to move forward to make sure that perhaps this doesn't happen again.

ROBERTS: And let's look real quick, Roland, if we can, at the numbers in this thing. This is the Mississippi black voters. Down there Obama absolutely cleaned up, 92 percent, Clinton 8 percent.

With all of this going on, do you think that Hillary Clinton can overcome this loss of black voters?

MARTIN: Well, again, it's a matter of strategy.

If you look at what Clinton is doing, she has a big state strategy, and that is, she wants to focus on those large states, Ohio, Pennsylvania, California, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts. That is her strategy, whereas Obama has been talking about more of a, I have won more states, smaller states, if you throw in also Maryland, Virginia, and Missouri.

And so it speaks to both of them. The bottom line for her is, her strong support is simply among white women. She did very well among white men in Mississippi. The question is, how will she do in Pennsylvania, then in North Carolina?

So, I think although her campaign is saying we want to compete for the black vote, what they recognize is, our goal is to get anywhere from 10 to 15 percent, knowing full well Obama is likely going to get 80 percent. She has to grow her numbers among white men and even increase her numbers among white women.


FOREMAN: At the same time, Roland, Obama must be very concerned at a time like this to have this minister come out saying these inflammatory things about race. With friends like these, you don't need friends.

MARTIN: Well, but you know what, though? Here's the deal, though.

You have all the candidates, including Obama, absolutely, they are very concerned about some of the past sermons of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, but also, if you look at John McCain, John McCain now has to answer questions in terms of Pastor John Hagee out of San Antonio, Rod Parsley, out of Ohio, same thing.

And so when you have people who are your supporters, all of a sudden now, there's an expectation of the candidate to explain it away or to denounce them. And I think, at some point, people are going to have to ask the question, OK, what am I more concerned with? Am I more concerned with Clinton and Obama and McCain on issues, or am I concerned about those people who are around them and what they say on every single point?

Because we can't have an apology, a denouncing and a repudiation every single week, because we could.

FOREMAN: I bet we could.

Roland, thank you very much.

Suzanne, as well.

A lot to talk about. We will have to get back to it on a future date.

Coming up on THIS WEEK IN POLITICS: the governor, the call girl, and the dirty game of destruction by gossip.

Plus, the steamy details of suburban swapping. It has all three contenders looking for backdoors, and it's all ahead on THIS WEEK IN POLITICS.


FOREMAN: Who do you like right now?

FOREMAN: I like McCain. And I didn't like him as much at first, and I was actually hoping Fred Thompson would make a better go of it than he did. It was very disappointing. But I have come around to McCain more and more.


FOREMAN: Fred Thompson took a nap or something. He didn't show up.


FOREMAN: Are you guys more Republican or more Democratic?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would say we're more Republican.


FOREMAN: Oh, four young Republicans on the prowl in D.C. You're the ones we read about.




FOREMAN (voice-over): In Republican lore, on the eighth day, Ronald Reagan reached into the suburbs and told working-class Democrats that their party had betrayed them, that it no longer shared their beliefs on the economy, security, or values, and the suburblican was born.


FOREMAN: These crossover voters propelled Reagan into office twice, helped George Bush to an extent, too. And now John McCain has to make the suburblicans his own.

And right now, despite the rumble in the Democratic race, he's trying to do just that.


FOREMAN (voice-over): In many ways, McCain is the right man for that job, a moderate who does not force the suburblicans to embrace extremely conservative positions, the kind of guy who could head to Virginia, walk into Murphy's Bar with St. Patrick's Day looming, and appeal to Lou Bertin.

LOU BERTIN, CROSSOVER VOTER: I'm normally a Democrat, lifelong.

FOREMAN (on camera): And how are you voting this time?

BERTIN: Senator McCain. Senator McCain.

FOREMAN: Why is that?

BERTIN: We are, I think as a nation, in need of a huge dose of (INAUDIBLE) Everything has become so partisan. I don't know what the words liberal and conservative mean anymore, except when they are used as epithets. Senator McCain is fully human. He has reached across the aisle. That's what we need.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Keeping the suburblicans corralled is no easy task. The war, which McCain supports, remains unpopular with many voters, despite a great deal of progress in the past year.

The public thinks very poorly of the current Republican president, and that will not help the party's candidate. And don't forget what John Debeoer knows. Suburblicans can easily become suburblicrats.

JOHN DEBEOER, CROSSOVER VOTER: I look at the people and I decide who represents me the best and who do I think will do the best job.

FOREMAN (on camera): So, you voted for Bush in the last two elections. Now, who are you going to vote for this time? DEBEOER: I'm definitely voting for Obama. I think he has the ability to bring the power of the constituency behind him, so that he can have more of an impact in office.

FOREMAN: Obama has spoken quite openly about his desire to woo these voters, and he has drawn many in, independents, moderates, crossovers.

And don't count Hillary Clinton out either. Although she is welded to her traditional Democratic base, Peggy Hunter, who has voted Republican plenty of times, is leaning Clinton's way.

PEGGY HUNTER, CROSSOVER VOTER: I want somebody who's tough. I want somebody who can say what they mean and say it concisely. I want somebody who is very concerned with the state of the economy at present and somebody else who also has that international experience.


FOREMAN: The suburblican and suburblicrat vote is quite simply not in the least decided yet, and yet it may decide this election.

So, let's talk politics in the land of "Desperate Housewives," Jay Carney, Washington bureau for "TIME" magazine. And Scott Reed is a GOP strategist who ran Bob Dole's 1996 campaign.

These people are both the promise and peril of this campaign right now, wouldn't you say?

Well, I think that's true.

JAY CARNEY, "TIME": Well, I think that is true.

And what's interesting about this campaign cycle is that for the previous two that George W. Bush won, in 2000 and 2004, the operating idea behind the campaign strategy, as articulated by Karl Rove, his chief strategist, was that swing voters really didn't matter in the way that they used to, that the way to win elections was to simply goose your own party's support, get you as many Republicans out as possible, and win by overwhelming the...


FOREMAN: ... embraced by everybody. You have got a strong base, and get 51 percent, you're in charge.

CARNEY: Fifty, and that's all you need.

But what we have seen, certainly in the 2006 midterm elections, is a huge shift of these people who are willing to vote Republicans sometimes, Democrat sometimes. They could be registered in either party or they could be independent. And instead of the 6 or 7 or 8 percent swing vote that it was down to, or perceived to be down to, I think we're back up to 10, 15, 20 percent.

FOREMAN: Scott, you have looked at it from the Republican side. If you were advising John McCain right now, how does he keep the suburblicans suburblicans and not suburblicrats?

SCOTT REED, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: He talks about his leadership qualities, his character. And he shows that he's a conservative, but he's also a maverick.

If you look at the polls this week, he is winning when it's a head-to-head against Obama or Clinton, or tied, but when you look, if it's a generic question about a Republican or Democrat, he's losing by 12 -- the Republicans are losing by 12 or 13 points in "The Wall Street Journal" poll.

And the point is, McCain is the right type of candidate for Republicans this cycle. He will hold the base. And he has the ability to reach out and get those suburban voters that are always the swing that are going to care about national security, care about economic growth, the two issues that McCain will be running on.

FOREMAN: It seems like he's going to get hit very hard, though, by Obama, because when you talk about that middle, the fact is, the numbers are very close. And Obama certainly is reaching to that same crowd, saying, be united, Democrats, Republicans, independents.

CARNEY: That's true. And in New Hampshire this was very striking in the week before the New Hampshire primary.

And I can't tell you how many voters I encountered and I know other people did who said they were deciding between McCain and Obama. They were deciding whether or not to vote in the Democratic Party for Obama or McCain in the Republican Party.

It's like, wait, they're so different. Their policy agendas couldn't be more different. But they both appeal to people who like authenticity in their politicians, who seem -- they don't seem like products of the party machine.

FOREMAN: And how do you explain this business of Hillary Clinton right now? Because I am surprised. In some ways, you could say she's so, as I said, welded to the base of her party, you wouldn't think she would be in play with the suburblicans, but she does to be for some of them.

CARNEY: Well, she does. And I think her gender plays a big factor in that, because I think a lot of suburban vote -- and there's a big female vote in the suburbs that matters a lot and tends to swing even more than the male vote.

And also she's strong on defense. She's perceived to be strong on defense as a Democrat.

FOREMAN: How much do these people scare both parties, though? Because the one thing that I'm struck by with these people is, by and large, they're saying we think the party system is outdated and should be pushed aside. This should not be about parties. It should be about the best candidate.

REED: It should be about the person. It should be about the person that says what they believes and believes what they say.

That's why Hillary's going to have a problem if she's the nominee, because the truth is, if you're suburban now, you're not undecided about Hillary. You either like her or you don't. And that's why as their fight goes on and it continues and they keep questioning Obama's ability to be commander in chief, like they did this week quite aggressively, that's going to ultimately help the Republicans and make this a winnable race for McCain.

FOREMAN: But back to the question here, though. Both parties, in many ways, the party faithful hate this kind of talk. These are people who are saying the parties shouldn't matter anymore because jointly the parties created the problems we have.

REED: But at every phase of a campaign at this time, everybody says that about the parties. And as the parties become rebranded by the nominee, which is what both candidates will go through this summer and into the fall, that will all change.

FOREMAN: Do you think that these people are going to decide this election, the suburblicans and suburblicrats?

CARNEY: I think they are. I think they often do. And I think in this case, especially with a candidate like John McCain, a Republican nominee who has the potential to make real inroads into areas that have been trending Democratic, not just in 2006, but when they went to Clinton in '92 and '96.

So, I think that they will decide, and it will depend on McCain's ability to maintain his reputation as a maverick.

FOREMAN: All right, we have to keep moving on.

Jay and Scott, thanks for being here.

In politics, there have always been plenty of sordid news stories to shake up the suburbs. In 1884, there were rumors that Grover Cleveland had an legitimate child. His opponent turned it into a song that went, mama, where's pa? Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha.

Today, it's different. The smears don't have a good beat and you can't dance to them. But we will still run them down in our top hits -- next.


FOREMAN: This campaign already has more smears than a commuter applying mascara in rush hour. Smears, these are stories that you may think are true, but simply are not. And yet they stay around and stay around.

For example, Barack Obama is a Muslim. False. He took the oath of office on a Koran. False. He isn't patriotic. False. You could say, though, that Obama is just the latest comer to this very, very rough game. Hillary Clinton pulled off a crooked land deal. Remember Whitewater? False. She was held responsible for the murder of White House lawyer Vince Foster. False. And the Clintons ran drugs out of Arkansas, killing dozens of people in the process. Really, really false.

And in the 2000 primary in South Carolina, John McCain was accused of going crazy during his time in a North Vietnamese prison. False. Of being a homosexual. False. And of fathering a black love child, a nasty rumor that was wrapped around his daughter Bridget, who was adopted from an orphanage in Bangladesh.

So, how can a campaign or a candidate combat these anonymous and terribly destructive rumors?

To talk about all of that, Sheri Parks studies popular mythologies at the University of Maryland. And Eric Dezenhall is the CEO of Dezenhall Resources, specializes in fighting back against negative attacks and whisper campaign. And he's also the author of "Damage Control: How to Get the Upper Hand When Your Business Is Under Attack."

Let me start with you, Eric.

Is there any way really for campaigns to stop this?


The fact is, is, people don't think of facts. We think in narratives. And narratives are all about what do we want to believe. And in order to conduct a successful smear against someone, it doesn't have to be true. It just has to be plausible and it has to be resonant.

And when you have somebody like Barack Hussein Obama, you have -- you have people key in on Hussein. They key in on this very controversial minister who makes some incredible remarks, and there is the whole Chicago race scene.

So, it doesn't have to be true that he's a Muslim, but if you are inclined to believe certain types of thing, as Abraham Lincoln said, for people who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they will like.

And so how does a campaign fight it? You attack the source. You attack the tactic. Of course, you deny it when possible, but there's really no way to totally make it evaporate from the Internet.

FOREMAN: Sheri, it seems like one of the problems in attacking the source is that a lot of the source is in us, our tendency to share rumors and think we know something special, when we don't.

SHERI PARKS, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: And one of the reasons these stick is because they fit the script that we already know, because they don't have time in 30 seconds or 60 seconds to create a whole new storyline, what you're calling the narrative.

And so what's happening is that knowledgeable people are just touching the script that we already know and then it takes on a life of its own.

FOREMAN: Do you see this as being a calculated thing, particularly, I have to say, in the case of Barack Obama? He has an unusual name and he's a black guy running for president. We haven't had that before at this level. Do you think it's particularly pronounced to him because it plays to very deep-seated prejudices?

PARKS: Well, these scripts are so well-known that it's hard to believe that somebody unknowingly gets that close to them.

FOREMAN: You mean these sort of stories?

PARKS: These stories, these stories about a Muslim name linking to terrorism. We all know these scripts. All Americans know these scripts.

And so, anybody who's been working with the media for any length of time knows all you have to do is just say it and it takes on a life of its own.

FOREMAN: Eric, we debated about even doing this segment. Now, you may notice that, in our graphic up there, we didn't have any pictures of them with these charges over them, because we know, in the day of the Internet, somebody will freeze the frame, put it on the Internet, and say, here's proof.

It seems like one of the problems here is, even if you repeat one of these to say it's wrong, somebody's going to say, ah, but you are wrong. That's really true.

DEZENHALL: I think that the thing that is so tricky is everybody denies believing gossip, believing rumor. Everybody says, including reporters, by the way, I don't believe what's on the Internet.

The harsh reality is, the top reporters in the country read the blogs, and they get story ideas from the blogs. Yet, when you talk to people, it's like during the Lewinsky crisis, I'm sick and tired of hearing about the president's sex life. Well, the minute the subject was changed, ratings plummeted.

People are very interested in the president's sex life. And people do believe smears. They do believe gossip. And that is what is so difficult, because the very same people who do believe it will say in a social situation that they don't, sort of like if you did a survey on race, well, I'm certainly not a racist, but, what, my friend Fred? Oh, yes, I think he might be a racist.

FOREMAN: Well, Sheri, you try to teach young people about this whole thing. You talk to them all the time about how to try to find the truth.

What should voters do? While the campaigns are trying to do this, we know full well the voters have doubts about us, whether or not we tell the truth. How do they get to the truth of one of these things? You get the e-mail from the friend who says she's a thief, he is a cheater, he's whatever. How does the voter solve it? SHERI PARKS, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: Well, that's what's so difficult about this, is that the ordinary person doesn't have the tools to get around to the truth. The media are in the way, the bloggers are in the way. It's very, very difficult to go to the library and go through the records or whatever.

And what's happened is that gossip about celebrities, gossip about political candidates has replaced ordinary gossip about our neighbors. It exactly serves that punch, and we don't know our neighbors anymore. And humans in every culture gossip about somebody. So it's so intractable, so intractable, because it's serving a purpose.

FOREMAN: And how much do you think, Sheri, that it fuels this when you have something like the Eliot Spitzer story come along that is true, and seems outrageous and unbelievable, but it's the truth.

PARKS: Well, and how many hits have those Web sites gotten, has her Web site gotten in the last couple of days? It is a morality play. All of these actually in many ways are morality plays, where the bad guy is supposed to eventually get his -- the good guy or woman is supposedly eventually going to get her goal. That we really are reinforcing our culture every time we exercise ourselves with this.

FOREMAN: Eric, you talk to people about this. Very quickly here, do the campaigns really want this to go away, or do they just want it to go away when it attacks them?

ERIC DEZENHALL, CEO, DEZENHALL RESOURCES: Well, absolutely, they want it to go away when it attacks them. I mean, I think that the benefit of smear campaigns in these campaigns is you can do it from a distance. I mean, Willie Horton in 1998, nobody really said the word, oh, by the way, he's a black man who was let out. It was something that was just intuited. And so, everybody wants to fan it as long as it hurts the other person, and everybody knows that despite what PR people say, there is no magical way to get it out of the news.

FOREMAN: Tell people to check out the facts, I guess, as best as they can. It's the only way we can do it. My all rule of thumb is always, if it sounds too good to be true, yes, probably is.

Sheri, Eric, thanks for being here.

PARKS: Thank you.

FOREMAN: We appreciate it.

Later, you think sex scandals are a modern phenomenon? Well, you're wrong. We will tell you the top five political stories you did not read about in high school history.

But first, we really don't understand how this keeps happening. Hope we've logged yet another item into our collection of the politics of dancing, or in this case, singing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) VOICE OF GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, you're all gonna miss me, the way you used to quiz me. But soon I'll touch the brown, brown, grass of home.


FOREMAN: You can't see him in that blurry picture on the blurry stage, but that was the president of the United States singing at the super secret Gridiron dinner. I guess it's not so secret anymore. All we can say is thank goodness for those hidden cameras, which, of course, brings up our weekly political side show.


FOREMAN (voice-over): If you live in a town with hidden speed cameras, you may have received a ticket in the mail, complete with a glossy photo of your crime, suitable for framing. But in Montgomery County, Maryland, the police apparently don't like it when they're caught in these photo finishes. Officers are reportedly refusing to pay the fines, and some are giving the cameras one finger salutes as they pass.

Gambling on a new government. Two New Mexico candidates found themselves doing just that when they wound up in a tie vote for the job of town trustee. A quick game of poker and a pair of nines decided the winner. It was, of course, flushed with pride.

A new candidate for Congress in Michigan. Dr. Jack Kevorkian. The number one advocate for assisted suicide says he will run now that he's finished eight years in prison on a murder wrap. A lot of people in this town say he's doing it all backward. Go to Congress first, then go to jail.

But win or lose, Kevorkian will likely not be welcome in the tiny French town where the mayor has announced that because there is no more room in the town cemetery, no one is permitted to die. In Sarpourenx (ph), the French are tough. Mayor Gerard Lalanne says offenders will be severely punished.



ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Erica Hill. "THIS WEEK IN POLITICS" continues after this check of what's now in the news.

Senator Barack Obama denouncing some of his Chicago minister's past sermons and calling Reverend Jeremiah Wright's words, "inflammatory and appalling." Wright's sermon attacked Senator Clinton and the U.S. government. Tonight, the Obama campaign announced Wright will no longer serve as one of its religious advisers. Anderson Cooper will talk to Senator Obama about the pastor's comments and the campaign controversy coming up tonight right here on "AC 360" at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

A tense morning in Tibet after five days of anti-Chinese demonstrations there. Security forces moved in on Friday and battled about a thousand protesters. China's news agency blames the violence on the Dalai Lama, who denied those charges.

Investigators tell CNN, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer may have used campaign funds to pay for parts of his secret life. A prostitution scandal forced the governor to resign earlier this week.

And a 57-year-old man at the center of that ricin questionable event. Well, he is now awake, we are told.

I'm Erica Hill. We return you now to Tom Foreman and "THIS WEEK IN POLITICS."

FOREMAN: The fifth anniversary of the day coalition troops smashed into Iraq comes up next Wednesday, and it's quite possible that at some point next week, the toll of U.S. troops who have perished in five long tough years will rise above 4,000. So how do people over there feel about the elections over here? CNN's Kyra Phillips is standing by in Baghdad.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Tom, we always hear from U.S. troops, but what about the Iraqi soldiers? Do they care about the U.S. presidential election? Are they following the candidates? Do they even care about the process? Well, for the first time we got unfettered access. And here you go, Iraqi soldiers in their own voice.


PHILLIPS (voice-over): In step and preparing for their various missions, these Iraqi soldiers are also following every step of the U.S. presidential election.

PHILLIPS (on camera): Is there a certain candidate in the U.S. that you're following?

AHMED MANSOUR, 6th DIVISION, ENGINEER (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): The truth is, I pay attention to the Democratic Party, even more, Hillary Clinton.


MANSOUR: Because I like her personality. Because she's new. In America, you need something new, a new female president. We saw and lived under the Republican Party, under Bush. We would like to see what the Democrats have to offer.

PHILLIPS: Ali, why are you paying attention to the elections in the U.S.?

ALI SALEH, 6th DIVISION, 1ST BRIGADE (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I want to compare their democracy with ours. I want to see the differences between them and us. I want to see the way they vote. Are they unorganized, in a mess like us, or better?

PHILLIPS (voice-over): These are troops from the Iraqi army's 6th division, engineers, weapons and bomb experts along with medics.

PHILLIPS (on camera): If you had a chance to sit down with Hillary Clinton, what would you tell her you need in Iraq?

ALI MOHAMMED, 6TH DIVISION, 3RD BRIGADE (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I would ask her to help compose a book about democracy and send it to Iraqi politicians. It would help.

ALAA AHMED, INFANTRY, E.O.D. (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Elections in the USA are directly connected to the future of Iraq and the pulling of U.S. forces from Iraq. Democracy in Iraq is new. We don't know much about it. We need practice. Our stability is not easy to fix.

PHILLIPS: Do you have a favorite candidate?

AHMED: Obama.


AHMED: He's practical and he loves to serve his country.

PHILLIPS: If you could sit down with Obama, what would you tell him you need from him?

AHMED: I would ask him to pay attention to the Middle East and the Iranian and American conflict that's happening on Iraqi land. That is affecting Iraq and needs to be addressed.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): These soldiers are speaking candidly in a way they never could have under Saddam Hussein.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The hardest thing for us is what we see. Look at what's happening. Our people are getting hurt. We don't have electricity. Our young people don't have simple things like a job, electricity.

We have oil, and we are poor and jobless. We want new companies to trust Iraq and invest in Iraq. We want jobs for our young people so they don't join these terrorists. That is the hardest part.

PHILLIPS: A hard-fought war, these young soldiers say they're willing to risk their lives.

PHILLIPS (on camera): How will a real democracy make your life better as an Iraqi?

TAHA IBRAHIM, 6TH DIVISION, 3RD BRIGADE (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Freedom. Without democracy, we will have no freedom.


PHILLIPS: Well, Tom, just to be perfectly clear here, I did ask them, are you following any of the Republican candidates? Do you want to talk about John McCain?

Within that whole group, not one wanted a Republican in the U.S. presidential seat. They were all for a Democrat. They were all for that type of change, because, they said, looking we're living a Republican war. I thought it was interesting.

FOREMAN: What made you think to sit down and talk to these people about this, Kyra? It's a fascinating idea.

PHILLIPS: It's something that I've wanted to do actually for years and haven't been able to get access. But, thanks to my producer, who speaks Arabic, we just kept pounding the door for about two weeks and finally got the access.

And, Tom, we didn't even have a public affairs official there saying, OK, guys, you can say this and you can't say this. It was uncensored. It was unbelievable for two hours, the things that they said and how candid they were. It was a good reality check for me as a journalist, that's for sure.

FOREMAN: Public opinion here, Kyra, about the war has absolutely been changing because of the progress recently. Look at this. These were the numbers from back in June about keeping troops in Iraq. Only 39 percent of the people wanted to do it. Fifty-six percent said bring them home.

Now, there's still a slight advantage for people saying they want to bring troops home, but it's about evenly split. What is the reaction on the ground there from the Iraqi soldiers and the American soldiers as they look at this shift in public perception of this war?

PHILLIPS: Oh, wow, it's a mixed reaction. I mean, a lot of the Iraqi soldiers said to me, look, we still need the U.S. presence. They're teaching us how to patrol our streets. They're teaching us about security. We never had to deal with this under Saddam Hussein. All this criminal activity and corruption, it's new to us. We've never had to deal with it.

Meanwhile, U.S. troops, they want to be there for the Iraqis. They want to keep training them, but at the same time, they've told me, look, we're five years in, we've got to start moving out and Iraqis have to take control of their own country.

FOREMAN: Kyra Phillips, an excellent report. Good of you to join us and weigh in on the election way over here.

Hold your ground. When we come back, we'll do a hard turn from what's really important to what's really all over the headlines here.

Governor Spitzer, the politician who has given room service a whole new meaning. Coming up.



BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I did not have sexual relations with that woman.

SEN. DAVID VITTER (R), LOUISIANA: I am completely responsible, and I'm so very, very sorry.

SEN. LARRY CRAIG (R), IDAHO: I am not gay. I never have been gay.

GOV. ELIOT SPITZER (D), NEW YORK: I am deeply sorry that I did not live up to what was expected of me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They just want what they want when they want it. Much like, you know, ordering pizza.


FOREMAN: Well, time for one classy moment before we descend into the tawdry depths of the Eliot Spitzer story.

The ancient Greeks said that all tragedy was based on hubris, an excessive pride or arrogant overconfidence that leads to downfall. Is that what we're dealing with in this week's fall of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and frankly, all of the others, the big names who have tumbled over sexual scandals? Time to listen to the word on the street.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you're in that position, you know, you can't just do what you're feeling at the time. You've got to do what's right. You know people are behind you and supporting you and voting for you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're normal humans, but they're our leaders. Is that who we want for our leaders? I don't think so.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How they run, but I think if they came out and said, you know, I like to cheat on my wife and --

FOREMAN: It'll be hard to get elected that way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it would be, but, you know, at least he's honest, right? Or she, maybe.

FOREMAN: When politicians are caught in these matters, should they quit?


FOREMAN: And why?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They break the trust with the public and their family. And if you can't trust them somebody, they shouldn't be in office.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think they should quit their position. No. I think we should forgive and forget and let them do their job and not get in their personal affairs.

FOREMAN (on camera): Because this is purely a personal thing to you? Unless it's interfering with your public --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sex is a personal thing.

FOREMAN: Is the bigger issue that these people do improper things or that they break the law while doing it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I suspect breaking the law is the real problem, right? Because often --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're lawmakers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Ultimately, he's a lawmaker and he's breaking the law. So --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think a lot of politicians in positions of great office think they can get away with things because of their position.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are greater issues that need to be taken into account, and it's unfortunate these people that are elected don't address those greater issues when they're elected and serve the public and not be self-serving.

FOREMAN: I mean, by getting involved with affairs?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By getting involved doing things, whatever it is. But, hey, I think that's America today.


FOREMAN: Quick quiz. Who said, I can't even type? The answer in our top five old school sex scandals in just a moment.

And call me. Hot tips from our hotline. "Fast Track," coming up next.


FOREMAN: It's not $1,000 an hour, but when we need something to get us through a tough week in politics, we turn to the "Fast Track" for everything we need to know.

And joining us is John Mercurio. He is the executive editor of "Hotline." This week it was all about race for the Democrats. What's the next big thing coming down the pike for them?

JOHN MERCURIO, THE HOTLINE: I think we've got a little bit left to deal with on the issue of race. You saw Obama's pastor come out, and there's some controversial comments he's made. But I think over the next couple of weeks as we head towards tax day, you're going to see the Obama campaign hitting her on taxes, hitting her on secrecy and issues like that.

FOREMAN: John McCain is fighting to hold any ground on the front page because the Democrats were dominating everything. What can he do to get back in the news? MERCURIO: Well, the problem is that he wants to emphasize his foreign policy credentials. He is heading to Europe and to the Middle East to sort of emphasize, I think, the fact that he could be commander in chief on day one. The problem for him there is that as we're seeing just over the past few days, the economy is number one, President Bush speaking on it. That's where voters are focused, not on Europe and the Middle East.

FOREMAN: We're still not finished with debating in this grand, this big game of ours. Who can be the big loser in the upcoming debates and why?

MERCURIO: Well, Obama and Clinton have both agreed to Philadelphia. They're both going to debate in Pennsylvania for ABC. CBS' Katie Couric, I think is still waiting to see whether or not she's going to get her debate. We could hear from the Clinton campaign today or tomorrow as to whether or not they're going to do it. But will Katie Couric and CBS actually get the chance to sit in the moderator's chair? That's the big question.

FOREMAN: What will be next week's favorite political party game?

MERCURIO: That's a good question. We're going to have to wait and see who the other clients are on Eliot's -- on the Emperors Club VIP list of clients. Of course, Eliot Spitzer, the famous client number nine. Who were clients number one through eight?

FOREMAN: Yes, we're going to find out about that.

And one last question, one-word answer. Can anything be worked out about Michigan and Florida that will make everyone happy?

MERCURIO: I'll give you a three-word answer, how about that? No, no, and no. It's impossible.

FOREMAN: It's a great way to hop off of the "Fast Track."

John Mercurio, thanks for being here.

MERCURIO: Good to be here.

FOREMAN: And stick around. Because in a moment, we will have the sexcapades of the century, coming up.

But first, our "Late Night Laughs."


JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": New York Governor Eliot Spitzer admitted publicly he was involved in a prostitution ring, which means Hillary Clinton now only the second angriest wife in the state of New York.

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": Now they're saying he may have spent $80,000 on prostitutes over the last 10 years. Is that a lot? DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN: He was a -- he went through this call girl thing where you get the call girls, and he was known as a regular customer. He was known as client nine. Client nine. And it looks now like client nine will soon be looking for wife number two.



FOREMAN: Scandal is hardly a modern phenomenon. As long as there have been politicians, there have been politicians behaving badly. So here it is, our top five historic hysterics over sex.

Shortly after he became president, Thomas Jefferson was accused of having children with a slave, Sally Hemings. Historians have argued over this for decades. But recent DNA evidence appears to back it up.

James Buchanan was the only bachelor president and according to rumors at the time, the only gay president, which has nothing to do with the fact that many historians also think he was America's worst president.

One paramour had so many love letters from Warren G. Harding. He looks like a loving guy, but he holds the dubious record of being the only president to be successfully blackmailed. She was sent on a trip around the world, but Harding apparently went right on having affairs anyway.

The career of the most powerful man in Congress in the early 1970s, Wilbur Mills unraveled after the police stopped his car late one night, and his companion, an exotic dancer, known as the Argentine firecracker, took a swan dive into the Tidal Basin.

And a couple of years later, another congressional strong man, the legendary Wayne Hays, denied that his secretary, Elizabeth Ray, had been hired to be his mistress. But she said, I can't type, I can't file, I can't even answer the phone. Oops.

And yes, we could have easily added some of the more modern sexcapades to our list, but it's a family show and we only have an hour.

And that's it for THIS WEEK IN POLITICS. I'm Tom Foreman. Thanks much for watching. "LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.