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'04 Democrats Face Off; Did California Debate Change Face of Recall Election?

Aired September 25, 2003 - 16:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's get ready to rumble!

ANNOUNCER: Ten '04 Democrats in the ring. All eyes on newcomer Wesley Clark. Will he emerge from his first debate battle tested or battered?

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIF. GOV. CANDIDATE: You guys put wool over the people's eyes twice.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON (I), CALIF. GOV. CANDIDATE: It's completely hypocritical.

LT. GOV. CRUZ BUSTAMANTE (D), CALIF. GOV. CANDIDATE: There's no rocket science to this.

ANNOUNCER: They didn't mince their words. But did the debate free-for-all in California change the recall race?

The flak over Iraq keeps on coming.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: I still cannot find anybody who has read the plan for post-war Iraq. Have any of you?

ANNOUNCER: We'll ask House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi about the Democrats' attacks and how Republicans are firing back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Democrats want to return to the weak and indecisive foreign policy of their cold war paths.



JOHN KING, CNN GUEST HOST: Thanks for joining us. I'm John King. Judy is off today.

At this hour in California, Republicans are closing ranks in hopes of winning the governor's race. Conservative Bill Simon is about to endorse Arnold Schwarzenegger in the recall campaign. We'll carry that for you live. And sources tell CNN another dropout from the recall race, Congressman Darrell Issa, plans to endorse Schwarzenegger tomorrow. All of this putting more pressure on Republican candidate Tom McClintock to drop out. Republican leaders from across California are meeting this hour to discuss a strategy for unifying the party and, they hope, preventing a Democratic win in the recall election, now just 12 days away.

We'll have more on the recall and last night's debate just ahead.

But we turn now to today's debate, the day for the '04 Democrats to face off for the first time with the new guy in the field, retired General Wesley Clark.

Right now we want to give you everything you need to know about the debate, except maybe where you can watch it. Hey, why help the competition?

CNN's Jonathan Karl Is at the debate site in New York.

Jon, all eyes now on the debut, if you will, of General Wesley Clark in this campaign. What are we expecting today when it comes to Mr. Clark?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is going to be the big test for Mr. Clark in terms of how he can handle economic and domestic issues. This is a debate that is supposed to center on the economy.

Former General Clark arrived here in New York yesterday. He did some glad-handling, some meeting with folks down in southern Manhattan today. He had a fundraiser this morning. He's coming into this debate -- he's saying he's already got an economics plan, already got a jobs plan, better than President Bush and he's only been in the race for a week. He came out with that plan yesterday. It would scale back about $100 billion of the Bush tax cut, spend the money on job creation and on homeland security.

Now he also has another financial test, and that's his own fundraising. The fundraising deadline for the third quarter ends on Tuesday. He's trying to raise money. He's got a big fund-raiser scheduled on Wednesday out in California, John, that will feature Norman Lear, the creator of Archie Bunker, and also Larry David, the creator of "Seinfeld." The two of them will be hosting a Clark fundraiser on Wednesday.

By the way, he also goes from here tomorrow for two days of campaigning up in New Hampshire.

KING: And Jon, before Wesley Clark got in the race, one of the dynamics of the past debates had been this competition between the New Englanders -- former Governor Howard -- former governor of Vermont Howard Dean and Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. What's at stake for them today?

KARL: Well, this is going to be interesting, especially regarding the John Kerry/Howard Dean dynamic here.

If you remember at the last debate, John Kerry really didn't attack Howard Dean. Howard Dean came out later and said, Why are you having your campaign operatives come and attack me anonymously? Why don't you come out and have the -- the courage to talk to me on face- to-face. Well, Kerry's advisers say that's exactly what's going to happen here today. They say Kerry has set the tone in the last week in terms of how he has taken on Howard Dean. Yesterday, he wrote a letter to Howard Dean saying he should take back his position on the middle class tax cut and on Medicare, and he has also questioned about -- questioned whether Howard Dean is fit for office, fit for the presidency based on some misstatements he has made, or Kerry says are misstatements, over the last several weeks.

So it should be a very tough debate in terms of Kerry and Dean. But John, remember, you've got 10 candidates on this stage. There are three panelists who will be asking questions. And there's one moderator. There's not much time for a lot of candidate-to-candidate interaction.

KING: Jon Karl live for us. And by the looks of it, there are 10 or 20 reporters there for each of the candidates in this debate. We'll check back with you later. John Karl, thank you very much in New York. If you were looking closely, you might have a clue where you could watch it. We're still not going to tell you.

And the Democratic hopefuls lead our headlines in today's "Campaign News Daily." Dick Gephardt has released a be TV ad in Iowa that goes after President Bush by comparing him to his own father.


REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Bush's budget deficit is almost twice what it was under his father, and 41 million Americans have no health insurance. Now, another George Bush, another recession. I believe what's good for the middle class is good for America. I'll remember that as president.


KING: New poll numbers from New Hampshire find Howard Dean is holding on to his double-digit lead in the Granite State. The Marist College survey gives Dean 35 percent to John Kerry's 22 percent. Wesley Clark is now third with 11 percent. Joe Lieberman, John Edwards and Dick Gephardt round out the top six.

And a new poll of Wisconsin Democrats finds Wesley Clark has a slim lead, but the race there is very tight. Clark got 18 percent, followed by Joe with Lieberman 14, Howard Dean was at 13 percent followed by Dick Gephardt and John Kerry -- 32 percent said they are still undecided.

In the race to '04, Democrats are sharpening their attacks on President Bush's Iraq policy. A short while ago, Mr. Bush again addressed this growing source of political trouble perhaps for his reelection campaign.

Let's go now live to our White House correspondent Dana Bash. Dana, one of the things the president dealing with, this interim report by the man the administration named to find the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. So far, no luck.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So far, no luck. And as you know, John, the White House has been pointing to David Kay's search as -- whenever anybody asks where the weapons of mass destruction are, saying that he is searching for it. Now, we know that David Kay is poised to issue an interim report that will say no weapons of mass destruction have been found. The White House all day today has been saying that this is simply an interim report. It is not conclusive. That he is a very methodical man, going through miles and miles of documents, interviewing Iraqis still, and that they do believe still -- they stand by their claim that weapons of mass destruction were in Iraq and will be found eventually in Iraq. But it is certainly emboldening, as you said, the White house's critics, who are already attacking this Bush White House for misleading the American people in their reasons for war -- John.

KING: And Dana, some explaining to do as well over this statement that Democrats and other critics have dug up, Secretary of State Colin Powell back in early 2001, saying that sanctions were working and Saddam Hussein is not a threat.

BASH: Another line that the White House has been defending all day today, John. Even Secretary Powell himself up in New York defended it. He said that, at the time, it was just three weeks into the administration and that he was trying to make the case for returning to sanctions, for getting sanctions back up and running in Iraq. He said that he also -- he never actually said that no weapons of mass destruction were there.

And the president himself offered a familiar defense today, saying that everything now is different after 9/11.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 9/11 changed my calculation. It made it really clear we have to deal with threats before they come on our shore. You know, for a long period of time, we thought oceans could protect us from danger. And we learned a tough lesson on September the 11th. It's really important for this nation to continue to chase down and deal with threats before they materialize. And we learned that on September the 11th.


BASH: So the bottom line, John, this White House is on the defensive today, about the fact that weapons of mass destruction have not been found, both because of this report coming out from David Kay, but also because of comments that, as you said, Democrats have dug up from administration officials from way back when that may be coming back to haunt them -- John.

KING: Dana Bash, live at the White House, thank you very much. And still ahead, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi talks to me about Iraq, weapons of mass destruction and her problem with the president.

And later, does Wesley Clark have the right stuff? Donna Brazile and Bay Buchanan cross swords over the retired general's presidential prospects.

This is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.


KING: A short while ago, I discussed the Democratic presidential race as well as the hunt for weapons in Iraq with the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi. I began by asking her about the current heated debate on Capitol Hill over the White House request for $87 billion in new spending in Iraq.


PELOSI: What Democrats are saying is it's time for the president to be accountable. We want accountability on this policy that has mis-led, mis-represented and been fraught with mis-calculations as to the post-war risks. We need accountability -- an accounting of the $65 billion and why it has not adequately protected our troops. And we need justification for the $87 billion, as the president goes forward.

KING: You say mis-led. Do you agree with Senator Kennedy who says this debate, the war was a fraud, concocted in Texas for political reasons? Or do you agree with your nemesis Tom DeLay who says that was over the line? Have a debate about the war and do not call it a fraud and do not call it political.

PELOSI: I agree with myself. And I have said over and over again, that I do not question the motivation of the president when he puts our men and women in uniform.

It's just that they were so vague as to why we were going into Iraq that has provoked other questions. First it was weapons of mass destruction, then it was human rights. And it kept drifting. So that raised questions as to what was the reason that we went there.

They are responsible for the questions that have arisen because of the lack of purpose.

KING: You mentioned the reasons for going to war. David Kay has a preliminary report. He is of course investigating whether there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Says there are documents that suggest there was a program but still no hard evidence there is a program or was a program in the immediate days before the war.

What if they find no weapons of mass destruction? How does that change the debate about why we went to war and how does it affect 2004 campaign year? PELOSI: Mr. Kay has 1,400 experts with him. They've been working four months and they have not found weapons of mass destruction. Even if they do, it's a later date. They have not found the eminence of a threat. And I think that that is a severe blow to the administration.

KING: I want to close by asking you about the Democratic race for president. You are a supporter of the man who once held your job, Congressman Gephardt.

PELOSI: I am. Proudly.

KING: The former Democratic leader. And yet if you look at the polling, first Howard Dean took off, now Wesley Clark has taken off. Is that a sign to you that the rank and file Democrats are looking at this field and saying we don't want the guys from Washington, we want a new face?

PELOSI: I believe that when you have a newcomer into the field as Governor Dean was and now that General Clark is, there's a level of excitement attached to it that gives you some points in the polls and they are being met with enthusiasm.

I have confidence thought that with the -- as the race goes on, that Dick Gephardt will prevail and be our nominee for president. I believe he is best prepared by his knowledge of policy, politics, people and their possibilities, and that that will tell over the course of the race.

But I think that we have an excellent field of candidates. Any one of them will be a great president of the United States. And certainly one of them will be the next president of the United States.

KING: You say any one of them. Does it bother you at all retired General Clark is just now saying he's a Democrat? Voted for Nixon, voted for Ronald Reagan? Does that bother you at all?

PELOSI: No. I welcome General Clark's entry into the race. I think that his contribution into the debate will be a very positive one. And that the attraction that he has for so many people in the country is one that will make politics more wholesome.


KING: Coming up, a face-off over Wesley Clark. Donna Brazile and By Buchanan will show the '04 Democrats a thing or two about debating.


KING: A new report says Democratic hopeful Bob Graham is having serious fund raising problems. The Associated Press says Graham's third quarter money raising will fall short of its goal. Sources are quoted in the report as saying the shortfall could force Senator Graham from the race.

Former Joint Chiefs Chairman Hugh Shelton is one retired Army officer who won't be backing Wesley Clark.

At a recent public forum Shelton said, quote, "I will tell you the reason he came out of Europe early had to do with integrity and character issues, things that are very near and dear to my heart. I'm not going to say whether I'm a Republican or Democrat. I'll just say Wes won't get my vote."

Those were reported in the Los Altos, California "Crier." Shelton was chairman of the Joints of Staff while General Clark lead the war in Kosovo.

And with us now, former Gore campaign manger Donna Brazile and Bay Buchanan of the American Cause.

Let's start right there with General Clark. Today his first day as a candidate, former -- Retired General Clark. Ten Democrats on the stage.

Let's start with you, the Democrat. What does he have to prove today? What is pressure to prove he's not just running on military and foreign policy? That he can handle the whole portfolio?

DONNA BRAZILE, FRM. GORE CAMPAIGN MGR.: Well he has to prove that he's not the flavor of the week or the flavor of the month like some candidates have been. He also must demonstrate that he has a command of the issues, that he understands what's at stake in this election.

He must also present a clear alternative to the present administration on the economy, on health care, and, of course, on the environment. And if General Clark is able to stand among his peers today and to articulate that vision, I think he'll go far.

KING: Flavor of the month or real threat?

BAY BUCHANAN, AMERICAN CAUSE: You know, I think he may have peaked already. I have to be quite honest. He's made so many mistakes in just a short period of time. But I think what he had to do today is -- the expectations are high. He's a front runner now, overnight star. And he's expected to be polished and smooth and I think he will be because he does come across very well on television.

However, his problem is that he's a little light in the loafers when it comes to policy. And unless he proves himself to look like he's something other than just spoon-fed by consultants different plans and policies, he's a man that actually ran for president without knowing what he should do on the economy when the economy's the No. 1 issue facing the American people.

So I think that his real concern is showing that he has substance when it comes to the issues of the Democratic Party..

BRAZILE: For Democrats, it's about leadership and if someone who can look George Bush eye-to-eye next fall. And Democrats are on a shopping spree. And they're looking for someone who will champion their issues and fight for their principles. And if General Clark can demonstrate that if as new Democrat in the ring, I think he's go quite far.

BUCHANAN: I think Democrats should be a little nervous. They'll just scratch that skin and they'll find themselves a nice Republican. This is a Nixon-Reagan - Bush man. This describes me, Donna. He just found his party about a month or so ago. And he's told people that if Karl Rove had called him back he'd still be a Republican.

What is this or why would primary voters come out for a guy that's even sure today why he's a Republican -- Democrat?

KING: You're going to get in the Democrat race, too? Is that what you're saying?


KING: There's quite a debate on Capitol Hill about this $87 billion war request. Some Republicans don't like it, Democrats don't like it. The president's going to get his money. But people are looking in the fine print and they're trying to find ways to question the president's priorities and whether he had the planning.

I want you to look at this. In the $20 billion requested for reconstruction money, this is in there. There is in there $9 million to help Iraq developed a ZIP code system, like we have here in the United States. Four million dollars so Iraq can have an area code system for the telephones, when you pick up the phone. There's $150 million for a new children's hospital in Basra.

Hard to disagree with the priority of building a children's hospital, but many in the Congress are saying, wait a minute? Why can't we build a new children's hospital back here or new road or bridge back here, or improve the phone system back here?

Are things like this going to hurt the president? Did the American people go to war to topple Saddam Hussein, to bring the area code and the ZIP code to the people of Iraq?

BRAZILE: This is hurting President Bush across the board. Look, the -- some people like President Bush, but they don't like his policies and they cannot afford four more years of George Bush in the White House.

This once again illustrates the president's priorities. When it comes to fighting for working people in this country, I think his priorities are at odds with what the American people want at this time. They want someone to champion getting our electric grid system back on. We're still -- some people in this metropolitan, Bay, are still without lights. So I mean how can we turn the lights on in Baghdad and not turn the lights here in Washington?

BUCHANAN: John is right when he said the Democrats and Republicans are going vote for this, they're going to give him all $87 billion. But there's no question that Congress is doing the right thing to ask these questions. They should have ask these kind of tough questions before they authorized him to go to war. They should have asked these questions, I think they'll give him the money. The president's going to have to explain why he's using the money in that way.

But he has made it clear that when he went there, he knew we'd have to stay and rebuild that nation. This is called infrastructure.


KING: ... let's look at these numbers quickly. This is the president's approval rating. I think we can put it up on the screen. Fifty percent in our poll -- you see the trend line. Down from 59 percent in August, 62 percent in July, 71 percent back in April. The president's poll numbers have come down quite a bit. September 2003, does it matter?

BUCHANAN: No, it doesn't. And one of the reasons you're talking about 87 billion now is because the president was smart, asked for everything he needs for 12 months so he's not coming back to the table six months from now in the middle of the election.

But the other thing is the president -- there's not a Democrat that can beat the president. The person who can beat the president is the president of the United States himself. George Bush with those unemployment numbers. He's got to address the erosion of jobs in this country and stop it and turn that around or he does have a problem.

BRAZILE: This administration now has a credibility gap with the American people. The president promised to change the tone of Washington D.C. and he made matters worse.

I think the president's numbers will continue to drop. And underneath all those numbers is something called leadership. And the American people no longer see this president as a leader on the environment, on health care and on jobs.

BUCHANAN: Donna, he's a leader in terrorism and that's the issue.

KING: We've got a year, and I think, two weeks or three weeks until the election.


KING: Bay Buchanan and Donna Brazile, thank you.

And straight ahead, more on the California debate and where the recall goes from here. Our Bill Schneider considers why one of the best performers is under the most pressure to leave the race.


KING: Some are calling it a joke, others likened it to a sixth grade election. But there were serious points to be made amid the entertaining moments of last night's California recall debate. Our Bill Schneider takes a look at how the candidates fared.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Who won the debate? It's not just how you did, it's also how others did. Take Arnold Schwarzenegger. His answers were good enough to establish his credibility.

SCHWARZENEGGER: And when we bring jobs back and the economy is booming, then we create more revenue, and then we can afford some of the programs and also are able to pay off the debt.

SCHNEIDER: He probably delighted his young male supporters when he showed that no woman's going to push him around.

SCHWARZENEGGER: I just realized I have a perfect part for you in "Terminator 4."

SCHNEIDER: But Schwarzenegger's big problem is his Republican rival Tom McClintock. The bad news for Arnold? McClintock did very well distinguishing himself from his competitors

TOM MCCLINTOCK (R), CALIF. GOV. CANDIDATE: There are millions of people who willing to abide by our immigration laws, to come to this nation, become Americans and see their children grow up and prosper as Americans. Illegal immigration is the process of cutting in line in front of them.

SCHNEIDER: Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante's performance was weak and defensive.

LT. GOV. CRUZ BUSTAMANTE (D-CA), GOV. CANDIDATE: We clearly knew that there were certain incomes that were coming in and we spent more than we had.

SCHNEIDER: But if McClintock continues to split the republican vote with vote with Schwarzenegger, Bustamante could end up the winner.

Governor Gray Davis seemed irrelevant, except as the target of criticism

SCHWARZENEGGER: If the Cruz Bustamante-Davis administration would have done that since the year 2000 with all of the programs we wouldn't have a budget deficit right now.

SCHNEIDER: On the other hand, the more the debate looked like a circus...

HUFFINGTON: Hold on a second. You're getting into a really bad habit. But you know what? I'm not easily intimidated.

SCHNEIDER: ... the more voters may say, enough of these guys, let's stick with what we've got. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: The big question now is whether GOP heavy weights in California will say to Republicans, we know you like Tom McClintock, we do, too. But you better vote for Schwarzenegger because a vote for McClintock is a vote for Bustamante -- John.

KING: And 12 more days to go, Bill.


KING: Thank you very much.

Twelve fun days indeed.

And that's it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for joining us. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.


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