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Is Howard Dean Man to Beat?

Aired November 10, 2003 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE: Is Howard Dean the man to beat? Will a campaign shakeup help John Kerry catch him? Or will one of the other Democrats rise to the challenge? -- today on CROSSFIRE.



ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.



It's never a good sign when a candidate is forced to jettison one campaign manager and hire another.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: I don't care if John Kerry fires his campaign manager, though, Bob. I just wish President Bush would fire the defense secretary.


BEGALA: But we will put the Democratic campaigns' problems in the CROSSFIRE right after the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

The man who beat George W. Bush in the last election has reminded us of the difference between a real leader and a cheerleader. While President Bush says that attacks on Americans are a sign of progress, Al Gore told the American Constitution Society and that invading Iraq, ignoring the resurgence of al Qaeda, restricting civil liberties, have all made America weaker and that the Bush White House's penchant for secrecy is downright un-American.


AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By closely guarding information about their own behavior, they are dismantling a fundamental element of our system of checks and balances, because, so long as the government's actions are secret, they can't be held accountable.


BEGALA: Amen, President Gore. Amen.


NOVAK: He is not really the president.

And I -- since I don't really have a life and I'm very conscientious, I listened to the whole Gore speech in the rerun. It was so boring. He had every cliche imaginable. Thank goodness for what the Supreme Court saved us from, to have to listen to that guy every day.


BEGALA: I'll tell you what. He was not the greatest candidate or politician I ever saw. But, boy, listening to him give that speech...


BEGALA: Looking at what he said, he would have been a great president. I wish he were in there today and every day.


NOVAK: Cross your fingers.

It looks like Howard Dean is getting with what he asked for, actually, more than he asked for in appealing to Southern white voters. Back in February, at the Democratic National Committee meeting, the former government of Vermont sought support of white folks in the South who drive pickup trucks with Confederate flag decals.

On November 1, he repeated, "I still want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks." OK, said the racist Council of Conservative Citizens, Dr. Dean, if you really want to be our candidate, then come speak at our annual meeting. It looks like a golden opportunity for little Howard. After all, the CCC was addressed by a previous Democratic presidential candidate, Georgia Governor Lester Maddox in 1976.


BEGALA: Well, they also had the appearance of Haley Barbour, now the governor-elect of Mississippi, just a few weeks ago at one of their barbecues. Now, Howard Dean wasn't trying to appeal to racists. But what was Haley Barbour doing by letting them put his photograph up at his Web site?


NOVAK: He was not at any -- you just said something untrue, Paul. He was not at any event of the CCC. Without his permission, they put his face -- his person on the Web site. He attended no event. You know that.


BEGALA: He attended a barbecue


NOVAK: No, it was not -- not true. Not true.

BEGALA: Maybe they lied on the Web site, but his picture is sure on there and he never asked them to take it off. And he should have.

Well, anyway who can forget that moment in July when our president taunted the thugs who were threatening our troops in Iraq?


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are some who feel like that the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is, bring 'em on.


BEGALA: Well, scores of deaths later and yet another American soldier killed in the last 24 hours, Paul Bremer, the ambassador in Iraq, says -- quote -- "We are going to have increased attacks and increased terrorism."

And, yet, the Bush administration insists we don't need a new strategy, we don't need more troops, we don't need different troops, we don't need foreign troops. Of course, we need all of that and we need a new defense secretary, a new vice president and a new president.


BEGALA: I say bring them on, who will clean up this mess.


NOVAK: This is your nightly Bush-bashing event.

You know, although your colleague and my colleague James Carville rose to the rank of corporal in the Marine Corps, I don't believe you ever wore the uniform. I don't think you know anything about the military. And until our generals tell us we need more troops in Iraq, I would rather take their word for it than a political activist like you.


BEGALA: The generals are losing the fight. He needs new generals. They're losing the fight, Bob. We need to win this.


BEGALA: We can't afford to lose it.


NOVAK: So you're knocking our generals?

BEGALA: Yes. And I knocking our commander in chief, who ought to get some people over there who can to win this thing.


NOVAK: Oh, I'd rather -- I respect our generals more than I respect Democratic political hacks.

BEGALA: I want to win.

NOVAK: You would think Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio has set for himself a difficult enough task in his uphill climb for the Democratic presidential nomination. Now the 57-year-old bachelor is simultaneously in quest of a wife.


REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A dynamic, outspoken woman who was fearless in her desire for peace in the world and for universal, single-parent health care, and a full-employment economy.



KUCINICH: If you are out there, call me.



NOVAK: I'm not sure anybody called Dennis. But, an online political newsletter, has offered to help by running a "Who wants to be first lady?" contest to find Kucinich a wife, a sweetheart for socialized medicine. Who said that love and politics won't mix?


BEGALA: At least he's showing a little bit of humor. It's a thankless job.


NOVAK: What, being his wife?

(LAUGHTER) BEGALA: Our current first lady does a wonderful job. I'm not a supporter of her husband, but I think she's wonderful. And I think those who preceded her, including people like Hillary Clinton and Nancy Reagan, who got attacked every day, did a great service for our country. So anybody who wants to serve our country, go marry Dennis Kucinich.

NOVAK: You know...


NOVAK: You know the Democratic Party very well. Do you think he will find a wife out of this?

BEGALA: I certainly hope so. We are the party of love, Bob, not war.



BEGALA: So maybe...

NOVAK: Are the Democrats in disarray? John Kerry has fired his campaign manager. That's just the latest shakeup, as the rest of the Democrats try to stop Dr. Howard Dean's momentum. We will hear from supporters of the Kerry and Dean campaigns just ahead.

And later: Is Al Franken really going to run for the U.S. Senate?




BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts has stepped up the attacks on Democratic front-runner Howard Dean of Vermont, taking to the Sunday talk shows and to the stump to go after the front-running rival. Senator Kerry is, of course, a distant second to Governor Dean in the critical early primary state of New Hampshire. He trails Congressman Dick Gephardt and Governor Dean both in the Iowa caucuses.

So, in the CROSSFIRE today, Maria Echaveste. She was my colleague and boss when she the White House deputy chief of staff under President Clinton. She's now an adviser to Governor Dean. And in Boston, Massachusetts Democratic Congressman Marty Meehan, who is a supporter of his home state senator, John Kerry.

Thank you both.



NOVAK: Congress Meehan, I think the problem that Senator Kerry has was epitomized by my colleague Donna Brazile, former Gore campaign manager.

She said of his campaign -- of Senator Kerry's captain -- quote -- "It's like someone put him in clothes that don't fit. It's almost like he is being dragged behind by a weight you cannot see."

Do you think that problem is going to be solved by firing Jim Jordan and putting in Teddy Kennedy's chief of staff as his new campaign manager?

REP. MARTY MEEHAN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, I think it was a decisive decision that Senator Kerry made.

The fact of the matter is, Bob, as you know, voters aren't going to make decisions on who they are going to vote for, for president until after January 1. The Kerry campaign is getting ready for the build-up in the momentum, the focus of the American people. Every poll that you look at shows that Senator Kerry does better than the other Democratic candidates against President Bush.

So as people in America focus on defeating President Bush, they are going to look to John Kerry. And I think that this gives John the important part of the campaign, getting ready for it. And Mary Beth Cahill is an excellent choice.

BEGALA: Well, Maria Echaveste, first, welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Good to see you.


BEGALA: We worked with Mary Beth Cahill at the Clinton White House. But, as were saying before the program started, it's not staff that wins these things. It's the candidates.

Senator Kerry, Marty Meehan's candidate, took to the Sunday talk shows -- he was on Bob Schieffer's show, "Face the Nation," yesterday -- and really ripped into your candidate, Howard Dean. Here's what Senator Kerry said.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Howard Dean has absolutely zero, no foreign policy, military, or national security experience. I think I can make America safer and stronger. We need a person who can stand up to George Bush on the national security issue. And I can do it.


BEGALA: Now, that's rough, but it's simply a statement of fact, that he has absolutely zero, no foreign policy, military or national security experience, right? ECHAVESTE: And that's been true of every governor who has been elected president, because you don't have foreign policy responsibilities when you are a governor of a state, whether it's Arkansas or California, when President -- Governor Reagan.

So that is not a bar or a qualification. What you need to know, though, is whether the candidate can learn and whether he will be a student and whether he has the right instincts. And I think Governor Dean has shown over these many months that his instincts about questioning what this president was doing in Iraq have borne fruit. That is, he was right to question our going in there.

And the other thing that I'm really satisfied, because I have been there close and personal and know what it takes to be president, is that he's not a pacifist. He has what it takes to understand that the role of America is to be able to use force when necessary, but you need to use it judiciously. You need to use it with a coalition of allies. And he sees North Korea, for example, as a much more serious threat.

And now, as we watch our soldiers dying -- because we are still at war -- this is not postwar -- we are still at war -- I think that Howard Dean has shown himself to have what it takes.


BEGALA: Well, Congressman Meehan, let me turn the question back against you.

That was a rather blistering attack from Senator Kerry. And nobody likes attack politics more than me, believe me. But I try to limit my attacks to Republicans. Aren't you worried that your man, Kerry, is actually just making negative ads for George W. Bush?

MEEHAN: Well, look, we are engaged in a Democratic primary. And there are differences in the candidates.

And I think Democrats across America want to nominate a candidate who can beat President Bush who has the foreign policy experience that's needed. He has got an outstanding record in the military. He opposed President Bush's policies in Iraq. And he has called for the president to engage the United Nations, to send inspectors back in.

So I think that there are going to be differences in the backgrounds of the candidates. The fact is, Senator Kerry has spent an entire career preparing for the presidency based his background. So he has a better background. He ought to be able to compare and contrast himself with the other candidates.

NOVAK: Maria, one of the shocking things to personal -- I thought all the Democrats, with campaign reform, was that -- Howard Dean says he's not going to play by the rules of the -- of campaign limits. He's going to go unlimited.

And I want tee play for you what John Kerry said "Face the Nation" yesterday about that. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FACE THE NATION")

KERRY: I don't think that President Bush's money was as intimidating as Governor Dean wants us to believe it was, because it's mostly special interest money. And I was perfectly prepared to run against that money.


NOVAK: What he said was that he didn't think it was intimidating, that Howard Dean was scared off by John Kerry's -- I mean by George Bush's money, and John Kerry wasn't frightened. There's a point there, isn't there?

ECHAVESTE: Well, I think -- if that's what he said, I guess he was saying that he was going to opt out, too, because $45 million against $200 million during a primary season -- what is George Bush raising $200 million for when he doesn't have an opponent?

So all he was doing was raising -- and you talk about someone breaking the rules. We also have to start, who started this? Bush is raising $200 million. He doesn't have an opponent. What Dean did was go to his supporters, and they are prepared. They know the most important thing we have to do is to get George Bush out of this White House. And it's going to take money to do it.


NOVAK: Marty Meehan, one of the most successful Democratic politicians in recent years has been Ed Rendell, former national party chairman. I know he's a great favorite of Paul Begala's. He was mayor of Philadelphia and now he's elected governor of Pennsylvania. And he is in love with Howard Dean. This is not a crazy nut. This is a new guy -- an old-time politician. Oh, he was a leader of the Democratic Leadership Council, DLC, the moderates.

He said: Dean's "the only Democrat who can keep pace with Bush financially. And he wears well. He's not flashy or slick. He gives you direct answers to questions. He has the potential to be our strongest candidate."

Coming from Ed Rendell, that's really something, isn't it?

MEEHAN: Well, look, I respect Governor Rendell a lot. But the fact is, as I said, every major poll has Senator Kerry doing better against President Bush than Governor Dean.

The other point I want to make is on this whole bit about the campaign public financing system. It's obvious that the presidential public financing system is broken. But if Governor Dean really wants to go above the caps because of President Bush, then he should agree to limit his own spending at $45 million, so that we can have a level playing field for the primaries and then be prepared for President Bush afterwards.

So I wish that Governor Dean would do that, because I think that would make it clear that he wants to go above the caps only to run against Bush and not against the other primary candidates.

BEGALA: Maria, why doesn't he do that? Why doesn't he abide by the caps among his fellow Democrats?

ECHAVESTE: Well, in principle, in theory, that makes a lot of sense.

But Dean is the only one who is running strong in Iowa, in New Hampshire, in other primary states. Each of the other candidates, it's very simple. With all due respect, Gephardt is going to spend all his money in Iowa, because, if he doesn't win there, he's out of the ball game. Kerry is going to spend all his money in New Hampshire, and if he doesn't win there, he's out of the ball game.

And so Dean has to play hard in both of those states. And then you have got eight states the following -- early February. And you have got to play hard, because Wes Clark -- we are still fighting for the nomination. This is -- people are saying front-runner. A single vote hasn't been cast. We have lined -- the stars are lined up and it looks very good for my candidate, but we have to play hard in all those states.

NOVAK: Marty Meehan, we are almost out of time, but I got a quick question for you. Somebody said that your campaign, the Kerry campaign, is like Noah's ark. There's two of everything, two campaign managers, two pollsters. Is that true?

MEEHAN: No, I don't think that's true.

There are a lot of people around the country who have volunteered to help the Kerry campaign. And, certainly, there are a lot of people with vast experience. But the fact of the matter is, John Kerry ultimately will make the decisions in this race. And I think all this focus on who John Kerry has working for him, it's about Kerry's vision for America. That's what voters care about.

NOVAK: We are out of time.

MEEHAN: What John Kerry feels about. That's what will make the difference.

NOVAK: We're out of time, Marty.

MEEHAN: Thanks, Bob.

NOVAK: Because you didn't answer the question, I'll cut you off.


NOVAK: Coming up, on "Rapid Fire," we will ask our guests whether -- Ted Kennedy -- Ted Kennedy -- is taking over John Kerry's campaign.

And after the break, Wolf Blitzer has the latest on a Supreme Court decision regarding terrorist suspects who have been detained at Guantanamo. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


NOVAK: It's time for "Rapid Fire," where our guests' answers need to be like John Kerry's ex-campaign manager, not for long.

In the CROSSFIRE are Massachusetts Democratic Congressman and Kerry supporter Marty Meehan and President's Clinton's former deputy chief of staff, Maria Echaveste. She's an adviser to Howard Dean -- Paul.

BEGALA: Maria, Governor Dean has called members of Congress cockroaches. Yet he welcomes the support of congressmen like Jesse Jackson Jr. He attacks Washington insiders. And yet here you are, the former chief of staff to the president, the consummate Washington decider, and you are advising him. Is he trying to have it both ways?

ECHAVESTE: No, absolutely not. He's recognizing that he has got to bring a message from outside. And that what it takes. You need someone who has been out in the real world. Look, Beltway fever, we all get it. So we need people from outside and inside.

NOVAK: Marty Meehan, Senator Kerry has no put charge of his campaign Teddy Kennedy's chief of staff. Does that mean Teddy Kennedy is really pulling the strings with John Kerry?

MEEHAN: No, it doesn't. And anyone that knows Mary Beth Cahill knows that she has a long and distinguished career. She ran EMILY's List. She worked for other members of Congress. She is one of the women who people look to around the country. She has vast political experience. No, I don't think Ted Kennedy is going to call the shots, though, certainly, Ted's advice has always been important to Senator Kerry.

BEGALA: Congressman Meehan, as the man who wrote the Shays- Meehan Campaign Reform Act, are you going to resign the Kerry campaign if he decides not to go along with the public financing caps?

MEEHAN: No, not at all.

In fact, I think the Democrat candidates, all of them need to be aggressive. And I am not sure of this system, the public financing system. It's broken. It needs to be fixed. This is a system that's going to allow George W. Bush to spend $200 million in a unopposed primary? So then, from March until the conventions, the Democratic candidate has no money, so President Bush spends $200?


MEEHAN: That's crazy. No, I think he should go around the caps. I just think they should have


MEEHAN: Go ahead. BEGALA: Sorry to cut you off, Congressman Marty Meehan. I want to thank you very much for coming on the show again. It's always good to see you, and supporting John Kerry.

Maria Echaveste, adviser to Governor Howard Dean and my old colleague from the Clinton White House.

Thank you both for a fun debate.




BEGALA: Come back again soon.

Up next, I will tell you why a decision by Dennis Miller about his political career is sad news for some people in California.

Stay with us.


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

If you thought it ended with the election of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, you were wrong. The worlds of politics and celebrity continue to collide. In California, comedian Dennis Miller has announced he will not seek the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate. But, in Minnesota, Democrats are already starting to talk up the candidacy of another comedian, best-selling author Al Franken.

Bob, this could be your worst nightmare, Al Franken in the U.S. Senate, huh?


NOVAK: Paul, I'm going to tell you something. Both those guys call themselves comedians. I don't think either one of them are very funny, to tell you the truth.


NOVAK: I was just out in California. I didn't find anybody interested in Dennis Miller running for the Senate.

And Al Franken is one of the most unpleasant so-called comedians I know. I think that's a real break for the Republicans, if he's the Democratic nominee for the Senate.

BEGALA: Well, as a person who believes in the markets, though, take a look. Al Franken, the No. 1 book in America. Dennis Miller, the only guy who could even make "Monday Night Football" boring. He's failed at everything he's tried to do. At least Franken has been a success. NOVAK: Do you think Franken is funny?

BEGALA: Yes, I think he's very funny.

NOVAK: You think...

BEGALA: Yes, I do. I think he's a very funny guy.

NOVAK: You probably think of yourself -- you probably think you're funny, don't you?


BEGALA: I think Franken is a very funny guy. But he also knows a lot about public policy.


NOVAK: He's unpleasant, though.

BEGALA: Oh, he's fine. Unpleasant? Look at half the members of the United States Senate, you'll see unpleasant. I'm not worried about Al Franken.




NOVAK: On the contrary, one of the great rubrics of politics is likability. You have to be likable. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, they're likable people. Al Franken...


BEGALA: I like Al Franken fine.

Run, Al, run.

And, Dennis, I'm sorry you're not running, because we would have kicked the crud out of you.


BEGALA: From the left, I'm Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak.

Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.


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