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Assessment of President Bush's Trip to Baghdad; Top 10 Turkeys of the Year List

Aired November 28, 2003 - 15:30   ET


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The only messenger that made sense was the president of the United States.

ANNOUNCER: The day after spin on the president's surprise trip to Baghdad. The '04 Democrats don't seem to be eye to eye on this one.

Call it a candidate's report card. Which presidential hopeful has the best message? Which has the strongest strategy? We'll take a look at who's making the grade.

While you're still enjoying those Thanksgiving leftovers, see if you can follow our political turkeys of the year.



CAROL COSTELLO, HOST: And thank you for joining us this afternoon. I'm Carol Costello at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Judy has the day off.

The Democratic presidential candidates have had a full day to mull it over, but that may not make it any easier for them to find the right words to comment on the president's surprise trip to Baghdad. Several combined sharp jabs with faint praise. Howard Dean's camp says, "It's nice that he made it over there, but this visit won't change the fact that those brave men and women should never have been fighting in Iraq in the first place."

John Kerry said, "The president's trip to Baghdad was the right thing to do for our country. When Thanksgiving is over, I hope the president will take the time to correct his failed policy in Iraq that has placed our soldiers in a shooting gallery."

And from John Edward's spokesman, "It was a daring move and great politics, but I think these kids need more."

Joe Lieberman took a kinder, gentler approach.


SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I thought the president's trip to Baghdad was a wonderful thing to do. I don't have any political or partisan to say about it. It seems to me that the commander in chief was in the place he should have been.


COSTELLO: Dick Gephardt's campaign took the same tact, calling the Bush trip a wonderful idea. And at first, Wesley Clark's team went the "if you can't say something nice" route, refusing to "throw stones at Mr. Bush."


WESLEY CLARK (D), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's very appropriate that he did that. I think the commander in chief should be there. I'm glad he went.


COSTELLO: But in a written statement later today, the retired general did take some shots, including a renewed call for a success strategy in Iraq so U.S. troops are not there next Thanksgiving.

In the meantime, the president is back at his ranch in Crawford, Texas after his whirlwind journey to Iraq. Our White House correspondent Dana Bash is there, too.

Dana, it's pretty safe to assume the president's all smiles about this trip, isn't he?

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's definitely safe to assume that, Carol. The president and all of his top aides really seem to be basking in the glow of what was a successful mission, a cloak and dagger mission, just two and a half hours on the ground. And as we all now know, nobody knew about it until he actually left Baghdad.

That was the first time any of the reporters were given back their phones, given back their pagers, and the lid was taken off of them and they were allowed to actually tell the world about this extraordinary journey. And we are starting to get more details from our colleagues who are back here, but also from the White House about how this came to pass.

They are making it very clear that it was not the political operatives in the White House, they say, that made this happen. They say it was the policymakers, and in fact the White House chief of staff himself who broached it with the president.


RICE: The whole team had been thinking for some time about how the president might go to Iraq. We talked about it at one point during the summer. But this particular generation of the trip, the one that began when we were on the trip to Asia and we began talking about it, was Andy Card, who said to the president, Thanksgiving is coming up, do you think you want to go to Baghdad? It was as simple as that.


BASH: As simple as that. And although they are saying that this was not a political decision, the pictures you're looking at right now, in an election year with a president heading towards a heavy campaign year, it's hard to separate the policy decision from the political images for sure, particularly when the president of the United States is standing with troops. Because as we just heard from the Democratic candidates for president, it is much easier for them to criticize the president and the war, but much more difficult for them to criticize the president when he is going to see the men and women serving in the military, particularly in a war zone -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes, Dana, but I'm going to push you one more time. Politics played no part in this decision at all?

BASH: Well, as they said, in an election year, it's really very difficult to separate the two, but the White House is going to great lengths to say that it was the policy team. As a matter of fact, Condoleezza Rice was asked -- or she was over by the reporters earlier today and she was asked if Karl Rove was involved, if Ken Melman (ph), the campaign chairman, had any knowledge of it.

She simply wouldn't go there, only to say that only a handful of people actually knew. But she did say that the president was concerned about one thing and one thing only. He wanted to spend time with the troops on Thanksgiving, and he wanted to do it with front line troops.

So from the point of view of the White House, they are trying to certainly get the word out that this was something that the president felt that he needed to do as commander in chief, to go and meet with the troops in Iraq, even though it was a dangerous mission. But they are going to great lengths, the president himself and his top aides, to say that this is something that the president almost did reluctantly, that he was skeptical because of the security concerns. What is unclear in the future is whether or not all of the focus of the security concerns by the White House might have some other implications down the road -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. Dana Bash reporting live from Crawford, Texas this afternoon.

We want to talk more about the politics of the president's Baghdad surprise, because even though Dana Bash said politics was not involved, at least that's what she's hearing from the White House. Politics are always involved, aren't they?

Ron Brownstein of the "Los Angeles Times" is here with us this afternoon.

Hello, Ron.

RON BROWNSTEIN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": Hey, Carol. COSTELLO: So I found this interesting, the "National Review," a conservative magazine, did an article urging Bush to go to Baghdad back in October. It said the trip would leave the impression of a courageous visionary and determined president. Is that what it did?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think, first of all, from across the spectrum, really no one has any objection to him doing this. In fact, I think he's receiving praise for the gesture of reaching out to the troops. But in many ways this is emblematic of the Bush presidency, this trip.

I think the people who support Bush, like the "National Review," will see it as a symbol of his resolve and determination. There really is no more vivid way imaginable that he could have underscored his commitment to this cause than to fly halfway around the world into a war zone to say to the troops we are not pulling out, we are going to be here as long as it takes to succeed.

On the other hand, I think that many of the Democrats and voters who respond to them will see this as evidence not so much of resolve, as intransigence. The issue isn't whether we're tough enough to stay, it's whether we're smart enough to succeed. And what they're pressing Bush to do is change course in the strategy, not necessarily to pull out of Iraq itself.

COSTELLO: OK. So pretty much everyone says this move was brilliant, a stroke of genius. But isn't that what they were saying that about the visit to the USS Lincoln? And that backfired. Could this backfire too?

BROWNSTEIN: Good point. When he went to the Abraham Lincoln back in May, many Democrats were complaining that he seemed to be trying to set up a campaign commercial. But the tone of that visit, the kind of swagger of it, has been so out of tune with what's been going on in Iraq the last few months, that it was a Democrat, John Kerry, who put it on the air before any of the Republicans.

I think it's less likely that you will see any kind of backlash to this particular trip in the sense that there really is no plausible objection to the commander in chief spending time with the troops. What you will see is what you saw from Wes Clark, which is an argument that a one-day visit is not a substitute for a policy that has a long- term chance of success.

COSTELLO: Well, Ron, I was just going to ask you about that, because if troops continue to die in Iraq, this warm and fuzzy thing may go away very quickly.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. I think -- look, I don't think this will have a lasting impact on how Americans view how we're doing in Iraq. The numbers on that, as you know, have deteriorated over the last few months with the bad news of the steady casualties, the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, the violence and chaos.

On the other hand, I do think this is going to be kind of a lasting image of Bush personally. And if you like President Bush, if you are a supporter, I think you will see in this the resolve and determination that draw you to him. And again, on the other side, I think some of those who don't like President Bush will see in it more of a kind of tendency to dig in deeper when criticized.

COSTELLO: Yes, because he is Mr. Polarization, isn't he? The campaign ads due to come out, what will they look like, do you think?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I don't know. I mean, it would be interesting to see. As you said a moment, ago, many people thought in May he was setting up a campaign commercial. And now it seems very unlikely that the Abraham Lincoln will appear on a Bush commercial.

This, I think, is a dicey call also. In some way it would cheapen and undercut the moment for the Bush campaign to use it in a commercial, although I do suspect we're going to see a lot of images -- and there are many to choose from -- of the president being surrounded by troops. To use this particular image I think might backfire in the sense of allowing Democrats to say the whole thing was political to begin with.

COSTELLO: Well, we'll see. Ron Brownstein, many thanks for joining us this afternoon, the day after Thanksgiving.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

COSTELLO: We do appreciate it.

You know, the president's trip did fill the holiday news void in a big way, and it overshadowed Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's own visit to the region. Senator Clinton, along with Rhode Island Democratic Senator Jack Reed, visited with soldiers today in Baghdad. They celebrated Thanksgiving with U.S. troops in Afghanistan. For her part, Senator Clinton says she's glad Mr. Bush traveled to Iraq.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I thought it was terrific. I think anytime that a president can meet with troops who are in an active conflict situation makes a real difference. It sends a strong signal of national support.

Yesterday, I was honored to go with Senator Reed to Afghanistan and meet with our troops in Baghram and Kandahar. And it makes a difference, that people that know you're thinking about them.


COSTELLO: Senator Clinton also praised the work of the U.S. troops, but said she would like to see the U.S. "internationalize the mission."

Nearly three years after the Clintons left the White House, what are Democrats' chances of re-claiming the Oval Office? Coming up next, a report card on the Democrats who want to be president. How do they stack up against one another and against Mr. Bush?

Plus, the early reviews of Governor Schwarzenegger's performance. They may not be as boffo as you think.

And we'll catch up with an '80s rocker -- you remember her -- hoping to add her voice to the presidential nominating process.

We'll be right back.


COSTELLO: And checking the headlines in our "Campaign News Daily," two new South Carolina polls find there is no clear Democratic frontrunner in the Palmetto State. The Feldman Group Survey for "Greenville" magazine puts John Edwards on top with 17 percent -- maybe no surprise there. And Al Sharpton comes in second with 12 percent. Howard Dean and Wesley Clark are also in double digits. African-Americans make up 49 percent of poll respondents, which is similar to the expected makeup of the state primary.

Another South Carolina poll gives Wesley Clark a slight lead. Five of the other eight candidates, however, are within the margin of error in the American Research Group Survey.

In the meantime, Howard Dean is ramping up his TV ad spending in Iowa. Dean is expected to double his ad purchases to almost $500,000 over the next 10 days, putting more pressure on his top Iowa rival, Dick Gephardt.

And Dean could have a rock and roller on his side at the Democratic National Convention next year. Joan Jett, of Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, will be among the slate of Dean delegates on the ballot for New York's March 2 primary. Jett, of course, is best known for her band's 1981 hit "I Love Rock and Roll." She just doesn't look the same without black hair, does she?

Now let's look beyond celebrity supporters and poll numbers to see how the Democratic presidential candidates measure up. In a recent political report card, Stu Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report, is the guy who gave out the grades. Judy Woodruff asked Stu how he went about rating the candidates.


STUART ROTHENBERG, ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: Well, it's difficult, because some of the judgments are objective, but many of them are subjective. I have approached this the way I approach teaching political science. You look for certain points, you see how the candidates fit together, how the various elements of the campaign get thrown a dose of intangibles, and you get a sense I think on how the candidates are producing in a number of areas.

JUDY WOODRUFF, "INSIDE POLITICS": All right. Let's go down the list.

The first thing you look at is candidate qualities. What you do you mean by that?

ROTHENBERG: I mean speaking ability, ability to express compassion, ability to tap Democratic Party sentiment.

In this case, Howard Dean has done a terrific job, I think, with his candidate qualities, conveying a sense of anger and confrontation with the president, because that's where the Democratic Party is. But it has to do with passion and energy and ability to look and sound like a leader.

WOODRUFF: Down the list, you've got Gephardt coming in right after him, but you've got Wes Clark almost at the bottom, and Joe Lieberman gets a C.

ROTHENBERG: Well, Joe Lieberman has been a good senator, people like Joe Lieberman. They think he's honest and decent. But I don't think his comes across as presidential, as particularly strong and dynamic, as a strong leader. I think that's a problem he has.

As for General Clark, he started with such a bang, and there was this aura about him of the star coming in to the room. I think there's still considerable potential there, but he fumbled in his early entry into the race. He said one thing and then something else. All too often he seems to me like a foreign policy or military analyst and not a presidential candidate.

I think there's potential there. He hasn't just met it, though.

WOODRUFF: All right. Let's talk about money. Again, you have Dean right at the top of the list, but Gephardt falls off sharply here.

ROTHENBERG: Well, clearly, this is a big problem for Dick Gephardt. And the question is, if this becomes a long distance -- not just a sprint, but a long distance into March with Gephardt (UNINTELLIGIBLE). He simply hasn't raise raised it.

When you compare Howard Dean, John Kerry, both of whom are now not taking federal funds, they're going -- they don't have to live with these caps. And even Wes Clark, who -- the buzz is he's going to raise at least $12 million, we're talking about big money, and Dick Gephardt is far behind.

WOODRUFF: He does have the union support, but you're saying that counts more for organization.

ROTHENBERG: I think so. So far they have not raised the money for him.

WOODRUFF: All right. Message, again Dean's at the top.

ROTHENBERG: Dean, and followed I think closely by Gephardt. Dean's message, of course, is about the war and about taxes, it's about taking it to the president, it's about confrontation. Gephardt is focusing much more on working family issues, is trying to ignore or get around the Iraq vote more. But I think they both have been very clear in why they're running and why they want to win and why they want to beat George Bush.

I think John Kerry, for example, we thought he would have a message. Instead, he has a resume.

I think John Edwards has done a good job on message, talking about how he values work rather than wealth. The president allegedly valuing wealth more than work. That's a nice, clean message easily connected by John Edwards.

WOODRUFF: All right. Let's talk very quickly about campaign strategy. What do you see there? What's the most important thing here?

ROTHENBERG: Well, in terms of strategy for Howard Dean, I think it's running as the outsider, being ability to criticize Washington, D.C., running as the candidate who can beat up on George W. Bush.

For Dick Gephardt, I think the strategy -- you look at a number of things, the way he's rolled out some of his union endorsements. He did get all the endorsements. He didn't get the AFL-CIO, but it brought it out very nicely.

His early health care speech, when put him on the right side of health care reform, and he was the dynamic guy pushing for health care -- this was a guy we all thought was too boring in yesterday's news -- comes out with a proposal. Very significant, I think.


COSTELLO: Judy Woodworth -- Judy Woodruff, I'm sorry. It must be because it's the day after Thanksgiving and I'm just a little tired. Judy's going to kill me.

They may have gotten a one-day reprieve thanks to President Bush, but our Bill Schneider is standing by to serve up the political turkeys of the year. And I think I just became one. Could one of your favorite politicians be on his menu?

We'll be right back.


COSTELLO: Chances are on this day after Thanksgiving your refrigerator is still stuffed with poultry and sweet potatoes. We're still talking turkey, too. That brings us to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, and his annual countdown of the top political turkeys of the year.


BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Feathered turkeys end up roasted and carved on the Thanksgiving table. Political turkeys end up roasted and carved on our Thanksgiving list.

How do you become one of the political turkeys of the year? By doing something pretty foolish. Let's see who makes the cut.

(voice-over): We had to go back nearly a year to find turkey number 10 to last December, when incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott made unwise comments at a 100 birthday celebration for Senator Strom Thurman.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R), MISSISSIPPI: I want to say this about my state. When Strom Thurman ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of him. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years either.

SCHNEIDER: For the next two weeks, Lott became a serial apologizer.

LOTT: I hope that maybe this bad experience for me and the mistake I made will wind up helping lead to better relations and improvements.

SCHNEIDER: Too late to save his leadership job. Of course, Democrats make misstatements too, like turkey number nine, Representative Jim Moran of Virginia, who told an antiwar forum in March, "If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this," followed by serial apologizing.

REP. JIM MORAN (R), VIRGINIA: I'm terribly sorry for it, I apologized for it.

SCHNEIDER: With political consequences to follow.

MORAN: I'm going to stay here until they take me out of office. But I'm sure there's going to be substantial effort to do that in the next election.

SCHNEIDER: Turkey number eight: last year, Sony Perdue got elected the first Republican governor of Georgia in over 100 years, partly because he promised a referendum on the state flag. Some voters wanted a chance to restore the old Confederate battle flag that waved over Georgia from 1956 to 2001.

But as soon as he got elected, Perdue backed down on his promise. Instead, he signed a bill creating a new state flag and called for a non-binding referendum in 2004.

GOV. SONNY PERDUE (R), GEORGIA: What I want is for the majority of Georgians to speak in a way that sends a clear signal to the citizens of this state that that's their choice.

SCHNEIDER: But the old Confederate battle flag will not be a choice on the ballot, leaving many former supporters to call Perdue a sellout.

Some Democrats also got entrapped in the Confederate flag, like turkey number seven, Howard Dean.

HOWARD DEAN (D), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: White folks in the South who drive pickup trucks with Confederate flag decals in the back ought to be voting with us and not them.

SCHNEIDER: When Dean repeated that remark to a Des Moines newspaper reporter this fall, his rivals jumped on him for it. SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let me tell you, the last thing we need in the South is somebody like you coming down and telling us what we need to do.

SCHNEIDER: Which led to, you guessed it, more apologies.

DEAN: And I regret the pain that I may have caused.

SCHNEIDER: Turkey number six, another southern Republican governor angers his party, this time on taxes. Like many governors, Alabama's Bob Riley faced a fiscal crisis this year. He tried to deal with it by asking voters to approve a $1.2 billion tax hike.

GOV. BOB RILEY (R), ALABAMA: We're going to have to make some brutal decisions next week if this does not pass.

SCHNEIDER: It didn't, by better than two to one. Conservatives intend to turn Riley's experience into an object lesson.

GROVER NORQUIST, AMERICANS FOR TAX REFORM: We will be regaling little baby Republican governors in the future with scary ghost stories about what happens to Republican governors that decide to loot the people rather than to govern.

SCHNEIDER (on camera): Enough turkey? Not yet. We'll be back in a minute for second helpings.


COSTELLO: And Bill will live up to his promise. He's cooking up the top five picks right now. But also on our political menu, will there by any political fallout from the president's visit to Baghdad?

Stay with us. The "CROSSFIRE" boys join us with the take from the left and the right.



ANNOUNCER: Too early victories for Governor Schwarzenegger. But the real battles lay ahead. Is he honeymoon over for California's top Republican?

The red and blue in black and white. We'll revisit the electoral map and how it's likely to color the 2004 vote.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Democrats are going to have to focus on the South.

ANNOUNCER: You've seen these candidates, but what about some lesser known names running for president?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The response to my campaign hasn't been that good.

ANNOUNCER: We'll catch up with some long shots up on campaign trail in New Hampshire.



COSTELLO: And welcome back. I'm Carol Costello sitting in for Judy today.

President Bush says he left Baghdad convinced that his surprise Thanksgiving visit with U.S. troops was the right thing to do. Giving the on-going controversy about the situation in post-war Iraq, though, the president's a dramatic show of support for servicemen and women probably made his political strategists proud.

And pulling off such a top secret trip so well no doubt is sitting well with an administration known to loathe leaks. Is the trip likely fuel partisan sniping in the days and weeks ahead? Let's check in with two guys who know what it's like to be in the "CROSSFIRE," Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson. Are you guys ready?


COSTELLO: Totally ready? Well, Paul, let's start with you, because may I say that the Democrats response to this has been rather wimpy.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": No, you may not. It's silly, Carol. Any time our commander-in-chief goes over seas to visit our troops it's a very good thing. It was positively Clintonian. I remember President Clinton going to Bosnia and visiting troops there in Kosovo, rather who were doing peacekeeping.

The important difference being when President Clinton went it wasn't as dangerous because there was peace to be kept because Clinton's policy was successful. President Bush once again reminds us that he didn't tell us the truth when he said major combat operations are over or that the mission was accomplished.

COSTELLO: See, Tucker? He managed to get in a little dig.

CARLSON: He certainly did.

Look, I mean I think it was effective because it reminds everyone that physical courage still matters. People want that in their leader. That's why people liked Rudy Giuliani's response to September 11 because it was bold. I mean it was a physical risk. And I think that works politically, but it's also a good reminder that we're at war.

I disagree with Paul's characterization with what Bush said earlier. I don't think he ever the fighting was over. It's not over. This is a reminder that it's not. And it's also a reminder that we have to win. It's big deal. This is American foreign policy, Iraq.

COSTELLO: Oh come on though. Was it really such a big risk? CARLSON: I think it was. There was a DHL, a cargo plane hit last week coming in -- coming out of Baghdad Airport by a shoulder fired surface-to-air missile. Yes. It almost took it down.

BEGALA: It was. I agree with Tucker. It was real risk. And I think it was one worth taking. I admire the president for doing it. Again, he's in a long tradition. FDR going to meet with Churchill with German U-boats waiting to attack him during the second world was. Or Lincoln even going down to Richmond at the end of Civil War.

So there's a real tradition of this. President Johnson went to Vietnam in the middle of that war. So sometimes our presidents do have to do this things.

COSTELLO: Are you guys going to argue today or are you just going to sit there and agree?

CARLSON: I think we're in profound agreement on this. Yes, I mean I do think -- I know a lot of people who have been over there, a lot of reporters who've been in Iraq in the past month and they say uniformly it's very, very dangerous place to be.


COSTELLO: ... as soldiers continue to die in Iraq and public opinion drops even lower for support for troops in Iraq, might the Democrats be able to use this as something against President Bush in the future?

BEGALA: Well the question isn't the photo-op, which again was a wonderful thing. Not just a photo-op. I shouldn't say that. It's a long journey to have a visit with our troops is a wonderful thing.

The question is is his policy successful? You're right. Since he's left, only a few hours ago, another American was killed in combat there. Out president did tell us, and these are his words, major combat operations are over. That is false. He did tell us we would be met with roses and sweets. That was false.

His policy there is a failure. Democrats should use that, not this very wonderful thing he did today to try to bolster our troops but to -- the Democrats should point to the reality is the reason those troops are there is because President Bush's policies have failed.

CARLSON: Well as you know, Carol, Democrats literally have no clue what to do next in Iraq apart from convincing the Belgians to join in and they're not going to.

I think if the White House can be faulted it is for not pointing out that this is still a war. Major combat operations are over. There are not armies sweeping across planes and meeting each other in the center. So to that extent, this is not a conventional war, but it is still a war.

And I think it's important to remember that everything hinges on this. If the United States pulls out as a lot of Democrats are urging the United States to do, things completely fall apart. It's a massive mess.

COSTELLO: But you know that the Bush administration keeps coming up with these master strokes. How can the Democrats possible make any head way in the upcoming election?

BEGALA: Oh, boy. Iraq was really a master stroke. Wasn't it, Carol? No, I'm sorry. They do find it PR. That's what they do. But that kind of the least of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE).


BEGALA: No, no, it's not, because you can't shine in cow paddy, as Lyndon Johnson used to say.

You know, this is the reality. The reality is we have 400 men and some women who've been killed in pursuit of a war that we now know we didn't need to wage against a country that wasn't no (sic) threat to America based upon a false hoods that the president gave us. That's a whole hell of a lot more important than whether he can just have some photo-op.

CARLSON: And in the end, Carol, that gets you, let's see. Whining get you precisely nowhere in politics as in life. It doesn't matter. I mean whether you disagree with the war, whether you supported it, the question is what do we do now?


CARLSON: ... that's not a strategy. That's not even a tactic. That's a bummer sticker. And so the question is you have one party who has literally no idea what to do. You have another which has an idea, agree with it or not.

BEGALA: What are you talking about?

CARLSON: I think the idea -- the party with the idea wins by default.


BEGALA: ... presiding over this debacle.

COSTELLO: We have to go. Paul, Tucker, many thanks. And I know

CARLSON: Well it's nice to see you, Carol. Thanks.

COSTELLO: Nice seeing you and happy Thanksgiving.


COSTELLO: Among the people of the "CROSSFIRE" today will be reporter Richard Kyle. He was one of the pool reporters allowed to accompany President Bush on that trip to Baghdad. "CROSSFIRE" starts at 4:30 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Our next stop is California where Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has been making headlines virtually every day he's been in office doing everything from proposing budget cuts to paroling murderers. All the action has some people wondering if the new governor's honeymoon is over already. Here's Charles Feldman.


CHARLES FELDMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger it has become a mantra.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: Action, action. Action. That's what people have voted me into this office for.

FELDMAN: In less than two weeks since sworn into office, Schwarzenegger has delivered on that promise.

SCHWARZENEGGER: Action, action.

FELDMAN: Governor Schwarzenegger got rid of a very costly and unpopular car tax that was put into effect under the ousted Democratic Governor Gray Davis.

SCHWARZENEGGER: Action, action, action.

FELDMAN: Next on his list, Schwarzenegger is moving to reverse another law that would permit undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses.

DICK ROSENGARTEN, PUBLISHER, "CALIFORNIA POLITICAL WEEK": In terms of his popularity with voters, it's probably an 11 or 12. He's off the scale there. But in terms of political reality, it's probably about a 6.5.

FELDMAN: Hold on, just a 6.5? Can it be that the honeymoon may be ending so soon? Probably not. But a heavy dose of political reality may be splashing hard against the former actor's chiseled face. And of course, money is the main issue.

JACK BURTON (D), CALIF. SENATE LEADER: The biggest issue he has on his plate that he wants is this $15 billion bond, which clearly puts us deeper in debt and mortgages our future. There are some upsides near term to the bond. But it is not popular.

FELDMAN: Along with a proposed amendment to the state's constitution to cap spending, Schwarzenegger wants Californians to vote on the bond issue next March as a way to restore the state's fiscal health.

Among legislators, some conservatives are voicing concern about long-term debt while some liberal Democrats say proposed Schwarzenegger budget cuts fall too heavily on the poor.

Schwarzenegger is also raising eyebrows by paroling two convicted killers in one week. His Democratic predecessor hardly ever paroled anyone.


FELDMAN: Now during the campaign, some thought Schwarzenegger, if elected would be a long distance governor opting to stay away from Sacramento, that's the state capital, as much as possible. But so far that has not the case. Schwarzenegger has been an almost constant presence in Sacramento. And while he did go away for Thanksgiving, dare I say it, he'll be back.

I'm sorry for that. I had to.


COSTELLO: It was funny. No worries.


Charles Feldman live from Los Angeles. Many thanks.

The race for electoral votes, how the battle has shifted since the 2000 election. We'll find out which states could make all the difference a little later.



JOHN REGAZIO (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'll be perfectly frank with you. The response to my campaign hasn't been that good.


COSTELLO: Life on the fringe. We'll meet some of the lesser known candidates running in the New Hampshire primary.


COSTELLO: Howard Dean, John Kerry and the rest of the Democratic hopefuls are not alone in the upcoming New Hampshire presidential primary. Oh, no. Dozens of others are mounting idealistic, some would say offbeat campaigns in the Granite State. Here's CNN's Dan Lothian.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN BOSTON BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): Harry Braun is a Democrat running for president on a platform that floats in the ocean and spins in the wind.

HARRY BRAUN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This will provide the cheapest source of hydrogen there is.

LOTHIAN: He's a veteran energy analyst outside the political main treatment trying to harness wind and votes with a vision still on the drawing board. (on camera): What are your chances?

BRAUN: If the American public sees and understands this image, my chances are excellent.

LOTHIAN (voice-over): John Rigazio is more, well, realistic.

RIGAZIO: I'll be perfectly frank with you. The response to my campaign hasn't been that good.

LOTHIAN: The retired businessman who says party affiliation is irrelevant, is a Democrat running for president as Republican. His strategy? Newspaper ads, piles and piles of them.

RIGAZIO: This is my current ad in the paper. This one here was one of my best ones. How to fix the welfare system.

LOTHIAN: Rigazio is spending nearly $200,000 of his own money. He might just have the best-funded campaign on the list of some three dozen so-called fringe candidates registered in the New Hampshire primary.

Membership in this not-so-exclusive club is easy and relatively cheap.

DAVID SCANLAN, DEP. SECRETARY OF STATE: They come in, they file their papers to become a candidate, pay $1,000 and they're on the ballot.

KAREN LADD, ASST. TO SEC. OF STATE: You can see the candidates that came in.

LOTHIAN: For 30 years Karen Ladd has worked in the secretary of state's office and has compiled a photo record of those who went on to become president and those who had fun with the process.

LADD: Michael Dass (ph) who brought all his paperwork in a spaghetti box. He came in dressed as Mark Twain and he filed with 1,000 silver dollars.

LOTHIAN: That one was Republican Dick Busa, running for the third time.

DICK BUSA (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When you pay in coin you're paying in substance.

LOTHIAN: Bill Wyatt, who also ran on California's recall election, is shooting a documentary on his quest for the White House. His campaign slogan...


LOTHIAN: The so-called Hemp Lady Caroline Koleen (ph) is now hugging trees as her main issue.

And Robert Haynes, a Republican who was campaigning on the issue of national security is now behind bars at a New Hampshire prison, locked up on a probation violation. He's still running for president.

Candidates running sparse campaigns, getting little respect from their respective parties. But in their own way deadly serious.

SCANLAN: If they feel they represent a certain constituency or a certain idea and they want to put those ideas or representations forward.

LOTHIAN: Even if the White House is out of reach.

Dan Lothian, CNN, Concord, New Hampshire.


COSTELLO: The last presidential election offered a refresher course on the electoral college. What will the next election bring? When we come back, how the electoral map has shifted since 2000. And what states will be at the center of attention in the race for the White House?


COSTELLO: With the presidential campaign season heating up, we thought now would be a good time to take a look at all the important electoral college. Matt Smyth of the University of Virginia Center for Politics has been studying recent shifts in electoral votes as a result of the 2000 Census.

When he spoke with Judy recently she asked him how the electoral map has changed since 2000.


MATT SMYTH, UVA CENTER FOR POLITICS: Well you have seen change on the map. Based on the recent census data, there's been a reapportionment of electoral votes among the 50 states. Eighteen total states have seen a change. No states have seen a gain or loss of more than two seats. However, the net shift has been seven seats towards the state's that voted for Bush in 2000.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: So in other words, because of the moving of population, some states loss representation in Congress, others gained. And that means the electoral college looks different from what it did just three years ago?

SMYTH: Exactly. Bush's margin of victory, which was 271 to 267 has essentially automatically shifted to 278 to 260 before the elections even started.

WOODRUFF: Let's talk about some of the state's that lost representations, that lost numbers in the electoral count. Which ones are they?

SMYTH: There were two Gore states that lost two electoral votes. those were New York and Pennsylvania. New York, which is a Democratic strong hold, Pennsylvania which was a close battle ground in 2000. Those were the only two states that lost two electoral votes. There were several states that lost one vote. Michigan was one, Connecticut, Illinois for example.

WOODRUFF: And what about the states that picked up electoral votes?

SMYTH: Well there were four states that picked up two electoral votes. And all four were Bush states. Texas was one, Florida, Georgia and Arizona.

WOODRUFF: Right now, the polls are showing in these states what? I mean, if you look at all these states and how they broke down before what are the polls showing now?

SMYTH: Right now, the polls have Bush ahead in all four states where they picked up two electoral votes. Arizona just released a poll that shows him with a good sized margin, a margin outside the margin of error. Texas, he's certainly ahead. Florida, he's ahead by small amount. And Georgia he shows to be in the lead as well.

WOODRUFF: So are you saying this is all frozen and this is the way it's going to stay between now and a year from now when people go to the polls?

SMYTH: Not exactly. A lot will change especially once the Democrats have chosen a nominee. Whether or not that nominee is from such a state will certainly impact which way that state leans.

WOODRUFF: But at this point, you're saying if not much were to change and that the Democrats weren't to choose a nominee from one of those states, you're saying Bush would be in good shape. Is that what you're saying?

SMYTH: Right now, he's looking very strong based on that, yes.

WOODRUFF: So all in all, this a reminder to all of us that while the popular vote counts, it's the electoral vote strategy that matters a great deal. And how is that going to play itself during next year's election, do you think?

SMYTH: Well, you're going to see a focus based on states that have a sizable number of electoral votes certainly. As we've heard recently, the Democrats are going to have to focus on the South. It's going to be very difficult to win the election without at least a few Southern states, which they will certainly try to go after. Florida, Arkansas, perhaps even Louisiana.


COSTELLO: And there you have it.

Bill Schneider, by the way, is standing by with a second helping and they're not leftovers. Stay with us for the rest of his picks for "Turkeys of the Year" when INSIDE POLITICS returns.


COSTELLO: You know, it may seem like it's only been an hour but we have been building up to this moment for 365 days. It is time to end the suspense now. Our Bill Schneider is ready to finish his countdown to the No. 1 political turkey of the year.


SCHNEIDER: We're back for a second helping of political turkeys of the year.

(voice-over): California had its share of political turkeys this year, like turkey No. 5, Representative Darrell Issa, who spent nearly $2 million to gather signatures on a petition to recall Governor Gray Davis, then he could run on the ballot to replace Davis. To which his party said, Thank you very much, but please step aside. We have somebody else in mind.

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: This was never about higher office. It was about higher obligation.

SCHNEIDER: And how about governor, make that former Governor Gray Davis? Meet turkey No. 4. It takes a lot of political incompetence to get reelected one year and then fired the next. Davis got elected and reelected by discrediting his opponents.

He tried to do it again this year.

GRAY DAVIS, FRM. GOV. OF CALIF.: I think people see the contrast between myself and Mr. Schwarzenegger and I'm confident of the choice they'll make today.

SCHNEIDER: Too confidant.

GARY: Tonight the people did decide it is time for someone else to serve. And I accept their judgment.

SCHNEIDER: That can happen when you build a career on negative politics.

Turkey is not far from Iraq. And the war in Iraq produced some political turkeys, too. Turkey No. 3. General Wesley Clark's political inexperience became embarrassingly clear when reporters asked him, the day after he got into the race, whether he would have voted for the congressional resolution authorizing war in Iraq.

Clark said, "I don't know if I would have or not. On balance, I probably would have voted for it." That sent shock waves through the Democratic Party. The next day, Clark reversed himself.

WESLEY CLARK (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would have never voted for war.

SCHNEIDER: Democrats had to ask themselves, is this guy ready for prime time? President Bush has had his own problems with the war or more precisely with the occupation. Turkey No. 2. How often does a president go on television to speak directly to the American people and see his job rate go down? That happened to President Bush on September 7, when he put a price tag on the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

BUSH: I will soon submit to Congress a request for $87 billion.

SCHNEIDER: Clunk. His job rating immediately fell seven points. That's about $12 billion a point. The TV speech was a rare misstep for a usually sure footed president.

Now if you thought U.S. politicians were the masters of spin, we have a surprise for you. The find the greatest spinmeister of all, you have to go all the way to Baghdad. That's where we found the "Political Turkey of the Year," the ultimate spin machine, Saddam Hussein's own minister of information. Make that misinformation. Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf. Better known to the world as "Baghdad Bob."

MOHAMMED SAEED AL-SAHAF, IRAQI INFORMATION MINISTER: We besieged them and killed most of them. And I think we will finish them soon.

SCHNEIDER: U.S. forces seized Baghdad airport. The minister of information says...

AL-SAHAF: We crushed the forces in Saddam International Airport.

SCHNEIDER: U.S. troops enter Baghdad. The minister of information says...

AL-SAHAF: We will slaughter them all. Those invaders, their tombs will be here in Iraq.

SCHNEIDER: The world watches in wonderment. And the universal response to the minister's dispatches is, What a turkey.

(on camera): accepting the award for "Turkey of the Year," the former information minister is here with us now. Any comment, Mr. Minister?

AL-SAHAF DOLL: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) we will slaughter them all. They are not even 100 miles from Baghdad. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) There are no American infidels in Baghdad. Never.

SCHNEIDER: Thank you.

And now, it is time to answer my annual Thanksgiving question. What three national disasters would come about if you dropped the Thanksgiving platter? And the answer is the downfall of Turkey, the break-up of China and overthrow of "Greece." So for the sake of world peace, be careful.

Bill Schneider, CNN, Washington.


COSTELLO: That was so bad, wasn't it? But good at the same time.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Carol Costello. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.


Turkeys of the Year List>

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