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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Special Edition: Iowa Caucuses

Aired January 18, 2004 - 12:00   ET

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

WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's noon in Washington, 11 a.m. here in Des Moines, 5 p.m. in London and 8 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for this special "LATE EDITION."
A new poll just out shows a late surge by Democratic presidential candidates John Kerry and John Edwards, with the earlier leaders in those polls, Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt, slipping.

But there's still plenty of time for that to change between now and tomorrow night. We'll have all the news from the campaign trail, including my interview with Congressman Gephardt. That's coming up.

We're also standing by to hear from former President Jimmy Carter, who's meeting right now with Howard Dean in Plains, Georgia. We'll have live coverage of their campaign event. That's coming up shortly, as well.

First now, we're going to go to the CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of the hour's top stories.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: We'll get to the presidential political race here in the United States shortly. First, though, once again, Iraq.

On the eve of a crucial meeting between the chief U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, and the United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, over the future of Iraq, a deadly bombing rocked Baghdad once again today. Some two dozen people are killed; scores of others injured.

Let's get the latest now. CNN's Satinder Bindra is joining us live from Baghdad.

Satinder?

SATINDER BINDRA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this has been the worst bombing in Iraq since the capture of Saddam Hussein about a month ago.

This bomb went off in Baghdad at about 8 o'clock this morning. It set off by a suicide bomber who had packed his car with 450 kilograms, or about 1,000 pounds, of high-grade military explosives. This bomb was detonated just outside Assassin's Gate. This is at the entrance of coalition headquarters here in Baghdad. As you mentioned, Wolf, 23 people killed. Twenty-one of them are Iraqis. Two are believed to be Americans working for the Department of Defense as contractors.

Now, several people were also injured in this attack. They were rushed to several hospitals here in the city. I was at one of the hospitals, the Yarmuh (ph) Hospital. Twenty-one people were brought here, and doctors started operating on them. Within a short while, 14 of them were released. Seven of them remain in hospital. They have superficial injuries, say doctors.

I talked to doctors about how they were coping, and they said, quote, "This is routine."

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Satinder Bindra, thanks very much for that report. We'll continue to monitor what's happening in Iraq.

In the meantime, back here in the United States, a day away from the Iowa caucuses, a tightening race indeed. And Democrat Howard Dean has left the state, hoping a highly publicized meeting with the former President Jimmy Carter will pay off.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is watching all of this. She's joining us now live from Plains, Georgia.

Set the scene for us, Candy, as we await this appearance by Jimmy Carter and Howard Dean.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Howard Dean opted to spend the full morning and into the afternoon on the eve of the Iowa caucuses here in Plains, Georgia. He has been with the former president, both in the home of the former president and, of course, the former first lady, and then they went to church together, a small church here in Plains.

Jimmy Carter was teaching Sunday school there, Howard Dean in for the services as well. He did introduce Howard Dean at the beginning of the service. The two of them intend to shake hands with parishioners outside when the church service is over and then head over here to what's being billed as a joint statement.

What we've been told by the Dean campaign is, in fact, that there will be no endorsement, which, as it happens, is what those around Jimmy Carter say. He has said that he would welcome any presidential candidate. But the timing of this, clearly, was aimed by the Dean campaign at sending, really, a joint message.

First, Wolf, as you remember, Jimmy Carter is the person who put Iowa on the political schedule. He came out of nowhere as a relatively obscure governor from Georgia to become president of the United States. We now have what was once a relatively obscure governor from Vermont also trying to take this same route through Iowa to the White House. So there is that picture. And there is, as well, a picture of the two of them in church. Howard Dean has talked a lot about moving into the South in the primary, South Carolina, and the week after, New Hampshire, and has said that he knows that down here in the South that people speak more openly about their religion and their beliefs. He says not used to that up in Vermont but he knows he has to get used to that.

What better picture could you send out there to the South, looking ahead, than seated beside Jimmy Carter who, of course, was quite vocal about his religious beliefs when he was in the White House.

So, a dual picture here. One intended for Iowa and one, Wolf, intended for the South. Wolf?

BLITZER: And very briefly, Candy, any reaction from the Dean people on this Des Moines Register poll which right now has Howard Dean number three?

CROWLEY: They have said all along with these polls as they begin appear to come down, "We always thought this was close."

And one of the reasons that they did this trip or they say it was all right to do this trip was, they say, "Look, this is all about organization now." This is about all of those people they have been importing into Iowa, knocking on the doors, getting people to go to caucuses.

So they say, as do the other campaigns, the polls aren't what matters. We believe we have a strong organization, and we believe we have the best organization. They're going to get the voters out for us to go to the caucuses.

BLITZER: CNN's Candy Crowley in Plains, Georgia. And we'll be standing by to go back to Plains, Georgia, once they make their public appearance, Howard Dean and former President Jimmy Carter. We'll listen very closely to see how far Jimmy Carter goes in expressing his preference for these presidential candidates. That's coming up shortly.

In the meantime, Senator John Kerry is in Waterloo, Iowa, waking up to these front-page headlines in The Des Moines Register that he's moved to the top of the pack.

Our national correspondent, Kelly Wallace, is in Waterloo.

Kelly, I want to put up on the screen, and I'm going to hold it up, show our viewers this headline. Take a look at this. You see it right there: "Kerry, Edwards Surge."

The Kerry people must be pretty excited about this.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they clearly are, but they are trying to say and continuing to say that they are not putting a lot of stock in the polls. One aide telling me this race is very, very fluid. And they know, ultimately, it comes down to three words: organization, organization, organization.

And, so, for John Kerry, his goal on this day, mobilizing the troops. To do that, he is bringing out one of the Democratic big guns, the senior senator from Massachusetts, Senator Ted Kennedy. The two men will be at this elementary school in Waterloo a little bit later this afternoon and then head to two other events around the state.

While aides are sort of a little bit cautious, they do say they like what they see on the trail. They point to crowds like the crowd Saturday night. They say John Kerry is turning out a lot of people, there's a lot of energy, the campaign is growing.

Again, though, the senator himself, in an interview earlier on this day, saying that he is not focusing on the polls, that he is trying to get his message to every Iowan he possibly can.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This race ends Monday night and not today. And I'm out there looking for every vote. Iowa voters are remarkably independent. They study this, they look, they work at it. And I'm going to keep campaigning for every vote out here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: And part of Kerry's strategy, as a Vietnam veteran, trying to appeal to the veterans in Iowa.

On that front, he got an unexpected boost in a surprise reunion. Kerry reunited with a man, a Green Beret, the man whose life he saved back in Vietnam 35 years ago. The man's name is James Rassmann. And he said he contacted the Kerry campaign on Friday. He says he's a registered Republican, but he says Kerry saved his life and now he is going to vote for him. It was a very emotional moment. The two men not seeing each other since that day back in 1969.

And, Wolf, even while all this attention is on Iowa and Kerry's improving performance here, there is some good news for the Kerry campaign in New Hampshire, as well: The senator receiving the endorsement of two different New Hampshire newspapers on this day. And of course, New Hampshire, the first primary in this presidential contest taking place one week after Iowa.

Wolf?

BLITZER: CNN's Kelly Wallace in Waterloo, Iowa.

Kelly, thanks very much.

Senator John Edwards, who only days ago received the endorsement of The Des Moines Register, is now bunched in the lead, according to the latest Des Moines Register poll, as we just saw.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is in Davenport, Iowa. She is joining us from there.

Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the crowds just keep getting bigger day by day, really building on this momentum. We expect that Senator Edwards is going to be arriving here within moments. This at the YMCA in Davenport, Iowa.

And really, essentially what has happened here, they are trying to build on the energy and the excitement. It was just weeks ago that he was at single-digit support, now becoming a serious contender. Essentially, as Howard Dean's numbers diminish, it is Edwards who is picking up, who is embracing the mantle of the Washington outsider, the anti-Bush.

And there are two messages for his campaign. First he says there are two Americas, essentially. One that benefits the rich and the privileged, George W. Bush, and there is the one that he is going to serve.

The second point of his campaign is that he is electable. He believes that he can beat George W. Bush, unlike the other candidates. He sets himself apart because he says he can beat those people, he can beat Bush in the South.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think what's happening is people are finally latching on to this message. And they want a president that makes them proud and makes them proud to be Americans again. And they are clearly embracing this message. And that's the reason -- and we are clearly moving up and moving up dramatically. So my job is to keep the movement going.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Now, one of the big plusses for Edwards is he is likable. The paper showing -- the Des Moines Register, that he has an 85 percent favorability rate, much higher than some of the other candidates.

The big challenge, however, Wolf, is getting out those people to get to the caucuses on caucus night. He does not have the same kind of organizational apparatus as some of the other candidates. He will admit that. But he believes he has momentum and the energy to bring those people forward, the inspiration to bring them out Monday night.

Wolf?

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux covering the Edwards campaign out in Davenport, Iowa.

Suzanne, we'll be checking back with you, as well. Thanks very much.

It's clearly a four-way horse race here in Iowa. For one candidate, though, it's do or die in the Hawkeye State. Can Richard Gephardt win the caucuses? We'll talk to him about his strategy for success.

That and much more coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Still to come: It's too close to call in Iowa, but we'll talk with Congressman Richard Gephardt about his chance for success.

Plus, our Web question of the week: What is the most important issue in this year's U.S. presidential election? Is it Iraq, the economy, the war on terror, or education?

Go to cnn.com/lateedition to cast your vote. We'll tell you the results later in this program.

"LATE EDITION" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

Here in the United States, the political spotlight clearly on Iowa, where the first official contest of the 2004 presidential race gets under way tomorrow night.

We're standing by, also, right now to go live to Plains, Georgia, where former President Jimmy Carter is meeting with the Democratic candidate Howard Dean. We'll have live coverage of that. That's coming up.

As the leading Democratic candidates make 11th-hour pitches in an effort to win over what appears to be a still-sizable number of undecided voters, polls are indicating an incredibly tight race.

The candidate with perhaps the most at stake in Iowa: Democratic Congressman Dick Gephardt from the neighboring state of Missouri.

I spoke with the former House Democratic leader just a little while ago, here in Des Moines.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

Only, what, hours left to go.

This Des Moines Register poll, which our viewers have now seen, you have had a chance to assess it. Usually this is a pretty reliable poll.

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It can be, but these numbers are bouncing around. This is a volatile race. You've got to remember that a percentage point in the poll represents about 1,000 people. So this thing is a dead heat. Everybody's in the fight.

And I really believe I'm going to win it. You've got to have steadfast supporters. You've got to bring new people to the table. I think our campaign is the best-equipped to do that.

BLITZER: The poll does show you, though, fourth. Doesn't it have an impact psychologically, at least, on some of your supporters who may be demoralized when they wake up in the morning when they see this?

GEPHARDT: My supporters are the least likely to be demoralized. I've got workers who really want a new trade policy and jobs policy in this country to save good American jobs. Senior citizens who are worried about losing their Medicare, farmers who are worried about saving the family farm in a new agricultural policy.

My supporters are probably the most committed of any candidate's supporters, and they're going to come out, and I believe we're going to win this thing.

BLITZER: In the past, you've said you have to win Iowa in order to go on. Is that still the case?

GEPHARDT: Oh, I'm going to win. That's the answer to the question. And I'm going to do well, and continue to do well, because my message is resonating the voters.

I'm fighting for the middle class. I share the life experience of most people in this country; the president doesn't. And people want someone who will fight for them and their interest and can have the best chance of beating George Bush. I think that's me.

BLITZER: What happens if you don't win?

GEPHARDT: It's just a possibility I'm not entertaining at this point. I'm going to win this. I'm confident of it, I'm positive about it. We've had great crowds the last two, three days.

People are motivated, they're pumped up. And I have people come up to me all the time and say, "You give me hope. You give me hope that we can hold good jobs in this country and create new good jobs in this country." Get everybody covered with health insurance. That's what people care about.

BLITZER: The money factor: Do you have the money to go on after Iowa? Because you spent a lot of it right here.

GEPHARDT: We have adequate resources. We're the only campaign running ads right now in New Hampshire and Michigan and Oklahoma. We're going to be running ads in the next days in other states.

We have a national campaign. I've been going out of Iowa the last two weeks, making half-day trips into Michigan, into Seattle, Washington, into South Carolina, into Oklahoma. We're running a national campaign.

We're going to carry this thing through all these states, and I'm going to beat George Bush.

BLITZER: You saw this latest poll that was released Saturday in New Hampshire, which has Dean at 28, Clark at 22 -- General Wesley Clark -- Kerry at 18, Edwards, Lieberman way down. But you're only at 3 percent, according to this American Research Group poll in New Hampshire.

GEPHARDT: In 1988 when I ran, I was at 1 percent in New Hampshire before New Hampshire actually began to happen. I got 21 percent of the vote, came in second in New Hampshire.

BLITZER: Out of the bounce from Iowa.

GEPHARDT: Out of bounce from Iowa.

BLITZER: Because you won Iowa in 1988.

GEPHARDT: I won Iowa, and it creates momentum. And I'm going to win Iowa this time, and it will create momentum out in New Hampshire.

Both of these races are very fluid, very moving. People are moving around, they haven't made up their mind. And they really don't make up their mind in New Hampshire until the last couple of days before the election.

BLITZER: A lot of people assume that Howard Dean has stumbled here in Iowa and in New Hampshire. Do you accept that?

GEPHARDT: I don't know the answer to that, but what I do know is that the issues that I'm talking about are resonating and connecting with voters out here. People want someone who will fight for the middle class, fight for people trying to get in the middle class. That's what I think I'm best known for.

And I think people are also looking, who can best take on and beat George Bush?

Who can actually beat him in the Midwestern states, where you got to beat him? And people know that I have the best chance in Iowa and Missouri and Illinois. It's where I'm from. And the issues I'm talking about are issues that can really contrast with George Bush.

BLITZER: The negativity of the campaign here in Iowa -- you pulled some negative ads in recent days. So has Howard Dean. It seems to have hurt both of you, if you believe in these tracking polls that we've been watching, and helped Kerry and Edwards.

GEPHARDT: We didn't start this. We didn't want this to be this way. We ran all positive ads out here in Iowa, all through the fall and into the end of the year.

Howard had run a negative ad on me in the fall. We didn't answer it. But, here at the end, he came back with a similar ad, and you can't just sit there and take it. I wish he hadn't done that.

When we found out he was taking the ad down, we took our ad down right away.

BLITZER: Shortly, we're going to see a photo from Plains, Georgia: the former president Jimmy Carter standing next to Howard Dean. Not a formal endorsement, but it probably will look pretty close to that.

How much will that help or hurt Howard Dean in Iowa?

GEPHARDT: These endorsements are all great. I respect all of them, and I wish that I had every endorsement. But there's only one endorsement that I'm really interested in, and that's of the people, the Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa. And that's the endorsement I'm going to get.

BLITZER: But do you think Jimmy Carter's -- not endorsement, because he says he's not endorsing anybody, he's helping all the candidates. But this picture, only a day before the Iowa caucuses, could that be significant? Could that be a factor helping Howard Dean?

GEPHARDT: These people are the most independent people I've ever met. They decide on their own who they want to vote for. They've seen all of us many times -- personally, in some cases -- and they make up their own mind.

Tom Harkin is a very respected figure here in the state. But again, I don't think people listen to anybody. I think they listen to their own counsel. You got husbands and wives who disagree on who they're going to support, vehemently. So they can't even convince one another.

BLITZER: There was another horrific car bombing in Baghdad today, at least 23 people killed. Coming on the eve of the Iowa caucuses -- the pictures, the gruesome pictures that we're seeing. Now more than 500 troops have been killed in various forms in Iraq since the start of the war way back in March.

What's the impact of Iraq on the Democratic caucuses?

GEPHARDT: Well, I think all Americans are concerned about where we are in Iraq and more concerned than ever about the president's failure to get us the help that he should have gotten from the beginning.

We need all hands on deck. This is an international problem. It's not just an American problem. And I have been telling this president for months that he needs to get help from NATO, from the U.N. He seems incapable of doing it. And it's incomprehensible to me that he can't get us the help that we need. This is going to be a long, tough process.

BLITZER: But do you regret standing with the president on the eve of the war, supporting the war?

GEPHARDT: No. I didn't listen to him on the weapons. I went to the CIA, I talked to former Clinton officials who I respect and trust. They all had the same opinion.

Now, we need to find out if the intelligence was what it should have been, and we need an outside commission to do that.

But I will do what I think is right, in every case, to keep the people of this country safe. That's my responsibility, and I take it very seriously.

BLITZER: The recent, this past week, CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll asked registered Democrats nationwide whether they prefer a nominee who, A, supported the war in Iraq or, B, opposed the Iraq war. Thirty- six percent said they would prefer someone who supported the Iraq war, like you. Fifty-nine percent, though, said they would prefer someone who opposed the Iraq war. Registered Democrats nationwide.

What does that say to you about the state of the Democrats?

GEPHARDT: Well, I understand what the poll may say, but I believe that we cannot decide these issues on a political basis. I believe you have to do what's right to keep the people in this country safe. If it hurts me politically, there's nothing I can do about that. I have to do my responsibility as a member of Congress, as a leader in Congress, to make the right decisions to keep the people of this country safe.

We cannot have another terrorist attack, especially with a weapon of mass destruction, in this country. It cannot happen. And we have to do everything in our power to prevent it.

BLITZER: If, for some reason, you don't win the Democratic nomination, who among your competitors, among the other Democratic candidates, do you think is best suited, best qualified, best positioned to beat George W. Bush, potentially, in November?

GEPHARDT: I'm the best suited to defeat George Bush, and I'm not prepared today to make an evaluation of the others. We got good candidates. I respect all of them. And I've said many times that I think I'm going to win, I think I'm going to beat George Bush, but if I don't get the nomination, I'll support whoever the party puts up as the nominee.

BLITZER: Do you ever get, like, nostalgic, looking ahead?

GEPHARDT: No. I'm looking at today and tomorrow and trying to convince voters to vote for me.

And I say to people every day, "This is not about me. It's about us. It's about the future of the country." I'm an instrument to try to get these important things done. And I truly believe I have the ability and the experience to get the things I'm talking about accomplished.

BLITZER: But you must think from time to time, you know, this might be the last time I'm engaged in a political campaign. Does that go through your mind?

GEPHARDT: It doesn't. I'm confident and I'm positive and I'm optimistic. I think I'm going to win...

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(INTERRUPTED BY DEAN-CARTER NEWS CONFERENCE)

BLITZER: So there you have it. The former president of the United States Jimmy Carter getting very, very close to formally endorsing Howard Dean, just stopping a little bit short of that kind of endorsement, calling him, in his words, a fellow Christian, also praising him for his outspoken opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq, a war that Jimmy Carter called "completely unnecessary" -- "an unjust war in Iraq based on erroneous information and misleading statements."

He says he's got a harmonious relationship when it comes to Iraq with Howard Dean, and that is driving him. The goal, Jimmy Carter says, is to get George W. Bush out of the White House.

We'll continue to monitor what's happening in Plains, Georgia. We'll also monitor what's happening here in Iowa.

Still ahead, the spotlight on the Democrats. A very prominent Republican, though, is also hitting the campaign trail, this time in support of President Bush. We'll speak with the former New York City mayor, Rudy Giuliani. He's on his way here to Iowa.

First though: Help wanted for the mission in Iraq. Is it time for the United Nations to take charge? We'll get insight from two top U.S. senators, both members of the Intelligence Committee.

Our special "LATE EDITION," live from Iowa, continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

L. PAUL BREMER, U.S. CIVILIAN ADMINISTRATOR IN IRAQ: We do think there is a role for the United Nations in this process I've laid out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The top U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, at the White House on Friday, talking about plans to try to establish a provisional Iraqi government. He was there to meet with President Bush and other top national security advisers.

Welcome back to our special "LATE EDITION."

We're joined now by two key members of the United States Senate: in Washington, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. He's member of both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as well as the Intelligence Committee. And Senator Carl Levin of Michigan. He's the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee. He's also a member of the Intelligence Committee.

Senators, welcome back to "LATE EDITION." And let me begin with you, Senator Hagel, and get your immediate reaction to the very strong statement we just heard from former President Jimmy Carter, branding the Iraqi war, the U.S.-led war, as completely unnecessary, an unjust war, he says, in Iraq.

What's your reaction to what Jimmy Carter said, standing next to Howard Dean?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: Wolf, I don't believe that's a new position for President Carter. I think he has spoken about the overall issues, the war in Iraq, why we went to war in Iraq, where we're going with our foreign policy, on a number of occasions.

So I don't think he broke any new ground, and I think it was fairly predictable that he would say that with one of the top Democratic presidential candidates standing next to him.

BLITZER: Senator Levin, what do you say about the accusation that Jimmy Carter made, that the war was based on erroneous information and misleading statements coming from the Bush administration?

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: Well, there's a lot of troubling evidence that, in fact, the intelligence was hyped and was exaggerated by the intelligence community, and that the policymakers exaggerated it further.

It's very troubling, and it requires a total and thorough investigation. I'm afraid that's not what's happening now in the Congress, because we're limited, in the Intelligence Committee, to looking only at the production of the intelligence and not the way in which the policymakers used or exaggerated or hyped the intelligence that they got.

We should have a bipartisan or, better yet, a nonpartisan, outside investigation into that intelligence, because the basis for going to war was the presence of weapons of mass destruction, stated to be there with certainty by the leaders of this country. And it just simply was an exaggeration.

BLITZER: Senator Hagel, do you agree with Senator Levin?

HAGEL: On a nonpartisan, outside committee?

BLITZER: Yes.

HAGEL: Well, I think we should complete our Select Committee on Intelligence efforts that are now under way. We should have a report out. Carl, I don't know what the date is on this, another 30, 60 days. Let's see what that report says. That's what I would want to do, Wolf, before I make a decision, if that's an option, to go forward with an outside, nonpartisan commission.

BLITZER: These blasts, these suicide bombings, these car bombings, another one happening today in Baghdad, Senator Levin. They seem, according to U.S. military experts, becoming increasingly more sophisticated in their potential, in their deadliness. Is that the information you're getting, as well?

LEVIN: It is the information we're getting, both the presence now of missiles as well as the grenades, which had been present before. There is some much more sophisticated equipment.

It's critically necessary that we get the Iraqis involved, themselves, in their own security. I had urged, along with Senator Lugar, that we reconstitute the Iraqi army units, not the Saddam supporters, but below the high levels there, so that we could get the Iraqis more involved.

It's critically important that we get the United Nations there. We're going belatedly to the United Nations. We didn't have much concern about whether they were there or not until recently, now that we've unilaterally designed a new government and how we're going to get there. And now we're going to the United Nations, very belatedly, after all these unilateral actions on our part.

But it's better late than never, and I hope that we can work out something to get the United Nations in there, to get the Iraqi army reconstituted as well, and even possibly to get some NATO involvement. We cannot continue to be the target, as we are now, and expect to have anything other than more of the same.

BLITZER: Senator Hagel, you take an independent position when it comes to Iraq. A good idea to get the U.N. and NATO directly involved on a much more robust level right now?

HAGEL: Well, first, the United Nations is indispensable here. Some of us have been saying that for more than a year. Some of us have been out front on this long before we invaded Iraq, and I was one of them, for all the reasons we now understand: legitimacy, expertise, the development of a wider sense of purpose there, not just an American deal.

The longer America stays, the more focused everything will be on us, that it's our effort alone. It should not be that way, need not be that way. The United Nations can bring a certain legitimacy and expertise to a number of the efforts there that no other body can bring.

I spent some time with Kofi Annan, the secretary general, last week in New York on this issue. But we must have them there, because that will expand a base of other nations coming in. Our other allies from Europe, who had differences with us on Iraq, could come in, would come in. Our Middle Eastern allies that are now back behind the Bush's a bit on this would come in under a United Nations umbrella.

They can't, the United Nations, do it all. They can't be expected to do it all. But what must happen here is a clear definition of a role for the United Nations, a clear decision-making authority process for the United Nations, and it must be a partner there.

BLITZER: Senator Levin and Senator Hagel, please stand by for a moment because we have to take a quick break. We have much more to talk about.

We'll continue our conversation with both of these senators. That's coming up in just a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special "LATE EDITION." We're talking about where things stand in Iraq, the war on terror, much more. Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel joining us, as well as Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin.

On the whole, Senator Levin, issue of Iraq, among your fellow Democrats, if you take a look at that latest CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll, it seems most Democrats want a candidate who opposed the war in Iraq as opposed to someone who supported the war, 59 to 36 percent.

Is that the mood of the Democrats in Michigan, as far as you can tell?

LEVIN: I think what Democrats want is somebody who is free to criticize the way in which we got into this war: unilaterally without the support of the international community. They want somebody who is able and willing to criticize the failure to have a plan for the post- Saddam period; the unwillingness of this administration to go the United Nations seriously and share power; the unilateral nature of this administration's activities in Iran (sic).

These unilateralist chickens are coming home to roost now, Wolf. And I think Democrats want a candidate who is willing to point out the flaws, the inadequacies, the failures of this administration, relative to the way in which we got into the war, the mishandling of intelligence, the lack of a plan for the aftermath and the failure to internationalize this effort.

Senator Hagel is exactly right, and he's been right, in terms of getting the U.N. here. The trouble is, the administration has not been willing to listen either to Democratic suggestions or to those, such as Senator Hagel, on the Republican side. They should have listened to them all along.

BLITZER: Quickly to you, Senator Levin, who are you supporting among the Democratic candidates?

LEVIN: I haven't decided yet who I am supporting. The Michigan caucus will be on February 7th. It'll be coming up early. And I'll be supporting the person, if I can figure out who that person is, who I think will be in the strongest position to defeat President Bush, both in terms of domestic issues, where he is very, very vulnerable, and also somebody who is free to criticize the president's handling of the war, the way we got in it and the failure to have a plan for the aftermath.

BLITZER: Senator Hagel, I know you're going to be supporting President Bush. You're a strong Republican, although you often take a very independent stance. Right now more than 500 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq since the start of the war back in March. As far as troop rotation, bringing troops home, do you see any progress on that front, that the U.S. military is going to have a way to reduce the number of troops any time soon in Iraq?

HAGEL: Well, you know the numbers, Wolf. We're talking about rotating essentially 130,000 troops out, rotating another 110,000 troops in. One of the significant differences there, of course, is going to be about 40 percent of that new troop strength is going to be made up of Reserves and National Guard.

This is going to be complicated. This is probably the largest troop movement, switch, change, process in modern history. I don't know if we've ever done anything quite like this. Certainly, Vietnam, World War II, never anything like this. It is going to present some great challenges.

That's another reason, I think, Wolf, it's so critical that we have allies in there at the front end now to help us. One of the things I wanted to pick up on, which cuts right to your question, is involvement of NATO.

Eventually, I believe, NATO is going to have to be in this, because I don't think the United States can sustain what is going to be required over a number of years. We're going to have 100,000 American troops in there this year, probably next year. And then there is no guarantee that this thing turns out the way we all want it to turn out. So NATO is going to have to play a role in this. And the sooner this administration understands that, I think, the better.

BLITZER: Senator Hagel, if there is one thing you want President Bush to say in his State of the Union address Tuesday night, what is it?

HAGEL: Well, there a lot of things I want him to say. But I think what's important is for America and the world to hear from our president some vision about not only Iraq, but the Middle East, the larger fabric of all these great challenges the world faces today -- terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, but also endemic poverty and health issues.

These are the great issues of our time. I would hope he spends some time talking about that, appealing to this country and the world.

BLITZER: What one thing do you want to hear, Senator Levin?

LEVIN: I'd like to hear a specific plan to get this economy moving, in terms of job creation. We lost millions of jobs in this administration, millions of manufacturing jobs in this administration. We've had no plan. There has been no dedication to this economy other than the statement, which we hear all the time, and the action to get more tax cuts, mainly to upper-income folks, arguing that somehow or other that is going to trickle down in terms of job creation. It is not in terms of job creation. I'd love him to say, hey, we're going to try a different thing because what we've proposed so far has not worked in terms of creating the jobs that are so critically important to America.

BLITZER: Senator Levin, Senator Hagel, thanks to both of you for joining us on our special "LATE EDITION."

HAGEL: Thanks, Wolf.

LEVIN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, countdown to the Iowa caucuses. As the leading Democratic candidates make a last-ditch grab for supporters, we'll get some unique perspective from the Hawkeye State's governor, Tom Vilsack. He'll join me live.

And don't forget to weigh in on our Web question of the week: What is the most important issue in this year's U.S. presidential election? You can cast your vote at cnn.com/lateedition.

Our special "LATE EDITION" live from Ohio -- Iowa, that is -- excuse me -- will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special "LATE EDITION" live from Iowa.

We'll get to my interview with the former New York city mayor Rudy Giuliani in just a few minutes. First, though, let's go to the CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check in the hour's top stories.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: We're back on our election coverage in just a moment. First, though, let's go to Baghdad. Once again, a new bombing today took the lives of a couple dozen people, most of them Iraqi civilians, a day before a crucial meeting between the U.S. and the U.N. over that country's future.

In Baghdad, once again, CNN's Satinder Bindra.

Satinder?

BINDRA: Hello, Wolf. This bomb went off at about 8 o'clock, and the force of this blast was so powerful that it shook our hotel about a mile away.

Now, here's what happened: A suicide bomber packed a white Toyota pickup with 450 kilograms, or about 1,000 pounds, of high-grade military explosives. He then detonated this car just outside what is called Assassin's Gate, at the front of coalition headquarters here in Baghdad.

As you mentioned, 23 people were killed. Twenty one are Iraqis, and two are believed to be Americans working as contractors with the Department of Defense. Many of those killed were trapped inside their cars, Wolf. They were burned alive, making the process of identifying them even more difficult.

There were scores injured. Many of the injured were workers waiting for jobs just outside coalition headquarters. Now, the injured were taken to two hospitals here in Baghdad. I was at one of them, Yarmuh (ph) Hospital, where they brought in 21 injured people. Fourteen were released in a matter of hours, and seven people remain there. Most of them have shrapnel injuries. They are described as non-life-threatening.

I met doctors and doctors say they are quite used to this. This for them, they said, is, quote, "routine." I also witnessed emotional scenes as family members met their loved ones, loved ones who they thought had been killed in the blast but were very much alive, though injured.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: A horrific bombing in Baghdad. Satinder Bindra, thanks very much. We'll check back with you throughout the day.

Now to the campaign for the U.S. presidency. As Democratic candidates make a final sprint across Iowa today, one of them, Howard Dean, took a side trip to Georgia to see and, more importantly, be seen with the former President Jimmy Carter.

Dean credited the former president with drawing him into politics in the first place. Jimmy Carter made it clear he was not formally endorsing anyone, but he also strongly praised Howard Dean for what he called, quote, "the courageous and outspoken posture Dean has taken, especially when it comes to the war in Iraq."

Public opinion seems to be split among the four front-runners right now, as far as Iowa is concerned -- John Kerry, John Edwards, Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt. The latest Iowa poll in this morning's Des Moines Register shows Kerry with 26 percent; Edwards at 23 percent; Dean, 20 percent; and Dick Gephardt at 18 percent -- all so close, well within the poll's margin of error, that the race is considered wide open right now.

And the newspaper said -- get this -- nearly half of the voters, yes, nearly half of the voters, 47 percent, still say they may change their minds.

Since 1972, the Iowa caucuses have played a key role in the presidential nomination process in the United States. The outcome often determines who stays in, who drops out of the race.

Joining us now with some special insight into tomorrow night's caucuses here in Iowa, the governor, Democratic Governor, Jim Vilsack.

Thanks very much, Mr. Governor, for -- Tom Vilsack, excuse me -- Governor, for joining us. Let's talk about this poll. "Kerry, Edwards Surge" -- that was the headline that we saw, when we woke up this morning, in The Des Moines Register.

You haven't endorsed anyone, although your wife, Christie, has endorsed John Kerry. What do you make of the surge that Kerry and Edwards seem to be developing right now?

GOV. TOM VILSACK (D), IOWA: Wolf, I think it's a function of two things: those who are focused security and those who are focused on hope and optimism. Senator Kerry's message makes people feel secure. Senator Edwards's message makes them feel hopeful and optimistic. They've been looking for that in this campaign.

Meanwhile, Representative Gephardt and Governor Dean were engaged in a a very fierce battle with ads, basically going after each other, and that may have turned a few people off.

BLITZER: So let's talk a little bit about why you think John Kerry inspires the kind of security, the confidence that a lot of people here in Iowa would like, especially when it comes to national security.

VILSACK: Well, the fact is that John Kerry has actually been in a situation where he's had to make life-and-death decisions. And I think that Iowans are very interested in having somebody in the White House who knows what it means to make life-and-death decisions.

John Kerry's Vietnam background is very important to a lot of Iowans. We have a substantial number of veterans in our state, and this is important to them. They want to know that he's been there and has made those decisions.

BLITZER: Now, you've told me that he also has this incredible support from volunteer firefighters.

VILSACK: Yes, the fact is that that's a very close-knit family. Those firefighters put themselves in harm's way every single day. They appreciate what Senator Kerry has done for firefighters in his Senate career. They are very supportive, and that may be an untapped resource that may not be on anybody's radar screen today.

BLITZER: Throughout these weeks of the Iowa caucuses, the lead- up to the caucuses, John Edwards has taken the high road and avoided getting into the attack ads, the kind of negative campaigning that some of the other candidates were engaged in. That's helped him.

VILSACK: It has. Iowans -- there are a lot of Iowa Democrats that are very interested in a hopeful message, one that doesn't attack another candidate, but one that basically talks about how we can move America forward.

Senator Edwards has done a very good job of articulating that, and there are a lot of people that have been very supportive of his message. BLITZER: And what it about Dean? He's got a good organization, he's got a young, a lot of young people involved. The Internet certainly brought him in a lot of campaign funds. But he seems to be slipping somewhat. What happened?

VILSACK: Two thousand volunteers are here working, knocking on doors, trying to get the vote out. I think Governor Dean had a very strong message, an anti-war message. The question is whether or not he was able to expand that beyond anti-war. I think we'll find out on Monday whether he was successful in doing that.

BLITZER: Did his appearance with Jimmy Carter early today in Plains, Georgia -- took him away from Iowa, obviously -- is that going to help him or hurt him here?

VILSACK: Well, a lot of people in Iowa really have a great respect for President Carter, but I'm not sure that that's necessarily going to change the minds of people that have already made their minds up or help those who are undecided finally make a decision.

I think, at the end of the day, people want to see the candidates, what they stand for, how they articulate the issues and what the vision is for America. And that's what's going to persuade people.

BLITZER: Dick Gephardt has to win in Iowa. What if he comes in second or third? Can he realistically go on?

VILSACK: Well, he'll have to make that decision. Clearly, Representative Gephardt, the theory was, at the beginning of this, that he would be indeed the candidate to beat in Iowa. And he has a strong, strong core of support. There is no question about that fact that Dick Gephardt's people will be there on Monday night. There may be questions about the other candidates. But for Dick Gephardt, his people will be there, and they will vote.

BLITZER: What are you hearing about turnout tomorrow night, assuming the weather is relatively decent?

VILSACK: I think we can expect a record or near-record turnout. At least 120,000 are likely to show up. That's what the campaigns are indicating. And I have not heard anything that would suggest that's not going to be the case.

There are a lot of engaged Democrats, a lot of new people coming into the process. This is Martin Luther King Day. This is the best way for Iowans to celebrate the legacy of Dr. King, by participating in democracy, and I expect them to be fully engaged.

BLITZER: Governor Tom Vilsack, the governor of Iowa, thanks for all the hospitality.

VILSACK: You bet, Wolf. Glad to have you.

BLITZER: We're going to take a quick break. Much more, though, coming up. Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, is standing by. He'll be talking about his role in election 2004. Getting ready to get on a plane to fly out here to Iowa; we'll ask him why. And we'll also ask him what's on his political agenda.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

Democrats are making the most noise in Iowa these days, but Republicans are here as well. They are getting ready to try to support President Bush. They don't want the Democrats to get a free ride.

Among them, the former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. He is a friend, political supporter of the president. He'll be in Cedar Rapids tomorrow, among other places. But right now he is joining us live from New York.

Mr. Mayor, always good to have you on our program.

Why did you decide to come out here to Iowa tomorrow?

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER MAYOF OF NEW YORK CITY: Well, I think it's important for those of us who support the president to make it clear that ultimately this is going to be a race between a Democrat and a Republican, President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

That, you know, when you have a Democratic primary like this, there is a tremendous amount of negative attack. But there is a very, very strong case to be made for the president. He got us through the worst attack in the history of our country. We've come through it stronger.

He's guided our economy to the point now where we are doing quite well and going to do better.

And he has a very experienced administration that's carried on the war on terrorism. And from the point of view of those of us who feel that that war has to continue to be carried on, so we don't go back to where we were before, we think his reelection is critical.

BLITZER: We just heard the former president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, call the war, in his words, "completely unnecessary," and he went on to brand it "an unjust war based on erroneous information and misleading statements" from the White House. Very strong words from former President Jimmy Carter.

GIULIANI: Well, that also may be a very big difference, you know, between the candidates, depending on who the Democratic candidate is. Depending on the Democratic candidate, they have different positions on the war. Some opposed it, some voted for it, some supported it. They have different positions on terrorism. So it's hard to say, until there is a Democratic candidate, whether it's going to be former President Carter's position or some other position.

But there is a bigger issue. The bigger issue is the war on terror, which wasn't being waged before, you know, September 11, 2001. President Bush, in a speech to Congress in September of 2001, promised that over the next three to five years we would do everything that we could to destabilize world terrorism so we don't have to live through something like September 11 again. And the president has been constant to that. He's remained very focused.

And when I listen to some of the Democratic candidates, I think if one of them were to be elected, we would go back to where we were, you know, back in the 1990s, which is not really focusing on terrorism in the same way.

We've made a lot of progress in Iraq, Afghanistan, arresting the members of al Qaeda, seizing their assets, destabilizing them, creating a homeland security administration that didn't exist before. So a lot has been done to deal with terrorism, and I want to see the president be able to build on that next year and the year after.

BLITZER: Mr. Mayor, which of those Democratic candidates -- they have different positions when it comes to Iraq, but which ones do you fear would be weak in the war against terror?

GIULIANI: I guess I have to let them really speak for themselves. I mean, they've all taken different positions on the war. Some have consistently been opposed to it. Some of them have been in favor of it, opposed to it, and then have more nuanced positions. So, you know, I almost need a scorecard to figure that all out.

BLITZER: Is there one candidate you fear the most?

GIULIANI: No, I don't think you ever know that. I mean, having been in my own elections a number of times, you don't get to pick your opponent. Democrats are going to decide, you know, ultimately who the candidate is. And no matter who it is, it's going to be a close election.

The country is pretty well split between Republicans and Democrats. So those of us who are Republicans know that we're going to have a very tough race no matter who is nominated.

BLITZER: You're not the only Republican who is heading out here toward Iowa in the coming day. Let's put up on the screen some other big-name Republicans who will be out here trying to make the case for the president, going after the Democrats.

Not only Rudy Giuliani, but Congressman Tom DeLay, the Republican leader in the House; Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader; Mary Matalin, the former aid to the vice president, Dick Cheney; the Republican Party chairman, Ed Gillespie. Going to be fanning out across the state.

Some Democrats saying you guys are panicking, getting nervous...

(LAUGHTER) ... that Iowa is shaping up as a Democratic state.

GIULIANI: I think it's really to spend a little time on the president's case. I mean, you get a distortion and a lack of perspective when you have a primary going on. It would be the same thing if roles were reversed and there were a Democratic president, a lot of Republicans out there kind of making the case for the other side.

This is an opportunity for us to make the case for the president. We honestly and sincerely believe that he's been a great president. He's led the country through the worst attack in our history. And we think he is entitled to reelection, that the country is going to be better off if he's reelected than if we make a shift right now.

So those are our conscientious viewpoints. And frankly, in a place that's been a very heavy focus of Democratic politics, it's worth making that point.

BLITZER: Are you itching yourself to get back in the political arena? Because, as you know, in the New York newspapers there has been a lot of speculation about what you might be doing next.

GIULIANI: You know, it's very, very -- things have certain time in their life. And right now this is not the time for me to be involved in politics. I am running Giuliani Partners. I am running a business that is very, very active. We're involved in remediation for biological and chemical attacks. We are involved in security and crisis management.

And my focus politically right now is exactly what I said to you before. It's doing everything I can to get the president and vice president reelected, because I think it's so important for our country.

After that, some time next year or the year after, I expect I'm going to want to be involved directly in politics again. But right now, that's sort of like a distant kind of thing that I think about. Nothing current.

BLITZER: All right. Next year is not that far way. You know, politics -- a year in politics can move very quickly.

Let me put some numbers on the screen...

GIULIANI: Two weeks in politics moves very quickly.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: That's right.

But let me put some numbers up on the screen. A recent poll conducted by the Marist College in New York state showed a match-up, a hypothetical match-up between you and the junior senator from New York, Mrs. Clinton. Look at this: You would beat her, according to this poll, 50 percent to 45 percent, though that seems to be within the margin of error, almost within the margin of error.

What do you make of a possible Clinton-Giuliani race 2006?

GIULIANI: I don't make anything of -- number one, it's not something I'm focusing on right now.

Number two, a poll about that is totally useless at this point. It almost looks like the polls about the Iowa primary two weeks ago were totally useless, much less a poll about an election that's two years off, if it ever takes place in that form.

So, I wouldn't give it any credence at all.

BLITZER: You're not thinking about it right now?

GIULIANI: I'm not thinking about it right now. Right now, in addition to the things involving my business, I'm thinking politically about the 2004 election.

I'm one of the chairmen of the Republican convention here in New York, which I'm very, very excited about. The convention is going to be here in the city of New York. First time we've had a Republican convention here.

And I like this idea of going to places where the case has been made for the Democratic side to see if those who are Republicans can kind of straighten out the record somewhat, give it more perspective.

BLITZER: One final question, Mr. Mayor, before I let you go. Speaking about the Republican convention coming this up summer in New York City, there's been some fear expressed by some that there could be demonstrations against the president by some New Yorkers around Madison Square Garden, elsewhere in New York City.

How much of a problem, potentially, is that going to be?

GIULIANI: It will not be a problem at all. I mean, every convention that we've had, just about in the last 20 to 30 years, Republican or Democrat, or at least a lot of them, have had certain forms of demonstrations, one side or another.

You're in the hands of the best police department in the world, the New York City Police Department, who has to deal with this five times a day anyway.

And it's a convention that all New Yorkers really support because it does a lot for us in terms of economic development. You know, Mayor Bloomberg makes this point all the time. Democrats are going to benefit as much from the Republican convention being here as Republicans, so we appreciate that, and it helps our economy.

Those of us who are Republicans also see the historic significance of it. There's never been a Republican convention in New York. And it shows a president that's going to contest for the vote everywhere, and try to reach in for a vote that maybe other Republicans haven't been able to get before.

BLITZER: We'll be watching and waiting and anxious to see you tomorrow here in Iowa.

GIULIANI: I'm looking forward to it.

BLITZER: Thank you, Mr. Mayor, for joining us.

GIULIANI: It's very interesting what's going on in Iowa.

BLITZER: You want to make a quick prediction who's going to win in Iowa?

GIULIANI: Nope. The way it's all been reshuffled, I would not want to be in your position of having to predict the winner.

BLITZER: We're not predicting any winners, we're just going to cover the news.

Thanks very much, Mr. Mayor.

GIULIANI: Take care, Wolf. See you tomorrow.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Our panel of political experts standing by to serve up their thoughts about what's happening in Iowa.

And a separate panel -- speechwriters, presidential advisers -- they'll talk about the president and his State of the Union address to the nation. That's coming up Tuesday night.

Our special "LATE EDITION," live from Iowa, will continue right after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special coverage from Iowa. I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting live from Davenport.

A four-way race, a dead heat, some might say, statistically at least. Take a look at this: John Kerry, Dick Gephardt, Howard Dean, John Edwards -- they're all neck and neck.

According to the latest Des Moines Register poll -- we'll put the numbers up on the screen -- Kerry now at 26 percent; Edwards, 23 percent; Dean at 20 percent; Gephardt, 18 percent; sampling error, 4 percent. So it could go any way tomorrow night in this contest.

Senator Edwards is in Davenport, Iowa. He's at a rally there at the local YMCA. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is covering what's going on there.

Give us a little flavor, what's happening at the Edwards camp? MALVEAUX: Well, Wolf, Senator Edwards just wrapped up moments ago, and there is a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm here. What we have been seeing, just within the last couple of days, is bigger and bigger crowds that have shown up, really his loyal base of supporters. And it has been phenomenal to see just the kind of progress that he's made within in the last weeks, from single-digit numbers to really becoming a strong contender.

We caught up with Edwards just the last couple of days, and essentially his message is two-fold. He says that there are two Americas -- it's a populist message. There's one America for the rich and privileged that benefit from a George Bush presidency, and then there's the other America. That is the one that Edwards says that he is going to serve.

The other part of his message is that he says he is electable, that he can beat George Bush. What separates him from the rest of the candidates, he says, is not only is he going to get support from the North as well as the Midwest, but he is also going to hit those key Southern states that are critical for a Democratic win.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EDWARDS: Well, polls move around, but it's very encouraging that people here in Iowa are responding to my positive message of hope. And that's exactly what we see happening. I mean, these events are two, three, four times the number of people we expect. It's extraordinary, the energy and enthusiasm.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Well, Wolf, I got a chance to catch up with Senator Edwards on his Real Solutions Express bus that he has been using for the last couple of days. He's going to fly all over the state today.

The big challenge for him, however, he does not have the major endorsements of labor and some of the big-time players. But what his political aides are saying is that he does have a very strong grassroots effort on the ground, that the people that are going to come out and make their views known tomorrow, that they are confident that they are going to be voting for Edwards tomorrow.

Wolf?

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Suzanne Malveaux, covering John Edwards's campaign.

CNN's Kelly Wallace is covering John Kerry's campaign. He's leading the pack, according to this latest Des Moines Register poll.

Give us a little flavor, what's happening there in the Kerry camp?

WALLACE: Well, Wolf, Senator Kerry starting the day attending church. And a little bit later, he'll be at this elementary school in Waterloo. He is doing something that all these candidates are doing: trying to mobilize the troops. And when you want to do that, you bring out the heavy hitters.

For Senator Kerry, the junior senator of Massachusetts, that means bringing out the senior senator from Massachusetts, Senator Ted Kennedy, who will be with Senator Kerry throughout the day.

Aides are continuing to say that they are not putting a lot of stock in these polls, even though the polls now show Senator Kerry at the top. One aide talking to me earlier saying that this race is very, very fluid.

Still, they like what they are seeing. They say the crowds are sometimes twice or three times larger than they had expected. The Senator himself telling us a little bit earlier this week that the campaign is growing. He senses the energy.

But ultimately, Wolf, the senator, his top aides say this will come down to three things: organization, organization and organization. And the senator himself saying it will be a very tough battle going up against the organization that both Dick Gephardt and Howard Dean have behind them.

The senator's strategy: Trying to appeal to war veterans. He is a Vietnam veteran. Also volunteer firefighters. And, also, just trying to get his message out to any undecided voters, and also trying to change the minds of those who say they could be swayed in these closing hours.

Wolf?

BLITZER: CNN's Kelly Wallace in Waterloo, Iowa. She's covering John Kerry's campaign.

Thanks very much.

Joining us now, get a little perspective, take a closer look at what's playing out today and tomorrow here in Iowa are people who make politics their business: Donna Brazile is a Democratic strategist. She's a CNN political analyst and former campaign manager for Al Gore. Jim Dyke is communications director for the Republican National Committee. He's here in Iowa, as well. And our CNN political analyst Carlos Watson is joining us.

Donna, let me start with you and this poll in The Des Moines Register. How reliable of a snapshot is it right now, based on your experience?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It's very reliable.

Look, it's tighter than a drum. The four candidates are right up there, all competing now for those last-minute undecided voters who are still on a shopping spree. This is really going to come down to the organization that some of the candidates have put together in the state. And I also believe, at the last minute, who knows? Some other surprises could take hold in the next 24 hours, and perhaps some of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that are still leaning with the front-runners might break and really give us a decisive victory on Monday.

BLITZER: That photo-op in Plains, Georgia, Carlos, of Jimmy Carter and Howard Dean, Howard Dean taking some valuable time out of Iowa to go down to Georgia to get almost, I guess we could call it, a semi-official, not an official endorsement, from the former president, significant in your assessment?

CARLOS WATSON, CNN POLIITAL ANALYST: It is. An endorsement with a wink and a nod. Everybody in Iowa, who are very sophisticated, certainly understand that that's, in effect, an endorsement. Carter didn't want to go back on his word in which he said he wouldn't endorse someone. But he was very clear here, putting his arm around Dean in more than one way.

But let me add something I think about the polls. I actually think the polls, in many ways, in today's headline in The Des Moines Register help Howard Dean. Howard Dean fights best when he's an underdog. Howard Dean has never been great as a front-runner. And I think, as an underdog, you see his young people, the 3,500, 4,000 people who come here to organize, are now more desperate than ever.

I called the campaign headquarters, all the campaign headquarters, last night at 1 a.m. Only one place did I get an answer, and that was at Howard Dean's campaign. They're hungry. They're going to make more calls. They're going to knock on more doors. They're ultimately going to turn more people out.

So, in a very strange way, Howard Dean being pushed down to third actually may help him end up first or maybe even second.

BLITZER: It may inspire him.

Speaking of Howard Dean, he's got an interview, Jim, in the new issue of Rolling Stone magazine. You may not have seen it yet. But I'll read you a quote of what Howard Dean says about you -- not necessarily you, personally, but Republicans in general.

He says this: "I think the Republicans are much meaner than the Democrats are. I don't want to absolve the Democrats, but Republicans are just brutal. They do not care what happens to the country as long as they stay in power."

JIM DYKE, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, RNC: It's almost as if he hadn't been participating in a Democratic primary for the past nine months. Anyone who's watched those primary debates or watched the commercials on television, $20 million have been spent in the past nine months attacking the president, pretty viciously. I think the candidates are now starting to go after each other, not quite as viciously as they've gone after the president.

But the interesting thing to me is that the Democratic Party has decided that they want a candidate who will raise taxes, who's opposed to the Patriot Act, who's opposed to the No Child Left Behind Act, who opposes the military action that we took after 9/11.

So there's been a decision on the policy that will emerge from whoever the nominee is. The question right now, I guess, is the personality, maybe, that's taking place.

BLITZER: Donna, is that what the Democrats want?

BRAZILE: Oh, absolutely. What Democrats want is somebody who can reverse these deficits, bring back the jobs, really reduce the cost of health care for Americans, keep America strong and secure, and change the direction that this country's fundamentally going in. That's what Democrats want.

They're hungry for an activist president who will help bring more people into the political process.

And also, I think, ultimately, the Democratic Party wants to see a commander in chief who will, once again, bring back our allies to the table.

BLITZER: The whole Kerry phenomenon, and I'll put it up -- I'll hold this right here. Let's get this up on the screen, if we can. The headline in today's Des Moines Register: "Kerry, Edwards Surge."

John Kerry, he was almost written off not that long ago, Carlos, but now he's coming back. I'll put another quote up on the screen. In fact, we have a sound bite from what John Kerry said in Council Bluffs, Iowa, earlier in the week, suggesting that there might even be a Republican or two he would reach out to if elected president. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: I could certainly see John McCain serving in any -- several capacities within a Kerry administration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: John McCain? I think it's fair to say he's the favorite Republican among a lot of Democrats. But it's interesting that he's raising that possibility right now.

WATSON: He's got to, especially as you look forward to New Hampshire, and if you look at the most recent poll, he's down by double digits. He is in third place, a stronger third place than before.

But let me say something about what's happening here in Iowa which I think is interesting. Even before the first vote is cast or the first caucus comes together, I think there's already a winner and there's already a loser.

I think John Edwards has already won, no matter where he end up, whether he ends up a strong fourth, third, second. We weren't talking about him at all two, three weeks ago. And no matter what he said, there was a real chance that he was going to have to drop before South Carolina, before February 3rd, if he had done really poorly here and poorly in New Hampshire. Now, almost no matter what, he's going to get another look.

And who's lost out of this already? Already, Joe Lieberman has lost. Joe Lieberman had hoped that it was going to either be Gephardt or Dean here, and that he was going to be part of the anti-Dean or anti-Gephardt choice when you got to New Hampshire.

Now you've got Edwards as a potential fresh face. You've got Kerry, as you just said, as a potential fresh face. And the chances that we're going to have a lot of time to talk about Joe Lieberman in the eight days between Iowa and New Hampshire aren't strong.

So not only has Kerry done well, but there have been some other winners...

BLITZER: Jim Dyke's a good Republican, he wants to weigh in.

Go ahead.

DYKE: I think John Kerry is going to have a difficult time out- Republicaning Wes Clark in a Democratic primary. It is a challenge that he may have trouble overcoming.

And I don't know that the positions that the Democrats running for president have taken necessarily will attract Republicans. I think the votes against Medicare, prescription drugs are bad votes for the Democrats. I think their opposition to plans like that make it difficult for them to emerge, whoever it is.

But I also believe that, in New Hampshire, as Joe Lieberman appeals to the centrist part of his party, what you're seeing is there may be no centrist part of the Democratic Party.

BLITZER: Well, Jim, on the Wesley Clark issue, you know, a four- star supreme allied commander of NATO, how much do you worry about a debate between Wesley Clark and President Bush?

DYKE: Well, the first thing you have to do is win the primary, obviously.

And what we've seen in the last week is sort of a shifting in General Clark's positions. He was for the war. He testified in front of Congress and, in fact, gave very compelling testimony, which this week he suggested we took parts of. So maybe it'd be a good idea if we put the whole transcript of the testimony up. We don't want to misrepresent him.

But I think anybody who reads that would have trouble pulling from that a compelling case against the war.

BLITZER: Has Wesley Clark, Donna, gotten a free ride so far? Have people not scrutinized his words as closely as, shall we say, Howard Dean?

BRAZILE: Well, he has gotten a free ride. And pretty soon he'll be under the hot lights, and we'll see how, you know, General Clark handles himself.

I think he's run a great campaign up in New Hampshire. I was up there early this week. He has a lot of people on the ground. People are very excited about General Clark. And he is picking up a lot of endorsement.

Look, Jim, we have a lot of independents out there. One-third of the electorate is not aligned with either party. And Democrats, with a strong agenda on the environment, on reproductive rights, on civil rights and other issues, will be able to grab a whole segment of the American people who are not aligned with our two major parties. And that's where the rubber will hit the road in the fall.

DYKE: But I don't think they're for increasing taxes to grow our economy. I don't think they're for repealing the partial-birth abortion legislation. I don't -- I think those independent voters are mainstream...

BRAZILE: But they will not...

DYKE: ... Americans, and I think they come to the Republican Party.

BRAZILE: They will not give permanent tax breaks to the rich. They will not see the deficit continue to grow. They will not allow all this pork-barrel special-interest spending.

And that's what they want. They want a president who can stem the tide of red ink. And that's what they'll find in a Democrat.

BLITZER: Let me let Carlos weigh in on the General Clark phenomenon.

WATSON: Well, I want to say several things.

One, I think what Jim and the RNC have done is brilliant. I mean, they've...

DYKE: Thank you, Carlos.

WATSON: ... inserted themselves in the Democratic campaign very early. They ran -- or, they didn't run, but the Club for Growth ran an ad here in Iowa which was part of what ultimately stemmed some of Howard Dean's momentum here.

And again, part of the reason why they're weighing in on Wesley Clark and on Howard Dean and on John Kerry is to weaken all of these candidates, because I think the RNC is smart enough to know this is still an evenly divided country, you know, the red states and the blue states. And Jim knows that Wesley Clark would be a formidable competitor. And Karl Rove has said as much.

BLITZER: Go ahead and respond, Jim.

DYKE: I think the reason we weigh in is almost as sort of a fact-check operation. I mean, if Wesley Clark comes out and says he opposed the war from the beginning and there is testimony of him moving in that direction, we think it's worth pointing out. We think it's worth pointing out when candidates take positions that are in direct contrary to fact.

BLITZER: All right. Donna, I want to get to this whole Carol Moseley Braun decision to drop out, endorse Howard Dean.

There is an item in the New York Post on their Page Six, you probably saw it, which said this: "Braun was insinuated into the campaign by Donna Brazile, Al Gore's campaign manager, to diffuse Al Sharpton's appeal to minorities, and it worked."

BRAZILE: Well, I get a lot of ink these days for things I don't do. And I didn't get Carol in the race.

But I applaud her for getting out the race. She got out at the perfect time. She is throwing her support behind someone she believes can best represent the values of the Democratic Party. And she is campaigning on in South Carolina.

And I think she did good by getting in the race and by once again putting the American people on notice that we want a woman in the White House one day.

BLITZER: We are going to have to leave it right there unfortunately. But you guys are good. Thanks very much for joining us.

BRAZILE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Jim, Donna, Carlos.

DYKE: Good to see you.

WATSON: Thanks very much.

BLITZER: From the mission to Iraq to the war on terror and to the economy, how is the United States faring right now? We'll take a close look at the State of the Union address that the president is about to deliver Tuesday night.

We'll have three guests: David Gergen, Michael Waldman and David Frum. We'll ask them to assess what's going on in the state of the union.

Our special "LATE EDITION" will continue after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In a world of change and hope and peril, our faith is sure, our resolve is firm, and our union is strong.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: President Bush speaking last year. He returns to Capitol Hill and the State of the Union address Tuesday night.

Joining us now are three people who know the challenge of crafting and delivering such an important speech: in Boston, the former presidential adviser David Gergen. He's also the editor-at- large for U.S. News and World Report. He's advised four presidents. Also in Boston, the former Clinton speechwriting director Michael Waldman, and in New York, the former Bush speechwriter, David Frum.

It's good to have all of you on the show.

David, the timing of the president's State of the Union address is interesting, coming right after the Iowa caucuses, exactly a week before the New Hampshire primary. They could have decided when they wanted to do it, but apparently they decided to do it right between. What does that say to you?

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: I'm not sure which David you're referring to, Wolf.

BLITZER: David Gergen, go ahead.

GERGEN: Well, Wolf, as you know, there is a tradition that the White House works it out with the leadership in the Congress, as to when to have the State of the Union. And it is no accident that the Republican leaders in Congress and the White House have agreed to have this a day after Iowa and just a week before New Hampshire.

Clearly, one intention here is to have the president make his case to a huge national audience in a way that will blunt any momentum of a candidate emerging from Iowa. They did this, of course, at a time when it looked at if one individual would emerge and come roaring out of Iowa into New Hampshire. All of the news magazines would be giving a cover attention to it. Your show and others would be covering it.

And, inevitably, in this environment, you have to take time out now from Iowa to talk about the State of the Union. I think that's smart politics on their part.

And, of course, the speech in a larger sense, comes at an ideal time for President Bush. It's a -- you couldn't ask -- this speech writes itself.

BLITZER: David Frum, on the other hand, coming in the midst of all of this politics, it does give a political tone to what is supposed to be a nonpolitical kind of speech.

DAVID FRUM, FORMER BUSH SPEECHWRITER: Well, politics is the business of choosing leaders, and you come out as a leader, that is going to be political, but it's also leadership.

President Bush's States of the Union have differed from those of many of his predecessors because they emphasize large themes and big ideas. I understand that that's what will be coming out this week. And he will be reaffirming a lot of his major commitments that he's taken up over the past three years and giving Americans an idea of what's to come if he's reelected.

Above all, the most important and biggest of those themes is the war. That President Bush is not a president for turning back. He's going to stake out tough ground, reminding Americans how far we've come on this, why the decisions were made as they've been made, and reminding them that this isn't the end of the story. And that while many Democrats want to argue about decisions that they first voted for and then changed their mind about, that this war is advancing and the argument over the war is going to have to continue to advance.

BLITZER: Michael Waldman, in the new Time magazine, there's a CNN-Time magazine poll out that's out right now. Let me put some numbers up that will be significant, I think, for you.

If they're rating the presidents and they're making a comparison between President Bush, former President Clinton, as far as great: almost the same. As far as good: almost the same. As far as average: basically the same. Also, as far as poor: basically the same.

But when they asked the question, is the country better off with President Bush as president or President Clinton as president, look at this number. Let's put it up there. Fifty percent say the country's better off with President Bush. Forty percent say the country was better off with President Clinton.

What does that say to you on the eve of a State of the Union address?

MICHAEL WALDMAN, FORMER CLINTON SPEECHWRITING DIRECTOR: Well, to me, what it says, it's interesting: It's 50 percent, which is roughly the number that he got in the last election. It suggests that the electorate still remains very closely divided.

And although this is a great forum for him, as a nonpolitical setting, with applauding members of Congress and all the constitutionally required things around a State of the Union address, I think that a lot of Democrats are going to be listening very skeptically to the things he said. And he will sail into some headwinds from people who were very willing to listen to him in a lot of other speeches.

I think people will wonder, for example, about whether he's going to talk about the weapons of mass destruction, which was so much the centerpiece of the last State of the Union. Whether he'll talk about that, whether he'll talk about other rationales as to why it's a good idea for us to be in Iraq.

BLITZER: David Gergen, would it be smart for the president to directly address some of those more controversial issues, like the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, head-on in this State of the Union address, or ignore it?

GERGEN: I think he's better off going with what David Frum suggested he would do, and that is go to large themes.

It seems to me, Wolf, the reason why this is such an easy speech to write is that events are cresting in his direction just at the moment he gives his speech. He's had a lot of good news in the last 60 days, and that's the perfect set-up for a speech like this, where the president, in his fourth year, can go to the country and say, "Look, here's what I inherited. Here's the policy we put in place to deal with it. And now here's where we are."

And in almost every area, he's got good news to report. In Iraq, he's got Saddam Hussein. If you look at Libya and Iran and North Korea and Afghanistan and the relations between India and Pakistan, all good news for the president to report on, so that he can make the argument that the world is safer.

At home, the economy is cresting at just the right moment for him. He can make the argument we're stronger at home. And then he can go on to say, "And this is because of good leadership, but we're not finished."

So it's one of those classic moments for a White House that you sort of look for every time you can, that he's well teed-up for this speech.

And I think, to go with large themes, as David Frum suggested, is clearly going to be his strong suit in a speech like this.

BLITZER: David Frum, two years ago, you helped craft his State of the Union address. Among other things, he said this, when it came to the so-called "axis of evil." Listen to this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is it your sense, David Frum, that he's got another line along that theme that he's going to unveil this Tuesday night, that will excite the people, his supporters, and perhaps antagonize his critics?

FRUM: Well, I think there's no question he'll have some very vigorous and forceful language.

But, you know, that speech in 2002 and what he said in 2003 is a reminder that, for this president, States of the Unions really are not just words. They really are commitments. They're indicators to what is going to happen.

And you will hear in his speech, and you have heard, a continuous line of argument, beginning on September 20th and advancing through all of the speeches since then, from September 20th of 2001.

This president has a very clear theory about what this war on terrorism is about, how to fight it and how to win it. And he has advanced, point by point. And there has never been retreating. And there's never been apologetics. That he has gone ahead and he has said that this war is a war about democracy, that we are fighting the terrorist ideology and the heir (ph) to the attitudes and the mentalities of the Nazis and the Communists before, and that we have to take an approach that is similar to those kinds of great global conflicts.

BLITZER: All right.

FRUM: I think we're going to hear that reinforced.

And we're going to go on, not stop with Iraq, go on. And we are going to have to have, you know, an end to the axis of evil. We're going to have to have an end to all of these evils.

BLITZER: One final thought from you, Michael Waldman. Is there a problem that the Democrats might have in reacting to the president's State of the Union, if they hammer him too hard?

WALDMAN: Sure. You always know that the cameras are on you, and you risk looking very churlish if he's saying something very hopeful and you're not applauding or scowling.

And I think that it is a good moment for him, because presidents like to be able to use these reelection speeches to set an overall tone that the country is in good shape and moving forward. President Reagan did that in 1984. Clinton did that in 1996.

I think that you should look to hear how the Democrats react on issues relating to domestic policy and the budget. Because there's just not a lot of money. David Frum said the president talks about big themes. But even, for the example, on the mission to Mars, he'll have to use Martian money...

(LAUGHTER)

... to pay for it, given how the budget is. So the Democrats have a difficult task.

BLITZER: David Gergen, Michael Waldman and David Frum, thanks for joining us. A little preview of what we can expect Tuesday night.

Of course CNN will have extensive live coverage around the president's State of the Union address.

Just ahead, our poll results are in on our Web question of the week. We'll show you the results as soon as we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We have the Web question of the week results. The question was, "What is the most important issue in this year's U.S. presidential election?"

Take a look at this. Twenty-eight percent of you said Iraq; 55 percent of you said the economy; 15 percent said the war on terror; only 2 percent of you said education.

Remember, this is not -- repeat, not -- a scientific poll.

And that's your "LATE EDITION" for Sunday, January 18th.

For our international viewers, "World News" is coming up next.

For our domestic viewers, please continue to stay with CNN for complete live coverage of the Iowa caucuses tomorrow night. I'll be here with my colleagues covering every angle of this story.

Until then, thanks very much for watching. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Des Moines.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com




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