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Democratic Showdown in South Carolina

Aired February 2, 2004 - 16:30   ET


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

In the CROSSFIRE: Are you ready for a showdown in the West, the Midwest, the East, and the South?

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The South is not George Bush's backyard. It is my backyard.


EDWARDS: And I'm going to beat George Bush in my backyard.

ANNOUNCER: The more immediate question: Can John Edwards stop John Kerry from winning all of tomorrow's primaries and caucuses?

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When you vote tomorrow, I ask you to go there not to just send America a message, but to send America a president of the United States.

ANNOUNCER: And what about Howard Dean?

HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think I'm the most electable of all the Democrats.



ANNOUNCER: Live from the CNN Election Express in Charleston, South Carolina, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello, everybody. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

We have pulled the CNN Election Express to the College of Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina, a college that has been around since 1770, back when my friend Bob Novak was fighting the Revolutionary War. It lasted through the Civil War, through Hurricane Hugo. And it's even survived three years of George W. Bush's presidency.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Of course, South Carolina is part of the once, but no more, solidly Democratic South, just about completely switched to solid Republican. But they still hold Democratic primaries here. So we'll get to the face-off between Senators John Edwards and John Kerry right after the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

The new front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, Senator John Kerry, has been promising to sweep special interests out of the White House. But it looks as though he's bringing in some of his own. "The Washington Post" reported that Kerry has raised more money from paid lobbyists over the last 15 years than any other senator, Democrat or Republican.

Next, "Newsweek" reports that the notorious Chinese operative Johnny Chung raised $10,000 for Kerry's 1996 Senate campaign, after the senator arranged a meeting with government regulators for Chung. Chung was a key finger in the terrible Clinton fund-raising scandals. Will Senator Kerry now stop attacking President Bush about special interests? Don't hold your breath.

BEGALA: Bob, this is about the phoniest issue I have ever heard.

John Kerry has never raised a dime from PACs. There's lots of people who are lobbyists. Most of them have gone to work for President Bush in the government now, most of the Republican lobbyists. Hey, it's just a phony issue.

NOVAK: It may be phony, but it was -- the issue was raised by President -- by Senator Kerry. Paul, you can't attack lobbyists in the White House if they're your best friends. You can't attack funny fund-raising when you get money from Johnny Chung...


NOVAK: ... after getting -- get Johnny Chung -- after doing favors for him.

BEGALA: Well, President Bush today said he would create a commission to investigate alleged intelligence lapses which led to the Bush administration's claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction which posed a mortal threat to the United States.

Unlike the 9/11 Commission, which was created by Congress, Mr. Bush alone will name all the members of this panel -- not exactly independent. And don't expect any results before the election -- not exactly credible. Perhaps, the president could turn for membership on the commission to such noted independents as, say, his mother, Barbara Bush, maybe his dog Spot, or how about legendary cartoon character Mr. Magoo?

In other news, today is Groundhog Day. And Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow. So you know what that means, six more weeks of President Bush misleading us about the war.

NOVAK: You see, Paul, you've just exposed yourself.

You're not interested in finding out the intelligence failures, which are really a problem. You just want to nail George W. Bush. You'll take any issue, even when it's a matter of national security, and subvert it into a political ploy for the Democrats.

BEGALA: President Bush is being political here by not naming a credible commission, by not having a credible process. His intelligence community served him well. There's ample evidence that they tried to warn him that Iraq posed no threat to America. He rejected that advice...


BEGALA: ... and led us into a war unfairly and unwisely.

NOVAK: I thought I carefully explained to Howard Dean last week that you can't be nominated for president without winning primaries. At least, nobody's done it since Hubert Humphrey in 1968.

Still, on NBC's "Meet the Press" yesterday, Dr. Dean insisted that he will stay in the presidential race even when he is shut out of tomorrow's seven primaries, which is certainly the thing that's likely to happen. Now, the former governor of Vermont blames himself for having no money to spend in Tuesday's contest because he spent it all in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Howard just doesn't get it. If he won one or both of those primaries, he'd be leading in tomorrow's primaries, with plenty of money to spend. Dr. Dean thinks he's entitled to the presidential nomination, without earning it, which, on second thought, ought to make him pretty appealing to liberal voters.

BEGALA: Well, Dr. Dean was very candid on "Meet the Press" with Tim Russert yesterday, when he said: We gambled big and we lost.

They gambled very big on Iowa and New Hampshire, set records for a Democrat in spending there, got beat badly. He's going to try to recoup later on in Wisconsin. But I don't know if you can lose 12 primaries in a row and then become credible in the 13th. Very difficult.

NOVAK: But I thought I had something very unusual to say there and unique, that the idea that he's entitled to something and doesn't have to work for it...


NOVAK: is a real Democratic -- liberal Democratic dogma.

BEGALA: Well, George W. Bush is the most entitled guy in the world. He's the guy who thought he was entitled to the presidency, even when he didn't win the vote.

Well, speaking of our president, the Bush administration has, of course, made no progress in the investigation into who tried to kill Senators Tom Daschle and Ted Kennedy with anthrax a year ago-plus. But the Bushies are launching an investigation into an imminent threat to America, Janet Jackson's right breast. After the singer's mammary gland was exposed in yesterday's Super Bowl halftime show, FCC Chairman Michael Powell piously pronounced himself outraged and pledged to bring the full power of the federal government to bear to crack down on the wayward boob.

Well, perhaps Mr. Powell will follow President Bush's lead and appoint a commission to investigate boobgate. Mr. Powell, I hereby volunteer my services to personally look at and examine this very touchy issue. Ms. Jackson's breast was unavailable for comment.

NOVAK: You know, I think you have exposed yourself as a dirty...


NOVAK: ... as a dirty young man.

You know, Michael Powell is not part of the Bush administration. That's an independent regulatory commission. But I tend to agree with you. I would suggest that Chairman Powell tune on cable television some night, in the dark of night, and he'll see something more than a hastily exposed boob.

BEGALA: It's exactly what Janet Jackson should want, to, is to look like the underdog. She did something that was, I think, silly and trying to get attention.


BEGALA: She's getting attention. But the notion -- the federal government ought to have better things to do. Protect us from terrorists, not breasts.

Well, later, one of the Democrats running for president says that what happened at the Super Bowl could set a very positive precedent for his campaign in November. And I don't think he was talking about the Janet Jackson strip show, though.

And, as John Edwards tries to win here in South Carolina and pull off his first victory of the campaign, we will talk to one of his key congressional supporters and a key supporter of John Kerry next.


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

You know, over the years, South Carolina has turned into a bit of a graveyard for presidential campaigns. The state's Republicans effectively ended the White House bids of the great Texas Governor John Connally back years ago, as will as more recent campaigns of Pat Robertson, John McCain, and former CROSSFIRE host Patrick Buchanan.

Well, tomorrow, South Carolina Democrats will render what is widely seen as a life-or-death verdict on Senator John Edwards' campaign. A new poll shows Senator Edwards leading Senator John Kerry here, but only by four points. Stepping into the CROSSFIRE here in Charleston, Congressman Albert Wynn of Maryland, a supporter of John Edwards. And in Memphis is Kerry supporter and Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford.

Gentlemen, thank you for joining us.

NOVAK: Congressman Wynn, thank you for coming to Charleston.

Congressman, if your candidate, Senator Edwards, barely survives by the skin of his teeth in this state, which he must win, where in the world does he go next? Does he go to Michigan, where nobody ever heard of him, to Washington state? Certainly, he doesn't have any support in places like Wisconsin and New York and California.

REP. ALBERT WYNN (D), MARYLAND: That's what they said about Iowa.

Let me tell you, first of all, we're going to win big here tomorrow in South Carolina. He's worked terribly hard. He's got a message that's resonating with people about creating jobs, health care and education. He's going to do well here. And I think, as in Iowa and other places, people are going to respond to John Edwards. He communicates well. And I think people like him. And that, fundamentally, is what wins votes.

BEGALA: Well, Congressman Ford, first, thank you for joining us. Always good to see you again.

REP. HAROLD FORD (D), TENNESSEE: Thanks for having me.

BEGALA: I don't know if you heard the beginning of the show, but my pal Bob Novak was banging on your candidate, John Kerry, because of reports originally broken in "The Washington Post" that Kerry has received more campaign donations from lobbyists than any other member of the Senate.

Now, Howard Dean has been banging that drum for several days. And any time that Bob Novak and Howard Dean are saying the same thing, you've got to wonder if something is going on. How do you defend these charges against Senator Kerry taking too much money from lobbyists?

FORD: Well, my friend Mr. Novak, who I actually like, I think he's probably read some of those surveys showing that, if the election were held today, John Kerry would defeat George Bush. I know there's a lot of concern in circles all across Washington, particularly Republican circles.

The reality is, John Kerry's message is beginning to resonate with more and more Americans. The more they learn about him, the more they like him in every part of the country. I've heard the -- the notion that John Kerry accepts lobbyist money. And he probably does, just like everybody else.

But I can assure you of one thing. Lobbyists won't write a Medicare prescription drug bill when John Kerry is president and they certainly won't write environmental laws when John Kerry is elected president.

NOVAK: Well...

FORD: That's the issue and that's the point that John Kerry is making.

NOVAK: Congressman Ford, you let it slip out, he's just like everybody else.

But I'll give you something where Senator Kerry was special. And "Newsweek" reported that received -- he got a $10,000 fund-raising contribution from Johnny Chung, the notorious Chinese wheeler/dealer, after he'd arranged for Ford (sic) to talk to SEC regulators. How do you explain that?

FORD: I don't know. I don't.

Senator Kerry leapt to explain that and make clear early, he has no recollection of it. And it's clear his vote was not influenced by that money or, for that matter, any money. If anybody in the Senate is going to be accused of allowing special interests dollars to influence them, John Kerry is probably not the right guy. I think he's as independent as anybody in the Senate. His own personal situation allows him to be that way. And his record in the Senate, I'd put up against anyone, including this president's, when it comes to showing his support and allegiance to the American people, right now, the voters of Massachusetts, but, we hope in a few months, the entire country.

BEGALA: Congressman Wynn, your man, John Edwards, has done very well outside of the South in the Midwest and the Northeast, in part, I think, he ran a positive campaign. And, in fact, when Bob Novak and I interviewed him on our CNN Election Express, Senator Edwards pledged to me that he would not attack any of his Democratic opponents unless they attacked him first.

But, today, Edwards was out there attacking John Kerry on this issue of lobbyist money. Has John Edwards broken his word and is he now going negative?

WYNN: Not at all. I think there's a difference between attacking a candidate and pointing out differences.

There are very real differences between John Edwards and Senator Kerry. The fact of the matter is, there's a difference on contributions from lobbyists. Critically, there's a difference on NAFTA.


BEGALA: That may be, but that is an attack, though, Congressman.

WYNN: Well, it's not an attack. It's what you do in a campaign.

BEGALA: Of course it's an attack.

WYNN: You point out the differences.

BEGALA: It's not a compliment.

WYNN: Well, it's pointing out that there are differences. I vote one way. My opponent votes another way.


WYNN: John Edwards opposed NAFTA. Senator Kerry supported NAFTA. Those aren't attacks. That's a fact. NAFTA cost jobs in this country. That's another fact.

The fact is that John Edwards has some distinct differences and I believe advantages in this race and he's talking about them. That's not attacking. That's presenting the facts to the American people.

FORD: And one point...


NOVAK: Senator -- go ahead, Harold.

FORD: The one point, John -- John Edwards was not in the Senate when we voted on NAFTA, I can appreciate where my friend, my dear friend, Al Wynn is coming from.

But we have to be clear, no lobbyist money, no industry money -- in Washington, we all know that lobbyists and others attend fund- raisers. You can't point out one vote that John Kerry cast where one can legitimately or credibly say he was influenced by some lobbyist contribution.

I love John Edwards. I think he's a good guy. But he's dead wrong when he makes those accusations. And my friend Al Wynn knows that as well.

NOVAK: Congressman Wynn, Senator Kerry let the truth slip out the other day. He reneged afterwards.

He said, no Democrat is going to win the South against George W. Bush.


NOVAK: And you're not going to sit here and tell me that John Edwards is going to win South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana. He's not going to those states.

WYNN: And North Carolina.

NOVAK: North Carolina.


NOVAK: He's not going to win those states against George W. Bush. You're just whistling Dixie, aren't you? WYNN: No.


WYNN: Let me assure you, I'm not whistling Dixie.


WYNN: But I will tell you this. We are going to win in the South. And the reason is very simple.

John Edwards communicates a message to the working people in this country, the working people in the South. And it is simply this. We need to create jobs, not have jobs exported overseas, as President Bush is doing. We need health care for our young people, for our seniors. President Bush hasn't addressed that. We need a real education bill, not leaving more children behind, as President Bush has done.


WYNN: And when you talk about those issues, John Edwards does really well.

NOVAK: Just as you're getting wound up, I'm going to have to cut you off.

Thank you, Congressman Al Wynn.

WYNN: All right.

NOVAK: Thank you, Congressman Harold Ford in Memphis.

FORD: Go, John Kerry.


NOVAK: Howard Dean says he's not giving up, even if he doesn't win anything tomorrow.

Just ahead, we'll hear from Dr. Dean's media adviser about the long-term strategy of this campaign.

And right after the break, Wolf Blitzer has the latest on the creation of a presidential commission to investigate intelligence of weapons of mass destruction by Iraq.

ANNOUNCER: Join Carville, Begala, Carlson and Novak in the CROSSFIRE. For free tickets to the live Washington audience, call 202-994-8CNN or e-mail us at Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.


(NEWS BREAK) NOVAK: Seven states are holding primaries or caucuses tomorrow, and Howard Dean is not going to win any of them. A poll here in South Carolina shows him running fifth -- fifth -- barely ahead of Joe Lieberman and Dennis Kucinich. But Dr. Dean is looking ahead to the Michigan caucuses Saturday and to other states down the road.

In the CROSSFIRE, from our nation's capital, is Dean media adviser Steve McMahon.

BEGALA: Steve, thank you for joining us. Good to see you again, my friend.


BEGALA: Let me ask -- let me ask you about the latest turn in Governor Dean's message. It seemed to me, as an outsider, that he rocketed to the head of the pack by being the only one who was right about the war in Iraq, Dennis Kucinich notwithstanding, the only serious candidate who was right that the war was wrong, back when Congress approved the vote to authorize the use of force.


BEGALA: Why is he off of that now with this -- I say this nonsense about who gets money from lobbyists, when the campaign is being run for Governor Dean by a lobbyist? Isn't that kind of hypocritical, to attack the other guy for lobbyists when your own campaign is run by a lobbyist?

MCMAHON: Well, you've -- you've correctly identified the issue as hypocrisy, Paul, but I don't think you've correctly identified the villain.

Senator Howard Dean has basically appropriated Howard Dean's message. You know, Howard Dean has funded his campaign differently, by hundreds of thousands of people giving $100 or less -- I think the average contribution now is about $77 -- by raising more money than anybody in the history of presidential politics.

And so he's actually got a credible argument when he says it's time to empower people and disempower the special interests and the big-money contributors in politics. Senator Kerry says the same thing. But Senator Kerry is funding his campaign the same old way that George Bush funds his and that everybody else, including, by the way, Senator Edwards, with big-money contributions from very wealthy individuals, many of whom, in Senator Kerry's case, are lobbyists for special interests.

NOVAK: Mr. McMahon...

MCMAHON: So, we just think it's ironic, if not hypocritical, to talk about taking on the special interests, when the way you're taking them on is by taking their money.

NOVAK: Mr. McMahon, Governor Dean has conceded tomorrow's elections. He says he's going on to Michigan on Saturday, but he's 23 points behind in the polls then.

The week after that is Tennessee and Virginia. He's not going to go anywhere in those kind of states. After that is Wisconsin. Is he going to stake everything on the 13th primary, thinking he'll be by losing the first 12 and winning in the 13th?

MCMAHON: No, Bob. I'm sure it took you some time to construct that sentence -- that question, but that's not the strategy.

The strategy is to win at the convention. And, after all, that's where the nomination is going to be settled; 2,150 delegates or some number like that will be required to be the nominee. Howard Dean is going to compete for delegates. And he is going to compete for delegates tomorrow and next week and the week after that.

But, on March 2, there are going to be 1,150 delegates selected. So our goal is to be in a position by March 2 to be able to make a run at this thing. March 2 will pick more delegates in one day than have been picked, by some incredible measure, up until that point. I think, between Iowa and March 2, there are about 600 delegates picked. And, on March 2, there are 1,150.

So what's important for us is to regroup. We invested heavily in Iowa and New Hampshire. It didn't go as we had hoped. But we're not -- we're not done yet. You guys have written us off before. Write us off again. Howard Dean has surprised everyone from the beginning of this year.

BEGALA: Well, Steve, I'm talking about -- I'm sorry to interrupt, but we're almost out of time.

He surprised me when he announced he wasn't going to pay his staff. You and I have been peon staffers many, many years ago, when I had a full head of hair. How on earth can a good guy like Governor Dean, who plainly cares about the little guy, stiff all those little guys and gals who are working for him?

MCMAHON: His -- his staff is going to get paid, Paul.

In fact, Roy Neel came in. He got ahold of the finances. And I think you're going to be surprised. Everybody's going to get paid. He indicated that people are going to have to miss a paycheck, but they're not going to miss a payday, because he's going to come back and make sure that everybody does get paid.

BEGALA: That will have to be the last word. Steve McMahon, media adviser and strategist for Governor Howard Dean -- thank you very much for joining us, Steve.

MCMAHON: Thank you, gentlemen.

BEGALA: Well, the Super Bowl had it all. It had action, a little bit of controversy, a little bit of nudity, and a potential political tie-in. We will share the presidential candidates' patriotic predictions next.


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

You know, this is not exactly a happy day for football fans here in the Carolinas. The Carolinas, of course, are very proud of their team's valiant effort in yesterday's Super Bowl.

But Senator John Kerry argues that his New England patriots' win has larger national implications.


KERRY: How about those New England Patriots, ladies and gentlemen?



KERRY: It's great to see New Englanders go to Texas and win.




NOVAK: You know, Paul, I -- I have lived to see the day -- I can go to heaven happy now -- to see a Democratic candidate for president dis the great Democratic state of Texas, which is so solidly Republican that not only George W. Bush, but any Republican would easily carry it.

BEGALA: He didn't dis Texas at all. He was proud of his team. We Texans admire that. They did play a great game. Now...

NOVAK: It's not solidly Republican?

BEGALA: Who was it who predicted, by the way, that New England was going to win and Adam Vinatieri was the best pressure kicker in the league? I can't remember.

NOVAK: You said 14 points. I said one point.

BEGALA: Well...

NOVAK: I was closer on the points.


BEGALA: Well, that's it.

From the left, from the College of Charleston, home of the Fighting Cougars, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. The CNN Election Express will be in South Carolina's capital city of Columbia tomorrow. Join Paul and me then for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.


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