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CNN CROSSFIRE

Seven-State Showdown

Aired February 3, 2004 - 16:30   ET

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

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

In the CROSSFIRE: the seven-state showdown.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This South Carolina primary is a head-to-head contest on who can compete in the South, who can win rural voters and who can do well with African- American voters.

ANNOUNCER: Is today do or die for Senator John Edwards and the rest of the Democratic pack? And will this be the day Senator John Kerry becomes inevitable?

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The one person in the United States who deserves to be laid off is George W. Bush.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ANNOUNCER: Today, a special edition of CROSSFIRE: "America Votes 2004." Live from the CNN Election Express in Columbia, South Carolina, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hey, all. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

We are on the grounds of the South Carolina Statehouse here in Columbia, South Carolina. Just a few hundred yards from where I'm sitting, there's a statue of Strom Thurmond, South Carolina's favorite son and the oldest person ever to serve in the United States Congress.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Just don't bet on South Carolina ever laying claim to being the birthplace of President John Edwards.

We'll debate whether his campaign will even get out of this state alive, but, first, the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Senator John Edwards and his staff have been putting out the word, though they publicly deny it, that, if he loses here in his native state of South Carolina today, his presidential campaign is finished. That's not a scoop. Howard Dean hasn't learned it yet, but a presidential candidate has to win somewhere to be nominated.

Two interesting questions. First, if Edwards win in South Carolina, where else does he have a chance? Second, if he loses here, does he change his tune about never being John Kerry's vice president? Count on it. If he's asked, he'll say yes.

BEGALA: Well, we'll be able to ask Jennifer Palmieri, Senator Edwards's campaign press secretary. She's going to join us in the CROSSFIRE in just a moment.

But I think Edwards has been rather candid. When asked, does he have to win here in South Carolina, as you point out, the state where he was born, he has said yes. He hasn't danced around about it. He hasn't been cute. He has said yes. Now, we'll see. You know, polls close in, I don't know, about 2 1/2 hours. We'll see then. We'll start to count the votes to see who wins.

NOVAK: I still -- I still hear a lot of talk about a Kerry/Edwards ticket. And he's got to say, no, I won't take it. What does he say, yes, I'll take it?

BEGALA: Exactly.

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: That's the end of it.

BEGALA: It's why it's a silly question. Reporters, stop asking these candidates if they will take the vice presidency. They all will. They just can't say it.

Well, what is most striking about President Bush's new budget is how deeply dishonest it is. It projects a $364 billion deficit next year. But it doesn't count the $1.1 trillion over 10 years that President Bush's proposed tax cuts would cost us, nor the $530 billion over 10 years that Mr. Bush's prescription drug plan will cost us, nor the $50 billion a year that Mr. Bush's occupation of Iraq will cost us.

One budget expert told a "New York Times" that hiding those costs makes the Bush budget -- quote -- "an exploding cigar" -- unquote. Unfortunately, the joke is on you. The things Mr. Bush does reveal in his budget also say an awful lot about him. He wants to cut cops and firefighters who respond to terror attacks. And he wants new fees for veterans.

Mr. Bush can't find money for cops and firefighters and veterans, but, apparently, he can still find hundreds of millions of dollars of your money for his pals at Halliburton.

NOVAK: Paul, there's no question that you and the other Democrats want to spend more, tax more, tax and tax, spend and spend.

In fact, the president has got a pretty austere budget considering the growth of the government. The government is too big and it's up to the Republican-controlled Congress...

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: ... to try to cut it down.

BEGALA: It is obscene. Well, we'll debate that later in the show.

NOVAK: A high point in Howard Dean's campaign for president came last year when two big-time liberal unions, AFSCME and the SEIU, endorsed him and thus kept labor's overall backing out of Dick Gephardt's hands.

Endorse in haste, repent in leisure. Those unions don't buy Dr. Dean's preposterous strategic theory that he can win enough delegates to be nominated without winning any primaries. After today's voting, Dean will have lost nine out of nine primaries. So the question -- the question is, does -- what happens?

You know, to me, Paul, Dr. Dean begins to look like the old Japanese soldier who was found on the island of Guam who didn't know the war had ended 28 years earlier.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: That is -- well, perhaps. Give him a chance today. I think you're right. He'll probably lose all seven.

But it will be interesting what those labor leaders do. Andy Stern, the head of SEIU, a brilliant labor leader, has said that Governor Dean has to win today or he's in big trouble. I understand that Gerry McEntee, the head of AFSCME, the other big union that has endorsed him, is also raising concerns about Dean's strategy. I think it's nuts to take seven states in three time zones and dis all of them...

(BELL RINGING)

BEGALA: ... and pretend they don't count.

NOVAK: It won't work. No, it won't.

BEGALA: Well, we agree. We'll never let that happen again.

Well, the Bush White House is angry with me. No news there. The current gripe they have is that I recently quoted press secretary Scott McClellan describing Iraq as -- quote -- "an imminent threat" -- unquote. The White House notes that Mr. McClellan was speaking of the threat of an Iraqi threat against Turkey.

Fair enough. But, as a NATO ally, America is treaty-bound to look upon attack on Turkey as if it were an attack on America itself. Now, perhaps President Bush has abandoned America's commitment to defending NATO allies. I certainly hope not, but there's no doubt that the Bush White House described Iraq as an urgent threat, a grave threat, a growing threat, a mortal threat, and, yes, an imminent threat.

Here's White House communications director Dan Bartlett with one of those examples discussing Saddam Hussein with CNN's own Wolf Blitzer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Is he an imminent threat to U.S. interests, either in that part of the world or to Americans right here at home?

DAN BARTLETT, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, of course, he is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: "Well, of course, he is." And, of course, when the White House now claims that it never said that Iraq was an imminent threat, it's misleading us again.

Look, if my friends at the White House want to continue this debate about how they misled the American people, the chair's waiting for you here on CROSSFIRE. Bring it on, friends.

NOVAK: Who will survive today's seven-state showdown? John Kerry is going for a knockout punch, while the rest of the field is looking for ways to stay in the race.

We'll hear from supporters of John Kerry and John Edwards just ahead. And, later, Paul and I reveal the worst moves that Democratic candidates have made going into today's voting.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Hey, welcome back to South Carolina, where CROSSFIRE has brought the CNN Election Express.

Of course, the Palmetto State is just one of seven holding primaries or caucuses today. Senator John Kerry is favored in five of them, with Wesley Clark and John Edwards challenging him in Oklahoma and native son John Edwards running strong here in South Carolina.

In the CROSSFIRE today, South Carolina Congressman and John Kerry supporter, the honorable James Clyburn, along with Senator Edwards' press secretary, herself pretty darn honorable, Jennifer Palmieri.

(LAUGHTER)

JENNIFER PALMIERI, PRESS SECRETARY, DNC: Well, thank you, Paula.

BEGALA: Thank you both.

NOVAK: Congressman Clyburn, you are reputed to be the most powerful single politician in the state of South Carolina...

(LAUGHTER)

PALMIERI: It's true.

NOVAK: ... that you can deliver yourself about 25 percent of the Democratic primary vote. Have you delivered that many votes for Senator Kerry today?

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: I don't know if I could deliver that many votes for me. But I...

(LAUGHTER)

CLYBURN: No, what we tried to do is to make sure that, when it's all over here today, that we have two very credible candidates coming out of South Carolina. And we will have done what we wanted to do here.

We wanted South Carolina to be brought into the mainstream of Democratic Party politics. And so I think that John Edwards will win today. He will go out of here with a six-to-10-point spread, I believe.

NOVAK: You're predicting

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Is that right?

CLYBURN: I believe John Edwards will win, but I think that John Kerry will have a close second. Now, if I'm as powerful as you say...

(LAUGHTER)

CLYBURN: ... it may not come to pass and John Kerry may win, but I don't think so.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: Well, Jennifer, that's an amazing prediction from Congressman Clyburn.

PALMIERI: Yes.

BEGALA: That your man is going to walk away with it here. If so, that would be a terrific accomplishment for him and it would be a great victory for him.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: But I do have to say, he was born here. This is the state of his birth. And where can your man win outside of his region? John Kerry won in Iowa, a long way from his native New England.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Where can John Edwards win where they don't talk like I do?

PALMIERI: John Kerry also -- John Kerry also won in New Hampshire, which is the neighboring state of his birth.

BEGALA: Right.

PALMIERI: And -- and John Edwards came very close to beating John Kerry in Iowa, even though John Kerry outspent him 4-1 and even though John Edwards came from at 5 percent to winning at 32 percent.

BEGALA: Project this forward. Where is -- where can Edwards win that's not Southern? What state?

PALMIERI: I think Wisconsin. I think that will be the -- I think that will be the showdown state.

I mean, we're going to -- we're leaving here tonight.

(CROSSTALK)

PALMIERI: We're going to Tennessee. We're going to compete in Michigan. Then we have Tennessee and Virginia. And then I think -- you know, and I think each -- we have -- we've got a number of primaries coming up that are all over the country.

And the next time all the candidates get together will be Wisconsin. I think that's where you have the big showdown. What we want to see tonight -- South Carolina was an important state for us to win. We think it shows it's a -- it shows that John Edwards can win a rural state, that he's the candidate that can win in the South, that he's the candidate that can win in a diverse state with a high African-American population.

(CROSSTALK)

PALMIERI: And what we are hoping -- and we're also doing very well in Oklahoma. And we're competing in Missouri. And we did really well in Iowa. So we're competing nationally.

(CROSSTALK)

PALMIERI: And what we hope what comes out of this is -- and it may or may not -- a two-person race.

NOVAK: Jennifer Palmieri, let me give you a dissenting view from Senator Kerry.

PALMIERI: From my left?

NOVAK: No, from Senator Kerry.

(LAUGHTER)

PALMIERI: I'm just pointing out that you're on -- you're on my left, Paul.

NOVAK: That's a wonderful place to be.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: Senator -- Senator Kerry, see, we have a thing where we have these microphones that are hanging around, so you've got to be very careful what you say.

(CROSSTALK) PALMIERI: ... didn't bring that up with Senator Edwards

(CROSSTALK)

PALMIERI: ... during our satellite

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Senator Kerry -- the microphones caught Senator Kerry saying to one of his senior aides -- and we'll put it up on the screen what he said -- "Edwards says he's the only one who can win states in the South. He can't win his own state."

Now, that means, I guess that Senator Edwards got out of the race for reelection from North Carolina because he couldn't possibly win there. What do you think of Senator Kerry's political analysis there?

PALMIERI: I think he's wrong.

I mean, first of all, John Edwards is the only constituent who actually has proven that he can win in a red state, you know, if I can be colloquial about it. He was, you know -- this gets to be a point of simple math. At some point, you've got to pick up a state that Bush has won. John Edwards has proven he can win in a state that Bush has won. He can -- he -- he can win in North Carolina.

He was up by 11 points in his Senate reelection when he got out of the Senate race. And your own network yesterday, CNN...

NOVAK: Well, what do you think Senator Kerry meant? What do you...

PALMIERI: I think that's what he meant. But I think -- but your own network yesterday showed that we are even ahead nationally in beating Bush.

BEGALA: Mr. Clyburn, let me ask you about something...

CLYBURN: Sure.

BEGALA: ... not that your man, John Kerry, said, but something he hasn't said.

CLYBURN: Yes.

BEGALA: And that is on the issue of then lieutenant Bush's being AWOL from the Texas Air National Guard. He committed -- or, rather, from the Alabama National Guard. He was transferred to the Alabama Guard.

Today's "Washington Post" again repeats the solid reporting from "The Boston Globe" that says, for the better part of a year, there's no record at all that Mr. Bush ever showed up for his National Guard duty. Now, John Kerry doesn't seem to want to make that an issue. Is he wimping out here? Or is he going to be tough enough to take on Bush, who was AWOL for an year?

CLYBURN: Whether he wants to make it an issue or not, it will be an issue come November.

(CROSSTALK)

CLYBURN: If John Kerry gets on this ticket -- and I think he will -- I really believe that that is the one issue that can make the difference in some of those red states that we are talking about, because South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, we are very proud of military service in these states.

And we look with favor upon men and women who serve their country, who make the sacrifices. And we don't think too kindly of people who don't. And so, that one issue has dogged us in November elections for a long, long time. Kerry takes that away and may make it favorable to us.

NOVAK: Congressman, are you saying that the president of the United States, who served in the Alabama -- in the Texas and the Alabama National Guard, and Texas National Guard, learned how to fly a jet plane, did not serve his country? I mean, he was honorably discharged. Are you saying that?

CLYBURN: No, what I'm saying -- I'm saying that that issue is going to dog him. Where was he for a year? I don't know. Nobody else seems to know.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: You mean, you're going to keep pounding him on this. Do you think it's good politics?

CLYBURN: "The Washington Post" is going to keep doing it and other news media is going to keep doing it.

I think "The Boston Globe," if my memory serves, has done tremendous research on this. And I think that Al Gore made a mistake when he didn't do something about it four years ago, let it ride. We're not going to let it ride this time.

BEGALA: Amen.

Jennifer, we're almost out of time. I'm going to ask you about John Edwards's biggest mistake. He has accepted an endorsement from Barry Switzer.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: Now, I'm from Texas, OK? Barry Switzer coached the Oklahoma Sooners for many years. He's...

(CROSSTALK)

PALMIERI: Oh, Switzer told us...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: This is Edwards writing off Texas, isn't he?

PALMIERI: He told us we were making -- we were taking a big risk, but I think it was worth it. We got his support in Oklahoma.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: My fellow Longhorns are very disappointed with you.

PALMIERI: I think it's helping us out in the Sooner state. I do. I think it's helping us out.

(LAUGHTER)

CLYBURN: I think it is.

PALMIERI: It is.

CLYBURN: I think you'll do well in Oklahoma.

PALMIERI: Yes, we are. We are doing...

CLYBURN: I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Edwards will do a little better than people think in Oklahoma.

PALMIERI: Well, we will be surprised if we win Oklahoma, but we are doing well there. We're doing well, really well, there.

BEGALA: Very quick. We're almost out of time, but Michigan, you said you're going to play in Michigan, campaign

(CROSSTALK)

PALMIERI: ... Iowa field staff.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: You're running ads starting tomorrow in Virginia and Tennessee, my highly-placed sources tell me. What about Michigan? Are you going to run ads there?

PALMIERI: We're day by day. We don't need to be -- I don't need to be translating to, like, John Kerry staff what we're doing in Michigan.

BEGALA: They're not watching.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: It's only the Bush White House who watches this.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: Excellent. Jennifer Palmieri, press secretary for John Edwards, James Clyburn, the congressman, the most powerful congressman in America.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: Thank you both for a terrific debate in the CROSSFIRE.

Up next, we'll be joined by South Carolina's Republican governor, the honorable Mark Sanford. We will ask Governor Sanford his views on how the race for president is shaping up.

And then, right after the break, Wolf Blitzer will have the latest on the ricin investigation on Capitol Hill.

Stay with us.

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 CNN@gwu.edu. Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

NOVAK: South Carolina regularly went for Democratic presidential candidates up through John F. Kennedy. It's only made that terrible mistake one time since, in 1976, when fellow Southerner Jimmy Carter was an unknown quantity. Is this great state, the Palmetto State, a lock for President George W. Bush?

Let's ask the governor, Republican Mark Sanford.

Governor, good to see you again.

GOV. MARK SANFORD (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Pleased to be with you.

BEGALA: Thank you for having us in your state and on your Capitol ground.

SANFORD: Glad you're here. Glad you're here.

BEGALA: Congressman Clyburn from South Carolina was here a moment ago and suggested that this issue of whether then Lieutenant Bush fulfilled his Alabama National Guard duties could be a very important issue here in South Carolina.

"The Washington Post" wrote about it today, but the definitive work was done by "The Boston Globe." And here's -- here's an expert from what they reported: "In his final 18 months of military service in 1972 and 1973, Bush did not fly at all. And, for a full year, there is no record that he showed up for the periodic drills required of part-time Guardsmen."

The evidence is voluminous and it is conclusive that Mr. Bush never showed up for his Guard duty in Alabama. Is that going to be a problem here in such a patriotic state?

SANFORD: A, I would agree with the hypothesis, or the premise, that it is a very patriotic state. If you look at the number of veterans per capita, you look at number of military bases in South Carolina, phenomenal military presence.

And I think that what those retirees, what those active-duty folks and what the families associated with both think about is, what are you going to do for the military? And, on that front, I think George Bush will win resoundingly. You look at his budget. You look at what he's focused on during his time in office. There's been a very strong backing for the United States military.

I think that's going to be an issue that counts.

(CROSSTALK)

SANFORD: And I think, in some ways, what has gone on with this chatter back and forth, if it's hurt anybody, it's hurt Kerry, because you look at where Kerry's been strong, it's been on the coast. Edwards has been strong in the upper states.

Kerry's numbers have weakened over the last day, I think in part because of this flame-up.

BEGALA: Is that right?

NOVAK: Governor Sanford, on the Lehrer "News Hour" last night, they showed a clip of several South Carolina mill owners, all of whom had supported President Bush for election in 2000. And they asked a show of hands how many of them support him this time. Only one raised their hand.

Is there a problem because of job loss in South Carolina with people who would normally vote Republican in this state?

SANFORD: Well, you know, is there a job problem in South Carolina? Yes, as there is, frankly, in many other states in the South that have been impacted by globalization.

The Internet has now made China and India labor much more accessible than it was in the past. The real issue, though, I go back to is a relative issue. And that is in terms of what Bush is doing to the economy, with regard to tax cuts, with regard to spending, with regard to the most recent budget proposals. I think he is, on several levels, better than what the Democrats have proposed.

You look on the Democratic side, you're talking about somewhere between $130 billion and $1 trillion of additional spending in Democratic packages compared to where Bush is. And so what he's doing to impact the economy, I think, is stronger. And I think that's what's going to win it in South Carolina for us.

BEGALA: Well, Governor, let me ask you about that budget.

SANFORD: Yes. BEGALA: The president's budget includes new fees for veterans. Men and some women who have served our country are now going to be charged for the health benefits that they receive. There's also an enormous cut in veterans' benefits, in fact, $13.5 billion below the 2004 level, if you adjust for inflation. That's over five years.

SANFORD: Yes.

BEGALA: The VFW, not a left-wing group...

SANFORD: Sure.

BEGALA: ... describes the Bush budget as this, disgraceful, harmful, deplorable. They say it is proof that veterans are no longer a priority with this administration.

Is that the kind of a budget you would support?

SANFORD: The number again was $13 million, I think you...

BEGALA: Thirteen and a half billion below the 2004 level over five years.

SANFORD: Thirteen and a half billion.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Because the VFW says it's deplorable.

SANFORD: Well, again, I haven't seen the details of what we're talking about here.

But what I would say is that, A, oftentimes, you've got to differentiate between the veteran and the dispenser, if you will, of those goods and services. So, the fact that, in many cases, we have an inefficient veterans administration in getting goods and services down to the veterans I think is what the president is focused on.

BEGALA: That's going to have to be the last word.

Governor Mark Sanford, governor of South Carolina, thank you very much.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Up next, Bob and I will weigh in on the candidate's worst moves leading up to today's voting.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: It is also -- it is, rather, another primary Tuesday here in South Carolina, which means it's time to take note of some of the worst moves we've seen along the campaign trail.

Bob, what's yours?

NOVAK: The worst move, I say, is General Wes Clark deciding to run for president.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: If he had not had his mistake-laden campaign, he'd be everybody's choice for vice president. Now he's nobody's choice for vice president.

BEGALA: He's still a pretty strong candidate. Let's see how he does tonight.

I think the worst move was Governor Dean dissing seven states across three time zones, while he's putting a lobbyist in charge of his outsider campaign and not paying his staff. This is about the worst two weeks...

NOVAK: That's a multiple -- that's a multiple mistake.

BEGALA: It is.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: It's about the worst two weeks I've seen a guy go through in primary campaigns in a long time.

Can he recover? We don't know, but we will be there to cover it.

From the left, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

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

Stay with CNN for complete coverage of todays' primaries and caucuses. And then join us again tomorrow night for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.

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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