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Kerry a Shoo-in?

Aired February 18, 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: The doctor is out. But is John Kerry a shoo- in for the Democratic nomination? Senator John Edwards doesn't think so. Can he convince Super Tuesday voters?



ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.


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

Senator John Kerry has now won an impressive 16 out of 18 presidential primaries and caucuses. Howard Dean today suspended his campaign after losing 18 out of 18 primaries and caucuses.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Well, now that the doctor is no longer in, is Kerry's last viable opponent really Senator John Edwards? Can he overcome a one-for-18 start? Our objects in the mirror really closer than they appear? That's our debate.

But, first, the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Well, Howard Dean's presidential campaign was finally laid to rest today at a funereal gathering of supporters in Burlington. Dean's political career has been dead for more than a month, having been murdered in cold blood by corrupt Democratic Party bosses who hated and feared the Vermont doctor for daring to challenge their authority.

Howard Dean fought city hall. Predictably, he lost. As Dean put it this afternoon -- quote -- "There is enormous institutional pressure in the Democratic Party against change" -- end quote -- and that's for sure. Well, as if to underscore this point, Democratic Party hacks are already pressuring Dean not to endorse the John Edwards insurgency, and instead fall into lockstep behind the party's anointed candidate, John Kerry. Will Dean sell out his beliefs and his believers and join the cynical Democratic establishment? Or will he keep the faith and become an Edwards man? We'll keep you posted.

BEGALA: Well, that's a silly observation. The party bosses actually supported Dean. He was supported by more members of Congress than anybody else in the race. The problem he had...


CARLSON: That's not true.

BEGALA: ... was with the voters. And, you know, he had a great campaign. Oh, he had guys like Steve McMahon, women like Trish Enright, the best staff, the best


CARLSON: The Washington establishment...

BEGALA: The best strategy for the worst candidate.

CARLSON: You know that that's not true.

BEGALA: It's the candidate's fault.

CARLSON: Leaving that aside you know that...


CARLSON: ... Washington Democrats, the establishment here


BEGALA: They all endorsed him.

CARLSON: No, no. Members of Congress did. People like you hated him from the beginning.

BEGALA: They all -- they all endorsed Dean.

CARLSON: And they killed him in the end.


BEGALA: Look, he let his campaign down.

CARLSON: Because they were afraid of change. And that's why.

BEGALA: Well, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Bob Matsui and Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe are two very happy men today, because Democrat Ben Chandler has crushed Republican state Senator Alice Forgy Kerr in a special election in Kentucky's 6th Congressional Direct.

Now, George W. Bush trounced Al Gore by 15 points in that same direct in the year 2000. But Democrat Chandler has turned the tables and buried Kerr by 12 points. This is a 27-point turnaround. Amazing. How did he do it? Well, Chandler is a stridently anti-Bush Democrat. And Republican Kerr ran as a Bush clone, proclaiming that she and Mr. Bush were -- quote -- "cut from the same cloth."

Well, it seems that voters in what was once Bush country are looking for a new cloth.

CARLSON: Well, congratulations.


CARLSON: Democrats won the...

BEGALA: It's a big deal.

CARLSON: ... first special election for Congress in 13 years. That's great. I must say, Congressman Matsui said some incredibly nasty things about it, gloating about it, rather than just taking a sort of gentlemanly attitude, like a lot of Democrats, really turned into a nasty guy. A lot of haters in your party.


BEGALA: Really? So he wasn't a gentlemen like George W. Bush going to Bob Jones University?

CARLSON: Oh, Paul, that is the dumbest canard.

BEGALA: A place full of bigots who hate my religion. Don't tell me about gentlemanly.


CARLSON: Really? Because I actually think


BEGALA: And George W. Bush, he savaged John McCain. There's nobody...


BEGALA: ... less gentlemanly in this business than President Bush.


CARLSON: What are you talking about, Paul? Seriously


BEGALA: Bob Matsui won a big race today. He ought to be congratulated for it.

CARLSON: Actually, he didn't win anything. BEGALA: He's the chairman of the committee.

CARLSON: Chandler won.

BEGALA: Well, Ben Chandler,too.

CARLSON: Well, fresh on the heels of his 18th consecutive defeat last night, Dennis Kucinich, congressman, Democratic presidential candidate, and practicing vegan, in that order, has decided to reorient his campaign.

Kucinich is shifting his focus from his traditional strongholds -- that would be Santa Cruz, Santa Fe and tofu-related communities up and down the upper Oregon coast -- to the American heartland, to Ohio, to be specific. Kucinich held a meet-the-candidate event in Cleveland last night. Today, he hit Dayton, where he attended a student assembly at a high school and did a poster signing in a book store.

Tonight, he'll attend a rally for peace at Xavier University. It's all part of Kucinich's plan to introduce himself and his bold new ideas to the people of Ohio. There's only one problem. Kucinich is from Ohio. He lives there. His congressional district is located there. He was once the mayor of Cleveland. Ohio, in other words, isn't exactly new ground for Dennis Kucinich. But don't tell Dennis Kucinich that. It could blow his mind.



BEGALA: He's got something to contribute. I -- I admire him for sticking it out. This is fine. I haven't been trying to get anybody to get in or out of this race. And I think it's fine Dennis Kucinich wants to keep on running.

CARLSON: Because he's a real Democrat. He's from the Democratic wing of you party.

BEGALA: And that's for your to judge.

CARLSON: It absolutely is.


CARLSON: As someone who can tell the truth, who is not indebted to some party structure.


CARLSON: I know a real Democrat when I see one. And that is Dennis Kucinich. Go to it, Dennis.


CARLSON: Good luck.

BEGALA: Well, he may be 32 years late, but President Bush finally showed up at the National Guard.



BEGALA: He went to Fort Polk, Louisiana, yesterday, which has already sent 6,300 soldiers to Iraq; 12 of those soldiers have already died there. Mr. Bush had lunch with National Guardsmen and said nothing about the allegation by a former senior officer in the Texas Guard that then-Governor Bush's chief of staff had ordered the Bush record cleansed of embarrassing documents.

Mr. Bush's spokes-fibber denied that the visit was at all connected to the scandal, telling reporters -- quote -- "This event has been in the works for weeks" -- unquote. But an officer at Fort Polk told the Knight Ridder News Service that the base was only informed of Mr. Bush's visit days ago. Why is -- what is it -- what is it about the National Guard that makes it just so darned hard for Mr. Bush to just tell the truth?

CARLSON: You know what? I mean, who cares, actually?

BEGALA: If the president lies? Maybe he'll lie about a war next.



CARLSON: You know what? You know what, Paul? Honestly, the Democratic front-runner, John Kerry, who has not given a policy speech since December, has given no indication, maybe he has no idea, what to do with the 100,000 some-odd American troops in Iraq. He has no plan for what to do in Iraq. And instead, Democrats


BEGALA: That's factually not true. You can go look it up.

CARLSON: It's totally true. Democrats are whining about some National Guard showing up in Atlanta -- in Alabama 32 years ago.


CARLSON: This is...

BEGALA: No. It's about...

CARLSON: This is embarrassing, actually.

BEGALA: It's about President Bush misleading us 32 minutes ago and 32 minutes from now, not just 32 years ago.

CARLSON: This is the dumbest story of my short life.

BEGALA: You know what? The guy needs to learn to tell the truth about something, anything.

CARLSON: Oh, come on.

BEGALA: I guess he doesn't lie about sex. But other than that, we can't believe him on anything.

Well, the plug has been pulled on Howard power. It looks like the Democratic campaign for president is now down to a two-man race. And I don't mean Sharpton vs. Kucinich. We will talk with advisers to John Kerry and John Edwards in just a moment. And then, you're going to want to stay for this, Tucker Carlson fashion plate and trendsetter, strange but true. We will tell you what one very odd magazine is saying about my buddy Tucker's wardrobe choices.

Stay with us.


ANNOUNCER: Get ahead of the CROSSFIRE. Sign up for CROSSFIRE's daily "Political Alert" e-mail. You'll get a preview of each day's show, plus an inside look at the day's political headlines. Just go to and sign up today.



BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Senator John Kerry today told reporters that he intends to do exactly what he's been doing on the campaign trail, focusing on the differences he has with President Bush, and not the differences he has with Senator John Edwards.

In the CROSSFIRE today to stir up some of those differences, though, from Chicago, David Axelrod, a consultant to the Edwards campaign, and here in our studio, Kerry campaign senior adviser Tad Devine.

Guys, thank you both for joining us.



CARLSON: Mr. Devine, thanks for coming on for the second day in a row.


CARLSON: We like you that much.

I wonder -- a lot of people have pointed out that the John Kerry for president campaign to this point consists essentially of hating Bush. Mark Penn, a colleague of yours, former Clinton pollster, had this to say about that strategy. (CROSSTALK)

DEVINE: Right.

CARLSON: I think this is something -- quote -- "What he has been telling them" -- what Kerry's been telling them -- "is that he has the momentum to beat Bush, just like Dean did. But when you don't fill out an anti-Bush message with more substance about your vision of the country, that's more vulnerable than it seems."

It's an excellent point, isn't it? Like, what is John Kerry's position on what we ought to do in Iraq? He doesn't have one, does he?

DEVINE: He certainly has a position on Iraq. And his position is that we should do precisely the opposite of what President Bush did, which is, we should go to the international community, extend our hand to it and not turn our back to our allies, our traditional allies.


CARLSON: So it's a reactionary


DEVINE: There couldn't be a bigger difference of opinion to what Bush is doing in Iraq today and what John Kerry would do if he were president.


CARLSON: No, but the U.N.


CARLSON: ... Iraq right now.

DEVINE: Can I talk about vision for a second?


BEGALA: Let him answer.


DEVINE: There's a lot of vision here.

John Kerry's vision for America is fundamentally different than George Bush's, OK? Jobs for people, instead of millions of jobs lost, health care, which he has defined and has ignored.


CARLSON: But you're not answering my question about Iraq, though. (CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Wait. I knew you weren't going to answer this.

DEVINE: Let's talk about Iraq.

CARLSON: OK, let's say the U.N. -- let's say the U.N., as it has said before, we're not going to reconstruct Iraq, says the U.N.

DEVINE: Right. Right.

CARLSON: We're not going to occupy it. They'll likely say that under a Kerry administration. What's Kerry's solution?

DEVINE: Kerry's solution is that we should share the burden of Iraq with other nations and not force the American taxpayers to pay it.

OK, $87 billion last year, over $50 billion probably next year, but we don't know, Tucker, because they don't have the honesty to include it in their budget, OK?


DEVINE: They don't have the honesty to include it in their budget. That's the problem.


BEGALA: Let me bring in David Axelrod.


CARLSON: That's not a solution.

BEGALA: Let me bring in David Axelrod.

David, you're my friend. I also like and admire your candidate a lot. But, golly, you're one in 18, man.


BEGALA: Yes, it is.


BEGALA: Your man is one in 18.


BEGALA: He's won one more primary than my grandmother.


AXELROD: Yes. BEGALA: Why are you guys still in this and why do you think it's a two-man race?

AXELROD: Well, first of all, we're in it because your grandmother refused to run. And we're running in her place.



BEGALA: Grandma B. would be -- Grandma Begala would be a great president. She would be wonderful.

But, seriously, how do you win this?


AXELROD: We are -- well, you win this thing by narrowing this race down to one-on-one. I've said before that we're the Seabiscuit of this race, right? We come from behind. We close fast. We're always underrated. And all we're looking for is our match race with War Admiral. And now we've got it.



BEGALA: By the way, that is the best movie of the last five years. If it doesn't win the Oscar for best picture, that thing is rigged.

AXELROD: I enjoyed it. It was great. Yes.

BEGALA: If it doesn't win, then Scalia is counting the votes.



BEGALA: Well, but wait a second, David. The smartest thing I've read really about this race and the strategies to win it was said by someone in "The Chicago Tribune" just last month at the end of January.

I want to read you this quote: "There's a cumulative aspect to this. First of all, you've got to win somewhere. No one has ever second-placed their way into the nomination."

Oh, wait, you said that.

AXELROD: Yes. Yes.

CARLSON: And yet your candidate now is attempting to second- place his way to the nomination.

AXELROD: No, no, no. CARLSON: That's a horrible strategy, isn't it?

AXELROD: No, no.

What we said was, when we get it down to a two-man race, we'll have a fair test. And that's what we have as of today. We have an effective two-man race. We're looking forward to that. We expect now to be -- we're the co-star of the story. We're going to get the attention that will propel us into the thick of this race.

You know, Senator Kerry has basically benefited from a system that was set up to benefit the early front-runner, a kind of brushfire system. That's all over now. We've got a one-on-one. You saw what happened in Wisconsin. We were at 9 percent in fourth place six days before the Wisconsin primary. And we finished in just about a tie. We quadrupled our support. Senator Kerry lost quite a bit of support, because we've got the candidate who has a compelling vision for this country about how to help middle-class families, about how to get these jobs back, about how to do something about these trade deals that have really been very harmful to places like Wisconsin, like Ohio.

And that's, of course, a difference in this race, because Senator Edwards has been opposed to many of these trade treaties. He had a concern about what they would do to these communities. Senator Kerry has voted for every one of them. And so that -- that is a legitimate area of difference between us.

BEGALA: That's a good point.

And let me -- let me ask Tad to respond to that and in this context. Again, your pal -- I like and admire Senator Kerry -- but I've got to ask you the tough question. Why -- how do you win when you lose among independents and Republicans yesterday in Wisconsin overwhelmingly?

About 39, 40 percent of the vote yesterday was independents and Republicans. John Edwards cleaned your clock among them. That does not bode well for your future candidacy against President Bush, if your guy's the nominee, does it?

DEVINE: Well, I disagree with that.

I mean, first of all, there's another way to look at the electorate. John Kerry won moderates and conservatives, OK? There's plenty of ways to break this thing down. Listen, John Kerry's been winning. He's won almost every contest we've had thus far. This is a race for delegates. That's what we're targeting on. We've won in every state and won delegates in every state.

You know, Senator Edwards hasn't won delegates in 10 of the states of the 17 that have voted thus far. So, what we're going to do is to keep doing what we're doing, to talk to voters about his message, to talk about jobs, to talk about health care and the security of this country. And I think, if he keeps doing that, he's going to win this nomination going away. (CROSSTALK)

DEVINE: As he is now, by the way.

CARLSON: I think you're probably -- I think you're probably right. Every week, John Kerry wins something. Let me show you what he does when he wins. This is a tape of John Kerry, your guy, last night.

DEVINE: Right.

CARLSON: Here's what he said.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need to bring so many young people who've lost faith in the system back to believing that this can be and is a noble profession, that all of us individually can make a difference, that our generation is now called on to write its portion of American history.


CARLSON: "That our generation is now called on to write its portion of American history."

Let's be honest, Tad. That's comically pompous. A lot of Democrats I know are saying, Bob Shrum, who presumably wrote that, needs to tone it down a little bit. That's embarrassing. It's sort of a bad Churchill imitation, don't you think?

DEVINE: No, I don't think so.

CARLSON: No, seriously. Come on. Be real. That's -- come on.


DEVINE: No, listen, I think he's talking about some very important issues.

CARLSON: What does that mean?

DEVINE: It means that it's the time to change the direction of this nation, Tucker. We are going downhill so fast, it's not funny. And we're going downhill because George Bush has led us in the wrong direction.

We can no longer stand a government that turns its back on people. We can't stand a government that wants to put a tax cut of 20 bucks in the pocket of a firefighter and $20,000 in the pocket of a stockbroker, OK? We need to change the direction of America. And John Kerry is prepared to do that. He has 35 years of experience fighting for Democratic values. And, if he's given the chance, America will change direction. And, you know, that's what we need desperately for our future.

BEGALA: David Axelrod, I talked to somebody in your


BEGALA: I want to ask you about the debates that is coming up. And we have a self-interest. CNN is sponsoring the debate, along with "The L.A. Times," on the 26th.

AXELROD: Yes. We have an interest as well. We're eager to do it.

BEGALA: Well, yes, you do. Larry King is going to be hosting it. And we'll ask Tad about it in a minute. But I want to know from you, first off, how is your guy going to explain to that audience in California why he's not running in the California primary?

AXELROD: Who said he's not running in the California primary? We've got 2 1/2 days scheduled there next week. He's running in the California primary.

BEGALA: Are you going to run -- are you going to run ads there?

AXELROD: We're going to run in -- we haven't made the decision about how to apportion our advertising money yet. But over 10 states, let's be honest, neither campaign is going to be relying heavily on paid media.

This is going to be largely an earned media campaign. And events like that debate are going to be very important. We'd like to see more of those debates. Let the candidates sit, stand, side by side, as they did in Wisconsin on Sunday night. I think it's one of the reasons why we closed a nearly 40-point gap in a matter of six days.

We want that comparison. But I want to make a point about something that was said before. I don't think it's speeches that make people cynical. It's -- and -- and I also don't think that it's all about George W. Bush. Yes, he needs to go. And there's another doubt that he's taking us down the wrong path. But I think if we as a party attribute everything that's wrong in this country to Bush alone and not the problems of Washington generally and the sort of collaboration of forces in Washington, then we're going to have a very hard time.

It wasn't just Republicans who passed some of these trade deals that have been very harmful to a lot of these communities. And, you know, when a candidate stands up and says, I'm against those kind of trade deals and they voted for all of them, that's cynicism.

CARLSON: That's actually -- that's an excellent point.


AXELROD: That is what creates cynicism.

CARLSON: We're almost out of time.

AXELROD: Let's talk about that.

CARLSON: Isn't it frustrating -- very quickly before the commercial. We'll come back in a second.


CARLSON: Isn't it frustrating? You keep winning every single week. And every single week, the news is still about Edwards. He's on page one of the papers and he's only won one contest. Aren't you tearing your hair out over that?

DEVINE: I'm hardly frustrated by John Kerry winning every week, Tucker. I got to tell you.



DEVINE: We need some more of that frustration.



BEGALA: We're almost out of time, but I need a quick answer from you about the debate.

DEVINE: Yes. Sure.

BEGALA: Are you going to insist that...

CARLSON: Exactly.

BEGALA: ... nobodies like Kucinich and Edwards, politically, lovely guys.

DEVINE: Edwards is not a nobody.

BEGALA: Are you going to insist -- I'm sorry.


BEGALA: That Kucinich and Sharpton participate in that debate as a condition of Kerry's participation, or are you going to go one-on- one with Mr. Axelrod's candidate, John Edwards?

DEVINE: Kucinich and Sharpton are not nobodies either.


BEGALA: In terms of delegates and being president, they are.

DEVINE: They aren't.


BEGALA: Are you going to insist that they be in the debate or will you go one-on-one with Edwards? DEVINE: No, listen, they're important voices. We want to have a debate with everyone. We showed up for 30 or 40 of them. We'll show up for another one.


CARLSON: I love that.

DEVINE: We'll be happy to do it.

CARLSON: OK, we're going to take a quick break. In other words, Dennis Kucinich in the debate.

Next, in "Fireback," a member of our audience thinks it is time for yet another presidential candidate to call it quits. Find out who that would be when we come back.

And right after the break, Wolf Blitzer has the latest on how a female football player's allegations about a former teammate have rocked a major university. Details in a moment.

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.



CARLSON: Welcome back.

Well, like the Dennis Kucinich for president campaign, we're turning this show over to you, the people, and our audience.



BEGALA: What's your question or comment?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How you doing? My name is Beth (ph). I'm from North Andover, Massachusetts.

I love democracy, but what is Dennis Kucinich doing? And he's sort of a waste of space and a waste of time.

CARLSON: Well, he believes -- unlike some of the other candidates, not to name them by name, but the ones with better hair -- he believes in something.


CARLSON: I mean, Dennis -- you may not agree with veganism or a Department of Peace or other semi-crackpot ideas he's putting forward, but he really does. And there's something admirable about that. And why not?

BEGALA: He does, unlike, say, President Bush, who likes to -- you know, he dresses up at a NASCAR race. He dresses up on a flight suit on an aircraft carrier.


CARLSON: Beat up on Bush's clothing. That's it. Yes.


BEGALA: He don't believe in nothing. He's the biggest phony I've ever seen in my life.


BEGALA: At least Dennis Kucinich does believe in something.

Yes, ma'am?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, my name's Mandolin Chase (ph) from Denton, Texas.


BEGALA: God bless you. I love Denton, Texas.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. I do, too.

BEGALA: Home of North Texas State University.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely. University of North Texas, sir.

BEGALA: Oh, they changed the name. I'm sorry.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: With Dean dropping out of the presidential race, which of the candidates are his followers likely to favor?

CARLSON: Followers? That's the right term, I think.

I don't know. It's not clear to me who they are. I'm not sure anybody knows precisely who they are or if their support is transferable. Hard to imagine they'll go for John Kerry. John Edwards is going to do all he can to win their support. It will be interesting to see.

BEGALA: Most of Dean's followers abandoned him before Iowa. And most of them -- just empirically. You can look at the data. Most of them went to John Kerry. That's why Kerry went from 32 points behind to winning by 10 or 15 points. And so Kerry has already absorbed most of the Dean movement. That's why there was nothing left for Dean. That's why he had to get out today.

CARLSON: But there was a movement. It wasn't all made up.

BEGALA: Absolutely.

CARLSON: There are a lot of people out there with body piercings.

BEGALA: No, but Dean did enormous good. He gave the party back its soul and its spine. He raised money honestly and ethically and had people like Steve McMahon, who is a brilliant guy, but he let


CARLSON: He elevated hatred to a campaign position.


BEGALA: No. No. He put a little spine in my party. And I thank him for doing that.


BEGALA: OK, well, my partner Tucker Carlson has made a top-10 list. It's probably not the first one you would think of. It's certainly not the list I have him on. We will share with you what list Tucker is on after this break.

Stay with us.



BEGALA: Finally here on CROSSFIRE, "Esquire"'s big style issue may have declared Senator John Kerry the best-dressed political candidate. But if you look down the magazine's list of the very best- dressed men in America, I'll bet your eyes are going to stop round about No. 7. CROSSFIRE's own Tucker Carlson appears there.


BEGALA: Go, Tucker. "Esquire" describes my buddy's look as -- quote -- "old school preppie" and suggests, if you are -- quote -- "unabashedly square" -- unquote -- you too, can wear a bow tie with a simple, if olive-colored sports coat.


BEGALA: Tucker, as the little old man from Texas, ZZ Top used to sing.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Every girl's crazy about a sharp- dressed man (END AUDIO CLIP)


BEGALA: Sharp-dressed man.

CARLSON: Adding embarrassment upon embarrassment. You see, my theory is, if you never change, if you never buy new clothes, ultimately, every 20 years or so, you're considered cool for about three months.

BEGALA: Right. There you go.


CARLSON: And then it goes away.

BEGALA: Isn't that what Bobby Kennedy said? If a man plants himself on his principles, eventually, the world will come around to him. That's what happened to you.

CARLSON: I'm not sure like ratty coats constitute a principle. They don't quite rise to the level of principle. But, you know, laziness, principle, yes, they're closely related.

BEGALA: Congratulations, my well-dressed friend.

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

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson.

Join us again tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts in just a second. Have a great night.



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