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INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY

Bush, Kerry Campaign for Presidency; Interview With Howard Dean

Aired March 21, 2004 - 10:00   ET

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

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Erica Hill at the CNN Center in Atlanta with the top stories.
The U.S. death toll in Iraq continues to climb. A rocket attack last night in Fallujah killed two American troops and wounded six others this morning in Baghdad. At least one Iraqi was killed and a U.S. soldier wounded when rockets were launched near the so-called Green Zone. That is where the U.S.-led coalition is based.

In Gaza, another raid by Israeli troops. Palestinian officials say at least five Palestinians were killed earlier today when Israeli forces took aim at suspected Hamas militants. Palestinians fired back with guns and missiles. The Israeli army says four Palestinians died.

And along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, Pakistani forces have eased their assault on a remote region where suspected al Qaeda members are hiding out. The move comes after travel leaders agreed to negotiate with villages believed to be suspected al Qaeda fighters.

And now "INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY."

CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: INSIDE POLITICS today: President Bush and Senator Kerry fighting for position. What is up next for the dueling duo? We'll find out.

Howard Dean hasn't left the building. I'll ask him about his latest foray into the political arena. He calls it Democracy for America.

And is it possible to tell who will win in November by the 4th of July? We'll explain straight ahead.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, this is "INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY."

CROWLEY: As winter turns to spring, the race for the White House is acidic. President Bush opens his reelection campaign with some tough talk about John Kerry, and the Kerry campaign talks back.

Hi, I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. Politics doesn't take weekends off and neither do we. It is Sunday, March 21st.

We begin with President Bush and some confirmation of the obvious. Mr. Bush officially opened his reelection campaign yesterday. This bid for the White House began where the last one ended, in Florida.

We have more on that from our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Candy, it's become very obvious that the Bush campaign has entered a New aggressive strategy, a New phase now. They are essentially attacking Senator Kerry on two fronts. First of all, national security, and then domestic policy, which we'll see a little bit later.

Polls are still showing that the vast majority of Americans believe that the war on terror is the right thing, they support that. But they are very much divided over the war in Iraq.

President Bush has been making the case they are intricately linked. And what is equally important is where he launched his official campaign. This was in Orlando, Florida, as you know, the place where he's with his wife, with his brother, the governor, and some 12,000 supporters.

This is where the Supreme Court decision stopped the ballot count that left President Bush and 537 votes ahead. This is where he decided he would launch his most aggressive attack against Senator Kerry on the first point, painting Senator Kerry as weak on defense.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My opponent admits that Saddam Hussein was a threat. He just didn't support my decision to remove Saddam from power. Maybe he was hoping Saddam would lose the next Iraqi election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And, Candy, we're also going to hear in the weeks to come they are turning the corner. Essentially, they are going to be focusing on domestic policy, as well. Particularly, they are going to be talking about Senator Kerry and making the accusation he will raise taxes if he is elected as president.

CROWLEY: (AUDIO GAP) White House. We thank you very much.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: ... over 350 times for higher taxes on the American people. It's pretty clear how he's going to fill the tax gap. He's going to tax all of you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And, Candy, of course a third prong to this approach is they are really reaching out, establishing a grassroots campaign. This is where they are trying to register New Republicans, trying to get as many as possible. They say already they have registered thousands -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Thanks, Suzanne. We'll talk to you later. Appreciate it.

Senator John Kerry continues to recharge his batteries on the ski slopes of Idaho midway through a weeklong vacation from the trials of the campaign. But there have been plenty of Kerry sightings. CNN producer Sasha Johnson is on the phone from Ketchum.

Sasha, I was reading earlier the definition of "vacation," and it says the suspension of activities. I take it, though, that is not what is going on in Ketchum?

SASHA JOHNSON, CNN SR. PRODUCER: No, absolutely not, Candy. So far, we have seen the 60-year-old Senator go snowboarding. He snow- shoed up a mountain the other day and then proceeded to ski back down it with one of his aides and several exhausted looking Secret Service agents. Yesterday, he went skiing with his wife and stepson.

This morning, Senator Kerry is getting ready to go to church here in Ketchum. And then we don't know what the afternoon athletic activity will be, although he did bring his racing bike. So we are thinking that cycling might be on the agenda.

The Kerry campaign is saying that this was a much-needed vacation for the Senator after a very heated and contentious primary season. He has not talked to the press. He did not respond directly to President Bush's criticism yesterday.

The Kerry campaign responded through a spokesman here on the grounds, saying that President Bush is distorting Kerry's record on taxes. Senator Kerry also put out a paper statement saying much of the same thing yesterday.

There had also been speculation that Senator Kerry would meet with Jim Johnson, a long-time friend, and the gentleman that is heading up his vice presidential search effort who has a home out here in Ketchum. But I'm told that Johnson is not here. And subsequently, the two have not met this vacation -- Candy.

CROWLEY: So, Sasha, when the vacation is over, what's the main focus of the Kerry campaign?

JOHNSON: Well, I think both for the Kerry campaign and for the Democrats in general it is going to be raising money. We know that the DNC unity gala this Thursday night is slated to raise over $10 million, which will be a record for the committee. The Kerry campaign on its own has set a goal of raising $80 million by the convention.

Next week, Senator Kerry starts a 20-city fund-raising tour. It will take him to money events out in California. On the East Coast, he'll be raising money in New York and Washington. He's also going to take a southern swing through Atlanta and New Orleans and Houston.

The Kerry camp says it had absolutely no problem raising money. Through Super Tuesday they've raised about $15 million over the Internet. That's obviously quite a change from the January days leading up to the Iowa caucuses when they pulled in just over $200,000 over the Internet. I've spoken with several of Senator Kerry's big-dollar fund- raisers who -- many of whom who have worked raising money for Democratic presidential candidates in the past. And they said by far that this is the easiest time they have had raising money. This is the easiest time that they have had bringing donors together to raise money to beat President Bush.

But they do concede that $80 million will be a difficult goal for Kerry. It's not unreasonable. But bottom line, they need to pick up the pace and get started raising money -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Thanks a lot, Sasha Johnson, CNN senior producer out in Ketchum, Idaho, with the Kerry campaign.

Now the headlines in this Sunday edition of our "Campaign News Daily."

Dead heat: Bush and Kerry neck and neck in the latest Newsweek poll. In a two-way match-up, each receives 48 percent of the vote. When you ad Ralph Nader to the mix, President Bush leads with 45; John Kerry, 43; Nader taking five. Margin of error plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Speaking of Nader, the Independent candidate works to get on the ballot in the Lone Star State. He needs 64,000 signatures to make the Texas ballot. Nader told a group in Austin the war in Iraq is unconstitutional. He took part in an anti-war rally not far from President Bush's ranch near Crawford.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich joined an anti-war rally in New York yesterday. The only Democrat still challenging John Kerry called for an end to what he has always called the occupation. There were rallies against the conflict in cities across America and around the globe.

A bit later in the hour, my interview with Howard Dean. But up next, presidential politics. Congressman Dreier and Ford face to face on Bush and Kerry.

And later, real estate mogul Donald Trump offers his two cents on the race for the White House. We'll tell you who he may support and who is getting fired.

This is "INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: A major shift in the presidential race this week. President Bush rolls up his sleeves for the fight after his first official rally. And Senator Kerry returns to the challenge Tuesday fresh from his vacation.

Two key allies of the presidential standard bearers now join us. At CNN Center in Atlanta, Tennessee Democratic Congressman Harold Ford, a Kerry supporter.

REP. HAROLD FORD (D), TENNESSEE: Good morning.

CROWLEY: And in our Washington bureau, California Republican Congressman David Dreier, a Bush backer.

REP. DAVID DREIER (R), CALIFORNIA: Good morning.

CROWLEY: OK. We have a Newsweek poll, split decision so far. What tips this race? Let me start with Congressman Ford.

FORD: I think the more John Kerry is able to identify and articulate a clear and positive message for the country, not only in criticizing George Bush's policy in Iraq and criticizing his policies to reinvigorate and stimulate job growth in the country. The more we're able to layout clearly for the American people where we want to take the country over the next four to eight to 12 years, the better our chances will be.

We recognize the race will be close from here to November. People will probably grow tired of hearing about the race. But I think people understand the importance of it.

They understand it's about our future. And the more we in my party, Democrats, talk about the future and talk about how we make it better, the better our chances will be. And I have great confidence we'll be able to do that.

CROWLEY: So, Congressman Dreier, has John Kerry been able to begin to get his vision out? Has George Bush been able to do it?

DREIER: Well, Candy, clearly George Bush has been able to get his vision out because he's been governing. He's focused on job creation and economic growth. He's obviously been able to focus on the war on terrorism. And we all know that Iraq is part and parcel to that war on terror.

And, you know, maintaining a level of civility is something that I think is very important. Harold does that, but I do think that focusing on the record is clear. And we do know that John Kerry has a record that is clearly mixed. And he is -- as we were talking earlier, he made it very clear that he voted for the $87 billion supplemental appropriation to support the troops in Iraq before he voted against it.

We have seen The New York Times today basically say what my friend Harold Ford has just said, and that is that The New York Times editorial this morning points to the fact that John Kerry needs to make hard choices, at least once in a while. That's the exact wording of this morning's paper. And I think that realizing that he has not come forward with a positive vision, has created a real void there.

And the sole thrust of the campaign has been anger towards George Bush. And as president, Bush said first in his speech before the Republican Governors Association, anger is not a platform. Yesterday, we saw a phenomenal rally with 15,000 activists who are embracing and supporting the vision that George Bush has successfully put forward by his governance. CROWLEY: Go ahead, Congressman.

FORD: The other thing that The New York Times said this morning is that George Bush has changed from being a compassionate conservative and one who would not be not a divider but a uniter, and that his first set of commercials in the same article that talked about John Kerry suggested that George Bush has gone on the attack and gone negative. I think that message can apply to both.

One of the things that John Kerry will speak at great length about is his record in the U.S. Senate. Chairman Dreier and I both know that we cast thousands of votes over a term in the Congress. So at least hundreds of votes in a term in the Congress. And if you serve 19 years in the Senate, one can speculate you've cast some 15,000 to 20,000, if not more votes.

And if we want to scrutinize all of those votes and look at the times he's voted to cut taxes, or increase defense spending, John Kerry has voted in favor of 16 out of 19 defense authorization bills that would have increased and have increased defense spending. I mean, it will be very difficult...

DREIER: Harold is...

FORD: ... to try to paint him as something that is not the issue in this campaign. And I'm going to defer to the chairman in one second, but...

DREIER: Yes. And obviously, we don't...

FORD: ... I want to -- I think it will be about the future and how you re-engage the world in Iraq. One of the things we should do -- our friend Joe Lieberman was on one of your rival networks this morning and urged America to go before NATO and urge that we invoke an Article V that would call for the world to mourn and for us to act as one after the attacks in Madrid, something that the world did on our behalf on 9/11.

DREIER: And I think...

CROWLEY: Congressman, let...

DREIER: ... we are clearly doing that right now. I mean, we have come together.

This week, we marked the first anniversary of the invasion, the liberation of Iraq which has taken place. And we are horribly saddened at the terrorist attacks which took place in Madrid.

I think it's important to note that the voting record is something that is very important to focus on. And you're right, you and I cast thousands of votes, and people can interpret them differently. But I think it's also important to note that this also has to do with what is said in the campaign platform.

Again, to say that you voted for the $87 billion before you voted against it, to say, sort of brag about the fact that have you the endorsement, the support of world leaders, and then to all of a sudden, after having gotten the endorsements of people like Kim Jong Il and Zapatero, I mean, those...

FORD: Chairman, I think it's unfair to say that.

DREIER: Well, let me just say -- well, basically these people said that they wanted to see this kind of change take place. And then to say just a few days later that we don't seek or want the endorsements.

FORD: Naturally.

DREIER: So it's not only the voting record, Harold. It's also the fact that in the campaign we have seen John Kerry say one thing and then reverse position almost overnight.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Congressman Ford, let me just interrupt you and try to boil this down to one thing.

FORD: I think it's hard -- wait a second, just for one moment to rebut. I think it's important to know that President Bush, prior to the passing of a bill that created the Homeland Security Department, did not support it...

DREIER: That's true.

FORD: He had an epiphany, and we support that. Before Sarbanes- Oxley, which was...

DREIER: That's absolutely right.

FORD: ... the corporate governance bill that imposed new regulations and ensured that investors could trust...

DREIER: Well, he strongly supported that.

FORD: Well, the president did not -- I serve on the committee. He did not, but fortunately had an epiphany. I didn't fault the president. I said it was the right thing to do.

So to suggest that somehow John Kerry does not support imprisoning Saddam Hussein as George Bush has, I think cheapens this debate. I think the American people will see that.

DREIER: President Bush said that John Kerry didn't support imprisoning Saddam?

FORD: On the clip leading into our showing between you and I -- or the debate between you and I, chairman. George Bush was in Florida indicating that had John Kerry been president, Saddam Hussein probably would have still been in power.

(CROSSTALK) DREIER: Oh, because...

FORD: Well, I think that's unfair. You and I both would have to say that.

DREIER: ... of the fact that he voted against -- no, no. Well, let me just say, Harold, it's due to the fact...

FORD: Three Silver Stars -- I mean, three Purple Hearts...

DREIER: ... that he failed to provide the support necessary -- no, and I recognize and laud John Kerry for his service to our country in Vietnam, Harold. I think it's important for us to note that, if you look at the policies not providing the resources necessary for us to proceed with supporting our troops for the liberation of Iraq, then, in fact, Saddam Hussein would be in power. It's not something that the president says that John Kerry wanted.

FORD: Even John McCain...

CROWLEY: Congressman Ford, I'm going to have to stop both of you.

FORD: ... said that John Kerry can be trusted on military and national issues. Thank you for having us.

CROWLEY: OK. The next time I'm going to bring my whistle. OK?

DREIER: OK, Candy. We'll look forward to it. Have a nice weekend.

CROWLEY: Thank you very much, Congressman Ford, Congressman Dreier. We appreciate it.

Later, what is next for the senator from North Carolina? John Edwards may not be ready to leave the political stage just yet.

Plus, Howard Dean, is he Senator Kerry's biggest booster or his worst nightmare? The story behind the story from our political analyst, Bill Schneider. And don't miss my interview with the former presidential candidate himself.

Plus...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID LETTERMAN, TALK SHOW HOST: George Bush, though, his campaign is really doing much, much better. And he's shot right up in the polls since he captured Martha Stewart.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: ... we catch up with the late-night comics on "INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CROWLEY: One campaign down, one campaign about to begin. It's been a month since Howard Dean ended his run for the White House. Now he's launching a new mission. And some Democrats wonder whether that will help or harm John Kerry.

Bill Schneider has the story behind the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Does Howard Dean help or hurt John Kerry? That depends on whether Dean sees himself primarily as Kerry's ambassador to the left or as the left's ambassador to Kerry. Dean has promised to rally his supporters for Kerry. Probably less because of his high regard for Kerry than because of his hostility to Bush.

HOWARD DEAN (D), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I intend everything I can to send George W. Bush back to Crawford, Texas, and move John Kerry into the White House.

SCHNEIDER: What Dean brings to the table is not large numbers of voters. He didn't win a single primary outside his home state of Vermont. He brings a wired network with an impressive fund-raising record.

DEAN: Like the Dean for America campaign, Democracy for America will maintain interactive Web sites where supporters can plug in, join the discussion, get involved.

SCHNEIDER: Dean also brings a message of empowerment, which Kerry has already appropriated.

DEAN: But the power to change this country is in your hands, not mine.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need to change what is happening in this country. And the power to change it is in your hands.

SCHNEIDER: Dean also helps Kerry deal with the Ralph Nader problem.

DEAN: Because this election is really critical that we not stray the third party and Independent candidates.

SCHNEIDER: But Dean also seems himself as the left's ambassador to Kerry.

DEAN: Keeping folks in Washington on the straight and narrow in response to the ordinary Americans is a full-time job.

SCHNEIDER: He will pressure Kerry to keep the faith.

DEAN: We've got to stand up for our principles and not paper over differences. SCHNEIDER: That can create problems, like when Dean said last week in a conference call to reporters, "The president is the one who dragged our troops to Iraq, which has apparently been a factor in the death of 200 Spaniards over the weekend." That's not our position, Kerry responded.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Statements like that from Howard Dean's mouth can drive up the enthusiasm of Dean's anti-Bush supporters. But they cannot come out of John Kerry's mouth -- Candy.

CROWLEY: So, on another issue, could Dean and this sort of progressive group pull Kerry to the left at a time when needs to be going more toward the middle?

SCHNEIDER: The answer is yes, because you've got not just Howard Dean, but Ralph Nader on the left pulling Kerry to the left. And Dean has a special kind of leverage.

You know, he's inside the Kerry camp right now. But if he gets angry, his supporters get angry at something Kerry does, they can say, you know, we can always vote for Ralph Nader. So you've got Nader and Dean pulling Kerry to the left, and that could be a very serious matter in an election as close as that Newsweek poll suggests it could be.

CROWLEY: Senior political analyst Bill Schneider, thanks.

SCHNEIDER: Sure.

CROWLEY: More fall-out this morning from that close election in Taiwan. The story straight ahead.

Also he's a business icon and now he's a TV star. Who is Donald Trump supporting for the White House. We'll find out.

From Democratic favorites to dropouts, we'll hear from Howard Dean in a candid interview.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Fredricka Whitfield, and here are the headlines at this hour.

A presidential outcome in dispute in Taiwan. Thousands of protesters are demeaning a recount. President Chen Shui-bian won by less than 30,000 votes, but more than 330,000 votes were thrown out. The opposition also wants answers in an apparent assassination attempt on the president that some say called a swell of sympathy votes.

Spain rejects talks with Basque separatists. The newly-elected government says it will not accept the request from ETA, the group that was initially blamed for the Madrid train bombings. The U.S. and the European Union consider ETA a terrorist organization. ETA says it will not disarm. And Malaysia's new prime minister seeks a mandate from voters. They are choosing between members of his moderate Islamic party and members of (UNINTELLIGIBLE), Muslim fundamentalists say the ruling moderate ain't Islamic enough. Voters are choosing 219 members of parliament and 505 state assembly members.

Now, more of "INSIDE POLITICS."

CROWLEY: Howard Dean is back on the stump, 32 days after climbing off. He's giving speeches to promote his new political movement, Democracy for America. I talked with a former Vermont governor about his hopes for the organization, as well as his relationship with John Kerry and his plans for the future.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Let's start out, Governor, talking about Democracy for America. I was struck by something that's in your speech that says, "Never again should we allow the Democratic Party to lay down and die." Do you see this organization as a counterpart to the DLC?

DEAN: Some have called it that, and I think there is a need for that in the party. But I think what we really are interested in is the grassroots. We want to recruit candidates to run at school board levels, county commissioner levels, state legislators. We want to support them, we want to teach them how to raise money the way we did so they're not beholden to special interests. That's the way I think that we can really contribute to the rebirth of the Democratic Party.

CROWLEY: There's been with Senator McCain, with Ross Perot, there have been other groups that have been formed that seem to die over the years. What's going to propel this into something beyond kind of the P.S. to the Dean campaign?

DEAN: Well, I think what's -- I hope is going to propel it is the fact that the grass-roots folks that we have worked with understand that they really do have the -- not only the power but the responsibility to make this work.

What typically happens in these things is that the person who is running, like me doesn't win, fades away and then the organization fades away. I want to keep this organization going.

CROWLEY: I was going to ask you about whether you have any way to gauge whether those who supported you so passionately are still there with you and you are able to move them into the Kerry camp?

DEAN: You know, I don't -- drag people around or tell them what to do. People make up their own mind. We have an array of activities, one of which is supporting John Kerry for president. Those who are not comfortable doing that at this point, we encourage them to get rid of -- excuse me, to get active in local grass-roots campaigns, run for office themselves. But in the end, I am going to make a maximum effort to get everyone to vote for John Kerry.

Ralph Nader's had a long and distinguished career. But unfortunately, your vote for Ralph Nader is essentially a vote for George Bush, and I don't think anybody wants that.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about the famous list now. You probably have the most sought-after list of first-time donors, first-time-into- the-political-process donors.

What happens to that list?

DEAN: It stays with Democracy for America, which is the...

CROWLEY: You're not going to give it to the Kerry people?

DEAN: No, we're not going to give it away to anybody. We will certainly use it, as we did with Congressman Jackson. But I don't believe those people signed up to be solicited and spammed by every Democratic organization in the country.

So we will -- we won't rent it out. We won't sell and it we won't lend it to people. But we will use it on behalf of our candidates, and that includes Senator Kerry.

CROWLEY: Do you see Democracy for America occupying you full time for the next couple of years? Or are you planning on doing something else?

DEAN: I'm not going to take any salary from Democracy for America. I will try to make some money making speeches and writing a book and things like that. Because I don't think it's fair to ask $5 and $10 donors to pay me, you know, a big salary.

But I do plan to spend an enormous amount of time, and I expect that this organization is going to go past the November election. Keeping folks in Washington on the straight and narrow in response to ordinary Americans is a full-time job. As we can see, we've been a complete failure with this president, who caters mainly to big corporation and his campaign contributors and leaves most ordinary Americans behind. We don't want that to happen again, either from a Republican president or a Democratic president.

CROWLEY: You've got a group that you want to help clear the special interests out of Washington and still support Senator Kerry, who you believe has been supported by special interests.

How are you going to square that circle?

DEAN: Well, I think we concentrated in the primary campaigns on the things that divide us. Now, we're in the big dance -- -the dance to take back the White House.

And I think we concentrate on those things we have in common. Senator Kerry and I have a health plan that's almost exactly the same, and our folks want universal health care for every single American. Senator Kerry has a plan to do that.

Senator Kerry is a committed defender of the environment. That's very important to our people.

Senator Kerry has a much stronger record on defense than the president.

CROWLEY: You cast doubt on whether you thought Senator Kerry -- in fact, flatly said it times you didn't think he could beat Bush.

DEAN: Senator Kerry and I were tough rivals. We're both tough competitors in the Democratic primary.

The Democratic primary is over. John Kerry is the nominee of this party. He would be a far better president than George W. Bush and I'm going to do whatever I can to help him get elected.

CROWLEY: I guess (ph). Is that the answer to is he electable?

DEAN: He is electable. He will be the next president of the United States if any of us have anything to do with it. We're going to work very hard to make sure that he is.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you, do you plan to endorse Senator Kerry and when?

DEAN: I do and the timing is still under discussion. But it will be soon.

CROWLEY: And what about campaigning for him? Do you expect to see yourself on the stump either with Senator Kerry or on his behalf?

DEAN: He has not asked me to do that, but if he does I will.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Up next, we'll tell you why President Bush should probably be rooting for Kentucky in this year's NCAA basketball tournament.

And later...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY LENO, "TONIGHT SHOW" HOST: The Secret Service announced today they are doubling its protection for John Kerry. Well, you can understand why. I mean, with two positions on every issue, he's got twice as many people mad at him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Too tired to stay up late? We have the week's late- night laughs. You won't want to miss them.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Welcome back.

We have a little political inside information from some of our -- one of our favorite informants, Chuck Todd, editor in chief of The Hotline, an insider's political briefing produced daily by The National Journal.

Welcome, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD, EDITOR IN CHIEF, THE HOTLINE: Good morning.

CROWLEY: OK. Senator Edwards bowed out of the race and that's the last we've heard from him. But you know a little bit of what he's up to?

TODD: There's a little bit -- well, I don't know what he's up to, but there was an interesting little bubbling speculation last week about this idea that somehow he might end out jumping back into the Senate race in North Carolina. You know, he is -- that seat is up for re-election. He chose not to run for re-election. But there's an interesting little thing happening back there about the redistricting, and so the filing deadline actually has been extended into late April.

And so this little speculation even got a -- one paper actually did a story about how donors are pushing Edwards -- they wish he wouldn't get out of the limelight. They're worried that he's got nowhere to go after this and nothing to serve. And he's not picked as running mate -- what does he do?

CROWLEY: No platform.

TODD: No platform. Nothing. You know, maybe -- does he write a book? But what does he do to get the experience that he was supposedly lacking anyway -- because that's why he didn't win this primary. And if he's no longer a senator, what does he do?

A lot of people poo-pooed this idea that somehow he would dump -- bush Erskine Bowles aside and run for his old seat, because as somebody reminded me, he was here in town, all last week, didn't cast a single vote in the Senate.

CROWLEY: Interesting. So we'll keep an eye out on him.

OK. I'm -- call me a doubter here, but I know you see a connection between July on the calendar and November.

TODD: Possibly. We looked back to the last three elections at polling right around July 4. And it was interesting how it sort of correlated very closely with the actual election result. And the reason we looked at the last three elections is, just like this one, there's this three-month gap sot of between when you have a nominee -- nominees or nominees of both parties, to when the sort of general election campaign gets started at the convention.

And it was amazing in 2000, Bush led gore by just a point in a three-way, but he was losing to Gore by a point in the two-way and the first poll at the 4th of July. Well, what was the actual result? Pretty much a split decision.

In 1996, Clinton's lead over Dole by the 4th of July was 10 points. He actually won by 9. And in 1992, right after the -- right at the 4th of July, the first time Clinton took a lead in that three-way, was right at the 4th of July. And of course, he won by a couple points.

I think it goes very well with what the Bush campaign is doing. They realize this. And we saw earlier this week that they're going to do a 90-day sort of push to define Kerry now, realizing that once summer starts, you have this vacation and the public tunes out.

So I think that's what we see. It's sort of a qualitative point for all of us to look at, is let's focus on this 4th of July poll this first time, because then we're probably not going to see any change until (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CROWLEY: And interestingly, that's around the time they expect the U.S. to hand over the Iraqi government.

TODD: Yes, it is. So it makes for a little extra importance this time around than it has in cycles past.

CROWLEY: OK. I knew we couldn't get through an entire Sunday show without talking about the NCAA, but you found a connection to politics.

TODD: Well, I tried to find a connection to politics. Let's put it that way.

But if you look at the last two times an incumbent president has won re-election, we found that the Kentucky Wildcats had made the Final Four. This is in 1996 and in 1984. In the last two times incumbent presidents have re-election, a Kentucky team was not in there.

So not sure if two is a trend, but if it is, George W. Bush better be rooting for the current No . 1-ranked team in the country, Kentucky, to make it to the Final Four if he wants to win re-election.

CROWLEY: Chuck Todd from the must-read "Hot Line," thank you very much.

TODD: Thank you.

CROWLEY": "The Hot Line" is an insider's political briefing produced daily by The National Journal. Hop on line, nationaljournal -- dot com. Sorry. Natonaljournal.com for subscription information.

Those with good memories for politics will recall that real estate mogul Donald Trump seriously considered a run for president in 1999. He announced it on CNN's "LARRY KING LIVE." These days, Trump is enjoying success on another TV program, his own. "The Apprentice" is a Top 10-rated show.

But trump is keeping an eye on politics, too. In an interview with Wolf Blitzer. Trump predicted a close race between President Bush and John Kerry. He didn't endorse a candidate, but he did indicate which way he's leaning. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, REAL ESTATE MOGUL: I probably identify more as a Democrat.

It just seems that the economy does better under the Democrats than the Republicans. Now it shouldn't be that way. But if you go back -- I mean, it just seems that the economy does better under the Democrats.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Stay with CNN for the complete interview today on "LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER," noon Eastern.

Next, has either candidate found his footing on the trail? We'll ask two reporters who've been covering the race.

And it's been a busy week for Mr. Bush. While Kerry was getting some R&R, did the senator pick the wrong week to go on vacation? We'll talk about it on INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): Checking our political history book: On this day in 1965, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. led the Selma-to-Montgomery march in Alabama. The five-day, 54-mile trek focused national attention on the state's discriminatory voter registration policies. Less than five months later, President Lyndon Johnson signs the Voting Right Act of 1965.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: We want to take a look at the political landscape of the week just ended and what's ahead.

Terry Neal is chief political correspondent for washingtonpost.com.

Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today.

Thank you both.

OK, now, this vacation that Kerry is on. I mean., just, you know, things are blowing up and wars are going on and is there some dissonance there that could hurt him?

TERRY NEAL, WASHINGTONPOST.COM: Well, I don't think so. I mean, I don't think that this early it matters that much, and taking vacations at seemingly inopportune times has never seemed to hurt President Bush very much. I think people will have forgotten about that. I don't think this election is going to turn on this issue.

And finally, it seems to, me considering some of the mistakes he's made in the last couple of week, maybe he's a little --

CROWLEY: Need a little rest?

NEAL: Yes.

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY: It's hard to begrudge him some time off. But I do think it creates some problems.

Number one, it does reinforce the idea that he's kind of rich guy, because of the kind of vacation he's taking. I think it's also the incredible defining moment. As Chuck Todd was saying just a moment ago on this show, there's just a narrow window of time when John Kerry is going to be defined one way by his campaign or by the Bush campaign. So it is a critical moment. That's not to say he shouldn't take a couple of days off. But I think there are some downsides to taking a vacation.

CROWLEY: Yes, it's just -- I mean, there's not a lot of time in the definition time, I guess. And if the definition, is rich guy skiing, you know, that...

NEAL: Well, either way it's going to be a rich guy. No matter what happens. It's going to be a rich guy.

(CROSSTALK)

NEAL: I would say, though -- you know, it seems to me fairly clear the Kerry campaign did not expect that the Bush folks were going to come at him this hard and this fast. Usually doesn't happen like this. So I think that's taken them a little bit by surprise. But I wonder if, to some extent, the Bush folks are doing Kerry a favor in terms of -- they're kind of putting their argument out there early, and they're giving him a time -- they're coming at him at a time when people aren't paying that much of attention -- attention to the race, to give him some time to sort of formulate his response to some of these arguments, rather than waiting for closer to around the convention when, you know, people are really paying close attention to the election. So...

PAGE: You know, The Washington Post had a great fact, which I keep repeating and I try to credit it when I do -- which is that, how different this time is in terms of how early and how fierce the campaign is.

In 1984, Ronald Reagan did not say the words Walter Mondale until October. You know, that's unimaginable now. We are -- we are into an October kind of race here in March.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: ...what's your -- what's your....

NEAL: Well, I mean, clearly, I think there are a couple things here.

I think the main thing is that the president realized that he has a real challenge on his hands. Never before, going back to World War II, has a president been essentially even or behind in some polls to a presumptive nominee. Any -- in any incumbent. So the fact that the polls are showing the race is this close this early, sent them a signal that they need to really jump into this thing and to do it really, you know, strongly right now.

PAGE: I think one reason is the 2000 election is not over. You know, Democrats -- many Democrats continue to feel they won in 2000; they were robbed. The country is very polarized and almost evenly divided. SO I don't think we have ever been out of the presidential election season.

CROWLEY: Yes. Yes.

Let me ask you about Vice President Cheney -- wooh -- out there this week. You know, hit them high, hit them low.

Do you think in any way the vice president -- the vice presidential choice could be helpful to Senator Kerry earlier rather than later?

PAGE: Yes, I think there are ways in which it could be, because it gives two people to be out there raising money. We know it's important for the Democrats to be in some ways -- some financially competitive with the Republicans. It does -- and it would set up somebody -- you know, you could almost set up a kind of shadow government, if you want, saying these are the alternatives you have if you vote Democratic.

There's some arguments against it, too. I mean, what are we going to cover at the Boston convention if we already know who the vice president is? But I know that there's a debate going on within the Kerry campaign about how quickly they should move toward naming a vice president.

CROWLEY: Oh, sure, because you usually know by June anyway, right? So we're just sort of talking about a month.

Is there some advantage -- since we're even hearing Democrats, congressmen (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- he needs to get this vision thing out there. And it's tough to do both.

NEAL: Well, I think -- I think that he needs to -- I actually disagree a little bit. I think it probably would be better off for him to wait a little while. Let Kerry be defined, or let Kerry define himself. Let him introduce himself to the voters. I mean, he has been around for a long time, but people don't know him as a presidential candidate. And I think having a VP -- you know, having the ticket made would sort of distract a little bit from him being able to talk about himself. And I think he needs to do that first.

CROWLEY: And we'll -- Jim Johnson charging it.

NEAL: That's right.

CROWLEY: ..in charge of it. Probably won't be a mcprocess (ph). This may take a while.

I have to talk about John McCain, last but not least, just because, you know, today on Fox he had this -- you know, had to say, Well, look I'm not -- I'm not running for vice president and I'm going to stay in the Republican Party, which is about the 18th time he said, I'm going to stay a Republican.

What is he up to with this past week, defending John Kerry, leaving out there for a while that he might consider being vice president?

NEAL: Well, this animosity between McCain and the Bush camp is real. I mean, this is not some made-up media thing. They really don't like each other that much. And I can't help but thinking most of this is him needling the Bush folks a little bit. I don't seriously think that he would consider being John Kerry's running mate. But why not , you know, stick it to the guy that you don't like to much a little bit right now?

PAGE: I think John McCain is just (UNINTELLIGIBLE) John McCain, which is, if you ask him a question, he tell us what he thinks. And it's so rare that it seems remarkable to us.

CROWLEY: But he's a smart politician. And he knows precisely what he's saying. And he knows precisely what we're going to do with it and probably precisely how the White House is going to react.

Let me give you one of those questions you can't possibly answer. When John McCain goes into the voting booth this fall, what lever is he going to pull?

PAGE: Wow, that's a really tough question. I mean, I guess I don't know. I guess you are right. I don't know.

NEAL: I'm one of these people who believe he's a Republican. I think that he -- ultimately, he's a loyal Republican. He has an independent streak, but I think he'll vote for bush.

PAGE: It's amazing we can discuss this question and not be sure.

CROWLEY: Well, I mean, in fact, the idea of the two of them together on a vice presidential ticket is sort of ludicrous. I mean, one's quite liberal and one's quite conservative and it seems sort of silly at the time.

What does John Kerry have to do coming out of this vacation? We got 30 seconds...

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE: He needs to go on offense. He's been on defense for two weeks. He needs to put Bush in the position. He needs to be making his case, not responding to the arguments.

NEAL: That's right. And he needs to talk about his military record. The Democrats are fine on the economy so far. He needs to talk about why he's not weak on defense. That's a legitimate argument, and that's the thing that he needs to define himself on.

CROWLEY: Terry Neal, washingtonpost.com. Susan Page, USA Today. Thank you both very much.

NEAL: Thank you.

CROWLEY: After months of dawn-to-dark campaigning, it was time for John Kerry to take a break. But where to go on vacation was a bigger decision than you might think. After all, if he makes to the White House, even his vacation spots will be analyzed for deeper meaning.

Here's Bruce Morton.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): George W. Bush goes home to his ranch. "It gives me a lot of balance," he told the Associated Press during his first year of president. "It does help give you perspective."

Most of them go somewhere. Theodore Roosevelt vacationed in Yellowstone, announcing that he wanted to be alone. A reporter followed on his horseback with his dog. The reporter arrested, horse confiscated, dog shot.

Franklin Roosevelt, who had polio, loved swimming at Warm Springs, Georgia. It's where he died.

Harry Truman liked the submarine base at Key West. Florida. He'd hang out with friends, play cards, tell stories.

Dwight Eisenhower was a serious golfer -- 222 days at Augusta, where they play the Masters during his eight years in office.

John Kennedy mostly went to the family compounds, Cape Cod or Palm Beach, or sailed or threw football or played with his kids.

LBJ went to the LBJ Ranch. Where else?

Richard Nixon wasn't good at vacations. He went to San Clemente, or his friend Bebe Ribsoso's (ph) in Key Biscayne, Florida. But somehow he always looked at if he was thinking about Laos or Detente something.

Gerald Ford, a gifted athlete, loved skiing so much he bought a home in Vail, Colorado.

Jimmy Carter liked being alone in Georgia.

Ronald Reagan went always to his ranch. Spent almost a year there during his eight years as president. The first President Bush went to the family's place in Kennebunkport, and, as he put it, "rec-reated" -- speed golf, time in the cigarette boat.

Bill and Hillary Clinton went off into Martha's Vineyard. He golfed too. But when she was thinking about running for the Senate, they also spent some time at Finger Lakes, New York.

You may want to avoid the Black Hills of South Dakota. Calvin Coolidge had a public fight with his wife there. And George McGovern, the Democratic nominee in 1972, learned there that his running mate had undergone electric-shock therapy. McGovern replaced him, ending any faint hope he might have had of beating Richard Nixon that year.

But Idaho is candidate friendly, as far as we know. Enjoy, Senator.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: From the campaign trail to late-night comedy, the candidates are never safe from the political joke. We've got the best political punch lines up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Time now for our weekly look at late-night laughs from Leno, Letterman and more. That's a mouthful.

As always, politicians provided them plenty of material.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CONAN O'BRIEN, LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O'BRIEN: It was reported today that John Kerry is hoping to raise $80 million before the Democratic convention. It's a lot of money. Yes, Kerry has two ways to raise the $80 million -- soliciting Democratic donors and going through his wife's purse.

DAVID LETTERMAN, LATE SHOW HOST: John Kerry says that foreign leaders -- John Kerry announces that foreign leaders want him to be president, but that he's -- he can't name the foreign leaders. He says that they want him to be president, but he can't -- and I thought, well that's all right. President Bush can't name them either.

BILL MAHER, REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER: You hear that ovation, governor? That's got to make you feel good.

DEAN: If I had a vote for everybody who came and congratulated me in the airport, I'd be the nominee, not John Kerry.

JON STEWART, THE DAILY SHOW: Every now and again, the audience screams so loud that we can't help but hear you. So tonight, we bow down to the audience's wishes, and we're going to deal with the topic you've been clamoring for. You asked for it. You got it. Our lead story -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

LENO: The Secret Service announced today they are doubling its protection for John Kerry. Well, you can understand why. I mean, with two positions on every issue, he's got twice as many people mad at him.

LETTERMAN: George Bush, though, is -- his campaign is -- he's really doing much, much better and he's shot right up in the polls since he captured Martha Stewart.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY.

In 30 minutes, a special "RELIABLE SOURCES" with former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair on his new book, "Burning Down My Master's House."

At noon, on "LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER," New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg discusses the war on terror.

"CNN LIVE SUNDAY" continues now from CNN headquarters in Atlanta.

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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