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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS
9/11 Investigation: Political Fallout; The Kerry Campaign; NATO Ceremony
Aired March 29, 2004 - 15:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: Caught in the crossfire of the 9/11 probe.
RICHARD CLARKE, FMR. COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISER: The issue is not about me. The issue is about the president's performance and the war on terrorism.
ANNOUNCER: Have the accusations and acrimony taken a toll on the president's approval ratings?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator John Kerry!
ANNOUNCER: John Kerry in California. We'll look at the Democrat's cash-driven, star-studded, health-conscious week ahead.
Chew on this, for the Atkins diet craze tip the scales on Election Day.
ANNOUNCER: Now, live from the Washington, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.
CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: Thanks for joining us. Judy is off this week. I'm Candy Crowley.
We begin with the continued fallout from the 9/11 Commission hearings. The Bush camp must be disappointed if they thought their weekend PR offensive would settle things down. Democrats are still sniping about the refusal of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to testify publicly before the commission. And many Republicans are still griping about former anti-terror adviser Richard Clarke and his criticism of the Bush White House.
How's all this playing in the presidential race? We have a new poll out this hour, and our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, has been going over the numbers.
Well, fortunately, we have him here live.
Now you're going to have to -- OK. Actually, I'm told we do have the piece.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): A tie. Forty-six percent of Americans say they're more likely to believe the Bush administration, while 44 percent are more likely to believe Clarke. Republican leaders have attacked Clarke's credibility.
SEN. BILL FRIST (R), MAJORITY LEADER: It is one thing for Mr. Clarke to assemble in front of the media, in front of the press. But if he lied under oath to the United States Congress, it's a far, far more serious matter.
SCHNEIDER: Those attacks have rallied the GOP faithful. While three-quarters of Democrats and over 50 percent of Independents say they believe Clarke, Republicans are solidly behind their president, 83 percent.
Clarke's charges have evoked an intensely partisan response. Americans are divided over President Bush. They're divided over Clarke's credibility, and they're divided over Clarke's allegations because they deal with Iraq.
CLARKE: By invading Iraq, the president of the United States has greatly undermined the war on terrorism.
SCHNEIDER: Is Iraq part of the war on terrorism, or an entirely separate military action, as Clarke suggests? Americans are split along party lines.
CROWLEY: So, Bill, when you look at all these numbers, what is our bottom line here? Has the controversy hurt George Bush's reelection bid?
SCHNEIDER: Well, three weeks ago, Candy, John Kerry was leading President Bush 52 to 44 percent among likely voters. And now, Bush has pulled ahead, 51 to 47. No evidence of any damage to the president.
What we do find evidence of is damage to John Kerry. The Bush campaign has set out to define Kerry in the voters' minds. And it looks like it's having an impact.
Fifty-seven percent of Americans believe Kerry has changed positions for political reasons. Fifty-eight percent believe Kerry would raise their taxes. Kerry says he will raise taxes but only on people making over $200,000 a year. But, everybody, including Americans making under $30,000, believe their income taxes will go up if Kerry is elected.
You know, since February, when it became clear that Kerry would be the Democratic candidate, overall opinion of John Kerry has become more negative. Growing numbers of Americans see Kerry as too liberal. Fewer trust him to make decisions about war and peace. The White House campaign against Kerry, and against Richard Clarke, seems to have sharpened the partisan divide in this country. CROWLEY: Nothing like a couple of ads on the air.
SCHNEIDER: Right, exactly.
CROWLEY: Here is some more hard evidence that the Bush camp's attacks on Kerry are having an impact. Our new poll shows Kerry's favorable rating has fallen seven points since last month. And his unfavorable rating has climbed 10 points.
As some of his poll numbers go south, the Democratic nominee in waiting is out West. CNN's Bob Franken has our update on the Kerry campaign.
BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's out in California today. John Kerry is combining campaign appearances with events that are sorely needed to provide the fuel for the campaign: money.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you. Thank you.
FRANKEN: This appearance is being combined with the beginnings of a 20-state fund-raising tour. It will come complete with Hollywood glitter, appearances by Ben Affleck and Leonardo Dicaprio, all aimed at accumulating the $80 million Kerry's campaign believes it needs to take on the other side, which is visibly involved in taking him on.
RICHRAD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It turns out John Kerry has voted in the Senate at least 350 times for higher taxes. That averages to one vote for higher taxes every three weeks for almost two decades.
FRANKEN: The Kerry campaign shot back. Like Bush, Cheney has no credibility to lecture anyone on the economy.
KERRY: With each attack, this administration is building up the truth deficit to go along with the jobs deficit and the fiscal deficit and their international intelligence-gathering credibility deficit.
FRANKEN: Kerry had just returned to the campaign after vacation. But now, he's planning to take some sick days. Actually, rehab days after some elective shoulder surgery Wednesday.
And just to recycle the message that he's one healthy 60-year- old, Kerry made it a point to be seen riding his two-wheeler yesterday. He does this kind of thing every once in awhile. But he did have the operation to remove his prostate last year in the early stages of cancer.
So to try and preempt any talk of physical problems, his physician, Dr. Gerald Doyle (ph), has just released and updated letter in which he describes Kerry as being in generally excellent health. No traces of cancer. Dr. Doyle (ph) says the prostate surgery was, "successful." (END VIDEOTAPE)
FRANKEN: And this is important. President Bush likes to show off his physical fitness. So Kerry cannot allow himself to be outdone in what passes for a midlife muscle-flexing competition. After all, Candy, one has to be in good shape for the campaign slugfest.
CROWLEY: No weakness anywhere in this campaign, right? Anybody's campaign. Thanks a lot, Bob Franken.
We're going to lead Monday's "Campaign News Daily" with the latest ad from an anti-Bush group called The Media Fund. Though barred by campaign law from coordinating with the Kerry campaign, the fund was created to help get Kerry elected. The group is running an ad in 17 swing states, defending the senator's record on taxes and criticizing Bush as a tax cutter for the wealthy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kerry's economic plan? Roll back tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent. Help him pay for a middle class tax cut. Don't reward corporations that export jobs overseas. George Bush, he supported tax breaks for exporting jobs, and he raided Social Security to pay for a tax cut for millionaires.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: The Bush campaign is also talking tax in a radio ad. A resident of Kerry's home state of Massachusetts paints the senator as a man often eager to raise taxes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John Kerry has been my senator for 20 years. Now he's running for president. You might want to know him the way some of us in Massachusetts do.
Take his record on taxes. John Kerry likes to raise taxes. So much so, he's voted for higher taxes 350 times.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: Road rules for Treasury Secretary John Snow this week. Snow is making appearances in three swing states, Ohio, Arizona and New Mexico, to promote the virtues of the president's tax cuts. Meetings with workers and business leaders are expected to focus on jobs and economic growth.
We are waiting for President Bush to speak to the leaders of seven eastern European nations who are joining NATO today. We will carry his remarks live.
Also ahead, Bush, September 11, and the presidential race. Ron Brownstein offers his take on the fallout from the 9/11 Commission probe.
Plus, the gospel according to John Kerry. Could a turn to religion help or hurt his campaign?
And later, we'll serve up an afternoon treat as our John Mercurio reads some tea leaves for us.
This is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.
CROWLEY: Once again, we are going to take you to the south lawn of the White House, where we expect President Bush shortly to come out and welcome seven former East Bloc nations to NATO. All former communist nations.
For those of you who haven't been keeping track: Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia are now all joining NATO. Taking that from 19 countries to 26 countries. Three other nations, Albania, Croatia and Macedonia, also hope to join. These, of course, were all nations once, as we called it, behind the iron curtain, something that sounds very old-fashioned these days.
So seven, again, former communist nations beginning to join NATO. Also there, the secretary-general of NATO.
Gorgeous day on the south lawn. NATO couldn't have asked for a better one from the United States on this.
One of those -- here you're hearing the president be introduced and walk down that red carpet and come out and talk. One of those thought to maybe not be too crazy about this is the Soviet Union. But lots of festivity here. This is a good thing for the United States.
And now here, the president of the United States.
CROWLEY: There you see President Bush, along with members of seven former Soviet-dominated nations now having joined NATO. The president spending most of his time talking about the need for the world to unite against terrorism and taking great pains to talk about the many contributions that these seven nations have, in fact, given to the war on terrorism in both Afghanistan, and in Iraq.
INSIDE POLITICS will be back right after this.
ANNOUNCER: Ralph Nader calls for a meeting with John Kerry. Does the Independent candidate want to team up with Kerry?
RALPH NADER (I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have a common objective, and that's to defeat the giant corporation residing in the White House masquerading as a human being.
ANNOUNCER: Does dieting affect more than your weight? Could it influence the race for the White House?
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN ANALYST: Voters who have been living with no bread at all could spell real political trouble for President Bush come November.
ANNOUNCER: Now, live from Washington, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.
CROWLEY: I'm Candy Crowley. Judy is off this week. We want to start this half-hour with our new CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll on Americans' political preferences and their views of the 9/11 investigation.
In the Bush versus Kerry match-up, likely voters are closely divided, with Bush leading Kerry by four points. But Kerry had an eight-point lead earlier this month.
And they're pretty much split down the middle as to whom they're more likely to believe, the Bush administration, or Richard Clarke, the former anti-terrorism adviser who has accused the president of ignoring early warnings about al Qaeda. When asked if the Bush administration is covering up something about 9/11 intelligence, 53 percent of Americans said yes, 41 percent said no.
But a majority of Americans, 52 percent, say they trust Bush more when it comes to sending troops into war. Forty-one percent say they trust Kerry more.
Roman Catholic John Kerry turned up at a Baptist church in St. Louis yesterday where he managed to both quote scripture and annoy the Bush campaign. As Bruce Morton reports there is a constitutional separation of church and state, but not of religion and politics.
BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): George W. Bush is a religious man, a born-again Christian. He told voters that during a debate in the 2000 campaign when he was asked who was his favorite philosopher.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Christ. Because he changed my heart.
MORTON: Now, religion is in this campaign. John Kerry at a Baptist church in St. Louis yesterday.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The scriptures say what does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works?
When we look at what's happening in America today, where are the works of compassion? Because it's also written be doers of the word, and not hearers only. MORTON: A Bush spokesman said that was, quote, "beyond the bonds of acceptable discourse and a sad exploitation of scripture for political attack," end quote, though politicians have been using the bible to abuse one another for years. Kerry did not name Bush but referred to our current national leadership.
On another front, "TIME" magazine quotes an unnamed Vatican spokesman as saying there is a potential scandal with Roman Catholic Kerry's, quote, "apparent profession of his catholic faith and some of his stances, particularly abortion."
John Kennedy, the first Catholic president, had to deny 40 years ago that he would take orders from Rome.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP -- 1960)
SEN. JOHN F. KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I am sure that here in this state of West Virginia, that no one believes that I'd be a candidate for the presidency if I didn't think I could meet my oath of office.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORTON: The church criticized former New York Governor Mario Cuomo for favoring abortion rights. The church, of course, does not. And Cuomo retorted that he couldn't impose his view on other New Yorkers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP -- 1984)
GOV. MARIO CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: Drawing that line between what you're allowed to believe personally and what you can impose upon others, that's the tricky area.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORTON: Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, A catholic, as governor of Pennsylvania favored abortion rights, though with some restrictions. And the bishop of Erie ruled he could take mass but would not be allowed to speak on church property.
This time Kerry told "TIME" magazine, "I don't tell church officials what to do and church officials shouldn't tell American politicians what to do in the context of our public life."
And Kerry quoted Kennedy. "I will be a president who happens to be Catholic, not a Catholic president."
An issue Americans have put behind them? Maybe not.
Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.
CROWLEY: Ralph Nader says he'll meet with John Kerry next month. Just how popular is the consumer advocate turned presidential candidate these days? Take a guess and we'll see how it compares to our new poll.
Speaking of polls, have you ever wondered why pollsters never call you? Stay with us. We'll explain how it works.
And later, a one-term member of Congress sets her sights on the other side of Capitol Hill.
CROWLEY: Most political candidates worry about their approval ratings. But then there's something that Ralph Nader has to worry about: the new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll shows Nader's favorable rating is only 30 percent, 48 percent of those polled view Nader unfavorably.
Nader has requested a meeting with John Kerry. For the "Inside Buzz" on what they may talk about I'm joined by CNN political editor John Mercurio. I think the minute we say here's what they'll talk about Ralph Nader about change the agenda but let's go ahead and try. What are you hearing about? What Nader wants?
JOHN MERCURIO, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: The Kerry people are being awfully quiet about this meeting. I think they want to try to rule down expectations that anything monumental is going to come out of this. That Nader is going to say that he's withdrawing and endorsing Kerry. And I think Nader's people are also doing the same thing. They say there's no deals that are going to be discussed at the meeting.
They are being more talkative than the Kerry people, though. They're trying to highlight the fact that Kerry and Nader are good friends. They go back 30 years. Actually, one of the first people that Kerry met when he came home from Vietnam was Ralph Nader.
And they made the point -- I talked to a spokesman earlier today, one of Ralph Nader's top aides, who said that the two reasons that Ralph Nader's running is because he wants to beat George Bush and he wants to try to promote these progressive issues that he supports.
I think basically what he's trying to get at, what he's trying to do in this meeting is trying to size up Kerry's campaign. Look at the operation. See if Kerry is really the man who can beat George Bush. Talk to him about these progressive issues that he cares about.
And if Kerry satisfies him on those two issues, we might be a step closer to Ralph Nader getting out of the race. He sees the same polls that we're looking at. He sees the race could be close and he see that could make a difference like did in 2000.
I get the sense from talking to Nader's people that he doesn't want to be the same person who he was in 2000.
CROWLEY: Doesn't want to be the person that all the Democrats hate?
MERCURIO: Right, exactly. CROWLEY: OK, let's sort of go back in time a few oldies but goodies. Howard Dean has set up Democracy for America, looking for a head of a -- what are you hearing about that?
MERCURIO: The talk last week was that Dean had talked to Karen Hicks, who is his state director in the New Hampshire primaries. I don't know if they actually spoke. Karen Hicks is still in Amsterdam. She's been on vacation for several weeks. They might have been e- mailing.
But the talk over the weekend -- I mean this is sort of a day-by- day thing. The talk over the weekend was that Karen Hicks turned it down. She doesn't want to live in Burlington, a lovely city but she doesn't want to live there herself.
But today I'm talking to people who are in constant communication with her and they're saying that she's reconsidered and that it's very likely now at this point that she's going to get in -- that she's going take over as the executive director.
The timetable they have is they want to try to name somebody by April 15, Tax Day. No relationship but they want to name someone by then.
Now why does this matter? You know, it's a group that Howard Dean is supporting. You know Howard Dean raised $50 million. And if he can even raise a fraction of that for John Kerry, or for, you know, any of these Democratic congressional candidates that he talks about campaigning for, he could be a big deal in this race.
And Karen Hicks if she's the chosen executive director she could have an influence, as well. I think it's sort of interesting.
CROWLEY: We know he thinks really highly of her. Dean has always thought very highly of Karen Hicks.
MERCURIO: Yes, yes. Absolutely.
CROWLEY: OK, another blast from the past. Joe Trippi, who you know, sort of ran the Dean campaign as it blew up into something very big, and then left as it was imploding.
MERCURIO: Yes, we're hearing -- I talked to Joe Trippi this morning. It sounds like he says he's, quote, "leaning hard" towards leaving his firm, Trippi, McMahon and Squire.
Sort of one of the kind of larger media firms in Washington. They've been around since 1990. He said that he met with his partners, his name partners, his name partners, Mark Squire and Steve McMahon had dinner last week and that they talked about moving on. And it looks as though we should know in the next couple of days if not the next week or so, what Trippi's going to do. It sounds as though the firm is going to dissolve.
CROWLEY: Bad feelings there? You know, McMahon stayed on, Trippi left. What's the cause here?
MERCURIO: I don't know that there's bad feelings. Trippi definitely spoke highly of McMahon. And every time I talk to Steve McMahon he speaks highly of Joe Trippi. But I do get the sense that this was a venture that was much more about -- there was a lot more personal investment in this campaign than there was in a lot. And the fact that it didn't work out led to a lot of sort of harsh feelings and disagreements. So we'll see.
CROWLEY: John Mercurio. Thanks very much. Next week let's talk veep.
CROWLEY: For the best and the funniest and sometimes little sarcastic daily briefing on politics don't miss John Mercurio's "MORNING GRIND." Go to CNN.com/grind for all the latest political news.
Karl Rove gets some unexpected weekend visitors. Up next, protesters rally outside Rove's Washington home. We'll tell you how the standoff ended when INSIDE POLITICS returns.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: ... but even the question of the relevancy of this organization, it's become quite clear for President Bush as well as NATO that they both have a better appreciation for one another.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: NATO's core mission remains the same, the defense of its members against any aggression Today our alliance faces a new enemy which has brought death to innocent people from New York to Madrid. Terrorists hate everything this alliance stands for. They despise our freedom. They fear our unity. They seek to divide us. They will fail. We will not be divided.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: Now Candy, these new members are all a part of the war on terror. Some of them even have troops inside of Iraq. But it is important to note that NATO as an alliance, as an organization, is not in support of the Iraq war. The leaders saying that they want another U.N. security council resolution before that happens -- Candy.
CROWLEY: Suzanne, let me take a right-hand turn and talk to you about the 9/11 Commission, the whole push and pull over whether Condoleezza Rice should testify in public. I think I heard you report over the weekend, or earlier today, that they were looking for some compromise at the White House. Any sense of what's going on with that?
MALVEAUX: Certainly. Here's what they're looking at. Dr. Rice has said that she would like to speak to the families of the 9/11 victims, and that is being arranged. But also she said she'd like to go before the 9/11 Commission to meet again privately to answer their questions, as she had done in February. Now back then she was not under oath. This was classified information. There's no transcript. The commissioners simply took notes. There is the possibility here of declassifying some of that information, even in her next interview, as well, to make some of that information public.
CROWLEY: Suzanne, one of the things I noted from our poll is that this whole flap with Richard Clarke and his charges has not seemed to hurt the president's overall approval rating. Do you get the sense of how they feel about the politics of this there? They think they're on the losing end of this?
MALVEAUX: Well, the White House feels this is just a blip on the radar screen. That this is part of the process. But when it's all said and done and they submit their report, when they go ahead and make conclusions about how the Bush administration handled this, the Clinton administration, they feel confident that the president ultimately is going to be judged on how he handled the war on terror after September 11, not the eight-month period leading up to September 11. They feel that when you look at the big picture, the broad picture, that they'll be just fine.
CROWLEY: CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux. Thanks for coming out and joining us, Suzanne.
CROWLEY: A group of activists swarmed over the front lawn at the home of White House adviser Karl Rove yesterday. Members of the group National Peoples Action arrived by school bus in Rove's northwest Washington neighborhood. The group then began chanting, waving signs and calling on President Bush to support an education bill benefiting immigrants. Some of the protesters pounded on the windows of the house before police and Secret Service agents arrived. Rove later met briefly with two members of the group.
Georgia Democrats may have found the candidate to run for the seat currently held by retiring Senator Zell Miller who has ticked off fellow Democrats by supporting George Bush for re-election. First- term Congresswoman Denise Majette says she plans to enter the Senate race. She also said she did not consult Senator Miller or any other state Democrat about the decision. Majette's decision comes just days after Cynthia McKinney, the woman Majette defeated in 2002 announced she plans to run for her old seat again in Congress.
Now we'll try to answer a question many of us on INSIDE POLITICS hear a lot. Why don't your pollsters ever call me? We toss that one over to our polling director, Keating Holland.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLING DIRECTOR: How do we choose people? We don't. A computer does. We pick the area codes, the computer generates the last seven digits. That means that everyone in America has got an equal chance of being selected. That, in turn, means that a sample of 1,000 people can represent 200 million people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: But seriously, how can 1,000 people represent 200 million? To get the gist of random sampling, Keating says think soup.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOLLAND: A metaphor that pollsters frequently use is a chef in a kitchen. If he wants to see whether a soup needs more salt, he doesn't need to drink all of the soup. He only needs to stir the pot around, and taste a spoonful of it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: Going in, pollsters only know the area codes of the people randomly chosen by computer. Once they get more information about the pollees they do statistical calculations to ensure the group reflects America in terms of race, age, education and other factors.
The old saying tells us you are what you eat. But does it carry over to how you vote? Our senior analyst Jeff Greenfield has been chewing on that question and dishes up some interesting answers next.
CROWLEY: We have heard the testimony, we've seen the polls, now we want to turn to a political analyst and reporter Dana Milbank who is at "The Washington Post."
We really appreciate your joining us, Dana. I want to talk about -- I'm actually sort of confused about the polls. I want to get your sense about what the past four or five days have done in a political sense to the White House.
DANA MILBANK, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, they've done very little, if the polls are to be believed. The Pew Research Center came out with one today saying the president's really held up quite well.
What this seems to mean is that, obviously there's probably very few people in America that have not seen what Clarke has been saying and the furious response to it. Yet, public opinion does not appear to budge.
Pollsters seem to think this means that it just shows how polarized the electorate is to start with. That people have really made up their minds to a large extent. And there's not a lot of flexibility there. Not a lot of people wondering what they think of George Bush out there. CROWLEY: So when you look at it in its totality, the White House appears to believe that it's going to be what George Bush did after 9/11, as opposed to what happened before 9/11. Does that sound like a rational assumption?
MILBANK: That's almost certainly true. But you got to remember that part of the Clarke argument is about what happened after 9/11. That's not what his testimony was about, but his book is about saying that by going to war in Iraq that the president's hurt the war on terrorism.
So if that argument is successful, if it's amplified by John Kerry, that does get at the president's handling, his response to the war on terrorism. That's his strongest point right now. If they're successful in undermining that it's hugely dangerous for the president.
CROWLEY: Let me get just slightly off your beat a little bit and only sort of bring in the campaign trail, as well, and John Kerry.
Our polls show that people still by a fairly healthy margin trust George Bush in the war on terrorism much more than they do John Kerry. Is there something John Kerry can do, or is he just fighting against the aura of the White House, and indeed, the still good feelings about how George Bush handled things?
MILBANK: Well, the Democrats don't really believe that they can beat President Bush on this question, just as the Bush campaign doesn't really believe they can the Democrats on domestic -- many of the domestic issues. The idea is to pull as close to even as you can.
That's why this Clarke stuff will become important because as I was saying this is the president's strongest point. If they can pull this support down on this issue, it's been obviously 70 percent and above. And if they can get that down to the 50 percent level, or below, that gives them a real advantage there in a sense, because this should be the president's strongest issue.
CROWLEY: Dana Milbank of "The Washington Post." As always, we really enjoy your insight.
MILBANK: Thanks, Candy.
CROWLEY: More INSIDE POLITICS in a minute.
CROWLEY: Doctors and other health experts spent a lot of time and energy debating the low carb diet craze. But should political pundits be getting in the act? Jeff Greenfield thinks so.
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: There may be more than seven months before Americans vote, but that has not stopped the ceaseless, endless conversation about what factors could tilt this election. What if Osama is captured? What if the markets tank? What about Iraq? What about the price of gas?
Well, friends, while these possibilities may have been beaten to death I can reveal here, exclusively one potential political bombshell that nobody has yet examined: the Atkins diet.
(voice-over): Two things have long been true about Americans. First, we eat way, way too much. And second we consume diet advice almost as eagerly as we do cheeseburgers. In a country where experts have recently warned that obesity may kill more of us than cigarettes, it is no wonder that tens of millions of us are desperately trying to lose weight.
The current approach? The Atkins diet. Some 15 million Americans are now following this high fat, low-carb diet that teaches us to fill up on steak.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want a burger. But I don't want a bun. I just want a burger.
GREENFIELD: Eggs and cheese. But stay away from the rolls and the pasta. Even fast food franchises, once noted for their fries, promise no or low-carbs here.
But what is the political connection, you ask? Simple. According to a recent study at MIT, carbohydrates are essential to producing serotonin, the chemical in the brain that regulates moods. A diet severely low in carbohydrates, the study says, could produce moodiness, lethargy, in other words, an unhappy person.
And what's the one thing everyone knows about political campaigns? An unhappy electorate is bad news for the incumbent. And if you think voters only react to political news...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm so confused.
GREENFIELD: ... well, just think back to 1994 when voters took both houses away from the Democrats. That just happened to be the same autumn that the baseball strike wiped out the World Series, leaving millions of Americans angry enough to produce a landslide against Clinton and the Democrats.
BILL CLINTON, FRM. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That message, I got it.
GREENFIELD: Now, just imagine what will happen in November if tens of millions of carbo-deprived voters overcome their lethargy enough to take their moody, depressed selves to the polls. Simple arithmetic suggest there may be 300,000 of such voters in Florida alone, a quarter million in Ohio, Lord knows how many in the other 15 battleground states. All the slick ads and clear speeches will be no match for the mood of these serotonin-less voters.
(on camera): :Man lives not by bread alone," the Good Book says. But voters who have been living with no bread at all, could spell real political trouble for President Bush come November. And remember, friends, you heard it here first. Jeff Greenfield, CNN, New York.
CROWLEY: And remember, please, who you heard it from.
The Web site PoliticsOne.com decided to get away from the serious business of Washington the last few days by staging a very unscientific survey. The question, who's the most attractive woman in American politics?
According to the online response -- and it wasn't even close -- South Dakota congressional candidate Stephanie Herseth is the top choice. Former Illinois Senate candidate Nancy Skinner was second and North Carolina congressional hopeful Virginia Johnson was third.
I can't believe anyone can pick any of them out of a lineup.
In any case in the interest of fairness the most attractive men were also rated. It was a much closer vote but Senator John Edwards was the winner. He was followed by President Bush's George P. Bush who edged out Florida House candidate Jim Stork. So now you know.
That is it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Candy Crowley. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.
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