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Fight for Iraq: What Does Bush White House do Next?; Gay Marriage and Presidential Politics

Aired May 17, 2004 - 15:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: A deadly blow to the mission to stabilize Iraq. How is the Bush White House dealing with new flash points and fallout?

Making it legal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When history (ph) calls, you answer. And we love each other.

ANNOUNCER: Now that same-sex couples can tie the knot in Massachusetts, will gay marriage explode as an election year issue?

Bush v. Kerry on Brown v. Board of Education.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As far as we have come, we still have not met the promise of Brown.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And while our schools are no longer segregated by law, they are still not equal in opportunity and excellence.

ANNOUNCER: Politics of school desegregation, 50 years after the Supreme Court's landmark ruling.



JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Thank you for joining us.

The White House says the assassination of the head of the Iraqi Governing Council will not derail the transition to democracy. But as one senator put it, today's suicide car bombing near a checkpoint outside coalition headquarters in Baghdad shows just how perilous that transition will be.

Meantime, U.S. officials in Baghdad say that a preliminary test shows the nerve gas sarin was found in an artillery shell rigged as a roadside bomb. The device went off during an attempt to defuse it, releasing a small amount of the substance. A senior defense official says further tests are needed to confirm if it was sarin.

And a Pentagon official confirms to CNN that the United States plans to shift 4,000 infantry troops from South Korea to Iraq. It is not immediately clear when that will happen.

Let's quickly bring in our White House correspondent, Dana Bash.

Dana, the head of the Iraqi Governing Council killed just 44 days before the planned handover. What is the Bush administration saying it's going to do now?

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, we heard from this White House today words and phrases that we have heard a number of times, that have become quite familiar coming from this White House as they have had to react to violence over the past months in Iraq. Officials here calling the murder of the Iraqi Governing Council president vile, but vowing to stay the course.

But Bush aides say that they are trying to keep their eye on the ball. And you mentioned 44 days and until the transfer of power. That is the ball as far as Bush officials here are concerned.

The White House knows Americans hear about the June 30 date but aren'tfully aware what they should be looking for. And while there are still a lot of questions that have yet to be answered about what it all means, Bush officials say that we should look for the president as soon as this week to start to come out and try to communicate to the American people what will happen after June 30.

A presidential education effort is probably underway, as one official put it. He'll make the case that certainly a key milestone will be reached on June 30. Iraqis will have somewhat but limited control over their country. But expectations will be set.

The president likely to make the case over and over again that American troops will still be in Iraq. And so bad news still could be coming from Iraq -- 135,000 plus troops are still there and not likely to come back anytime soon -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Dana, this device that released some gas today in Iraq, they're still doing testing, they're not sure if it is sarin. They're also, of course, not sure where it came from. Does this have any bearing on the search for weapons of mass destruction?

BASH: Well, of course, finding the elusive weapons of mass destruction would be right up there with political victories as far as the White House is concerned. One official said it would up there with finding Saddam Hussein, and in the future, finding perhaps Osama bin Laden. But in talking to a number of officials today, they are simply not going there, no swinging from the rafters at all here.

According to another official I talked to, essentially just one shell was found, very, very vague details so far on exactly where it came from, what it means. And one candidly even said to me it's not exactly the stockpiles that Bush officials talked about leading up to the war as they made the case for war. So for now, the word from the White House is they're just glad that no one was severely injured during this incident -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Meantime, tests underway. Dana, thank you very much.

BASH: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Well, both President Bush and his rival, John Kerry, are marking a milestone here at home. Fifty years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that school segregation is unconstitutional, the presidential contenders spoke separately in Topeka, Kansas, home to the school that was at the center of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling. We'll have much more on their appearances and the politics of education and race ahead.

Right now, we turn to history in the making in Massachusetts, the first U.S. state to allow gay marriage. Same-sex couples began exchanging vows there today, including those who sued the state for the right to marry. Democrat John Kerry had nothing new to say today about the dramatic change in his home state.

And President Bush issued a written statement, repeating his view that "The sacred institution of marriage should not be redefined by a few activist judges." He went on to again urge Congress to pass a constitutional amendment protecting marriage as a union of a man and a woman.

Our Bill Schneider has more now on gay marriage and presidential politics.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I now pronounce that you are married...

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Gay marriage is not a high priority issue for most voters. Neither President Bush nor John Kerry seems eager to talk about it. And when they do, they agree on one fundamental point...

KERRY: I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. That's my position, I've said it clearly throughout this campaign.

SCHNEIDER: The big difference is that President Bush favors a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriages. Kerry opposes it.

How does the public feel? Pretty closely split. Fifty-one percent favor such an amendment, 45 percent are opposed. In fact, the idea of same-sex marriage seems to be gaining public support.

Just three months ago, the public opposed gay marriage by two to one. Now, 42 percent support the idea.

Americans are conflicted on the issue. They want to be tolerant, but they don't want to express approval of homosexuality, which is what gay marriage implies for many straight people.

When asked which candidate, Bush or Kerry, would handle the issue of gay marriage better, it's a wash. Neither candidate has the advantage. The Democrats' strategy is to play down the urgency of the issue.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D), NEW YORK: Millions of Americans can't take their children to the doctor. Millions of Americans are out of work. Patriotic young Americans are being killed in Iraq, while it is clear that the president hasn't a clue as to what he is doing there. And the most important thing on the agenda is this anti-marriage amendment.

SCHNEIDER: Republicans are not really playing it up for fear of sounding intolerant. Can the issue affect the presidential outcome? Look at the 16 percent of Americans who say they can only vote for someone who shares their views on gay marriage. People who are most likely to vote the issue are almost all on one side: opposed. For them, the issue is urgent.

MATT DANIELS, ALLIANCE FOR MARRIAGE: This is the destruction of marriage by courts that are hostile to the values of most Americans.


SCHNEIDER: Most people who are inclined to favor gay marriage don't really care that much about it. Many people who oppose gay marriage do. If they feel threatened, they could come out and vote the issue, and that will fire up the conservative base for Bush -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Bill Schneider, thank you very much.

Well, voters in at least nine states may have another way to register their views about gay marriage. Same-sex marriage bans are expected to be on the November ballot in these five states considered strongly pro-Bush: Georgia, Mississippi, Utah, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. And look for gay marriage bans on the ballot in these crucial battleground states: Missouri, Ohio, Michigan and Oregon.

Let's talk more about the election year debate over gay marriage now with Mark Sandalo of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Mark, thank you for being with me. At this point, how much of an effect can you safely say this issue is going to have on the November outcome, or can you?

MARK SANDALOW, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE: Voters clearly have other things on their minds. As you heard in Bill's piece, they're talking about Iraq, they're talking about joblessness. But just because it's not in the forefront of voters' minds, that's different from saying it won't have an effect on the election.

It's those states that you just mentioned, including the battleground states. If constitutional bans on gay marriage are on the ballot, let's say in Ohio, it could bring out tens of thousands of extra voters. People wouldn't even bother to show up for the presidential election, but we'll see the billboards, the TV advertising, the furor around this issue. Now, who is most likely to turn out? It's religious conservatives. Even if George Bush doesn't utter another word about this between now and November, that's a big boost to him, because those people tend to vote Republican and they like George Bush.

WOODRUFF: So is this flat out a winning issue for George Bush and nothing John Kerry can do about it?

SANDALOW: Well, it clearly plays different in San Francisco then it does in San Antonio or Topeka, Kansas. So it's going to vary from state to state and place to place. But right now, this issue is looking much better for Republicans than Democrats, and the reasons are in some of those numbers that Bill talked about.

It's because the opposition to gay marriage is much more fervent and much more unified in the Republican Party. You look at the Democrats' core voters, African-Americans. Just today on Capitol Hill, there were a group of African-American ministers speaking out against gay marriage.

It divides the Democratic Party; it unites the Republicans. That's why this is a good issue for the Republicans.

WOODRUFF: Is there anything John Kerry can do to counter this?

SANDALOW: Well, the problem for Kerry is -- I mean, he has to explain why it is that he is against a constitutional federal ban on gay marriage, why he is a big supporter of gay and lesbian rights, but why personally he opposes gay marriage himself. And, in fact, what's going on in his own state of Massachusetts, he says he does not favor that in the state.

Now, that's a very hard thing to explain in a 30-second commercial, let alone on a bumper sticker. I think one of the reasons you saw so little talk on the campaign trail today between Kerry and between Bush on what many gay people think is just as important day in civil rights as the Brown v. the Board of Education 50-year anniversary, the reason you heard so little about it, candidates for elected office are scared to death of this issue. They don't want to talk about it.

WOODRUFF: But the White House put out a statement very clear in black and white. You're right, the president himself didn't say this, but they clearly -- the president calling on Congress to pass it and calling it an urgent issue.

SANDALOW: He went on national TV about three or four months ago saying he wanted to pass that ban. He mentioned it in "a" speech since. And today -- I have it here, in fact -- it's a four-sentence statement saying that he supports its constitutional amendment. This is not a full throttle presidential push in any respect.

WOODRUFF: It's a signal to the base, but it's just that.

SANDALOW: A signal to the base, and he doesn't want to turn off those swing voters. He knows the religious conservatives will be there for him.

WOODRUFF: Mark Sandalow of the San Francisco Chronicle, thank you very much. We appreciate it. SANDALOW: My pleasure.

WOODRUFF: Good to see you.

Well, back in Iraq, another week of violence and uncertainty amid the countdown to the handover of power. Up next, how heavily are setbacks and scandal weighing on President Bush and the prospect for democracy in Iraq?

Plus, Internet Web ads and the presidential race. How are they different than the spots you see on television?

And could the boss of the music world be planning something that might embarrass the boss at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?


WOODRUFF: As we reported, the new week in Iraq is off to a deadly start. The president of the Iraqi Governing Council was killed today in a suicide bombing in Baghdad. Also, there are new allegations about the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal and whether incriminating directives were issued high up in the chain of command.

CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times is with me now to talk about all this and more.

Ron, the administration says the war is progressing, despite these setbacks. And it continues to say the prisoner abuse scandal was all just about a few bad people. Where does this leave these arguments?

RON BROWNSTEIN, LOS ANGELES TIMES: Well, look, right now for the president, I think the biggest threat in Iraq is not the scandal, it's not the level of casualties. It's the overall erosion of confidence that we're going to succeed.

There are some fascinating numbers in the CNN-TIME poll that you released at the end of last week. Sixty percent of Americans said we could potentially theoretically achieve our goals in Iraq. Only 40 percent said we are now achieving our goals, and only 50 percent, 52 percent to be precise, said we will achieve our goals.

As that doubt grows, Judy, the willingness, the tolerance to accept casualties decline. The sense that the president does not have a clear plan stays above 50 percent, and that drives down his approval rating on Iraq to the point where his overall approval rating has come under 50 percent and propelled John Kerry ahead in most polls.

WOODRUFF: So given that, how does the Bush administration turn around and reassure or assure the American people that it does have a plan nor a successful outcome in Iraq?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, if you knew the answer to that, you would be Karl Rove's favorite person, because, look, I think that the problem the president has in Iraq is beyond the ability to solve with argument or message or spin. Ultimately, he needs better results on the ground that are going to reassure people that things are heading in the right direction.

And in that context, June 30 clearly looms as an important deadline. Even the Bush campaign I think recognizes this, because it is -- the American public sees that as the next stage in the process, one in which I think, frankly, they're expecting things to begin getting better. If there's a high level of casualties over the summer, it could be even more threatening to the president than what we've seen so far.

WOODRUFF: But the administration is already warning that there will be incidents of violence after June 30, that the American people should not expect everything to calm down in Iraq after the handover.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Well, no one -- I think if you look at the polling, I think it's pretty clear that the public does not expect this to be a cakewalk. They understand that this is going to be difficult.

But what you're seeing is sort of I think an erosion of the middle at both ends. For example, in the CNN-TIME poll, the percentage of people saying we should withdraw all of our troops hit an all-time high. So did the percentage of people saying we should send more troops in.

People like John McCain and Joe Lieberman saying we're not being forceful enough. On the other hand, the liberal coalition Win Without War meeting tomorrow to discuss a resolution that might call for withdrawing all troops. So you're seeing I think flip sides of the same phenomenon, anxiety about whether the course we're on leading to success, and that's fueling a search for alternatives.

WOODRUFF: So the administration is hearing a drum beat increasingly, even from conservatives who are worried that the war is leading nowhere. How do they address that? Do they simply have to stand back and wait for something good to happen in Iraq?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think -- look, I mean, I think they have to find a way to make something good happen in Iraq. They are on a course that they now set out for the June 30 deadline. They're relying more on the U.N. than they used to. They also pulled back a little bit from the offensive operations that generated those very high levels of casualties in April.

But to go back, I think they are in a position where they need, in fact, improvements on the ground rather than arguments. This is not a cause with the public that's going to be won on the basis of message. It really needs results.

WOODRUFF: All right. Ron Brownstein reading those poll numbers. Very hard. Ron Brownstein, thank you very much.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Just ahead, political ads coming to a computer near you. How the presidential candidates are trying to spread the word to surfers on the Web. Plus, details on how The Boss may try to distract attention from the GOP convention.


WOODRUFF: Checking the Monday headlines in our "Campaign News Daily," a new poll finds the prisoner abuse scandal may be taking a toll on the president's standing in Michigan. A Detroit News survey finds President Bush and John Kerry just four points apart. Ralph Nader receiving 2 percent. About one-fourth of those polled said the prisoner abuse story had made them less likely to vote for Bush.

The president may have to compete with The Boss for publicity this summer when he delivers his convention acceptance speech. The New York Daily News quotes Democratic operatives who say they hear Bruce Springsteen may hold a free concert on September 2nd. That's the day the president is expected to address the GOP convention. A spokesperson for Springsteen says there are no confirmed shows for Springsteen this year.

The conservative group Citizens United is launching a petition drive in Massachusetts to try to force John Kerry to resign from the Senate. The group says Kerry's failure to attend a Senate vote last week on extending unemployment benefits, which failed by one vote, means Kerry cannot be an effective senator and run for the White House and run for the White House at the same time. Kerry's campaign has said the one-vote margin was engineered by Senate Republicans as a way to embarrass Kerry.

The Internet is reshaping the way political candidates get their messages out. And that's especially true in this year's race for the White House. In our "How it Works" segment, we focus on the differences between television ads and Web site ads.


WOODRUFF (voice-over): Want to watch John Kerry morph into a cicada?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like a cicada, Senator Kerry would like to shed his Senate career.

WOODRUFF: You'll have to do more than turn on your TV. This RNC ad can only be found online. It is part of a boom in Internet campaign advertising. Candidates can now target very specific voters, like the cooks and homemakers who flock to, or the sportsman who clicks over to golf online. One little problem, though. The spots are hard to find and easier to ignore.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With television, you're buying a big audience. So some people may not want to watch your television ad, but they're stuck there, they're going to watch it anyway. With the Web, they're going to click right past it.

WOODRUFF: Often with Web ads, the targets aren't voters at all, but the reporters who cover the race. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You just watch. When I'm president, I'm going to spend as much money as I want.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And that's exactly what George Bush did.

WOODRUFF: Web ads tend to hit a lot harder than their TV counterparts. For one, they are not bound by campaign finance laws and are not required to include disclaimers like this...

BUSH: I'm George W. Bush and I approved this message.

WOODRUFF: The president's first negative ad against John Kerry ran online.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a way for him to generate headlines without having to use a larger megaphone in television, but was able to get the press to cover it.

WOODRUFF: And on the cheap, too. Where TV ad spending is measured in millions, Web campaigns cost out in the thousands.


WOODRUFF: But they must think they're worthwhile, because they keep on putting them on.

Well, the Supreme Court ordered an end to school segregation 50 years ago. How do the presidential candidates see race and education in America now? We'll discuss their views in the battle for the African-American vote ahead.

Plus, is Governor Schwarzenegger trying to stay away from President Bush? I'll ask the chairman of the RNC.



KERRY: We should nod delude ourselves into thinking for an instant that because Brown represents the law, we have achieved our goal.

BUSH: The habits of racism in America have not all been broken.

ANNOUNCER: Fifty years after a historic decision, desegregation remains in the campaign spotlight.

His poll numbers are down. But should the president be worried?

TERRY MCAULIFFE, DNC CHAIRMAN: George Bush is in a lot of trouble.

ANNOUNCER: That's the take from the Democratic Party chairman. We'll get a response today from his Republican counterpart.

Does Dick Gephardt have the inside track in the race to be John Kerry's running mate? Stick around for our "Ticket Talk."



WOODRUFF: Welcome back.

A half century after Brown v. the Board of Education, the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates are quick to agree that the Supreme Court ruling changed America for the better. Here's how President Bush put it a couple of hours ago in Topeka, Kansas.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Fifty years ago today, nine judges announced that they had looked at the Constitution and saw no justification for the segregation and humiliation of an entire race.

Here at the corner of 15th and Monroe, and at schools like it across America, that was a day of justice. And it was a long time coming.


WOODRUFF: That presidential praise did not stop John Kerry from finding an opening today to criticize the incumbent. After all, the two are very much at odds over education and in their fight for the African-American vote.

We have two reports beginning with our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley with the Kerry campaign in Topeka.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hours before and blocks from where the president would dedicate the Brown Historical Site, the band struck up fanfare for the common man. And John Kerry descended the steps of the Kansas capital to mark the occasion.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We certainly have not met the promise of Brown when in too many parts of our country our school systems are not separate but equal, but too many of them rely separate and unequal.

CROWLEY: Though the president had center stage at the dedication, the Democratic governor of Kansas got Kerry into the mix by inviting him to a proclamation signing. It was the celebration of an historic event that changed the country.

KERRY: Look at these kids back here. If this isn't a panorama of what this is about. They are the story.

CROWLEY: But to be real, these are hot political times and you got a taste of that, sometimes subtle.

KERRY: We should nod not delude ourselves into thinking for an instant that because Brown represents the law we have achieved our goal, that the work of Brown is done when there are those who still seek in different ways to see it undone, to roll back affirmative action, to restrict equal rights, to undermine the proms promise of our constitution.

CROWLEY: And sometimes not the least bit subtle.

KERRY: It is not a political statement. It is a matter of common sense. And it is a matter of truth to say to America, you cannot promise no child left behind and then pursue policies that leave millions of children behind every single day.

CROWLEY: Though his campaign has been criticized by some African-Americans for not doing enough to reach out to the black community, strategists dismiss the complaints as a problem of process. The mayor of Newark says it's a matter of time.

MAYOR SHARPE JAMES, NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: They began in the sense that here's a man who can win. Here's a man that has compassion, understanding for America. Here's a man who's always espoused their ideas and their hope for one America, a better America. Wow, can we get behind him.

And I think the only question you're asking, can we be a viable part of his campaign.

CROWLEY: Racing to get out of town before the air space over Topeka was closed for Air Force one, Kerry took time to sit down for a conference call with African-American newspaper columnists.

Aides say the Kerry campaign is planning to use leading African- American as surrogates to tout his civil rights record. And contacts with the Congressional Black Caucus, they say, are frequent.

Few see any real problem for Kerry in November with the African- American community. One black politician put it this way: is he Bill Clinton? No. Is he not George Bush? Yes.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Topeka, Kansas.



JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sunday services as the First Iconian Baptist Church in Atlanta. Prayer comes first but politics also is part of the mission here. And the pastor has a prediction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is going to be an extremely close election. But we know that if our people turn out we're going to have another administration come November 3. KING: Churches like this were supposed to be a major part of the Bush reelection strategy and its hope of attracting more votes from middle class and especially younger African-Americans.

TARA WALL, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: We want to make sure that we tap into the nearly 40 percent of 18-29-year-old black Americans who do not consider themselves Democrats. They're independents and they are willing to look at the Republican Party.

KING: The president and top advisers have vowed to do much better than the tiny 9 percent of the African-American vote he received four years ago. But Mr. Bush received just percent African- American support in CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup polling over the past two months, compared to 87 percent for Democrat John Kerry.

Opposition to the war is one reason.

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Over 60 percent of African-Americans today think that Iraq was not worth the cost of lives and money.

KING: Economic worries another.

BELCHER: Middle class African-Americans are losing ground. After seeing some progress for the last eight, nine years, they literally are losing ground and they're blaming Bush for it.

KING: Top Bush political strategist Karl Rove warns Republicans can not survive as the majority party if they pull just 9 percent of the African-American vote for president.

(on camera): And the Republican National Committee is planning a major outreach effort it says will tap some 6,700 African-American activists and target African-American businesses, historically black colleges and African-American churches in key November target states.

WALL: Our hope is to get as many African-American voters signed up and voting for President Bush as we possibly can.

KING (voice-over): But with Mr. Bush's standing among African- American so low, even many allies view the outreach effort as a critical long-term project, but unlikely to bring a major turn around for the president and follow Republicans this year.

John King, CNN, the White House.


WOODRUFF: And with me now to talk more about the anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education is Wade Henderson, the executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

Wade Henderson, first of all a personal memory from you. What do you remember of Brown vs. Board of Education?

WADE HENDERSON, EXECUTIVE DIR., LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE ON CIVIL RIGHTS: My first year of school was the year Brown was decided in 1954. And while it did not have a dramatic impact on schools here in Washington, D.C. where I grew up, it certainly did begin to change the social order of the day.

After all, Brown was the end of -- the beginning of the end of American apartheid. It turned the prevailing social order on its head. Washington was a southern city, a segregated city and Brown began to loosen the reigns of segregation, ushered in the civil rights movement and paved the way for the Civil Rights Act of '64.

But a depravation of resources for public schools, white flight and housing segregation made the real impact of Brown muted. And we did not, in fact, enjoy a desegregated public school education.

WOODRUFF: Given that Brown vs. Board of Education on balance, a plus or minus?

HENDERSON: It was a distinct plus. One can't underestimate the impact of the social order of the day. Growing up in a segregated society isn't fun for anyone, but it certainly is not for people on the wrong side of the color line.

The kind of discrimination, the kind of humiliation that one experienced in a segregated society was dramatic and it had a real impact on my life. Certainly growing up at a time when that was changing and beginning to see the impact of that change brought about by Brown made it a far better period for me than otherwise would have been the case.

But as an education decision, Brown, unfortunately, was impeded in terms of its progress. Massive resistance on the part of local governments and residents, again, housing segregation and an inability to address to really the issue, and white flight from inner city neighborhoods made the effect of Brown far more muted than it might otherwise have been.

WOODRUFF: Wade Henderson, let's talk more broadly about the presidential campaign. Both candidates, the president and John Kerry in Topeka, Kansas today talking about Brown vs. Board. And it causes us to look at their appeal to the African-American community.

There's been some criticism of John Kerry that he's not reach out enough to blacks who might automatically be supporting him. How do you read his support?

HENDERSON: Let me say first that having both the president of the United States and Senator Kerry, the likely Democratic nominee, speaking in favor of the Supreme Court's decision in Brown is a dramatic change from the politics of 1954.

There is a national consensus that Brown ushered in a more unified government, a more unified America. One nation, if you will, under law with equal protection for all citizens, at least in theory. That's a good thing and both parties embrace that.

From the standpoint of what needs to be done, however, to address the shortcomings from Brown -- and that remains, of course, around the issue of quality public education -- I think there is certainly knowledge of what needs to be done, but there's some divergence.

For example, I think Senator Kerry has argued that full funding for No Child Left Behind should be a government imperative. And while the president...

WOODRUFF: Is he right about that?

HENDERSON: He's absolutely right. I think that the promise of no child left behind can only be realized if it is really funded. High expectations are obviously an important element for all students, but you've got to give them the resources to make it happen.

WOODRUFF: And very quickly, George Bush's campaign is saying they are going to go aggressively after the African-American vote. Can they be successful?

HENDERSON: They certainly can make inroads. I think it's terrific that both parties are now prepared to compete for the black vote in the political realm. And I think African-Americans and the country benefits when neither party takes this large massive voting block for granted.

At the same time, it is certainly clear that some of the policies that John Kerry has touted are policies that are more responsive to the problems that the black community has addressed than those that the president seems to have supported. And a little bit more comprehensive, as well.

WOODRUFF: Wade Henderson is the executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. Very good to have you talk to us on this important anniversary.

HENDERSON: Thanks. It's good to see you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Fifty years, it's hard to believe.

HENDERSON: It's incredible.

WOODRUFF: Thank you very much.

HENDERSON: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: And we want to ask you to be sure to join Aaron Brown for a special edition of "NEWSNIGHT: Fifty Years After the Brown Ruling." That's tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, 7:00 Pacific right here on CNN.

As each new presidential poll comes out, the news has not been exactly upbeat for the Bush camp. Up next, I'll talk with RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie about the state of the race and whether the president's numbers could keep falling.

Plus, and then there were five. We'll get a sense of John Kerry's short list in today's ticket talk. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Last Friday, we talked with the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terry McAuliffe. So today we head west to California where Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie is standing by in San Diego to talk about the Bush reelection campaign. Thank you for talking with us.

ED GILLESPIE, RNC CHAIRMAN: You bet, thanks for having me.

WOODRUFF: This weekend, Ed, the fifth poll in a row came out showing President Bush with his lowest approval ratings yet of his presidency. Historically, that's not good news, is it?

GILLESPIE: Well, you always would rather be up than down. As I've said on your show repeatedly, the fact is the president will be up, he will be down. This is an election year that's going to be very close and it's going to be fought between the 45-yard lines and the fundamentals of the race haven't changed. They're right where they've been from the beginning. We're preparing for a close contest in November. I told you that when we were up and I'll tell you that when we're down and I'll tell you the same thing when we're up again.

WOODRUFF: How do you explain that most polls are showing the president doing better among men, statistically significant but John Kerry doing statistically significantly better among women?

GILLESPIE: Well, there has traditionally been an advantage amongst male voters for Republicans and female voters for Democrats. Like I said, the fundamentals of this race haven't changed much. We've been successful in closing the so-called gender gap over the past two election cycles and I believe the president will close it even further in November.

WOODRUFF: I want to quote to you, Ed, from a reliably Republican newspaper, the "Columbus Ohio Dispatch." They say in an editorial yesterday, strong leaders must be able to accept unwelcome realities, admit mistakes and change course. An inability to do so leads to disaster and they go on to say the United States has traveled far down the wrong road in Iraq. The American people still await a full explanation. Is that sort of criticism a problem for your campaign?

GILLESPIE: Well, I believe that the American people recognize the president has put forward a plan for Iraq. The person who's not put forward a plan for Iraq is John Kerry. He consistently changes his position. He voted for the war, and then under pressure from Howard Dean in the Democratic primary, said he was an anti-war candidate. He said on "Face the Nation" that it would be irresponsible to oppose funding for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and then again seeing Dean getting traction in the Democratic primaries, then turned around and did exactly that.

It's just hard to tell from one day to the next what John Kerry's policy position is in Iraq. President Bush demonstrated resolve. We're not going to be deterred in making sure that we go forward and transferring the power to the interim Iraqi authority on June 30. I think there are a lot of people obviously in Iraq, we saw yesterday, who are determined to derail that effort to make sure that the Iraqi people take control of their own country, but we need to stay the course in that regard.

WOODRUFF: You're in California today. There's a report in the "Los Angeles Times" that Governor Schwarzenegger is in effect keeping arm's length from the president. Let me quote from something Dan Schnur, Republican consultant said. He said, "Schwarzenegger and his team just put together the first winning Republican campaign in California in a decade but you don't see any evidence of their involvement in the president's reelection."

GILLESPIE: Well, I'm here today, Judy. In fact, I just gave a $500,000 check to the California Republican party, even a state this big, that's serious money and we are confident that we're going to win California and it is in play in this election cycle in a way it's never been, partly due to Governor Schwarzenegger's popularity. The governor has focused widely on the needs of the people of California. He inherited a big mess when he took the job. He's been focused on that as well he should be but we are registering 10,000 Republican voters a week in California right now and we're going to be very competitive here in November and looking forward to carrying the debate on here as we're doing today. I'm here obviously with the World Wrestling Entertainment to unveil Reggie the registration rig and Reggie's registering voters here today as he's been doing all across the country. So our party continues to grow.

WOODRUFF: So Governor Schwarzenegger will be campaigning for the president?

GILLESPIE: Governor Schwarzenegger has been clear in his support of the president. He's focused right now as I said on the needs of the people of California. And I think that's why he's so popular, Judy, because he's got his eye on the ball and doing what he said he would do in his campaign.

WOODRUFF: Ed Gillespie with Reggie the registration rig. Ed, thank you very much. We appreciate it. Good to see you joining us from San Diego.

John Kerry had kind words for Dick Gephardt yesterday, which gives us a chance to engage in more ticket talk. Our political editor John Mercurio joins me next with the latest on Senator Kerry's short list.


WOODRUFF: With me now for our regular edition of "Ticket Talk" is CNN's political editor John Mercurio. All right, John, Senator Kerry still hasn't made a decision. We know all very well about a running mate, but where do things stand?

JOHN MERCURIO, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Not as far along as a lot of people thought we would be at this point in the process. The early speculation was that this whole thing was going to be wrapped and we could move on to another subject.

You know, they're saying June and some people are now saying July. In fact I talked to one Kerry campaign official recently, yesterday, actually, who praising their successful fund racing saying we don't need another surrogate out there immediately so we can actually go as late as late July, as late as late July which is what Kerry has set as the deadline.

What we do know now is that everybody on Kerry's short list, almost everybody, has sat down for a face-to-face meeting with Kerry and with Jim Johnson, his search captain. Those names -- and you can recite them at home with me -- John Edwards, Dick Gephardt, Tom Vilsack and Bill Richardson and Wesley Clark.

And what we also know -- and I can hopefully dispel this McCain myth that keeps circulating -- is that Senator McCain has not sat down for any sort of face-to-face meeting with Kerry. And neither has Hillary Clinton and apparently neither has Joe Biden. So you can just cross those names off the list.

WOODRUFF: What about Dick Gephardt? John Kerry had very nice things to say about him yesterday.

MERCURIO: He did. He was in Las Vegas with the Teamsters which is a obviously a friendly crowd for Gephardt. He addressed the Teamsters and he mentioned Gephardt not once but four times in the meeting. In fact Kerry called Gephardt, quote, "one of the most decent, one of the most honest, one of the most committed and passionate advocates. He has never wavered, never not understood his mission."

The Teamsters are pragmatic. One Teamster official I talked to said that we'll accept anybody that he chooses. So we're not putting all of our eggs in the Gephardt basket.

Kerry might get a little anti-Gephardt spin tonight. He's campaigning with Howard Dean in Portland, Oregon. Dean is no friend of Gephardt's and has made that known to a lot of people. He choosing Gephardt him as the VP nominee would be a disaster. And I guess if Kerry gives him the chance, he might offer that opinion tonight (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

WOODRUFF: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) What about Wes Clark? You told us a little while ago that he seemed to be out of the running. What are you hearing now?

MERCURIO: Remember the way he got into the presidential campaign. It was a sort of round-about, like distance yourself from the draft committee and sort of embrace the draft committee, distance yourself from the presidential campaign and then announce in September that you're running.

I think he's going about this in a similar way. Again, similar to the presidential campaign, his wife, Gert Clark, is apparently strongly opposed to the idea of him serving as vice president and running for vice president. So I think what Clark -- General Clark is trying to do at this point is respond to the Kerry campaign's interest in him as a VP candidate, but also sort of, you know, respond to his wife who's not so interested in the idea.

WOODRUFF: So how many days do we have left to wait until this decision?

MERCURIO: I wish I knew.

WOODRUFF: We want an exact number.

OK, John Mercurio, our political editor, thank you very much. Next time when you come back, you'll know.

MERCURIO: I know. Exactly.

WOODRUFF: Looking back and looking ahead. When we return, our Bruce Morton takes a closer look at the historic ruling that officially ended segregation in American schools.


WOODRUFF: On this day, Americans are looking back a half century to the Supreme Court's historic Brown vs. Board of Education ruling. But how much has really changed since the decision that officially ended school segregation? For many African-Americans, the struggle for equal rights goes on, despite the great strides that have been made. Here's CNN's Bruce Morton.


COLBERT KING, "WASHINGTON POST": When we were called to special assembly and the principal told us that something had happened, I couldn't remember the exact words, but it was clear that something momentous had happened that was going to cause our lives to change.

BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Colbert King and his segregated Washington, D.C. junior high school was hearing about Brown. The Supreme Court had ruled unanimously that in the field of public education, the doctrine of separate but equal has no place. The modern civil rights movement had begun.

The next year in Montgomery, Alabama a woman named Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus. A young minister named Martin Luther King Jr. let blacks in a boycott of the buses and they won.

They sang, they marched. "Gonna keep on walking," one song went, "til we get to freedom land." It wasn't easy. It took U.S. troops to get black students into Little Rock Central High. The federal government acted in Mississippi, moved George Wallace out of the school house door in Alabama.

JOHN F. KENNEDY, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, 1961-1963: Americans are free and sure to disagree with the law, but not to disobey it. MORTON: Steps forward, steps back. Three civil rights workers, two white, one black murdered in Mississippi. Police attacked men and women trying to march from Selma to Montgomery. John Lewis, now a congressman from Georgia, got his skull fractured that day. But they kept on walking.

Big march to Washington in 1963.

LYNDON JOHNSON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, 1963-1968: I urge every American to join in this effort to bring justice and hope to all our people.

MORTON: The next year, President Lyndon Johnson signs the Civil Rights Bill. Blacks can eat at the lunch counter as the old signs start to come down.

Busing to integrate the schools sparks violence in Boston. And a lot of schools now are segregated by residential patterns, not by law.

COLBERT KING: As far as this city is concerned and many other cities across the country, schools are as racially isolated today as they were back 50 years ago.

MORTON: But Brown started things. The Voting Rights Act of 1965. Blacks are an important voting block now. And more.

COLBERT KING: If you look at the workforce of today versus the workforce 50 years ago in so many ways, America has changed and changed for the better.

MORTON: We've made progress walking toward freedom land. Is the journey over? No.

COLBERT KING: Far from over. I was with my grandchildren last week, and I realized that they're going to be struggling with this in their lives as well.

MORTON: Still walking toward freedom land.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


WOODRUFF: Much has change, but the dream of Brown vs. Board of Education still not realized.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Thank you for joining us. I'm Judy Woodruff. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.


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