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Kerry Speaks to VFW Convention; Republican Congressman Says He Regrets Iraq War Vote

Aired August 18, 2004 - 15:29   ET


ANNOUNCER: John Kerry salutes fellow veterans and attacks the president's plan to shuffle U.S. forces.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president's vaguely-stated plan does not strengthen our hand in the war on terror.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll continue to stand side by side with those who wear the uniform and the family members of those who wear the uniform.


ANNOUNCER: George Bush offers something new for military families. Is it enough to upstage his opponent?

The Dean of antiwar Democrats. Kerry's rival-turned-supporter talks to us about the senator's latest statements on Iraq.



CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: Thanks for joining us. Judy is off this week. I'm Candy Crowley.

Senator John Kerry tried today to get in the last word with Veterans of Foreign Wars, challenging President Bush's claim to the same group that he's "getting the job done for Americans who served in uniform." It is the latest shot in a campaign battle over military service and national security. CNN's Dan Lothian traveled with Kerry to Cincinnati.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Candy, Senator John Kerry is using his military service to show a personal connection with veterans. He also today speaking to some 15,000 members of the VFW Conference here in Cincinnati, Ohio, took time go after President Bush's re-deployment plan calling on 70,000 troops being moved from Asia and Europe.

KERRY: The president's vaguely-stated plan does not strengthen our hand in the war on terror. It in no way relieves the strain on our overextended military personnel. It doesn't even begin until 2006, and it takes 10 years to achieve. And this hastily-announced plan raises more doubts about our intentions and our commitment than it provides real answers.

LOTHIAN: Veterans say they are concerned about issues of the military, military might, and also Iraq. But at the top of their list, healthcare. They want to ensure that veterans returning from the war in Iraq and veterans from former wars are properly taken care of when it comes to healthcare.

Dan Lothian, CNN, Cincinnati, Ohio.


CROWLEY: As you first heard yesterday from a spokesman on the Kerry campaign, Senator Kerry is distancing himself from a new TV ad that criticizes President Bush's Vietnam-era service in the Texas National Guard. The ad attacks Bush even as it defenses Kerry against a commercial attack on his war record. Senator John McCain has denounced both spots and late yesterday urged Kerry to condemn the MoveOn ad.

Soon after, as we first hear her, Kerry issued a statement saying, "I agree with Senator McCain that the ad is inappropriate. This should be a campaign of issues, not insults." The Bush camp excused Kerry of hypocrisy, noting that Kerry allies echoed the MoveOn ads accusations during a news conference yesterday.

As for the president, he has not denounced the anti-Kerry Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ad as McCain urged him to do. In the fight for the military vote, President Bush tried to steal at least a little of Kerry's thunder today. CNN's Jill Dougherty is with Bush in Wisconsin.


JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Bush in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, the town that he won back four years ago by simply 733 votes. The president on a short bus ride, a tour through these battleground states of the Midwest.

In the forefront, the issue of national security and, specifically, the welfare of families of those who served. President Bush announcing two initiatives that he says will help the families of the National Guard and the Reserves.

BUSH: These brave Americans put their jobs on hold and leave their family behind when we called, yet under current rules their education benefits don't reflect the high value of service we place on their time and duty. My proposal will help correct that by substantially increasing monthly education benefits for all Guard members and Reservists on active duty for more than 90 consecutive days.

DOUGHERTY: The Bush-Cheney campaign, meanwhile, firing back at Democratic challenger John Kerry for his criticism of the president's plans to re-deploy U.S. troops. And, by the way, the president making that announcement on Monday in the same location where John Kerry made his speech today, that is the VFW in Cincinnati. The Bush campaign calling the Kerry view 20th century Cold War way of thinking.

The president, again, on the campaign trail, on a bus tour through these battleground states. He'll be in Wisconsin, Hudson, Wisconsin and goes on to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he'll hold a rally in a town where the -- the mayor happens to be a Democrat who supports him. Finally, on to Crawford, Texas, his home ranch, where he'll be taking some R&R and practicing his speech for the Republican National Convention.

Jill Dougherty, CNN, Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.


CROWLEY: Another note on Bush, Kerry and veterans. Kerry is so determined not to miss a chance to speak to the American Legion Convention that he is breaking with an election year tradition. Our national correspondent, Bruce Morton, looks at Kerry's move and the history behind it.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Traditionally, the nominee of one party doesn't campaign during the other party's convention. But this time John Kerry will speak to the American Legion while the Republicans meet in New York. It's a big organization, he was invited, and President Bush, also invited, may also address the legionnaires, too. Anyway, there's precedent.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It says, "To Bill and Hillary, our hearts go with you. Our hands work with you. And the people of Michigan will win with you."

MORTON: Bill Clinton, campaigning in Michigan during the 1992 Republican convention that nominated this president's father for a second term.

BOB DOLE (R), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to welcome you, as I said inside, to Bill Clinton's retirement party.

MORTON: Bob Dole in California in 1996, during the convention that re-nominated Clinton.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think it means that this is the new politics. You can't take a breather, you can't take the vacation that Michael Dukakis took. It's pedal to the medal from the first of the year until Election Day.

MORTON: Another symptom, the Republicans had a war room in Boston during the Democratic convention.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So here we are, Jim, the rapid response Republican National Committee Bush-Cheney war room.

MORTON: Will the Democrats do the same thing in New York? You bet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it gets nastier and nastier. There's no doubt about that. It also gets more reactive, and in a shorter amount of time. A candidate burps, and the opposition has a response.

MORTON (on camera): It's 24-hour news cycle now, answer at once. And both sides think this race is close.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


CROWLEY: A new showdown state poll leads the headlines in "Campaign News Daily." The latest survey finds John Kerry holding on to his edge over George W. Bush in Pennsylvania. According to a Quinnipiac University poll, Kerry has 48 percent, Bush received 43 percent. Kerry held a 7-point lead over Bush in a poll taken in early July.

John Kerry's running mate, John Edwards, continues his campaign travels down South. Edwards is in Louisiana today, where he talked about the economy at a job training center in New Orleans. Edwards also criticized an Army decision not to withhold payments to Halliburton even though the company is having trouble documenting some of its bills for work done in Iraq. Edwards implies Halliburton is receiving preferential treatment because of its political links to the Bush White House.

A group of country music artists has launched a "get out the vote" effort called Your Country, Your Vote. Ricky Skaggs and Billy Dean are among the singers taking part in the initiative. Skaggs is a strong supporter of President Bush. He's playing at a rally for the president today in Minnesota. Skaggs says the effort is aimed at would-be voters of all political parties.

John Kerry recently said that knowing what he knows now, he'd still vote to authorize the Iraq war. Coming up, how does that statement sit with Kerry supporter and former rival, Howard Dean? I'll ask him.

Also ahead, ballot issues in showdown states that could help tilt the vote toward one presidential candidate or the other.

And later, for all the campaign fuss being made over veterans, how much are their votes likely to matter?

With 76 days until the election, this is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.


CROWLEY: Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean was the early front- runner in the Democratic race for the White House. Now he is backing John Kerry, of course, and he joins me from Burlington, Vermont, where I bet the weather is lovely.

And you're looking very rested, Governor.

HOWARD DEAN (D), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is lovely. I've lost a few pounds, not so many of those peanut M&Ms we used to have on the campaign plane all the time.

CROWLEY: Well, you look terrific. I wanted to -- I wanted to take you back to your signature issue, which was the war. And you were highly critical of the votes for the war from your opponents, being Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards. And I wanted to play for you what John Kerry said last week, I believe, when a questioner asked him, "Given what you know now, would you have still voted for the war?"

Here's what he said.


KERRY: Yes, I would have voted for the authority. I believe it's the right authority for a president to have. But I would have used that authority as I have said throughout this campaign effectively. I would have done this very differently from the way President Bush has.


CROWLEY: Now, Governor, early on, you knew how anti-war the Democratic Party was, particularly in the grassroots. Is that a satisfactory answer, do you think, for those voters that you appealed to?

DEAN: I think if you understand John Kerry you have to take him at his word. John Kerry has served in Washington 20 years on the foreign -- I mean, on the Intelligence Committee, on the Foreign Relations Committee. He has an understanding of foreign policy that George Bush never did have and probably still doesn't.

He favored giving full responsibility to the chief executive, who he assumed would use it in a reasonable way. George Bush did not use it in a reasonable way.

I don't find fault with that. I would have voted differently than Senator Kerry. That was a difference that we had during the campaign. But the truth is, the difference between John Kerry and I is very small compared to the difference between George Bush and all of us. And that's why I'm supporting John Kerry.

I don't think George Bush gives me much confidence in the future of our defense. And I think John Kerry has made that very clear.

CROWLEY: And I understand that. But getting out to vote is about passion. And what you were able to do was to take the anti-war voters and really make them passionate about voting. And I'm wondering if that position can instill that sort of passion in November?

DEAN: I think a lot of people in the press made the same mistake that you just made. It turns out I supported the four prior wars. I supported George Bush Sr.'s Iraq war, I supported the Afghanistan war, I supported -- of this president -- I supported Bosnia and Kosovo. I didn't support this war because I didn't think the president was telling us the truth. I still think the president wasn't telling us the truth.

Not only that. Even today, why would anybody in the military trust this president? He sent them to war without equipment, he sent them to war 50,000 short of what General Shinseki told them they needed.

And today, a year after we've been in Iraq, he's now saying, well, maybe we should give the National Guard some benefits. Why would anybody in the military trust this president with our defense?

The reason that I inspired Democrats is I was able to stand up and say, this president does one thing and does something else. He has done it today again. I wouldn't trust him -- I wouldn't trust him if I was in -- had a friend or a family member in the armed services today.

CROWLEY: Well, let me get back to Doug Bereuter. I don't know if you heard, but a congressman from Nebraska, both on the Intelligence and other committees, a Republican, he's retiring, he says, look, it was a mistake to vote for this war, it's gotten us into a mess, and I made a mistake. Wouldn't that sort of statement, which was fairly easy for him to make, be a lot more effective towards voters who, regardless of how they felt about past wars, or also against this war?

DEAN: You know, I give Kerry some credit here. It would have been the easy to say, is, "Oh, yes, I made a mistake," and cater to the base. I think John Kerry said what he would do.

He -- what John -- if you served in Congress as long as John Kerry has, you believe in giving the president of the United States the traditional latitude that the president gets in foreign policy and military affairs. The mistake was not John Kerry voting that way, although I would not have done that. The mistake was giving that authority to a partisan president who did not care about what anybody else thought.

He was bound and determined, as Paul O'Neill said in his book, to go into Iraq long before 9/11. He did it, he misused his authority. That's what the issue is, and that's why I'm supporting John Kerry for president.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about your future role. Win or lose -- and I think that the calculation is different if John Kerry losses than if he wins -- what happens to the Democratic Party that you were quite critical of in terms of being an insider, Washington party, special interest, kind of lost its voice, not the real wing? What happens to the party after November and what is your place in it?

DEAN: Well, I have no idea my place in it. I think that will be determined by a number of factors. But, as you know, we started a an organization called Democracy for America after the campaign ended. We have almost 1,000 people running for offices. I've got -- and a lot of those are school boards and county commissioners. I'm going down to Texas this weekend to promote some people's candidacies, including somebody running against Tom DeLay.

We need to go back to the grassroots of the Democratic Party if we're going to take back our country from the radical right wing that's now running it. This is not a matter of conservative versus liberal. This is a matter of a group of people who are intolerant of others, who don't care what they think, who are shipping our jobs to China and who can't balance the budget.

We don't have to put up with that. But you are -- we are going to put up with that unless we're willing to do something about that at the local level. So I intend to continue to try to get people at the local level to stand up for themselves and run for office.

CROWLEY: Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, former presidential candidate, I hope you'll come back and talk to us again soon.

DEAN: Thanks, Candy.

CROWLEY: There is much more INSIDE POLITICS ahead. Coming up, it's not just the race for the White House that's stirring passions across America. Some big issues, including gay marriage and minimum wage, are on the ballot in a number of states. Carlos Watson will take a closer look at some of those ballot initiatives.

And Bill Schneider weighs in on veterans. Are they a voting block or just a prop for President Bush and Senator John Kerry?


CROWLEY: Should gay marriage be banned? Should the minimum wage be raised? What about stem cell research, should it be expanded?

Voters in a number of states will have to answer those questions and a lot of other controversial issues come November. I spoke a short time ago with CNN political analyst Carlos Watson in New York. I asked him first about the gay marriage issue and how it recently increased voter turnout when it was on the ballot in Missouri and whether the same thing might happen in other states with similar measures.


CARLOS WATSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Candy, interestingly enough, at least four key swing states are likely to have gay marriage bans which people think could drive up turnout by a couple of points or maybe as many as nine percentage points, according to some of the academic studies. So Oregon, Ohio, Michigan and Arkansas are all swing states that are likely to have gay marriage bans.

CROWLEY: Now, when I look at those states, Oregon, Ohio, Michigan and Arkansas, is there any way to see which -- which voters it's driving to the polls, or is it both sides?

WATSON: In Missouri, we saw that both sides came to the poll. And ultimately, that measure passed with 71 percent, a majority of both Democrats and Republicans. I think clearly the hope and expectation on the part of many Republicans is that Christian -- evangelical Christians, many of whom stayed at home in the 2000 presidential election, will actually come to the polls as a result of this issue being placed on the ballot.

CROWLEY: And so what do Democrats do to -- is there a counter- ballot initiative that helps get Democratic voters to the polls?

WATSON: You know, one of the most interesting things, Candy, about ballot initiatives in this presidential election year is not only that they're playing a central role in terms of a presidential election, as opposed to state elections, but that Democrats are joining the fun and not just Republicans. So, in particular, in Nevada and Florida, again, two more showdown states, Democrats have put on a measure in order to increase the minimum wage by a dollar. And their hope is that, you know, there will be increase in turnout, maybe three to six percent, for example, is what they're happening will hoping in Florida -- rather is what they're hoping will happen in Florida.

And we saw last time in both Florida and Nevada, both are very close elections, both decided by less than 4 percent. So if that happens, Democrats will be very excited, 32 electoral votes at stake between those two states.

CROWLEY: And when I look at West Virginia and their -- their veterans ballot issue, it makes me wonder how that will play out in terms of who it brings to the polls.

WATSON: You're right, Candy. Besides these two big issues, gay marriage and minimum wage, there are a couple of other states that have interesting issues.

West Virginia, five electoral votes, traditionally has voted Democrat -- Democratic in presidential elections. But President Bush won it last time. They've got an interesting measure that would put $8 million from state coffers towards veterans health benefits and benefits generally.

And here's a real opportunity for John Kerry to come to that state that he hopes will turn back towards the Democratic column and say President Bush has done such a poor job in terms of offering services towards veterans that now states are having to reach into their coffers. And not only reach into their coffers, but by way of an initiative. So there could be an interesting opportunity in another showdown state, this time West Virginia.

CROWLEY: And tell me about Colorado, because I think that is -- that is a really intriguing one.

WATSON: Maybe as interesting as any ballot initiative, Candy, we have seen in a long time. What Colorado wants to do, what they've put on the ballot, is to allow their presidential electoral votes to be offered not a winner take all system, but proportionally.

So to understand how important this could be, in 2000, if Colorado's eight electoral votes at the time had been distributed proportionally, George Bush would have received five, Al Gore would have received three. And instead of talking about President Bush, we would have talked about President Al Gore.

Indeed, Al Gore ultimately would have won the electoral votes, 270 electoral votes to 268, instead of losing 271 to 267. So this is a big deal. And what's really interesting is that if it passes, it becomes effective this year. So stay tuned and pay attention to Colorado.

CROWLEY: And finally, non-battleground states, Alaska and California, I guess sort of proving in Alaska that all politics may be personal. I'd just love to have you talk a minute about those two.

WATSON: Well, the Alaska situation is one of the most interesting. Lisa Murkowski was appointed to the U.S. Senate when her father, Frank Murkowski, was elected governor and, therefore, vacated his Senate seat. There's been a big uproar about nepotism here. And as a result, there's a ballot initiative which says that if a seat becomes prematurely vacant in the future, instead of there being an appointment, there would be a special election.

And Democrats are hoping that that shows upon the ballot in November. Republicans are saying, hey, no way, that's not fair. But Democrats are hoping to keep this issue of whether or not she's "under-qualified" and whether or not she's a nepotism appointment front and center when voters go to the ballot in November.

By the way, it's not even clear that Senator Murkowski will make it to the general. She already faces a stiff primary challenge from a former leader of the state Senate from her own party.

CROWLEY: And just quickly on California, because California voters are so good at spending money for a governor, it intrigues me out there.

WATSON: Well, again, I'm one of those California residents and California dreamers. And over the years we've used the ballot initiative process to launch a lot of new movements in American politics, from taxes to immigration to affirmative action, even medical marijuana.

This time around, stem cell research is the issue. Nancy Reagan has backed it. The question is, will Arnold Schwarzenegger support a measure which would allow California to do some of the stem cell research that President Bush says he doesn't want happening on a federal level?

A number of Hollywood types, by the way, are putting up money, particularly those who have kids who suffer from juvenile diabetes. So a very interesting issue in California, maybe on the forefront of a broader issue, even though it's not a showdown state.

CROWLEY: CNN political analyst Carlos Watson.

Still to come on INSIDE POLITICS, a Republican congressman from the nation's heartland breaks with the Bush administration. He now says the war in Iraq was a mistake.



ANNOUNCER: Saluting the troops.

KERRY: I am proud to be here with all of you. I'm proud to be a lifetime member of this organization.

BUSH: And thanks for inviting me to your 105th national convention. I'm proud to be here.

ANNOUNCER: Why is courting veterans so important in this race for the White House?

A ranking Republican congressman says the war in Iraq was a mistake. Do others feel the same way?

They're not speaking at the convention, but will the Bush twins host the hottest party when the Republicans invade New York?



CROWLEY: Welcome back. I'm Candy Crowley, sitting in for Judy this week.

Well, over a year after U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq, it's a not uncommon to hear people express second thoughts or regrets about the war, except when it comes from a senior Republican member of the House. Our congressional correspondent, Ed Henry, picks up the story and its implications for the election year debate.


ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Congressman Doug Bereuter, who's retiring this month, is dropping a bombshell on his way out. Reflecting upon his vote for the war in Iraq, the loyal Republican from Nebraska now says he regrets it.

In a pointed four-page letter to his constituents, Bereuter says, quote, "It was a mistake to launch that military action, especially without a broad and engaged international coalition."

STU ROTHENBERG, ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: This is red meat for the Democrats and John Kerry. They're going to grab a hold of this and use this as further evidence that even in the Republican ranks there is serious division, serious criticism of the White House.

HENRY: Analysts say Bereuter's confession raises questions about whether other Republicans feel regret but are staying quiet for political reasons. They say Bereuter's comments could open the door for other Republicans to break from the president.

AMY WALTER, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: It's significant that -- that incumbents have had to go home now and listen to their constituents, many of whom, I'm sure, are very upset about the direction that the war in Iraq has taken.

HENRY: Stunned Republican colleagues express respect for Bereuter, who's been a senior member of both the intelligence and international relations committees, but they sharply disagree with his opinion.

REP. JAMES GIBBONS (R), NEVADA: Iraq was a dangerous place. It was known to have weapons of mass destruction. It was a serious threat to world security and world peace. Nothing changes from those facts.

HENRY: Bereuter takes aim at Vice President Cheney in his letter to constituents. The congressman writes that he had questions about the alleged link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, despite intimations by Cheney and other administration officials.

Bereuter adds, quote, "Now, we are immersed in a dangerous, costly mess, and is there no easy and quick way to end our responsibilities in Iraq without creating bigger, future problems in the region."


HENRY: Congressional Democrats were thrilled by Bereuter's announcement. But some political analysts are saying it will be hard for John Kerry to capitalize on it, because the Senator has repeatedly passed up chances to express regrets for his vote in support of the Iraq war. And if Kerry were to follow Bereuter's lead, it would only highlight the Republican charge that the Senator is a flip-flopper -- Candy.

CROWLEY: So Ed, we heard some Republican reaction. What are others been saying, either you know, on camera or off?

HENRY: Some very senior Republicans off-camera are saying this is about bitterness, that Doug Bereuter was passed over for the chairmanship of the international relations committee and also the intelligence committee that he was a senior member of. He didn't get the gavel at either committee, and he's bitter.

I talked to his staff a short while age. They say that has nothing to do with it, that instead he wanted to get this off his chest. He feels very strongly about it, and he wanted to get it off his chest before he left office, Candy.

CROWLEY: Thanks so much, Ed Henry. Appreciate it.

HENRY: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Two influential Senate Republicans now find themselves at odds over proposals to create the powerful new post of national intelligence director? Is this a policy dispute, a political dispute or a power dispute?

We want to bring in our national security correspondent, David Ensor.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Candy, this is developing into something of a battle of titans, a classic Washington turf battle, though it's also a very genuine effort by all concerned to figure out what would be best for national security.

And as you say, two Senate committee chairmen are facing off on a key question raised by the 9/11 Commission: who should control most of the intelligence agencies? And this nation has 15 of them. Should it be the secretary of defense, as now, or some kind of new, more powerful national intelligence director, as the commission has argued?

Senate Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts backs the commission proposal, and he hopes to introduce a bill to implement that before the end of this week.


SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R-KS), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Why would a national intelligence director with actual budget and line authority over these agencies be any less responsive to the needs of the Department of Defense than the secretary of defense? They both must answer to the same president.

ENSOR (voice-over): Powerful figures in Washington like Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner are watching uneasily as the pressure grows from the 9/11 victims' families and from the commission report for changes which could reduce their clout.

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R-VA), CHAIRMAN, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I'm not trying to hold onto the turf of my committee. As chairman of the armed services, I'm willing to do whatever is in the interest of strength and intelligence and our ability to deter and deal with terrorism.

But does that require us to run through everything quickly and accept it and rubber-stamp it?

ENSOR: At stake is who will have the power that matters in Washington: budget control and power to hire and fire at key intelligence agencies now under the purview of the Pentagon.

The National Security Agency, which eavesdrops and cracks code; the National Reconnaissance Office, which builds and launches spy satellites and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, which analyzes imagery.


ENSOR: White House officials say the president hasn't decided yet what he thinks on this. They say a decision could come soon.

But meantime, powerful figures like Rumsfeld and Warner on the one side and Roberts and the 9/11 families and the commission on the other are lobbying hard for their points of view. This very unusual flurry of mid-summer activity in Washington is happening only because there is so much at stake -- Candy.

CROWLEY: David, I may be asking you the impossible. But is there, within the commission's report, any kind of delineation? Is it more important to get this intelligence czar up there, or is it equally important to get Congress to clean up its own house? What's more urgent here?

ENSOR: I think they feel it's all a package, that the thing has got to be clarified, there has to be an intelligence director who has real power and real responsibility. And there have to be not so many committees looking over him.

I think they feel it's all part of a package. They want it all or nothing. The question is, will the politicians in the end compromise at all, as they usually do?

CROWLEY: Always the question. David Ensor. You're not on frequent enough on "I.P." We appreciate it.

ENSOR: Thank you.

CROWLEY: The Bush camp is firing back at John Kerry for his critique of the president's plan to realign U.S. forces.

In today's speech to the Veterans of Foreign wars, Kerry charged the plan to withdraw up to 70,000 troops from Europe and Asia would weaken U.S. security.

The Bush president issued a statement by former Marine Commandant P.X. Kelly, accusing Kerry of blindly embracing the status quo and ignoring the realities of the post-9/11 world.

How much will all this influence veterans' votes and ultimately the election? Here's our CNN political analyst, Bill Schneider.


BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: As a voting block, veterans seem pretty securely in the Bush camp.

BUSH: Serving our veterans is one of the highest priorities of my administration.

SCHNEIDER: It's not just because most veterans are men. Most male veterans favor Bush, while men who are not veterans are split between Bush and Kerry. Women favor Kerry.

Veterans favor Bush's strong, tough international policies.

BUSH: America will continue to lead the world with confidence and moral clarity.

SCHNEIDER: Including Iraq. Male veterans strongly favor Bush's Iraq policy. Men who are not veterans are split over who would handle Iraq better. Women prefer Kerry.

When Bush made this statement to veterans, however...

BUSH: We're getting the job done.

SCHNEIDER: ...Kerry saw an opening.

KERRY: I'm not going to come to the VFW to tell you the job is done when it isn't done.

SCHNEIDER: Veterans have interests, just like farmers and union members. Kerry made a pitch to those interests.

KERRY: I will continue to stand with you as president, leading the fight for a military family bill of rights and leading the fight for full mandatory funding for veterans' healthcare.

SCHNEIDER: Healthcare is a primary interest for veterans and their families. Male veterans do prefer Kerry over Bush on healthcare, just as non-veteran men and women do.

But Kerry is not simply appealing to veterans as a voting block. Veterans are also an important prop in the Kerry campaign. Veterans were featured last month at the Democratic convention.

The Kerry campaign makes sure veterans are there to greet him at every campaign stop. Is that a play for the veterans' vote? Not necessarily.

A recent CNN poll asked voters will Kerry's military service help him be an effective president? Most male veterans, surprisingly, said no, it doesn't make any difference.

Kerry's military credentials do impress most non-veterans, however, including most women. Kerry's military experience is most impressive to voters who don't have any military experience.


SCHNEIDER: Veterans are only 16 percent of the nation's voters. The big payoff for Kerry could come from non-veterans. Among them, veterans are an important symbol -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Thanks so much. Appreciate it, Bill Schneider.

President Bush offered his own nod today to men and women in uniform. During an event in Wisconsin, President Bush said he will push for extra education benefits for National Guard members and reservists.


BUSH: These brave Americans put their jobs on hold and leave their family behind when we called. Under current rules, their education benefits don't reflect the high value of service we place on their time and duty.

My proposal will help correct that by substantially increasing monthly education benefits for all guard members and reserve visits on active duty for more than 90 consecutive days.


CROWLEY: The president heads from Wisconsin to Minnesota for a rally in St. Paul this evening.

Coming up, Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia joins us with the Republican take on Iraq and other military issues.

Plus snap shots from Ohio. CNN's Paula Zahn is talking to undecided voters in that showdown state, and she'll talk to us.

And later, the Bush daughters find way to help their dad's campaign.


CROWLEY: More now on the political debate over Iraq and U.S. military policies. Earlier I spoke with Democrat Howard Dean. I am now joined from Capitol Hill by Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia. He is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Senator, thanks so much for being here.

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), GEORGIA: Good to be with you, Candy.

CROWLEY: I wanted to start out by talking to you a little bit about Congressman Bereuter and his letter to his constituents saying, "Big mistake; I shouldn't have voted for Iraq."

We were just talking a little bit. There is some pressure out there on those who voted for this war. Can you tell me about that, what it's like out there in the grassroots right now?

CHAMBLISS: Well, frankly, back home in Georgia, I don't feel any pressure from anybody. I think people in my state are very military oriented. They're very patriotic individuals, may feel very strongly about the fact that we did do the right thing. And I still am firmly convinced that we did.

There's a lot still that I know that the general public doesn't know by virtue of my intel and my armed services position. But it was simply the right thing to do.

Doug has the right to his opinion, and that's what makes our country so great.

CROWLEY: Well, let me step back, saying, you know, because you have military and patriotic oriented Georgians, that they're for the war. There are, I'm sure you would grant, military inclined and patriotic people who are against that war?

CHAMBLISS: Sure, there are. It -- it just so happens that in my state, I don't really hear that, though.

And I get around the country a good bit. And I think for the most part, people are not happy with the war. War is never any fun. But this is a war that is right now, for the most part, being fought somewhere other than the United States, even though we've been grossly attacked.

But, you know, we've got to continue forward. Our country is the strong country that it is, because once we make a decision to bow our back and do what's right, we do it. And that's what we're seeing right now in leadership from this president.

CROWLEY: Well, Senator Chambliss, I'm sure you know that some of the polls are not looking all that well for the president right now. And much of it is centered on Iraq.

I know that in North Carolina, where George Bush won by 13 points, I mean, this is the solid Republican South here, that poll between John Kerry and George Bush is three points, a three-point spread. That's within the margin of error.

Doesn't the Bush campaign have to do something between now and November to convince people that this war, you know, was not a bad idea, as increasingly both Republicans and Democrats are saying?

CHAMBLISS: Well, it would be nice from the president's perspective to have this war take a major turn in the -- in a positive direction, but war is simply something that we can't predict. We can predict the outcome. The outcome is we're going to win.

But this president was very straight forward early on after September 11, when he said that the war against terrorism is going to be a long and enduring war. It's not going to be won overnight. It's a war unlike any war we've ever been involved in.

Today, for example, I think we've had some very encouraging news with the situation involving the cleric in Najaf, with al-Sadr at least coming to the table one more time.

We're going to give him a chance to say whether he means it or not. If he doesn't, we're going to see the Iraqis exercise the kind of force that needs to be exercised to take him out.

So those are the kinds of thing that, from a positive perspective, will certainly help President Bush as we lead towards the election.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about both the troop deployments, the major troop movement that the president talked about before the veterans yesterday, also abut what he said today, which is, "I want to give the National Guard and Reservists more money for education benefits."

How can one look at either of those announcements and not see politics at play here coming at this point?

CHAMBLISS: Well, everything in Washington right now, Candy, is all politics. And if the president had failed to say something like that, he probably would have been criticized by somebody for political reasons. So it's -- politics is a part of what we're doing right now.

From the standpoint of the National Guard, though, this is another step in the direction that the administration has been urging Congress to do. And I chair the personnel subcommittee on the Senate Armed Services Committee. My ranking member, Senator Nelson from Nebraska, is an individual who strongly supports that, as do I.

We've been working hard to make some changes exactly along the lines that the president's proposed. Was that politics? It was a matter of looking after our men and women who are being called up more than ever before in the history of our country.

So there are two ways of looking at it; it's either politics or it's taking care of our people. And I prefer the latter.

CROWLEY: Senator Saxby Chambliss, a Republican from Georgia, we really appreciate your taking the time.

CHAMBLISS: Sure, Candy. Always a pleasure.

CROWLEY: We will check in with CNN's Paula Zahn next and preview tonight's special town hall meeting in Ohio.

The Democrats launch a new TV ad. This one blasts the president on the issue of health care.

And later, details on a pre-convention party to be hosted by the president's daughters.


CROWLEY: Long before Bush and Kerry made back-to-back appearances at the VFW convention in Cincinnati, Ohio -- I'm sorry, in Cincinnati, Ohio was already a key piece in both candidates' political strategies.

A recent poll of Ohio voters gives Kerry 48 percent and Bush 45 percent.

CNN's Paula Zahn is in Canton, Ohio, this afternoon. She's getting ready for a town hall meeting with undecided Ohio voters on tonight's edition of "PAULA ZAHN NOW."

Paula, great to get a little preview of this tonight. You know, why Canton? Why Ohio? There are lots of states out there. So what is the thinking of moving in here?

PAULA ZAHN, HOST, "PAULA ZAHN NOW": Well, the Buckeye residents I think take a great deal of pride in knowing since 1892, they have backed the winning president every time since then, with the exception of two cases.

And there is a strong feeling that what is happening here in Canton, Ohio, and the surrounding communities gives these campaigns an idea of the challenge that lies ahead in trying to get some of these undecided voters to commit. Tonight, in our audience, we're going to have an equally split audience of Democrats, Republicans and independents, many of whom are likely to go to the polls but have no idea who they're going to vote to -- vote for.

So they're going to have the opportunity to ask questions of two campaign representatives from both the Bush and Kerry campaign. And what we hope is, at the end of the hour, maybe they will have learned something that will help them in their decision making.

CROWLEY: Now I don't want to you give too much away, but do you have a sense of what's on the minds of some of these voters? Is it as we report, which is basically jobs in Iraq? Or have you heard other things?

ZAHN: You're absolutely right. The economy is a huge issue here. Since the year 2000, some 200,000 manufacturing jobs lost in the state, and more specifically, about 12,000 of them right here in the Canton and surrounding area. So that is a critical question.

I've talked with people just from the time I've gotten off the plane today who have essentially said, you know, "On one hand, we're told the leading economic indicators are rosier than they were six months ago. But you know, I've been sitting out here, meanwhile, for seven months looking for a job. I don't buy into that. And I want to hear from both candidates' representatives tonight who has a plan that's going to make sure I am employed six months from now."

So the economy is a touchy subject, and clearly, the war on terrorism, the war on Iraq is a huge issue, as well.

CROWLEY: Can you give us sort of the simplified version of how you all went about getting these voters? I mean, finding them? Are they from Canton or are they from all over Ohio? How did that work?

ZAHN: They are mostly from Star County, which is the county that Canton presently sits in. It's not planning to move out of the county any time soon.

But basically, we have had a huge team on the ground here. And they have done, much like the League of Women Voters would do, they go out and canvass and try to get a sense from people what they are thinking about this election.

And, you know, this is a challenging thing to do. And I'm proud that we have this really balanced audience tonight, which I think gives everybody insights as to the importance of this independent vote across the country.

There are a lot of people who feel -- well, we know for fact that no Republican president has ever won the presidency without winning here. But there are a lot of people who feel, next to Florida, that Ohio is a pivotal state.

And you have a -- some local papers suggest as much as a 14 percent undecided vote here in the Canton and surrounding areas. So it's no secret as to why both campaigns are spending a lot of money here, and they have big staffs on the grounds here.

CROWLEY: Paula Zahn of "PAULA ZAHN NOW." Watch tonight, town hall meeting from Canton, Ohio.

Thanks, Paula. Have a good time tonight.

ZAHN: Thanks, Candy. Appreciate your time today.

CROWLEY: Will Ralph Nader get on the ballot in the Buckeye State? The independent presidential candidate's campaign today submitted a petition to place Nader on the ballot in Ohio.

The campaign says they turned in about 10,000 signatures, double the number required. The state's Democratic Party says they plan to review the signatures.

The Democratic National Committee continues to fill the airwaves on John Kerry's behalf. The latest DNC ad, which begins airing today in 20 states, criticizes George W. Bush on health care issues.

Republicans responded with a written rebuttal to the ad, documenting Bush efforts to control cost and expand access to health care.

The DNC is spending $6 million on TV ads this week. The Democrats have spent more than $18 million on ads during the month of August.

Still to come on INSIDE POLITICS, as Republicans get ready to head to New York, party plans are in full swing. The president's twin daughters will host one of the glittering get-togethers in the Big Apple. We'll tell you who's on the A-list.



CROWLEY: Call it, if you will, a case of mistaken identity or bad spelling. Either way, the Kerry campaign's explanation of a false claim about the senator's resume doesn't particularly make staffers look good.

The campaign incorrectly touted Kerry as the former vice-chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. John Kerry, K-E-R-R- Y, of Massachusetts never held that title, but former Senator Bob Kerrey, K-E-R-R-E-Y, of Nebraska did.

While Republicans suggest the mix-up was intentional, the Kerry/Edwards campaign suggests someone simply got confused.

The Republicans' national convention starts just 12 days from now, and as it draws closer, final plans are being drawn up for some glittering parties, as well. "The Washington Post" says President Bush's twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara, will host "R, The Party" on the Sunday before the convention and it gets under way. The guest list includes Hollywood stars Stephen Baldwin and Bo Derek and country music's Gatlin Brothers.

That is it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Candy Crowley and "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.


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