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AMERICAN MORNING

Latest '04 Presidential Election Developments; Soldier Files Stop-Loss Suit Against Rumsfeld/Officials; Mysterious Lake Erie Island Illness

Aired August 19, 2004 - 08:00   ET

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


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: The race for the White House -- one candidate may be pulling away in a vital battleground state.
More violence in Najaf. Iraqi officials issued their demands to Muqtada al-Sadr -- step down or else.

And a surprise development in the Scott Peterson trial keeps Amber Frey from getting grilled by the defense, for now, on this AMERICAN MORNING.

ANNOUNCER: From the CNN broadcast center in New York, this is AMERICAN MORNING with Soledad O'Brien and Bill Hemmer.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning, everyone.

Hour number two here.

8:00 in New York.

Soledad is home resting. Heidi Collins with me here -- good morning to you.

COLLINS: Good morning.

HEMMER: Seventy-five days and counting, election 2004. We keep hearing about these battleground states, and critical they will be on that day. President Bush has been hitting them often, as has Senator Kerry. A new poll shows one candidate opening up a wider lead in one of those states. Our senior analyst, Bill Schneider, joins us to take a look at the numbers that we have today in a moment.

COLLINS: Also, a mystery illness is spreading around a quiet little tourist island in Lake Erie. At least 70 people have come down with it now. So we're going to talk with a local health official from there to see what's going on.

HEMMER: Also, on Campaign 2004, Senator Kerry blasting back at the White House and its plan to realign troops from around the world, specifically Korea and Germany. He says it sends the wrong message to those countries. And a bit later we'll talk to General Dan Christman a senior adviser to the Kerry campaign, about how they're approaching this.

COLLINS: For now, though, we're going to talk with Jack Cafferty. JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I will be so glad when the election is over. Aren't you getting tired of all this nonsense?

COLLINS: Seventy-five days.

HEMMER: I think it's just about to kick in, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Just -- yes.

HEMMER: In a big way, too.

CAFFERTY: Coming up in the "Cafferty File," on a much lighter note, we'll show you what happens when a bear drinks 36 cans of beer. We actually -- we have pictures. It's pretty funny.

COLLINS: Not much, right?

CAFFERTY: And the recipe for the world's greatest sandwich.

HEMMER: Oh, yes?

CAFFERTY: Things to look forward to if you're sick of John Kerry and George Bush throwing darts at each other.

HEMMER: You've got it.

Thank you, Jack.

Not just yet, though, because the latest polling numbers show John Kerry moving ahead of George Bush in the critical state of Ohio. In that battleground state, President Bush won Ohio four years ago by about five points over Al Gore, and we are told that he cannot afford to lose it this time. We'll see about that with our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, with me now -- and good morning, Bill, to you.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Good morning, Bill.

HEMMER: The poll numbers show this. Among registered voters, John Kerry leading George Bush by 10 points in Ohio, 52 to 42. Then if you look at the likely voters, it gets a lot tighter, only a 2 point difference, at 48 to 46.

These numbers tell you what?

SCHNEIDER: They tell me that Bush is in some trouble if he can't keep Ohio. As you say, he carried it last time and, in fact, no Republican has ever been elected president without carrying Ohio. He's got to hold onto Ohio and that state has had the third worst record of any of the states in losing jobs in the last three years. It's a state with a lot of Reagan Democrats. Those were working class blue collar Democrats who used to vote solidly Democratic. Then they began voting Republican in the '80s and '90s because of values. And now that their jobs are threatened and many of them have had to take lower paying jobs without good benefits, they're getting angry. They're voting their interests and they're coming back to the Democratic Party.

HEMMER: Let's go away from the Buckeye State to the Tar Hill State of North Carolina. A poll done down there, as well, comparing the two leading men. At this point, George Bush by 3 points over John Kerry.

What's happening in North Carolina, Bill?

SCHNEIDER: Well, in a word, Edwards. John Edwards is on the ticket and that appears to be helping Kerry take a state, North Carolina, that Democrats have longed to take for at least a decade. Bill Clinton only said that that's the one state he never carried that he really was desperate to carry.

It has a populist tradition. It now may be tipping slightly -- it's slightly in Bush's favor right now. It's the only Southern state, the closest Southern state besides Florida. And Democrats have high hopes for North Carolina, not just because Edwards is on the ticket as the running mate, but also because their industries have been taking a big hit -- textiles, tobacco, furniture all hurting.

HEMMER: Let's move away from North Carolina. On a broad scale across the country, you believe that the economy is John Kerry's issue, that terrorism and national security is President Bush's issue.

If that's the case, a few wild card events out there over the next 75 days are what that could tip this either way?

SCHNEIDER: Oh, there are many events that are unforeseen. Anything could happen. There's concern, of course, about the impact of a terrorist attack or a scare. I would say that anything that makes Americans angry of fearful will lead them to vote for President Bush. But that effect could be shelved. After a couple of weeks, if there is a terrorist attack on the United States or on Americans outside or, god forbid, at someplace like the Olympics, Americans eventually may be led to ask how did this happen? Why weren't we better prepared? And, the toughest question of all, did the war in Iraq make the United States safer or more vulnerable?

All those things could be asked in the course of this campaign.

HEMMER: Also on the screen, Bill, the violent protests at the Republican convention. If they, indeed, happen, does that play to one side or the other?

SCHNEIDER: Well, the conventional wisdom is that if Americans see disruptions at the convention, they'll get furious at the protesters and that may lead them to vote for President Bush. I don't think so, because I remember the 1968 convention with Hubert Humphrey and the Democrats, where there were disruptions. The voters certainly condemned the protesters, but at the same time they looked at Hubert Humphrey and the Democrats and said if we reelect the Democrats, we're asking for four more years of trouble.

I think that disruptions and protests at the Republican convention could lead to the same conclusion. It would reinforce President Bush's image as a divider and Americans would begin to ask wouldn't it be very risky to reelect him for four years?

HEMMER: Back to the poll numbers, quickly. Everyone asks us, how do you know who's likely to vote? When you go out and do these poll numbers, how do you answer that question?

SCHNEIDER: Yes, well, there are conventional ways in which we ask people how interested are you in the election, how closely are you following events? And the best guess is that this election should be more or less like previous elections. About three quarters of registered voters should turn out to vote.

But we can't be entirely sure. That's why we have -- we always tell you how all registered voters feel, as well as the voters who are most likely to vote based on past records.

This election could be hard to call because as both Bush and Kerry say all the time, there's unusually high interest. There's an unusually aggressive registration drive and turnout could be a big surprise.

HEMMER: Bill, thanks.

Bill Schneider in D.C.

SCHNEIDER: Sure.

HEMMER: Heidi.

COLLINS: There's word now of an explosion in Baghdad's green zone today. Reports say mortars were fired into the area. The U.S. Embassy and the interim Iraqi government are housed there. No word yet on damage or casualties.

And the Reuters Agency reports an Iraqi police station has been attacked in Najaf, killing five people. U.S. tanks now surround the mosque in Najaf where rebel leader Muqtada al-Sadr and his forces are holed up. Iraqi leaders say they are ready to take action today if he does not publicly announce that he is disarming.

A militant group says it will kill a hostage if U.S. troops don't leave Najaf. Al-Jazeera TV showed a tape of a journalist yesterday who has been missing since last Friday. Micah Garen, who carries a U.S. passport, is said to be working on a documentary about the risk to Iraqi cultural history and archaeological sites in the war zone. We'll keep our finger on that for you and let you know the very latest as soon as we can -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Heidi.

For the first time, an Army National Guard soldier now challenging the military's stop-loss policy in federal court. That policy forces soldiers to continue their service.

Here's Miguel Marquez and that story this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He is now in the National Guard, Company B of the 1st of the 184th in Dublin, California. His lawyers say he served nine years of active duty in the Marines and Army and that he got awards for his combat service.

But now he's anonymously suing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who his lawyers claim is keeping him from getting out of the military.

MICHAEL SORGEN, PLAINTIFF'S LAWYER: He is challenging the stop- loss policy because it's really unfair. And it's unfair, because what it does is it extends the enlistments involuntarily.

MARQUEZ: The soldier, known only as John Doe, has filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to allow him to leave the military when his obligation ends in December.

But because of the Pentagon's stop-loss program, put into effect by President Bush in the days following September 11, John Doe is headed to Iraq again.

Groups opposed to the Iraq war, like the Military Law Task Force, call stop-loss a backdoor draft.

MARGUERITE HIKEN, MILITARY LAW TASK FORCE: Daily, we in the Military Law Task Force and those on the GRI top line deal with and recognize the depth of dissatisfaction and anger with those serving in Iraq.

MARQUEZ: The lawsuit contends that when President Bush put stop- loss into effect it was to assist in the war on terror, and now that Iraq has been declared a sovereign nation with questionable ties to al Qaeda, the order should be declared invalid.

The dean of Golden Gate University Law School says good luck.

PETER KEANE, DEAN, GOLDEN GATE UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL: The likelihood of the courts wanting to go ahead and get in there and start interpreting what the powers of the commander in chief of the United States is as president are about zilch.

MARQUEZ (on camera): An army spokeswoman says about 20,000 soldiers are now serving because of the stop-loss program. She also says the military has no repose to the lawsuit because its lawyers haven't even seen it yet.

She add that because the nation is at war, the military uses the stop-loss program to keep skilled and trained soldiers in their positions in Iraq and elsewhere.

Miguel Marquez, CNN, San Francisco.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HEMMER: We will continue this story next hour on AMERICAN MORNING. We'll talk live with a lawyer representing the soldier in that lawsuit -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Ten minutes past the hour now.

Time for a look at some of the other news and Carol Costello -- Carol, good morning once again.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Heidi.

The death toll from hurricane Charley has now risen to 22. Officials say the storm's aftermath is especially difficult for the older population. The state's latest estimate of storm damage adds up to more than $25 million. It's considered the second most expensive hurricane to ever hit the United States since Andrew did in 1992.

Some two dozen people will face disciplinary action in connection with the abuse scandal at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib Prison. That's according to military sources familiar with the just completed Army report on apparent mistreatment here.

Known as the Fay Report, it's expected to be released as soon as next week.

Barbara Starr will have an in depth preview in a half hour for you.

An undisclosed development in the Scott Peterson murder trial promoted the judge to order a postponement. Cross-examination of Peterson's former mistress, Amber Frey, was held up and the jury was sent home after the judge emerged from a meeting with attorneys. Court officials announced the trial will resume on Monday.

And legendary Oscar winning composer Elmer Bernstein has died. Bernstein created some of the most recognizable music in American films, including themes for "The Magnificent Seven" and "The Man with the Golden Arm." Bernstein won one Oscar and 14 Oscar nominations. He died at his California home. He was 82 years old.

Back to New York now.

COLLINS: Beautiful music.

All right, Carol, thanks so much.

We want to take a moment now to check on the weather.

(WEATHER REPORT)

HEMMER: In a moment here, there's a mystery illness in the Midwest already sickening dozens of residents and tourists there. And the big question, can it be stopped before others fall ill and become victims? We'll have a look at that.

COLLINS: And prescription for change -- a new plan to help some Americans get cheaper prescription drugs. But is it legal and safe? Ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Health officials in Ohio are trying to identify a mystery illness. It's sickened dozens of people on Lake Erie's South Bass Island during the past couple of weeks.

Dr. J. Nick Baird, director of Ohio's department of health, is joining us now from Columbus to talk about the outbreak and their investigation.

Good morning to you, doctor.

Thanks for being with us.

A couple of quick questions off the top here.

We know that E. coli bacteria has been found in both a winery and a market on the island.

Any sense of whether or not this could have something to do with this illness?

DR. J. NICK BAIRD, DIRECTOR, OHIO DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH: You know, Heidi, we're early in the investigation and we have some preliminary evidence that there are several bacteria that may be involved. But we only have five cases identified in the laboratory at this point.

COLLINS: Can you talk a little bit about what the symptoms are?

BAIRD: Sure. I mean this, common symptoms of any gastrointestinal illness are diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and so forth. And this is exactly what we're seeing in the now 301 patients that have been linked to this outbreak.

COLLINS: You mentioned that it's early in investigating this illness.

Talk a little bit more about that. What will be done next and how far along is the process in determining exactly what this is?

BAIRD: What we try to do is link to the illness people that have traveled to the area and also that have the symptoms. And so while we have 301 that we've cast a wide net around, we're interviewing an additional 95. And as we get more information, then we can sort these out. Some people will fall outside of what we think is involved. And others will then be counted as a part of this illness.

COLLINS: But as I understand it, there are no travel restrictions in place right now.

So what sort of advice can you offer both tourists and residents if they come to the island? BAIRD: You're right, there are no travel restrictions. We simply suggest that wash hands frequently and often on the island and things, common sense things that we'd do if we were in a Third World country.

COLLINS: Are you pretty worried about this?

BAIRD: You know, we're not. We're concerned about it, certainly. But we see outbreaks like this every summer. They're when people get together and the weather is warm. It's not unusual to see this.

The numbers concern us and certainly we're going to keep a close watch on it.

COLLINS: Well, I wish you the very best of luck there. And we will certainly keep our eye on the story, as well.

Thanks so much, Dr. J. Nick Baird, coming to us out of Columbus, Ohio.

Appreciate it.

HEMMER: About 17 minutes past the hour now.

In a moment here, President Bush's new plan to bring tens of thousands of American troops home from overseas. Is it poor planning or a good idea?

But first, though, an Olympics quiz today. In which modern Olympics were women first allowed to compete? The answer and an update out of Athens after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HEMMER: Before the break, we asked in which modern Olympic Games were women first allowed to compete?

And the answer is, Paris, 1900. Nineteen women competed that year -- tennis, golf and croquet among the events played there in France.

An American first in Athens. Twenty-one-year-old gymnast Paul Hamm won Olympic gold in the men's overall competition and did it in dramatic fashion, too. He led after his first two events, but a fall during the vault put him back in twelfth place. There. Battling back on the parallel bars and then the high bars, Hamm was able to edge out two Korean competitors by just fractions of a point to take gold.

Also, gold medals for the women's freestyle relay swim team after sinking the competition. They did it in world record time. The old record set by East Germany way back in 1987.

Also in softball, Team USA easily knocking off the Canadians. 7- 0 the final there. The American women have yet to give up a single run in Athens. They will take on the home team of Greece next. Also, in the medal count, the U.S. leads with 29, followed by China and Australia.

So now you're up to date there, from Athens, Greece -- Heidi.

COLLINS: All right.

Also, well the gold may be flowing in Greece, but many seats remain empty in Athens. So what might be behind what seems like a drop in interest in the Olympic Games?

Aaron Brown looked at that on "NEWSNIGHT."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "NEWSNIGHT")

BILL GOODYKOONTZ, TV CRITIC, "ARIZONA REPUBLIC": I think that there was, you know, our good guys, their bad guys, from our perspective. And now you just have these sort of middling good guys. You sort of you like them, but you sort of don't. I mean the Iraqi soccer team, they're the darlings of the Olympics so far.

AARON BROWN, HOST: Why do we need that to enjoy -- we don't need it to enjoy all sports, but we perhaps need it to enjoy these sports?

GOODYKOONTZ: I think we do, in some regard, we do need it for all sports. Sports, at its best, is like a good drama. And a good drama has a good guy and a bad guy. You need somebody to root for and ideally you have somebody to root against. That just makes it fun.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: All right, we're going to check in now with Jack.

The Question of the Day once again.

CAFFERTY: The American women are making the men look real bad over there.

COLLINS: They are.

CAFFERTY: The American women are rocking and the American men are way at the back of the...

HEMMER: That is the same thing we picked up on Sydney in 2000.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

HEMMER: The women did very well.

CAFFERTY: The women's basketball team undefeated.

HEMMER: The softball team.

CAFFERTY: While the men lose to Puerto Rico.

COLLINS: They won that relay last night by two body lengths, too.

CAFFERTY: Oh, yes, no, it was no contest. And the softball team, nobody scored a run. Yes, the women are getting it done. The men are watching.

Two hours is all it took yesterday for a Chicago jury to find a man guilty of murder. Two hours. One bureau suggested they ought to move all the murder trials to Chicago. The whole case only lasted three days. The thing would have passed unnoticed except for the fact that Oprah Winfrey was on that jury. The talk show hostess definitely a distraction, leading some to wonder why the lawyers would agree to have a high profile person like that on the jury. And that's the question, which is as follows -- should celebrities serve on juries?

"Why shouldn't they serve on juries?," writes Pan from Meriden, Connecticut. "It's the attorney's role to determine whether a potential juror can weigh the evidence in an unbiased manner. And if both attorneys, defense and prosecution, decide an individual can do that, the celebrity's star wattage doesn't matter."

Buddy in Boise, Idaho: "Everybody else has to, why not these celebrity types? I'd like to have Mr. Cafferty on any jury I might stand before. He's right on about the judge in the Peterson case."

Linda in Lynchburg, Virginia: "I suppose as citizens, celebrities should do their civic duty. But I would prefer that they wore masks or something so nobody would know who they were."

And John writes: "Oprah would be an exceptional juror. Most people think that the accused is judged by a jury of their peers when, in fact, they are judged by a group of people who can't figure out how to get out of jury duty."

HEMMER: Not clever enough, huh?

CAFFERTY: Yes.

HEMMER: Or bored enough.

Attorneys will tell you, though, most of these cases are won and lost when they pick the jury.

CAFFERTY: Oh, yes. The jury consulting now is a cottage industry.

HEMMER: Big time.

CAFFERTY: Huge amounts of money spent on these consultants that, you know, read body language and all that stuff to figure out who...

COLLINS: What do they get? Seventeen bucks a day, right?

CAFFERTY: Yes.

COLLINS: $17.20 is the going rate.

CAFFERTY: Oh, it's glamorous duty

COLLINS: Yes.

CAFFERTY: I...

(CROSSTALK)

HEMMER: Three days for that case there.

CAFFERTY: I served on a medical malpractice case in Newark, New Jersey. We sat there and listened to all this testimony for days and days and days, went into the jury room when the thing was finally over and we didn't get the door closed and they settled the case. And that was everybody's -- that was it. And which I guess is, you know, that's fine. But everybody felt you were kissing your sister, you know?

COLLINS: Right.

HEMMER: But you've never served, right?

COLLINS: I have not served. I've never even been called.

CAFFERTY: Have you ever been on trial?

COLLINS: No.

CAFFERTY: Oh, OK.

HEMMER: Thank you, Jack.

COLLINS: Oh, Jack.

HEMMER: We'll get a break here.

In a moment, is the president's redeployment plan the best move now for national defense? A former general now working for the Kerry campaign doesn't think so. We'll talk to him after we had the White House reaction about an hour ago.

Also, what President Bush says about a plan to make prescription drugs cheaper. Is the position changing?

We'll have all that for you ahead this hour on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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