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Independent Groups/Ads and the 2004 Presidential Election; Are Middle Class Voters Being Heard?; Sharp Increase in Hypertension Sufferers

Aired August 24, 2004 - 11:30   ET


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, I'm Betty Nguyen in Atlanta. Let's check what's happening now in the news.
In Iraq, an aide to Muqtada al-Sadr says the radical Muslim cleric is ready to negotiate a cease-fire, an end to the crisis in Najaf. Now this, after a top Iraqi official told rebel fighters holed up inside a sacred shrine to leave or they will be wiped out. A U.S. and Iraqi force has been battling followers of al-Sadr in random, but intense, fighting there.

In the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal, a surprise accusation. The prisoners were abused long before those charged in the case ever saw them. That from the lawyer for Staff Sergeant Ivan "Chip" Frederick, who pleaded guilty to some charges today. Meanwhile, the Pentagon is preparing to release two reports -- one today, one tomorrow -- and both are expected to point up the chain of command in assigning blame.

Japan has ordered former chess champ Bobby Fischer deported. Fischer has been wanted by the U.S. since 1992 for defying economic sanctions on Yugoslavia by playing chess there. Now, Japan has detained Fischer since stopping him at the country's airport back in July. Fischer's lawyers have appealed that decision.

And back here in the states, John Kerry is trying to steer the presidential campaign rhetoric away from the attacks by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Kerry is about to speak in New York, days before the start of the Republican convention there. Now, Kerry is expected to call on opponents to stop negative ads and debate the issues.

Campaign finance reform put a stop to soft money ads by political parties, but independent groups like the Swift Boat Vets and remain free to spend. Here's national correspondent Kelly Wallace.


KELLY WALLACE (voice-over): Another salvo in the swift boat controversy: The president calling for an end to attack ads by all independent groups.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: When you say that you want to stop all...

GEORGE W. BUSH (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All of them. That means that ad, every other ad. Absolutely. I don't think we ought to have 527s. I can't be more plain about it. WALLACE: Sure you can, said the Democratic vice presidential candidate.

JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Today, George Bush faced his moment of truth, and he failed. He failed to condemn the specific attacks on John Kerry's military record.

WALLACE: Attack ads by independent groups are not new.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now, this man is running for president. President?

WALLACE: Remember 1988 -- the infamous Willie Horton ad by a GOP group targeting Democrat Michael Dukakis. But never have these groups -- called 527s, based on the section of the tax code that created them -- been so powerful.

(on camera): Why? Because they are not bound by the 2002 campaign finance law, which bans political parties from accepting unlimited contributions known as soft money.

LARRY NOBLE, CENTER FOR RESPONSIVE POLITICS: So, really what you have is the McCain-Feingold law has set up a barrier to soft money, and the Federal Election Committee has immediate blown loopholes into the barrier -- loopholes that, frankly, you can drive swift boats through.

WALLACE (voice-over): The groups have raised a staggering $260 million in this race, with Democratic 527s far outpacing Republican 527s in fund-raising, spending more than $60 million since March on attack ads critical of President Bush.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The second man sailed to the top of the list on his father's name. Was trained as a pilot, but failed to show up for a required physical.

WALLACE: Legally, the groups can't coordinate with either presidential campaign, but they can certainly help.

STU ROTHENBERG, POLITICAL ANALYST: It's nice for the candidates to have somebody else doing the dirty work, to have an outside group launching the attacks so that whether it's Senator Kerry or President Bush, they can say, hey, it's not my doing. I don't control these 527s.

WALLACE: They are free to raise and spend millions and could end up playing a decisive role in this year's election.

Kelly Wallace, CNN, New York.


NGUYEN: OK. So, let's talk soft money realities with our senior political analyst -- that's Bill Schneider. He joins us now from Washington. Good morning to you, Bill.


NGUYEN: Well, as Kelly Wallace just mentioned, they are free to raise and spend millions. Where does this money come from?

SCHNEIDER: Rich people, mostly, and it comes from organizations. It can come from anywhere. And it's unlimited, but -- there are no restrictions on how much they can raise or how much they can spend until 60 days before the election when some restrictions go into effect and they cannot mention a candidate's name or likeness. The ads are going to take a different tone.

But you know what happens then? Then you have the Political Action Committees, the so-called PACs, associated with these 527 groups that can raise something called hard money, which is in limited quantities -- generally a couple thousand dollars from an individual or $5,000 from a Political Action Committee -- and they simply shift the burden of running the ads on to those hard money groups.

So, you'll continue to see them, they'll just be a different legal source.

NGUYEN: Exactly. Because I think when people watch these ads, they wonder who are the people creating these ads? Who's behind it? Can you give us an example of some of the groups out there?

SCHNEIDER: Yes, well, the most famous example right now is the Swift Boat Veterans group, which is a group that was organized among veterans of the Vietnam War who had grievances with John Kerry and are infuriated that he's running for president, because a lot of them were angered over his testimony about atrocities when he came back from Vietnam and have harbored those grudges for years.

A lot of them are making the charge now that he didn't deserve the medals, that he lied to get them. That was a group of veterans. Some Republican activists helped organize that group, but again, because it wasn't directly coordinated with the Bush/Cheney campaign, we're not -- there's no indication that what they did was illegal.

Others include George Soros -- an anti-Bush activist on the left who's very, very rich, who has given a lot of money to groups like -- and the Media Fund. They are running ads against President Bush. There's a diversity of sources out there -- it's just basically anyone who chooses to be a political activist.

NGUYEN: But wasn't the McCain-Feingold law designed to stop this?

SCHNEIDER: Yes, and it didn't. And John McCain is very angry about it, because the law didn't work. The Federal Election Commission has said these groups can continue to operate without any restriction. McCain is furious about it.

And just to add insult to injury, his name and his likeness and his statements are being run in some of the 527 ads on both sides. So, he's part of this and he doesn't want to be. NGUYEN: OK, Bill, let's talk about whether these ads are working, quickly. We've got some polls out. A CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll dealing with Florida, it shows that now Bush is 45 percent, Kerry is 45 percent. But back in July, Kerry was down 44 percent to Bush's 49 percent.

So, does this show that these ads aren't really working, especially this one in particular dealing with the swift boat ad?

SCHNEIDER: Well, I'm not sure it shows much of anything. It shows Bush slipping a few points from July to recently in August. Why is that? Well, there might have been a little bit of a convention bounce for Kerry, although most of the slippage is from Bush.

Some people suggest that's the hurricane damage to Bush. But the fact is, that same poll shows that 71 percent of the voters in Florida say Bush has done a good job in dealing with the hurricane damage from Charley. Only 16 percent are critical of the president. So, it doesn't look like the hurricane has done much damage.

Is it a backlash against the swift boat ads? Too early to say. I'm not sure. But it is not a very big change. It just is that a close race has gotten a little bit closer.

NGUYEN: Absolutely. CNN's Bill Schneider, thank you so much.


NGUYEN: They are the bedrock of American democracy. Nearly 50 million families fall into the middle class. The 2004 election finds them worried.

Here's financial correspondent Peter Viles in Los Angeles.


PETER VILES, CNN FINANCIAL NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Teacher Lori Magnuson, her election concerns: illegal immigration, the high cost of housing. Her fear: that no one in Washington is listening.

LORI MAGNUSON, MIDDLE CLASS VOTER: At this point, I'm very, extremely tired of the Democrats and Republicans fighting against each other, wanting to work for just their ideals versus working together for the people.

VILES: From coast to coast, middle class anxiety is rising. Jobs are at risk, outsourcing on the rise, healthcare costs out of control.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, 20, 25 percent of my income is going towards, you know, medical expenses.

VILES: Gas prices are spiking, real wages are falling.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Gas prices are going up, and I'm still making the same. And I still have to support myself off of the same pay that I've been getting.

VILES: Overall, there's a sense of economic anxiety.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the economy is not what it was. I think the economy is much worse for most people.

VILES: Now, you would think both parties are listening; the middle class is the ultimate block of swing voters.

JOHN ZOGBY, POLLSTER: I've looked at this group now in every election since 1972. Whichever candidate has won this group, that candidate has won the election. The only exception was that in 2000 Al Gore won this group. He won the popular vote, but did not win the electoral college.

VILES: There's no official definition of the middle class. The defines it as families making $25,000 to $100,000 a year. That is six in 10 American families, 46 million households.

NORM ORNSTEIN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: Most middle class voters, even if they divide into Democrats and Republicans, want to see bipartisan cooperation and want to see the problems of the nation solved. They're not looking to pit one side against the other.

But we're in a climate where the campaign is going to be conducted not to focus on the broad mass of voters in that way, but on the margins.

VILES: In other words, a campaign that ignores voters like Lori Magnuson.

MAGNUSON: The Republican and Democrat parties are just so interested in just condemning each other and just forgetting about the people.

VILES: One irony here: The concerns of the middle class voters are largely about the future -- the fear of losing jobs or losing healthcare -- and yet the campaign news of the past week has been focused on events that took place 35 years ago.

Peter Viles, CNN, Los Angeles.


NGUYEN: Want to talk about America's unhealthy heart. Why the numbers don't look good for a key health statistic. That's coming up.


NGUYEN: A continuing crisis prompts an attempted intervention. Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson is in Libya to meet with top officials from that country. High atop his issues, asking Libyan leaders to help end the crisis in Sudan that has left more than a million people displaced. Jackson also wants Libya to free seven medical personnel accused of spreading the AIDS virus to 400 Libyans, mostly children. A new study finds a sharp increase in the number of Americans with high blood pressure and that puts them at higher risk of heart attack or stroke. CNN senior medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta examines the soaring rates of hypertension in our "Daily Dose" of health news.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Some concerning numbers about blood pressure coming out now. A study of 4,500 adults, a survey done, shows that we're really heading in the wrong direction when it comes to controlling our blood pressure.

Take a look: One in three Americans now suffer from high blood pressure, that's adults obviously, 65 million people had it in 2000 which was up 30 percent over the last decade.

What is high blood pressure? First of all, 140/90, that's the number if the number is what you're looking at. Also if you're taking a medication to control your blood pressure, you are obviously considered hypertensive, and if you've had a medical history of hypertension, that also qualifies you as well.

A lot of people asking, why are the numbers on the rise? I think some of the answers are going to be obvious. Take a look. First of all, we're an older population, 80 percent of those who are hypertensive are over the age of 45.

Also this increase in obesity. We've talked about the obesity problem so much in this country, this contributes to high blood pressure as well. Also, there has been a lowering in guidelines, meaning that it's actually easier to become hypertensive because the numbers are lower that qualifies you as a hypertensive as well.

It's really important to control blood pressure. That's from other studies that have come out. Take a look at the risk of heart attack and heart disease by simple increases in blood pressure. A 20- millimeter increase in your systolic blood pressure, that's the upper number, doubles your risk of heart attacks or strokes. Every 10- millimeter increase in diastolic doubles your risk of heart attack or stroke as well.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, Atlanta.


NGUYEN: And we'll have a check of the financial markets next.

Plus, why these men hold the weight of Iraq's Olympic dreams on their shoulders.



NGUYEN: So will Cinderella make it to the ball? We'll find out today when Iraq takes on Paraguay in Olympic soccer semifinal play in less than three hours. A victory today assures Iraq of an Olympic medal, its first since the Rome Games in 1960.

Now if Iraq wins, the team will play the winner of the Italy- Argentina semifinal for the gold. The unlikely heroes of the Athens Olympics are generating excitement not only at home, but also around the old. If the Iraqi soccer team does reach the medal podium, they'd better like wearing wreaths.


ROBERT VERDI, FASHION ANALYST: Bad, bad. It's comparable to Donald Trump's real hair.


NGUYEN: Is it really that bad? We have a study of Olympic style, next.



NGUYEN: At the Olympics, it's not always who comes out on top that really matters, rather what goes on top.

Here's our Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Top athletes, topped by topiary? Sort of makes you want to run out and trim your hedges.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The wreath is not for everybody.

MOOS: Maybe this mistletoe on steroids explains all the kissing of medals beneath it. The wreath has become an Olympic halo.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a little weird, but I like it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does it look dorky? Not to their parents.

MOOS: But to a fashion insider...

VERDI: That actually looks like a bird was building a nest on her head. Bad. Bad. It's comparable to Donald Trump's real hair.

MOOS: Style commentator Robert Verdi isn't letting Olympians rest on their laurels. Technically, they're not laurels. They're olive wreaths, the leaves freshly plucked and assembled.

VERDI: This one's too small. He needs the next size up.

MOOS: Actually, they're one size fits all, though the Hamm twins seem to have unequal leaf distribution.

(on camera) His is much more bushy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He must have been the first born.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looks weird. I wouldn't wear no...

MOOS: Well, you wear this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's different. This is fabric. That's plants. I don't think I would wear no plants on my head.

MOOS (voice-over): But you can't get the plant off this member of the U.S. rowing team.

PETE CIPOLLONE, U.S. GOLD MEDALIST: This is the traditional award for victors, as opposed to the modern one. And I plan to wear both until, you know, I'm thrown in jail.

MOOS: There is one big difference between wearing the wreath now and when it was first worn at the ancient games.

(on camera) When they really introduced these, everyone was nude.


MOOS (voice-over): We bought the pathetic wreath I'm wearing for eight bucks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Probably won't fit me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: See, sexy, that's what I'm saying.

VERDI: You can never look good doing this.

MOOS (on camera): Try it?


MOOS (voice-over): You wouldn't wear a wreath either if it covered up the eyes in the back of your head.

Some athletes can pull it off. Some would be better off taking it off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That looks like John Belushi and his two friends or something.

MOOS: The olive wreath is reminiscent of Miss America's crown. Tricky to keep on, but somehow...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Makes it authentic.

MOOS: But a fashionista can't help noticing details.

VERDI: The nail polish is awful. MOOS: It's just a Dutch athlete wearing her national color.

This is awful, U.S. Track star Gayle Devers who, through no fault of her manicure, nailed a hurdle. No wreath for her.

Though even tourists are wearing it.

VERDI: Does this wreath make me look fat?

MOOS (on camera): Just your head.

VERDI: Just my head.

MOOS (voice-over): At least no Olympic athlete tried this with their olive leaves.

Who needs a gold medal when you've got dog tags?

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


NGUYEN: Jeanne needs to invest in a better wreath. That one was pathetic.

All right, well, that's going to do it for this edition of LIVE TODAY. I'm Betty Nguyen here in Atlanta. I want to send it now to Wolf Blitzer in Washington.


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