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Senator John Kerry Blames President Bush for Expiration of Assault Weapons Ban; Bush Derides Kerry's Health Care Proposals

Aired September 13, 2004 - 15:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: Kerry's ammunition -- the Democrat blames the president for the death of the assault weapons ban.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: George Bush's powerful friends in the gun lobby asked him to look the other way, and he couldn't resist.


ANNOUNCER: Bush's prescription -- the Republican takes cuts at Kerry's proposals for health care reform.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, what would you expect from a senator from Massachusetts?


BUSH: A government takeover of health care with an enormous price tag.


ANNOUNCER: In the line of fire -- do the flaps over their Vietnam era service hurt both Kerry and Bush?

The survey says.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now which do you tend to believe more?


ANNOUNCER: The inside debate over polling practices and how to get accurate snapshots of the presidential race.

Now, live from Washington, Judy Woodruff's INSIDE POLITICS.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN HOST: Thank you for joining us at our new earlier time. Beginning today, INSIDE POLITICS expands to 90 minutes to bring you all of the exciting and important campaign news through Election Day.

We begin with John Kerry and today's expiration of the assault weapons ban. The senator essentially waited until the clock was running down on the bill -- or act, we should say -- to go after President Bush on this.

Our congressional correspondent, Ed Henry, picks up the story from Capitol Hill. But you're right here with me, close to Capitol Hill.

Ed, tell us about what the senator had to say and where this stands.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Judy, Republican leaders on Capitol Hill have no plans to extend the ban on 19 different assault weapons, so it will expire at midnight.

While the issue rests in the hands of Congress, Senator Kerry is trying to lay the blame at the door of the White House. And at a campaign event today, here in Washington, Kerry slammed the president for saying he's in favor of the ban but not actually doing anything to get Congress to extend it.


KERRY: And so, tomorrow, for the first time in 10 years, when a killer walks into a gun shop, when a terrorist goes to a gun show somewhere in America, when they want to purchase and AK-47 or some other military assault weapon, they're going to hear one word, sure.

Today George Bush chose to make the job of terrorists easier and make the job of America's police officers harder. And that's just plain wrong.



HENRY: As he has dropped in the polls, Kerry has tried to refocus on domestic issues and charged that the president is giving in to special interests on an array of issues ranging from Medicare to tax cuts.

Today, Kerry attacked the president for allegedly also caving in to the National Rifle Association. But Bush campaign spokesman, Steve Schmidt, fired back by saying that Kerry has consistently voted against second amendment rights; and Schmidt also took aim at a $5 billion anti-crime initiative that Kerry rolled out today.

The senator said he will pay for this plan through an extension of customs fees. But the Bush camp points out there are already 16 different bills in Congress that would use those fees for other spending projects, so they don't think Kerry can actually pay for his plan.

But on the central question of the ban itself, the president himself declined to answer a question about it today.


QUESTION: Mr. President, why allow the assault weapons ban to expire without a fight?



HENRY: Now NRA executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, is glad the ban is expiring. He believes that Democrats will not push this issue too hard for fear of a backlash. Here's what LaPierre had to say.


WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXEC. V.P. AND CEO NRA: They are not going to walk down that dead end street that President Clinton persuaded so many Democrats to walk down in 94 and then it back lashed at the polls in the election.


HENRY: In fact, some Democrats also think Kerry could be courting danger here because it is widely believed that the gun issue in 2000 cost Al Gore some swing states like West Virginia, perhaps New Hampshire. But the Kerry camp insists that harping on the assault weapons ban, itself, is a winner, especially among suburban women.

And at campaign stops, Kerry tries to inoculate himself politically by stressing he is a hunter. In West Virginia, last week, Kerry even held up a rifle that he was given as a gift.

And finally, this week Kerry plans to unveil a sportsman's bill of rights. That will show that he does support a right to bear arms, also supports fishing and hunting rights.

So, the Kerry camp trying to inoculate themselves politically because they know there is some danger in this issue, Judy?

WOODRUFF: You know, just in a word, Ed, why did the White House -- why did the president decide not to lobby, not push for the extension of the ban?

HENRY: I think by and large Republicans feel that this is a weapon that they can use against John Kerry. So they want to avoid the central question of the ban itself, which the president has previously supported and instead paint this as a second amendment issue, which has proven to be a loser for Democrats.

WOODRUFF: OK, Ed Henry, thanks very much.

Well, George W. Bush is trying today to reinforce, also, some potentially weak points in his campaign, his support in Michigan and public opinion of his handling of health care.

Our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, is traveling with the president in Michigan.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Bush performing well in the polls on Iraq is now turning his focus to his domestic agenda here in Michigan. This is where he lost by 217,000 votes back in 2000 to Gore. This is where he is making three stops on a bus tour, emphasizing his health care policy, contracting it to that of his opponent, Senator Kerry.

Mr. Bush is promoting capping medical malpractice awards and creating personal health savings accounts.

Kerry is promising if he becomes president that the federal government will pick up 75 percent of America's most serious health care costs. The president framed that as a government-run system, bad for patients and doctors.

BUSH: Today we're going to talk about a difference of opinion. It starts with -- You know, what would you expect from a Senator from Massachusetts?


That's what you would expect, a government takeover of health care with an enormous price tag.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): The president also defended his plan to allow voters to privately invest in a portion of their social security. He says it will not squander the benefit, this, of course, a critical issue in winning over seniors.

BUSH: If you're a senior citizen, you don't have to worry about social security. If you're a baby boomer, you don't have to worry about social security. And by the way, you'll hear the same rhetoric you hear every campaign. Believe me. You know.

Oh, don't worry -- they're going to take away your social security check. It is the most tired, pathetic way to campaign for the presidency.

MALVEAUX (on camera): The Kerry campaign says that the president's rhetoric simply masks the facts that health care costs have soared, thousands have lost their insurance and big insurance companies have benefited.

Suzanne Malveaux, CNN, Holland, Michigan.


WOODRUFF: Well, while assault weapons and health care soak up the spotlight today on the campaign trail, there's another issue still part of the mix, President Bush's National Guard record. CNN political analyst, Ron Brownstein, of the "Los Angeles Times" with me now to talk more about that.

Ron, where does all this stand? You had the CBS report, the "Boston Globe" report last week. You have people questioning the validity of these documents. Where does it stand?

RON BROWNSTEIN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, I think -- a few things. First, I think both campaigns believe that on balance, voters care more about the choices the candidates are offering today than the choices they made 35 years ago.

But after August, when the Swift Boat controversy, I think, unquestionably had a bigger impact on Senator Kerry than many anticipated, people are reluctant to too confidently predict the course of this controversy.

I think a few things are clear. One is that this is probably going to endure as a headache and a distraction for President Bush because even though the CBS report is entangled in controversy, there are enough other fronts of the story that are independently operating that they're probably going to remain in the headlines.

The bigger question is, does it become more than a headache and a distraction? And for that I think it will depend on voters making a connection they haven't made so far, which is that these questions about Bush 35 years ago raise issues about him that are relevant to his character and behavior today.

I don't think that connection has been made so far.

WOODRUFF: But is it even -- is it going to even be possible to do that, Ron, when there is a dispute over documents, when every -- all the reports that come out now seem to have almost an equal number of reports on the other side.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, exactly right. First of all, I think there is a -- I think that -- first of all, there are several fronts in this story, as I said, that are independent of the "60 Minutes" dispute.

Now, the "60 Minutes" dispute probably colors all of them in the minds of many voters and causes them to throw up their hands and say, who knows who's telling the truth?

However, the president is still going to first face pressure on some of these other fronts because you now have this independent group, Texans for Truth, that is a Democratic-leaning equivalent I think of the Swift Boats for truth, that has raised at least $400,000 since last week, is out there raising -- running ads about a completely separate incident, the Alabama service of the president, unrelated to what "60 Minutes" is talking about.

You also have the Democratic Party more engaged in this than they were, raising it more aggressively than they have been. So, I think in all of these ways, whatever happens to the "60 Minutes," this is going to be sort of in the chatter, in the background of the campaign. WOODRUFF: Ron, let me ask you about that other issue that Suzanne Malveaux was reporting on, and that is President Bush, Vice President Cheney today going after John Kerry on his health care plan, saying that it would amount to a government takeover of health care, that it would cost a trillion and a half dollars.

The Kerry camp is refuting this. This has been a strong point...


WOODRUFF: ... a strong suit for John Kerry.

BROWNSTEIN: This - this...

WOODRUFF: Where is this heading?

BROWNSTEIN: This fits a pattern. The Bush campaign has been very aggressive at going after what would seem to be weaknesses of theirs. There are up to 45 million Americans without health insurance. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported last week that health insurance premiums are up 60 percent since President Bush took office.

Now, what they're arguing is that they have a plan looking forward that would deal with the problem more effectively than Senator Kerry.

WOODRUFF: You mean the Medicare premium?

BROWNSTEIN: No, not -- no -- the premium for private insurance cumulatively rose 11 percent last year, 60 percent total since 2001.

Here is the basic dispute, Judy. Senator Kerry has a series of proposals that is designed to shore up the existing systems in which most people receive their health insurance from either government or their employer. That is expensive.

They put the cost at about $700 billion. A report from the American Enterprise Institute today put it at twice that, as you mentioned.

President Bush looks toward a very different future in which individuals will be more responsible for obtaining their own health care, paying for more of it out of their own pocket with these catastrophic policies to guard them against truly high expenses.

It's a very different vision of how Americans receive this kind of basic protection in the safety net. It's not always clear on the campaign trail, but there is a real fork in the road that they are offering for how Americans will receive their health care in the future.

WOODRUFF: Well, maybe the American people will be treated to a real debate on this issue.

BROWNSTEIN: If we can get out of the past, out of the swamp of Vietnam, maybe we can.

WOODRUFF: We'll see.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: All right. Ron Brownstein, thanks very much.

Meantime, on the international front, the potential threat from North Korea is back on the political radar. We're going to talk about overseas hot spots and how they're playing in this presidential race.

Also ahead, top Bush and Kerry strategists go head to head on the top campaign issues and on the precision of the polls.

Plus, the shrinking map of presidential battlegrounds. Which states are now out of play?

With 50 days until the election, this is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.


WOODRUFF: Even as President Bush addresses domestic policy on the campaign trail today, his administration closely monitoring two flashpoints overseas. First, North Korea.

A number of U.S. officials and experts say there is no evidence that a huge mushroom cloud spotted near the Chinese border, in recent days, was the result of a nuclear test. Today, the North Korean government said the explosion was the planned demolition of a mountain for a hydroelectric plant.

Still, John Kerry says this scare should raise red flags. In a statement, the senator said, "The mere fact that we are even contemplating a nuclear weapons test by North Korea highlights a massive national security failure by President Bush."

Continuing the quote, "During his administration, North Korea has advanced its nuclear program and potential route to a nuclear 9/11 is clearly visible."

Meantime, in Iraq, U.S. warplanes struck a reported terrorist meeting site in Fallujah today. Twenty people were killed in air strikes and gun battles in that city a day after widespread attacks by insurgents in several parts of the country.

Iraqi officials say 78 people were killed in yesterday's fighting, and more than 200 were wounded.

Well, with me, now, to talk about Iraq and North Korea, Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida. He is a member of the armed services and the foreign relations committee.

And we want you to know that we did invite a number of Republican lawmakers to join us. They were either unavailable or declined. We want to make that clear. Senator Nelson, thank you for giving us some of your time today. Senator Kerry is going after President Bush, saying North Korea has built up its nuclear program under the Bush administration, but at the same time it was Senator Kerry who authorized the use of force against Iraq.

I guess my question is, what would Senator Kerry have done differently with regard to North Korea?

SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: Well, the first thing is, we simply do not have the intelligence in North Korea that we need. If you want to talk about the two different countries that you said, we had a massive, colossal intelligence failure in Iraq because what we were told ended up not being true.

And the fact is, we have an intelligence failure in North Korea. We cannot get the information in a closed society like that.

And this overhaul that we're going to do in the next few weeks here on Capitol Hill, I hope we're going to be able to put sufficient forces on the ground in intelligence-gathering operations so that we can penetrate a society like North Korea and find out what they're up to.

WOODRUFF: But what would Senator Kerry have done differently over the last four years with regard to North Korea?

NELSON: Well, I think he would have used diplomacy plus an intensified intelligence effort to keep North Korea from dithering as they have dithered for the last two years.

We know that if they don't have a nuclear weapon, they certainly have the capability of having a couple very quickly. They keep talking this bombastic talk that they're going to do it. I think he would be very aggressive in that.

And then I don't think that he would make symbolic mistakes. At the very time we need to show toughness to North Korea, they announce that they're going to pull out a bunch of our U.S. troops from South Korea. That was very ill-timed.

WOODRUFF: But if that's the case, why do you think Senator Kerry has not been able to capitalize on this issue, as well as Iraq, in this campaign? I think the impression, even of many Democrats who are talking to reporters, is that they're disappointed that Senator Kerry has not, in other words, made more -- made more headway in this campaign, making these kinds of arguments.

NELSON: Well, I think he will. You know, this is a tough issue to understand. There are a lot of nuances.

Senator Kerry understands foreign relations inside and out. And when you're dealing with these governments, it's often the subtle hint, the nuance, the cock of the head, all the kind of messages that you send is -- and I hope we're going to send this. At the end of the day, North Korea cannot have a nuclear program. We've got to make sure that they understand that and work toward the end, hopefully peaceably, of achieving that goal.

WOODRUFF: Senator, I want to quickly turn the corner to a domestic issue because you commented on this on the floor of the U.S. Senate today, and that is the expiration of the Brady ban on assault weapons.

And I believe you mentioned the -- I guess the killing of a woman in the last few days with an AK-47.

NELSON: Fortunately, she was not killed. This is -- she was, is, a Miami County, Miami-Dade County police officer. She stopped a car. This happened just this past weekend.

The occupant of the car jumped out with an AK-47 and expended a dozen rounds of ammunition, causing her police vehicle to burst into flames. Fortunately, where she was hit, it was not fatal.

But isn't it interesting that the justice department says that over the weekend the assault weapons ban expired, and here you have the first incident right in my home state now?

Now, Judy, I am a hunter. I am a fifth generation Floridian. Guns have always been a part of my life. But I can tell you, an AK-47 is for killing. It's not for hunting.

WOODRUFF: All right. We are going to leave it there. Senator Bill Nelson talking to us about Iraq, North Korea and this domestic issue on a number of minds today, the expiration of the Brady ban.

Senator, thank you very much for talking with us. And again, we want to tell our audience, we did invite a number of Republican lawmakers. They were either unavailable or declined the invitation.

With 50 days until the presidential election, every day is important for the Bush and Kerry campaigns. Just ahead, Dick Cheney and John Edwards go after swing votes in two states still up for grabs.

The story when we come back.


WOODRUFF: While President Bush and Senator John Kerry keep the campaign trail humming, their running mates are also stumping for votes today. Senator John Edwards is in the desert southwest in Santa Fe, New Mexico this morning. He led a town hall discussion on health care issues.

On the Republican side, Vice President Dick Cheney is in the nation's heartland, the state of Iowa. Earlier today he and his wife, Lynne, hosted a town hall meeting in Ottumwa. It is Cheney's second visit to Iowa in about a week.

We are getting our first glimpse of a recovering former President Clinton. He was spotted in his Chappaqua, New York back yard over the weekend. The former president was wearing a ball cap and a tee-shirt. He left a New York City hospital Friday to begin his recuperation from heart bypass surgery.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke with reporters this afternoon about her husband's health.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Well, it'll be a number of weeks before he's back to full speed, but I'm absolutely confident that he will be even better than ever once he finishes his recovery period.


WOODRUFF: The 58-year-old former president had a quadruple bypass. Blood vessels from his chest and leg were used to replace heart arteries, which were more than 90 percent blocked.

When it comes to campaigning, is President Bush borrowing from his predecessor's political playbook? Our Bill Schneider investigates. That's coming up later.

But when we return, the newest numbers in the race for the White House. We'll break down the national polls and explain the difference between looking at registered and likely voters.

INSIDE POLITICS back in a moment. But first, this business news update with Rhonda Schaffler.

Hi, Rhonda.


Blue chip stocks weakening as oil prices moved sharply higher. Technology stocks, though, still holding on to some strong gains. The Dow Jones Industrial Average right now drifting lower by five points. The Nasdaq adds three quarters of 1 percent, extending a rally that began late last week.

Oil prices jumped more than $1.00 a barrel today on worries about supply disruptions as Hurricane Ivan threatens to shut down oil production in the Gulf of Mexico.

That's a quick check on Wall Street.

Judy Woodruff's INSIDE POLITICS is coming right back.


JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I'm meteorologist Jacqui Jeras.

Hurricane Ivan maintaining category five status for more than 12 hours now with winds of 160 miles per hour, inching closer to the western tip of Cuba. It's only about 60 miles away now. Still questionable if that eye is going to make its way over land.

The Florida Keys has been pounded all morning long with heavy rainfall and gusty winds around 40 to 50 miles per hour, but a break is finally in order. We should see some quieter conditions now as you head into the afternoon.

The westerly track is continuing on to the north and west, so it's a little farther to the west than the initial projections. And it's also stalled down just a little bit. It's moving northwest at eight miles per hour. So, we're not anticipating landfall until overnight Wednesday or early Thursday morning, somewhere in to the Florida panhandle all the way over to possibly Eastern Louisiana.

We'll keep you up to date. I have another update on Ivan in about one hour. Right now, back to a special 90 minutes of INSIDE POLITICS with Judy Woodruff.

WOODRUFF: Welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS. Yes, welcome back. We have expanded to 90 minutes starting today and going through the November election.

George W. Bush appears to be holding onto his lead over John Kerry in a new national poll, but his post-convention bounce is showing signs of fading in a separate national survey.

In a "TIME" magazine poll of likely voters, Bush leads Kerry by double digits: 52 percent to 41 percent. In a "Newsweek" survey of registered voters, the Bush lead is five points. Now, that is down from last week, when he led Kerry in that poll by 11 points.

You may have noticed that some polls use registered voters, while others narrow the field to likely voters. Lately, CNN has been reporting the results for both likely and registered voters in our own presidential surveys. The decision to report both of these reflects an ongoing discussion among pollsters and among the campaigns.


KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLING DIRECTOR: The first question that we ask in a poll is whether or not you're registered to vote.

WOODRUFF: That's how the Gallup organization, which conducts polls for CNN, comes up with its sample of registered voters.

But being registered doesn't guarantee you'll actually cast a ballot. So pollsters developed scientific models to narrow the field to likely voters, hoping to offer a more accurate prediction of the results on election day.

Survey respondents are asked a series of questions.

FRANK NEWPORT, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, GALLUP: Have you voted in past elections? Do you know where people in your area vote? How interested are you in this election? How likely are you to vote in this election?

WOODRUFF: Gallup editor-in-chief Frank Newport says on average polls of likely voters are more accurate than those of registered voters. But in the last couple of elections, some pollsters have expressed concerns about temporary fluctuations in Gallup's likely voter surveys.

HOLLAND: Which aren't really related to changes in the electorate but instead other events that are happening in the campaign.

WOODRUFF: John Kerry's campaign strategist argues that at this stage of the race, it's better to go with a wider pool of registered voters.

TAD DEVINE, KERRY CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: When you're a couple of months away, as opposed to a couple of days away, the more intense screening of the likely voter model tends to screen out as much as 20 percent of the likely voters.

WOODRUFF: Of course, Democrats are well aware that Kerry does better in surveys of registered voters. He's just one point behind Bush in the latest CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup national survey.

Among likely voters, Bush has a seven-point lead. And that helps explain the Bush camp's polling preference.

SARA TAYLOR, BUSH POLITICAL STRATEGIST: At this stage in the campaign, though, two months out we're looking at likely voters. We prefer likely voters, because they give you a more accurate read on where the electorate is headed on election day.


WOODRUFF: Well, given the difference of opinion you just heard over registered versus likely, we at CNN are going to continue to report the results for both groups when we're reporting our own CNN/Gallup/"USA Today" poll results.

Well, a short time ago I spoke with one of the people we just heard from, senior Kerry strategist Tad Devine, as well as senior Bush strategist Matthew Dowd.

I started by asking Tad Devine how he sees the race with just 50 days, exactly 50 days until election day.


DEVINE: Well, Judy, I think in recent days we've seen a lot of movement back to where this race has been for a long time.

The immediate polls after the convention showed the president as many as 10 or 12 points ahead. Now some of those polls are being cut in half. Another recent round of polls the end of last week showed the race two or three points. So I think what we're doing and where this race is going is back to where it's been for a pretty long time: a pretty close horse race with the fundamentals of the race in terms of the right track, wrong track being against the president, the president re-electing too low to win and the number of people who think he's done a bad job being more than the number of people who think he's done a good job.

So I think those fundamentals favor John Kerry. I think the race is about what we expected it to be after such a late convention, and we're looking forward to the debates in the weeks ahead. We think we're going to win the race.

WOODRUFF: Matt Dowd, is that how you see these numbers?

MATTHEW DOWD, BUSH CAMPAIGN: No, but Tad's doing an excellent job trying to lemonade out of lemons.

We'd had 14 polls since the convention. The average over those 14 polls last week was six points. Over the seven polls this week was six points. We have a lead in this race.

It's different than it was at the beginning of July, when this race was basically dead even. We now have a three, four, five, or six-point lead. The president's job approval is above 50. His re- elect is now close to 50.

And the right direction wrong track is exactly where it was with Bill Clinton. The interesting thing is in order for John Kerry to win -- now, I'm not saying this race is over. He's going to have to defy all historical patterns where a challenger's been this far behind with the incumbent president above 50 on his job approval has always won in the past.

WOODRUFF: Let me turn to Iraq.

Tad Devine, we know now over 1,000 Americans dead, seven -- over 7,000 wounded, 80 Iraqi civilians killed over the weekend.

There's a "New Yorker" article out today -- yesterday quoting former Jimmy Carter adviser Hamilton Jordan saying with all that's been going on in Iraq, in the economy, he said John Kerry should be 10 points ahead now. He said the fact that he's not is an indication of Kerry's failure to -- to present the campaign on his own terms.

DEVINE: Well, I don't agree with that at all. I mean, if you look at the last race Hamilton Jordan ran, which was in 1980, I mean, Ronald Reagan was behind Jimmy Carter at this point in time.

I mean, I think it's expected that an incumbent president would enjoy an advantage. But if you look at it historically, I mean, I would dispute what matt just said.

The high water mark for an incumbent president is in the days after the incumbent president's convention, and I think even in the best horse race numbers for the presidential, he was barely breaking 50. On average they lose about four points between then and the election.

So I think the president's in trouble right now. I think we're in good shape. We have a solid base of support within the Democratic Party. The people beneath the surface of this race, the persuadable voters, are heavily inclined against the president. They're looking for someone to take this nation in a new direction.

That's what our campaign's about. And I think Iraq is a perfect example: $200 billion being spent today in Iraq on -- over there when we need it over here to deal with the problems that we face here at home.

So I think the race is in pretty good shape for us, and I expect we're going to win it.

WOODRUFF: Matt Dowd, I want to turn to a domestic issue and that is the Brady ban on assault weapons.

The president has said he was for extending the ban, but he evidently did nothing to push it.

I interviewed Sarah Brady last Friday on this show. She said the onus was on the president. She said if he doesn't take advantage of this situation, talk about -- she said, "Talk about a flip-flop."

She said, "You can't just say you're on the one hand for it; I'm going to sign it, and then do," in her words, "absolutely nothing to make sure it's passed."

How do you answer her?

DOWD: Well, I don't know -- I don't exactly know where the flip- flop in that is. The president said -- has made statements on this. He's been clear about this.

There's no question in the American public's mind that this president will do everything possible to keep them safe, whether it's fighting the battle of terror -- the war on terror, or doing everything possible here in cities and counties around the country.

We need to enforce the laws that we have today, and keep enforcing those laws.

I just still think that this race fundamentally is about both the economy and domestic issues and the war on terror. And right now, Judy, Tad said we're in trouble. The trouble we're in -- I welcome the trouble we're in. I don't often hear a challenger campaign who's behind say the incumbent's in trouble because they're ahead.

We're ahead on all the major issues in this country today. The public sees this president as a strong leader. We're ahead on shares your values. Every fundamental attribute, including nearly every issue this president is ahead on over John Kerry, and that's why we're in the shape we are today.

WOODRUFF: Tad Devine, in that same "New Yorker" piece, an unnamed senior Kerry adviser quoted as saying the campaign has a clear message, but the candidate sometimes doesn't. Do you agree?

DEVINE: No, I don't. I think John Kerry's a remarkable candidate, Judy. I've had the privilege of working for him now in two extraordinary races: the '96 Senate race against Bill Weld where he beat Governor Weld. Governor weld had a 71 percent favorable on election day, and John Kerry won it decisively.

And in this race, where John Kerry was 25 points behind in the New Hampshire primary five weeks before that event, and he won it going away.

So I think we have an extraordinary candidate. I think he's very focused on talking about moving this nation in a new direction. He's talked about the need to reset our priorities. He has an ambitious plan for this country, which focuses on job creation, on doing something about health care, which the president has done nothing on for four years now, and on issues like the assault weapons ban.

Today -- I mean, today this is the perfect example of how George Bush stands up for the powerful and well connected and really feels the pressure from powerful interests like the gun lobby.

So I think there's a huge choice here for the American people, and John Kerry's prepared to make that debate.

WOODRUFF: One quick other question, Matt Dowd. Elisabeth Bumiller writing in the "New York Times" today about what a good mood the president is in out on the campaign trail. She said where the crowds are kept friendly, she writes, "because opponents are sometimes arrested for wearing anti-Bush T-shirts or dragged from events by their hair."

Why is that necessary?

DOWD: I think -- every crowd that he's been at, we've had 22,000, 24,000 very supportive people. They ask a lot of questions when we do some of these events. I think that what gets reported sometimes is very much the exception.

We are getting bigger crowds today than we did earlier this year. We feel the wind at our back right now.

We think the race is going to be close. But we feel in a much different position than we were in at the beginning of July before Senator Kerry picked John Edwards and went into their convention and we went into ours.

And I just believe right now, as you look at all the pieces of data, the president is now in historically as good of shape as Bill Clinton was going into his re-election in 1996. And we think the race will be close, but we feel much better today.


WOODRUFF: Matthew Dowd, Tad Devine. We'll be talking to them much more ahead in this campaign. Well, there's a lot more ahead in this 90-minute edition of INSIDE POLITICS. Up next, the politics of guns. Does the demise of the assault weapons ban help or hurt either presidential candidate?

Candidates Bush and Kerry battle for the shrinking pool of undecided showdown state voters. I'll talk with Dan Balz of the "Washington post."

And later, George Bush takes a cue from Bill Clinton. How an incumbent president campaigns on a platform of change.



WOODRUFF (voice-over): The British fleet had just bombarded Fort McHenry. When it was over, the American flag was still flying, a vision Key could see even nine miles away. The Washington lawyer was inspired and the national anthem was born.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.



WOODRUFF: And as we said earlier, Senator John Kerry took aim at President Bush today on the issue of assault weapons. Kerry says the president should have pushed Congress to keep the ban on those weapons in place.

But will the issue help or hurt the Democrat on election day?

Here now, CNN's Bruce Morton.



BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): John Kerry attacked the president for not urging Congress to extend the ban on some kinds of assault weapons.

KERRY: Today, George Bush chose to make the job of terrorists easier and make the job of America's police officers harder. And that's just plain wrong.

MORTON: What's going on? Gun control has not ranked high on voters' lists of important issues this year.

Kerry, who hunts, has made sure cameras saw him hunting. The National Rifle Association is advertising against him anyway. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My husband is a hunter, and his friends are hunters. I don't think John Kerry is one of them. I think it's a farce. I think it's all for the cameras.

MORTON: Gun control advocates like Sarah Brady have denounced the president for not pressing Congress harder.

SARAH BRADY, GUN CONTROL ADVOCATE: When he wants something, he gets it. He can make the calls up there and say, "I want this passed. I want this on my desk."

MORTON: But it's not been a big issue this time, because many Democrats think it hurt Al Gore last time in states like his home, Tennessee, and West Virginia.

STUART ROTHENBERG, ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: It hasn't been a national issue for Democrats or for this presidential race, because rightly or wrongly, Al Gore and the Democrats believe that guns cost them the 2000 presidential election.

MORTON: So why now? This is a fight Kerry didn't have to pick. The Justice Department announced over the weekend that the crime rate held steady at last year, at the lowest levels since the government began surveying crime victims 30 years ago.

Why pick this fight?

ROTHENBERG: This could be -- we won't know for a while, but this could be the first step in a change of strategy, a move toward the left for John Kerry, a decision that his base is not energized, that he's got to go back to traditional Democratic issues, even -- even at the risk of costing him some votes in Ohio and Wisconsin and Minnesota and west Virginia.

MORTON: A change in plans to kick-start a campaign many see as drifting? We'll see, over the next couple of weeks.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


WOODRUFF: Coming up on INSIDE POLITICS, the showdown states. How many are in play now, and why is the number shrinking? We'll hear what the "Washington Post" senior political reporter Dan Balz has to say when we return.


WOODRUFF: As the presidential election heads toward the home stretch, there are apparently now fewer showdown states now in play.

With me now, Dan Balz, senior political reporter with the "Washington Post."

Dan, we invited you because you wrote about this extensively in the "Post" yesterday. It wasn't that long ago we were talking about 19 battleground states. How many are we talking about now?

DAN BALZ, "WASHINGTON POST": We're probably, Judy, talking about 10 to a dozen. And you know, we should always start a discussion like this by saying, you know, this race is still pretty wide open and movement in the overall race can put some states into play that might not look like it now.

But you know, we started this spring with 17 or 18 battlegrounds. The Kerry campaign tried to expand that into some stronger Bush states from 2000. It grew to 20 or 21 states.

But we're really now down to 10 or 12, and the challenge for Senator Kerry is how to thread the needle to get to the magic 270 to win the election.

WOODRUFF: What took some states off the table, Dan?

BALZ: Well, I think -- I think reality took the states -- some of these states off the table. They were -- particularly states like, let's say, Louisiana, Arkansas, states like that, which Senator Kerry began to do some advertising in.

You know, they haven't fully given up on those. But the reality is from the beginning those were very tough states for a Democrat to take.

North Carolina with John Edwards on the ticket still is a state they would like to try to do something in, but they're not currently advertising in that state. I think they'll go back and take a look at that closer to the end of the election and see whether there's a real opportunity.

But you know, they had a lot of money between March and their convention, and they could spend some of it testing whether they could make some of those states move in their direction.

Now they are down to a finite amount of money. They have to husband those resources very carefully. One of the problems that Al Gore ran into four years ago, as we all know, is that he had to make a choice in the end between Ohio and Florida. They pulled out of Ohio. They poured everything into Florida. That was probably a good decision. They would like to have stayed in both because they did not lose Ohio by all that much.

This year they don't want to have make those kinds of choices in the final couple of weeks.

WOODRUFF: Dan, how much harder is going to be now for Kerry, given the smaller number of battlegrounds?

BALZ: Well, the reality is there are, I think, three big battlegrounds that are very competitive: Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Kerry would have to carry two of those three states. Al Gore won only Pennsylvania of those three last time. Senator Kerry would have to carry two of those three states or win virtually everything else that's out there that seems pretty competitive at this point.

Again, it's not impossible. They feel better about Ohio than they did four years ago. They say they are in better shape in Florida than they were four years ago. But the reality is he's got to take states away from George W. Bush.

WOODRUFF: And -- and how does he do that? I mean, I guess the answer's obvious. He's got to run a better campaign.

BALZ: They have to run a better campaign. And I think they recognize that. I think they think that the debates will refocus the campaign and that if Senator Kerry performs the way they think he will be able to perform in the debates is that this race may look different by mid-October than it does today.

I don't think either side thinks that this, you know -- that this race is anything other than still a pretty close race.

Obviously, you heard earlier today the Bush people in the form of Matthew Dowd feel pretty good right now. As he said, they feel they've got the wind at their back. But they know this is a race that's still likely to change, particularly with outside events coming into play between now and election day.

WOODRUFF: What are some difficult choices that the Kerry camp is going to have to make or may well have to make in the weeks to come?

BALZ: Well, they're going to have to decide, for example, whether they really try to put Missouri into play. That's a state that they have looked at. They believed it's competitive. There are Democrats that I talked to over the weekend who feel more doubtful about their ability to win that state. Again, it doesn't mean they give it up.

Another thing they're going to have to do, they're going to have to look at a state like Arizona. There have been several western -- Rocky Mountain, western states that the Democrats have looked at as potential battlegrounds this year because of the changing Hispanic population.

Arizona's one of them. That has not come together as well as Democrats had hoped. I think they'll have to make a decision at some point about whether to keep -- keep money in that state, keep an operation in that state. They can only do so much.

And that's part of what campaign operatives get paid for in this time of the year. They have to make some pretty tough choices. And the Kerry campaign and the Democratic National Committee are in the process of beginning to do that.

WOODRUFF: This is when they all earn their pay.

BALZ: Yes.

WOODRUFF: Not that they haven't been doing it all year.

Well, Dan Balz, we're always glad to have you on the program. Thanks very much. We appreciate your making time.

BALZ: You're welcome. Thank you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: My colleague, Paula Zahn, is keeping close watch on these showdown states. She's going to join us a little bit later.

Plus, Colin Powell's future in the Bush administration. Is the conventional wisdom wrong?

And Ralph Nader's campaign faux pas, someone called, it ahead in our final half hour.

ANNOUNCER: As the campaign heats up, get your political fix at You'll find the latest campaign news, our daily political column "The Morning Grind," candidate schedules, and links to the day's hottest political stories. Everything you'll need to tide you over before Judy Woodruff's INSIDE POLITICS. Check it out at



ANNOUNCER: With 50 days until the November elections, John Kerry fires away on assault weapons.

KERRY: George Bush chose to make the job of terrorists easier and make the job of America's police officers harder.

ANNOUNCER: And George Bush says his opponent's got the wrong prescription on health care.

BUSH: I'm running against a fellow who has got a massive complicated blueprint to have our government take over the decision making in health care.

ANNOUNCER: President Bill Clinton, running for reelection in 1996.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let us commit ourselves this night to rise up and build the bridge we know we ought to build all the way to the 21st Century.

ANNOUNCER: Is his successor borrowing a page from the Clinton playbook?

Now, live from Washington, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.


WOODRUFF: If you are just joining us, we want to let you know about our new start time. As of today, INSIDE POLITICS begins at 3 p.m. Eastern for a full 90-minute campaign report that will be continuing right through election day, November 2.

Both George W. Bush and John Kerry delivering some sharp jabs again today, trying to hit each other on issues where they too may be vulnerable. Senator Kerry is going after the president on gun control, blaming Bush for the expiration today of the assault weapons ban. Here in Washington Kerry criticized Bush for failing to pressure Congress to extend the ban while at the same time defending himself against the Bush camp's charge that he is anti-gun rights.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I support the Second Amendment. I am a gun owner. I am a hunter. I've been a hunter since I was a kid. But I'm also forever a law enforcement officer. And I know this -- as a gun owner, as a hunter, I've never thought about going hunting with a military assault weapon, ever. Never.


WOODRUFF: From here in Washington Senator Kerry headed out to Wisconsin, and that's where we find our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's on the trail in Milwaukee. Candy, what is the Kerry camp at this point anticipating in the way of a reaction? Now, this is an issue they haven't said a lot about until just the last few days.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, and for good reason. The gun issue, the Kerry campaign has tried to do in pictures more than words. I think we can probably come up with John Kerry either hunting, skeet shooting, trap shooting in most of the battleground states. They believe that Al Gore made a huge error in 2000 when he talked about gun registration and gun licensing.

So they wanted and they believe that what they have done is kind of leveled the playing field here. They don't really think that the assault weapons ban affects sportsmen or hunter vote at this time or rural votes. They say, look, anybody that's going to vote on whether the assault weapons ban is on or off has already made up their minds if they're that one-issue voter.

What they're trying to do, really, is kind of change the dialogue as they put it, that first of all, to say, look, John Kerry's all for your Second Amendment rights, let's talk about conservation because not only do you have to have a gun, you also have to have a place to hunt.

So they want to broaden it into conservation and to the environment, and they believe that that's where they can get George Bush on shaky territory, when they court the sportsman vote.

WOODRUFF: Candy, you mentioned rural votes in there. How are they courting voters who live outside the cities and the suburbs? CROWLEY: What's interesting is they're not focusing on the gun issue. They believe, again, that they've kind of at least put that issue into neutral. They say, look, when we talk about swing voters in rural areas, here's who we're talking about -- women, and generally those women are working women. They care about health care and jobs.

So their pitch in the rural areas is about what they're pitching in the urban areas, and that is they believe that most of the swing voters now, we're talking about, in rural areas, are far more concerned about health care and jobs than they are about the gun issue.

So that's been their major pitch. Obviously, they are going to be putting their candidates out more into the rural areas, in particular John Edwards, who as you know has a -- you know, came from a small town so they think he's particularly effective. But as far as the gun issue is concerned, that's not where they see any of the power of the vote going this year, in the rural areas. They believe they need to talk about health care and jobs.

WOODRUFF: Candy Crowley out there reporting on the John Kerry campaign. Candy, thanks very much. Hope we see you tomorrow.

Over at the Bush camp they are hitting Kerry on health care today, an issue that is not one of the president's strongest, according to public opinion polls. The Bush campaign begins airing a new ad tomorrow, charging Kerry's health care plan would cost taxpayers $1 1/2 trillion. The president is playing up that tax and spend angle out on the campaign trail in Michigan as well. Here now our White House correspondent Dana Bash.


DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Bush theme of the day -- health care. The candidate boiled it down to black and white. He's got ideas that give you more control. Senator Kerry gives control to Uncle Sam.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm running against a fellow who has got a massive, complicated blueprint to have our government take over the decision-making in health care.

BASH: He'll raise your taxes too. That was the mantra, then the punchline.

BUSH: What would you expect from a senator from Massachusetts?

BASH: The president's pushing for expanding tax-free health care accounts, letting small businesses band together to buy insurance and lower rates, overhauling medical liability laws. That one always gets huge applause, especially the kicker.

BUSH: You can't be pro-doctor or pro-patient and pro-trial lawyer at the same time. My opponent made his choice, and he put him on the ticket. BASH: Senator Kerry does want to repeal Bush top bracket tax cuts to pay for health care subsidies, but aides call the big government label baseless. And Camp Kerry points to a recent non- partisan study showing family health premiums more than doubled on the president's watch.

In Michigan, where Mr. Bush lost in 2000, polls show health care tops what swing voters care most about, and as of last month Senator Kerry had a 30-point lead on the issue there. Importing more affordable drugs from Canada plays big in Michigan. The president opposes it, and he tried to explain why.

BUSH: It sounds good that, you know, this may be able to help us on the price of drugs if they come in from Canada. Before I allow that to happen, I'm going to make sure that you're safe.

BASH: These Oprah-style settings are a standard device. Scripted guests offer rave reviews on Bush proposals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a little mad at you because...

BUSH: That's an interesting twist. You're not the first person in America that way, by the way...

BASH: Don't worry, Mr. President. He's on message. Just wishes your ideas were in place long ago.


BASH (on camera): And the president was on message today, too, steering clear of any questions about why he says he's for extending the assault weapons ban but hasn't done much to push forward at all. And also, Judy, the president did not say one of his common stump lines, and that is about preserving the Second Amendment -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Hmm. Very interesting. Wonder what we can read into all that. Dana Bash, thanks very much. At the White House.

Well, watching the latest back and forth on the campaign trail, thoughts of Bill Clinton just might spring to your head. Even as the former president recovers from heart bypass surgery, he seems to be making a mark not just on the Kerry campaign but on the Bush campaign. Here now our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.



WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): President Clinton accepts his party's nomination for a second term, 1996.

CLINTON: The real choice is whether we will build a bridge to the future or a bridge to the past.

SCHNEIDER: President Bush accepts his party's nomination for a second term, 2004.

BUSH: If policies of tax and spend, of expanding government rather than expanding opportunity are the politics of the past, we are on the path to the future, and we're not turning back.

SCHNEIDER: Both incumbents running for a second term. Incumbents are expected to run on the status quo. But right now most Americans say they are dissatisfied with the status quo. That's supposed to give the challenger an opening.

AD ANNOUNCER: It's time for a new direction.

SCHNEIDER: Is it possible for the incumbent to position himself as the candidate of change? Clinton did it.

CLINTON: I want to build a bridge to the 21st century in which we expand opportunity through education, in which we create a strong and growing economy to preserve the legacy of opportunity for the next generation.

SCHNEIDER: President Bush's message is similar. Don't stop thinking about tomorrow.

BUSH: It's a changing world, and yet the fundamental systems of America were built for yesterday not tomorrow. Our tax code, health coverage, pension plans, and worker training were all set up for a bygone era.

SCHNEIDER: Most dramatically, President Bush has embraced a pre- emptive war, and he has proposed redeploying U.S. troops around the world.

BUSH: We'll move some of our troops and capabilities to new locations so they can surge quickly to deal with unexpected threats.

SCHNEIDER: Kerry balked at such a major change in U.S. commitments around the world.

KERRY: This is clearly the wrong signal to send at the wrong time.

SCHNEIDER: The Bush campaign accused Kerry of being stuck in the Cold War past.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT: He seems to view the world in the pre 9/11 period.


SCHNEIDER: It would be quite a trick for Bush, the incumbent, to become the candidate of change. A trick worthy of the master, Bill Clinton -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Boy, wouldn't you love to know what President Clinton has to say about all this?

SCHNEIDER: It would be great.

WOODRUFF: Maybe we can try to find out.

SCHNEIDER: I'd like to.

WOODRUFF: OK. Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

Checking the Monday headlines. In "Campaign News Daily," a new presidential poll finds the White House race is a dead heat in the showdown state of Maine. A survey taken for the "Portland Press Herald" and "Maine Sunday Telegram" gives Bush 43 percent, Kerry 43 percent, and Ralph Nader 3 percent among likely voters. Nader received 6 percent of the vote in Maine four years ago, when Al Gore carried the state. Nader will be on the main ballot again this November.

Ralph Nader punctuated his usual stump speech last night in Cleveland with a rather unusual comment about his home city. The "Cleveland Plain Dealer" reports that Nader said, quote, "thank you for welcoming me to the poorest major city in the United States." The newspaper says Nader was apparently referring to a 2003 census report that ranked Cleveland as the nation's most impoverished city.

The anti-Bush 527 group known as the Media Fund is launching $5 million worth of TV ads targeting African-American voters. The ads will air in eight showdown states, including Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The spots accuse the president and Republicans of trying to suppress black voter turnout and of working against the interests of African-Americans.

We are tracking some brewing storm clouds, we're told. Ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, Bob Novak will tell us about the gloom hanging over one campaign.

And up next, an update on Hurricane Ivan's power and path, and the latest threat to Florida and beyond.


JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hi. I'm meteorologist Jacqui Jeras. The latest on Hurricane Ivan.

Now, these are the latest warnings that you can see across western Cuba, the Yucatan Peninsula, and a tropical storm watch across the Florida Keys remains in effect.

Let's go over to our Viper system and show you that Ivan is baring its big, beautiful eye. If we can show you the satellite picture now, there you can see it along with the statistics on Ivan. As of the 2:00 advisory, 70 miles away from the western tip of Cuba, but it's honing in on less than 60, I would think by now. It is expected to be moving through the Yucatan Channel here, and then back into the open waters.

Let's show you the forecast track now on Ivan. And there you can see it is expected to stay on a northwesterly track, though the track has slowed down a little bit from the previous advisories. Right now, our best estimate is that it will likely make landfall sometime overnight on Wednesday or early Thursday morning, and we'll be looking at the central Gulf coast for that greatest threat.

That's a look at the latest on Hurricane Ivan. INSIDE POLITICS continues right after a break.


WOODRUFF: Bob Novak joins us now from the "CROSSFIRE" set at George Washington University with some of his inside buzz. All right, Bob. First off, I understand you have some news on Secretary of State Powell?

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Yes. It's been generally assumed that the secretary of state is in his last days in office, but friends say that that may not be true, that he hasn't sat down yet with the president to talk it over, that he may leave but he may stay on for an indefinite period if President Bush is re-elected.

There's no question, I think, that the secretary of state has been more comfortable lately with -- he's been more of a public advocate, and I think he is now happy that the policy of preemption probably has run its course in Iraq.

WOODRUFF: That's a provocative statement. We'd love to explore that with you some more when we have time. We're going to leave it there for now.

Bob, we understand, too, that you are discovering that the morale has dipped in one of the campaigns. Tell...

NOVAK: I've been talking to a lot of Democrats over the weekend and today, and they're very, very gloomy about Senator Kerry. They really feel that it's an uphill climb now, much different mood than a month ago. They feel that Senator Kerry has to perform better, and you can't do it just by speeches or television ads, you have to do it in the debates.

The debates are just beginning negotiations. The Bush people obviously want to have two debates instead of three, not have a town hall debate, limiting the opportunity. So, I think they're putting -- the Democrats are putting all their cash on those debates, going into the next couple weeks.

WOODRUFF: And again, these are Democrats you're talking about right now.


WOODRUFF: Separately, Bob, whatever happens in the presidential, what are Democrats saying about their hopes in the Senate?

NOVAK: Well, you know, if -- since many of them are going to say it's more likely than not that Senator Kerry will lose, that means that they would have to win 51 instead of just 50 seats to win control of the Senate since they -- Cheney would stay as vice president. That means a very tough hill to climb.

They would have to win tough states like Colorado and Oklahoma where there are now Republican Senators, besides holding southern states like Louisiana, North Carolina, and Florida.

And don't forget -- and the Democrats I talked to here in Washington are very worried about South Dakota, where the Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle is actually a point or two behind in the polls, and the Republicans are reputed to be ready to throw in big money against Tom Daschle in the next few days.

WOODRUFF: All right. Speaking of money, Bob, I thought we were in the federal funding phase of this presidential campaign, but you are finding out that there's still fundraising going on.

NOVAK: No, it's good news for people who really want to relieve themselves of some money. The president will be back in Washington on Friday at noon at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington. And for only $1,000, Judy, you can go to the reception. If you want your picture taken with George W. Bush, $5,000. And get this bargain: If you want to sit down and have lunch, $25,000. And that is no free lunch.

WOODRUFF: That's lunch with the president?

NOVAK: That's right.

WOODRUFF: All right. We're going to remember that. We're chalking that up right here.

NOVAK: Friday -- Friday, noon.

WOODRUFF: Bob Novak. And we're going to see you on "CROSSFIRE" starting in just 12 minutes from now. We'll see you then.

NOVAK: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Thanks very much, Bob Novak.

In Election 2004, not all states are created equal. We at CNN pride ourselves on bringing you up-to-the-minute snapshots from the battleground. We'll find out what's new in primetime when we return.


WOODRUFF: We've been telling you about the expansion of INSIDE POLITICS to 90 minutes. Well, that is just one example of CNN's commitment to campaign coverage in these final weeks before the election.

Big changes are in store in prime-time as well. And my colleague Paula Zahn joins us now with a preview of that and some exclusive poll numbers from an important battleground.

Paula, I understand tonight some interesting numbers from Wisconsin. What can you tell us? PAULA ZAHN, HOST, "PAULA ZAHN NOW": Yes, you might be surprised by them, Judy. Thanks for having me on this afternoon. Ten electoral votes, you know, are up for grabs in Wisconsin, and that is a state that has had a long tradition of being different over the years.

Voters in this state have elected progressive liberals, moderate Republicans, and conservative Republicans. And Al Gore, as you know, won Wisconsin in the 2000 election by a razor-thin margin of 1 percent. Senator Kerry cannot afford to lose this state.

We surveyed voters in Wisconsin and asked them how much thought they have given to the upcoming presidential election. Here's what we found out: 84 percent of those polled say they have given quite a lot of thought to the election. Which happens to be a significant jump over just two weeks ago, when that same answer was only 76percent.

Now one reason for this might be that these folks who live in ballotground states are barraged with political ads, they can't get away from them, and the national media is also focused on them and they know they are the key to the election.

And Judy, as much as I like you, I'd like to share these stunning numbers with you, but you're either going to have to watch live tonight or set that TiVo machine at 8:00 p.m.

WOODRUFF: That's what I call a tease.

ZAHN: It is.

WOODRUFF: All right. 8:00 we're going to get the numbers. But separately, Paula, we know that starting tonight your show is going to be putting a lot more emphasis on politics. Tell us about that.

ZAHN: Yes. Well, 50 days left to go before the election, and every night we will be focusing on politics. I believe we're the only primetime newscast that will focus exclusively on politics through Election Day. And I'm really excited about it. As you know, now that you've been given an hour-and-a-half, it's hard to get your arms around it in that period of time. So we have a lot of work to get done.

WOODRUFF: Well, it's the season. And tell us about what's on tonight.

ZAHN: Well, tonight we have exclusive interviews with Barack Obama. That is the man, of course, who captivated the Democratic National Convention. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. And an interview with Sharon Bush, who of course is the former sister-in-law of the president. And as you reported earlier, Judy, Kitty Kelley's new book makes the explosive charge that George Bush used cocaine at Camp David when his father was president, and Kelley says one of her sources for that was Sharon Bush.

And we're going to find out tonight why Mrs. Bush tells a very different story.

WOODRUFF: Well, we're going to watch all of that. Paula Zahn. It's coming up tonight, 8:00, "PAULA ZAHN NOW." Thanks very much.

ZAHN: My pleasure.

WOODRUFF: We'll see you.

Well, George W. Bush is the favorite among Major League Baseball owners, it turns out. But John Kerry has a few pockets of support. A look at where the baseball money is flowing in the White House race when INSIDE POLITICS returns.


WOODRUFF: These pictures of Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards out on the campaign trail in Tucson, Arizona, just coming in to CNN just moments ago. John Edwards telling this audience, criticizing President Bush for the way it has handled the troubled airline industry, connecting the president's policies with the announcement today by US Airways that it is declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Senator Edwards saying: "We've seen the results of the Bush administration, we need a president and a vice president who will fight for energy independence." Among other things, US Airways saying the cost of oil was a major factor in its need to declare bankruptcy.

Moving on now, Major League Baseball team owners apparently are a good source of campaign money for George W. Bush, we're learning. Bush apparently made lots of contacts in his former job as the co- owner of the Texas Rangers.

An Associated Press survey found that Bush has received personal donations from the owners of the Yankees, the Mets, the Twins, the Giants, the Tigers, and the Cardinals.

John Kerry has a few big league supporters as well. The chairman of the Boston Red Sox and the owner of the San Diego Padres are both apparently Kerry campaign donors.

We'll explore that again. That's it for INSIDE POLITICS this day. Thank you for joining us. I'm Judy Woodruff, "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.

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