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Kerry Needs to Change Topic to Move Ahead; Barack Obama: Kerry Needs to Work on Message; Interview With Barack Obama

Aired September 13, 2004 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening and welcome to a brand new week here. Thanks so much for joining us tonight.
We are just 50 days away from the presidential election. And while Democrats and Republicans do not agree on much, both sides say this election is crucial to America's future. Yet, until now, no nightly prime-time TV news program has been devoted exclusively to politics. So starting tonight and every weeknight until November 2, that is exactly what we plan to do.

Tonight, we have a new poll from another battleground state. We will also hear from the man who electrified the Democratic National Convention, keynote speaker and U.S. Senate candidate Barack Obama.

But we start off tonight with the candidates themselves crisscrossing the country, trying to shake as many hands, make as many speeches, and persuade as many undecided voters as possible. Domestic issues dominated the day, especially guns and health care.


ZAHN (voice-over): President Bush is touring Michigan by bus. He narrowly lost the state to Al Gore in 2000 and is running slightly behind John Kerry there now. The president is pushing his health care proposals, including plans to limit malpractice lawsuits.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We need to stop these junk lawsuits.


BUSH: You cannot be pro-doctor, pro-patient, pro-hospital, and pro-trial lawyer at the same time. You have to choose. My opponent made his choice, and he put him on the ticket.

ZAHN: John Kerry is aiming at a different target, the federal ban on certain types of assault weapons that ended today. While in Washington to pick up the endorsement of the National Association of Police, Kerry blamed President Bush for not pushing Congress to extend the ban.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 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.

(APPLAUSE) ZAHN: With the election this close, everyone is on the road. Vice President Cheney split his time between Iowa and West Virginia today, telling voters the country cannot afford Senator Kerry's plans for health care.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Senator Kerry has got a proposal in the health care area that he's put out recently. There was a study released just today by a nonpartisan think tank in Washington that estimates that his package will cost about $1.5 trillion dollars. It basically breaks the bank.

ZAHN: Campaigning out West in New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada, John Kerry's running mate, Senator John Edwards, has a new riff on his two-Americas stump speech.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This president and the vice president, particularly the vice president, has been making fun of the two Americas. Well, I'll tell you something. For the five million people who have lost their health care while Dick Cheney has been vice president, they don't think this is very funny. The four million people who have fallen into poverty, the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs, even most of America, people who are just struggling every single day to pay their bills, they're falling further and further behind, they don't think the two Americas, they don't think this whole idea is funny.


ZAHN: Time to bring in two CNN correspondents for more on the Bush and Kerry campaigns and the fight in the key battleground states. Let's turn to senior political correspondent Candy Crowley, who is with the Kerry campaign in Brookfield, Wisconsin, tonight. Also joining us, John King, our senior White House correspondent, who joins us from Battle Creek, Michigan, where the president campaigned today.

Good to see both of you.

Candy, I'd like to start with you.

We saw John Kerry criticizing the president for not pushing to extend the assault weapons ban, but we also know from poll after poll it is the very voters who were in favor of ending this ban that are more likely to vote. So does this make much sense for John Kerry to targets this issue?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They think it does, and here's why.

They say, look, this is a character issue. First of all, it would be hard for John Kerry to run away from this in any way, shape or form, because he voted for the ban. They believe that they can start to draw what they call character distinctions, saying, look, George Bush never really supported this ban, and he never really intended to extend it, so he sort of said that, and then he winked and nodded at Congress, so that they wouldn't pass one. So they're trying to cut into what really is George Bush's strength. Poll after poll shows, on leadership, on judgment, on truth-telling, George Bush is way ahead of John Kerry, so they're trying to undercut that. And, at the same time, they don't see a lot of drawback to John Kerry coming out against and saying -- and highlighting the fact that he is for the assault weapons ban. They say, look, anybody that right now is going to vote for or against a candidate on the basis of guns only has already made up their minds.

ZAHN: So how much exposure, John King, do you think the president really has on this, particularly at a time when you're hearing people like Sarah Brady say, if the president wanted this ban extended, he would have pushed Congress to do so? That did not happen.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It did not, Paula. The White House is saying the president's position is publicly clear, but the president jumped up and down and had events every day, sometimes five events a day, when he wanted a vote on the tax cut.

Just last week, the White House geared up the lobbying machine to get billions of dollars in emergency assistance to the hurricane victims in Florida. So if the president wanted to do something about this, he could have been more vocal about it. In fact, missing from his speech today, when he was in a conservative community here in Michigan, he talked about a culture of life, meaning anti-abortion policies. He usually mentions the Second Amendment in the next breath, preserving the Second Amendment. He did not do that. He did not want to give Candy for her Kerry piece tonight that Bush bite on the Second Amendment.

Certainly, the president could have done more on this. The White House believes, yes, it's a tradeoff. Suburban women especially want that ban extended. The president believes most of them are already going Kerry's way. They think, though, they could pick up white male union voters in places like Michigan, in places like Ohio. And they believe that's a tradeoff. They are willing to take that risk right now and they do not want conservatives to stay home because they're mad at the president.

ZAHN: That may be true, John, but the president is still fighting this statistic that's pretty hard to ignore, that two-thirds of Americans favor the extension of this ban, and 64 percent of gun owners also favor extending this ban.

KING: Yes, but the organizations like the National Rifle Association, like gun clubs that register and turn out voters, they do not want this ban extended. And they're the ones who drive the vans, who make the phone calls, who put money into turnout, who put money into late mail that hits just on the last weekend of the election. The White House calculation is they need to get every conservative out to vote, especially in a state like this, where they'll a little bit behind.

ZAHN: And, Candy, of course, you hear the criticism in Washington. They may be the people that drive the vans. They are also the people responsible for getting a bunch of members in Congress reelected every other year.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. And look, we talked to a number of people.

You have to remember that there are very few single-issue voters. And if you're a single-issue voter, like, that is the only reason you go to the polls, and if you're a single-issue voter on guns, mainly, you're going to be in a pro- -- or an anti-regulation stance. So those are Bush voters.

So they don't really see I think at the White House that much that they're losing, and they do believe that Kerry can reach out maybe to some of those swing voters. But when they look at the rural voters from camp Kerry, they say, listen, when we want to talk them, they don't want to talk about gun control. They want to talk about health care and they want to talk jobs.

So in its pitch to rural voters, that is, you know, gun owners and others, their pitch is on health care, and their pitch is on the economy and a lot less on guns. They just don't see that as a huge moving issue, but, again, in a close election, as it was in 2000, you can't leave all that many issues out of the mix. You try to get as many votes as you can.

ZAHN: Another issue that the president's campaign had to confront today, John, is the issue of Kitty Kelley's new book that is out with some pretty explosive allegations. According to this author, she says she had a number of sources, including Sharon Bush, the ex- sister-in-law of the president, who she said, said that she witnessed George W. Bush and one of his brothers doing cocaine at Camp David during the father's presidency. How did the White House respond to that very potent charge?

KING: Both the White House and campaign steering away from rebutting any specific allegations in that book, saying that Kitty Kelley is a purveyor of garbage, in their words. They say reckless gossip, reckless, unsubstantiated and unsupported innuendo.

They're trying to convince the American people don't believe anything she says. Even if you read this book for entertainment purposes, don't believe anything in it. That is their line.

ZAHN: Does the Kerry campaign plan to play with this at all, Candy?

CROWLEY: Oh, I don't think you'll see a lot of fingerprints. Basically, the way they have approached a lot of this is to have the Democratic National Committee or some other surrogates come out and sort of pounce on the criticism of George Bush, whether it be Kitty Kelley or whether it be on the National Guard.

Largely, they have left John Kerry out of this mix, except for when he got really mad after the convention and the whole Swift Boat Veterans For Truth ads that came out. Largely, though, they want him to stay out of it, because he gets sunk into and then he gets off- message.

ZAHN: We're going to thank you both and let one of you catch your train there or at least get out of the way.

Candy Crowley, John King, thanks so much for your input tonight.

And we'd like to know what you think. If Kitty Kelley's reporting on President Bush is proven accurate, will it affect your vote? Go to and take part in our quick vote. We're going to show the results at the end of the hour.


BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: I had no money. I had no organization. It was unlikely the Democrats would nominate a skinny guy from the South Side with a funny name like Barack Obama.


ZAHN: But they did, and he dazzled them. How does a rising Democratic star judge the uncertain course of the Kerry campaign?


OBAMA: The White House has been very effective at muddying the waters.


ZAHN: Tonight, my interview with Barack Obama.

And a handful of states, the most important this election. Lose them and you lose the race, an exclusive look at the numbers from one of the key battleground states as PAULA ZAHN NOW: PRIME-TIME POLITICS continues.


ZAHN: There is no arguing with the numbers when it comes to health care in this country. Costs are skyrocketing, and millions of Americans do not even have health insurance. What is arguable is what is to do about that. And both the Bush and Kerry campaigns are trying to lay claim to having the workable solution.

Well, Tom Foreman takes a look at what each side is proposing.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Like an emergency run to save the body politic, the campaigns are rushing to embrace health care reform. The president today was promoting his ideas as:

BUSH: A practical way to make sure health care is available and affordable and a way to make sure good doctors keep practicing medicine.

FOREMAN: While the Kerry camp was dismissing the president's plan.

EDWARDS: The best I can tell, what George Bush's health care plan for the last four years has been, pray you don't get sick.

FOREMAN: The debate is hottest in battleground states with weak economies, and with reason. The Kaiser Family Foundation says the cost of insurance is up 59 percent since 2000. Fewer employers are offering health care benefits. And the Census Bureau says 45 million Americans are now uninsured. A brand new ad is laying out the Bush strategy.


NARRATOR: Allow small businesses to join together to get lower insurance rates big companies get, stop frivolous lawsuits against doctors, health coverage you can take with you.


FOREMAN: The president also proposes some extra government help for the elderly, poor children and the poor, but the Kerry campaign is promising to do even more.

EDWARDS: We can do better than that in America. John and I have a real health care plan, starting with making the same health care that's available to your United States senator available to every single American.

FOREMAN: Indeed, the Kerry team says, if Americans are allowed to buy insurance through the federal employees benefits program, nearly everyone can be covered. In addition, Democrats are urging the use of cheaper Canadian medicines and a $1,000 decrease in premiums for families, the money coming from better management of catastrophic health care.

(on camera): Both plans contain a bewildering number of details and differences. And both sides insist the other's is utterly unworkable.

EDWARDS: Thank you.

FOREMAN (voice-over): All they agree on is that health care is once again an issue of critical political importance.


ZAHN: That report from CNN's Tom Foreman.

Joining me now from Washington to talk more about health care and some other heated campaign issues, we are joined by Republican Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, who, of course, is the Senate majority leader.

Good to have you with us tonight, sir. Welcome.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: Paula, great to be with us tonight.

ZAHN: Thank you. I wanted to start off with some of those statistics Tom Foreman just touched upon, that there are now some 45 uninsured Americans in this country. Fewer employers are offering health care benefits to their employees. And the Democrats are saying what kind of a track record is that? And, furthermore, you look at people like the Congressional Budget Office who are trying to look at the cost of these programs and they don't believe what the president is proposing this time is all that different than what he proposed in the year 2000. What's the truth?

FRIST: Well, Paula, it is going to be a fascinating 50 days and I hope that health care continues to be elevated on the discussion realm.

First of all, we have huge challenges in health care today. As you know, I was a heart transplant surgeon, and I saw the very best doctors, the very best hospitals, the very best technology. But still in this country, we don't have the very best health care delivered as equitably as possible. We do have two contrasting visions that have been presented by the two candidates.

President Bush focuses on doctors and patients and consumers and having more choices, and Senator Kerry has introduced a plan which is really much more of what has been tried in the past. And that is more government. In an estimate today coming up by -- put out by American Enterprise Institute, said it's about a $1.5 trillion plan, which is both more government and a lot higher taxes for everybody.

ZAHN: All right. But can you defend -- is it defensible that four million more people don't have insurance now than when the president entered office?

FRIST: No, you know, it's fascinating. There are about 40 to 44 million people without health insurance today. And, to me, that's inexcusable. I think we need to do everything possible to make sure that every American does have affordable access to good quality of health care.

What this president has done is set in motion things like expansion of community health centers, where today three million more people have access to health care who didn't have it before by going to community health centers. He's going to build on that in the future. And as we heard in his platform agenda and his convention speech, his plans are to have a community health center in every poor county.

If you look at prescription drugs, he made a promise four years ago that do something that everybody said was impossibility. The Democrats had tried to do it. President Clinton had tried to do it. And that is that every senior, every senior, 40 million, had affordable access to prescription drugs. Today, unlike even a year and a half ago, five million seniors are getting help with their prescription drugs, and once that plan is implemented, a full 40 million people will.

Health savings accounts... (CROSSTALK)

FRIST: Let me just add one last thing.


FRIST: Health savings account, which is a beautiful concept I think by the president -- you own it. You control it. You have choices, cheaper insurance policies. They're set in motion and they have passed now the United States Senate. They're the law of the land, passed the Congress. And they'll be implemented soon beginning next year.

ZAHN: And, you know, what John Kerry is saying about that, that plan ultimately raises costs and raises the cost of premiums.

But I want to move you on to another contentious issue, and that is the expiration just hours from now of the federal assault weapons ban. And I want to put on the screen some numbers I'd like for you to explain to the American public. You have said that the will of the American people is consistent with letting this ban expire, yet this survey shows that two-thirds of the public support extending the assault weapons ban. Another report shows that some 64 percent of gun owners also would like to see this ban renewed. Whose will are you serving here?

FRIST: Yes, I think it's interesting. When I say the will of the American people, I do mean the will of the American people expressed through 535 legislators, elected by the American people, have, after looking at this law on the books for 10 years, a law that has demonstrated no decrease in felonies with the use of these so- called assault semiautomatic weapons -- it's been a useless law. It's had no impact in the will of the American people.

Now, I will say, from a P.R., a public relations standpoint, when you talk about assault weapons, people think you're talking about machine guns spraying bullets, rapid-fire where you just pull the trigger one time, bigger bullets, more power. None of that is true. And maybe that's a problem with the way the law was written, but we're not talking about machine guns. We're talking about a law put into place for 10 years that's had zero impact on the books.

And, yes, the American people, their will, through our Congress, is going to let it expire tonight.

ZAHN: But a couple points here. As you know, members of various law enforcement agencies say that's absolutely not true, that you've actually seen a drop in crime by two-thirds because of the implementation of this. They admit there are some loopholes in the law, but they say it has saved lives.

And people like Sarah Brady, whose husband was almost killed by an assassin's bullets, would argue that these weapons you're talking about are weapons that can eventually end up in the hands of terrorists and do the kind of horror that we saw in Russia just a couple weeks ago. FRIST: And, you know, that's the sort of rhetoric that is used, and I think that the rhetoric does have an impact, especially when people just watch it on TV.

I think the fundamental facts are that 3 percent of all felonies had been -- before this law, had been caused by criminals using these types of weapons. And it's 3 percent today. It's had absolutely no impact.

You're exactly right. Thank goodness the fall in crime, in violent crime, in cities and every community across the country. It has nothing to do with a law that has been ineffective, totally ineffective in and of itself. It has to do with the way our culture has changed. Our prosperity has increased over time. We're a lot tougher on criminals than we used to be. And our law enforcement is much stronger. And that's why we've seen a falloff in overall severe crime.

ZAHN: A final question for you. When you were talking about the will of the legislators being exercised by allowing this ban to expire, there are a lot of people out there who believe that a lot of members of Congress aren't willing to vote for extending the ban because they don't want to run against the NRA in the next race. And they saw what happened in the wake of Bill Clinton pushing this, and they lost their jobs.

FRIST: Well, again, I know that's what people are saying.

And I would say that if there were data out there, statistics that this law had been effective, I think people would have passed it. It was a poorly written law in the first place. It came in at a very difficult time for this nation, when crime was very high. I think what we, as responsible legislators need to do, is look back, see whether or not it's had an impact, and the conclusion among most legislators is that it has not.

And that's why, even in the United States Senate, we have, in an evenly divided Senate, it came out evenly divided. The House did not address it, and I believe they did not address it because they think it is an ineffective law, poorly written, has had no impact on the fall of crime.

ZAHN: And just a brief answer to this, sir. You can tell us tonight with a degree of certainty that this is not going to cause a bunch of terrorists to get their hands on these weapons?

FRIST: I can't tell you with any certainty. Nobody can.

But I can tell you that it is the best judgment of the United States Congress today that this law would have absolutely no impact on keeping these types of weapons out of the hands of terrorists.

ZAHN: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, thank you for your time tonight. Appreciate it.

FRIST: Great to be with you. ZAHN: And, as we've said, the election is centering on just a handful of battleground states. We'll have some inclusive new polling numbers in one key state when we come back.


ZAHN: And welcome back.

Tonight, John Kerry is in Wisconsin, a battleground state that he must pay attention to. Poll numbers show his campaign may be losing some ground there. The latest national CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll shows that, among likely voters, President Bush has an eight-point lead over Senator Kerry, 52 percent to 44 percent. But the gap is not as wide among registered voters in Wisconsin; 49 percent support the president; 45 percent support John Kerry. Now, that's within the margin of error of 4 percent.

Now, back in the 2000 election, it's important to remember that Al Gore narrowly wedged out George W. Bush to win Wisconsin by about 1 percent.

Joining me from Washington to explain what the numbers mean is CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider, who inhales these numbers all day long. Here in New York is Carlos Watson.

You don't even want to have a conversation with Bill, because all this guy knows is numbers.


ZAHN: So, Bill, how significant are these numbers coming out of Wisconsin?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: As you said, Wisconsin is a blue state. Gore carried it. In order to win, Kerry has got to carry all the Gore states, the blue states, like Wisconsin. And the fact that he's running behind in Wisconsin means he's in trouble.

He's got to carry all the states that Gore carried and win a couple Bush states as well. In the course of this campaign, we're going to be showing the poll results from all the battleground states, because every single one of them is crucial.

ZAHN: So how worried is the Kerry campaign about the Wisconsin numbers?


CARLOS WATSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: They're worried, Paula, because this is representative of a number of key blue states, as Bill called them. Iowa, we've seen bad numbers come out of. We even saw bad numbers come out of Maine, which is another state they thought they should win.

They're starting to fight back, though. You see a much more aggressive tack not only on the part of the Kerry campaign, but, interestingly enough, on the part of the DNC, Democratic National Committee, and some of these 527 independent groups. So we're seeing some more cheeky ads, if you will.

ZAHN: Let's move to what some of the national polls are showing, Bill Schneider, showing the president gaining some ground on a number of issues. The poll show the president has a six-point lead over Senator Kerry on handling the economy. Is that surprising to you?

SCHNEIDER: It is surprising, because this is supposed to be John Kerry's issue.

But the fact is, while the economy is a problem for Bush, it's not a big enough problem for most voters to prefer Kerry. What we kind is, those voters who are really concerned about job losses are voting for Kerry, but that's only about a quarter of the electorate. Otherwise, it's an issue that helps Bush.

ZAHN: So what can Mr. Kerry do about that, Carlos?

WATSON: Turn the focus away from himself, which, really, the mirror has been on him for the last six weeks, and really focus on the president's record.

And so you'll hear a lot more of this whole "W. stands for wrong" over the next several weeks and several days. And so you'll hear him questioning not only the economic record, but he'll attach it to healthcare. He'll attach it to other domestic issues.

PAULA ZAHN, HOST: But, Bill, you're basically telling us tonight you've got to be pretty angry to vote for John Kerry. Is that the bottom line here, when it comes to the economy?

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: If you're angry about the economy, you're voting for Kerry. There are not enough voters who are angry.

If you're upset over Iraq, you'll vote for John Kerry. But do you know that the number of people who are upset about Iraq has actually been dropping since the end of June when the White House arranged the transfer of power to the Iraqi authorities?

Because more and more Americans came to believe, well, it's not as much of an American problem as it used to be, even though Americans are continuing to get killed.

So both Iraq and the economy are just not big enough concerns. Not enough Americans are upset or angry to give the advantage to Kerry.

ZAHN: And we're going to look at a poll now to reinforce exactly what Bill just showed, with the president gaining a little bit of traction on the issue of Iraq.

Carlos, this is after he admitted that there had been some miscalculations made in the post-war plan. Why is it that John Kerry can't get any leverage out of that?

WATSON: Again, John Kerry himself, his personal credibility was damaged by the whole swift boat veterans controversy, and on top of that, the president, frankly, had a very good convention. And so those two things together has given him a very good six weeks.

For John Kerry, you really have to turn the page. In order to turn the page, realistically you can't talk about the economy, because that's not sexy enough issue. You've got to dress it up, if you will, or sex it up, and talk about outsourcing, which is clearly a hot or a wedge issue.

Another issue we might hear more about is the importation of prescription drugs. You just saw Medicare premiums shoot up some 17 percent, a lot of worry among seniors, seniors in key states. Wisconsin being one of them, as well.

You might hear more about that by John Kerry. But he's got to get the conversation focused on those kinds of issues.

ZAHN: But what he was focusing on today, Bill, was the issue of allowing the assault weapons ban to expire. And I think you've talked about this before, that the people who are included to get really hot about these issues are the ones that really want the ban to end.

So even with two-thirds of the American public in favor of extending the ban, and 64 percent of gun owners in favor of that, does this accrue to John Kerry's benefit to campaign on it?

SCHNEIDER: Well, it may not, because the fact is those 68 percent who favor the ban, the issue does not drive the vote for most of them.

But among the minority who oppose the ban, if you favor it, as John Kerry does, the issue really does drive the vote. So they feel much more intense about it; and intensity, not just numbers, intensity matters.

ZAHN: Finally, Carlos, a really controversial ad out today, give us a highlight on what it means and why it's being denounced. J.C. Watts was among the first accusing...

WATSON: DNC has a new ad out, actually 527 ones, targeting African-Americans. John Kerry knows he's got to get strong support and strong turnout among African-Americans.

J.C. Watts, a prominent African-American Republican, is saying this is ridiculous. Over the past 20 years, John Kerry hasn't been a strong supporter on some of these issues. But John Kerry knows that in order to make up some ground in the polls, Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania, he'll have to turn out the black vote.

ZAHN: Bill Schneider, Carlos Watson, thanks for covering so much territory with us this evening. Look forward to spending a lot of time with the two of you in the future. All this week, we will bring you the exclusive results of the latest CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup polls from key battleground states. Tomorrow night we'll see where voters in Michigan are leaning. And then on Wednesday, it's the latest polling from Minnesota.

And Thursday, poll numbers from Iowa, which Carlos touched on this evening. Plus our regular Thursday feature CNN's electoral college estimate map.

As of last Thursday, our polling shows President Bush leading in states that would give him 289 electoral votes. That is 19 more than the 270 needed to win.

Senator Kerry ahead in states that would give him 249 electoral votes, 21 short of the magic number. On Thursday, we'll see if those numbers have changed and test you all to see if you remember all those numbers.

Coming up, next year one of new faces in the Senate could be that of a rising Democratic star from Illinois.


BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS SENATE CANDIDATE: We as Democrats have not done as good of a job in clearly laying out the case.


ZAHN: Barack Obama's thoughts on the Kerry campaign when we return.


ZAHN: Practically overnight Barack Obama shot from complete obscurity to national prominence. He delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention this summer that was widely hailed as a strong speech even by Republicans.

Obama is a rising star in the Democratic Party, and he is running for one of Illinois's U.S. Senate seats. It is expected he will win the race, one of the stranger election battles of this year.

His original opponent dropped out in a scandal, and now he faces a last-minute replacement candidate, conservative Republican Alan Keyes, a long-time resident of Maryland.

We turn now to Barack Obama.


ZAHN: I wanted to start off tonight by continuing a subject that we addressed a little bit earlier this evening, and that is when you look at all these national polls that have been done recently, the trend line is not good for John Kerry, even on issues that his own campaign managers thought he would prevail on: on the issue of Iraq, on the issue of healthcare... OBAMA: Right.

ZAHN: ... and education.

OBAMA: Right.

ZAHN: Is John Kerry in trouble?

OBAMA: Well, I think there's no doubt that the Republicans not only had an effective convention, but that the swift boat controversy and the misinformation that was put out there had an impact on John Kerry's campaign.

ZAHN: You think they hurt him?

OBAMA: I think...

ZAHN: You think they slowed him down?

OBAMA: I think there's no doubt about it. But one of the things that I'm encouraged by is that if you look at the history of John Kerry's campaigns, he always comes on strong at the end.

And if you look at the underlying trends, in a state not -- like Illinois, what you see are people who have a great disquiet about the economy, about the war in Iraq, about terrorism.

And if the Democrats and John Kerry make the case clearly, concisely crisply over the next 50 days, then I think we can be successful.

ZAHN: But can you really argue that John Kerry is making the case when you look at numbers like these from the "Washington Post," ABC News, showing George Bush would do a better job, 53 percent of them to 37 percent for Senator John Kerry, this after President Bush admitted that he had made some miscalculations in the post-war plan in Iraq? What does that tell you?

OBAMA: Well, what it tells me is that the White House has been very effective at muddying the waters and that's to their credit. I mean, that's their job in trying to get the president reelected.

We as Democrats have not done as good of a job in clearly laying out the case. And I think...

ZAHN: Do you think John Kerry's been clear?

OBAMA: Well...

ZAHN: You know, he keeps on getting lambasted for voting to authorize the war and then turning around and not voting to fund it.

OBAMA: I think what is necessary now for John Kerry to do and for all of us who are interested in seeing a different direction for the country, is to focus very clearly and specifically on here are the things that we would do differently, not to simply carp on the negatives of George Bush.

ZAHN: But even some of John Kerry aides would admit that he didn't come out swinging fast enough when the swift boat ads started attacking him and that he alone was the guy that could have turned the focus back to healthcare and back to Iraq.

So didn't he get mired in this? Didn't he allow for himself to be boxed in?

OBAMA: We've got 50 days left. And I think John Kerry's task over the next 50 days is to dig deep and look inside himself and say, "Here are the things I care about. Here is the reason that I ran for president, and that is what I'm going to present to the American people."

And if he does that, I think he will be successful, because I think he is imminently better qualified than our current president to lead us through the challenges that we have in the future.

ZAHN: But once again, even some of his advisers would suggest that that voice you're talking about has been drowned out, because he's paying too much attention to focus groups and not drowning out the pollution of these warring factions in the campaign telling him what to talk about.

OBAMA: Well, I think what is absolutely true is that John Kerry cares deeply about America. And his service, his lifetime of service exhibits that. And he has to let himself loose and allow that to come out. I think that one of the...

ZAHN: Why hasn't he?

OBAMA: Well, I think it's difficult when you're running against a White House that is extraordinarily well-organized, well-financed, that they can knock you off your game. I mean I think -- again that's to their credit.

There are enormous opportunities for John Kerry to make the case in the final 50 days that we can do better than we're doing right now and that the direction of this country is one that is not going to deliver on the promise of America that all of us hope for.

ZAHN: But you just conceded to me he has been knocked off his game by this White House.

OBAMA: Well, I think John Kerry and the campaign itself would say that, with respect to the swift boat controversy, that Democrats as a whole could have done a better job responding to that quickly.

I think that one of the challenges that I always have in politics is, how do you vigorously defend yourself against unfair attacks, but not get so distracted that you don't make your case?

And that's difficult because our general instinct is when we've been maligned, is to respond. I mean, that's what all of us do in our day-to-day lives. And so it requires an extraordinary discipline, particularly when you're going up against one of the best political machines that has ever been created, to stay on focus.

ZAHN: I want to move on to the issue of race now, and something that Senator John Kerry had to say before the national Baptist convention in New Orleans.

Let's listen to it together.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The fact is, the wrong choices of the Bush administration reduced taxes for the few, and reduced opportunities for the middle class, and for those struggling to get into it, are taking us back to a two Americas, separate and unequal.

Our cities and our communities are being torn apart by forces that are just as divisive and destructive as Jim Crow.


ZAHN: Even Paul Begala, who is now advising Senator Kerry, said he went way too far with what he said. Did he? Are we living in Jim Crow's America today?

OBAMA: Well, certainly John Kerry doesn't believe that we're living in Jim Crow's America. I think what...

ZAHN: What did he mean?

OBAMA: Well, I think the point that needs to be made is that economic conditions are in a state in which some people have enormous opportunities. My children, your children have unlimited opportunities, whether they're black, white, Hispanic or Asian, but that the economic divide that exists in this country is widening.

ZAHN: But what you said is strikingly different from what Senator Kerry just said. He was playing the race card there, wasn't he?

OBAMA: Well, you know, what I think he is passionate about is making sure that all children have opportunity, a future for our kids.

ZAHN: But as you know, that is not the way those comments were interpreted, not only by conservatives, but even by people within his own campaign.

Let me try one more time. Is he or is he not guilty of playing the race card?

OBAMA: I don't think he's guilty of playing the race card. I think that using the term "Jim Crow" and "separate but equal" has powerful connotations beyond what he intended in that speech.


ZAHN: Barack Obama's mixed ethnicity has played a powerful role in his life, but has it been a help or an obstacle?


OBAMA: You're able to use it to strengthen you. Then you're in a unique position, because you can communicate with the majority, but you also have insight into what it means to be on the outside.



ZAHN: More now with Barack Obama. He is a 43-year-old Harvard- trained lawyer with an interesting family background.

His father was born in Kenya, his mother in Kansas. Obama is not only an Illinois state lawmaker and candidate for United States Senate, he also happens to be the author of the memoir, "Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance."


ZAHN: Let me ask you about your own upbringing.

OBAMA: Right.

ZAHN: We mentioned in the introduction that you were born of a black Kenyan father, a white mother from Kansas.

OBAMA: Right.

ZAHN: In your new book -- actually, it's not so new, but it's being re-released now that you're -- you're so famous...

OBAMA: Right.

ZAHN: You talk about the ambiguity of the world you lived in.

OBAMA: Right.

ZAHN: You were often described as perhaps the first black man that may ascend to the presidency of the United States?

OBAMA: Well, that's a little over the top at this point. I'm a poor state senator trying to make it to the United States Senate, but I think we have a good opportunity to do that.

ZAHN: But you're always categorized as black.

OBAMA: Right.

ZAHN: How do you view yourself?

OBAMA: You know, I've always been comfortable with describing myself as black or African-American, although since I wrote this book, "Dreams From My Father," that describes the fact that I have feet in many worlds, that it's not -- it's not something I view as in some way rejecting the white side of my family.

I've always viewed the African-American community and African- American culture as a hybrid culture by definition. You know, we're African; we're European; we're Native American.

And when I describe myself as African-American, what I'm embracing are a set of traditions and -- and struggles that I have had to confront in American society.

ZAHN: Given your mixed race, I'm still fascinated that you still identify yourself as a black American...

OBAMA: Absolutely.

ZAHN: ... in spite of your mother having been white. Why is that?

OBAMA: Well, proud of it. Because I think that, you know, one of the things I tell people is if I'm catching a cab right outside this office, the cabdriver doesn't go by and say, "Hey, there's a mixed-race guy." They say, "There's a black guy."

And there's nothing wrong with that, and I'm not ashamed of that. You know, I have been blessed to be part of an African-American culture that is part of the larger American story. You know, I draw on the stories and the songs. I attend church. I'm married to an African-American woman. I'm raising two African-American children.

I don't feel that that definition in any way excludes me from embracing and loving the white side of my family or embracing and loving the broader story of America. I think it's part and parcel of the same thing.

ZAHN: But with this meteoric rise that everybody is focused on, would you say being black has helped you, has enhanced your career?

OBAMA: You know, what I think it has done is it has given me a set of perspectives that I otherwise not -- would not have gotten.

I think that if you are lucky enough to survive some of the challenges and difficulties of being an African-American or a person of color in this country, or any minority group in this country, and you're able to use it to strengthen you, then you're in a unique position, because you can communicate with the majority, but you also have insight into what it means to be on the outside.

And I think hopefully that makes you more sympathetic, more empathetic to all people. Because you recognize that not everybody has my good fortune. There are other people who might be me if it hadn't been for a few lucky breaks. And that makes me a little more concerned about them and hopefully informs my politics and my writing.

ZAHN: Barack Obama... OBAMA: Thank you so much.

ZAHN: ... a pleasure to meet you in person, a pleasure to have you with us this evening.

OBAMA: It was a great pleasure, Paula. I look forward to being back. Thank you very much.

ZAHN: Thank you.


ZAHN: And we have one more look at the presidential race tonight, from doormats to hubcaps and everything in between for the discriminating voter/souvenir hunter. That's next.


ZAHN: Well, if you're the proud partisan type, nothing feels quite as good as slapping that campaign sticker on your bumper. The odds are you're either for Bush or Kader -- Kerry or Nader was the name I was trying to say.

But Jeanne Moos found that the ways you can show your political colors are endless and sometimes a bit bizarre.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): OK, they're a little hard to make out when you're moving, but why settle for old- fashioned bumper stickers, when you can stick President Bush on your hubcaps, or carry condoms that say redefeat Bush, or take a knockout punch at John Kerry, or give President Bush the boot...

(on camera) You missed a spot.

(voice-over) ... with the Bush doormat.

God bless the Internet. It's opened up a whole new world of political merchandise.


MOOS: So does the head of the Democratic National Committee. Terry McAuliffe has one outside his door.

(on camera) Now is that nice to do to our president?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't like him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wouldn't wipe my feet on George Bush.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're too young for that.


MOOS (voice-over): Or maybe you'd prefer to let your pet do the dirty work. That is if your pet isn't petrified of politics. At, you can choose to chew on Bush or Kerry at $13 bucks apiece.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Get him, Ripley, chew him up.

MOOS: Their slogan?

(on camera) You can't get even, but your pets can.

(voice-over) No wonder, they also sell Saddam and Osama.

(on camera) Finally, someone who can catch Osama.

(voice-over) If you want a more compassionate canine, offers the John Kerry "That dog won't hunt" T-shirt, as well as the "Anyone But Bush" T-shirt, modeled by Julius.

You can even turn your baby into a political poster child.

(on camera) "Mommy, this mess is nothing compared to Bush's war in Iraq."

(voice-over) Though Nate modeled the bib, his dad is a Republican.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His dad will let him spit up all over it.

MOOS: Which Nate did seconds after we removed the bib.

You can count down to election day with timepieces from At, you can get Senator Kerry flipping waffles. A Bush growing nose watch is in the works, similar to the Bush Pinocchio mask favored by protestors.

As for the hubcaps honoring President Bush, we tooled around in them, but got very few comments.

(on camera) Would you put these hubcabs on your car?


MOOS (voice-over0: Try for $70.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do they have a toilet lid?

MOOS: Not that we know of.

Nader supporters might enjoy Julius gnawing on Kerry on a Bush doormat. These guys can teach even the candidates a thing or two about mud slinging.


ZAHN: Ouch. You can imagine what Jeanne Moos' apartment looks like. She has to collect this job -- stuff for her job.

We'll be right back.


ZAHN: Here is the result of tonight's quick vote. We asked you if Kitty Kelly's reporting that the president used cocaine at Camp David while his father was president ends up being proven accurate, will it affect your vote?

Well, 58 percent of you said yes; 42 percent said no. This is clearly not a scientific poll, but we'd like to thank all of you for responding and remind you that the White House says that this new book deserves to be in the trash bin.

We're glad you all could join us tonight and hope you will join us as we continue to cover politics exclusively this hour. Tomorrow was the White House warned about prisoner abuse years ago? We'll tackle that one. An investigative reporter who broke the Abu Ghraib story.

Thanks for joining us tonight. Good night.



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