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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS
Hurricane Ivan Approaches Gulf Coast; Kerry on the Attack; CBS Stands by National Guard Story; National Guard Members Supporting Bush; Survey: Bush Trailing Among Persuadable Voters
Aired September 15, 2004 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: Ivan approaches and Gulf Coast residents exit in droves. Today, we're tracking the hurricane, as well as politics.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This president has created more excuses than jobs.
ANNOUNCER: John Kerry tests a new line, unleashing a tough attack on the president's economic policies.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States.
ANNOUNCER: The commander in chief reviewed by the troops. Are National Guard officers moved by the flap over Bush's service in the '70s?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are not picking sides, but listening to what everybody has to say.
ANNOUNCER: D.C.'s comeback kid. Former Mayor Marion Barry proves in a primary that past scandal won't keep him down.
ANNOUNCER: Now, live from Washington, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us.
Well, if you didn't already know, we are 90 minutes now. That gives us more time to cover the latest campaign news and, today, to bring you frequent updates on Hurricane Ivan.
And we do want to begin with the storm starting to pummel the coast of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and the Florida Panhandle with powerful winds and rain.
CNN Meteorologist Jacqui Jeras is tracking Ivan's every move.
Jacqui, give us the latest.
JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Judy, the center of Ivan is now moving in within almost 150 miles of the Alabama coastline and the outer bands, these dangerous outer bands are now making their way onshore.
A tornado watch has been in effect for about an hour now around the I-10 Corridor. And we want to zoom in because now we have two tornado warnings to talk about. Radar is indicating some pretty strong rotation, this one for Baldwin and Escambia counties then also for Bay County. We'll start out here as the population very large, arriving in Orange Beach within just another couple of minutes.
And there you can see at 23 past the hour over towards Magnolia Springs. Then we'll track on down and head a little bit closer to our next storm. There you can see this one does include Panama City. Tornado warning in effect for Bay County there. These are moving very quickly up to the north and to the west, around 55 miles per hour, should be arriving in Freeport about 27 after the hour.
Now, we are watching these outer bands continue to move on in. And as they continue to do so, each one should be stronger. But remember, also, as these squall lines move in, we are going to start to see those winds increase very dramatically. The forecast track staying on target at this time. And our forecast cone of error is getting even smaller. And although this storm has sped up a little bit, we're concerned that landfall may be a little bit earlier, more like 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, rather than 6:00 or 7:00 -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: All right, Jacqui, and we're going to be checking in with you several times over the next hour, hour and a half. Thanks very much.
As Ivan churns onward, nearly two million residents along the Gulf of Mexico have been ordered to evacuate. Most already have left their homes. In Louisiana alone, at least 33 shelters have opened for displaced residents. But they're already full. And so are local hotels.
The White House says President Bush spoke this morning with the governors of Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama about Ivan and preparations for federal aid.
Let's get a check now of the situation in the Mobile, Alabama, area from CNN's own Bill Hemmer.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Judy this afternoon.
The way Jacqui describes it exactly the way we're experiencing it now, the first band of rain now coming through the Mobile area. We've been waiting for a couple hours now watching that radar on the screen on our own televisions here in Mobile wondering when the rain was going to come. And indeed it has at this point. There are winds still out of the east. But again we're getting some gusts over 40, maybe 45 miles an hour, the maximum strength here, but really not even the leading edge just yet of what Ivan will bring in several hours from now.
Locally in Mobile, Judy, here's what's happening. The local officials, city commissioners, the mayor, they've gathered now at the emergency office management area. They will ride the storm out there and monitor it for all the residents, 250,000 of them, or at least those who left behind stuck around here in Mobile, Alabama. State routes 188 and 193, very small roads here, the reason I point it out, those roads have been closed, these in low-lying areas, right up near the Gulf area, which gives you an indication of how much concern there will be with flooding, especially in those low-lying areas.
Earlier today, I-65 that runs north out of Mobile, the southbound lanes, Judy, were closed so they could reverse the traffic, give you four lanes going north to help with the evacuation. Our CNN crews have scoured the Mobile area. They tell me it's an absolute ghost town in areas. One coffee shop says they will stay open and will try and defy the odds of Mother Nature. But all I can do is remind people at home what the mayor of Pensacola told us yesterday.
He said with Mother Nature at this strength, use humility. And indeed that is what will be happening here with our crews throughout the storm. It's getting more windy at this point, Judy, but again just a shade of things to come for Ivan at 135-miles-an-hour strong later tonight and into the early Thursday morning hours -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: The mayor's advice sounds like the right advice for everybody involved.
WOODRUFF: All right, Bill Hemmer, thank you very much, in Mobile.
Well, we're going to have more Ivan updates throughout INSIDE POLITICS and, of course, throughout the day and night as the storm comes close to landfall. "ANDERSON COOPER 360" will be airing live from Mobile at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, and then, at 10:00 Eastern, a special two-hour "NEWSNIGHT" on Ivan and its impact.
Right now, let's get back to our usual beat while we can, politics.
John Kerry is in Wisconsin this hour for a rally in Madison. He returned to the state after giving an economic speech this morning in another battleground, Michigan. One new Michigan poll shows Senator Kerry now leading President Bush by six points among likely voters and seven points among the wider pool of registered voters. Kerry tried today to cement that advantage with a new offensive against Bush's record on jobs.
CNN's Frank Buckley is traveling with the Democratic presidential nominee.
FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Senator John Kerry appeared before the Detroit Economic Club and launched a scathing critique of President George Bush's economic policies. KERRY: His is the excuse presidency, never wrong, never responsible, never to blame. President Bush's desk isn't where the buck stops. It's where the blame begins. He's blamed just about everybody but himself and his administration for America's economic problems.
BUCKLEY: Kerry cited as evidence of Bush economic failures five million more Americans joining the 40 million who have no health insurance and 4.3 million more Americans falling below the poverty line during the past four years. Kerry also said President Bush is the first president in 72 years to lose jobs during his term; 1.6 million people lost private sector jobs.
KERRY: This is the man who promised that his tax cuts -- it was his promise, not mine, to America -- that his tax cuts would create six million new jobs. Today, three tax cuts later, we've lost a million. That's seven million jobs short of his prediction.
BUCKLEY: Kerry said he would roll back those tax cuts on people earning more than $200,000 per year to pay for his economic plan, which includes cutting the corporate tax rate by 5 percent and removing what he called tax loopholes that reward companies for shipping jobs out of the U.S.
KERRY: For the small businesses and the manufacturers who decide to add more employees to the payroll, we're going to provide a new jobs tax credit for every person that you hire. And to those small business owners who want to hire more employees, but they can't afford them, we're going to give you up to a 50 percent tax cut on your health care contributions when you cover your workers.
BUCKLEY (on camera): Bush campaign officials say that Senator Kerry cites only the most pessimistic of statistics in describing the U.S. economy. And he ignores what they describe as a remarkable recovery that's taking place. Still, Kerry strategists believe the argument over the economy is one that will resonate among voters, especially those in battleground states hit hard by job losses.
Frank Buckley, CNN, Detroit.
WOODRUFF: Meantime, both Kerry and Bush are reaching out to Latino voters today. Kerry returns here to Washington to address the Congressional Hispanic Caucus tonight. And the Kerry camp is launching a new Spanish language ad today. It focuses on rising health care costs and the burden on Hispanics, many of whom are uninsured.
At the White House this hour, President Bush is hosting a Hispanic Heritage Month concert and reception, his only public event of the day.
In the Bush-Kerry race, some surprising poll numbers today from New York state. Senator Kerry's lead in that traditionally Democratic state has narrowed to single digits in new Marist and Quinnipiac polls of registered voters. The most recent poll before today taken in early August showed Kerry with an 18-point lead.
Well, the campaign fight over jobs and the economy seems to be getting fiercer by the day. Up next, Bush and Kerry allies talk about the candidates' economic plans and how much the nation is hurting.
Also ahead, the docudrama continues. We'll have the latest on the paper trail in the Bush National Guard flap and whether some of those memos were forged or not.
Plus, a snapshot of persuadable voters. Are they leaning more toward Bush or Kerry?
With 48 days until the election, this is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.
WOODRUFF: As we saw earlier, Senator John Kerry issued a stinging indictment of President Bush's economic policies during a speech today in Detroit.
With me now from Capitol Hill to talk more about the economy, Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow.
Senator Stabenow, reacting to Senator Kerry's speech, the Bush- Cheney campaign came right back and said this is more pessimism about an economy that has created over 1.7 million jobs. It's a rehash of tired ideas and higher taxes.
SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW (D), MICHIGAN: Well, Judy, nothing could be further from the truth. What we are hearing from the Bush administration is just a series of excuses and proposals that are more of the same. And I can tell you, in Michigan, we need to do better than that. And that's why I'm supporting John Kerry.
He is talking about the future, not the fact that we have seen more jobs lost in this administration than at any other time since the Great Depression. What Senator Kerry is talking about is creating real jobs here in America, rewarding those with tax cuts, rather than giving tax cuts to those that take our jobs overseas, really tackling the cost of health care. You know, the cost of health care has gone up 57 percent since President Bush took office for our businesses and for our families and seniors.
And he's talking about doing real things to cut costs, opening the border to Canada, which is only a five-minute drive across the border for us. And we can cut prescription drug prices in half, not only for seniors and families, but for businesses, and do it safely. And so Senator Kerry's got very specific, real plans, more jobs, more health care, cut the deficit, which is the largest deficit in the history of the country.
WOODRUFF: Senator, let me quote something else from Ken Mehlman, who is chairman of the Bush/Cheney campaign.
He said: "John Kerry has voted 98 times to increase taxes, totaling $2.3 trillion and," he said, "126 times against tax cuts that would total $5.3 trillion."
STABENOW: Well, first of all, we need to look at results.
And I have to tell you, those kind of numbers were used against me in my campaign before. They add up things in all kinds of ways that aren't accurate. And that's what's happened to Senator Kerry. The bottom line, we have to look at results. The results are that, because of this president's tax policies, we have the largest budget deficit in the history of the country. We have average Americans not getting a tax cut, but being totally squeezed, costs of health care up, costs of college education up, costs of gasoline up, jobs going down, jobs going overseas.
And it's amazing. Not only does the administration think that exporting jobs is a good idea, but the head of the Council of Economic Advisers said the way to cut health care costs one way would be to have radiologists in India read our X-rays. They are so out of touch and so full of excuses. We can do better than that.
WOODRUFF: Treasury Secretary John Snow, I talked to him last week. He pointed out that in 49 of the 50 states, the unemployment rate lower today than it was a year ago. In other words, 12 straight months he said of job growth.
STABENOW: First of all, we have to look at this whole administration's four years. When President Clinton ran for reelection, he had created 10 million jobs. So the numbers that they're talking about just don't add up.
And what we're talking about is a huge hole they've created. And they've begun to slowly dig their way out of the hole. My concern is, as a member of the Budget Committee, is that their proposals for the future will put us in an even bigger hole. They're talking about $3 trillion more in programs that he has -- that the president has proposed. And Goldman Sachs says that Senator Kerry is the credible one in terms of the deficit and the economy.
WOODRUFF: Senator Stabenow, we're going to have to leave it there. But we thank you very much for being with us. Thank you very much.
And now with me from the White House is Suzy DeFrancis. She's the deputy assistant to the president for communications.
Mrs. DeFrancis, thank you very, very much.
SUZY DEFRANCIS, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY ASSISTANT FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Thank you, Judy.
WOODRUFF: What about Senator Stabenow's point just now? She talked about the deficit being the largest in the history of the country, and she said the president now proposing more than $3 trillion in new programs.
DEFRANCIS: Well, Judy, I think this is just today Senator Kerry talking about his health care plan that was going to be $1.5 trillion.
Look, a federal budget is like a family budget. You have to take care of your priorities. In the last 3 1/2 years, we've had a priority of protecting our homeland and fighting the war against terror. That's the situation, the reality the president faced when he came to office. We were also entering a recession. We had to get the economy growing again. And he did with his tax cuts. That's why we've had 1.7 million new jobs.
I think what the American people do is, they look at the record. They see President Bush came in. He was faced with a recession. He took action. We've now had 12 straight months of job gains. We see real after-tax personal income up 10 percent. Interest rates are still low. Mortgage rates are still low, so families can refinance their homes.
And then they look at Senator Kerry's record and they see a history of raising taxes on the American people.
WOODRUFF: And I did just ask Senator Stabenow about that. But what about one of Senator Kerry's central points? First president, she said, George Bush, in 72 years to have actually lost jobs on his watch. Separately, Democrats talk about the slowest growth rate in a recovery in 70 years. You're talking about -- what they're saying, as compared to the last decade, seven decades, the country is in worse shape economically.
DEFRANCIS: Again, Judy, I think you have to look at the situation the president faced. We were entering a recession. We had an attack of 9/11, where we lost over one million jobs in just about three months. We had corporate scandals. We had the tech bubble burst. So we had to overcome a lot. But we have overcome a lot, because President Bush has put in place some very positive policies.
The unemployment rate today, Judy, is about where it was when President Clinton ran for reelection. So -- but I think President Bush has more he wants to do. He wants to make American companies more competitive. I was interested to hear Senator Kerry talking about small businesses and health care, yet he doesn't even want small businesses to be able to band together in association health plans and negotiate down their health care costs, just like big companies do.
But the president has plans for that. He has plans to help workers and young people coming along to get the kind of training and education for the jobs of the future. We are living in a changing economy. And that causes anxiety. But it also causes great opportunity if we can get people the training and the education they need for those new jobs.
WOODRUFF: Much more to talk about. But today we're going to have to leave it there.
Suzy DeFrancis, joining us from the White House, thank you very much. We appreciate it.
DEFRANCIS: Thank you, Judy. WOODRUFF: A longtime and sometimes controversial political figure makes another comeback. Marion Barry is back on the Washington political scene. Details on his latest move ahead when INSIDE POLITICS returns.
WOODRUFF: Former Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry has made another political comeback. Barry, who was caught smoking crack cocaine in an FBI videotape in 1990, won yesterday's Democratic primary for a city council seat.
Our national correspondent Bruce Morton looks at some of the highs and lows of Barry's political career.
MARION BARRY, FORMER D.C. MAYOR: This is not only a victory for Marion Barry, but for God and the people of Ward 8. There's a new Ward 8 coming.
BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The old lion, the old swashbuckler, had done it one more time. Walked more slowly in this campaign, looked more frail, diabetes, high blood pressure, age 68. But this is his place, his ward.
BARRY: Where you been? How you doing?
MORTON: He still knows the folk here. For years, Marion Barry towered over Washington, three consecutive terms as mayor. Then an FBI sting busted him for using crack cocaine. But he did his time, six months, and came back to Ward 8, the city's poorest, to run for the city council in 1992. He won, of course.
BARRY: Nothing wrong with getting knocked down, for making a mistake. What is right, though, is to get up. And me and Ward 8, we're going to get up off of our knees. We're going to do something about all of these problems that are facing us.
MORTON: Back on the council, could he run for mayor again? Sure. It's what he does.
BARRY: If not now, when? If not me, who?
MORTON: And won, of course, and retired, but couldn't stick it. So he's back now for the ward, on the council one more time. Success, how sweet it is.
CROWD: Barry! Barry! Barry!
MORTON: Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.
WOODRUFF: There are new developments today in the controversy over those CBS documents on George Bush's National Guard service. We'll bring you up to date when we come back.
Plus, we are keeping our eye on Ivan -- a hurricane update just minutes away.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
Coming up at 5:00 Eastern, the Gulf Coast beginning to feel the winds of Hurricane Ivan. Right now, it's expected to make landfall near Mobile, Alabama, early tomorrow morning. But the weather clearly a factor already. The Weather Service issues its next report at the beginning of our show in about 90 minutes.
A top congressional Republican wants the House of Representatives to investigate CBS News. The network is accused of using forged documents in a report about President Bush's National Guard service. We'll have a live report from CNN's Howard Kurtz, also of "The Washington Post."
And Martha Stewart says she's ready to go to prison now, even though she's still appealing her conviction on conspiracy and obstruction charges. Declaring she wants to get the sentence over with as soon as possible, Stewart is asking authorities to schedule a date for her to start that five-month prison term.
Those stories, much more, coming up later today on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."
Now back to JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.
WOODRUFF: Welcome back to our 90-minute edition of INSIDE POLITICS. We have expanded through the November election, November 2, to bring you the latest from the campaign trail.
But today we are also keeping an eye on the weather. The Gulf Coast is dreading Hurricane Ivan's arrival, a powerful Category Four storm just hours away from landfall.
Let's get the latest now on Ivan's whereabouts and its projected path from meteorologist Jacqui Jeras.
WOODRUFF: All right, Jacqui. Keeping a very close eye on all of this. Thank you very much.
And we'd ask you to stay with CNN for continuing coverage of Hurricane Ivan. We're going to have updates on INSIDE POLITICS and throughout the day and into the night as Ivan approaches land.
Some new developments today in the controversy over President Bush's National Guard service. CBS News is standing by its recent report on Bush's Guard record. But some experts who examined the memos used in that report are now fueling new doubts about the documents.
CNN's Jeanne Meserve has the latest on the story.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Judy.
CBS is expected to issue a statement this afternoon on the documents controversy. But CBS correspondent Bob Schieffer, host of "Face the Nation," made these remarks last night in Sioux City, Iowa.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB SCHIEFFER, HOST, CBS NEWS: I think we have to find some way to show our viewers why they're not forgeries. I don't know how we're going to do that, without -- without violating the confidentiality of sources.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MESERVE: Three experts with whom CBS consulted prior to airing its story have now come forward saying they raised issues about the authenticity of the documents.
Linda James was given two documents by CBS for you authentification. She said she had questions about the signatures and typography. I asked her if she advised CBS not to air the story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LINDA JAMES, DOCUMENT EXAMINER: I believe I did say it that way. But my main was to caution them not to use the handwriting part. Because there was incomplete evidence, and that I could not authenticate these documents for them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MESERVE: Emily Will, another document examiner with whom CBS consulted, says she called CBS before the initial "60 Minutes II" broadcast to reiterate concerns she had voiced earlier to CBS about the authenticity of the documents.
She says she warned CBS, "If you run this on Wednesday, on Thursday you are going to have 100 document examiners asking you these questions."
In a statement last night, CBS said both Will and James were peripheral and that they deferred to another expert. Both James and Will categorically deny that they deferred to anybody, though James said she did refer CBS to Marcel Matley, yet another document examiner.
CBS reported that Matley judged the documents to be real, but Matley disputes that. He tells CNN, "When I saw the documents, I could not verify the documents were authentic or inauthentic. I could only verify that the signatures came from the same source as other verified documents."
Other experts with whom CNN has consulted have serious doubts about the signatures.
Meanwhile, the woman who was secretary for Jerry Killian, the reported author of the memos, tells the "Dallas Morning News" she did not type the documents, and she believes they are fake. But she says they do accurately reflect Killian's attitudes at the time -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: This dispute goes on.
MESERVE: It does. And we wait to see what CBS says.
WOODRUFF: Hear what CBS says, I guess, this afternoon.
WOODRUFF: Jeanne, thank you very much.
Well, the Bush administration weighed in again today on the controversy over the president's National Guard service, saying it is all tied to partisan politics.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: These are old, recycled attacks, and the Democrats have made it clear that they intend to try to tear down the president and throw the kitchen sink at us because they can't run on John Kerry's record and because they see him falling behind in the polls.
And that's what this is about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOODRUFF: In Congress, meanwhile, Democrats are keeping the issue in the spotlight. Let's check in now with CNN congressional correspondent Joe Johns -- Joe.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Judy, Republicans are being very aggressive on this today. There is already a call for a subcommittee investigation, and now the No. 3 Republican in the House of Representatives, Roy Blunt, has written a strongly worded letter signed by 39 members of the House of Representatives to the president of CBS News.
It accuses CBS of becoming part of a campaign to deceive the public and defame the president. The next to last line in the letter says, "We urge CBS to retract its story and to disclose the identities of the people who have used your network to deceive your viewers in the final weeks of a presidential election."
Roy Blunt talked to CNN's Ted Barrett just a little while ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. ROY BLUNT (R-MO), MAJORITY WHIP: Clearly, their sources aren't what they need to be or they're not -- they're not willing to reveal even the nature of who their sources are. Their experts don't really agree that these documents any longer are what they were purported to be.
It's hard for me to believe, and apparently a number of my colleagues share this concern, that CBS, an organization with a long and distinguished history in journalism in the past would be willing to stand by this story when virtually everybody else has questions about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNS: Now, Republicans in the Senate have been talking it up, as well.
Of course you just mentioned that CBS does expect to release a statement later today.
There is, of course, a political component to all of this. One top Republican strategist I talked to today said this helps motivate the base. It keeps the issue and the question of liberal bias in the media alive. He called it simply almost like a dream.
Democrats, of course, are saying this is not the great issue Republicans think it is. They say it's keeping the Bush Guard story alive, and keeping the media focused on his National Guard service.
Judy, back to you.
WOODRUFF: All right, Joe Johns. It's hopping over at the capitol, as well.
Well, President Bush sidestepped the controversy over his Guard service in his speech yesterday to the National Guard association in Las Vegas. But is the issue getting much attention from the men and women attending the conference?
Here now CNN's senior White House correspondent John King.
JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is not your father's National Guard, or your president's for that matter. Men and women once labeled weekend warriors now on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in presidential politics.
The commander in chief was enthusiastically received Tuesday. Democratic challenger John Kerry makes his case for the National Guard association Thursday.
BRIG. GEN. MYRON ASHCRAFT, OHIO NATIONAL GUARD (RET.): Well, we are not picking sides but listening to what everybody has to say and what happens behind the -- in the voting booth stays in the voting booth. KING: Spend a little time in the hall and the impression is this is a pro-Bush group.
Some, like Mr. Bush, served in the Guard back in the Vietnam days.
(on camera) (UNINTELLIGIBLE) received special treatment?
BRIG. GEN. JOHN BATHKE, MINNESOTA NATIONAL GUARD (RET.): Nothing. It's what he's done for the last four years that counts. He's going to defend our country, and I support him completely.
KING: Others just back from long stints overseas say the campaign focus should be on winning today's war.
LT. COL. RONNY COATS, NORTH CAROLINA NATIONAL GUARD: Right now the president absolutely supports what we're trying to do, to defeat this war on terrorism. I really don't try to get in to what happened 30, 35 years ago.
KING: It is far from a scientific sampling. With the uniform comes respect for the commander in chief, even for those who say they haven't decided who will get their vote.
James Robinson of South Carolina wants to hear more about the economy and military issues like an exit strategy from Iraq. Not more about military records.
LT. JAMES ROBINSON, SOUTH CAROLINA NATIONAL GUARD: Both guys served. A lot of people didn't serve, you know. You got to give them credit for both serving.
KING: Conversations off camera are more candid: a few complaints about extended deployments, a grumbling or two about equipment and supplies, and both and on camera concerns about the violent insurgency in Iraq and memories not so distant.
CAPT. JIM FLOWERS, MICHIGAN NATIONAL GUARD: There was a lot of indirect fire from mortars and rockets that came in to Mosul, where my unit spent about eight months. And when we moved down to Kirkuk, it was pretty much the same thing.
KING: The pride in taking such a prominent role in Afghanistan and Iraq is evident. And it is clear that some think impressions of their service could somehow be diminished with all this focus on what the candidates did or didn't do 30 years ago.
BRIG. GEN. MARTHA RAINVILLE: What's important is where we're headed, not necessarily where we've been and what their service was. All their service is honorable. I think we honor all our men and women today by acknowledging that and moving ahead.
KING: Moving ahead with the election now just seven weeks away. And the knowledge many in their ranks will be overseas and in harm's way for some time to come, no matter who wins the right to be commander in chief. John King, CNN.
KING: And no question that Senator Kerry will be greeted politely, even warmly when he addresses the association tomorrow. Although it is clear, Judy, when you walk that hall, President Bush has succeeded with many of these National Guard members in planting the seed that Senator Kerry is indecisive or has had conflicting or changing positions when it comes to Iraq.
So an interesting test for Senator Kerry tomorrow. And his aides tell us he will make the case that President Bush has put those troops and others unnecessarily in harm's way by not having a good plan to win the peace -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: So, John, the -- the expectation of these Guard people attending this convention is they don't want to hear any more about this political flap between the president...
KING: They don't -- they certainly don't think it is the most important thing what Senator Kerry did 30 years ago, what the president did 30 years ago. Some of them say they'd like to hear the questions, that it does reflect a little bit on each man's character.
But most important to them -- and many of them are just back from getting shot at; we should make that crystal clear -- is what is the exit strategy for Iraq? Will they, now that they are home, have to rotate back into Iraq, whether it is a year or two years. Some say they think they'll be going back even three years from now.
They want to hear more about how to get the troops home and how to quiet the insurgency. Many, Judy, watching the headlines in recent days, saying they're glad they're home. They think the situation on the ground is actually getting worse.
WOODRUFF: Whoa. And talking about going back in three years, that's -- that's grim. All right. John King, thank you very much.
Well, Hurricane Ivan keeps up his relentless march toward the Gulf Coast. The latest on the storm, including a live report from Panama City, Florida, when we come back.
WOODRUFF: Hurricane Ivan is now on course to slam ashore near Mobile, Alabama, early tomorrow. The Florida Panhandle, farther east, also could see some of the worst from the storm.
CNN's Rick Sanchez is in the spring break Mecca of Panama City with a look at the conditions there.
And Rick, first of all, welcome to CNN. You are brand new. We're glad to have you aboard.
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks for introducing me in such a dramatic fashion, Judy. Especially with everything going on behind me.
We have been following this hurricane for the better part of the last couple of days, and certainly no spring breakers here. At least not now.
We have seen things change over the last hour or so. We've seen the winds pick up. We've seen the surf rise. As well. And we've also seen more of the beach covered by this standing water than we have in the time that we've been here.
And of course that's the big danger when you're talking about an area like Panama City Beach, because there are peninsulas here. And the fear is if there were a large enough storm surge it would cover part of this peninsula and possibly cut off some of the people who live here.
And that is why, we should add, most of the people in this area have been asked to evacuate. And the great majority of them have heeded that warning. Perhaps in part because of what they saw with both Hurricane Charley, which many still believe took a little bit of a deviation from what they felt was going to be its course, and also the aftermath of Hurricane Frances in the center part of the state. Not everyone, though, has left.
I'd like to introduce you to Bill and Karen Ferguson. Bill and Karen are originally from Dallas, Texas, but they're visiting the area. They've had a home here for quite some time.
A lot of people would ask why are you still here, given the fact that there's this massive Category Four hurricane off your coast?
KAREN FERGUSON, RESIDENT OF PANAMA CITY, FLORIDA: There's nowhere to go. I mean, everywhere you go, there's no place for you. There's no way to get out. The roads are just -- I've watched television, and the roads are just packed. People are going nowhere.
SANCHEZ: Well, here's the danger, because we're on a peninsula and you guys I believe have a home on this island. Is that right?
K. FERGUSON: Yes.
SANCHEZ: This area, I should say. It's not an island. If it were -- if the storm surge were to increase, part of this island could be cut off. I imagine before that happens you're monitoring the news, and you're going to get out before that happens, correct?
K. FERGUSON: Probably, if it turns.
BILL FERGUSON, RESIDENT OF PANAMA CITY, FLORIDA: We're pretty sure. We've got a bag packed. We've got the ice in the cooler and the drinks and plenty of water.
And if nothing else, we'll take a ride, go east and then when they say it's clear we'll come back. If we can get across the bridge, the city might close the bridges at 60 mile an hour winds. And it's going to get close to that pretty quick, I think. SANCHEZ: Well, thanks for talking to us. We certainly appreciate your time.
We're going to be monitoring things here. We've also gotten information just a little while ago that we should add, Judy, that an area about 50 miles from here in a place called Gulf Key, they have some homes that are very close to the water. And unfortunately, many of them team to be teeter tottering right now. And if the surf comes up any higher they might actually go into the drink.
We'll be following that, as well. I'm Rick Sanchez here in Panama City Beach. Judy, back over to you.
WOODRUFF: All right, Rick, thank you very much. And we especially appreciate your guests, and we hope they stay safe, as well. Thank you.
When we return, the latest Annenberg Election Survey is out. We'll find out what it shows for the Bush and Kerry campaigns when INSIDE POLITICS returns.
WOODRUFF: President Bush gets a boost and a bit of bad news in the latest National Annenberg Election Survey.
He made slight gains from the Republican National Convention on two important issues: the war on terror and leading the U.S. military. The survey also showed that he may be losing support among an important group, persuadable voters.
With me now, Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Adam Clymer. They're both with the University of Pennsylvania and the Annenberg Public Policy Center.
Thanks to you both.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, let me begin with you. The focus of the survey, how is it different from these other mainly horse race polls that we've been looking at? What's different? And who are these persuadable voters?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON, ANNENBERG PUBLIC POLICY CENTER, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: Persuadable voters are those who say that they may change their minds. Or who say they are undecided.
So the people who fall in and out of that category can actually differ week to week.
What makes this poll different is our interest in what people know and what people's attitudes are toward the issues. We're much more interested in that than we are in who's ahead and who's behind.
WOODRUFF: And again, these are different than independent voters, for example, which some polls have looked at and seen some pickup for President Bush. JAMIESON: Independent voters, there are some independent voters in this group. But this group is not necessarily made up of independent voters.
WOODRUFF: Adam Clymer, among other things you looked at President Bush's approval rating, and while again, these horse race polls showing some pickup for President Bush among the larger group of registered voters, what happens when you look at the so-called persuadable voters?
ADAM CLYMER, ANNENBERG PUBLIC POLICY CENTER, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: First of all, among all registered voters he basically didn't gain once the little convention bounce deflated. And among persuadable voters he went down. He's actually -- persuadable voters like him less than they did before the convention.
WOODRUFF: How do you account for that?
CLYMER: A tiny bit of it is that he persuaded some of the persuadable voters to be for him. But that doesn't explain the rest of it, and I've been spending more than a day on the computer seeing if there was an easy explanation, and there isn't.
But the persuadable voters were being negative about a whole bunch of thing. We've got so -- nine points less confident about him on the economy. And other things like that. They are not hot on Bush.
WOODRUFF: What else are you seeing, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, in these numbers that help you understand what's on the mind of these persuadable voters?
JAMIESON: One of the things that we're noticing is that the persuadable voters as well as the electorate at large doesn't see that either candidate has a clear plan for what to do in Iraq.
One of the reasons that that's important because it accurately reflects the press not being able to get good answers from these candidates. And the larger question is does either one have a plan on an issue that many consider important.
WOODRUFF: So if neither one -- in fact, we saw the numbers on -- 17 percent say George Bush does not have a clear plan...
CLYMER: Seventeen percent say that he has.
WOODRUFF: I'm sorry. That he has a clear plan. And the numbers are no better for John Kerry. But that's more of a worry for Kerry, isn't it?
CLYMER: Probably. But it's not good for either of them. I mean, people expect presidents to have plans in wartime. I mean, there are people -- there are people who are saying, "Well, he's got us into the war. He ought to have a plan to get out."
Whereas it's a little unclear as to just where Kerry was getting us into war.
WOODRUFF: Something I also want to ask both of you about and Kathleen in particular. And that is the point you made today in your briefing on this poll, about how what happens when polls begin to show one candidate slipping in the polls.
What happens to the press? At least, what we were saying about that?
JAMIESON: We run the risk that the press creates a self- fulfilling prophecy, based on what is a very inexact science.
In this election in particular, with high levels of effort to get grassroots people motivated and mobilized who might not have been mobilized before, all those polls that have screens about likely voters are probably suspect.
When somebody seems to be behind the press tends to focus on what they're doing wrong, whether their campaign reshuffling is working, and their message doesn't get out. As a result there's a disadvantage in the press for the person who's behind. And that can, in fact, make it more difficult for that person to get ahead.
And the tragedy occurs when the person isn't actually as far behind as the press thinks. Remember, Dole wasn't 15 points behind as the press said in '96. It turned out when people voted it was only seven.
WOODRUFF: Adam, as a former reporter, do you see that going on this time?
CLYMER: Yes. I mean, I think...
WOODRUFF: You were with "The New York Times."
CLYMER: I was, yes. And I wouldn't -- I wouldn't plead not guilty to having done it myself, Judy.
But I think, you know, when a candidate seems to get into trouble, everything he does or says is not analyzed for its intrinsic merit but for how is he getting out of trouble he's in.
And not what -- or if he -- if he issues an interesting plan on the subject, it's not dissected on its own merits, but it's looked at tactically. Why did he -- he issued this new plan because he's in trouble, not because he thinks it's a good idea.
And I think one ought to allow for the possibility that politicians sometimes propose things because they believe in them.
WOODRUFF: Well, it's another occasion for the press to think about the way it's covering this campaign, or any presidential campaign, for that matter.
Adam Clymer, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, it's great to see you both.
CLYMER: Thank you much.
WOODRUFF: Thanks for coming by. We appreciate it.
JAMIESON: Thank you.
WOODRUFF: Still to come on INSIDE POLITICS, we're going to get the latest on a monster hurricane churning its way toward the American Gulf Coast. An update on Ivan when we come back.
Plus, the bloodshed continues in Iraq. Are voters still connecting with that issue? How much of a factor will Iraq be on election day? We're going to try to find out with Bill Schneider.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LT. GOV. TONI JENNINGS, FLORIDA: It is the size of Frances with the impact of Charley.
ANNOUNCER: And Ivan is just hours away from hitting the Gulf Coast. We've got our eye on the powerful hurricane.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The situation in Iraq is worse, not better.
ANNOUNCER: A very bloody week in Iraq. Will the violence over there impact the presidential race back here?
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Despite ongoing violence in Iraq that country now has a strong prime minister, a national council, and national elections are scheduled in January.
ANNOUNCER: Now live from Washington JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.
WOODRUFF: If you're just joining us, you'll want to remember this or if you have one, program it into your Tivo, INSIDE POLITICS now is a full 90 minutes beginning at 3:00 p.m. Eastern, noon Pacific. That's from now until election day. But we want you to remember, there's plenty of up-to-the-minute news just ahead, still ahead.
But first we want to bring you up to speed on Hurricane Ivan. Our meteorologist Jacqui Jeras is at the CNN Weather Center. Hello again, Jacqui.
JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hello, Judy. Well, those outer bands are continuing to pound the Florida Panhandle at this time. And we have some new warnings to bring to you. Tornado warnings for southwestern Gulf County and the panhandle of Florida, and also south of Scanvia (ph) and south Santa Rosa County in northwest Florida. These storms are moving north to northwest around 55 miles per hour.
So they're moving at quite a clip. We've got a storm track on this aisle that's heading towards Panama City. There you can see the time on this when it's moving very, very quickly.
So if you haven't evacuated from this area like you were told to, you need to be getting to an interior room at this time. We'll pan on over because we've also been seeing some of these rotating cells heading on over towards on over towards the Panama City area. And we've also seen them kind of moving on in towards Mobile.
So these are going to be areas of concern right now. We do have a tornado watch which is in effect all across the I-10 corridor here and along the Gulf Coast from Mobile extending over to the east of Tallahassee for these outer bands, as they move on in. You're also going to be seeing some pretty gusty winds to go along with it maybe around 40 to 50 miles per hour. And there you can see the eye very clearly defined on the radar picture.
I want you to notice the eye on this satellite picture as we put this one into motion for you. You can see that we're getting a little bit more -- Sean, if you wouldn't mind going over there and advancing, I'm having clicker trouble once again. I'm not sure why it's not advancing for me. Thank you.
As this heads on up to the north, it is taking more of a northerly track and has been moving a little bit quicker in forward speed. It's moving up to the north around 14 miles per hour at this time. And as it does so, it continues on that track we may see landfall happening a little bit more quickly than we originally thought. Maybe more like 3:00, 4:00 in the morning.
And Judy -- here we go now -- we've got the satellite going. I just want you to notice, see how the eye is much more clearly defined and on the western side of this storm, we were seeing a bit of sheering. But now you can see the storm is much more symmetrical which may be a sign that Hurricane Ivan is strengthening a little further. We get our next update on the strength of Ivan coming up at 5:00 Eastern Time -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: So maybe yet another cause for worry. Jacqui, all right. Again, Jacqui keeping a very close eye, along with the rest of our CNN meteorology crew. Thank you.
New Orleans has imposed a 2:00 p.m. curfew in anticipation of Hurricane Ivan. CNN's Jason Bellini is watching as residents of the Big Easy brace for a tough time. Hello, Jason.
JASON BELLINI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Judy. Well, technically it should be last call or should have been last call over an hour ago at this bar behind me where they've been having a hurricane party. Ever since the mayor said earlier today that this city will not likely take the brunt of the storm, there have been a lot of people out on the streets. Now finally people are getting off the streets. The police are beginning to patrol and telling people that it's time to go home. They need to get indoors. They're not arresting anyone yet as far as we've heard. But they are telling the people the party's over, time to go inside.
This is the city where they have not done a full evacuation. There are still thousands of people who are in this city, tens of thousands of people who have not evacuated. The mayor has encouraged them to evacuate vertically. Meaning you go upstairs to a second or third floor. He's even told people who are inside -- he's even told people who are inside a second -- two-story houses to have equipment ready to bust through the roof if they have to if the worst were to occur which doesn't appear will happen.
The other thing the mayor announced earlier today was the opening of the Superdome for people with special needs, special medical needs who will need to have power should the power go out. He's also encouraged volunteers to show up there who have medical experience to help out. All hands on deck right now -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: All right, Jason Bellini. It's hard to believe they're celebrating, or partying, but we'll find out more whether New Orleans is in a great deal of danger, I guess, in the hours to come. Jason, thank you very much.
We're going to have another hurricane update in this half hour of INSIDE POLITICS. And as always you can stay with CNN for complete storm coverage 24/7.
Now, we turn to the presidential race. John Kerry launched a scathing new attack on George W. Bush's economic record today. Campaigning in Wisconsin and Michigan, the Democratic senator accused the president of refusing to take responsibility for America's economic problems. Kerry says, quoting now, "this president has created more excuses than jobs." Also today we learned that Kerry will make his first-ever appearance on the "Late Show With David Letterman" next Monday.
President Bush is sticking close to home today. His only public appearance, a Hispanic heritage month event at the White House. The president's campaign is responding to Kerry's economic attack saying the Democrat is overly pessimistic about an economy that they say has created over 1.7 million jobs.
Overseas in Iraq, yet another day of deadly insurgent attacks has been unfolding. And that could have serious implications in the race for the White House. Here now our senior political analyst Bill Schneider.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Iraq is blowing up again and it could have serious political consequences in the United States, where some believe the Bush administration has a political strategy.
LT. COL. ROBERT MAGINNIS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): The strategy, of course, I assume you're referring to, is to keep this off the front pages of American papers before we have a November election.
SCHNEIDER: If that's the strategy, it's been working. Ever since the U.S. handed over power to the Iraqis at the end of June, polls showed the Iraq issue diminishing in importance to American voters. And President Bush gaining support for his handling of the issue. Iraq started looking less like our problem and more like their problem. That could change. More than 1,000 Americans have been killed and security, which the U.S. is responsible for, may be getting worse, according to the U.N. special envoy.
ASHRAF CAZI, U.N. SPECIAL ENVOY TO IRAQ: The security situation was bad before my deployment and before the transfer of sovereignty. And it remains bad today. According to some it's actually deteriorating.
SCHNEIDER: Is that President Bush's problem? You bet it is.
COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: We cannot, because we're in a difficult period now, essentially say the insurgents, fine. When you through the rule of the bomb and the gun decide how these 25 million people will be governed, that's not an acceptable outcome. It's not an outcome that President Bush will accept.
SCHNEIDER: The Democrats intend to hang it around his neck.
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENT CANDIDATE: Iraq is a mess by any measure. And it's a mess because of this president and this vice president.
SCHNEIDER: Right now, 20 percent of voters say Iraq is their biggest concern. They're voting for Kerry. Kerry is counting on events to drive that concern higher.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Because all you have to do is see it on the evening news or read the newspapers, that the situation in Iraq is worse, not better. That whole parts of Iraq are in the control of terrorists and jihadists and insurgents, and they weren't before.
SCHNEIDER (on camera): One theory is that Americans will be alarmed over Iraq only if they see more and more Americans getting killed there. And that a showdown with the insurgents is being postponed until after November 2. Bill Schneider, CNN, Washington.
WOODRUFF: Also some top Republicans on the Senate foreign relations committee who were raising red flags today about the president's Iraq policy. At issue, an administration plan to divert more than $3 billion in Iraq reconstruction funds to security. Panel chairman Richard Lugar says a slowdown in reconstruction could worsen Iraqi security in the long run. Another Republican, Senator Chuck Hagel, says the request is an acknowledgement that the U.S. is, quote, "in deep trouble in Iraq."
The foreign relations committee heard testimony today about the plan which needs congressional approval. According to the political mix on Iraq, a new 527 group is launching a TV ad campaign to highlight what it calls the terrible cost of Bush's Iraq policy. The spots are slated to air initially in the showdown states of Wisconsin and West Virginia. Checking the headlines in our "Campaign News Daily," a new poll shows President Bush inching closer to senator Kerry in the showdown state of Minnesota. The survey of likely voters show Kerry's lead narrowing to nine points. But other recent polls suggest an even closer race in Minnesota. CNN rolls out its own Minnesota poll tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on "PAULA ZAHN NOW."
Kerry running mate John Edwards is taking the Democrats jobs message to West Virginia and Ohio today. Edwards focused on outsourcing of U.S. jobs overseas during his sixth campaign trip to West Virginia.
Vice President Cheney is taking a break from the campaign trail today.
John Kerry may have inadvertently helped President Bush win the backing of the nation's biggest police union. It was the first unanimous endorsement by the Fraternal Order of Police in the group's history. "The Hill Newspaper" reports that Kerry failed to respond to the FOP's questionnaire.
Reporters who cover President Bush are wondering -- moving on here -- they're wondering if he's been feeling homesick. Bush spent the last 44 days straight on the campaign trail. Not too surprising, given the intensity of the campaign. Today marks his first full day here in Washington since August the second.
Of course, past presidents running for reelection have been active on the road as well. Bill Clinton spent two-thirds of August 1996 outside of Washington running for reelection.
On INSIDE POLITICS yesterday I interviewed a 9/11 widow who has endorsed John Kerry. Up next, we will hear from a Bush supporter who lost a loved one in the attacks on America.
And later, imagine Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie living the simple life on Capitol Hill. Believe it or not. It could happen.
WOODRUFF: Yesterday on INSIDE POLITICS, we heard from a woman who lost her husband in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She and four other 9/11 widows endorsed Senator John Kerry for president.
Today we hear from a Bush supporter. Debra Burlingame is the sister of one of the victims of the attacks, Charles Burlingame, who was captain of American Airlines flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon. Debra Burlingame, thank you for being on the program.
DEBRA BURLINGAME, SISTER OF 9/11 VICTIM: It's my pleasure.
WOODRUFF: You were a speaker at the Republican convention in New York a couple of weeks ago. Why did you make the decision to get involved in the campaign and to speak at the convention?
BURLINGAME: Well, I was very honored to speak at the convention and stand there with Dina Burnnet (ph) whose husband led the insurrection on flight 93, and Tara Stackpull (ph), whose husband was a lieutenant in the New York Fire Department who perished at Ground Zero. I felt that it was good for the American people in this venue at the Republican convention to be reminded of what -- probably one of the most important issues in the campaign which is national security. And we felt that it would be all right. We didn't make political statements. And since the Kerry campaign had a 9/11 family member speak at that convention, we felt it really wouldn't be an issue.
WOODRUFF: I spoke yesterday, as I just mentioned, with Kristen Breitweiser, whose husband was one of the victims in the World Trade Center. She said, among other things, she's supporting John Kerry because she believes he will make America safer. She said, and I'm quoting now, she said, "George W. Bush has not done that. He used 9/11 to go to war in a country that had nothing to do with 9/11." A war in Iraq that she said has increased recruitment of al Qaeda, has increased animosity and hatred toward Americans. You don't agree with that.
BURLINGAME: I don't agree with that. The 150 9/11 family members who have signed an open letter to the American people supporting not only President Bush, but his policy of preemption, and the reasons for going into Iraq, they don't agree with her. Not only that, but Senator McCain's -- Senator John McCain and Joe Lieberman, who wholeheartedly embraced not only the concept of the 9/11 commission, they've embraced all the recommendations of the 9/11 commission, unlike Senator Kerry, they very much support the president's decision to go into Iraq.
WOODRUFF: Let me ask you about something else she said. She said, President Bush, in her view, is the biggest adversary of getting the problems fixed -- addressed that helped lead to 9/11. She said President Bush fought the creation of the 9/11 commission. He fought the legislative language to make sure the commission was set up in a bipartisan manner. She said he fought the funding of the commission and fought the extension and fought access to individuals and documents.
BURLINGAME: Look, I've been in the room with Kristen and four of the ladies that came out yesterday. I was there agitating for the commission with them in a Washington park two and a half years ago. They are saying the same things today that they said two and a half years ago. They're very angry with this president. They blame him for the deaths of their husbands. And there's not much I can say to that. They -- those of us who followed this commission as closely as they have, we don't agree with them. We think it was the 19 terrorists and their sponsors who killed our families. Moreover, we would say to Kristen and those other ladies that now that they get -- they should be very proud they were instrumental in making the commission happen, but they are now refusing to accept what the commission is saying which is that it wasn't individuals that failed us on 9/11, it was institutions. That it was above all a failure of imagination.
And as for Iraq, one of the things the commission said is that waiting for a threat to be fully materialized and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is probably too late. And we think President Bush was very prescient in embracing that before the commission even announced it.
WOODRUFF: Deborah Burlingame, I think many people are probably uncomfortable with the idea that there is disagreement among the families of the victims of 9/11. But it is a fact of life. And it's a free country. People can have the views that they have.
WOODRUFF: Absolutely. Deborah Burlingame, sister of Chick Burlingame (ph), thank you very much. We appreciate you taking time to be with us. We appreciate it.
BURLINGAME: Thank you.
WOODRUFF: Hurricane Ivan bearing down on the Gulf coast. Hundreds of thousands of people are battening down or getting out. We'll have the latest on the storm's position when we come back.
WOODRUFF: CNN is tracking the approach of Hurricane Ivan toward the Gulf Coast. Residents have clogged the highways to get out of the storm's path. Meteorologist Jacqui Jeras is following Ivan from the CNN Weather Center. Jacqui, the last time we spoke about 20 minutes ago and you said it looked like Ivan might be strengthening?
JERAS: Yes, we're just looking at satellite imagery. We've been seeing some signs that it could be strengthening. It is moving over some very warm water right now, so that is a possibility. We'll get the official word from the National Hurricane Center and see whether or not the winds will go up at all at the top of the hour. However, right now, the latest advisory has those maximum sustained winds at about 135 miles per hour.
So still, a very major hurricane category four. The center of circulation roughly about 150 miles now away from the Alabama coastline. But take note, these outer bands, they have been pounding the Panhandle of Florida for the last couple of hours. We have a tornado warning which has just been extended now for Gulf County in northwestern Florida, as these individual cells are making their way onshore. Many of them have rotation within them.
So this area is going to be hit over the next several hours. We think those hurricane force winds should be arriving likely about two hours from now. Rainfall amounts so far are relatively light. But we're expecting them to pick up. We'll show you more of those forecasts, rainfall totals in the next half an hour -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: All right. Jacqui. coming back to you often to figure out where everything stands. Thanks a lot.
Coming up, Washington is bracing for what you might call a storm of our own. It appears producers of the Fox television series "A Simple Life" want to set up shop on Capitol Hill. That story ahead.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WOODRUFF: We want to bring you a live report now from Gulf Shores, Alabama. CNN's Gary Tuchman joining us by video phone. Gary, tell us the situation there. We can see you.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Judy, Gulf Shores is about 50 miles southeast of Mobile. We're right on the beach. And you can tell right now, even before the brunt of the storm is coming, they're already experiencing some severe flooding. We've been here now for about an hour. An hour ago, there was no flooding whatsoever. The rain has been coming down so heavy, that many of the streets in this beachfront community here in Alabama are now full of water. And we see logs and other items rolling through the streets.
This is Baldwin County, Alabama. Baldwin County starts here in the south near the Gulf of Mexico, goes about 40 miles north. We can tell you, there are absolutely no shelters being provided in Baldwin County. It's considered too unsafe for the Alabamans to stay in the shelters here. They're being told to go further north.
So almost the entire county is evacuated. It really is remarkable, in this town of 5,000 people year-round, we have seen nobody, and I mean, nobody on the street except police officers after driving from one end of the town to the other. And it's really remarkable, because during Hurricane Charley, we saw lots of people who didn't evacuate. During Hurricane Frances, we saw -- most people who did evacuate. And in this hurricane, we just see no one out on the streets. Judy, back to you.
WOODRUFF: All right. Gary Tuchman, live. And as Gary said, he's just been in Gulf Shores for just about an hour. Thank you very much. We'll be right back.
WOODRUFF: Our city of Washington was rocked once before by a headline-making intern. But could the city be ready for this? Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, the troublesome twosome from the hit television series "The Simple Life" want to give a shot at politics, we're told. "Roll Call" is reporting that producers of the show are trying to get the girls internships with important politicians. Contacted so far House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. Neither office we are told appears keen on the idea. But we'll keep asking.
Also filming on Capitol grounds is illegal.
That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Thank you for joining us. Much more on Hurricane Ivan coming up. I'm Judy Woodruff. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.
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