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Can Kerry Turn Iraq on Bush?; Campaigns Target Security Moms; Kerry Tries for African-American Vote

Aired September 23, 2004 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. Welcome from Washington. Glad to have you with us for PRIME TIME POLITICS. I'm Paula Zahn.
Tonight, after three hurricanes and billions of federal dollars, does the president have an edge with voters in Florida? The latest numbers from our exclusive poll.

Plus, soccer moms, they were big on education and health care, but now are they putting all of that aside to be security moms?

And exactly one week from the first presidential debate 40 days from the election, violence in Iraq is still a dominant issue. But the Iraqi prime minister tells Congress he sees success in the future.

And we're starting the Iraq conflict. On a day when England waited for word on whether its hostage will live or die and Italy tried to confirm whether two of its hostages have been killed, and the U.S. military announced the death of yet another Marine, Iraq's interim prime minister came here to Washington to say things in his country are looking. And that stirred up a hornet's nest on the campaign trail.


IYAD ALLAWI, IRAQI INTERIM PRIME MINISTER: We are fighting for freedom in democracy, ours and yours.

ZAHN (voice-over): Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi told a joint meeting of Congress that his government is growing stronger every day and is determined to defeat terrorism and barbarism. He brought another message as well.

ALLAWI: Thank you, America.

ZAHN: Next came a meeting with President Bush, followed by a question-and-answer session with reporters.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The enemies of freedom are using suicide bombing, beheadings and other horrific acts to try to block progress. We're sickened by the atrocities, but we'll never be intimidated. And freedom is winning.

ALLAWI: I know it is difficult, but the coalition must stand firm. When governments negotiate with terrorists, everyone in the free world suffers. ZAHN: Much of what was said today echoes what has already been heard on the campaign trail. Just one example, Senator John Kerry this morning seized on the president's initial response to elite CIA intelligence estimates that war in Iraq could be headed for a grim future, including civil war.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: George Bush just yesterday said he was just -- the CIA was just guessing on Iraq. Just guessing, America, the CIA? They're not just guessing.

ZAHN: In the White House Rose Garden today, the president tried to clarify his original answer.

BUSH: This is a report that talks about possibilities about what can happen in Iraq, not probabilities. I used an unfortunate word guess. I should have used estimate.

ZAHN: At another point today, there seemed to be a disagreement about whether more troops are needed in Iraq. Wednesday on Capitol Hill, General John Abizaid, the head of U.S. Central Command, said extra troops are needed, Americans, if necessary, to provide security for January's national elections in Iraq, but Prime Minister Allawi clearly doesn't want more U.S. troops.

ALLAWI: To have more troops, we don't need. What we need really is to train more Iraqis.

ZAHN: The president was asked about the apparent discrepancy.

BUSH: We can work this out. If our commanders on the ground feel it's in the interest of the Iraq citizens to provide more troops, we'll talk about it. That's why they're a friend.

ZAHN: Back on campaign trail, John Kerry insists he has a better plan to win the peace and he questioned Prime Minister Allawi's statement to Congress that democracy is taking hold in Iraq.

KERRY: I think the prime minister is obviously contradicting his own statement of a few days ago where he said the terrorists are pouring into the country. The prime minister and the president are here obviously to put their best face on the policy.

ZAHN: That brought an angry response from Vice President Dick Cheney.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I must say I was appalled at the complete lack of respect Senator Kerry showed for this man of courage, when he rushed out to hold a press conference and attacked the prime minister, the man America must stand beside to defeat the terrorists.


ZAHN: There is yet another development that may add fuel to the fire on the campaign trail. Both President Bush and interim Prime Minister Allawi emphasized today that Iraq's elections will go ahead in January no matter what.

But in testimony before the Armed Services Committee, Defense Attorney Donald Rumsfeld raised the possibility that some areas of Iraq may be excluded from January's elections.


DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Let's say you tried to have an election and you could have it in three-quarters or four- fifths of the country, but some places you couldn't because the violence was too great. Well, so be it. Nothing's perfect in life. So you have an election that is not quite perfect. Is it better than not having an election? You bet.


ZAHN: Reaction now from two Congress members who were in the Capitol for Interim Prime Minister Allawi's speech. Representative Diana DeGette is a Democrat of Colorado. Representative Roy Blunt is a Missouri Republican, as well as the House majority whip.

Good to see both of you. Welcome.

REP. ROY BLUNT (R-MO), MAJORITY WHIP: Good to be here.


ZAHN: So is it acceptable, in your judgment, to have a national election that doesn't include the whole country voting?

REP. ROY BLUNT (R-MO), MAJORITY WHIP: Well, you know, what I think we're doing here is jumping to a conclusion, like has happened so many times before.

I thought it was pretty telling today when Prime Minister Allawi said, they said we couldn't get a constitution done by January. We did. They said we couldn't do the handover by the end of June. We did. I think he said, have we proved them wrong? He said, we are going to prove them wrong again by having these elections. And he said, they may not be everything we always hope our elections to be, but they will be a great step toward elections.

ZAHN: But this isn't anyone really jumping to conclusions. This was the defense secretary himself raising the possibility that you might not have enough security in the country to allow for everybody in Iraq to vote. Is that a problem?


BLUNT: Did he raise the possibility or was he being asked a question?


ZAHN: He was asked a question, but heard the answer.

BLUNT: I suspect that was the question. He made some kind of answer. We heard it.

We also heard the prime minister say they were going to have elections. In fact, he said they could have elections in 15 of the 18 provinces today, though he also said you wouldn't know that by what you see here going on here in America.


ZAHN: Congressman, as the defense secretary just said, though, do you believe it's better to have an imperfect election than no election at all?

REP. DIANA DEGETTE (D), COLORADO: Saying that you're going to have elections in some of the provinces, not all of them, it's just like saying, in this country, we're going to have elections in 40 out of the 50 states. That's exactly the proportion.

That's insane. How can you say that you're going to exclude parts of the country from elections? And, frankly, this whole statement on Secretary Rumsfeld's part just shows what a mess we're in, in Iraq, how the Bush administration continues to refuse to believe that we are in a mess. We've lost over 1,000 American servicemen, over 7,000 wounded, and now, today, Congressman Blunt and I were briefed on the continuing severe threat that al Qaeda is to this country.

We still haven't even caught Osama bin Laden and now we're saying,. well, maybe we're going to have elections in Iraq, but maybe we won't have everybody voting. That's insane. This administration needs to realize they're in trouble in Iraq. They need to recognize that and then they need to start moving to put the country together.

ZAHN: Congressman, how much trouble do you think we're in, in Iraq?

BLUNT: It's just amazing to me, based on what we heard from the prime minister, his leadership and his courage today, the great job he did before a joint session of Congress, that instead of talking about where we're going to be in January, we're not talking about where we are now, the incredible leadership this person has shown, what happened when President Karzai was with us just a few months ago to talk about the great improvements in Afghanistan.

ZAHN: But, in all due respect, sir, you didn't answer my question, because I want to know what you think. Do you think we're in good shape in Iraq or do you think we're in trouble, as Senator Chuck Hagel has said?


BLUNT: I think we're going to have elections in January. I think, clearly, we've made great progress in Iraq. There is still progress to be made. And I think the people -- as the Iraqis take responsibility for their own future, they are showing incredible courage and incredible leadership. ZAHN: Do you concede any progress has been made in Iraq, things are better today than in Iraq than they were perhaps six months ago or not?


DEGETTE: I think Prime Minister Allawi is trying his hardest and I think we all have to support the prime minister.

But the Bush administration and frankly the Republicans in Congress are not recognizing, for example, since May, every single month since May, American casualties in Iraq have increased dramatically. And we still don't have many parts of the country secured, parts that are hot spots and the terrorism is getting worse there. In the meantime, we still haven't found Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda is saying they're going to try for a major attack in the United States before the U.S. elections.

ZAHN: So, Representative, how big of a problem is it that Osama bin Laden has not been caught, captured or killed?

BLUNT: Well, I think almost every American would like to see one of those results happen. We abhor the cowardly attacks on our country three years ago.

But, clearly, that network has been significantly displaced, it's been crippled in many ways, still capable of terrible things, because we have to be right 100 percent of the time in stopping these terrorists. They only have to be lucky one time. And, clearly, they have heightened their threat in their communications at least on our country. They'd love to have something happen between now and November.

I think we have to realize we're a big target-rich society. Only one of them has to get through with a relatively unsophisticated attack to hurt lots of people.


ZAHN: Speaking of November -- I need a very brief answer to this -- there are members of your party accusing the Bush administration of using Mr. Allawi today as a campaign prop.

DEGETTE: Well, certainly, Mr. Allawi's speech didn't talk about the many problems that we have there in Iraq right now. But I think the American people recognize this, that we're going to have to have more than nice little speeches on the House floor to solve this problem.

ZAHN: You get the last word and it's got to be a brief one.

BLUNT: Well, Diane and I are good friends, and I don't want to overreact to this.

But I think to see this man of great courage, whose is threatened every day, to suggest that he made a nice little speech on the House floor belittles what he's doing, and I don't think she intended to do that. But we need to take this guy very seriously. He's a serious man doing serious work at a serious time.

ZAHN: Maybe your friendship is over as of tonight.

DEGETTE: Oh, no. We're still friends.

BLUNT: Nice to see you.


ZAHN: Thank you for coming in tonight into the studio. Good to see both of you. Appreciate both of your perspectives.

We're going to take a short break here.

There is more ahead on PRIME TIME POLITICS, including new clues to where voters stand in some crucial showdown states.


ZAHN (voice-over): Voters changing loyalties, states changing colors. Tonight, our exclusive look at the latest trends in the electoral battlegrounds.

And tonight's PRIME TIME POLITICS's voting booth question: Should the United States send more troops to Iraq? Vote at our Web site, -- results at the end of the hour.



ZAHN: And welcome back to Washington, D.C., on a beautiful, warm night here.

We are talking about the speech given by Iraq's interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, during a joint meeting of Congress and how it was received by the Bush and Kerry campaigns.

We're going to get some perspective now from two CNN colleagues, senior political correspondent Candy Crowley, who has been covering Senator Kerry's campaign. She joins us from Philadelphia tonight. And here in Washington, senior correspondent John King. He's been covering the president's campaign for reelection.

Great to have both of you with us tonight.

John, it strikes me that the president had a couple of goals in mind with the interim prime minister's visit, both political and diplomatic. Did he succeed?


We won't know, of course, until we watch this debate play out in the days to come. Senator Kerry didn't like what he heard. It was a remarkable day, historic of course to have any leader of Iraq here in Washington, but remarkable in that you had a foreign leader not only at center stage in the political debate, but willingly so.

He was rebutting Senator Kerry's argument as much as President Bush was, saying Iraq is more stable than you would believe from watching the news or listening to Senator Kerry here in the United States, saying those elections will go forward and that he needs the help of the United States, and that anyone who says the situation is bad in Iraq is essentially encouraging the terrorists. That's what the president said. That's what the prime minister of Iraq said, quite remarkable.

ZAHN: And, Candy, it didn't take long for the Kerry campaign to come out swinging. Briefly, bring us up to date on exactly what the senator said.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he came out literally within a half-hour and even closer than that after the prime minister concluded on Capitol Hill and said basically what he said Monday but in response to questions.

He was asked about in fact whether he thought that Prime Minister Allawi was living in the same fantasy world that Kerry keeps saying George Bush is in. And Senator Kerry said, listen, it's clear he's contradicted his own statements and they're trying to put the best face on it. That's what prompted a very sharp rebuke from Vice President Cheney. So he came out entirely because they wanted this week, as one aide put it to me, to control the conversation on Iraq. They wanted to dominate the story and that was part of this effort.

ZAHN: John, do you think it was fair or is it perceived as fair that the vice president came back and some say essentially accused John Kerry of being un-American in his criticism of Iyad Allawi?

KING: He certainly accused him of being unpresidential, of criticizing a foreign leader who Mr. Cheney says was under threat of death when Saddam was in power and is now under threat of death as he tries to lead Iraq to democracy.

Well, look, what Senator Kerry said was unusual. For a senator, any member of the United States Senate to so directly criticize a foreign leader is unusual. But it was also incredibly unusual for that foreign leader essentially to be standing up endorsing President Bush's message in the presidential campaign. Is it fair? This is a remarkable campaign. We're treading ground new ground every day. It's not my job to say whether it's fair or not.

ZAHN: Let's try, too, to talk about Donald Rumsfeld's statement a lot of people are scratching their head about. And he was questioned before he the Senate Armed Services Committee, Candy, and basically asked about the possibility of what could happen in these elections.

And he said there could be the situation where the security is so bad in some parts of the country that not everyone will be able to vote. How did the Kerry campaign react to that?

CROWLEY: Well, so far, they haven't, although in that same news conference that we were talking about, Senator Kerry did say, the Bush administration is in disarray over Iraq. And John knows very well that disarray is generally one of those code words that they put out for everything is messed up.

And he did mention that the secretary of defense says one thing. Then he's contradicted. The secretary of state says something. Then he's contradicted. So anything that they think foments any kind of discussion about the situation on the ground in Iraq is fine with them, because that's what they want to discuss. They don't want to go back and talk about John Kerry's vote for the war. They want to talk about the situation right now.

ZAHN: Is there an appearance of the administration not being on the same page here, John, on a day when the prime minister, interim prime minister, made powerful comments, basically saying progress is being made, the president confirming that? And then we heard what Donald Rumsfeld had to say.

KING: Well, Secretary Rumsfeld was answering a question during that hearing.

And what the White House says is, they agree with him. They believe come January Prime Minister Allawi will deliver on his promise and you will have elections across the entire country. But they also say that if he only had elections in 90 percent of the country or 95 percent of the country, that would be better than no elections at all.

The key question is this, though, Paula. We won't know the answer to that question until January, until Iraq has those elections. The American people are going to decide whether it's President Bush or Senator Kerry in November, well before we know the answers about exactly what will happen in Iraq come January.

ZAHN: Good point there. John King, Candy Crowley, thank you both. Good to see both of you again.

And as if there weren't enough wild cards in this election, along come some monster storms in a must-win state not once, but three times. Hurricane politics next.


ZAHN: This year, just like in the year 2000, Florida is expected to be in the eye of a political hurricane. Unfortunately, its voters already have been in the eyes of three real hurricanes this summer, which hasn't left much time for presidential politics.

As Susan Candiotti discovered, the storms may have shaken up some political assumptions.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Before Hurricane Charley hit, Julie Pruitt (ph) had her mind made up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was going to vote for Kerry.

CANDIOTTI: Now the single mother of three who lost her home and job to Charley is switching her allegiance from Kerry to Bush.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have got to give him credit where credit's due and you may not like him as a person, but he's helped us, everyone.

CANDIOTTI: To be sure, the president scored points with visits to the state his brother governs son after Hurricanes Charley, Frances and Ivan.

BUSH: A little ice? What else you need?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you pull up to a place to get a bag of ice and the president of the United States hands you that bag of ice, I know he got one vote.

CANDIOTTI: Bush may reap some hurricane goodwill. And Democrats admit, it's the president's role to comfort.

(on camera): But as top Kerry advisers put it, you have to separate compassion from policy. Kerry backers insist Florida voters won't let a string of disasters distract them from the issues that separate the candidates.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hurricane Jeanne taking a turn that has South Florida taking notice.

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): But for almost six weeks now, talk of approaching hurricanes has dominated South Florida newscasts.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That one in the back didn't have shutters.

CANDIOTTI: At the Sanchez (ph) home in Miami, where hurricane shutters perhaps will remain in place until November, the storms compete with politics for attention.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll keep up with it, but my main focus is on the storms and when I am going to take off my hurricane shutters.

CANDIOTTI: Mrs. Sanchez, an undecided Republican, won't let her hurricanes shake her focus on the presidential race.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president should be here. I don't look it to sway me on a vote here. I just think that's the job.

CANDIOTTI: According to a new Florida CNN poll, damage from the hurricanes may be impacting how voters view the state's economy; 25 percent, twice as many people as July, rate Florida's economy as poor. And in communities still reeling from the storms, voting in November may not be a priority.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think people are thinking about the election at all. Everyone's more concerned about their businesses, their houses, and all the money that they need to fix everything.

CANDIOTTI: And after a season of suspense, waiting for one storm after another, what no one in Florida needs is the kind of political storm that kept the entire country on edge after the last presidential election.


ZAHN: Well, Floridians may not want any more suspense, but our latest battleground poll indicates they may get it anyway.

In the first CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll of Florida in a month, President Bush is ahead of John Kerry by only two points, 47-45 percent among Florida's registered voters. Ralph Nader gets 2 percent and a vitally important 6 percent say they are undecided. The race is also tight among unlikely voters. The president has a 49-46 percent lead. Ralph Nader hangs on there with some 2 percent, 3 percent undecided.

We're also updating our weekly map of the nation's electoral vote. President Bush had a winning total last week. And this week, that total is increasing. We are switching Iowa and New Hampshire into the Bush column. That gives the president 301 electoral votes, well above the 270 needed to win. This week's snapshot puts John Kerry's total at just 237 electoral votes. And I emphasize all of this of course is subject to change, like, people actually have to vote.

CNN political editor John Mercurio joins me to help us crunch all these numbers.

Nice to see you.


ZAHN: This guy, that is all he does, is digest, ingest numbers.

MERCURIO: Eat and sleep.

ZAHN: What happened in Iowa and New Hampshire? Why the shift?

MERCURIO: Well, I think what we're seeing is that President Bush is continuing to dig pretty deep into John Kerry's turf. He's picking up states every week that Kerry needs in order to win this race this fall.

In Iowa and New Hampshire, what we saw, these are two states that got to know John Kerry extremely well during the primaries earlier this year and they've been in his column ever since. Now, as you said, the shift is just 11 votes, electoral votes. But it puts, as you said, his electoral count over 300. The race remains extremely close. We have to say that. There's state polls all around the country that show that the race is a dead heat, so it's still extremely competitive.

ZAHN: But what I still don't understand is what the president has done in the last month or so that would change those numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire. Can you point to a specific issue?

MERCURIO: Yes. No, you can't point to a specific issue.

National polls, what's sort of interesting that we're seeing, show that the race is actually returning to the same dead heat that we had before the conventions this fall. So I think what is going on in Iowa and New Hampshire are sort of unique dynamics.

First of all, in Iowa, Republicans say, and I sort of agree, that Kerry is -- voters are trending away from Kerry because of what they call sort of a cultural disconnect, the sense that he's not from there, he doesn't share their values, he's not one of them. It's states like Iowa, states like Wisconsin and Ohio, these sort of Midwestern states that are trending towards Bush, where I think this new Bush campaign ad with Kerry windsurfing off of Nantucket is actually playing extremely well.

One Bush campaign aide I talked to today said, look, voters in Iowa, they see that ad. They don't windsurf. They don't know anybody who windsurfs. It's not part of their culture.


ZAHN: Windsurfing is now considered an elitist sport?

MERCURIO: It's a landlocked state, not necessarily elitist. But it's a landlocked state. They don't windsurf.

Now, in New Hampshire, the other state we're talking about, it's voted for Republicans in seven out of the past 10 presidential campaigns. So it's just sort of a natural shift, I think, back to Bush. Kerry got sort of a bump out of there. He's from nearby Massachusetts. He held his convention in Boston. But I think what we're seeing is that that bump that he received is starting to fade.

ZAHN: Let's move on to hurricane politics.


ZAHN: Can't ignore Florida, a lot of electoral votes up for grabs.

Now, one would think, with the number of visits the president has made and the very personal way of giving that we've witnessed on television, handing out water and supplies, you would think the president would have gotten a healthy bump in Florida.


ZAHN: That didn't happen, did it?

MERCURIO: You would think so, except that Florida voters are smarter than we are, apparently, because they're sort of used to this.

Look, they've been through hurricanes for years. I think, at this point, they have started to view hurricane aide as sort of an entitlement. So any politician who goes down there, who hands out water, who showers them with money can't count on necessarily receiving such a bump. But the second thing I think is interesting is that the economy in Florida might be starting to darken.

There's a number in on our poll that is very interesting, I think. The number of voters who said that the economy is actually excellent or good, who described it as excellent or good, actually dropped 10 points since a similar poll in July.

ZAHN: So what you're saying, there's still a lot of volatility, then, in Florida?

MERCURIO: There's still a lot of volatility, yes.

ZAHN: And you're the guy that's going to keep us on top of it all.

MERCURIO: I'll try.

ZAHN: Mr. Numbers man, John Mercurio, thanks very much.

The president and John Kerry continue their vigorous attacks on each other over Iraq. That war of words is about to escalate. We'll show you how coming up next.

And remember our voting booth question for tonight: Should the U.S. send more troops to Iraq? Vote now at

We'll be right back.


ZAHN: Tomorrow, the Kerry campaign launches a new attack ad that will be broadcast in key battleground states. It criticizes President Bush on Iraq, claiming the president's upbeat statements do not reflect the dangerous situation on the ground.

This week, John Kerry has been turning up the heat. Can that candidate turn the war in Iraq into the president's Achilles heel?

Let's ask Peter Binard, editor of the "New Republic," who joins us from Boston, and here with me in the studio tonight, Katherine Mangu-Ward, a reporter for the "Weekly Standard." Good to have both of with us.

So first off, Peter. React to Donald Rumsfeld's answer to a question today, where he implied, if the violence continues in some parts of Iraq, you may end up having partial elections. Is that an acceptable solution rather than no elections at all?

PETER BINARD, EDITOR, "NEW REPUBLIC": Well, I think it's actually an admirable in a way, concession to reality. I think -- I think it's crazy to think right now that we're going to be able to have elections in that Sunni Triangle where many of the cities are no- go zones for American troops. And the choice really will be elections in the Kurdish north and the Shiah south or no elections at all. And I think that Rumsfeld deserves credit, because that really is the choice that America is now facing in Iraq. That's what we should be debating, not the fiction that we're going to have national elections in a country that's at war.

ZAHN: How can American voters not see that as anything but a disconnect, with what they heard from Mr. Allawi today and the president and then what we later heard from the secretary of defense?

KATHERINE MANGU-WARD, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Well, I think there's this question that when Allawi says, you know, "Everything is going well. We're going to proceed with elections."

It might actually be worthwhile for the president to say or to have said, "Listen, 100 percent turnout isn't everything," like Rumsfeld said and remind the audience that Saddam Hussein got 100 percent turnout and didn't tell us anything about whether or not democracy had been a success in Iraq.

ZAHN: Isn't that kind of spinning this whole thing? I mean, wouldn't the ideal be to have a national election where the whole nation is actually participating in the election?

MANGU-WARD: Oh, of course, that would be ideal. But Peter said we're not in an ideal situation. And as Rumsfeld said, you know, sometimes you can't have perfect but good might be OK.

ZAHN: Do you think, Peter, that candidate Kerry went too far in this is criticism of the administration today? It was just, it seemed like, just minutes after Mr. Allawi and the president wrapped up their responses to reporters, he came out swinging.

BINARD: No. I don't think so at all. I think they've been right to be very aggressive. Look, one of the reasons that George W. Bush took the lead during the period around the Republican convention was that the number of Americans that thought things in Iraq were going well increased. That is at odds with reality. As a factual matter, things in Iraq are going very poorly.

So in fact, what John Kerry needs to do is continually put that in front of the American people continually and hope the media will pick up on it. And that if Americans see things going poorly in Iraq, they will almost inevitably sour somewhat on George W. Bush, because Iraq is his baby.

ZAHN: Vice President Dick Cheney came out shortly after John Kerry's statements and basically said he was unpresidential and perhaps even, you could infer from his statement, that John Kerry was being disloyal to the troops.

Would you go as far to read that much into the vice president's comments? How did you interpret them?

MANGU-WARD: I think the vice president was upset that Kerry had scheduled the conference as he did, half an hour, you know, right after Allawi was out there, trying to, you know, say the best he could for his country.

But I also think the reason that John Kerry is turning the debate toward Iraq is because he thinks he can have a one up on Bush. On the other hand, he seems to sort of, by putting his eggs in the Iraq basket, have the problem of a borrowed basket.

That is, in his commercial that's coming out today, he says, "The three things I would do is train the Iraq army," which Bush has made a big deal out of -- about lately, "work up to good turnout for the elections," which everyone is talking about this week, and obviously Allawi is making a big deal about, and then he's also saying we've got to work with our allies. Bush is at the U.N. this week, trying...

ZAHN: You're saying it's stuff we've all heard before.

MANGU-WARD: I think -- I think it's exactly...

ZAHN: Peter, jump in here.

BINARD: John -- John Kerry does not need to have a plan for Iraq in the way that George W. Bush has a plan for Iraq, because George W. Bush is the one who got us in -- in this mess. It is false parallelism to say there are similarities between John Kerry's vision -- plan for Iraq and George Bush's plan for Iraq.

ZAHN: Hang on. Hang on here.

BINARD: John Kerry is not responsible for the situation we're in.

ZAHN: Well, what would you describe as the key differences between what John Kerry is proposing in the aftermath of war and what the president is proposing?

BINARD: The realities is that America's prospects in Iraq now, right now, are so grim that there is no plan out there that really offers us the chance for real success.

That is the really awful reality that the president's going to have to face, whoever is elected. And that's why there's not a lot that John Kerry can say that's different from George W. Bush.

But you can say something about George W. Bush's leadership style, his decision making and the people he surrounds himself with by the fact that he's gotten us into this monumental mess in the first place, something that I think John Kerry would not have done.

ZAHN: Do you even concede this is a mess, and as Chuck Hagel has said, that we're in trouble in Iraq? You get the last word.

MANGU-WARD: Certainly things could improve in Iraq. But I think when John Kerry says the important thing is what's happened in the past and not in the future, he's really putting himself out on a limb that he might not want to be on. This election was supposed to be about hope is on the way, and now it sounds like the message is we're going to hell in a hand basket.

ZAHN: Well, it's not too pretty over there right now. I think everybody can agree with that.

Katherine Mangu-Ward, Peter Binard, thanks to both of you. Appreciate it.

Issues like war and national security usually appeal to male voters, but this year the security issue may have jumped the gender line. Soccer moms in the suburbs, fear, trust and shifting votes, when we come back.


ZAHN: In the past few presidential elections, both parties have paid lots of attention to a segment of the voter -- or the voting public called soccer moms. They are suburban women concerned about children's health issues, education and health care all around.

This year, however, soccer moms seem to have become security moms, women whose No. 1 issue is keeping America safe and strong.

Well, the Democratic campaign arranged for vice-presidential candidate John Edwards to meet with a group of security moms today in Davenport, Iowa.


SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Despite what you may hear from those who are engaged in political opportunism, John Kerry and I will do everything to find these terrorists where they are, to crush them, to destroy them before they can ever do harm to us and to the American people. And you can take that to the bank.


ZAHN: The prevailing political wisdom in past campaigns was that soccer moms tended to vote Democratic. But as Maria Hinojosa discovered, security moms are harder to predict.


MARIA HINOJOSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Morning coffee at Johnny's Bagels can be a little chaotic. But these mothers love the safety and tranquility of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm happy to be in a smaller place, but I don't think that makes it any safer in the broader sense.

HINOJOSA: Now, concern about terrorism and the safety of their young families has turned these soccer moms into security moms, women whose votes are very much in play in this battleground state.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We go out in restaurants and get some girls night out and we do talk about politics.

HINOJOSA: At the nearby Nazareth Diner, when the talk turns to the upcoming presidential election, it's clear these Republican women feel safer with President Bush.

(on camera) What's the most central issue for you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sitting on my lap. I have a 6-year-old and 6-month-old. And my 6-year-old still has nightmares about burning buildings.

HINOJOSA (voice-over): But terrorism has had a different effect on Jeremy's mother, Kim Flyer (ph). She grew up in the Lehigh Valley and served in the first Gulf War.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It just puzzles me that people go on believing that this current administration is the one that's going to protect them when it's this current administration that got us into this situation.

HINOJOSA: She was standing in front of the Pentagon on September 11.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I voted Republican in the past. I've been an independent, and now I'm a Democrat.

I feel that Kerry is the best one to support us. He was in Vietnam. He knows what it's like to be in a war.

HINOJOSA: But those are exactly the reasons that have attracted these Republicans.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel more secure because President Bush has taken what happened to us on September 11 to their ground and has kept it away from our country.

HINOJOSA: Caroline Clifford has chosen John Kerry, because she wants her toddler, Analise (ph), to feel safe at home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just recently with the ban on assault weapons being lifted, I mean, right there I thought, why are we hearing more about this? How can Bush stand by and let this happen?

HINOJOSA: Melissa Savaris (ph) is speaking out because she's upset about the war.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have not been told the truth. We were not told the truth about the invasion, the reason that we were invading Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Moms that are saying we're not getting the whole story. I don't know that they want to hear the whole story, and some of it needs to remain with the people that you have elected.

HINOJOSA: This woman's husband is in the armed forces, and she wants women to trust the president. She asked her lunch bunch to help her organize for George Bush.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know and in my heart I know that President Bush is looking out for these guys. I mean, in his heart he's doing what he thinks is best.


ZAHN: With us now from Washington to look at the potential impact of the security mom vote, CNN contributor and former Al Gore campaign manager, Donna Brazile. She will be joining us regularly over the next several weeks as we focus on the presidential race, as will CNN contributor and former Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke.

So nice to see the two of you in person.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's nice to be close to you.

ZAHN: I've never seen you two in such physical proximity.

BRAZILE: Not bad. It grows on you after awhile.

ZAHN: All right. Now the numbers game that I'd like to play with both of you. We're going to take a look at some numbers from the year 2000 when Al Gore swept the women's vote, getting 54 percent to Bush's 43 percent.

But now a "New York Times"/CBS News poll shows the president leading among women voters, 48 percent to Kerry's 43 percent. Donna, why is John Kerry losing the support of women?

BRAZILE: The No. 1 issue today in the poll is national security. John Kerry slipped behind Bush on national security with all voters. He also slipped with women voters.

I still believe at the end of the day that John Kerry will be able to catch up and exceed George Bush on women -- with women voters.

ZAHN: Why did he slip?

BRAZILE: Well, there's no question national security is a threshold issue. These women care about issues like the economy, care about education and healthcare, but national security is the No. 1 issue.

VICTORIA CLARKE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think women are very practical. And they're so busted for time, trying to take care of their families, their jobs, I mean, they've got to focus on, "What is the most important thing to me and my family?"

And right now, it is keeping them safe. And so I don't think it is at all a surprise it's the No. 1 issue.

And so then you look at that No. 1 issue; how are they seeing the candidates? One, you may disagree with some of the execution of the president's policies, but he's been very, very consistent about things, versus John Kerry, about whom they didn't know as much, who's been very inconsistent.

ZAHN: I'm also fascinated by the fact that there is some analysis that suggests the president gained support from American women after the slaughter in Beslan. Every parent's worst nightmare, that you're going to lose your children on the first day of school.

Did that help the president?

BRAZILE: There's no question that they -- they were moved by the moment at the convention. I think they'll come back.

Two-thirds of these women consider themselves still very soft on Iraq, meaning they don't agree with the president's current course of actions in Iraq. And if Kerry's able during the debates and beyond the debates, to talk to them in a very coherent, clear fashion about what he would do differently, then I think Kerry will get them back.

ZAHN: All right. Let's take a look at another result from the CBS News/"New York Times" poll.

When asked how much confidence they had in each of the candidates to make the right decisions to protect the country from a terrorist attack, 48 percent of the women had a lot of confidence in Mr. Bush, compared to only 29 percent who said they had a lot of confidence in Kerry.

What can John Kerry do to turn that number around?

BRAZILE: You know, what's amazing is after almost a year and a half of running, John Kerry is still not well known to voters out there.

So what Kerry can do in the next couple weeks as a challenger is to challenge the president on his strong suit. He's doing that. He's doing an effective job this week on Iraq.

I think Kerry will not only regain his political voice on these issues and women will feel very comfortable with his leadership skills and his leadership abilities, but they will also take a look at some of the other issues that they care about and say, "You know what? This guy can not only keep us strong and secure, but he can also help fix the problems in -- with our economy, help us with education, help us with healthcare."

So Kerry has to talk about all these issues at the same time.

ZAHN: I think that one thing we can't ignore is this issue of cross pressuring, that, yes, women put security way at the top, and when it comes to the key issue of the economy, they're skeptical that the president will coming through with them.

CLARKE: Right. But it goes back to what I said about prioritizing. Women are very practical. They know you can't have everything. You've got to focus on what is most important. What they were thinking about in 2000, thinking about 12 years ago, is very different from what they're thinking about post-9/11. BRAZILE: Many of these women are undecided still, and they will be tuning into the debates. And this is an opportunity for John Kerry to once again show them that he can keep them safe and secure. And they will listen to them.

You know, the amazing thing about that poll is that the overwhelming majority of women are saying that they want to support a Democratic controlled Congress not a Republican controlled Congress. So they're -- right now, they're splitting the ticket. So I think they'll come back and vote Democratic all the way.

ZAHN: Well, we will be side by side, analyzing all those election results election night, I am sure. Donna Brazile...

BRAZILE: Thank you.

ZAHN: ... Victoria Clarke.

CLARKE: Thank you.

ZAHN: Good to see both of you.

If there's anything the political parties learned from the last election, it is this: never take any voters for granted. And the Kerry campaign is keeping that strongly in mind this year. Capturing minds is one thing but capturing votes, quite another. That story next.


ZAHN: This year, both parties have been working hard to make sure the most loyal voters show up on the polls on election day. For Democrats, that means a strong showing among African-Americans.

President Bush won only nine percent of the black vote in the year 2000. But in this tight race, generating excitement among blacks has not been very easy for the Kerry campaign.

Joe Johns has more.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): East Cleveland, Ohio, 95 percent black, unemployment almost triple the national average, the kind of neighborhood John Kerry needs to win big if he's going to take the state.

Times are hard and some people blame the president.

JIM MOORE, BARBER: With George Bush, he's the devil.

JOHNS: At the Noble Road Barber Shop, they don't think much of George Bush, but nor is there much passion for John Kerry.

STEFAN KING, BARBER: Not a lot of excitement. It's just -- it seems like it's just a race against G.W. That's about it. JOHNS: Next door, at the Headline Styling Salon, women still get done up, but business has taken a hit. In a tough economy, hairstyles just aren't a priority.

DEMETRIA FRANCIS, STYLIST: As far as Bush, I don't think he's really looking out for us, especially blacks. And John Kerry, I'm not so sure about him, but I'm going to give him a chance.

JOHNS: Across the country, African-American leaders say Kerry can count on the black vote, but they worry there just isn't the same intensity that there was for Bill Clinton.

Trying to generate a little more passion falls to local leaders like Ohio Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones.

It's her birthday, time for a quick cake at an airport hangar before resuming a swing state fly around with colleagues from the Congressional Black Caucus.

(on camera) There are people who say John Kerry needs to play the dozens. He needs to swagger more. He needs to throw harder punches, and that he's not connecting for that reason.

Is -- Are you trying to fill that gap?

REP. STEPHANIE TUBBS JONES (D), OHIO: It doesn't matter whether he has -- he's Clintonesque. The issues are too much -- too important. We're trying to say, get past that, you know, get past whether he looks good, whether he talks good if he's talking about the issues that play into your daily life. And I believe that's true.

JOHNS: Are African-American voters, are they sufficiently energized at this stage to assure that they won't sit on their hands on election day?

JONES: I will say the majority of them are. And there are those that we are -- still have to work on.

We're going to sit down and then I'm going to call you up.

JOHNS: Tubbs Jones has her work cut out for her. At a meeting with activists in Cleveland, there is support for Kerry but also reservations about him.

DENNIS MORRIS, CLEVELAND BAPTIST ASSOCIATION: Kerry has not conveyed his message like or as effectively as a Bill Clinton or a John F. Kennedy. That's what needs to be done in order for the African-American voter to come out in droves to vote for him.

JOHNS: Democrats are leaving nothing to chance. They'll work the phones and canvass the neighborhoods and on election day, they'll send flushers out to bring people to the polls. If the feelings don't pick up, the flushers will likely have a busy day.


ZAHN: And the man behind that report joins me now. Joe Johns, good to see you.

JOHNS: Good to see you.

ZAHN: So you were talking about this massive effort the Democrats are making, but what is their expectation? Are they going to get a very good turnout among the African-American community for John Kerry?

JOHNS: Right. No one is saying that John Kerry is not going to win the African-American vote. Quite frankly, the question is what kind of a vote is he going to get? Is he going to get huge turnout? Is he going to get nine out of 10 voters in the African-American community the way Al Gore did?

ZAHN: What does the campaign think? What do they think they can count on?

JOHNS: Well, the campaign is trying hard. In fact, I'm told that tomorrow the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Elijah Cummings, and several other members of the Congressional Black Caucus will go up to Philadelphia to meet with John Kerry, to talk about mobilizing the African-American vote in these key states. There is talk of unprecedented spending on ads in order to get that vote out.

ZAHN: It's going to be interesting to watch all this effort as it spins closer and closer to the election.

You're traveling with John Edwards next week?

JOHNS: That's what I hear.

ZAHN: Happy trails. Enjoy.

Still to come, tonight's "Voting Booth" poll numbers. We'll be right back.


ZAHN: And we're back. Every night, we pose a PRIME TIME POLITICS "Voting Booth" question. Tonight we asked, "Should the United States send more troops to Iraq?" Twenty-nine percent of you said yes; 71 percent say no.

Keep in mind, this isn't a scientific poll, but it is a sampling of those of you who are watching the show. Appreciate your feedback.

Thanks so much for joining us. Tomorrow night, my exclusive interview with Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf.

"LARRY KING LIVE" is next with Rege. You know, the guy actually has two names: Regis Philbin, for the full hour.

Thanks for joining us tonight. Have a good night.


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