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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS
Latest Poll Shows Good Numbers for Bush; Rules Strict for Presidential Debates; First Debate to Focus on Foreign Policy
Aired September 27, 2004 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: ... as our new poll sets the stage for the face-off.
DAN BARTLETT, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: He's a very skilled debater.
ANNOUNCER: Great expectations? The fine art of setting the bar high for the other guy and low for your candidate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These people...
ANNOUNCER: Frighteningly familiar faces. Are their cameos in the campaign ad war fair game, or do they cross the line?
Voters share the hopes and fears behind their presidential choices.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The secure and safe country...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There needs to be jobs.
ANNOUNCER: Now, live from Washington, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.
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JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Thank you for joining us.
George W. Bush and John Kerry are in their separate corners today, psyching up, you might say, for the opening round of their debate series. Three days before the face-off in Florida, our new presidential poll out this hour drives home the hurdles ahead, particularly for Senator Kerry.
Our national correspondent, Bruce Morton, runs through the numbers.
BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The latest CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll is very good news for President Bush. He leads John Kerry by eight points among likely voters and by 11 points among registered voters. And the Bush voters are less likely than the Kerry voters to change their minds. Independent Ralph Nader gets just three percent in each of those groups. Fifty-four percent of our sample approved of the job Bush is doing as president. He languished below 50 percent during the summer, but he's gained ground this month.
Voters split evenly on whether they approve of his handling of Iraq, split evenly on his handling of foreign affairs. But both those are an improvement over recent months.
And they lopsidedly approve of how he's dealing with terrorism, but that's always been one of his strengths.
And the president does very well compared to his rival John Kerry. Just 44 percent of likely voters think Kerry would lead the country in the right direction. Fifty-four percent think Bush would.
And Bush's lead is even bigger, 14 points, among registered voters.
Kerry and Bush will be debating foreign policy this week, and Kerry has been sharpening his attacks on Bush over Iraq. But the attack seems not to have worked. Only 17 percent of all Americans think it's the most important issue. And anyway, 55 percent say Bush would handle it better, while only 41 percent say Kerry would.
On other foreign policy issues, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, relations with other countries in general, Bush again gets higher marks than Kerry.
And asked about the likelihood of new terrorist attacks against the U.S., just 16 percent said attacks would be less likely if Kerry were elected. Thirty-one percent, twice as many, said they'd be less likely if Bush were. Half said it won't matter either way.
(on camera): The debates can change the race, of course, but John Kerry heads for Florida, trailing with a steep hill to climb if he's going to turn things around.
Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.
WOODRUFF: John Kerry tried today to take the president and his poll numbers down a notch or two during a break from the Democrat's preparations for Thursday's debate.
CNN's Frank Buckley is with Kerry in Wisconsin.
FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Senator John Kerry broke from debate prep to campaign, Kerry returning to his now familiar theme of criticizing president on a central topic for Thursday's debate: Iraq.
This time Kerry invoked the image of President Bush aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln under a banner reading "Mission Accomplished." SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The mission was not accomplished when he said it. He didn't know it and didn't understand it. It's not accomplished today, and he's still trying to hide from the American people.
BUCKLEY: Kerry aides say the continuing critique of President Bush on Iraq helps Kerry make the case that President Bush can't fix problems if he doesn't acknowledge them, an argument they can also apply to domestic issues like the economy.
KERRY: The income's going down, and he just doesn't care. He's out of touch with the average American's problems, because he keeps fighting for Halliburton and Enron and all those big companies. And we need a president who fights for the average person.
BUCKLEY: The Bush campaign is suggesting that it's Kerry who's out of touch with middle America. Ads show him wind surfing, hardly a common pastime in the Midwest.
And a new ad in the Bush campaign uses Kerry's own words to try to show the senator has been inconsistent on Iraq. Kerry was ready with the response.
KERRY: I've had one position steady all of the way, folks. That I thought we ought to stand up and hold Saddam Hussein accountable, but I thought we ought to do it the right way.
And doing the right way means having the patience and the maturity to bring allies to our side.
BUCKLEY: And the Bush campaign not letting John Kerry have Wisconsin all to himself. It dispatched former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani to the very same region of Wisconsin to campaign for the Bush/Cheney team.
Rudy Giuliani also beginning the process of starting to lower expectations on George Bush for the upcoming debate, raise expectations on John Kerry, saying that Kerry is a superb debater, calling him a great debater. He said George Bush may not be a champion debater like John Kerry, but he's real -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: It's all about lowering expectations, right now, isn't it? OK. Frank Buckley, thanks very much.
President Bush's debate warm up also included some face time with showdown state voters and some jabs at his opponent. CNN's Elaine Quijano traveled with Bush to Ohio.
ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fresh off a weekend of debate preparations at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, President Bush launched another sharp attack against his Democratic opponent, Senator John Kerry, on the issue of Iraq. Now the president's comments came during a rally, a Focus on Education event here in Springfield, Ohio. After discussing his domestic agenda, including touting the No Child Left Behind Act, the president blasted Senator Kerry for having what Mr. Bush said was an inconsistent position on the war on terror.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He voted for the use of force in Iraq and then didn't vote to fund the troops.
He complained that we're not spending enough money to help in the reconstruction of Iraq, and now he's saying we're spending too much.
He said it was the right decision to go into Iraq, and now he calls it the wrong war.
Probably could spend 90 minutes debating himself.
QUIJANO: Along those lines, the Bush campaign launched a new ad playing out what officials say are Senator Kerry's changing positions on the war on terror. The ad asks people how Senator Kerry can protect them when he doesn't even know where he stands.
The Kerry camp has shot back already. They are out with their own, what they say is an ad fact sheet. They say that Senator Kerry's statements have been taken out of context, the statements included in the new Bush campaign ad.
And they also continue to maintain that the president is misleading America about the situation on the ground in Iraq.
Meantime, here in Ohio, besides Iraq and the war on terror, jobs are certainly to be on the minds of voters here, particularly in this county, Clark County. The unemployment rate is 7.1 percent, according to a statistic out in July. That is higher than the national average of 5.4 percent.
The Bush campaign knows there is work to be done to convince voters that the president does have a plan to move the economy forward. They are optimistic, though, and believe they can be competitive.
The president will make another trip here to Ohio at the end of week.
Elaine Quijano, CNN, Springfield, Ohio.
WOODRUFF: Checking the headlines now in our Monday "Campaign News Daily."
Democrat John Edwards is traveling through three states in the northeast today while his GOP counterpart, Dick Cheney, spends the day away from the campaign trail.
Edwards has actually canceled a campaign event in Providence, Rhode Island, this hour to avoid having to cross a firefighter picket line. This morning Edwards held a town hall in Manchester, New Hampshire, where he criticized President Bush for his handling of the war on terror.
Several polls shed some new light on where the president stands in New Hampshire, Illinois and Maine. It looks like a dead heat in the Granite State, where a Research 2000 survey gives both George Bush and John Kerry 46 percent, Ralph Nader receiving two percent.
In Illinois, Kerry leads Bush by nine points in the latest poll by the "Chicago Tribune" and WGN. A month ago Kerry led Bush by 14 points in Illinois.
And in Maine, Kerry has a three-point edge in a Critical Insights survey. Kerry is at 45 percent, Bush at 42 percent.
Former President Jimmy Carter says a repeat of the election problem in Florida four years ago, quote, "now seems likely." In today's "Washington Post," Carter writes that, quote, "some basic international requirements for a fair election are missing in Florida."
Carter cites what he calls highly partisan election officials and a lack of uniform voting procedures. A spokeswoman for Florida's secretary of state responded by saying that the agency is run in a, quote, "nonpartisan manner."
Both Bush and Kerry will head to their first debate in Florida knowing what they hope to and need to accomplish. Up next, we're going to discuss the candidates' debate strategies and what to watch for if you plan to keep score at home.
Also ahead, national security is a defining campaign issue. We'll have the first in a series spelling out where the candidate stand.
And a debate before the big debate between top Bush and Kerry strategists.
With 36 days until the election, this is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.
WOODRUFF: Thursday will be a very big day for both President Bush and Senator John Kerry. The first presidential debate pits the candidates on foreign policy issues.
Almost important has been the behind the scenes work to decide what you will see onstage in Florida. "TIME" magazine looked inside the debate strategies. "TIME's" Karen Tumulty is here with me to tell me more about your reporting.
Karen, do you think in -- having looked at all this very carefully over the last few days, did one campaign or another get the better of this agreement? KAREN TUMULTY, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, the two campaigns went into these negotiation which produced an agreement that was 32 pages long. I think there were probably -- there have probably been Middle East peace treaties that were shorter than this thing.
But the -- one thing that the Kerry campaign wanted was that third debate which the Bush campaign originally was expressing some reluctance for. And as a result, the Bush campaign was -- were real sticklers on the procedures and the ground rules covering everything from the height of the podium to a pre-approval process for whatever kind of pens and pencils these guys can carry into the hall.
WOODRUFF: Are those things that important?
TUMULTY: Well, clearly, the Bush campaign and the Kerry campaign have been spending a lot of time studying everything old video of debates they could get.
And the Bush campaign, basically told us they wanted to make sure that John Kerry did not have a lot of the sort of stage craft available to him that he had used to such devastating effect with Bill Weld in his reelection race.
WOODRUFF: What were some examples of the kinds of things that the Bush people didn't want to have happen?
TUMULTY: Well, one thing they wanted, was they wanted for the first time ever warning lights that would go on and that you could see, that people, the millions of people watching at home could see, when one or the other of the candidates ran over time.
Their feeling is John Kerry talks too much. And they essentially want to make it obvious to the viewing audience when he has gone over his time.
This was something that the Kerry campaign was very reluctant to go along with, saying that this was undignified. It would look like a game show. But in the end the Bush campaign said, "That's our deal."
WOODRUFF: But as of now, as I understand it, the debate commission, which put all of this -- put this -- at least the plan for the debates together has not signed off on this agreement.
TUMULTY: They haven't and they, too, are unhappy with the idea of the lights.
WOODRUFF: So what's going on happen Thursday night? Are we going to see these lights or not?
TUMULTY: Well, I would assume at this point, my understanding is that the Bush campaign are being real sticklers for this. And certainly I'm sure that the debate is going to go forward. So...
WOODRUFF: You -- you also report that the Kerry camp wanted -- initially wanted the temperature to be pretty cold inside the debate hall. Where did that end up and what was that all about? TUMULTY: There's a really interesting phrase in the agreement that the -- that the thermostat will be set according to industry standards, whatever that is.
But the Bush campaign officials were sort of chortling to us on background saying that they've noticed in previous debates that John Kerry has a tendency to sweat when it gets hot.
WOODRUFF: As you look at this agreement, Karen, and you've looked at it very closely, what would you say that John Kerry got out of this deal, other than that third presidential debate? What did he get out of this?
TUMULTY: That was basically it. They, you know -- and his campaign manager, Mary Beth Cahill, said that that was far more important to them than anything about the format.
WOODRUFF: And what about the Bush camp, what did they get, having given in on the idea of the third debate, which some people are now wondering if they really ever had much of an objection to, what did they get out of it?
TUMULTY: Two big things. One, all these little procedures and the format, and a real severe restriction, by the way, on the -- on the ability of either the other candidate or the moderator to ask follow-up questions or rebuttal.
The other thing they got was that foreign policy is now going to be the first debate and of course, viewership is really much larger for the first debate.
WOODRUFF: Is it your sense that that -- that -- so going into this, it's going to be visible toe George Bush's advantage given these -- you know, the little points that you described?
TUMULTY: Well, certainly, our poll would suggest with, you know, increasing unhappiness over the Iraq policy, that perhaps foreign policy is not quite the advantage for the president that it would have been each a few weeks ago.
But they certainly, the Bush campaign, does seem to have gotten again all these little tiny sticklers over the format details that they wanted.
WOODRUFF: Are the American people going to get a free and fair flow of conversation, discussion and answers to questions, given these kind of restrictions?
TUMULTY: You know, I think probably -- these debates, each year it seems like it brings them -- they're more and more limited and scripted, essentially set pieces. And certainly you look at these rules, and it's really hard to see that -- I mean, Lincoln and Douglas did not agree to a 32-page agreement before they went into their debates.
WOODRUFF: With 20 or 30-second limits on follow-up questions. TUMULTY: Right. And by the way, no direct questions between the two candidate themselves.
WOODRUFF: They're not permitted to address one another.
TUMULTY: Not at all.
WOODRUFF: All right. Karen Tumulty, "TIME" magazine, all the more reason to want to watch Thursday night. Thanks very much.
TUMULTY: Thank you.
WOODRUFF: Well, the two candidates have been accused of ignoring them, but in fact they have issues as we approach the first debate. They're going to have to talk about them.
Our Bob Franken begins a five-part series on some of the election issues. Coming up, the war on terror, Iraq and the national defense.
WOODRUFF: When President Bush and Senator John Kerry come face to face-Thursday night, they'll debate the war on terror, the fight for Iraq, homeland security and national defense. These have become critical issues in the 2004 campaign.
A new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll shows Mr. Bush widening his lead on the question who can better handle terrorism?
Our national correspondent Bob Franken is launching a weeklong series on campaign priorities called "They Have Issues." Today Bob focuses on national security matters.
BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is what the Republicans want the voters to remember: a president looking like he was taking command in the country's rubble after September 11.
BUSH: I can hear you.
FRANKEN: Democrats want them to hear the president's war in Iraq as a deadly distraction from the war on terror.
KERRY: It's not that I would have done just one thing differently in Iraq. I would have done everything differently in Iraq.
FRANKEN: Republicans, who have had considerable success labeling Kerry a flip-flopper, delight in pointing out that he voted to authorize the war, but that was when the administration insisted Saddam Hussein had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction.
WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: If you take away the core argument and the rationale for going, namely that he had these weapons and that they were a gathering threat, then it certainly would call into question the immediacy or the need to go to war.
FRANKEN: That was then. The president makes a different argument now.
BUSH: Do I forget the lessons of September the 11th and take the word of a madman, or do I take action to defend our country?
FRANKEN: The polls back the president, with the majority saying it was not a mistake to send troops to Iraq. That's according to the latest CNN/"USA" Today"/Gallup survey.
JOHN HULSMAN, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: I think the president can still make this argument that in this new world you simply can't wait around for that gun to be fired.
FRANKEN: the resulting antagonism from traditional U.S. allies has not had much of a political impact.
PAUL WILLIAMS, INTERNATIONAL LAW EXPERT: There hasn't been a debate about those consequences, whether they're positive or negative and whether you can continue to play on the field that Bush has set.
FRANKEN: And with a large part of the first presidential debate this week expected to focus on Iraq's future, the rhetoric has only intensified.
BUSH: The way to secure Iraq and bring our troops home as quickly as possible is not to wilt or waiver or send mixed signals to the enemy.
KERRY: Yesterday I was in Orlando right next to Fantasyland, and the difference between George Bush and me is I drove by it. He lives in it.
FRANKEN: In an insular country like the United States, foreign policy issues have long been overshadowed by domestic debates, but since the September 11 attacks, Judy, they're now one in the same.
WOODRUFF: Indeed. Bob Franken, we look forward to part two tomorrow. Thanks very much.
Well, tomorrow a look at where President Bush and Senator Kerry stand on jobs and the economy. But if you can't wait until tomorrow's program, head to our web site's election special on the issues. It's all at CNN.com/issues.
A federal appeals court ruled today that a trial should be held to decide a legal challenge to Florida's new touch-screen voting system. At issue, whether there should be a paper trail for electronic voting in the showdown state.
Fifteen Florida counties use machines that do not create paper copies of voter's choices. The case will now go back to a south Florida judge for trial. Ahead here, just days until the first debate and terrorism ads dominating the airwaves. Howard Kurtz checks the fine print and explains why fear is a recurring theme in the latest campaign ads.
Also election-day terror concerns. The latest on plans for tighter security as November 2 draws closer.
But first, live to Wall Street and our Rhonda Schaffler.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS": I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Coming up at 5 p.m. Eastern, in about 90 minutes from now, Florida residents returning to their homes to find scenes of devastation. We'll have the latest on Hurricane Jeanne and the cleanup.
An Iraqi hospital official says U.S. air strikes on Baghdad Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood killed five people and wounded 46. U.S. military officials are skeptical, but they're investigating.
There's been another abduction in the Middle East, and this time the target was one of our own. CNN producer Riyad Ali was taken away after gunmen blocked his taxi in Gaza city.
Those stories, much more coming up later today on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." More of JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS right after this.
WOODRUFF: George Bush and John Kerry take a study break. The president is in Ohio today touting his education plan. The senator from Massachusetts spoke with voters at a town hall in Wisconsin, where he is based until Thursday's presidential debate.
Welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington.
With just days to go until the debate on foreign policy, several new campaign ads are out featuring some tough language about the candidates and their views on Iraq and the war on terrorism. Howard Kurtz of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES" has more on the strategies behind the spots.
HOWARD KURTZ, CNN'S "RELIABLE SOURCES" (voice-over): The Republican effort to depict John Kerry as weak on terrorism began in earnest with a blast from Vice President Cheney.
RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And it's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on November 2, we make the right choice. Because if we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that -- that we'll get hit again.
KURTZ: Then House Speaker Dennis Hastert said al Qaeda would be more successful under a Kerry administration. And now a conservative 527 group called Progress for America, largely bankrolled by two of the president's fund-raisers, targets Kerry with stunning pictures of terrorists and terror attacks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These people want to kill us. They killed hundreds of innocent children in Russia, 200 innocent commuters in Spain and 3,000 innocent Americans.
John Kerry has a 30-year record of supporting cuts in defense and intelligence, and endlessly changing positions on Iraq. Would you trust Kerry up against these fanatic killers?
KURTZ: Kerry has supported some military cutbacks since the mid 1980s, but has voted for more than $4 trillion in defense spending. But the message here has more to do with fear than fine print. A Kerry spokesman calls it the Willie Horton ad of 2004. Kerry immediately fired back, not at the 527 group, but at the Bush campaign, which has declined to distance itself from the Progress for America spot.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Despicable politics, an un-American way to campaign, the latest Bush-Cheney attacks against John Kerry. George Bush and Dick Cheney are using the appalling and divisive strategy of playing politics with the war on terror.
KURTZ: Strong words which the Kerry camp took from an anti-Bush editorial in "The New York Times." Of course, with Kerry regularly denouncing Bush on the campaign trail for fumbling the war on terror, both sides can now be described as trying to politically exploit the issue.
The president's campaign followed up today by depicting Kerry as inconsistent on Iraq.
KERRY: It was the right decision to disarm Saddam Hussein. And when the president made the decision, I supported him.
I don't believe the president took us to war as he should have.
The winning of the war was brilliant.
It's the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.
KURTZ: But some of these statements have been wrenched out of context. When Kerry praised American troops for winning the war last year, he also said the administration "dropped the ball" in the aftermath, and that "you've got to have the capacity to provide law and order on the streets and to provide the fundamental services." That's hardly inconsistent with what he's been saying ever since.
(on camera): Why all the heavy artillery? The Republicans want to cement an image of Kerry as weak, while Kerry wants to tag the Bush team as divisive fear mongers. All before Thursday's first debate on foreign policy.
Howard Kurtz, CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES."
WOODRUFF: And on a related note, Americans, it turns out, are split on whether the campaign ads attacking George Bush or the ads attacking John Kerry have been more unfair. In a new CNN poll, 34 percent said the attack ads used against Bush were more unfair, while 32 percent named the attack ads against John Kerry. Twenty-two percent said they saw no difference.
And a final note on politics and terrorism. The Department of Homeland Security is expected to issue a nationwide bulletin today creating tighter security procedures from now through Election Day. The bulletin is being sent to all 50 states and the District of Columbia in an effort to increase security measures amid concerns about potential terror attacks leading up to November 2.
Well, with me now to talk more about the presidential race are two top campaign advisers. Tad Devine is a senior strategist for the Kerry campaign. He's at John Kerry's Washington headquarters. Matthew Dowd is a senior strategist with the Bush campaign. He's at Bush-Cheney headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.
Tad and Matt, good to see both of you.
And Tad Devine, let me start out with you. Our new poll out today not only shows George Bush ahead in the horse race, it shows it on all the important questions, the economy, Iraq, the war on terror. John Kerry is running behind.
This is bad news for your candidate, isn't it?
TAD DEVINE, SR. STRATEGIST, KERRY CAMPAIGN: I don't think it is, Judy. That poll's been an outlier. I understand the sample is eight percent more Republican than Democrat. I think any poll that's going to have that, that would defy history of voting in recent presidential elections.
We think this race is close and getting closer. The president had his bounce after the latest convention in modern history. It's come back with most of the polls showing a very narrow lead for the president.
I think that's where it lies today. And we go into this debate in very strong shape. And I think the president really has to move this race and approve the situation if he's going to be able to win it.
WOODRUFF: Matt Dowd, is that the way it is? That this is a campaign moving in John Kerry's direction?
MATTHEW DOWD, SR. STRATEGIST, BUSH-CHENEY CAMPAIGN: I'll take a bad position of being ahead in the polls than having a lead on all of the major issues and having a lead on every attribute that the public cares about in a president, commander in chief, strong leader, honest and trustworthy, has a plan for Iraq, has a plan on the economy. And John Kerry, nobody has a sense what John Kerry's plan is on any of those issues.
So, going into the debate, I'd rather have our position than their position. They're behind. The public doesn't trust them on any of the big important issues. And they have no sense where John Kerry would lead the country after two years of campaigning.
WOODRUFF: How would you answer that, Tad Devine?
DEVINE: Well, my answer is that the country has no idea what the president wants to do after four years of his being president. I mean, you've got an incumbent president of the United States who late in September is in deep trouble because he's unable to get the real kind of lead by almost every measure, not just the horse race lead, but the American people believing that the country's going in the right direction.
The American people by a comfortable margin approving his job as president. The people approving his policy in Iraq, approving his policy on the economy. By almost every indication and measure, given that this poll's been an outlier and is heavily Republican, I think you should take that into account.
But by every single measure, the president is in deep trouble in late September. And that's a prescription for disaster for the president.
WOODRUFF: Well, I don't know that the poll is heavily Republican. We'll try to get somebody...
DEVINE: It is.
DOWD: Judy, just one thing to correct. There's any number of polls. You look at one poll, you look at all the whole series of polls. And I think it's important to sort of have a factual basis for this discussion.
Every single poll, when voters are asked who has a plan for Iraq, they ask George Bush, a majority says he has a plan. And they ask about John Kerry and a majority says he doesn't have a plan.
They ask on the economy, who has a plan on the economy? The majority says George Bush does. The majority says John Kerry doesn't.
Just like the NBC-"Wall Street Journal," Tad can say whatever he wants about this recent Gallup poll. But every single poll, when you ask the public who they trust and who has a plan, the majority of voters trust George Bush more and think George Bush has a plan. And that's opposite of what Tad's saying here today.
WOODRUFF: Tad Devine.
DEVINE: Well, Judy, I think voters do think the president has a plan. But the plan's been a disaster. It's been a catastrophic failure in Iraq. We've had deep problems on the economy. The voters are really frightened by the president's policies, and that's what's hurting the president today.
DOWD: But, Judy, they're so frightened -- they're so frightened they're voting for him.
WOODRUFF: Well, my question, Tad Devine is, very quickly, given how badly things are going in Iraq, why hasn't John Kerry been able to capitalize more on that?
DEVINE: Well, Judy, I think the voters in the end are going to be with John Kerry. The swing voters, soft and undecided voters, they tend to be people who make up their mind at end of the race.
They are expressing, I think, their opinion about where the country is right now. Most of them think we're going in the right direction.
Usually, when you look inside these polls, you see by a two-to- one margin these voters are saying we're going in the wrong direction. They disapprove of the president's policies, particularly the catastrophe in Iraq.
Over a thousand Americans dead, $200 billion spent there. Money we need desperately here at home. So I think these voters are telling us who they're going to vote for. They'll manifest that voting intention later in the process, as they always do in an election.
WOODRUFF: Matthew Dowd, since the president is doing -- is ahead, I think everybody can agree, in most polls, why is it that the president, Dick Cheney and others in your camp, why are they increasingly making these charges that what John Kerry is doing is aiding and abetting the enemy? Some people are saying these are the kind of over-the-top fear mongering comments that should only come, you know, when a campaign gets to its desperate last stages.
Why are we seeing that?
DOWD: Well, first of all, nobody from our campaign, the president or the vice president has ever said John Kerry's aiding and abetting the enemy. What we have said is that George Bush and Dick Cheney have a plan and have executed that plan.
And as Prime Minister Allawi came over here this last week and talked about that we were moving towards democracy in the Middle East for the first time in Iraq and that he expects that to be successful in January, and what we've talked about is a choice the public has to make. A strong and decisive leader on one hand, and somebody else that vacillates and picks up "The New York Times" or whatever paper happens to be on his airplane that day and decides what his position is. The public does not trust somebody like that in making decisions on important issues like the war on terror.
WOODRUFF: Tad Devine.
DEVINE: Judy, I think everyone watching this campaign knows that there is a conscious effort by the president, the vice president, the leaders in Congress and the Republican Party to systematically attack John Kerry. Their statements are so outrageous that last Saturday, "The New York Times," in an editorial talking about an un-American campaign being run by the Bush campaign, was attacked for the tone and tenor of the campaign and the outrageous statements that made.
"The New York Times" called it despicable, and that's exactly what it is. This is a campaign way over the line. And there's a reason the president is doing it.
They understand what's happening beneath the surface of the horse race. The president is in deep trouble. The country believes we're going in the wrong direction. They don't want to reelect him, and I think they're looking for the opportunity to manifest that, and they will on November 2.
DOWD: Judy, that's just fundamentally wrong. That's just fundamentally wrong.
This president has a job approval above 50 percent and has a lead in this race. And as Tad knows from looking at every other presidential campaign for the last 50 years, if a president has a job approval rating above 50 in September and leads the race, no incumbent has ever lost. He knows that.
And right now the only person who can turn this race around is John Kerry by somehow, in the last five weeks, after two years of explanation, he's got to finally lay out what he's going to do in Iraq and in the war on terror and on the economy. He's got a debate to try to do it, and he's going to have to figure out his position on that. But he has an opportunity to do that, and we'll see if he's successful.
DEVINE: Judy, we've had eight public polls in the last seven days. And the president's job approval in six of them is under 50 percent. So by Matt's own standard, the president is going to lose this race.
WOODRUFF: Very quickly, no spinning here. Who's going to win the debate on Thursday night? Matt Dowd?
DOWD: Well, John -- you know, John Kerry's -- probably his whole life has been about debates. And I said before that, you know, in prep school he was the best debater. In ivy league college he was the best debater.
He was a prosecutor in Massachusetts. In the Senate he was a debater.
You know, he's a great debater. I'm looking forward to two people being onstage together so the American public can judge for themselves who they best want to be president.
WOODRUFF: All right. The last word.
DEVINE: Judy, the president and his campaign desperately wanted the first debate on foreign policy. They got it. That's his strong suit. And, you know, John Kerry will be there to debate the issues, and we'll see who wins.
WOODRUFF: We'll be watching whatever happens. Tad Devine, Matthew Dowd, it's always great to have you on the show. Thanks very much.
DOWD: Glad to be here.
DEVINE: Good to be with you.
WOODRUFF: Thank you.
DOWD: See you, Judy.
WOODRUFF: Up next, what is at stake in the first presidential debate? I'll talk with political analyst Ron Brownstein about the upcoming showdown in Florida and the issues likely to dominate.
Also, speaking out in a Midwest battleground, Wisconsin voters tell our John King what they're looking out for out of Bush and Kerry.
WOODRUFF: Twelve years ago, it was "the economy, stupid." Bill Clinton used that issue to propel himself into the White House against George Bush, the first President Bush. Now President George W. Bush is using the national security issue to build up his claim on a second term on the White House.
CNN'S political analyst Ron Brownstein wrote about all this in his "LA Times" column today. He joins me now.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Judy.
WOODRUFF: How is national security, Iraq, right now? Three days before this first debate, what affect is that having on the race?
BROWNSTEIN: I think it's entirely appropriate that the first debate is about national security, Iraq, and foreign policy, because it has proven to be all year the dominant force in this presidential election. It probably had as much to do as anything else with John Kerry getting nominated in the first place.
The fact that he was a Vietnam combat veteran and many Democrats thought he would be more able to stand up to President Bush in the general election. He devoted virtually his entire convention in trying to fortify his credentials as commander in chief. And yet, he heads into this first debate back in the position of many Democrats since the Vietnam era over the last 30 years, with the Republican holding an advantage on issues of national security that are now much more relevant to voters than they really have been at any time, at least since 1980 and possibly since 1960.
WOODRUFF: I'm going to ask you the same question I tried to ask Tad Devine. If the war has been going so badly on the ground, as Democrats say, why hasn't John Kerry been able to capitalize?
BROWNSTEIN: That is at the heart of the election right now. And it's a very -- the question was a very good exchange between the two of them.
You have two things going on right now. You have doubts about the course that President Bush has set in Iraq, and you have what seem to be even larger doubts about whether John Kerry can do better.
We have two things that we are seeing consistently in polls, especially since conditions have sort of turned downward again in Iraq. Lots of disapproval of the president's handling of Iraq. No better than 50-50, usually negative, yet he still leads John Kerry when voters are asked who do they trust to handle the issue going forward.
And what that says pretty clearly is John Kerry has not yet convinced him either that he has a plan or the resolved decisiveness to handle this. And that is his real challenge in this debate.
Now, Democrats feel he has a better line of argument after the two big speeches last week. But he has to sell them on his only personal qualities.
WOODRUFF: So, in essence, what you're saying is the larger burden is on John Kerry Thursday night.
BROWNSTEIN: I think they both have a pretty large burden right now. It's a funny situation, where they're both going into this debate, I think, on the defensive about Iraq.
Events are putting the president on the defensive. That "TIME" Magazine poll that came out Friday, 55 percent of Americans said conditions in Iraq were worse than he is portraying them. And John Kerry is on the defensive because the Republicans have put an enormous amount of energy, including a new ad today, into saying he's someone who has changed his mind and been so indecisive on this issue, how can you trust him to defend the country?
They both have significant vulnerabilities as they head into the debate. And that's one of the reasons it will be so fascinating.
WOODRUFF: So what -- talk about, Ron, about what at this point they need to do.
BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think John Kerry's clear job in this debate is to convince the American people that -- that he's decisive, that he's strong and that he has a clear plan. It sounds strangely like what he had to do in July going into the Democratic convention. It's almost as if he's back to where he was then.
And I think President Bush's challenge is to convince the public that the course he has set is leading us toward progress in Iraq without getting so far detached from what they're seeing on TV every night that they think he is not really either leveling with them, or, as John Kerry said, living in fantasy land.
It's always a thin line for an incumbent. You want to put the best spin on things, but you also, as one Republican senator said to me recently, you don't want to give the impression that you're not watching the same movie as everybody else. I mean, you do have to sort of attach yourself to reality.
WOODRUFF: How much tougher does it make it for John Kerry, Ron, that in our poll, anyway, more than two-thirds of the people said they had made up their minds and that the debates really weren't going to change their minds. That they think they know now how they're going to vote.
BROWNSTEIN: Watch what they do, Judy, not what they say. Look, it is different than any election we had because it started so early and it's been engaged for so long. And there probably are more people dug in than in the past.
But the fact is that in 1960, going into the first debate, Richard Nixon was ahead of John Kennedy in Gallup. Jimmy Carter was ahead of Ronald Reagan in 1980. And in 2000, Al Gore in Gallup was leading by eight to 10 points at this point in the race. And by the time the first debate had sort of ended and percolated through the press, Bush was ahead by a comparable margin.
So in the past this has mattered a lot. Could this year be different? Sure, but the history suggests this is an important event in this campaign, especially for John Kerry, who needs to regain the initiative.
WOODRUFF: Ron Brownstein, we always learn a lot.
BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.
WOODRUFF: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.
Well, national security issues may unify Americans, but major domestic issues appear to be driving them apart. Just ahead, our John King talks to voters in the important battleground of Wisconsin. And in Racine, the economy and jobs are priority number one.
WOODRUFF: As we mentioned earlier, John Kerry held a town hall meeting today in Spring Green, Wisconsin, and he's preparing for Thursday's debate in the Badger State. President Bush visited the battleground state last week. Our John King went along, too, and he took time off the campaign trail to talk to some residents of Racine about the election, now just 36 days away.
JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Rosalie Soens is job hunting, hasn't had health insurance in two-and- a-half years, thinks the Democrats would do a better job with the economy. And yet, without hesitation, plans to vote for President Bush.
ROSALIE SOENS, UNEMPLOYED: He's been in there, you know, for a term. I think he's got the backbone for it.
KING: Yada Evans is looking for work, too. And in large part, because of the Iraq war, a new president.
YADA EVANS, UNEMPLOYED: I believe the president has his priorities screwed up. And screwed up meaning misdirected.
KING: The president, of course, thinks the war was the right call and stressed that point when he rolled through Racine Friday.
BUSH: Listen, we didn't find the stockpiles we all thought would be there, but Saddam Hussein had the capability of manufacturing weapons. And he could have passed that capability on to an enemy.
KING: The war is dominating the recent campaign sparring, but it's hardly the only big issue here in Racine, where most of the old factories are closed and the economy more than a little iffy.
(on camera): Mr. Bush narrowly lost Wisconsin four years ago, but has a narrow lead now. One reason is the state's unemployment rate has dipped below the national average. But some pockets are still hurting. Here in Racine, for example, the unemployment rate is 11.4 percent.
(voice-over): There are signs that suggest trouble for any incumbent. Joyce Winter among those who think a new president might help her job search.
JOYCE WINTER, UNEMPLOYED: Maybe the economy will turn around, maybe jobs will stay in the homeland. Maybe we'll see better industrial growth versus growth outside the states.
KING: Dan Mouw was among 228 workers at a printing and graphics company who lost their job suddenly in June. He doesn't blame Mr. Bush, but thinks the war trumps the economy as an issue anyway.
DAN MOUW, UNEMPLOYED: If we don't have a safe and at least have a feeling of a secure and safe country that we live in, we can talk about the economy all we want. But it isn't going to be all that important if we're wondering if we're going to get nailed, you know, next week or what city is going to be next, or something like that.
KING: Angie Vail voted for the president four years ago but isn't sure this time around. She worries about the war...
ANGIE VAIL, UNDECIDED VOTER: Was it necessary? I mean, that's something that -- that I am toying with in my head.
KING: ... and the economy. VAIL: Show me how we can keep Racine alive. There needs to be jobs, we need to attracting people to come into our town, we need them to be able to make money in order to spend money.
KING: She's eager to hear the candidates' debate, but knows as the seasons change, decision time is drawing near.
John King, CNN, Racine, Wisconsin.
WOODRUFF: Well, if you're still hungry for presidential polls, don't go away. We have more Bush-Kerry numbers to punch in our next half-hour with help from our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.
Also ahead, can a filmmaker who first recognized Arnold Schwarzenegger's star power help John Kerry win the White House?
ANNOUNCER: Who's winning the campaign battle over the war on terror?
KERRY: I have a plan to go after, hunt out and kill the terrorists.
BUSH: We are striking the terrorists abroad so we do not have to face them here at home.
ANNOUNCER: We'll take a look at what Americans are saying.
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Even after 9/11, it is wrong for this president or any president to shoot first and ask questions later.
ANNOUNCER: Ted Kennedy goes on the attack over Iraq. We'll speak to the senior Senator from Massachusetts and get a Republican response.
Now, live from Washington, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.
WOODRUFF: Welcome back.
If you think of polls as campaign snap shots, the presidential candidates have another entry for their albums today. And this batch is not particularly flattering to John Kerry.
Once again, the headline from our new poll, the horse race. Bush leads Kerry by eight points among likely voters nationwide and by 11 points among the wider pool of registered voters. The CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup survey also shows the president's overall approval rating at 54 percent, up a couple of points since mid-September.
Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.
Bill, the leadoff presidential debate earlier this -- later this week is going to be focusing on foreign policy. How are all of those issues playing in this poll?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Judy, let's look at the three biggest issues in this campaign: the economy, terrorism and Iraq.
When asked which is the most important issue, the economy is still No. 1. But the two international issues together outweigh the economy.
We're seeing a shift in concern, however. From July to September, Iraq has actually diminished in public concern, and the war on terrorism has gotten bigger.
Moreover, the number of people who say they approve of the way President Bush has been handling terrorism has been going up. It's now over 60 percent, the highest it's been all year.
The Republicans have shifted the agenda from Iraq to terrorism, and that seems to be helping President Bush.
WOODRUFF: But still Bill, we know there's been a lot of news out of Iraq, some of it very grim, the headings and so forth. How are respondents to the poll seeing that?
SCHNEIDER: Well, Judy, as you indicated, there is a lot of news from Iraq, and it's been two different kinds of news. Horrifying news about bombings, kidnappings, murders and continued U.S. losses. But also encouraging news from President Bush and from Iraq's interim prime minister that the situation in Iraq is under control and that plans for the election in January are proceeding.
Now, are Americans encouraged or are they discouraged? The majority continues to say things in Iraq are going badly for the United States, 52 percent. But interestingly, that number has been going down since June, when it was up to 60 percent.
The handover of power to the Iraqis at the end of June seems to have had the intended effect. It convinced many Americans that Iraq was becoming less of an American problem.
Iraq is still a volatile issue. And most Americans still do not think things are going well in Iraq for the United States. Senator Kerry may want to use the debate to heighten public concern about Iraq and to make it a bigger issue and to fight any sense of complacency that may beginning to set in -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: All right. Bill Schneider, thank you very much, reporting for us today from Dallas. Bill, thank you.
Well, both Bush and Kerry are gearing up for their Thursday debate and getting in a few shots at one another in the process.
The president told Ohio voters his debate prep hasn't been easy, because he charges Kerry, quote, "keeps changing his positions on the war on terror," end quote.
In Wisconsin Senator Kerry continued a line of attack from the day before, denouncing Bush for saying he stands by his famous aircraft carrier speech last year declaring an end to major combat in Iraq.
And this hour the Kerry campaign is releasing a new ad echoing that theme, accusing Bush of still not getting it about the situation in Iraq 16 months after the "Mission Accomplished" speech.
A top Kerry ally is pressing the Democrat's case against Bush on Iraq. In a speech today, Senator Edward Kennedy charged the Bush administration's failures in Iraq and in the war on terror have made the United States more vulnerable to a nuclear attack by terrorists.
I spoke with Senator Kerry at George Washington University when he delivered his speech at the Brady Art Gallery. That's where we spoke.
I began by asking him if his talk about a possible nuclear 9/11 amounts to fear mongering?
KENNEDY: This administration has bungled its policy in Iraq and has not leveled with the American people about the increase in danger that our troops are facing and that Iraq is facing every single day.
It has misrepresented the ground situation and has misrepresented the progress that we made against al Qaeda throughout the world.
Now, they misled the American people in going to war. They hyped the -- their intelligence, and they misrepresented the intelligence in bringing us to war.
And now at this very critical time when we're going to have an opportunity to have a new direction in American foreign policy and national security and defense issues, they're going to try and avoid any debate and discussion about the significance of their mistaken policy in Iraq.
One of the aspects of the fact of the obsession about Iraq is that we have ignored, virtually, the two nuclear powers, one Iran and one in North Korea. And we are failing to follow the very solid recommendations of Nunn-Lugar in terms of the protections of dangerous material and nuclear material that exist in -- in Russia.
Now those are the facts. These are not just opinions. That happens to be a fact. That is a byproduct of the fact that we are obsessed with the focus dealing with Iraq.
WOODRUFF: But in terms of the actions on the ground, General John Abizaid, who's the head of the Central Command over there, says the war is making progress. He says his field commanders feel confident. He says they've got over 100,000 Iraqi troops trained and equipped.
How do you know more than the man in charge of the operation?
KENNEDY: I have enormous respect for him. And I wish that this president paid more attention to the military commanders before going into Iraq. And if he had, we wouldn't have gone in.
There have been -- with all respect to General Abizaid, there are 863 Americans who have been killed or wounded in the last month, the highest number. We have more -- the sophistication of the attacks on American troops has increased dramatically.
We have 70 attacks a day, the highest number, that have taken place in the last month alone. The highest number, the highest number of killed and wounded, highest number of assaults on Americans, increase in sophistication that has taken place. Increased numbers of kidnappings and increasing number of beheadings.
So I don't think that this is the rosy picture. It isn't just me that's saying it. We have Republicans.
We have Chuck Hagel, who has mentioned that -- said this situation in Iraq is deteriorating. We have even Lindsey Graham, who says we don't have to just try and present a rosy picture. We have Dick Lugar, who says that the money, the reconstruction, the fact that this $8 billion is missing and that -- the fact that we haven't use reconstruction money is just basically incompetent.
Those are facts. And that is what is happening, and the American people ought to understand it. That's all that this speech is about.
WOODRUFF: But Senator, after seven months of straight out, flat out campaigning, right now the polls show that George W. Bush is solidifying his lead over John Kerry.
Why is it that John Kerry has not been able to get across the kind of points that you're making? Why is not able to take advantage of this situation?
KENNEDY: First of all, it isn't -- it shouldn't be looked at as just taking advantage of the situation. And really, it shouldn't just be an issue that we're looking at in terms of the election, because national security obviously has been an issue that all Americans care about and care about deeply.
But there hasn't been this kind of debate, and there hasn't been this dialogue. There will be. It will be the first chance for Americans to see both President Bush and John Kerry on Thursday night.
And what, I believe on Thursday night, John Kerry will outline what I know, what he knows and what the American people will know if they listen carefully, that he has a plan in order to be able to have a stable and democratic Iraq and be able to get American troops out.
He has a plan to be able to deal with our intelligence and with homeland security. And he has a plan and a vision on how to deal with challenges that we're facing in the economy.
The fact that this president can't do it doesn't mean that John Kerry can't. That's what the Republicans say: "Look, this president can't do it."
And that's against the background where this president has insulted our allies and brazenly -- and basically shredded our alliances to countries around the world.
He's had his chance. He hasn't been able to do it. And therefore we need a new direction. And John Kerry, who's spelling that out, he will for the last five weeks.
WOODRUFF: So are you saying that this debate coming up, or these debates, are the last chance for John Kerry? Most persons are saying they've already made up their minds. They aren't -- they're not going to pay that much attention.
KENNEDY: Well, I believe that this is an important opportunity for him. And I believe that there's a really heightened interest in the debate, as there should be.
And I think that they'll have a real opportunity to measure and to also hold accountable this administration with its failed policies.
WOODRUFF: Senator Edward Kennedy. I spoke with him this afternoon.
A Republican rebuttal to Kennedy just ahead when I talk with Arizona Senator Jon Kyl.
Plus, the man behind a new film about John Kerry. I'll ask George Butler what he hoped to accomplish.
And later, what are folks thinking in South Dakota's Senate race?
WOODRUFF: Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle says a new poll confirms what his campaign has found, that he is ahead of Republican rival John Thune.
A survey of likely South Dakota voters shows Daschle five points ahead of former Congressman Thune. It was conducted last week after Daschle and Thune debated on the Sunday talk show "Meet the Press."
Daschle led Thune by just two points back in May. Thune says he expects the race to fluctuate until election day. We'll be right back, talking to Senator John Kyl, rebutting what Senator Ted Kennedy had to say today. We'll be right back.
WOODRUFF: Our apologies. We're trying to get an interview with Senator John Kyl at the Capitol. We've been having audio problems. We're going to get those straightened out and turn to him in just a few moments.
Meantime, a soon to be released documentary chronicles John Kerry's Vietnam service and his decision to become a leading activist against the war.
Director George Butler has known John Kerry since the earl 1960's, and his film is titled "Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry."
George Butler joins me now from New York to talk about the film.
Why did you decide to do this?
GEORGE BUTLER, DIRECTOR, "GOING UPRIVER": I -- as a filmmaker I always look for good stories. And this is a rather remarkable story.
And I went back into John's life, and I've told a story of the kind of experience he had in Vietnam, which is far more ferocious than anyone really has any idea of.
And then I turned to the peace movement and showed how he changed his mind, as a lot of other veterans did in the period, and instead of taking the easy road of running for Congress, sort of like Jack Kennedy, with a chest full of medals, he spoke out against the war with a primary idea that he could save a lot of lives if the war were ended. And a lot of Vietnam veterans shared this sentiment with him.
WOODRUFF: There has been so much said and so much shown already this year, George Butler, about John Kerry's service in Vietnam, some of it positive, a lot of it negative.
And you're very well aware of the swift boat veterans and the ads that they've run and how much that much that's hurt Senator Kerry's campaign.
Are you going to be able to get -- Is there new material in here that is going to help John Kerry?
BUTLER: Based on the showing we had at the Toronto Film Festival and about 50 interviews that I've done since then and the reaction of almost everyone to this film is that it opens up a totally new idea of John Kerry's experience in Vietnam.
We got original footage that was shot in the rivers in Mekong Delta. And if you see this film, you cannot begin to believe how ferocious the combat was that John Kerry and the other swift boats with him faced. The peace movement is interesting, too, because you get the immediate feeling from this part of the movie, as well as from the Vietnam section, that the whole experience John Kerry had in war and peace foreshadows what's happening in Iraq.
And so many people have come out of seeing my movie and said, "George, what your movie is really about is the war in Iraq." And that's the revelation of this experience.
WOODRUFF: But at the same -- but at the same time, you know there are now so many Vietnam veterans in this country who seem to be almost on a crusade to see John Kerry defeated, because they say they are still angry at him for coming home and testifying against atrocities committed by American troops.
Is anything you say going to shed new light on that experience in a way -- again, in a way that helps Kerry?
BUTLER: Well, an enormous number of people have said to me, "You know, George, your film changed my views of John Kerry."
And I'm the guy who's made a couple films like this, which changed people's minds about -- about their underlying subjects. I mean, "Pumping Iron" really made Arnold Schwarzenegger a celebrity and a movie star, and no one expected that.
And this film is completely unexpected in its portent. And I think, because it has no narration and it shows you what John Kerry actually experienced, that it really does have the power to change people's minds.
I don't think that any of us are going to get away from Vietnam or Iraq. And I think that the film I've made may make a lot of people have second thoughts about the war in Iraq, because it is so similar to the war in Vietnam.
WOODRUFF: Filmmaker George Butler, who has finished a documentary on John Kerry that is just about to be released. George Butler, thank you very much for talking to us. We appreciate it.
BUTLER: Judy, thank you, too.
WOODRUFF: Thank you. We appreciate it.
And as we've been telling you, to react to Senator Edward Kennedy's attack today on President Bush's conduct of the war in Iraq, we want to hear now from a Republican Senator. He is Arizona Senator Jon Kyl. He joins us from Capitol Hill.
Senator, sorry about the audio problems. We're glad to have you.
SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: That's all right. I'm glad I'm not the only one that has problems.
WOODRUFF: Well, Senator, first off, the most serious charge, I think, that many of us think that is coming today from Senator Kennedy is this -- is this notion that by taking -- the president, by taking his eye off the ball -- North Korea, Iran, and even the so-called loose nukes around the world -- by going into Iraq, Kennedy's charge is that John -- that George Bush has made the United States more vulnerable to a nuclear attack, rather than less.
KYL: Well, that's what's so confusing about this speech.
I think that Senator Kennedy is confusing the violence in Iraq, which none of us like today, with security here at home. We haven't been attacked in over three years now. The 9/11 Commission said we are safer than we were before. Not completely safe, obviously.
But one of the reasons we have forces fighting in Iraq, one of the reasons we have forces fighting in Afghanistan and, frankly, in other parts of the world, is so that we can defeat this militant Islam and be safer here at home.
So the fact that terrorists are still working on weapons of mass destruction is not a function of the fact that we have taken out Saddam Hussein, but the fact that they were working on these weapons before 9/11, they attacked us on 9/11, they're still working on them. And they're going to continue to do so until we have defeated them all around the world.
The key point is this. I think Senator Kerry forgets that Iraq is one of the fronts in the war. Afghanistan is one of the fronts in the war, Pakistan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Libya. All of these countries are fronts in the war on terror. And you can't just fight one to the exclusion of the others.
WOODRUFF: But what about the argument that, if nothing else, I mean, whether they are nuclear weapons or not, but the mismanagement of the war created, in his words, a fertile and very dangerous new breeding ground for terrorists in Iraq and elsewhere in that region?
KYL: Well, the military commanders simply deny that. The fact is there were militants, Islamic attackers prior to our invasion of Iraq. It's called 9/11. And it didn't happen because we invaded Iraq. We hadn't invaded Iraq at that time.
WOODRUFF: You don't think that's gotten worse? Senator, you don't believe that has gotten worse since the war?
KYL: It's certainly not worse here at home, is it? Because we haven't been attacked at home.
It is true that, because of the strong connections of al Qaeda with Saddam Hussein before we went in there, they are there today. And they are causing our troops a lot of problems. The bigger problem is the adherents of Saddam Hussein, according to Secretary Powell and General Abizaid.
But nonetheless, there are militants Islamic terrorists in Iraq today. And I would much rather that our soldiers be fighting them in Iraq today than that we be facing them here in the United States. WOODRUFF: Dick Cheney has been claiming in so many words that al Qaeda would prefer to have John Kerry in the White House. Is this an appropriate line of criticism, or is this over the top, Senator?
KYL: The key there is your characterization "in so many words." He never said that.
What he is saying is the same thing that my hometown newspaper editorialized about Sunday and that I've heard a lot of other people talking about.
And that is that in this debate that we're having, we need to be very, very careful. Criticism, yes. Debate, yes. But let's be careful of the message that we send, not only to our troops and their families and the message we send to our allies.
But let's be careful of the message that we send to the terrorists, because they're testing us. They want to prevent these -- these elections from occurring in January. And they're testing our resolve.
And how we conduct this debate -- debate in public has a lot to do with their understanding of our resolve.
WOODRUFF: So -- but my question is what are you saying? Because we've heard both the president and the vice president talk about the war on terror and how, in effect, putting John Kerry in the White House would, in so many words, give aid to the terrorists, would be a comfort to the terrorists.
KYL: Well, there -- there again you said "in so many words." Find me where President Bush has said that, and I'll respond to your question.
What President Bush is saying is that he is more capable of defeating this group of terrorists wherever we find them in the world, because he is a resolute leader, willing to make strong decisions even if they're not necessarily politically popular.
Whereas, his opponent seems to vacillate back and forth, depending upon the political requirements that he faces at the time.
That's a legitimate case to make. I don't think that very many people even in the media will deny that Senator Kerry has vacillated back and forth.
And the question is do you want a strong leader, somebody who's resolute, or do you want somebody who vacillates back and forth to lead in this war on terror? I think obviously I'm biased, but I think President Bush is more qualified under those circumstances.
WOODRUFF: All right. Senator Jon Kyl, we appreciate you being with us. Thanks very much.
KYL: Thank you.
WOODRUFF: Thank you. And we'll be right back with more INSIDE POLITICS.
WOODRUFF: That's it for this Monday edition of INSIDE POLITICS. Thanks for joining us. I'm Judy Woodruff.
"CROSSFIRE" starts right now.
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