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Interview With John McCain; Interview With Elizabeth Edwards

Aired September 28, 2004 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening and welcome to PRIME TIME POLITICS. Glad to have you with us tonight.
There are just 35 days until the election, just over 48 hours until the showdown in Miami. The candidates go behind closed doors to get ready for the first presidential debate.

And she's more than just a candidate's wife. I'll be talking with Elizabeth Edwards, leading her own charge against the president.

Plus, my interview with Senator John McCain, a supporter of the war, but not very happy with the way it is being run. He also happens to be a close Kerry colleague and fellow Vietnam vet. Which candidate does he think will do a better job of handling Iraq and national security?

And that's exactly where we begin tonight; 4 1/2 years ago, John McCain and George Bush were at each other's throats in a nasty campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Well, now he is campaigning to reelect George W. Bush. While the senator is a loyal Republican, no one can accuse him of being a yes-man. He is too outspoken on too many issues for that.

Joining us now from Washington, Arizona Senator John McCain.

Always good to have you on the show. Welcome.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Thank you, Paula.

And you forget to mention I'm not being elected Ms. Congeniality again this year in the Senate.

ZAHN: Well, you have proven that in a member of different ways. And that's where I begin tonight.

Senator, you have said that we are not winning the war in Iraq. Your Republican colleague Chuck Hagel says things are getting worse there. How bad is it in Iraq today?

MCCAIN: Well, I believe that things are very tough in Iraq. I think we've seen an increase in the violence. We've seen an increase in the number of casualties. We've seen the enemy solidify their position in some of these sanctuaries, such as Fallujah and other places.

But let me say that there's also been significant improvement and progress in the north, northern part of Iraq. There's been significant improvement in the southern part of Iraq. But, look, I think what we to look at this as a very tough situation, but one that we must win and we can win and I believe we will win. But we shouldn't present it any other way to American people as anything except a very, very difficult situation.

And, yes, we made mistakes at the beginning of this conflict when we won such a swift military victory. We didn't secure the borders. We allowed looting. We have recently in the last several months allowed sanctuaries, etcetera. But in every war, mistakes are made, Paula, and we need to fix those mistakes and do better, because we cannot afford to lose this conflict. And, if we do, the consequences are failure will be profound.

ZAHN: But, Senator, the truth is, you've got a lot of Republicans out there saying the president is not painting an accurate picture of what's going on in Iraq. It's too rosy of a picture. Do you think he's leveled with the American people about the reality of what's going on, on the ground in Iraq?

MCCAIN: I think in recent days that the president has been very, very firm in his statements that this is a very tough struggle that we're in. Has he always said everything exactly as I would want him to? Obviously not. And, by the way, he and I have enjoyed a very good relationship ever since 2000, not just in this campaign.

But I believe that the president has been pretty forthcoming about how tough this is, but I also applaud strongly his commitment to winning and doing whatever it takes to win and his steadfastness in staying the course.

ZAHN: What isn't being done that you think the president should be doing?

MCCAIN: Well, when the military victory was won, we shouldn't have allowed the looting. We should have secured the borders. We needed -- fundamentally, we needed more boots on the ground over there. We needed more linguists. We needed more Marines. We needed more special forces. We needed more civil affairs people.

In recent months, we have made mistakes by allowing the enemy to have sanctuary in places like Fallujah and other towns, and we've certainly made mistakes by saying we were going to do something and then not doing them. When four American contractors were killed, we said we were going to go in and get those who killed them and capture them or kill them. We didn't. When Sadr was causing all the trouble, our general said we're going to go in and kill or capture al-Sadr.

So we went in to Fallujah and we got part way in and then we pulled back. You can't do that. And most fundamentally, you can't allow the enemy sanctuary, because people are coming in there from everywhere now, from Saudi Arabia, from Jordan, from the Palestinian -- extremists are coming in to those sanctuaries and they're orchestrating attacks from it.

ZAHN: Whose fault is it that all of those mistakes you just mentioned have been made? MCCAIN: Well, I think, obviously, all of us are responsible, particularly those in the -- quote -- "chain of command," and I'm sure that the president has said that we have made mistakes. Key to this is to adjust to these new challenges we face and do whatever's necessary.

And, by the way, that means probably more troops and overall much larger numbers, 80,000, maybe, new member -- expansion of the Army and 20,000 to 30,000 people expanded in the Marine Corps. We can't keep up this level.

ZAHN: Given the political environment, though, what are the chances of that happening, Senator?

MCCAIN: Well, I think the American people and the Congress will do whatever is necessary.

ZAHN: Will the president ask for it? Will Donald Rumsfeld ask for that kind of troop strength you're talking about?

MCCAIN: I don't know if they will. It's interesting. They have basically increased our troop strength by some 30,000 through various administrative actions. Also, we have called up the Individual Ready Reserve, those who had already gotten out. And we are putting a very heavy strain on our Guard and Reservists.

And I want to say, these people who are fighting over there are the very best. They're glad they're there. They're doing a magnificent job. We're proud of them. They just need more help and I believe that they'll get it.

ZAHN: Well, let's come back to your specific point about the insurgency movement. I know you don't think you can hold elections unless you wipe out some of those sanctuaries. But Donald Rumsfeld said just last week that there is a scenario that might happen where you could have elections in just four-fifths of the country. Secretary of State Colin Powell says unless you have elections throughout the country, the elections won't be credible. What do you think?

MCCAIN: I think they were both sort of saying is the same thing. It's imperative that we get free elections in as much of that country as we can, and, clearly, you have to have control in order to have that.

I think Secretary Powell, who I've had numerous conversations with, believes that that's our goal. I think that Secretary Rumsfeld was looking at these perhaps some of these areas just because we don't have control over them. The problem with not having control of some of the Sunni Triangle is that you may be depriving the Sunnis of their legitimate place in the government. And that could lead to problems in the future.

But I believe that we will have a flawed, but functioning democracy in Iraq after January.

ZAHN: What does that mean, then, that a partial election is better than no election at all?

MCCAIN: Of course. But I think it will be better than a partial election. I believe that the government will be representative. I believe that the government can function. I believe they will be fighting this insurgency for a long, long time.

Will it be perfect? No. But I think it will be one huge, giant step better than what they enjoyed under Saddam Hussein. And, obviously, I'm a little sarcastic.

ZAHN: I understand what you're saying.

Senator, do you think that a major military action is being put off until after the election because of the politics of this upcoming election?

MCCAIN: I don't think so. I have greater faith in our leadership than to think that. I do believe that one of the impediments to acting right away is, we want to be able to turn over control to trained Iraqi military and police when we go into these places.

But I would -- I believe that some of the things we're doing now, such as some of the precision bombing, such as some of the training that's going on, will set up this operation. Should we have done it a long time ago? Yes.

ZAHN: Senator McCain, I'm going to end on that note. You mind hanging around with us?


ZAHN: We have a lot more to talk about, including what it's like to face George W. Bush in a debate. You remember that.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He may have a dispute with you.


BUSH: Let me finish, please. Please, let me finish.


BUSH: Let me finish.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, let him finish.


ZAHN: And we'll be checking in with the Kerry/Edwards campaign.


ZAHN (voice-over): While the candidate works the crowds, his political partner pummels the president.

ELIZABETH EDWARDS, WIFE OF SENATOR JOHN EDWARDS: You see these great big billboards across swing states. It's your money. George Bush. Well, right. It's our money. Would you mind spending it a little smarter?

ZAHN: Tonight, the Democrats' second front, Elizabeth Edwards on the attack.

And just two days until the first big debate, secret strategies, huge political mistakes. We'll give you a preview.

Plus, our voting booth question of the day. Would you like to see Senator John McCain in a Bush Cabinet, in a Kerry Cabinet, run for president in 2008, stay in the Senate? Go to our Web site,, and have your say. We'll show you the results at the end of the hour.

Meanwhile, more of the day's PRIME TIME POLITICS politics coming up next.



ZAHN: And we are back again with Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona.

Welcome back.

Senator, you're probably the only person who has ever beaten the president in a debate forum. Let's revisit what happened when the two of you took each other on in South Carolina in February of 2000.


MCCAIN: So I'd be glad to tell you the rest of the story, if you'd let me, when it's appropriate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, let him respond.


MCCAIN: You should be ashamed of sponsoring an event with that man there, who had attacked your own father.

BUSH: Let me finish.

MCCAIN: Yes, sir. Yes.

BUSH: John, I believe that you served our country nobly. And I've said it over and over again. That man wasn't speaking for me. He may have a dispute with you.


BUSH: Let me finish, please. Please, let me finish.


BUSH: Let me finish.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, let him finish.



ZAHN: Well, you smile now, senator McCain, but it was pretty tense back then. You clearly got to the then governor. What does John Kerry have to do to accomplish what you did in that brief interchange?

MCCAIN: First off, could I say, Paula, that that was a tough campaign, but after it was over, the president and I got together. I supported his -- I campaigned for him in the election of 2000, and I continue to support him, and I have.

Have we had some differences? Yes. We have a good relationship. I believe he's led this nation with strength and clarity since September 11 and deserves reelection, and I'm doing what I can to see him get reelected.

ZAHN: Come back to the debate for a moment, though. What is John Kerry going to be up against?

MCCAIN: I think the president's strength is that he has the ability to project an image of absolute sincerity and belief in what he's saying.

In other words, I think the way that he defeated Al Gore in the election -- in the debates that they had is that you may disagree with the president, but he comes across as a person who is secure within himself and firm in his convictions and beliefs. In other words, what you see is what you get. And I think that the vice president, Vice President Gore, showed up three different people in three different debates, and I think that the American people felt a sense of confidence that the president had a very strong inner compass and inner set of convictions.

ZAHN: You are very friendly with John Kerry, and everybody knows him as very capable debater. What is it that the president has to look out for from John Kerry?

MCCAIN: I think that the president should fully understand that he is up against a very accomplished debater. No one believed that he would be able to do as well as he did when he was in debates with then Governor Weld.

Also, I think that the president has got to remember that he's the president, and that's one of his great strengths coming into this debate, and he can't be baited into some kind of lowering or diminishment of that status. And, finally, I think the president will probably hear some of his own words. That happens to us who have our words on record, and he better be prepared to respond to them.

I'm sure, that, for example, mission accomplished will come up somewhere in this debate on Thursday night.


ZAHN: Do you think the president really can defend that?

MCCAIN: Sure. I think that the president...

ZAHN: Do you think it was a smart thing for him to have made that appearance?

MCCAIN: No, I don't think it was the smart thing to do, but I think the president will say, look, I was thanking the men and women who served on that carrier, who had been at sea for a long time. I was gratified by their welcome. And the mission that they had performed was really magnificent.

And I might even say, was that banner interpreted the wrong way and should we have not had it up there? Probably not, and then move on. You see my point?

ZAHN: I do see your point. Do you suspect the president will continue to bore in on John Kerry as being unpatriotic when he criticizes Bush administration policy in Iraq? He went as far as to saying -- quote -- "You can embolden an enemy by sending mixed messages." Is John Kerry emboldening the terrorists?

MCCAIN: I don't think so.

What I think what the president is going to probably focus on is his consistency, which is his strength, and John Kerry's inconsistency, how you voted to authorize the war, but not to fund it, the varying positions that John Kerry has taken on that and other issues. I think that's the president's strength, which reinforces his -- and that will be his advantage, because it will reinforce his strength.

ZAHN: But, Senator, you have to concede, the president has had his own flip-flops. Wasn't he the same man that said he was opposed to the 9/11 Commission and then later publicly stated it was a good idea, the same candidate who said he wasn't in favor of nation- building and isn't that exactly what's going on in Iraq today?

MCCAIN: I think that the president on the nation-building thing, I think circumstances dictated a change there, obviously, because of the threat.

But I'm sure that all of have -- will be plagued from time to time with some inconsistency. My old friend Mo Udall once said the politician's prayer is that, may the words that I utter today be tender and sweet, because tomorrow I may have to eat them.

ZAHN: You've never had to do that, have you, Senator?


MCCAIN: On occasion. On occasion.

ZAHN: Well, we are always happy to you have on the air with us, Senator John McCain. Thank you.

ZAHN: Thanks, Paula.

It's almost impossible to overstate the importance of the first presidential debate. It is high pressure and high stakes for the candidates. Find out why when we come back.


ZAHN: Voters go to the polls exactly five weeks from today, but tonight a more imminent deadline has the full attention of both candidates.

Thursday, President Bush and Senator Kerry go before a nationwide television audience to debate the war in Iraq, the war on terror and homeland security, and the stakes could not be higher. So while their campaigns roared on without them today, both candidates sought a quiet place of refuge.


ZAHN (voice-over): John Kerry's keeping a low profile and making final debate preparations at a golf resort in Spring Green, Wisconsin.

President Bush doing the same at his ranch in Texas. Both campaigns are letting the running mates do the actual running.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We know what needs to be done in Iraq, but the honest truth is, in order to do it, we're going to have to have a fresh start with a new president. It cannot be done. George Bush made this mess and he can't fix it.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Senator Kerry's continued wavering in this campaign, opposing the war, but claiming the president's plan as his own. Calling himself an alliance builder, then belittling America's closest friends shows an agenda not of conviction, but of political opportunism.

ZAHN: If you think that's rough, check out some new releases in the political ad wars.


NARRATOR: After the first World Trade Center attack, John Kerry and congressional liberals tried to slash $6 billion from intelligence budgets.


ZAHN: That was the Democrats crying foul. J. EDWARDS: For them to exploit one of the great tragedies in American history for personal gain is wrong. And the American voter needs to say that it's wrong come November.


BUSH: I don't know where he is. I -- I repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Word tonight that Osama bin Laden is very much alive and coordinating plans for news attacks on America and American allies.


ZAHN: On the other hand, Osama bin Laden makes an appearance in this new attack ad from the Democratic Party.

But from across the Atlantic, an eloquent rebuttal. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is fighting to keep his own job in elections next year, says the terrorists must be defeated now in Iraq.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: They've chosen this battleground because they know success for us in Iraq is not success for America or Britain or even Iraq itself, but for the values and the way of life that democracy represents. They know that. That's why they are there. That is why we should be there.


ZAHN: Well, the conduct of the war and its aftermath will no doubt bring some heated exchanges during Thursday's debate.

Joining us now to talk about how the two candidates are getting ready, former Democratic Senator George Mitchell, who was President Clinton's sparring partner while Clinton prepared to debate Bob Dole in 1996, and in Washington tonight, Republican strategist Charlie Black, who worked very closely with Bob Dole to get ready for that debate.

Glad to have both of you with us.

Senator, President Clinton once said of you as his sparring partner that you were ruthless. He said the first debate the two of you had in preparation for a real debate, he said they should have called a TKO before it was over. How tough do you have to be in these training sessions?

GEORGE MITCHELL (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: I think the purpose is to make sure that the candidate has heard everything before the real debate begins.

ZAHN: Can you really do that?

MITCHELL: Oh, sure, yes. It's not very difficult, in fact, because if you look over the records of what's been said in the previous months and years, you can, almost with certainty, predict what's going to be said in the debate itself. And, in fact, every word that Bob Dole uttered in the debate, President Clinton had heard in the debate preparation.

ZAHN: Is there a risk, Charlie, of being over-rehearsed?


In fact, for those of us who have been around a while, I think you will remember the first debate between Reagan and Mondale in 1984, and President Reagan was too rehearsed and tried to absorb too much information. He was more himself with less preparation in the second debate, and he did great. And, by the way, Paula, I'd like to get a videotape of Senator Mitchell playing Bob Dole. I could sell that around Washington, D.C.


ZAHN: Oh, I bet you could. A lot of takers there.

How realistic do you really think these mock debates are? I know you say you can certainly master the material that you know is going to be coming your way. But, stylistically, does what you do in a practice session look anything like what you're going to do on stage at the podium on the real night?

MITCHELL: An effort is made to replicate the circumstances as closely as possible. But, of course, there isn't any real comparison, because when you're in the debate preparation, you know there's only a few people watching.

But in the debate, you know that there are many millions watching. But I think you have to try to acclimate the candidates to the physical setting, to the circumstances and particularly to the time limits, and to what will be said. They know the material. They know it so well that it's a real problem to limit their answers to two minutes and 90 seconds. That is a big part of the preparation.

ZAHN: And isn't that one of the biggest challenges everybody says John Kerry faces, that he certainly, Charlie, has mastered the material, but you got to learn how to do it in two-minute increments and, like the senator just said, 90 seconds and 30 seconds?

BLACK: Well, I think that's true, Paula. And the senator hit the nail on the head. You've got to have every answer on every issue prepared in a two-minute version, in a one-minute version, because it varies whether you're up first or second. You've got to be responsive to the moderator and still get your theme and your messages for your campaign out in the course of the debate.

So it takes a lot of concentration. I think Senator Kerry is going to be good at it. He's very good on his feet, having watched him debate Governor Weld and debate in the Senate for many years.

MITCHELL: This is part of the Republican lowering expectations which I must say they're absolutely superb at. (CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: But both sides of guilty of that.

MITCHELL: They're better at this than we are.

ZAHN: The Democrats have been saying that George Bush has never been beaten. He's going to be great.


MITCHELL: In the first Bush-Gore debate, I watched it with a group of people about half Republicans. And the expectations were so low that when the president, when then Governor Bush came on and said good evening, they all said, aha, see, we told you he could do it.


MITCHELL: And that's what you're seeing now.

BLACK: You know, tonight's CNN poll, 80 percent thought Kerry was a better debater than Bush. So the public is expecting Senator Kerry to do a lot, too.

MITCHELL: I think those calls were all made by the Republican National Committee.

ZAHN: We'll find out.


ZAHN: Do you think it is a misnomer that we're even calling these debates? There are a lot of people who are many highly critical of the format, that say that you're not going to see any fireworks, that not only are these answers rehearsed, but there are so many regulations that you're not going to have the spontaneity you really want to have in a debate?

MITCHELL: I don't agree with those who are critical. I think it is a debate. I think it's very illuminating. I think the American people will learn a lot from it.

You have to have some rules. You have to have some structure. Now, those comments come mostly from those who are excluded from the debates or who don't participate. But the reality is, this is one of the most important steps. It's a means by which people can inform themselves about the candidates and about the issues. And I think they're very valuable, while imperfect, of course. I think they should go forward as they are.


ZAHN: Charlie, in closing tonight, how much do you think could really turn on the first debate performance?

BLACK: Well, I think a lot is riding on it because it is the first one. It usually gets the largest audience. Historically, most of these debates don't change the momentum in the race.

But Senator Mitchell is right. This is a good format. It's the only extended exposure that the average voter gets to these two candidates in the exchange. The press gets to be the moderator and ask the questions. It's fair for everybody.

ZAHN: But, Senator Mitchell, in closing, you also feel a lot can change. You pointed out that in the last election, what, Al Gore was ahead by eight points leading into the first debate.


MITCHELL: Gore was ahead going into the first debate in 1980. Carter was ahead going into the first debate. So they can change minds. And people have a right to see the candidates with each other, responding to the same questions. I think it's very valuable.

ZAHN: Charlie Black, Senator Mitchell, thank you for both of your perspectives tonight.

MITCHELL: Thank you.

BLACK: Thanks, Paula.

ZAHN: My pleasure.

Thursday night, we'll be in Miami for the first presidential debate. Our special coverage gets under way at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. You can see the entire 90-minute face-off live right here on CNN beginning at 9:00 p.m.

And while the candidates polish their debating skills, the running mates are picking up the slack. Elizabeth Edwards takes the gloves off next.

And don't forget to cast your ballot in our voting booth tonight. What do you think is the best role for John McCain? Go to our Web site,, and have your say. We'll have the results for you at the end of the hour.


ZAHN: On the campaign trail, both President Bush and Senator John Kerry regularly highlight their commitment to the U.S. military, and while active duty personnel are encouraged to vote, they cannot take part in politic, but their families certainly can.

And today, two caravans of mothers and wives of soldiers finished a 4,000-mile tour across seven states. They call themselves Military Moms with a Mission. And their mission ended this morning in Morgantown, West Virginia, where they held a town hall meeting with Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of the Democratic vice presidential nominee.

Before that rally I talked with Mrs. Edwards and Rita Martin. Her eldest son is stationed in Iraq. Her youngest son was in Iraq last year.


ZAHN: Thank you, Mrs. Edwards. Before we get to some campaign questions, I wanted to ask Mrs. Martin a couple of questions about why you have come forward now about this issue of Iraq and your son's involvement in the war?

RITA MARTIN, SON SERVING IN IRAQ: I've come forward now because I'm really concerned about the leadership that they've had.

My sons are very brave. They're very strong. They believe in what they're doing, but I feel that they just don't have the leadership in their commander in chief.

They haven't been given the equipment that they needed. We went in without a plan. We're in Iraq without a real strategy for the future there. And I think that he's really let them down.

And they're not able to speak for themselves, and I'm able to speak for myself. And I just don't trust George Bush anymore.

ZAHN: Mrs. Martin, do you have a problem with the fact that Senator John Kerry voted to authorize the war and then voted against an $87 billion package that would pay for some of the very equipment you're talking about?

MARTIN: I think that's been tremendously mischaracterized. He didn't really vote against giving the money to our troops. John Kerry was willing to give the money to our troops. He just wanted a plan.

And people like John Kerry were demanding that before George Bush took this action, he knew exactly what he was doing, that he had a plan, that he engaged our allies in this decision, and in this action, and that he had the proper equipment and was prepared.

I don't believe in my heart that John Kerry as commander in chief with his background would ever allow his troops, as commander in chief, to go in unprepared.

ZAHN: Mrs. Edwards, can you explain something to me? The polling continues to show that Americans, by and large, feel more comfortable with President Bush at the helm when it comes to the issue of Iraq and the security of our country.

Do you think that your campaign's message is not being heard or simply being ignored by the American public?

E. EDWARDS: I think that most people's understanding of the positions of these candidates are being -- is being controlled by what -- by television advertising.

These debates are going to be a great opportunity for Senator Kerry to lay out his vision for what he would do in Iraq, what he would do, really, across -- across the spectrum in domestic policies and foreign policies. Senator Kerry has real goals, goals that will enable our men to come home within the next four years.

ZAHN: But Mrs. Edwards, as you know, there are even some Democrats who want John Kerry to win who think he has been inconsistent on the issue of Iraq. They think he has been hurt by that, and they're telling him, find a message, any message, keep consistent.

Do you concede that that's been a problem for John Kerry?

E. EDWARDS: I concede that the Republican Party has been very successful in trying to -- in trying to portray John Kerry in that way. He has had exactly the same position, and that is, that we should go in only if we have to, that we should use every single tool at our disposal not to go in, because he personally understands the consequence of war, the personal sacrifices that these men and women and their families are being asked to make.

And then, as we proceeded along, he continued to make the same request of his president. Please develop a plan that has as its goal our eventual exit from Iraq. He has not done that.

ZAHN: Mrs. Edwards, I wanted to move on to the issue of your husband and the role he's playing in this campaign.

There are a number of Democrats who told me they feel that he has been cut off from the decision-making process, that he's been a little bit isolated. And they think he could have been more effective if he had played the more traditional role of an attack dog earlier on.

What do you think?

E. EDWARDS: I have to say that John is not the least isolated. He and Senator Kerry talk daily, sometimes several times a day, about the campaign and about what they're seeing on road. They're both engaged in determining the defection that the campaign goes.

Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards, my husband, have been both making the case across this country about their vision, about what they would do. So we're having to describe not only what they want to do but how it is we're going to get back from having driven the wrong direction for the last four years.

The wrong direction in Iraq. The wrong direction in North Korea. The wrong direction in Iran. The wrong direction on jobs. The wrong direction on health care. I can keep going. On the environment, on education, on all of these matters we're moving in exactly the wrong direction.

So they've laid the table, which is very critical of this president's performance, which is why I'm happy to have these debates coming up and then -- and the they say what it is they're going to do to get us back on the right track.

ZAHN: Do you think, though, this campaign has turned the heat up early enough? Or do you wish that John Kerry had given this harsh speech on Iraq a month ago, or two months ago?

E. EDWARDS: We certainly could have made it a month ago, but I think he got the attention that he hoped he would get across the country for this message by -- by making it when he did.

ZAHN: Mrs. Edwards, you just talked about how critical the debates will be. What is it that your husband has to do when he's confronted with the vice president and a likely attack on his inexperience?

E. EDWARDS: The debate between Dick Cheney and my husband I think is going to be one of the starkest, revealing one of the starkest differences the American public has seen.

We have in my husband a man who has spent his entire life working for the American people, first for families and children in the courtrooms of North Carolina and in the United States Senate, taking that same fight, representing those same people, working men and women, like his own father, who spent 37 years working in textile mills in North and South Carolina.

Making certain that those people have the protections they need. That they have a voice in their government. Because, in fact, this is what this election is about. It's about who these men are going to stand up for.

The vice president has a very different history. The people he has fought for in his private life and in the administration are the more the entrenched interests. He, as everyone knows, I think, he's the CEO of Halliburton, who has been the beneficiary under his administration of these no-bid contracts providing enormous profits for Dick Cheney's company.

That contrast between what these two men stand for is going to be enormously stark in that -- in that debate next week.


ZAHN: Strong words from Elizabeth Edwards, but how does she cope with the punishing attacks aimed at her husband? I'll ask her, when we come back.


ZAHN: And we are back and a week away from the campaign's one and only debate between Vice President Dick Cheney and Senator John Edwards.

Out on the campaign trail, the barbs have been getting sharper. Just yesterday, Senator Edwards all but accused the Bush campaign of lying.


J. EDWARDS: I saw on television early this morning one of the George Bush ads. I mean, they will absolutely lie about anything! I mean it is amazing.


ZAHN: And on that note we pick up my conversation with the Senator's wife, Elizabeth Edwards, and Rita Martin, a member of the group called Military Moms with a Mission. They joined me earlier today from West Virginia.


ZAHN: Your husband slammed the Bush administration for what he called out and outright lying in some of its ads. How ugly do you think the tone of the debate might become between the vice president and your husband?

E. EDWARDS: I hope it's not ugly. It's not -- not my husband's style to be ugly. You know, maybe it's being a Southerner or whatever. We're pretty civil when we make -- try to make the distinctions that we make.

But we -- I think we need to call this administration on some of the things they've said. Dick Cheney has made have fairly outrageous statements on the campaign trail, suggesting that we be subject -- our country be subject to attack if John Kerry were elected? That's an outrageous statement to have made.

The Republican's national -- Republican National Committee's mailing to the state of West Virginia, where we sit today, that the Bible would be banned? If John Kerry were elected? Understand that these are men of faith and patriotism who, every step of their lives, have made the choices that with hope our own sons will make.

ZAHN: Mrs. Edwards, be honest. Have you been tempted to throw anything through your television sets when a couple of those ads have aired? Or maybe at the commentators, as well?

E. EDWARDS: That's the truth. I mean, the campaigns have a right to say whatever outrageous things they want to say. I'm a little disappointed sometimes in the media's fascination with it.

This is a watershed election with two very different visions about where we can go as a country and about the strength of this country. John Kerry and John Edwards believe we haven't tapped it yet.

And as a matter of fact, we've stopped people from being able to take advantage of the American dream. More and more people are slipping off, you know, losing that grip of the brass ring as they go around.

And -- and the attention of the media is a really important part of the democratic process, but it has to be on the issues and not on fear and smear and not on the Molotov cocktails that are thrown daily from the other side.

ZAHN: You are an experienced lawyer, an experienced debater. What do you think is the best way for your husband to confront what you just described as outrageous lies coming from the Bush campaign?

E. EDWARDS: Well, I think that -- that a civil discussion of actual records.

I think that the -- the Bush administration has tried to divert the attention of the American public to these hyperboles and exaggerations and outright misstatements, because they can't run or their own performance.

They can't run on their job performance, because they've lost jobs. Health care costs have gone up by 50 percent while this president has been in office in just 3 1/2 short years, 50 percent.

Our education system is not better. They're more tested, but they haven't been improved. Our environment is worse. We're seeing our social underpinnings taken away.

And probably most importantly, we've seen our military stretched in a way that it never has been before. We've seen rotations of our -- deployments that are putting families at tremendous stress, men going over to Iraq more than once, our National Guard tested.

These are issues that -- that the American public will be -- will pay attention to as these debates progress, and in my view will be the issues that will make them reject the performance of these candidates and instead embrace the positive policies of John Kerry and John Edwards.

ZAHN: Mrs. Martin, we mentioned in the introduction you have one son back from Iraq, one currently serving in Iraq. What do you think are the consequences of George Bush being re-elected, if that is, in fact, what happened?

MARTIN: I really don't want to think about the consequences of George Bush being re-elected, frankly, but one of the consequences is I have the two sons. One is a reservist, and one is full time in the Marines.

And the reservist I know can look forward, I think, under George Bush, to endless redeployment. And that's what we're seeing right now. And will be in a serious position of not having people wanting to come on and serve their country.

Someone was telling me, while we on the road that there is virtually in their area, their -- the re-up rate was zero, because people could look forward to four more years of George Bush being four more years of being endlessly redeployed. And it's destroying these families.

ZAHN: Mrs. Edwards, final question for you. You obviously can hear the pain in Mrs. Martin's voice, you can hear her passion, as well.

Here's something else I don't get when we look at the numbers among women voters. It appears as though John Kerry and John Edwards have lost some support among American women, compared to the campaign with Al Gore.

What's going on there?

E. EDWARDS: Well, I think it's a combination of the lack of attention to the details of the ideas that John Kerry and John Edwards have, which the debates are going to solve for us.

And -- and also these endless attacks by the Republican committee and by the -- by the Bush/Cheney campaign.

I think that American women care about exactly the same things that they cared about in 2000 and in 1996 and in 1992. They care about taking care of their families. They care about their health care and their education. They care about whether they can get jobs, whether the women themselves can get the jobs that they deserve.

Also, of course, we have additional issues. We have security of our families because of the possibility of domestic attack. And so I ask the question as I go around, "Do you feel safer than you felt? Has the president given you the tools to take care of your own children?"

I think as we ask that question, as people really examine what this president has done to keep them safer, this president has taken some steps that are good to keep us secure, but not all the steps that he could.

John Kerry and John Edwards have the answer, and the performance of this president and vice president suggests that they do not.

ZAHN: Well, good luck to both of you. Thank you for sharing your journey with us today.

E. EDWARDS: Thanks.

MARTIN: Thank you.


ZAHN: Well, so far the polls don't exactly bear out what Mrs. Edwards just had to say. John Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth Edwards, with me tomorrow night.

We are just two days away from the big debate. Who's got the best victory for -- or strategy, that is, for victory? Some clues to what the candidates will do to get the upper hand. That's straight ahead.


ZAHN: We talked earlier tonight about what the candidates are doing to get ready for their first debate. Now let's see what each needs to do on Thursday night to get their message across to voters.

Joining us now, Ralph Reed, the southeastern regional chair of the Bush/Cheney campaign. And from Kerry campaign headquarters in Washington, senior adviser Tad Devine.

Welcome to both of you.



REED: Good to be here.

ZAHN: OK, gentlemen. We know that there have been a lot of distortions on both sides when it comes to the television ads we have seen. Will either one of the candidates, Ralph, get away with that come debate night?

REED: Well, I have a tremendous amount of confidence in the American people.

ZAHN: Not the American people. I want to know about the candidates. Are they going to distort each other's records?

REED: I think what we plan on doing is telling the truth about John Kerry's record in the U.S. Senate. He's cast over 6,000 votes.

And I think one of the most interesting things about Thursday night is going to be the debate between John Kerry and himself. I mean, he voted for the war in Iraq, and then he voted against the $87 billion.

He said on the floor of the Senate that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons and was seeking nuclear weapons. He now says it's the wrong war at the wrong time.

So he's really taken about eight, nine, ten positions on the war, and this is going to focus on foreign policy. So I think the president's having to get ready for a candidate who's -- he's got to get ready for ten positions, no one.

ZAHN: We know the president isn't without his flip-flops through this campaign either. We'll come back to that in a moment.

But Tad, first of all, why don't you try to answer some of the questions Ralph just posed about some of the inconsistencies of your candidate on Iraq?

DEVINE: Well, Paula, I expect that the president's going to say just what Ralph said. He's been saying that for months now. I expect he'll continue to do as he's done on the stump, repeat it over and over again is.

I think the American people are sick and tired of hearing it. They're tired of the distortions; they're tired of a campaign, a relentlessly negative campaign from the president.

ZAHN: OK, but wait. DEVINE: What they want to know is what is your plan?

ZAHN: But let me ask you this. Where are the distortions, Tad, in John Kerry voting for the authorization of going to war and then not voting to fund it?

DEVINE: John Kerry's been perfectly clear that he does not regret his vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq. What he deeply regrets is what the president did with that authority.

What the president did with that is get us stuck in a quagmire in Iraq that has cost this nation $200 billion and now over 1,000 American lives.

You know, there's a better way in Iraq, and there's a new direction for America. And that's what John Kerry's going to talk about in the debate.

ZAHN: Ralph Reed, John Kerry isn't the only enemy for the president on that front. There are a bunch of Republicans including Senator John McCain, who was with us tonight, who says we are losing the war in Iraq, that things are worse today than they were a year ago.

Isn't the president vulnerable on what is at play there today?

REED: No, I don't think so.

ZAHN: How can you say that?

REED: Well, I think the opposite is true. I think what everybody recognizes, Paula, is that a nation that has been -- that was under the iron boot of one of the bloodiest dictators that the Middle East, one of the bloodiest regions of the world has ever seen and ever known, is about to have free elections.

ZAHN: That's not the way Senator John McCain described it or Secretary Rumsfeld. You may have a situation where only 4/5 of the country has a vote.

REED: Paula, Ayad Allawi, the prime minister of the country, who spoke in a joint session of Congress just a few days ago said that they will have 130,000 poll workers who will work 30,000 polling locations.

They are ready to have elections today in 15 of the 18 provinces.

Now, they know, the terrorists know, that when those elections happen next January, that the gig is up for them. So obviously, they're trying to increase the violence right now.

ZAHN: All right.

REED: That's not a sign of a failure of the policy. That's a sign of the failure of the terrorists.

ZAHN: Tad?

DEVINE: Well, Paula, it's not just John McCain, Republican John McCain. It's Dick Lugar. It's other Republicans as well. Calling it like they see it.

Unfortunately, the president can't even see the problems in Iraq. The president didn't seem to understand what's happening there. The president seemed to be so out of touch or pretending that there's no problem there.

And I think it's a deliberate attempt on his part to mislead the American people and not inform them. And these debates are great, because these candidates are going to have to stand there. It's not going to be like one of these ask the president sessions, where if the president doesn't like what you say, you get dragged out by your hair.

This is going to be for the president for the first time will really have to answer the question about why we're in Iraq, what his plans are to get us out of there and what he has to do to make this nation stronger again and once again respected from the world. We're not getting it from the president, and hopefully we'll hear it Thursday night.

ZAHN: One ever the flip-flops the Kerry campaign points out, and you only get 10 seconds to answer this, as the president originally said, he was opposed to the idea of the 9/11 Commission and then publicly proclaimed...

REED: Well, what he said was he wanted to make sure we got it right and that it didn't turn into political stagecraft. We did get it right. We've got a great report. The president has already implemented or is implementing 38 of the 41 recommendations of the commission.

ZAHN: I know the two of you are headed off to Miami tomorrow.

REED: We are indeed.

ZAHN: We look forward to continuing to spar in the 48 hours leading up to this debate. Tad Devine, thank you for joining us tonight. Ralph Reed, you as well.

REED: Thanks, Paula.

DEVINE: Thank you.

ZAHN: My pleasure.

And we'll be back with the results of our "Voting Booth" poll right after this.


ZAHN: In the coming -- in October, that is, it's your turn to tell us what you think about the issues. We will hold live town hall meetings in four critical battleground states. October 7 we will be in Racine, Wisconsin. October 14 in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. October 21 in Clark County, Ohio, and then on November 1, the night before the election, we'll be in Kissimmee, Florida.

And on this week, my colleague Aaron Brown is on the road. He's anchoring from the West Coast, sampling voter opinion for a very special edition of "NEWSNIGHT."

And last night, Aaron, you were in Seattle. Tonight, Portland, Oregon. What's the hot issue there tonight?

AARON BROWN, HOST, "NEWSNIGHT": Well, the first lady was here. So obviously, the presidential race is still in play. At least the parties believe it is. The Republicans do.

What could tilt the election for the Republicans in what is traditionally thought of as somewhat liberal state, not as liberal as many people think, is the issue of same sex marriage. We'll look at that tonight.

We'll look at assisted suicide and how it's actually played out in the only state in the country that has voted not once but twice to approve it.

So a couple of those items, plus George Soros, on the menu for tonight on "NEWSNIGHT."

ZAHN: And where do you move on to from Portland?

BROWN: Tomorrow we head to San Francisco bright and early. We'll take a look at some of the issues in California, including Governor Schwarzenegger and a wonderful story about immigrants who have come to the United States to employ Americans. That's tomorrow night from San Francisco.

ZAHN: We will be looking for you in your normal time slot. Aaron Brown, thanks so much.

BROWN: Thank you.

ZAHN: We wanted -- pleasure.

We want to share with you now some of the numbers from our poll. Tonight's "Voting Booth" results. We asked you where you'd like to see Senator John McCain? Three percent said in a Bush cabinet. Fifty percent said in a Kerry cabinet. Seven percent said run for president in 2008, and 40 percent said stay in the Senate.

Again, this is not a scientific poll, just a snapshot of opinions from all of you watching and voting on our web site.

That wraps it up for all of us here this evening. Thanks so much for joining us tonight. Tomorrow it is the eve of the first big presidential debate. Where do the candidates stand on the issues of war and terror? We'll tell you. Have a great night.


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