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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Broken Government: Two Left Feet
Aired October 24, 2006 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Elections warp the calendar. Forty-six days left can be a lifetime or a heartbeat away.
Up a flight of questionable stairs into a paper-strewn, half- furnished office space, a former NFL quarterback is making a play.
(on camera): How many people called you and said, run, run, run?
HEATH SHULER (D), NORTH CAROLINA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Forty, 50, probably anywhere from 50 to 60 members of Congress. President Clinton called me, which was very exciting, to hear him.
CROWLEY: The 11th District is a western wedge of North Carolina, sharing the Great Smoky Mountains with neighboring Tennessee. It is a spot inside a state inside a region that has gone Republican, solid red, for the past two presidential campaigns. Shuler, son of the South, and a Democrat all his life, wants to turn it blue.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's have a big hand for Heath Shuler.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
SHULER: Those are veterans.
CROWLEY: Speech by speech, mile by mile, hand by hand...
SHULER: I'm running for Congress.
CROWLEY: ... Shuler has covered the territory for 18 months.
SHULER: Until my son asked if -- he says, can you ask my boss if he will let you off today?
CROWLEY: He travels easily here, where he was born and raised, where he kicked off his first career.
SHULER: You know, name recognition certainly helps. You don't have to -- that's less you have to spend on identifying who you are and what you're about, because most people in this area, they remember me from high school, and they remember my days in college and the NFL.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In fact, I got 40 of them there. SHULER: That will be fine. I will be happy to.
CROWLEY: He is, as they say, telegenic...
SHULER: Say your prayers.
CROWLEY: ... with a picture-perfect family, a Democratic candidate in a district that is Democratic in its numbers, if not its soul.
JOHN BOYLE, "THE ASHEVILLE CITIZEN-TIMES" It's interesting, because it's more registered Democrats than it is Republicans. But it tends to vote conservative. They have elected Charles Taylor, who is pretty conservative, eight times.
CROWLEY: Known for delivering the goods to the 11th District, Shuler's Republican candidate, Charles Taylor, is a formidable, well- financed, brass-knuckle player.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)
NARRATOR: Rookie Heath Shuler is following the playbook of San Francisco liberal Nancy Pelosi.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY (on camera): Are you an anti-Pelosi Democrat?
SHULER: You know, I -- I don't like to classify.
CROWLEY (voice-over): Washington liberal does not play well in North Carolina conservative. It is part of why, over the past three decades, Southern and rural, mostly white Democrats, have looked inside the national Democratic Party and gone elsewhere.
BRUCE REED, PRESIDENT, DEMOCRATIC LEADERSHIP COUNCIL: Our biggest problem is that, of late, we have been losing elections.
CROWLEY: What is wrong with these people? From Virginia, to Montana, to Georgia, crack open a Democrat, and they will tell you: It's the wussy factor.
MAX CLELAND (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: You have got to lance that bubble. I mean, you know, it has been a narrative for the Republicans for decades now, kind of an underlying -- underlying narrative against the Democrats, that they're soft on communism, and not -- soft on terrorism.
CROWLEY: It's the culture.
DAVID "MUDCAT" SAUNDERS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: And the culture is the reason the Democrats have been losing elections. It has nothing to do with policy. It has to do with culture.
CROWLEY: It's the guns. GOV. BRIAN SCHWEITZER (D), MONTANA: People ask me how many guns I have. I tell them, none of your damn business, and I tell them not as many as I'd like.
CROWLEY (on camera): Guns.
SHULER: I'm a very strong Second Amendment guy.
SHULER: If there is one thing that I try to -- to -- with integrity and -- and honor, is -- is my faith.
CROWLEY: What about gay, and gay marriage?
SHULER: You know, the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman.
SHULER: The way I look at it is, I'm pro-life.
CROWLEY: So, you sound like a Republican, yes?
SHULER: No. No. I mean, you know, when we look at the -- what the party has done for so many people, I mean, I go back to the -- the values that my grandmother taught me. Help those who cannot help themselves. And that one sentence tells me that that's the Democratic Party.
CROWLEY: Heath Shuler's positions on most social issues run counter to party orthodoxy. It means his toughest opponent may not be his Republican rival, but the legacy of his own party, its bad calls, its fumbles.
Trailing him, as we will over this next hour, you will learn a lot about how Democrats lost their mojo, and whether they have got a clue how to get it back.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This used to be an awful strong Democrat community right here.
SHULER: Yes. I think it still is. I think it still is.
CROWLEY (voice-over): If his journey is to end in Washington, Heath Shuler needs 11th District Democrats to come home.
SHULER: Well, that's why we have to a good job of being in the district like this, where they can talk, and they can spread the word and say: You know, he -- he's not like some of the national Democrats. You know, he's one of us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)
NARRATOR: Heath Shuler is taking money by the truckload from Washington liberals, from trial lawyers, from party extremists, and big labor leaders.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: Game on.
SHULER: We have to fight back. We -- we can't let them frame us. We can't let them say who we are.
CROWLEY: Shuler will need to shake off 40 years of party history.
GEORGE MCGOVERN, FORMER DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know the term McGovernite is used as a swear word. And so be it.
CROWLEY: Next up: taking on the wussy factor.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Play-action by Shuler. He will go up top and deep, far sideline. And it is caught! It is a touchdown!
CROWLEY: Football is a contact sport. That will help this All- American first-round NFL draft pick, because politics is a contact sport, too.
And Heath Shuler has joined a game where the stats show decades of Democratic fumbles and Republican pickups. No nuance in this game -- the words of leading Republicans are black and white.
KARL ROVE, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BUSH: If leading Democrats had their way, our nation would be weaker, and the enemies of our nation would be stronger.
SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: The Defeatocrats is a pretty good name for -- for the Democrats, I think, at this juncture.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The party of FDR, the party of Harry Truman, has become the party of cut and run.
CROWLEY: The wuss factor is an ailment with roots in another time, another war.
Roll it back 34 years, 1972. More than a decade after JFK sent U.S. advisers to Vietnam, the party that prosecuted most of the war moved to stop it.
ELAINE KAMARCK, FORMER POLICY ADVISER FOR AL GORE: Look, it was the Democratic Party that more or less folded in the anti-war sentiments and the anti-Vietnam War sentiments. A big portion of the Democratic Party is still a party that is suspicion of the use of military power.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCGOVERN: I accept your nomination with a full and grateful heart.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: George McGovern was the Democrats' presidential choice, winning 11 primary victories with his calls for unilateral withdrawal from Vietnam, in exchange for American POWs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCGOVERN: Within 90 days of my inauguration, every American soldier and every American prisoner will be out of the jungle, and out of their cells, and back home in America, where they belong.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: Richard Nixon promised peace was at hand. And McGovern was blasted as radical left, a candidate of acid, amnesty, and abortion.
Nixon won the '72 election in a blowout. McGovern took only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.
MCGOVERN: The party has been shattered in some respects. We mentioned Vietnam. That tore the Democratic Party in half. You were either a hawk or a dove. You -- you weren't allowed to be neutral.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Most Americans today think it was probably a war we should not have been fighting. And, yet, they blame the Democrats for that defeat. We have been painted as the wimps.
CROWLEY: The party of FDR, Truman, and JFK disappeared into a mass of red states.
MCGOVERN: And I can tell you, for millions of Democrats, the big issue was stopping that war for about 10 years. That was more important than what happened to the Democratic Party.
CROWLEY: Jonathan Cowan heads a group dedicated to electing Democrats with a centrist stripe.
JONATHAN COWAN, PRESIDENT, THIRD WAY: McGovern blamed America. He was soft. He sounded like he was afraid of our adversaries and he was afraid of the application of American military power. The years between Kennedy and McGovern saw Democrats become a party that was perceived as weak. And, in many ways, they earned it.
CROWLEY: And the hits just kept on coming. In the midst of the Carter years, American hostages were paraded blindfolded outside the American Embassy in Iran, held captive for 444 days. There was a failed rescue attempt.
BEGALA: And America was seen as a -- a helpless, weak giant. And, then, the Desert One debacle, where he sent in special forces, and the -- and the helicopters crashed in the desert, and we lost soldiers, we -- we -- we then seemed ineffectual.
CROWLEY: Jimmy Carter lost his reelection bid.
KAMARCK: We had a whole campaign run after a failed rescue attempt, with all those Americans sitting there. And the -- the world, again, sort of turned on that event. And Ronald Reagan won, and -- and began, really, a resurgence of the Republican Party.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When action is required to preserve our national security, we will act.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: The day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated, the American hostages were freed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: And muscular Republican dominance began.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REAGAN: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: Democrats' efforts to counter their image fell flat, sometimes hilariously. Politically, they waved the white flag.
DOUG HATTAWAY, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Democrats largely ceded the ground on national security and foreign policy to the Republicans for quite a long time in the '80s. And you would have Democratic pundits and strategists saying, oh, that's the Republicans' issue. Let's not talk about that. We need to win elections on things like health care and education.
CROWLEY: With the Cold War over, and after the successful prosecution of the first Gulf War, the first President Bush, a World War II hero, seemed on the fast track to a second term. But Republicans misread peacetime politics. Americans returned to home- and-hearth issues.
BEGALA: Governor Clinton came along in 1992, just in that window, when the Berlin Wall had fallen, and the Twin Towers still stood. Clinton, I think, benefited from the fact that, right at that moment that he arose, the concerns of the country were essentially domestic.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think this is a big deal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: For reasons both big and small, America's attention was not focused on defense issues in the Clinton era. Decades after the last U.S. soldier left Vietnam, its shadow falls on Democratic campaigns.
KAMARCK: Republicans love the McGovern wing of the Democratic Party.
MCGOVERN: Artifacts. And, yes, there is the old B-24 I -- I flew.
CROWLEY: At his library in Mitchell, South Dakota, George McGovern walks through the artifacts of his life. He volunteered for the Army in World War II. He flew 35 of the most dangerous kind of missions, over enemy territory, under heavy German fire.
MCGOVERN: I didn't go around tooting my horn in that campaign about what a big hero I was. I still feel self-conscious talking about my war record.
CROWLEY: He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Proud of his service in war, prouder still of his service in peace, McGovern knows the aftershocks from 1972 rumble still through the political landscape.
MCGOVERN: The Democratic Party, I suppose, is afraid, partly, to really come out against this war, for fear we will be charged with the same thing that has caused us much difficulty in the past, that we run away from a fight.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Hell no, we won't go!
(on camera): The wussy factor generally is the idea that Democrats are weak on defense, and they are weak on national security.
SHULER: It has never been brought up, because people realize, the type of person that I am and the type of candidate that I will be is to be that leader, the person that will stand up first for our country.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nice to see you.
CROWLEY (voice-over): But, if you are the new kid in the game, it never hurts to buff up your creds in the tough-guy department. SHULER: On the 28th, we're having Senator Max Cleland come in to town. We're doing a big celebration to -- thanks to all of our veterans. It's a big celebration.
CROWLEY: They don't come any tougher than this guy, so why is he an ex-senator, and why is he still one of the most in-demand campaigners on the trail?
CROWLEY (voice-over): Max Cleland served three years in the Army.
MAX CLELAND (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: If you come back the same person you left, you really haven't gained anything.
CROWLEY: Almost 30 years later, he ran for and won a U.S. Senate seat.
Then, the most controversial, the most effective ad of the 2002 election cycle cost Cleland his reelection bid.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)
NARRATOR: Max Cleland says he has the courage to lead. But the record proves, Max Cleland is just misleading.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: It was distant echo over 30 years: war heroes brought down as soft on the "isms," communism for George McGovern, terrorism for Max Cleland.
CLELAND: A few minutes ago, I called Congressman Saxby Chambliss to congratulate him on his victory for the United States Senate.
CROWLEY: It was a stunner. He left two legs and an arm on the battlefield of Vietnam, but Cleland's political career could not survive an assault on his commitment to protect the country.
Former House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt credits Republicans for painting a devastating portrait.
DICK GEPHARDT (D), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: That we're anti- military, we're pacifists, and we just won't do what it takes to keep you safe.
HOWARD DEAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: You have to be tough and smart. And that's the Democratic tradition. Who was tough and smart? Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Who was tough and smart on defense? Harry Truman. Jack Kennedy.
CLELAND: You are amazing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Walter Reed is amazing.
CROWLEY: Ex-Senator Max Cleland lives on the road now, on a mission to break the curse of the wuss.
Democratic Congressman Jack Murtha is the ex-Marine who has called for immediate withdrawal from Iraq.
CLELAND: So, they are going after Jack Murtha now. We're not going to let them get -- get away with it this time. We're fighting back.
CLELAND: When Jack Murtha walked on stage, the sun began to break through.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
CLELAND: We know whose side God is on today!
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
CROWLEY: Cleland is one of the most sought-after campaigners in the Democratic Party, from Pennsylvania, to Illinois, to Montana, more than 40 appearances across the country. Crowds show up to hear him.
CLELAND: I really didn't get wounded in Vietnam. I just went duck hunting with Dick Cheney.
CROWLEY: Voters push in to touch him.
CLELAND: You're a -- you're a Khe Sanh veteran.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely.
CLELAND: Me, too. I was wounded just outside of Khe Sanh.
CROWLEY: Without a word, Cleland is a double message. His defeat is a "Remember the Alamo" moment for the party still shaken to its core that a literally battle-scarred Democrat could lose on defense issues, and, at the same time:
(on camera): I mean, you're sort of a living, breathing example of what Democrats are willing to do for the safety of the country. Do you think that? Do you agree with that?
CLELAND: Yes. I do.
CROWLEY: So, we are?
SHULER: Forty days from election.
CROWLEY: If you had your choice, would you have it right now or 40 days?
SHULER: Today. Wish we would have had it yesterday.
CROWLEY (voice-over): September closes in on October, and reinforcements arrive.
CLELAND: Hey, brother.
SHULER: How are you, Senator?
CLELAND: I'm glad to be here, man.
SHULER: Thank you so much for being here. I really do appreciate everything.
CLELAND: Oh, man, I love you.
SHULER: I love you.
CLELAND: I'm proud of you. And I appreciate you.
SHULER: Thank you. Thank you for everything.
CROWLEY: A deep vein of patriotism runs through the Smoky Mountains. And Shuler's talk is muscular.
SHULER: We have maintained that we are going to be stronger on our national security and stronger on defense.
Tell everybody to come out and vote.
CROWLEY: Shuler is playing aggressive offense now, campaigning in this western-most rural end of the district. This is Republican territory.
JOHNNY BURCH, CLAY COUNTY DEMOCRAT: Well, it's more Democrats here than you think there is. A lot of people, you know, may be a registered Democrat, but might vote Republican.
CROWLEY: This is where Shuler needs to make inroads. Here, lots of veterans come to retire. Here, supporting the troops is often synonymous with supporting a family member.
SHULER: It gives me great pleasure to introduce my friend, a Vietnam hero.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) CROWLEY: In town halls and community centers, the day of Shuler- Cleland is a salute to veterans, and the most famous one in the room salutes back.
CLELAND: Now, this man, Heath Shuler, is an All-American in every sense of the word in which that term is used, All-American.
CROWLEY: Midday in Cleland's visit, Shuler's Republican opponent, Charles Taylor, moves in to protect his turf, firing off a press release. He accuses Cleland of supporting gay rights, late-term abortions, and, an echo of 2002, jeopardizing homeland security.
"It is a shame," Taylor wrote, "that Shuler doesn't know better to hide behind a closet liberal to cover up his own lack of public service. That's a rookie mistake."
CLELAND: I'm not running for anything. So, when they are attacking me, they're hurting.
CROWLEY (on camera): First of all, your reaction to Taylor's news release?
SHULER: Here, we have an American hero that sacrificed so much, you know? And to -- to criticize his work with the V.A. and our veterans and what he's done for our country, you just can't say anything good. There's nothing good to say.
It's shameful. It's un-American. I'm very, very disappointed that -- that we have a representative right now that represents our district. But it is obvious he's not representing our values.
CROWLEY (voice-over): But who exactly represents rural values? For more than a decade, the answer has been Republicans.
Cue Mudcat Saunders.
SAUNDERS: There are certain Democrats who cannot win in rural America.
CROWLEY (on camera): Are they the L-word?
SAUNDERS: No, they are not the L-word. They are the N-word, for naive. They might even be the N-word, for ignorant.
CROWLEY (voice-over): A deer-stand-building, bow-hunting, race- driving native of rural America has got a playbook for Democrats.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm John King in New York. "Broken Government" continues in a minute -- first, though, the hour's top stories. The killing of a U.S. soldier in a roadside bombing today brings the death military toll in Iraq to 2,804. The U.S. ambassador to Iraq says the war-torn country's government has agreed to develop a plan to improve security. The top U.S. commander, though, says it will be 12 to 18 months before Iraqi security forces can do the job.
The search continues for a missing U.S. soldier. He's an Iraqi- American translator who was kidnapped Monday while visiting relatives in Baghdad.
In another part of the Middle East, a kidnapping ends quickly. An Associated Press photographer was grabbed this morning in Gaza, then freed, unharmed, tonight.
And House Speaker Dennis Hastert spent the afternoon before the Ethics Committee, answering questions about the Mark Foley sex scandal.
Another day, another record on Wall Street -- the Dow Jones industrials closed a fraction under 12128.
I'm John King in New York -- now back to "Broken Government."
CROWLEY (voice-over): Let's stipulate that Mudcat Saunders is not your standard Democrat.
SAUNDERS: But, you know, if you miss, if Bubba misses, you know what he does if he misses when he bow hunts? Then he goes like this, and he goes...
CROWLEY: He's just funnin' with city slickers come to talk politics at his home in rural Virginia, outside Roanoke.
SAUNDERS: If you go to the south of here or the east, you can't find a Democrat with a search warrant. It has become socially and culturally unacceptable for a white male to say he's a Democrat.
CROWLEY: In 2000, George Bush beat out Gore by 22 points among rural voters. Four years later, the margin was 19 points, Bush over John Kerry.
SAUNDERS: We don't have a lot in common with a boy that surfboards off the coast of Martha's Vineyard in spandex britches, do we?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There ain't much of that.
CROWLEY: Don't be misled. Mudcat is a savvy businessman and a sharp political mind. He and his political partner, Steve Jarding, have written a book about politics and rural Americans.
SAUNDERS: We have been voting for Republicans but we're not Republicans. People tend to forget that. We're old-timey Democrats is what we are. We are FDR, the New Deal Democrats.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And, by the way, it is not just doing something about poverty ...
CROWLEY: He's found his (inaudible) in Southern star and former Senator John Edwards, but Mudcat hates it when call you him a political consultant. He has nonetheless advised a host of Democrats looking for the keys to the kingdom of rural America.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: God bless you. Thank you all for coming.
SAUNDERS: A U.S. senator -- I will not mention the name, but she asked me, she said, well, Mudcat, your people are voting against their own economic self-interests and why are they so ignorant? And it offended me a little. I said has it ever crossed your mind that sometimes people vote against their economic self-interest because there's a powerful force drawing them in the other direction.
CROWLEY: It's the culture, stupid.
BEGALA: There's a story -- maybe apocryphal, but there's a story that in 1988 when he was running for president, Mike Dukakis was flying into Iowa, looked out the window and allegedly said, "I wonder what those hicks want to hear from me today." Maybe even if it's not true, it speaks to a larger truth.
SAUNDERS: It's like the Metropolitan Opera wing of the Democratic Party. You know, they talk about tolerance but in reality a lot of them, the only real tolerance that I have ever seen them exhibit is for their own intellectual arrogance.
CROWLEY: It is about the guns.
HATTAWAY: I remember in the 2000 election I was getting on a plane to go to Washington from Nashville where the campaign headquarters was and there were two businessmen sitting behind me talking about the election. So I sort of listened in. And I heard them say, you know, Gore is OK but he'll take our guns away. And I was like, oh god, there goes the south.
SAUNDERS: Guns are off the table. We just got to say it. The gun battle is over. We're not going to be taking anybody's guns anymore.
CROWLEY: It's about god.
COWAN: When John Kennedy ran for president he was so much of his faith that he had to downplay it and reassure voters that his faith wouldn't be his governing philosophy. Today it appears that Democrats don't have faith and that have got to reassure voters that they actually do.
CROWLEY: It is about value voters who began to break from Democrats in the aftermath of the god is dead, free love 60s.
DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think the American people woke up and said, my god, it's those liberals that are telling us what to do. It's those liberals who are telling us that we have to integrate our schools. It's those liberals who are telling us that we can't have god in the classroom. It's those liberals who are telling us that we need to give women a right to choose in terms of their reproductive health.
CROWLEY: And then came Reagan, a gifted politician who opposed abortion, quoted the Bible and wore patriotism on his sleeve.
BRAZILE: And at that point, the Democrats were painted as the godless, gutless party.
CROWLEY: Yes, the Democratic Party has come a long way, baby.
SAUNDERS: Listen, when we was kids, you didn't go to any of those houses there of those old people. You saw two pictures. Now, you think about it, Jesus Christ almighty and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right.
SAUNDERS: Roosevelt and Jesus.
CROWLEY: Rule number one in the Mudcat playbook -- and all the rules are number one -- you don't have to be from rural America to win its heart and votes but you do have to respect it from its values to its passions from NASCAR to the Locust Mountain Boys.
Heath Shuler was born in the 11th, in Swain County, growing up under the Friday night lights on the playing field. He gets it. He courts it, even if he looks like he's not of it. Honest, integrity and standing up for what's right are the coin of the realm here. Values infuse Shuler's stump speech.
SHULER: They've all called the Democratic Party a party of no values and no morals, right? Well, let me just -- I'm just here to tell you this. It is immoral to cut student loans. It is immoral to allow our seniors to go without prescription drugs.
CROWLEY: He pounds it home on the airwaves.
SHULER: I'm Heath Shuler and I approve this message because I want to take our mountain values to Congress.
CROWLEY: Up in Washington at the Republican Congressional Committee they are looking to rough him up. By mid-October, they had poured over $660,000 into the race including this ad.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He says he'll bring integrity to Congress but over a dozen times, Heath Shuler or businesses he owned or operated failed to pay property taxes on time. That's not good enough.
CROWLEY: Still, Shuler is not an easy target. On the most obvious points in the values debate, there's not a breath of air between him and his Republican opponent. ANNE FITTEN GLENN, ASHEVILLE VOTER: I believe I've heard him call a labor Republican, which I think is, to some extent, right. So he doesn't necessarily fit my definition of a strong Democrat.
CROWLEY: It does not sit well in some of these parts.
JOHN BOYLE, ASHEVILLE CITIZEN TIMES: Asheville itself is a very progressive city. It has a lot of artists, a lot of people who have moved in here who are very liberal. There's a drum circle every Friday night.
CROWLEY: Is Shuler too conservative to bring out liberal Democrats?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we're doing, we're working with Heath Shuler's campaign for Congress. We're walking around talking to voters.
CROWLEY: It is about turnout, door to door cajoling, and Shuler is up against a well-financed incumbent who has turned them out for 16 years.
SHULER: It's a great fall day, isn't it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it is.
CROWLEY: The leaves are turning in North Carolina. The days are literally and figuratively growing shorter.
CROWLEY: They canvas for the Shuler campaign on Saturdays. The door knockers gather for marching orders: get voters to vote.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't need to preach to the choir. We need to get the choir off the couch and to the polls and we know that.
CROWLEY: They are mostly twenty-somethings prowling the neighborhoods, pounding the doors, walking, knocking, walking some more, knocking some more. Making a list, checking it twice.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we're trying to do is just see if the Democratic voters that are registered to vote, whether we can count on your vote Heath Shuler in the November elections.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do believe so. Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.
CROWLEY: It is basic grassroots stuff. Knock on doors, hand out brochures, ask questions, and get answers.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, ma'am. You have a good afternoon. SHULER: It doesn't matter what the issues are. It's, do they go to the polls and vote? And the Republicans do that.
CROWLEY: By this point, you will not be surprised that Republicans do it better.
GEPHARDT: We used to be the grassroots party. I think we for a lot of different reasons, you know, got enamored with just being on television and not doing hard grassroots work, as well. And the Republicans kind of went by us.
CROWLEY: Mid October, Camp Shuler gets encouraging polls. It won't matter if they don't get to the real poll.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you, sir?
STEVE ROSENTHAL, FORMER AFL-CIO POLITICAL DIRECTOR: What you need in any of these campaigns is a sophisticated system to actually identify where the voters stand on the issues; who the swing voters are, those who are likely to move one way or the other, and then to get them the best information about the candidates; identify them again, where they stand; and then turn out the people who are for you. It's not really rocket science.
CROWLEY: Yet Democrats have botched it. Republicans have made a science of it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Use these cards well and often. And they are this size so that they can go into the polling place with you.
CROWLEY: Republicans have a national database of voters, district by district by street. They know who's on the other side of the door.
KAMARCK: The Republicans are genius at finding the three Republicans in the, you know, seven blocks of Democrats, OK. This can only happen through an ongoing institution. And we've done much too much of this through fly-by-night organizations that some rich guy funds for three years, then they lose the election, they're very disappointed, the whole organization disbands and disappears and we're left with nothing.
CROWLEY: Which means no blind calls, no time wasted knocking on the doors of liberal households. Democrats, like Shuler, start from scratch. Voter turnout is a constant push.
SHULER: We stay on the phone. We raise the money. And then we are out in the district in the afternoons doing all that we possibly can.
SHULER (to constituent): We'll have more signs out this week. We ordered 1,000 more, sir.
CROWLEY: Complicating Shuler's task is that his base just isn't enough.
SHULER: I need votes from Republicans. I need votes from independents, liberals, moderates.
CROWLEY: There are not enough liberals in the 11th District to elect a Democratic Congressman. There are not enough liberals in the country to elect a Democratic president.
COWAN: For Democrats to build a majority, we not only have to hold the liberals in the party, we've got to win almost two thirds of moderates. The math is brutal for Democrats.
SHULER: Well, bless your heart.
CROWLEY: So essentially a Democrat has to reach into the middle while holding onto the left. For Shuler, that means being conservative enough for rural part of his district without forfeiting the more liberal area in and around Asheville.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want it to be clear that Heath will defend the Environment. That's an important issue to most people in Asheville.
CROWLEY (on camera): Could you, in this district, as easily have been a Republican?
SCHULER: Wow, could I have easily been a Republican? You know, if I was born into a Republican family.
CROWLEY (voice-over): Asheville, we have a problem.
What's a Democratic anyway? The party struggles to find itself and Shuler gets an unexpected assist.
CROWLEY: Hardcore Democrats in the 11th District have been waiting 16 years to put one of their own in Congress, but honestly, this is not what they had in mind.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On a number of issues, on abortion, on immigration, and on gay rights, he's absolutely indistinguishable from Charles Taylor.
CROWLEY: Ouch. Shuler just doesn't fit the template. It's remarkably difficult for a conservative to find space in the party.
The day her husband was nominated, Teresa Heinz Kerry did a meet and greet with the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus, not that there's anything wrong with that. Not exactly.
SAUNDERS: You know, I went to a DNC meeting one time, and they said, you know, the Women's Caucus will meet over here, and the Black Caucus will be over here, and the gays will be over here. We forgot about the big tent. We've assembled a whole bunch of pup tents.
COWAN: And many voters, particularly white men, saw that collection of interest groups and said, that's not me, there's nothing in it for me. CROWLEY: This is party with so many identities, it has no identity. HATTAWAY: When you see an R after the candidate's name on the ballot, you pretty much know what you're going to get. Too many people in too many places see a D on the ballot and they don't know what they're going to get.
CROWLEY: This is no way to win an election. Democrats have been a minority on Capitol Hill for 12 years. When George Bush's term ends in 2009, Democrats would have occupied the Oval Office just 12 of the last 40 years. In the last two elections, Gore and Kerry lost the entire South and much of the mid and interior West.
SAUNDERS: You know, Al Gore has a little bit of a stiff style and it comes off as a planner, you know, style, you know, a little landed gentry. When he went goose hunting, John Kerry looked very elitist in that hunt. I mean, first, he didn't carry his game out. That was a huge mistake.
CROWLEY: What we have here is failure to relate.
BRAZILE: They want somebody who can relate to their everyday concerns, that they can put on the table, you know, I'm having a hard time paying my bills, I have two kids that want to go to college.
BEGALA: There's something happened in the late '60s and '70s where the Democrats ceased being seen as -- and I think, in truth, ceased being, the party of the average guy, the regular guy, the working guy.
COWAN: Democrats are so blown out among the white middle class, that unless you address all three core problems at once, credibility on security, mainstream on cultural values, and middle class on economic issues, if you don't address all three of those at once, you cannot actually fix what ails the Democratic party.
CROWLEY: Tell me how it's going so far.
SHULER: Well, it's been good. I mean, obviously, the days are ticking away. And I've never wanted my life to kind of waste it away, but, 25 days is not going to come soon enough.
CROWLEY: The Shuler/Taylor race is getting some big city attention. The "Wall Street Journal" blasts Taylor for profiting from government funded projects he got from his district. Taylor is legendary for superior constituent services and bringing home the bacon. He demands an apology from the journal and threatens to sue. Shuler runs with it.
SHULER: You know, it just goes back to this absolute power corrupts, absolutely.
CROWLEY: Taylor is Shuler's most powerful argument to the liberal denizens of Asheville. He may not be their idea of a Democrat, but he has a "D" after his name. It is probably enough to get most of them out to vote.
FELICITY GREEN, ASHEVILLE VOTER: It's a lesser of two evils. I know what we have now. I know what a Republican Congressman has done for the area. So I will vote for pretty much almost anyone else.
SHULER: It is right up honest, we can see the finish line.
CROWLEY: Shuler opens a lead in the polls, but next Taylor calls for a debate and Shuler takes a hit.
SCHWEITZER: I'm a red-meat eating, gun-toting, dog-loving, horse-riding, ranching, straight-talking Democrat from Montana. If I'm concerned about somebody, I tell them I'll be praying for them.
CROWLEY: Praise the lord and pass the ammunition. It works for Governor Brian Schweitzer.
SCHWEITZER: You can smoke cigars, drink whiskey and make it to 110.
CROWLEY: Schweitzer is Montana's first Democratic governor in 16 years. This is a state that's voted Republican in nine of the last 10 presidential elections. The interior west, a huge swath of Republican red states is flyover territory for Democratic presidential campaigns, not worth the time to land in.
(on-camera): Have you ever brought a national politician out here and flown around with him?
CROWLEY: You got to do it.
SCHWEITZER: I don't see the upside in it, bringing someone from East or West Coast or somebody out here. A, they probably don't understand Montana. Probably, Montana doesn't understand them.
CROWLEY (voice-over): This is an ornery kind of place that distrusts both coasts and the federal government. Last election, voters here approved medicinal marijuana and banned gay marriage.
SCHWEITZER: I wouldn't be able to tell you what they think about the politics in Montana, because here's a news flash. We don't make the "New York Times" much in Montana.
CROWLEY: This is not precisely true. Schweitzer got a good spread in the Sunday "New York Times Magazine."
STEPHEN COLBERT, TALK SHOW HOST: Please welcome Governor Brian Schweitzer.
CROWLEY: He dropped in on Stephen Colbert.
COLBERT: You've got to get yourself one of these.
SCHWEITZER: They are wild tonight.
CROWLEY: He was a headliner at the Washington D.C. Press Club. SCHWEITZER: I usually travel with my dog. I have a border collie, a smart, dang border collie.
CROWLEY: Schweitzer is the rock star from the Rockies, a successful red-state Democrat with conservative social values and progressive policies including the governor's biggest pride, the windmill energy he brought to the state.
SCHWEITZER: I would say to the national party, listen to folks in your own states. Don't try to export your values into Rocky Mountain states or the Midwest. There are values in each of those states. Some of them are Democrats. Some of them are Republicans. But it is fertile ground. Plant, nurture it, and you'll grow a wonderful tree.
CROWLEY: At 6'2, he has the swagger and the personality of the land. Big and open, rough and tumble.
BRAZILE: I don't want to quote Arnold Schwarzenegger, but they want manly men. They want men that stand up for what they believe in and when they are attacked, they want to see a man fight back.
SHULER: Boys with the big toys, huh?
CROWLEY: No problem on the brawn front here in the 11th, where the quarterback digs NASCAR and gets how to translate the manly man thing into politics.
SHULER: I mean, we're not going to let somebody say anything about our campaign that we're not going to fight for.
CROWLEY: And Shuler understand the basic Montana model.
SHULER: You know, it's hard for people in Washington D.C. to tell me how they think here.
SCHWEITZER: They try.
SHULER: Oh, they try so much. And we get a lot of that influence but it is real important that we maintain the control of this campaign and we said it from the beginning, we're going to listen to our people.
CROWLEY: Republican Charles Taylor said no to our multiple requests for interviews. He and Shuler have not appeared together at any of the candidate forum this is year but now Taylor wants a televised debate and Shuler says no. The "Asheville Citizen Times" calls him on it. There is a discrepancy over who declined which dates, but Shuler says the day offered was a Sunday.
SHULER: That's our day of worship at church and that's our day of family and I persistently continue to tell them that's my family day. The editor questioned by integrity on that.
CROWLEY: Soon after the article appears, Shuler attends a candidate forum. His campaign circulates this picture. Punch, counter punch.
The passage of time, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, is visible now in landscapes both natural and political. Max Cleland is still out campaigning for Democrats though never again for himself.
CLELAND: I just want to be -- there's a great line by Robert Burns, the Scottish poet that said, "Build my house by the side of the road and be a friend to man."
CROWLEY: George McGovern, a self-identified bleeding heart liberal, dedicated his library with Bill Clinton, centrist.
Mudcat Saunders is working on an album of populous songs with Nashville recording artists.
SAUNDERS: It's a money disease. It's a thing called greed and it feeds on those who need the money most in moneyland.
CROWLEY: In the 11th district of North Carolina, football metaphors abound.
SHULER: We are on the 10-yard line, folks. We're staring at the end zone right in the face.
CROWLEY (on camera): Many party insiders think if Democrats like Heath Shuler win this year, it will be despite the disadvantages of the party label. Maybe Democrats are getting a clue, but '06 is a weighted test. Every indicator points to an election not about Democrats getting it together, but about Republicans falling apart.
(voice-over): Two-minute warning. Not exactly but early voting has begun.
(on camera): Who are you going to vote for for U.S. Congress?
SHULER: Well, that's going to be the obvious one, I believe. I still think the funny thing about this whole, entire campaign is a lot of this is so much out of your control and there's very little that's in your control, but you do have the one vote.
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