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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Bush Campaign Stresses Looking Forward; Bush Senior Criticizes Attack Ads; Delegates Spoof Kerry's Purple Hearts

Aired August 30, 2004 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JEFF GREENFIELD: ... to lose about two weeks ago. The best way I can show you this - and we don't often show conventional wisdom is what's called the Iowa electronic markets. This is a betting pool, a nationwide betting pool where people are invited to come in and risk a buck. The higher the price of a candidate, the more likely people think people think he is to win. And you can see just about 10 days ago, Kerry and Bush were dead even and the last 10 days, it's going to cost you a lot more to buy a Bush contract than a Kerry contract. This isn't a poll asking who do you want to win, but who do you think. So there is a sense out there -- it may be driven by swift votes or it may be driven by commentators -- that things have moved slightly in the president's favor.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's not necessarily a scientific poll or anything like that. And it's not just for people in Iowa, either.

GREENFIELD: It's a nationwide thing. And historically, this has been more accurate than most of the fancy scientific opinion polls.

BLITZER: Going into this contest, Judy, the president, the incumbent, where he is right now, is this where the Republicans would like him to be?

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, they'd love for him to be well ahead. And, in fact, Wolf, when you think of the powers of the incumbency, the fact that he's had the White House with him, he's been able to travel around on Air Force One, he's been able to raise more money than any Republican in history. But, in fact, they know the war in Iraq which has divided this country, economic difficulties and a lot of Americans out of work, when you put that in, this has been a nail-biting election for Republicans all year long.

GREENFIELD: And the proof of that, Wolf and Judy, is that historically, if a president or anybody who comes with a 50% job approval rating or more, an incumbent wins. If under 50 percent, they lose. And where is Bush in the numbers? Just about even. That's why one of the subtexts of this convention -- we're going to hear about strength and terrorism -- is as the Republican chairman said, to put him in a position where people can see him not as a president, but as a good guy. They still believe that the likeability, the kind of folksiness of George W. Bush, despite his aristocratic heritage, is one of his strongest points. And they're going to be hitting that very hard all week.

BLITZER: They have a problem, though, if they hit John Kerry too hard at this convention, don't they, Judy?

WOODRUFF: They do, Wolf. And they don't want to come across as completely negative. They want to put across the positive qualities that Jeff was just describing about George W. Bush. But, you know, as we all said at the beginning of this, they're taking nothing for granted. They know that for every outreach they make to the moderates, to the so-called persuadable voters, their conservative base needs to hear them hammer away at John Kerry. And they plan to keep that up for the four days and right up until November 2nd.

GREENFIELD: And, Wolf, one of the things that people like us always try to do is to figure out what is this year like. And one of the remarkable things about this year is it's not like the other years. It's not 1980 or '92 where people kind of want to get rid of the incumbent. It's not '84 or '92 where they like the incumbent. It's not a McGovern or Goldwater year where the opposition is fractured. This is one of the most unusual presidential campaigns in terms of its unprecedentedness in modern times. And that's why none of us even dares to try to figure out what's going on or what's going to happen, I should say.

WOODRUFF: That won't stop us from trying.

BLITZER: If you spend too much time, though, Judy, looking at simply these polls, you might not necessarily get the right picture where this campaign, these campaigns stand right now.

WOODRUFF: No, that's right, Wolf. All, you know, all of us in the news business, we grab on those numbers because, frankly, we get poll numbers just about every day, our news organization or another news organization. We're doing them all the time. We have to be careful to step back, to talk to people on the street. We've been talking to a number of these delegates who are from all 50 states and beyond here. We will continue to do that until election day. You have to talk to the people, because you can sometimes feel what's going on on the ground before it shows up in the public opinion polls.

BLITZER: At least the impression we're going to get tonight, Jeff, listening to the speakers, especially Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, some of the other main speakers throughout this week. Is that necessarily the main face of the Republican party?

GREENFIELD: It is not the main face of the Republican party. And it's clear that Karl Rove and company believe that for all the talk about swing voters and undecided voters, it's going to be generating the base that is going to win him the election. But I think that's part of the subtext. I think it's not - it's more subtle than just moderate because John McCain is not a moderate, he's a maverick. The message here is, look, if you disagree with President Bush, you voters out there, on any one of a number of issues, that's fine with us. But on the big one, which is the terrorism and post 9-11, even people critical of George Bush like Rudy Giuliani, in some cases, like John McCain believe he got it right. And that's what we want you to take away from this convention. You can disagree with him. You can have your quarrels. But on the big one, they're going to argue he got it right. BLITZER: Go ahead, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Wolf, just to add a point, there are still many Americans out there who are deeply troubled by the war in Iraq. And even as all this is going on in this hall, there are 160,000 American troops in Iraq putting their lives on the line, thousands of troops in Afghanistan. We can't forget about that. And many Americans are looking at that, people who were for the war originally who now are not supportive of the war. And, to me that is what -- that is the principal thing that took away George Bush's unquestioned leadership after 9-11.

BLITZER: All right, Judy and Jeff, stand by. Right behind me, they're playing what they always do here in New York, Broadway tunes here are the floor at the Republican National Convention. We're going to listen in a little bit, get a flavor of some of the mood that's unfolding here. We'll also stand by to speak with Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director. There is going to be a spoof of "Saturday Night Live." That's coming up as well. Let's listen to this and then we'll take a quick break.

SONG

COMMERCIAL BREAK

BLITZER: There is no business like show business. That's what we're hearing here at the Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden, Irving Berlin. Of course, it's an exciting moment for a lot of the Republicans who have come in from all over the United States. What would New York City be like without a Broadway medley that's going on right now? Welcome back to our continuing coverage from Madison Square Garden. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting together with Judy Woodruff and Jeff Greenfield. Also joining us now Dan Bartlett. He's the White House communications director.

DAN BARTLETT, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: We're going to have a spoof of "Saturday Night Live." That's coming up. And we're going to show our viewers that. We understand -- we haven't seen it -- it's very funny. But, Dan, give us a little flavor for this night tonight.

BARTLETT: Well, here we are in New York City. And we're here to open up the Republican Convention. And it gives us an opportunity to talk about the courage of a nation, a nation who's been through so much in the last three and-a-half years, to talk about how we are coming together as a nation to defeat the enemies that we now face. We got America's mayor, Rudy Giuliani, stepping forward and speaking on behalf of the courage of our country and particularly here in New York City. We have John McCain, a national hero in his own right, talking about the leadership of president Bush and why we are prosecuting this war on terror. So it's a great night. It's a great way to start the convention, and we're glad it's here, glad it's beginning. President Bush is excited. Just talked to him a little bit ago out on the campaign trail. He's doing great and looks forward to being here on Thursday.

WOODRUFF: But, Dan, you know, for all of the rah rah that you and other Republicans are saying, we're hearing from the Democrats. In fact, just about 20 minutes before we came on the air, I heard from somebody in the Kerry campaign who said, wait a minute...

BLITZER: Hold on one second, though. I want our viewers to -- before you answer that, Dan, let's listen in to this video, this spoof of "Saturday Night Live."

BARTLETT: Great.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. It wasn't exactly Don Pardough (ph), Dan Bartlett, but it was still very, very cute. It shows that Republicans do have a sense of humor going into this convention, doesn't it?

BARTLETT: Well, of course, we do. My gosh, I mean, here we are in New York City. We're going to do our best. And what a great, fantastic city to be in. It's a city of great culture. It kind of speaks about what America is all about, and we're just happy to be here.

WOODRUFF: Well, not to be the skunk at the party, Dan, as I was saying, we are hearing from the Democrats a few minutes before we went on the air. They are saying while it looks like everybody here is mainstream America, in fact, when it comes to jobs and the president saying he's turned the corner on jobs, when it comes to tax cuts or abortion or any of the other domestic issues that are important, they are saying your party is out of step with the mainstream of America.

BARTLETT: Well, they have every right to say what they want, but President Bush has demonstrated by passing these major reforms through Congress, through the course of his term, that, in fact, the American people support what he's doing. We passed tax relief to get our economy back on sound footing. And if you think what this economy has been through, terrorist attack, corporate scandals, the fact of the matter is as we inherited a recession, all these things together and now we've created 1.5 million jobs and we have turned a corner. It's important we now take the steps to go forward. Those Democrats you talk about are the ones who have a candidate who is running on a platform of raising taxes. That's the wrong thing we need to do right now for our economy right now. So this is an opportunity for the party, for the country to see a platform, an agenda and plan by President Bush that is going to move our country forward and critical issues like the economy and the war on terror.

GREENFIELD: Dan, one thing that the surveys are telling us if you put aside that horse race is more people want change than continuity. Isn't it tough for an incumbent president to run when he can't beyond his base use four more years as a slogan? Isn't that an obstacle in your path that they want a change of direction? BARTLETT: Well, Jeff, I would actually think that what you're seeing in the data is that people are - there's anxious times we live in, the war on terror going on, transitions out of many sectors of our economy is going on. And what they want to hear from the president is that he understands that. And he does. And what he'll prescribe on Thursday night and throughout the course of the fall campaign is that he has the plans that fit the times, that as people struggle to get out of the transition of the old economy and the new economy, for example if we talk about confronting the evil threats of terror and what we need to do to make America safe, who has the right plans to face those threats? And that's why President Bush goes into this convention with the momentum that he has.

BLITZTER: You know, Dan, I just want to correct one thing when you said that you'd created 1.5 million new jobs. That's in the last year and-a-half. But that's after losing about 3 million jobs in the first two years.

BARTLETT: That's correct. That's exactly right. That's exactly right, Wolf. But think about it, 90 days after 9-11, our country lost 1 million jobs alone. Our country, our economy, the American people, we've been through a lot. And the fact of the matter is that this president has led this country to overcome a lot of these challenges. We didn't know when President Bush accepted the nomination four years ago what he would face as president. We now know. And we faced a lot. We faced the war, we faced a recession. We faced the corporate scandals. And what he has demonstrated is that we could overcome these challenges. And that's what we're doing.

BLITZER: All right. A lot of confusion today over what the president meant when he said that the war on terror is not winnable, you can't exactly win this war. What exactly did he mean by that?

BARTLETT: Anybody who has heard this president the last three years has demonstrated that he understands that we can win this war on terror, that we're going to win it by fighting on offense, that our strategy is to get them before they get us. But another critical aspect of this war, the critical aspect is that we need to spread liberty and democracy. When he said we can't win it, what he is saying is that this, it, Al Qaida is not a conventional enemy, not one that's going to sign up to a treaty and say we surrender. What he's talking about is we've got to get to the root causes on the war on terror. And that's what spreading freedom and hope and liberty is all about.

WOODRUFF: But when he was asked that almost identical question on CNN just a few weeks ago, the same question, can the war on terror be won, he said absolutely it can be won.

BARTLETT: That's what I'm saying.

WOODRUFF: So which is it?

BARTLETT: Exactly. And he said in "Time" Magazine interview on the presses today that says do you think we can win this in this overall struggle and he said if I didn't think we could win it, I'd bring my troops home tomorrow. So what he's saying is the tactic, the tactic of terror, which is will Al Qaida come forward and surrender and I think what was in his mind as I've talked to him about it today, clearly, he thinks we're on offense. Clearly, he thinks we're going to win this. And if the Democrats want to have this debate, we're more than happy to have this debate. If we're talking about the war on terror and who's best to lead this country, we think President Bush, we think the American people thinks that. So if Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards want to have this debate, let's have it.

GREENFIELD: Is there any doubt - let's see if we can put the ultimate truth serum. If John Kerry had said the war on terror isn't winnable, Dick Cheney would have been on the campaign trail tomorrow calling him indecisive and a fuzzy guy. Do you have any doubt that the president wishes he had put that in a different way?

BARTLETT: Well, I think what you're talking about is because of the underlying problem that Senator Kerry has is that he hasn't spoken clearly on the war on terror. And that's the problem. The president has a clear (INAUDIBLE). You just pointed to a CNN interview by your own network. I just told you about a "Time" Magazine interview. I think this one is taken out of context. Everybody knows this president is going to fight and win this war on terror.

BLITZER: What is wrong with saying simply that the president may have misspoken a little bit?

GREENFIELD: Wolf, I'm not saying. I was not there when the interview was taken. I'm not sure of the context of that. But I talked to the president today, and is there no doubt in his mind that we're going to win the war on terror. Now, what he will say is we're not going to win it today, we're not going to win it tomorrow. This is a generational commitment. He's going to talk about it at that pedestal on Thursday night because it is a long struggle. But we will prevail.

WOODRUFF: What about the persistent number in the polls, Dan Bartlett, that says more than half of Americans think the country is on the wrong track? That has to be troubling for you and for your campaign.

BARTLETT: Well, actually, when Bill Clinton ran for reelection, it was -- there was a -- he didn't reach a majority on that issue either. Sometimes it speaks to something larger in the country, sometimes it doesn't. I think actually because of the times we live in -- and Jeff, you're more of a student of these things. But I think that because of the war on terror, because of the anxious times we live in, that that might not be the same barometer we see. The fact of the matter is there is a choice. John Kerry comes out of his convention and it's all sizzle, no steak. And I think that's why he had a bad August. We come into our convention with a little bit of momentum and we feel we're going to come out of this convention with a lot of momentum. And that's why President Bush is so optimistic about the fall campaign.

BLITZER: So are you predicting you'll get a big bounce in the polls? BARTLETT: I say we come out with momentum. I'm not here to dissect the numbers. I'm no fool. I speak to my guys about that. But the bottom line is that we come into this convention with momentum. We're going to come out of this convention with momentum. And it's because we believe that the American people are going to rally behind this president who has shown the leadership necessary to lead this country and then, more importantly, that he has a plan for the next four years.

GREENFIELD: Beyond this, you and Senator Kerry to some extent, it strikes me unusually so, are both in a way hostages to fortune. I can't remember a campaign where outside events may do more to upset all of your calculations. I can't think of a campaign like this.

BARTLETT: Well, I think it defined the spring of this campaign and all the events with the transfer of sovereignty in Iraq. It definitely defined the debates and defined the national news and what the American people were digesting on a daily basis. And that certainly may be the case down the home stretch. There are things that could happen that are out of our control. We've talked about terrorism. We talked about these things in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we can't control those things. I think the American people will sift through all of the events of the day and put it in a bigger perspective and decide who is best to be their president.

BLITZER: All right, we're all out of time. But one final question. Is the president committed to three debates against John Kerry?

BARTLETT: Well, I'm not a part of the debate negotiating team. There is going to be debates. We'll have them. They'll be great for the American people to see. President Bush is looking forward to them. He's going up against a seasoned debater, somebody who's been debating on the Senate floor for 20 years. So he's got his work cut out for him. But we'll look forward to it. We'll have the debates. How much, where they are, those things, the negotiations will go forward.

BLITZER: Has the president asked former Secretary of State James Baker to represent him in the negotiation over debates?

BARTLETT: Well, I think he'd be a great person to represent us in such an important task. Those things are being finalized. Whether he is or not, I'll let the campaign announce at the appropriate time.

WOODRUFF: Very quick, Dan, we learned tonight another Swift Vote Veterans TV ad is coming out in the next few days. Are you disappointed? Do you wish it weren't happening? Are you going to condemn it?

BARTLETT: Well, I tell you, Judy, we're disappointed by all of the ads. I mean, as President Bush has said, 527s, their activities, ads, organizations, there has been $63 million spent against this president by 527 ads. President Bush joined John McCain last week in filing a lawsuit. We asked Senator Kerry to join us. It could stop it all. It could stop the swift boats. It could stop all of the move on dot org, all these people calling the president a liar and say that he's poisoning people. These type of ads are bad for the system across the board. We can end them all if he joins us and shows a united front that we can end the 527's.

BLITZER: All right. Well, let's thank Dan Bartlett, first of all, for joining us up here on our platform. We'd like to say we're ringside here at the Republican National Convention.

BARTLETT: We're in New York.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for joining us. We love that "Saturday Night Live" takeoff.

BARTLETT: Thanks.

BLITZER: Dan Bartlett spending a few moments with us. I want to go down to the floor and get a sense what we can expect tonight, where this race stands. We have floor reporters covering the floor of this Republican Convention. In Alabama are Dana Bash, in California, Candy Crowley. Dan Lothian is joining us from Massachusetts. Alabama, let's go there first. Dana Bash, give us a flavor of the South.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you, Wolf, that today the Republican party adopted a platform that really generally pleased conservatives. It had language in there against gay marriage, the same language they've had for years on abortion. But some delegates, particularly some I was talking to, for example, in Alabama, are not that happy with some language. They said it didn't go far enough in saying that stem cell research is morally wrong. They said that they didn't like the language, for example, on immigration. The question is what kind of effect that will have on turnout. That is the key issue for the conservatives for the Bush team. They think that about two to 4 million didn't go out to vote in Alabama. Wolf, that's not going to make much of a difference. That's going to go for the president. But in other states were the margin is so narrow that the question is whether or not conservatives here who are already pretty happy with President Bush or more particularly those watching back home are going to get what they want to hear from the podium this night and other nights, particularly when they hear from the president and vice president, the red meat, as I'm told here, that they want to motivate other people to get out to vote.

BLITZER: Dana Bash in Alabama. CNN's Candy Crowley is in California. All of the polls show, Candy, California not very much in play, but they -- California Republicans will be happy when Arnold Schwarzenegger, their governor, shows up here. Give us a little sense what's happening in that delegation.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are looking forward to Arnold Schwarzenegger, obviously his first national debut coming out here. Even as the conservatives basically like the platform, as Dana reported, a prime time speaking agenda that includes tonight, John McCain, a conservative, but a maverick conservative, Rudy Giuliani who in social issues at any rate is out of step with the president and with the conservative wing of the party, has been looked at askance by many of the conservatives here. But I talked to one member of the Ohio delegation, a higher up, who said, look, this isn't just about reaching out for the swing voters with our rock stars, as he called them. It's also about reaching into that anti-Bush vote, those that are so passionately anti-Bush and somehow trying to take away a little of that fire with some of these gentlemen that are going to appear on the platform over the next couple of nights. Bush? Bush? Wolf!

BLITZER: All right, Candy. Dan Lothian is in Massachusetts, a state he knows very, very well.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

BLITZER: Republicans don't have much hope in Massachusetts, do they, Dan?

LOTHIAN: They do not, but what they will be focusing on this week is the senator from Massachusetts, Senator John Kerry. They will be talking about him, laying out his record, his Senate record, and we will hear some strong words coming from not only the president but also from vice president Dick Cheney. The surrogates also will be out there trying to lay out that Senate record, trying to criticize Senator Kerry, but they have been warned not to touch on the whole Swift Vote controversy. Already today, in the earlier sessions, we have heard the name Kerry mentioned on the podium when House Speaker Dennis Hastert said speaking about Kerry and also about the Democratic party that they are, quote, "weak on war and wrong on taxes." We will hear more of those criticisms throughout the week. We will hear from Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who we are told in his speech he will deliver, quote, "one line that will bring the house down," describing it as good Kerry stuff. Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Massachusetts does have a Republican governor. That's very interesting, even though that state is very, very Democratic. With Dana Bash, Candy Crowley, Dan Lothian. We'll be checking back with you throughout this night. We're going to take a quick break here at the Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden. Remember tonight we're still waiting to hear from John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, among others. We'll be right back.

Welcome back to the Republican National Convention. Take a look. Those are the two Bush daughters, the twins, Barbara and Jenna Bush. There is Jenna Bush right there. Barbara Bush we're looking for right next to her. Barbara and Jenna Bush amongst the thousands who have come to Madison Square Garden to participate in this convention to watch their father get renominated as the Republican Convention nominee. Let's go to John King, our senior White House correspondent. He's going to be throughout this Republican Convention up on the podium. John, give us a flavor, a little sense of you're hearing.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's an exciting night in here already. You can hear them going through the roll call now. They're trying to go through some of it tonight so it doesn't tie up all the proceedings later in the week. Tonight's focus, of course, is on what the campaign views as the president's greatest strength, his leadership in the war on terrorism. You were talking to Dan Bartlett about that comment the president made in the NBC interview, the White House trying to move past that. But other aides conceding privately that their candidate was the first one to veer from the convention script, which is to portray this president as decisive and successful in the war on terrorism.

So by saying in a remark that can be taken anyway, that he doesn't see victory in the war on terrorism, at least anywhere in the near future, Democrats are seizing on that. But the Bush campaign believes it will quickly move past that, and it is counting on those two quite popular public figures, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain tonight to begin to make that case. We also will have the vice president in the hall a bit later tonight. And as for the president's domestic agenda, Wolf, that will come Thursday night in his big speech. Aides say there will be some new policy announcements on health care and on taxes, but they say relatively modest new announcements consistent with already existing campaign themes.

BLITZER: They think and it was obvious that when we spoke to Dan Bartlett a little while ago, John, that if the war on terror is the number one issue in this campaign, that's good for the president.

KING: They believe it's good for the president. That is what they are debating, especially because they believe Senator Kerry has taken conflicting stands on this while most Americans view the president as decisive on this, even if they say disagree with the decision to go to the war in Iraq or disagree with other decisions, they believe the president has done what he said he would do. So they like that contrast.

One other point you were talking about with Dan Bartlett, we are told by sources that that will be an announcement of the Bush campaign debate negotiating team shortly after this convention ends. And we are told that the former Secretary of State James Baker is right now the leading candidate to lead in those negotiations. The campaign, the Bush campaign has not signed on for three presidential and one vice presidential debate. The Kerry campaign has already said it would accept that plan.

BLITZER: John, 9-11, we're approaching the third anniversary right here in New York City, at the Pentagon, in Pennsylvania. It hovers over this convention in a very significant way.

KING: It does, indeed. And that, you will see, a man who was called America's mayor after 9-11, Rudy Giuliani tonight. And, Wolf, a moment of silence here.

BLITZER: All right. We'll observe that moment of silence right now.

It's a group photo. That's why everyone is silent, because everyone is going to be part of this photo, this opportunity. It's a photo opportunity of everyone here at this Republican National Convention. Jeff?

GREENFIELD: If there's anything on the outside events that I asked Dan Bartlett about that has got the White House potentially really concerned, what would it be? Is it as simple as something going wrong in Iraq? Or where are they on that?

BLITZER: I don't know if John was hearing you, Jeff.

KING: I'm sorry, Jeff.

BLITZER: We are seeing the speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert. He's among those who's involved in organizing all of this -- all of the events tonight.

GREENFIELD: John -- John, it's Jeff Greenfield.

KING: I hear you fine now.

GREENFIELD: I got you.

KING: I hear you, Jeff.

GREENFIELD: OK. John, the question is is there anyone outside that has got the White House most concerned? Is it obvious there's something else going wrong in Iraq or is there something else on the horizon that they're really concerned about?

KING: Well, obviously, the ongoing situation in Iraq is the one unpredictable. You mentioned perhaps an outside event changing the campaign. The war in Iraq is the ongoing drama, if you will, that they worry about the most as they watch the uncertainty of the political transition play out.

And there is obviously, of course, the continuing threat that the administration says the potential for a terrorist attack here in the United States.

So it is all -- the security issues is the one they're worried about most. Of course, they're worried about any surprising economic reports or anything that would come out and show the economy weaker than they have portrayed. But it is security and terrorism issues they believe could be the most unpredictable elements in the final two months.

BLITZER: We're about to see, John, the vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney, come into his box here. He's among the distinguished guests. He may be the most distinguished guest here.

The president is not yet here in New York. He's still on the campaign trail, making his way toward Madison Square Garden. He'll, of course, be here Thursday night when he delivers his acceptance speech.

I want to bring in two of our analysts, Donna Brazile, who was the campaign manager for Al Gore four years ago. Victoria Clarke, she worked for the George Bush campaign four years ago and went on to become the Pentagon spokeswoman.

Let's go to you, Tori Clarke and give us a sense. When the president uttered those words to Matt Lauer on NBC that this war on terror might not be winnable. We heard Dan Bartlett's explanation. We heard what other officials are telling our John King.

What do you make of this and what's wrong with the president and his advisors simply saying, "You know what? I could have expressed it in a better way"?

VICTORIA CLARKE, FORMER PENTAGON SPOKESWOMAN: I think people have a lot of fun for about 24, 36 hours agonizing over the semantics of words. But the reality is it's going to be a long, long, long fight, a long struggle. And the only way to win it is to be very aggressive and very forward-leading.

That's what you're going to hear a lot about this week. That's the approach the president will take, and I think it's the right course.

When people have asked me, can you ever win the war on terror, what I've said is, well, we're certainly winning battles along the way and, yes, we will win. But at the end of the day, it's sort of like this. Do you ever reach a place in society where you don't need firemen or you don't need policemen? No.

And in the war on terror, there probably always will be some element, some pockets out there. But in the overall sense and the most important sense, we will win that war on terror.

JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST, "INSIDE POLITICS": Donna Brazile, it's Judy Woodruff. I have a question for you. And that is these polls in the last few weeks that show some disturbing trends for John Kerry.

You know, the Kerry people are trying to put a good face on all this, but in fact, whether it's the battleground state polls, whether it's attributes of a strong and decisive leader, better commander-in- chief, there are some numbers that are dipping for John Kerry, going up for George W. Bush.

You talk to the campaign a lot, Donna. How worried are they?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, Judy, they are still very confident that John Kerry is well positioned as a challenger. He made up significant ground during the Democratic convention and laying a strong foundation on leadership qualities, on traits that the American people look for in a president.

So I think that once the dust settles after this convention, you'll see, once again, a real horse race, a race that's pretty much tied within the margin of error.

WOODRUFF: But Donna, you also talk to other Democrats. Are they getting concerned?

BRAZILE: Well, there is no question that out -- out in the battlefield and in those battleground states, Democrats would like to lead this race now by 10 points.

But I'm confident at the end of the day based on what I know and what happened four years ago, that John Kerry is going to win this race. He'll just have to endure some of the bumps along the way, but he has a real plan and a real program, I think, to present to the American people.

And he's going to have a significant race on his hand in the fall when the Bush campaign really go after, you know, him again on his record.

GREENFIELD: Tori Clarke, you know, "your old man says so" is the way you end arguments in unorganized ball games that kids play. The fact that people like Lee Iacocoa, who endorsed Bush in a TV ad four years ago is for Kerry, the former Air Force chief of staff who endorsed Bush four years ago is for Kerry.

Paul O'Neill has virtually said the president was clueless on economics. Retired General Zinni says Rumsfeld should be fired for screwing up Iraq.

Is there a concern among the Bush supporters that those kind of comments might undermine his basic case of steady leadership in a time of change?

CLARKE: Well, two things. Not when you see people like Zell Miller, a Democrat, or former mayor of New York, Ed Koch, here talking about how strongly they support this president and that he should be president for another four years.

And, secondly, you know, I think if you added them all up, it probably comes down to a wash. There are some people who used to support the president who now support Kerry. There are people who, I'm sure, have supported Kerry in the past, such as Zell Miller and Ed Koch, who are now supporting the president.

So what's most important is, I think -- I think Donna is right, we're going to see a very close race and the polls will go back and forth. But the closer we get to November, the clearer it will become that this is about some very, very fundamental issues about what kind of approach you're going to take to the war on terror, forward leaning and aggressive or not quite so?

And I think that's what's going to be really important. Not with all due respect of who's endorsing whom. Not with those people.

BLITZER: Victoria Clarke, Donna Brazile, we'll be checking back with you.

Our viewers have been watching Lynne and Dick Cheney, the vice president of the United States. We see some of their grandkids with them. The -- We earlier saw Barbara and Jenna Bush clearly enjoying this event.

Next to Lynne Cheney, by the way, that's Mary Cheney, one of their daughters, their other daughter. I'm looking at the scene there. That is Elizabeth Cheney. The other daughter is Mary Cheney. They've got two daughters. They've got four grandchildren and it's a big happy Cheney family here.

They were just received very enthusiastically, Judy, by this crowd over here.

All right. We're going to take a quick break as we watch some of the excitement going on here at the Republican National Convention.

When we come back, we're also going to take you behind the scenes. We're doing here what we did in Boston. We've given some of the delegates those small mini cameras to take us inside the delegations and inside all the pomp and circumstance of this convention.

We're back from Madison Square Garden right after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In 1980, the Republican nominee was clear. His running mate wasn't. Many wanted former President Gerald Ford to be Ronald Reagan's running mate. No former president had ever been vice president. After the two met, late into the night, Reagan declared Ford wasn't interested and picked George Bush to be his running mate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back at the Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden. We're standing by.

Our Paula Zahn earlier today had an exclusive interview with the first President Bush. He doesn't give many interviews. We'll have Paula here. She's standing by, together with that part of the interview with the first President Bush.

We're also doing something unusual at these conventions. As we did at the Democrat convention in Boston, we've given some small minicams, mini cameras, to four delegates to take us behind the scenes, get a flavor of what's going on.

Here is today's "Delegate Diaries."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm Casilenas Papileras (ph) and I'm a delegate from California.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is John Caprah (ph), and I'm a delegate in the Florida delegation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am Alessio Vales (ph), a delegate from Puerto Rico.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm Georgia Longbacher (ph), a delegate here in New York City for the Republican convention.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The convention will be taking place downtown at the Garden, as we New Yorkers call it, and the nominee, of course, is our president, George W. Bush.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're very excited to be here for the first time. We have a Republican governor and Republican mayor who are welcoming us, and we're very excited about being here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After 9/11, very few people predicted that the city would bounce back so quickly, but as you will see this week, New York is now safer and stronger than ever.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Having the convention in New York, having it be the site of the worst terrorists incident in our history is just basically an opportunity to highlight our democratic process, even in light of a tragedy like that. I certainly want to go down to Wall Street and see Ground Zero.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we're the party who will control terrorism better than anyone else, and this is the place that suffered the most.

My room overlooks what used to be the Twin Towers. Every time I look down, it's still a very emotional, it's very sad. You can feel it. You feel hit by the emotion of not seeing the Twin Towers there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here we are at the World Trade Center. It's all blocked off by fencing now. There are a lot of people here paying their respects.

Here on top of the Empire State Building. We looked over toward downtown and the Twin Towers weren't there, so it looked like an empty skyline. And it reminded me of Bruce Springsteen's song, "Empty Sky."

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, MUSICIAN (singing): I woke up this morning to an empty sky.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were under attack just about three years ago. We've been safe for three years. I hope that everyone who is visiting during this convention will see how great the city is, because we've come back in full force.

ED GILLESPIE, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: It's my privilege to proclaim the 2004 Republican National Convention in session and call it to order!

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And that's today's installment of our "Delegate Diary." We'll be doing it throughout -- throughout this convention.

And our Paula Zahn is joining us here at the convention.

Now, Paula, you had a rare opportunity to get something really exclusive today. You sat down with the first President Bush?

PAULA ZAHN, HOST, "PAULA ZAHN NOW": And he had an awful lot to say about this campaign, conceding that he knows his son is in a very tough political fight. He took us back to 1992 and reminded us of the fact that he and one of his advisors, Mary Matalin, were among perhaps the only two on his campaign who thought he was actually going to win in '92. Everybody had all but given up hope.

And he said this campaign of his son is not going to make the same mistake. They learned a lot of powerful lessons from '92. They will not underestimate John Kerry.

He went on to say that he thinks John Kerry is among of the most liberal senators in Congress. He said eventually America will not vote that way on election day.

And then we moved on to the issue of the swift boat controversy. Here is what the president told me.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: This campaign has gotten very ugly. First lady, Laura Bush, over the weekend said she didn't think the swift boat ads were unfair, because she felt that her husband had been victimized by, in her words, millions of these negative 527 ads.

We have heard the amount of attacks on John Kerry and his war record and his activities in Vietnam.

GEORGE H. W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Right.

ZAHN: What do you make of those ads?

BUSH: Well, I haven't seen the ads. I saw something on the run up to the ads on -- and I must say, what I saw of these individuals -- and there are quite a few of them -- was rather compelling, but then people have gone in and said, well, they weren't telling the truth.

I have great confidence in Bob Dole. I don't think he'd be out there just smearing John Kerry. I think he was concerned about what he actually saw with his own eyes and what he actually heard with his own ears. So I'm conflicted on it.

But, again, Paula, you know, I'm getting so old, I kind of -- I got to be careful the kids don't start throwing me out of the living room when I start telling them what it used to be like.

I remember in 1992 running against a man who I've became a friend with afterwards, Bill Clinton. And I remember getting victimized when we talked about my war record, which happened to include service in combat, and quite a few combat missions in the Pacific.

And then they said, "This is an attack on Clinton. You're attacking him because he avoided the draft. You're attacking him because he went to England." I was very careful not to do that.

But you get into something like this, and the emotions rage on both sides.

ZAHN: Do you think these ads are OK?

BUSH: I don't know about whether they're OK or not. I think they're -- the one that I'm interested in is if they go forward with what -- what John Kerry said when he came back from Vietnam. Because I remember that. And I think that's fair game.

I don't know about these. If it's proved that they're untrue, then it's not right. But if there's truth in it, then it's OK.

ZAHN: There are...

BUSH: And I might add parenthetically, the attacks on my son about service in the National Guard, which was attacked by Kerry himself, I don't like that either.

ZAHN: There have been a number of reports that have pointed out factual errors in these ads. Your son has condemned all of the 527 ads but not specifically the swift boat ads. Should he have?

BUSH: No. He's right to condemn the 527. Look, we have been victimized by this MoveOn.org, this slobby Michael Moore and all of these people for months. And for months before the president started campaigning, he was attacked by all kinds of people. So you've got to get -- you know, you can't have it both ways.

And I don't know enough about the swift boat veterans. I think Kerry served honorably, but I don't know enough about them to say they're all liars. All every one of these men that are speaking up, are we saying they're liars? Is the press now condemning all of them? There's no truth to any of this? I don't know enough about it to know that.

So why not do what the president suggested, get rid of all of these 527s or 547s or whatever they are. Get them out of there, including the ones that have been brutalizing our son for months.

ZAHN: Let's come back to the issue of Iraq. You talked about the divisiveness this war has created in this country. Polls would show that Americans are increasingly concerned about what the exit strategy will be, increasingly concerned about the continuing loss of American life.

There is a perception out there among some American voters, though, that, in part, the president went into Iraq to finish off the first Gulf War?

BUSH: Oh, that's bull. I'll clean it up for you. That is erroneous. It's not true.

The Gulf War was finished off properly. Make no mistake about it. We had an objective. That was to kick Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. We tried to do it diplomatically tried to go to the U.N., tried everything. He wouldn't get out. We kicked him out and we came home.

Ten years later, eight years later, after U.N. resolution after U.N. resolution was violated, the president felt he should take action. So it's a different circumstance, and I don't think the president feels that -- you know, that the war was unfinished.

Now, the fact -- see, our goal was never to eliminate Saddam Hussein. That wasn't the goal. It wasn't to -- it wasn't to stay in Iraq. That wasn't the goal. It's not that goal today, incidentally.

So it's different times that -- I hear that criticism made and that's one thing that gets me really mad, that and "The New York Times." Those are the two things that make me really mad these days.

ZAHN: Let's come back to "The New York Times" a little bit later, and let's address Iraq now. Do you believe that U.S. credibility has been damaged by this war in Iraq.

BUSH: Overall, no. Not overall. In some areas, I think there is, you know, diminishing enthusiasm for the United States. That will be redeemed by a change of people, and it will be redeemed by the ultimate results.

You might not like the divisions now and the loss of life, but we didn't like the loss of life in the war that Bob Dole and I fought in either.

ZAHN: But even the president admitted just several days ago that he had made a miscalculation in the post-war plan. Were you surprised by the strength of the insurgency movement in Iraq?

BUSH: Paula, you know something? I've spent the last four years as the father of the president. And I have vowed -- I'm going into more with you today than I intended but I've spent -- I vowed to stay out of any nuance of difference where some illustrious reporter could say the president's father differs with him.

I'd like to have done it from time to time and something other, not this but something or other. I do not want to say anything inferentially, marginally, that can be used against the president. The division: "Father says this, he should have listened to him."

Saying I was wrong ten years ago and now they're saying you ought to listen to him. Come on, give me a break.

ZAHN: All right. Back to the issue of "The New York Times." You really believe the criticism in that paper has been all that different from what we've read in other papers across the country?

BUSH: Oh, yes.

ZAHN: How so?

BUSH: It's consistently liberal, consistently opposes the president on almost everything covering editorial. Most of their editorial comment on the op-ed page is extraordinarily liberal.

And the thing that troubles me is, in my opinion, their news columns are getting to show a certain bias. There's a new way you do it now: reporter's notebook. And then that gives you a little chance to be an advocate in the news column. Or "Washington Whispers" or something like that and that relieves the reporter of objectivity, objective reporting.

And so, you know, I expect we'll get a big argument about this, but I'm absolutely certain of it. I've given up on them.

ZAHN: Has the president given up on them?

BUSH: I don't know. He might be like his mother; she won't read it anymore.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Now, the president did go on to say when he is in "The New York Times'" target zone, meaning the East Coast. He does read the paper. He respects the foreign reporting and, on occasion, he orders something from "the New York Times."

BLITZER: I believe, Jeff, this president, the current president says he doesn't read many newspapers at all. But at least his father still reads a lot of newspapers.

GREENFIELD: I don't think the Bush family necessarily predisposed to print publications.

BLITZER: We're going to see, Paula, he's going to be introduced right now, the first president. In fact, he's being introduced right now. Let's watch this.

(MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A native New Yorker, Ron Silver is known for his extraordinary stage presence and high energy portrayals of...

BLITZER: That was quite a welcome for the first President Bush and Barbara Bush. They are, Paula, clearly loved here by these Republicans. Dare I say they're loved by millions of Americans around the country. It's hard to believe, how old is now? Because he's looking great.

ZAHN: He turned 80 and he says he's never felt better. He enjoys the fact that no one cares, he says, what he has to think anymore, think about anymore. He doesn't care about reading all the op-ed pages like he did when he was president.

But one of the more interesting things he had to say was when I asked him the question about the fact that many of the current President Bush's aides will tell you, he actually thinks he benefits from low expectations and the president says to this day, he doesn't understand that.

You know, here he is, he has a kid that went to Andover and to Yale and successfully ran his own business. And yet, the comedians and political critics take him on. And he calls that criticism pathetic. GREENFIELD: One of the things about this Bush White House from the day they went into that White House, they looked at what happened to the first President Bush in 1992, that he'd gone from a 91 percent approval rating the year earlier to the lowest incumbent reelection total since William Howard Taft.

And they went to school on what they think the first President Bush's administration did wrong, everything from ignoring the base to getting out a clear message. And in a way, in a negative way, the first President Bush has been a model for the second President Bush.

WOODRUFF: He has. Because he has been very careful not to step on what his son was involved in. And Paula, this is one of the very first times I've heard him talk about Iraq and in the way that he did with you.

BLITZER: He is pretty feisty, too, the first President Bush. We saw that old little feistiness come through. Paula, excellent work.

ZAHN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for spending some time for us. I guess our viewers are grateful to you, as well.

We're going to take another quick break. We have a lot more going on, and we're going to share with you something we just discovered here on the floor of the Republican National Convention. Some of the delegates are wearing Band-aids, and we'll tell you precisely why when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to the Republican National Convention. Let's immediately go to CNN's Candy Crowley. She's on the floor.

Candy, have you discovered something interesting happening?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we found here, and I'm going to get her to stop clapping just to show you. This is Donna Cane. She's a delegate from Oregon wearing, as you can see, a Band- aid with a Purple Heart on it, which begs the question, we know this is about John Kerry. Any hesitation about putting this on?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, none at all.

CROWLEY: And where did you get it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I got it from a gentleman that's attending the meeting here. And, actually, probably a lost people are handing them out because they are very symbolic.

CROWLEY: Well, what are they symbolic of to you? I mean, this is a man who went and served his country. Do you feel as though you're making fun of him?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: no. I feel like what he's done is he's made the war that he served in far more important than his recent records of the last 18 to 20 years.

We've had a man now in office that I think has been extremely brave, has done a wonderful job as president and I want to see him elected again to lead this country in this terrible time we're going through.

CROWLEY: One of the things that -- the criticism of this is that there are kids over in Iraq right now, some of them getting Purple Hearts.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

CROWLEY: Is this defaming of them?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, it is not in any way defaming of them, because I know people who have received Purple Hearts and I know that they're not boasting about their war record. They're proud of their serving their country. And I mean, I just met a woman who lost her husband yesterday in Iraq. And there's a whole entirely different mood.

CROWLEY: Thank you so much. Donna Cane (ph) from Oregon.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Candy. John King, let me bring you in. Give me your reaction, your immediate reaction to these Band- aids, these so-called "Purple Hearts" that we're seeing. Is this something you say is authorized by the Bush/Cheney campaign?

KING: Wolf, I just spoke with a senior Bush/Cheney campaign official who said absolutely not. He said the campaign was not aware of this and that the campaign had absolutely nothing to do with it. And that the campaign's position is that John Kerry's service in Vietnam was honorable and that this should not be an issue, the specific issue of whether his injuries were severe enough to qualify for Purple Hearts and other medals.

But the Kerry campaign has been with us in touch with us also in the past few minutes. And they say to them this is another sign of what they view as a double standard, if you will, an underhanded way that the Bush campaign says it has nothing to do with negative attacks but that's stamped by in a convention hall that is, of course, controlled and allows these things to take place.

It is in one way a gimmick, the Kerry campaign says, but in another way we are now talking again about the potential controversy or what some say is the controversy over whether Senator Kerry deserved those medals.

BLITZER: All right, John, thanks very much.

Jeff, let me get your thoughts and then Judy on these Purple Hearts.

GREENFIELD: Delegates love red meat, and increasingly campaigns and conventions tend to sanitize them. You saw that very much in Boston where the Bush bashing was kept to a minimum.

I'm sure the argument could be that this is a light-hearted view, but when you -- I'm wondering whether the Bush campaign would just as soon that these things disappear. Because they raise the specter are you making fun of someone who went to Vietnam and at some point was involved in some kind of very serious combat?

WOODRUFF: We know they are not specifically condemning the swift boat ads. And as we -- as we talked about earlier on the show, there is another round of these ads coming out later this week, television ads.

In this instance, they're going to be talking about John Kerry giving back or throwing away some of his ribbons he received in Vietnam and throwing away the medals of others. This controversy is far from over. That's bad news for John Kerry.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to -- thanks very much, Jeff and Judy. We're going to take a quick break. We're standing by.

"LARRY KING," the first of two live editions, that's coming up. Larry's here. He's got a full lineup of guests that you will want to see.

We'll take a quick break. More of our live coverage from Madison Square Garden, right after this.

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