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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
What if Dems Win?; What Comes Next?; GOP Strategy; Montana Battle; Tennessee Toss-Up; Election Feedback; Pentagon P.R. Focus; Bush: A Fallen Star; The Six-Year Itch; Clinton Power;
Aired November 6, 2006 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: So this is it. Hopefully by this time tomorrow night, if all goes well, we will know who controls the House and Senate. It may be a later night than that though.
All day today, both sides were bringing out the heavy ammunition to try to sway the vote. President Bush, Former President Clinton, Senator John McCain. Massive turnout machines are gearing up. The final money is being spent. The race appears to be tightening.
We'll get to all of the last minute tactics in a moment. We'll look ahead to tomorrow night as well.
First, a look further out at Wednesday morning and what might happen if the Democrats win the House or the Senate or both.
With that, CNN's Tom Foreman.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): As the race winds down to its final moments, Republicans and Democrats are trading punches furiously.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you vote Democrat, you are voting for a tax increase. And if you are voting Republican, you are voting for low taxes and a stronger economy.
HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: What is up first is health care, is fixing the economy so that ordinary people and middle-class people have a chance again.
SENATOR BILL FRIST (R), TENNESSEE: And that means the average family making $62,000 is going to see their federal taxes go up by 58 percent.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There has been a war on the American family institute by Republicans, not just the one in Iraq.
FOREMAN: Hammered by the administration for not outlining a strategy for Iraq, some Democrats are now promising quick plans to bring home the National Guard and Reserve, and move active duty troops to bases outside Iraq.
MAX CLELAND (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: The Democrats want to withdraw our forces, redeploy our forces out of harm's way in Iraq because we think that losing over 100 kids a month is not the right course. It is time to change the course.
FOREMAN: If Democrats seize both the House and Senate, they will have the muscle to make some changes. On the House side, California's Nancy Pelosi would probably lead the charge, with loyal Democrats controlling key committees.
In the Senate, seasoned pros and presidential hopefuls would wield power. Together, they could push plenty of legislation on their wish list, to decrease dependence on foreign oil, bolster social security and raise the minimum wage, among other things.
(On camera): The question is, can they actually do all or any of that? The polls have been running hard against the Republicans, but the Democrats have not escaped criticism, and there is still a Republican president.
(Voice-over): Even some Democratic strategists say if the party wins, it must produce results quickly.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Americans don't believe that the Republicans have a clear plan for what to do in Iraq, nor do they believe that the Democrats do. The polls have been very clear on that point.
FOREMAN: Simply put, rough waters likely lie ahead for which ever party wins.
Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.
COOPER: Which, of course, brings us back to what happens tomorrow. How Democrats plan to turn that what if into what is. And how Republicans aim to stop them.
In a moment, GOP Strategist Mike Murphy. First, in Washington, Democratic Strategist and CNN Political Analyst Paul Begala.
Paul, good to see you. How confident are you about tomorrow and the Democrats' chances?
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I am very confident the Democrats will take the House. I'm still not confident they're going to take the Senate. I think that might be a late night for you. You and I might be taking No Dose and keeping up all night, but I think the numbers are plainly there on the House side.
COOPER: At this late hour, what are the strategies to try to get out the vote?
BEGALA: Well, a lot of them. I mean, everybody -- they are knocking on doors, they're e-mailing, phone banking, calling. But the interesting new strategy this year, which is really pretty clever, but it's pretty slimy, too, is these deceptive robo calls, right?
You get a tape recording that calls again and again and again, seven, eight, nine times. And it says, I want to tell you some important information about Anderson Cooper. Well, they think it's a call for Anderson Cooper for Congress. And it annoys the voter. And really, it's the other party, in this case the Republicans who are calling in the middle of the night with calls that suggest perhaps they're calling on behalf of the Democratic candidate.
It actually might violate some of the telemarketing calls if we actually held politicians accountable for what they do. But that's actually an effort to depress turnout. While every -- while all the public faces, oh, they always talk about how we want to increase turnout.
COOPER: So much has been made, though, about the Republicans' ability to get out the vote in the final days and the final hours. Is it really that much better than the Democrats?
BEGALA: It certainly was in '04. Let's see in '06. I've been checking. I checked, for example, you know, the Democratic Party, under Howard Dean, whom I have not been the biggest fan of, has done a very good job, I think, in getting ready to get out the vote.
You know, the Republicans call theirs a 72-hour strategy. A spokeswoman for the Democratic Party I talked to today said well, we've been doing it for weeks and months. They have made 30 million contacts with voters -- 30 million, 3 million to 4 million just on Saturday alone over this weekend.
Add to that, independent groups tend to be progressive and liberal, like moveon.org, which this weekend called 5 million people. Well, you start to get to a pretty serious turnout machine on the Democratic side.
The Republicans, we know, can do its job. But they've got an electorate that is a lot less willing to turn out than they were two years ago.
COOPER: When you look at some of these races, the Senate races, the House races, do you see Democratic candidates clearly moving more to the middle, trying to be more like Republicans in order to get elected?
BEGALA: Well, they're trying to be more like successful Democrats like Bill Clinton. I don't think they're trying to be like Republicans. I think one of the gifts that President Bush and Karl Rove have given the Democrats is that they have staked their flag so right to right. They believe that they could govern the country if they'd simply control the Republican Congress.
The way to control the Republican Congress is to control the most extreme fringe, the, you know, Jerry Fallwell, Pastor Ted, far right- wing fringe.
So the Democrats have a big opening in the middle. And that's what Bill Clinton taught my party. And so I see a lot of centrists Democrats. I heard David Gergen talking about some of them a moment ago. Harold Ford, Jr., my friend and my friend Bob Casey, Jr., in Pennsylvania. These are centrist Clinton-style Democrats. And I think that's a great opportunity.
If the Democrats go as far to the left as Mr. Bush and Mr. Rove went to right, then that would be foolish. But I don't think they will. I think the Democrats I am seeing are much more centrist.
COOPER: There are some polls though now showing the Democrats' double-digit leads kind of slipping.
BEGALA: Yes, you know, I looked at that actually before we went on the air. There have been seven polls nationally in the last seven days. And they go from our own poll, CNN, which shows the Democrats 20 points ahead, to the tightest was the Pugh poll that shows Democrats only four ahead. They average out to a Democratic lead of 11.5 percent. On the day before the election, that is a pretty good place to be.
COOPER: We'll see tomorrow. Paul Begala, thanks.
Mike Murphy is a veteran, but on the other side, the Republican side. He has been a political and media strategist to John McCain and Arnold Schwarzenegger, just to name a few.
Mike Murphy joins us tonight from Los Angeles.
Good to have you on the program again. Mike, how confident are you about tomorrow?
MIKE MURPHY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think we're the underdog in the House and I think we're in the fight in the Senate.
But I've got to quickly respond to Begala, who is such a -- he's a good friend, but he's a big partisan with the attack on telephones. The truth is, the phone technology came out of the Democratic side, and it was targeted at senior citizens to scare the hell out of them about social security. Everybody knows a grandmother who got this special vote Republican, lose your social security phone call that's been going on 20 years.
There's not nearly as much, I think midnight phone calling as Paul kind of argued, or charged.
COOPER: Does that actually work?
MURPHY: It's a tough election. Both sides pound away on telephones.
COOPER: Whether it's Republican or Democrat doing it, does it actually work, robo calling?
MURPHY: It used to work when it was new. I think people are very inoculated now to a lot of telephone messages. Because these new robo calls are so cheap, campaigns can spend them like crazy. So people get so many, they get turned off.
The phone's a powerful communications weapon, but I think campaigns tend to overuse them. Campaigns are now -- in the last part of a tough election, campaign managers are nervous, so they tend to go right for overkill, because, you know, why not? You got to do something.
COOPER: I want to ask you the same question I asked Paul, about the Republicans' get out the vote efforts. Democrats make so much of that. And I'm wondering if, if it is real, that the Republicans' effort is so much better; or is it, has become this sort of, you know, larger than life fear on the part of the Democrats.
MURPHY: Well, I think there is a little bit of kabuki theater going on. I mean, the truth is, we have these cliches in elections, you know all politics are local. Which isn't true actually. All politics now are global. The politics of sectarian Baghdad are affecting mightily the politics of Mishiwaka, Indiana.
And the other big cliche is, you know, It's all down to turnout. I actually don't think turnout's going to decide this election. If we have a bad day tomorrow, it's not going to be because the Republican base doesn't vote, it's going to vote and it should vote. And I'm glad it's voting. Or the Democrats base votes.
It's going to be people in the middle decide to punish our party; or, if we do better than expected, it's because people in the middle have decided that they don't want to trust the Democrats with foreign policy because they don't have one. So I think it is a little overrated.
That said, the 72-hour plan was a good attempt by the RNC to develop person-to-person technology to catch up with what the unions do off and off the books for the Democrats.
And it's a very good system and it's very good at turning out the vote and at helping neighbor to neighbor persuasion affect voting. And so I think it's more advanced technology the Democrats have, but I don't think it's going to determine the outcome of the election. But it's a critical thing and I'm glad we have it. And I'm glad it's working well for us.
COOPER: Do you agree that...
MURPHY: It may make a difference in a few tight districts.
COOPER: Do you agree that Iraq is issue number one? I mean because the Republicans have been trying to remind people that, you know, economy is good, unemployment is low; and yet, what we keep hearing, at least in the media, is about Iraq.
MURPHY: Yes, unfortunately I think Iraq is issue number one. And I say unfortunately, not because it may be good for bad for Republicans, but because it's such a complicated issue, and the Democrats have run a campaign with very little responsibility about what else is to be done. They have a lot of bromides about if they're in charge, you know, wonderful things are going to happen.
The fact is, Iraq, in reality, is a big stinky, difficult, dangerous bipartisan problem. And I don't think there's a partisan solution to it. And I worry that if a Democratic Congress is elected, in perception at least, and maybe in reality, on Iraq, will take the gridlock we have in domestic politics and were exported to our foreign policy, and we send a very, very bad message around the world of American weakness. And I think that's one of the big dangers we have. And I would hope that starting Wednesday morning, the politicians on both sides understand there's an American interest that's a lot more important than a partisan interest.
COOPER: You do hear a lot from voters, people sick of bickering Washington and wanting people to work in a bipartisan way. We'll see if it actually happens.
Mike Murphy, good to have you from the Republican side. Thanks very much, Mike.
MURPHY: Thank you.
COOPER: We are joined now by Wolf Blitzer, by John King and Candy Crowley as well, part of the best gosh darn political team in the business.
What do you make about what Mike said? I mean, Iraq, clearly issue number one?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I mean, I think it's been true since the beginning. I think we have known this since January. Republicans have known this since January. They were told then, you guys are in trouble, you need to start, you know, getting back there and getting the campaign together.
COOPER: And yet the Republicans were saying for a long time that they were going to try to make this, trying to localize all of these races. And the Democrats were going to try to keep them national, keep it a referendum on the president. Did the Republicans ever even have a shot at doing that? Or actually did the Democrats even -- were they successful in doing that? Or was it just the fact that that's the realty, whether or not the Democrats had anything to do with it, John?
JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: If you go district by district, some politicians have succeeded in doing that, but for the most part, the answer is no, that it is a national election on Iraq. Is there a subset of issues on which they've tried to campaign? Yes.
You go in the Philadelphia suburbs, the local congressman there, Mike Fitzpatrick, he's in trouble. He says, remember me? I was on the Bucks County Council. I've known you forever. I'm from the neighborhood. Does that help him? Probably a little. But when you have this huge tide about Iraq, and his opponent happens to be an Iraq war veteran, maybe not enough. That is the big question. So, it is about Iraq, Iraq, Iraq. And then beneath that, the Republicans are trying to play the local card. But Mike's dead right on that point. We always say all politics is local; in a big year like this, probably not.
COOPER: Wolf, the economy, I mean pocketbook issues which earlier we thought were going to be number one on people's lists don't seem to getting people out to the polls. The Republicans have been trying to talk it up in the last several days, especially trying to get the subject off Iraq, and it doesn't seem to be working.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What they have been trying to do is to remind, from their perspective, voters out there, if you vote for the Democrats, your taxes are going to go up. And the Democrats have had a pretty good response right now. The middle-class, their taxes are not going to go up, maybe the wealthy of the wealthiest, their taxes are going to go up. Maybe the big corporate giants, their taxes are going to go up. The oil companies, their taxes will go up.
But the Democrats have been pretty good in responding to what they know has been a tried and true Republican charge, that taxes are going up if the Democrats get in power.
CROWLEY: Also, the economy, you know, everybody says, oh, the economy is great. Sure, if you've got stocks in the stock market. But look, in the states where we have big races in Missouri, in Ohio, in Michigan, the economy is not that great. I mean, they are driving -- these are places that don't have metros. You know, they drive from, you know, from one end of the state to another. $2 a gallon of gasoline is still a lot.
Ohio, manufacturing base, it's really been hit hard. Jobs are a problem there. Michigan, the car industry fell out from under them. So the economy is a tough sell in some of the places that are the most important this year.
COOPER: And John, the president really, I mean, he's been out campaigning a lot, but really in safer territory. A lot of people have kind of been shunning him.
KING: For the most part, he has been in very safe red districts. Remarkable, today he goes to the state of Florida to campaign for the candidate for governor, who doesn't show up, decides he's better off with John McCain somewhere else instead. So you may see the beginning of the changing of the guard in the Republican Party...
COOPER: And why did he go ahead and do that? I mean, if the candidate wasn't even going to show up, I guess it would have been embarrassing for him to cancel?
KING: Well, the rally was planned. And the candidate told him over the weekend he wasn't going to be there. But the president's brother was there, some other down the ticket candidates were there, so the president went anyway. The White House was not happy about this. And Karl Rove and others made that quite clear.
But look, the candidate is trying to win in a very tough sate this year. And he decided he was better off not with the president. That was in a Republican area. And as Mike Murphy said, a lot of the people in the last few days was over independent voters, in a state like Florida, conservative Democrats, he just decided, you know what, standing next to George W. Bush in the last day of this campaign is probably not best for me. And this president, we're going to hear lame duck, we're going to hear less relevant. We're getting a lot of terms thrown around about this president in the next few days. And this candidate today decided, look, this is about me, not about him.
COOPER: How much, Wolf, can Democrats actually do if they get the House or even the Senate? I mean, how much really can change in Iraq? How much can -- and what does the president do, does he then decide to Ok, well, we're going to start compromising?
BLITZER: Well, there's a limit what the Democrats can do in terms of foreign policy and national security, short of cutting the funds. And they are not going to -- they say they are not going to do that because that would undermine the troops and make it more dangerous for the troops.
So they say they're not going to use the power of the purse. So there's a limit to what they can do, but what they can do, if they are the majority in the House, let's say -- forget about the Senate -- they have an opportunity to engage in serious oversight, hold hearings, call witnesses, the kind of oversight that even subpoenas would be available for which is something they haven't had the votes to do when they were in the minority.
So there's an opportunity to do things, but I think all of us will agree there is a limit to what even a majority in one House can do...
COOPER: When you start talking about subpoenas, I mean, you can hear eyes rolling around the country. I mean, people want results, they want people to actually do things, not just gridlock.
CROWLEY: This may not be the time. Look, they'll work around -- this may not be the time to be looking for -- if it's a split government, it's going to be gridlock as much as it is now and probably even more so.
And you have overshadowing that the fact that in two years we have a presidential election which has been underway since the last presidential election. You've got, what, 15 people in the Senate who think they should be president. You know.
CROWLEY: And they're going to be out there, because they've got agendas to push. So, you know, this is not a time to be looking for great big things. Maybe there will be an immigration bill. Maybe they will change the pharmaceutical bill that gives seniors prescription drugs so that they can go out into the marketplace and bargain. Minimum wage -- but, don't -- anybody looking for something big from these guys doesn't understand that whole divided...
BLITZER: Candy makes a good point. It's a sprint to Iowa and New Hampshire right after this election. Just a little bit more than a year before the first primaries, the first caucus, so there's going to be a lot of candidates out there.
COOPER: OK. All right. Thanks. Appreciate it.
They're the make or break races in the states that could determine who has the power on Capitol Hill. We're tracking three more battleground Senate fights. Live reports from there coming up.
Also tonight, watching the voting from the war zone. What some U.S. troops and Iraqis are saying about the U.S. election.
And on the ropes, as Americans who are angry at President Bush. The question is, will they take it out on his party?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR JIM TALENT (R) MISSOURI: And one worst thing than what we are going through would be if we end up going through it for nothing. And that's what's going to happen if we pull out. I do believe that we can continue to make progress in training up the Iraqi army. And once they are trained to a certain level, they don't need large numbers of troops anymore.
CLAIRE MCCASKIL (D), MISSOURI CANDIDATE: We can do better, and we've had enough. I have -- if I read one more time about the vaunted GOP turnout machine, I may get nauseous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, from Missouri, that is Republican Senator Jim Talent and the Democrat challenger Claire McCaskill. Like several Senate races across the country, the one in Missouri is simply too close to call tonight. On election eve, we're going to take you live to three key battleground states.
Right now, CNN's Chris Lawrence is in Billings, Montana. Joe Johns is in Chattanooga, Tennessee. And Dan Lothian is in Hartford, Connecticut.
We begin with Chris Lawrence in Montana, where a Democratic challenger is trying to unseat Republican Conrad Burns. How's it look tonight? CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, when the polls close back East, they'll still be casting ballots here in Montana. And if Democrats and Republicans end up splitting those other battleground states, control of the Senate could come down to just a few hundred thousand voters right here.
Right now, a "USA Today," Gallup poll shows Democratic Jon Tester leading incumbent Republican Conrad Burns, among likely voters 50 percent to 41 percent.
But Burns' campaign calls those numbers bogus, saying, quote, "They just don't smell right." They say as recently as Friday, other polls show their man in a dead heat with Tester.
Now, Tester, himself, is redefining what it means to be called a Democrat out West. He is a third-generation farmer who also runs a butcher shop on the side. Tester sports a buzz cut and proudly shows off that he lost three fingers to a meat grinder. He has been also labeled a high taxer who is too liberal for Montana.
Now, Senator Burns has been in office for 18 years, but he is vulnerable. He was criticized for once saying that President Bush had a secret plan for Iraq, that he just wasn't sharing with anybody. And Burns also had to give back $150,000 in donations from convicted Lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Now this is a tight race. Every vote counts. And tonight the secretary of state here in Montana is investigating some reports that there may have been attempts at voter suppression. About 50 people said they received bogus calls, asking them who they planned to vote for and then telling them they were not eligible to vote normally. They would have to vote what's called a provisional ballot, and that ballot could be challenged.
Now the secretary of state is worried that some of these people may just throw up their hands and say it is not worth the trouble. And they're asking anyone who receives these calls to call the authorities immediately -- Anderson.
COOPER: Chris Lawrence, in Billings, thanks.
To Joe Johns now, who is in Chattanooga, Tennessee, covering a race that has been controversial, it has been ugly. It has had just about everything you can imagine in this race. Harold Ford, Jr., Democrat, against Bob Corker, Republican.
Joe, how's the race look tonight?
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, winding down. As you know, Anderson, Bob Corker, the Republican is headed back here in Tennessee, obviously to sit it out in the very city where he was mayor for so long.
Taking a look at the polls, two interesting polls. There is that one poll, the "USA Today Gallup Poll," showing Bob Corker up by 3 percentage points. That is statistically within the margin of error. And that means it's basically a dead heat.
There's also the Mason-Dixon poll that is out. It shows a double-digit lead for Bob Corker. And so you have to ask yourself, what is going on here? Well, for one thing what's going on here in the state of Tennessee is that most all of the polls that have come out have in fact shown Bob Corker had a lead. The question is, how much? That is something people are just not certain about.
The Democrat, of course, has been doing quite well in this state. And he is the Congressman from Memphis, Tennessee. Harold Ford has run a very hard race across the state. He's ginned up a lot of energy from here to Memphis. The question is how well is he going to do in the East?
There are a number of variables. A lot of people in this state are very worried about the weather. There's talk about rain tomorrow. Of course, that rain can affect turnout, and turnout, Anderson, as you know, is quite critical in a race like this one. People just aren't sure about it, but they are trying to get out their vote.
COOPER: Joe Johns, appreciate it.
In Hartford, Connecticut, tonight, CNN's Dan Lothian is covering two races for us; one the Connecticut race between Ned Lamont and Joe Lieberman. Also the Rhode Island race between Lincoln Chaffey and his Sheldon Whitehouse -- Dan.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. In Connecticut here, it has been a competitive Senate race, where the central focus has been the war in Iraq.
Senator Joe Lieberman, the Democrat running as an independent. His Democratic challenger Ned Lamont. They've spent more than $30 million in this race. And the air war has been intense.
Now, the latest poll among likely voters from the so-called Q- poll, puts Lieberman up by about 12 points, 50 percent to 38 percent. Lieberman says that his internal poll numbers showing that the race is much tighter.
As for Lamont, he says that he is just not watching the polls because and no one thought he could do anything when he first got into the race. He was able to win at the Democratic primary. He believes that he can be successful again tomorrow.
Next door in Rhode Island, another important race as well. This one will impact the balance in power. Republican Senator Lincoln Chaffee and his Democratic opponent Sheldon Whitehouse.
In a "USA Today/Gallup Poll," they were polling registered voters, Whitehouse is leading with 48 percent. Senator Chaffee has 45 percent.
In one final push, the Democrats calling in some star power. Former President Bill Clinton, in town tonight campaigning for Whitehouse -- Anderson. COOPER: Dan Lothian in Hartford. Dan, thanks.
Half way around the world, Iraqis are of course desperate for some change, which is why they are watching America's elections very closely. Coming up, you're going to see what they think about what is happening here.
Plus, the Pentagon calling for reinforcements, not on the ground in Iraq, but in its new stateside war room. Coming up, how Donald Rumsfeld is trying to win the war of ideas here at home.
COOPER: Well, in an editorial today, the influential, independent military newspaper, the "Army Times" call for Donald Rumsfeld to resign, regardless of the outcome of tomorrow's elections.
The paper says the defense secretary has lost credibility with U.S military leaders, troops, Congress and the public at large. The paper isn't the only one looking for change in Washington.
Half way around the world, Iraqis are paying close attention to the U.S. mid-term elections.
With their reaction is CNN John Roberts.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Iraqis don't have a vote in the midterm elections, but everyone we've talked to on the streets of Baghdad has an opinion and an interest in what happens Tuesday.
Owen Fraya (ph), a Sunni, says he prefers the Democrats because President Bush destroyed Iraq. And all the sectarian violence that we see now is because of Bush.
On the other hand, this Christian man thinks it would be better if President Bush retains his power. At least we know him, he says.
Regardless of whether Congress is in Republican or Democratic hands, there is one thing that most Iraqis seem to want. Listen to Ahmad Abdul Wahab (ph), a Sunni.
AHMAD ABDUL WAHAB (PH), SUNNI, (through translator): What we care about is to see the security and the stability in the country and to see the occupiers leave the country.
ROBERTS: U.S. troops in the field are reluctant to publicly talk politics or discuss the overall strategy for Iraq. But it's clear from this chat I had with Captain Jake Wamsley, that they are thinking about it.
Does there need to be a new plan?
CAPTAIN JAKE WAMSLEY, 166TH ARMORED BATALLION: Well, you know, at my level, I think we are doing the best that we possibly can.
ROBERTS: That's what you hear from most of the soldiers that I've ridden with over the past two weeks when you put the camera on them. Privately, they do believe in what they are doing on the unit level. But they're also frustrated by the Iraqi government's lack of political will to deal with the Shiite militias driving much of the sectarian violence, and the creeping effort to bring the Iraqi army and police up to operational standards. And they wonder how much time they have before sectarian violence tips into all-out civil war.
COL. JIM PASQUARETTE, U.S. ARMY: The back and forth spiraling downward sectarian issue, if it gets very decentralized, where it's families on families and there's no way to kind of take, look at pressure points on how you influence it, that would be disturbing.
ROBERTS: After three and a half years, ordinary Iraqis are tired of the violence, the daily march of death, the barricades and blast walls. They are desperate for a normal life.
And for Ali Rahim (ph), a Shiite, that means change a half a world away.
ALI RAHIM (PH), SHIITE, (through translator): If the Democrats win, then the American forces will withdraw from Iraq. Because the Democrats believe they have had a great loss in Iraq and they see it as a second Vietnam.
COOPER: John Roberts joins us now. Is there any way to know what the majority of Iraqis want? I mean, do they want U.S. troops out now or at some point just down the road?
ROBERTS: Anderson, ordinary Iraqis that we've talked to, and of course, you're going to get a different story if you talk to people who belong to Shiite or Sunni militias and al Qaeda, certainly would like to get the United States out right now.
But if you talk with ordinary Iraqis, they don't want a precipitous withdrawal, because they do believe that to a large degree, American forces may be the only thing that's preventing the sectarian violence from tipping into all out civil war.
But what' they're looking for here is some kind of end point, some kind of clear plan that they can take home with them to say one day Iraq will be able to stand on its own feet, and U.S. forces will go back home.
COOPER: John Roberts reporting from Baghdad. Thanks John.
Last month brought a wave of bad news from Iraq. The highest death toll for U.S. troops in two years. Warnings from generals on the ground that the U.S. strategy isn't working. And an admission that it will take more Iraqi forces than first thought to secure the peace. One result of all of that bad news is the defense secretary, who is under pressure to resign, is instead turning up the heat on the Pentagon press office.
CNN's Jamie McIntyre has more now on the battle over perception.
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Having overseen the transformation of the army into a lighter, more nimble fighting force, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has now trained his sights on his own Pentagon press office, which he claims does not do nearly as well as al Qaeda in getting its message out.
DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: If I were grading, I would say we probably deserve a D or D-plus.
MCINTYRE: In response, the Pentagon is revamping its P.R. strategy, setting up a war room, not unlike those in political campaigns, designed to quickly counter negative press.
The new focus is outlined in a memo, issued last month by Dorrance Smith, a former ABC news executive, now top public relations advisor to Rumsfeld.
He wants to target new media, iPods, cell phones and U-Tube, launch a rapid response unit to correct the record. Book more Pentagon officials on TV and radio, and use more surrogates, opinion leaders, who can also deliver the Pentagon's message. Already some news organizations have felt the impact of the rapid response.
RUMSFELD: You know, I saw the Associated Press headline that said, "Army: Troops to Stay in Iraq until 2010." Schumacher (ph) did not, of course, say anything like that.
MCINTYRE: The "Associated Press," often first on record with a story, has been barraged with feedback. The Pentagon complained, for example, the "A.P." story about its P.R. offensive was over the top, because it noted it comes as Defense Secretary Rumsfeld faces intensifying criticism over the Iraq war.
(On camera): The Pentagon denies there is anything political about the timing of the new P.R. counteroffensive coming as it does, just before the midterm elections.
But in a decision dripping in irony, the Pentagon refused CNN's repeated request for an on camera interview with a spokesman, despite the fact that one of the stated goals of the new policy is to give, quote, "greater press access to DOD officials.
(Voice-over): As part of the rapid response, the Pentagon has created a new page on its Web site, "For the Record." So when Rumsfeld says this...
RUMSFELD: So you ought to just back off, take a look at it and relax, understand that it's complicated. MCINTYRE: The Pentagon can quickly post this explanation, that Rumsfeld was not referring to detractors and critics, but to the journalists, seeking to create a perception of major divisions.
While some of the Pentagon press corps may bristle at the second- guessing, complaints about coverage come with the territory. Just like the pointed questions they in turn fire at Pentagon officials on a daily basis.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So my question is, do you bear any responsibility for what has gone wrong in Iraq or is it all General Casey's fault?
MCINTYRE: Jamie McIntyre, CNN, Pentagon.
COOPER: Well, coming up, a tale of two presidents. First, the current commander in chief and what his slumping support may mean for the country and the GOP. And then the man who preceded Mr. Bush, Bill Clinton, stumping for his party and returning to the political spotlight again.
COOPER: An interesting change of plans today on the campaign trail in Florida. That is Senator John McCain with Charlie Crist, the Republican candidate for governor.
Here's the thing, the bigger photo-op of the day was supposed to be Chris with President Bush. But at the last minute, Chris bowed out, saying in the crucial final day of the campaign, he needed to be elsewhere.
His Democratic opponent, Jim Davis, seized on the move, saying, quote, "Now that the president is so unpopular, Charlie refuses to stand side by side with him."
Well, all throughout this campaign, the president has had to pick and choose where he goes carefully.
Again, here's CNN's Candy Crowley.
CROWLEY (voice-over): Just after winning re-election by more than 3 million votes, President Bush's approval rating was 55 percent.
BUSH: Let me put it to you this way. I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it.
CROWLEY: If he ever had capital, it vanished overnight, as independents who helped re-elect him began to move away. That 55 percent approval in November of '04 is the high water mark of the Bush administration's second term. The past two years have been a long hard, mostly downward slog tied inextricably to rising doubts about the war in Iraq, compounded by a hurricane named Katrina.
He seemed removed from that disaster and clueless about the ongoing crisis.
BUSH: And Brown, you're doing a heck of a job.
CROWLEY: Katrina not only drowned New Orleans, it ate away at the underpinnings of a presidency already crumbling beneath the weight of the death toll in Iraq.
KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLSTER: One of the big things that George Bush had working for him even before 9/11 is that Americans saw him as a strong a leader. After Katrina and the disaster that happened to New Orleans, most Americans did not see him as a strong leader. He lost it then, he never got it back.
CROWLEY: And there was the matter of trust. Four months after Katrina hit, 10 Marines died in Fallujah. And the president said what everybody already knew, there were no weapons of mass destruction.
BUSH: But much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. As your president, I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq.
CROWLEY: In the year after his reelection, the president's approval rating dropped 17 points. Two years later, on the eve of Election 2206, he is down 20 points. The political toll of Iraq, Katrina, and Iraq.
DAN BALZ, "WASHINGTON POST": What we saw in 2004 on the Democratic side, there was a lot of anger at President Bush. What we're seeing in this election is that independents now because of Iraq, I think in large part are suggesting that they are going to go Democratic on Tuesday.
CROWLEY: Those independents who helped re-elect George Bush seem to have vanished, along with his capital. And if pre-election polls prove out, then the president will not have taken this long hard slog by himself, he will have taken his party with him.
Candy Crowley, CNN, New York.
COOPER: Something else could vanish, President Bush's vision for the rest of his presidency. After election day, no matter what the outcome, chances are he will be urged to make some changes. He could blame it on the six-year itch, a time for tough lessons. He's not on the ballot, but he is definitely on the mind of voters.
Again, CNN's John King.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Every election sends a message. And while Democrats appear poised to make gains in this one, the most painful lessons for the White House could well come from Republicans, worried their party is now too defined by Iraq and Mr. Bush.
REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS (R), CONNECTICUT: If the president wants to build consensus, he needs to have a new secretary of defense.
KING: The president says he wants Secretary Rumsfeld to stay on. But a growing number of the senior Republicans say their post-election message, no matter who wins, will be that Mr. Bush needs to listen more and that Rumsfeld needs to go if the president wants to get much done in his final two years.
SHAYS: I would say to president, when people giving you bad advice, you need to get other people to give you good advice.
KING: Congressman Shays is among the Republicans on the receiving end of what historians call the six-year itch, when the president's party almost always suffers.
Forty years ago, it was Vietnam that cost President Johnson and the Democrats 47 house seats and four in the Senate.
Just after Watergate in 1974, Republicans lost 49 seats in the House and four in the Senate.
Since 1946, the average loss for a president's party in his sixth year is 31 House seats and 6 Senate seats.
BUSH: I want you to remind your fellow citizens when you ask them to go vote, harsh criticism is not a plan for victory.
KING: Lame duck will be a term heard often after the votes are counted. Democrats are all but certain to have more influence. The next presidential campaign will heat up quickly. And many Republicans on the ballot this year want to focus less on war and more on GOP staples, like low taxes and balanced budgets.
BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE SENATE CANDIDATE: I think that we need to do the things that have made us greet, and that is have fiscal constraints, which we have been lacking in Washington.
KING: The big question is whether Mr. Bush will be conciliatory or defiant.
SENATOR SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: He has take charge strong approach. But I think you will see him reaching out more to Congress. I don't think this president is going to allow himself to be a lame duck. He still has enormous power even in the final two years to shape the budget. He can veto a lot more bills if he wishes to do so.
COOPER: Do you think it likely that he's going to get rid of Rumsfeld?
KING (on camera): Well, he will be under enormous pressure to get rid of Rumsfeld. And what most Republicans hope is that Secretary Rumsfeld sees that prospect, sees all the pressure on the president and that Secretary Rumsfeld removes himself. Most are hoping, Republicans and Democrats, but what is interesting is that very senior Republicans are hoping that this whole bit from the president coming up to the election about the secretary will stay, the secretary will stay, is all part of the politics and after the fact they get the message.
Of course, it all depends on how well the Democrats do. But even if the Republicans hold the majorities, there are very senior Republicans who say they are going to go to the White House and say, Mr. President, enough. COOPER: So why come out and say I want to keep Rumsfeld all the way to the end of the term? Is that sending a message to Pentagon or is that just politics?
KING: Iraq is already the number one issue in the campaign. If the president asked that question, showed any sign of wavering in the final days before an election, that would have just opened the floodgates and just convinced Republicans he's now, after telling us for three plus years he's on the right track, he has the right strategy, he's adapting, and Don Rumsfeld is the right guy, to change course a few week or two before an election would have been disastrous politics.
COOPER: John King, thanks.
From one president on the ropes to a former president's moment back in the spotlight. Up next, Bill Clinton, the comeback kid trying to use his popularity to boost his party.
And later, in the heartland, how one state's early results could speak volumes about which party will claim victory tomorrow.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR MICK DEWINE (R), OHIO: They are angry and they can't stand it, that they might lose their job, and they are saying, I want my blankie.
REP. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: The race is tightening. Every poll that was showing, respectable poll shows the race tightening. We get a very good feeling when traveling around the state.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Senator Mike DeWine and Sherrod Brown, slugging it out in Ohio.
Bill Clinton, on the other hand, is not running for office these days. But he is still going strong on the campaign trail. The former president is crisscrossing the country, sharing the stage with Democratic candidates, and taking top billing as the party's top star.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor and your pleasure now to hear President William Jefferson Clinton.
COOPER (voice-over): There he goes again, barnstorming through battleground Virginia at the 11th hour, campaigning like his own political future depends on it.
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you want America to take a better path, you got to elect Jim Webb tomorrow.
COOPER: Bill Clinton is still a political rock star, with a 60 percent favorability rating, he's more popular than President Bush. And this year, he has put his campaign skills to work for Democrats, headlining more than 100 events in 31 states, raking in more than $33 million for the party.
AMY WALTER, "THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT:" Former President Clinton is now like the energizer bunny for the Democratic Party, and he remains still a very attractive drawing, probably the most attractive draw for Democrats around the country.
COOPER: It wasn't always like that.
AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I stand here tonight as my own man.
COOPER: In 2000, Al Gore virtually froze Clinton out of his campaign, wanting distance from a scandal-scarred White House.
Four years later, heart surgery sidelined Clinton for most of John Kerry's race.
But this year, he is back with a vengeance.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States.
COOPER: Clinton's message to Democrats, grow a backbone, stand up for yourselves and stop letting Republicans define you. His rallying cry, better pay, more jobs, a consensus solution to ending the war in Iraq.
WALTER: What Clinton is trying to really get Democrats to do is to also to project a sense of confidence. And that's something that Democratic candidates, I think, have struggled with in these last couple of elections.
COOPER: He showed them how it's done in a September interview with "FOX News."
CLINTON: All of President Bush's neocons thought I was too obsessed with bin Laden. They had no meetings on bin Laden for nine months after I left office. All of the right wingers who now say I didn't do enough, said I did too much.
COOPER: Now, as another campaign winds down, Clinton is still going strong.
CLINTON: You know, I can't run for anything anymore -- my job -- wait a minute, wait a minute. My major job is to be Hillary's caseworker in New York.
COOPER: Or her campaign manager. Democrats have called in a lot of favors this year, and Bill Clinton could very well cash them in in 2008.
COOPER (on camera): Well, still to come, which state to watch if you want to go to bed early and still know how the election turns out.
COOPER: That's a look at when some of the polls close around the country. No surprise, the big exception is Indiana, which goes its own way where time is concerned. It didn't even observe Daylight Savings Time until this year. And this election night, the early word from Indiana could tell us a lot about where the rest of the country is going.
CNN's Dana Bash explains why.
DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Its crossroads of America is not normally known as a political battleground, but this is not a normal election year. Just ask veteran Indiana Democrats Birch Bayh.
BIRCH BAYH (D), FORMER INDIANA SENATOR: The number one matter of concern is the war in Iraq. People are tired that we haven't been able to come up with a concrete plan.
BASH: The three Republican Indiana Congressmen are among the most endangered in the country -- Chris Chocola, John Hostettler and Mike Sodrel. And polls close here before most, 6:00 p.m. local, 7:00 p.m., Eastern, making Indiana a key early indicator of whether anti- war, anti-Washington sentiment will lead to a Democratic Congress.
(On camera): Being such an important barometer is an unusual role for a state normally forgotten in the national political debate because it's just assumed this is solid Republican territory. Indiana hasn't voted for a Democratic president since 1964.
(Voice-over): Hostettler calls his Democratic challenger's comfortable lead in this red state proof that even conservatives are fed up with the war and more.
REP. JOHN HOSTETTLER (R), INDIANA: It is the result of three and a half years of military conflict. It is the result of several years of neglect on our borders.
BRAD ELLSWORTH (D), CONGRESS CANDIDATE: Brad Ellsworth, I'm running for Congress.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You already have our vote.
ELLSWORTH: Thank you very much. I appreciate it. I will work hard for you.
BASH: Hostettler's Democratic opponent is the local sheriff, and anti-abortion, pro-gun Democrat. In fact, all three Democrats in range of unseating Indiana Republicans are socially conservative, perfect for these parts. So Republicans are pleading with voters to look at the big picture, sending Democrats to Congress, no matter how conservative, would make liberal Nancy Pelosi speaker of the house. They say she'd take your guns away and...
HOSTETTLER: Would bring amnesty to tens of millions of illegal aliens in our country.
BASH: Sodrel frames it as a threat to heartland values.
REP. MIKE SODREL (R), INDIANA: It is a cultural difference. It has less to do with Republicans and Democrats as it does between people that live in Norman Rockwell's America and people that live in Nancy Pelosi's America.
BASH: In a place where church and a good harvest come first, warning that even a conservative Democrat threatens that way of life usually works, but maybe not in a year where worries about Iraq run deep.
Dana Bash, CNN, Evansville, Indiana.
COOPER: Well, 7:00, that's when the polls close there. More of "America Votes" after this.
COOPER: (Referring to on-screen graphic) Some of the late poll closings there.
Join us tomorrow night for CNN'c prime time election coverage. That starts at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Thanks for watching.
Larry King is next.
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