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Debating Election 2004

Aired August 4, 2003 - 20:08   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to turn to the White House now, or, more specifically, to the next White House. Should President Bush be reelected? Today, there was a lot of media attention paid to Secretary of State Colin Powell. He has long said he wouldn't be part of the second Cabinet. Now some have begun to wonder what might happen when the man who is seen as the biggest foil to White House hawks is gone.
Terry McAuliffe is the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He joins us from Washington tonight.

Welcome, Terry.


ZAHN: I am fine. Thanks.

So what do you think will be the impact if and when Colin Powell leaves?

MCAULIFFE: Well, I don't think it really matters, because we're going to win the White House in 2004, so we're not going to have an opportunity to have Colin Powell serving one way or the other.


ZAHN: Wait a minute, Terry. What kind of polls are you reading?

MCAULIFFE: Well, let's just cite this week the NBC poll out this week, "Wall Street Journal." George Bush's reelect was at 45 percent. Fox News last week, 42 percent reelect. Zogby poll the other day, 47/46, 47 saying we need a new president.

I don't worry about personal popularity, Paula. I look at the polls that say, will you vote to reelect this man? And he's been in the mid-40s now, as you know, for several months. He's way under where his father was on this exact day, who was in the 50s. We beat his father. We're going to beat the son.

ZAHN: Well, let's say you don't beat the son. I know that you follow foreign policy carefully. What impact you to think Colin Powell has had on this administration? And what would happen if he left?

MCAULIFFE: Listen, I have tremendous respect for General Powell. You've seen him be savagely attacked by the conservatives in the White House. You've seen Newt Gingrich and others level at attacks at Secretary Powell.

I think he's been a very good moderating force, but they haven't listened to him. And I think any White House without the presence of someone like Colin Powell, and you turn this foreign policy over to the real right wing of the conservative party, it's bad news for America.

So, as I say, it is 16 months to go until the Election Day. It is not going bother us after 2004. But it is very disconcerting for the future of our country because of the respect that Colin Powell has all over the world.

ZAHN: Well, you're the one that brought up Newt Gingrich's name, so let's revisit some ancient history -- actually, not so long ago. On April 28, 2003, Mr. Gingrich called the State Department officials appeasers are and -- quote -- "deliberate" -- and accused them of deliberate and systematic effort to undermine the president's policies.

Do you think Newt Gingrich said this because he knew that he would be at the top list of contenders as a Colin Powell replacement?

MCAULIFFE: I don't think there is any chance that Newt Gingrich is going to the secretary of state of the United States of America.

But, listen, I know that Paul Wolfowitz and others and the conservatives want to get ahold of this position. You've seen our relationships throughout the world that we've built up for 50, 100 years you have seen deteriorated. And it is only because of the tremendous respect that presidents and prime ministers all over the world have for Colin Powell that we do have semblance of relationships left with some of these countries. So I was very distraught to see that today.

The good news for the Democrats is, it's not going to matter after 2004. We'll have a great Democrat in the White House and a great Democratic secretary of state.

ZAHN: Terry, I can only give you about 15 seconds. So how bummed out are the rest of the Democratic candidates that Governor Dean landed on the cover two magazines this week?

MCAULIFFE: Well, listen, Governor Dean is out energizing millions of people. It's exciting. He's bringing a lot of new people into the party.

I will tell you, it is very early in the primary process. Bill Clinton didn't even get in the race until October 4 of 1991. But, listen, Governor Dean is energizing people. He's out there. He's talking to people. He's understanding the concerns, the disastrous Bush economic plan; 2.5 million people have lost their job. And he's connecting with people. And our other candidates will as well. It is early. We'll see where it goes. I love all nine equally. But when a Democrat is on the cover of both of the major magazines, I love it. It's great for the Democratic Party. ZAHN: It doesn't sound like you love them all equally this evening, Terry McAuliffe. But we'll have to save that for another conversation.

MCAULIFFE: All right. Thank you, Paula. .

ZAHN: Always good to see you.

We're going to get the Republican side of the story now. I'm joined from Washington by Frank Donatelli, former political director for the Reagan White House.

Good to see you as well. Welcome.


ZAHN: I don't know how much of my conversation with Terry you just heard, but he basically said, if these stories are true and Colin Powell were to quit at the end of this term, it doesn't matter because the Republicans aren't going to are have a crack at a second term.

DONATELLI: Well, obviously, I would disagree with Terry.

I believe that, of all the presidents that have sought reelection, Paula, probably since Eisenhower, including my old boss, Ronald Reagan, I think President Bush now is in stronger shape to be reelected than any of those sitting presidents. It is true that his reelect is what Terry said. But, also, his personal popularity is much higher than that. And, frankly, the Democratic field is not the strongest. I think President Bush is in very strong shape right now.

ZAHN: How troubled are you by that reelect figure, though? Depending on the poll you look at, 42 percent, 43 percent. You're not happy with that, are you?


DONATELLI: It's closer to 50. You would like it to be over

But remember this. The year before the election itself, people have a lot of gripes and they tend to focus on the incumbent. I think, when they have a chance to look at the overall record and especially compare the president against whoever the Democratic nominee is going to be, the president, because of his foreign policy, which we're talking about tonight, because of his tremendous fight, a war against terrorism, the leadership he's shown, again, I think he is going to be in very strong position.

ZAHN: Let's talk about the impact of a Colin Powell leaving, if President Bush indeed does get a second term. The president has always stated publicly how important it is for him to hear a variety of voices, so he can arrive at his own decision. How will that process be compromised, do you think? There is a perception that the foreign policy is often steered by the more conservative part of the administration.


Well, first of all, I think the story that everyone is referring to today, there is a lot of holes in it. The way I read the story, it said that General Powell may resign in two years. So we don't know. And I guess the White House has denied it.

But, look, the president gets a variety of foreign policy voices. And I don't think that it is really fair to say that you have moderates on one side and you have conservatives on the other side. People take different positions depending on what the issue is. Dr. Condoleezza Rice, for example, what would you label her? I don't think you could label her. I think she's there because she gives the president very, very good advice, some of the other foreign policy advisers he has, John Negroponte, who is over at the U.N.

I think, whether General Powell is there or not -- and I hope he's there, because I think he is a tremendous asset to the United States -- the president will hear a variety of voices and he will make the final decision. And he's done a pretty good job so far, I think.

ZAHN: Frank, we're going to have to leave it there this evening. Frank Donatelli, thanks for dropping by tonight.

DONATELLI: Thank you. Thank you very much.


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