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Howard Dean Topping All Democratic Contenders

Aired August 27, 2003 - 20:08   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Now on to the U.S. presidential race, where Howard Dean is hot, hot, hot. That is surprising most of his fellow Democrats. A couple new polls put him ahead of the pack in the all-important state of New Hampshire.
How did the former governor of Vermont go from "Howard Who?" to Howard huge?

Joining us tonight from Washington is "TIME" magazine columnist Joe Klein.

Welcome back, two nights in a row, Joe. We're starting something here.

JOE KLEIN, "TIME": Good to be here. Different town, though.

ZAHN: I'd love for to you start off by analyzing some of the polling that came out today. Zogby came out with some staggering numbers showing Mr. Dean with a huge lead over John Kerry. Other polls have shown smaller leads of anywhere from 7 to 20 odd percent. What do you make of those polls, those numbers?

KLEIN: Well, Zogby came out with some staggering numbers in 2002 that were wrong almost across the board.

I think that, at this stage, with all polling, you have to look at trends. And the trend in New Hampshire is clearly -- and in Iowa and nationally -- is clearly in Howard Dean's direction. He is the only one who is throwing any heat in this campaign right now. He's probably the only American politician who can just draw a crowd. I was in Bryant Park last night in New York. And there were maybe 10,000, 12,000, maybe even 15,000 people there.

One of the dirty little secrets of American politics is that the crowds have disappeared. As I went around during the 2002 campaign, you didn't see any. And now, suddenly, they're back for Howard Dean. And that is largely because of the way he speaks, which is very plainly. He reflects the anger that a lot of people in the Democratic Party are feeling toward President Bush. But he speaks English.

ZAHN: But even you would acknowledge he -- and I think you have written about this in the past, that you believe he's probably better with prepared remarks than he would be in a debate situation.

KLEIN: Well, I think that everything he said last night in Bryant Park were lines that he has delivered 500, 600, 700 times. What we have to learn about Howard Dean right now is whether he can think on his feet. And so far, from what I've seen in debate situations, he hasn't done all that well. But presidential campaigns are gauged and presidential candidacies are gauged on how a politician reacts spur-of-the-moment, when it's just his gut, his mouth and your ears. And we're going to see this fall whether Howard Dean meets that test.

ZAHN: What do you suspect is his Achilles heel right now?

KLEIN: Well, I think that it may be -- quite often, a politician's greatest strength is often his greatest weakness. And in Dean's case, his greatest strength has been his righteous anger and his willingness to say what comes to his mind in the plainest possible terms.

I think that, on a number of occasions, especially when it comes to national defense, he has overstepped and he has made some really serious mistakes, like saying that America might not always be the strongest military in the world. You just don't go around saying those sort of things if you're running for president or if you want to be a viable politician in this country.

So I think that those are the kind of things that he has to watch out for. And he has to really begin to deepen his positions on a lot of these issues. He's very flippant. He can be kind of arrogant at times. And I don't think that he knows quite as much as some of the others in the race, who have been legislators, who have been senators, who have had to really study these issues, which, so far, has been an advantage for him.


ZAHN: But hasn't he made that almost a pride of passage, saying he doesn't think that's something that a primary candidate needs to know about.

Let's revisit what happened when he joined Tim Russert on "Face the Nation" (sic) and the issue of national defense came up and he was asked a very specific question about how many troops were currently on active duty.

Let's listen.


HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: For me to have to know right now, participating in the Democratic Party, how many troops are actively on duty in the United States military when that is actually a number that's composed both of people on duty today and people who are National Guard people who are on duty today, it's silly. That's like asking me who the ambassador to Rwanda is.

TIM RUSSERT, HOST: Oh, no, no, no, not at all, not if you want to be commander in chief.


DEAN: Your position is that I need to know exactly how many people are on duty today in the active military forces...

RUSSERT: Well, have a sense...

DEAN: ...six months away from the first primary?

RUSSERT: If someone wants to be president of the United States, have a sense of the military.

DEAN: I do have a sense of the military.


ZAHN: ... you find candidate Howard Dean flippant, maybe at times shrill. What was so revealing about that exchange to you?

KLEIN: Well, I think the fact that he was flippant and especially the remark about the ambassador to Rwanda. I'm sure that there are an awful lot of Africans who aren't going to appreciate that remark.

But, also, you have to know the shape of the United States military. You have to know the force structure, and especially at this moment, when the composition of our force structure in Iraq is such an important issue, how many reservists there, how many National Guard members are there. I think that's at the center of trying to determine what we should be doing in Iraq. And you can't just make jokes or toss those sort of things off.

I think that, as time goes on, Dean is going to either learn how to handle those sort of questions -- and he's also going to have to bone up -- or he's going to -- he's going to lose a lot of altitude when we start having these presidential debates. And there are going to be a slew of them starting next week among the Democrats.

ZAHN: And we're going to be following that very carefully from here. Joe Klein, thanks so much.

And we should make it pretty clear that he is only second to Bill Clinton in his ability to raise money at this juncture of a campaign. That money keeps on rolling in, doesn't it, Joe?

KLEIN: Yes. In fact, he may surpass Bill Clinton's quarterly record of $10.3 million this quarter. That's the most amazing thing about this campaign, the way the money is rolling in on the Internet.

ZAHN: How about same time, same place tomorrow night, Joe? You can come back to New York tomorrow night.

KLEIN: We'll see what city I'm in.

ZAHN: Thanks for your perspective.


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