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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Kerry Sweeps on Super Tuesday

Aired March 2, 2004 - 22:00   ET

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

ANNOUNCER: Now from CNN Election Headquarters here's Wolf Blitzer.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight the general election campaign is for all intents and purposes underway with the path now clear for John Kerry to seal the Democratic presidential nomination.

Sources tell CNN Kerry's top primary rival, John Edwards, has decided to drop out of the race. He'll do that tomorrow.

President Bush has effectively acknowledged Kerry will be his opponent, calling him tonight to congratulate him on his Super Tuesday victories.

CNN projects Kerry has at least six more wins under his belt, some results still coming in. Let's show our viewers what we have as of right now.

In Georgia, we still can't project a winner, 45 percent so far going to Kerry, 44 percent for Edwards with 75 percent of the vote in. But we can project a winner in New York State, the Empire State clearly going for John Kerry. Right now with 49 percent of the vote in, he has 60 percent to 21 percent for Edwards.

John Kerry also the winner in Ohio, the Buckeye State, with more than half, 51 percent of the vote in Kerry with 54 percent, Edwards with 35 percent, a big loss for Edwards.

In Connecticut, another big win for John Kerry with 86 percent of the vote in 59 percent for John Kerry, 25 percent for John Edwards.

Maryland, Edwards had hoped to do well, he didn't. With 36 percent of the vote in, John Kerry will carry Maryland. So far he's got 61 percent of the vote to 24 percent for John Edwards.

In Massachusetts, the home state of John Kerry, he will win with 58 percent of the vote now in he has 72 percent to only 18 percent for John Edwards.

Rhode Island is similar, 71 percent for John Kerry to 19 percent for John Edwards with almost all of the votes in.

In Vermont, a bit of a surprise, Howard Dean had dropped out of the race two weeks ago. He will carry Vermont, projected to be the winner, 59 percent of the vote so far to 33 percent for John Kerry. In Minnesota, the caucuses, they closed an hour or so ago, only five percent of the vote in, Kerry winning 51 percent to 26 percent for John Edwards, a close -- that's a very, very early result coming in from Minnesota.

In one hour, the polls in California will close.

Both Kerry and Edwards have spoken to their supporters tonight. CNN's Candy Crowley is joining us now live from the John Kerry headquarters in Washington tonight -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, John Kerry was not the first to know but he was among the first when he got that phone call from John Edwards, a sort of mutual congratulatory phone call we're told with both of the men talking about how last summer neither one of them were anywhere in the polls. Things looked grim. They both stuck it out to be the final two.

It was in that phone call, of course, that John Kerry learned that John Edwards was going to drop out of the race. And then came the phone call that must have brought it home and that is the phone call from President Bush who will, of course, be the rival now.

The first thing any candidate does when he gets to this point is to complete the coalescing of the party to begin to unite it and he has started that before but he's working on it even tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that in 2004 one united Democratic Party we can and we will win this election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: So, what next? Well, first of all, they're going to go to the primary states, Florida tomorrow, a very important state to Democrats, so they will use those states to begin to kind of bring down the rally sort of events and start talking in sort of quieter forums with workers talking about jobs.

In the meantime, the campaign has to get busy on several fronts. They have to begin working with the Democratic Party putting their people in place there and as well they have to pick the vice presidential candidate.

On that score, we can tell you that in the phone call between John Edwards and John Kerry there was a mutual promise that they would see each other soon, so let's add that into the speculation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Candy Crowley reporting from the Kerry headquarters.

Throughout the night it's been very, very close here in Georgia but CNN is now ready to project a winner here in Georgia, CNN projecting John Kerry the winner in Georgia. It's been a close race but based on the actual votes, based on what we know right now where those votes are coming in John Kerry will narrowly defeat John Edwards. Right now with 78 percent of the actual votes in 45 percent going to John Kerry, 44 percent for John Edwards, another important win though for John Kerry here in Georgia.

CNN Senior White House Correspondent John King has been covering politics for a long time, knows all of the players involved. You've got some inside information, John, on what John Kerry's strategy might be and how it might be emerging.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as Candy just noted this is now John Kerry's Democratic Party. It will not be official for some time but it is now his party and his campaign, we are told by a number of sources, will move very quickly to assert control over the Democratic Party.

On the item Candy just mentioned, the search for a running mate, senior sources in the Kerry campaign tell me that the Senator wants to move very quickly because he wants to keep the option open of making his choice well before the Democratic Convention in July.

Some Democrats believe that would be a way to generate excitement in the lull we will now enter that the Senator has locked up the Democratic nomination. They are not committing to that but they might announce their choice for vice president well in advance of the convention.

And, because of that, we are told the Senator has told senior aides he wants the process in place to vet the candidates, look at their records, and do all the research within a matter of two weeks at the most, one campaign official saying we could get an announcement on who will lead that search within a matter of days.

Now, two other key challenges, one is to assert control over the Democratic Convention. That is a much more easy task because it is in Kerry's home state of Massachusetts.

And we are told tonight that Jack Corrigan (ph), a name our viewers might not recognize but a man who is well recognized in national Democratic circles and certainly in Massachusetts Democratic circles will be the Kerry campaign point man for the Democratic Convention in Boston. Again, Jack Corrigan, among other things he is a veteran of the Dukakis campaign for president back in 1988.

And, Wolf, this item could become a bit controversial. We are told that Senator Kerry himself and most of his top advisers want the Democratic National Chairman Terry McAuliffe to take a much lower profile now that Senator Kerry is the all but certain nominee of the Democratic Party.

Remember, Terry McAuliffe set off a stir of controversy when he accused George W. Bush of being "AWOL" during his service in the National Guard back in the Vietnam days. Kerry aides say that caught their campaign and their candidate off guard. It was a surprise they did not want to have to deal with and we are told that they want Terry McAuliffe to raise money, to keep the party structure up but to take a much less public profile.

Some Kerry aides believe they should put a senior Democrat over at the party as a general chairman or something to that effect. Others say they should simply run the communications shop out of the Kerry campaign but that could be a source of some friction essentially telling Terry McAuliffe stay off television -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, John King with some excellent inside information on the Kerry campaign. John, we'll be getting back to you.

Let's bring in Vanessa Kerry now, the daughter of John Kerry. Congratulations, Vanessa, to you and your entire family on this historic night for the Kerry's. How is the family reacting?

VANESSA KERRY, JOHN KERRY'S DAUGHTER: Thank you. You know I think we're a little bit into disbelief and incredible excitement and truthfully we're just focused. We're very, very focused on November and our goal of getting, you know, making the White House become Democratic again and all the sort of tasks that lie ahead in the country.

BLITZER: Vanessa, I know you've been active in the primary season. How active will you be from now on?

KERRY: Unclear. I actually am returning to school this spring. I need to go back for a number of reasons and so I think that is a time to sort of reassess. It's been a great time.

I've enjoyed talking to young students. I've been really focusing on making sure that we understand the importance of voting and investing in our future and I think it's -- it's yet to be seen.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Vanessa Kerry, this is Judy Woodruff. Again, congratulations to your father.

KERRY: Hi. Thank you. Thank you.

WOODRUFF: I wanted to ask you about this perception people are talking about. They're saying that the Republicans are going to make a big deal out of what they say is your father's tendency to come across as aloof and imperious even, somebody who doesn't connect with or identify with ordinary people. What do you as his daughter have to say about that?

KERRY: Well, a number of things. I think just politically there are millions of people who are already refuting that. If you look at the numbers my father has won with, up to 63 percent in one state, I think his message has been resonating.

People who have come and seen him and spent the time listening to him have realized he's actually incredibly accessible and he's incredibly warm and incredibly passionate.

As his daughter, it's hard to translate your personal experience with your father on the phone or when he's come to visit you in college or wherever you are into a big -- into a big crowd.

But the one thing I can say is that we're incredibly close and he is incredibly just compassionate and warm and funny and caring and I think the American people are really starting to see that and I look forward to the next few months as the rest of the country sees that as well.

BLITZER: When you go back to medical school, Vanessa, what's it going to be like trying to study medicine at a time like this?

KERRY: Well, it's interesting actually. I've been back in school the last three weeks and I have to say you step in the hospital and you have a patient and you're looking through the chart and that's all that matters.

You know you have a responsibility to stay focused on that and you do and then perhaps when you step out of the hospital and suddenly you're looking at the front page of a paper then your mind begins to go somewhere else.

I anticipate I will take some more time off and be a part of this. I joined this campaign because in being in the hospital I really was starting to see firsthand that, you know, there are patients that are being discharged and are making choices between prescription drugs or their rent.

I mean these are real choices and a lot of the things I care about are at stake in this election and I, you know, I want to be a part of fighting for what I believe in and fighting for change in Washington.

BLITZER: Vanessa Kerry, going to Harvard Medical School, actively involved in her dad's campaign, congratulations to you Vanessa. Congratulations to your father.

KERRY: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Congratulations to the whole family.

All right, let's take another look at Georgia right now. CNN has projected that John Kerry narrowly will carry Georgia. Here are the latest numbers we're getting.

With 81 percent of the actual vote in, very close, 45 percent right now for John Kerry, 44 percent for John Edwards, Georgia, an important state but going for John Kerry.

Jeff Greenfield this has been an exciting night and I think it's fair to say for everyone, obviously, an historic night as John Kerry wraps it up.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Well, a night that wraps up a nomination for a candidate we sometimes use the word historic. This was historic and I can show you, if you want to know what happened in Georgia, we heard Bill Schneider earlier talking about a racial divide. We can see it geographically if I can show you on this spatial logic Vote Trak.

Right here, Fulton County and DeKalb County, Fulton County is where Atlanta, Georgia is, the capital, the biggest city by far. DeKalb County heavily black, John Kerry carried that.

Over here on the east, Savannah also with a substantial black population, John Kerry carried the Savannah area. And down here in the southwest, also with a large African American concentration, John Kerry won that handily.

But look at what happened elsewhere in the state. Up here in the north and, in places like Cherokee and Cobb County, all through this middle belt which are heavily essentially white counties, John Edwards carried virtually all of them.

And this is something that probably, Wolf, will be giving the Kerry campaign even in this night of celebration just a little bit of pause that this is the kind of area that Nixon and Reagan and to some extent George W. Bush took away from what was once a historically Democratic base. Whether or not John Kerry even thinks he can use resources to compete in those areas I think right now is an open question.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider is taking a look specifically at some of the numbers including African American voters. What are we learning Bill?

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we're learning that the Democratic base really rallied. I think George Bush probably rallied them. They rallied behind John Kerry.

Look at African American voters, the base of the Democratic Party. This is New York. They went for John Kerry over New York's own African American candidate Al Sharpton. Al Sharpton did not win the African American vote in his own state.

Jewish voters in New York, a very important Democratic base vote, three-quarters of Jewish voters in New York voted for John Kerry, seniors another important constituency in the Democratic base, 71 percent for John Kerry.

What we're finding in constituency after constituency is union members, Catholics, seniors, African Americans, Jewish voters this is all the Democratic base. They were solidly behind John Kerry.

Why? Because they saw him as the guy who was best positioned to beat George Bush and that really rallied those Democrats even to the point where Kerry beat Sharpton among African Americans in New York.

BLITZER: All right, Bill, stand by.

Judy Woodruff, by all accounts John Kerry is going to need all of that Democratic base if he's going to beat the president in November.

WOODRUFF: He is, Wolf. I was just listening to Jeff make that point about Georgia and about white voters. Some maybe instruction might come from the Bill Clinton campaign. Bill Clinton carried the state of Georgia. He carried a few other southern states.

It is going to be crucial for the Democrat who wins either to cut into Republican support, strength rather in the south or to figure out a way to turn around some of these critical Midwestern states, some of the states we've been talking about tonight like Ohio, like Missouri, states we've seen primary contests in in recent weeks.

These are the places where you have the electoral votes, the people, the large populations and the Democrat who wins has got to figure out a way to win these states. This is a state by state battle.

BLITZER: And that's what everyone learned in the election in 2000 as well.

Carlos Watson, as you take a look at this and you look back a little bit at this comeback that John Kerry started off as the front- runner but then he sort of collapsed and then in recent months he really made a dramatic comeback to the point that now he's got the Democratic nomination virtually sewn up.

CARLOS WATSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's impressive and two things that we haven't talked about enough are his television ads. If you live in a state where you haven't voted yet, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Illinois you haven't seen what are really some tremendous ads.

They're colorful. They show, as Judy said before there was a problem about the aloof-seeming John Kerry. These ads are tremendous. They show him with some of his former Vietnam buddies. They show a very different, very personal side of him.

The other thing that I thought was significant is he got tremendous help in Ohio, for example, and in Michigan from who, Dick Gephardt. We've heard a lot about Max Cleland. We heard a lot about Teddy Kennedy but there was another member of Congress who was extraordinarily helpful here Dick Gephardt.

I call it an audition for the vice presidential nomination. Dick Gephardt auditioned. Some argue that John Edwards was auditioning the last week or two. Some argue that Bob Graham of Florida missed his chance to audition because it ends a week early.

BLITZER: Some people are looking at Bill Nelson actually, the other Senator from Florida, as someone who might be a nice complement to John Kerry.

WATSON: By the way another Yale grad, a lot of Yale floating around in Democratic circles these days.

BLITZER: That may not necessarily be an asset going into this kind of campaign.

WATSON: It will be two Yale guys against two Yale guys. You're right. It doesn't exactly strike a populous theme.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to -- you want to weigh in on that Jeff?

GREENFIELD: Well, we are about to see the first campaign in history, as far as I know, where two members, not just of Yale but skull and bones, the ultra secret society in Yale that was for generations the establishment sons, sons only recently joined it. It was a very important part of the establishment in America, turned out a lot of CIA agents. Bush's father was a member.

And here's one interesting small fact. Supposedly if you mention skull and bones to a bones man he has to leave the room. If that debate happens and the first question is tell us about skull and bones, we don't have a debate. Everyone is going to get up and walk away.

BLITZER: Too many Yale graduates in American politics but that's another story.

We're going to take a quick break. We have much more coming up. We'll be speaking to surrogates from the Bush and Kerry campaigns. We got a little preview of what this debate might be.

Also, we'll be watching all of the late developments that are emerging as we continue our special coverage.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RALPH REED, GOP STRATEGIST: Regardless of who the Democrats nominated and they've settled on Kerry apparently based on tonight, it's going to be a campaign of clear contrast in which the Democratic nominee, Senator Kerry, is going to be on record for massive tax increases, a long record of voting to weaken national security, gut intelligence spending, and I think he's really out of the mainstream on a lot of values issues and so we're looking forward to that contrast.

BLITZER: The other day we heard the president preview one of the lines of criticism he probably will have going after John Kerry. Let's listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The other party's nomination battle is still playing out. The candidates are an interesting group with diverse opinions for tax cuts and against them, for NAFTA and against NAFTA, for the Patriot Act and against the Patriot Act, in favor of liberating Iraq and opposed to it, and that's just one Senator from Massachusetts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, Ralph Reed you're smiling when you heard that. You've heard that sound byte several times last week the president speaking. Are we going to see a much more aggressive president now going after John Kerry?

REED: Well, I think we've been awaiting an opponent. You can't run against an opponent until you have one but I will tell you that this president is looking forward to this challenge and the campaign is looking forward to this campaign because refreshingly, Wolf, this is going to be a campaign about the big issues. It's going to be about how to make this economy stronger and create jobs in a new and different kind of an economy.

BLITZER: But on that let me interrupt you for a second.

REED: And it's going to be about peace and security.

BLITZER: On the economy though with what 2.5 billion jobs lost, going from a budget surplus to a budget deficit of $500 billion, with Alan Greenspan suggesting, you know what, the U.S. taxpayers may have to suffer Social Security benefits because of this huge deficit that's exploded over the past three years that's not necessarily going to be an issue the president will presumably want to point to.

REED: Well, I just don't agree because the truth of the matter is when you look at what the president inherited, which was an economy that was already in recession within 60 days of his taking the oath, combined with the attacks of September 11th, the implosion of the dot- com bubble and all those things, what we find is, number one, that we've had the highest level of economic activity in the last 20 years in the last six months, the fastest drop in unemployment in a decade.

Right now, Wolf, the unemployment rate is below the average of the last 30 years and in the report that came out yesterday on manufacturing employment, manufacturing employment is surging to the highest level since 1987.

BLITZER: All right.

REED: And the question is facing that recovering economy do you want to elect somebody who has voted for higher taxes 350 times and has vowed that he will pass a massive tax increase in the first 100 days of his administration?

BLITZER: All right. Let's ask Donna Brazile. She was, of course, the campaign manager for the Al Gore campaign, the Gore- Lieberman campaign almost four years ago. And now is that strategy that Ralph Reed is establishing how the president is going to explain his economic record going to succeed?

DONNA BRAZILE, FORMER GORE CAMPAIGN MANAGER: No, I don't think so. I think in 2004 voters are really looking for a change. America is ready for a change. They're tired of record deficits. They're tired of their health care costs going up through the roof. They're sick and tired really of a jobless recovery.

So, Ralph, this is not the 1988 campaign where you can paint someone from Massachusetts as being liberal, out of touch, big tax. This is a decorated war hero with a clear vision on where we want to take America, grow our economy, bring more small businesses back in the mainstream and John Kerry is ready to take on the Bush-Cheney empire.

REED: Well, let me respond to that if I can.

BLITZER: Go ahead please.

REED: I'm the son of a Vietnam veteran. I'm the son-in-law of a Vietnam veteran, combat veteran.

BRAZILE: And I'm the daughter of a Korean veteran.

REED: And I honor his service to our country. That's not what this election is about and, by the way, I never mentioned where he was from. You did. What I said is that he voted 350 times for higher taxes and he has vowed to pass a massive tax increase in his first 100 days. We're not trying to rerun any campaign from the past.

BRAZILE: But, Ralph...

REED: What we're saying is...

BRAZILE: But Ralph, Mr. Bush (unintelligible)...

REED: When the economy is recovering is the way to strengthen the economy and create jobs to have more regulation and higher taxes and I think the answer is no.

BLITZER: What we just -- in his speech tonight we did hear John Kerry say he will try to repeal the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. He added that phrase, for the wealth, not for the middle class or the upper middle class. Let's talk a little bit about...

REED: The problem with his definition of wealthy is it includes 23 million small businesses. His tax increases will increase the taxes of 23 million small businesses, $3,000 each in his first year in office.

BLITZER: Donna, they clearly have done some opposition research as they say.

BRAZILE: Well, you know, we know that the Bush campaign has engaged in fuzzy math before and when it really comes to looking at those tax cuts and whether or not they should be made permanent, Democrats will make a very cogent argument that we cannot afford to make those cuts permanent until we win the war on terrorism and pay down the deficit.

BLITZER: All right. There's a little news I want to get in as well, Ralph, and it's a subject close to your heart since you live here in Georgia.

REED: Right.

BLITZER: We are now ready to project a winner in this discussion that's been going on over which flag, take a look at this Ralph, which flag will be the permanent state flag of Georgia the one that's checked, 2003, that has emerged as the winner in this flag referendum. Explain to our viewers, Ralph, as you look at these two flags what the difference was and why you're happy that this flag is now the state flag?

REED: Well, the red, white and blue flag was passed last year. It was supported by, signed into law by Governor Sonny Perdue, the first Republican governor in 130 years but it's also been endorsed by Joseph Lowery (ph), by Jimmy Carter, by former Ambassador Andrew Young.

And I think what it does is it acknowledges the unique southern heritage of Georgia but it's also something that black, white, brown, all Georgians can unite behind. I think this is a great night for the people of Georgia.

I should point out by the way this referendum was non-binding but because the red, white and blue flag, signed into law by Governor Perdue, is the state flag it will remain so.

BLITZER: Judy Woodruff is here as well. Judy, I know that you're anxious to weigh in and get a thought on the Bush-Cheney effort that's going to go after John Kerry now that he's emerged as the Democratic nominee.

WOODRUFF: Ralph, I want to ask you about the president's proposal last week saying that he would like to amend the United States Constitution to make, to ban gay marriage. We're now hearing though from Republicans around the country that they're not sure this is something that needs to be done.

In fact, a number of them have said we don't think it needs to be done this year. Just yesterday, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Republican governor of California, said he thinks it's a bad idea that he thinks it's something up to the states. Where does the president go from here with this?

REED: Well, I think the president's position is very consistent, Judy, with where he's always been. You know as governor he said that he was in favor of marriage being a sacred institution between a man and a woman. He said that as a candidate, said it again as president, said that he supported the Defense of Marriage Act.

John Kerry, by the way, voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, one of only 14 Senators to do so and that law was passed with the support of people like Tom Daschle and Joe Biden and signed into law by Bill Clinton. So, I think the president's position is a very mainstream position.

WOODRUFF: Is he going to continue to fight for this? There are those who are saying he just dropped this out there and he's going to kind of walk away from it. What do you think?

REED: Well, he supports it. We'll have to see what unfolds in Massachusetts but he supports it.

BLITZER: All right.

REED: Absolutely. BLITZER: We're going to have to leave it right there. Ralph Reed, who will be very active in this campaign, going out and doing a lot of work for the Bush-Cheney ticket, thanks very much for joining us.

REED: You bet, good to be with you.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

When we come back we'll speak with a supporter for John Kerry who has effectively wrapped up the Democratic nomination, Congressman Harold Ford, Jr., a Kerry supporter will join us live from Washington.

Earlier today, I was over at the White House. I spoke with the Vice President of the United States Dick Cheney. My interview, segments from that interview when we come back.

Also, we'll be hearing from our "CROSSFIRE" co-hosts. They're standing by to tell us what they really think.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Big night for John Kerry. He's Kerry's effectively wrapped up the Democratic presidential nomination, as John Edwards has decided to drop out. He will do so tomorrow, when he returns to Raleigh, North Carolina.

Let's get some reaction from an early Kerry supporter.

Congressman Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee is joining us from Washington from Kerry headquarters there.

You have got a big smile, Congressman Ford. You were one of the early supporters. But you heard from Ralph Reed some of the criticism, the Republicans, the Bush/Cheney campaign clearly going ahead and doing their homework, doing their research. This is going to be a tough campaign for John Kerry.

REP. HAROLD FORD (D), TENNESSEE: We have no illusions about that, Wolf. Without a doubt.

Ralph Reed made some interesting points. I think, as much as he raises the voting record of John Kerry and as many times as he voted, as Ralph Reed portrayed him as raising taxes, he voted double or trip that to lower taxes on people who earn $200,000 a year or less in this country.

And this race boils down to whether or not you want to protect people who get up and go to work every day vs. those who are the wealthiest in this country. And, frankly, John Kerry is not opposed to anyone wealthy in this country. He just believes that working people deserve a break as well. And if Ralph Reed and President Bush want to battle us on that front, we will take it on that front.

We want to talk about foreign policy and how to make America strong and better and respected all around the globe, how to make health care costs lower. We want the debate. We know it's going to be tough, but welcome this challenge. Tonight's a great night and it's the beginning of a hard, long fight to November. And we're ready for it.

BLITZER: Congressman Ford, the president called John Kerry earlier tonight to congratulate him, you have to admit, a very nice gesture on the part of Mr. Bush.

FORD: Those Yale guys are something else. I'm sure that John Kerry probably asked to him ease up on telling some mistruths about him in these commercials they got coming out on Thursday. We will see if President Bush will do that.

We expect a tough race, Wolf Blitzer. We know it without a doubt. With $150 million in their war chest, they're going to talk about everything. A lot of things that are not true about John Kerry, they will say. But we're prepared to take them on and talk about our vision and defend our record.

WOODRUFF: Congressman Ford, it's Judy Woodruff.

I want to go right back to what President Bush said about John Kerry in that speech to the Republican governors last week, that he's been on both sides of the NAFTA issue, both sides of Iraq. Clearly, that is going to be one important line of attack for the Republicans. How is Senator Kerry going to defend himself?

FORD: Very easily. We're going to tell the truth.

We've been on the same side when it comes to trade. John Kerry supported free and fair trade. We've reached a point now where it's obvious that perhaps there's some imbalances in our trade agreements, not retreating from it, but figuring out how to make us stronger and create more jobs in America.

When it comes to the war, John Kerry supported the right to use force. He just believed we should have taken a little more time to build a broader coalition. Judy and Wolf, you'd probably have to both admit that, had we built that coalition to go into Iraq, it would probably make our job less expensive and a little easier right now as we try to transition Iraq to a stable and secure and democratic place.

I think George Bush understands that and he'll talk a lot about things again that are not true, but we're prepared to set the record straight and lay our vision out. If this is their best that they can throw at us, we're ready for it.

BLITZER: All right, Congressman Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee, a strong and an early supporter of John Kerry, thanks very much for joining us. Congratulations to you and your team over there.

It's what, a little bit more than 23 points minutes from now, we'll be seeing what happens in California. The polls will be closing at the top of the top of the hour, 370 delegates, the biggest prize tonight, the biggest prize so far. We'll have coverage of that. But let's bring in our "CROSSFIRE" co-hosts right now. They're watching all of this, Tucker Carlson, Paul Begala, James Carville, Bob Novak.

James, let me begin with you, get your reaction to what we've just heard this, this little preview of the debate that will unfold between the Republicans and the Democrats.

JAMES CARVILLE, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Well, if I listened to the preview unfold, it's like John Kerry doesn't exist. In other words, John Kerry can't say if you want more of the same, if you want higher deficits, if you want a unilateralist foreign policy, if you want continued job loss, if you all of this, if you want health care costs escalating at 14 percent a year, vote for George Bush. If you think it's time for a change, if you think it's time to get this deficit down and get people back to work, to

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: What is this? Is this the Democratic speech?

CARVILLE: Bob, don't interrupt me.

(CROSSTALK)

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": You're going on almost as long as Kerry did.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: The point I'm trying to make here is, two sides are going to play this game, gentlemen. It's not just that Bush, who by a factor of 2.5 to 1, made more personal attacks on Al Gore. They love their negativity. Change is coming, America. Change. Change. Change.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: That's exactly right, Wolf, change. That's the bumper sticker.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: But in order to win -- and congratulations to Senator Kerry. It's an amazing comeback in the last six weeks.

On the other hand, it's still just the primary. And in order to become president, you have to kind of run on something, sort of required. And, at this point, the only issue that all Democrats agree on is that Bush is bad, Bush is evil. And that's not enough. You have to state a position on what you're going to do in Iraq.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: You know what time it is? It's time for a change. (CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Oh, good idea, James.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": First off, Kerry has outlined his agenda on issues a whole lot better, frankly, than President Bush did.

I have been surprised that as astute a politician as President Bush gave a State of the Union with no forward-looking new ideas, gave an interview to "Meet the Press" that was a disaster and defensive, put out an economic report of the president that had major blunders in it, like calling hamburger-flipping jobs manufacturing, saying that outsourcing is good, and promising 2.6 million new jobs.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Mistake after mistake after mistake and no new ideas from the president, no new issues.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Let me get in here. Just a second.

CARVILLE: Let the status quo talk.

NOVAK: I have listened to you attack President Bush for the two years I've had to sit across from you on "CROSSFIRE."

CARLSON: How do you feel about that, Bob? You like that.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: No, just let me finish.

BEGALA: Only nine more months, Bob, and he's gone.

NOVAK: Let me just finish, please. I didn't interrupt you, Paul, did I?

BEGALA: Yes, sir. No, sir.

CARVILLE: Only me.

NOVAK: And I have listened to both of you.

I listened -- I know you coordinate with the Democratic Party. I've listened to this attack starting with Dean, continuing with all these other politicians. And the -- and then to hear these people whining tonight, my goodness, they're going to put some ads out that are critical of the sainted Vietnam veteran. What whining bull that is.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I went through a list of about seven (CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: This bothers me.

BEGALA: I went through a list of about seven major errors that our president and his political team have made in the last month and you can't explain to me why.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: I can explain all of them. The point of the matter is that John Kerry's record of the Senate, 6,000 votes, is a political issue and you can discuss it. And I think it is just silly for you people to whine and say you can't say anything bad about him.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Yes, you are. You're whining right now.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Let me say it again. I said he gave a bad State of the Union address with no new ideas.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: I'm talking about Kerry right now.

BEGALA: I'm not talking about Kerry's votes.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: You can't defend the president.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: Here's the point. Nobody would disagree that the Bush campaign and the White House has had a really bad two months, but it doesn't change the fact that here you have the Democratic nominee who literally has no plan for what we do next in Iraq.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Yes, it actually is true. Read his Web site. There's no plan.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: You can't run a campaign on that.

CARVILLE: Ladies and gentlemen, the status quo is now speaking.

CARLSON: Oh, come on. That's such a known talking point.

CARVILLE: And you're getting a preview of this election. This is the status quo. George W. Bush ran personal attacks against Al Gore at 2.5 times

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Personal attacks. There we go again.

CARVILLE: So it doesn't matter. You can have your little negativity. America wants change.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: What personal attacks did he run against...

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: ... of the University of Missouri articulated in a beautiful paper, 2.5 times more personal attacks on Al Gore. America, change is coming.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: James, what personal attacks? There was no personal attacks against Gore.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Thank God. More jobs. Less deficit. Lower health care costs.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: You're still talking about four years ago.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: That sort of says everything.

Unfortunately, we're going to have to go back to Wolf Blitzer, not that we don't love you, Wolf, but we're very close to changing James' mind, if we had a little more time.

BEGALA: It's time for a change in America.

BLITZER: Before I let the four of you go, I'm going to read two lines from John Kerry's speech tonight. He seemed to be test marketing a theme for his campaign.

James Carville, let me go around the table, begin with you. Which one did you like better? Did you like this line, "Change is coming to America"?

CARVILLE: Great.

BLITZER: Or did you like this line: "Get ready. A new day is on the way"? Which did you like better?

CARVILLE: I vote for both of them. But I like, change is coming to America. And God, we need it fast. Hurry up, John Kerry. We got to get you in there, man.

BLITZER: Paul?

BEGALA: Amen. There's only two basic messages. Kerry is going to say it's time for change. The president is going to say more of the same. And we'll see which America wants more, Wolf.

CARLSON: Every challenger says it's time for a change. That's the oldest in the book.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: My only request is that he keep it crisp. A 30-minute acceptance speech is too long.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: I would think that Carville has lost his touch. In the old days, he used to write more interesting stuff. Change, change, change. Boy, that's going back to Herbert Hoover.

CARVILLE: Well...

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: No, it actually goes back to Roosevelt, actually.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Our CROSSFIRE co-hosts weighing in, as they always do. Thanks very much, guys. We'll get back to you.

We have much more coverage coming up. We're going to also hear from the vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney. I spoke with him earlier today over at the White House. We'll hear what he has to say.

Much more coverage. We're standing by also for the California polls to close. They're going to be closing, what, in about 17 minutes. We'll have extensive live coverage. Much more coverage of Super Tuesday when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In California, it will close, 370 delegates, the biggest prize of the night. We'll see what happens in California, although the big story, of course, clear to everyone right now, John Kerry has wrapped up the Democratic presidential nomination, now that John Edwards has decided to drop out of the race.

He will do so tomorrow. There will be a number of battleground states coming up in the upcoming general election. Florida, of course, was at the epicenter of the 2000 presidential campaign, and the battle for the Sunshine State expected to be very close this year as well.

CNN's John Zarrella has been covering politics from his base in Miami for a long time.

Set the stage for us. What is the state shaping up to be like this year, John?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: Well, you know, Wolf, Florida's Democrats have been very concerned that they weren't going to have a voice in who the party's nominee would be when they vote next week here in Florida. And, of course, that's come to fruition.

But the state could be very, very pivotal, once again, possibly too close to call in the general election in November. And there are many folks who are saying that if Kerry, Senator Kerry, hopes to win Florida, he may need to help in a very big way from the state's senior senator.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZARRELLA: Many Florida Democrats didn't wait for Super Tuesday results.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Press the red button and you're done.

ZARRELLA: They are already touching electronic screens at the state's early voting sites. Coming a week after Super Tuesday, Florida won't play as prominent a role in the primary as Democrats would have liked.

But analyst Jim Kane, an expert on Florida politics, believes they'll vote in large numbers with one eye on November.

JIM KANE, THE FLORIDA VOTER: Those people who will be showing up for the Democratic primary have one and one goal only, get rid of George W. Bush. And they're going to vote for the person they think is going to be a winner.

ZARRELLA: Early polls show President Bush with a lead over either Senator Kerry or Senator Edwards in Florida. In a tight race, Kane believes retiring Senator Bob Graham should be the second name on the ticket.

KANE: If I were John Kerry, I'd pick him and I'd stick him in Florida and never let him get out of the state. And if he does and it's a close race, Bob Graham will count for one, two, maybe three percentage points.

ZARRELLA: The head of the Florida Republican Party says her opponents would be making a big mistake.

CAROLE JEAN JORDAN, FLORIDA REPUBLICAN CHAIR: That to me wouldn't be somebody I'd want to run with. I'm sorry. Bob Graham, Senator Graham, has had great respect in the state of Florida, but I must tell you, his presidential race severely damaged his reputation in this state.

ZARRELLA: Florida, split 50/50, Democrats and Republicans may again be too close to call. But Democrats don't believe Ralph Nader will be the same factor he was four years ago.

SCOTT MADDOX, FLORIDA DEMOCRATIC CHAIRMAN: He would just be used as with a wedge tool in the 2004 election, as a spoiler. And I think his supporters see through that. And I don't think he'll get a lot of votes in the state of Florida.

ZARRELLA: Nader got 97,000 votes in 2000; 65 percent of those said in exit polls they would have voted for Al Gore if Nader wasn't on the ballot.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZARRELLA: Now, Nader is going to need 93,000 signatures, petitions, in order to get on the Florida ballot. He'll need those by July 15. And that number, 93,000, is 1 percent of Florida's registered voters -- Wolf.

BLITZER: John Zarrella, reporting for us -- John, thank you very much.

Judy, we're told that Senator Kerry, the Democratic nominee, for all practical purposes, will be going to Florida tomorrow not only because of the contest next week which now becomes clearly so much less important, but also because of November.

WOODRUFF: To signal, Wolf, that this is a state that the Democrats plan to play in and play in big time between now and November. The loss of Florida in 2000, the wound is still fresh, if you will, in the minds and the hearts of many Democrats.

They would love to turn that around this time. And whether it means putting Bob Graham on the ticket or somebody else who they think will help them win Florida, they're going to be looking for a way to do that.

BLITZER: Jeff, 537 votes. You remember that night.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Five hundred and thirty-seven out of six million votes cast.

And it's one of the reasons why one of the things that we'll not be seeing as visibly as the advertising that will be launched in the next couple weeks are massive voter registration drives on both sides. The Bush campaign knows how close it came to losing on Election Day, because the Gore people outgunned them on the ground. In 2002, the Republicans put massive efforts into getting voters to the polls. It's one of the reasons they took back the Senate.

And, in 2004, in a state like Florida, if you have a business in helping people register to vote, you would not be lacking for work between now and November.

BLITZER: Donna, what does John Kerry have to do in Florida that Al Gore presumably failed to do to get those 537 additional votes that he needed? DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, we should not repeat the same mistakes we made in 2000 in terms of not counting all the votes, educating people about the political process. We can also register over a million African-Americans and Latinos who could potentially be swing voters in this political season. Look, Democrats are ready to win Florida again in 2004.

BLITZER: And based on what you know, have they fixed those voting machines in Florida, so the hanging, swinging chads and all that stuff are gone?

BRAZILE: Well, we hope that the pregnant chad is not out there doing more damage than it did in 2000.

BLITZER: All right, Donna -- Donna Brazile. She still wakes up in the middle of the night thinking about what happened in Florida four years ago.

BRAZILE: Yes.

BLITZER: CNN is ready to project now a winner in Minnesota. The caucuses, based on what we know, John Kerry, another win, another W for John Kerry in Minnesota. The caucuses close there 9:00 p.m. Eastern, but now CNN ready to project a winner, Minnesota. Almost a clean sweep so far. We're waiting for California. At the top of the hour, we'll find out what happens then.

Much more coverage, including some of my interview earlier today with the vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're looking at a live picture of John Edwards' campaign plane. We're told it's just touched down, Raleigh-Durham International Airport in Raleigh. You see the motorcade getting ready to take the senator from North Carolina to wherever he's going tonight to spend the night in Raleigh tomorrow; 4:00 p.m. Eastern, we're told, John Edwards will make it all official. He will drop out of this race.

CNN, of course, will have extensive coverage of that tomorrow. They're getting ready, John Kerry, that is, for a campaign against the president of the United States and the vice president of the United States.

Earlier today in Washington, I was over at the White House and spoke with the vice president on some substantive policy issues.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's move on and talk about Haiti. This is a critical issue. The former president now, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, accusing the Bush administration of effectively orchestrating a coup against him.

Which -- you're smiling. You're smiling. DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I've dealt with Aristide before, when I was secretary of defense. We had a crisis involving Haiti. He left of his own free will. He signed a resignation letter on his way out. He left with his security detail on an aircraft we provided, not a military aircraft but civilian charter.

Now I suppose he's trying to revise history. But the fact of the matter was, he'd worn out his welcome with the Haitian people. He was democratically elected, but he never governed as a democrat. He was corrupt, and he was in charge of many of the thugs that were committing crimes in Port-au-Prince and shortly before he left.

The suggestion that somehow the United States arrested him or forcibly put him on an aircraft to get him to leave, that's simply not true.

BLITZER: So you're happy he's gone?

CHENEY: I'm happy he's gone. I think the Haitian people are better off for it. I think now he'll have an opportunity to elect a new government. And that's as it should be.

BLITZER: Alan Greenspan said in recent days that because of this huge budget deficit, $500 billion, at least for the foreseeable future, if you want to keep those tax cuts which you pushed through Congress, you're going to have to start thinking of reducing Social Security benefits for the baby boomers, future generations. Is he right?

CHENEY: Well, I read his testimony in a slightly different fashion. He talked about the current tax cuts that we've got to pledge. He's supportive of those, believes they ought to be made permanent. And talks specifically about those in terms of what they've done for the economy in encouraging savings and investment and economic growth.

Taken apart from that is the long-term problem we have in entitlement, in particular on Social Security and Medicare. And those were the issues he was addressing, the long-term that will kick in five, 10 years down the road as we have more and more people retire than fewer, fewer people actually working to support those retirees.

BLITZER: A very sensitive issue. The president now calling for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

In the 2000 debate against Joe Lieberman, you said you thought this should be regulated by the states. You said, I think different states are likely to come to different conclusions, and that's appropriate. I don't think there should necessarily be a federal policy in this area.

You still believe that?

CHENEY: Well, I restated my position previously. The president's made a decision, partly because of what's happened in Massachusetts in terms of -- the administration has supported a constitutional amendment. And that's his decision to make.

BLITZER: So you support it?

CHENEY: I support the president.

BLITZER: That means -- so now you support a constitutional amendment?

CHENEY: My view of the president is that I would advise him on the issues of the day. I never discuss the advice I provide him with anybody else. That's always private. He makes the decisions. He sets policy for the administration. And I support him and the administration.

BLITZER: The vice presidential running mate slot, is there any doubt whatsoever that you will be on the ticket with the president?

CHENEY: Not in my mind. He's asked me to serve again, and I said I'd be happy to do that. And I think that will be the ticket in 2004.

BLITZER: How do you feel?

CHENEY: Very good.

BLITZER: Everything all right?

CHENEY: Everything's great.

BLITZER: Thanks, Mr. Vice President.

CHENEY: Thank you, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And I can report that the vice president clearly anxious to play a very, very active role in this political season. He's going to be on the ticket, he says. There's no doubt about that.

And he will go forward and get ready to support the president, a Bush-Cheney team getting ready for John Kerry, who has effectively wrapped up the Democratic nomination tonight.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com




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