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Democratic National Convention: Kerry Campaign Manager Talks Agenda

Aired July 29, 2004 - 19:57   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The Democratic National Convention here at the FleetCenter in Boston, a busy night over the next several hours. Let's take a look at the agenda, what we're anticipating coming up. John Kerry's children and stepchildren will be speaking here, helping to introduce this man to the country; as will his Vietnam War veterans, his colleagues from that swift boat. And Steven Spielberg has helped produce a film, a biographical film of John Kerry. Max Cleland, the former senator, will introduce him as well. There will be the formal acceptance speech expected to last for about 50 minutes tonight during the 10:00 hour. Musical performances by Willie Nelson, among others.
Welcome back to CNN's's continuing coverage of this Democratic Convention.

ANNOUNCER: America Votes, 2004. This is CNN's live coverage of the Democratic National Convention.

BLITZER: Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Boston, together with my colleagues Judy Woodruff and Jeff Greenfield.

Jeff, a lot of people are wondering what he has to do tonight, John Kerry, during the 10:00 p.m. Eastern hour, in order to consider this acceptance speech successful.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Well, it's 25 million people who are going to listen to political rhetoric for almost an hour. These are four things I think that we ought to look for. First, strength versus civility. We know that the stronger America is the theme of this convention. But will John Kerry try to strike any grace notes, say something nice about the president perhaps, maybe refer in one way or another to Ronald Reagan.

Second, biography versus agenda. We heard a lot of talk about Vietnam. But will he tell us what he did in the Senate and what specifically he intends to do if he is president. Which brings us to point three, a key one you've mentioned, Wolf, Iraq. John Kerry has said relatively very little about what he will do about Iraq when he's president. Will he tell us he'll fix it? Is there anything more?

And finally, perhaps the most difficult one that we can talk about, who is this man? Successful campaign speeches in recent years have always talked more personally than they have in the past; nor just stringing soundbites together but to give them a portrait of somebody with whom Americans are comfortable as a leader and as a person. That's the thing that John Kerry has not always successfully done in the past, Judy. That's the one I'm going to paying perhaps the most attention to.

BLITZER: And after the speech, we're going to come back to you, Jeff. We're going to go through these four items on your agenda and see exactly how John Kerry did. That's going to be a few hours from now.

There is also going to be this Steven Spielberg-produced film of John Kerry. It's going to try answer this question: Who is this man? This is a very important feature of these conventions.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, it is. I mean, what they really need to do tonight, among other things, is we keep hearing that so much of America has made up its mind. The polls actually show that 20 percent of Americans haven't made up their minds and about half of those have no idea who John Kerry is. They need to not so much make Americans fall in love with John Kerry tonight, but they've got to make Americans feel comfortable with him, feel like he's somebody they'd like to frankly turn on their TV every morning and see him for the next four years. And that is a tall order for somebody who many of his friends describe as aloof.

BLITZER: Jeff, is John Kerry known as a great orator?

GREENFIELD: No, he is known as a very smart orator, one perhaps too comfortable with complexity. But the great speeches in recent years, I think of George Bush's 1988 acceptance speech, which turned kind of an elitist, weak vice president into a strong conservative. Or Al Gore's 2000 speech where suddenly we learned about a more human side of him. It's that part, the non-senatorial way that you have to talk to the country when you're running for president, that's the real question mark that even his supporters say, we haven't seen much of that John Kerry in speeches. He's got 55 minutes and 25 million people and more who are going to say, all right, let's see if you can pull this one off.

BLITZER: What is at stake, Judy, for him tonight?

WOODRUFF: I'm tempted to say everything. The fact is we know there are 96 days left until people go to the polls on November 2, so there is time. So much of this election has been governed by events in the world, certainly the war in Iraq, the United States economy, but this is the first chance he has had to speak to just the millions of American people unfiltered. The media isn't going to be interrupting him. We are not going to be analyzing while he's speaking, we'll be analyzing afterwards, not during.

This is the biggest audience he's going to get until the debates in the fall between him and George W. Bush. There could be as many as three of those. Again, world events will intervene, but this is an enormous opportunity for him.

BLITZER: Those three debates, what are more -- and historically speaking, which are more important, the debates, or this speech tonight?

GREENFIELD: I think the debates, no question about it. Because we have a summer to get through. And while we are all appropriately obsessed with politics, most Americans are thinking vacation, kids back to school. In October, when these two are side-by-side, that's when people really form their opinions and history shows ever since probably the first one, with Kennedy and Nixon, they have had a very important role.

BLITZER: But let me press you on that, Jeff, because a lot of people, by all accounts, maybe even a record number of people going into this Democratic Convention, even before the Republican Convention, have already made up their minds.

GREENFIELD: All right. A, people say they have made up their minds. I know a lot of people who say they made up their minds and they change. I think that you have to take that polling with a grain of salt. But even if it's down to 10 percent, even if it's down to 10 million voters, they're going to be the ones saying, I'm not sure about either. Debates clinched it for Ronald Reagan. I think debates clenched it for Clinton. And I certainly think George W. Bush managed his tie with Al Gore by actually performing well in debates.

That said, when an acceptance speech -- think of this, 55 minutes of political oratory in a time when people don't listen. And for me one of the questions is, is John Kerry recognizing the fact that the kind of speeches you make on the floor of the Senate, formal, sometimes (UNINTELLIGIBLE) speeches, do not work on television in this day and age.

WOODRUFF: I think he realizes that by now. Don't you think he has got people around him who have been telling him you can't -- this is not just standing in the well (ph)?

BLITZER: He's got a lot of experience, people who know a lot about speeches, including Bob Shrum, who knows a great deal about these matters.

WOODRUFF: Although talking to his staff today, Wolf, they were telling me, they always say this, so take it with a grain of salt, but that most of the speech was written by John Kerry with the help of on- staff speechwriters. They said he finished it a few days ago. It has gone through several drafts but he's had several days to go through it. They claim he has not practiced on a teleprompter very much. We'll see.

BLITZER: What about the whole notion of rehearsing? You saw him earlier in the day cleaning up at the podium and he tried to get comfortable up there. He was practicing a little bit. Is that really important?

GREENFIELD: Yes, it's only about 50 percent of his speech. Remember, the people in this hall will be seeing a fundamentally distorted vision of what happens. That's why we're going to watch this on these screens we have because 25 million or 30 million Americans are going to be seeing it there. This is a close-up shot. And the body language, is the man at ease in front of the country? Is he comfortable? Is he enjoying himself? That is an important... BLITZER: And that's an important nuance to point out, Judy, because a lot of people here last night thought John Edwards did a fabulous job in his speech. But then again, I spoke with the people who just saw it on television and said it was OK, it wasn't great.

WOODRUFF: Yes, because John Edwards -- frankly, he had wowed audiences all over the country and I think many of us expected that he would just knock the socks off of everybody with that speech. He seemed to be rushing it a little bit, Wolf, and we're not quite sure why. We know Al Sharpton ran over a little bit last night. We don't know if that had anything to do with it. But it didn't quite soar, I think is the critical consensus, but it was a good speech.

BLITZER: What about if he goes really long and long and -- they're saying 50 minutes, maybe even longer than that.

GREENFIELD: I'll just tell you this one -- you will all remember this, the longest State of the Union speech in history was given by Bill Clinton back in '95 or '96. And all of us said, oh, the country won't stand for it. His approval ratings jumped after that speech. So we need to be a little bit careful. People tuning in to hear this speech are ready to listen to it.

I keep coming back to this one point, what kind of language will he use? We've seen the excerpts. They are short. They are not elaborate sentences. Is he going to talk to us or is he going to talk with us? And in this television age, the more conversation you can get, you cannot give a John Kennedy inaugural speech in 2004 to this audience.

BLITZER: Especially at a political convention.

WOODRUFF: I was just going to say, we already know one thing he's going to say is that America has a tradition of not going to war unless it has to go to war. There is going to be some tough language in this speech.

BLITZER: All right. Judy, Jeff, standby. We are going to go to the floor now. We have reporters standing by in some of the key battleground states. CNN's Joe Johns is in the battleground state of Missouri. CNN's John King in Pennsylvania. Kelly Wallace in Ohio.

Joe, give us a little flavor. What are people in Missouri, at least Democrats, saying?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: These Democrats are very excited about this election. They also realize that things are very close in their state of Missouri: 48/48 according to one poll. This is a state that George Bush just barely won in 2000. It's a very reliable bellwether as well. Since 1900 this state has correctly picked the president every time except for one election, that was 1956 with President Eisenhower. So a lot of people here are saying they really need to work this state very hard. Also, Wolf, the important thing, a lot of people are saying the problem in the state, the reason why it's so close right now is the economy. Back to you. BLITZER: All right. John King, Pennsylvania, another critical state. I think both George Bush and John Kerry spent about as much time in Pennsylvania as almost any state.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Bush, Wolf, has had 30 visits plus and counting since he has become president. Both candidates will be there this weekend. I have the Democratic governor, Ed Rendell, standing by with me.

What single question must John Kerry answer tonight in your view, sir?

GOV. ED RENDELL (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, I think he has got to lay out some specific plans. He's been the subject of about $100 million of negative advertising and he really needs to be able to set forth his views, what he intends to do with America and where he intends to go.

KING: We have a moment of silence on the floor. We just want to stop for a second.

General Wesley Clark is speaking right now. One of the questions when we look at our polling is the American people do not trust John Kerry to be commander-in-chief. How does he answer that?

RENDELL: I think the answer started on Monday night when Reverend Alston, who was in that swift boat, gave incredibly moving evidence and testimony to what a strong and courageous man John Kerry is. He has to talk about his personal history and how it shaped his values. As the American people learn more about John Kerry, they will learn he's a strong, courageous person who's not going to back down. He didn't back down in this campaign when he was way behind. He didn't back down on the Mekong Delta. He's not going to back down for America.

KING: Ed Rendell, thank you very much. And Wolf, Pennsylvania is one of those states (UNINTELLIGIBLE) last time, trying very hard to take it away from the Democrats this time.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, John. Kelly Wallace in Ohio. We always say this. Let me say it again, Ohio, a state no Republican president has ever been -- no Republican has ever -- no Republican has ever been elected to the White House without carrying Ohio. I finally got it out. That is what they're saying, the Democrats in Ohio.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And that is one of the reasons why, Wolf, President Bush has visited Ohio 18 times since he got into the White House. He will be in Ohio again this weekend. So will John Kerry and John Edwards. Interestingly, both candidates will be in Stark County, Ohio. It is a bellwether county.

The winner of that county in the last 11 elections went on to win the White House with the exception of Jimmy Carter back in 1976. I was talking to a gentleman from Stark County. I asked him what does John Kerry need to do tonight to win over Republicans, undecideds in Stark County? He said, he needs to get specific, present specific proposals tonight, and he also needs to get personal, tell people more about who John Kerry really is -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Kelly Wallace in Ohio, thanks to all of our reporters. Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

Bill, as important as the popular vote is, and we all focus on the national horse race, as it's called, there is something even much more important, all of us learned that if we didn't know that in the year 2000. That would be the electoral college. You're looking at that the electoral college right now at that map. Give us an update of what you've discovered.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the question is, what is the score? Now I've been speaking with sources in both the Bush campaign and the Kerry campaign. I've examined the current state polls. Here is the electoral map going into John Kerry's acceptance speech.

Bush would carry would carry 26 states with 238 electoral votes. Kerry would carry 24 states and the District of Columbia, the total would be 300 electoral votes. I project that no state that voted for Al Gore would switch to Bush but four Bush states would go to Kerry very narrowly. New Hampshire, a neighbor to Massachusetts, where the Nader factor was decisive, not again. Missouri and Ohio, hard-hit with job losses. West Virginia where polls show Kerry with a very small lead.

So, Wolf, there is good news and bad news for Democrats. The good news, if the election were held right now, Kerry would beat President Bush. The bad news is he election is not going to be held right now. That's the score. It's still a close race. It's only halftime and, remember next month, Republicans will get the ball -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, keeping score for us. And of course, all of our viewers must remember by now the magic number is 270. You need 270 electoral votes in order to become elected president of the United States. No one is watching that electoral college map more closely than our next guest, Mary Beth Cahill. She is the campaign manager for the Kerry-Edwards campaign.

Mary Beth, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: Are his numbers consistent with your numbers?

CAHILL: We feel very good about where we are right now. We think the four days of this convention have been great for the country, seeing John Kerry and his plan for the future. And we think that, tonight, John Kerry is going to give a great speech and will roll out of this and across the country for a wonderful two weeks of August.

WOODRUFF: Ms. Cahill, the Republicans are saying it's all well and good, we're going to hear a lot about John Kerry and Vietnam, but that was 30 years ago. When are we going to hear what John Kerry has done in the intervening three decades, about his service in the Senate which they say has made him the most liberal member of that body?

CAHILL: Well, you know, John Kerry has been talking about his plans for this country every single day for the last year-and-a-half. He's put forward a very extensive healthcare plan which shows how we would lower costs for all Americans. This is something that voters are intensely interested in. It seems as though the Republicans only want to talk about small votes in 1984 and not the real issues that voters care about this year and about the future.

GREENFIELD: But it was interesting that last night that Senator Edwards did not speak one word with John Kerry's 20 years in the Senate. The biography he presented was he went from Vietnam and now he's running for president. Don't you have to put some flesh on the bones in a country that only sent two senators to the White House in, I think, the last -- maybe ever? Isn't that important that we know what he has done?

CAHILL: It's very important. And I think you're going to hear some of this tonight. And you're going to hear a great deal about that in the fall campaign. This is a campaign of phases. And what we've done in the last several months is introduce John Kerry to the nation, talked about his plans for the future. This four days is about where the Democratic Party wants to lead the country and what we have to do together.

BLITZER: Is he going to give us a specific plan for Iraq?

CAHILL: I think over the course of the campaign, security is, obviously, of great concern to all people and all Americans and something that John Kerry, obviously, has made a focal point of his campaign. He has given a series of speeches, spent two weeks, as a matter of fact, on security alone.

WOODRUFF: Speaking of Iraq, again, the Bush-Cheney campaign has made a big deal. They're running television ads with Senator Kerry saying, well, I voted for the funding before I voted against it. I mean, and they've really hammered away at his equivocating on Iraq. They put out a 15-page paper on it just this week right here in Boston.

CAHILL: I think what is most notable about is this is that the Bush people do not say one positive thing or one forward-looking thing about what President Bush and this administration wants to do. And as far as I can see, the president has followed John Kerry every step of the way in terms of Iraq.

BLITZER: Mary Beth Cahill, hold on one second. General Wesley Clark is giving speech up on the podium right now and he is getting a pretty good reception. I want our viewers around the world to listen in briefly.

(INTERRUPTED FOR LIVE EVENT) BLITZER: General Wesley Clark, the retired NATO supreme allied commander, also a former Democratic presidential candidate from Arkansas giving a rousing speech in support, obviously, of John Kerry.

Why is it, Mary Beth Cahill, and you're the campaign manager, that President Bush consistently does so much better in the polls on the issue of national security, the war on terrorism, than John Kerry does?

CAHILL: He has been in the White House for three-and-a-half years and he led us around 9/11, which was a tremendous blow to this country. And I think Americans give him great credit for that. On every other indicator that matters to people, the economy, healthcare and education, John Kerry leads and he is very close behind President Bush on terror.

GREENFIELD: I was up visiting John Kerry November when he was running behind Al Sharpton in the national polls and you were measuring victory by then, I think it was fair to say, by whether he could survive. All right, from a slightly different place tonight, how do you measure victory tonight? Do you put any stock in the -- it has to be a 6-point lead, 8-point lead? What do you need out of this to keep people like us raining on your parade?

CAHILL: I think this is the first time that the entire nation is paying attention to John Kerry and really seeing him and his story. I think our goal tonight is for him to look presidential and to impress the country as someone who can lead us in the future. And I think he'll pass that bar.

BLITZER: When you say he has to look presidential, give us a specific. What does that mean?

CAHILL: The American people have to take his measure as a man and a leader and say, this is someone that we trust to lead us in these perilous times.

BLITZER: Mary Beth Cahill, you've got a tough job ahead of you, but you've had a tough job in the past. Thanks very much for spending a few moments with us here.

CAHILL: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: And we'll forward to be watching John Kerry tonight. Also, we're going to be watching the introductions of John Kerry tonight. A lot of speakers will be pointing to John Kerry. Including Joe Lieberman, he was the vice presidential candidate only four years ago. Let's listen briefly to see what he has to say.


BLITZER: Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, he was the vice presidential candidate for the Democrats four years ago, speaking to this Democratic National Convention tonight. There are a lot of speaks, all of them will be praising John Kerry and John Edwards. Coming up, we will be hearing from John Kerry's children and stepchildren, they'll be speaking as well as Max Cleland, the former senator from Georgia. And later during the 10:00 hour, John Kerry's acceptance speech. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


ANNOUNCER: 1932 was the first Democratic Convention. The feature, an in-person acceptance speech. Franklin Delano Roosevelt broke tradition, flying to Chicago to accept the nomination in person.



BLITZER: There are about 5000 delegates and alternates who have come here to Boston to participate in this Democratic National Convention. One of the features that we've been doing, some of them, we've given these small mini cameras to take us behind the scenes so that we can get a little flavor of what some of these rank and file delegates are doing.

Here is today's installment of our "Delegate Diary."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Dan Winton (ph), I'm delegate from California.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm Donna Brazile, I'm a delegate from the District of Columbia

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm Frances Williams (ph), and I'm a delegate from the great state of New Mexico.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Jack Hanna (ph) and I'm an alternate delegate from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

We have a very, very important task at hand. This election will be viewed, in my opinion, as a crossroads for this country and the world. People want to hear a positive message. They want it. It brings out the best of this country as we've witnessed in the past.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: John and I believe to our core that tomorrow can be better than today. Hope is on the way. And when your son or daughter who is serving this country heroically in Iraq calls, you tell them hope is on the way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is when all the states will express their support for the Democratic team and this is when we, as delegates, are going to cast our vote and make our nomination.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, we will now begin the presidential nomination process.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm signing my name tonight to put John Kerry and John Edwards' name on the nomination. John Edwards' name on the nomination. Here I go.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The roll call vote is sort of a standard critical action and somewhat like a big party in the sense that each state has the opportunity to introduce itself.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And proudly talks about its state.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The fifth-largest economic engine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How it votes. So it's a formality, a ceremonial kind of activity.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The District of Columbia's 39 delegate vote for the next president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Colorado's son, John Kerry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Last night in that room, you could feel the fervor, you could feel the determination. I think that this convention has energized the Democratic Party. And we like our candidates and we're going to work hard to get them elected.


BLITZER: Our installment of our "Delegate Diaries," something we've been doing throughout this convention.

If we could get a wide shot of this entire FleetCenter, this place is packed, including way up in the sky boxes. All of the aisles. There are people standing all over the place, Jeff and Judy. I don't think I've ever seen an auditorium or a stadium like this as packed as it is right now.

WOODRUFF: You know, it started, Wolf, on Monday night. I've been to conventions and by the third or fourth night the floor is packed because they want to hear the vice presidential and the presidential nominee. This floor was packed starting on Monday night and tonight it is triple-packed. And you're right, there are people above the sky boxes. Look at them.

BLITZER: They can't even breathe up there, Jeff.

GREENFIELD: No. It's interesting, though. Two quick points, apparently, the great majority of the delegates who have come here to make cell phone calls to their friends from the floor. And second, in the old days' conventions, people used to walk out in protest, if they wanted to, they couldn't here, the floor is too crowded.

BLITZER: You can't walk in, you can't walk out. All right. We're going to take another quick break. One of the nice features of these conventions, it will certainly be the case in New York at Madison Square Garden as well with the Republicans, is the music. We're going to be entertained soon. Willie Nelson is going to be here as well. A lot more coverage. We're standing by for the acceptance speech. We'll be right back.



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