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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Senators Kerry, Edwards; Interview With Howard Dean; Interview With Robert Byrd

Aired August 1, 2004 - 12:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's noon in Washington, 9 a.m. in Los Angeles, 7 p.m. in Jerusalem, 8 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "LATE EDITION."
In just a moment, we'll go live to Baghdad, where there have been a series of bombings only in the past hour or two, and New York City where there's word of a possible terror plot.

We'll also have my interview with the Democratic presidential nominee, John Kerry, and the vice presidential nominee, John Edwards.

First, though, let's go to CNN headquarters for a quick check of what's in the news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: More now on our top story, powerful explosions occurring in central Baghdad just a little while ago. Since then, reports of even another explosion up in the north in Mosul.

CNN's Matthew Chance following all these developments for us. He's live in Baghdad.

Matthew?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, thank you. Absolute mayhem on the streets of Baghdad, with those two explosions ripping through a central area of the Karadi (ph) district. Both of those explosions taking place outside Christian churches in the area.

We understand from eyewitnesses that Christian mass was under way during the explosions. Eyewitnesses are reporting people running out of the church, the congregation running out, some of them with quite severe wounds.

Casualties, according to health officials, expected to be very high as a result of these two explosions, which took place, again, in the same area about 15 minutes apart from each other.

We've just had confirmation, as well, that another church has been targeted in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. We don't have any information about any casualties, although we do believe there are causalities.

A fourth church has been targeted in Baghdad, again, but no details on that, as well.

But four churches in all, in what's increasing looking like a determined campaign to attack the Christian community in this country, Wolf.

BLITZER: I assume, Matthew, some of our viewers don't know, there's always been a small but significant Christian community in Baghdad. There are Iraqi Christians, of course, as well as Iraqi Muslims.

CHANCE: That's right. They're a small significant minority, perhaps about a million people, certainly less than 3 percent of the Iraqi population, but they've been there, and they've been there for centuries.

At the same time, in this predominantly Muslim country, members of the Christian community have often complained of being discriminated against. They've often been persecuted. They're perceived as being particularly rich, although often they aren't rich, but that often singles them out for criminal activity.

But nothing like this orchestrated campaign against the churches in Iraq that we've witnessed today, which health officials again say they expect to see extremely high casualties from.

BLITZER: And no one yet has claimed responsibility, is that right, Matthew?

CHANCE: No, no one said they've carried out this attack, but obviously the authorities are focusing on militant Islamic groups that have been campaigning in this way, carrying out violent attacks in streets and towns and cities across Iraq for several months now. Targeting not Christians especially up until now, but targeting anyone related to the interim Iraqi government, anyone who related to the U.S. led coalition forces, but inevitably drawing ordinary Iraqis into the mayhem and bloodshed, Wolf.

BLITZER: I just want to wrap this up, Matthew, but just to be precise this seems to be the first time since the war that there's been a coordinated, deliberate series of attacks on Christian targets, specifically Christian churches in Iraq. Is that right?

CHANCE: That seems to be the case. Certainly we've had complaints from Iraqi Christians that over the past few weeks their shops have been targeted. Many Christians own liquor shops, shops selling beer and spirits and wine and things like that, and they've had those burned to the ground. But, again, nothing like the kind of devastating attacks on the Christian churches that we're seeing today up and down the country.

BLITZER: All right, Matthew, stand by. We'll be getting back to you.

Matthew Chance with the latest breaking news coming from Baghdad.

Here in the United States, there are apparently some strong indications of a possible new terror threat specifically against New York City.

CNN's Ali Velshi, he's following this story. He's joining us now live from New York -- Ali.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're still seeing things unfold here, but it seems to be another hard-to-quantify threat, one that New Yorkers don't know how to handle.

Federal and local officials reporting they have new intelligence al Qaeda is planning attacks on corporations, financial institutions or international organizations in New York City.

The biggest international organization in the city, the United Nations, is taking the threat very seriously. This morning they have posted extra guards around the complex, in addition to other measures they're taking.

As for the office buildings, corporate headquarters in New York, the threat doesn't specifically cite either Wall Street or New York's financial district, but that's an already tense part of the city. It is always heavily guarded, as you can see here outside the New York Stock Exchange, fully barricaded. Traffic immediately around it is cut off, has been cut off since September 11th.

Now, no time or methods have been explicitly mentioned in this threat, so New York's official terror threat level is not being raised. But security directors and building managers around the city are being given specific direction because of the implication that there is a suicide element to this plan.

Police are asking building security and building managers in New York to be extra vigilant about people and vehicles entering buildings.

You'll recall, in the wake of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in which explosives in a vehicle were involved, security checks with cars, cameras, mirrors, dogs, things like that, have increased.

They're also telling buildings to watch out about people who have might have access to maintenance rooms or heating and ventilation systems, suggesting a fear that someone might try and get contaminants or biological weapons into a building's ventilation system.

Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. We're going to be checking back with you, as well.

Ali Velshi reporting for us from New York.

And I want to let our viewers know that the secretary of homeland security, Tom Ridge, will be holding a news conference here in Washington in about two hours, 2 p.m. eastern. Tom Ridge, over at the Department of Homeland Security, will be having a news conference, presumably explaining this heightened concern of a possible terror plot against targets in New York City. We know there have been meetings going on throughout the weekend in Washington, as well as in New York. CNN will have live coverage of Tom Ridge's news conference coming up, 2 p.m. eastern, 11 a.m. pacific.

We're also getting some new information. The first new poll numbers since the Democratic Convention, they're coming in right now. And they're showing an apparent difference between registered voters and likely voters.

Here to explain exactly what's going on, our senior political analyst Bill Schneider.

Bill, this is the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll. These are numbers that were completely taken, this poll, since after John Kerry's acceptance speech. And I want to show our viewers what the numbers show so far.

Among registered voters, this is important, registered voters, John Kerry is now at 50 percent, compared to George W. Bush at 47 percent. You see what it was before the convention, 49-45 in favor of Kerry.

Among likely voters, though, take a look at this: a difference, likely voters, 50 percent for Bush, 47 percent for Kerry -- a reversal.

The margin of error, though, 3 percent in this poll, you see, these numbers.

Well, first of all, explain the difference between registered and likely voters.

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, about three- quarters of Americans are registered to vote, but in the presidential election typically only about half, or a little bit over half, will turn out to vote.

So what the Gallup poll does is screen people according to their interests, their intention to vote, their enthusiasm and screen out the 50 percent who, in the typical presidential election, are likely to vote.

So, if this election is a typical presidential election, the likely voters show a slight lead for Bush. But if turnout is higher than that and we get more registered voters actually voting, that should help Kerry.

BLITZER: So what do these numbers say about the so-called bounce out of this Democratic Convention?

SCHNEIDER: No bounce, and that's striking. They show there might have been a very brief bounce -- I wouldn't call it a bounce, I'd call it a blip. Among people interviewed on Friday, the day after the convention, Kerry was ahead by five points. But then we continued to interview on Saturday. Those interviewed on Saturday -- Bush moved back into a slight lead of two points. And we are going to continue to interview people. But this looks like the shortest bounce on record.

BLITZER: And is that because the country basically had already made up their mind? There wasn't a whole lot of room for undecideds? That's what the Democrats keep saying.

SCHNEIDER: And it looks like the Democrats had a point.

What we're showing is that before the convention, the Democrats were hugely enthusiastic about voting. Over three-quarters of them said they were more enthusiastic than usual. After this convention, the number of Democrats who said they were enthusiastic went up only slightly. They were already rallied. They already had their bounce.

But what really changed is that the Republicans, the Bush voters went way up in enthusiasm. They gained eight points.

So it looks like, yes, the convention rallied voters but it rallied Republicans more than Democrats. The only good news here for Democrats is Democrats are still more enthusiastic about voting than Republicans are.

BLITZER: All right. We'll get more on these numbers throughout "LATE EDITION." Thanks very much, Bill Schneider, for that.

But first, real numbers coming in since the Democratic Convention -- all those questioned were questioned after John Kerry's acceptance speech.

Let's get some more now on the race for the White House, the Democratic ticket of Senators Kerry and Edwards. They were hitting the campaign trail hard, fresh from their party convention in Boston. Right now they're on the first part of a two-week, 21-state, coast-to- coast tour.

I caught up with Senators Kerry and Edwards during their stop in Greensburg, Pennsylvania.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Senator, congratulations to you, congratulations to you. It's official now, you're both the nominees. Let's get into some specific issues. First of all, some specific things you said in your acceptance speech.

The United States of America never goes to war because we want to, we only go to war because we have to.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Correct.

BLITZER: What is your policy? What would it be on a preemptive strike?

KERRY: The president always has the choice of preemption. We've always had it, through the Cold War and we have it now. But the doctrine of preemption being applied by this administration is a wrong-headed doctrine. And it has alienated countries around the world.

The president did not exhaust all of the diplomatic remedies and the inspection process and the building of an international coalition so that, Wolf, number one, our troops would be safer. So that the chances of success for this mission would be higher. So that the cost to the American would be lower.

That's the job of the commander-in-chief. And as commander-in- chief, I mean what I say, as the lessons of war that I learned personally, I will not go to war because we want to, I will go to war because we have to.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'll add one thing to that, because John and I have talked about this specifically. If he has reliable information that he's confident of, that a terrorist cell is about to strike the United States and they are somewhere else, he will go get them, before they get us. And we need to be absolutely clear.

And that's one of the reasons, by the way, we've talked about leading strong alliances. It's one of the reason these alliances are so important, which he understands so well, because you cannot get inside many of these countries if you don't have the kind of relationship you need.

BLITZER: One of the criticisms, Senator Kerry, is that you don't have an exit strategy for Iraq. You haven't really articulated specifics on what you would do if you were elected president.

KERRY: Well, I do have an exit strategy. And my strategy is to get our troops home as fast as possible. But to do it in a way that provides for a stable Iraq that is not a failed state, that's moved towards democracy and capable of moving there. That's what I want.

But how you do it is different then this administration has chosen to do it. I believe that a fresh start for America, a new president, will bring to the table the credibility, I can bring the credibility to the table that allows me a number of negotiating tools that this administration doesn't have available to it.

I can change the climate for many of the leaders in some countries, who today, pay too high a price if they were to be associated with us and this administration. But a new president who understands all the needs of the Middle East, all the needs of North Korea, Russia and other things, I will bring countries back to the table.

BLITZER: How long will it take?

KERRY: I would consider it an unsuccessful policy if I hadn't brought significant numbers of troops back within the first term. And I will do that. I'm not going to lay out my whole plan here. I need to be able to negotiate as a president.

But I am confident, through the travels of Senate colleagues who've gone abroad, through discussions that John and others have had in NATO and elsewhere, there is a different way to approach this. Americans need a leader who knows how to bring other countries to our side rather than alienate them.

And I'll tell you this, this adds to what John just said, to win a war on terror, to fight the most effective war on terror, we need the greatest amount, not the least cooperation we've ever had with other countries. I will provide that.

BLITZER: So when you say after your first term, you will bring home a significant number of the 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq right now, approximately how many do you expect would be home...

KERRY: Wolf, I'm not going to go into numbers, that's just not the way to do this. As president, I have enormous leverage and tools available to me that this president has never used properly. There is a reconstruction effort in Iraq, which has never been significantly enough offered to other countries.

There's decision-making power. And choices that have never been inclusive enough with respect to other people. I will change the entire equation. I will make America safer. And I won't hesitant to use force if it is required in order to protect the United States.

BLITZER: Senator Edwards, when Senator Kerry came home from Vietnam in 1971 and testified before Congress, and he said something very memorable. He said, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

Was the war in Iraq, knowing what we know now about WMD, no links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, was the war in Iraq a mistake?

EDWARDS: First of all, that's that wrong question. I think the question is, what the American people want to know both from this president and the man that I believe will be the next president is, what are we going to do to make this better?

John has just laid out what he believes needs to be done. I agree with him completely about that across all those fronts.

It was important, to answer the question specifically, it was important for the president to have the authority that he was given. I would have wanted John Kerry to have that authority if he had been president at the time. But the difference is, John Kerry would have dealt with this completely differently, and the result would have been very different.

He would have done the hard work to build international support for this effort. He also would have made sure we had a real plan to win the peace. We would not be in this place, we'd be in a very different place.

But going forward, we have a real plan -- he has a real plan, about what America needs to do in Iraq...

BLITZER: So the way...

EDWARDS: ... to both be successful and make sure the operation there is successful and to help our troops and our taxpayers.

BLITZER: Let me rephrase it, the way the war was conducted, that was a mistake, was it?

EDWARDS: The way this president led up to the war and the fact that he had no plan to win the peace was an obvious mistake, yes.

BLITZER: Then let me rephrase the question to you, how do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

KERRY: You make this not a mistake. If I were president, I wanted the authority. I wanted to give that authority to President Clinton in 1998. I voted to give the authority, and if you read what I said on the Senate, I made it very clear what the expectations of the president were: Build an international coalition, exhaust the remedies of the United Nations and other countries, bring people to our side, and if you have to go to war, go to war as a last resort.

Now, I believe we can still create a partnership here that can secure our objectives. Because I want to be able to look in the eyes of any parent whose son or daughter went over there and gave their life, and be able to say to them, "You see, good, wise leadership achieved our goals and your son or daughter gave their life for a worthy cause." That is achievable. But it's achievable only if we have the right kind of leadership.

BLITZER: But we're approaching a 1,000 American troops dead in Iraq.

KERRY: Correct. And I believe, Wolf, deeply, believe this in my gut, that our soldiers have been put at greater risk, they've been over stretched, they've been spread too thin because this president wouldn't even listen to the advice of his own professional military and generals.

General Shinseki said you need 200,000. They tried to do it on the cheap. They did it without a legitimate plan to win the peace. And so our troops have, in fact, been put in greater jeopardy than they needed to be.

We're proud of our troops. And we make no mistake about this.

Our troops have been extraordinary. These are the best- trained, most capable people I've ever seen in the military, but I think they deserve leadership that lives up to the higher standards.

EDWARDS: And with a president who has a clear idea about what needs to be done and how to get there, which John does. Not only would those lives not have been -- they will be for a good cause.

We can be successful. We still have a real chance of having a stable Iraq, moving toward democracy, with at least a pluralistic government in the short term, and hopefully, over the long term, a democracy. And both of us are committed to being successful.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: Just to add, more of my interview with the Democratic presidential ticket, Senators Kerry and Edwards. We'll also get their reaction to President Bush's revised and more aggressive stump speech.

Then, a successful Democratic Party Convention in Boston, but did it put the Democrats on the road to victory in November? We'll ask two leading U.S. senators, Mitch McConnell and Joe Lieberman, as well as former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean and the chairman of the Bush-Cheney campaign, Marc Racicot.

Much more "LATE EDITION" continuing after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We return now to more of my interview with the Democratic presidential and vice-presidential nominees, John Kerry and John Edwards.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: I don't know if you've heard the president's sort of revised stump speech. He's been delivering it now for the past couple of days.

One of the points he makes is that you want to support the troops, both of you, but when it came to that $87 billion vote, including for body armor, health care for the troops, both of you voted against those funds.

KERRY: We voted at that point in time, having listened to people all around the country, having seen that the policy was not working, that the things that we just described were not being done. And one of the lessons I learned in Vietnam is, when the policy isn't working, you don't just give a blank check to a president to continue the same policy.

We voted to change the policy. We voted in order to get it right, Wolf. And everybody knows that if push had come to shove, that if the money was critical for those troops, of course, they would have had what they needed. But that wasn't the situation.

And once again, the real issue is, how do we make those troops safe today? How are we going to be successful in Iraq? How do we fight a more effective war on terror?

I know how to fight a more effective war on terror. And it begins by restoring America's respect and influence in the world, bringing people back to America's side and strengthening for our troops, their presence, wherever they may be in the world. I think that's the key.

BLITZER: That was a difficult vote for you, that $87 billion vote. You were only, what, among a dozen or so Senators who voted against the funding.

EDWARDS: Yes. But it was the right thing to do for exactly the reason John just said, because the policy wasn't working, it was putting our troops' lives at risk, it was costing American taxpayers billions of dollars unnecessarily because we didn't have others involved, had no clear plan to be successful. It was a principle vote. It was the right thing to do.

Both of us did, politically, whatever the implications -- whatever the resolve was, we did what we believed was right. And I still believe it was the right thing to do.

And one last thing I just want to say on this bigger subject of national security. The one thing that has been intensely clear to me over the last few weeks, through all the time we have spent together is, this man will use American force wherever it's necessary to keep this country safe.

I mean, he put his life on the line 30 years ago. And whatever has to be done to go find these terrorists and stop them before they get any American, he will do.

BLITZER: Here's a memorable line from your speech. I was in Boston at the Fleet Center, I heard it, so did millions of people around world: "I will be a commander in chief who will never mislead us into war."

The implication is, the president of the United States misled the American people into war.

KERRY: That's correct.

I believe that the three major promises made by the president, which secured the votes of many of us because we believed the authority would be used wisely, were: to build a true international coalition, to use the United Nations and the international community and exhaust that process properly, and to go to war as a last resort.

All three of those things did not happen. I believe that is misleading in the way that you use an authority that is the most important authority of the commander in chief.

Now what's critical now is not what happened, it's what do we do now? Parents in American want to know, how's my kid going to get back here? People in the National Guard and the Reserve want to know, hey, am I going to continue serving even though I've been over there twice and I've done my duty?

We have a back door draft taking place today. I've pledged to end that. I'm going to get American troops back from there. And I'm going to do it the responsible way, by continuing to be able to have an Iraq that is not a failed Iraq and a failed state, moving towards democracy, capable of being stable and defending itself.

But, by bringing other people who ought to be involved in this today, Wolf, the Arab countries have a stake in the outcome. Where are they? The European countries have a stake in the outcome. Where are they? This administration has burned bridges that every president of the last century worked hard to build. And I believe we need a fresh start, a new president, to restore our credibility and rebuild those bridges.

BLITZER: We don't have a lot of time left, but a few quick questions. Are you ready to debate Vice President Cheney?

EDWARDS: Well, first of all, Vice President Cheney is a very experienced debater and he's been in public life for a long time. He's been a very effective debater in the past. And we saw how successful he was in his debate in 2000.

So, I would expect Vice President Cheney to be very well-prepared and to do a terrific job...

BLITZER: Sounds like you're trying to lower expectations.

EDWARDS: That's exactly what I would expect from him. I will do everything in my power, though, to make out the contrast between him and myself.

BLITZER: There are going to be three debates, I take it, with the president?

KERRY: I certainly hope so. I'm ready for more.

BLITZER: How many more?

KERRY: How ever many we can have. Let's talk about the issues in front of the country. Several months ago, I challenged the president to have a debate every month. Let's travel around the country, talk about the things that are really important to people.

BLITZER: One of the other -- we're almost out, but one of the other things they've been criticizing you is that you didn't speak a lot about your 19-year record in the U.S. Senate. You sort of spoke a lot Vietnam, but not much about...

KERRY: Well, I invited all Americans to look at my record and judge me by it. And I want them to. And I want them to go to Johnkerry.com right now and take a look at my record.

I led the fight to stop the drilling in the Arctic wildlife refuge. I led the fight to put 100,000 cops on the streets of America. I led the fight to help provide care for children who are at risk so that they can get a skill and become full citizens.

I have a long record that I'm very proud, Wolf.

EDWARDS: He's leaving out a lot of things, he led the fight to give veterans who were hurt by Agent Orange the help that they need. And he stood up against many members of his own party, the Democratic Party, to balance the budget and not leave this debt and deficit to our children and grandchildren.

BLITZER: One final question, Newsweek, in their new poll, shows you got a nice little bump. Have you seen the new Newsweek numbers?

KERRY: I've heard about it. I guess it's on a couple of days only. It's not the whole convention.

BLITZER: Right, we'll have more sophisticated results.

KERRY: I'll tell you what's going to happen, Wolf. And John and I don't put a lot of stock in polls. And you can understand that having been through what we went through in the course of this primary process.

(LAUGHTER)

They're going to go up. They're going to go down.

Polls are not what's important here. What's important here is what we want to do to put America back to work, to get health care to all Americans.

We have a plan for health care for all Americans, the other guys don't. We have a plan that's going to provide education to kids at a lower cost where this administration's actually cut the grants that are available to kids.

We've got a plan to be able to, I think, restore people's faith that government can really work for the middle class, not just for those people with privilege in Washington.

BLITZER: We're going to have leave it right there. Senators...

KERRY: Thank you.

BLITZER: ... thanks very much.

EDWARDS: Thanks for having us.

BLITZER: Thank you very much. Get back on the bus. You like that bus?

KERRY: We do right now.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: You won't after a few more days. Trust me.

Appreciate it.

KERRY: Thanks a lot.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And this note on that Newsweek poll: About half of those people questioned were questioned before John Kerry's acceptance speech Thursday night. As a result, not necessarily all that precise.

The CNN/USA Today/Gallup today, everyone questioned in that poll, which we reported on at the top of the show, questioned after John Kerry's speech. That showed not much of a bump at all, if in fact no bump for John Kerry in the aftermath of that Democratic convention. We'll have more on those numbers coming up.

And this important programming note to our viewers. Our own Bill Hemmer will catch up with John Kerry on his stop in Michigan tomorrow morning. Please be sure to tune in from that live interview. Bill Hemmer and John Kerry on "American Morning," 7 a.m. eastern tomorrow here on CNN.

And coming up, who's better for U.S. national security, President Bush or John Kerry? Two key U.S. senators, Republican Mitch McConnell and Democrat Joe Lieberman, they'll square off on that and much more right after this short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Joining us now to talk about the race for the White House and more, two leading members of the United States Senate: In his home state of Kentucky, the Senate's second-ranking Republican, Mitch McConnell. Here in Washington, Connecticut Senator and former Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman.

Senators, welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Senator McConnell, I'll begin with what Senator Kerry just said on this program. He promised that if he doesn't reduce significantly the number of U.S. troops in Iraq by the end of his first term, if elected of course, he would consider it to be a failure.

Do you think he's got the wherewithal to get that mission accomplished?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: I think President Bush certainly would reduce the number of troops in the next term.

The key to additional troops in Iraq, of course, is Iraqi troops. And that's why the administration sent General Petraeus over there, one of our very best generals, to help train the Iraqi military to bring them up to speed, because, after all, in the end, it's their country.

They have a new government now. They're going to have elections in January. And that's where the new troops need to come from, from Iraq, not from the U.S.

BLITZER: Well, what Senator Kerry says though is he, starting fresh, can bring international support, the traditional allies, Germany, France, other NATO allies, on board in a way that this president, who supposedly has so alienated those allies, would never be able to do.

MCCONNELL: Wolf, the problem is, Kerry wants to out source our foreign policy to Paris and Berlin. The president had significant international support. He had a majority of the NATO countries supporting him. There are a lot of NATO countries in Iraq now. There was always widespread support for what we were doing.

We did not have support for that in Paris and in Berlin. I, frankly, don't think that the people in France and Germany ought to be entrusted with our national security. And that's the fundamental difference here between Senator Kerry and President Bush.

BLITZER: Is that the fundamental difference, Senator Lieberman?

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: I don't think so. As a matter of fact, I thought one of the strong lines in John Kerry's speech on Thursday night was where he said that he's not going to give any other country or institution -- I assumed he meant the United Nations -- a veto over decisions that he would make to protect our security.

Wolf, I was in Iraq about, oh, three or four weeks ago. I met with General Petraeus. Mitch McConnell is right. This is a great American general who has one of the most critical assignments right now, and that is to train the Iraqi army and security forces.

He's making great progress at that. And I'm not one who wants to make any predictions, but if the work that General Petraeus is doing and the Iraqi military comes along as well as it appears to be now, I think we may be in a position to cut back on the number of American troops there next year.

BLITZER: But why do you think that John Kerry would be able to get the job done in Iraq better than President Bush?

LIEBERMAN: Look, for me, I mean -- I'm supporting John Kerry for a lot of reasons. I think he'd conduct a more effective foreign policy overall, and, of course, I strongly support Senator Kerry's positions on health-care reform for Americans, job protection, retirement security and environmental protection.

BLITZER: So Iraq is not necessarily one of the issues?

LIEBERMAN: I think that -- and, for me, this is encouraging news. I know that Kerry and Edwards have disagreed at different times with President Bush on how he's carried out the war, but I think now everybody's in pretty much the same position.

And, to me, that's encouraging. Let's finish the job. We've got to finish the job. We cannot precipitously withdraw.

BLITZER: Well, Senator McConnell, you've heard Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards say they want to get the job done. They don't want to cut and run.

What is the major difference, as far as you can tell, in the strategy right now between the Democratic ticket and the Republican ticket, as far as Iraq is concerned? MCCONNELL: Well, look, Kerry and Edwards are trying to narrow the differences, but what they should have been doing is following Joe Lieberman's lead. Joe Lieberman voted for the war resolution. He voted for the money to support the troops while they're in Iraq, has consistently supported the president on the war. And I wish Kerry and Edwards had done that when it counted earlier.

Now they're trying to narrow the differences because they understand -- they won't say this, but they understand the president has been on the right track here all along, that what's happened in the war on terror is that we've liberated 50 million people over the last two-and-a-half years, we have new constitutions in both Afghanistan and Iraq on the way, new elections in both Afghanistan and Iraq on the way, little girls back in school in Afghanistan after six years of having to stay home.

BLITZER: All right.

MCCONNELL: And most importantly, Wolf, who would have predicted on September 12, 2001, that we wouldn't be attacked again here at home by now? That's a success story.

BLITZER: All right. I want, Senator Lieberman, your reaction, the Republicans making a big deal out of the fact that Edwards and Kerry voted against the $87 billion funding, including support for the troops, body armor and medical equipment and all sorts of other equipment needed by the troops. They're making a big deal out of this.

You voted in favor of that $87 billion. Did your two Democratic colleagues make a mistake?

LIEBERMAN: Wolf, I voted in favor of it. I thought it was the right vote. They've explained, just a few moments ago on your show, why they cast that vote.

Again, I want to come back to this, and I've been appealing to people to focus on today and tomorrow. What's your policy in Iraq today and tomorrow? And I don't see much difference between President Bush's policies and Senator Kerry's policies or intentions to carry out policies in Iraq. They both understand we've got to finish the job. They both understand it's critically important to stability in the Middle East. And, look, we got rid of murderous tyrannies in Afghanistan and in Iraq, that people have a real chance in both of those countries to governor themselves.

BLITZER: All right. Senators, I want both of you to stand by for a moment. We're getting some breaking news information.

CNN has now learned that the secretary of homeland security, Tom Ridge, is about to announce that the nation will go to a higher level of security, actually that Washington, D.C., will go to a higher level, not the nation as a whole, will move from the yellow or elevated level to high, the orange level.

Washington, D.C. will go to a higher level of security, the nation's capital, not the entire country. New York City has always been, since 9/11, at that orange or high level of security. New York City will remain at orange or high.

Washington, D.C., the nation's capital, will go to a higher level, from yellow to orange, presumably because of some specific intelligence information generating that kind of information.

Senator McConnell, I want your immediate reaction. New York City remaining at this high level of orange, but the nation's capital, Washington, D.C., going from yellow to orange, from elevated to high.

MCCONNELL: Not surprising. We know the terrorists want to hit us again. Everyone is aware that Washington and New York seem to be the most desirable targets, from their point of view. There's nothing they would like to do more than to strike in the United States again, particularly before the election.

BLITZER: What do you make of this decision?

And we're going to be hearing directly, by the way, from Secretary Ridge at 2 p.m. eastern, a little bit more than an hour from now. He'll be holding a news conference over at the Department of Homeland Security here in Washington.

LIEBERMAN: The change in the color and the security status is just a formal recognition of what our intelligence has been telling us for a while, and it's been announced to the public within the last couple of weeks. This is not chatter, in the sense of just idle conversation. This is some real intelligence. It's not specific as to the target, but it's been clear.

And it reminds us that we're in a war. And thank God that we have not been hit since September 11th, but let's never forget that al Qaeda went after the World Trade Center with a truck bomb in 1993 and eight years later came back and hit it with the planes. And I'm very mindful that one of the other targets that they did not hit on September 11th was either the Capitol or the White House.

And we've got to raise our guard. And it's why, even in this political season, we ought to be pulling together in destroying al Qaeda and reaching out to the Islamic world and in finishing the war in Iraq against terrorists as quickly as we can.

BLITZER: We know, Senator McConnell, that New York City has been on this heightened level, this orange level, since 9/11. But this, I believe, is the first time that the federal government is asking another city, namely Washington, D.C., a regional higher state of alert, as opposed to a nationwide increase in the terror threat level.

Is this a good idea, to pinpoint where people should be on a heightened state of alert?

MCCONNELL: Of course it is.

And Joe is absolutely right. I couldn't agree more with what he just said. They have a tendency to want to come back and finish the job. And e all know that plane, that was courageously taken over and ended up crashing in Pennsylvania, was on the way either to the Capitol or the White House.

I think we have every reason to expect that they will try to finish the job, and they would particularly like to try to finish the job before this year's election.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to take a quick break. We're going to have much more breaking news here. We're going to follow up on this subject. The nation's capital, Washington, D.C., about to go on a higher state of alert, that according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Tom Ridge will be holding a news conference, 2 p.m. eastern. CNN, of course, will have live coverage.

Now, two U.S. cities, Washington, D.C. and New York City go from yellow to orange, from elevated to high. New York City has been on that higher state of alert since 9/11.

We'll take a break. More with these two senators when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Senator Lieberman, just to recap the news, the Department of Homeland Security set to announce that Washington, D.C., will go on a higher state of alert, as New York City has been since 9/11.

I've interviewed Secretary Ridge in the past, and he said the problem with having these regional alerts is that you sort of tip off terrorists where the country is not on a higher state of alert and you say, "You know what, it might be better to go someplace else."

You sense that could be a downside to this kind of regional alert?

LIEBERMAN: Look, we've got to keep our guard up in as many places as we can, but I presume that Secretary Ridge is going to raise the alert level for Washington because we have good reason to do so from the intel.

And what that does is to say to the terrorists, "You're not going to surprise us the way you did on September 11th. Our guard is up." And, of course, the hope is that they'll pull back on the plan.

BLITZER: You know there will be those critics, skeptics, Senator McConnell, who will say politics behind this, this is an issue that's good for the president and his re-election team so they're taking advantage of this.

And I want you to respond, because you know that there will be people who will be saying that. MCCONNELL: Well, you don't hear people like Joe Lieberman saying that. I think that's the most cynical view. The president, after all, is the president, even if he's running for re-election. And I don't think the American people that George W. Bush, the man who's led us so effectively on the war on terror, would politicize something like this.

LIEBERMAN: I just want to jump in and say that Mitch is absolutely right. And I don't think anybody who has any fairness or is in their right mind would think the president or the secretary of homeland security would raise an alert level and scare people for political reasons. That's outrageous.

And it's exactly that kind of thinking that we got to put aside so we can get together, unite and defeat these terrorists and protect ourselves from another terrorist attack.

BLITZER: On that bipartisan note, we unfortunately have to leave it. Senators, thanks to both of you very much for joining us, Senator Lieberman, Senator McConnell. Always good to have you on "LATE EDITION."

Still ahead, Howard Dean, once the Democratic presidential front- runner, now on the sidelines. I'll speak with him live. What's he doing about giving some advice to his former rival, John Kerry?

And President Bush is back on the campaign trail as well. We'll talk about the Bush-Cheney campaign with the chairman of that campaign, Marc Racicot.

"LATE EDITION" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

In just a moment, we'll go live to Baghdad and New York City. In Baghdad there are more terror attacks. In New York city, they're bracing for that possibility. There's breaking news, as well, for the nation's capital, Washington, D.C., about to go to a higher terror threat level.

We'll also have my live interview with the former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean.

First, though, let's go to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of what's happening in the news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Here in the United States, there are new intelligence indications that al Qaeda may be planning yet another attack in New York City at financial institutions or right here in Washington, D.C., the nation's capital.

Let's go to New York first. Our correspondent, Ali Velshi, is there. He's got some details.

Ali, what do you know?

VELSHI: Wolf, this story has developed dramatically in the last 60 minutes. As you know, and as you've been reporting, Tom Ridge, homeland security secretary, will be holding a press conference in about one hour.

There was also a press conference here -- by the way, you're looking at pictures of a drill in New York City. There have been many of those with the Hercules task force over the last several weeks. This is the heavily armed group, part of "Operation Atlas," which is the anti-terrorism task force that's been in operation since March of last year.

Well, what we've got now, in addition to the raising of the terror level in Washington, D.C., to orange, Washington now joins New York City, which has never been below orange. The new reports are that al Qaeda may be targeting financial institutions, corporate headquarters and international organizations in the city.

The United Nations has beefed up security as of this morning. In major financial areas, in lower Manhattan, it's already very strong, but police are saying be particularly vigilant about cars, trucks, people walking into buildings and the possibility of spreading contaminants or chemical weaponry through ventilation systems.

There will be a news conference with the mayor of New York and police commissioner within the next couple of hours, too. We'll be covering this for you.

Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Looks like 4 p.m. eastern, the New York City Mayor Bloomberg and the Commissioner Kelly, they'll be speaking. We'll have live coverage of that, as well.

And at 2 p.m. eastern, about an hour from now, a little bit less than an hour, the homeland security secretary, Tom Ridge, will be holding his news conference here in Washington. We're told he will announce that Washington, D.C., will go from yellow to orange, from elevated to high. He'll explain what's going on.

CNN, of course, will have live coverage. We'll have much more on that coming up.

There are also significant developments happening right now in Iraq, a series of massive explosions, casualties, unfortunately significant numbers of casualties.

CNN's Matthew Chance is joining us now live from Baghdad. He has details on that front.

Matthew?

CHANCE: Wolf, thanks. In a series of devastating explosions across Iraq, apparently targeting this country's small Christian minority.

There's a lot to get through, but we'll start in Baghdad, where we understand now four churches have been targeted and attacked by car bombers in central Baghdad.

Explosions ripping through the streets outside two churches in the Karada district, many dead, many injured. Details of exactly how many, though, haven't come through to us yet from the health ministry, although police on the scene saying at least 27 injured and one killed. But that's a subject to change.

Another two churches subject to car bomb attacks in southern Baghdad. Nine injured there. Again, that casualty figure could actually go up.

In addition to these attacks against the Christian community in Baghdad, we understand now that a further two car bombs have exploded in the north of the country, in the northern city of Mosul, outside a church there.

In all of the incidents, rescue workers have been hurrying to the scene as quickly as possible to extract the dead and injured. Iraq's hospitals, already overstrained at the best of times, have been bending under the load of the dead and injured coming through.

And of course Iraq's Christian community bearing the brunt of what seems to be an orchestrated campaign now against them. Wolf?

BLITZER: Matthew Chance reporting from Baghdad. Another deadly day there. We're going to have much more on what's happening in Iraq here on CNN through the this day.

We're also following the terror threat level here in the United States, specifically in Washington, D.C., where the U.S. homeland security secretary, Tom Ridge, is about to announce it will be elevated from yellow to orange. CNN will have live coverage of his news conference coming up a little bit less than an hour from now, 2 p.m. eastern.

Let's get some discussion on that, as well as presidential politics. Joining us now from Vermont, the former governor of Vermont, Howard Dean, joining us live.

Governor Dean, thanks very much for joining us.

And I want to immediately get your reaction to both of these developing stories. First, the decision by the federal government, the Department of Homeland Security, to increase the threat level here in Washington, D.C., from yellow to orange, from elevated to high. What do you make of this?

HOWARD DEAN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF VERMONT: It's hard to know what to make. None of us outside the administration have access to the intelligence, which led to this determination.

I am concerned that every time something happens that's not good for President Bush he plays this trump card, which is terrorism. His whole campaign is based on the notion that "I can keep you safe, therefore at times of difficulty for America stick with me," and then out comes Tom Ridge.

It's just impossible to know how much of this is real and how much of this is politics, and I suspect there's some of both in it.

BLITZER: Well, when you say that, that's a very serious allegation, that the federal government, Tom Ridge, the president of the United States, may be playing politics with the whole issue of fear and terror threat levels. And I want you to explain specifically, so there's no confusion, what you mean by that.

DEAN: What I mean by that is the president himself has played politics with it. The president is basing his political campaign for re-election on the notion that he ought to be re-elected because terrorism is a danger, and his case to the American people is, "I'm the only person who can get us through this." So of course this is politics.

The question is, do I believe this is being fabricated? No, of course I don't believe that. But I do think that there is politics in this, and the question is, how much is politics and how much is a real threat?

I have no doubt there's a real threat here, but I also -- this is a long history of orange to yellow, yellow to orange, orange to yellow without a lot of explanation.

I find that the warnings -- watch out for somebody walking into buildings, watch out for somebody driving cars, watch out for somebody driving a truck -- that's not very helpful in New York City. It would be very helpful if the federal government would be much more specific about exactly what they'd like to us watch out for as they're raising all these levels.

BLITZER: But isn't it important that if there are serious indicators of a threat out there, that the federal government at least notify those who may be in harm's way to be a little bit more vigilant?

DEAN: Yes, it is very important. And one of the things about this warning, which is different than the previous many, many, many that the Bush administration has given us is they've given us specific cities and specific targets.

The usual pattern of the Bush administration is just come out and tell everybody, "We have chatter, we have chatter, watch out, watch out," and that is totally unhelpful. This at least confines it to a geographic area, and I think that's an improvement.

I think, frankly, that this is an area which I think John Kerry would handle much differently. I think John Kerry would probably wait until he knew exactly what the situation was.

He's also said that he would hire more special forces people, and that's going to be the key to stopping this. We need to stop these people in their own lands, not when they get to ours.

BLITZER: Governor Dean, you were governor of Vermont when Tom Ridge was governor of Pennsylvania. You clearly know him. Is he the kind of man who would play politics with this kind of sensitive subject?

DEAN: Look, I like Tom Ridge. And I knew George Bush, and I like George Bush.

The president himself has said he is playing politics with this. The president himself has said that he ought to be re-elected because of the terrible terrorist danger. I don't see what's the big deal about this. I mean, it's obvious politics has something to do with this.

BLITZER: Well, as I said before, that's a very serious charge that you're making against the president.

DEAN: I don't think it's a serious charge. It's something the president himself has acknowledged.

BLITZER: Well, when you say he's acknowledged, he says this is not...

DEAN: The president's campaign is based on...

BLITZER: Well, let me just say, he says that what he's doing is trying to protect the American people when he and his intelligence community, law enforcement community sense there are threats out there.

DEAN: I have no doubt that the president is trying to protect the American people. That's his job. And I think that's a good thing. I think that's good. That's what he should be doing.

However, when you're going to run on inspiring fear in American people, that's politics.

And there's no way you can get out of accusations and discussions about the relationship between politics and protecting us against terrorism in an election year when the president of the United States is avowedly running his political re-election campaign on the notion that he can protect us better from terrorism than John Kerry can.

BLITZER: Let's move on.

DEAN: I happen to disagree with that. But the president himself made the choice to inject politics into the campaign on terrorism. That was his choice. He's now going to have to live with the consequences.

BLITZER: All right. Let's go on and talk about Iraq, where you see there were more deadly car bombings today. Many, many more casualties, specifically going after some Christian churches in Iraq today. When you take a look at this situation in Iraq, I don't know if you agree or disagree with John Kerry and John Edwards, who both maintain you have to finish this, get the job done, and then leave. They don't want to cut and run.

DEAN: I've always said that. What I believe is what John Kerry believes, that we ought to bring different troops, foreign troops, into the situation.

I was very pleased to see that NATO is now going to send 30 or 40 trainers to Iraq to begin to train Iraqis to police their own nation. I think that's very important.

I was pleased to see the new prime minister of Iraq say that he would impose martial law in order to deal with the terrorist threat. I think those are both appropriate things to do.

BLITZER: Do you think that the president, who's now going on the offensive in this political season after John Kerry, has a point when he makes this statement? And I want to play this excerpt from what he's been saying on the campaign trail since the Democratic Convention.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He spent nearly 20 years in the federal government, and it appears he's concluded that it's just not big enough.

(LAUGHTER)

He's proposed more than $2 trillion of additional federal spending. And he's just getting started.

The problem is, he hasn't told us how he's going to pay for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Does the president, Governor, have a point?

DEAN: Actually, he doesn't. I think this is why so many Americans don't trust the president anymore and don't believe him, either in the Iraq matter or in this matter.

The truth is, the president has presided over an increase in spending that is twice the rate of his predecessor, Bill Clinton. The president has presided over, as we just saw in the papers this past week, over the creation of the largest deficit in the history of America.

The two previous presidents with large deficits were his father and Ronald Reagan. The truth is you can't trust Republicans with your money anymore. The American people know it.

John Kerry is the person who's running in this race that supported Bill Clinton's deficit-reduction package. John Kerry was responsible for voting for a balanced budget. George Bush has never balanced a budget in his life, because in Texas, the lieutenant governor is in charge of the budget, not the governor.

So I think the president not only does not have a point, this is the Republican noise machine. It's blather. It's exactly the opposite of what's going on. The Republicans are big-spending. You can't trust them with taxpayers' money.

BLITZER: The latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, only released at the top of this program an hour ago, showed that among registered voters right now it's Kerry at 50 percent, Bush at 47 percent, but among likely voters, exactly reversed, Bush at 50 percent, Kerry at 47.

The bottom line -- and this poll was taken completely after John Kerry's acceptance speech Thursday night -- it doesn't look like John Kerry got much of a bounce, if anything, out of the convention.

DEAN: I think he probably did get a bounce out of the convention. The most important thing for John Kerry is to become well-known among the American people.

The public has to make two decisions in an election like this, in the middle after the first term of a president. 2000 was only one decision, which guy do you want?

In 2004, the decision is first do you rehire the guy that's there? And the majority of Americans have decided they're not going to do that, at this point. They're leaning against that. That's why the president's numbers are not ever above 50, in terms of his re- elect. Now they've got to decide whether they're going to hire John Kerry, and that's John Kerry's job for the next three and a half months.

I think he did get to know the American people. I think they liked what they saw. We know we're going to have a close race. It's going to be close all the way to November 2nd.

BLITZER: Governor Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, the former Democratic presidential candidate, thanks for spending a few moments with us.

DEAN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, Republicans roll out their rapid response. I'll speak live with Bush-Cheney campaign chairman Marc Racicot.

And later, reaching out: Are African-American voters too loyal to the Democratic party? We'll get insight from the former Democratic presidential candidate Al Sharpton.

And we're following a breaking story here in the nation's capital, the threat level about to go from yellow to orange, from elevated to high. We're standing by for a news conference from Tom Ridge at the top of the hour.

Much more "LATE EDITION" coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There is still time for you to weigh in on our Web question of the week: Is a candidate's military background an important factor when you decide whom to vote for? You can vote right now. Go to cnn.com/lateedition. We'll have the results later this hour.

But up next, with the Democratic Convention now over, the spotlight shifts to New York City and the Republican Convention. I'll speak live about GOP strategy with the campaign chairman, the Bush- Cheney campaign chairman, that would be Governor Marc Racicot.

You're watching "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A beautiful picture of Washington, D.C., where shortly the federal government will announce that the nation's capital is going on a higher threat level, from yellow to orange, from elevated to high. Washington, D.C., will now join New York City, two American cities on a high threat level. New York City has been at a high level ever since 9/11.

Two p.m., less than an hour from now, the secretary of homeland security will have a news conference here in Washington. Tom Ridge will make the announcement, give the explanation, precisely what's going on. CNN will have live coverage.

But joining us now, the chairman of the Bush-Cheney campaign, the former governor of Montana, Marc Racicot.

Governor, thanks very much for joining us.

MARC RACICOT, CHAIRMAN, BUSH-CHENEY CAMPAIGN: Thank you.

BLITZER: You're in Washington, D.C., now. You're not in Montana anymore. You hear about this -- and you have a convention coming up less than a month from now, at the end of this month, end of August, in New York City -- what goes through your mind?

RACICOT: Well, we know, of course, that we have the extraordinary commitment of law enforcement, both at the federal, state and local level. They're focused and working together. We know that clearly.

And we, of course, know the world is different since 9/11 as well. So you have to be vigilant, and you have to be concerned.

But we're confident that things are unfolding as they should and will unfold as they should.

BLITZER: The Democratic Convention in Boston, there was enormous security. I was up there throughout that convention, enormous security going in, going out. They shut down an interstate right near the Fleet Center in Boston.

What's it going to be like in New York City for your convention, the Republican Convention?

RACICOT: Well, I don't know the precise plans, obviously, the law enforcement is going to put in place, in terms of which streets and byways are going to have some challenges that normally wouldn't be there.

But we know that -- in fact, they have carefully scrutinized virtually every conceivable possible thing that could occur, and they are making preparations for all of those things, although, in this post-9/11 world, there is always a level of concern.

So we're focused on it, and we're greatly confident in all of them in New York City to focus on it as well.

BLITZER: I don't know if you heard the end of the interview I just did with Howard Dean, your former colleague, the former governor of Vermont -- you're the former governor of Montana -- in which he said the president already is playing politics with this war on terror, trying to use this to bolster his own domestic support. I wonder if you'd want to respond.

RACICOT: Well, you know, I've known Howard a long time. We worked together. And that's a disappointment to me, quite frankly. Obviously, he has become over the course of time a national spokesperson. He ran a presidential campaign. I think it's reckless and irresponsible.

He knows Tom Ridge exceptionally well. He knows George W. Bush exceptionally well. As Joe Lieberman said when he was sitting in this very chair just earlier in your program, he's absolutely confident that no one would engage in that sort of thing.

And to suggest that, I think, corrodes the confidence of the people of this country. And Howard, quite frankly, should perform in a different fashion, in my view.

BLITZER: I think what he was also suggesting is when the president goes out on the stump and repeatedly talks about how strong he is in this war on terror, in effect, he's politicizing this issue.

RACICOT: Well, one of the central issues of any campaign is security, personal family security. Young mothers of young children in this country want to know if they're going to be safe and secure. Will their children have to go to war at some future point in time if we don't address these issues now?

There are virtually -- every citizen in the United States of America has a concern about personal safety, family safety, international security. So these are natural concerns that get brought up every single day. And I would suggest that virtually all of the candidates have had to address that topic.

BLITZER: Were you surprised by this latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, which has just been released, which effectively shows this is a neck and neck race, well within the margin of error? And it doesn't look, based on these polling numbers that we've just received, that the Democratic ticket didn't get much -- doesn't look like they got a bounce at all out of this convention.

RACICOT: Well, it's interesting to note, but it is just a snapshot. The president has told us from the very beginning we should run every day as if we are behind and that this was going to be a very close contest. He humbly believes that to be the case and realizes we have to work exceptionally hard.

So it is interesting to note. It's heartening, quite frankly, for this moment. But by tomorrow, of course, we'll realize that anything can change from day to day and that we have to continue to work hard virtually every day.

BLITZER: Are these numbers consistent with -- your campaign does daily tracking numbers as well -- consistent with what you're hearing?

RACICOT: You know, frankly, we don't, as far as I know. And as a consequence of that, we depend a lot on the public polling until it gets closer to the election, and then there are some opportunities to know a little bit more about what occurs on a daily basis.

BLITZER: Maybe I should rephrase it. Does the Republican Party do these internal polling numbers as opposed to the campaign?

RACICOT: No, honestly, the polls that we rely upon there and discuss there at the campaign are the polls taken by CNN, Gallup, Fox. All of the polls, we try to paint a composite picture with. And then proceed, realizing that it's just a snapshot for a moment but nonetheless important, gives us an insight into what we ought to be doing.

BLITZER: I think almost everyone agrees the Democrats did a pretty good job at their convention explaining their ticket, getting people to know John Kerry's Vietnam War record.

What's the biggest challenge that you see the president and the vice president facing right now in their bid to get reelected?

RACICOT: Well, I think that the comparisons between John Kerry and the president are stark and remarkable.

Frankly, I think there was some success by some people at the Democratic Convention. I thought former President Clinton, although not confined by the facts, in my judgment, I think he was wrong on the facts, in terms of delivery, style, probably received high points. So did Barack Obama. I thought he was an impressive presenter.

In reference to Senator Kerry, it was interesting for me to note that out of 20 years in the United States Senate, he spent very little time talking about that. I think in excess of 70 out of 7,000 words. That's a long time. Then, of course, when I realized that there were only nine pieces of legislation, resolutions and bills that he introduced and got passed over the course of that 20 years, why there wasn't a lot to discuss.

And when you talk about how he focused upon intelligence, I thought it was interesting to note that he was on the Intelligence Committee for eight years, but he missed something like 38 out of 47 meetings that were held, public hearings.

BLITZER: You've clearly done your opposition research.

RACICOT: We have, because we think that these comparisons are going to be made.

You know, when you take a look at John Kerry, where he's been with national defense, Wolf, all the way from the Cold War, he was on the wrong side of that, to Grenada, to the first Iraq war.

BLITZER: But they tried to show -- they didn't make the direct comparison -- that when John Kerry graduated from college he volunteered and went and fought, fought bravely in Vietnam, at a time when George W. Bush, when he graduated from college, joined the Texas Air National Guard, effectively, their suggestion, to stay out of Vietnam.

RACICOT: You know, I grew up in that period of time, too. And all of us served in a different fashion at a different time.

George Bush served this nation honorably for six years -- two years of active duty, flying dangerous aircraft on dangerous missions.

BLITZER: Over Texas.

RACICOT: Over -- no, not just over Texas, all over the United States of America. That was the mission assignment.

And we've always said that the service of John Kerry should be honored, and believe that. But it's been 35 years since then, Wolf, and what has he done in those 35 years?

The fact of the matter is, when you take a look at how he's made decisions on national defense, he's been on the minority side, on the wrong side, virtually every single time.

And as a consequence of that, I think it is going to be one of those comparisons that are made by the American people, to determine, OK, who can we trust, who is this guy? What would he do in similar circumstances? Why would he vote for the Iraq war and then vote not to fund it? Those kinds of things are going to be relevant.

BLITZER: Governor Racicot, thanks for joining us.

RACICOT: Thank you.

BLITZER: And needless to say, good luck at that Republican Convention in New York City. We'll all be there covering it thoroughly, just as we covered...

RACICOT: I'll look forward to seeing you. Thank you. BLITZER: ... the Democratic Convention.

We'll take a quick break. We'll have much more coming up, including a check of what's happening right now in the news, including some late terror threat warnings being issued in Washington, D.C., and New York City.

And, later, former Democratic presidential candidate Al Sharpton, he'll weigh in on all of this.

Much more "LATE EDITION" coming up.

(HEADLINES)

BLITZER: Just ahead, passing the torch to a new generation of Democrats. Is the party undergoing a makeover? My conversation with former Democratic presidential candidate Al Sharpton. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. AL SHARPTON, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We didn't get the mule. So we decided we'd ride this donkey as far as it would take us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Former Democratic presidential candidate Al Sharpton delivering an emotional speech at the Democratic Convention in Boston, in part responding to President Bush's question about whether the Democratic Party takes African-American voters for granted.

Joining us now from New York, Al Sharpton.

Reverend Sharpton, thanks very much for joining us.

We'll get to politics in a moment, but I wonder if you'd want to react to the news of the moment here in the United States, that the secretary of homeland security about to announce at the top of the hour that Washington, D.C., will go on a heightened level of alert, from yellow to orange, from elevated to high, because of some specific threats here in Washington, D.C., joining your hometown, New York City, at this higher level of threat right now.

What do you make of this?

SHARPTON: Well, I think we've got to be careful not to have a partisan, knee-jerk reaction.

Clearly, as one that, as you say, is from and lives in New York and was here during September 11th, we should take any threat seriously, and we should unite to try and protect the American people. Whatever the politics is is not more important than that. And I think we need to wait and see. We do not have the intelligence information. So, since the present administration does, I think we have to wait and see and abide by whatever they tell us at this point.

Anyone that lived through the horror of September 11th would act responsibly. I don't want to, in any way, be as irresponsible as I have accused the administration's supporters of being.

BLITZER: So in other words, you tend to agree with Joe Lieberman, the Democratic senator from Connecticut, the former vice presidential nominee, who doesn't believe that the president or the secretary of homeland security would play politics with this issue, as opposed to Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, who was just on this program, who's accusing the president, to a certain degree, of playing politics with this whole war on terror?

SHARPTON: I think the president has used terrorism as a centerpiece of his campaign, and I think that the president has certainly said to the American people that, in so many words, he's better at this than Kerry.

I happen not to believe that. I think the candidate that we have, Kerry, would do a better job.

But I also think in the light of threats, we cannot without any evidence say this is just politics, because we don't know that.

And I think that, given my suspicions of him and certain things done in the past, I would not in the wake of new information with no data to back it up just say, "This is what that is," because I don't know that.

And I know that we have already been attacked, and we can't discount any threat without any information or any basis of making that discounting.

BLITZER: All right. So you're willing to give the administration, at least for now, the benefit of the doubt. Is that right?

SHARPTON: I'm willing to give them the benefit of further information, being that 3,000 people did die in the city I'm sitting in. And that is not something that either party, I think, could tolerate the threat of that happening again.

BLITZER: Now, the people are dying today in Iraq. A series of car bombings, explosions at Christian churches in Baghdad, in Mosul. It looks like five of them were attacked, significant numbers of casualties. A coordinated attack against, at least, the Iraqi Christian community, which is historic, significant. About a million Iraqis are Christians. This is a worrisome new development.

SHARPTON: Yes, this is very troubling. As you know, I am a Christian minister, and to think that now we're seeing targeted religious killings is horrifying. As well as it also begs for a strategy of how we deal with the continued presence there.

I think it also begs to remind the American people of the dangers of this disengagement in the first place, something that I was always against.

And we're going from bad to worse, with no clear strategy from the president on how to get out of this, let alone how to continue to see what is going on now between Iraqis and Iraqi Christians. I mean, this is going from bad to worse, with no clear vision expressed from the president on how to deal with it.

BLITZER: Well, what would you do if you could have your way?

SHARPTON: I think that what the presidential candidacy of John Kerry has said is right.

We've got to work with other forces in the world, go in with more forces to stabilize this and plan a withdrawal. We can't act as though if we continue the course that we are now that somehow it will get better by some effort that no one is making.

I think that we've got to end this in a way that stabilizes, that is inclusive of the world, but that we can't continue in a strategy that clearly is not working, and we're seeing different situations occur every day. And this is extremely troubling now. We're seeing Christians targeted.

BLITZER: Are you surprised that in our brand new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll it doesn't look like the Kerry-Edwards ticket got much of a bounce, if any bounce, out of this convention?

SHARPTON: Well, I mean, again, I don't think many of us felt there would be a huge bounce. I think the media set timetables or set a bounce schedule based on other times in presidential politics. I think we're in the first post-9/11 presidential election. I think people are clearly responding to politics differently.

And I think that when you look at the fact that the incumbent, in these times of threat is under 50 percent consistently, that's more to me of a political story than whether or not someone got the bounce that you would traditionally get in times that were very much different than the times we're in.

BLITZER: How motivated is the African-American community right now, going into this election?

SHARPTON: I think very motivated. From my travels, I think that the African-American community understands what's at stake, in terms of judicial appointments, in terms of how this administration has related or not related.

I mean, this president has not met with the Congressional Black Caucus, the elected representatives of black America, but one time in four years. Never met with the NAACP; hasn't met with labor. There's no way you can have African-Americans inclusive in war but exclusive in the input in policy, foreign and domestic. And where I've gone and where I've traveled, I've seen, in my opinion, exceptional galvanizing in the African-American community, and I think that will continue.

BLITZER: Unfortunately, Reverend Sharpton, we have to leave it right there. We're all out of time. The Reverend Al Sharpton, thanks very much for joining us.

SHARPTON: Thank you.

BLITZER: We'll continue this conversation down the road.

We're following a breaking story here in the United States right now. The terror threat level here in Washington, D.C., is about to be raised. You're looking at a live picture from over the Department of Homeland Security. Tom Ridge getting ready to hold a news conference there. We'll go there live once that news conference begins. We expect it to begin at the top of the hour.

Much more "LATE EDITION" when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're looking at a live picture over the Department of Homeland Security here in Washington, D.C. The secretary, Tom Ridge, about to hold a news conference. He's going to announce that the threat level here is Washington, D.C., the nation's capital, is about to be elevated. We'll go their live once that news conference begins.

In the meantime, he's been highly critical of President Bush on issues ranging from taxes to the war on terror. Now he's laying out his case against the Bush White House in a new book, "Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency." Just a little while ago, I spoke with Senator Robert Byrd about all of this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Senator Byrd, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome to "LATE EDITION."

SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Thank you.

BLITZER: What do you do now in Iraq? If John Kerry is elected president, with the cards he's dealt?

BYRD: He needs to have a plan. He says he does. He's there. We're there. We need to get out with honor.

BLITZER: How do you do that? How do you get out with honor in your opinion?

BYRD: Well, I think first of all, we need to restore the integrity of this country in the image of the world community, in the context of the world community. The world community sees the face -- it was the face of a giant, and then it became the face of a bully. And we need a new face in order to restore confidence in the other countries in us.

BLITZER: But there are some who would suggest who opposed the war, and you know you did as well, there are some who suggest he ought to just pick an exit strategy, get a date and start withdrawing. But John Kerry doesn't take that stance, neither does John Edwards. They say you can't just cut and run.

BYRD: Well, we're not going to cut and run. I've heard that until I'm sick of it. Cut and run? We need to bring our men and women out with honor.

BLITZER: Let me read another thing you write in your book. George Tenet, the former CIA director, "told us then" -- this was before the war -- "as he has since told Congress and the public that no tangible evidence connected Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks. He also had no hard evidence confirming development of a nuclear program in Iraq. There was virtually no link between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein in the days before. We created a hotbed for terrorists wrath by attacking Iraq."

You understood that and you opposed going to war in Iraq, but both John Kerry and John Edwards voted, together for the president's authorization to go to war.

BYRD: Let me tell you what the difference may have been. I saw the newspapers that said Karl Rove on January 19, 2002...

BLITZER: 2002.

BYRD: 2002, Had spoken to the National Republican Committee in Austin, Texas, at which point he said to them, in essence, this is a horse which we can ride to the election. The American people trust the Republican Party to defend the country better, and he was talking about the so-called war on terrorism.

And when he said that, and then I saw Mr. Bush out speaking at every speech that seemed -- that I saw him make on television, had a background of the National Guard, or reservists, a military group, flags flying, bugles blowing, and I felt that he was putting into action this suggestion that Karl Rove, the guru of the Republican Party, had suggested.

BLITZER: So what are you saying, that they went to war for domestic political purposes?

BYRD: I cannot help but believe that he heard and the Republican Party heard Karl Rove when said that. They thought this was a good opportunity. This was a horse we will ride. We can win on this election, and that's what they did.

BLITZER: But don't you accept what they themselves say, that after 9/11, and we're approaching the third anniversary of 9/11, that for America the world changed?

BYRD: It did change. Everybody knew that. The French paper, Le Monde, says we're all Americans. Of course. We had great sympathy among the other countries of the world then. But this administration squandered it.

BLITZER: You've been in the Senate since 1959, the longest- serving U.S. senator. What's next on your agenda? What do you need to do?

BYRD: I need to keep on fighting for the Constitution. That's what I'm doing in this book here. That's exactly -- I wrote this book here in order to save this book here, the Constitution of the United States. This administration has put the Constitution aside, as it were, time after time after time. They've ignored the Constitution of the United States.

BLITZER: One example where Bush ignored the Constitution?

BYRD: Well, he ignored the Constitution when he tried to loosen the strings time after time after time that the Congress puts on appropriations. And this book, this Constitution, says that the power to appropriate is vested in the Congress of the United States. And the Bush administration time after time has ignored the Constitution.

BLITZER: But they've violated what the Congress appropriates? Is that what you're saying?

BYRD: Well, it likes to ignore the Constitution -- this administration does.

BLITZER: Well, I'm hearing you say that they deal with the appropriations issue. But every executive branch, every president, Democrat and Republican -- they try to do that.

BYRD: Well, this president of ours ignored the Constitution, ignored the Constitution when it decided that it wanted to go to war in Iraq.

BLITZER: How did they ignore the Constitution?

BYRD: By failing to work with the other countries of the world.

BLITZER: That says that in the Constitution?

BYRD: Doesn't say it precisely in the Constitution. But this administration time and again has ignored the Constitution. You can see it in the way that this administration has tried to reach -- make power grabs for more and more power.

BYRD: This is a power-grabbing administration, and it ignores the Constitution, which says that Congress shall declare war, and Congress shall appropriate the moneys. Now, not only...

BLITZER: Let me just ask you this one question. On the war in Iraq, the president did ask for authorization, and he got a lopsided in favor in October before the war from both the Senate and the House.

BYRD: Yes, he did that. He manipulated the Congress into voting on a resolution shifting the power that is the power of the Congress under the Constitution to him, to declare war and to use the military forces of the United States as he will, when he will, where he will. And that power still to this day rests in his hand...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: It sounds to me like the criticism that you're expressing is more on Congress than on the executive branch.

BYRD: This book does not let the Congress go without criticism. I've criticized the Congress also. I think we were weak. I said in a speech on the Senate floor that the Senate stood mute, and that we failed to ask questions when we should have asked questions, and in passing that resolution in October of 2002, we shifted the power to declare war away from this Constitution, and we handed it to one man. And I say that the framers of this Constitution must have been spinning in their graves when they did that. So I blame the Congress in that instance. We failed.

BLITZER: And among other things you write in your book, you write, "Washington has rarely seen a political vacuum filler to equal Donald Rumsfeld. Congress has of course been that vacuum, unwilling to assert its power, cowed, timid, and deferential toward the Bush administration, a virtual paralytic."

BYRD: Yes, absolutely. I criticize the Congress. I also criticize the media for not asking questions. The media took all this in line, hook, line and sinker. And when the war drums began to beat, we just fell in, and the media, along with the Congress and the president, are all joint participants in failing to live up to this Constitution.

I also say that the people have failed in not being aware, not asking questions...

BLITZER: There's a lot of blame to go around.

BYRD: ... and not focusing on what we were doing.

BLITZER: The name of the book is "Losing America." The senator, Robert Byrd, from West Virginia, the guest.

Thanks very much.

BYRD: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And we're standing by for Tom Ridge, the secretary of homeland security, about to make an announcement on terror threat levels here in the United States. We'll have live coverage. We'll take a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

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