SHOW: CNN WOLF BLITZER REPORTS 17:00
February 10, 2004 Tuesday
HEADLINE: Showdown in the South; Did Bush Complete Guard Duty?
GUESTS: George Pataki, Kathleen Blanco, William Cohen, Peter King, Harold Ford
BYLINE: Wolf Blitzer, William Schneider, Kelly Wallace, Dan Lothian, Candy Crowley, Joe Johns, Brent Sadler, Suzanne Malveaux, Kelli Arena, Allan Chernoff, Jennifer Coggiola
Showdown in the South. Then, has President Bush completed military duty?
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
REP. PETER KING ®, NEW YORK: I think it's strictly a Democratic attempt right now.
And there's nothing there. The fact is, President Bush served his country honorably. He served in the National Guard. If there was any problem at all, it would have come out long before this. He wouldn't have gotten the honorable discharge. The person in Texas who was responsible for making sure that he put in the requisite amount of time did that. I think it's really unfortunate to raise it.
And let me just say, John Kerry has an outstanding war record. President Bush served his country honorably. If his unit had been activated, he would have gone to Vietnam. So I think it's a phony issue to raise. I think there's real important issues where President Bush and Senator Kerry have real disagreements. And let's get it on with that.
BLITZER: All right, what about that, Congressman Ford?
REP. HAROLD FORD (D), TENNESSEE: Fair enough.
BLITZER: You don't think it's-you're not willing to suggest it's a real issue? You want to move on and talk about substance? Is that what you're saying?
FORD: The president says he was honorably discharged. And there's evidence to show he served. Fair enough. Let's move on.
There are more important issues, whether we should report a director of national intelligence, whether we should fully fund No Child Left Behind, many, many issues on the table. And we are ready to debate those issues and to talk about our future.
BLITZER: All right, Congressman Ford, Tennessee holding a primary tonight. What's your sense? Where do the Democrats go from here? The polls, at least going into today, showed Senator Kerry, your candidate winning Tennessee and Virginia.
We'll have to wait a few hours to see if what happens. But what do you see happening?
FORD: We feel good about the direction of the numbers. We feel good about our momentum. We think, after tonight, we'll be a step closer to Boston and having the requisite number of delegates to claim the nomination and to prepare for what we believe will be a fierce and formidable candidate in George Bush in the fall.
One of the things I think will come out of the Tennessee and Virginia results, in addition to John Kerry doing well, is that voters in the South are interested in issues. They're interested in candidates who will come and talk about answers to our intelligence challenge issues, relating to our budget and how we balance it. It will take a lot more than rhetoric and a lot of big talking and tough talking to win the voters in the South.
It is going to take real answers and real ideas. And we're presenting them.
BLITZER: Congressman King, in the most recent CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll, it shows a very potentially competitive race between Kerry and Bush.
Where do you see John Kerry-and he's got almost 20 years in the Senate-most vulnerable, from the Republican perspective?
KING: I think, for instance, in the issue of the war against terrorism. I think Senator Kerry has to have a more coherent policy.
For instance, as far as Iraq, he is very critical of President Bush, but he really doesn't say what he would have done, other than to wait until France and Germany came on board. I can make the point that John Kerry wants to give France and Germany a veto power over our foreign policy.
FORD: That's not true.
KING: No, I think it's a legitimate point to make. And John Kerry will have to say what he would have done differently.
The fact is, President Bush did all he did to get the allies on board. And we got the overwhelming majority of European nations to go with us. France and Germany held out. And President Bush went forward. And Senator Kerry is very critical of that.
BLITZER: Congressman Ford, go ahead.
FORD: Here's what President Kerry would do, will do now.
He will go back before the world community and create incentives for them to join us, the Chinese, the Russians, the members of the Arab community, including France and Germany, who want to be a part of an effort to root out terrorism, not only in Iraq and the Middle East, but who want to transform that region. John Kerry recognizes that we are stronger when the world is with us.
He would have had a different approach than George Bush. He supports removing Saddam Hussein, believes we are safer with him behind bars, but fully understands that America's standing in the world is not as strong as it was three years ago. If we elect a new president, not only will we be stronger here in America, but we'll get a step closer to transforming the Middle East and making it safer.
BLITZER: Congressman King, there's a clear difference between Kerry and Bush on the issue of tax cuts. The president wants to make permanent the tax cuts he got through the Congress in the past few years. Are you comfortable, given the state of the economy, the jobs that have been lost, are you comfortable with that stand personally?
KING: Absolutely. The way to bring jobs back is to have tax incentives, to cut marginal tax rates. It worked under President Kennedy. It worked under President Reagan. It's working right now.
And let's keep in mind, this recession began when Bill Clinton was still the president. We lost many hundreds of thousands jobs before President Bush had the opportunity to take any action whatsoever. Then we had September 11. We, right now, have the fastest growing economy in 20 years. More people own homes than ever before in our nation's history. The housing construction is at record highs, also.
BLITZER: Why are you smiling? You're smiling, Congressman Ford.
FORD: I'm just curious. When is the statute of limitations up on blaming Bill Clinton? We blame him for everything.
We've lost 65,000 in Tennessee. The Carrier Corporation is about to let a few more go here in the next few days. What we need not only is a new plan to create jobs. We probably need a new president. And come November, the voters will have an opportunity to hear-I should say between now and November-the voters will have a chance to hear competing plans and competing ideas.
We believe we should lower taxes on small businesses, the real generators of jobs, lower taxes on middle-class family. But if you earn a quarter of a million dollars more a year-and there are some people sitting in the studio and watching this show who do-we believe you should suspend your cuts to make investments in education and health care. That's the debate we will have and that's the debate we look forward to in the fall.
BLITZER: Congressman King, very quickly, you get the last word. Go ahead.
KING: That's a debate we look forward to. The fact is, John Kennedy said, a rising tide lifts all ships and tax cuts across the board are what make America work, increase both supply and demand. That's the key to a healthy economy.
FORD: Three words for you, Wolf. Bring it on. We look forward to it.
KING: These guys are broken records. But I love Harold Ford, so I can't get too mad at him.
BLITZER: "Veil of Tears," that's the new book by Congressman King. We recommend it.
BLITZER: We'll talk about that on another occasion. Thanks to both of you for joining us.
We've seen it before and we're sure to see it again this primary season, the ultimate concession speech, when a candidate bows out of the race.
CNN's Jennifer Coggiola is joining us now live with a right and a wrong way to do it-Jennifer.
JENNIFER COGGIOLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. Hey, Wolf.
Well, it's the timing, the emotion, or lack thereof, and the attitude. How candidates bow out says a lot about their character and possibly about their future.
COGGIOLA (voice-over): When it's time to go, it's time to go. Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, EISENHOWER CENTER: So, I think, with Nixon, you see both the right way to do it and the wrong way to do it.
COGGIOLA: Richard Nixon, 1960, lost to John F. Kennedy by the slimmest margin. And although the Republican Party urged him to contest it, he opted not to and graciously dropped out. But cut to two years later. Nixon loses the California governor's race.
RICHARD NIXON ®, CALIFORNIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore.
COGGIOLA: Another poor losing strategy, according to Brinkley, Ted Kennedy, whose gracious concession speech was followed by a less than gracious rub on Jimmy Carter later at the convention.
BRINKLEY: So, you live your life as a biography. And you have chapters in it. And how you handle yourself in times of adversity and crisis defines you.
COGGIOLA: A lesson for this season's candidates.
STUART ROTHENBERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The best way is to say you fought the good fight, congratulate the winners, say you made a contribution and you're going to continue to work to help the party. That way, you've pleased everybody.
REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D), MISSOURI: I love this country. And I love my family.
COGGIOLA: That, political pundits say, is exactly what the latest rounds of Democratic concession speeches have accomplished.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. Thank you.
COGGIOLA: To bow out gracefully or make like a sore loser, choices candidate make that could write their last chapter in those history books-Wolf.
BLITZER: Good advice to some of the candidates right now.
Jennifer Coggiola, thank you very much.
The cat's out of the bag. It's a story stretching from Asia to Omaha, details in our picture of the day. You'll want to see this-that and the results of our "Web Question of the Day" when we come back.
BLITZER: Something new at the zoo, it's our picture of the day.
These Indo-Chinese tiger cubs made their official debut today at the Omaha, Nebraska, Zoo. They were born December 23, but have spent the last seven weeks in seclusion with their mother. The parents came from a zoo in Malaysia. And the entire family is part of a genetic diversity program that includes zoos in San Diego and Brooklyn.
Here's how you're weighing in on our "Web Question of the Day": Does President Bush's releasing his military records clear up questions about his service? Forty percent of you said yes; 60 percent said no. As always, we remind you, this is not a scientific poll.
Let's get to some of your e-mail. We are getting flood with e- mail, many of our viewers writing about the release of President Bush's military records.
Charlie writes this: "I thought all these records and pay stubs were looked for very hard when Bush was running for governor. It seems a bit fishy that these records are all of sudden found two days after an on-air request from Tim Russert."
Grant asks this: "Are we really supposed to believe that no one in the Alabama Air National Guard can remember serving with an individual who became president? While 30 years is a long time, I can remember who I served with in the Korean War and none of them became president or had a father who was a president."
And this from Peter: "There are real issues plaguing the country, from the economy to terrorism. But the issues on the president about his military service will do nothing to fix those problems. Let us get back to what is important."
A reminder, you can always catch WOLF BLITZER REPORTS weekdays at this time, 5:00 p.m. Eastern. Tune in tonight for our special coverage of America votes 2004, the Tennessee and Virginia primaries. Our complete coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, in one hour. Then, join me at 11:00 p.m. Eastern. We'll have all the latest numbers, analysis and impact of today's Southern showdown.
Until then, thanks very much for watching.
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