updated 8/29/2004 5:33:58 PM ET 2004-08-29T21:33:58

Guests: Jack Carter, Chrissy Gephardt, Tucker Quayle, Steve Ford, Skip Humphrey, Tony Fabrizio, Mark Penn

ANNOUNCER:  DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT.

DEBORAH NORVILLE, HOST:  The Republicans take Manhattan.  Bush-bashing protesters and terror jitters have the Big Apple on edge as the state is set for the GOP‘s main event, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney taking their fight for reelection to Madison Square Garden.  The challenge?  Score a knockout with moderate Republican headliners and hang onto that conservative base.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAT BUCHANAN ®, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The American people are not going to go back to the discredited liberalism of the 1960s!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NORVILLE:  Tonight, a preview of the 2004 Republican national convention with Steve Ford, Chrissy Gephardt, Skip Humphrey, Tucker Quayle and Jack Carter.  Plus, the pollsters.  Are those swift boat ads working or backlashing?  Have the swing states swung?  And what do voters really care about?  And is there an Israeli spy in the Pentagon?  Word tonight of an FBI investigation into a senior Pentagon analyst who may have passed secret U.S. information about Iran to Israel.

ANNOUNCER:  From studio 3K in Rockefeller Center, Deborah Norville.

NORVILLE:  And good evening, everybody.  Our all-star panel of the sons and daughters of past presidents, vice presidents and candidates will join me in just a moment to preview the Republican national convention.

But first, we want to check out this developing story that‘s coming out of Washington tonight, the FBI investigating a possible Israeli spy inside the Pentagon.  The person in question a, quote, “senior analyst,” who may have passed classified information about secret White House deliberations on Iran.  The suspect has not been named tonight, but federal law enforcement officials are saying that the suspect does work in the office of undersecretary for defense policy Douglas Feith.  He is a key aide to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Joining me now is MSNBC security analyst Steve Emerson to give us some light on all of this.  Steve, what can you tell us about this defense analyst that‘s under investigation?

STEVE EMERSON, MSNBC SECURITY ANALYST:  Well, there‘s a lot of swirl, as you‘ve noted (UNINTELLIGIBLE) developing story, but apparently, he was a well-respected veteran analyst.  Apparently, he had been stationed at one point as an attache in Israeli, somebody who had worked in the Pentagon for more than two decades.  And apparently, at least, according to the people I‘ve just spoken to at the Pentagon, it started off as a mishandling of classified information, which sometimes gets officials into trouble when they take classified information home.

The question really now becomes what information, if any, was passed to other people, who then, in turn, passed it to Israel?  And that‘s what is being investigated by the FBI.

NORVILLE:  It is my understanding that the information in question has to do with what plans the United States might be considering vis-a-vis any action being undertaken against Iran.  Can you tell us any more about that?

EMERSON:  Well, Deborah, the only thing that I know is that at least what was cited so far on the wires, and I don‘t have any more specific information, was  that there was a draft directive of a presidential policy against Iran, or at least about Iran.  Apparently, that had been the information that had been leaked.  Now, that in and of itself, while never should have been released to anybody outside the U.S. government, doesn‘t constitute the most classified information in the world.  So I suspect if this investigation is to go further, there must be other materials that they suspect of being passed on, if any.

NORVILLE:  What about the Israeli connection?  There‘s also on the wires some information that at the heart of the investigation are, quote, “two people who work at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.”  That‘s called AIPAC.  That‘s a really powerful Israeli lobby in Washington.

EMERSON:  Well, again—again, it‘s the stuff that‘s that‘s on the wires, at this point.  Apparently, two staffers at AIPAC, which is the pro-Israeli lobby, have been accused or at least linked with having received some of that information from that Pentagon defense analyst, and in turn, having passed it over to Israel.  AIPAC—the organization denies it.  The Israelis deny it.  So we really don‘t know yet how this will play out.

NORVILLE:  Well, because we don‘t know exactly what information got handed over, it‘s difficult to sort of take it to any kind of conclusion right now.  But I can imagine that there are plenty of people in the administration who are throwing their hands up in the air, going, My goodness.  It‘s the most tricky situation right now in the Middle East.  This is the last thing we need, the allegation that our information might be being shared with Israel.

EMERSON:  Well, I‘m certain people are very chagrined that anything like this could ever emerge.  Perhaps—obviously, there‘s really—at this point, Deborah, I think only really the FBI is fully aware of the magnitude of the problem, and I think we‘ll find out in the next few days.  The Pentagon itself was only apprised of this investigation a couple of days ago, and there‘s been a lot of rumoring and information sort of being passed around the corridors there, but not all of it being confirmed.

NORVILLE:  Real quick.  If the Pentagon just found out about this two days ago, how long do they suspect this has been going on?

EMERSON:  Oh, I think the investigation, at least, according to what I‘ve seen now—the investigation‘s been going on for a least a year-and-a-half.  The suspicion is there may have been some type of leak for the last two years.

NORVILLE:  Wow.  All right.  Steve Emerson, thank you very much for your insights.  We appreciate it.

And of course, when anything like this happens, it always impacts on a campaign, when one is in full swing, as the presidential campaign is right now.  And of course, the Republican campaign kicks off here in New York City on Monday.  Here to talk about it is our ace team of political insiders.  Tucker Quayle, the son of former Vice President Dan Quayle, is with us here in New York.  Also with us tonight in New York, Chrissy Gephardt.  She‘s the daughter of past presidential candidate, Congressman Dick Gephardt.  Also tonight, Skip Humphrey.  His father, Hubert Humphrey, was Lyndon Johnson‘s vice president.  Steven Ford is joining us, as well.  He‘s the son of former president Gerald Ford.  And filling out the panel, Jack Carter, son of former president Jimmy Carter.  I thank you all for being here.

And let me just get your reaction to this unexpected news that there could be a spy in our midst.  Steven Ford, how do you think that‘s going to impact what happens here in New York come Monday?

STEVEN FORD, SON OF FORMER PRESIDENT GERALD FORD:  Well, I‘d really have to hear more about it to know the details.  It‘s so sketchy right now.  But it doesn‘t matter whether you‘re a Democrat or a Republican, you know, having a spy that‘s within the government is not a good thing.

NORVILLE:  Tucker, you‘re here in New York.  I don‘t know if you‘ll have a chance to be a part of some of the GOP goings-on this coming week.  I suspect you will.  What do you think is going through the minds of party planners right now??

TUCKER QUAYLE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE‘S SON:  I think right now, they‘re just concerned about, you know, figuring out if there is a spy and figuring out what the evidence is.  And you know, if there is, thank goodness it‘s being caught.  I mean, I think that‘s, you know, one plus for the FBI in what‘s going on.  At the other end, it‘s—you know, the administration really has to figure out, you know, how‘d this guy get in and how‘d they slip through their fingers like that.  And so there‘s a little bit of, you know, backpedaling, maybe a little spinning of how this event‘s going to happen.

NORVILLE:  Yes.  Chrissy?

CHRISSY GEPHARDT, REP. DICK GEPHARDT‘S DAUGHTER:  You know, I just think that this is—unfortunately, it‘s really not a political issue...

NORVILLE:  Right.

GEPHARDT:  ... in terms of, you know, Democrats or Republicans.  This is a national security issue.  And I hope that they can get to the bottom of it as soon as possible.

NORVILLE:  Yes, but national security is something we‘re talking about.  We‘re in a presidential campaign.  The question is, who is best suited to lead you in times of stress, and this is exactly the sort of thing that the Republican Party isn‘t going to want.

I want to throw the latest poll data up there.  If the election were held today—and this is an NBC News poll that was released just yesterday.  If the election were held today, George Bush would receive 47 percent of the vote.  The Kerry ticket would receive 45 percent of the vote.  And Ralph Nader‘s still on there, so he gets 3 percent for hanging in, I guess.  This is a toss-up, and every other poll says the same thing.

Jack Carter, what do you make of this?

JACK CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER‘S SON:  These poll results, I think, have been come exactly the—in line with all the rest of them.  It‘s a very close race.  I think if you analyze the undecided, they are probably heavily weighted against the direction that the country is taking.  But I think it‘s a close race, and it‘s up to Kerry to attract those still undecided voters and get them in his camp, if he‘s going to win.

NORVILLE:  And Skip Humphrey out there in Minnesota, is John Kerry positioned to do that?  He‘s taken a lot of lumps for the last two weeks because of these swift boat ads.

HUBERT “SKIP” HUMPHREY III, VICE PRESIDENT HUBERT HUMPHREY‘S SON: 

Well, I think he is, Deborah.  Yesterday, John Kerry was in town, and he had a fantastic reception up in one of the suburban areas, which is one of the core areas where he‘s got to win those votes.  He had a very positive response.  So I think there‘s a real good shot here.  But like the others are saying, this is a very close race.  I have not seen a race where people have made up their mind, by and large, as early as they seem to have already done.

NORVILLE:  And yet when you look at that core group of undecideds, about 5 percent, most of the polls are saying, it‘s a real toss-up which way they‘re going to go, too.  What is—what has the Republican Party got to do, Tucker Quayle, beginning on Monday to get those 5 percent to come over to their side of the fence?

QUAYLE:  I think, one, they have to convince them is George Bush is going to lead the country forwards, as he has in the last four years, getting the economy back on track, which it is on, and it‘s continued to go forward, and also Iraq.  I think Iraq, we‘ve seen some positive—you know, every other day, it seems to be some other news, but I think, in general, we‘re seeing positive movements in there.  And so I think he has to convince the people that he—give them the confidence, that they have the confidence in George Bush.  And that‘s what he has to prove.

NORVILLE:  Yes, but Steven Ford, I‘ll go to you.  There was some really bad news, if you‘re George Bush, that came courtesy of the Census Bureau, that said more people are in poverty from this year to last year, more people are looking for health insurance and can‘t find it.

FORD:  Well, you‘ve got to remember, though, that‘s old news.  When those figures were done, unemployment was 6.3 percent.  And now, months later, the president has it down to 5.5 percent.  So that‘s kind of old news, and the economy is moving in the right direction.  You‘ve got the greatest home ownership ever in America right now.  In the last year, the president‘s created 1.5 million jobs.  The economy is going in the right direction.  There‘s been some bumps here and there...

NORVILLE:  Well, hold on, Steve.  I—you know, I‘m not political here.  I—you know, I just like to throw the facts out there, and I‘ll throw a fact out there.  If a Democrat were, you know, conducting the interview, what they would says is gross domestic product, which is a measure of the economy, is not going in the right direction, if you‘re George Bush trying to get reelected.  Just came out at 2.8 percent.  It was 3 percent.  Before that, it was 4.5 percent.  That‘s not going in the right direction if your name is George W. Bush.

FORD:  Well, I think if you saw, you know, increase in jobs was 112,000 in June.  July they had a bad month.  It was 34,000.  So the economy is—you know, it‘s not chugging forward, it‘s moving in the right direction.  But these are the same numbers that Bill Clinton ran on in 1996, and he said it was a great economy then.  So it‘s somewhat the same.

NORVILLE:  We‘ll leave it at that for the moment.  We‘re coming back.  More with Tucker Quayle, Chrissy Gephardt, Skip Humphrey, Steven Ford and Jack Carter right after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I think Senator Kerry served admirably and—and he ought to be—he ought to be proud of his record.  But the question is who best to lead the country in the war on terror.  Who can—who can handle the responsibilities of the commander-in-chief?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARILYN QUAYLE, WIFE OF FORMER VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE:  Not everyone joined the counterculture.  Not everyone demonstrated, dropped out, took drugs, joined in the sexual revolution or dodged the draft.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NORVILLE:  That was Marilyn Quayle, wife of Vice President Dan Quayle, speaking at the 1992 Republican convention in Houston.

We‘re back now with Marilyn Quayle‘s son, Tucker Quayle, along with the daughter of Missouri congressman Dick Gephardt, Chrissy Gephardt.  Also with us tonight, Skip Humphrey, Hubert Humphrey, Vice President Hubert Humphrey‘s son.  It‘s hard for me tonight!  Gerald Ford‘s son, Steven Ford, is with us from out west.  And also with us tonight is Jack Carter, son of former president Jimmy Carter.

When your mother spoke, Tucker, it was very direct.  It was very pointed.  But a lot of people are saying the Republican Party needs to broaden the tent if they‘re going to make any headway.  And when you look at the list of convention speakers, they don‘t really mirror the platform that‘s going to be approved by the GOP.

QUAYLE:  Well, how do you mean that?

NORVILLE:  I mean, John McCain, much more moderate than some of the platform plans, Rudy Giuliani, Arnold Schwarzenegger.  These are guys who are much more centrist than some of the points of view that are in the GOP platform.

QUAYLE:  Yes, but I—at the same time, I think the Republican Party encompasses, you know, a large range of views.  But I think one thing that ties  us all together is, you know, fighting hard for the American people and American families, and also, you know, for the economy and also the war on terrorism.  I think that‘s a uniting front, especially with those people you said, with Giuliani and McCain especially.

NORVILLE:  Yes, but when you look at who some of the speakers are, Jack Carter, particularly that John McCain has agreed to come and play such a visible role at this convention, what does that say to you about the way the GOP is trying to broaden its reach?

CARTER:  I think the Republican Party really has—really does have a problem.  The people that they appeal to are in the white, Protestant group, which is sort of a dwindling group of people in the country in the future.  And I think the Republicans have got a tendency to be towards the upper-income group, at the expense of most of the family people in the United States.

And one of the significant problems that they‘ve got, I believe, is that the economy and the—you know, the tax structure, and their bias towards the government and its interaction with big business is something that‘s a weight that they have to drag forward.

NORVILLE:  Well, I want to throw some numbers up here, as far as what they say about the economy.  But before I do that—people like George Bush.  Look at this poll data that came from the poll that was out yesterday.  When asked if George Bush is easygoing and likable, 55 percent said, yes, he‘s a likable guy.  I like him.  And 27 percent said no.  That‘s a great number, if you‘re the president.  But when you go to the next question, which was, What do you think about how he‘s handling the economy, 52 percent disapprove, 43 percent approve.

So Chrissy, it looks like what people are saying is, We like the guy, but we‘re not so sure that some of the policies are going in the right direction.  How does the Republican president address that—you, a Democrat, sitting here giving the advice?

GEPHARDT:  Well, I think he‘s going to talk about how he‘s, you know, created new jobs.  He‘s created 1.5 million new jobs.  And he‘s going to continue to harp on the things that he‘s doing to move this country forward.  And I think that, you know...

NORVILLE:  Sounds like a good plan to me~!

GEPHARDT:  Well, yes.  I think, though, what we have to remember, though, as Democrats, is that we lost three million jobs when George—since George Bush has taken office.  So our net gain/loss is we‘ve lost more jobs in this country than we‘ve gained since he took office.

NORVILLE:  Skip Humphrey, let‘s go back to the people who are going to be front and center at the convention.  Who are you most curious to hear what they have to say?  And you‘re not allowed to say the president yet because we‘re going to get to that later.

HUMPHREY:  OK.  Well, I‘ll tell you, I‘m a big fan of John McCain‘s, and I‘d like to hear what he has to say.  He is a person who says it exactly straight, what he believes, and he‘s taken courageous stands on any number of things.  And frankly, if the Republican Party can embrace truly what he is talking about, then I think they‘re ready up for a very great challenge.  But the question is whether or not they can really do that, or is this a divided party?  They‘re coming into a time when the nation is divided.  I seem to remember back in 1968, a nation divided, and I‘ll tell you, that‘s a great challenge for an incumbent, to run during those times.

NORVILLE:  And—go ahead.

HUMPHREY:  Well, the only other thing I‘d say  is—I wanted to go back just a little bit to your point about this intelligence report.

NORVILLE:  Yes.

HUMPHREY:  Indeed, it is not a partisan issue, but the central theme, I think, of dealing with terrorism these days is having the knowledge, having the intelligence, using it wisely.  And the president—you and your promos had the president actually say, you know, This is a matter of who can lead best when it comes to fighting the battle on terrorism.  I think this comes right down to how do you handle this intelligence?  How do you organize it?  How do you use it constructively, and whether or not we‘re actually going to see the 9/11 commission recommendations implemented, and implemented directly.

NORVILLE:  Well, and isn‘t it to the credit of the president and the administration and the FBI, for whom the—who worked for the president, that they found this guy, that this investigation is going on?  I mean, it would be a negative, Tucker, I mean, you can certainly spin it in a way that—you know, We‘re rooting out the bad guys.  We‘re working diligently 24/7.

HUMPHREY:  Well, I think you‘re right.  I think that‘s—you know, this is what we would all expect and want because, you know, we want a safe and secure country.  We can have our political debates, but the reality is we need safe and security country first.

NORVILLE:  Tucker, just to follow up on that—how much do you think 9/11 will or should play a role in the convention?  Certainly, the president‘s approval ratings were no higher than after September 11.  And you got to give him credit for that, but it‘s a delicate political tightrope, isn‘t it?

QUAYLE:  It is delicate, but I think it‘s going to play a big role, and I think that‘s why the Republicans—that‘s certainly why the Republican convention is here.

NORVILLE:  Right.

QUAYLE:  And it certainly plays in the hearts and the minds of the American people, in reminding us, especially so close to the anniversary of 9/11.

NORVILLE:  But it‘s—but you can‘t—he got criticized for putting the firefighters in one of his earlier campaign commercials.  And you can‘t play it too ham-handedly, can you?

QUAYLE:  You can‘t—I mean, the thing is, it‘s a huge part of his presidency.  I mean, I think you can‘t avoid it.  I mean, does he not talk about it?  Of course not.  I mean, he has to talk about it.  It‘s a positive point of his presidency.  I think he‘s led the country very well.  But no, he can‘t politicize it to the point where you rerun it and rerun it over and over again and that‘s the only thing he stands on, much like John Kerry stands on Vietnam.  I don‘t think that‘s what we need to do.  I think he—it‘s a broader vision than just 9/11.

NORVILLE:  And on the Vietnam question, Jack Carter, I know you served on a Navy ship during part of the Vietnam conflict.  You‘ve watched the hubbub of the 527s and the swift boat veterans out there.  Do you think that the Republican Party let the debate get away from them with the furor that the 527s created on the swift boat ads?

CARTER:  Well, as far as the 527 ads, I do think that that has become an issue that I think has been misunderstood.  I think Kerry‘s point, and a lot of, you know, our points, is that there‘s a difference between sort of a hard-hitting political ad and one that‘s patently false.  But I also think that too many people have made too much of this, and we need to move on and talk about the issues like Iraq and the budget deficit and the economy.

NORVILLE:  And Steven Ford, if you were advising what the next campaign ad from the Bush campaign should be, what would you suggest they put the focus on?

FORD:  Well, I wouldn‘t—first of all, I‘d get rid of all these 527 ads.  It‘s just—it‘s too much.  And you know, this—the harping on Vietnam—and I agree with Senator John McCain.  You know, we‘re trying to get over Vietnam.

NORVILLE:  Right.

FORD:  It‘s 30 years ago, and let‘s move on.  I can remember when Dad took over the reins of this country.  This country was torn apart.  And Vietnam was ending.  He was the last president to finally get the troops out of Vietnam. And when he pardoned Richard Nixon to heal that side of the nation, he also gave amnesty to all the people that had left and gone to Canada.  This country was ripped apart...

NORVILLE:  Yes.

FORD:  ... because of Vietnam.  And Dad tried to bring them all together.  And why rehash all this?  I‘m—I‘m not for 527s.  There‘s more Democratic ones than Republican.  Of the top 25, only 2 are Republicans.  So let‘s end them all.

NORVILLE:  Well, you know what?  They‘re not supposed to be for either party.  They‘re supposed to be about issues and not about politics, which seems to be the problem with the 527s in the first place.

I‘m going to have to take a short break.  When we come back, our panel‘s going to stick around, but we‘re going to give them a little bit of a rest because when we come back, we‘re going to joined by two pollsters to give us a sense of what voters want to see and hear at the GOP convention coming up.

Stay tuned.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  In terms of the speech, I‘m working on it.  But I don‘t want to

·         I don‘t want to give you any tidbits.  I don‘t want to give you any tidbits for fear that you may not pay attention when I actually stand up there and deliver it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

NORVILLE:  Tonight, we‘re previewing the Republican national convention, which kicks off in New York Monday night.  We‘ll be talking more with the sons and daughters of past presidents, vice presidents and candidates in just a moment.

But first, we want to look at the poll numbers.  Who‘s really leading and why?  Joining me now are Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio and Democratic pollster Mark Penn.  I thank you both for being with us.

We had a few moments ago the latest NBC poll, which shows just a couple of percentage points between the two candidates, Bush slightly in the lead.  Everybody says it‘s a toss-up.  What does that mean, Mark, to you?

MARK PENN, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER:  Well, it means that this race is really going to go down to the wire, and that, most likely, I think the conventions are going to leave the race dead even, and it‘s going to come down to the presidential debates, when people see these two candidates side by side.  And I think Kerry has a chance to present an alternative vision next to George Bush, and I think that‘s where the election‘s going to be won or lost.

NORVILLE:  I always hear people say that—you know, if you‘ve been looking at somebody and you haven‘t decided that you‘re in love with them, that you‘re probably going to decide that you won‘t be.  Tony, is this bad news for the president?

TONY FABRIZIO, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER:  Well, the truth be known, Deborah, it is kind of.  And the solace that the president can take is that he has his convention coming this week, and he has an opportunity to put forth a vision for the country over the next four years.  John Kerry hasn‘t yet closed the sale, and the fact that he hasn‘t closed the sale is great news for the president.  The key is now, Can the president close the sale for these voters, particularly undecided voters?

NORVILLE:  How much has the last two weeks of swift boat ads been a distraction both for John Kerry in getting his whatever his message is and George Bush, frankly, being able to frame the message the way he wants to, Tony? 

FABRIZIO:  Well, one, I think that the swift boat controversy has been a huge detriment for the Kerry campaign.  It doesn‘t matter how you slice it.  It has taken him completely off message and completely off the offense.

And actually it‘s actually been help for the president, because it has given the president time to get off of the defense and actually catch his breath going into the convention.  We have had three solid weeks or more where John Kerry has been off the offense.  And that‘s good for the president.

NORVILLE:  Mark? 

PENN:  Well, I think this thing is going to leave, in the end of the day, a very bad taste in the mouths of the American electorate.

NORVILLE:  Right. 

PENN:  I think that it‘s increasingly associated with the president, his campaign, negative campaigning tactics.  And I think in fact you are going to see that maybe the president got some temporary gains, but at the end of the day, they are going to be reversed, because they know and honor John Kerry‘s war record.  And I think that is going to see through here.

NORVILLE:  How much then does it help that John McCain will be up there on the stage?  We saw some pretty significant bear hugs and maybe even a kiss or two between two men had been pretty historical enemies four years ago.  How much does that take the edge off, in your opinion, Mark?

PENN:  Well, but McCain has said that these swift boat ads are wrong and that he‘s really asked the president to disavow them.

And so I think that it only points out that there is a tremendous gap

between these two men.  And I think that it raises the whole credibility

issue of this convention.  Is it a staged phony convention that doesn‘t

really show the reality of the Republican Party and how right

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  But they are all staged.  We know that.  They are all staged.  That‘s the whole deal.  Even the stage is staged.  This time, they‘re going to have a different stage for the president on Thursday than that everybody else talks on, on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

PENN:  But you have got to meet the test of credibility.

FABRIZIO:  Deborah.

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  Go ahead, Tony.

FABRIZIO:  you‘re talking about staged conventions.  We had John Kerry have a whole weeklong convention where he totally ignored his Senate service.

NORVILLE:  Look, we are not going to argue about staging.  We agree that both parties stage it.

I want to throw up another number and ask your opinion about this.  When asked in the NBC News poll about the direction the country was heading in, voters responded, 50 percent disapprove of the direction of the country of the country under George Bush‘s direction, 36 percent approving.  You can see how the numbers have changed slightly over one month‘s time.

Tony, that‘s got to be pretty awful if you are George Bush and your aide comes in and plunks this down in front of you along with your morning coffee.

FABRIZIO:  There is no question that the direction of the country numbers, the president‘s job approval numbers, the number of people who say they want to continue with his policies, those are all numbers that are cause for pause in the Bush campaign.

However, even given those numbers, John Kerry still has not been able to close the sale.  And until John Kerry closes that sale, George Bush can close the sale.  And that is what this convention and the last two months of the campaign will be about.

NORVILLE:  Well, let me ask you, then, what does he got to do to close the sale?  Because, clearly, he hasn‘t done it yet and he has been in White House and had the advantage of the White House microphone for the last 3 ½ years.

PENN:  Well, I think, at the convention this week, they‘ve got to do three things.

They‘ve got to focus on the president‘s accomplishments, focus on John Kerry.  And the president himself has to focus on his agenda for leading the country forward.  And he has to focus on those three things for the next two months and get a little bit cooperation from job creation and things of that nature.

NORVILLE:  Well, and, Mark Penn, what does John Kerry do?  Does he sit it out this week and kind of lay low while the president has his convention as the Republicans did while the Democrats do?

PENN:  Look, I think you are going to see the Democrats continue to talk about the economy.  They‘re going to talk about the values that we need to take the country in.  They‘re going to talk about the increased unemployment.

But I think that ultimately this is the president‘s week and for it‘s

the president to explain why he didn‘t deliver on the promises that he made

to make people to make a safer America, to provide more health care, to

provide more better prescription drugs.  And I think ultimately the more

the president gets the stage himself, the more frankly these failures come

through.  The last time

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  Which is why you say the debate debates will be important.

PENN:  I do, because, look, the president spoke to the people in State of the Union and he failed really to get a single point out of that. 

If he goes ahead and speaks to the people again without having delivered, I think he is going to fail again.  And then it‘s going to come down to the debates, where I think people are going to see a real contrast between the leadership of these two people.

NORVILLE:  We will let that be the last word.

When we come back, we are going to talk more about the debates.

But, for the moment, let‘s thank Tony Fabrizio and Mark Penn, both of you, for being with us on a Friday night. .

(CROSSTALK)

ANNOUNCER:  Coming up, more with Steve Ford, Chrissy Gephardt, Tucker Quayle, Skip Humphrey, and Jack Carter, their insider‘s look at the convention, the campaign and the issues the voters really care about—when DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NORVILLE:  After the Republican Convention, it‘s on to the debates. 

What are some of the topics that could trip up a candidate? 

Stay with us.  We‘ll find out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The Bush campaign and its allies have turned to the tactics of fear and smear because they can‘t talk about jobs, health care, energy independence and rebuilding our alliances.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NORVILLE:  That was John Kerry earlier this week.  We‘re previewing the Republican Convention, which begins Monday here in New York.

Back with our all-star panel.

Everybody seems to agree that the debates is where this election will be won or lost.

Skip Kerry, as you look ahead to the debates, there will be three of them between the candidates, one between the vice presidential candidates, what has John Kerry got to say to cinch this from your point of view?

HUMPHREY:  You are asking me?

NORVILLE:  Yes.  I‘m sorry, Skip Humphrey.

You know what?  Go ahead.

(LAUGHTER)

HUMPHREY:  Actually, I think we have got to remember—you got to remember, Deborah, again, even your polls show that almost—close to 50 percent of the people have already made up their minds.  We are really talking about a very small portion of the population.

So with regard to those independents and those people that have not made up their minds, I think he‘s got to talk strong about health care.  He‘s got to really come very strong on education and making sure that we go forward in those areas.  Those are absolutely crucial.  And, obviously, the whole issue about jobs and making sure that there is the opportunity for a job.

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  But it‘s not enough to go out there in a debate and say, I think we need better jobs that have health benefits.  I could run for president if that‘s what it was about all.  You need to spell out in a way that people can understand what you are going to do.  And I don‘t know if the debate format is necessarily conducive to that.

HUMPHREY:  Oh, I think it can be.  I think it can be.

And I liked what Mr. Kerry had to say when he was here in the suburbs of Minneapolis, when he talked about the fact that health care really is a right.  It‘s not just a privilege.  It‘s not just a something that you maybe should be able to afford.  It‘s something that you really ought to have the opportunity.  And he really wants to be able to do it by helping smaller businesses be able to afford to carry that kind of insurance that will allow a very much larger number of people to have the insurance coverage that they deserve.

NORVILLE:  When you look at where the independent voters are, the surveys that I‘ve seen show that they are leaning 5-1 for John Kerry.

Tucker Quayle, if the independents—and there‘s about—and we are assuming these are the swing voters and haven‘t decided which way they‘re going to go—are leaning 5-1 for Kerry, that‘s got to be pretty scary news for the president.  But it doesn‘t mean that he can‘t pull them back.  What‘s he got to say in those debates?

QUAYLE:  I think really it comes down to leadership and who is going to lead the country and who do you feel confident leading the country.

And a lot of times, in the debates especially—we saw on the last debates with Al Gore, it was actually more mannerisms than what was being said, where Al Gore was sneaking up on George Bush.  I think that got more play actually what they said.  And so I think George Bush actually has an advantage there, because he does come off more relaxed and a more likable person than maybe John Kerry, which may come off as more of a stiff person.

NORVILLE:  Jack Carter, do you think that likability quotient that I showed a few minutes ago is going to really come through for George Bush when he needs it in these debates as people are making their minds up in the end?

CARTER:  I do think that President Bush is a very likable person.  I would like him living next to me instead of where he is living now.

(LAUGHTER)

CARTER:  But I also think that John Kerry—when you meet John Kerry, he comes across as a very down-to-earth person, too.  And he‘s been—the real case here for the debates and I think for the election is not so much that there two Americas, but what is an America going to look like and what do Americans want? 

And right now we have got a choice between an America that is defensive, that strikes out, that is going to protect what it‘s got, as opposed to one that really wants to be a part of the world community and to spread what I think are the great things that make us American, which is the freedoms and the way that we live here and free enterprise and capitalism.  And that is what I think is going to be really be sort of the key here is, is what people see Americans as being, who are you as an American.  And that I think is what the real question is going to be here.

NORVILLE:  And, Chrissy Gephardt, then, to follow up on that, isn‘t George Bush in an optimal position to be able to do that?  He can stand there and say, I led this country, I led this planet in the face of the worst terror attack this world has ever known?

GEPHARDT:  Well, I think that George Bush obviously is going to run on terrorism.  And that‘s what we are going to hear a lot about at the convention this week. 

But what George Bush really needs to talk about, which he is not going to, is going into this war without a plan and without weapons of mass destruction.  And just to unseat Saddam Hussein is not good enough of a reason to go to war.  And he is not going to talk about the record on jobs, the real record on jobs, and the fact that millions of Americans have lost their health insurance in this country.  And, unfortunately, he‘s going to go on the terrorism thing, but...

NORVILLE:  He may go there on the Iraq thing, because today in “The New York Times,” if you saw it, he said that we made a miscalculation in Iraq, that we beat them more quickly than we thought we were going to.  Saddam‘s forces disbursed and then came back.  And they have been the ones wreaking havoc.

Jeff (ph), if you would, put up the graphic that we‘ve got that shows what the poll results were with respect to terrorism.  When asked how Bush was doing in dealing with the war on terrorism, 53 percent approve and 42 percent disapprove. 

Steve, when you see those numbers, that more than half the people think George Bush is doing a good job, and that‘s an increase over what the percentages were about two months ago, does that not give a pretty firm platform from which the president can move forward postconvention?

FORD:  I think the president has to move forward with a strong stance on terrorism.

It is biggest problem facing this world right now.  He‘s got to talk about the economy.  But terrorism—and I think he‘s done a good job.  He‘s got a record he can hold up.  I think it will also be important in the debates that he goes on the offensive and points out that Kerry and Edwards are probably the most liberal team that‘s run for president before.

And the undecided voters need to see that there‘s a clear choice. 

Liberal, conservative, they are not the same.  And let them decide.

NORVILLE:  When we come back, will this campaign get even more negative than it already has? 

More with our guests in just a moment. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We have been through a lot together during the past years and we‘ve accomplished a lot.  But there‘s only one reason to look backwards, and that is to determine who best to lead us forward. 

I‘m here to tell you I‘m ready to lead this country for four more years.  I have got an agenda.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NORVILLE:  We are back previewing the Republican National Convention with the sons and daughters of past presidents, vice presidents and candidates.

When George Bush ran for president the first time around in opposition with John (sic) Dukakis, they ran an ad that everybody said was one of the most political ads biting ever.  Everybody remembers the Willie Horton ad.  Does anyone think that George Bush, the current president, will take a chapter out of that page, because the lieutenant governor to John (sic) Dukakis was John Kerry. 

Jack Carter, do you think that might be happening, that they would go that far? 

Well, we‘ve got Steve up there. 

Steve, we will let you answer first.

FORD:  I hope not. 

(CROSSTALK)

FORD:  I hope not.  I wasn‘t pleased with that ad.

And I think that the whole campaign, it‘s gotten rough.  I‘ll be honest with you.  I was working out the other day and they had the TVs on and everybody was working out and listening to the debates and the arguments over this and that.  And people just got frustrated and they turned it off and they turned the Olympics on.  And it‘s been a rough, rough campaign.

NORVILLE:  Jack Carter, do you think it is going to get better?  Do you think that the campaigns are sensing that there is a voter disconnect when it gets so strident?

CARTER:  My guess is that the 527 group is going to carry all the really heavy negative stuff and that the campaigns are going to see that they can present their programs in a more positive light, at least that could be the dichotomy that develops here.

NORVILLE:  Chrissy, do you think That the voters know the difference really between the 527s, these issue-oriented groups that can do a lot of advertising, and the specific individual campaigns?  Do they get the separation?

GEPHARDT:  I really don‘t think the voters get the separation.  I think they see it all as coming from the party.

The campaign finance laws are all very complicated.  And I think the average voter doesn‘t know really what‘s going on.  They just see it as coming from the Democrats or the Republicans.

NORVILLE:  And, Tucker, is there a danger, then, that people will just say a pox on both your houses and step out?  Because we have seen some people who voted Republican the last time around in some of these surveys say, I am not pleased.  They are part of that 50 percent who don‘t approve of the way the country is going.

QUAYLE:  Right. 

NORVILLE:  I don‘t want to vote Democrat.  I‘m going to sit it out.

QUAYLE:  You run that risk, but negative ads are pretty tricky.  And everybody says they are against them, and yet they are effective.  And I think we‘ve seen the effect of the swift boat ads in the past three weeks.

NORVILLE:  So you are saying it would be irresistible to maybe

(CROSSTALK)

QUAYLE:  I don‘t know if it‘s irresistible.  There is a fine line. 

You can‘t do it too far.  And with the 527s, right now, it is uncontrollable, regardless of what people might think or not.  And I think that might be a thing that we need to look at with campaign finance reforms, because that has come about that.

NORVILLE:  Yes, I think there‘s going to be a big look at that once this campaign gets over.  But you can‘t change the rules once the game is in play.

QUAYLE:  Yes. 

NORVILLE:  Another thing that you can‘t control is protesters.

And, Skip Humphrey, when your father was making a speech, you‘ve told us before, in 1968, some people were looking at your dad.  A lot of other people were looking at what was going on outside.  What do you predict is going to happen as far as protesters?  Because we‘ve heard all manner of things, with anarchists coming to New York and sit-ins and blocked doorways.  And we‘ve even heard tales that acid might be thrown at police officers.  Who knows what‘s going to happen.

HUMPHREY:  Well, first of all, one of the great privileges of being a citizen in the United States is for you to be able to express your points of view and opinions.  But it needs to be done in a nonviolent, safe way, legal way. 

And, hopefully the city of New York and the convention have provided that opportunity.  But I think that‘s part and parcel of politics.  I hope it doesn‘t get out of hand.  That won‘t help anybody.  That will turn off more voters than anyone else.  And, frankly, we need voters turned on.  I think one of the challenges that certainly Mr. Kerry has is to make sure that people have kind of a sense of hope and a sense of new choice.

And those kinds of negative things might very of well turn that off.

NORVILLE:  Steven Ford, I know you were down in Miami 1972 probably working your first convention.  And there were plenty of protesters out there, too.  Is the Republican Party equipped, do you believe, in 2004 to deal with it the way they were so many years ago? 

FORD:  Well, I remember when I was down in Miami.  And I was working as a page on the floor of the convention.  And I was trying to get back to the Fountain Blue Hotel to go to work at the convention.

And they had a huge protest.  And police were in the streets.  And I got caught right in the middle of it.  And I will tell you, it was pretty scary.  I got pushed back and I saw the violence that can happen in that kind of thing.  I hope it doesn‘t happen in New York.  People should have the right to say what they want to say and speak their mind, but peacefully.  And I hope the Republicans can run a good convention and not get distracted by the protesters.

NORVILLE:  Now, I am going to ask each of you, if you are a Republican, if your father was a Republican serving in his office, you have to answer for the Democratic candidate.  If you are a Democrat, you have to answer for the Republican candidate.

Chrissy, I‘ll start with you.

What‘s the best issue that George Bush can put out to win in November?

GEPHARDT:  And I‘m speaking as a Republican?

NORVILLE:  Yes, you are advising him and you‘re a Republican.  You want the Republican to win.

GEPHARDT:  I would say that, I‘ve been strong in the war on terror—well, he‘s been strong in the war on terror and he went into Iraq and he unseated Saddam Hussein.

NORVILLE:  There you go.  OK.

OK, speak for the Democrats, Tucker Quayle, real quick.

QUAYLE:  Well, I think that John Kerry just needs to move on from Vietnam and will be doing better.

NORVILLE:  OK.  You others have been saved by the clock.

Tucker Quayle, Chrissy Gephardt, thanks for being with us.  We‘ll get you next time.  Skip Humphrey, Jack Carter and Steven Ford, as always, it‘s a pleasure to have you with us.

When we come back, a soldier who is spending his R&R a little differently.  It‘s rescue and recovery for this man. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NORVILLE:  A soldier‘s time home from Iraq for some R&R is this week‘s “American Moment.”

Army National Guard Lieutenant Tom Petzel (ph) was planning to spend his two-weeks leave resting and relaxing spending time with his new bride.  Instead, he spent it rescuing, helping save stranded animals after Hurricane Charley tore through Florida.  You see, Tom‘s wife, Liz (ph), is the operations chief for the North Carolina animal rescue team.  And when Hurricane Charley hit, she got word to head for the storm.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I didn‘t think that Tom would come.  I didn‘t think that we would go.  So I very jokingly said, hey, how would you like a trip down to Florida?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NORVILLE:  Well, he went.  They went and helped save countless animals, reuniting many of them with their owners.  Tom and Liz were married just before he was deployed to Iraq in February, and this was supposed to be their first time home together as husband and wife, not your usual R&R, but certainly one trip that neither Tom nor Liz will soon forget.  And that‘s this week‘s “American Moment.”

And that‘s our program for tonight.  I‘m Deborah Norville.  Thanks for watching.

Coming up tomorrow night, a Saturday night special edition of DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT.  We‘ll be joined by tennis superstar Serena Williams.  She‘ll be here to talk about the upcoming U.S. Open and her new career as an actress.  Also tomorrow night, stunning new allegations against William Kennedy Smith more than 10 years after he was acquitted of rape.  Now a former assistant says he assaulted her.  We‘ll explore that tomorrow.

Coming up next, “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.”  Good night.

END   

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