CNN's Paula Zahn NOW

September 16, 2004


ZAHN (voice-over): Tonight, we put the 2004 election on the map, so to speak. A campaign snapshot of the electoral vote, a PRIME TIME POLITICS exclusive.


HOWARD DEAN (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Howard Dean and I'm voting for John Kerry.

ZAHN: That was then. But what is Howard Dean saying about the Kerry campaign today?

ZAHN: John Kerry's one-time Democratic rival, Howard Dean, is on Kerry's side now, and former Governor Dean joins us from South Burlington, Vermont.

Good to see you. Welcome, sir.


ZAHN: We're going to quickly review the electoral map that we shared with our audience just about five minutes ago. And it shows that if the election were to be held today, George Bush would win. Why do you think that is?

DEAN: I don't know and I don't really think about it very much. Those questions are all interesting, but the election's not going to be held today. It's going to be held in about 47 days.

Much to my chagrin John Kerry's a very strong closer, and I think he's going to do fine.

The facts don't support the president. That's the problem. The president can be as cheerful and upbeat and resolute. But if you're resolute and you're leading us in the wrong direction that's not very good. I think in the next 47 days the American public's going to figure that out.

ZAHN: The president has come out swinging against John Kerry. In particular, what he calls his eight positions on Iraq. You were the antiwar candidate. Do you believe that John Kerry has bungled the Iraq issue?

DEAN: I think that's -- that would be a preposterous thing to say. George Bush is the one that's bungled Iraq.

The reason why I didn't support this war is because the president didn't tell us the truth about why we're there. And I think when you're president of the United States you do not send a thousand American men and women to their death without being truthful to their parents and to their families about why they're going.

There was no weapons of mass destruction. Saddam never had anything to do with Al Qaeda. He was never a danger to the United States. And you don't have to believe me. All you've got to do is go to the bookstore and buy the 9/11 Commission report.

This president led us to war without telling us the truth. For that reason alone he's not qualified to be elected.

ZAHN: So since you obviously believe that the president, as you just said, misled the American public, was it a mistake for candidate Kerry, when posed the question, "If you had to go back to do it all over again would you vote the same way, vote to authorize the war and then not vote to fund it?"

DEAN: I know what John was saying when he said that. What he was saying was, "I think we ought to be able to give the president of the United States the power to conduct foreign policy." That has been a bipartisan position for many, many years.

So, you know, I understand what John was saying. Under normal circumstances, Republicans and Democrats would rally around the president. We did that around 9/11; we rallied around this president. We rallied around this president when he went to war in Afghanistan, which I think was the right thing to do.

But he -- when you're not truthful, that never leads to good policy. The president wasn't truthful, and I'm supporting John Kerry vigorously for that reason. We can't afford to be misled by the president of the United States.

ZAHN: Help me understand the numbers here, Governor. Even the president has conceded there were miscalculations in the post-war plan. There was a devastating report that was released today showing some pessimistic predictions about what would happen in Iraq.

Yet look at these numbers. The president still leads John Kerry in a significant way on the issue of Iraq. When people were asked what do you trust most to handle the situation in Iraq, it is the president by some 20 points. Why?

DEAN: Well, you know, I can't tell you the answer to that. My actual belief is that they are unacquainted with the facts.

I'm not the least bit worried about these poll results right now. I have been here before. I can tell you. I was a frontrunner for three months. And if polls were so accurate, then I probably wouldn't be sitting in front of you, I'd probably be in an audience of 10,000 people somewhere giving a speech.

So you know, the only poll that counts, as I always used to say is the poll on election day and that's the one we ought to be focusing on.

Sooner or later the public's going to figure out that it's not in their economic best interest to vote for George Bush, no matter how charming he is and how many times he repeats things that aren't true.

ZAHN: But do you not concede that John Kerry bears some of the responsibility for these numbers because of all of the flip-flops that have been pointed out by the Republicans and even some Democrats concur with?

DEAN: Should John defend himself vigorously? I think he should. I thought today's speech was a very tough speech, a very good speech in front of an audience that needed to be reminded that President Bush talks about defending the country, but then 20 percent of National Guard people in this country don't have health insurance.

ZAHN: Do you believe it was a mistake for John Kerry not to turn up the heat earlier on the president?

DEAN: You know, that -- in medicine we have something called the retrospectoscope. That's an instrument where you always get right because you're always two weeks after all the...

ZAHN: Yes. Well, how would it read on your retrospectoscope?

DEAN: That's all woulda, coulda, shoulda. Should he have done this, and should he have done that? Maybe he should have done this? That's not helpful.

Where we are now, and what we need to do in the next 47 days is what's most helpful. I think John is on the right track. I think he's hammering the president every single day, because the president says one thing and does another. The truth is that George Bush has got more flip-flops in him than John Kerry ever thought of having.

ZAHN: Governor Dean, we've got to leave it there for the moment. Please stand by. We're going to come back to you straight out of the break.


ZAHN: And we are back now with former presidential candidate and former governor, Howard Dean.

Sir, even you would have to concede, you were highly critical of candidate Kerry. I want to read to our audience something you said as recently as February of this year.

Quote, "We now see Senator Kerry is supporting the Bush agenda on war, supporting the agenda on No Child Left Behind; Senator Kerry supports the kind of corrupt fundraising that George Bush has also employed. I intend to support the Democratic nominee under any circumstances. I'm just deeply disappointed that once again we may have to settle for the lesser of two evils."

Governor, do you regret having said that?

DEAN: Look, John Kerry and I had a knockdown, drag out fight. I'm a very competitive person. But I care deeply about America, and I want a president who is willing to restore America's moral greatness.

I just got back from Europe. I can tell you that people despise America in many of the countries that I went to, and they despise our president. I don't want to live in a country like that.

This country was the moral leader of the world until George Bush became president. I want a president who will bring us back to that, and I think John Kerry's that president.

So yes, I had a tough, knockdown drag out fight with John Kerry. I don't shrink from battles. But there's not any question in my mind that John Kerry will balance the budget. He'll bring healthcare to people, and he'll make us the moral leader of the world not just the military leader of the world.

And that's what I want in the president, and that's why I'm supporting John Kerry, and it's not hard for me to do, believe it.

ZAHN: Let's move on to issue of the CBS News National Guard story and whether you think it will have any traction at all on election day.

DEAN: You know, I actually think that in the long run people don't decide about who did what in Vietnam and who did what in the National Guard and so forth and so on. I think in the long run they decide who should be the president of the United States based on their credibility.

I don't think George Bush has much credibility left. He blundered into Iraq. He sacrificed a thousand American lives because he wasn't truthful about what was going on in Iraq. He's -- Iraq gets worse every day because he doesn't listen to the military's advice on the issue.

We have a half a trillion-dollar deficits. The budget's not balanced. Our jobs are going to China, Brazil and Mexico.

You know, I think eventually Americans are going to decide that what they really want is a competent person who's going to think through the issues carefully and be truthful with the American people.

ZAHN: Even some of John Kerry's advisers have told us that those issues have gotten all but drowned out, because John Kerry focused in on Vietnam at the convention. That it is his fault that the American public got sidetracked by that issue.

DEAN: I don't think that is actually true. I think that, for example, you saw today President Bush attacking John Kerry on health care, just making stuff up that wasn't so.

Now, finally the president thinks that he can start to talk about domestic agendas. I think that's going to be a big mistake for the president, because he gets about a zero in every major domestic agenda piece that there is. Those issues matter to people.

Right now this entertainment. Frankly, the swift boat stuff is entertainment. The stuff about the president's National Guard stuff or lack of it is entertainment. That's what the media likes to focus on. That's what they'll spend their time on.

But the stuff that Americans are going to vote on is what's going to happen to their families, and they're going to decide that about two weeks before the election.

ZAHN: Could Ralph Nader cost John Kerry the election?

DEAN: I think Ralph Nader's deeply hurt himself. I happen to think that Ralph Nader's 40-year career was an outstanding career in the service of Americans.

But he's gotten on the ballot with the help of antigay right wing groups. He's gotten on the ballot with the help of the Republican chairs in places like Michigan and Arizona. He's gotten on the ballot by taking large amounts of money from George Bush's power rangers or whatever they're called, raising all that money.

You know, Ralph is -- was a great American and a great servant of the public, but this has become about Ralph Nader. If you're willing to take support from the right wing to get on the ballot, there's something the matter with you. And people know that.

ZAHN: Do you think anybody will be able to talk him out of the race, or do you think he's in it up until the end?

DEAN: No, I don't think so. I mean, lord knows everybody I know has tried, but he's become obsessed with this. I just hate to see him go out this way. And I can't understand it. I just scratch my head and think what has become of this person.

It's not a bad thing to run, because I think people have a right to run for president as third parties. And third parties traditionally have done a lot for the American political debate.

But it's a bad thing to take money from people whose principles you completely disagree with and get on the ballot and then pretend you're doing something in the service of democracy. And that's what Ralph's doing.

ZAHN: We really appreciate your time tonight. Thanks so much for joining us.

DEAN: Thanks very much. And I'll make the prediction right now, November 3, John Kerry will be the president-elect.

ZAHN: All right. We'll come back to you on November 4 and see if you got it right.

DEAN: That's right.

ZAHN: Thank you.

DEAN: Thanks very much.

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