The Situation Room

November 15, 2007

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: ...Hillary Clinton has a commanding lead in the polls right now, but history tell us -- tells us that that doesn't necessarily mean she's going to get the Democratic presidential nomination. At this time, for example, in the last presidential election, Howard Dean was the clear front-runner. Take a look at this poll from December 2003. It showed Howard Dean with 31 percent. Joe Lieberman was second with 13 percent. The eventual nominee, John Kerry, had only 10 percent of voters behind him.

But, of course, today, Howard Dean is still a force in his party as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He's here at the Cox Pavilion at UNLV.

Mr. Chairman, the governor, thanks very much for coming in.


HOWARD DEAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Never wise to anoint the front-runner until the voters actually vote.

BLITZER: Yes. And you learned that with personal experience in Iowa.

DEAN: I learned that. That's right.

BLITZER: All right.

So, it's getting a little bit ugly out there in terms of the Democratic presidential candidates. They're really going after each other.

DEAN: Actually, I disagree.

BLITZER: Let me ask you this.

How worried are you that the attacks on each other will hurt the party, will hurt whoever the nominee turns out to be, and give the Republicans ammunition?

DEAN: I don't agree with the premise.

I think it's -- this is not nearly as tough so far as the 2004 race was. I think the press is cranking up the disagreements. But, when I actually -- when you actually read what the candidates are saying about each other, you know, to say somebody just changed their mind about something is not exactly ugly.

BLITZER: So, you think, when John Edwards goes after Hillary Clinton, as he has repeatedly in recent weeks, he's -- that's tame? Because it sounds like it's pretty intense.

DEAN: Yes. Well, it sounds like it's tense -- intense once the media folks get through with it and all the hype and comment and hooting and hollering. But I think they're reasonably well behaved. And it's my job, frankly, to referee. We can't have a primary where people do damage to each other. So far, that hasn't...

BLITZER: Are you doing that?


BLITZER: Have you found yourself having to call any of the candidates and say, you know what, hold off a little bit, because this is going to hurt the party?

DEAN: Not for months. Haven't had to do that for months. We did that early on. There was a little unpleasantness. I don't care...

BLITZER: Give us the background. Who was...


DEAN: I'm not going to do anything of the sort.

But, look, if you disagree with somebody's position on an issue or whether they changed their mind or not, I don't consider that to be dirty campaigning. When you attack somebody's character, it is. That, we do not want to see.

BLITZER: Well, what if they -- if they suggest that the candidate is not being honest, that they're flip-flopping, is that going too far?

DEAN: Well, I think to say somebody -- you don't agree with somebody or they said one thing and did something else, I think that's fine. I think personal attacks are bad. We haven't seen any of those on our -- I think you're going to see that on the Republican side long before you see that on our side, because the Republicans have some really deep issues in terms of their base.

Frankly, most of our candidates believe the same thing. We all think we ought to be out of Iraq. They all think we ought to be in Iraq. We think we ought to pass a children's health care program. They all think it was great. And the president vetoed the children's health care program.

So, what you're really seeing, as far as I'm concerned, is a really clear distinction between the parties, which, of course, works in our favor.

BLITZER: It's true, because, when you see the Democratic debate, and then you contrast that with the Republican presidential debate...

DEAN: Right.

BLITZER: ... you see very, very different party views on a lot of these important issues.

DEAN: And that's what we want right now. That's what we want, because, no matter who our nominee is, they're going to be better than the Republican nominee.

BLITZER: Well, give some advice to the candidates tonight. You have been here. Four years ago...

DEAN: I have.

BLITZER: ... you were up on this stage. And all of us remember that. What advice do you have for these candidates?

DEAN: You know, my advice is, take it to 30,000 feet. Talk about the big picture.

What the American people want right now is healing. They're sick of the divisive politics of the Republicans, who always seem to scapegoat this group or that group in order to win elections. What they want is to heal America and bring us back together again. And, if you stick to that theme, I think we will do fine.

BLITZER: How angry is your base right now that the Democrats have been the majority in the House and the Senate for more than a year now, and they have not been able to deliver in terms of ending the war or bringing the troops home from Iraq? If anything, a year ago, there were fewer U.S. troops in Iraq than there are now.

DEAN: Well, the problem, of course, is, you have a determined minority of Republican senators who won't let anything come to the floor and a president who really doesn't care what the American people think.

And I think that's going to become clearer and clearer. This is not the Democrats refusing to do anything. We have passed repeated -- the Republicans themselves have blamed us for having 58 votes on Iraq. The problem is in the Senate we can't get anything passed without the Republican support.

And there's going to be an election about that. And we think we're going to pick up a lot of seats, because the Republicans -- I mean, the American people do not agree with the Republicans on Iraq. They don't agree with them on health care. And they do agree with us.

BLITZER: But you acknowledge that there's a lot of frustration out there in your rank and file because the Democrats haven't delivered?

DEAN: There is frustration in our rank and file. And my message to our rank and file is, this is the time to actually do what the Republicans do at election time.

You need to coalesce around our candidate, no matter who they are, because our candidate is going to be so much better than any of the candidates that they have, again, on health care. All -- our candidate will get us out of Iraq. Their candidate will keep us there. That ought to be enough for most of the American people.

BLITZER: And when you take a look at the -- keeping the majority in the House and the Senate down the road, it -- from your perspective, it looks, obviously, pretty good right now.

DEAN: Sure.

We believe that we will pick up three to five seats net in the Senate and we will pick up -- and I don't have quite as good a handle on the House, but I would say between about five and 15 seats additional in the House, over and above what we have got today.

BLITZER: Which Republican candidate scares you the most?

DEAN: You know I will never answer that question.

BLITZER: Why not?

DEAN: Because, in 1980, I thought it was great when they nominated Reagan. What did I know? So, you know, I have long given up trying to predict Republican politics. I have got enough trouble with the Democratic politics.

BLITZER: Is there any one thing you're going to be looking for tonight?

DEAN: I would like to see them continue. Do you know we're getting 61 percent of the vote under 30? And it's because our candidates look like America.

Their candidates look like the 1950s, and they talk like they're in the 1850s. So, I just want our candidates to get up there and put their best foot forward, and I think they have been doing that. I think these debates have been terrific. I really do.

BLITZER: Well, we hope we will have a good one tonight as well.

Howard Dean, thanks very much for joining us.

DEAN: Thanks.

BLITZER: We had your counterpart, the Republican National Committee chairman, Mike Duncan, here in THE SITUATION ROOM earlier.

DEAN: Right.

BLITZER: He was in Las Vegas as well, although he's gone by now.

DEAN: Wolf, thanks for having me on.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, a very nice man, indeed. Thanks to both of you for coming in.

DEAN: Thank you.

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Transcript originally posted on CNN Transcripts.



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