Interview on CNN's Inside Politics

May 3, 2004

ANNOUNCER: The president's new wheels. What's driving his battleground state bus tour?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You tell the people George W. Bush has a positive, hopeful vision for everybody in this country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lifetime of service and strength, John Kerry for president.

ANNOUNCER: Team Kerry rolls out its big candidate bio ad buy. Will voters think it hits the spot?

Party chatter: some Democrats raise doubts about Kerry's political operation. Are campaign insiders taking it to heart?



JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Thank you for joining us.

President Bush and Senator Kerry taking different routes toward a similar end today. They are reaching out to voters in states that count most this election year, the 2004 battlegrounds. For Bush, the vehicle of choice is a bus, his first road trip of this campaign.

Our White House correspondent, Dana Bash, is traveling with the bus caravan as it rolls through Michigan. And she's with us on the telephone -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Judy. And we are rolling through southwest Michigan at this time. We just -- the president just ended his first event of this bus tour. And, you know, aside from one campaign rally in Orlando back in March, this two-day bus tour, first here to Michigan, and then tomorrow to Ohio, is the first campaign-paid, campaign-style trip of the president's re- election campaign. The others, of course, have been official White House events paid for by the taxpayer.

So the president started the day just over the border actually, not in Michigan, but in Indiana. And he gave a quick presidential "attaboy" before the cameras to his former OMB director, Mitch Daniels. He, of course, is running for governor of Indiana. But today, of course, is about Michigan.

And Michigan, Judy, is a state that the president lost in 2000 to Al Gore by five percentage points. It was 51 Al Gore, 46 George W. Bush. And the fact, actually, is that this state has not gone Republican since 1988, when his father won here.

So if you look at the latest polls, you'll also get a pretty good indication of why the president started here. It's neck and neck.

The last poll in Michigan showed John Kerry at 44 percent, George W. Bush at 43 percent. Though Bush campaign aides say, by coming to Michigan first, they are trying to show how much they want to win, how much they want to take the state back from the Democrats this election year.

But, you know, this is also the state where the biggest issue is one of the biggest weaknesses perhaps for the president, and that is unemployment. Some 300,000 jobs have been lost here since Mr. Bush has been in office. The unemployment rate is about 6.9 percent, and that's double what it was in 2000.

So the president's first stop that we just left was an event called "Ask the President." It was filled with about 1,200 people were supporters. And the president made it clear that he understands that the state of Michigan is hurting.


BUSH: Michigan lags behind, and I fully understand that. But I want to remind you of how we overcome those obstacles. See, I believe that the best way to generate economic growth is to let people keep more of their own money.


BUSH: There are some people in Washington who think the best way to generate jobs and growth is to grow the size of the federal government. No, I think it's to let people keep more of their own money. The tax cuts we passed came at the absolute right time.


BASH: Now, Judy, the bus tour is, of course, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) just here last week on his own bus tour. But for the president, starting out on a bus tour, his campaign is really hoping it will take him outside the bubble, outside the idea of looking like he's on Air Force One and sort of making him feel more among the people.

Certainly, as we're driving, you have people along the side of the roads with signs. And we certainly expect him to stop and make some unscheduled stops and sort of meet and greet and handshake with the people of Michigan. And, as you know, every bus tour these days needs to be branded. This one is, "Yes, America can."

That's what it says on the side of the president's bus. They're trying to promote a sense of optimism on this tour. And it's interesting, at the first event we just left, President Bush never uttered the words "John Kerry." There were some subtle references, some subtle jabs at him when the president said that he is somebody who says what he means and goes ahead and does that, certainly a jab at Senator Kerry, who the campaign is trying to paint as somebody who flip-flops.

But so far, nothing specific on John Kerry. We certainly expect to hear some soon though -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Dana Bash. "Yes, America can" they're calling this bus tour. Dana, thank you very much. Pretty good cell phone connection there.

Well, now, let's turn to John Kerry's new commercial blitz in the showdown states. Campaign aides are calling it the biggest one-time political ad buy ever.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, has more on the spots and what they're supposed to accomplish.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): His campaign is laden with military images. The candidate rarely misses a chance to talk about it, but Democratic strategists say internal polling shows most Americans don't even know John Kerry served in Vietnam.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When he pulled me out of the river, he risked his life to save mine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In combat, he earned the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts. Then he came home determined to end that war. For more than 30 years, John Kerry has served America.

CROWLEY: Hoping to introduce the candidate to those who know nothing about him, and reintroduce him to those who know him through the prism of the Bush campaign, camp Kerry will tell the store of John Kerry in 19 states and nationally on the cable channels. The $25 million ad buy is meant to counterbalance Bush ads in many of the same states which portrayed Kerry as weak on defense issues.

The news in Iraq has been awful. The economy has yet to boom its way through some of the battleground states. And yet, the president has held his ground, even moved up in some polls.

At the same time, Kerry has taken a beating, both on the air and on the ground about his record in Vietnam, after Vietnam, and on Capitol Hill. Though some Democrats have said they're worried, this Democrat says he isn't.

JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're in good shape. We're just plugging away.

Americans aren't listening to all that junk. They want answers about health care, they want answers about jobs. They want to know, you know, if we're going to be safer. I think that we're talking about the real issues. And I think they're talking about these sort of distractions.

CROWLEY: Strategists believe beyond the introduction to voters they can profit off the positive comparisons of the Kerry ads versus the most recent ads from the Bush campaign.


CROWLEY: Twenty-five million dollars is a substantial chunk of change, and by itself a message about Kerry's willingness and ability to give as good as he gets. Also worth noting, two states added to the usual list of where the ads will run: Colorado and Louisiana, Bush states in 2000. The message there, Democrats think they have a shot -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Republicans hope that's not true.


WOODRUFF: All right. Candy, thank you very much.

Well, that Kerry ad blitz may ease grumbling by some Democrats who fear their candidate has not made the most of recent political opportunities. Then again, it may not. Here now, our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: April seemed to be a month of bad news for President Bush: an insurrection in Iraq with mounting U.S. casualties, dramatic testimony at the 9/11 commission hearings, rising gas prices. Then the polls came out and showed what? The national race still essentially a tie. No momentum for John Kerry. Kerry's people have an explanation.

STEPHANIE CUTTER, KERRY CAMPAIGN PRESS SECRETARY: The Bush- Cheney campaign has spent $60 million in ads before we've even started.

SCHNEIDER: Some Democrats say don't pay too much attention to the national polls.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you look at the national polls, they don't tell the whole story. You've got to look at the states, you've got to look at the battleground states in general.

SCHNEIDER: OK. Let's do that. In the past month, non-partisan polls have come out in 10 battleground states. Among them, four battleground states Bush won in 2000 where polls show him still ahead: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida and New Hampshire. But in every case, by small statistically insignificant margins.

The latest poll in Florida, for example, shows Bush leading Kerry by one whole point. In Florida, that's a landslide. Here are two battleground states, Iowa and Michigan, that Gore won in 2000, where the latest polls show Kerry ahead in each case by one point. Have any states shifted since 2000?

Gore carried New Mexico, Oregon and Pennsylvania last time. Now the polls show Bush slightly ahead in all three. Plus, New Jersey, which is not supposed to be a battleground state. Gore beat Bush by 16 points in New Jersey. Now, Bush is ahead.

Have any states shifted the other way, from Bush to Kerry? Maybe one, Wisconsin. But the latest Wisconsin polls are inconsistent. One shows Kerry ahead, one shows Bush ahead.

Is there any good news for Kerry in the battleground states? Actually, yes. In every state polled, Bush is getting less support than he got in 2000. In Florida, for instance, Bush got 49 percent of the vote in 2000. He's getting 46 percent in the polls now.

In Pennsylvania, where Bush is running slightly ahead of Kerry, he's polling lower than in 2000. Overall, Bush looks weaker than he was in 2000. But Kerry is not doing as well as Gore.


SCHNEIDER: By responding to Republican attacks, Kerry is showing he's no Michael Dukakis. But he's also allowing Republicans to control the agenda -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Al right. Bill Schneider, thank you very much.

Well, clearly, there's a lot of armchair quarterbacking by Democrats these days. But is the Kerry campaign taking any of this unsolicited advice? I'll ask a top Kerry adviser next.

Also ahead, Howard Dean's role. I'll ask him about the challenges for Kerry, and the burning question, will he, Howard Dean, get his own TV show.

And a senior starts signing up for discount prescription drug cards. Politicians argue whether it's a bargain or a raw deal.


WOODRUFF: With me now to talk more about John Kerry's political strategy, including his new television ad blitz, is Michael Donilon. He is a media strategist and a senior adviser to the Kerry campaign.

Michael Donilon, a growing chorus of Democrats out there saying, what's going on with John Kerry? He doesn't have a theme to his campaign. How do you boil down? What is the theme of John Kerry's campaign?

MICHAEL DONILON, SR. KERRY ADVISER: Well, Judy, today what you saw with the release of these new ads is a very clear statement about John Kerry's lifetime service of this country. It's been the guiding principle of his life. And what you also see is a constancy and a commitment to fighting for this country. That has been the story of his life as well.

So we think the theme is the commitment to bringing this country together, to bringing change to this country, to bring us together in a way that we can make this a stronger country. It's a very clear theme. And what I would say on that point is this: it is the Bush campaign which has walked away from their theme.

They started out with much fanfare, talking about steady leadership in a time of change. They have spent virtually no money and no time talking about that for the last few weeks. They've spent almost entirely every bit of their money on negative ads attacking John Kerry. And the reason for that is very simple, which is this: the Bush campaign has decided they cannot win a campaign which they make a case about George Bush.

What they have decided to do is to attack John Kerry. We believe that strategy is failing, and we believe the theme and the case that John Kerry has is very compelling.

WOODRUFF: But if you say what they're doing is failing, why is the president holding -- he's had terrible news coming out of Iraq over the last month. He is holding his own in the polls, the president.

DONILON: Judy, I think if you look at any standard measurements for an incumbent president, this president is very weak. His re- election number is well below 50 percent against John Kerry. His own re-elect numbers well below 50 percent. His job rating numbers among the lowest that we've seen in a number of years.

And maybe most significantly, solid majorities and growing majorities of people in this country believe we are heading in the wrong direction. So if you look at the fundamentals here, the fundamentals suggest that the president not only is failing to make his case, but in fact, is falling far behind in his campaign.

And I think one of the things that is difficult is for people to understand that in taking on an incumbent president, the issue here, first and foremost for voters, is will they re-elect or not president of the United States. Many people, I would suggest a majority of people have already decided they will not re-elect the president, and now they are looking to John Kerry to make sure he's the person who can lead this country forward.

WOODRUFF: But they need to see, as everyone agrees, an alternative who is a plausible alternative, somebody they want to turn the security of this country over to. And right now, the polls are showing, when you ask people about who is going to preserve the national security better, people are saying they prefer George W. Bush.

DONILON: Well, I think that makes perfect sense given the fact that Senator Kerry is much less known than the president. And there was always a presumption with the commander in chief.

What I would submit, though, is that if you looked at the lifetime story of John Kerry, it is this: this is a person who on the frontlines fought for this country. He understands what it's like not only to send people into battle, but to go into battle himself. And that is a difference in experience between himself and the president, which will, I believe, demonstrate to the voters of this country a great commitment to defending this nation's national security.

WOODRUFF: What do you say to fellow Democrats who say John Kerry has been sort of caught in a trap set by the Bush campaign? They've got him now spending time defending his Vietnam record rather than advancing his own vision for this campaign and for the country.

DONILON: Well, we don't believe we've been in that trap. If you look around the country in the battleground states for the last two weeks, we have been running an advertisement talking about the priorities that Senator Kerry would have for this nation.

Secondly, we've been engaged in a jobs tour last week. We are continuing to discuss the core issues facing this country going forward. And that is a fundamental difference between the Bush campaign and the Kerry campaign.

The Bush campaign is engaged essentially manipulating a series of votes from John Kerry in the past. We are engaged in discussing the core issues about where we're going to take this country in the future.

WOODRUFF: But why then do you have a chorus of Democrats who are increasingly talking to reporters about how worried they are, about the lack of a theme, about what they call the lack of discipline on Senator Kerry's part, the fact he's talking about things that don't help or advance his candidacy?

DONILON: Well, first and foremost, we have gone through a period of time that no challenger has ever had to face in a presidential campaign. We have seen more money spent in a negative attack fashion than anybody has brought to bear on an election. George Bush has spent now $70-plus million attacking John Kerry.

So in the face of that kind of onslaught, it's not surprising that people have concerns and would have some worries about whether or not we can survive that. I think if you look at the polling data, not only is Senator Kerry surviving it (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to hold a slight advantage over the incumbent president. And, more importantly, the president's own numbers continue to deteriorate.

The president's problem is this: his job -- he is failing to convince the people of this country that he should be rehired. We are now in the middle of a process of introducing John Kerry to this country in a more sustained fashion than any challenger has ever been able to do in the history of this country.

WOODRUFF: And that's what these spots are all about. And we're going to have to leave it there. We're of course going to see what the reaction to these campaign ads are. They roll out tomorrow.

DONILON: Well, thank you. WOODRUFF: Michael Donilon, senior adviser to the John Kerry campaign. Thank you very much.


WOODRUFF: We appreciate you coming by. Thank you.

Well, President Bush's Achilles' heel, the economy or is it Iraq? Coming up, Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times joins me with his take on that question and much more.


WOODRUFF: Well, with the economy looking better all the time, will Iraq be the main challenge for President Bush this November? Joining me with his take on that and more, CNN political analyst, Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times.

Ron, I'm sure you heard part of what Michael Donilon of the Kerry campaign just had to say. But in terms of Iraq, the news is all bad coming out of there right now, no matter which way you look at it. What are the implications for the president?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think we have two large strains in public opinion which are now showing up consistently in the polls. On the one hand, people believe it is an important mission. Even without the weapons of mass destruction, people believe that we did the right thing in going in there because they feel that removing Saddam will make the region more stable and thus make us more secure. So they feel it is important that we succeed, and they want the president to succeed.

On the other hand, we have, as perhaps inevitably, given the news we're seeing, growing doubts about whether we are succeeding and whether we have a clear plan to succeed. And I think at various points, depending on where we are in the news cycle and what the arguments that are out there in front of the public, one or the other of these strains dominate.

The first one tends to produce a rallying around the president. The second one, the kind of doubts that we saw in that New York Times- CBS poll last week.

WOODRUFF: Are both candidates subject to whatever the news is, whatever the real on-the-ground developments are out of Iraq over the next six months?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think, by and large, this election is going to be decided more about what happens in the real world than what happens inside the context of the campaign. I agree with Mike Donilon on what point he makes. When you have an incumbent president, the election tends to be a referendum on that incumbent more than a judgment on the challenger. And right now Judy, President Bush is right on the cusp, right on the bubble between those president who's have won a second term and those who didn't. I mean, if you look where he is at this point in the campaign, he doesn't exactly resemble his father or Jimmy Carter, or heading toward pretty sure defeat. Nor does he resemble people like Lyndon Johnson, Dwight Eisenhower, Clinton, Nixon and Reagan, who were moving into the comfort zone. He is stuck really right on the bubble.

WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of developments on the ground, you have the news out of Iraq over the last few days about these prisoners, Iraqi prisoners being abused, humiliated. Is that the kind of thing that is likely to linger and hurt what the administration is trying to say, or is it going to wash away?

BROWNSTEIN: One thing I have come to feel about Iraq, and I'm sure you have, too, is there is no single point of decision for the American public. There is no single moment that outweighs what comes next, whether it was the capture of Saddam Hussein on the downside, or the bombing -- on the upside -- or the bombing of the U.N. on the downside.

It really is an ongoing judgment based on what they see in the news and what is actually, in fact, happening. It's very sensitive. The public judgment on Iraq is very sensitive to contemporary events. And I think that President Bush has an enormous amount at stake in how this is seen to be going not only right now, but of course straight through the fall.

WOODRUFF: What about maneuvering room here for John Kerry? He's not doing what Ralph Nader is saying, which is get the troops out right away. He is saying, let's stay there, but let's take several steps toward internationalizing our presence.

BROWNSTEIN: And Iraq may be creating a Nader threat to Kerry in a way that Democrats thought they had gotten past. The original premise of the Nader campaign from 2000, that there would be no difference between Bush and a Democrat, looked increasingly ridiculous to everyone from Dennis Kucinich to Dick Cheney, as I say.

Obviously, there's a big difference between Bush and Kerry on a whole range of issue. But Iraq has provided a new rationale to Ralph Nader. Opposing the war does give him the potential to siphon off some of that antiwar sentiment, if, in fact, it continues to grow.

The threat to Kerry is that if events in Iraq hurt President Bush, he doesn't necessarily benefit from all of that. And there probably will be pressure on him if Nader does well and does get an audience to move further toward more overt opposition to the way things are going there.

WOODRUFF: Also some pressure on Nader to get out. But he says he's not getting out. Ron Brownstein, thank you. We appreciate it.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Well, in presidential campaigns, trains, planes and automobiles have their place. But in recent years, there's nothing quite like a bus. Still ahead, Bruce Morton's wheels have been turning about this campaign trend.

And someone who has walked in Dick Cheney's shoes, so to speak, does not sound impressed by the vice president's power.



ANNOUNCER: The fight over new Medicare discount drug cards. Are they the right prescription to save seniors cash?

TOMMY THOMPSON, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: There's going to be competing for the business of seniors. This open competition is going to save seniors money on their prescription drugs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This sounds like a good deal, but it isn't.

HOWARD DEAN (D), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Keeping folks in Washington on the straight and arrow and responsive to ordinary Americans is a full-time job.

ANNOUNCER: But that may not be Howard Dean's only job. Will the one-time presidential hopeful turn into a talk show host?

Following the veepstakes, it's a lot like the road to the Final Four.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If politics is a sport, trying to guess who a presidential candidate is going to pick as his running mate is like filling out a NCAA college basketball bracket.

ANNOUNCER: We'll break down the brackets and you can play along.



WOODRUFF: Welcome back.

The Bush administration promising big savings for America's seniors and lower prescription drug prices across the market. But Democratic critics call it nothing short of a sham. The partisan debate over Medicare prescription drug cards is alive and well today as the enrollment period gets under way.

Here now, our congressional correspondent, Ed Henry.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for calling 1-800-Medicare. And you have a good day, ma'am.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Calls poured into Medicare hotlines across the nation as the Bush administration cranks up its $18 million effort to sell seniors on the new prescription drug program.

THOMPSON: Window shop, find the best price, then get your card.

HENRY: This is the first shopping day for seniors to sign up for discount cards designed to cut their drug bills up to 25 percent. But Democrats complain that choosing among the dozens of cards is confusing and won't save seniors much money anyway as the political jousting intensified.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: This sounds like a good deal, but it's not.

HENRY: Democrats released a report showing a one-month supply of the arthritis drug Celebrex cost only $38 in Canada, but at least $81 with the new Walgreen's discount card and the drug cards can't beat some prices already available to Medicare beneficiaries at A one-month supply of Lipitor will cost $67 with the Walgreen's card and only $63 on the web. When President Bush signed the new law last December, Republicans had visions of stealing a top Democratic issue leading up to the election but Democrats now contend that support for the overall law is flagging and they say Republicans are making a big push on the temporary cards as a face-saving measure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Karl Rove knows that his silver bullet missed its target.


HENRY: Judy, Republicans counter that Democrats are just trying to score political points by declaring that this program is dead before the cards have even been issued. And Republicans say that once seniors figure out how to use the cards and once it's made known publicly that poor seniors in particular will get a $600 credit to pay for all of their drugs, this will be a big political winner for President Bush.

WOODRUFF: All right. Ed Henry reporting from the Capitol. Thank you, Ed.

Joining me now to talk a little more about the discount drug program is the man in charge of administering it, you might say, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for being with us. He's joining us from the Department of Health and Human Services. Is he there? All right.

Secretary Thompson, the program is just out today and already you've got the critics saying that it is too confusing. There are 28 different discount card sponsors. There are hundreds and hundreds of different drugs for seniors to compare. How do you answer this? I mean before you even get the program out there, people are saying it's not going to work.

All right. My apologies. We do have Secretary Thompson, but we're going -- apologies about that. We'll get it going in a minute and come right back to Secretary Thompson. Meantime, President Bush speaking to voters this hour in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the next stop on his two-day bus tour that is also going to be taking him to Ohio. Our national correspondent Bruce Morton has been thinking about campaign travel past and present.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Once the candidates campaigned by train, most famously Harry Truman in 1948. The train would pull in, the crowd would yell, "give them hell, Harry," and despite a famous (UNINTELLIGIBLE), Truman won declaring, "I never gave anybody hell. I just told the truth and they thought it was hell."

They still use trains, Ronald Reagan, both Presidents Bush.

BUSH: It's nice to be here in Spartan country.

MORTON: They use trains occasionally. Cameramen like the pictures but there aren't many passenger trains anymore. Lots of towns don't have a railroad station and in towns that do, lots of people don't know where it is. What you need nowadays is a bus. Bill Clinton and Al Gore started their 1992 campaign by bus.


MORTON: Lots of advantages. The bus goes to where the crowd is nowadays, the mall, the school, the park. It wears your sign so people notice when it's going by. Some buses are special like John McCain's "Straight Talk Express." The candidate rode with the reporters and answered questions and more questions and more. Reporters sometimes yearned for a ten-minute silence so they could figure out what the lead was that day. Sometimes the bus is a prop. Like this Al Gore school bus. But mostly it's just the easiest way to get your message around. The president is busing today and John Kerry's piled up some miles during the primaries.

KERRY: That's all you need, a bus ride, huh?

MORTON: Often the crowd's too big for one bus. A recent Kerry swing had a Kerry bus, a staff bus and a couple more for the press. You never know, somebody may give you a T-shirt.

KERRY: That's great. Thank you very much.

MORTON: Strange and nostalgic good old times, but the wheels that matter today are rubber moving down the road. The boys and girls on the bus, the Secret Service agents, the candidates, too. Bruce Morton, CNN Washington.


WOODRUFF: Now we're going to go back to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson to talk more about that discount drug program being unveiled today. Secretary Thompson, the program is no sooner out than the critics are saying it's too confusing for seniors, something like 28 different discount card companies, hundreds and thousands of drugs for seniors to compare.

THOMPSON: Judy, it's just -- that's just not the case. We have made it so easy for seniors to get the right card. Make the right choice. All they have to do is call 1-800-Medicare with their prescriptions, address, zip code and we will give them every card being sold in their region with the prices and encourage them to take the lowest prices. And then we have it on our web pages. We also are hiring what we call the ship programs to go out in the senior centers and to give seniors individual help or group help, whatever they desire in order to make the right choices. So it's easy to make the right choice. No other place in medical care is there so much information available to the seniors.

WOODRUFF: But some are saying it's too much information, it's more choices than most people or many people are capable of making. Is it true that there are a couple of dozen of different card plans for people to choose from?

THOMPSON: That's true. But all they have to do is call 1-800- Medicare and we will list those cards sold in those areas that that person lives and we'll tell them what the prices are and which the lowest prices their prescriptions will bring them when they go to the drugstore in that particular area.

WOODRUFF: Mr. Secretary, I'm told that the seniors who already have discount drug plans either with drug manufacturers or with AARP may not find it economical to sign on with one of these plans. Is that accurate?

THOMPSON: That is not our understanding. We have made an inventory, Judy, that is before even the price comparison between the companies. We have made a comparison and we have found that for branded drugs, there's going to be a reduction of somewhere between 15-17 percent and for generic drugs, 25-35 percent and then on top of that, for low income seniors, those under 135 percent of poverty, they would get an additional $600 this year, $600 next year plus when they use up the $600, most drug companies are going to give the rest of their drugs to those seniors free of charge. No other place in America is that deal available than through the Medicare system.

WOODRUFF: Mr. Secretary, what about those seniors who look to the prices and Canada and say that is still a better bargain for them. Our Ed Henry who is covering this from the Capitol today saying, for example, Celebrex, $38 in Canada and from the Walgreen drug card discount plan, $81.

THOMPSON: Well, there still is some discrepancy between what the drug cards are going to have finally listed. This is the first week the drug cards are going to be able to compare themselves with their competition. And they're going to list their new prices come Wednesday, which we'll have up on our web pages the following Monday and we think the prices will continue to go down. But we also know that the drugs that are sold in America are safe. They've been investigated and inspected by FDA. We can't say the same for drugs coming in from other countries. Therefore we can't authorize and say they are going to be safe. Therefore, for seniors who want safe drugs it seems the best buy is through the Medicare card.

WOODRUFF: All right. One other feature I want to ask you about. I'm told that AARP is telling seniors to choose carefully when they choose a card plan because once they choose, they can't make a change until the end of the year while these companies can change prices as often as every week. Is that the case?

THOMPSON: Well, we're asking the seniors to evaluate and not make a decision right away because we think the prices are going to continue to go down, especially next week after the drug card companies are able to...

WOODRUFF: But how do they know which company is going to lower prices more if they have to make a commitment?

THOMPSON: We're going to help advise them. All you have to do is call up 1-800-Medicare and we also want to make sure that seniors get the best deal. And the drug card companies have got to realize there's going to be an open enrollment come November. So those individuals that are going to have prices higher than their neighbor will have an opportunity in November to choose that other card company. So there's a lot of ways in which they're going to be lowering prices for seniors, and I believe for America in general.

WOODRUFF: Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson valiantly carrying the banner for this new discount prescription drug program. Secretary Thompson, thanks very much.

THOMPSON: Thank you very much.

WOODRUFF: Well, Howard Dean's days as a candidate are behind him at least for now. But the former White House hopeful is staying active in 2004 politics and possibly in Hollywood. I'll talk to him about the presidential race mainly and about his own plans next.

Plus, liberal commentator and funny man Al Franken's future plans. Is he serious about running for office?

And find out why our polling director is moonlighting as an odds maker of sorts. And how you can play along.


WOODRUFF: Former Vermont governor Howard Dean may not be running for president anymore, but that is not stopping him from speaking out on issues that are important to him. A little while ago, I spoke with him about some of those and I began by asking about senator Kerry's plan to internationalize U.S. involvement in Iraq and whether that will help him get elected in November.


HOWARD DEAN (D), FRM. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: First of all, I think any policy other than President Bush's policy is going to help him get elected. I mean President Bush has obviously made a mess of this. John Kerry's position is not very much different than mine. And so obviously, I support it with conviction.

I'd always said that the right way to deal with this now that we're there is to get the U.N. in so it becomes an international reconstruction rather than an American occupation.

We can't simply pull our troops out which I said on the campaign trail, as well, because if you do, al Qaeda wasn't there before we invaded but they are now. And we certainly don't want a fundamentalist Shi'ite theocracy or a civil war going on. That would pose a danger that was not there when Saddam Hussein, dreadful as he was, was in power.

So I think John Kerry's position on Iraq is exactly correct. I think it was distorted some. And I think it's substantially different than President Bush's.

WOODRUFF: But you have Ralph Nader arguing the troops should come out as soon as possible. You've got John Kerry's position increasingly similar to President Bush's position. He really doesn't have much maneuvering room, does he?

DEAN: I think that's nonsense. I don't think there's very much similarity at all between John Kerry's position on Iraq and Bush's.

You know for Ralph Nader to say the troops should come out as soon as possible. I agree with that. Of course they should come out as soon as possible. But if you take them out right now, are you condemning Iraq to decades of chaos. And worse for the people of the United States, Iraq really will be a threat.

Iraq was no threat to the United States when we invaded it. Even the president himself has admitted that he misled the nation essentially by saying that Iraq and -- I mean that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were somehow connected. And leaving the impression deliberately that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11. We now know because of Bob Woodward and because of Richard Clarke that that simply was false, simply false.

So now the question is from the Democratic perspective, how to get out of there without doing more damage to American security and without putting our troops and our security at risk? And I think John Kerry has a far different attitude and ability to do that than George Bush does.

WOODRUFF: Governor, a question about the Kerry campaign overall. An increasing number of Democrats are being openly critical of the way the campaign is going. They're asking what is the coherent message. What do you believe John Kerry's message is in a nutshell?

DEAN: I think, to be fair to those Democrats, they really probably have not paid enough attention to what's going on locally.

I spoke to John on Sunday action and I congratulated him on the last week. The national press corps doesn't write about campaigns the way the local press corps writes does. And frankly it what the local press corps writes that matters.

Kerry had a great week. He went to West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio and talked about jobs. John Kerry is going to win this election on jobs. George Bush could lose it because of Iraq, but Kerry has to win it based on jobs, economic security, health insurance. I thought he did exactly what he was supposed to do last week.

And I understand that in "The New York Times," they might not want to cover the story, but it doesn't matter what "The New York Times" writes. But it matters a lot what they write in Pennsylvania and Ohio and West Virginia.

I think his message is getting across, and I think he's going to do very well because that have.

WOODRUFF: But what is his message if this election is to be decided on national security issues?

DEAN: I think this election is going to be decided on two issues. And I said this when I was a candidate. National and economic security.

Clearly a guy with Purple Hearts and Silver Stars far more qualified than someone who manages to intermittently serve in the Alabama National Guard to guide the security of this country.

I've noticed over the years that people who've served in combat are far more reluctant to commit troops in dubious circumstances than those who would not. So I would trust John with the security of this country far more than I'd trust George Bush. I think George Bush has given us ample reason not to trust him on national security.

Secondly, any Democrat has a far better record on education, on jobs and health care than any Republican. That's statistically been shown over the last 12 presidencies.

WOODRUFF: Very quickly, Governor, it was reported last week you're in talks to create your own talk show, perhaps on a cable channel. Is this going to happen?

DEAN: As you know, we have a new organization,, where we're supporting grass-roots candidates all over the country and we're raising money to do that. Whatever I do, if I do anything on talk show circuit, will be compatible with trying to bring ordinary people not so much into the political process in the case of a talk show, but to bring them front and center.

I think too often people from Washington forget about the ordinary people in this country. And if we do do a talk show, it will be centered around ordinary people's lives in America.


WOODRUFF: Howard Dean telling me that talk show possibility, he said right now it's more fantasy than fact. But he said it could happen.

Well from comedian to radio host to political candidate? Up next, Al Franken says that he may consider a run for office in his home state of Minnesota.

Also, a Minnesota political veteran and former vice president critiques the performance of Dick Cheney.


WOODRUFF: Checking the Monday headlines in our "Campaign News Daily," two big names from the business world have signed on to advise John Kerry.

Investor Warren Buffett says he accepted Kerry's offer to serve as an economic adviser. But he says no one has asked for his opinions on anything so far.

Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs also has agreed to advise the Kerry team.

Buffett is a Democrat but he also served as an adviser to Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign for governor of California.

Former Vice President Walter Mondale has some strong comments about current Vice President Dick Cheney. Mondale, who, of course, served as Jimmy Carter's from 1977 to '81, tells the Associated Press that Cheney has taken the power of the office to a new level.

Mondale says Cheney has created, in effect, his own security council and that by doing so, he, quote, "chills the kind of vibrant discussion needed for an open, balanced operation of the federal government," end quote.

Comedian and radio talk show host Al Franken says that he may one day run for another job once held by Walter Mondale, senator from Minnesota. Franken says there's better than a 50/50 chance that he'll challenge Republican Norm Coleman in 2009. He says he'll make a decision by late next year. When told of Franken's comments, the chairman of the Minnesota GOP said, quote, "This is a joke, right?" end quote.

Well get your brackets ready. It's time to play "Veepstakes."


KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLING DIRECTOR: Guessing who a presidential candidate is going to pick for his running mate is like filling out a NCAA college basketball bracket. It's the perfect time of the year to be an armchair pundit.


WOODRUFF: Up next, CNN's Keating Holland kicks off the "America Votes Veepstakes Tournament." (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Time now for "How it Works." For those of you eager to predict who John Kerry will choose to be his running mate, CNN's Keating Holland has seeded the contenders. And he's ready to kick off the "Veepstakes Tournament."


HOLLAND: If politics is a sport, guessing who a presidential candidate is going to pick for his running mate is like filling out a NCAA college basketball bracket.

We've taken 32 possibilities, divided them into four brackets and seeded them just like the NCAA does. It's a game we call "Veepstakes."

First off, we have two regional brackets. One is the Southern bracket. It's a natural for Northeastern liberal to go for someone south of the Mason Dixon Line. He may decide to go for someone from a showdown state on the assumption if he picks a governor or a senator from a state that's a 50/50 state right now it, might put the votes in his column.

On the other side, we've got two brackets that have nothing to do with geography. The first is the bracket that Dick Cheney came out of in 2000. Cheney, as you'll recall, didn't really bring anything to the GOP ticket in terms of electoral votes, but he brought an awful lot of gravitas.

Finally, simply because it's a Democratic Party, we have to have a women's bracket.

No. 1 seed in the southern bracket, John Edwards. He's a natural.

We're seeding Bill Richardson as the No. 1 seed in the showdown state bracket. There's a very simple reason for that. Not only does he conceivably bring a showdown state, his home state of New Mexico onto the Democratic column, but he's also a Hispanic, very hot demographic in the year 2004.

Gephardt gets the top seed in this bracket for a very simple reason. He is the Jack Kemp of this year. Just like Kemp, he's got a long-term record in the House. Just like Kemp, he's very well-known in Democratic circles.

Top seed in the women's bracket, well it's obvious. It has to be Hillary Clinton. We're pairing her with former Texas Governor Ann Richards. Very simple reason for that. This is the annoy Bush part of the Bush bracket. Hillary Clinton on the ticket might annoy Bush, but Ann Richards would annoy him even more.

We're starting off with 32 contenders. At the end of this first round, after a couple of days of voting on, there'll be 16 left. You'll get the choice between those 16 and there will be eight left, then there will four left. That's the Final Four.

Finally from those Final Four, there will be two left, one from the geographical bracket, so to speak, and one from the gravitas bracket or the women's bracket.

That's the final vote. You'll be able to make that call too.


WOODRUFF: Keating Holland. You can go to our Web site to play this game. We'll be updating it regularly.

That's INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.

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