Hot Stories for the Week of February 16 - 20

This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys", February 21, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

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MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Well, the hot story is, down to two. That's John Kerry (search), of course, and John Edwards (search), but actually the score is 15 to 1, that's 15 primary events for Kerry, one for Edwards. And the other score is 494 delegates for Kerry and 171 for Edwards.

The close Wisconsin results, this past week, just the 6-point Kerry victory, indicate that Democrats aren't exactly in love with John Kerry, but they think that he's the candidate most likely to beat George Bush.

Here's Kerry rather testily explaining why he's the front-runner. Watch this.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I won independents and Republicans in Virginia. I won independents and Republicans in Tennessee. I won in Tennessee and I won in Virginia. I won independents and Republicans in Iowa and in New Hampshire. I won in Iowa, and I won in New Hampshire.

I haven't done the, I mean, I'm just telling you, I'm attracting all across the board...


KONDRACKE: Attracting, but ... not attractive...

BARNES: ... testy.

KONDRACKE: Yes, right. Now, now, Kerry's going to win another three minor ones, Utah, Hawaii, and, and Idaho this next Tuesday.

And then he's way ahead in the big ones on Super Tuesday, March 2, something like 45 points ahead in California and 52 points ahead in New York, which probably will shrink somewhat.

Edwards is kind of gently attacking Kerry on trade, but what he really wants to do is to get Kerry into four debates, where he thinks he can score a coup of some sort. Here is Edwards doing the challenge.


SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We should debate wherever and whenever. And I want to make absolutely clear that I will come to New York, I will go to California, I'll go anywhere in America we need to go to debate these issues, because Democrats deserve this story.


KONDRACKE: Well, Edwards is an attractive guy...

BARNES: Right.

KONDRACKE: ... but I think he's several weeks late and several million dollars short.

BARNES: Mort, here's my prediction. Edwards will close the gap in these polls, these 50-point gap, close the gap with Kerry in these polls, come a lot closer when the results are finally in, lose all 10 primaries on March 2, and the press will declare an Edwards surge again. They keep declaring these Edwards surges, and he never wins anything.

To be viable, truth, Mort, you know what he has to do? He has to win at least one of the three big states on March 2 Super Tuesday, California, New York, or Ohio. Now, I don't think he's going to win any of those states, do you? I mean, maybe he'll win Georgia, that's a southern state.

But, and the Kerry strategy doesn't make much sense either, you know, he wants to win maybe one state on March 2 then win some southern states on March ...


BARNES: Yes, Edwards. And then beat Kerry in Illinois. But he's not beating him anywhere.

Now, but Edwards is winning against his real foe, Hillary Rodham Clinton (search). I mean, that's why he's lingering in the race. He, he's doing it because he's legitimizing himself as a national candidate and introducing himself to Democrats in all these states all across the country, and he's doing a, a reasonably favorable job. I mean, and I think Hillary...

KONDRACKE: I'm looking forward to that race.

BARNES: No question about it. OK.

The other hot story is waiting for Bush. Yes, waiting for the Bush campaign. When's it going to begin? When's he going to get in there? I'm always amused when I hear reporters say, just because President Bush's campaign had tried out an ad on the Internet, that the campaign is in full swing.

It will be in full swing probably sometime in March, and we'll know it when it comes.

If you want evidence, Mort, that it's not in full swing, just listen to this electric statement by Marc Racicot, the, who's the chairman of the Bush campaign.


MARC RACICOT, CHAIRMAN, BUSH-CHENEY '04: We've never had a preference about one candidate or another. They each bring different personalities and different possibilities to the race. The fact of the matter is, we're going to run on the record of this president, his steady leadership in leading the war on terrorism, his steady leadership domestically on the economy, on education, on Medicare reform, over and over and over again.


BARNES: That was pretty hyperkinetic, wasn't it? You know, look, when the Bush campaign begins, you'll start to hear a lot about, about John Kerry and trust, and the point being of the Bush people that a guy like John Kerry who's been on both sides of some of the most serious issues facing the country, including war in peace, that ... he's a guy you just can't trust.

I think that's a fair criticism of, I mean, it's not out of bounds, a fair criticism of Kerry. And I think even the most biased reporter, after Democrats, after what Democrats have been saying about Bush, that he's a liar, a betrayer, a deserter, and all these things, that even the most biased reporter will not jump to the conclusion that, gee, suddenly Bush has introduced ugliness in the campaign.

KONDRACKE: Yes, well, look, by starting out late, Bush is going to have to climb himself out of a hole. The latest Fox News poll shows that Bush's job approval rating has slipped to 48 percent, which is the first time that he's been below 50 percent in our poll. And he's tied with Kerry in a head-to-head match up after leading him by up to 22 points, that was back in January.

Now, I do believe this poll and not the Gallup poll, which showed Kerry winning by 11 or 12 points, because, even if you look in the Gallup poll, Republicans are 90 to 9 for Bush...

BARNES: Right.

KONDRACKE: ... Democrats are 90 to 9 against Bush, independents are tied at 41 to 41. So it's got to be a tie.

BARNES: Yes, right, yes.

KONDRACKE: You know. So the ...

BARNES: I would have concluded the same thing, Mort.

KONDRACKE: Right. Now, now, as to the media, our friends at the Center for Media and Public Affairs (search) show that over the past month, Bush's press, in the network television shows, was 70 percent negative, and the press reviews for Democrats was 65 or 70 percent positive.

And what the Democrats spent most of their time doing was beating up on Bush.

So, but Bush, Bush does have to get into this game.


KONDRACKE: And he can't just do it by attacking Kerry. Presidential reelections are a referendum on the incumbent, and he's got to say what he's done...

BARNES: Yes, yes.

KONDRACKE: ... and what he's going to do.

BARNES: Indeed, of course he does. You know, the only Democrat who's gotten any criticism from the press in the last few months is Dean. Edwards's coverage has been ... the evening news shows, 100 percent positive, and Kerry near that. All right.

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