Hot Stories for the Week of March 8 - 12

This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys", March 13, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: The hot story of the week is Tora, Tora, Tora. It's -- and that's a reference, of course, to the Japanese attack on, on Pearl Harbor, that was the code.


KONDRACKE: And now it's come right home to here, here in America ... as Kerry versus Bush, Bush versus Kerry.

President Bush's campaign went on the air with its first negative ads against Kerry. Watch.


ANNOUNCER: A president sets his agenda for America in the first 100 days. John Kerry's plan, to pay for new government spending, raise taxes by at least $900 billion. On the war on terror, weaken the PATRIOT Act used to arrest terrorists and protect America. And he wanted to delay defending America until the United Nations approved.


KONDRACKE: Well, in blazing response, within 24 hours, the Kerry campaign was back on the air with an ad to rebut that. Watch now.


ANNOUNCER: Once again, George Bush is misleading America. John Kerry has never called for a $900 billion tax increase. He wants to cut taxes for the middle class.

Doesn't America deserve more from its president than misleading, negative ads?


KONDRACKE: Well, that whole business about the $900 billion ... is, what the Kerry campaign says is that they're doing away with the tax increases for the rich would cost $250 billion, not $900 billion. But...

BARNES: Yes, that would be a tax increase.

KONDRACKE: OK, OK. But what the, the Bush people retort is that Kerry wants to, has a health care plan for $900 billion ... over 10 years, and he's not going to increase the deficit, therefore where does the money come from? It has to come from tax increases. It's an extrapolation that draws the most nefarious conclusions ...possible.


KONDRACKE: Anyway, but the larger point here is that right now, Democratic attacks ... against Bush far outnumber and outweigh, in volume and nastiness, anything that the Bush people have thrown at ... at Kerry or the Democrats. I'm the one who's keeping score.

BARNES: Yes, I know you're keeping score. You've done a good job so far.

I think nasty is the right word when you bring up these Kerry attacks. And first there was Kerry saying that Republicans are liars and crooks in that comment that was overheard by reporters and television people as well, and then there was this statement on Capitol Hill.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, this is what they did to John McCain in South Carolina. They challenged John McCain's record as a prisoner of war. There were people out there calling him the un -- most unbelievable things. They did the same thing to our colleague and friend Max Cleland, who left three limbs on the battlefield in Vietnam. And they challenged his patriotism.

There is a Republican attack squad that specializes in trying to destroy people and be negative.


BARNES: Well, look, the problem with him is not just their ads and what Kerry has said ... their attacks on Bush are nasty. Inaccuracy is a problem.

Let me truth squad what he just said there. John McCain (search) and his record as a POW in Vietnam, no one has attacked that. Bush didn't attack that. Nobody supporting Bush has ever attacked his record as a POW.

Max Cleland, Max Cleland was defeated in 2002. No one attacked patriotism now, his patriotism, Mort, wait a minute, I'm going to mention the ad. There was one ad in that campaign that was a tough ad on the question of voting against the Homeland Security Department that some people have interpreted, you're one of those, has interpreted that as raising doubts about his patriotism, but that's all.

So you had, you had Kerry doing that.

Then his press secretary, David Wade, jumps out and says that the Bush people, or the Republican attack machine has questioned or attacked Kerry's patriotism. That's not true. They haven't attacked his patriotism at all.

That's just a ruse Kerry uses when anybody questions his national security records. Oh, you're attacking, you're attacking my patriotism. It just hadn't happened.

And then Kerry, David Wade went on to blame Bush or and the Republicans for a lot of crazy stuff that's on the Internet attacking Kerry, which is not the responsibility of the Republicans any more than that left-wing zany stuff you see, the hate-Bush stuff you see on the Internet.

So ... I think right now, your scorekeeping is accurate.

KONDRACKE: I, I think it is too.

OK, as promised, we're keeping on top of the latest polls in key battleground states as we go through the campaign. And there's a brand-new poll in Florida, ground zero in the 2000 campaign, the latest "Miami Herald" poll shows Kerry leading Bush by 6 points.

In Oregon, where Gore beat Bush by less than 1 percent in 2000, Kerry is leading Bush by 5 points.

And it's a horse race in Pennsylvania, where Gore beat Bush by 5 points. Kerry is leading there, but only by a hair.

Now, I don't, frankly, I doubt this, that Kerry is beating Bush by 6 points in Florida. But what's also interesting about that poll is, "Miami Herald" poll, is that if you put Bob Graham, Senator Bob Graham on a ticket with Kerry, it still beats Bush by less, but by less than 6 points.

BARNES: I know.

KONDRACKE: And that's not good for...

BARNES: Yes, yes.

KONDRACKE: ... for Graham. And John Edwards ... it's the same, 5-point lead, and Bill, Senator Bill Nelson, the other senator from, from Florida, it's practically neck and neck, 46-44. So that's not good for Nelson's chances.

BARNES: Yes, yes, yes.

KONDRACKE: And on, and in Pennsylvania and Oregon, interestingly, majorities of people, even though Kerry's leading, majorities of people and strong majority in Pennsylvania are hostile to the idea of gay marriage.

BARNES: Yes. You know what? And they aren't all bigots either. They're people who just want to protect an institution that's been an underpinning of our civilization. OK.

Hot story number two, Spain's 9/11. I'm talking about the horrible explosion there in Madrid, explosions, there were 10 separate explosions. And as The Wall Street Journal said, I think this should end the illusion that the war on terrorism isn't really a war. It is a war. And we do need a war president as a result, no matter who it is, has to be concentrating on this war.

Look, the United States is the chief target of terrorists, but American allies like Spain are targets as well. And 3/11 in Spain is what 9/11 is in the U.S.

There's a question of whether al Qaeda was involved here or not. I've talked to people in the administration who say they aren't convinced at this state that al Qaeda was involved.

But there are things that look like al Qaeda, the size of these explosions, much bigger than anything the Basque terrorists in Spain have ever been able to pull off. The killing of civilians, ETA, the Basque terrorism group, has not done that in the past. And then just all these synchronized explosions and everything, very much a hallmark of al Qaeda.

So it may have been the Basques, but they may have some help from al Qaeda as well.

KONDRACKE: Yes, well, I mean, it ...

BARNES: That's not unheard of.

KONDRACKE: OK, this would be a wakeup call for people in the United States and a ... political benefit to President Bush if it turned out to be an al Qaeda attack in Spain, it would remind everybody, you know, just about what you said.

But, but, the Aznar government in Spain says that this doesn't look like al Qaeda, it's rather ETA, because they just at Christmas time, they caught ... caught the ETA in the middle of a train plot. They just a couple weeks ago or maybe a week ago found 1,000 pounds' worth of bombs. And also, this was not an al Qaeda-style suicide bombing. It wasn't a suicide bombing.


KONDRACKE: This was done by other people. So it doesn't look like al Qaeda.

BARNES: Oh, I think it does.

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