Trail Dust: Stakes in Iraq

This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys," April 17, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: John Kerry's political tightrope on Iraq is the topic of this week's trail dust. Kerry's been under fire for not offering specifics on what he'd do differently in Iraq. So this week, he penned an op-ed calling for full partnership with the U.N. (search) and NATO (search). He also offered this not too subtle shift in tone. Here's Kerry last week and Kerry this week.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think this has been a failure of diplomacy, a failure of foreign policy, a failure of creative leadership in the foreign arena.

You know, we all want us to succeed, and it's not yet. No, it's not a failure today, it's just much more difficult, much more costly, much more risky, and much more damaging than it had to be.


MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Fred, I can save you a lot of time. You no longer have to watch television reports of what's going on in Iraq, no longer have to read the newspaper ... line by line.

BARNES: Yes, right.

KONDRACKE: All you have to do is watch what John Kerry (search) says. If things are going horribly in Iraq, or seem to be going horribly, then it's a failure. If things are not quite doing so horribly ... and things are maybe getting better in our side is, looks like ... it's winning, then it's, well, maybe not a failure yet...


KONDRACKE: ... you know. I mean, so he obviously wants to have it both ways.

I'll say this for Kerry, he has never once said that we should bug out. What his plan is to give all the civilian authority both, over both government and reconstruction, to the United Nations.

Now the problem with that is, one, the U.N. has proved corrupt on, on economic issues before. And two, when at the first sign of trouble, the U.N. does bug out. And if the U.N. bugs out, then what are we left with? We're left with us doing the military, and we'll be accused of being occupiers again.

BARNES: Yes, yes, absolutely. The ... here's another thing to watch for. Ralph Nader (search).

Now, if Ralph Nader starts criticizing Kerry very strongly on Iraq for drifting toward Bush's position, and appears to be gaining ground, the Kerry will start moving back in the other direction, away from Bush, and toward declaring Iraq a failure again. So watch that.

In any case, I don't think we've heard Kerry's final position on Iraq yet, far from it.


It's time to check out this week's batch of new statewide polls in the battleground states.

We begin in Florida. Kerry is beating Bush there by 1 point. Last week's Tampa Tribune poll had Bush up by 8.

In New Jersey, a new poll there shows that Bush is leading Kerry by 4 points. That's with Ralph Nader in the race. Without Nader, Kerry leads by 1 point. Gore won New Jersey by 15 points in 2000, and so Fred and I think that this heavily Democratic state will go to Kerry in the fall despite the new poll.

And Bush has a 2-point lead over Kerry in Oregon. Gore won that state by roughly 7,000 votes in 2000.

BARNES: So, taking into account these new polls, here's what this week's electoral scoreboard looks like. President Bush picks up Oregon but loses Florida this week, so his total is 294, and John Kerry keeps New Jersey and picks up Florida, bringing his total to 244. Florida may change again, it's very volatile. But again, 270 is needed to win.

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