This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys", Sept. 25, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: And the hot story of the week is Iraqification of the political campaign, that is. John Kerry has decided that he's going to fight this battle on Bush's turf, on the war on terrorism and, and on the Iraq war, where Bush traditionally leads in the polls.

What Kerry's case is that he can wage the wars more smartly, tougher, and that he can make Americans more secure as a result than under Bush.

Here he is on Friday making a speech about terror. Go ahead.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: The invasion of Iraq was a profound diversion from the battle against our greatest enemy, Al Qaeda (search), which killed more than 3,000 people on 9/11 (search) and which still plots our destruction today. And there's just no question about it, the president's misjudgment, miscalculation, and mismanagement of the war in Iraq all make the War on Terror harder to win.


KONDRACKE: Now, Kerry's advantage here is that things are going pretty badly in Iraq. Casualty rates are up, attack rates are up, infrastructure is not built, et cetera, et cetera. His disadvantage is that, that he's been so all over the place about Iraq policy that nobody really trusts him.

And Bush this week, the Bush campaign came out this week with an ad sort of making fun of this, you know, his tendency to ... to flip ... watch.


ANNOUNCER: In which direction would John Kerry lead? Kerry voted for the Iraq war, opposed it, supported it, and now opposes it again. He bragged about voting for the $87 billion to support our troops before he voted against it.

John Kerry, whichever way the wind blows.


FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: You like those sunglasses...


BARNES: ... the trunks he has on?

KONDRACKE: Yes, right.


KONDRACKE: I have a very canny Republican friend who said on the basis of miscalculation and mismanagement of the war in Iraq ... Bush definitely deserves to be fired. But would you hire John Kerry ... to, to man, to manage the, to manage the war instead? No way.

BARNES: A canny Republican ... you know, someone who, not a Bush Republican.

KONDRACKE: Somebody who'd like to be a Bush Republican.

BARNES: All right. Look, Mort, I'm going to, I want to thrill you with a couple of polls, because I know you love polls ... that show that Kerry has a long ways to go before he can win the Iraqi issue from Bush.

The, the first one, the latest Fox poll shows President Bush leading Kerry by 11 points on the question of who'd do a better job in Iraq. And on the question of who has a clearer plan on Iraq, Bush leads Kerry by 9 points.

Now, Kerry, as I'm sure you'll admit, Mort, has left himself open to a lot of criticism by taking this ... this new position on Iraq, which he says is his old position, but nobody believes that. Watch Bush. Here's some of Bush's criticism.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I believe a leader must be consistent and clear and not change positions when times get tough. But I understand that's what mixed messages do. You can embolden an enemy by sending mixed message. You can dispirit the Iraqi people by sending mixed messages. You send the wrong message to our troops by sending mixed messages.


BARNES: Now, Dana Milbank of The Washington Post, who covers the White House, and I think ... you would agree with me that he's not favorable to President Bush, that's for sure...

KONDRACKE: That's for sure.

BARNES: ... but in any case, he has said the message that Bush and other Republicans are, are sending about John Kerry comes down to this, and that is, and I, I quote Milbank, "John F. Kerry and others in this party are giving comfort to terrorists and undermining the war in Iraq, a line of attack that tests the conventional bounds of political rhetoric."

I don't think it tests any bounds of political rhetoric at all. Look, Kerry says it's the wrong war at the wrong time in the wrong place. If he'd been elected president, this is what he told David Letterman (search), he wouldn't have gone to war at all. Saddam Hussein would still be in power.

And, and lastly, what do you, what would the ... Kerry's top priority having become withdrawal from Iraq, he wants to start in the first six months, and his goal is to have all the American troops out in four years, now, what are the terrorists going to think? Are they going to be encouraged by this? They're going to think, Hey, we're winning, the Americans are going to pull out if this guy gets elected. All we have to do is hang on.

So I think the criticism is quite fair, it doesn't go over any line.

Now, the other hot story is, advantage Bush, and I'm talking about just the raw politics of the campaign. I mean, it turns out, Mort, that the last five or six weeks in this campaign may have been a turning point in the campaign or the turning point in the campaign, which more and more it looks like.

I mean, look at this Fox poll that shows Bush now is up 4 points in a three-way race with John Kerry and Ralph Nader, and the rolling average by Real Politics, shows Bush leading by 5 points, and his all-important job approval, and we can discuss why that's so important, is at all, is at the 50 percent mark, you know, it's become so much talked about, job approval, that people refer to just the J.A. because it is the thing that correlates most closely with what you actually get in the vote.

So the president needs to be over 50 percent.

KONDRACKE: He needs to be over 50 percent.




KONDRACKE: He's at 50 percent.


KONDRACKE: I notice...


KONDRACKE: ... how you, how you, how, how you love and refer to polls all the time when, when Bush is up in them, but when Bush is down in them...

BARNES: Mort...

KONDRACKE: ... then you, then you dismiss them.

BARNES: Mort, I'm just being nice to you. I know you want to hear some, so I, you know, I'm just ...


BARNES: ... you know, being your pal.

KONDRACKE: OK, now, you are my pal. Now, this week Karl Rove, who otherwise is known as Bush's Brain, and by the way, I have seen that movie, do not waste your time, it's a terrible movie...

BARNES: All right.

KONDRACKE: ... anyway, Karl Rove had an interview with The Washington Time and noted and correctly that, that blue states carried by Al Gore in, in 2000 are getting purple, that is...


KONDRACKE: ... a little bit redder...


KONDRACKE: ... or they're actually, they're actually going, going red.


KONDRACKE: ... in the case of Pennsylvania, which is still in the Kerry column...

BARNES: Yes, yes, just barely.

KONDRACKE: ... and, and, and, and Minnesota is ... is a Gore state, tied, very close, Wisconsin and Iowa, which are, which were Gore states, are, actually show, show Bush, Bush in the lead. And there are no Bush states...


KONDRACKE: ... except perhaps New Hampshire...


KONDRACKE: ... where, where Kerry looks like...


KONDRACKE: ... like he could win.


KONDRACKE: Florida, we'll just have to...


KONDRACKE: ... see what happens...

BARNES: Yes, well, the other thing is...

KONDRACKE: ... after ...

BARNES: ... of course, that Ohio and Missouri, which are states that Kerry was going to make a big play for, are gone. They're for Bush. I was out in Ohio. It's gone ... they are Bush states. All right.

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