This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys", May 3, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: The hot story is mad as heck.


BARNES: Of course...


BARNES: ... of course I'm referring to John Kerry. And he is mad. He's angry. He's a victim.

Remember after March 2, when he had Super Tuesday, when he locked up the Democratic nomination? And he said to Bush, "Bring it on." Now he's saying, Take it off, take it off.

The truth is, in politics, you're either on offense or defense. He's on defense. And if you don't think he's on defense, just listen to this.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They want you to believe that John Kerry, who put the uniform of his country on voluntarily, who felt an obligation to go to Vietnam when so many others didn't, who stood up and fought for our country, they want you to believe, they want you to believe that somehow I'm not strong for the defense of our nation.

Well, I've defended our nation.


BARNES: Yes, but he's also on defense right here. The truth is, Bush has put together some very clever ads attacking Kerry, particularly that one, you know, you've seen it, where the weapons are vanishing, the ones that, that he voted against the production of in the first place, and, and just this past week, there was a major speech by Dick Cheney (search) attacking him on defense. Listen to Vice President Cheney a moment.


DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And the senator from Massachusetts has given us ample grounds to doubt the judgment and the attitude he brings to bear on vital issues of national security.


BARNES: You know, Kerry hasn't been exactly elegant or lofty in his response. You know, he started ... he has begun attacking Bush's National Guard record, something he said he would never do. So I score it this way. This is round one of probably about 10 rounds that this campaign will have. Round one goes to Bush.

KONDRACKE: Well, I, I completely agree that Kerry lost his cool and went after the National Guard record, although it is part of the whole Democratic strategy to accuse the Bush people of smearing and attacks and all that kind of stuff to make them out to be bad guys and try to reduce President Bush's reputation as a nice guy.

But, look, the fundamental fact is that he was out on a trip about the economy throughout the Midwest, and the subject that everybody was discussing was Vietnam. And it wasn't his Vietnam heroism, which works in his behalf, but, you know, his anti-war activity after the war, and whether he threw his medals over a fence...

BARNES: Right.

KONDRACKE: ... and stuff like that. And then, as you say, Bush's National Guard record. And we're going to talk about all that, all that stuff in a minute. But the, but the bottom line is that even Kerry's supporters admit that he's not on message and that he's not taking advantage of Bush's weaknesses.

And that brings us to the second hot story, which is do or die or Iraq. The latest New York Times-CBS poll, which does have a tendency to oversample Democrats, but nonetheless shows growing doubts about President Bush's handling of Iraq.

His overall approval rating is 46 percent, his handling of Iraq is 41 percent, his handling of foreign affairs in general, according to this poll, is 40 percent. All of that is the lowest of his presidency. And when asked the question, Was the Iraq war the right thing to do? ... only 47 percent said yes. Last month, that number was 58 percent. That's an 11- point drop.

Now, you know, the economy has been improving, so it looks to me as though Iraq is going to be the major real-world, real-life issue of this campaign, not this silly stuff about who did what 30 years ago. Now...

BARNES: Or the economy.

KONDRACKE: Yes. Now, this was the, this, well, yes. And this was, this was the anniversary, today's the anniversary of President Bush's fly- in to the U.S.S. "Lincoln" and his declaration that major combat operations are over. And clearly major combat operations are not over.

We lost 134 men in, and soldiers, not men and women, in the last month. There were only 115 lost during the Iraq War. There's a lot of doubt about, you know, who's going to take over the country after September 30, and so Bush was in the Rose Garden on Friday trying to buck up morale as he observed this anniversary. Watch this.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're making progress, you bet. There's a strategy toward freedom. One of it, as course, is to continue to deal with those who trying to stop the Iraqi people from realizing their ambitions of a free society. Whether it be in Fallujah or elsewhere, we will deal with them. Those few who are stopping the hopes of many.


KONDRACKE: Now, Kerry also made an anniversary speech, which you'll see a little bit of right now.

BARNES: OK. Good, can't wait.


SEN. JOHN KERRY: This is a moment of truth in Iraq. Not just for this administration, the country, the Iraqi people, but for the world. This may be our last chance to get it right.


KONDRACKE: Well, Kerry has a three-point plan for Iraq. One is to put NATO in big-time. I'm sure Bush would do that if, if he could. Secondly, to appoint an international reconstruction czar, which, it seems to me, is up to the Iraqi government, if that, if that's...


KONDRACKE: ... the way they want to do it. And the third thing is to have a massive rebuilding of the Iraqi security forces, which is exactly what Bush is trying to do.

So I don't see, I don't see all that much difference. The bottom line here is that the public is losing confidence in Bush's Iraq policy, but Kerry is not able to take advantage of it. It seems to me that, that everything depends on how this all turns out.

BARNES: Yes, well, look, one thing that worries me is the American forces flinching on the outskirts of Fallujah. First, they moved to the outskirts and didn't move in after those four contractors were killed and their bodies mutilated. Then they were going to do something with an Iraqi brigade, and it wouldn't go in there to fight other Iraqis. Then there were negotiations with so-called Fallujah leaders, who couldn't deliver anything, certainly not the terrorists and the, and the Ba'athists ... who are there, the people who are the problem.

Then it was decided to go in with Iraqis in, you know, these joint patrols, and that didn't work out. Now they're going to allow some Iraqi troops led by a Saudi general to go in. That's not going to work either, it's up to America to take Fallujah.

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