This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys", August 28, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Well, Fred, the hot story is, Bush's turn. Republican National Convention (search) time here in New York City. Now, the weeks since the Democratic convention have been, have been good for Bush, and bad for John Kerry. Not big-time, but measurably.

The latest Fox News poll shows that President Bush (search) and John Kerry (search) are now in a statistical tie. Bush was 5 points down earlier this month. Bush has regained a lead in other nationwide polls as well. And Bush's job approval rating is over that all-important 50 percent threshold.

But in a New York Times, L.A. Times, sorry, Los Angeles Time poll, only 43 percent of, of voters say that the country would be better off with Bush in office for a second term, and 54 percent want a different direction.

So it is up to Bush to deliver a compelling message about why he should be elected, reelected to a second term.


KONDRACKE: Now, Bush was, was on this week, I mean, sorry, Karl Rove, Bush's guru, was on this week with Brit Hume...

BARNES: Right.

KONDRACKE: ... and said the following about what we can expect. Watch.


KARL ROVE, BUSH SENIOR ADVISER: This is an opportunity at the convention for us to lay out a ... a positive and optimistic agenda for the second term at a point where people are willing to hear it and take it in.

Second of all, it's an opportunity for us to remind people of the consequential accomplishments, the big record of this administration, tax cuts, war on terror, growing the economy.

And finally, we're going to be able to remind people of who he is and what he's all about. I mean, this is a person that, whether you agree with his policies or not, people tend to like him. They know that he believes what he believes, and says what he believes, and can be counted upon to follow through.


KONDRACKE: Now, the Bush speech is supposed to contain a bold agenda and a, and a bold vision. So, you know, I, I asked Rove, So what, what's coming?


KONDRACKE: I could not get one detail about the content of the speech.

BARNES: Right.


BARNES: I thought you were a hard-digging reporter.

KONDRACKE: ... I'll tell you -- Well, I am, I tried -- I dug as hard as I could. But so I'll tell you what I expect...


KONDRACKE: ... to see in the speech, what I hope to see in the speech, anyway. I want to see what Bush is going to do about the scandal that we, that the United States of America spends more money than any other country on the face of the earth on health care, and yet we have 45 million that were uninsured. Costs are rising at a double-digit rate every, every year. We do not have, we are not the healthiest country in the world.


KONDRACKE: And as a matter of fact ... we have a life expectancy, which is equal to that of Costa Rica.

So what's Bush going to do about that?

BARNES: I don't think he's going to talk about Costa Rica, Mort, and I suspect that most people in Costa Rica, they want quality health care, they come to the United States.

KONDRACKE: If they can afford it.

BARNES: And once again, you know, you go into this (UNINTELLIGIBLE), I mean, you recite this myth of the uninsured. Forty-five million, but, you know, more than half of them are people who are just temporarily uninsured because they're between jobs, or people who can afford health insurance but they just choose not to buy it for one reason or another.

So there is not a scandal, there is not a crisis. Those words are usually used by liberals when they want government to do more. I mean, it's just ridiculous.

I'm glad you put in the Bush number, the poll number on his job performance at 50 percent or better, because that's the most important one, that one about, does he deserve a second term, 43 percent, you know, that, I mean, that's where Clinton was in 1996. So I don't think that's a measure of whether Bush can get elected. Fifty percent means he's got a, he's got a pretty good shot at it on job performance.

Now, with the speech, I think he's got to obviously defend the intervention in Iraq. He's got to explain why we need this really forward and offensive war on terror. I think he can do that pretty well.

But he's also got to give people some idea of this unfilled agenda, with a conservative agenda that he wants to pursue in a second term. It's Social Security reform, it's health care reform, its these things, to give people more control over their own money, how they spend it, and so on, more choices in life ... and it would mean not less government spending, but it would be less government control.

I think Bush, if all goes well in this convention, and he gives a good speech, and those are big ifs, because the press isn't going to help him at all, they'll be covering the protests and cheering them on, but if he comes out ... has a good convention, I think he could come out of this convention 5 or 6 or 7 points ahead of John Kerry.

And if you remember 1996, when Clinton was running for reelection, came out of the convention with that kind of a lead, he never lost it.

Now, the other hot story, of course, is where's Kerry? And I mean...

KONDRACKE: Oh, I know where Kerry is. Kerry's on Nantucket, as a matter of fact... as we speak.

BARNES: ... yes, but ... where's Kerry, and when's he going to come out and tell us what really happened in Vietnam?

You know, John McCain (search), the Republican senator, gave him very good advice last spring and said, Don't dwell on Vietnam, no good can come of it. You'll just, you'll just rub old sores and, and, and this is not going to help your campaign, and it has not helped his campaign.

The Kerry campaign has countered a couple of the charges by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, about whether he deserved medals, but on, on a couple of things, I think it's ... we can conclude now for sure he did not go to Cambodia on Christmas Eve, 1968. Even his very sympathetic biographer, Doug Brinkley (search), says he didn't go there, and probably didn't go there at all.

And the other one is, now that Admiral Bill Schachte has come out and said he was the commander of the boat on December 2, 1968, where there was fire and they, and Kerry got hit in the arm, Schachte, who, who became an admiral in the Navy, has come out and said, Look, there was no hostile fire. Kerry shot a grenade and some of the shrapnel came back and hit his arm, which means he did not deserve that Purple Heart.

Now, look, the Kerry people, they scream, it's a smear, it's terrible. If it's a smear, all these charges are untrue, then he can come out and answer them. But he hasn't met the press except in this one example, Comedy Central. Now, watch this, Mort.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: George Bush doesn't want to talk about the real issues. I mean, what's he going to do, come out and say, We lost 1.8 million jobs, 4 million Americans lost their health care, we're going backwards on the environment, we've angered everybody in the world, we...

JOHN STEWART, HOST: Sir, I'm sorry, were you or were you not in Cambodia on Christmas Eve? They said -- you said five miles...


STEWART: ... they said three.


BARNES: No answer, Mort, no answer there. And ... so I'm not surprised ... as to Kerry's record while in Vietnam, the latest pop Fox poll shows 49 percent think Kerry either lied or exaggerated his Vietnam service, 49 percent. That's pretty big.

KONDRACKE: Look, I think the Schachte revelation is really important, and it does, and it raises questions about whether he deserved his, his first Purple Heart.


KONDRACKE: And if he didn't deserve his first Purple Heart, then he got out, you know, before he legitimately had a right to.

Now, you know, and I think this needs to be investigated as to how he got that Purple Heart, because Schachte claims that at first he's, he, Kerry came to him and asked for a Purple Heart recommendation, and Schachte turned him down. So how did, how did Kerry end up with the, with the Purple Heart? And furthermore, and I agree with you completely that Kerry's got to talk about this.

Now, as to his awards for valor, the Silver Star and the Bronze Star, so far the evidence seems to suggest that Kerry did deserve them, but the, although there, there are con, there are continuing questions.

So I think that the bottom line as to valor is that, look, Kerry went to Vietnam, he put himself under fire...


KONDRACKE: ... a lot of people; in his generation, including the president and Dick Cheney, did not. However, I don't think that has anything to do with whether he's qualified to be commander in chief.

BARNES: Yes, yes.

KONDRACKE: The fact is that when he got back from Vietnam, he denounced his, his comrades as war criminals, and then for 20 years he basically pursued a, a McGovernite foreign policy. That's the, that's the important thing.

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