Hot Stories for the Week of May 17 - 21

This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys", May 22, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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MORT KONDRACKE, HOST: Well, the hot story of the week is tough times. That is, tough times for President Bush. The president's going on prime time television on Monday night to talk about Iraq policy again. And he was up on Capitol Hill this week trying to rally Republican troops.

And the reason is that he is in politically very, very bad shape. The latest Fox poll shows that President Bush's job approval numbers are continuing to fall. He has dropped 5 points since the beginning of the year in our Fox poll. He's tied with Kerry in a head-to-head matchup. He's lost 2 points since last month.

And when asked if things in Iraq would be going better if Kerry were president, 39 percent said yes and 34 percent said that things would be going worse.

Now, the important fact is that in our poll and in all the other polls, Bush is consistently now below 50 percent, and that's fatal territory. In every case where an incumbent president has lost the election, at this time in the election year, he was below 50 percent.

I was at a breakfast this week with the high command of the Kerry campaign, and they were on cloud nine. I mean, they were virtually predicting that this thing is always over, that they'd been so brilliant about their ads and their strategy and the poll numbers, Bush is at 47 percent, president, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Now, I think that is wildly premature. In the first place, the economy is improving. And one of these days, the public may wake up and believe it. And in the second place, if things may turn around in Iraq, that would be good. And if that happens, then Bush will again be seen as a strong leader who, who knows what he thinks, and Kerry, people do have doubts about Kerry.

I mean, they think that he's a guy who takes one position one day and one position the next, depending on, you know, what the political winds are, and that he has no core.

FRED BARNES, HOST: Yes. For heavens' sakes, why would they think that, Mort? I can't imagine.

Well, you know, the cockiness of the Kerry campaign should be very premature, because everything that happened is not a result of their genius, it's a result of events. You remember how Kerry won the nomination, it was when Howard Dean collapsed. He didn't have anything to do with that, Kerry didn't.

And now Bush is in trouble because of events. You pointed to some of them, well, certainly Iraq is a problem, and this election is going to be decided by events, events that occur between now and November 2. It's probably not going to be because of the great strategic ability of the Kerry campaign or of the Bush campaign, for that matter.

So what, what are the events? Iraq, you know, Iraq may get better. People may stop the press and Congress may get over their obsession with Abu Ghraib prison. In fact, Duncan Hunter, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has gotten over it. He's a Republican, of course. And thinks the generals have better things to do in Iraq rather than come back here and testify all the time. Listen to Hunter.


REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R-CA), CHAIRMAN, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: We got 135,000 kids over there that need leadership, and their leadership can't be dragged back to Washington every couple of days to focus on seven people. And that's what's happening to them.


BARNES: OK. Iraq is one. A second, social and cultural issues like gay marriage, I think, are going to be heavily injected into this campaign by President Bush, and they will have an effect, because independent and, and swing voters agree more on those with Bush than they do with Kerry.

I'm assured that Bush will actually start talking about these issues. He hasn't so far, but they can have an impact.

And, of course, third, there's the economy, which, as you say, is getting a lot better. People will recognize that.

Now, we do have a, a current problem with the economy, and that's gas prices that have gone up. But they may not stay up. Listen to Bush, and tell me what you think who he reminds you of in this. Listen to him.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am concerned about the price of gasoline at the pump. I fully understand how that affects American consumers. Now, it crimps the budgets of, of moms and dads who are trying to provide for their, for their families, how it affects the truck driver, how it affects the small business owner.


BARNES: That make you think of anybody?


BARNES: Yes. Message, I care.

KONDRACKE: I care, right, exactly.

BARNES: That's mean to say so, but it did sort of sound it. Now, look, there's another poll that I want to cite. I'm not as exhaustive as you in going over these polls. But listen to this one, because I think it tells you something about Kerry that the Kerry people ought to worry about, and this is in the new Fox poll as well.

Seventy-eight percent of Bush voters support him strongly, while only 59 percent of Kerry voters say that. In other words, he is not building great enthusiasm among, among Democratic voters, among the base. You know, all these activists we see in Washington, they hate Bush, so they're all for Kerry.

But around the country, he's not stirring much passion.

KONDRACKE: Well, Kerry may not, I don't think Kerry's been stirring passion from the beginning.


KONDRACKE: The passion is against Bush. And it, and it, and I...

BARNES: That affects the activists ...

KONDRACKE: ... think -- well, OK, and the, but for, for the swing voter, what really counts is, as you say, events ... and what the Democrats are anticipating is that a straight, a straight-line projection of the president ... you know, the ... the Barnes rule ... is never project...


KONDRACKE: ... from, from the president... people always do... and they think...


KONDRACKE: ... they think that people are not going to think that the economy is getting better because it's not getting better fast enough, and also they're predicting gloom and doom in Iraq...


KONDRACKE: ... and they don't see any, any, any way around it.

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