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Convention Dispatches Live: Wednesday

Terry Neal
washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent
Wednesday, September 1, 2004; 10:00 PM

The 2004 Republican National Convention continues amid tight security in New York with speeches from Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.).

washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent Terry Neal took your questions live from the convention on the speeches, the atmosphere and the latest political news.

Terry Neal (post.com)

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The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Oak Park, Ill.: Mr. Neal:

I heard your comments on Aaron Brown's CNN show this evening, regarding Kerry's statement that he would still vote to give Bush Iraq war authorization. I really think there is a distinction between the authorization, and going to war. Also, don't you think voters are more interested in how we get out of this mess?

Terry Neal: You think there is a distinction? What was it? Kerry voted the authorization, and then the president said thank you and went to war.

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Terry Neal: Hello all. Good to be back with you for the third night of the Republican National Convention. There were lots of good questions and some lively discussion last night, and I'm looking forward to more of the same tonight.

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San Diego, Calif.: Who can get the word to Zell Miller that if he wants to be a Republican to go ahead and make the switch instead of calling himself a Democrat and pretending he is dissatisfied with the Democratic party.

Terry Neal: Thanks for your note. You know, I wrote a front-page story that appeared in the Post back in 1998 when Miller was wrapping up his second-four year term as governor of Georgia. My story focused on the transformation of Miller. It noted that he nearly lost his re-election bid 1994 over a symbolic issue--his efforts to remove the Confederate Flag from the Capitol.
Miller took away three lessons from that near loss:
1. In the South, it's best to avoid such divisive, hot button symbolic issues.
2. Focus on basic things everyone can agree on: In his second term, he pushed through his signature A+ plan, which created a lottery game whose proceeds went to pay for college tuitions for all qualified graduated seniors in the state who wanted to go to a public university.
3. Never let the Republicans get to the right of you: In his second term, he pushed through boot camps for juveniles, welfare reform and while every other state was considering three-strikes-your-out legislation, Miller pushed through TWO-strikes your out for violent felons.
The bottom line though is that today's southern Republicans are the ideological successors of yesterday's southern Democrats. Miller, who is known for a stubborn streak, refuses to change his party platform, even while those he came in the party with decades ago have long since done so.

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Salem, Ore.: Do you foresee ANY speaker at the RNC convention addressing the GOP plan for the next 4 years in terms of the economy, which might make a swing voter from a less-advantaged economic position feel even a scintilla of hope?

Terry Neal: This is a very good question. There was a lot of criticism from Republicans about how the Democratic convention was devoid of substance. But we haven't seen much in the way of new proposals for the next four years in this convention either.

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Oakland, Calif.: Greetings Terry:

Regarding the battlegrounds: seems to be a split-decision among the political pundits. Some say that Kerry's slipping among the 'persuadables' and others tell us the leads are all-within-the-margin-of-error and we won't know til mid-September whos ahead/behind in the polls. What's your read?

Terry Neal: There is some evidence that President Bush is picking up some steam and that Kerry has slipped a bit since the convention. But the race by all measures is still very close.

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East Lansing, Mich.: Terry:

In your journalistic opinion... what percentage of papers will lead with the RNC above the fold vs. Kobe above the fold?

Thanks

Terry Neal: Well, first I should say that it is entirely possible that many papers will put both stories above the fold. But it's difficult for me to predict. At this point, I don't believe the Post plans on putting the Kobe story above the fold tomorrow. But that could change. Sometimes editorial decisions are still being made late into the evening.

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Alameda, Calif.: Terry:

I'm a huge fan! Is it the media's fault or the Kerry campaign's fault that there are virtually no Democrats "responding" to the RNC speakers, yet during the Democratic Convention, there were several Republican spinmeisters ready to pounce on the Democrats. If I remember correctly, Ed Gillespie was asked to comment moments after Kerry's speech.

Is this media bias, or typical weak Democratic message making?

Terry Neal: I think it's the latter. For whatever reason, the Democrats just don't seem to have nearly as effective and efficient response operation on the ground here in New York as the Republicans did in Boston.

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Bozeman, Mont.: Hello Terry --

Much hay has been made about Kerry being a "flip-flopper." Has anyone at the convention noted the irony of Zel Miller attacking John Kerry, when just eight years ago Mr. Miller was attacking George HW Bush at the Democratic convention because he "talks like Clint Eastwood but acts like Barney Fife"?

Terry Neal: I think the Democrats will be making that argument in coming days. In fact, the Georgia Democratic party has already produced an ad juxtaposing highlighting Miller's comments from his 1992 Democratic convention keynote address.
There's not doubt that Miller's ideology has evolved. He has become much more conservative than was then. Whether that constitutes a "flip flop," well I'll let you be the judge of that.

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Chapel Hill, N.C.: What did you think of the Zell Miller speech?

Terry Neal: He spent a lot more time attacking his party and Kerry than he did in supporting President Bush. He mentioned Kerry's name 16 times and Bush's 7 times. The written version of the speech was five pages. Two were devoted to attacking Kerry/Democrats, one to his personal biography and intro, and one to lauding Bush.

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Manassas, Va.: With the amount of negative attack ads and stump speech rhetoric already shown by the Republican party, will the Democrats look petty by trying to match it or do you see them trying to maintain the high road? From what I've seen, taking the high road doesn't seem to have worked well for them?

Terry Neal: Well, I think the Democrats will have to respond pretty forcefully to Miller's speech. People can say whatever they want about how he's essentially a Republican anyway. But the fact is, he's still a Democrat and has been one for decades. Miller's party affiliation makes it more difficult for the Democrats to dismiss it as just another partisan attack.
I expect Democrats to come back hard tomorrow, and they do have some ammunition. Stay tuned.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Last night on CNN, you claimed that Sen. Kerry had said, in answer to the President's rhetorical inquiry in a political speech, that, yes, Kerry would have voted to authorize the President to invade Iraq even knowing what we know now, that Saddam Hussein had no WMD.

That is not what Senator Kerry said in his answer. He said only what he has said often; that he stands by his vote to authorize the use of force as a complement to diplomacy, to provide a credible threat of force vis a vis Saddam. It was the press reports of what reporters asked the Senator that has led to this confusion. If you doubt me, please note that the Resolution in question is exclusively concerned with WMD and Saddam complying with UN Resolutions; if we knew then what we know now, any Senate Resolution re authorize the use of force against Iraq would have had to be based on an entirely different basis than the one Kerry voted for. I admire your reporting, Mr. Neal; please check with the Kerry campaign; I'm sure they will confirm that the commonly expressed opinion, like yours last night, are in error.

Terry Neal:
Well, the Democrats who voted against the resolution don't agree with you. Sure, Kerry can put conditions on it, but those conditions don't exist in the resolution. It gave the president authorization and he took it.
And my point, which I stand by, is that Kerry's position is going to make it more difficult for him to draw a distinction with the president on this crucial issue.
By the way, I received a lot of email today from people on the left who told me how disappointed they are at Kerry's position. One person asked why Kerry could not have simply said something like, "I did the right thing at the time, based on the information that was given me. But knowing what I know now--that there were no WMD, no links to al Qaeda, no imminent threat and no culpability in 9/11--no, I would not have voted to give the president that authority."
Whatever the case, mine is not a judgment about whether Kerry is right or wrong to say whatever he wants to say. My point was merely that it complicates his campaign.

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Ft. Myers, Fla.: Do you believe that Ben Barnes' interview on 60 Minutes this coming Sunday will ignite the same kind of three week long media frenzy as did the Swift Boat Veterans? If not, what do you think the difference between the two stories is?

(Salon.com reports that "Ben Barnes, the former lieutenant governor of Texas, will finally break his silence and talk to the press about what role he played in helping Bush get a coveted slot in the Texas Air National Guard in 1968" on 60 Minutes this Sunday.)

Terry Neal: I'm not sure what the reaction is. I read about it on Salon.com, but obviously, I have heard the entire interview. I'd sort of like to hear what he has to say before I guess what the reaction is going to be.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Hello, Terry,
Why is Zell Miller allowed to remain a Democrat? Terry McAuliffe said on CNN on Wednesday that he really isn't a Democrat, that he wants to be in the party just so he can stand out from "other" Republicans and sell books, that he should leave the party. Can't the Democrats remove him from the party? Isn't it their "club"? Can't they not nominate him to represent the party the next time he's up for re-election?
Thank you

Terry Neal: I don't know of any provision that allows a party to strip someone of their membership in the party.
Miller, by the way, is retiring from the Senate after the end of this year, which answers your last question.

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New York, N.Y.: I've watched you on TV the past few nights and I have just one question... are you auditioning for a job with Fox?

Terry Neal: Thank you for your note! I'm very pleased to receive it. Someone wrote last night to complain that I lean to the left. Now you're suggesting that I lean to the right.
All this leaning in both directions sure does get confusin'.
Oh, by the way, I'm heading over to CNN now. Check me there in the 11 p.m. hour. I'll be sitting right in the middle of my chair.

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