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Talking Points Live

Terry Neal
washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent
Thursday, December 2, 2004; 1:00 PM

Just weeks since he formally ended his bid for the White House, what will Sen. John F. Kerry's role be in the Democratic Party? How will the President Bush's shifting cabinet affect his second term? Who is likely to become the DNC chair?

washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent Terry Neal took your questions on the campaigning, the candidates and last night's debate.

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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Terry Neal: Good afternoon everyone. Thanks for joining me for my regular weekly chat. I look forward to taking your questions. So with that, let us begin.

Terry

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: Is it true that the Democrats are having the Ohio ballots recounted and if by some slim chance discrepencies are found and Kerry actually won the state, can he still become president even since he conceded?

Terry Neal: This is a good question. My understanding is that the votes will be recounted, but strangely enough, the process is not being led by Democrats but by a group of third-party candidates. The Post wrote about it yesterday, and you can read about it here.
My understanding is, a concession is not the formality that decides an election. The electors from individual states will do that next year. If I'm wrong about that, I'm sure someone will let me know.
Whatever the case, I wouldn't hold your breath...

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washingtonpost.com: Kerry Team Seeks to Join Fight to Get Ohio County to Recount (Post, Dec. 1)

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St. Louis, Mo.: Any early indication on whether the Democrats are looking to move to the left with the new DNC chairperson, or move towards the center or cultural right? Is Hoawrd Dean still being mentioned as a contender? Who else?

Terry Neal: Thank you for your question. There is a lot of internal dissension on this subject right now. There are many people who believe Dean would be the best person for the job because he's been about the only person--other than Bill Clinton, that is--who has been able to fire up Democrats lately. The knock on him is that he also evokes strong emotions on the other side of the fence.
Many people inside the party are arguing that it needs to find someone who is not a northeastern liberal but a more moderate figure from the midwest or south. One of the most attractive candidates who fits that mold, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, has said he doesn't want the job.
So it's in flux. Stay tuned.

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Tracy, Calif.: Any more news on who has the inside track to become DNC chair?

Terry Neal: Well, there's lots going on, but much of it has to do with those who've said they don't want the gig. I've already mentioned Vilsack, but apparently former NH Gov. Jeanne Shaheen has bowed out of the running. She was perhaps the highest profile woman prospect. That could be bad news for people like Donna Brazile, who have argued that the next chair has to be someone who can appeal to white women, who voted in smaller proportions for Kerry than they did for Gore or Clinton.
That, of course, doesn't mean only women can appeal to those voters, but it might make it easier.
I think Dean is still playing it coy, but he'd obviously be one of the front-runners if he decisively went for it.
Some other names that are considered strong potential candidates: Former Clinton adviser Harold Ickes, former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, New Democrat Network chair Simon Rosenberg, Texas Rep. Martin Frost (who just lost his seat), and former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk.
This is not exhaustive list, but just a sampling of the names I'm hearing bandied around.

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Houston, Tex.: I have asked this question before but never get an answer. Why are we stuck in a two party system? There have to be tens of millions of people who are not zealots of the Republican or Democratic parties. Is there not a person out there who could entice voters with genuine centrist,populist beliefs? I think there is.I also think that money is the cause we are stuck without a viable alternative. I am not talking Nader, Libertarian or Green party, but a consortium of existing politicians who do not currently fit the mold of the parties they are now members of.

Terry Neal: This is a good question, and I have answered others like it before. This is more a subject for a doctoral dissertation than a live online chat. But briefly, I'd say you're right. Increasingly, people are saying that they don't identify strongly with either party. There are numerous reasons that no real viable third party has emerged. I think the biggest reason is money. The two dominant parties have such a stranglehold on the donor bases that there's nothing left. Plus, people are reluctant to contribute money to candidates/parties that they believe have no chance of victory. Plus, those who are most likely to give money are the ideological extremes...There are a lot of moderates in this country. Perhaps in the plurality of the country would describe itself that way. But the people who are fired up enough to open their wallets are the people that are on opposite ends of the ideological extremes.
And without money, you cannot run and win major elections in this country. Well, you may get a Jesse Ventura or something like that on the state level every now and then, but for the most part, that's the sad truth about politics in America.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: So what do you think John Kerry's future holds? My analysis is that looking back, he wasn't a great candidate. Bush seems to have had massive vulnerabilities and if the Dems had got someone from the Midwest or South that didn't windsurf and snowboard that this election would have been even closer.

Does the Dem establishment think Kerry performed well or does it also see faults in the campaign's execution like I do? It seems clear to me that they can't nominate someone from the Northeast or West Coast if they want to win, no matter how exciting they are to the base. Let me be more frank: DON'T NOMINATE HILARY CLINTON IN 08'!

Thanks, and sorry for that outburtst.

Terry Neal: No problem. Just hope it makes you feel better...LOL
I don't think there are a lot of muckety muck Democrats who will say so publicly at this point, but a lot of the folks I talk to privately think Kerry just ran a poor race. I captured some of this in my elections reflections column a few weeks ago.
Kerry will probably return the Senate with his stature enhanced, but unfortunately for him, he'll be returning a chamber where his party's power and influence has been further diminished.

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washingtonpost.com: Election Reflections (Post, Nov. 4)

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Columbia, Md.: Mr. Neal, your mention of the fact that Sen. Kerry did worse among white women voters than Gore reminded me of a conversation I had with my sister (a white independent voter in a red state who went for Bush) right after the election. One of her deciding issues was the "Theresa factor," and I have had subsequent conversations with similar voters who also mentioned this. Do you think that the potentially polarizing effect Ms. Heinz Kerry had on voters was an under-reported issue in the election?

Only three years and one month until Iowa. I can't wait! Thanks for all your excellent reporting on the campaign(and beyond).

Terry Neal: Thanks for your note. I find it difficult to believe that the "Theresa Factor" was much of a factor at all. But maybe that's just because I could imagine myself voting based on what I thought of someone's spouse. But in my many years of political reporting, I've learned and accepted the fact that a lot of people don't think like me. So I don't doubt that that might have made a difference for some people, such as your sister. But whether Heinz Kerry's presence was the cause for Kerry falling 3.5 million votes short seems a bit of a stretch for me.

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DNC leader: Hi Terry

Just because Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack fits in with mold does not mean he is the guy for the job. The Dems need someone who can fire them up, or better yet fire on-the-fencers up. Kerry's was a passion-less campaign. All he could articulate was that he was not for the policies of Bush. Howard Dean, right or wrong, evokes strong emotions in people, and would bring a passion to making the Democratic party successful (state and national leaders) again. No one outside of Iowa or outside a week from the Iowa caucus has heard of Tom Vilsack.

Terry Neal: Thank you Gov. Dean for sharing your thoughts.

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Terry Neal: Just joking...I hear you. I think I acknowledged that there's a lot of internal dissension on this subject.

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New York, N.Y.: Next DNC Chair: Bill Clinton. What do you think?

Terry Neal: I think it won't happen, number one. Ex presidents typically avoid a lot of overtly political activities. I mean, can you see Clinton on Meet the Press or Crossfire debating Ken Mehlman? Wouldn't that seem kind of demeaning for the former leader of the free world?
And number two, I think it's going to be very important for the Democrats to identify new faces and intriguing characters within the party. At this point, the GOP has a lot deeper bench, and the Democrats need to catch up. The Democrats could pick a DNC chair who is not that well-know today, but who would become well over the next few years. Ron Brown wasn't exactly a household name when he took the job a decade ago, or whatever it was. But he was an engaging figure who capture the attention of a lot of people. I'm not giving the party advice on whom to pick. I'm just saying that from my perspective, it seems the party might do itself a favor by looking forward, rather than backward.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Is the future of pre-election polls in doubt, especially in key states? For example, a poll in Arkansas and West Virginia had the presidential race about even. But Bush won those states by double digits. A couple of pre-election polls had New Jersey and Hawaii even as well. But Kerry won those states by seven and ten points, respectively. Does that mean we should be even more suspicious of state polls in the future?

Terry Neal: No, I don't think there's any question that polls are here to stay. But every time you look at a poll, you should remember that there are margins of error--some times as high as 5 percentage points in some state polls with small sample sizes.
People should also remember that no matter how many strategies pollsters devise to determine turnout, it's really impossible to determine which voters are going to go to the polls, which voters are fired up, which voters are apathetic.
A poll is not a crystal ball. It is what it is--an imperfect device. And journalists, as well as regular folks should always keep that in mind when they're reading them.

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Terry Neal: Well, th-th-that's all folks. I've got to run. Sorry if I didn't get to your question, but try me back next week, same time, same place, and perhaps I will.
Take care,

Terry

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