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Talking Points Live

Terry Neal
washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent
Thursday, October 2, 2003; 1:00 PM

How did retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark emerge from Thursday's two-hour Democratic presidential candidates debate? How is the administration dealing with Bush's falling poll numbers? Should Arnold Schwarzenegger or Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock step aside in an attempt to unify Republican voters before the Oct. 7 California recall?

washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent Terry Neal took his Talking Points column live to discuss 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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Terry Neal: Good afternoon friends. My goodness we have a big news day today. So without delay, let us begin!

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New York, N.Y.: In your recent article "Green isn't the Only Color that Counts," you remark that Howard Dean has little experience dealing with urban problems because he hails from one of least racially diverse states in the country. As one who reads Howard Dean's Web log, I have noticed there is a grassroots movement among the bloggers to elevate Atlanta congressman John Lewis as a prospective Vice-Presidential candidate. What are your thoughts about John Lewis as a potential Vice-President, and would a Dean-Lewis ticket help or hinder Dean's success with Southern voters, particularly the conservative blacks you reference in your article?

Terry Neal: That's a really fascinating question...First let me say, I think Dean's challenge in attracting black voters has little do with what he believes or how he has behaved in office or anything like that. I think it has to do more with unfamiliarity than anything else. I think, however, he has a good chance of attracting strong African American support over the next few months if he makes an effort to do so. Certainly if he becomes the nominee, black voters will support him strongly, given the distaste most black voters have for the Bush administration. Now regarding John Lewis, I must admit, while I've heard that sort of speculation in passing, I haven't heard it discussed as a serious possibility. Lewis is widely respected in Washington among his colleauges in both parties. And he is a hero of the civil rights movement. While he could help get get black voters out to the polls, I doubt his inclusion on the ticket is going to help him with the white voters the party needs to attract.

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Colton, N.Y.: If Californians vote to recall Governor Davis and Arnold wins, do you think a recall petition against him will be part of his first 100 days?

Terry Neal: No doubt someone will begin circulating a recall petition. I think that's almost certain. Whether that petition would be backed by the Democratic party power structure, I don't know. I think people in California are getting a bit fed up with the circus-like atmosphere surrounding this recall, and I'm not sure even Schwarzenegger's opponents will want to put the state through that again. But I think you can be relatively certain that someone will begin circulating a petition.

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Ann Arbor, Mich.: I am a supporter of Senator John Edwards.
I would like to know why the national press seems more interested in reporting on the personal sparing (Dean/Gephart) that took place during the debate rather than issues and solutions like helping to pay for the first year of college for students.

Terry Neal: That's a good question with an easy answer. The media is obsessed with horse-race stories. Now having said that, there is a place for horse-race stories in journalism. But it would be good to see more issue-oriented stories. But these things aren't mutually exclusive. I mixed the two things in my column from yesterday about Dean, in which I discussed the state of his campaign's efforts to woo black voters as well as Dean's positions on issues of importance to black voters.

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Macomb County, Mich.: Terry, how can President Bush define the agenda on his terms again? What can he do to get the narrative back in his court where he and his team are controlling events again? What are their choices? Dick Morris says invade Iran. That seems a little nuts. What are the rational choices thay have going forward? Thanks.

Terry Neal: Well, I'm not in the business of giving presidents advice. I think much of what happens is not so much about message as it is actions, anyway. By that I mean, it was the president's decision to declare war on Iraq. He had a rationale for doing that. The public is judging him on whether his rationale proves true. If WMD are found, Hussein is captured and stability is restored in Iraq, the president will be able to define the agenda again. The president said his $2 trillion in tax cuts would restore health of the economy. If that happens, the president will eb able to define the agenda again.

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New York, N.Y.: If you follow Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign, special interest groups are defined as the Indian gaming lobby, drivers licenses for migrant workers are dangerous to the security of the state, and Latino student organizations are plotting to return California to Mexico. You suggest in your article "Schwarzenegger is No One-Dimensional Character" that demographics and political activism are not points he can afford to miss. Isn't it possible that these three issues are fundamental reasons why his campaign is succeeding? Isn't it also possible that Proposition 54 will be affected by a negative view attached to this kind of political activism?

Terry Neal: I think I made clear in that column that there was a good chance that Schwarzenegger's position on those hot-button issues would help him with some voters as much as it would hurt him with others. Look, Schwarzenegger knew what he was doing when he brought on Pete Wilson, ad guy Don Sipple and those folks. Certainly that angered many minority voters, but it also helped endear him with some conservative voters who were skeptical of his campaign from the start. Remember, Wilson was unpopular with conservatives until he got behind propositions 209 and 187 (the anti-affirmative action initiative). So these sorts of things still have broad appeal with large parts of the electorate in California. So that's a long way of saying yes, it is possible that these issues are fundamental reasons his campaign is succeeding. But I don't think they're the only ones, either.

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Arlington, Va.: When will we hear third quarter fund raising results and what sort of numbers do you think Clark needs to "prove" that he's competitive?

On the other hand, what sort of numbers would Edwards, Lieberman or Gephardt need to announce to remain legitimate candidates, in the eyes of potential donors and others?

Terry Neal: You'll be hearing in the next few days about the fund-raising totals from the campaigns. The Dean folks, eager get their good news out, have already announced that he hauled in about $15 million. Other campaigns are still counting the last minute checks...It doesn't appear anyone is going to out-raise Dean, but I'd say that Kerry needs to be close. I think it's especially important for Lieberman and Gephardt, who have performed under expectation to be in the $8-10 mil range. Edwards had a really great first quarter, but hasn't performed as well since. Many people are starting to question the viability of his and Sen. Graham's campaigns. They both need very strong quarters or many people may begin to write them off.

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Fort Hood, Tex.: Terry, what do you make of Wesley Clark's continued good poll numbers. The latest Newsweek poll has him extending his lead nationally from their previous poll showing him leading. There is a new Quinnipiack poll showing him leading in New York state. And a new poll out of Arizona shows him the choice of Hispanics there. Won't Howard Dean have to go negative on Clark? And if so, might that hurt Dean if there is a backlash against his negativity? Thanks.

Terry Neal: Let me answer the latter part of your question first. Howard Dean has already gone negative on Dean. I interviewed Dean over breakfast on Saturday, and he seemed eager to talk about Clark, hitting the general hard over his praise of Bush administration officials a few years ago.
Will that hurt Dean? Well, you know, voters claim to dislike negative campaigning, but frankly a lot of time it works. Also, I would say, "negative" is in the eye of the beholder. Certainly it is fair in politics to talk about an opponent's record. It is not fair to distort it.
As for the Clark phenomenon, I think much of it has to do with the fact that the party badly wants a winner. And Clark is seen by many in the party as someone who can win because he neutralizes the party's biggest weakness, the perception that it is soft on defense. I think it's that and the fact that he is a fresh face with a very impressive resume. The question is, can he sustain it? At this point, Clark is all resume. But as he begins to lay out his positions on issues and as he comes under increasing attack from both his Dem opponents and the GOP media machine, the question is whether some of that luster will begin to fade. We'll see.

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Providence, R.I.: Do you see any weakening in the Dean rollercoaster? It seems like when Wesley Clark entered the race, voters have backed away from Dean a bit.

Terry Neal:
Certainly Clark seems to have stolen a bit of Dean's thunder--or at least some of his momentum. The thing about Clark is that he appeals to the anti-Iraq war folks and because of his military background is considered by some to be a more credible spokesman on the subject. If he neutralizes Dean on the issue that propelled him to the front of the pack, Dean could be in trouble. On the other hand, Clark lost some folks when he appeared to vacillate on the issue of whether he would have voted for the war

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Ellicott City, Md.: What can any governor of California do to solve the problems of that state? From what I hear, the voters have in effect tied the hands of the government to do anything.

Terry Neal: That's a good question. I suppose if I had a good and easy answer for that, I'd be the 136th person on the list of candidates in California!
But seriously, you are correct. As has been reported in this newspaper and others, California has a series of laws and regulations--some of them contradictory--that limit a governor's authority on both the taxation and spending sides of the ledger. But voters don't want to hear that. And I think that is a big part of Schwarzenneger's appeal to many voters. A recent LA Times poll showed that voters are under no illusion that he is the most qualified or knowledgeable candidate. But they admire what they see as his leadership abilities. They want change, no excuses, and think he's the guy with the fortitude to make it happen. I'm making no judgment as to whether those voters are right or wrong. But it does appear that that's how many voters are viewing the situation.

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Tampa, Fla.: Terry, On the Limbaugh affair, ESPN got just what it wanted and is now running for cover. What I find hypocritical is the predictable parade of Presidential candidates and civil rights "spokesmen" calling for Limbaugh's firing. Basically his statement mirror's Isiah Thomas' long ago comment that Larry Bird got all his publicity because he was white. There was no Campanis like hue and cry then, just as Dusty Baker's recent ignorant ranting was given a pass in the press. As usual when a white guy makes a controversial comment he must be fired. The "liberal bias" charges get legs with such a double standard.

Terry Neal: Thanks for your opinion...First of all, first Isiah Thomas's comments were idiotic--Larry Bird was the man. Thomas caught hell for his comments, as he should have. But what, do you think he should have been asked to resign from the NBA? I think Limbaugh went a step further that Thomas, saying essentially that McNabb owed his success to the fact that the white media wanted him to succeed, as though the media voted him into those three pro-bowls. Second of all, as a football fan, I think he was dead wrong on McNabb's ability as a football player. McNabb is not having a great year this year, by any means. But he's been fabulous the last couple years. Does Limbaugh think Andy Reid is sitting around saying, "You know, my quarter back sucks. But hey, let's give him a break, HE'S A BLACK GUY!" Or does he think McNabb's opponents who voted him into the Pro-Bowl three times said, "Hey, let's vote for Donovan, cause the liberals in the media want a black guy to succeed!"
Come on now.
Limbaugh has a strong ideological perspective and he used McNabb to try to make a point, even though it didn't really fit.
And the liberal media bias thing is absurd. The media--of which Limbaugh is a powerful member--has covered the story, as it should. But yes, there are liberals in the NFL and among some commentators and they have a right to vehemently express their opposition to Limbaugh's statements, much in the same way conservatives expressed their opinions about the Dixie Chicks.

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Columbia, Md.: Would Al Sharpton make a good prez? What would it be like?

Terry Neal: Rev. Sharpton, is that you?
Just joking. Look, I'll keep my opinion to myself about what I think a Sharpton presidency would look like. I don't think it's a stretch to say that, according to a number of indicators, it doesn't look like be covering any Sharpton press conferences in the Rose Garden any time soon.
I think it's also safe to say that a number of people have been somewhat taken aback at how well Sharpton has done in the debates. That might be because the expectations were so low, but whatever it is, I hear all the time from people about how reasonable and intelligent he has been in the debates. He may never be president, but he may have done a lot to raise his profile and change some impressions about him. But barring some miracle of Hollywood proportions, I don't think Sharpton will be taking up residence in the White House in January 2005.

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Baltimore, Md.: You wrote earlier this week about a topic I just don't understand: Howard Dean getting criticism for the lack of African-Americans and other minorities attending his rallies. That would be a fair point if other candidates were turning out minorities to their rallies, but my feeling is that's not the case.

So tell us: are other Democratic candidates attracting bigger crowds of minorities to their rallies than Dean, or is their absence at his events notable only because he's the only candidate attracting crowds at all at this stage of the race?

Terry Neal:
I didn't say in my column that that was a fair judgment of Dean. In fact, I gave him an opportunity to address that very issue and he did. But I think it would be wishful thinking to suggest that Dean does not have a challenge in attracting black voters. As I said earlier, that doesn't have anything to do with how he's governed or what he believes. It's more a matter of making himself known. A number of other candidates, particularly Lieberman, Edwards, Gephardt, Kerry, Graham, all have more direct experience in either governing in states with large African American populations or dealing in political circles with African American leaders. Rather than be defensive about that point, Dean is going out and working for that vote. As I pointed out yesterday, he was in Crenshaw, the mostly black and Hispanic community in LA on Wednesday working to introduce himself and woo those voters.

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Alexandria, Va.: When I see Arnold on the stump, I can't help but think of the early popularity of Jesse Ventura in Minnesota. The entertaining guy from outside politics. What do you think?

Terry Neal:
Valid comparison, I think. Both candidates came from the world of entertainment, both were outspoken and controversial, and both blurred conventional perceptions of partisanship. Ventura was elected not so much because people thought he was a policy wonk but because they yearned for a strong-willed outsider to shake things up a bit. Schwarzenegger appears to be benefiting from the same sort of sentiment. We'll know in a few days if he can, as Ventura did, ride that sentiment all the way to the state house.

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Terry Neal: Well folks, I've gone overtime. It's been fun, but I gotta run. Take care,

Terry

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