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Terry Neal
Terry Neal
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Talking Points Live
With Terry Neal
washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent

Friday, March 7, 2003; 1 p.m. ET

Which if any of the expanding Democratic presidential nominees can topple Bush in 2004? How much will a likely war in Iraq cost? What are your thoughts on the fight over the judicial nomination of Miguel Estrada?

washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent Terry Neal brought his Talking Points column live to field questions and comments on the latest in political news.

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.

Terry Neal: Good afternoon, all. It's a pleasure to be with you. Let's get it started!

New York, N.Y.: What are your thoughts on the Clinton-Dole 60 Minutes debates?

Terry Neal: It can't be any worse than most of the other screaming head crap that inundates our television sets these days. Both of these guys are smart, sharp and I think people will actually care more about what they have to say than...Oh, I was going to name names. But never mind.
I think it'll also be interesting to see if, now that both are out of office, whether it'll free them up a little bit to speak their minds more freely. The one thing that could hinder that is that both of their wives are in the U.S. Senate and mentioned as possible presidential candidates themselves in 2008.

Bethesda, Md.: Call it a hunch, intuition, whatever. I see us in a war within 2 weeks, we stay to rebuild and help Iraq. The tax cut is passed, yet the economy remains stagnant, with high unemployment. More Enron like companies continue to collapse. Deficits skyrocket. 2004 will go to the Democrats. God, I hope they pick someone capable of cleaning up Bush's mess.

Terry Neal: Wow. We've got a real optimist here! But your raise a valid point...We are on the verge of having a very rough next couple years. That is why Democrats are lining up to challenge a president who at this point remains pretty popular (although his numbers have declined a bit of late). They all think this year next time, Bush will be as popular as his father was a few months before the 1992 election--that is to say, not very popular at all. But the one thing Bush has going for him is that he's very familiar with that history and will do everything to avoid repeating. The political landscape a year from now will almost certainly be quite different than it is today. But who knows how that will effect the next election...

Arlington, Va.: Why do you suppose your colleagues in the press seemed to be unable to ask difficult questions last night or challenge the president to answer their questions rather than give his same few talking points over and over?

Terry Neal: That's a good question. I covered the Bush campaign for the Washington Post in 2000, and people asked that same question of us then, as well. I'd say a couple things: It is more difficult in press conferences than it is in interviews, where you can ask follow up questions and control the flow, to hold a politician's feet to the fire. Second, I would say, Bush is very good at not answering questions. Ultimately, reporters aren't prosecutors: They can't make someone answer something. Nonetheless, as a viewer, you still learned something about the president when he refused to answer questions...You learn that he either cannot, or will not answer tough questions.
Now having said that, I was disappointed that the press core did not ask some questions about the economy and some other tough issues.

Chicago Ill.: I don't know if this is outside your bailiwick, but how would you rate Gov. Ehrlich's performance so far? Is the media blowing things out of proportion or is he really doing his best to destroy any goodwill he had coming into office? Thanks.

Terry Neal: I generally write about national politics, so I'm no expert on the Maryland governor's performance so far. But I do live in Maryland, and I did cover the Maryland legislative session for three years when I first came to the Post as a Metro reporter in late 1994. I think it's too early to grade Ehrlich. He's only been in office a couple months. But it is clear that he's going to have a very tough go of it. He's the first GOP governor in decades and he's coming to a state with an entrenched Democratic party that runs the legislature with an iron fist. I think he's probably made some wrong tactical moves in particular on the slots issue, but as I said, two months is too early to rate anyone.

Montclair, N.J.: How is it that Terry McAuliffe is still in control of the Democratic Party? Was there really no one to challenge him after his awful loss of the midterm elections? I think it's a shame that the Democratic groveller-in-chief is still around.

Terry Neal: Interesting question. There are a number of Democrats who are asking the same thing. There are probably two answers: Number one--who is going to remove him? He still has the support of Bill Clinton, who even out of office is the most influential Democrat. And number two--McAuliffe is the most prolific fund-raiser the party has. So even though a lot of people are disappointed with the public face of his leadership in the wake of the party's disastrous 2002 election performance, he retains a level of support because of his ability to raise money for the party and individual candidates. With the new campaign finance laws banning big soft-money contributions, it will make it more important for the parties to be able to raise money from lots of individual donors. For that, you need a big Rolodex. McAuliffe has it.

Morgan City, La.: It's a shame the president doesn't do more of these prime time news conferences, but I have to say he's really not very good at them, not compared to a master like Ronald Reagan. He seems prescripted, defensive, and chortles in that silly liquid manner at inappropriate times. How serious a liability is this in a media-driven age?

Terry Neal: I've thought about that a lot over the years. As I mentioned, I covered the Bush campaign for the Post in 2000, and we spent a lot of time writing about his propensity for malapropisms and non-sequiturs and that sort of thing. And I think that certainly has created a negative impression among some folks. On the other hand, believe it or not, it has endeared him to some people, who see him as more like one of them--a regular guy. I tend to think that his manner turns off people who are inclined to dislike him for ideological reasons, and endears him to be people who are inclined to like him for ideological reasons.
Also, I think among those who like him, there's a feeling that he's been picked on by media elites for things that don't really matter.
In any case, I think I know where you stand. Thanks for writing!

Denver, Colo.: Why do you say that Bush "remains pretty popular" when according to the Quinnipiac poll yesterday his approval was down to 53 percent. I don't recall Clinton being below that number, and as I recall, he was rarely (if ever) referred to consistently as a "popular" president by anyone in the mainstream media, the way the current inhabitant is? Why such disparaging treatment by the media here?

Terry Neal: Good question. In the Washington Post's most recent poll, I believe, he was at 60 percent approval, which may be on the high end. In any case, the Quinnipiac poll has him at lowest level I've seen in any of the recent polls. Let's assume he's somewhere in between, 56 or 57 percent. That's pretty decent. Not great, but not horrible either.
And as someone who was around covering politics for the Post in the last few Clinton years, I think there was a lot of reporting about how he remained pretty popular among most of the public.

Herndon, Va.: Mr. Neal: Hillary versus Libby in 2008 -- doesn't that sound great?

Terry Neal: Absolutely! You know, after covering the Bush campaign for 18 months, I said that while it was a great experience, I'd never want to do it again. Well, I'd eat my words and sign right up for that one!

New York, N.Y.: Howard Dean seems to be doing well lately, even to the point of attracting some GOP criticism. Do you think he's finally transcended the second-tier categorization and made it into the ring with the Big Kids?

Terry Neal: Thanks for your question. I wrote about this in a column recently...My guess is that Dean will move up soon to that first tier of candidates, that includes Gephardt, Edwards, Lieberman and Kerry. I would lump dean with Kucinich, Graham, Mosely-Braun and Sharpton at this point, because they're all showing up in the low single digits in most polls (with the exception of New Hampshire, where Dean is second only to Kerry). The thing is, all of the first tier candidates are supporting Bush, to some extent, on the Iraq war issue. I think given the level of opposition to the war among the Democratic party's rank and file, it is inevitable that at least one of the second tier candidates will move to the first tier. I think that person will be Dean: So far, I think he's been the most impressive on the stump. He's also getting lots of good press, and he has reportedly impressed some of the activists in the early voting states. Graham's entry to the race is interesting and could throw a monkey wrench in this theory. Because he hasn't really been out on the stump or campaign trail, I'm just not sure how his candidacy is going to play out.

washingtonpost.com: Democratic Faithful Welcome Antiwar Messengers (Post, Feb. 24, 2003)

Alexandria, Va.: How about Hillary vs. Condi in 2008?

Terry Neal: That would be great too, and in some ways would be even more interesting, in that Dr. Rice would be the first African American with a credible chance to run on the GOP presidential ticket. I think that match-up would be fascinating.

Terry Neal: Well folks, I've got to run...I thought your questions were really excellent today, and I had a good time. Sorry I couldn't get to everyone. Take care and have a fabulous weekend.


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