January 28, 2004 | Broadcast

American Morning

Democratic consultant Victor Kamber. Victor, nice to see you. Good morning.


HEMMER: Also Cliff May, former RNC communications director, now with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Cliff good morning to you.


HEMMER: There are miles to go and months to go as well. But, Cliff, is there a sense that you’re getting right now within the Republican Party of what they feel it may be like with a John Kerry- George Bush match up next November?

MAY: Yes, I think so. And it’s been a remarkable turnaround for Kerry, no question about it. A couple of weeks ago, we were talking about Kerry using the “F” word in “Rolling Stone” magazine, and that was not for “front-runner.” And now here he is.

I think there are a lot of Republicans who would say as Republicans they’d rather be taking on Howard Dean; as Americans, maybe not. Howard Dean’s position on national security is kind of scary.

John Kerry has not been quite coherent. He voted against the Gulf War in 1990. He voted for the war resolution in 2002 supporting President Bush, but says now he didn’t understand what it meant. And then he voted against the money for the troops in Iraq, but he says we can’t cut and run.

So, he’s got a lot of explaining to do. As the front-runner now, somebody needs to attack him. It won’t be Edwards. It may by John Dean, because — John Dean. It may be Howard Dean, because unless Howard Dean attacks him, I don’t see how Howard Dean gets his lead back.

HEMMER: In this campaign so far, that’s been the biggest slip of the tongue, by the way.

MAY: I know.

HEMMER: John Dean instead of Howard Dean. You hear it from everyone.

Victory, how do you size it up right now? Bearing in mind, we’re not trying to get too out far in front of this issue at this point.

KAMBER: Well, I think in many ways Cliff said it, and you said it, Bill, and Kelly said it, too. Howard — or John Dean is — John Kerry is…

HEMMER: There you go again.

KAMBER: John Kerry is the front-runner today. But three weeks ago, Howard Dean was the front-runner.

The interesting thing is that Howard Dean, although he’s the anti-establishment candidate, has the establishment support. He has labor support, the painters union, SCIU, AFSMI (ph). He has Al Gore. He has, you know, a number of prominent Democrats. He has more super delegates, ironically. John Kerry doesn’t have the kind of institutional support, yet we know he’s the establishment candidate.

The irony is what Cliff just said. There is going to be scrutiny now of the front-runner — scrutiny of his voting record, scrutiny of his 19-20 years in public service. It’s going to come from Howard Dean. It’s going to come from the press. It’s going to be, I think, still an open race.

I was amazed last night at the pundits and all of the press who seem to think it’s over, that Howard Dean has no chance. I think that’s wrong. I think this is still an open race with one front- runner clearly, and that is John Dean — John Kerry.

HEMMER: Cliff, do you see it the same way?

MAY: Yes, I do. I think Victor is right, I have to say. And there are a couple other points. A big winner here: Iowa. Iowa showed that it is relevant to this contest, and it’s a dangerous thing to skip Iowa.

Big loser here: Al Gore. He supported Howard Dean early on. Also the Clintons, who were supporting Wesley Clark. They didn’t endorse him, but everybody knew that’s who they were behind.

So, it’s sort of playing out interestingly. What you have to look for going ahead is who takes on John Kerry, and can it be done effectively? And I think it’s got to be Howard Dean who does the job.

KAMBER: Bill, there is one other big loser, and I think it’s George Bush. The numbers that have turned out in both primaries so far have been extraordinary. I mean, yesterday, 208,000 Democrats in New Hampshire. That’s a record. Last time in Iowa, a record, which says they want to replace George Bush. And I think these Democrats, regardless of where they ended up in these primaries, will stay with the Democratic nominee to get George Bush.

HEMMER: Let me quickly go to another topic here, if I could. David Kay is going to testify on Capitol Hill in about two and a half hours from now. But we are told that he will blame intelligence for the failure of weapons of mass destruction, and not locating them on the ground in Iraq. Is it possible, do you believe, Cliff, that the White House can sidestep this issue, or is that at this point an impossibility?

MAY: The White House has to tackle this issue, but it can’t do so in a terribly public way. I mean, the worst thing Bush could do is get out there and say our intelligence community really is not performing the way it needs to. But that is the truth. It’s been the truth for a very, very long time.

The fact that we didn’t see 9/11 coming, that was an intelligence failure. The fact that we didn’t know that Libya was well-developed in its weapons of mass destruction — as we’re now finding out — that was an intelligence failure. The fact that we didn’t really have a grip on what Saddam was doing — we knew his intentions, we didn’t know his capabilities — that was a failure. But this failure goes back at least to the end of the Cold War when a lot of people in Congress decided we didn’t need intelligence, we had no more enemies out there.

So, the intelligence community needs to be fixed, but Bush cannot be slamming his hand on the table. He needs to do it quietly and carefully, but it’s got to get done.

HEMMER: Victor, do they have the touch?

KAMBER: Well, first of all, while we know there are problems with the intelligence community, I think there’s a deeper question. What Mr. Kay says today is going to throw the problems to the intelligence community. But there’s really a question: Did George Bush and this administration know the facts and mislead the American public?

We’re now hearing him backtracking from, well, I never said that there was eminent danger. I only said there was, you know, potential danger. I mean, there are all sorts of backtracking from the Bush administration.

So, I think, first and foremost, we have to find out what did George Bush really know prior to the war. And then, secondly, yes, we know we have problems. Our intelligence- gathering hasn’t been what it is. This administration and Congress have to shore up the finances that support intelligence and put the right people in place.

MAY: Bill, this is an essential national security issue. It should not be used as a political football.

KAMBER: I’m not doing that. I’m just trying to tell the truth.

MAY: The intelligence reading that Bill Clinton had was the same as George Bush. Bill Clinton passed the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998…

KAMBER: And they both did different things.

MAY: And all of that happened was Bush implemented the policy of the Clinton administration with regard to the world’s worst dictator.

HEMMER: We’ve got to go. Gentlemen, thank you.

MAY: Thank you.

KAMBER: Thank you.

HEMMER: Victor and Cliff, always good to talk to you here. And come on back next week, OK? Appreciate it.