March 4, 2004 | Broadcast

American Moring


ANNOUNCER: The last few years tested America in many ways. Some challenges we have seen before. And some were like no others.


HEMMER: In those ads, citing the president for leadership, start airing today in 16 states. Many of those states battleground states and critical for the election next November. In addition, the group,, launching its own series of ads attacking the president, in turn.

More on the media wars with Kamber and May today. Democratic consultant Victor Kamber is back with us.

Vic, nice to see you. Good morning to you.


HEMMER: I’m doing just fine, thank you.

Former RNC communications director Cliff May, now with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

Cliff, good morning. How are you?

CLIFF MAY. FMR. RNC COMM. DIR.: Good morning, Bill. Fine.

HEMMER: This is what we’re hearing, Vic, from the White House, they are hitting John Kerry on three points. They say he waffles on votes and issues, he will raise your taxes as president, and does not have a plan for national security. From a democratic standpoint, how will they defend those three charges.

KAMBER: Well, I think all we have to do is defend by talking about Bush’s record in office — are you better off today than you were four years ago? And the answer is, no. The president hasn’t dealt with the economy, he hasn’t dealt with jobs. We have a war going on, where there’s no solution, no way to get out. We have a president that’s, frankly, absent on the job, and is relying on the image of 9/11 to prop him up.

You know, John Kerry, I think, can easily defend himself, 19 years in the Senate. Yes, he changed his position on some issues, but the positions changed. I mean, when he supported the president two years ago, or a year and a half ago on the war, it was based on certain information that doesn’t exist as we know it today. He might have voted differently today if he knew the facts then. That’s going to be an easy argument. The question is really the president’s record. That is what this election is about.

HEMMER: Cliff, what about the record?

MAY: I think the president has shown great leadership since 9/11. I think what these ads do is to remind people who they knew the president to be before the Democratic primary when every night on CNN and every other station, you saw nine Democrats out there, beating the president up side the head continually.

It’s fine for John Kerry, or for Vic, to talk about the problems out there. At some point, they will have to say here’s what we will do differently in order to attempt to grapple with those problems. We haven’t heard that yet, and we don’t expect it during the Democratic primaries, but at some point, you are going to have to have some idea.

I don’t know, you know, if what you are saying — on national security, I hope that John Kerry is somebody who understands everything changed since 9/11, and I hope we will hear a very good plan for winning the war against America’s enemies who are right now plotting against us around the world.

KAMBER: We heard it. The problem, Cliff, that you are just alluding to is we’ve heard nine different Democrats say the same thing, we have a president and a presidential failure, here are a number of solutions.

MAY: You are right, we heard nine different solutions.

KAMBER: And we heard a president of the United States who never answered one. For the last four months, this president has been on vacation or been gone. All of a sudden, he’s running some pretty pictured ads, taking advantage of 9/11 as his high point.

HEMMER: Let me clear you both on this. Cliff, you said to some of our producers last night, the president has to define John Kerry before John Kerry defines the president. At this point — Victor, go ahead and take this first — who is defining whom at this point?

KAMBER: I think, clearly, the Democrats are defining the president as they understand him to be. The president has not yet engaged the American public. He certainly has the money to do it, if that’s what he’s going to try to do. These first set of ads are trying to redefine himself, and I think within a month, you are going to see what they call the negative, nasty ads coming out against the Democrats.

MAY: I don’t think that’s true at all. I think what you’re seeing here is the president starting out, as he should, with positive ads, optimistic ads, ads reminding people who he’s been and the kind of leader he’s been. They’ve liked him, his leadership. At some point, I do think it will be necessary for the president’s campaign to talk about who John Kerry is and why he would not be a suitable alternative to President Bush.

HEMMER: Gentlemen, if I could, I want to get to two other topics, quickly. The vice president thing, too, I want to get to also, but gay marriage. Most Americans, it shows anyway, polling are opposed to this. Who wins politically on this issue?

MAY: Everybody may lose on this issue politically.

HEMMER: Everyone?

MAY: Yes, I don’t think it was on anybody’s to-do list. Certainly not the president. He was reluctant to get into this. And I don’t think it’s on John Kerry’s.

Now the president has taken a stance. As somebody’s whose day job is try to understand and promote democratic governance, I’ve got to say the most important thing here is not what we decide, but who decides. Americans can decide to redefine marriage any way they want, but four judges in Massachusetts and one mayor in San Francisco do not have that power, do not have that right. And if we let them do that, we will be giving up democracy in this country.

HEMMER: Let me butt in for Vic quickly.

KAMBER: I would have hoped that Cliff would have said that when we had the election four years ago, that four or five people couldn’t decide what the American people wanted. We’d have a different president.

On gay marriage, there’s no doubt in my mind that President Bush and his people are delighted with this issue, because they’re trying to make it a wedge issue. They want to run on social issues — on guns, abortion, on gay marriage; they don’t want to run on the issues that affect America, pocketbook, taxes, the war, et cetera. And he will lose on the American issues. He’s not going to win on social issues.

MAY: You’re seeing the ad on that shows what the president wants to run, on the two most important issues — and I believe they are the two most important, security at a time of war, and also how we grow the economy and create jobs. I think both candidates would prefer those.

HEMMER: I want to get a name from each of you. Victor, give me a vice president candidate for John Kerry.

KAMBER: Why can carry a state? Gephardt, Richardson, Edwards, Graham, any of the above, all of the above.

HEMMER: Cliff, from a Republican standpoint, who do you want to face off against?

MAY: Oh, who do I want to face of against? Michael Moore, I guess. Dennis Kucinich, Al Sharpton. No, who do I think it would be. Gephardt would be a smart pick. I think Evan Bayh would be a smart pick, somebody who’s clearly in the middle.

HEMMER: Got it. Listen, maybe two or three months away from final decision.

Thanks, guys. Kamber and May, down there in D.C. Nice to talk with you.