October 13, 2004 | Broadcast

American Morning

Vic, good morning to you.


HEMMER: Also Cliff May, former RNC communications director, now the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

And, Cliff, welcome back as well.

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

HEMMER: Let’s get it started here. I want to layout the challenges for the President Bush, then get to the challenge for Senator Kerry. On the screen, Cliff, for you, who can better handle the following categories on the domestic front. When it comes to the environment, health care deficit, Medicare, stem cell research, education, they all go John Kerry’s way. That’s a challenge for the president tonight,to change this. Can he, in 90 minutes?

MAY: No, in 90 minutes, you don’t move numbers like that. And one thing this may suggest is that if Kerry had taken a fairly hawkish position on the war on terrorism in Iraq and just stuck to it, there would be no debate there. And so the debate would shift to where there is controversy, where there are differences on the domestic side, and there, Kerry does rather well. The problem really for Kerry is that people have been focused much more on national security and the enlarging differences between Kerry and Bush on…

HEMMER: So you’re suggesting he’s missing the point in this election?

MAY: I think. I would argue that it was a mistake for him not to be all along what he had at times has been, or what Edwards has been, which is hawkish in terms of national security, and clearly hawkish to say Bush and I do not disagree on this issue, so let’s talk about the issues on which we do disagree. It was hard to do that, because the left wing of the Democratic Party might have slipped towards Nader, and I think that he was more worried about Nader in a sense than about this major problem.

HEMMER: What do you make of that victor?

KAMBER: Well, I think it’s hogwash. No. 1, the reason the poll numbers show what they are is that Bush is a failure in those areas, and that’s fairly clear, and I think tonight’s debate will only exacerbate that. Bush cannot make up those numbers. He’ll try to do well tonight. But the fact is, all those numbers in domestic area, people think that way for the right reason, frankly, and that is that Bush has failed us domestically. In terms of what Cliff just said, John Kerry couldn’t avoid dealing with the issue of terrorism and the war, and he doesn’t agree with George Bush. He believes that we went to war for — we should have taken Saddam out. Obviously doesn’t believe we did it the right way, that we had the right information, that once George Bush got the power from Congress, he should have been more judicious, should have surrounded himself with more support, all of those things, and what he’s saying is, if I’m there, I will change the direction of how we end this war in Iraq.

The big thing for John Kerry, he had to convince, and still does, the American public that he has the gravitas, that he has the capability of leading this country with — under a terrorist-alert period and in a war. We know he can do it with a domestic issue, so while he continues to look on domestic issues, foreign policy is still what he has to convince the American people about.

HEMMER: Cliff, 10 seconds. Wrap that up, and I’ll go to the next topic here.

MAY: Just basically, I do think foreign policy will find its way into the debate tonight anyhow. What you just heard in the news report, more mass graves still being found in Iraq. That is startling. I don’t think that will be avoided. I’ll let you go on to the next question.

HEMMER: Thank for you that.

I’m want to talk about the taxes, because we know it’s going to come up later tonight. Here what happened Friday night in debate No. 2 when John Kerry asked about that pledge.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I’m pledging I will not raise taxes. I’m giving a tax cut to the people earning less than $200,000 a year.


HEMMER: Despite that pledge on Friday night, on our screen, polling numbers say, if Kerry wins your taxes would, what, increase — 48 percent say they would increase. Can you change that perception, Victor?

KAMBER: I’m not sure you can change it. I think, again, the Bush people have been very effective in their commercials. Up until now, their 527s, their surrogates, and Bush himself, calling, you know, the Democrats the party of spending. You can only go in my judgment on Bush’s — on Kerry’s record and word. He’s clearly said he will raise the taxes, there’s no doubt about it, on people earning $200,000 or more. He’s made a commitment not to raise taxes on the vast number of Americans 85, 90 percent, whatever the number is, who do not earn $200,000. I believe him.

We are in a deficit like we have never seen, caused by this administration. We have got to bring in more money than we are bringing in now to meet the war and all the other needs of this country. But I believe he’s committed not to raise taxes on the middle-class Americans.

HEMMER: Cliff, why do people not believe that promise, based on polling anyway?

MAY: Because there is no way he can do the things he wants to do and not raise taxes. And you can’t just do it by hitting rich people like Victor. The fact of the matter is, as Willie Sutton said, he robs banks, because that’s where the money is. If you want to raise taxes, the middle class, that’s where the money is. Any independent economist looking at what Kerry has said knows that if he wants to have these huge government programs, he will have to raise taxes, and people understand that.

HEMMER: Victor, final word, 10 seconds?

MAY: I was going to say, and the only question that comes with it, if Cliff is right, what program doesn’t Cliff want? What medical, health, environmental, infrastructure, etc., program doesn’t Cliff want? I don’t believe there’s going to be more taxes; I believe there’s going to be better programs.

HEMMER: We’ll hear more tonight, Kamber and May in D.C. today. Candidates begin later tonight, third and final debate, Tempe, Arizona. Our primetime coverage starts at 7:00 Eastern here on CNN — Heidi.