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THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP

HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN

JOINED BY: MICHAEL BARONE, TONY BLANKLEY,
ELEANOR CLIFT AND LAWRENCE O'DONNELL

TAPED: FRIDAY, MAY 3, 2002
BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF MAY 4-5, 2002


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THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.
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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: Hu are you?

(Music: "Who Are You?" by the Who.)

Communist China's leader-in-waiting, Hu Jintao, met with President Bush this week for a getting-to-know-you session at the White House. It's Hu's first trip to the U.S. and one of his only ventures outside China. Few Westerners know anything about what Hu, the successor to Jiang Zemin and the next leader of the People's Republic of China, thinks or believes.

What is known about Hu: 59 years of age; politburo member for 10 years, serving in varying capacities; Communist Party chief in some of China's most remote provinces, such as Gansu and Tibet, where he put down a series of anti-Chinese riots in the late '80s; Communist Party School in Beijing, director; engineer, studied and matriculated at Beijing's prestigious Tsinghua University.

Essentially, Hu is a technocrat, similar to Jiang Zemin. In fact, Jiang helped groom Hu for the job. Hu's trip to the White House is seen as his coming-out party and a key step in his escalation to China's leadership post.

White House officials described Bush's meeting with Hu as cordial, which Hu should cherish, because that cordiality may be short-lived. It may soon give way to hardball. Reasons: one, Taiwan; two, human rights; three, trade.

On Taiwan, Bush in 15 months has abandoned years of a U.S. policy of, quote, unquote, "strategic ambiguity." Mr. Bush's unambiguous support of Taiwan, in a way six U.S. presidents have studiously avoided, is unmistakable. Get this:

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (From videotape.) The president makes the decisions that are -- that are -- that will help Taiwan defend herself, and we will help Taiwan defend herself.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That was uttered a year ago.

China may regard Taiwan as a breakaway province, but Mr. Bush doesn't seem to care what China thinks about Taiwan. Besides granting Taiwan's defense officials in the U.S. access to the Pentagon, Bush has okayed the sale to Taiwan of four Kidd-class destroyers, eight advanced submarines, a dozen anti-submarine aircraft, all of which are sticking in China's throat.

Vice President Hu recently declared that the world will not tolerate the U.S. acting like a, quote, "global bully," unquote. And this week, he leveled a veiled threat at the U.S.

CHINESE VICE PRESIDENT HU JINTAO: (From videotape and through interpreter.) The question of Taiwan is China's internal matter and should be resolved by the Chinese people on both sides of the Taiwan Straits. If any trouble occurs on the Taiwan question, it would be difficult for China-U.S. relations to move forward, and retrogression may even occur.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: On that sound bite of President Bush, what he said, by my recollection, either in that same session or elsewhere in April, was, "I will do what it takes," or "we will do what it takes to help Taiwan defend herself." It was a little bit more higher-octane than what we played here, which is the reason why I said he deviated from the strategic ambiguity -- one of the reasons.

So how did Hu do in his Washington debut, Michael Barone?

MR. BARONE: Well, I think he showed himself obviously to be a competent person, which we must assume him to be. He spoke seemingly intelligently about the economy. He did some saber-rattling on Taiwan, as you noted. And I would say myself that if indeed Mr. Bush has gotten rid of the strategic ambiguity on Taiwan, that's all to the good. We had strategic ambiguity in 1950 when Dean Acheson, secretary of State, did not include South Korea within our defense perimeter, and six months later, it was attacked. It's better to be clear about what you're going to do if you're going to do it.

But the fact is, we don't know very much about Mr. Hu. And one thing that's a little bit off-putting about him -- Jiang Zemin, the current leader, is from Shanghai. He definitely had a desire to engage China at least economically in the world and perhaps was willing to make some concessions on human-rights proliferation for that.

Mr. Hu's experience, as you noted, has been in the interior, in Gansu and in Tibet -- the economically most backward places and places where there was lots of repression. So we have to wonder if he will be as committed to an outward economic policy as Jiang. We just don't know.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Well, Hu hewed to the party line while he was here. He's the heir apparent. He doesn't want to do anything to jinx his rise in power.

In terms of the relationship with Taiwan: The president's remark that "We'll do whatever it takes" was a year ago April. And the administration's been pretty careful, I think, to restore the ambiguity that has been part of American policy since at least the 1970s. And while it's nice to talk about being clear and standing up to the mainland Chinese, do we really want to cross over that bright line of encouraging Taiwan to declare its independence, knowing it will spark a response from mainland China? do we want to go to war with China over Taiwan? I don't think so, and that's why President Bush --

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, besides --

MS. CLIFT: -- is being very careful in his remarks and the administration, as well.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony.

MR. BLANKLEY: We've tried to discourage the independence (rhetoric ?).

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He really stated the status quo, did he not?

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I mean, he is --

MR. BLANKLEY: Hu is in a -- actually a reasonably precarious situation. The last three designated heirs -- one died in a mysterious plane crash, one was sent to prison, and the other was disgraced. And he has his enemies back home who are looking for opportunities. So this was very much an audition where he acted -- showed himself to be a player without taking a step wrong, which I think, from what I can tell, he did.

Unlike previous people, he is -- have experience in the East and in the back parts of China. He is very much the party man. He is really coming from Beijing. He has been in the apparatus more so than the incumbent, who basically had his experiences in Shanghai. So this is a man who is very experienced and has survived without any real power base -- sort of like a CEO advancing up a corporate ladder.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that China is worried about that sector that Hu comes from -- namely the remote provinces?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, I don't think that's his danger. The question is, can he deal with the economic reforms sufficiently? They've got 8 million people coming in for jobs every year that they can't find jobs for. He's got to be able to get that going.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think they are worried about that sector of China.

Mr. O'Donnell, welcome.

MR. O'DONNELL: Thanks, John.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can you speak to Hu's arrival?

MR. O'DONNELL: Yeah. When a Chinese government official at that level comes to this country, they're playing entirely to a Chinese audience and, in fact, specifically to the Chinese government audience. And he needs to show that he knows exactly what the party line is and how to handle it. He was extremely modest. He would not allow -- he did not go into any sort of excessive public display of himself. He sort of got out of the car, ran into the building, got back in the car, avoided reporters. It was a very careful, very modest performance.

And the fact that he has -- he spent real time in university life in China is also worth noticing, because that is where all the Western-oriented thinking is developing. It's a very important part, I think, of his background -- (inaudible).

MS. CLIFT: Well, there is concern in the human-rights community, because he was the architect of the repression in Tibet, and that proved to be the model for Tiananmen Square, and that's how he got his ticket punched.

He did refuse to accept some letters from Nancy Pelosi, the number two in the Democratic line in the House. Now, if he'd done that, it might have messed up his ascendency in China, so I don't know how much we know about him. We don't --

MR. O'DONNELL: But no one in the Chinese government would have accepted those letters under any circumstance.

MR. BARONE: No. But Eleanor's right that it signals the possible problems with him as leader --

MS. CLIFT: With human rights. Exactly right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, we had the EP-3 spy plane incident. Apparently the friction from that has gone away. So that leads to the exit question.

Taiwan aside, is there any serious friction on the horizon between China and the U.S.? Bear in mind also the possibility of Iraq being a sore spot, since China is a supplier to Iraq of armamentarium.

MR. BARONE: Well, that was just going to be my point, John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Was it?

MR. BARONE: -- the proliferation of weapons. China has continued to be a proflierator of weapons to various groups that one might just call the "axis of evil." And I think that that is going to be a continuing problem.

Human rights, which President Bush brought up -- he said we need to have religious tolerance. You've got persecution of Christians and the Falun Gong in China, which is massive and which is something the United States, I think, must speak out against.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, the economic ties between these two countries are now so extensive that I don't think either side can afford a split. So while there are problems in both countries, this is the time for compartmentalization.

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, look, the -- I think the greatest potential area of frustration between the two governments, we are encouraging India with their Eastern policy, Japan to remilitarize more, and Australia to act as a bulwark surrounding China. And the Chinese don't like to see that. And depending on how vigorously we push those -- particularly Japan and India, into those roles, we could find some friction with the Chinese government.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And of the two, Japanese rearmament is probably the more troubling to China right now -- which Bush likes, by the way.

MR. BLANKLEY: Yes. But India, of course, is trying to get much more deeply involved in Southeast Asia and the economy and become a regional player down there, as they haven't been until now.

MR. BARONE: And their economy may be growing more rapidly than China because there's a lot of reason to doubt the Chinese statistics. Arthur Waldron and other scholars have looked at them, and they look pretty bogus.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why is there no mention of North Korea here, being in the "axis of evil," which fell hard on the Chinese ears. They really didn't like the president referring to North Korea as part of the "axis of evil." Is that disturbing this equation at all, in your view?

MR. O'DONNELL: No, because the Chinese story over the last 10 years is increasing maturation as a government, increasing liberalization of the totalitarian grip on society. They mostly don't enforce their dictatorial laws that they still have on the books.

For example, it's illegal to move in China; it's illegal to move without permission from a province to, say, Beijing. There are now 1 million illegal settlers in Beijing in this totalitarian regime because they've moved to the city for the better life. So they don't enforce their own laws.

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Make it quick. We have to get out.

MR. BLANKLEY: The Chinese have studied the failure of the Soviet regime. They don't want any more Gorbachevs. And the party is strong, and that's what they're going to protect. So while it's true that they're liberalizing, they're not in any way going to slip the way the Gorbachevean Soviet Union did.

MR. BARONE: Yeah, read the Tiananmen Square papers where they --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think --

MR. BARONE: -- Jiang Zemin was very -- and Deng Xiaoping -- very tough about suppressing --

MS. CLIFT: Well --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think we're now in a cycle of pragmatism, both countries. I think that the Chinese are happy that we are not opposing their entry into the WTO, and we did not oppose their getting the Olympics. And we're happy -- Bush is happy that the Chinese did not object very strongly to the selling of those weapons to -- that weaponry to Taiwan.

Okay. Another "McLaughlin Y-2-0 Moment" to mark our 20th anniversary year.

The time, July 1987, 15 years ago. The place, the U.S. Capitol. The event, the Iran-contra hearings.

(Begin videotape segment.)

MR. BARNES: I want to respond to Mort a minute. You spent too much time in Korea. You haven't seen enough of these hearings now. These hearings, from the beginning, have been slanted, unfair, McCarthyite, prosecutorial. They're only designed to discredit Reagan and doom the contras.

MR. KONDRACKE: The bottom line of this is that if you and Novak and Bill Casey and Oliver North's system of government were underway, you would have the kind of government in this country that Korea is trying to get itself out of.

MR. BARNES: And there would be democracy in Nicaragua!

MR. NOVAK: And I'll say one other --

MS. CLIFT: You shut down those hearings, and you shut down democracy.

MR. NOVAK: And I'll say one other thing. That is the kind of government that won World War II. If ninnies and wimps like you were running the country in World War II, they would be finished.

MR. KONDRACKE: We have --

MR. NOVAK: We would have lost. We'd have a Nazi America.

MR. KONDRACKE: Congress declared war in World War II, and the whole country was behind --

MR. NOVAK: How many secrets?

MR. KONDRACKE: And this is --

MR. NOVAK: How many secrets were there?

(End videotape segment.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it fair to say that the group is more civilized today than we were 15 years ago; namely, that there's light at the end of the tunnel?

MR. O’DONNELL: Well, I think it's fair to say that there are no ninnies and wimps on the panel.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Very well-stated.

When we come back: War or no war, is Bush-bashing back in vogue?

(Announcements.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: Bush-bashers back in business.

SENATOR JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC): (From videotape.) Mr. President, do not win the war and lose the victory.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It used to be off-limits, verboten, to speak ill of commander-in-chief Bush's foreign policy. But those days are past. On Capitol Hill, now it's open season on Mr. Bush's foreign policies and programs. Critics -- mostly Democrats, but there are many Republicans -- say Bush's policy has become incoherent, vacillating, and too tough on Israel. The gloves are off. The criticism is not limited to the Middle East policy. There's also Afghanistan, the global war on terror, and Venezuela.

Let's start with Afghanistan and more of Senator John Edwards of North Carolina.

SENATOR JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC): (From videotape.) What we have done is, we've gone in, we've gotten rid of the Taliban, we've won the war there, but we've kept the peacekeeping force, the international peacekeeping force, to 4,500 troops right around Kabul. And while that's happening, the rest of the country is going right back to chaos, right back to where it was under the Taliban. This is an enormous mistake.

Question: Is Senator Edwards naive to be surprised at a resurgence of warlordism in Afghanistan? Tony Blankley?

MR. BLANKLEY: No one would accuse him of being naive about anything. Look. It's interesting to see the criticism is essentially coming from "You should be fighting more, you should be even more effective than you've been." They're still afraid to engage in any actual criticism of the objectives of the policy. They're afraid to talk about Iraq, elected officials, because, you know, Daschle, they're all in favor of -- say the president's just right there. What they're doing is, particularly those who are trying to run for president, they're trying to burnish or create their foreign-policy credentials by seeming to have some expertise on the subject.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you take note that Joe Biden, the senator from Delaware, described the role of the United States in the attempted coup in Venezuela as inept?

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, of course, he was wrong, because the better judgment is that we weren't involved.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I bring that up because the reach of the criticism goes beyond Afghanistan, it goes beyond the war on terrorism, it goes beyond the Middle East. It seems to be out there. For example, Israel-Palestine. Bush is also bashed for his alleged inaction in the Middle East over the past 14 months.

SENATOR JOHN KERRY (D-MA): (From videotape.) This administration was unwilling to take that responsibility to heart. A great nation -- (applause) -- a great nation -- a great nation like ours should never be dragged kicking and resisting, should not have to be pressured to the task of finding peace.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Besides John Kerry, Joe Lieberman was also very tough on Bush, describing his Mideast policy as lacking in, quote, unquote, "moral clarity," because of what Lieberman sees as a failure by the U.S. to support Israel sufficiently in its offensive against the Palestinians.

Question: Is the war on terrorism now a battle for Congress, and will this criticism help the Democrats keep the Senate and take the House? In other words, what I'm saying is, it appears that everything that's happening on Capitol Hill now is not being judged on the merits, the rhetoric is not on the merits, the legislative action is not on the merits; it's on the upcoming, six-months-away November election.

MR. O'DONNELL: Nobody's going to win a congressional election running against President Bush on the war on terror. That is impossible.

What you saw in John Edwards was someone trying out some lines on a friendly audience.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In his own state.

MR. O'DONNELL: He probably didn't want that excerpted on national television like this.

On the other hand, what you saw in John Kerry was actually a well-reasoned approach to this subject that he knows something about, which is how should we -- the president should be handling the Middle East. Now there's a fair debate there, and it exists within the Republican -- (inaudible due to cross talk) --

MR. BARONE: Well, there are some --

MR. O'DONNELL: -- of how active this administration should have been.

MS. CLIFT: Well, first of all, John, you had to reach back weeks to find those bites. They are few and far between.

MR. O'DONNELL: Yes.

MS. CLIFT: And I would quote another Democrat, Al Sharpton, who says --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, what about Lieberman? That's not a distant --

MR. BARONE: Sharpton? Your candidate.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, but Al Sharpton says the Democrats have political laryngitis in their -- this is very timid criticism.

MR. BARONE: John, I think --

MS. CLIFT: And what John Edwards is saying -- the administration doesn't want peacekeepers outside of Kabul, and Europe is upset about that --

MR. BARONE: Well, Europe --

MS. CLIFT: -- because Afghanistan could very well descend back into the chaos that we found if we don't make the commitment.

MR. BARONE: No, I --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. The quartet summit, the U.N., the EU, Russia and the U.S. foreign ministers, will convene sometime this summer to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. How will that summit impact, if at all, the U.S. elections on November the 5th? You care to speak to that?

MR. O'DONNELL: I don't think it'll have any impact on the elections in November. The American public does not believe that the United States is empowered to bring peace to the Middle East. The fact that the administration is now active and move active than in the past is helpful, but it's not something people are going to be voting on.

MS. CLIFT: It's --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, we agree. We all agree with that, don't we?

MR. BARONE: Well, the fact is, we --

MS. CLIFT: It may help remove the issue as an open wound on the world stage and buy some time. But I agree with Lawrence; the election is not going to be decided by foreign policy.

MR. BARONE: We don't know if this summit is actually going to be held. The plans for it are still vague. The preconditions are unclear. Voters don't expect the United States to solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem.

And the fact is, you know, what Senator Kerry was arguing for, which was very distinct and opposite from what Senator Lieberman was arguing for -- Senator Kerry is basically saying that you should proceed a la Bill Clinton and come in with a comprehensive settlement, bludgeon Israel to back down on things. We tried that, and it produced the intifada --

MS. CLIFT: Oh --

MR. BARONE: -- very much against the intentions of President Clinton, I am sure, but it produced a worse result. That policy's been tried, and it's failed.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about --

MS. CLIFT: You know, that's a criticism that even the White House has retracted.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute. Hold on. Hold on. What about the talk of a resignation by Colin Powell that was in this town this week?

MR. BLANKLEY: I think it's nonsense.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You do?

MR. BLANKLEY: Yes.

MR. BARONE: Yeah, nonsense. It's even less than that, John --

MR. BLANKLEY: I don't believe there's a chance in the world that that's going to happen.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you agree with that, Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: I think it was floated last week. I think he's now prevailed because he's getting this conference to move forward. I don't think he wants to leave. They can't afford to have him leave. You do the math -- he stays.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The story is that he is very off-put by the tough, conservative, right-wing ideology which he sees pervading the Pentagon. Right?

MS. CLIFT: He's at odds with Rumsfeld, yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And he doesn't like to see Rumsfeld moving around the globe, moving into the sector of statecraft. That's Colin Powell's area, right?

MS. CLIFT: Right. But walking away and leaving the stage to Rumsfeld is not Colin Powell's style either. He's fighting it out internally.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that not the --

MR. BARONE: I think you're overstating this, John. I'm sure there are some disagreements between them on where you go in policy. They're probably somewhat like the accounts of them that we've seen addressed in the press. But Colin Powell has shown previously in his career, and he's showing as secretary of State, that when the president comes down with a decision, he follows it through, even if it's something that he wasn't for initially. I don't think he wants to leave the position of secretary of State and I'm sure he will not.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, do you feel much better now hearing Michael?

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, these stories are primarily coming from the Foreign Service employees at the State Department who are frustrated more than they are from Powell --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All those stalwarts.

MR. BARONE: The FSOs.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, let us get to the question of Bubba TV. President Clinton may have a daily network television show starting in the fall, say Labor Day. Will that TV show help the Democrats keep the Senate and take the House?

I ask you.

MR. O'DONNELL: He's not going to be on the air.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's not going to be on the air?

MR. O'DONNELL: Not this year. If he gets a show, it's going to take longer than that to develop. I don't think it can help anyone politically.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit: What's the common denominator in the Democratic criticism?

I ask you, Michael.

MR. BARONE: I don't think there's a lot of common denominator. It's incoherent.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We've got to go very fast here.

MS. CLIFT: Timidity. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Timidity?

MS. CLIFT: Yes.

MR. BLANKLEY: There is no common denominator.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're wrong there.

What's the common denominator?

MR. O'DONNELL: Confusion.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's not -- the common denominator is not the criticism, the common denominator is the critics. They're all running for president.

We'll be right back with predictions.

(Announcements.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions.

Michael?

MR. BARONE: This Mideast conference this summer will not convene as planned.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: The next high-level Bush official to leave will be Tommy Thompson.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony?

MR. BLANKLEY: Israel believes they only accomplished 20 percent of what they need to on the West Bank; they'll go back for more.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wow!

Lawrence?

MR. O'DONNELL: Bill Clinton will never be as big a TV star as John McLaughlin.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Laughs.) I predict the U.S. Supreme Court will rule that the recently passed campaign finance reform legislation on two key provisions is unconstitutional.

Next week: Ariel Sharon of Israel and King Abdullah of Jordan meet with President Bush in the White House.

Bye-bye.

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PBS SEGMENT FOLLOWS
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PBS SEGMENT

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The body check.

GOVERNOR JESSE VENTURA (I-MN): (From videotape.) When the career politician gets asked a question, they'll give the answer they're supposed to; they'll give the answer that's politically correct, they'll give the answer that -- you know, that you need to get reelected. That's not me.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, Governor, you might want to try that, judging from your numbers of late. In February, only 29 percent of Minnesotans polled thought Ventura should be reelected. The sky-high approval ratings from his early days as governor have dropped to 43 percent.

Jesse Ventura was propelled into the Minnesota governor's office four years ago on a populist Reform Party tide. During his term, Jesse "the body" sometimes embarrassed the people of Minnesota with his shoot-from-the-lip personality and governing style. Ventura supporters have grown disenchanted. The governor, they say, spends too much time moonlighting; notably, World Wrestling Federation -- refereeing; the Xtreme Football League -- that fiasco; sports commentator; daytime drama actor. Constituents are beginning to think that Ventura likes the limelight too much.

MR.BRUCE SCHALLES, Former Ventura Supporter: (From videotape.) I think he's become pretty arrogant. He's pretty much, "What can Jesse do for Jesse?"

MR. RAGSDALE, St. Paul Pioneer Press: (From videotape.) Some people are a little tired, I'm sure, of the overexposure and the act.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Many Minnesotans are also tired of what they see as poor fiscal leadership. The state is facing a budgetary shortfall of nearly $2 billion this year.

GOV. VENTURA: (From videotape.) The legislature cut my budget 15 percent while they only cut their own 3. They also cut out my Washington office. This is a personal attack on an independent governor, what you have happening here.

The only place I can do both of those cuts in accomplishing what they're mandating by law is to shut down the residence.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And that is exactly what Governor Ventura has done -- shut down the Governor's Mansion, thereby upsetting Minnesotans with his unpopular action, Minnesotans being prideful over their gubernatorial lodgings.

Governor Ventura has been evasive about whether he will run again.

Well, what do you think of this situation, Lawrence O'Donnell?

MR. O'DONNELL: Well, you know, he doesn't live in the Governor's Mansion, and he saved about $350,000 by shutting it down. He's one of those guys who doesn't know how to respond in a properly political way to the legislature's threats and the legislature's concerns.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is he all washed up?

MR. O'DONNELL: Well, you know, his line is, "My approval rating and my polling numbers were lower than they are now when I got elected in the first place."

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What does he have to do?

MR. O'DONNELL: But he was unknown then. A re-elect number for a sitting governor is a very serious poll number.

MR. BARONE: But there's one difference here, though. Remember, he's running in a three-way race. He won with 37 percent of the vote. His approval rating is 43. That says to me it's lower than the sky-high before and he could lose. But he also could win. I mean, I think what's happened here --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What does he have to do?

MR. BARONE: Well, what he has to do in a sense, I think, is get back that independent allure. When he first ran, the Democratic farmer labor party was way off on the left with many of its candidates. The Republican Party in the state was way off to the right. They weren't agreeing. Ventura came out with a pretty centrist program that had wide appeal. There was substance there.

MS. CLIFT: The luster --

MR. BARONE: Now the Democrats who control the state Senate, and the "Repubs" who control the state House have come together, and it's them against Ventura.

MS. CLIFT: The luster is off of him as a potential presidential candidate. He may well not run again. Look, when you're an independent, you don't have any natural allies. Both the Republicans and the Democrats are against him. And he came into office in good time. Now he's got lowered budget. He is not the only Republican governor or Democratic governor in trouble across the country, and Republicans are going to lose a lot of these --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's failed to understand that when an outsider politician as he comes in, the voters want him to be original, slightly amateurish, eccentric; and then when he's in office, they expect him to behave like a seasoned politician, with composure and seriousness, and no eccentric moonlighting. Would you agree with that?

MR. BARONE: No.

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah. He's also made some real mistakes. He's washed his hands of the budgetary process. He's made some really --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And who holds the real strength? The pros, with the --

MR. BARONE: The Democratic Senate and Republican House.

MR. BLANKLEY: No, I mean, the governor always has plenty of strength.

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