Democratic stalwart Carville rallies KU audience for election

James Carville shows his betting slip before his Monday speech at the Lied Center. Carville, co-host of CNN's Crossfire, bet on the Kansas University men's basketball team to win its Sunday game.

James Carville helped propel Bill Clinton to the presidency in 1992 on the strength of a simple mantra: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

The 2004 election will turn on issues less tangible than pocketbook concerns, Carville said Monday during an appearance at Kansas University.

“I think America really wants to be more united, more together,” he said during a news conference prior to a speech at the Lied Center. “What Washington is producing is more division, more angst.”

It was a theme he repeated several times during his speech, a performance that was part stand-up comedy routine, part anti-Bush, pro-Kerry rally for the hundreds of Democratic faithful that were in attendance.

Carville, now best known as a left-leaning co-host of CNN’s “Crossfire” program, faulted President Bush for squandering international good will after 9-11, running up budget deficits and plunging the country into war with Iraq on “false justifications.”

“This is a really great country,” Carville said in his speech. “The United States really stands for things around the world. This president took over a country that was respected and admired. It was more respected and admired after 9-11.

“He,” Carville said, referring to Bush, “turned that around.”

The result, he said, has been growing angst among Democrats — angst that has “united and agitated” the party to work for Bush’s ouster in the November election.

Asked if he sensed similar angst among Republicans during the Clinton years, Carville said: “Yeah, some.”

He added: “President Clinton didn’t run the country into debt. He didn’t start a war.”

But he warned Democrats against becoming too dependent on their anger with Bush.

“That’s the only way the Democrats can lose this election, is if we become just about anger, not about hope,” Carville said in his speech.

To that end, he praised presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry as the right man for the presidency, saying Kerry had faced “war, cancer and certain humiliation,” the latter at the hands of onetime front-runner Howard Dean.

“Let me tell you what the truth is,” Carville said. “John Kerry is a better man than George W. Bush.”

And he predicted Democratic victory in November.

“I’ll say this publicly: Bush is going to lose,” Carville said at the news conference. “As far as I can see, going around the country — and I’m not covering anything, this is not an off-the-record prediction — they are not going to win re-election. The country just doesn’t have any appetite to continue this. America wants something different.”