Sen_john_kerry_jon_stewart_08_24_04John McCain and Hillary Clinton are the presidential front runners, but it is inevitable that "somebody else will emerge," the host of "The Daily Show" said Friday at a fund raiser for the Geffen Playhouse, where he was interviewed on stage for about an hour by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Stewart’s guess as to who will be the GOP alternative? "Mitt Romney." As for Rudy Giuliani, who announced this week that he would form an exploratory committee, Stewart noted that he would have to get conservative support in a GOP primary. "He’s pro choice, pro gun control. He’s done drag at a Press Club dinner. I can’t see how he doesn’t win," Stewart quipped.

Much of the event was devoted to talking about Stewart’s place in the political universe — he says he’s pretty "feckless," given that he does do fake news — and quite a few zingers were aimed at the mainstream press. Because of the strength of the government P.R. machine, "They are getting their asses handed to them," he says, made all the worse because so many pundits are former spin doctors themselves.

In the coming election, Stewart said that "authenticity would be the new game," although candidates run the risk of relying on consultants who will tell them "here’s what market research says is authentic." Case in point: John Kerry’s 2004 hunting trip. By contrast, Bush pulls it off much better, as he "is this Connecticut bred Yale grad who’s been made into one of the Duke boys."

Stewart didn’t offer much in the way of Democratic alternatives, but he did have a few things to say about Al Gore, who has said he doesn’t intend to run but who remains on the list of some Dems dream candidates. Stewart says that there "is not a prayer" that he has whatever it takes to make it through a campaign and be elected.

"He is not made of that thing you need to break through," Stewart said. When Gore is asked a question, "you can see him flip through the market research in his head."

His biggest skewering was reserved for the Bush administration. As he does on his show, he imitated Dick Cheney as if he were the Penguin on "Batman," and noted of the vice president, "God bless him, he hasn’t been right yet."

"Then he shoots this guy in the face," Stewart said. "I have been fired for being late." Then Stewart thought a bit about it: "Now, I would call him if I found a dead hooker in my hotel room. I feel like that is something he would know about."

The audience laughed, and Villaraigosa just smiled. Stewart looked at him and replied, "I see you counting the electoral votes in your head. ‘I just lost Orange County.’"

He predicted that outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would be awarded a medal, given that Bush gave one to former CIA director George Tenet despite a record of intelligence failures.

Rumsfeld "f—ed up so huge, I can’t imagine they would have a medal big enough to award him," Stewart said. "They may just bronze George Tenet."

Stewart calls himself neither a Democrat or Republican but a moderate, yet he says that the thumping that the GOP got in the midterms did give people hope because of all of the screw ups the one-party government has made over the past few years.

"If there hadn’t been a change, I think people would have felt helpless," he said. "This election, at least for the moment, gave them some oxygen."

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