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Inside Politics

Republicans Take Aim at Gore's Campaign Manager; Another Day, Another Debate for GOP Candidates; Trump and Ventura Together Again

Aired January 7, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... is slash and burn politics. That is unacceptable for her to have done that to good people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FRANK SESNO, CNN ANCHOR: Republicans take aim at Al Gore's campaign manager, after she claimed they would rather take pictures with black children then feed them.

Another day, another debate for the GOP presidential hopefuls, with George W. Bush still trying to explain himself on the topic of tax cuts.

And...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, REAL ESTATE DEVELOPER: There's a big difference between creating wealth and being a member of the lucky sperm club.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESNO: Together again, do Donald Trump and Jesse Ventura hope to have the last laugh on the leading presidential contenders?

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS, with Judy Woodruff and Bernard Shaw.

SESNO: And thanks very much for joining us. I'm Frank Sesno, sitting in for Bernie and Judy today.

In this week's presidential debate-a-thon, the Republicans are set to square off in South Carolina again tonight, with George W. Bush apparently back in the hot seat -- as if he ever left it.

At issue, a tax pledge that reminded many voters of his father's most famous misstep, and which prompted rival Steve Forbes to go on the attack.

CNN's Candy Crowley is on the trail with Bush. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: George Bush spent the morning after explaining what he said the night before.

BUSH: This is not only no new taxes. This is tax cuts, so help me God.

CROWLEY: When the sun rose on Bush's debate pledge, the Forbes campaign was ready with an ad suggesting it doesn't mean anything.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FORBES CAMPAIGN AD)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's something you need to know about George W. Bush. In 1994, he signed a pledge with my organization that he would not support sales tax or business tax increases. In 1997, unfortunately, he broke this pledge.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Is there an echo in New Hampshire? It was here eight years ago that Pat Buchanan devastated the reelection bid of President George Bush with a series of ads recalling the elder Bush's read-my- lips tax pledge. Bush the son says dad can defend his own record, and he will defend his.

BUSH: The facts are, is that I have signed the two largest tax cuts in my state's history.

CROWLEY: Bush did indeed sign two major tax cut bills in Texas. The Forbes ad targets two other unsuccessful bills that cut taxes overall, but raised some taxes as part of the package. The tax tangle is especially dangerous in tax-phobic New Hampshire, and it consumed an edgy news conference in which Bush was peppered repeatedly with questions about the Forbes ad, his own record, and that new pledge.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Last night you made a vow for no new taxes.

BUSH: No, no...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I'm asking if you could clarify...

BUSH: I made a vow -- I made a vow to cut the taxes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But are you now rethinking or clarifying?

BUSH: No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is not only no new taxes...

BUSH: Now, look, my point is, is that given the situation with the cash flows today, I am going to pass money back to the taxpayer.

CROWLEY: The truth is, long before John McCain became a factor in New Hampshire, the Bush campaign figured Steve Forbes and his deep pockets as their biggest problem. A barrage of Forbes ads early on in the '96 campaign weakened Bob Dole in Iowa and New Hampshire. By the time he won the nomination battle, Dole was battered and broke as he entered the general campaign. Though he declined to label the Forbes ad as negative, Bush did suggest it was deliberate misleading from a dying campaign.

BUSH: I don't think it is good for the process when candidates who are -- when their political clock is ticking, don't lay out all the facts.

CROWLEY: For now, Forbes plans to run the ad in the New Hampshire area only, and Bush is going up with his own Saturday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, BUSH CAMPAIGN AD)

BUSH: Republicans are going to have to choose between someone who wants to have a realistic tax cut plan...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Though the ads are confined to New Hampshire, the issue is the centerpiece of the Bush campaign. And as he arrived in South Carolina for Friday evenings debate, Bush signaled he is ready for another round.

BUSH: I look forward to the tax debate. I look forward to the debate on taxes tonight.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: The Bush campaign has no current plans to match Forbes ad for ad, but if it comes to that they are ready. One of the main reasons Bush did not take federal campaign matching funds is so he can buy ads when and where he wants to -- Frank.

SESNO: Candy, just how much noise is Forbes making with these ads? How heavy a buy?

CROWLEY: Well, you know, so far it's just a small buy, and in New Hampshire. Obviously, if he gets some traction in them, I think we'll see more of them. Certainly we're going to see more of that in the debate tonight here in South Carolina.

SESNO: All right, Candy Crowley, thanks very much.

In the Democratic race meanwhile, Al Gore was feeling heat from Republicans as well as from Bill Bradley, as the vice president stumped in Iowa today.

CNN's Jonathan Karl is covering the Democrats as they gear up for their next debate in Iowa tomorrow.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: You ought to listen to Ted Kennedy.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is one Northeast liberal Al Gore thinks can help him in the heartland.

KENNEDY: The 24th is the date, Iowa is the state, and Al Gore is our candidate.

KARL: An internal Gore campaign poll found Senator Edward Kennedy more popular among Iowa Democrats than Al Gore or Bill Clinton. Gore brought Kennedy out for his first public appearance here in 14 years. With the liberal icon by his side, Gore attacked Bradley on Medicare.

ALBERT GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The other guy says, no, you don't need to put a penny into it now, because we can wait until it goes bankrupt, and then we'll put some money in.

KARL: Bradley has been running to the left of Gore by promising universal access to health care. Campaigning in Des Moines, he reaffirmed his commitment to Medicare.

BILL BRADLEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So you want to make access to quality, affordable health care available to everybody whatever their income -- whatever their age is.

KARL: Gore strategists say the Iowa caucus-goers are the core of the core Democrats, the liberal activists. In other words, the kind of people they hope will listen when Teddy Kennedy talks about Al Gore.

KENNEDY: I am absolutely convinced that when he says he'll get to universal health care, and that he'll also strengthen education, and that he'll also fight for prescription drugs, he's the one that can best do the job.

KARL: While Gore took shots at Bill Bradley, Republicans were taking aim at his campaign manager, Donna Brazile, for her comments last week in an interview with Bloomberg.com.

Brazile was quoted saying, "The Republicans bring out Colin Powell and J.C. Watts because they have no program, no policy. They would rather take pictures with black children than feed them.

BUSH: It is slash and burn politics. That is unacceptable for her to have done that to good people.

KARL: The Republican National Committee went further, calling for Brazile's resignation. Gore aides say that's not going to happen.

CHRIS LEHANE, GORE SPOKESMAN: First of all, Donna Brazile is doing a great job as the Gore campaign's campaign manager. She'll continue doing a great job as our campaign manager. But her remarks were directed at the fact the Republican party does not have an agenda for African-Americans.

KARL: But Kennedy called Brazile's choice of words unfortunate.

KENNEDY: I think -- you would have used other words, I think.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KARL: Speaking to a crowd that included some small farmers, Gore also announced that the Clinton administration will seek $1.3 billion in next year's budget to help family farms preserve water quality. It is a reminder that the vice president is not afraid to use the power of his office to curry favor with Iowa voters -- Frank.

SESNO: Jon, as you listen to those crowds, and as you talk to the people -- those voters, those caucus-goers, potential caucus-goers -- what are they watching and listening to most closely?

KARL: Well, one thing they are watching is a lot of ads. The candidates are spending about $40,000 a week right now on TV ads, which goes a long way here in Iowa.

But there are big crowds here. Gore had about 700 people or more at his events, and Bradley has been speaking to large crowds as well. So they are watching this race very carefully.

SESNO: All right, John Carl in Iowa thanks.

There was a time when the Gore campaign expected the Iowa caucuses to be a cake walk, but the Bradley team has dampened those dreams.

CNN's John King looks at the closer-than-expected contest in the Hawk-eye State.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It begins at daybreak and lasts late into the night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need all the help we can get.

KING: Urgent appeals from a Gore campaign looking to quash an increasingly strong challenge in Iowa.

BRADLEY: Reach out to Iowans every day the rest of this campaign and surprise people with our result.

KING: Seventeen days to the Iowa caucuses, and the Bradley campaign is dreaming of an upset.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "BRADLEY CAMPAIGN AD")

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have seen how important it is to ask others to support Bill Bradley for president, and encourage them to attend the caucuses.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: This new caucus training video is just part of Bradley's late Iowa push.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The invasion has begun. We have got volunteers flooding in from Missouri, Illinois, Minnesota. So, I mean, we have got a lot of troops on the ground now.

KING: The vice president enjoyed a 39-point lead over Bradley in a poll of likely caucus-goers back in June, and a 28-point advantage just two months ago. But it's just 13 points now, as the Democrats prepare for their first Iowa debate on Saturday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every time we debate the vice president, we get more support, so if folks are watching it, we get them.

KING: More than 2,000 precincts are preparing for opening night of the nominating contest.

ROBERT BECKER, BRADLEY CAMPAIGN WORKER: You've got a two-man race. And so if Bill Bradley does better than 40 percent, and the vice president doesn't break the 50 percent mark, that will not bode well for the vice president.

KING: But there are risks for Bradley, too. A poor Iowa showing after investing so much here could stall his campaign in New Hampshire and beyond.

These steelworkers leafletting at the shift change are a reminder of the deep institutional support the vice president is counting on to make the difference on caucus night. Organized labor is on Gore's side, as is most of the Democratic establishment.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Congressman Boswell and Senator Harkin are going to be coming to Indianola to support and endorse Al Gore.

KING: The vice president's increasingly pointed campaign mailings say Bradley's plans would put public schools and Medicare at risk.

(on camera): And the vice president will get more and more help from the White House as the caucuses draw near, taking the lead over the next two weeks in announcing new budget initiatives dealing with education, health care and agriculture, three leading issues here in the kickoff caucus state.

John King, CNN, Des Moines, Iowa.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESNO: And in New Hampshire, Bill Bradley appears to have benefited from his latest debate performance in that state. A new survey shows Bradley now 6 points ahead of Gore among likely Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire, a slightly larger lead than he had back in October. But among those who watched the Democratic presidential debate on Wednesday, Bradley has a 15 point lead in "The Boston Herald"/WCBB poll.

And coming up next...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): John McCain in Sumter, South Carolina, heading toward, yes, another Republican debate in, yes, another must-win state.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESNO: Bruce Morton on a leading Bush versus McCain battleground. Plus, analysis of the GOP presidential debate last night.

This is INSIDE POLITICS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESNO: In a hypothetical general election matchup, George W. Bush leads over Al Gore, his lead over Al Gore has widened to 17 points, that's from our new CNN/"Time" magazine poll of registered voters nationwide. Bush was only seven points ahead of Gore back in November.

Gore has lost ground even though our new survey shows a record 80 percent of Americans say they believe things are going well in the country now, traditionally of course the incumbent party in the White House benefits from good times.

Democrat Bill Bradley doesn't do much better against Bush. Bush leads Bradley by 16 points, slightly more than double the spread back in November.

And when the Democratic contenders are pitted against Republican John McCain, Gore and McCain are dead even; Bradley is eight points ahead of McCain.

Right now, however, McCain is doing battle with Bush, and tonight's debate in South Carolina will give them another chance to have at it, face-to-face, as they did in New Hampshire last night. I spoke earlier today with James Carney of CNN and "Time" magazine, and Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times."

I began by asking them whether it was a smart move for Governor Bush to make that tax cut pledge in tax-phobic New Hampshire.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMES CARNEY, "TIME" CORRESPONDENT: Oh, I think so. A lot of people are making the comparison to what his father said back in 1988 when he promised no new tax and of course then broke that promise, so this has a particular resonance for a Bush.

But this is a state that doesn't like taxes and Republicans especially here appreciate candidates who promise to cut their taxes. Bush has made his tax cut plan the centerpiece of his campaign in this state and is using it to try to gain a little ground against John McCain. So I think the pledge he took and the way he took it was very effective.

SESNO: Ron?

RON BROWNSTEIN, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, the strategy that Bush has really very clearly let out now in January is to run to McCain's right wherever he can, particularly on taxes, campaign finance, maybe even defense spending later on, so in that sense this reinforces the message that he's putting out there. The tax cut is becoming, as Jay said, the centerpiece of his campaign.

The interesting question will be whether the size and scale of this tax cut should Bush become the nominee really overwhelms in a general election his efforts to reposition himself in the center.

But for now, for primary politics, he is betting that a Republican electorate not only in New Hampshire, but even -- perhaps even more so down the road is going to buy big tax cuts over an argument of stabilizing Social Security and Medicare, paying down the debt, being a little more fiscally conservative and cautious, which is what McCain offering at this point.

SESNO: But if you combine that with the fact that tax pledges tend to remind conservative voters of George Bush the elder and the tax pledge that was broken, and you have guys like Gary Bauer saying, where are you defending the conservative principles that we stand for, Jay, is there any kind of sense that this somehow reminds people that George Bush -- W. Bush isn't conservative enough?

CARNEY: Well, it does and it will if Steve Forbes has anything to do with it. Forbes, as you know, has unleashed an ad up in New Hampshire that takes Bush's record on, on tax cutting in Texas, where Bush always likes to claim that he's got a record of cutting taxes in his home state and yet in a complicated tax proposal that he put together a number of years ago there were some tax increases and Forbes is going right after that claiming that Bush took a pledge never to raise taxes in Texas and that he broke that pledge with his proposal, and the whole goal of that effort is to remind voters here who punished George Bush Sr. for breaking his tax cut pledge that George W. Bush is very much the son of his father.

SESNO: Ron, what do you make of that tax ad that Forbes is running?

BROWNSTEIN: You know, Frank, this is not the race that George W. Bush thought he'd be in. He thought he'd be in a race where he'd have to be defending himself against a conservative critique like Forbes is offering in this ad today.

In fact, Bush for the most part is facing a challenge from the center, where McCain is making arguments that are very unusual in a Republican primary, and Bush is sort of sliding to the right to sort of position himself as the voice of conservatism against McCain. Forbes has almost disappeared in these last two debates. He really has not been a presence out there. And the question is whether this is really too late for him and the other conservative candidates to really inject themselves in this McCain-Bush dynamic.

SESNO: You talk about John McCain, you talk about the senator. The other thing that what's taking place with this debate was some discussion -- a heated discussion at times over campaign finance reform. There was a heated exchange. Now, Bush declined to attack John McCain for work that McCain did on behalf of a constituent, also a fund raiser, a donor on -- to get a television license. But take a look at some of the tape, just a taste of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: His plan -- and I trust your integrity, I trust your judgment. I don't trust the plan that you're outlining. It is bad for Republicans and it's bad for the conservative cause.

TIM RUSSERT, MODERATOR: John DiStaso -- we have to move on -- John DiStaso.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Seven million dollars and I don't think you have an idea of why -- how important campaign finance is -- reform -- to restore the confidence of young Americans in their government, because the cynicism and alienation is there.

BUSH: What you don't need to do is tell me what I have an idea about or not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESNO: Jay Carney, a magic moment?

CARNEY: Well, it was a revealing moment, because it was the first time really that George W. Bush attacked John McCain within the same screen and it showed that he believes that McCain is a threat to him and the principle -- the centerpiece of McCain's campaign is his move to reform the campaign finance system. Bush wants to discredit that. He wants to peel away Republican voters by telling them that John McCain is a bad Republican who wants to hurt the Republican Party and the conservative cause, and he really took it right to McCain.

SESNO: Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: It's all of a piece, Frank. I mean, it's very similar to the line of argument that Bush is pursuing on taxes. Several weeks ago, one of the Bush advisers said to me, you know, we are never going to out-independent John McCain, so we have to out- Republican him. By which he means that McCain is always going to be a very appealing candidate for independent voters and those sort of maverick centrist Republicans. Bush wants to be the candidate of the rank and file conservative Republican grassroots, and all of this points in that direction.

SESNO: Jay Carney, last word to you, you have been working for sometime now on a profile of John McCain. We're going to see that in "CNN & TIME" Sunday night right here on CNN. Tell us a little bit about what we can expect to see there.

CARNEY: Well, what we tried to do is show the viewers what it is about McCain that is sort of behind his surge, why he's -- what the appeal is. So we spent a lot of time with him on the bus, we spent a lot of time with him down in Phoenix at his home there. We interviewed his wife. We interviewed some critics of his, too, so viewers can understand why some people in Arizona don't think as highly of John McCain as maybe people in Washington, D.C. or New Hampshire do.

SESNO: All right, we'll be watching.

Jay Carney, Ron Brownstein, great to have you both here. See you soon.

And this programming note, Jay Carney's profile on McCain airs on "CNN & TIME" on Sunday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, also 9:00 p.m. Pacific time.

As McCain, Bush and the others head into tonight's debate in South Carolina, let's take a closer look at what's at stake in the February 19th primary there.

Here's CNN national correspondent Bruce Morton.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MORTON (voice-over): John McCain in Sumter, South Carolina, heading toward, yes, another Republican debate in, yes, another must- win state.

HARRY MCMASTERS, SOUTH CAROLINA GOP CHAIRMAN: John McCain has said that if he doesn't win here he's in big trouble. If -- Governor Bush has not said that, but if he doesn't win here he's in big trouble.

MORTON: It's the first primary in the powerful Southern region. The winner of every South Carolina primary since Ronald Reagan in 1980 has gone on to win the GOP nomination, which is more than New Hampshire can say.

The state has changed -- less rural, more high-tech, companies like Michelin moving in. Is the GOP base still dominated by religious conservatives?

LEE RANDY, THE (COLUMBIA) STATE: The Republican vote, here, I would say, is conservative, maybe a little bit more conservative than the electorate at large. But they are what I call pragmatic conservatives. They tend to vote mainstream.

MORTON: George W. Bush is ahead. Folks here know the family.

HEATH THOMPSON, BUSH SOUTH CAROLINA DIR.: They know Barbara and George Bush very well. They knew George W. Bush from when he campaigned for his father. So, you know, this is friendly territory.

MORTON: This is an open primary. Independents and Democrats can vote in it. McCain wants them.

TREY WALKER, MCCAIN SUPPORTER: We're bringing in new people, independents, reform-minded folks, reform-minded Democrats, people who have never registered to vote, new people, fresh blood coming into the Republican Party. MORTON: Veterans matter here. South Carolina has more veterans per capita than any other state, 400,000. The McCain campaign says it has a political chairman and a special veterans chairman in every county here.

WALKER: They're key. They're critical. They're the major component in the McCain coalition in South Carolina.

MORTON: Bush wants them, too, of course.

THOMPSON: We're not conceding the veterans' vote to John McCain any more than we did the women's vote to Elizabeth Dole. You know, we're doing very well here with veterans. In fact, we think we're leading here in the state with veterans and military retirees.

MORTON: In McCain headquarters, in the larger Bush headquarters, workers stuff envelopes, phones ring endlessly. Forty-three days to go.

RANDY: Right now, I would say this is a campaign void of issues. It's a personality contest. And there's not much difference in the stances of the candidates here in South Carolina.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MORTON: Right now, Bush is ahead. But that's not because people dislike John McCain, it's because a fairly large chunk of the voters still say they don't know enough about him to have an opinion. Those who do know him like him. That's one reason why McCain expects after the New Hampshire primary to come live here -- Frank.

SESNO: Bruce Morton, thanks a lot.

Coming up on INSIDE POLITICS, the Reform Party's dynamic duo, Jesse Ventura and Donald Trump face to face in Minnesota.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESNO: It was a day of possibilities for the Reform Party. At a news conference in Minnesota, billionaire Donald Trump said there was a good possibility that he will announce a White House bid next month. And Governor Jesse Ventura said he might endorse him.

Patty Davis has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was their first face-to-face meeting of the new year. The man known as "the Donald" came to Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, to meet with a man once known as the body. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump shied away from formally announcing he'll run for the Reform Party presidential nomination and said he didn't come to Governor Ventura's state to get am endorsement.

DONALD TRUMP, REAL ESTATE DEVELOPER: I'm here not to ask Jesse for an endorsement -- because I haven't even decided whether or not I'm running -- I'm here as a friend of Jesse. Jesse's having a big fund-raiser tonight.

DAVIS: In a joint press conference, Ventura, the Reform Party's top elected official and the one who has encouraged Trump to run, said it was too early to give his backing.

GOV. JESSE VENTURA (REF), MINNESOTA: If he decides to the negative that no, he doesn't want to get in as a candidate, well, that makes me look kind of stupid, you know? And I don't like looking stupid.

DAVIS: And what about Pat Buchanan, the recent Reform Party candidate?

VENTURA: And if Donald Trump doesn't run, I'd support John Anderson long before I would Mr. Buchanan.

DAVIS (on camera): The battle for the Reform Party nomination takes place at a time of major infighting. The party's leadership can hardly agree on a location for the nominating convention, let alone a candidate.

(voice-over): Trump and Ventura share a certain flamboyance. Both were hawking their wares at the event -- Ventura his doll, Trump his latest book.

TRUMP: It's pretty complete, and I hope you go out and buy it.

DAVIS: Both have a penchant to say what's on their mind and were quick to condemn the decision that presidential debate participants must have at least 15 percent support in the polls.

VENTURA: I think it's despicable. I think it's a clear case of them fearing there could be another Jesse Ventura.

DAVIS: Trump said he is considering suing the presidential debate commission and says he'll announce whether he'll run in February. If he runs, he says he's ready to spend $100 million on the campaign.

Patty Davis, CNN, Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESNO: And there's much more ahead on INSIDE POLITICS,

Coming up:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One look at little Elian Gonzalez play and you wouldn't think the 6-year- old Cuban boy was the center of a political firestorm reaching all the way to the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESNO: A little boy and a big controversies. But why are the politicians involved?

Plus, making the most of campaign advertising. David Peeler checks out the candidate's strategies.

And later:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: There's something radically different about this year's presidential campaign. Front loading? No, something else, something good -- at least the voters seem to like it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESNO: Our Bill Schneider on a campaign change worthy of the political "Play of the Week."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESNO: We will have more of the day's political news coming up, but now a look at some other stories that we're following today.

No end to the political wrangling in Washington over the fate of a 6-year-old boy, Elian Gonzalez. We'll have more on that angle a bit later. But in Miami, the boy's relatives are making a new push to keep him in the United States.

CNN's Susan Candiotti is in Miami -- Susan.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Frank.

Just about an hour and a half ago, attorneys representing the boy's interests took their very first steps in what is expected to be a two-prong approach to try to block Elian Gonzalez's return to his father in Cuba.

Now Elian Gonzalez's great uncle filed for custody of the boy this day in state court. They are trying to have a meeting with Family Court Judge Rosa Rodriguez, who is described as a relative newcomer to the family court bench. The court papers state that Elian faces, quote, "grave and serious harm, physical and mental harm" if returned to Fidel Castro's, quote, "totalitarian regime."

The court papers also ask that Elian's father be notified by phone of the custody battle.

Now number two, attorneys are also expected to file in federal court probably next week seeking an injunction to press for a political asylum hearing. We only saw the little boy once earlier this day. He came out to play with a puppy dog, a gift to him from a U.S. congressman. There have been only a handful of demonstrations this day, unlike last night. when more than 100 people were arrested. Police had to use tear gas to break up the demonstrations. More are expected tonight. And on Monday, exile groups are planning a massive demonstration, a traffic slowdown at Miami International Airport.

Remember, the reunion is supposed to happen by January the 14th, but no one knows if the deadline will be met.

Susan Candiotti, CNN, reporting live in Miami.

SESNO: CNN White House correspondent Kelly Wallace will join us in a few minutes. We'll talk about the political implications of the case of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez.

But first to Shepherstown, West Virginia, a familiar place for President Clinton. He was back there today as peacemaker to Israel and Syria. During trilateral talks, Mr. Clinton presented leaders of both countries with a working document, a proposed path to a land-for- security treaty. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Al-Shara met face to face for the first time since Tuesday. Talks recessed for the Jewish sabbath and the end of the holy month of Ramadan. They were to resume tomorrow night.

More calls today for the Atlanta Braves to discharge their outspoken relief pitcher John Rocker. A group of 20 Atlanta civic groups staged a protest outside the Braves Turner Field. Rocker will undergo psychiatric treatment before any disciplinary action is taken. The controversy began when he went on a verbal tirade against immigrants, minorities and gays in a "Sports Illustrated" article.

When INSIDE POLITICS returns, Pentagon officials fume over Al Gore's debate remarks about gays in the military and a possible litmus test for the military brass.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESNO: The Gore campaign is trying today to put a better spin on the vice president's remarks this week about a possible litmus test on the issue of gays in the military. During Wednesday's debts in New Hampshire Gore was asked whether he would acquire appointees to the Joint Chiefs of Staff to support allowing gays to openly serve in the military.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would insist before appointing anybody to the Joint Chiefs of Staff that that individual support my policy. And, yes, I would make that a requirement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESNO: Gore aides tell INSIDE POLITICS the vice president did not mean to suggest that the Pentagon brass would have to personally support allowing homosexuals in the ranks. Rather, they say, Gore would require they carry out his policy, which would allow gays to serve openly.

Now how is all this playing with officials over at the Pentagon?

Let's check in now with CNN military affairs correspondent Jamie McIntyre.

Jamie, reaction from the Pentagon?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's -- I have to say this statement from Al Gore is about as welcome as Saddam Hussein at the Pentagon. I couldn't find anybody today who thought that Al Gore had not made a serious political mistake.

There's two points here. One is that while the U.S. military is required, obviously, to do what the commander in chief tells it to do -- we have civilian control of the military in the United States, and they're not allowed to refuse lawful order -- the point that a lot of senior officers made to me is that right now there is a law that prohibits gays from serving openly in the military. And that law would have to be changed.

And what really rankled a lot of people here was it seemed that Al Gore was suggesting that not only would the military have to uphold whatever the law of the land was, but they would also, before that law was ever changed or even it was never changed, have to support his view, his position that gays should be allowed to serve openly. And for the many members of the military, they felt that was putting a litmus test on a social issue, on a position that's supposed to provide the best military advice.

And the reality here is that many senior officers would be very uncomfortable in that position. Many told me they would refuse appointment to the Joint Chiefs if that were the condition. And there were many here who suggested and firmly believe that there would be some wholesale resignations on the Joint Chiefs of Staff if Al Gore were to implement that kind of policy.

Now we're getting some word from our folks who are covering the Gore campaign that they are trying to say that that is not what the vice president intended, that he was talking about once a policy had been changed, once a law had been changed. And, frankly, the chances of that happening are kind of slim, considering that President Clinton could not get such a change through a Democratic Congress. Now we have a Republican Congress. That could change, but still it would be very difficult politically for Al Gore to get that law changed.

But meanwhile, he's got a lot of people here scratching their heads, kind of slack-jawed, wondering what it was he was thinking when he said that.

SESNO: Jamie, any parallels to integrating, desegregating the military?

MCINTYRE: Well, of course, in 1947, when President Truman ordered the integration of the military, you heard a lot of the same arguments that are used against allowing homosexuals to serve openly. But everybody that I talk to here advances the argument, who believes that this should not happen, advances the argument that this is a different situation. A lot of them like to quote former Joint Chief's Chairman Colin Powell, who said that race was, quote, "a benign characteristic," and that sexual orientation was not. And he drew a difference between that.

And a lot of people latched on to that as an argument. But in that case also, it took a long time for the culture to change. One of the questions here is should the U.S. military be leading the social change or should it be following, once the country has already come to that decision.

SESNO: Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon.

President Clinton said on once again today the subject of another controversy that he hopes the case of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez will not be politicized. That may be wishful thinking, as politicians in Washington, Florida and on the presidential campaign trail keep arguing against the decision to return the boy to communist Cuba.

CNN's Kelly Wallace has an update from the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WALLACE (voice-over): One look at little Elian Gonzalez Friday, and you wouldn't think the 6-year-old Cuban boy was the center of a political firestorm reaching all the way to the White House.

CLINTON: This is a volatile case. And those who want to challenge it will have to follow the law and the procedures.

WALLACE: The president reaffirmed his support of the Immigration and Naturalization Service decision that the boy, found drifting off the coast of Florida in an inner tube, should be reunited with his father in Cuba, and added:

CLINTON: We need to keep this out of the political process as much as possible.

WALLACE: Mr. Clinton, responding in part to a question about this letter from Florida's Republican Governor Jeb Bush, urging the president to allow the state courts to decide the boy's fate.

Bush wrote that the INS decision, quote, "makes no mention of the fact that Elian's mother sacrificed her own life so that Elian might live in freedom and liberty in the United States."

While Cuban-Americans take to the streets in Miami to protest the INS ruling, some Republican Congress members are trying another tack, urging a House committee to subpoena Elian to delay his return to Cuba. That would give lawmakers time to craft legislation to keep him in the United States.

REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R), FLORIDA: What we want is the opportunity to be able to go into a hearing, and this is certainly one of the vehicles that we could use. We're just looking at it. WALLACE: But late Friday, House Government Reform Committee chairman Dan Burton said he has decided not to issue a subpoena at this time, but reserves the right to do so in the future if it becomes necessary.

And on the campaign trail, some Republican presidential candidates used Elian's plight to attack the Clinton administration's policy towards communist Cuba.

STEVE FORBES (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He is Bill Clinton's human sacrifice to Fidel Castro, and it is a disgrace.

MCCAIN: The Statue of Liberty says, send me your poor, your sick, your huddle masses yearning to breathe free. That's what this Cuban boy is all about.

WALLACE: But other GOP presidential hopefuls had a different message.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Fidel Castro ought to butt out, and our politicians in this country ought to butt out as well. And let's do what's for the child.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALLACE: The INS has set a deadline of January 14th for the boy's return to Cuba. But as Susan Candiotti just reported, lawyers representing the boy's Miami relatives are planning to take up the matter in the Florida courts. And that is the reason Republican Congressman Burton says he is not issuing a subpoena for Elian at this time.

Kelly Wallace, CNN, reporting live at the White House.

SESNO: And still ahead, politics on the television screen. A look at the ads of election 2000.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESNO: Now, a look at the ads in the presidential race. In New Hampshire, the Americans for Tax Reform are running an ad criticizing Senator John McCain's stance on campaign finance reform.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: We all know John McCain's inspiring personal story, but can we trust his political agenda? McCain's top priority in Washington? Nationalized campaign laws that muzzle conservative voices, making taxpayers pay for political campaigns. Conservative leaders call McCain's political agenda dangerous and reckless, dishonest, tramples on the constitution. And the real purpose? To throttle criticism of politicians. Call Senator McCain. Tell him that being a Washington politician doesn't give him the right to trample our rights.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SESNO: The ad began airing last night in the Granite State. Americans for Tax Reform spent nearly $100,000 and bought ad time through the 15th of January. The group's last ad was criticized by party leaders. In it, a picture of President Clinton morphed into a picture of John McCain.

For a closer look at the candidates' ad spending and strategies in the key states of Iowa and New Hampshire, we turn to New York and David Peeler of Competitive Media Reporting.

David, good to see you.

DAVID PEELER, COMPETITIVE MEDIA REPORTING: Nice to see you, Frank.

SESNO: What is the latest on the Republican spending in Iowa?

PEELER: Well, we've taken a look at the last two weeks of activity, and what we see is that George W. Bush has spent $75,000 in that time period. Steve Forbes comes in at about $113,000, and Gary Bauer, who just came back on air in the last couple days, has spent $1,000. As we've known from the beginning, John McCain continues to stay out of it, at least in terms of media spending.

What we did was we took a look which we thought would be interesting, to see where George Bush was focusing his message, the bulk of his spots. If you look at George W. Bush's spots, the bulk of them, 80 percent of them, focus on either tax cuts or on education spots like this one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, BUSH CAMPAIGN AD)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bush's plan calls for teaching character in the classroom. His plan holds schools accountable, blows the whistle on failure, gives parents more choices, and focuses on teaching all children to read.

BUSH: Every parent wants their child to get the very best.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PEELER: And, you know, the remaining 20 percent, if you think about what George W. Bush has it do, is he's taken those messages to go against either issues in the White House, character issues in the White House, or issues as they pertain to the military. So what he's trying to do is to tag each one of his five opponents with some counter message to what they're out there in the marketplace talking about.

SESNO: David, what are Republican candidates spending in New Hampshire?

PEELER: New Hampshire is an interesting market, it is a more expensive market. What we've seen in the past two weeks again is that Bush has spent half a million dollars. That is about the same amount as John McCain and Steve Forbes combined. There is a couple interesting stories here. In Portland, Maine, John McCain just went back on air. We suspect that is to skirt some of the federal spending limits in that state. And Steve Forbes, while he spent 140 over the last two weeks, is the first candidate to go on air with an attack spot, which I think we saw at the top of the hour. We understand that he has got about a $200,000 media buy in that state against that individual campaign. So we'll see how that plays out over the next couple of weeks.

SESNO: David, how does the spending in the Democratic race stack up against all this?

PEELER: Well, let's take a look at Iowa first. In Iowa, Bradley, Bill Bradley, spent about $65,000 over the last two weeks. Al Gore is outspending him with $95,000 over that same period of time. These candidates, when you look at how they focus their messages, are a little different.

SESNO: OK.

PEELER: Bill Bradley spent 100 percent of his spots all against his main issue of Medicare. And we have looked at Al Gore, who's been able to spend most of his spots against his experience level.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, GORE CAMPAIGN AD)

ANNOUNCER: To preserve Medicaid and strengthen Medicare, to keep our environment clean and our economy strong. How much experience does America need? All it can get.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PEELER: So you can see in a two-candidate race, both of the candidates have some other options. They're able to focus the bulk of their ad spending against the messages that they want to get out against their opponent, and that's what we're seeing in the Democratic primary.

SESNO: All right, let's break it down for the Democrats before we go. What are they spending in New Hampshire?

PEELER: Well, Frank, it has been neck and neck. As we said before, it's an expensive market. Bill Bradley spent about $550,000. Al Gore is right behind him at half a million dollars. It is a neck to neck race in terms of spending in New Hampshire.

SESNO: All right. David Peeler, thanks very much, appreciate your time.

PEELER: Thank you.

SESNO: And still on the ad watch, an anti-immigration ad is raising a furor in Iowa. The ad, paid for by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, attempts to start a political argument on the issue of immigrant workers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FED. FOR AMERICAN IMMIGRATION REFORM AD)

NARRATOR: Welcome to Storm Lake, Iowa, where the meat packing industry replaced native Iowans with thousands of foreign workers and cut wages to half what they used to be, where Medicaid costs rose 63 percent and four out of 10 school kids don't speak English, where jail costs have risen 62 percent and where quality of life is but a memory. Ask the candidates if they think one million immigrants a year are too many?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESNO: Though the ad does not mention any particular candidate, the group has criticized George W. Bush for what is says was a call for increased immigration. The mayor and other leaders of Storm Lake say the ad was not filmed in their town and that it falsely depicts Storm Lake. Several Iowa television stations have refused to run the ads. A federation spokesman says the group is standing by the ad.

Up next, Bill Schneider with our political play of the week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESNO: The presidential campaign got under way earlier than usual. The amount of money raised has been bigger than usual. But that's not all that's been unusual about campaign 2000.

Our Bill Schneider joins us now to explain -- Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Well, Frank, there is something radically different about this year's presidential campaign. Front-loading? No, something else. Something good. At least the voters seem to like it. How good is this new thing? Good enough to make this week's political play of the week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Wednesday night, Democrats in New Hampshire. Thursday night, Republicans in New Hampshire. Tonight, Republicans in South Carolina. Tomorrow afternoon, Democrats in Iowa. The debate-a-thon is on!

It seems like we're having more primary debates than ever. Are we? Let's see. 1976 saw the first televised pre-New Hampshire primary debate. The number of debates grew to six in 1988, the last time neither party had an incumbent running for president. 1992 saw three Democratic debates before New Hampshire. 1996 saw three Republican debates. And this year? Wow! Sixteen debates before the New Hampshire primary! Nine for the Republicans, seven for the Democrats. An all-time record.

Is debate fatigue setting in? Not among the voters. "The Washington Post" interviewed New Hampshire voters and reports that "New Hampshire's civic-minded voters hate commercials and love debates." After all, where do you get a better sense of the candidate? From a slickly-packaged ad like this?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: No one in America should have to work more than four months a year to pay the Internal Revenue Service.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: Or from a probing debate exchange like this?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSSERT: Would you have appointed David Soutor of New Hampshire to the Supreme Court?

GARY BAUER (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I not only think that President Bush made a colossal mistake by putting a justice on the court that is a reliable vote for Clinton and Gore, I believe we can never afford to make another mistake like that, Tim.

RUSSERT: Would you like the chance to defend your dad?

BUSH: Listen, I'm the only one on the stage who has appointed judges, and my judges strictly interpret the Constitution. My dad can defend himself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: The GOP debates gave Republican candidates an opening against front-runner George W. Bush, first because he looked like a no-show.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE FORBES (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Perhaps in the future at a forum like this if we call it a fund raiser he might show up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: Then because he sounded like a lightweight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, MODERATOR: Can you tell us sir, what do you read every day?

BUSH: What do I read?

HUME: What do you read for information?

Well, I read the newspaper.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: But they've also given Bush the opportunity to tout his advantage. He's walked the walk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BUSH: When you go to the booth, I want you to realize I'm the one person up here was has been elected to an executive position. I have done in office what I said I would do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: The voters seem to prefer debates to ads so much, Al Gore decided to make it his issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The single most effective immediate reform we could cause is for the both of us to agree to eliminate the majority of the money that goes for these 30- second, 60-second TV/radio ads and just debate twice a week.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: For once, the political process seems to be changing for the better. Bring on the debates! And for the many news organizations that are sponsoring them, bring on the political play of the week.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Why is it crucial to have debates? Because it's the only thing that keeps our campaigns from being about nothing but money. In a debate, George W. Bush, who raised almost $70 million this year, more than any candidate ever, becomes equal to Orrin Hatch, who raised about $2 million. They're just two guys out of six. If there were no debates, money would be decisive. But no matter how much you spend on coaches and spinmeisters, you still can't buy a debate.

SESNO: A good play of the week, but may be debatable.

(LAUGHTER)

SESNO: All right. Bill, thanks very much.

That is it for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. You can go online all the time at CNN's allpolitics.com.

And these programming notes: Bush adviser Ralph Reed and McCain supporter Congressman Lindsey Graham will preview the South Carolina Republican debate tonight on "CROSSFIRE," that's at 7:30 p.m. Eastern Time.

And tomorrow, CNN will have live coverage of the Iowa Democratic debate, starting at 1:50 p.m. Eastern Time.

I'm Frank Sesno. "WORLDVIEW" is next.

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