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Inside Politics

Polls Show Parties Closing Ranks Behind Front-Runners; John McCain Hopes Honesty is the Best Policy; George Bush Finds His Form

Aired January 14, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Bulking up before the first presidential contests. We'll tell you why Al Gore and George W. Bush are looking stronger these days.

Also ahead:


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If you ask it, he will answer.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I thank you for the question. This man stops talk only long enough to hear the next question.


WOODRUFF: Candy Crowley on John McCain's campaign talkathon.

Plus, what a difference a new millennium makes for the winner of the political "Play of the Week."

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

WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us. Bernie is off today.

As Al Gore has stumped for his party's presidential nomination, he has been dogged by Democrats' concerns about his electability in the fall. But our new poll suggests Gore is in better shape in that regard than he seemed just a week ago. The new CNN/"Time" magazine poll of registered voters nationwide shows Gore trailing George W. Bush by five points in a possible general election match-up. Gore had been behind by 17 points in last week's CNN/"Time" survey.

Let's now bring in our CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider, who is in Boston.

Bill, first of all tell us, where is Al Gore gaining strength?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Gore is succeeding in rallying the Democratic Party's base by presenting himself as a fighter for the party's causes. Let's take a look. Among self-described Democratic partisans, he's picked up nine points in the last week. Among older voters. These are voters mostly from the Depression generation, hardcore Democrats, he's picked up 10 points. And among low-income voters, 10 points also. Meanwhile, the Republicans are holding fast behind George Bush. Ninety percent of them are supporting Bush, who's been sharpening his conservative message. I think both parties, both parties's front-runners are succeeding in getting across a tougher, more partisan, more ideological message against their less partisan challengers in the primary, Bradley and McCain.

So both parties seem to be closing ranks behind their front- runners.

WOODRUFF: Bill, what does this mean for Gore in the short term in his primary race against Bill Bradley?

SCHNEIDER: Well, I think this is really bad news for Bill Bradley. Because one of the best arguments that Bradley supporters could make to Democrats is the argument that Pat Moynihan, Senator Moynihan, made when he endorsed Bill Bradley back in September. He said nothing wrong with Al Gore, he just can't be elected president. Well now there's evidence, maybe he can be.

WOODRUFF: And what about George W. Bush's standing in his primary race?

SCHNEIDER: Well, this is really a message to Bush and to the Republican Party: Stop thinking landslides. This is going to be a humdinger. Personally, voters still seem to prefer Bush to Gore, but the Democrats have some powerful forces on their side, namely peace and prosperity.

Remember Vice President George Bush back in 1988? He was no Ronald Reagan but he had the similar powerful forces on his side -- peace, prosperity -- and he used them to turn that election around. I think the message is, fasten your seatbelts, this is going to be a bumpy ride -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Bill, back to the Democrats for just a minute. In looking at the numbers for Gore and Bradley, is there anything there that you can read between the lines in terms of why Bradley is having difficulty?

SCHNEIDER: I think Bradley is having difficulty rallying the party's base. You know, this is the difference between a fighter for the party's causes and a visionary. We've seen this fight before. We saw it between Mondale and Hart in 1984. It goes all the way back to Kennedy and McCarthy in 1968, or between Clinton and Paul Tsongas in 1992. What the party seems to be doing is rallying to Al Gore the same way they rallied to his boss, Bill Clinton, in 1992 against Paul Tsongas. These are partisans who vote in primaries, and partisans are always looking for a fighter.

There is a constituency of Democrats out there who don't like a lot of fighting, who are not terribly partisan, the people who supported McCarthy, and Hart, and Tsongas and now Bill Bradley. So we've seen this fight before. Usually, the partisan, the advocate, the fighter wins. That's what seems to be pushing up Al Gore right now. But it's still going to be a very close contest.

WOODRUFF: All right, Bill Schneider, thanks very much, reporting from Boston.

Well, George W. Bush continues to hammer away on the tax issue on the airwaves and on the stump in Iowa today.

CNN's John King is traveling with Governor Bush.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want you to be president, that's for sure.


JOHN KING, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Governor Bush was in a playful mood as he shopped for votes in small-town Iowa.

BUSH: Now hear this: Everybody should attend their caucuses a week from Monday. And while you're there, remember, George W. Bush came to ask for your vote. Now hear this.

KING: Bush's pitch includes a new sense of urgency.

BUSH: We're getting close to decision time here in Iowa.

KING: And two new TV ads that offer a snapshot of the increasingly pointed Republican debate over taxes, spending and Social Security.


BUSH: One of my opponents says my tax cut for America is too big and too bold. Another has raised questions about my record. They're both wrong.

We can cut taxes for working families and protect Social Security. Some people say we can't. I say we've got to. Help settle the debate. Please go to the caucuses Monday.


KING: Bush's argument that a big tax cut and saving Social Security can go hand in hand is being challenged by Arizona Senator John McCain.


MCCAIN: There's one big difference between me and the others: I won't take every last dime of the surplus and spend it on tax cuts that mostly benefit the wealthy. I'll use the bulk of the surplus to secure Social Security far into the future. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Bush aides say McCain sounds like a Democrat.

BUSH: Because and the reason why I need to repeat this, is because we have a president who has done a good job of saying if we cut taxes, people will lose their Social Security benefits, which is not the truth.

KING: Elderly voters are among the most reliable caucusgoers. and Bush is clearly concerned the criticism might take hold, and not only here in Iowa.


KING: The Bush campaign today rushed yet another ad onto the air in New Hampshire, countering the new McCain ad, that Bush insists his tax cut plan would also protect Social Security, and we're told the Bush campaign is now preparing a mailing to up to 100,000 New Hampshire households. That mailing again insists that the federal budget surplus is plenty big, not only to save Social Security, but also to pay for the governor's $483 billion tax-cut plan -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, John King, reporting from Des Moines, thank you.

Well, joining us now also from Des Moines with his "Reporter's Notebook," Bob Novak of "The Chicago Sun-Times."

Bob, first of all, how much importance are the people around George W. Bush placing on this Republican debate tomorrow?

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": It has some importance, Judy, in that they feel that if they can really score a big victory in Iowa, it would give them a running start against Senator McCain in New Hampshire. And of course, if they can beat McCain in New Hampshire, I think everybody agrees this campaign for the nomination is over.

I was talking to Governor Bush this afternoon, and there's no question he would like to bring up this tax question. The Bush people think they've died and gone to Heaven that John McCain would give them an in to be the most conservative candidate in the Republican primary on the tax issue, but I think the governor is a little concerned that this debate, which is put on by the "Des Moines Register," consists of the editor of the "Register" reading questions from readers, that it's going to go off into tangents of -- maybe not tangents, but avenues of Iowa issues, and he won't, as Bush wants, attack McCain or hit McCain on his failings on the tax question.

But remember this, at this debate four years ago, even though it's kind of circumscribed, all the candidates piled on to Steve Forbes on the flat tax, hit him very hard, and I don't think Forbes was ever the same again in 1996.

WOODRUFF: Bob, we just heard our own John King discussing the estimated budget surplus figures. How do those factor into this dispute over Bush and McCain -- between Bush and McCain over the tax cut?

NOVAK: Representatives of Governor Bush have been told by budget staffers on Capitol Hill that this surplus is getting bigger all the time. We're talking about possibility of a $3 trillion surplus over 10 years. It is immense. And the position that Governor Bush is going to take toward Senator McCain, if he can, tomorrow in the Iowa debate, but certainly next week in New Hampshire, is, senator, you don't understand how things have changed, with this surplus, there is plenty of money for tax cuts, and if you don't spend it on tax cuts, there's going to be -- it's going to be spent by the Congress.

Now Senator McCain's people tell me that they will say that we unlike Governor Bush are fiscal conservatives and we are going to hold down the spending, but I don't really believe that Senator McCain appreciates that the size of this absolutely immense surplus, which is very hard for all of us who have dealt with deficits for the last half century to deal with.

WOODRUFF: But, Bob, can't McCain counter with one of the arguments he's been making, which is we really have to worry about Social Security?

NOVAK: That's what he's going to do. I guarantee you, he's going to do it again tomorrow in the debate. The problem is that Senator McCain is the first candidate I have seen who openly says, we are going take money out of the regular surplus, not just the Social Security surplus, and spend it on Social Security. That has been a no-no. The Bush people have dug up some old quotes with Franklin Roosevelt rejecting advice from Secretary of Labor Francis Perkins to use the money out of the general fund for Social Security, saying that would make it another dole. But it is a risky business when you say we want to spend less on Social Security than you do, and that's what Senator McCain is counting on.

WOODRUFF: All right, our own Bob Novak, reporting from Des Moines. We'll see you up there next week.

NOVAK: Thanks.

WOODRUFF: A Republican group is injecting itself into the presidential campaign battle over taxes. The Republican Leadership Council launches new 30-second ads today in Iowa and New Hampshire defending George W. Bush's position on taxes. Specifically, the RLC is responding to a Forbes campaign ad accusing Bush of raising taxes in Texas.


NARRATOR: Steve Forbes attack ad distorts the truth. We're the Republican Leadership Council, and our research shows Governor Bush signed the largest tax cuts in Texas history. Sadly, Steve Forbes has a history of unfairly attacking fellow Republicans.

Forbes attacked Bob Dole, which helped the Democrats, and now he's doing it again.


WOODRUFF: This isn't the first time the RLC has run an ad condemning Forbes' campaign ad strategy. The Forbes camp has noted that a number of RLC leaders have ties to Bush.

Still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, we'll get a report from Jeanne Meserve on the road with Al Gore. And on the attack in Iowa, Bill Bradley reopens the pages of a previous election in a bid to win votes.



UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Mr. McCain, what will you do to bring respect back to the White House?


WOODRUFF: In New Hampshire, a plain-talking John McCain getting high marks from the young and their parents.


WOODRUFF: The attacks and counterattacks between the Democratic presidential candidates are picking up speed. Bill Bradley was on the offensive today in Iowa.

CNN's Patty Davis reports.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Bradley, Bradley, Bradley.

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley was welcomed with hugs and cheers at a rally in Johnston, Iowa.

BILL BRADLEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Some people say we cannot do big things, we just have to nibble around the edges.

DAVIS: Before an audience of more than 300, Bradley reiterated his major criticism of the vice president, that he thinks too small.

BRADLEY: Registration and licensing of handguns? Too hard to do, he says. Universal access to affordable, quality health insurance for all Americans, and helping middle-class Americans, those who work hard and play by the rules? Yes, but not now.

DAVIS: Bradley likes to call himself "the candidate of straight talk and candor," as in this new television ad launched Friday in New Hampshire.


BRADLEY: This campaign is being run under the radical premise that you go out and tell people what you believe, and win.


DAVIS: But Bradley's candor on one controversial issue has followed him throughout this day, his claim in a Boston newspaper interview that Al Gore had introduced racism into the 1988 presidential campaign. In that race, Gore criticized rival candidate Michael Dukakis for a prison furlough program in Massachusetts, an issue that haunted Dukakis during the general election in the figure of a black criminal, Willie Horton.

Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey, campaigning with Bradley in Iowa, said Gore has a pattern of taking the low road against his competitors.

SEN. ROBERT KERREY (D), NEBRASKA: I think Bradley has conducted himself in a very high-minded fashion. In fact, he's been criticized for not being willing to engage and fight back.

DAVIS: The Gore campaign responded that Gore had never mentioned Horton's name or race. The Bradley spokesman didn't back off.

ERIC HAUSER, BRADLEY SPOKESMAN: And I think there was an undertone in that campaign, and I think that throughout his life Senator Bradley has talked about the importance of getting beyond racial division, or healing racial wounds, and when he's asked a question and there's a tone in a campaign, he's certainly going to address it.

DAVIS (on camera): Is Bradley playing the race card here?

HAUSER: Oh, absolutely not.


DAVIS: Now, Bradley repeatedly refused to answer himself questions today from reporters about the Willie Horton issue, address it at all. But his campaign certainly was in full spin, trying to turn the issue to its advantage. They're saying that Bradley has been very prominent on the issue of racial harmony, of trying to solve racial issues, racial problems in the country. He, the campaign says, never would have done what they say Gore did in 1988 -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Patty Davis, reporting from Des Moines.

Now, just within the last hour, Vice President Gore has responded to Bill Bradley's Willie Horton charge, in New Hampshire. Jeanne Meserve will bring us that just a little later in the program.

In New Hampshire, John McCain struck a positive cord among young voters today. He was one of four presidential candidates who spoke to about 400 college and high school students from around the country meeting in Manchester. Several students said they like McCain because, they said, he gets to the point on issues.

Our Candy Crowley has the inside look at McCain's "telling it like it is" style.


UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: It seems that people have lost respect for the president.

CROWLEY (voice-over): If you ask it, he will answer.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: What will you do to bring respect back to the White House?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What would be wrong with a reform that said unlimited donations, but you have to have full disclosure?

CROWLEY: This man stops talking only long enough to hear the next question.

MCCAIN: ... that I thank you for the question.

CROWLEY: The "straight-talk express" is an "all-talk express," and it's working.

MCCAIN: Last July, in Petersburo, we had a town-hall meeting at the town hall. We gave away free ice cream and 40 people came. About three and a half weeks ago, we had the same town-hall meeting, same town hall, no ice cream, and 500 people came.

CROWLEY: John McCain talks as easily from the stage as on the sidewalk.

MCCAIN: Walk slow so nobody has to be hospitalized, OK? Right, Lanie (ph), or should we run and make them all stumble and fall? That's what we should do. Careful, there is a curb.

CROWLEY: He can't remember turning down a media request. Less than three weeks before the primary in Keene, New Hampshire, McCain is talking to the BBC, for heaven's sake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a danger the presidency can be bought.

MCCAIN: Soberingly so.

CROWLEY: In between events, when most candidates grab a cup of coffee and relax, McCain grabs a cup of coffee and talks.

MCCAIN: I know that my previous 17-year record...

CROWLEY: This is not your usual campaign M.O. Maybe because he says so much, McCain gets away with a lot. It is hard to imagine Bill Bradley welcoming the press corpse like this.

MCCAIN: By the way, there's a large contingent of media people here, some of them -- they range from just liberal to communist.

CROWLEY: And it is difficult to hear this coming out of Al Gore. MCCAIN: I'll do two right next to each other. Yes ma'am, and then, actually, both of those jerks on either side of you. Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: First of all, they're not jerks.

MCCAIN: Thank you. Those great Americans on either side of you.


MCCAIN: Obviously you're related to them.

CROWLEY: And here is how John McCain treats the debunked rumors about his mental stability.

MCCAIN: Yes, let's go back to the other. Look at all these.

CROWLEY: Try to imagine George Bush making fun of rumors about his past. It is a part of the McCain design. Always be surprising. Largely traditional views in an ear-catching, untraditional package -- a candidate who calls himself a proud conservative Republican and then compares his party to Wile E. Coyote in perpetual pursuit of the Roadrunner.

MCCAIN: We've got the latest device from Acme, and we're just about to get Clinton, and then the nitroglycerine goes off or we go off the cliff, or the train runs over us.

CROWLEY: John McCain is an American hero, tortured as a POW in Vietnam. It gives power to his talk.

MCCAIN: I've tried to talk very straight on this campaign and tell people not only what they want to hear but what they may not want to hear.

CROWLEY: A serious man with serious plans, who speaks passionately about issues, irreverently about most everything else.

MCCAIN: I'm deeply concerned that I find my 15-year-old daughter listening to Ricky Martin, which is probably better than a few years ago, when she was in love with Leonardo DiCaprio, that androgynous wimp.

CROWLEY: Sometimes he seems more Henny Youngman than politician.

MCCAIN: Here's the following problem: Barry Goldwater from Arizona ran for president of the United States. Morris Udall from Arizona ran for president of the United States. Bruce Babbit from Arizona ran for president of the United States. Arizona may be the only state in America where mothers don't tell their children that some day they can grow up and be president of the United States.

CROWLEY: Ba dum bum.

But for all the talk, it is not so much what he says as what the talk says about him. There is an offbeat charm, a believability that has brought them to town hall meetings in droves and taken John McCain from asterisk to headliner.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Manchester.


WOODRUFF: And coming up next on INSIDE POLITICS, the Reform Party makes it official, sort of, on where it will hold its national convention. But will the Ross Perot forces go along with the decision?


WOODRUFF: Reform Party officials said today they hope that the feud over where to hold their national convention is settled. The party's Minnesota chairman, Rick McCluhan, said that a contract has been signed with the River Center Convention Complex in St. Paul. Those allied with party founder Ross Perot still insist that they will hold the convention in Long Beach, California. Meantime, party leaders are meeting in Palm Beach, Florida with Donald Trump. Trump summoned them to his members only club for dinner and champagne to talk about his running for president on the party's ticket.

And still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, a live report on the Gore campaign, courting of key Democratic groups in New Hampshire.

And the political "Play of the Week."



BUSH: I don't believe five percent of the children in my state are hungry. And if they are, we'll fix it.


WOODRUFF: George W. Bush faces possible fallout from a study showing nearly a million Texans are going hungry.

And later:


BILL DELANEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): About the cutest darn political football you'll ever see: 14-month-old Elizabeth.


WOODRUFF: Bill Delaney explains why the Massachusetts lieutenant governor's daughter has gotten her mom into hot water.

And we'll salute "The Simpsons" for make world of politics more animated.


WOODRUFF: We'll have more of the day's political news coming up, but now a look at some other top stories.

The Supreme Court tackles two dividing issues: gays in the Boy Scouts and late-term abortions. The high court will decide if states can ban the controversial abortion procedure. The justices will review a Nebraska law that makes it a crime. The court will also decide if the Boy Scouts of America can exclude homosexuals as troop leaders.

The drug industry backs off its criticism of the president's Medicare reform proposal. It now supports efforts to extend prescription drug coverage to people on Medicare. Drug makers say that they will work with the Clinton administration to come up with a plan.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today's news that the drug companies say they are ready to work with us on providing affordable optional drug coverage and making sure older people have access to the medical qualifications developed is a very good first step. Now what we need is positive action from the drug companies and positive action in Congress, not just on the benefit but on the efforts to strengthen and extend the life of the Medicare trust fund.


WOODRUFF: The White House claims the drug industry was pressured into cooperating by fears the government might adopt price controls on prescription medicine.

Some airline whistle-blowers would be protected from punishment under a new agreement between the airlines and the Clinton administration. The agreement encourages pilots and mechanics to report safety errors that could cause accidents, even ones they make themselves. In return, the employees don't have to worry about reprisals for violating FAA regulations.

Today in Havana, thousands of Cuban mothers took to the streets in what they called "The March of the Combatant Mothers." They chanted "bring back our son," demanding the U.S. return 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez to his father in Cuba. They marched along a coastal highway to a U.S. government office.

A member of the national champion women's swimming team at Kenyon College in Ohio is dead. Ten others are injured. The team was returning home from a swimming meet when their van crashed last night. Slick roads may be to blame.

The White House is giving networks financial incentive for airing anti-drug messages in their prime-time TV shows. White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart says it is important to relay the anti-drug message in as many ways as possible.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOE LOCKHART, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is an innovative idea to reach the same message that we're trying to get out, reach the same people in a slightly different way. And it is -- it is ultimately about the results that we achieve.


WOODRUFF: President Clinton says he supports the program, as long as the government doesn't start writing the scripts.

When INSIDE POLITICS returns, out with the old and in with the new in the political "Play of the Week."


WOODRUFF: Some very recent poll numbers to look at. In the Republican presidential race, tomorrow's debate in Iowa will give all six candidates another chance to persuade voters that they have the right stuff to be president. And in George W. Bush's case, viewers may be more impressed than they once were.

Let's bring back senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, who's in Boston -- Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Judy, this week, beginning with the debate in Michigan last Monday night, George W. Bush seemed to find his voice as a conservative and recover his stature as a front-runner. The new millennium brought a new Bush and the political "Play of the Week."


SCHNEIDER: The old millennium: December 2nd, 1999, New Hampshire. Bush makes his debate debut. The front-runner's supposed to appear head and shoulders above his rivals, but Bush looks a little in over his head.

BRIT HUME, MODERATOR: What do you read every day for information?

BUSH: What do I read?

HUME: What do you read for information?

BUSH: Well, I read the newspaper.

SCHNEIDER: And as for detailed understanding of policy:

KAREN BROWN, MODERATOR: Many refiners, some of whom are based in Texas, oppose the tier-two standards. Please tell us your position.

BUSH: Let me -- yes, I do support cleaner gasoline standards across the country. I -- here's what I believe. I believe we can have economic growth and conservation at the same time.

SCHNEIDER: New millennium, new Bush.

January 10th, 2000, Michigan: The new Bush has a much clearer sense of what he wants to say.

BUSH: I'm going to pick a vice president who can be the president, I'll pick judges who strictly interpret the Constitution and not use the bench as a legislative -- a way to legislate, and I will work to keep the Republican Party pro-life. That's what I'm going to do, Mr. Forbes.

SCHNEIDER: The new Bush has sharp comebacks.

STEVE FORBES (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I think that's what makes the American people cynical about politics. Pledges are made and then quickly forgotten after the election.

BUSH: One thing that makes the American people cynical is negative advertisement on TV.

SCHNEIDER: The new Bush is clever, quick...

UNIDENTIFIED MODERATOR: Now, a Harvard professor today came out with...

BUSH: Consider the source.

SCHNEIDER: ... and sensible.

TIM RUSSERT, MODERATOR: And what would Jesus think of the death penalty?

BUSH: Listen, I'm a lowly sinner. I'm not going to put words in Jesus's mouth.

SCHNEIDER: The front-runner is under attack on two fronts -- on the right, from Steve Forbes, who claims to be the truer conservative.

FORBES: And if a man breaks a pledge, the voters ought to know it.

SCHNEIDER: So this week, Bush got tough with Forbes. He reminded Republicans of how much damage Forbes has done to the party.

BUSH: I'll run positive ads, and I'm darned sure not going to do to candidates what this man did to Bob Dole in 1996.

SCHNEIDER: In the center, Bush faces a challenge from John McCain, who claims to be the more responsible conservative.

MCCAIN: The essence of true conservatism is to be fiscally responsible.

SCHNEIDER: So this week, Bush got tough with McCain. He scoffed at McCain's tax plan.


BUSH: There may be an increase in the surplus by $800 billion more than anticipated. That makes the idea of having a paltry tax cut even more risky.


SCHNEIDER: And he tagged McCain with the ultimate Republican insult.

BUSH: When I laid out my plan, there were two voices that argued for keeping money in Washington: Al Gore and John McCain.

SCHNEIDER: The front-runner is back. He's found his voice.

BUSH: I am a tax-cutting person.

SCHNEIDER: And he's won the political "Play of the Week."


SCHNEIDER: It must have been Governor Bush's New Year's resolution. You're the front-runner. Start behaving like an alpha male -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Hmm, where have we heard that expression before, Bill? Thank you.

SCHNEIDER: Well, we've heard it.

WOODRUFF: Thank you, Bill Schneider.

Well, things may be going better for Bush, but he still has his critics. Some accuse the Texas governor of having done little to take care of a growing problem in his own state, namely hunger.

CNN's Charles Zewe reports at what is at issue.


CHARLES ZEWE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two baloney sandwiches in a lunch kit and a quick goodbye.

ANGELA WILLIAMS: OK, give me a kiss. Give me a kiss. Give me a kiss.

ZEWE: Angela Williams is off to her job as a trucking company sales rep. Her husband, Don, to his rounds shining shoes. Children Keith and Josephine head to school. It could be a scene from any American home on any day of the week. It's hard to tell, however, the Williams frequently don't have enough to eat and find themselves asking:

ANGELA WILLIAMS: How do we make ends meet? What do we do from here?

ZEWE: The government estimates 10 million households nationally, including two million in Texas, have trouble consistently affording food. More than 950,000 Texans are thought to be outright hungry. This despite the state's booming economy, with it's high-tech industries and low unemployment.

Welfare reform has chopped a million people from food stamp rolls in Texas. Many now believe they are no longer eligible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And so it's going to shift from where, in the past, maybe a third or so who were eligible weren't getting food stamps. Now, about three-fourths, two-thirds to three-fourths, are not getting it.

ZEWE: Leaving many of the working poor to make do with the minimum page.

TERRY BEER: You just can't feed a family of three or four on $5.15 an hour.

ZEWE: Terry Beer runs a Dallas food pantry where 50,000 families a year get free food. Food banks say donations are up, but demand is way up, too.

BEER: The numbers have increased 200, 300 percent.

ZEWE: Experts say only a tiny fraction of the hungry are homeless. Many are like the Williams, who live in a quiet, middle- class neighborhood and together earn about $2,600 a month. That's too much to get food stamps and free medical care, but after paying their monthly car notes, rent and other expenses, there's sometimes little left for food.

DON WILLIAMS: Do I pay the bill or buy groceries, or should I fix my car or buy groceries?

ZEWE: All of this is potentially embarrassing to Republican front-runner George Bush, who at first doubted the figures.

BUSH: I don't believe five percent of the children in my state are hungry.

ZEWE: But now has seemed to back away from his skepticism.

BUSH: I'm confident we'll respond. We're a loving people in the state of Texas.

ZEWE (on camera): Texas is not alone among states in reporting a growing number of people who are hungry. In Arizona, the home state of GOP challenger John McCain, and in Tennessee, the home state of Vice President Al Gore, hunger rates are also above the national average.

(voice-over): Bush, as part of his compassionate conservative agenda, has proposed that faith-based agencies take over services like feeding the poor. Food banks, however, want the government to pay for that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One way or another, the government has to help in being a stopgap. They just can't totally eliminate their responsibility. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just need a little help. I'm not asking for a handout, but a helping hand.

ZEWE: Charles Zewe, CNN, Dallas.


WOODRUFF: When INSIDE POLITICS returns, the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, who just happens to be a mom, issues an apology, and her critics are saying, "We told you so."


WOODRUFF: Al Gore may hold a solid lead over Bill Bradley nationwide, but in New Hampshire, it is a quite different story. Gore is in the Granite State today, courting two key Democratic constituencies.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve is covering Gore, and she joins us now from Manchester.

Hello, Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Judy. The vice president has been talking today to senior citizens. Right now, he's at an event with Latino youngsters, but just a few moments ago, he held a press availability, and he responded for the first time to charges from his opponent Bill Bradley that Al Gore was the one to introduce the inflammatory subject of Willie Horton into the 1988 presidential campaign. Here's what the vice president had to say.


ALBERT GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn't mention that name. And the legitimacy of the specific issue, you know, I would refer you to Mike Dukakis for his statements about that. I mean, he ought to be in a position to interpret that for you, and he said that it was a completely unfair charge on the part of my opponent.

Yes, one more.


MESERVE: Indeed, Dukakis told the Associated Press today that Bradley's charges just aren't true. Al Gore was also asked today about polls, and he said they just aren't worth a hill of beans at this point in any presidential campaign. He didn't know at that point about the new CNN/"Time" poll, which shows has him only five points behind George Bush in a poll of registered voters. When I asked his spokesman, Chris Lehane, if that poll, too, was a hill of beans, he said, well, some polls are more visionary than others -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Jeanne Meserve, reporting from Manchester, thank you. Well, joining us now to talk more about today's political news. In New York, Katrina Vanden Hufel of "The Nation" magazine. And here with me in our in Washington bureau, Tucker Carlson of "The Weekly Standard."

Tucker, I didn't warn you both that I was going to ask but this, but since we've just heard Jeanne Meserve reporting on what the vice president has to say about the whole Willie Horton business, does this go anywhere from here, Tucker?

TUCKER CARLSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I can't imagine it does. I mean, I'd like to see a poll on how many people know what the phrase "Willie Horton" refers to. People have awfully short memories as is often said.

I also think that Gore makes a good point, that it was, fundamentally, a legitimate issue. Willie Horton committed terrible crimes while at (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I don't know. Nobody disputes that. And so that extent, there's nothing wrong about bring it up, nothing intrinsically racist about it.

WOODRUFF: Katrina?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, "THE NATION": I think it goes somewhere. Because I think what Gore has done all along is, without issues, he's played ugly. If he wins, he's going to win ugly. And he's taken a low road. And he's really debased the campaign so far, both in debates and in prompting Bill Bradley, whose strategist, his advisers, probably said, you've got to reply, you can't just talk on issues, which is what he wanted to do.

WOODRUFF: You mean, what you're saying is that Gore, by egging Bradley on, has caused him to bring this up?

VANDEN HEUVEL: Gore has all along from the beginning said, you know, Bradley abandoned the Democratic Party, I hung in there and fought. Well you know, if you dissect that, Vice President Gore hung with the centrist Democratic Leadership Council that, in essence, abandons some of the core Democratic values that, to Bradley's credit, he is trying to bring back on the agenda, such as access to health care and the importance of, as your previous story talking about hunger, talking about poverty, trying to pierce the narcotic smog of affluence that is taking over too much of our political campaign. So that's what I'm trying to say, in terms of trying to speak to a higher -- appealing to a higher conscience and running a campaign on issues, which may be impossible in this media-saturated, political, professionalized, you know, campaign period we live through.

WOODRUFF: Tucker, how do you see this contest, the Bradley-Gore contest shake out at this point? Clearly, increasingly tough, even mean?

CARLSON: Well, I'm very pro-mean, so I'm not bothered by that. That I'm struck by the surveys that show what people are interested in. I mean, if you take a look at what Bradley and Gore say, actually I disagree with Katrina, I think they both run a campaign that focuses a lot on issues, and they're constantly tearing one another's health care plans apart, for instance, sort of point by point. So you get a lot of information out of listening to them speak, but surveys show that people who are listening aren't paying that much attention to the specifics, but rather basing their judgments on who has a more attractive, more appealing personality. I think by that measure, as hard as it may be to believe, Gore probably wins.

WOODRUFF: Let's switch over to the Republican contest now. Katrina, talk about whether there is going to ever be a so-called true conservative in this contest, because so much of the attention is now focused on Bush and on McCain. How do you see it from your perspective?

VANDEN HEUVEL: Well, I think we do see a true conservative in the race. I think Mr. Bush talks the talk, but he doesn't walk the walk. I mean, as a compassionate conservative, his state shouldn't rank at the lowest level of all states in terms of child poverty. And I think what your story before this segment showed, is that there is hunger in his state because he is providing tax breaks for corporate polluters rather than giving a surplus to children and to those nutrition programs.

So I think we do have a conservative in the race, and one might look, you know -- hate to predict, but I do think on the more conservative side, the Christian coalition and its successor operations, are probably in more disarray this election year than in any previous year.


CARLSON: Well, Bush leaves the kids hungry, therefore conservative. You know, I'm not sure. Clearly, there are three candidates who are each attempting to be the standard bearer of the conservative side of the Republican spectrum -- Forbes, Bauer and Keyes. And I think Keyes has been underestimated to this point. I just was with him in Iowa, and it's really striking the kind of way he resonates with the crowd. I mean, the debates have really helped him. None of these guys is going to win, so if you're hoping to cast a vote to make a statement about, say, abortion, you're probably going to cast it with a person who gets his message across the most compelling way, and that person is Keyes. I would not be surprised if he hurts both Forbes and Bauer badly in Iowa.


WOODRUFF: Quickly, Tucker -- go ahead, Katrina real quickly.

VANDEN HEUVEL: Judy, if I might add, I don't think some of the Christian right issues resonate this year. I do think issues that resonate with voters, according to surveys such as health care, and education, and those issues, are really Democratic Party issues, and I think that's hurting and will hurt the far right and the conservative core of the Republican Party.

WOODRUFF: All right, we're going to have to leave it there.

Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Tucker Carlson, thank you both.

Two years ago, a woman named Jane Swift was seen by many as a rising star in Massachusetts politics. She gave birth to a baby girl and three weeks later was elected lieutenant governor. But now, she is fighting to keep her head above a swirling controversy involving the care of her child.

CNN's Boston bureau chief Bill Delaney reports.


BILL DELANEY, CNN BOSTON BUREAU CHIEF: About the cutest darn political football you'll ever see, 14-month-old Elizabeth, daughter of Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Jane Swift, who this week, after kicking and screaming a bit, finally apologized for handing off little Elizabeth to aides for babysitting duty once too often on state time.

LT. GOV. JANE SWIFT (R), MASSACHUSETTS: I'm sorry that I accepted help from my staff, even when it was voluntary, because that can be perceived as an abuse of power. I should not have done it. I will be very careful not to do it in the future.

DELANEY: So much for the pregnant media darling of the 1998 campaign, and some say so much for a women's movement. that for working mothers, anyway, just hasn't changed all that much.

(on camera): What's changed, of course, most basically is how many woman are in the workforce. By now, more than 60 percent of married women work, more than twice the number in 1960. Receptionist Cherylyn Robinson, though, like millions of working women, has struggled for years to care for her two kids.

CHERYLYN ROBINSON, WORKING MOTHER: I don't think very much has changed, I don't. The kids are going to get sick, accidents happen, you know, sometimes you have to leave work early, and a lot of employers are not sympathetic to that.

DELANEY: As for Jane Swift's boss, Massachusetts Republican Governor Paul Celluci, critics question why he and Swift opposed new bills that would provide paid leave for working families with new children.

Frustrated women's advocates admit quick fixes -- forget it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's going to continue to be a struggle for families. We don't live in Sweden, where they, you know, have this sort of very family-friendly approach. I would love that, but that's just not going to fly.

DELANEY: As a politician in Massachusetts, once pregnant with political promise, now in the real world of working motherhood has her wings cut.

Bill Delaney, CNN, Boston.

(END VIDEOTAPE) WOODRUFF: Still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, political humor Bart Simpson and many others would love. We'll take a look at how a cartoon has lampooned politicians for a decade.


WOODRUFF: And finally, the animated TV series "The Simpsons" marked 10 years on the air today. The anniversary reminded us how Homer, Marge, Bart and the other residents of Springfield have colored the political dialogue over the years.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: America, take a good look at your beloved candidate. They are nothing but hideous reptiles.


WOODRUFF: In a commentary on the 1996 presidential race, Homer Simpson revealed that Bob Dole and Bill Clinton were aliens. On the real live campaign trail, Steve Forbes paid homage of sorts to "The Simpsons" in '96.


FORBES: It certainly gets the attention of you guys, and I didn't want you falling asleep when I made my speeches.


WOODRUFF: But putting the Simpsons on his campaign plane clearly didn't help Forbes on Election Day.

Back In 1992, a heckler dressed like Bart Simpson disrupted a Paul Tsongas rally.

But perhaps he most amusing connection between "The Simpsons" and politics came that same year, when a campaign speech became campaign cartoon fodder.


GEORGE BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNTIED STATES: We're going to keep on trying to strengthen the American family, to make American families a lot more like "The Waltons" and a lot less like "The Simpsons."

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Hey, we're just like "The Waltons." We're praying for an end to the Depression, too.


WOODRUFF: To "The Simpsons," we all say, thanks for the memories.

And that is it for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. And one quick programming note: CNN will provide live coverage tomorrow of the Iowa Republican presidential debate. That's at 2:00 p.m. Eastern.

I'm Judy Woodruff.

"WORLDVIEW" is next.


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