ad info




CNN.com
 MAIN PAGE
 WORLD
 U.S.
 LOCAL
 POLITICS
 WEATHER
 BUSINESS
 SPORTS
 TECHNOLOGY
 SPACE
 HEALTH
 ENTERTAINMENT
 BOOKS
 TRAVEL
 FOOD
 ARTS & STYLE
 NATURE
 IN-DEPTH
 ANALYSIS
 myCNN

 Headline News brief
 news quiz
 daily almanac

  MULTIMEDIA:
 video
 video archive
 audio
 multimedia showcase
 more services

  E-MAIL:
Subscribe to one of our news e-mail lists.
Enter your address:
Or:
Get a free e-mail account

 DISCUSSION:
 message boards
 chat
 feedback

  CNN WEB SITES:
CNN Websites
 AsiaNow
 En Español
 Em Português
 Svenska
 Norge
 Danmark
 Italian

 FASTER ACCESS:
 europe
 japan

 TIME INC. SITES:
 CNN NETWORKS:
Networks image
 more networks
 transcripts

 SITE INFO:
 help
 contents
 search
 ad info
 jobs

 WEB SERVICES:

  Transcripts

CNN Late Edition

George W. Bush Opines on His Presidential Candidacy; Elian Gonzalez Case Ignites Passions in Florida and Cuba

Aired January 16, 2000 - 12:00 p.m. ET

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

WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's noon in Washington, 11:00 a.m. in Des Moines, Iowa, 9:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 6:00 p.m. in Rome, and 8:00 p.m. in Moscow. Wherever you're watching, from around the world, thanks for joining us for this 90-minute LATE EDITION.

Today, an exclusive interview with the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, George W. Bush. I caught up with Governor Bush on the campaign trail in Des Moines.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (on camera): Governor, thank you so much for joining us on LATE EDITION. It's good to have you from the campaign trail here in Iowa.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Wolf, thanks. I appreciate you running me down here in Des Moines.

BLITZER: Well, we refuse to take no for an answer.

BUSH: Well, that's good.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: But let's talk a little bit about some international issues.

BUSH: Sure.

BLITZER: As you know, LATE EDITION is seen around the world in more than 200 countries. There's a new CNN/"USA TODAY"/Gallup poll that says 56 percent of the American people believe Elian Gonzalez, the 6-year-old Cuban boy, should be returned to his father in Cuba; 36 percent disapprove of that federal government decision.

Are the American people wrong in their sense that he belongs with his dad?

BUSH: I think -- I appreciate the idea of uniting a father and son. But my position is, Wolf, that the man ought to be allowed to come to America to make that decision as to where the son ought to live. See, I think the thing that's interesting about this particular case is that the mom was fleeing to freedom. And the great beacon of America was shinning brightly to the extent where she was willing to take risk for herself and her son.

The dad is making the decision under the confines of a very repressive government. And what I would hope is that the dad would be allowed to come, take a -- inhale that great breath of freedom, to see how his son is being accepted here, take some time for himself and make the decision here on U.S. soil.

I think if he were to come and make the decision to go back, I think we ought to honor the request of the dad. But I think the decision ought to be made here in the United States of America.

BLITZER: And so when the dad was interviewed here on "Nightline" this past week and made it abundantly clear in that interview he wants his son back in Cuba...

BUSH: Yes.

BLITZER: ... with him. Isn't that enough?

BUSH: I don't think so, Wolf. And the reason I don't think so is because I'm not sure the environment in which he's making the decision is the right environment. This is a man who is living in one of the most totalitarian regimes that still exists. And there's no telling what pressures he's under, no telling what he's being told, and if he's being given a chance to come and hopefully come and stay in the United States if he wanted to with his son, I think he ought to be given that option to do so.

BLITZER: So if he flew over to Miami, which is a short flight from Havana...

BUSH: Right.

BLITZER: ... and spent a day and said, "I want to take my son back to Cuba with me," would that be all right?

BUSH: I think that would be OK. I would hope it would be more than a day. In other words, I would hope the man would be able to see the great freedoms we have here in America. I'd hope he would understand that his child would receive a great education. I'd hope he be able to get a sense of the real promise of America. I'd hope he be able to realize his child's future would be much better here than Cuba.

So I don't know if a day is the right amount, but enough time for him to make a rational, free decision.

BLITZER: And that would be good enough for you.

BUSH: It would be.

BLITZER: All right. You know, Gary Bauer, one of the other Republican candidates, says you have a double standard when it comes to Cuba, the communist government, and China, which also has repressive tendencies. He says they abuse their citizens even perhaps worse than in Cuba and that this double standard doesn't make any sense.

BUSH: Well, I've heard him say that, and I disagree with him completely. And the reason I do is because -- we're talking about trade. You know, there's no question that China is repressive at times, and that's unacceptable to the United States. It would be unacceptable to me as president. It would be part of an agenda with which I would deal with China.

But what Mr. Bauer misses, I think, is that trade with China is trade with an entrepreneurial class. The trade, the burgeoning trade, the change in China is capital to entrepreneurs -- entrepreneur to entrepreneur. And I think it's in our nation's advantage to open up markets. I know it's to the advantage of the Iowa farmer to be able to sell more product into China. But I know it's also to our nation's advantage to encourage the flourishing of the entrepreneurial class.

The difference is, any capital that goes into Cuba gets skimmed off, for a better word, to the Cuban government. It is used to prop up the government in place. And there is a fundamental difference: The trade is not directly with entrepreneurship. And trade is not directly with the entrepreneurial class in Cuba. And I think that's the difference.

BLITZER: But don't you think it's -- excuse me for interrupting...

BUSH: No problem.

BLITZER: ... that trade with China does sustain the communist regime in Beijing, that some of that money is skimmed off and does keep that government in power more?

BUSH: Well, I -- here's -- my attitude is this, Wolf: I think that when people get a breath of fresh air -- the fresh air of the market, the fresh air of trade, the fresh air of ownership -- that that, in turn, will cause people to demand more democracy. And in fact that's what happening in China. I think our country ought to be anxious to trade with the entrepreneurial class. I know that we've got to keep the pressure on the Chinese government to trim back the amount of army-owned industry. And we shouldn't be trading with them.

I agree with Mr. Bauer on that point. But what I disagree with him on is, by turning our backs not only to the economic opportunity, we're turning our back to the opportunity to spread freedom.

Imagine if the Internet takes hold in China. Just imagine what the great outpouring of freedom would be.

BLITZER: It's really -- it is taking hold to a certain degree in China already.

BUSH: It is. And that's to our nation's advantage. It's to our nation's advantage economically. But, more importantly, it's to our nation's advantage to encourage freedom to take hold in China.

I think we ought to change the relationship between China and the United States from one of strategic partner to one of competitor, and that's exactly how I'm going to redefine the relationship. We've got to make it clear to the Chinese we don't appreciate them spreading weapons of mass destruction, if they are so doing, throughout the subcontinent. We've got to make it clear to the Chinese that we're going to respect and honor our friendships with Japan, and South Korea and Taiwan. I support the one-China policy. I think it's important to make it clear to both Taiwan and China that the one China policy has been -- has led to a peaceful -- and hopefully will continue to lead to a peaceful resolution of their dispute. I will uphold the Taiwan Relations law.

BLITZER: All right. Well, let's move on and talk a little bit about Russia.

BUSH: Yes.

BLITZER: If you were president today and you got on the phone with the new president, Vladimir Putin, what would you say to Mr. Putin about what the Russian military is doing in Chechnya?

BUSH: Well, first I'd say to Mr. Putin, I hope you have free and fair elections, and I look forward to watching the will of the people. He is yet the elected president; he's a temporary president.

Secondly, I would say, Mr. Putin, I think in order for you to have standing in the world of nations that you ought not to be bombing innocent women and children, and you're causing refugees to flee from your country, and therefore, until you decide not to do so, we won't continue with IMF aid and/or export/import loans.

BLITZER: What about direct U.S. aid from the United States to Russia? As you know, most of that money -- two-thirds -- goes to Nunn-Lugar...

BUSH: Yes.

BLITZER: ... money to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

BUSH: No, I think that's a different issue as far as I'm concerned. I think that one of the things the new president is going to have to do is explain to the Russians, clearly, that we view the post-Cold War era as an opportunity to bring nuclear security to the world.

And I would say to Mr. Putin I intend not only to continue to work with you on dismantling of tactical and strategic warheads, I expect -- I intend -- i hope to ask the Congress -- that -- I will ask the Congress and hope they respond to increase the funding so we can continue to dismantle nuclear and tactical warheads.

BLITZER: So the direct Nunn-Lugar aid would go forward.

BUSH: Yes, sir, it would. But this is not aid to prop up a government or a corrupt elite. This is an aid to bring more security in the post-Cold War era.

I'd also say to Mr. Putin, it's to our mutual advantage, Mr. Temporary President, that we re-negotiate the ABM Treaty. I think it's very important for our country to explain to explain to the Russians that in the post-Cold War era, the threat of accidental launch or the threat of a launch of a rouge nation will destabilize parts of the world, and therefore, we must amend the ABM Treaty so that we can deploy theater-based antiballistic missile systems. And if they don't agree in a reasonable period of time, I'm going to make it clear I'm going to withdraw.

BLITZER: Sounds to me like you don't have a whole lot of confidence in acting President Putin.

BUSH: Well, I -- the verdict is still out. I would certainly hope that acting President Putin has free and fair elections, that they then incorporate real law, that he does something about the corrupt elite that have been pocketing trade -- pocketing foreign aid, and that they understand that in order to be a viable part of the world, that the marketplace and democracy are important for a stable Russia.

I view Russia as incredibly important part of the stability of the world in the long run. And I repeat to you, I intend to work with them for -- to -- for nuclear safety.

BLITZER: Let's move on to the Middle East. You've said -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- that one of the first things you'd do would be to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

BUSH: I would start the process is what I said. Upon swearing in, I would start the process.

BLITZER: How would you do -- what would you ...

BUSH: With the will -- it's the will of the United States senators. You know, I think it was a 99 to nothing vote. And I would start the process.

BLITZER: By doing what?

BUSH: Well, start the plans, start the -- you know, we got a location in place. And start the process of moving the capital.

BLITZER: And moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

BUSH: I mean, moving the embassy, not the capital, to the capital.

BLITZER: And what if the parties come back as they do, the Arabs, and say, well that would totally disrupt the peace process by the U.S. taking the view on our own...

BUSH: No, I understand. But I think part of the president's job is to make it clear that that's my intention. That's exactly what campaigns are meant to be. I've sent a clear signal, and it's what I intend to do.

BLITZER: Would you be a hands on kind of negotiator? Bill Clinton has been going back and forth to Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Jimmy Carter was involved in Camp David. If the Middle East were still a serious problem, if you became president, would you get directly involved or let the secretary of state

(CROSSTALK)

BUSH: Well I think, both. I think that's a very good question. I think both, depending upon the state of the negotiations. But what I wouldn't do is impose the United States will on the peace settlement. I would use our prestige and our standing in the world to encourage discussions and negotiations.

But I think we run a great risk of worrying about our own personal standing, the president's personal standing -- the president's personal standing, the country's personal standing in the world -- by imposing our view of the peace settlement. It's incredibly important for the Palestinians and the Israelis to come to an agreement or the Syrians and the Israelis to come to agreement that is in their interest, that they all can live with.

And the United States can serve as the mediator and should, but should not be -- should not impose our standards of peace. And I -- the president, for example, I thought did a good job in Northern Ireland about using the prestige of America to encourage the peace process forward. And I thought Senator Mitchell did a good job as well. There's a good example of how peace can be attained, and a long-lasting peace hopefully, be attained, by the United States using our prestige.

BLITZER: It's almost exactly nine years since your dad, the president of the United States, accepted a cease-fire with Saddam Hussein in Iraq in exchange for full Iraqi agreement to comply with U.N. weapons inspectors. But for the last year, there have been no weapons inspection teams in Iraq at all. If you were president today, what would you do about it?

BUSH: I would continue to keep the pressure on the Iraqi government. I would continue to insist that inspectors be left -- allowed into the country. I would continue to insist that Iraq complied with the cease-fire arrangement.

BLITZER: But they're in violation of the agreement right now.

BUSH: Absolutely. Absolutely. And we shouldn't be sending mixed signals. And if any time I found that the Iraqi's were developing weapons of mass destruction, they wouldn't exist any more.

BLITZER: Who wouldn't exist, the weapons?

BUSH: The weapons of mass destruction, yes. I'm not going to -- they just need to hear that from a potential president, that if we catch them in violation of the agreement, if we in any way, shape or form find out that they're developing weapons of mass destruction that there will be action taken, and they can just guess what that action might be.

BLITZER: And you're not going to spell it out here today?

BUSH: No, sir.

BLITZER: You're not going to spell it out here today?

BUSH: No, sir.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: We have to take a quick break. When we return, I ask Governor Bush about domestic issues, including controversies over gays in the military and flying the Confederate flag over the South Carolina capital.

LATE EDITION will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEYES: What action do you plan to take to show the people that you stand for one nation, one language, rather than a nation linguistically divided?

MODERATOR: Governor?

BUSH: (SPEAKING IN SPANISH)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Texas Governor George W. Bush during yesterday's Republican presidential debate in Iowa.

Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

Now, more of my conversation with Governor Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (on camera): OK. Let's move on to some domestic issues. Taxes, for example.

BUSH: Yes.

BLITZER: You've come forward with a very large tax cut proposal, almost $500 billion over five years. Some say it could be $1.7 trillion over 10 years, to which your chief Republican rival, John McCain, is now running an ad that says this:

"There is one big difference between me and the others. I won't take every last dime of the surplus and spend it on tax cuts, tax cuts that mostly benefit the wealthy. I'll use the bulk of the surplus to secure Social Security far into the future." BUSH: If you hadn't have said who had run that ad, I would have guessed that it would have been Al Gore or Bill Bradley. But that sounds like the talk of people in Washington, D.C. who want to keep the money in Washington and not pass it back to the taxpayers.

My plan takes $2 trillion over a 10-year period and lock-boxes it for Social Security.

BLITZER: That's money that's already committed to Social Security.

BUSH: It is committed to Social Security, and I believe that is money necessary to make sure that Social Security stays...

BLITZER: Well, what about the rest of the surplus?

BUSH: Well, the rest of the surplus, I meet baselines of a budget. For example, the Medicare spending under my plan increases to about $300 billion a year. I meet basic needs in my budget, and there's still money left over, about $580 billion in a five year period of time. I want $480 billion of it to go to the tax payers. And I'm going to explain to you why.

But there's $100 billion left over unspent. And the reason I'm...

BLITZER: None goes to reduce the national debt?

BUSH: Well, and that's -- when you lock box Social Security money, that goes and pays off debt.

Now, let me tell you why I think we ought to have a tax cut. There's two fundamental reasons, three fundamental reasons why. One is to encourage economic growth. I'm of the school that says by cutting all marginal rates, it'll encourage economic growth.

BLITZER: That's a supply sider.

BUSH: That's a label applied to some. But I do believe in cutting marginal rates, cutting the top rate from 39.6 to 33 percent, simplifying the number of rates and dropping the bottom rate from 15 percent to 10 percent. That encourages entrepreneurship.

I believe, Wolf, one of the reasons why our economy is so strong today is because the Reagan tax cuts provided venture capital.

BLITZER: You realize of course, and many people have pointed this out to you, that money basically will benefit the all ready well- to -do.

BUSH: Well, that's not necessarily true. That's kind of the rhetoric that oftentimes people use for excuse to leave money in Washington D.C. My plan, for example, when you drop the rate from 15 percent to 10 percent, recognizes that there are a lot of folks struggling to get ahead and they pay a high marginal rate for every dollar they earn. It is a substantial tax cut for everybody.

If you're a family of four making $50,000 in the state of Iowa, you get a 50 percent cut under my plan.

This is a good tax cut plan that's not only got economic benefits, but makes the code more fair. And that's incredibly important, Wolf, to have a fair code. The marginal rates on a single woman making $22,000 a year with two kids, every dollar she earns, because of the earned income tax credit fade out, and the 15 percent bracket, means she pays a higher margin, a higher dollar on her margin.

BLITZER: Well, what do you say to people like Alan Greenspan, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve? The economy is doing really well now. To come in with a big tax cut, the size of which you are recommending, could be inflationary, could be set the entire economic growth way back.

Wait until the economy goes down a little bit, then come in with a tax cut and revive the economy.

BUSH: Well, Wolf, first of all, I couldn't agree more with the premise that if we do fall in to a recession, it's important to cut the taxes. I agree with that.

But I'm talking about a plan that's fully phased in by the year 2006. And we don't know. This is an insurance policy against an economic downturn.

Let me make one other point on the tax cut. There's a lot of discussion about bloated budgets and unfair spending in Washington D.C. The surest way to make sure the budgets aren't bloated is to give the people their money back. That's the surest way and there's...

BLITZER: There's another way, too. If you're President of the United States, you don't have to sign any appropriations bill you don't want to.

BUSH: Oh, sure you can veto, and you can go through the big...

BLITZER: You can veto all those spending bills that Democrats might try to push...

BUSH: No question about that. There's absolutely no question. I understand the power to veto. I've been a chief executive officer of a state.

But my only point is there's a fundamental disagreement with Senator McCain and me. He trusts money left in Washington D.C. will be properly spent. I know it's going to be spent. I happen to think it's going to be spent on bigger government and more programs. Appropriators are appropriators and they're very good at it.

So, my... BLITZER: Are you suggesting that Senator McCain is sort of a secret Democrat?

BUSH: No, of course not. He's a loyal Republican. We just have a fundamental view. He's -- I would say that he's taking a Washington perspective, and I'm taking a perspective of someone who understands reality. And the reality is the money will be spent on more government. This is a plan that is more realistic. It's based on strong assumptions. It's a five-year plan. It's a plan that will encourage economic growth. But as importantly, it's a plan that will give people more money back, more money in their pockets.

BLITZER: You've taken the commitment that you're going to cut taxes, so help me, God. Are you also prepared to make a commitment you won't raise any taxes in order to pay for taxes that you may have to reduce?

BUSH: Well, I would hope ...

BLITZER: You understand the question?

BUSH: I understand completely what you're saying. And I appreciate that question. Given the way the -- the projections that we are all now living under -- and by the way, the CBO, as I understand, is thinking about adding another $800 billion over a 10- year period if they revise their growth forecasts. And under -- given the current projection, the current environment, I'm confident that I can work with the Congress to pass a substantial tax cut.

BLITZER: Governor, let's talk a little bit about another very, very sensitive subject, one that often comes up, and I want to go through and get your position on the abortion issue.

BUSH: Sure.

BLITZER: Let me read to you a little bit from the 1996 Republican Party platform on abortion and get your sense, if you can live with these words.

BUSH: OK.

BLITZER: The 1996 Republican platform said this: The unborn child has a fundamental, individual right to life that cannot be infringed. You agree with that?

BUSH: Well I -- here's what I -- let me phrase it this way. And my goal as the president will be for every child, born and unborn, to be protected in law and welcomed into life. That's a goal.

BLITZER: So it sounds like you could agree with that first sentence of the platform.

BUSH: And my job is to promote the value of life. Now I fully understand, Wolf, people disagree on this issue. And one of my jobs is not only to promote the culture of life -- the life of the living, the life of the elderly -- but one of my jobs also is to find ways to reduce the number of abortions in America. And I would sign, unhesitatingly sign, a ban on partial-birth abortions. And I will promote adoptions. I've done so in the state of Texas. And in my state of Texas, I've signed a Parental Notification bill. And the reason I did so is because I was convinced that it's going to reduce abortion in America.

BLITZER: Let me read to you two more sentences from the Republican platform and get your reaction. In the '96 platform, we support a human life amendment to the Constitution, and we endorse legislation to make clear that the 14th Amendment's protections applies to unborn children.

BUSH: Well, I support a constitutional amendment. I'm a realist though. I think it's going to be very difficult to get an amendment through the House and the Senate at this point in time. And that's why I emphasize the need for a president to educate America and lead America toward a full -- a more full understanding of life.

BLITZER: Do the 14th -- should the 14th Amendment's protections apply to unborn children?

BUSH: Well, I'm not very familiar with what that part of the platform -- the plank's all about. Maybe you can help me understand what the legal ...

BLITZER: That they have the right to all sorts of judicial procedures, unborn children.

BUSH: Well, I support the right of welcoming unborn children -- protecting unborn children by law.

BLITZER: Sounds like you would go along with that. Finally, the last sentence of this plank. I'm not going to read the whole thing. "We support the appointment of judges who respect traditional family values and the sanctity of innocent human life."

BUSH: Yes. I've made my -- I've stated my case many times.

BLITZER: It sounds like a litmus test, or maybe I'm over- reading.

BUSH: Well, let me just give you my standing on what I believe on judges. And it's the same position that Governor Reagan, soon to be President Reagan, took in the '80 debate. And that is, I'm going to name judges who will strictly interpret the Constitution and not use the benches from which to legislate.

BLITZER: All right. Let's move on. I know abortion is a sensitive issue. Let's go to a really sensitive issue: gays in the military.

BUSH: Yes.

BLITZER: This past week Britain became the last major NATO ally, European country, to end the ban on gays openly serving in the military. France, Canada, Israel all allow gays to serve in their various militaries. Do you believe that an American who is openly gay should be allowed to serve his or her country in the military?

BUSH: Wolf, here's what I believe. I believe that the policy put forth by Colin Powell, the great General Colin Powell, is the right policy, of "don't ask, don't tell." The reason why General Powell came up with that policy and others in the military, is because they felt that was the best policy to enhance morale in our troops. And I'm going to rely on my generals to come up with a plan to make sure morale is high so that we can fight and win wars and deter war from happening, and that's my position on that issue.

BLITZER: And you know that a lot of gays are going to say that policy is simply not working, that in fact it's made life more miserable for gays in the Armed Forces than it was before.

BUSH: Yes. I think it's the right position, I do. And I think it's an important position for our country, to which our country should adhere. I think if there is cases of any kind of bigotry or prejudice, I will expect the generals under my command to make sure the Army is an Army of non-prejudiced and non-bigotry.

But "don't ask, don't tell" is a policy that is the best policy for the United States.

BLITZER: And you've heard the argument that was made to President Truman about segregating -- segregation in the U.S. military. When he ended segregation and integrated the military, the generals said to him that would cause all sorts of morale, discipline problems. But he went ahead, gave the command as commander-in-chief. Of course, we see the military fully integrated today.

BUSH: I understand that, and I appreciate President Truman's action...

BLITZER: Is there an analogy there...

BUSH: No, I support the "don't ask, don't tell policy."

BLITZER: You know this weekend, Americans are celebrating Martin Luther King's...

BUSH: Yes.

BLITZER: ... and you've been of course outspoken in your efforts to try to bring African Americans into the Republican Party. You did get some significant African American support the last time you ran for governor of Texas. Yet now many African Americans say by your refusal to intervene in the whole Confederate flag issue in South Carolina, that you're putting politics above principle. What do you say to the millions of African Americans and other Americans who think you're waffling on this issue?

BUSH: Well, I'm very clear. I haven't waffled from day one when I've been asked the question. That's a decision for the people of South Carolina to make.

BLITZER: That's your decision too... BUSH: No, I don't understand...

BLITZER: It's upsetting to a lot of...

BUSH: Well, I'm sorry it's upsetting, but it doesn't reflect my heart. It reflects...

BLITZER: Tell us what's in your heart.

BUSH: My heart is that the American dream must touch every willing heart. And that's why I've got an education plan that refused to leave people behind. And let me discuss that with you, for example, because it's an innovative plan.

One of the things our government does, we spend about seven -- over $7 billion on Title I students. That's money for the disadvantaged students. That's money for poor students. And I say this, I say we're going to continue to program, but if I'm the president, I'm going to ask the question, what are the results?

What are the results? You must, in return for receiving federal aid, we're expecting you the state or the school district to set a standard so we know. And when we find out if our children are learning and meeting those standards, there will be a bonus pool to thank the teachers and principals.

But if we find, Wolf, people are trapped in failed schools, if they're not meeting the standards, instead of just accepting the status quo as OK, instead of just accepting this business of just simply shuffling children through school, I'm going to let the money got the parent and not the school so the parent can make a different option.

At best, the schools will rise to the challenge. And I think they will, given the strong accountability. At worst, we will be providing a scholarship for the neediest of students. And at any rate, Wolf, we cannot subsidize failure when it comes to educating our children.

The people of my state from all walks of life heard my call for educational excellence for every child. That's a much more significant issue in the minds of the people.

BLITZER: Than the Confederate flag?

BUSH: I think so. Because I think people understand that there's going to be issues within states where states ought to be able to determine that issue.

BLITZER: In this same context, John Rocker, the Atlanta Braves pitcher, you're a former owner of...

BUSH: I was.

BLITZER: ... the Texas Rangers.

BUSH: And we never made it to the World Series.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: What a disappointment -- I'm from Buffalo and I'm a Buffalo Bills fan, so I can identify.

What about -- if you were still the owner of a baseball team, and John Rocker said what he said, would you dismiss him or should you give him another chance?

BUSH: I think I would have given him another chance. But I do appreciate the way the Braves have handled that. And you know, there's a big argument about free speech, and there is free speech, but there also needs to be personal responsibility and accountability in our society.

And John, you know, I don't know the man, but I appreciate his -- he's got to appreciate that he is a public figure and he wears a uniform and that fans come and see him play. And I appreciate the way the Braves are handling it. I know the Braves. I know Stan Kasiden is a very sensitive, thoughtful guy. I noticed today that John Rocker had gone to see Hank Aaron and Andrew Young as part of a process of admitting he was wrong.

I happen to think that this process ultimately is going to play out -- it could play out very positively where kids are going to say, Well, that kind of attitude and that kind of behavior is unacceptable.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Coming up, candidate Bush shares his thoughts about the role of religion in politics, and expectations for his campaign as the clock counts down to the Iowa caucuses.

LATE EDITION will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNKNOWN: Here we go!

BUSH: Hi baby, wondering who this is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush on the campaign trail this weekend with one of Iowa's youngest residents.

Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

Now, more of my interview with Governor Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (on camera): When you talk about your spiritual change at age 40 and becoming a devout Christian, a born again Christian, and all the things that you've been saying lately. There are some in the Jewish community and in the Muslim community who think by your accentuating this Christian identity of yours you're perhaps making them feel uncomfortable as Americans.

BUSH: Yes.

BLITZER: Do you sense any of that?

BUSH: I really don't. I hope that's not the case. I hope that's not the case, because I respect other religions a lot. And I'm answering questions when asked. I try not to wear my religion on the sleeve. I try to act as opposed to talk.

Now, I can understand why some who don't know me may be suggesting that my religion is better than yours, or I'm better than you. But when asked a question about some of the fundamental decisions I've made in my life and what influences my life, I'm going to explain it as humbly as I can that Christianity and my acceptance of Christ has made a difference in my life.

People shouldn't, though, say, "George Bush is" -- you shouldn't assume I'm saying, "I'm better than you, Wolf." I'm not saying that. As a matter of fact, really, what I am saying is I'm a, you know, I'm a humble servant. I'm a lowly sinner. I've sought redemption and I continue to seek redemption.

BLITZER: You know the new CNN/"Time" magazine poll that's out this weekend shows a little surge for Al Gore. You get 50 percent of the registered voters; he gets 45, which is a significant improvement of a week ago when it was 56 for you to 39 for Al Gore, with 5 percent undecided.

BUSH: I'm not sure how to answer that except for Al's got to fight in his primary and I definitely have a fight in mine. And there's going to be a lot of time between the primary season and the general election. Should I be the nominee, I look forward to a spirited contest. And I'm sure the numbers are going to bounce around.

You know, I really -- there are so many polls these days that I tend not to pay attention to them; because I understand that, pretty soon, all the speculation will end and the people will actually start showing up. Here in Iowa, pretty soon, the people are going go to their caucuses, and then New Hampshire.

And then if I'm the nominee, the vice president or Senator Bradley and I will be able to square up and start up with what I hope is a positive campaign on the issues. There's going to be huge differences between the two of them and me. I mean ...

BLITZER: Who would you rather face, Gore or Bradley?

BUSH: You know, I'm -- I am -- it's hard for me to speculate, because I, frankly, haven't been paying that much attention to their debates and their campaign. I really -- I mean, I get glimpses in the news.

But I am in combat right now. And I say that not in terms of war, but just because I'm on the road all the time, I'm shaking hands with a lot of people, I'm giving speeches and press conferences and answering questions, and that's where my attention and my energy is right now.

There'll be moments of reflection. Hopefully, you and I can do this again some times after the primaries if I'm the nominee. And then I'll be able to start reflecting upon the general election. But, right now, I've got a battle on my hands in a couple of states. And I'm -- and it's good. Competition is good.

BLITZER: Does it make you a better candidate?

BUSH: It has made me a better candidate. I've never shied away from competition. I've had some tough races. I remember one, particularly -- well, a couple of tough races. I came in second in a two-man race in 1978. And then, of course, I had a very spirited contest against Governor Richards. And that was a tough race in 1994.

BLITZER: A lot of people didn't give you much hope at the beginning, but...

BUSH: That's right. They didn't.

BLITZER: We only have time for one final question. I know you've been busy and thank you so much for spending some time with us. But looking ahead, if you were the president of the United States and your wife Laura became the First Lady of the United States, do you think she would have a future some day running as a senator, following the footsteps of another first lady?

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH: Now, that there is absolutely no chance of that happening. What my wife will be is a great first lady. There is no question in my mind that the people of America, once they get to know her, will fall in love with her just like I did. She is a gentle soul. She's a great listener.

She's got a passion for literacy. She was a public school librarian when I married her. A true story: I said, "If you marry me, you'll never have to give a speech." Well, today she's in New Hampshire giving a speech on my behalf. And she's a better speaker than me.

BLITZER: She's been giving a lot of speeches.

BUSH: She has. She is a fabulous lady.

BLITZER: And your parents, too.

BUSH: Yes, thanks.

BLITZER: Thank you so much, Governor. I really appreciate it. BUSH: Thanks, Wolf. Appreciate it.

BLITZER: OK.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And when we return, McCain versus Bush. Does the Arizona senator have a real shot at beating Bush in the first presidential primary? We'll talk about the New Hampshire showdown, with McCain Strategist Mike Murphy and Bush supporter Haley Barbour.

LATE EDITION continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When you run ads saying you're going to take care of Social Security, my friend, that's all hat and no cattle.

BUSH: That's cute, but...

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN: You know, they're always cutest when they're true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Arizona Senator John McCain and Texas Governor George W. Bush in yesterday's Republican presidential debate in Iowa.

Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

The New Hampshire primary is just two weeks from Tuesday and at least one poll shows McCain leading Bush in that state. We now get different perspectives on the tight GOP race from two guests.

Joining us from Fort Myers, Florida, is Bush supporter and former Republican National Committee Chairman, Haley Barbour. And here in Washington, McCain campaign strategist Mike Murphy. Gentlemen, welcome back to LATE EDITION.

Mr. Murphy, you heard Governor Bush in the interview say that the McCain tax cut proposals sound very much like what Al Gore and Bill Bradley have in mind. Seeming to suggest that this may not be a real Republican kind of tax cut plan. It's about half of what Governor Bush has in mind.

MIKE MURPHY, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: Well, those are fighting words in a Republican primary. They couldn't be more wrong. What Senator McCain has is a good conservative Republican plan that has balance in it. That's what's missing from the Bush plan. Bush has a big impressive tax cut using all the surplus money for tax cuts. The problem is, that does not nothing to pay down the debt, and it does nothing to address the ticking time bomb of Social Security which is grossly underfunded and we're looking at huge payroll tax increases if we don't do something.

So Senator McCain has a plan that has large tax cuts for the middle class -- large tax cuts for everybody, particularly the middle class and working families. He pays down the national debt -- or begins to, which is something conservatives ought to be for. And he has the courage to address Social Security by taking some of the surplus money, about two-thirds of it, and put it into the system so we keep that promise and strengthen.

BLITZER: All right. Haley Barbour, is the John McCain tax cut proposal sort of like Al Gore and Bill Bradley?

HALEY BARBOUR, FORMER CHAIRMAN, RNC: Well, it's interesting, there are three candidates for president this year who want the government to take a lot more of your money and spend it in Washington. There's one candidate, George Bush, who want the people who work and earn the money to keep more of what they earn.

And let me just say this about Bush's tax plan: Governor Bush said it, Mike said something different. But let's get the facts right. Under Governor Bush's tax plan, more than $2 trillion of the surplus would be used to stabilize and strengthen Social Security by paying down the national debt -- more than $2 trillion. The whole Bush tax cut over five years is $483 billion. It does not touch the Social Security surplus at all. So the idea that you can't cut taxes and pay down the national debt is the same old idea the Democrats used to say.

And that's what Governor Bush said, by the way, Wolf, he didn't say McCain's tax plan sounded like the Democrats. He said McCain's attack on class warfare -- and it does sound like the old things that Mondale used to say against Reagan.

MURPHY: Hold on...

BLITZER: Hold on, Mike, let's listen to what John McCain said earlier today on "Meet the Press" and see if the does sound like class warfare. Listen to this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MCCAIN: It's clear that there's a growing gap between rich and poor in America. The haves and the have-nots. That's -- many studies have indicated that. And I think that the people who are bearing, who need it most and need the relief most are working middle-income Americans, and that's what I want to give to them. And at the same time, the greatest benefit that I can give them is to make sure that their Social Security benefits are there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Well, that sounds like your -- rhetoric the Democrats might make as well.

MURPHY: No, it sounds like common sense. We are the great right-of-center party for the American middle class. We are not a country club. We're talking about the middle class, 90 percent of the country, and taking care of their big tax burden.

But I have to address Social Security because Haley's numbers are just wrong: $2 trillion is a lot of money the problem. The problem is it's a $5 to $7 trillion problem, which means you're short. That's the math. In fact, it's not my math, it's not George Bush's math. It comes from a commission headed by Governor Bush's New Hampshire chairman, Senator Gregg, which named a $5 trillion problem.

BLITZER: For Social Security?

MURPHY: Right. And he said -- Senator Gregg said, in the papers two days ago in New Hampshire, he had to admit that his candidate Governor Bush had no plan for Social Security to face the real numbers. So $2 trillion is a good start, but it doesn't solve the problem we're a dozen years away from.

BLITZER: Haley, do you want to respond to that?

BARBOUR: Well, you know, this is very clearly -- you can see why "The Boston Globe" endorsed John McCain today. He is saying -- you know, I think the Republican Congress did a miraculous job last year in keeping the Social Security surplus in a lockbox, to keep it being from spent. And I hope they can keep that up. And we're going to try to do it. That's what George Bush is for, $2 trillion.

But the naivete that we're going to keep the rest of the surplus from being spent if the government collects it and takes it to Washington. There are three candidates in this race who want more money to go to Washington. George Bush wants the people who work and earn the money to keep it themselves because he knows if it ever goes to Washington, the politicians are going to spend it.

MURPHY: Let's check a case study of that. Last year the Congress, in a big pork barrel bill, spent and blew the entire $14 billion surplus, including some big-spending Republicans -- $14 billion surplus spent. Senator McCain voted against it and said he would have vetoed it as president. Governor Bush supported that spending bill that blew the whole surplus. The president of the United States, as Senator McCain likes to say, is not an innocent bystander.

You veto bills that spend too much money, you stop it, you fight the pork. We have not heard in this campaign one sentence from Governor Bush about spending cuts, the real conservative position. And he supported that big spending bill.

So the question is, who's the president, what's their philosophy going to be on spending?

BLITZER: I know that Haley Barbour wants to get back into this, but I want to ask Mike Murphy, there's a new "Newsweek" poll just out today in New Hampshire among Republican primary voters -- potential, John McCain is out with 42 percent; George W. Bush with 34 percent. The question is this: if John McCain loses in New Hampshire, is it over for him?

MURPHY: Well, I look at it this way...

BLITZER: Well, is it over for him?

MURPHY: You guys will tell us.

BLITZER: What do you think?

MURPHY: We are trying to do very, very well in New Hampshire, and since we started at five percent eight months ago, I think we are doing pretty well. The media decides what winning and losing is.

But look, if we don't win a bunch of early primaries, we're not going to be the nominee. Conversely, if Governor Bush doesn't win New Hampshire and doesn't win South Carolina, his campaign will collapse.

BLITZER: Do you think it will, Haley Barbour -- the campaign will collapse if Governor Bush loses New Hampshire and South Carolina?

BARBOUR: Wolf, I think John McCain's become the favorite in New Hampshire and I think this is healthy. George Bush said it; it is good that he has a challenge for the nomination, he always knew he was going to have one, the Republican nomination's worth something.

But I think what's been particularly useful for Bush, though, is he's been challenged from the left. Usually our Republican nominees from president had to have been fighting off the challenge from the right, and getting pulled to the right. The fact that he's getting challenged from the left, and the fact that you're going to see every newspaper this year, like "The Boston Globe" that's going to endorse whatever Democrat wins their nomination, they're all going to endorse John McCain, because he is the liberal media's favorite Republican.

In fact, The New York Times doesn't even do it on the editorial page, they do it on page one, page three, page 16. It's useful and helpful to Bush that his challenge come from the left, because I think it will make him a stronger candidate in November and our party stronger.

BLITZER: All right, we have to unfortunately, take a quick break, a lot more to talk about. When we return, your phone calls for Haley Barbour and Mike Murphy. LATE EDITION continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION. We're talking about the Republican presidential race with Bush supporter Haley Barbour, and McCain campaign strategist Mike Murphy.

Mr. Murphy, the new Iowa Research 2000 poll has -- and this is only eight days before the Iowa caucuses -- has Bush at 46 percent in Iowa, Steve Forbes at 20 percent, your candidate, John McCain, at only eight percent.

MURPHY: That's a miracle.

BLITZER: I know he's not officially campaigning there...

MURPHY: Right, it's a miracle.

BLITZER: But he's been there, he's got people there, and obviously he's participated in the debates in Iowa. Eight percent does not seem like a big number.

MURPHY: Well, I predict we're going to get next to nothing in the Iowa caucus because Senator McCain has said all along he's not competing there. The other candidates are spending millions and millions of dollars and are traveling there all the time. We've been there for the sum and total of about 10 hours, two debates, and we haven't spent a dime other than a couple of steak dinners at the 801 in Des Moines. So there's been no McCain campaign there and we've said that all along. We're focused on New Hampshire.

But I got a quick answer to this liberal stuff because I'm a conservative, and, Haley, I just can't let him pull that one over on us. John McCain is for spending cuts; George Bush has identified none. John McCain supports the pro-life platform; Governor Bush has been waffling on it. John McCain says pay down the debt; George W. Bush's plan doesn't. People ought to think on a grass roots level, who is the real conservative?

BARBOUR: Now Mike...

BLITZER: Go ahead.

BARBOUR: After Mike admits that George Bush's tax plan pays down the debt more than $2 trillion, he turns around and says his plan doesn't pay down the debt.

MURPHY: Well, that's not what I said.

BARBOUR: The fact is John McCain's not a liberal. John McCain's not a liberal. But he is the news media's favorite Republican because they think he's always going to be the first Republican to come out against the Republican position. And nobody loves that more than "The New York Times." You know, "The New York Times," the only way we can make them happy is to lose elections.

BLITZER: Hold on. Haley, hold on one second. We have a caller from Princeton, North Carolina, go ahead with your question, please.

QUESTION: Yes, Wolf, thanks for taking my call.

I'm a Bush supporter and it seems to me that the Republicans now are, I guess, what Reagan stated a long time ago, was that we shouldn't be shooting each other in the foot, attacking our own candidates. And I noticed awhile ago that you put up the poll numbers for Vice President Gore against Bush, and it seems that Gore has closed in on Bush's numbers a little bit.

At what point can we unify behind one candidate? And will the McCain supporters either jump in behind Bush or vice versa, will the Bush supporters jump behind McCain? Will it be -- do we have to wait for the primaries or will it be earlier than that?

BLITZER: Go ahead. Mike Murphy first and then Haley.

MURPHY: We're definitely going to unify this. I know Haley will be 100 percent behind John McCain if he's the nominee, and I would happily and enthusiastically support Governor Bush if he were the nominee. Competition is good for the party. This thing was looking like a coronation six months ago. Thanks to John McCain it's become a contest, and that's good for our party. It brings people in, makes the candidates better.

BLITZER: And Haley Barbour.

BARBOUR: I just endorse everything Mike says. And our party will be more unified after our convention and after this nomination than you've ever seen us, because people are tired of what's happening in Washington. People want a change in the leadership. And they'll trust our Republican nominee, whoever it is, to give us the right kind of moral leadership that we can be proud of and people want it. That will unify our party.

BLITZER: We only have a few seconds left. I want to get your reaction to what Vice President Gore said in a taped interview that will air later today on CNN with "BOTH SIDES WITH JESSE JACKSON," on the very sensitive issue of the Confederate flag -- whether it should fly in South Carolina. Both candidates, McCain and Bush don't want to take a strong position on that issue other than saying people of South Carolina should decide. Listen to what Vice President Gore specifically said about Governor Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Governor Bush has avoided taking a position, or has ducked the issue, because he is playing to some of his supporters that I think have some pretty obsolete and even hateful attitudes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Haley Barbour, strong words from Al Gore.

BARBOUR: Well, it's typical of a guy who wants Washington to run everything. Now, Albert Gore, just like Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton thinks Washington should be in charge of everything. If South Carolina is not going to be in charge of how they decorate their state capital, I mean what is the state going to be in charge of?

BLITZER: OK, we -- unfortunately we have to leave it right there. We could continue talking, but we're out of time. Mike Murphy, Haley Barbour, always great to have both of you on LATE EDITION.

For our international viewers "WORLD NEWS" is next. For our North American audience, another 30 minutes of LATE EDITION. We'll talk with Florida Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart about the case of 6- year-old Elian Gonzalez. Plus, our LATE EDITION roundtable, and Bruce Morton's last word.

It's all ahead when LATE EDITION continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

We now turn to the case of Elian Gonzalez, the 6-year-old Cuban boy at the center of an international custody battle.

Thousands marched and sang in Cuba yesterday afternoon, calling for the return of the boy. Both of Elian's grandmothers have offered to come to the United States to retrieve him, but they want assurances of a swift return to Cuba.

Joining us now from Miami to talk about where things stand is Florida Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, who opposes Elian's return to Cuba. Congressman, welcome to LATE EDITION. Good to have you with us today.

REP. LINCOLN DIAZ-BALART (R), FLORIDA: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: You heard Governor Bush, in our interview earlier, say that if the boy's father came to Miami, spent a few days there and made it abundantly clear that he wants to take his son back to Cuba and was speaking freely in the United States as such, that would be good enough for him. Would it be good enough for you?

DIAZ-BALART: What I think the governor was talking about was something that's very important, and that is that the father -- that we be certain that what he's saying is based on his true will and his true wishes.

That's why the law, as well as a court order, state that not only does the father have a right to be heard and has an extraordinarily strong position under the law, but that he must be heard in a court of law. And the issue, Wolf, that's fundamental and that I'd like to emphasize, is that the state law -- that's the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act -- the federal law -- which is the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act -- international law -- two Hague conventions on the custody of minor children, both ratified by the United States Senate in 1998 -- they all require that only a court of law can make a decision with regard to the custody of a minor. And the administration -- the Clinton administration's own INS, when they placed Elian in the care of his relatives here, and legally admitted him into the country, they stated in writing -- and I have the statement here with me -- that only a court of law -- a state court can make this decision. So...

BLITZER: But if the father did come here and stated before the courts, before the world, as he did on "Nightline" the other night, he wants to take his son back to Cuba. Governor Bush says that would be fine with him. Would it be OK with you?

DIAZ-BALART: Only a court can make the decision. So, the bottom line is that it's not a decision either for me, or for Governor Bush, or for Attorney General Reno, or for Doris Meissner, or for Bill Clinton. It's a decision for the courts.

BLITZER: You know, one of the top officials in Cuba, Ricardo Alarcon, the president of the National Assembly, he was on "Meet the Press" earlier today, and he specifically said that one of the problems is if Cuba let's the father come to the United States, the father could be subject to a Congressional subpoena or another subpoena, making it impossible for him to return to Cuba. And he specifically, Ricardo Alarcon, specifically cited you by name, listen to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICARDO ALARCON, PRESIDENT, CUBAN NATIONAL ASSEMBLY: Well, there is a specific threat in that regard by Congressman Diaz-Balart. He announced that and there are threats against him. That's why we have gotten advice by many lawyers, including U.S. officials, that he should not go to that country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Would you like to respond to that?

DIAZ-BALART: No, I don't respond to him.

Let me tell you what I have said, and that is that the father needs to be heard in freedom, that he has to come here, that he has to come with his wife and his small child and that, based on the court then looking into the issue of coercion and looking into the guide with the law is clear with regard to what has to decide a matter like this, which is the best interests of the child. A court has to make that decision.

What is really inconceivable is that the Clinton administration is not only seeking to overturn, which they could -- they could go to federal court and say, We don't agree with the state court's order that has set a trial for March 6th on the issue of the best interest of the child, and has given temporary custody to his relatives here -- his great uncle. The Clinton administration is saying, we're ignoring Janet Reno. My former boss; she hired me here as an assistant prosecutor in South Florida. She is saying, under, obviously, instructions from the president, that she's ignoring a court order. That's unprecedented.

BLITZER: So, will you subpoena the father if he comes to the United States?

DIAZ-BALART: I do not have the power of subpoena.

BLITZER: Will Congress -- will you support a congressional subpoena?

DIAZ-BALART: What I think that the Congress needs to look into, is how -- and the Clinton administration is continuing on a path of violating state, federal and international law, and determined to expel this child and send him back to a totalitarian country, when the law is clear that only a court of law can decide this. And I would say this about coercion in Cuba, I'm convinced, as are the relatives here of Elian, that the father is under coercion. Never before, the relatives told me, did they have anything but a loving relationship, and now the father is going on TV talking about rifles and coming here and wanting to kill people. Obviously he's under coercion.

And as I told another network the other day when they found out that my cousin, Castro's son, Fidel Castro Jr., was kidnaped by his father in 1956, and they discovered the Mediterranean -- when they discovered that apparently, and I said, Interview Castro Jr., he's in Cuba. Ask Mr. Alarcon to grant him an interview with Fidel Castro Jr., so Fidel Castro Jr. can talk about when his father kidnapped him in 1956.

It's how ironic that Castro's talking about having the interests of a small child at heart when he kidnaped even his own son from his mother who had custody in 1956.

BLITZER: Unfortunately, Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, we have to end it right there; we're all out of time.

Thank you so much for joining us. Doesn't look like this story is going away. We hope you'll come back to LATE EDITION.

DIAZ-BALART: Good day.

BLITZER: And when we return, Bill Bradley steps up his offensive against Al Gore. We'll sort through the week's developments in the presidential campaign when we go around the table with Roberts, Page and Carlson.

LATE EDITION will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION. Time now for our roundtable.

Joining me, Susan Page, White House bureau chief for "USA Today"; Steve Roberts, contributing editor for "U.S. News & World Report"; and Tucker Carlson, political writer for "The Weekly Standard."

Steve, you were up in New Hampshire a little bit this week talking to voters. What are they saying about the Gore versus Bradley contest?

STEVE ROBERTS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, I know that Gore's doing better in the polls, and Bradley's not striking any sparks, either. But I was very struck, here's a state that is booming. You know you can practically be dragged off the highway for a job in New Hampshire, they want it so badly. And yet Gore is not capitalizing on it, he is not capitalizing on it for two reasons.

A lot of people I think, think he's tainted by the scandal and you know, a fresh start, Clinton fatigue. But there was something else I noticed. For a lot of people who like Clinton, who voted for Clinton, who give Clinton credit for the economy, they say that Gore doesn't measure up. So it's a double whammy. The people who don't like Clinton say he's tainted by the scandal. The people who do like Clinton say, He ain't no Bill Clinton. He's not big enough, strong enough, or powerful enough.

BLITZER: And Susan, you were doing some reporting from Iowa this week. What are you hearing out there?

SUSAN PAGE, CNN COMMENTATOR: Just the reverse. I think Gore is doing enormously well, I think they're very confident now that he's not only going to win in Iowa, but win big, big enough to help him in New Hampshire. He's going to spend some of the next week campaigning in New Hampshire instead of Iowa. That's how confident they are about Iowa.

And I interviewed Tipper Gore on Friday. She told me that for months she wouldn't even read the newspapers because the news about Gore's campaign seemed to be so bad, the campaign didn't seem to be on track. She's starting to read the newspapers again, and I think that's a sign that they smell victory.

BLITZER: I hope she's reading "USA Today."

PAGE: I hope so, too.

BLITZER: All right.

Tucker, let's look at some numbers that are coming out on this Gore-Bradley race. The Iowa Democratic caucus Research 2000 poll just out has Gore in Iowa at 52 percent, Bradley at 34 percent. In New Hampshire, the "Newsweek" poll just out has Gore at 50 percent, Bradley at 36 percent.

And nationally, among registered Democrats, the CNN/"TIME" magazine poll just out has Gore at 48 percent, Bradley at only 26 percent. Suggesting in all three polls Gore is way ahead. Is Bradley toast?

TUCKER CARLSON, CNN COMMENTATOR: Yes, I think he's toast. I mean, those polls are even more interesting in light of the money that Bradley has spent in Iowa. I think even to this day, he has outspent Gore significantly. His media buys in Des Moines have been, in some cases, twice as big as Gore's. In other words, he's on the air all the time and it's still not helping him to the degree it should.

I think also Bradley has a problem in the Southern primaries. He hasn't offered up a scenario for how he wins anything outside New England and New York. They may talk about how they're going to carry California, but they haven't really explained how precisely they're going to do that. I think Gore's in much stronger shape than people realize.

BLITZER: Is Bradley just a regional candidate? Do you agree, is he toast? ROBERTS: Well, I was very struck in New Hampshire that I found very little enthusiasm for Bradley. There's no reason to be for Bradley in a sense. But as I said, I don't think there was strong enthusiasm for Gore either. If it were possible for both of them to lose the primary, then I think that would be conceivable, because I don't think anyone is generating any real enthusiasm. But one of them has got to win and I think Bradley has failed to really make a mark.

BLITZER: You know, Susan, the Bradley campaign in Iowa just releasing a new ad with one of their supporters, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the retiring senator from New York. Listen to this ad, tell me if it's going to have any impact.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DANIEL PATRICK MOYNIHAN (D), NEW YORK: The largest event of my lifetime was to see Americans begin to lose faith in government. I believe that when Bill Bradley is president that will turn around.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PAGE: I don't think this ad is going to make a big difference. The only endorsement I think that probably makes some significant difference is Ted Kennedy's ad on behalf of Al Gore that talks -- that endorses Al Gore's approach to health care, because that's an issue where Bradley had made some headway. It's an issue in which Kennedy has great credibility. I don't think this ad makes a great difference.

I think in your interview, you saw a sign of what's happened with the Gore campaign. Gore is now going after George Bush, not Bill Bradley. That's how confident they are they have this nomination almost in hand.

BLITZER: You think the Bush rhetoric against McCain, the class warfare, making -- saying he sounds a lot like Gore and Bradley. Is that going to wrap things up you think, for George W. Bush in this presidential campaign?

CARLSON: Wrap things up? No, I don't. I mean, I think it'll help him in Iowa. I think Bush will probably win Iowa.

No, I don't think so. I mean, obviously this has been said a thousand times, but McCain's strategy is New Hampshire, and the idea that it's the first domino, et cetera, et cetera. I think there's some truth in that.

And I don't think that that sort of rhetoric helps him in this weird, little anomalous, New England state full of moderates.

BLITZER: Because of the independent voters.

CARLSON: That's exactly right.

ROBERTS: Also, the other thing. After two days of interviewing dozens and dozens of people, no one talked to me about taxes, no one talked to me about any issues, with the possible exception of health care.

But the McCain strength in New Hampshire is mainly in his biography. The fact that the military record, attracting a lot of vets, but it's more than that. Americans want in their president someone who has been tempered, someone who has been tested. And a lot of people said to me, Well, McCain has been there. He has gone through a very rigorous testing of his character and his judgment. And that's really working for him. But it's a battle of biographies more than it is of issues.

BLITZER: Susan, Governor Bush spent quite a bit of time us with in this interview answering serious, substantive questions. How did he do?

PAGE: I thought generally he did pretty well, and he looked good on some of those foreign policy issues that have been troublesome for him before. I was surprised that he had trouble answering your questions about the Republican platform when it comes to abortion. Very sensitive issue, one he needs to have down pretty pat to avoid riling up an important constituency in the Republican Party. But at one point he asked you to explain what the plank meant. I thought that was a surprising stumble on his part.

BLITZER: Tucker?

CARLSON: I'm not sure. I mean, I think Bush has been fairly explicit from the very beginning that he's not any kind of fire- breathing pro-lifer. And the majority of Republican primary voters, anyway, seem to have accepted that and said, that's fine.

BLITZER: Were you surprised he said that he'd give John Rocker, the Atlanta Braves pitcher, a second chance?

CARLSON: No, I wasn't surprised at all. I think that's totally reasonable. I mean, it's not like the guy came out for Satanism or endorsed Hitler or anything. He said some obnoxious things. So what?

ROBERTS: One of the reasons why I think he gets a pass on the abortion issue from a lot of Republicans, who know he is kind of squishy on it and doesn't want to answer the questions you pressed him on, is that a lot of pro-life Republicans have said, look, the issue here is the Supreme Court. There are going to be three, four judges appointed by the -- justices appointed by the next president. Even if he is not pure; he's no Gary Bauer on this issue, he's going to be a whole lot better than a Democrat. And they have made that compromise, and that's a big asset that Bush has on that issue.

BLITZER: All right, stand by. We've got a lot more to talk about in our roundtable. But we have to take a quick break. When we return: better late than never; first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton finally takes David Letterman up on his offer. We'll ask the roundtable how she did, when LATE EDITION continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Everybody was watching the first lady on David Letterman. His ratings were pretty good this past week. In fact, we have a little excerpt right now. Let's listen to see how the first lady did on David Letterman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LATE NIGHT")

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "LATE NIGHT": How is it living up there? You never lived in this part of the country, have you? You're living in Chappaqua, you get a big house, everybody's seen on it TV. Every idiot in the area is going to drive by honking now.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, FIRST LADY: Was that you?

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN: And toward the end of '99, all of a sudden, I start screaming and get her on the show, and how come she's not on the show, and whether we're not good enough. Didn't show up on the radar.

CLINTON: Well, you know, it absolutely did, and I knew that if I were going to run for the Senate, I had to come and sit in this chair and talk to the big guy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, Steve, you've had some perspective over the years on campaigns, you've covered a few campaigns; how important is it on a serious note for the first lady to go on a program like David Letterman and have some fun?

ROBERTS: I think it's important. It shows a human side, an unprogrammed side. She did reasonably well in the clips. There's still a frosty air to Hillary Clinton, she's not as relaxed.

You remember during the '92 campaign, her husband scored a lot of points going on "Arsenio Hall" and MTV and he found new ways to communicate. And a whole lot of people -- I know it was a big surprise, Wolf, whole lot of people who were going to vote in New York who don't watch us on Sunday morning, but do watch David Letterman, and I think it's a good idea.

BLITZER: Also, let's ask Tucker, is her appearance on David Letterman going to change any votes in New York state?

CARLSON: I don't know. I think she gets a lot of credit for going on, or some, anyway, given who it is. I think she did a pretty good job. But there's a lot of this to come and Mrs. Clinton, by all accounts, just loathes the press, the media, generally, and she's going to have a lot more exposure to it.

There may be debates she'll have to participate in. I don't know, there's going to be...

BLITZER: Everybody says that she loathes the media, hates the media, hates all of us. Susan, you've been covering her a long time. I covered her. Do you think she hates the news media? PAGE: I think, though, that she thinks the press has given her a very hard time ever since the '92 campaign, and I think she thinks coverage often is shallow and tabloid-like, and of course, on that front it's hard to argue with her that she's wrong.

But she did a good job there, and I think she's going to be forced to do some debates, she's going to be forced to do some interviews, whatever she thinks about reporters and if she performs as she did there, she's going to be all right.

ROBERTS: One of the things I always find interesting about the Clinton -- and not just Hillary, but the president, in their visceral disdain and distaste for the press, here the press is all supposed to be liberal, so you know, go in the tank for Democrats. This has been a conservative canard for years and years and years. You know, You're all liberals, and you don't give conservatives an even shake.

The two people in Washington who hate the political press the most are Bill and Hillary Clinton, which is a reflection of the fact that the coverage has been pretty tough on them over the last eight years, and certainly doesn't fulfill the conservative image or stereotype that we're always easy on Democrats.

CARLSON: I mean, it's very hard to cover the Clinton's without being tough. I mean, honestly, if you're going to write an honest story about what they're like, what the administration has been like, it's going to be critical, and they resent that.

BLITZER: And Susan, we did hear a Shermanesque statement from Governor Bush about Laura Bush; no way will she follow in the first lady's footsteps.

PAGE: That's right, and it's interesting how much we look at the wives of candidates to tell us about them, and how much they have to address this question, how substantive they're going to be in that role.

ROBERTS: Well, Mrs. Clinton has changed the playing field.

BLITZER: Well, we've got leave it right there. Change the playing field. All right -- Redskins. We'll talk about that later. All right, our roundtable, thanks again for joining us; you'll be back next weekend.

And just ahead, we'll reveal what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines, plus Bruce Morton's last word on the candidates' new clothes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Vice President Al Gore used to be a dark suit guy, but he's gone casual: earth tones, open collar shirts, sweaters.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Bruce takes note of how fashion has evolved this year on the presidential campaign trail. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Time now for Bruce Morton's last word on presidential campaign fashions, past and present.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MORTON (voice-over): "Clothes make the man," someone is supposed to have said once. But do they? Presidential candidates sometimes seem to think so. The traditional candidate outfit is blue suit, red tie. John McCain, who is used to uniforms, wears this one often.

Vice President Al Gore used to be a dark suit guy, but he's gone casual: earth tones, open collar shirts, sweaters. And he sometimes wears cowboy boots. Does all this make him more attractive to voters?

While Gore was putting on cowboy boots, by the way, George W. Bush got rid of his. Could they be bad for his image but good for Gore's?

BUSH: Just be yourself.

(LAUGHTER)

MORTON: This stuff is complicated.

Oh, and President Clinton showed off new cowboy boots the other day. But of course, he's a lame duck.

Bill Bradley wears suits. It's not true they are pre-rumpled, clothes just get that way on campaigns. Trust me. Bradley bought a pair of shoes in a New Hampshire store. Careful, Senator, John Connelly bought a pair of boots campaigning in New Hampshire, ended up with one delegate and spent eight million bucks.

Lots of politicians have trademarks, though they don't necessarily change with fashion. You remember, if you're old enough, Lyndon Johnson in a cowboy hat, or Lyndon Johnson in a mean mood making non-cowboy hat people, like his vice president, Hubert Humphrey, put one on.

John Kennedy probably hurt the hat business a lot; he went bare headed often. Harry Truman's trademark was those vivid Hawaiian shirts he used to wear on vacation, fishing or playing cards. They look pretty bad nowadays, but probably didn't cost him any votes back then.

Franklin Roosevelt wore romantic clothes: capes, and so on. But the thing of Roosevelt's that may really have had a political effect was his cigarette holder. The country was in the Great Depression, a "third of a nation ill-clad, ill-housed, ill-fed" in Roosevelt's words, but that cigarette holder tilted up, jaunty, cocky, saying, "Hey, we can beat this thing." And in the end, of course, we did.

Any of this year's clothes, boots or style changes likely to have that much impact? Don't bet your Tony Lamas on it.

I'm Bruce Morton.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Thanks, Bruce.

Time now for a look at what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines in the United States. It's a clean sweep; same subject on all three covers. "TIME" has "The Big Deal" with America Online's Steve Case and Time Warner's Gerry Levin, on the cover.

"Newsweek" covers -- "Newsweek" votes for "Citizen Case," the man behind the merger, on the cover. And AOL rules on the cover of "U.S. News & World Report."

That's your LATE EDITION for Sunday, January 16th. Be sure to catch "BOTH SIDES WITH JESSE JACKSON" later today at 5:30 p.m. Eastern, 2:30 Pacific here on CNN. Vice President Al Gore is the guest.

And we'll be back here next Sunday and every Sunday at noon Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk. Next week from the campaign trail in Iowa. And I'll be here tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern for "THE WORLD TODAY."

For now, thanks very much for watching. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

  ArrowCLICK HERE FOR TODAY'S TOPICS AND GUESTS
ArrowCLICK HERE FOR CNN PROGRAM SCHEDULES
SEARCH CNN.com
Enter keyword(s)   go    help

Back to the top   © 2001 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.