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Inside Politics

Presidential Candidates Set to Face off in New Hampshire

Aired January 26, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET

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

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Kids stump for Bill Bradley in New Hampshire. Will he still say hooray after tonight's Democratic debate?

Al Gore is gearing up for the face-off by embracing a Clinton-era compliment.

Plus...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This would be a private decision that we would share within our family and not with anyone else.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On the same day his bus got stuck in the snow, did John McCain slip up on the abortion issue?

We'll set the stage for tonight's GOP debate as well and tell you the story of George W. Bush, homesick in New Hampshire.

ANNOUNCER: The New Hampshire primary, a special edition of INSIDE POLITICS from CNN primary headquarters in Manchester, New Hampshire. Here is Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: Thanks for joining us. Judy Woodruff and Bernard Shaw are preparing for their roles as moderators in tonight's debate doubleheader.

The Republican presidential hopefuls will square off here in New Hampshire two hours from now, then the Democrats will have their turn. Heading into the debates, our updated tracking poll suggests the GOP race may be tightening before Tuesday's New Hampshire primary while the gap between the Democrats may be widening. The CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup survey shows Al Gore now is nine points ahead of Bill Bradley. Gore was six points ahead yesterday. On the Republican side, our survey shows John McCain now with seven points ahead of George W. Bush. McCain led by 12 points in yesterday's tracking poll.

New Hampshire is crucial to McCain's campaign strategy, so does he need to hit one out of the park in the final debate before the nation's leadoff presidential primary? CNN's Jonathan Karl reports on McCain's expectations and some distractions he encountered on the campaign trail today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With most polls showing him the front-runner in New Hampshire, John McCain knows exactly what he wants to get out of tonight's debate.

MCCAIN: Blow them all away. I guess we're going to ask all of them to raise their hands and say, I surrender, I am dropping out of the race.

KARL: Radio talk show bluster aside, McCain is actually downplaying expectations. In the last debate before the primary, it's McCain who wants to play it safe, avoiding anything that would hurt his standing in New Hampshire.

MCCAIN: I am not sure that this debate is as crucial as other periods when there was the debate. We have had a number of debates not only in New Hampshire, but around the country.

KARL: But the free talking McCain stepped into a mine field. When speaking with a handful of reporters on his Straight Talk Express bus, he was asked what he'd do if his 15-year-old daughter, Megan, got pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.

MCCAIN: No. I would discuss this issue with Cindy and Megan and this would be a private decision that we would share within our family and not with anyone else. Obviously, I would encourage her to bring -- to know that, that baby would be brought up in a warm and loving family. But the final decision would be made by Megan with our advice and counsel.

KARL: Clearly irritated by the hypothetical question, McCain said he did not contradict his anti-abortion position.

MCCAIN: I don't think it's the choice position to say that my daughter and my wife and I will discuss something that is a family matter that we have to decide. If that's viewed as pro-choice, I think, well, you know?

KARL: Off the bus, McCain was quickly clarifying his stand.

MCCAIN: I didn't understand the question, and what I meant was and what I am saying now is it is a family decision. My daughter is a minor.

KARL: Anti-abortion groups were split on the importance of McCain's comments. The National American Life League condemned his statement, but the New Hampshire-based Citizens For Life said the question about his daughter was a private, personal matter.

Aside from the abortion distraction, snow threatened to to derail the Straight Talk Express, but with a little help and a lot of burned rubber, McCain's bus was pulled out of the snowbank and back on the road again.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KARL: In sharp contrast to the rest of the country, New Hampshire is a place where John McCain has emerged as the man to beat among Republicans. His challenge is to solidify that standing in the days before Tuesday's primary. As one of his aides said, "We're not looking to throw the long ball, we're very comfortable with our position here" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jonathan, the Steve Forbes factor, Steve Forbes did relatively well, 30 percent in the Iowa caucuses. How is the McCain campaign dealing with the -- this Steve Forbes factor?

KARL: Well, it's interesting, we heard yesterday that Forbes is considering taking on McCain as well as Bush as he campaigns here in New Hampshire. But in New Hampshire, McCain sees Forbes as his ally, because he believes what Forbes does is peels away social conservatives from Bush, and weakens Bush without really hurting McCain.

BLITZER: OK. Strange bedfellows, Steve Forbes and John McCain. Thanks for joining us, Jonathan Karl.

George W. Bush may have more than John McCain to worry about when the Republicans debate tonight. As CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley reports, Bush also is facing some challenges from within.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He has been on top of his game since before he announced he was in it. But New Hampshire has brought a bit of a campaign slump to George Bush, and when it snows, it pours. He's running behind here according to most polls, and he's caught a cold and he's homesick.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I love campaigning, but I miss my family. I miss my house. I miss where I live. I miss the routines that I guess I'd taken for granted for a long time.

CROWLEY: But there is little time to count the days until he goes home. The New Hampshire primary is just six days away.

BUSH: I am optimistic about my chances, but you never take anything for granted in New Hampshire. This is a state of independent voters. They're well informed voters and I am campaigning hard.

CROWLEY: He works every room until the last hand.

BUSH: Appreciate it, thanks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor.

BUSH: Tommy boy, how are you? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very well.

CROWLEY: But some rooms are easier than others. Bush is campaigning in pockets of undecided voters.

BUSH: If you hadn't made up your minds yet, what I like to call a tire kicker -- thank you for giving me a chance to come by and share some thoughts with you and answer your questions.

CROWLEY: A Bush victory may be in the hands of the undecideds.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have been on the fence.

BUSH: Well, I am glad you came.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But I am not a tire kicker.

BUSH: There you go.

CROWLEY: But fence sitters are not your standard rally crowds that show up on television looking enchanted and enthused. Encouraged by new figures out of Washington showing a larger than expected surplus, Bush will try to cut into John McCain's lead here by pounding on tax cuts.

BUSH: What he's saying is it ought to stay in Washington, D.C. I think it ought to go back to the people. I think there's enough room to pay down debt. But we need to make sure the people get a lot of that money back, and that's exactly what I am going to do, 25 percent of the surplus ought to go back to the people and the rest can go for debt repayment and Social Security.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Bush strategists say they will also concentrate heavily on education reform in the days ahead. A boffo performance at tonight's debate wouldn't hurt either -- Wolf.

BLITZER: OK. Candy Crowley reporting from here in New Hampshire.

Meanwhile, we have some breaking news in Atlanta. We want to go to Lou Waters at the CNN Center -- Lou.

(INTERRUPTED BY CNN COVERAGE OF BREAKING NEWS)

BLITZER: Welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS.

We're talking about the Republican presidential debate here in New Hampshire, it's a little bit more than an hour and a half from now. We're trying to look at the strategy.

And joining me to help us get some insight is CNN senior analyst Jeff Greenfield. Jeff, put on a hat you have not worn now for 25 years. You're a political operative. You're in the room, let's say with John McCain right now. What advice do you give John McCain? JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Senator, first of all, on abortion, you're not going to get those votes anyway, Keyes, Forbes, Bauer, let them fight, you hold their coats. On taxes, you're going to have to make your tax plan OK for Republicans and I think you have to say to Governor Bush, you know, you keep saying -- you take away his lines, that always unsettles candidates -- you keep saying if you leave the money in Washington we're going to spend it, but unless the Congress keeps spending caps on there isn't going to be a surplus.

And then you have to say it's just as wrong to promise the moon on taxes as it is for Democrats to promise big spending programs. Their both the equivalent of a hot fudge sundae diet. And lastly, you have to take campaign finance and make it real, you have to say it's not an elitist stuffy issue for the "New York Times" and "The Washington Post," because you always want to hit the media if you're a Republican. It has to do with military intelligence.

BLITZER: All right. What does George Bush do at this point?

GREENFIELD: Don't listen to the press about going to the right on abortion, you can't go to the right of Alan Keyes. Your position is acceptable to the majority of Republicans, even the exceptions.

Taxes gives you a chance to shore up conservative credentials by going after McCain. But you have to -- make sure you ask John McCain how does your tax plan differ from Clinton's, because some analysts would say it isn't. And mention today's "New York Times" story, that the budget surplus is a trillion dollars more, because that gives Bush a chance to say, you know, even though you've been in Washington for 18 years -- always a good thing to say to Republicans -- I think I know more about the economy than you do.

BLITZER: OK. Jeff Greenfield, you'll be back. We'll talk about some Democratic strategy as well. But let's go to the Democrats.

As they get ready for their debate tonight, Bill Bradley took it relatively easy today in terms of his campaign schedule and his comments about rival Al Gore.

As CNN's Jeanne Meserve reports, Bradley let a high-profile supporter do some of the heavy lifting for him.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the first time in person -- he's been a guest on the show by telephone a number of times -- the former senator from New Jersey and Democratic candidate for president, Bill Bradley.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On New Hampshire radio, the barn door was once again opened for Bill Bradley, but he once again refused to go through it and attack his opponent, Al Gore.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not sensing that you really want -- want to wade in there and start hacking.

BILL BRADLEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: Well, I think you have to decide how you're going to run your campaign. And I think it's more important to give something for people to vote for than to vote against.

MESERVE: Though the candidate is sticking to the high road, his campaign is distributing compendiums of press clippings accusing the Gore campaign of distortions. And surrogate attack dog, Senator Bob Kerrey, continues to bark.

SEN. BOB KERREY (D), NEBRASKA: The vice president tries to get us to forget that Bill Clinton hired Dick Morris.

MESERVE: Kerrey acknowledges that Bill Bradley is in a tough spot. If he responds too harshly to Gore, he risks sullying his Mr. Clean image.

KERREY: At this stage of the game, if he does that sort of thing, it'll look like he's compromising a basic principle, and he has to be careful not to do that.

MESERVE: But the campaign is holding out the prospect that Bradley could be more aggressive toward Gore in their debate tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a competitor. He's played hard both in past basketball and politics. I think you'll see that tonight and through the rest of the campaign.

MESERVE: The campaign had an event Wednesday morning which made up in charm what it lacked in substance: a visit to a YMCA day-care center in Manchester.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you say apple?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRADLEY: Any other questions? Yes.

No, no, I don't eat the stuff.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRADLEY: It is possible to continue to talk after you grow.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: But for a second day, Bradley's schedule was light, surprising considering the tight race here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: The candidate is taking time to rest up and prepare for tonight's debate, an event which could be his best chance to reverse his declining poll numbers and revive his campaign in New Hampshire and beyond. And along those lines, Wolf, the campaign today said it would soon release its schedule for the days after New Hampshire, an indication that Bill Bradley intends to carry on no matter what happens here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeanne Meserve, reporting from here in Manchester.

Vice President Gore meanwhile seemed less reserved than Bradley about delivering a pre-debate jab today. In the process, Gore emphasized a Clinton connection that he believes will play well here in New Hampshire.

CNN's senior White House correspondent John King has been traveling with Gore.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On a factory floor, five simple words about Bill Bradley.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He voted against welfare reform.

KING: It was a criticism designed to blunt Bradley's support among independent voters, and the vice president promised more at Wednesday night's Democratic debate.

GORE: I would call upon him -- and I will do so in the debate this evening -- to change his position, get with the program of welfare reform that works.

KING: The economy is Gore's biggest focus in the run-up to Tuesday's New Hampshire primary. This high-tech plant in an old mill the perfect backdrop for the vice president to brag about New Hampshire's turnaround during the Clinton-Gore years.

GORE: From the worst recession since the 1930s to the strongest economy in history, especially we need now not only to continue the prosperity, but to make sure that no one is left behind.

KING: Gore credited the administration's welfare-to-work program with helping the economy along, and he suggested his rival's vote against welfare reform was at odds with Bradley's claim of being able to look around the corner and identify coming economic trends.

GORE: He and some others saw a brick wall around that corner. We saw a doorway to opportunity for millions of new families.

KING: Gore hopes the contrast raises doubts about Bradley with independents eligible to vote in New Hampshire's primary.

Welfare reform is an issue with proven political appeal, used by President Clinton for years to burnish his so-called "new Democrat" credentials and to take issue with the party's liberal wing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: And this contrast on welfare reform comes on the heels of criticism that Bradley has a big spending approach to health care, all part of the vice president's effort to make the case he's the Democrat best positioned to take on the Republicans in the fall -- Wolf.

BLITZER: John, we're seeing a very, very busy Al Gore, very energetic. He keeps talking about, let's fight, let's fight. What's the message he's trying to send?

KING: Well, first and foremost, the Gore camp insists this focus on the word "fight" has nothing to do with Senator Bradley having to deal with his treatment of an irregular heartbeat. But they do say if you look at the two candidates, that Gore is much more vigorous. And they make this case as well: that if Senator Bradley has not responded, as Jeanne Meserve pointed out, to what the Gore campaign considers relatively gentle jabs in the Democratic primary campaign, should Democrats want him to go up against the Republicans? The Gore camp saying their candidate will fight back. Their suggestion is that Senator Bradley won't, and because of that, that he would not be the Democrat you would want on the general election ballot if you are a Democrat -- Wolf.

BLITZER: OK, John King, reporting from here in Manchester as well.

Now, let's bring back Jeff Greenfield. Talk a little bit about the Democratic strategy. Put your old hat on once again.

Al Gore, what should he try to do tonight?

GREENFIELD: One piece of advice: If Bradley goes after you, Mr. Vice President, on character and ethics, remember Joseph Welsh, the portly Boston attorney who destroyed Joseph McCarthy 45 years ago with one line. Have you no sense of decency? And you say: I wonder, senator, what happened to that pledge of a different kind of campaign. I wonder why you never said any of these things until you started losing. I wonder if you don't see the difference between an honest debate on politics and an attack on integrity. This isn't the Bill Bradley I knew. It isn't the Bill Bradley I admire. I'm going to chalk it up to the pressures of a campaign in trouble.

That's what I would do if I were Al Gore.

BLITZER: What would you do if you were Bill Bradley?

GREENFIELD: This is a toughy, and I think you have to say to him, you know, the whole political world is expecting you to attack the vice president tonight. And the problem is, since you didn't do it when things were going to well, it's going to sound like sour grapes.

One thing you can do is get up and take responsibility for what's happened. You can acknowledge the fact that you haven't drawn the distinctions. You can promise the vice president a fight over the next several months to make sure he knows you're going to stay in the campaign.

And then, senator, it's your choice. You can talk about ethics and you can talk about hypocrisy. If you choose not to do it, you simply have to reaffirm your belief that voters want a different kind of campaign. It's a tough call for Bradley to make.

BLITZER: OK, Jeff Greenfield.

About 90 minutes from now, you'll be seeing what's going to be happening on the Republican side of the debate, and of course later on this evening, the Democratic side of the debate.

Up next, more on the Democrats' battle for New Hampshire. We'll take a look at the Bradley-Gore race with two experts: the governor of New Hampshire, Jeanne Shaheen, and Bradley campaign spokesman, Eric Hauser.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Is it already locked up, in your opinion? Is Al Gore going to win decisively, and knockout punch next Tuesday?

GOV. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: No, actually I know New Hampshire well enough to know that anything can happen here. This is a very close race. I think Al Gore is doing well, but I think anything can happen, and I think we've got to work very hard between now and next Tuesday to contact as many Democrats and independents as we can, and the real effort in the next week is to get those folks to the polls to support Al Gore, because this is going to be a very close race. New Hampshire has a history, as all of us know, as being a state where an insurgent candidate can come in and win. And so nothing can be taken for granted. This is a close, close contest.

GREENFIELD: Speaking of which, you worked in the Hart campaign in 1984, when Walter Mondale went to bed with the largest lead in a primary, at least nationally, in the history of primaries, and he got clobbered. Leading campaigns always say, we're taking nothing for granted. But when it's 3:00 in the morning, if you wake up saying uh- oh, we could be in trouble here, what is it that most concerns you? I mean, what specifically could happen to upset what seems to be a trend?

SHAHEEN: I think there are two things. One is turnout, and who turns out will have a tremendous impact. And part of that is what happens with independents. New Hampshire now has more independents than either Democrats or Republicans. And depending upon where they decide to go, that could have a tremendous influence on the race. BLITZER: The sense is, though, that the independents will either go to McCain or Bradley. None of those independents are saying they really want to go to Al Gore.

Why don't New Hampshire independents really like Al Gore?

SHAHEEN: Well, I actually think independents do like Al Gore, and I think we've seen that begin to change in the last couple of weeks, that we are seeing more independents support Al Gore. And I think my message to independents and to Democrats and New Hampshire, is that one of the things that Al Gore brings to New Hampshire is the economic prosperity that we're currently experiencing. In 1992, New Hampshire had a seven percent unemployment rate, we had lost 11 percent of our jobs; people were hurting here. That has all turned around. We now have an unemployment rate that' slower than 3 percent. We've regained about 100,000 jobs since 1992. People are doing well. And I want to see that continue. I think people here want to see that continue. And Al Gore is the person who has made those decisions, been there, understands we need to have a balanced budget, understands that we need to invest in people, and I want him to continue.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Gov. Jeanne Shaheen. I know you're going to the WMUR studios. You'll be one of the spinners afterwards, telling everybody how great Al Gore did.

SHAHEEN: Of course.

BLITZER: I will be watching.

And now let's take a look at the Bill Bradley campaign. Joining us is Bradley campaign spokesman Eric Hauser.

Mr. Hauser, thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS.

ERIC HAUSER, BRADLEY CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN: Sure.

BLITZER: Is Bill Bradley going to get tough tonight in the debate with Al Gore?

HAUSER: Well, I think he will do what he's always done, which is make clear the choice that voters have between bold leadership based on conviction and much more cautious leadership based on settling for a great deal less than America can achieve. I think that's been a choice that's been set up by what the vice president has proposed versus what Senator Bradley has proposed. I think that will become pretty clear tonight.

I think also that there's a very clear distinction between the new politics of dignity, and campaign finance reform and conviction, and a kind of staying in the school of old politics; that includes a lot of misrepresentation, and distortion, much which has been marking the vice president's agenda for the last four months.

BLITZER: You heard John King, our senior White House correspondent say earlier in the program, that the Gore campaign is trying to show off how active, how assertive, how healthy, if you will, Al Gore is, perhaps in contrast to the relatively light schedule that Bill Bradley has had. What do you make of that?

HAUSER: I don't think I make anything of it. I don't think -- if you were with us a couple days ago, in the 16th hour of our day, you'd have thought it was a light schedule. So you know, we've been very active and very vigorous, and we'll continue to be so.

BLITZER: Democrats say they want someone who is going to fight for the Democratic Party by their respective -- their presidential nominee. Al Gore says, I'm going to fight, I'm going to fight. Bill Bradley is not coming across as a fighter. Doesn't he have to do something tonight in the debate to try to reverse that image?

HAUSER: Well, I think he will. And it's a question of what you're fighting for. I mean, it's interesting that for generations, it's been a staple, for example, the Democratic Party platform, to stand for universal health care. The vice president is not standing for universal health care. It's been a staple in Democratic circles for years to stand for and fight for campaign finance reform and get it done, to really fight against child poverty. These are fundamental principles of the Bradley agenda that are clearly not in the Gore program. There has been very little commitment on those issues. So I think what it comes down to: Who is the truest Democratic on the issues that have always mattered to the party, the core convictions, there's an abundantly clear difference between Senator Bradley and Vice President Gore.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Eric Hauser. We only have a few seconds. Will Bill Bradley give the public, the voters in New Hampshire tonight, a reason? Will he specifically state a reason why they should not vote for Al Gore?

HAUSER: Well, I think we'll let the debate speak for itself. But I'll tell you, Wolf, we are in a very tight race here. It's about equal. I think against a sitting vice president, with all the loyalty of the DNC and everything behind him, to have come to that point is quite an accomplishment. We've got six busy days ahead of us. I think we'll do very well tonight and then take it to next Tuesday.

BLITZER: All right, Eric Hauser, the press secretary for the Bill Bradley campaign, thanks for joining us...

HAUSER: Thank you.

BLITZER: ... on INSIDE POLITICS.

And still ahead: the Republican contest, a look at the other candidates on the trail here in the Granite State. Plus, Senator Chuck Hagel and Congressman Charlie Bass on the GOP battle for primary support.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Utah Senator Orrin Hatch announced the end of his bid for the Republican nomination today, an expected move after his sixth place finish in the Iowa caucuses.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I had intended to resign yesterday, but we had to cancel because of the largest snowstorm to hit this city in 10 years, and I said to Elaine, I said, well, maybe I shouldn't resign, maybe this snowstorm is a sign from God. And Elaine responded, she said, no, Orrin, the Iowa caucuses were the sign from God.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Hatch endorsed the candidacy of George W. Bush, saying his admiration for the Texas governor has grown over the course of the campaign. Hatch said Bush is the one candidate who could unite the party and put the GOP back in the White House.

In Nashua, New Hampshire today, GOP hopeful Steve Forbes toured the plant of a military contractor. Forbes told employees that if elected, he would push for military pay increases and improvements in veterans affairs. Republican Gary Bauer focused on international policy in his Rotary Club address today. Bauer repeated his belief that a stronger U.S. policy regarding China is necessary for the protection of Taiwan.

Meanwhile, in New York today, John McCain received some help in his fight to get on the primary ballot. The State Board of Elections voted to uphold McCain's ballot petitions in 14 upstate congressional districts. The board needed three votes to disqualify him. The two Republican commissioners voted against McCain, but the two Democratic commissioners abstained, saying McCain was such a well-known candidate he should be on the ballot. That means McCain will be listed in 22 of the state's 31 congressional districts. McCain's suit for statewide ballot access in federal court is still pending.

Joining us now for more on the Republican race, from Capitol Hill in Washington, Senator Chuck Hagel, a national co-chairman for John McCain's campaign, and here in Manchester, New Hampshire, Congressman Charlie Bass, a supporter of George W. Bush. Gentlemen, thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS.

And I'll begin with you Congressman Bass. If you take a look at George Bush's statements, coming into New Hampshire, on abortion, saying last weekend on CNN's "EVANS, NOVAK, HUNT & SHIELDS" that he would keep that 1984 anti-abortion plank in the Republican platform as is with no exceptions, is that going to win him votes here?

REP. CHARLES BASS (R-NH), BUSH SUPPORTER: No, I don't think that's a real -- going to be a real issue. The issues here in New Hampshire are economic. And Governor Bush has proposed a $485 billion tax cut. He's putting aside $2 trillion to save Social Security. The fact of the matter is New Hampshire people are fiscal conservatives, and they don't -- they mistrust the concept that we're going to leave a huge surplus in Washington.

So frankly, I think that the abortion issue has been played out here. All of the candidates for president are essentially pro-life on the Republican side and it will not be a cutting issue.

BLITZER: Is that true, Senator Hagel?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R-NE), NATIONAL CO-CHAIRMAN, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN: Well, Charlie is from New Hampshire. I'm just a modest United States senator from Nebraska. So he knows his territory. But I think Charlie is right, that the issues are far wider and deeper than just abortion in New Hampshire.

BLITZER: The big issue, Senator Hagel, seems to be among a lot of conservative Republicans, tax cuts. Governor Bush wants twice as big a tax cut in his proposal than Senator McCain wants. In fact, he accuses Senator McCain of almost sounding Democrat, like Gore, like Bradley, like in his relatively modest tax cut proposal?

HAGEL: Well, I understand what he said. But I think what John McCain has said is relevant, and that is the president of the United States must be responsible, fiscally responsible as well as responsible for all elements of governance, and one is a $5.8 trillion national debt that we surely do not want to leave our children and grandchildren. We must reform Social Security and Medicare.

And, Wolf, let's not forget, these surpluses that people are going ga-ga about for the next 10 years are projections, are projections. Those projections are based on assumptions. Three and four and five years ago, CBO, Congressional Budget Office and Office of Management and Budget were talking about deficit. So I think a prudent responsible president is what this country wants and that's what McCain has been talk about and how he would conduct his policy.

BLITZER: Congressman Bass, you well know tax cuts are very important, taxes are a big issue in New Hampshire, you know that better than most. But Steve Forbes' proposal to eliminate the IRS and come in with a flat tax, that is going to be appealing to a lot of Republicans in New Hampshire?

BASS: Yes, but I think people realize that there is a gap between rhetoric and reality. And it would be great to have a flat tax, but the fact is if we were to abolish the inheritance tax we would eliminate about 40 percent of all the paperwork and regulations associated with the internal revenue code.

The problem with John McCain's tax cut is it is sort of the last thought that comes out of the Senate. He has a $151 billion budget plug in there to make the whole thing work, and frankly, I think most New Hampshire people realize that if you just -- if you just rely on Washington, Congress, the Senate and the Washington bureaucracy to save your money for you, it isn't a very good promise.

The reality of it is that John McCain's tax cut or his budget plan sets aside $220 billion for debt reduction, but where does the money go? Well, the money goes into the Social Security Administration, turns into Treasury bills and then gets spent on other programs. I think that we ought to be sending as much of the surplus after we put away all of the payroll taxes for Social Security back to the people who are paying the taxes to maintain a strong economy, and that's Governor Bush's position.

GREENFIELD: Senator Hagel, it's Jeff Greenfield, how are you doing?

HAGEL: Hi, Jeff.

GREENFIELD: Hi.

In the modern era, as far as I can remember, there are two cases where insurgents won the party's nomination against the strong opposition of the heart and soul of the party, that is the establishment. One was Barry Goldwater and one was George McGovern, which is a fairly grim history. If John McCain really does begin to look like the nominee, are you at all concerned that the act of dislike of his positions on things like campaign finance by the party's establishment could lead to a divided party should he somehow win the nomination?

HAGEL: No, I think just the opposite. John McCain is a conservative reformer, he has a record of that, he says it straight. I think he makes by far the strongest Republican presidential candidate in November. Let's not forget the objective here. The objective is to win in November. John McCain -- I think the polls show it pretty clearly -- is far more attractive to independents and to Democrats than George Bush.

And I think that John McCain would very strongly hold the base. John McCain has a couple of issues of difference with the so-called establishment, and when Charlie talks about tax cuts, Charlie needs to go back and reread John McCain's tax plan, and John McCain has always been for tax cuts and says we need more. So I'm not worried about that, Jeff. John McCain would unite a strong Republican Party and he could win in November.

BLITZER: OK. Senator Chuck Hagel, Congressman Charlie Bass, a little preview of what we can expect in that Republican debate coming up in a little bit more than one hour from now -- so much more.

Also, spinning the expectations game.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN MEDIA ANALYST (voice-over): Journalists trashed Gore's wardrobe changes, his stiffness, his ties to Bill Clinton, his political style or lack thereof. That was then, this is now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Howard Kurtz on how pundits have changed their tune and why.

Plus, signs of support here in New Hampshire. Bruce Morton on the public displays of political allegiance.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: As the candidates prepare for tonight's debates and next week's primary here in the Granite State, the political pundits are already busy make their predictions. But as Howard Kurtz of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES" reports the conventional wisdom is often in flux and often changes directions.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ (voice-over): When Vice President Gore announced last fall he was moving his struggling campaign to Tennessee, the press seized on the symbolism: Gore is going south.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STUART ROTHENBERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Al Gore is no longer the inevitable nominee.

SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY": I think it's entirely possible Bill Bradley will win the Democratic nomination.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Journalists trashed gore's wardrobe changes, his stiffness, his ties to Bill Clinton, his political style, or lack thereof. Bill Bradley, they said, was coming on strong. "U.S. News said Gore is -- quote -- "hearing the hoof beats of the four horseman of the political apocalypse: defeat, humiliation, insignificance, obscurity."

Well, that was then, this is now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a big victory for Vice President Al Gore.

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": Huge win by Al Gore. I mean, he really crushed Bradley.

KURTZ: Gore's big win in the Iowa caucuses came just as the punditocracy was upgrading his political stock. "Newsweek" ran pictures of the Gore staff, the newly-minted geniuses, who not long ago were being derided as bozos.

As for Bradley, his poor Iowa showing emboldened those who seem ready to write his political obituary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think there's a real chance that if Gore wins New Hampshire, that Bradley gets out.

KURTZ: George W. Bush also made a solid first-place showing in Iowa, followed by Steve Forbes and Alan Keyes.

But the media analysts who filled the airwaves were less than enthusiastic about the Texas governor's performance.

FRED BARNES, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: He's not really knocking people out. A 10- or 11-point victory over Steve Forbes is minimal, I would say.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He did not get the knockout he wanted to go into New Hampshire.

KURTZ: Forbes' 31 percent in Iowa also drew mixed reviews.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think that Forbes can win New Hampshire, or even finish second in New Hampshire.

KURTZ (on camera): That's the thing about presidential politics: A win isn't really a win unless the press declares that the candidate has beaten expectations, expectations that the media set themselves.

(voice-over): Back in 1984, Gary Hart got just 17 percent of the vote in Iowa against Walter Mondale. But when the pundits declared it a better-than-expected showing, Hart got a big bounce into New Hampshire. And even though Pat Buchanan lost the 1992 New Hampshire primary to President Bush, the ex-CNN commentator came close enough that he got most of the headlines.

These days, the White House wannabes all understand how to play the game. They uttered suitably upbeat soundbites that they knew would be replayed all day.

G.W. BUSH: This is a huge victory, and it's a victory of message and organization.

FORBES: As I have said in this campaign: I am pumped. I am very excited.

KURTZ: Even John McCain declared a moral victory, and he didn't even compete in Iowa.

MCCAIN: That's 5 percent more than I thought I was going to get.

KURTZ (on camera): This may be the media's favorite week of the campaign, when the prognosticators get to chew over the results and the exit polls and tell the world what, in their exalted view, it all means. They'll get another chance tonight, after the Democrats and the Republicans debate one more time in New Hampshire. And next Tuesday in Manchester, this spin sweepstakes will really kick into high gear.

This is Howard Kurtz, of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHAW: And when we return, a look at the political landscape here in New Hampshire.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Now that the New Hampshire primary is just six days away, you might say the handwriting is on the wall. No, we're not suggesting the races have been decided. There really is writing on the wall, lots of it.

CNN's Bruce Morton takes a look at the presidential sign wars.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Al Gore supporters, living billboards with small signs and big voices. Across the street, at the site of the debates, a forest of McCain signs, silent. New Hampshireman Dayton Duncan, who worked in two Democratic presidential campaigns, says McCain is hot.

DAYTON DUNCAN, DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL CONSULTANT: This has been sort of the -- I think a classic quintessential New Hampshire primary, in which the proof of -- this is a place where a candidate who doesn't have his much money, doesn't have as many endorsements, doesn't have the name recognition, can prove his case simply by going and talking to voters, and John McCain has proved that more than any candidate in recent memory.

Even in Bedford's historic district, better know for picture postcards, sign wars rage.

The church is neutral, of course, but McCain is on some lawns and shares one lawn with Bill Bradley, just fond of insurgents, maybe. We saw one Gary Bauer sign, and George W. Bush has backers here. Laura Kiernan writes about New Hampshire politics for "The Boston Globe." She agrees McCain is hot, but...

LAURA KIERNAN, "BOSTON GLOBE" COLUMNIST: The most celebrated political organization in New Hampshire, run by Judd Gregg, our senator, is behind Bush. And I'm always cautious about saying that they won't deliver for Bush, but we'll see.

MORTON: We drove past the debate site again, and lo and behold, found the McCain signs had been -- what -- Forbes-ized. How about Forbes? Good finish in Iowa.

KIERNAN: Forbes has been at 12 percent I think for almost four years. So the conventional wisdom is that he has a hard core of supporters here, and it's been tough for him to move beyond that.

MORTON: Eight years ago, New Hampshire was an economic basketcase -- shuttered store fronts, real pain. Now it's prospering -- unemployment below the national average, incomes above average. The election may be more about personalities.

Bill Bradley has faded some here.

DUNCAN: I think Bradley's still got some life in him here in New Hampshire. I think my sense is the momentum shifted a little bit to Al Gore maybe 10 days or so ago, but you know, it's still -- if I was Al Gore, I wouldn't be writing my victory speech yet.

MORTON: Will the debates matter? Political buffs disagree, but history suggests a lot of people do decide the week before the vote. In the meantime, the candidates are shaking hands, talking, maybe looking for a sign.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Manchester, New Hampshire.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: There is much more ahead on this special edition of INSIDE POLITICS. Coming up: the strategies of a candidate face-off. Our Bill Schneider on what's driving the campaign. Plus, a preview of tonight's debate here in Manchester with our own Frank Sesno.

And later:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL DELANEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The New Hampshire capital, Concord, the White Mountain Cafe, and the next president of the United States -- well, maybe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Bill Delaney on the many other presidential hopefuls looking for support in the Granite State.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to this extended edition of INSIDE POLITICS.

Republican and Democratic presidential contenders are warming up for their back-to-back debates here in New Hampshire tonight. The GOP forum is now just an hour away. Republican John McCain rolled through several towns in the Granite State today. As we reported earlier, our newest tracking poll shows the senator has a 7 point lead over George W. Bush in this state, where McCain has focused most of his campaign time and energy.

Democrat Bill Bradley also has a lot at stake here in New Hampshire, heading into his debate tonight with Al Gore. Our new poll shows Bradley trailing Gore by 9 points in New Hampshire, a state where he once was considered the front-runner.

For a preview of the Democratic and Republican debates tonight, let's go to CNN's Washington bureau chief Frank Sesno, he's at the WMUR Television studios here in Manchester, where the debates will be held. Frank, first of all, talk a little bit about what's at stake and the format in this debate tonight.

FRANK SESNO, CNN WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Well, first the format, Wolf. As you know, we are sharing this event -- these events -- two debates with WMUR, so they will be co-hosted. The candidates will receive questions from the hosts. They will also be able to ask one another some questions, and because there is so much at stake that part should be very interesting indeed.

The front-runners here have to try to ratify their position as front-runners. They have to look like presidents or potential presidents and they -- in the case, for example, of Bush or Gore, Iowa wasn't some kind of fluke that they can try to nail something down here in New Hampshire.

The challengers, in particular, the number twos, Bradley for the Democrats, McCain for the Republicans, Forbes as well -- he was claiming a strong showing in Iowa -- they need to pull out and do something bold. In the words of one of Bradley's aides, they have to -- he has to change the dynamic, nothing less than changing the dynamic here tonight.

BLITZER: All right. Let's take a look at the Republican debate, that's first up. What should we be looking for when we watch that 90- minute debate with five candidates?

SESNO: Well, look for -- let's start with Steve Forbes. Look for him to claim credit for the tax -- the flat tax and owning the tax issue, abortion and have that labeled as the true conservative alternative.

John McCain, his advisers say he's not going to throw a long ball tonight, Wolf. He's going to stay the course. They feel that he's got a certain identity and momentum here, that he, they believe, owns the tax issue in particular with the independents here. He's been calling for the debt to be paid off and they feel that he has some success, and look for him to make this point some more in trying to discredit Bush's tax cut, his proposed tax cut as to big. McCain people say he wants to look like a commander in chief, he wants to look presidential.

George W. Bush needs to show that he, though he hasn't spent as much time in New Hampshire as McCain, that he's in touch with the state, he understands the economy, he understands the issues, and his advisers say that he very much wants to show that he's got bold ideas on taxes, a vision for the country.

BLITZER: All right. Frank, I want you to get to the Democrats in a second, but first describe the room that you're in. Tell us what's going on.

SESNO: A lot. This is spin central, this is spin preview. Here's where the reporters come. Here's where the surrogates come. I saw Senator John Kerry a moment ago. He isn't saying that his man has won the debate yet, but nearly. It's a gathering point for the press, not just from New Hampshire and New England, but from across the country, because between Iowa and New Hampshire, Wolf, this is the signal event prior to the New Hampshire primary and this is a critical primary.

BLITZER: All right. A little bit on the Democratic side. What should we be looking for? And that Democratic debate, of course, begins at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

SESNO: That starts at 9:00, it's an hour debate. Bill Bradley, as I said, feels that a great deal is riding. I'm told that he is going to sharpen the attack on Al Gore on the 1996 fund-raising debate and controversy and Gore's role in it, that he's going to come after him quite likely on his connection with campaign consultants and strategists and lobbyists -- there was a story in "The Boston Globe" on that -- that he's going to challenge his capacity to lead. Al Gore, I'm told, is going to stay the course and wrap himself in this economy.

BLITZER: OK. Frank Sesno, our Washington bureau chief, over at WMUR, getting ready for that debate, that first Republican debate less than one hour away. We know in that spin room a lot of the talking points have been written for days what we'll hear the supporters say.

But you might think these presidential debates, including the ones in New Hampshire tonight, are all about so-called issues. Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider says that's not quite true -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's right. You know, this campaign really isn't being driven by the issues. Then why are the candidates hammering away at each other over every nuance of every statement on abortion and taxes and health care? They're using the issues to make points about what really matters to voters this year: the candidates' personal qualities.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Bill Bradley started his campaign by calling for an ambitious and expensive health care plan. He was trying to make a point about himself.

BRADLEY: That's why in this campaign, I've chosen to do big things

SCHNEIDER: Message: I'm bold and visionary, as opposed to Al Gore, fighting for political survival in his Washington bunker. Gore called Bradley's plan fiscally irresponsible. His point? Bradley's a dreamer; his ideas are not practical, and they're not the ideas of a good Democrat.

GORE: Ask yourself this question: what kind of shape would they be in if the Medicaid program was completely eliminated and replaced with a little $150-a-month HMO voucher?

SCHNEIDER: Voucher? That's a loaded word to Democrats. And remember how Gore suddenly came up with a big education plan? It was his way of saying, I've got a big idea, too, and mine's bigger than his.

GORE: It has a plan to turn around every failing school, a proposal that is not in Senator Bradley's proposal.

SCHNEIDER: And why is Bradley pressing the issue of campaign finance reform even though he and Gore basically agree on the issue?

BRADLEY: I think, at the beginning of a new millennium, we need a new beginning for our politics and that begins with campaign finance reform.

SCHNEIDER: It's Bradley's way of saying, I'm an outsider. I'm not politics as usual. Like him.

Meanwhile, the Republican candidates are tearing each other apart over abortion, an issue that's not even a major concern to most Republicans this year.

FORBES: Will you finally state unequivocally that you'll choose only pro-life judges?

SCHNEIDER: Message: George W. Bush isn't a true conservative. He'll sell you out, just like his father did. Bush's response?

BUSH: I'll pick judges who strictly interpret the Constitution.

SCHNEIDER: I don't take no stinking pledges. I'll get it done my way. But this McCain guy, can Republicans trust him?

BUSH: If you get rid of the employer-related benefits, the workers are going to have to pay taxes. It's a $40 billion tax increase.

SCHNEIDER: Message: McCain can't be a good Republican. He'll sell you out on taxes.

McCain's response?

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

SCHNEIDER: I don't pander to the right. I'm my own man.

But this Bush guy, let's talk about international affairs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR: There's only one man running for president who knows the military and understands the world: John McCain.

SCHNEIDER: Message: Do you really think Bush is ready to be president?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: The issues are kind of code: Here's what my positions say about me and here's what my opponent's positions say about him.

Hey, we're talking issues here: no personal attacks. Nudge- nudge, wink-wink, say no more, say no more.

BLITZER: All right, Bill Schneider, stand by. Let me bring Jeff Greenfield in again for a second.

You've been sensing some nuances, what we can expect in this Republican debate and the Democratic debate: Republican debate less than an hour from now.

GREENFIELD: Well, I think actually we heard two things: one from Frank Sesno suggests that Bill Bradley may be picking up an issue I mentioned earlier that was in the "Boston Globe" today: the ties between Bradley's advisers and special interest lobbying and breaks for well-connected people.

What Eric Hauser said, I think, may have been a little hint of where Bradley is going. That word, "misrepresentation," you get the sense they may be massaging that work and trying to figure out a way for Bradley to say about the vice president, you just have not been straight with me in this campaign.

BLITZER: But all these experts, Bill, keep saying, be yourself, don't try to be someone you're not. Al Gore is trying to be Al Gore, I guess, and Bill Bradley trying to be Bill Bradley, and the Republicans as well. What are they -- can they be someone they're not?

SCHNEIDER: It's never a good idea for a politician to try that. You know, Ronald Reagan never tried to be an intellectual. Jimmy Carter once tried to be one of the boys when he said he had lust in his heart, and that didn't look too good.

I think what Bradley has to do is be himself, but he has to somehow tell voters that if you elect Al -- if you nominate Al Gore, Democrats, you're going to have a big problem. They're going to hang all these issues around Al Gore's next. But he's going to do it subtly.

Will it work? I don't know that subtly works in a primary like this.

BLITZER: All right, Bill Schneider, Jeff Greenfield, you have a lot more coming up on this special edition of INSIDE POLITICS.

We'll talk to David Nyhan and Ron Brownstein about tonight's debate. And at the half hour, the "MONEYLINE NEWS HOUR": Willow Bay has a preview.

WILLOW BAY, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks. Coming up on MONEYLINE, our special series on the candidates continues with a look at the economic platform of George Bush, and we'll pick apart today's bruising session at the Nasdaq and look at whether a profit warning from Dell Computer heralds more trouble to come.

Plus, Coke-Cola struggles to regain its fizz by laying off 20 percent of his work force: all that coming up next on "MONEYLINE."

INSIDE POLITICS will be back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please turn Mr. Reagan's mike off and then...

(BOOS)

RONALD REAGAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mr. Green (ph)...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you turn that microphone off please?

REAGAN: ... you asked from me if you would -- I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green...

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Joining us now, David Nyhan of "The Boston Globe" and Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times," two of the best political reporters out there.

David Nyhan, you remember when Ronald Reagan said, "I am paying for this microphone": That was a turning point in that campaign and it was at a debate.

DAVID NYHAN, "BOSTON GLOBE": It was at Nashua High School. There were 2,400 people. I was standing 5 feet from Walter Cronkite. And Wolf, I have to confess, it was such a great moment, I was cheering for the Gipper. I thought it was great theater.

And when Bob Dole walked off the stage after Bush wouldn't let him debate, he said something to Bush. And I went up to Dole later. I said, "What did you say to Bush?"

And he said, "I said, `George, there'll be another day'" -- or something like that.

And I think, when people tell me that Liddy Dole will be George W.'s running mate, I remember that night...

(LAUGHTER)

... and I think not going to happen.

BLITZER: Ron, that kind of moment is rare in this kind of age of handlers and experts. Do you think we'll see some sort of moment like that tonight?

RON BROWNSTEIN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": I don't know. The closest thing we've had all year was Bush's Jesus answer in Iowa, when asked what political philosopher had most influenced him. That's maybe the single-most memorable moment from the debate.

But look, this is going to be an important debate, two debates tonight. You have two races that still are in flux: Gore and McCain are in the lead in the last week. But a lot of things have changed in the week, or weeks, between Iowa and New Hampshire in the past, and there's no reason to believe this year could not be an exception.

NYHAN: How do you top Jesus? I don't know.

BLITZER: David, on the Republican side, what are you going to be looking for in this first 90-minute debate? NYHAN: Bush protecting his lead, Forbes tossing bombs, if that's what he intends to do, and McCain trying to overcome this late-minute flurry about abortion and what if your daughter needed an abortion, that kind of thing.

BLITZER: Ron, what are you going to look for?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, actually, you know, McCain is ahead in most of the polls. I think one of the things that's going to come up is a sharpening dispute over taxes and the budget with the new surplus numbers that came out today from the CBO.

McCain said today, reversing his earlier position, he wants to go further in the line of debt reduction. Bush said this makes his case that leaving the money around Washington is dangerous and we need a tax cut. So, that difference is widening.

BLITZER: The CBO, an trillion dollars...

BROWNSTEIN: Maybe.

BLITZER: ... a lot of money even in this day and age.

All right, David, on the Democratic side, everybody says Bill Bradley has got to do something if he's going to survive. What does he got to do?

NYHAN: He has to hit the equivalent of four pinch-hit home runs with the bases loaded tonight. I think his fingers are going down the blackboard up here. The Gore operation has a terrific ground machine ready to swing into action: 1,600 people pulling votes, they claim, on election day. Bradley has nothing to match it.

And I think he's been on the defensive since Iowa, and we'll have to see. His surrogates, Senator Bob Kerrey and Niki Tsongas -- widow of the man who won here eight years ago -- came out today to attack Gore anew on his TV spots.

It would be a surprise to a lot of us if Bradley gets as tough as his surrogates have been. Dollar Bill has yet to show he can pull the trigger. He has not yet put away an opponent on TV.

BLITZER: On the Democratic side, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: David said, before we were going on, that this might be the seventh game for Bill Bradley, which is kind of an unfortunate analogy here in New England...

NYHAN: Rubbing it in.

BROWNSTEIN: Rubbing it in. But I think that, you know, Bill Bradley by and large has tried to take a high road in the last few days, maybe trying to win back some of the independents and the college-educated voters who have been the core of his support earlier but have drifted away with the bad news of January, leaving it to the surrogates, as David said, to go after Al Gore. The problem is there can't be two people up on the stage tonight. He's got to choose which one of those roads he takes.

My own guess is he probably stays more high road than low road, because he needs to sort of personally re-establish some connection with the voters who he's been losing.

BLITZER: If Al Gore sits on his lead, gets into this so-called "prevent defense," football analogy, would that be a mistake?

NYHAN: I think Gore has a lead. I think he can protect it. I don't think he has to take any chances tonight. And Bradley has to do sensationally well to reverse what, I think, is going to happen here next Tuesday.

BLITZER: If he loses next Tuesday, Bill Bradley, is he going to go on or is he going to drop out?

BROWNSTEIN: He'll clearly go on. But it's difficult for McCain or Bradley to really effectively -- maybe very difficult to effectively challenge for the nomination if they lose here, simply because in so many states Gore and Bush are way ahead, and you really need something to change that dynamic at once: one big bomb to drop on the race. And New Hampshire is really the biggest bomb out there.

After New Hampshire, it's a state-by-state battle: very hard to win, not enough time, not enough money.

BRADLEY: OK, Ron Brownstein, David Nyhan, what is it? About 40 minutes before the Republican debate. Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: And still ahead, the little-known candidates on New Hampshire's ballot: a look at their unusual campaigns and issues when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There are a number of presidential candidates on the New Hampshire primary ballots who will not be part of tonight's debates. Nearly two dozen little-known hopefuls have paid $1,000 each to be included in next week's vote. Today, our Bill Delaney took some time to learn about these candidates running on the fringe.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. HEATHER ANN HARDER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you ask for a Democratic ticket, my name is there.

DELANEY (voice-over): The New Hampshire capitol, Concord, The White Mountain Cafe, and the next president of the untied states -- well, maybe. Dr. Heather Ann Harder, Democratic candidate for the highest office in the land, running on this rather less than Lincolnesque line: Government is not a self-cleaning oven. HARDER: Government is not a self-cleaning oven.

DELANEY (on camera): This self-cleaning oven stuff -- what are you getting at?

HARDER: Well, I mean we're used to this instant age. We push a button, and things happen magically. And we must get involved if we're going to see the system change, and that's my message.

DELANEY (voice-over): Heather Harder is one of some 30 candidates in all who will be on either the Democratic or Republican ballot in New Hampshire. These, the outsiders who gathered in Concord for a forum of their own...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I might be the most important vote you could make.

DELANEY: ... in advance of the climactic final debates of all those other candidates. The rest of the field...

JIM TAYLOR, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (singing): Jim Taylor for president. Jim Taylor for president.

DELANEY: Like Jim Taylor of St. Paul, Minnesota, who might be said to come from deep left field. He says the essence of his message is, boiling it down, everything is lousy.

TAYLOR: The rate of poverty is growing tremendously. Plus, I like to show off my hair. You need a closeup on that?

DELANEY: Hey, so Al Gore had his Earth tones.

And if there was, let's just say an unconventionality to some of the candidates.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm for strong gun control, like they have in Great Britain. You also have to give a little credit to men and woman you've never heard of for braving New Hampshire's cold, not to mention the establishment's cold shoulder.

JEFFREY PETERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Four-day work week, flexible work times, physical fitness facilities at the workplace.

DELANEY: They kind of lean on each other. Like Ed O'Donnell, who happens to be just your average anti-abortion Democrat, who bumped into Jeffrey Peters, who runs as a Democrat, too. Turns out they're both passionately for campaign finance reform.

DELANEY (on camera): So no negative campaigning between Peters and O'Donnell?

PETERS: Not at all.

DELANEY (voice-over): Do they really think they can win? For a lot of them, the answer is...

PETERS: ... uh-huh.

DELANEY (on camera): You're not going to get elected president of the United States.

PETERS: I would say that miracles can and do happen.

DELANEY (voice-over): And why debate that?

(on camera): As often as we keep hearing about how apathetic most people are about the electoral process, here in Concord, New Hampshire, citizens who also often say the process is rotten, rigged, but also refuse to throw up their hands, preferring to throw in their hats.

Bill Delaney, CNN, Concord, New Hampshire.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And that's all for this special edition of INSIDE POLITICS. Stay with CNN throughout the evening for live coverage of the Republican and Democratic presidential debates from here in Manchester. My colleague Bernard Shaw will be the co-moderator of the 90-minute GOP debate. That begins in 30 minutes, at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. I'll be back on "THE WORLD TODAY" at 8:30 p.m., with Jeff Greenfield and Joie Chen, with some debate analysis. And our Judy Woodruff will be the co-moderator of the Democratic debate at 9:00 p.m., followed by a special edition of "LARRY KING LIVE" at 10:00 p.m. And, of course, you can go online all the time at CNN's allpolitics.com.

Thanks very much for Washington. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Manchester, New Hampshire.

The "MONEYLINE NEWS HOUR" is next.

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