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Capital Gang

Bush and McCain in Statistical Dead Heat in New Hampshire; Bradley Takes Aim at Gore; A Discussion of Clinton's State of the Union Address

Aired January 29, 2000 - 7:00 p.m. ET

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

ANNOUNCER: Live from New Hampshire, THE CAPITAL GANG.

MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields, with the full entire CAPITAL GANG -- Al Hunt, Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne and Margaret Carlson.

In the last debate before Tuesday's New Hampshire Republican primary, Texan Governor George W. Bush and Senator John McCain of Arizona exchanged fire.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I appreciate your new dedication to reducing the -- paying down debt. I looked at your plan, and I could have written it myself.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you senator -- Governor Bush.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, no, Al Gore would have written your plan, Mr. Senator.

MCCAIN: If you're saying that I'm like Al Gore, then you're spinning like Bill Clinton.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: On the campaign trail after the debate, McCain said that only he could exploit the 1996 Democratic campaign finance scandals.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: Governor bush can't do that. He stands mute, because he will not support campaign finance reform.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I thought one of the telling points in the debate last night was when John said his tax plan was like Clinton's tax plan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Today, the Texas governor's parents came to New Hampshire to campaign for their candidate's son. The CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll shows McCain with a 1-point lead.

Al Hunt, has George Bush closed though gap on John McCain?

AL HUNT, "WALL STREET JOURNAL: It's not unusual, Mark, in New Hampshire to see things tighten in the final weekend.

I went to that George Bush event with his mom and dad today, and it was a good event; it was a good crowd. I talked to a number of the people there, and they said we think we're with a winner, and they were -- and they felt good about that. An hour later, a went to Dairy, to a McCain town hall rally, and it was absolutely electric -- an overflow crowd, people -- you know, the fire marshals were turning people away, and it was -- I think in this state, intensity, commitment, enthusiasm counts for a lot. John McCain has tapped into something very special. I expect to see a huge Republican turnout on Tuesday, and he'll be the beneficiary.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, does Al make sense?

MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Yes he does. I mean, to be here is like being on a see-saw, where you go back and forth between these two -- you're with Bush, you think he's doing well; you're with McCain -- you go back and forth.

Your friend Forbes, I'm afraid, is really out of it here. I mean, he's hit his high-water mark in Iowa with 30 percent. I suspect he'll get in the mid-teens here. McCain and Bush very close. McCain just needs to be close to get his bounce into South Carolina now, because it has evened out so much. But I still think that McCain will actually win it, as people are so excited about him.

KATE O'BEIRNE, "NATIONAL REVIEW": I think McCain has to win here to get the kind of bounce he needs. And I agree, he has wowed a significant bloc of New Hampshire voters.

He is wrong about one thing though, that we explained in the introductory piece -- he is actually the worst possible person to make the campaign finance scandal case against Al Gore. He, essentially, adopts the same line Al Gore does, that there was no controlling authority, therefore, we need reform. He let's Al Gore off the hook.

But there is no doubt about it, he has definitely tapped into something here in New Hampshire that George Bush has not tried to tap into in the same way, because George Bush is running a more national campaign with an appeal to a national Republican audience.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, I was at a Windham town meeting today where John McCain spoke. A hand-painted sign by a young woman said: "I trust John McCain. What politician do you trust?" He has done this on the basis of he's different; he says things that people don't want to hear.

Has it been almost a personal biography campaign?

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": It has, and he gives -- when you go to a McCain event, it's a stirring event, but it is not a Republican message; I hate to tell you that -- it is not a Republican message. It's not a Democratic message. It reminds me of Spencer Tracey in the old movie "State of the Union." It's a kind of a reform movement; it electrifies people. That's right.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: But, Republicans, I think, which are happening, this week, just right after the Iowa caucuses there was a feeling that McCain was really going to win this thing. He might eve win it six, seven, eight points. There is no question it's tightened up. The volatility in Iowa is legendary. But I think it is Republicans coming home to George Bush. And the problem is that when the independents, which we'll talk about later, start going back to Bradley, that's big trouble for John McCain.

SHIELDS: Quickly, on the other candidates. I mean, anybody going to make an appreciable showing here and your surprised?

CARLSON: No, I think Forbes really falls down, and Bauer and Keyes remain the fringe candidates that they are.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: It's almost immaterial. There's a little bump for Forbes, according to some polls, but he's still in a poor third position. But I...

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: If they take votes from George Bush; that's the materiality. I'm not sure -- I'm not predicting they will, but that's why those whether those two together get 25 percent or get 15 percent matters.

NOVAK: Well, John Zogby, a pollster, shows that the very people who call themselves very conservative have been going from Bush -- a few of them have been going from Bush to Keyes. Keyes is a very, very impressive campaigner.

But I really do believe that the big story is whether Keyes -- whether McCain can keep this momentum, and Republicans will really go to the polls and vote for him. That's his problem.

SHIELDS: Two quick points -- one was Jack Kennedy in 1960, after he lost Ohio, said no state had he gotten better crowd, more enthusiastic welcome fewer votes. Now I don't know. I mean, if the crowds translate -- -- they did in '92, for Paul Tsongas in the last weekend. He got -- Gary Hart got phenomenal crowds here in 1984.

But my question to you is this -- George W. Bush brought in his father today, as we saw in setup, and the argument made to me by a senior Republican who said he started off this campaign as the Texas governor, he's ending up as the president's son, and that appearance underlines "junior."

Tell me, I mean, does George Bush Sr. eclipse, help or hurt his son?

NOVAK: Of course he helps him, and he's helped him from the very beginning. He's not the only person he brought in. Your friend John Sununu came in. Jack Kemp came in. Elizabeth Dole has been campaigning all over the state, attacking, in an op-ed page in the "Union-Leader," the so-called loophole closers as being economical to charitable contributions. So he's got the whole establishment working for him.

CARLSON: John Sununu doesn't help. He makes McCain's point that Bush is the candidate of the lobbyists, and K Street, and never mattered that much anyway.

HUNT: These are very independent-minded voters. I don't think -- but I think to go your question, Mark, if his name were George Walker, he would not be the front-runner now or a year ago or two years ago.

O'BEIRNE: It is a sign thought that the Governor Bush team is inclined to do everything they can here in New Hampshire. They've got that firewall they talk about in South Carolina, but they'd rather not test it with a big win here by John McCain.

SHIELDS: I think you're absolutely right, Kate, and I guess, you know -- they're shoring up their right wing, they're fearful that Keyes, Forbes, and Bauer, would -- that's why they're bringing Sununu, that's why they're bringing Jack Kemp, who endorsed Steve Forbes last time, and John Sununu, let it be point out, who was fired by George W. Bush.

NOVAK: I have to say -- I've said before, and you people don't believe there is anything to it.

SHIELDS: Well, say it again, Bob.

NOVAK: But when McCain takes the Democratic positions that we should take the surplus, and we shouldn't for putting it in to the Social Security fund for first time in history, and we shouldn't, we shouldn't have tax cuts, that is not a Republican position, and that is what is helped close the gap.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: It's winning on the tax issue. It's a centrist position. Clinton has shown that.

O'BEIRNE: As soon as he heads South, that is position a big problem.

SHIELDS: I will say this, that George Bush has ended his campaign in paid advertising, say he's going save Social Security, and basically, topped McCain's position. That is the last word. That is the last word, And that is the last word, and you'll be quiet, Bob. (CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: THE GANG will be back with Gore versus Bradley in New Hampshire.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back.

In Wednesday's Democratic debate, former Senator Bill Bradley took aim at Vice President Gore, accusing him of engaging in negative politics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL BRADLEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I just think politics should be politics should be a case of belief and not tactic. Unfortunately, that has not been reciprocated on the other side in this campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALBERT GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Senator Bradley is the only one who has been forced by the media to apologize for negative attacks in this campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Campaigning the next day, Senator Bradley continued his assault.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRADLEY: Over the last four months, I've had my positions misrepresented. If a candidate doesn't tell you the truth in a campaign, then how do you trust that candidate as president to tell you the truth?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, BRADLEY CAMPAIGN AD)

BRADLEY: This is the kind of issue that you can't straddle -- are you antiabortion? Or are you pro-choice? And I decided a long time ago.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE: I don't quite understand how someone can condemn so-called negative attacks, while in the next breath, launching real negative attacks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Latest CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll shows Vice President Gore eight points ahead. That's compared with a 16-point Gore lead just a day earlier.

Bob Novak, is the Bradley counterattack working?

NOVAK: It seems to be. Because he was give up for dead, particularly by everybody in our business this week. They were saying, When is he going to get out? That was the big question. We interviewed him on "EVANS, NOVAK, HUNT & SHIELDS" today. I thought he was very confident. I thought we very impressive.

And why is he come back? I think it's partially the attack. But I still think that when you get away from the labor hacks being bussed to Iowa caucuses and you go to ordinary Democratic voters, Al Gore is just not that attractive. And I think they look at Bill Bradley, and particularly I thought that was impressive ad on abortion, saying that of course Al Gore was pro-life, and he suddenly had transformation. So I think this may be close election after all in New Hampshire.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, yesterday's "Wall Street Journal" poll suggested it wasn't labor hacks at all, that now George Bush against Al Gore nationally is within the margin of error statistically.

HUNT: It's a dead heat. You know, on New Hampshire, though, again, talking to John Zogby today, he said, This is the most mercurial race he's ever seen. Yesterday, he thought there was -- really thought there was a Gore surge. Today, he said there's been this incredible Bradley bounce-back. This is just one day.

Let me offer a theory, which is that voters up here after watching Bradley Wednesday night go after Gore, said, wait a minute, this a guy who told us he was above the fray, he really is a hypocrite. A delayed reaction was sort of what he was saying: Hey, if somebody throws elbows, and Lord knows, Gore has thrown a lot of a lot of mean elbows in this campaign, they said, hey, all right, you can throw an elbow back, and that was the delayed reaction.

I agree with Bob, it's going to be a close election, but I think that it was a strategic miscalculation on Bradley's part not weeks ago to have taken this.

O'BEIRNE: Exactly. Exaclty.

I think Bill Bradley is finally expressing the rationale for his candidacy, essentially, can't we have the prosperity without the perjury? Can't we as Democrats take advantage of the record that we Democrats have built up over the past seven years without all the baggage? And he's arguing, All Gore is Clinton without the charm.

Whether or not Bill Bradley gets the nomination he will be a very familiar presence throughout the fall. Because Republicans are going to run countless ads with Al Gore talking about the fact that -- with Bill Bradley talking about the fact Al Gore can't be trusted, Al Gore is the master of snare and spin. And surely, Democrats are going to begin thinking, wait a minute, don't tell me we're going to have to be defending Al Gore for the next four years, much as we had to Bill Clinton.

SHIELDS: Margaret, one of the things that I've picked up this week -- I'm sure others have as well -- is that the Gore people really want this to be over, and they want it over badly, just because, exactly what's Kate's talking about, because it is turned personal; it has bone become a tough campaign.

And do you think if Bill Bradley does lose even a close race here, do you think he'll get out?

CARLSON: I don't. He says he'll go on. And he's one of the few challengers who has the money to go on. And since he thinks it's his destiny to run for president this time, it fuels that -- the need he has to be right and to prevail, and I suspect he will. What he's added to his campaign, unfortunately for him, I think, is just one thing, and that is calling the opposition a liar. What he didn't do earlier was to answer the attacks on the merits.

SHIELDS: Good point.

CARLSON: What New Hampshire voters know about him now is that he's aloof and he's a whiner, and he hasn't straightened out the record, as he says that Gore has distorted it. So he's missed an opportunity. He's just a candidate who's saying "liar, liar."

NOVAK: I think that's pretty harsh to say that. It's a question of, I think you can also say that here's a guy finally had enough is enough.

But you know, it isn't that this campaign turned nasty, as you say, Mark, this is inherent in any campaign Al Gore runs. It's the way they run -- it's the way a lot of Democratic campaigns and Republican campaigns are run. You go -- you get opposition research, you find weak points, but Gore is particularly nasty and vicious.

Now most Republicans, though, are scared to death of him. They're afraid, particularly if Bush is nominated, that he'll pound him to pieces. But I disagree. I think Bradley will be a stronger Democratic candidate.

SHIELDS: I didn't hear Bob say a word during 1988 when George Bush ran a campaign on the Boston Harbor, the pledge of allegiance of Willie Horton about tough campaigns.

I will say this, you're right about Al Gore. He's a tough, he's a lawnmower. And if George Bush is the nominee and he's the nominee, two predictions -- absolutely sure -- one, if there's a schoolyard shooting anywhere in America, George Bush will be made to pay politically for having signed a concealed weapon law as governor of Texas. I think it's absolutely predictable. I'm not here making a judgment...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Well, I said, is it fair?

SHIELDS: Fair? You tell me if it's fair, and the American people will decide. Secondly...

NOVAK: Well, you're in same boat as Gore then.

SHIELDS: Secondly, I will make the prediction that there will three kids with emphysema in Houston because the air pollution of the Bush administration will be on television. That's the kind -- Bob...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Maybe Al -- maybe, Mark, there'll be a big reaction...

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: Senator Bradley has an interviews in tomorrow's "New York Times" talking about his medical condition, basically doctors are saying, hey, he's fine, he's fit and everything else, but it also raises some issues of previous treatment, whether he'll have to take the 25th amendment. That's not good to have that dominate headlines the last day or two.

SHIELDS: Last word, Al Hunt.

Next on CAPITAL GANG: Bill Clinton's vision for America.

We went over a little bit. I'm sorry.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back.

President Clinton delivered his 8th -- count them -- State of the Union Address, and painted a vision for America.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every child will begin school ready to learn, and graduate ready to succeed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: He scolded the Republican-controlled Congress for not keeping up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: For too long, this Congress has been standing still on some of our most pressing national priorities.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Among the president's initiatives was this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CLINTON: I propose a plan to ensure that all new handgun buyers must first have a photo license from their state, showing they passed the Brady background check and a gun safety course before they get the gun.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, is this not a popular agenda from a popular president?

O'BEIRNE: Mark, it's an unpopular proposal from a disgraced president. A few weeks ago, Bill Clinton was talking about a proposal to reduce gun crimes that George -- brought support, enforced the tough laws already on the books -- something his administration hasn't done. Now he's abandoned that to help Al Gore by giving him a Bradley-like sort of proposal. The intensity on the gun issue is on the side of the gun rights people. And if this new threat energizes them, he could actually help the Republicans keep the House.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, 65 to 30, favorable job rating in the country Bill Clinton has right now, 92 to 5 favorable rating among Democrats. Is he a help to Al Gore?

CARLSON: I want to see George Bush have to defend the concealed weapon against the Gore-licensed gun owners in the general election, and Texas; then he's going to have to be out there depending that.

Listen, we all think these State of the Union messages are too long, it's like State of the Union, the miniseries -- people like these; they like the laundry list of programs. They like what Clinton has done. The disgraced president has a job approval rating of 65 percent. And you will see the candidates coming back right where Clinton lives for the general election.

SHIELDS: I say this, Margaret is absolutely right on the concealed weapons. George Bush hasn't mentioned it once during this entire campaign. He's not boasted about it in "The Texas Miracle."

What about the State of the Union, Bob? You've seen a few.

NOVAK: This was a -- everybody wondered what would happen if you ever had a big surplus and a liberal president. What they'd do is having, by one count, over 90 new initiatives, and a program for America which says, nobody has is -- people have a chance to succeed. Everybody has to succeed. But I was disgusted with it. But I'll tell you what was more disgusting: two very able senators -- Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee -- with a terrible response, did not mention the surplus, did not mention the tax cuts -- terrible.

HUNT: Well, I had one disappointment, Mark. And that was he spoke for an hour and 30 minutes. Had he gone for another 79 minutes, he could have been the first president to give a State of Union over two days, and I realized -- I was disappointed in that.

I was pleased, though, Bob after the State of the Union, he said it was 61 promises. It's up to 90. I think by next week, we'll clearly be in triple digits.

NOVAK: He's still working it.

HUNT: Bob, there is no demand for smaller government, I'm sorry.

NOVAK: Well, that -- wait a minute, I just want to respond -- if that is true, it's a shame for the American people. If they like that, it's a terrible thing.

SHIELDS: They are all the moral lepers.

All right -- Margaret.

CARLSON: And actually, he is allowed to do one more State of the Union, and make it a two-hour one, yes.

Well, we learned tonight, you hate the working man, and the common man should not succeed. Thanks, Bob.

NOVAK: I say everybody can't succeed. Everybody can't succeed.

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: THE GANG will be back with outrage of the week.

ANNOUNCER: Our reviewer outrage of the week is from John Ludtke. He writes, "It is an outrage that no presidential candidate has proposed a population policy for this country, even as we encourage developing countries to develop such policies. Our annual growth rate is almost three times that of most developed countries, 10 times the rate of Europe, and we have the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the industrialized world. Given the environmental burden we impose by our consumption habits, I believe this American formula for Earth's destruction deserves at least a campaign mention."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back.

And now for outrage of the week. It is true that George W. Bush was rejected for admission to the University of Texas Law School, during the very same academic year that he was accepted by the very exclusive Harvard Business School. This has provided ammunition for Bush's critics, who charged his admission to Yale and Harvard was secured by his family's pull in influence. But now we learn that George W. Bush college board scores were actually higher than those of Rhodes scholar Bill Bradley. So just maybe we owe Governor Bush an apology -- Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Al Gore has taken a leaf from Richard Nixon's 1975 playbook: limit access and avoid questioning. He will not be on one of the Sunday interviews tomorrow. He wasn't last week. He has turned down interviews Monday night after winning in Iowa. Last night, Al Hunt and I wanted to watch the president address a party event. The Gore campaign said no, no more room! In fact, a couple of hundred seats were empty. It worked for Nixon. Will it work for gore?

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Last Tuesday, as officials in Washington were meeting to decide whether to declare a snow emergency, the head of federal personnel, Janice LaChance (ph), was in Iowa as a precinct captain for Al Gore. By the same time she decided federal workers should stay home, many were already snarled in traffic. Shouldn't the head of civil service worry about running the government and not about running a presidential campaign?

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: Yes, Margaret.

Last year, a handful of Republican senators, including Susan Collins of Maine, lacked the political fortitude to do the right thing and convict the president of impeachable offenses. This year, despite having sided with Democrats to see justice denied, Senator Collins was chosen to give the Republican response to the State of the Union. What are Republicans trying to say by tapping her for this coveted assignment? Sorry, Bill?

SHIELDS: Al Hunt.

HUNT: Mark, when former New Hampshire Governor and ex-White House chief of staff John Sununu embarrassed President Bush, he was fired by the president's son, George W. Bush, thus it was no surprise last summer when Sununu complained that George W. Bush was Clintonesque, and his nomination would cause a Republican train wreck. Guess what? This week, the very same John Sununu called the Bush campaign to beg that he be able to endorse George W. Bush. What a man of principle.

SHIELDS: Quick, one quick -- what's the biggest surprise Tuesday?

NOVAK: The closeness of the Democratic primary.

CARLSON: How many independents go with McCain and not for Bradley.

HUNT: The huge Republican turnout because of McCain and the independents.

SHIELDS: Kate?

O'BEIRNE: How many Republicans might swing -- how many independents might swing back to Bradley now that he's going after Gore on the same ground?

SHIELDS: Independents the key.

Very good. This is Mark Shields, saying good night nor THE CAPITAL GANG.

Next on CNN, "SPORTS TONIGHT" previews -- what? -- Super Bowl XXXIV.

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