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Inside Politics

McCain Picks Up Endorsements, Including a Defection; Bush's Record-Breaking Millions Dwindle; The View from Macomb County, Michigan

Aired February 16, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GARY BAUER (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: With great pride and without any hesitation, I am pleased to be here today to endorse John McCain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: "Endorsement" is the word of the day for the McCain campaign, as the Arizona senator picks up support, including a Bush defection.

Plus:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think I have got a good chance to win South Carolina. I am going to drive home -- drive this campaign home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Is the Texas governor putting undue strain on his campaign coffers? A look at what remains of his record- breaking millions.

Also:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Market shows what a ethnic stew this county is, Italian sausage, next to kilbasa, cheeses from everywhere, politics too.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHAW: Bruce Morton on the changing face of the Michigan county that once became famous for its Reagan Democrats.

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

WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us.

With a crucial primary looming in conservative South Carolina, an endorsement today has given a possible boost to John McCain among a group of voters considered to favor George W. Bush. McCain received the backing of former Republican candidate Gary Bauer, whose modest base of support comes from the Christian right. Also today, a second endorsement that could help McCain later.

CNN's John McCain has been with the campaign in South Carolina, and we're going to be hearing from John in just a moment.

Having relied so far on endorsements and money, George W. Bush appears to be taking some hits on both. We spoke of the endorsements on McCain's part, now the money, from CNN's Candy Crowley with the Bush campaign in Beaufort in South Carolina's Low Country.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A slight lead in the polls is too close for any kind of comfort. You can sense the urgency as primary day in South Carolina closes in.

BUSH: Let it be known when you head into that ballot box on Saturday: I'm here asking, I want your support, I want to remind you that I'm a person who's coming with a record of reform.

CROWLEY: The stakes are high and so are the expenditures. As Bush pushes through the Carolina countryside, his campaign is all over the airwaves. The Bush team bought a half-hour in three separate TV markets to broadcast a portion of a question-and-answer session in Charleston last week. And a new ad has been added to the mix.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, BUSH CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR: It's disappointing. Friday, John McCain promised to stop running a negative campaign. Then Sunday, he attacked Governor Bush on national television with false charges on campaign finance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: This doesn't come cheap. The next public look at the governor's books will show that Bush's record-breaking fund-raising has spawned some record-breaking spending. High-level Bush sources say that at the end of January, Bush had raised $73 million and had $20 million on-hand. As his critics do the math, Bush has spent over $50 million to win caucuses in Alaska and Iowa and a primary in Delaware.

MCCAIN: I think that Governor Bush's place in "Guinness Book of Records" is secure. We've never seen any kind of spending like that in any other political campaign. I believe we can still win the battle of ideas, even if we are badly losing the battle of bucks.

CROWLEY: McCain has won just one primary, but what a one it was. His records will show that, as of January 31, McCain had spent half as much as Bush and had half as much left. But McCain is enjoying a post-New Hampshire fund-raising boom, and both the senator and the governor have been pouring money into South Carolina.

BUSH: We are on plan, and I think I have got a good chance of winning because I'm in every state. We are pre-paying a lot of buys in big expensive states, and we're on plan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Bush financial advisers insist the $20 million in cash on hand at the end of January is exactly where they thought they would be. They say it is the result of sort of a two-track plan, one to hope for a New Hampshire win, but two, plan for a loss. Will those expenditures go up in February? Said one Bush aide: Duh. Judy.

WOODRUFF: Candy, what can we expect from Governor Bush over the next few days before this primary on Saturday?

CROWLEY: Well, you know, it's -- here again, this is kind of a two-track thing for him. He, number one, wants to keep the base, that is his conservative Republican base here in South Carolina, aroused so that he can get them to the polls on Saturday. So there is that, rallies, the one-on-ones that he has been doing with voter participation.

Then, too, he also is trying to appeal to those independents because the polls show that he is at least within striking range, about 10 points, among independents with John McCain. He would like to peel some of those off, and sort of try and solidify a win so he can go out of here having at least partially erased the devastation that New Hampshire has caused.

WOODRUFF: All right, Candy Crowley reporting with the Bush campaign in Beaufort, South Carolina. Thanks, Candy -- Bernie.

SHAW: Gary Bauer endorses John McCain.

CNN's John King is with the McCain campaign in Greenville, South Carolina.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): First came Gary Bauer, a former rival-turned cheerleader.

BAUER: He is the best shot we have to end the era of Bill and Hillary and Al Gore.

KING: Then California Secretary of State Bill Jones, the only Republican elected to statewide office, a former Bush backer, now a McCain man.

BILL JONES, CALIFORNIA SECY.-OF-STATE: And only John McCain, with the crowds, the enthusiasm, the energy that he has delivered, because of that personal biography, has been able I think to pierce that cynicism and deliver that across the country, and I think he can do it for California. KING: The new endorsements gave McCain something to celebrate after what close aides conceded was a less than scintillating debate performance. The McCain camp still believes a South Carolina victory is within reach, and the Bauer endorsement presented an opportunity to shore up the candidate's right flank.

BAUER: John's got a strong pro-life voting record, and in the few areas where we have some disagree, I'll work to try to get him to come more in my direction.

KING: This man told McCain a catchy slogan never hurts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not going to beat around the Bush, we're going to beat the Bush.

KING: McCain's shadow looms large in a state Governor Bush, not long ago, led by more than 20 points.

MCCAIN: I need your vote on Saturday. I need your support.

KING: But the campaign now feels it can survive a defeat here, and the Jones endorsement was a sign McCain is in at least through the March 7 GOP contests in California and 12 other states.

Bush shrugged off the Jones defection.

BUSH: And it is fine, everybody make the decision they want to make, but if Bill wants to be on the winning team, he ought to stay here. All I can say to Bill is is that he has got every right in the world to make any decision he wants to make, but if he is interested in being on the team that is going to win the Republican nomination, he has made the wrong division.

KING: But McCain aides billed the switch-over as proof the GOP establishment is having second thoughts about Bush and insisted there are more switches to come, in California and across the country.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Now, as we look at a live picture of Senator McCain signing book here in Greenville, we're told that one more endorsement could come soon from moderate congressman Peter King of New York. He is a Bush supporter, but he is troubled, he says, by the Texas governor's recent visit to Bob Jones University, here in Greenville. The chancellor of that school harshly critical of the pope in the past. So we're told, once again, another endorsement soon, a Bush backer now could become a McCain backer, Peter King of New York.

Look at the picture outside here, you see dozens of people still waiting to get inside to have the senator sign their book. Win or lose here in South Carolina, the senator sure is going to have his book in a lot of homes here -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Evidently, John King, reporting from Greenville, thanks.

Well, all this campaigning today in South Carolina comes on the heels of a testy debate that was held last night.

Our Bill Schneider is here to examine the charges and the countercharges -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Judy, the allegations were flying left and right in last night's debate. Well, mostly right. These are Republicans, after all.

Well, let's sort through some of them and see where the candidates scored a point and where they missed the mark.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): Let's start with negative campaigning. Remember when Bush held up this flyer?

BUSH: This is an attack piece.

MCCAIN; That is not by my campaign.

SCHNEIDER: Look at the fine print: "Paid for by McCain 2000." The McCain campaign later admitted that, yes, the flyer came from his campaign. But is it an attack piece? Quote, "George Bush's plan will threaten Social Security for our seniors." That doesn't sound too friendly.

So let's take a closer look. Bush's tax plan reserves the entire surplus from the Social Security tax for protecting Social Security. So does McCain's plan. But McCain reserves an additional 62 percent of the non-Social Security tax surplus for protecting Social Security. Bush does not.

Then there's the hot-button topic of abortion. McCain sees an inconsistency in Bush's position.

MCCAIN: Your position is that you believe there's an exemption for rape, incest and the life of the mother, but you want the platform that you're supposed to be leading to have no exemption.

SCHNEIDER: Bush's defense?

BUSH: The platform speaks about a constitutional amendment. It doesn't refer to how that constitutional amendment ought to be defined.

SCHNEIDER: What the Republican platform says is, quote: "The unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life, which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution."

Bush says he wants to leave the language unchanged because, in his view, it does not call for a ban on all abortions.

If both candidates take the same position on abortion, what are they arguing about? Whether Bush really is more anti-abortion than McCain.

How about gay rights? Here's where Bush explains why he would not speak to the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay Republican group.

BUSH: Well, because they've made a commitment to John McCain.

SCHNEIDER: Had they?

MCCAIN: I have no knowledge that they have made a commitment to my campaign.

BUSH: Well, I thought they raised money for you.

SCHNEIDER: Actually, the Log Cabin Republicans have not endorsed any candidate. A group of members did donate $40,000 to the McCain campaign, but the Log Cabin political action committee has not given McCain any money.

Bush doesn't want to endorse gays, or spurn them, or meet with them. His policy is, don't ask, don't tell.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: The picture you get is of two candidates who are basically pretty similar on the issues, trying to exploit small differences for political advantage.

You know, it's just like in a marriage: It's the little things that can produce the biggest confrontations. You don't have to comment on that.

WOODRUFF: And I won't on the grounds that it may incriminate me. Bill Schneider, thanks -- Bernie.

SHAW: Thank you, Judy.

Next on INSIDE POLITICS, the view from a county with a record of picking winners: Macomb County, Michigan. When the voters talk, we listen.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Come what may in South Carolina, the next big test for the Republican candidates comes three days later, with primaries in McCain's home state of Arizona and in Michigan. In the latter, the vote in one particular suburb may prove revealing.

CNN's Bruce Morton has the inside view from Macomb County, outside Detroit.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL NEARON, BUSH SUPPORTER: You know, you've got the Regan Democrats that are kind of are more along the line of McCain's thinking. And then there are the Democrats that are more along the line of McCain's thinking. Now if they all go vote for McCain, McCain will get the nomination and Bush will not.

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bill Nearon, who's for George W. Bush at the end of a Kiwanis breakfast in St. Clair Shores in Michigan's Macomb County, a county with a famous political past.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This was a strictly Democrat county and has been for a long time.

MORTON: Macomb County men worked in the auto plants and raised families. They came to symbolize the famous Reagan Democrats in the '80s. Reagan carried the county big time in 1984, Bill Clinton in 1996. It's changing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The demographics of the county have changed tremendously.

MORTON: Soaring population, maybe three-quarters of a million and growing, houses sprouting like mushrooms.

Terry Almquist has taught here for 35 years.

TERRY ALMQUIST, MACOMB COUNTY COMMUNITY COLLEGE: We are probably more industrial than most counties still are, but as we note, that's not the mainstay of any economy any more.

MORTON: Still a Chrysler plant, but lots of new, high-skill companies like Visioneering, which designs parts and tools to make parts for companies in the automotive and aerospace industries.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are a lot of young professionals -- engineers, lawyers -- that are settling here as their starter homes.

MORTON: And they are continuing that Reagan Democrat tradition, in a way.

ALMQUIST: They are open. They are less prone to be a straight party voting populace. They will split a ticket.

MORTON: So in this open primary, are some of them McCain Democrats?

JANCIE NEARON, MACOMB COUNTY GOP CHAIRWOMAN: His opponent is blaming him for sounding like a Democrat, so -- and a couple of the issues he's raised probably would appeal to Democrats, but I think more independents are likely to support him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I need half-a-pound of the Genoa salami sliced thin, please.

MORTON: Nino Salvaggio's (ph) market shows what an ethic stew this county is: Italian sausage next to kilbasa, cheeses from everywhere. Politics too. This Republican likes John McCain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think a lot of his points are well-taken, seems like a fair man, besides being a vet.

MORTON: This Republican has voted for Bush, absentee. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He seems to be the most normal one of the bunch, and I like his policy. He's a gentleman and he's not as strident as these other politicians.

MORTON: But in this county, this woman and her husband, undecided independents who will vote, may hold the key.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I like Bush. I feel that a lot of his ideas have worked in Texas, and things that'll work in the government for the national. However, McCain looks pretty good. And we're not sure yet of who we're going with.

MORTON: Bush independents? McCain Democrats? Independent- minded county -- always was.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Macomb County, Michigan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHAW: Joining us now on INSIDE POLITICS, Democratic National Chairman Joe Andrew and Republican Chairman Jim Nicholson.

Joe Andrew, are you concerned that many independents, many Democrats might vote for a Republican presidential candidate?

JOE ANDREW, DNC NATIONAL CHAIRMAN: No, I am not at all. These are two conservative peas in a right-wing pod here. In the end, what Americans are going to learn is that these are both candidates that have fought for and agreed with Newt Gingrich's Contract With America. They were fighting last night in the debate about who is the most right to life, who is most going to fight against a woman's right to choose.

Those are the kinds of things in the end that I think will help our party, not hurt our party.

SHAW: Why do I think you want to respond that, Jim Nicholson?

JIM NICHOLSON, RNC NATIONAL CHAIRMAN: Well, I think what you're going to see in a county like Macomb County are the people come out in droves for our nominee, because they're going to lose jobs if Al Gore is elected president. I mean, he's written a book -- I happened to bring it along -- it's called "Earth in the Balance." And he calls for the elimination of the internal combustion engine.

The other thing that he is doing --- today it's germane, because up in New York, people are paying $2 a gallon for home heating fuel -- and he wants to add new taxes to fuel oil consumption in America, and he wants to diminish domestic exploration.

I mean, Gore, in addition to being dishonest and untrustworthy, is just out of sync with the people on the issues.

SHAW: Looking at the Republican primary -- South Carolina, for example, Joe Andrew -- will the anger, the name-calling between McCain and Bush help your party's nominee in the fall campaign? ANDREW: Absolutely. I mean, the partisan personal attacks against the president, against Democrats in the past have only helped elect Democrats. That happened in 1996. It happened in 1998. You just heard the chairman of the Republican Party do it again. Every time they do it, it helps elect Democrats.

SHAW: But Jim Nicholson, conversely, will the Bradley-Gore contretemps with the name-calling and the finger-pointing help your party's nominee in the fall campaign?

NICHOLSON: Well, absolutely. I mean, I don't agree with Bill Bradley on everything, but when Bill Bradley points out to the American people that if you can't trust Al Gore in his campaign for the presidency, how could you trust him as the president? And the thing that the American people are looking for the most, Bernie, is somebody that is trustworthy, someone who will bring honor and integrity and dignity back to their White House.

SHAW: Joe Andrew, are many in your party fearful that John McCain might get the nomination and therefore be a tougher opponent?

ANDREW: Oh, I don't think that we have any reason to be afraid of John McCain or George W. Bush. Again, what South Carolina is revealing is truly how conservative both these candidates are, how truly out of step they are with the average American, who is out there carrying about things like a real prescription drug benefit right now. Those are the kinds of things these candidates aren't talking about and should be talking about.

SHAW: Gore, Bradley, who would be tougher for your party?

NICHOLSON: You know, bring them on. I don't think it's going to matter. I mean, what we have got are two real good decent men. In fact, last night they called each other that. One called the other "noble." The other called the other "a good man." They said they both respected their achievements in life.

We have got a vigorous primary going on, but that's way it ought to be in our party. But when we finally have a nominee, the people are going to pick one of those two great Republicans because they want to bring integrity and trust back into the government.

SHAW: On that debate last night, Jim Nicholson, your party's abortion plank does not list rape, incest or the threatened life of a mother in the plank for. Should it?

NICHOLSON: Well, we are the pro-life party, the party that respects the sanctity of life. The platform makes that clear. The platform will be revisited again here in just a few months leading up to our convention in Philadelphia. There will be a good, healthy debate, something that we permit in our party, people of different views to come together and debate that. And then we will have a new platform.

SHAW: Let's talk money now. Front-page story above the fold "New York Times," Governor Bush having spent millions, and the impression is that he is running out of money. True or not, my question is this: By summer, your party's nomination, whoever he is, might be near broke. Question: How much soft money is the national Democratic Party planning to pour into your candidate's campaign? I'll ask the same question of you, Chairman Nicholson, in just a moment.

ANDREW: Well, we're not going to pour any soft money into the campaign, but clearly we're not going to allow ourselves to simply have these attacks by Republicans go unanswered, particularly when they're very personal, and very partisan attacks. You know, the two things the people thought the Democrats had going against them would be because George W. Bush wasn't following the Watergate reforms, he could spend all the money he had and there would be a lot of it. Now, he's broke. They thought we were behind. Now, we're dead even. They thought that George W. Bush would be a moderate. Now, he's showing he's a conservative. The fact of the matter is, it is going to help Democrats.

SHAW: Jim Nicholson, you have the last word.

NICHOLSON: The two big stories about money, Bernie, are the one that came out Monday that said the president is going to go on the road and travel and raise over $40 million for his party, by meeting with large donors around the country. And the other was in the paper today when John Sweeney said that the AFL-CIO is going to put over $40 million into these U.S. House races to try the take back the House.

Now, this is the party that says it's for reform of campaign financing, and this is the party, the president today said, that we need to make a trade deal with China. And yet you have got the unions who are saying, we're going to raise enough money to take back control of the House.

We want to see if the president is going to be able deliver those union votes. Because we think we ought to be trading with China, but it sounds to me like the unions have bought a lot of votes in his party, and we will see if the president and Al Gore can deliver.

SHAW: Jim Nicholson, Republican chairman, Joe Andrew, Democratic chairman, thank you.

ANDREW: Good to be with you.

NICHOLSON: Thank you.

SHAW: Always good to have you two.

And INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Much more ahead on this edition of INSIDE POLITICS.

SHAW: Still to come, the president weighs in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have a lot of sympathy with Governor Bush and Senator McCain. I mean, it's hard for them to figure out what to run on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHAW: President Clinton on the White House race, his wife's campaign, and some key administration issues. Plus:

WOODRUFF: Vice President Gore takes time from campaigning to tour the tornado damage in south Georgia. And later:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAT NEAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With temperatures freezing throughout the Northeast and oil prices on a steep rise, Bill Bradley is turning up the heat on Al Gore.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHAW: Pat Neal looking at Bill Bradley's attack on the administration's well-timed efforts on a hot winter issue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: We will have more of this day's political news coming up, but now this look at some other top stories.

Northern Ireland peace talks remain stalled. British Prime Minister Tony Blair met with Irish leader Bertie Ahern and Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams. Blair insists the Irish Republican Army hand over its weapons, as demanded by the Good Friday Accords. But Adams told the BBC, the Good Friday Agreement has been torn up.

WOODRUFF: Attorney General Janet Reno says the private sector should handle Internet security with some input from law enforcement agencies. Reno and FBI Director Louis Freeh appeared before a Senate panel today, just one week after computer hackers caused major problems for some popular Web sites.

Jurors in New York state's Diallo murder trial are scheduled to hear closing arguments next week. Defense attorneys for four white police officers rested their case today. The officers are on trial for the death of West African immigrant Amadou Diallo. The judge is reviewing a request to allow the jury to consider lesser charges against the officers, including manslaughter.

Vice President Al Gore is in south Georgia today, visiting with victims of Monday's deadly tornadoes. Chris Black will join us live with more on that.

In the meantime, many families are now trying to pick up the pieces. Mark Potter reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fifteen years ago, the Shedricks lost their home in a fire. Now, with the tornadoes, they have lost their home again. The family was unhurt, but the future is uncertain.

ROBERT SHEDRICK, TORNADO SURVIVOR: We're going to spend the night in a motel.

POTTER (on camera): And then after that?

SHEDRICK: I don't know right now. Just take it one day at a time.

POTTER (voice-over): The Shedricks spent the day trying to save what's left. But most of the house and all of the cars were destroyed. Thirteen-year-old Amanda at least found some family photos.

AMANDA SHEDRICK, TORNADO SURVIVOR: This picture is my brother and my sister, and that's me.

POTTER: In the master bedroom, a family portrait was badly ripped, but still on the wall.

ARENE SHEDRICK, TORNADO SURVIVOR: Well, the photo's ripped up, but the family is not.

POTTER: Oddly, buried in the rubble was the sound of music. No one could guess what it was until they found the musical Valentine's card still playing.

Throughout this area, house by house, the story is the same: As the shock and disbelief begin to wear off, families and friends start to recover what little they can find.

Howard Hudson sits on a wooden porch, all that's left of his mobile home, which blew across the street. Like so many others here, he wonders what he will do next.

Mark Potter, CNN, Camilla, Georgia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHAW: Senator Bob Kerrey will take over as president of New School University in New York. He starts next January. The senator from Nebraska announced last month he would not run for a third term.

And Judy and I will be right back with more of INSIDE POLITICS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: For Al Gore, it's been a day of double duty. CNN's Chris Black is with the vice president, who traveled this afternoon to south Georgia for a tour of tornado damage -- Chris.

CHRIS BLACK, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Bernie, this was a day when Al Gore switched roles and clothes from candidate to vice president to back again, and it was a day that showed the advantages and disadvantages to being an incumbent vice president when you're running for president.

First, the advantages: The vice president just finished touring southeast Georgia, an area devastated just days ago by tornadoes. He went by helicopter over the four counties that last night President Clinton declared a disaster area. That's the declaration making these counties eligible for federal loans and grants so people can begin to rebuild.

The government says that 186 homes were completely destroyed, dozens more were damaged, and about 19 people were killed.

The vice president has just finished walking through this working class neighborhood, talking to some of the people who survived, offering them comfort, promising them that those mobile homes they desperately need will be here by Monday.

Earlier today, the vice president urged the Senate to reject a nomination that was sent to Capitol Hill just last week by President Clinton for the Federal Election Commission. Four days ago, Bill Bradley sharply criticized Al Gore and the administration for nominating Professor Bradley Smith to be a member of the FEC.

Professor Smith is strongly opposed to campaign finance reform. The vice president didn't make any mention of his opponent, Mr. Bradley, today, but he did urge the two Republican presidential candidates, John McCain and George Bush, who are arguing about who is the better reformer in their race, to urge their Republican colleagues to withdraw that nomination.

Professor Smith is a professor from Ohio and is strongly opposed to campaign finance reform, but he is sponsored by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, one of the strongest opponents of campaign finance reform in the Senate. He, of course, was not the White House choice. In fact, the White House delayed sending his name to Capitol Hill for six long months. And the president only relented last week when he struck a deal with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who promised to let some judicial nominations go to the Senate floor if the president would send Professor Smith's name to Capitol Hill.

Vice President Gore, however, is not criticizing his boss, quite the contrary. He says that the White House made what he calls a considered judgment, based on the unfair position of Senator Lott. The vice president's campaign spokesman was a little blunter. He called it extortion -- Bernie.

SHAW: Chris Black, in Georgia, thanks very much.

And still ahead: Democratic hopeful Bill Bradley crying foul as Al Gore -- Is he getting an extra administration boost on a key issue?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: It should come as no surprise that presidential politics arose today at a full-scale news conference held by President Clinton. Also not a surprise, the president's careful choice of words on the subject. There were other topics as well.

CNN's Kelly Wallace has our report from the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Clinton announced some help for families hit hard by soaring oil prices and the Northeast and the Midwest, releasing $125 million in additional emergency funding.

CLINTON: This money will be targeted toward the hardest hit states, those with the highest usage of home heating oil.

WALLACE: Mr. Clinton also asked Congress to approve $600 million of additional aid and called on states to raise the income ceiling so more families can qualify.

Reporters asked the president a range of questions on presidential politics, beginning with this comment by Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush, directed at his rival John McCain.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Whatever you do, don't equate my integrity and trustworthiness with Bill Clinton. That's about as low a blow as you can give in a Republican primary.

CLINTON: I have a lot of sympathy with Governor Bush and Senator McCain. I mean, it's hard for them to figure out what to run on.

WALLACE: For the most part, Mr. Clinton refused to engage in the GOP race, the Democratic contest and his wife's New York Senate campaign, other than to offer this:

CLINTON: I have never seen a hard-fought political race where candidates did not disagree with their opponent's characterization of their record and their positions. I mean, that's a part of the debate and it's always going to happen.

WALLACE: The president did want to set the record straight about his role in Mrs. Clinton's campaign.

CLINTON: All I'm doing for her is what she did for me, so when she says something, it's what she believes.

WALLACE: There was one topic Mr. Clinton did not seem interested in talking about, an issue that grew out of the impeachment scandal: whether he lied and his Arkansas law license should be revoked.

CLINTON: To say I'm not going to discuss it any more than I absolutely have to, because I don't think I should be dealing with it. I should be dealing with my job.

(END VIDEOTAPE) WALLACE: While Mr. Clinton refused to step into the Democratic and Republican presidential races, he did defend his vice president against accusations by Senator Bill Bradley that Al Gore is not to be trusted.

The president said Mr. Gore has always been, in his words, "candid to the extreme." But Mr. Clinton said these kinds of attacks are perfectly normal, and that the voters will decide, calling the presidential election, the world's greatest job interview.

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

SHAW: Thank you, Kelly. As she reported, President Clinton announced the release of $125 million to help families cope with the high cost of home heating oil. While Democrat Bill Bradley, campaigning today in New York, says the initiative is a way to help someone else.

Pat Neal has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAT NEAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With temperatures freezing throughout the northeast and oil prices on a steep rise, Bill Bradley is turning up the heat on Al Gore. Campaigning through New York, Bradley questioned the timing of the President Clinton's decision to release millions of dollars in funding to help poor people pay for home heating oil.

BILL BRADLEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The timing is interesting. I mean, you know, I realize you're running against entrenched power. Part of entrenched power is not only a candidate, but an administration.

NEAL: Most homes heated with oil are in politically-powerful New England and New York. The Bradley campaign points out that in late January, just before the New Hampshire primary, the Clinton administration released more than $5 million to low-income New Hampshire residents, about $114 per household. At the same time, low- income New Yorkers only received a benefit of $1.85 each. Now, with the critical New York primary less than three weeks away, it's New Yorkers who are benefiting.

(on camera): A Gore spokesman had a quick response -- quote -- "Hello, it's cold in New Hampshire in February and people need assistance with heating. It coincides with winter."

(voice-over): Bradley also called on the administration to tap into the federal government's stockpile of oil to help ease skyrocketing prices.

BRADLEY: I believe that the reason that we have the strategic petroleum reserve is to release oil in times of shortage. And since we expended our resources and our military power to defend Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, that part of that ought to be they respond in times of economic stress. NEAL: Typically, the reserve is tapped only for national security or supply interruption, not price pressure. Bradley is hitting on the oil issue to fuel his campaign in New York. To do that, he's stepping up the number of campaign events and stops.

BRADLEY: I think that on March 7 through 14, I have to win a number of states, no question about that.

NEAL: Bradley plans to start airing television commercials in New York next week.

Pat Neal, CNN, Rochester, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: And when INSIDE POLITICS returns, are Americans paying attention to the presidential campaign and have most of them chosen a candidate? We'll have the results of a new survey.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: A new poll shows that instead of deciding on a presidential choice, many Americans have backed away from their favored candidate in the past week.

The survey, by the Vanishing Voter Project, found two-thirds of Americans are now undecided, compared with 54 percent the previous week. George Bush led among those who have decided with 11 percent; followed by AL Gore: 9 percent; John McCain: 5 percent; and Bill Bradley: 2 percent.

Fewer than one-fourth said they have paid a good deal of attention to this campaign. Fifty-seven percent said they have paid some or a little attention. Twenty percent said they have paid no attention.

SHAW: On March 7, New York will be among the 13 states holding contest in the Republican presidential race. The party establishment in the "Empire State" already has lined up behind George W. Bush. But after winning a struggle for valid access, John McCain seems to be gaining steam.

Bill Delaney reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL DELANEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the money precinct of Manhattan's Upper East Side, the sort of neighborhood you once would have referred to as swank, an outpost of John McCain's campaign for president.

The, well, swank apartment, of Republican activist and fundraiser, Georgette Mosbacher: a McCain supporter since last spring, when they were a rare Republican species. She's personally raised in the vicinity of a million dollars for McCain and it keeps getting easier. GEORGETTE MOSBACHER, MCCAIN SUPPORTER: After New Hampshire, it was just like a rocket took off. That I literally got more phone calls giving me -- offering to give me money for John McCain than the other way around.

DELANEY: Where even just a few weeks ago, seldom was heard an encouraging word for John McCain. Governor George Pataki, after all, was supposed to have had the entire Republican establishment in a political headlock for his friend George W. Bush. And the state's bizantine election laws were supposed to have kept McCain off at least a third of all ballots.

Until, oops, McCain's big win in New Hampshire, with his poll numbers surging everywhere, including New York. GOP powerbrokers backed off with a push from a federal judge, opening the way for McCain to now be on every ballot in the state in its March 7 primary.

(on camera): Out here, on Long Island, only about 20 miles and a world away from Manhattan's elegant, upper east side, McCain is also making headway, more and more splitting the Republican family out in these suburbs. He's even threatening marriages.

(voice-over): All right, Third District Congressman Peter King's marriage isn't really in trouble. It's just that his support for Bush does clashes with his wife Rosemary's for McCain.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: I'm very upset with John McCain as I was at an event last week, and he pointed out my wife as being the brains of the family.

DELANEY: Corralled early by Pataki for Bush, King points out he likes John McCain a lot, while saying he and many other Republicans in New York were disappointed by Bush's appearance at South Carolina's arch-conservative Bob Jones University right after New Hampshire.

Bush does still has strong supporters, like financial adviser, Scott Mulford, in his office just below Congressman King.

SCOTT MULFORD, FINANCIAL ADVISER: I do think McCain would be a qualified president. Green ticket is definitely Bush-McCain. That's a winning ticket for the Republicans I feel.

DELANEY: Right now though, George Bush's nightmare in New York is John McCain, who, where money talks at two events last Friday alone, raised more than $600,000.

Bill Delaney, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHAW: And as our John King reported earlier, Congressman Peter King said today, he is reconsidering his support of Bush. King say Bush has been, quote, "almost blind to Catholic sensibilities," unquote, citing the candidate's recent visit to Bob Jones University. King indicated he may join his wife in supporting John McCain's White House bid. WOODRUFF: Bernie reported a few minutes about some Americans not paying close attention to this campaign. Well, joining us now, two people who pay extremely close attention. They are Margaret Carlson of "Time" magazine and Tucker Carlson of "The Weekly Standard."

Let's talk about last night's debate. Tucker, who helped himself, who hurt himself?

TUCKER CARLSON, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I don't know. The Bush people are convinced that Bush did a great job, and that McCain failed, that McCain looked out of it and sort of not pugnacious enough. I am not sure that is right. Overnight polls are obviously not reliable enough to tell right away, I think Bush seemed wound up. I mean in one of the earlier debates he said to Alan Keyes, "You know, next time try decaf." I think it would have been good advice for him to follow himself. Bush hates to be interrupted, just can't stand it, absolutely will not tolerate to be interrupted. He must have said last night 15 times, I tried to count but my pen ran out of ink, but before it did, he must have said, you know: May I please finish, let me finish endlessly. I thought he looked very irritable.

WOODRUFF: Seventeen times I saw somewhere.

MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME" MAGAZINE: That seemed calculated. Maybe each did what they had to do. John McCain still has to let people know that his temperament is right for the job. So he was very calm. And he remained calm as Bush became ever more wound up. And Bush has to convince people that he really wants the job, and that he wasn't just coasting to a coronation. And he did that, in many ways, by being as wound up as he has ever been. He may have overcompensated however.

WOODRUFF: But no real knockout punches here.

M. CARLSON: None.

T. CARLSON: No, I don't think so.

WOODRUFF: And Alan Keyes playing this very interesting role, sitting there in the middle moderating almost -- a moderating influence?

T. CARLSON: Well, I mean Alan Keyes never is. There is no way to keep Alan Keyes out. I mean, remember four years ago in South Carolina when he was denied access, he went on a hunger strike, and then he went on to Atlanta to get arrested in front, holding a protest. So, I mean, you know, I don't think anybody dares -- it is just not worth it to keep Alan Keyes out of a debate.

M. CARLSON: No, and this is where moderator is the wrong word for it. You know, in some ways, Gore and Bradley have suffered from not having another person on the stage to kind of dilute the attention. Just like Lucy and Desi needed the Mertzes, I think it helped a little bit in some ways for Bush and McCain not to be going directly at each other. It would have made the audience, I think, somewhat uncomfortable. WOODRUFF: Fred and Ethel.

M. CARLSON: Fred and Ethel, yes.

WOODRUFF: Gary Bauer endorsing McCain today. Tucker, does that help, make a difference?

T. CARLSON: I think it does help, and I think it is a bold move on Bauer's part. And yesterday Bauer was flown down by the McCain campaign, met alone with McCain and by his wife Cindy, spent the night thinking about it. He says, I think it is fair to take him at face value that he's been appalled by the kind of all out attacks on Bush by Ralph Reed and by Pat Robertson...

WOODRUFF: on McCain.

T. CARLSON: On McCain exactly. McCain has been courting him for a long time. I watched on election night in New Hampshire, Bauer was one of the first people McCain called, a very gracious and friendly call. But Bauer does this, it is a gutsy move. He does this at great personal risk. I mean, he is just going to be the subject of a lot of attacks in the next five or six days I think.

M. CARLSON: Here is one thing it does. Those Christian Coalition members who need to think they are doing the right thing and examine their consciences when they go in the voting booth now have a reason to vote for that need to do something to examine their conscious mess knot voting both have a reason to vote for McCain over Bush because Bush has tried to characterize himself as the one you would vote for.

So to that extent, those people on the fence, it allows them to vote for McCain and still feel that they are a member in good standing of the Christian Coalition.

WOODRUFF: A little bit of a spotlight today on President Clinton. He had a news conference this afternoon. He was asked, among other things, about the vice president, and whether he is helping him or hurting him. He had some comment to the effect that I think the voters are too smart to count me against Al Gore. But what do you think, Tucker and Margaret, is the president hurting the vice president?

T. CARLSON: Well, it is mixed. Obviously, if there had been no Clinton administration, there would be no Vice President Al Gore. So and of course he would not be the front-runner if he hadn't been vice president. So, in strict terms, no, of course, he has helped.

On the other hand, you know, I don't think there is any disentangling Gore from the weird conflicted feelings voters have about Clinton at all, and I think it's way to pat for the president to say, you know, gee, he is running as his own man, and I am not hurting him at all. I think it will only be clear years from now how Clinton has hurt or helped, but I bet the bottom line is he is probably hurting him. M. CARLSON: I think actually Clinton made a good point in the press conference, which is voters are too smart to link him with a personal mistake. The last thing you would link Gore with is with some sexual picadillo of the president, and I think that doesn't combine in the voters' minds.

The Republicans want to morph Gore into Clinton only on -- in that way, and not morph Gore into Clinton on the Dow at 11,000. And that I don't think is working any more. I just don't think people -- I think they are too smart to link him only with the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

WOODRUFF: Just say one thing works, and the other thing doesn't.

M. CARLSON: Take the package.

WOODRUFF: Take your pick. Margaret Carlson, Tucker Carlson, thank you both.

And that is all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. We'll see you again tomorrow, when we will be on the road with Bush and McCain in South Carolina, two days before the state's big primary. And, of course, you can go on-line all the time at CNN's allpolitics.com.

SHAW: And this programming note: Peter Fenn, an adviser to Vice President Gore, and Haley Barbour, who supports Governor Bush, will discuss the presidential race tonight on "CROSSFIRE." That is at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. I am Bernard Shaw.

WOODRUFF: And I'm Judy Woodruff. "WORLDVIEW" is next.

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