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Inside Politics

GOP Candidates Make Final Appeals to South Carolina Voters

Aired February 18, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET



GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Tomorrow, when South Carolina goes to vote for George W. Bush, it will be the beginning of the end of the Clinton era in Washington, D.C.


BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: George W. Bush steps up his pitch and his pace on the eve of the important South Carolina primary.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we win tomorrow -- and we will win -- there's no way that we can be stopped. There is no way that this campaign can be stopped.



JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: John McCain also is talking like a winner and promoting turnout at every stop.

SHAW: Amid the Republican fireworks in South Carolina, have Democrats Al Gore and Bill Bradley found a way to steal back some of the spotlight?

ANNOUNCER: This is INSIDE POLITICS, with Bernard Shaw at CNN Center in Atlanta and Judy Woodruff in Washington.

WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us.

Well, after more than two weeks of intense campaigning, attacks and counterattacks, and changes in strategy, the Republican presidential candidates are making their final appeals to South Carolina voters.

As CNN's Candy Crowley reports, George W. Bush is heading into tomorrow's primary mindful of what he needs to do to win and what he stands to lose.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When you get right down to it, the dynamics of this South Carolina election are simple.

BUSH: If my folks show up to vote, I'm going to win.

CROWLEY: And rallies are all about getting your folks to show up. George Bush held four of them on primary eve.

BUSH: I urge you to go to the polls tomorrow. I urge you to get up and go to the polls. And if you're going on my behalf, make sure you take half the neighborhood with you.

CROWLEY: If Bush loses this one, there may be few chances left, so little is left to chance.

Around and in between the rallies, Bush does radio call-ins, network and local interviews. Campaign phone banks are busy with targeted messages for voters. Conservative Republicans, new Republicans, Reagan Democrats, Clinton Democrats, independents -- South Carolina takes all comers to the Republican primary. George Bush says he likes an open primary and welcomes anyone who wants to vote for the right reasons.

BUSH: But in this state, there are voters who are coming for philosophical reasons, and I welcome them in to our primary. And there are some voters who may be coming in because they want to send a message to George W., and then go back to vote for Al Gore in the general election.

CROWLEY: If only Republicans could vote, polls show Bush would run away with it, but John McCain is openly courting Democrats and independents. Bush scores with independents as well, but not as well as McCain does. So his campaign worries about what nobody knows: Who else will show up at the polls? In what numbers? And whatever happens, are there enough Bush believers to counteract it?

BUSH: I'm here to remind you that tomorrow is voting day, and I'm here to say that I'm counting on your support. And if you're going to the polls on my behalf, make sure you take a friend and neighbor with you. Tomorrow's a big day.

CROWLEY: One poll shows Bush 12 points ahead here, but the Bush campaign refuses to believe it. South Carolina's cacophony of politics makes predictions tricky business, especially for a guy who's been burned once.

BUSH: I thought I was going to win New Hampshire, and I didn't obviously. There is an intensity level here that seems different to me. There is a high degree of enthusiasm.

Plus, I have defended my record well here in South Carolina.


CROWLEY: Mark down this jam-packed election eve schedule as yet another lesson learned from New Hampshire. At about this time in the New Hampshire primary, George Bush was sledding and going bowling. There was none of that in South Carolina -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Candy, I know you're talking to the people around the governor all the time. Yesterday, you talked to the governor himself. What are they feeling right now in their gut? Do they sense how it's going?

CROWLEY: If I said queasy, I really wouldn't be too flip. Look, sure, they like the polls. What's happened here is that there is a pattern showing that most of the polls show George Bush ahead here, some very slightly and some by, you know, as much as 12 points.

So the problem is that, you know, as you heard him say, his gut told him in New Hampshire he was going to win, so you learn not to trust that anymore.

They're edgy. I mean, but I will tell you that, you know, by nature George Bush is a confident guy. And so yes, you see that confidence out there. You even feel it in his campaign. But there's an edge about it. They're clearly worried about the unknown.

WOODRUFF: All right, Candy Crowley in South Carolina, thanks -- Bernie.

SHAW: Now to John McCain and his bid to get his supporters to the polls tomorrow. John King is traveling with the McCain campaign in South Carolina.



JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): John McCain wants South Carolina to send the Republican establishment a message, loud and clear.

MCCAIN: If we win tomorrow -- and we will win -- there is no way that we can be stopped. There is no way that this campaign can be stopped.

KING: At the College of Charleston, McCain was welcomed like a rock star, given a gift and introduced with this prediction.

REP. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: We're going to rock their world tomorrow.

KING: The Arizona senator believes the higher the turnout, the better his chances. So it was a day of urgent appeals: to the young...

MCCAIN: My friends, we've got to get the government out of the big-money special interests in Washington and get it back to you.

KING: The old... MCCAIN: All of these special interests that know that they're going to go out of business when we win. They're scared to death and I love it.

KING: And just about everybody in between...

MCCAIN: I want Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, vegetarians, Trotsky-ites...


... whoever it is, whoever it is, if they support our cause, if they support our cause, we want them out to vote.

KING: McCain's chances could hinge on the number of Democrats and independents who decide to vote in the GOP contest. So he aggressively appealed for their support and took issue with George W. Bush and other Republicans who question whether Democrats should have such a large role in picking the Republican nominee.

MCCAIN: The Republican Party has lost the last two presidential campaigns, the last two congressional campaigns. We have to transform ourselves. We have to be a reform party. We have to be an inclusive party.

KING: On the campaign bus, urgent huddles with top advisers and anxious analysis of the latest polls.

MCCAIN: If they decide on that basis...


... we win. That's my -- not only my hope, but my belief.

KING: But plenty of light moments, too, as McCain's children joined the bus for the final South Carolina push.


KING: Now, the campaign trumpeted new endorsements in Michigan today as a sign not only that John McCain is in the race to stay regardless of the results here, but also that he's running ahead of Bush in the next two states up on the GOP primary calendar: Michigan and Arizona. But McCain knows the most valuable asset in politics today is momentum and that he needs a victory to keep it -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: John King, thank you, from South Carolina.

Well, in a sign that turnout may be high at polling places tomorrow, some South Carolina voter registration officials report heavy absentee balloting. The newspaper "The State" says in some key Republican counties, absentee voting already is greater than it was in the 1996 GOP presidential primary.

Let's talk more about turnout and the South Carolina race with our own Bill Schneider in Atlanta. Bill, first of all, what are the latest polls showing?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Judy, three polls, all taken in the last two days all showing Bush ahead, more or less.

Now let's start with less. The Reuters/Zogby poll has Bush up by three points over John McCain. NBC News shows a Bush lead of six points. Those Bush leads are both within the margin of error.

Our own CNN/"USA Today" Gallup poll shows the widest lead of Bush, for Bush. That's 12 points, and that's beyond the margin of error. Sounds like a movie title.

So it looks like Bush has the lead, but I wouldn't call it a secure lead, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Why not?

SCHNEIDER: Well, because frankly, nobody knows what turnout is going to look like tomorrow. They've never had a GOP primary like this in South Carolina: an intense campaign with a lot of interest from non-Republicans.

Every one of those polls shows the same powerful division among the likely voters: partisan Republicans voting for Bush, independents and Democrats voting for McCain. And that overwhelms all other divisions in this primary. It's really a race between Republicans and non-Republicans to see who can get their voters out.

In 1992, when South Carolina Republicans were choosing between President Bush and Pat Buchanan, independents made up 30 percent of the primary voters. Buchanan got a lot of support from independents that year. Democrats were just 4 percent.

In 1996, South Carolina was a showdown between Bob Dole and Pat Buchanan. In that year, independents and Democrats together were 31 percent of the voters: 26 plus five.

Now, what about people who tell pollsters they're likely to vote in South Carolina's primary tomorrow? Between 26 and 28 percent of them are independents. Now, that's typical. But between 8 and 13 percent of them are Democrats, and that is two to three times as many Democrats as usual. Democrats are McCain's strongest supporters.

So according to our poll of polls, between 35 and 39 percent of tomorrow's voters are likely to be non-Republicans . That's higher than usual. Usually it's under 35 percent. But it may not be high enough for McCain to win.

WOODRUFF: Bill, how high would it have to be for him to win?

SCHNEIDER: We calculate, Judy, that McCain wins if at least 44 percent of the voters are non-Republicans. Now if it were close to half the voters in a Republican primary to be non-Republicans, that would be amazing. We've never seen it before. But you know, we're seeing a lot of things in this election that we have never seen before this year.

WOODRUFF: Indeed. Bill Schneider, thanks -- Bernie.

SHAW: Thanks, Judy.

Now, let's consider the South Carolina stakes and what happens after the votes are tallied tomorrow night.

Our CNN senior analyst Jeff Greenfield, a simple question: Is South Carolina do or die?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Probably not, maybe. It depends on which candidate you're talking to. McCain, who a month ago, we all would have said it was do or die, probably not, because if he loses narrowly, three days later, there's Arizona, his home state, where he's well ahead, and Michigan, where he may well win, and he could go on.

In delegate terms, it's not do or die for George W. Bush, but the problem, Bernie, is that the Bush campaign I think is like a ship on a storm-tossed sea that can see the port. The port is those delegate rich states -- California, Texas, Florida, New York. Most of them only Republicans can vote. But their problem is if they lose South Carolina, to keep this metaphor going, a lot of people are going to be jumping off that ship. We've already seen some defections. Right now, there are straws in the wind. What the McCain campaign is desperately hoping for, what the Bush campaign is desperately afraid of is a Bush loss in South Carolina, starts that psychology going.

SHAW: Jeff Greenfield, you're coming back later on INSIDE POLITICS.


SHAW: OK. Thank you.

Still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, Governor Engler of Michigan and Senator Fred Thompson weigh in on the GOP race.



GEORGE BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have five wonderful kids, and to think that one of them, with your help, might be a president of the United States, it is absolutely overwhelming to me.


SHAW: This proud father turned campaign surrogate. A look at former President Bush on the trail in Michigan.


WOODRUFF: On the heels of South Carolina, Michigan and Arizona will hold Republican primaries on Tuesday. A new Mason Dixon poll in Michigan shows McCain ahead among likely voters in that open primary, 43 percent to Bush's 38 percent. Bush has a big lead among those who identify themselves as Republicans, but McCain leads by an even bigger margin among those who identify themselves as independents or Democrats.

For the next 30 hours or so, George W. Bush will be focused on South Carolina, but he has enlisted his father, the former president, to reach out to the voters of Michigan in his stead.

Our Bruce Morton reports.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The ex-president is relaxed, happy -- tells broccoli jokes.

GEORGE BUSH: You might note that I'm speaking and then leaving before lunch. Please don't take it personally, but the chef out here is known to serve broccoli, and I want to get out of here...


MORTON: Vote for his son, he says, because of character.

GEORGE BUSH: I think he has the stamina, and the fiber and the character to lead our country, and I think that is vitally important.

MORTON: Is it more fun campaigning for your son than for yourself?

GEORGE BUSH: It's different, and it's a lot easier, and it is more fun to campaign for someone you love and someone you have total confidence in, as I do in George.

MORTON: The Ukrainian Cultural Center in Warren, Michigan was like old home week. He's been here before.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I voted for him twice, and I like him; I like his wife.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I voted for George, and I like what he did with Desert Storm, and I also was in the Navy air corps when George was in the Navy air corps.

MORTON: The traditional gift of welcome: bread and salt. And the theme: He doesn't talk about the competition, just his son.

GEORGE BUSH: I think you're going to see the American people saying enough is enough, we need to restore dignity, and honor and respect to the White House, and George W. Bush is the man to do it.

MORTON: These appearances probably don't make any converts. They do fire up the party regulars, whose support his son will need in a primary race that is neck and neck. But at its heart, this is a parent's journey. What he says is what parents say: Hey, look at my fine son.

GEORGE BUSH: We have five wonderful kids, and to think that one of them, with your help, might be a president of the United States is absolutely overwhelming to me, and luckiest father in the entire world.

Thank you all very, very much. Thank you.


MORTON: Campaign of a proud pop.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Flint, Michigan.


SHAW: Joining us now for more on the Republican race, Michigan Governor John Engler, who has endorsed Governor Bush, and from Litchfield Beach, South Carolina, McCain supporter Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee.

Governor, first to you, the polls indicate that McCain is ahead of your man in Michigan. If he were to lose, would you accept responsibility? Would you take the blame.

GOV. JOHN ENGLER (R), MICHIGAN: Absolutely. You can blame it on me, but give George Bush the credit when he wins, because that's what's going to happen. I just was interviewed on another survey that you reported on over the week, and it showed a seven-point gain for George Bush, almost a statistical dead heat.

The important thing in those numbers is that Governor Bush, like in South Carolina, has a wide lead over Senator McCain among Republican voters, and we've been working very hard. I think that we will have a Republican primary here next Tuesday, and that predominantly, Republicans will vote. I believe that's why George Bush is going to win in Michigan. That and the character and the values, the principles that he represents. He's a solid man. He's done a great job in Texas. He'll be a fabulous president.

SHAW: Senator Thompson, given what the governor just said about the governor from Texas, why is his back to the ropes?

SEN. FRED THOMPSON (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Beg your pardon, Bernie.

SHAW: Why is Governor Bush's back to the ropes, given what Governor Engler just said? What's happening? What's going on in your party?

THOMPSON: I think John McCain has tapped into something that was totally unexpected by a lot of people, in Washington especially, that is a message of reform, highlighting the need to remain strong militarily -- we're going to have a lot of crises, probably, on this next president's watch -- his personal integrity, his commitment to the things he believes in, his willingness to stand up to people and fight for what he believes in, even when it's unpopular. Those are all kinds of personal characteristics and positions on issues that I think appeal to a great number of people. These are two good men, and frankly, they're fairly close on most all the major issues.

So I think that what you're seeing is that John is tapping into something different than the tradition issues that you see in these primaries.

SHAW: Governor, is that the same thing happening in your state? Is that why you have such a close race there?

ENGLER: No, I think what is unexpected what the senator has tapped into, are Democrat votes and independent votes -- that he's actually availed some of our Democratic people in the state, saying you know, you're eligible, come on over and vote, it's an open primary.

But I think our focus has been to make sure Republican Party members and our independents do this nomination. And I think in looking at who best to go against Al Gore, let's take a governor from outside Washington, not somebody with 18 years in the Congress who, frankly, on the record, I think, has got some questions, at least. But take Governor Bush...


ENGLER: ... who's had the character to go into the Texas legislature, put a bipartisan coalition together and get an agenda passed. That's the skill that's needed in Washington and...

SHAW: Senator Thompson, the governor has just slammed your guy.

THOMPSON: There's only one -- well, the governor is my buddy, but there's only one problem with what he said.

ENGLER: Fred's mine, too, and that's hardly a slam.

THOMPSON: Well, there's only one problem with what he says. And that is all the polls that I've seen show that John McCain would be much more likely to defeat Al Gore than Governor Bush would.

ENGLER: Also, you know these rules, you talk about independents and Democrats, I don't think Republicans ought to apologize for being attractive to independents. We're not going to win in November unless we have those independents.

SHAW: On that note...

THOMPSON: The party leadership...

ENGLER: Well, the Democrats are like Geoffrey Fieger, the guy that I defeated two years ago who ran for governor. They're not about to become Republicans. They just want to pick the easy foal for November. And I want to send somebody in...

THOMPSON: Well, the polls...

ENGLER: ... who's fresh and vigorous.

SHAW: Well let me...

THOMPSON: Only problem is the polls consistently show John McCain running stronger. In these various states, the party leadership in these various states opened up -- and I think wisely opened up -- these primaries to various people. Now some of the leadership are getting a little nervous about it, because folks aren't voting the way they fell like ought to vote.

SHAW: Quickly, Senator Thompson...

THOMPSON: But I think it was wise to open it up.

SHAW: Quickly, Senator Thompson...

ENGLER: Well, we're not nervous in Michigan. We expect a Bush win.

SHAW: OK, quickly, Senator Thompson, regardless of what happens tomorrow in South Carolina, what does your man, Senator McCain do?

THOMPSON: Well, I think the fact that they're in a real tight race down here already is a victory for John McCain. He was 40 points behind...

SHAW: OK, and...

THOMPSON: ... just a few weeks ago.

SHAW: And, Governor Engler, going...

THOMPSON: I think...

SHAW: Go ahead.

THOMPSON: If we have a large turnout, I think we'll win.

SHAW: And, Governor, coming into your state, regardless of what happens in the Palmetto State, what will your man do?

ENGLER: Governor Bush will arrive sometime either very late Saturday, early Sunday morning in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He'll be on the west side of the state, he'll be on the east side of the state. He'll be crisscrossing for about 48 hours until the polls get open.


ENGLER: We're ready to go, and we're ready to win on Tuesday in Michigan, following up that South Carolina victory.

SHAW: And we're ready to watch and cover it all and report it here on CNN.

ENGLER: Thank you, Bernie.

THOMPSON: John will be in Michigan Saturday night.

SHAW: OK, thanks very much, Senator, Governor.

Up next, the other presidential hopefuls. A look at Al Gore and Bill Bradley out on that trail.


WOODRUFF: We've been talking about the Republicans and tomorrow, but for Al Gore and Bill Bradley, the next key primary day is March the 7th. But both candidates have been on the trail rallying support and preparing for a face to face early next week.

Chris Black reports.


CHRIS BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Democratic presidential race tries to get back into the national spotlight Monday night with a debate at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, a landmark in black culture. Leading up to that debate, Bill Bradley campaigned at a Harlem high school...

BILL BRADLEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Harlem has been a part of my life in New York since I came here in my rookie year as a basketball player.

BLACK: ... with an assist from former Secretary of the Army Clifford Alexander.

CLIFFORD ALEXANDER, FORMER SECRETARY OF THE ARMY: Now if anybody in here doesn't think we still have color problems in America, they're darn fools. And we need a president in this country who recognizes this, doesn't use you as photo opportunities.

BLACK: In Washington, Vice President Al Gore spoke by telephone to the national summit on Africa...


BLACK: ... after refusing to cross an informational picket line by hotel workers outside.

GORE: I believe America has to do more in Africa, more to advance democracy, promote peace, boost the economy and fight disease.

BLACK: The Republican fireworks in South Carolina have kept the Democrats off the front pages for three weeks. For Bradley, the candidate lagging behind, the debate represents an opportunity to break into public consciousness.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a pivotal moment for the Bradley campaign, and it gives us an opportunity in New York City, in New York state, in black history month to take our case directly to the African-American community and communities of color. BLACK: Polls show Gore running ahead of Bradley with black voters. On Sunday morning, the vice president makes his first joint press conference with Hillary Rodham Clinton at a black church service in Albany.

To raise his profile, Bradley is now spending large amounts oin television advertising to show he has the better record on abortion rights and gun control. But his advisers concede he needs news coverage to change the campaign dynamic.

(on camera): Bradley campaign officials are promising some surprises at Monday's debate. As for Al Gore, his advisers say the vice president does not intend to give any ground and will aggressively defend himself.

Chris Black, CNN, Washington.

SHAW: And there's much more ahead on this edition of INSIDE POLITICS.

Still to come:


JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The GOP front- runners are making a multimedia push like South Carolina has never seen before in a primary.


SHAW: Jonathan Karl on the efforts to get the message out to South Carolina voters.



SCHNEIDER (voice-over): What an extraordinary event the South Carolina primary has become: two candidates fighting for their political lives. This is ultimate politics -- tough, nasty and no holds barred. Whose idea was this? Let's find that man and give him the political "Play of the Week."


SHAW: Bill Schneider with an award for the man who started it all.

And later, a look back at the last few weeks and the candidates' drive through the Palmetto State.


SHAW: We will have more of the day's political news coming up, but now a look at some other top stories. There are reports of minor injuries and damage in Arkansas, after a number of tornadoes touched down in the central and eastern parts of the state. A sheriff's department dispatcher says much of the destruction is in Benton, Arkansas, where there are several damaged buildings and homes, toppled trees and cut power lines.

Heavy snowfall in Chicago has grounded more than 275 flights at O'Hare and Midway Airports. Many area school districts also canceled classes.

Accused Cuban spy Mariano Faget Jr. will remain in custody until a February 24th pretrial hearing. Faget is a high-ranking U.S. immigration official in Miami. He is accused of passing secret information to the Cuban government in Havana. A Cuban spokesman says Faget is not a spy and claims the arrest is part of a campaign to keep 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez in America.

When INSIDE POLITICS returns, the unpredictability of that South Carolina primary. We'll talk to Bill Kristol and E.J. Dionne.


SHAW: Live coverage all day from the morning to the night.

Heading into tomorrow's Republican primary in South Carolina, voters are being bombarded, bombarded with campaign ads and other messages aimed at winning their support and producing them to go to the polls.

CNN's Jonathan Karl reports on the last-minute blitz on the airwaves, the phone lines and the roadways.


KARL (voice-over): Signs, signs, everywhere signs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got a new shipment of yard signs in, trying to, you know, show once and for all this is Bush country by just blanketing the state in blue and white signs.

KARL: The GOP front-runners are making a multimedia push like South Carolina has never seen before in primary. Of course, it starts with TV ads.

John McCain ads:


MCCAIN: I'm going to give the government back to you.


KARL: McCain has sworn off negative ads, but George W. Bush has not.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, BUSH CAMPAIGN AD) NARRATOR: Senator McCain? Five times he voted to use your taxes to pay for political campaigns.


KARL: There are ads by independent groups that don't like McCain.


NARRATOR: John McCain sponsored the largest consumer tax increase in history.


KARL: The radio ads can be harsher.


NARRATOR: John McCain says he's for tax cuts, yet he's proposed $150 billion in new taxes.


KARL: McCain is also getting attacked by Alan Keyes.


ALAN KEYES (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Why does he follow the Clinton policy when it comes to gays in the military?


KARL: The Keyes ad does not hit Bush, even though his position on the issue is identical to McCain.

In South Carolina, the blitz is not limited to ads. The phone lines are busy, too.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, I'm calling from the Bush-for-president campaign.

KARL: This is a volunteer phone bank for Bush. But both candidates are also running paid phone operations that make calls from out-of-state.

And there's enough direct mail out there to keep the mailman on the run.


KARL: Independent groups are in on the mail, too. Why does this little guy want you to vote for Bush? Because the National Right to Life says Bush is more anti-abortion than McCain.

MCCAIN: And I get results. KARL: But from TV ads to flyers, most of the material is churned out by the campaigns themselves. South Carolinians are saturated with politics.

HEATH THOMPSON, BUSH SOUTH CAROLINA CAMPAIGN DIRECTOR: They're being inundated by both campaigns now -- by TV, by radio, by mail, by phone -- any medium.

KARL: Get your name on one of these lists of undecided voters, and you can count on several calls a day, making a volunteer's job difficult.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't even tell her who I was. She said, yes it is. And I'm not voting for George Bush. I mean, just right out of the chute.

KARL: And the frenzy of activity will go until the last minute.

THOMPSON: They'll go to the precincts on Saturday. They'll check and make sure who's voted. They'll go back home and call the people who haven't voted in their precinct and tell them to get out to the polls.

KARL (on camera): Spending on radio and TV ads here have smashed all previous records for a South Carolina presidential primary. Bush and McCain have spent almost six times as much as the two GOP front- runners spent here four years ago.

Jonathan Karl, CNN, Columbia, South Carolina.


WOODRUFF: Amid the din of campaign messages, Governor Bush apparently is having some success in his bid to be seen as a reformer with results.

Our new poll of likely GOP primary voters in South Carolina shows 46 percent of them now view Bush as a reformer. Thirty-seven percent consider McCain to be a reformer. It was just days ago that Bush trailed McCain in the "Is he a reformer?" category. Bush has been emphasizing reform after the issue helped McCain win the New Hampshire primary.

Let's talk more about the GOP race now and tomorrow's primary in South Carolina. We are joined by Bill Kristol of "The Weekly Standard" and E.J. Dionne of "The Washington Post."

E.J., Bush having success with this reformer label, how did he do this? I mean, how did he turn this around and bring it to his benefit?

E.J. DIONNE, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, I think you're seeing a complete inversion of New Hampshire, where McCain was running as the reformer and Bush was running as the conservative. Down in South Carolina, they're each playing against type because they know they need some other votes. I think the one success Bush has had in South Carolina is getting an awful lot of conservatives to think maybe McCain isn't conservative enough. Now he's had to spend a lot of money on ads to do it. He's had help from Pat Robertson, from Rush Limbaugh, from Henry Hyde, from all kinds of people. By planting that doubt, he has forced McCain to need an awful lot of Democratic and independent votes in order to win the primary. In New Hampshire, he would have won without them.

WOODRUFF: Bill Kristol, why hasn't McCain been more successful in countering that, the notion that Bush is really the reformer instead of McCain?

BILL KRISTOL, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Well, I'm not sure -- you know, the polls are funny in South Carolina. I talked to two or three pollsters today who are actually puzzled by their own results and by the internal breakdowns in their results. So it's very hard to poll a primary state. It's very hard to poll a primary with this kind of huge increase in turnout...

WOODRUFF: So maybe we shouldn't even be drawing the conclusion, you're saying.

KRISTOL: Yes, I wouldn't draw too much of a conclusion. But also remember, McCain did pull his negative ads -- which were never that negative in the first place -- and so Bush has been able to define himself to some degree. McCain's running a positive campaign, and Bush has unleashed this huge assault on McCain.

WOODRUFF: But, E.J. this strategy of Bush's of just relentlessly going after McCain and saying McCain is the one who's running a negative campaign, it seems to be working for Bush.

DIONNE: Well, I don't think we'll know until tomorrow. I think -- I agree with Bill very much that you cannot call this primary. Whit Ayers, a very smart Republican pollster, said any smart person goes out of the predicting business until South Carolina is over.

But I do think that when you look at the dynamic down there, you have a dynamic that's much more like a general election than like a primary. And that's what a lot of people down there have noticed. The voters are splitting up almost in partisan terms. You have, you know, very conservative Republicans in the base seeming to move toward Bush and everybody else going to the other side. It's almost as if McCain is the moderate Democrat in the race. That's certainly how Bush is trying to paint him. But he is picking up an awful lot of moderate votes.

WOODRUFF: Is it a mistake -- was it a mistake, Bill, for McCain to drop the negative ads?

KRISTOL: Well, again...

WOODRUFF: We won't know until Saturday, but...

KRISTOL: ... we'll know in 24 hours. We'll know in 24 hours, but I don't think so. I don't think so. Here's why: Because even if McCain loses by two, three or four points -- and I'm not sure he will, incidentally -- you know the Bush internal poll last night, I happened to have found out, was dead even 41-41. So it is a nip-and-tuck race. If, as Bill Schneider explained earlier, if turnout is very high, around 400,000, which I think it could be, I think McCain could win. But if McCain loses by two, three or four points, he can say, look, I withstood an amazing negative assault. I stayed positive. I stayed on message. I was outspent better than two to one. Let's go on to Michigan, where McCain seems to be ahead by five, six points, and he lives to fight another day.

I think if McCain had let Bush really drag him in the mud and it had become a pure mud fight and then Bush had won, McCain would have damaged himself, whereas here I think McCain lives to fight another day if he has to, if he loses by a few points.

WOODRUFF: Because he's backed off, you're saying?

KRISTOL: Yes, because he's preserved that certain sense of this is a positive insurgency. And I think Bush is hurt. And he's also -- Bush has done damage to McCain, but Bush has done damage to Bush. The truth is, up in Michigan, if they look down at Bush South Carolina campaign, if you're a swing Catholic voter in Michigan, I don't think you much like what you see. You don't like a Pat Robertson-run campaign, a visit to Bob Jones University, a relentless assault on a conservative patriot like John McCain as being some kind of squishy liberal.

DIONNE: I think also that, putting even that aside, McCain had a self-interest in not having this campaign go negative, because if he was going to win, he had to bring in a lot of new voters, people who had been turned off to the process. They are turned off by a negative campaign. When he put that ad up comparing George Bush to Bill Clinton, which I think in Republican circles, if he compared him to Satan, it wouldn't have been seen as such a negative ad, it really started turning off his own voters was beginning to create a climate that would not permit what happened in New Hampshire, and he needs what happened in New Hampshire, which is lots of new people coming in. lots of young people coming in, in order to have any chance of winning this primary.

WOODRUFF: At this stage, how are people in South Carolina making up their minds. They have been just bombarded with television. We just saw that in Jon Karl's report. If they've had time to go to a rally, they've had the opportunity to do that, if it's been near them. What is making up minds?

KRISTOL: They've been bombarded also by phone calls, by radio.

And one of the most telling moments of the campaign was when Governor Bush said to one of his supporters who urged him, who urged Governor Bush to go after McCain's soft spots, and Bush said, "I'll do it, but not on TV." I mean, what's going on beneath the radar screen is damaging to McCain. The Bush hope that the average South Carolina swing voter, the Republican or independent is thinking to himself, they both seem like good pretty good guys, but I'm a little nervous about McCain, maybe he's not really a conservative. Maybe he's not really pro-life. I'll stick with Bush. He's the safe, establishment candidate, Carroll Campbell is for him. Strom Thurmond is for him, his dad was a great president, et cetera.

What the McCain campaign is hoping that at the last moment, that swing voter looks up and says, sure the establishment is for Bush, but John McCain somehow can beat Gore and is more prepared to be president, and somehow, as an inspiring message, you know what, I'll defy the establishment and go out and vote for McCain. Each campaign sort of is hoping that voter breaks their way at the last moment.

DIONNE: It's an extraordinarily engaged electorate. I mean, I haven't seen very many elections where people talk about it on the street. They talk about it. When I was coming out there this morning at the airport, people were talking about having cast their absentee ballots. Registrars of voters are reporting three or four times the numbers of absentee ballots already cast compared with four years ago. And I think it's a very informed electorate. In other words, they're hearing all the negative stuff, they're getting the phone calls, but there's been enormous national coverage of this race -- obviously the news magazines, what we're doing right here -- and so I that voters are sorting these things out for themselves with more knowledge than I think people usually have when they're making a choice in an election.

WOODRUFF: So we've only got a couple of seconds left. Turnout -- everybody says turnout. Who turns out and how many is going to make the difference here.

KRISTOL: It is, and it looks like turnout will be very large.

DIONNE: I think that's right. And the question is, does some of that large turnout come from the Christian Side that's mobilized by the attacks, or does most of it come from the independents?

WOODRUFF: E.J. Dionne, Bill Kristol, very exciting race. We're all going to be watching. Thank you very much.

Still ahead: Bill Schneider hands out the political "Play of the Week."


SHAW: Over the last few weeks, the Republican race in South Carolina took a negative turn, as Judy was indicating. But the battle between Bush and McCain is not the first time this primary has turned into a heated, high-stakes contest.

Our Bill Schneider joins us once again -- explain.

SCHNEIDER: Bernie, what an extraordinary event this South Carolina primary has become, two candidates fighting for their political lives. This is ultimate politics: tough, nasty and no-holds barred. Whose idea was this? Let's find that man and give him the political "Play of the Week."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SCHNEIDER (voice-over): This was all Lee Atwater's idea. Atwater invented the South Carolina showdown. He's no longer with us. He died in 1991 at the peak of his career, having engineered George Bush's dramatic, come-from-behind 1988 victory. But you can bet he would have loved this year's South Carolina campaign. He practiced "ultimate politics." The cardinal rule about ultimate politics: win, whatever it takes.


LEE ATWATER, CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: Campaigning is a living, breathing entity, and you play along as it goes along.


SCHNEIDER: In 1988, it took the Willie Horton issue.


UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: His revolving door prison policy gave weekend furloughs to first-degree murderers not eligible for parole.


SCHNEIDER: When there was foul play, Lee Atwater became the prime suspect.


GEORGE BUSH He looked me in the eye, and said he did not know about it.


SCHNEIDER: This year's South Carolina campaign, with its aggressive personal attacks, has Lee Atwater's fingerprints all over it.

MCCAIN: You should be ashamed to be sponsoring an event with that man there, who had attacked your own father.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Whatever you do, don't equate my integrity and trustworthiness to Bill Clinton.

SCHNEIDER: Atwater created the South Carolina firewall in 1988 in order to protect George Bush. When all the other Southern states were moving to vote on Super Tuesday, Atwater made sure South Carolina Republicans voted first.


BOB DOLE, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I remember in 1988, when I was running for president, Lee Atwater used to talk about the firewall, the firewall in South Carolina; that if Bob Dole should win Iowa and New Hampshire he would need a firewall in South Carolina, and he was right. I never got to meet it, because I lost in New Hampshire, but I knew it was here.

SCHNEIDER: Atwater had helped Ronald Reagan bring a new conservative establishment to power in the GOP. He knew South Carolina Republicans could be relied on to keep that establishment in power. Now another Bush is running, and the conservative establishment once again feels itself under siege. Once again, Lee Atwater's South Carolina is the first line of defense: whatever it takes.


CLINTON: I thought we'd learned and respected what Lee Atwater said on his deathbed, when he asked so many people to forgive him for the kind of search-and-destroy politics that have taken the very heart out of the political system of this country.


SCHNEIDER: Nope. Just look at this year's South Carolina campaign. Atwater's legacy is intact. The "Play of the Week," posthumously, is his.


SCHNEIDER: Now the idea of welcoming Democrats to vote in the Republican primary was really part of Atwater's southern strategy. He wanted to leave the door open for Reagan Democrats to come in and reinforce the party's conservative message. But you know, the party may have left the door open too long. George W. Bush is complaining that all sorts of undesirable people are now coming in -- Bernie.

SHAW: Bill Schneider. Nothing is fully certain in politics.

SCHNEIDER: Absolutely.

SHAW: Thank you.

Coming up here on INSIDE POLITICS, echoes and images from the presidential trail in South Carolina.


WOODRUFF: Well, there were some memorable moments in Tuesday night's debate, as there have been throughout the GOP presidential race in South Carolina.

We set the stage for tomorrow's primary, now, by looking back at campaign pictures from the Palmetto State.


MCCAIN: I'm running for president of the United States because I want to reform the institutions of government.

BUSH: I'm running, and I'm battling for the vote in South Carolina. KEYES: I have, in fact taken the steps formally to pursue the Republican nomination for president of the United States.


CINDY MCCAIN, JOHN MCCAIN'S WIFE: Hi, I'm Cindy. Nice to see you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "You're nice. Your friend, George."

CHILDREN (singing): Let me hear you whisper that you love me, too.

BUSH: Mini me.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Someone told me that Senator McCain is a cheat, and a liar and a fraud.

MCCAIN: I'm calling on my good friend George Bush to stop this now.

BUSH: Anybody in my campaign has done that, they're going to be fired.

MCCAIN: When people come in costume, I always let them make a comment. So if we could let the land shark make a comment here.

Please, go ahead.

BUSH: Let me finish please.

MCCAIN: He's listed...

BUSH: Let me finish. Let me finish.

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": All right, let him finish.

Do you agree that the court has the final word?

KEYES: Let me finish. The Constitution doesn't say that.

KING: You don't think that?

KEYES: Let me finish, Larry.

BUSH: I think the people of South Carolina can make that decision.


SHAW: Well, for some final thoughts, we turn back to our senior analyst Jeff Greenfield.

GREENFIELD: Let me finish. Now let's see, wasn't it less than three weeks ago that we were pointing to the sharp contrast between the high-mined, civil contest in the Republican Party and the pier six brawl between Al Gore and Bill Bradley? Yes, we were. Didn't we note that this was a good sign for the genial Republicans and a danger for the divided Democrats? Yes, we did.

Well, welcome to chapter 650 of the ongoing work called "You Just Never Know." The South Carolina primary ends with Christian Coalition president Pat Robertson warning of massive defections should the senator win the nomination. With McCain and Bush snapping at each across a table in front of a few million people, and with the Bush campaign having raised more money than any campaign in history, dialing for dollars for the battles yet to come.

And the Democrats? They've just about fallen off the radar screen. Vice President Gore's lead in the polls is such that, as of now, it's very hard to see how the Democratic fight doesn't end March 7. That would leave Gore with time and money to launch a general election campaign while the Republicans tear each other apart, exactly the opposite of what the future looked like barely a month ago.

What's the real lesson here? Well, right now, nobody thinks Gore can be stopped. Right now, nobody thinks the Republican race will be over soon.

So remember, when it comes to political predictions, nobody's usually right.

SHAW: Jeff, but we can't be right about the fact that you, at 10:00 p.m. tonight Eastern time, he'll be hosting a one-hour special on guess what?

GREENFIELD: That's right.

SHAW: Thank you.

That's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. But of course you can go online all the time at CNN's

WOODRUFF: And this reminder: Bernie and I, along with Jeff Greenfield and all the CNN political team, will be here tomorrow evening for complete coverage of the South Carolina Republican primary. That starts at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

SHAW: And then at noon Eastern Sunday, all three Republican candidates -- Bush, McCain, Keyes -- will give their views on the outcome of the primary on CNN'S "LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER."

I'm Bernard Shaw at CNN Center in Atlanta.

See you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: See you, Bernie.

And in Washington, I'm Judy Woodruff, heading to Atlanta tomorrow.

"WORLDVIEW" is next.


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