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Capital Gang

Bush Rebounds With Double-Digit Victory in South Carolina

Aired February 19, 2000 - 10:30 p.m. ET

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

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington and South Carolina, the CAPITAL GANG.

AL HUNT, HOST: Welcome to CAPITAL GANG.

I'm Al Hunt, with Kate O'Beirne here in Washington, and in South Carolina, for today's Republican primary, Mark Shields and Robert Novak in Columbia and Margaret Carlson in Charleston.

Texas Governor George W. Bush rebounded from his February 1 drubbing in New Hampshire by scoring a double-digit victory over Senator John McCain in South Carolina. Senator McCain responded with implied criticisms of the winner. Governor Bush was buoyant.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As this campaign moves forward, a clear choice will be offered, a choice between my optimistic and welcoming conservatism and the negative message of fear.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have ignited young voters in the state of South Carolina!

(CHEERING)

BUSH: Young voters who turned out in large numbers because my vision for America is positive, and hopeful and optimistic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUNT: Mark, why the big Bush win?

MARK SHIELDS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, Al, let's get one thing straight: John McCain won a majority of the moderates, and the liberals and the nonreligious right, and he got wiped out with the conservatives and the religious right here, I mean, by two and a half to one. It's nice for Governor Bush to quote the young voters. He did do well with young voters. They didn't make any kind of a difference. He carried the conservative base, which he went after. After he lost in New Hampshire, he went after them tooth and toenail, and he got them. And hey, there's no question about it, it was an impressive victory.

HUNT: Mark -- Bob, Bob Novak.

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": This was a dose of reality for people who should know better, those mostly liberal journalists, but also some conservatives, like Bill Kristol, who thought this, who depicted this McCain campaign as some kind of grassroots revolution that was going to change the Republican Party. It's not. The idea that you're going to change the party by bringing in Democrats and independents who don't agree with Republican principles is nonsense; it's counterintuitive. What happened was that the Republicans came out and voted against John McCain. They voted for George Bush. It shows up in the polls all over the country. He had about 2-1 Republican vote in this primary. He hits about 2-1 everyplace.

You can not take over a party with opponents of the party. George Wallace couldn't take over the Democrats. My friend "Scoop" Jackson (ph) couldn't take over the Democrats. And John McCain can't take over the Republicans.

HUNT: Kate, and Bush did it with a huge turnout, too, didn't he?

KATE O'BEIRNE, "NATIONAL REVIEW": A huge turnout, and I think that's just good across the board for Republicans, because it showed a lot of enthusiasm on the Republican side, and both John McCain and George Bush had high favorables. There didn't seem to be a big backlash. Both candidates were well liked. It's just that -- I'll state the obvious -- voters who stay in South Carolina like George Bush, at all age levels, at all income levels. He carried the women's vote. They thought that he was the real reformer. They thought he was just as likely to talk straight as was John McCain. And more importantly -- and this is an asset that Governor Bush has -- they thought he's more likely to win in November, they thought he was a stronger leader, and they thought he had the right experience for the job, and that comes with being a governor, and I think voters today responded favorably to that.

HUNT: Bob Novak, you told us after New Hampshire that that primary was not about issues, it was about persona. What was today's result about?

NOVAK: I think it was about issues. I think that the campaign -- it was a tough campaign, it was a fair campaign -- waged by Governor Bush convinced the voters, the Republican voters of South Carolina, or at least suggested to them, that Senator McCain was not a legitimate Republican on the issues. I think it hurts him very much that he did come out and against tax cuts. I don't care what the polls say, this is the primary issue of the Republican Party, and Senator -- and Governor Bush kept talking about tax cuts tonight.

HUNT: Mark Shields, I want you to pick up on that, and also talk about the fact conservative groups did throw everything imaginable at John McCain, and I guess it stuck. SHIELDS: First, a point of history. Bob Novak, of course, absolutely wrong. He supported Dwight Eisenhower, who in fact, did bring in independents and Democrats to get elected to the presidency twice, but Bog forgets that.

Yes, you're absolutely right, Al. Let's get it straight: John McCain, church-distributed pamphlet was called the "fag candidate." Why? Because John McCain had met with the Log Cabin Republicans, and following the instructions of Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed, George Bush refused to meet with them. Add to that the fact that the National Right to Life Committee, now discredited as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican National Committee, distributed and played heavily radio spots, saying, if you want a pro-life candidate, don't vote for John McCain, in spite of the fact that John McCain in seven years had 100 percent pro-life voting record. That, and all the way through, I mean, we had had this kind of stuff, you had the pro- flag, the Confederate flag people distributing direct mail pieces.

It was not a pretty campaign and not one that George W. Bush, run in his name -- I'm not saying with his fingers -- but run in his name is going to tell his grandchildren about.

HUNT: I want to quickly say we are not ignoring our colleague -- wait a minute, Bob. Bob, just second. Bob, Just a second.

We are not ignoring our colleague Margaret Carlson. We have a little bit of connection problems, We hope to get back to her in a moment.

Kate, one of the things the Bush strategists would say all last year was that his support is pervasive, it's so impressive that's he's going to be indebted to no one if he is the nominee. Isn't -- after South Carolina, won't he certainly be indebted to the religious right?

O'BEIRNE: Well, over 60 percent of the people voting today called themselves conservatives, and he got an overwhelming conservative vote. He's running as a conservative.

HUNT: And one-third said they were part of the religious right, and he got overwhelming support there.

O'BEIRNE: Among those who cared about issues, about 40 percent, they did go for George Bush, so there was I think an issue mix working here. Only 6 percent of voters cared about John McCain's central issue, campaign finance reform, and more than twice as many taxes. Although it wasn't any individual issue. George Bush won part of the person vote this time, on the leadership and the executive experience.

And in fairness to my friends at National Right to Life, it's only fair to explain they have real policy difference with John McCain on the issue of campaign finance reform; they argue that's it's going to hurt their ability to make their case on their issue. That's a legitimate fight. It is over their commitment to their issue and how they feel John McCain hurts it. They (UNINTELLIGIBLE) independent expenditures; it was not coordinated, and it was all hard money, despite what John McCain accused them. There are probably bad feelings with respect to the pro-life community, but McCain's got to face that...

HUNT: Kate, I would respectfully disagree on that. It wouldn't affect Right to Life any more than it would affect Planned Parenthood.

O'BEIRNE: It would affect them. too, all of them.

HUNT: What it would affect is their cushy arrangement they have and some of the perks of power. That's what they objected to.

Go ahead, Mark Shields.

SHIELDS: Al, they did not say anything about campaign finance. They said if you don't want a pro-life candidate. You can not look at John McCain's record and say he has not been a consistent supporter of pro-life legislation in the Senate and in the House.

And Al, you're absolutely right. It's Emily's List, it's NARAL, it's Planned Parenthood, and it's National Right to Life Committee, all preserving the status quo.

NOVAK: Let me just say something about...

O'BEIRNE: It's grassroots citizens groups.

HUNT: Bob Novak, go ahead.

NOVAK: Let me say something about Senator McCain on abortion. Senator McCain has had these little things, little things he drops to "The San Francisco Chronicle," where he said, he didn't think Roe v. Wade, in the long term, should be overturned, and then he said, I didn't mean it. Little things that indicate to a lot of people he's not sincere on that issue.

But let me say that something very important happened tonight. A lot of people wondered why Senator McCain's colleagues don't like this person, who is so popular with the press, and rides in the bus, who was very congenial. As he says, he would never win the congeniality award in the Senate. We found out tonight with that very, very mean- spirited concession speech, where he said that -- I don't think I've ever seen anything like it, when he lost the primary and attacked the winner for not being qualified to be president for running a dirty campaign. It wasn't a dirty campaign by George Bush. There were some independent people who ran a dirty campaign, but it wasn't the Bush campaign. That was a mean-spirited attack.

HUNT: Bob Novak, you're usually so good on history. You forget Bob Dole 12 years ago, stop lying about my record. I also say about John McCain, I think a 17-year voting record, where he was clearly pro-life -- I happen to disagree with him on that. There's a lot more important than some nuances of some interview in the San Francisco paper.

But on that the gang of five will be back, looking ahead to Michigan. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HUNT: Welcome back.

Just three days from now, Governor Bush and Senator McCain contest the Michigan primary. Tomorrow's Detroit News Poll shows John McCain with a narrow lead. Bush enjoys a commanding advantage among Michigan Republicans, but McCain is capturing independents and Democrats in the open primary. Same day, Tuesday, in McCain's home state of Arizona, the Grand Canyon Poll shows the senator with a nearly 3-to-1 lead. Within the next three weeks, 55 percent of Republican delegates will be chosen in 16 primary elections.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm in every state. I -- we're prepaying a lot of byes and big expensive states, and we're on plan.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Governor Bush's place in the Guinness Book of Records is secure. I believe we can still win the battle of ideas, even if we're losing the battle of bucks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUNT: Robert, can John McCain bounce back from South Carolina?

NOVAK: Very difficult. I thought that -- his own people used to tell me he had to win New Hampshire and South Carolina, and now they say, well, he didn't have to win South Carolina, he has to now win in Michigan. But it's very difficult. He has to win in Michigan and then go on. I thought the momentum that would make George Bush unravel would have to be South Carolina.

I don't mean to be repetitious, but the whole problem with the McCain campaign is relying on Democrats, and never more so than in Michigan, where you do have black preachers on the record as saying, let's get out and vote for McCain to punish John Engler, the Republican governor who's supporting Bush. That is not the basis for becoming the nominee of the Republican Party.

HUNT: Mark, I think -- I don't think any followers are going to follow that kind of advice. They vote for or against someone depending no whether they like them or not. But I agree with Bob that Michigan is must win for McCain. Can he win it now?

SHIELDS: Yes, he can win, Al. But let me just say, that is a fringe loony time that Bob just mentioned. It was -- the same thing was used here by Carol Campbell in a radio commercial saying that there was a grand conspiracy of Democrats to cross and vote for John McCain. This was not to nominate the weakest candidate. This was sort of the conspiracy. There is none. There is a couple of loony people who like to put out press releases on this stuff, but it amounts to not -- a fart in a wind storm, quite frankly.

NOVAK: Ooh!

SHIELDS: I'm sorry, Bob, if I offend your sensibilities. But John McCain -- is it uphill now? You better believe it it's uphill in Michigan, and he has to win Michigan, and there's no, you know, in the parlance of sports cliches, there is no tomorrow, he had to win here I think to keep his momentum going, because the deep resources of the opposition.

HUNT: Kate O'Beirne, unfortunately we still don't have Margaret, I don't know if you want to speak for Margaret or not here, but pick up on what they've said. Also, in Michigan, only about 10 percent of those voters, if that, will be religious right, and about 30 percent will be Catholics.

Now, the Catholic vote may be -- may pose more problems for Governor Bush, even though John Engler has always done very well among Catholics.

O'BEIRNE: Yes, absolutely. John Engler is a conservative Catholic pro-lifer, and clearly, is terribly popular in Michigan and wins significantly. There will be a conservative voting electorate on Tuesday in Michigan for George Bush.

I could point out, in fairness to Margaret, that she would probably explain that in South Carolina, George Bush fell off the right cliff by appealing to right-wing fundamentalist lunatics, and when he gets to Michigan he's going to find tolerant, intelligent voters, and that's going to be a problem.

HUNT: I think that's very well said.

O'BEIRNE: Thank you.

SHIELDS: Kate, that's a...

O'BEIRNE: What's odd about it, Al, what's odd about it is, John McCain apparently agrees. That's what strange about it to me. Tonight, following his bitter concession speech, he explains that every segment of population in South Carolina voted for him except the Christian right as though those voters are somehow illegitimate, although they make up a big piece of the base, when in fact it's not true either. Women didn't vote for him and younger voters didn't vote for him. He's tied among veterans.

HUNT: And veterans.

O'BEIRNE: Internet users didn't vote for him. I mean, lots of segments of the population, because George Bush's win was pretty broad, didn't vote for him. But he seems to be falling into the media trap of somehow making George Bush's win illegitimate because Christian conservatives contributed to it, and that's a big mistake for the man who wants the Republican nomination.

HUNT: Bob Novak, if McCain does bounce back in Michigan, does that really obviate South Carolina, does that mean it's just all up to California then? NOVAK: No, I think it's -- OK, it took his momentum to get going for -- I mean, he is running -- McCain is running against the vast majority of registered Republicans in the country, against the establishment, so he had to keep building this momentum and one misstep is very difficult.

But let me just say something -- two things -- one is that the religious conservatives are a vital part of the Republican Party. And secondly, active Catholics, that is those Catholics who go to mass, who vote very much differently from inactive Catholics, vote very similar to members of the Christian Coalition, almost no difference in who they vote for and what they believe in.

HUNT: Mark, as a Catholic who goes to mass...

SHIELDS: Here is one who is different, Al.

HUNT: ... would you give us a quick final last word?

SHIELDS: Al, here is one who is different from Bob Jones University and Pat Robertson, believe me. But, Al, I think that in looking at this race right now, there is no question that John McCain feels under the gun. That was part of that speech tonight, and it was real.

As far as the Michigan electorate is concerned, it is a different electorate from South Carolina. They are people with different interests and different enthusiasms and different voting records. There is no Carl Levin representing the state of South Carolina, as much as I love Fritz Hollings. I mean, there is no David Bonior in South Carolina.

HUNT: Mark...

SHIELDS: I mean, so that is a different ballgame on Tuesday.

HUNT: ... you had the final word.

And next on CAPITAL GANG, Al Gore forges on.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HUNT: Welcome back.

Let me first say, due to technical difficulties, unfortunately, Margaret Carlson will not be joining us tonight.

During the pause for Democrats between the New Hampshire primary and 16 primaries on March 7, Vice President Al Gore has been pilling up endorsements, including support from NARAL, the National Abortion Rights League.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We cannot play political games with an issue as fundamental as a woman's right to choose.

BILL BRADLEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm very surprised that NARAL would endorse someone who had an 84 percent right to life record, when I've had a 99 percent NARAL record.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUNT: This week's CNN/"USA Today" Gallup Poll gives the vice president nearly a 3-to-1 lead over Senator Bradley.

Kate, if McCain falters, could Bill Bradley pick up some political oxygen?

O'BEIRNE: I'm afraid not, Al. McCain's huge win in New Hampshire did, unfortunately, for Bill Bradley -- because he came close to Al Gore, I mean, he was a real threat in New Hampshire -- it cut off coverage of Bill Bradley, who needs people to be paying attention to what he'd been saying, and all of the attention being focused on the Republican side has really hurt him.

But it seems to me -- for some time now it seemed to me that Al Gore is just going to grind down Bill Bradley with all of the assets Al Gore has, including active union members in every state they're competing in. I just don't think Bill Bradley is able to compete against that structure that's at Al Gore's disposal.

HUNT: Mark, it does seem like four yards and a cloud of dust for Al Gore, doesn't it?

SHIELDS: It really does, Al. And it was interesting. NARAL, according to my reporting, was pushed into that endorsement, that early endorsement, something they've never done before, because they were sensitive to the fact that Al Gore was being exposed by Bill Bradley for contradicting himself and for misportraying his own record on the issue of abortion and legalized abortion. So they were trying to do Gore a big favor.

But again, this has been an issue that Bill Bradley has emphasized. I've never thought it had real traction within Democratic primary voters -- I may be wrong. But it has not worked for him.

HUNT: Robert Novak?

NOVAK: I think that Bill Bradley's campaign has been a great disappointment. I have great admiration for Senator Bradley. I thought that he was an intelligent liberal, and he's just come over as just whatever the most liberal position is he takes. I think he's been a very disappointing candidate, and I think that's a bigger question than the fact that Al Gore is so great now that he's wearing -- what do you call those, earth tones? I don't own any of that kind of clothes myself, so I wouldn't...

HUNT: I don't know, Bob, but I tell you what. I think we're all willing to chip in and get you some, because I think you'd look very, very good in them. NOVAK: But at any rate -- at any rate, Bill Bradley is now trailing Al Gore in 16 out of 16 primaries on March 7th, and I don't think that Bill -- the failure of Senator McCain in South Carolina today is going to change that.

HUNT: Well, I think you're probably right. I think if Bill Bradley doesn't win in New York on March 7th, where he used to be a great basketball star, I think he'd gone. He will drop out within days. I think we'll probably look back and we'll see that Bill Bradley lost New Hampshire by 6,500 votes, and his failure to respond tough early and his feeling that he could compete in Iowa in early January probably cost him any shot at the nomination.

I don't know how he recovers from that, Kate.

O'BEIRNE: Well, and the point he's making about Vice President Gore's abortion record is not the right point. There's no reason for Democrats or liberals to worry that Al Gore is shaky on the abortion issue. The point Bill Bradley ought to be making about the abortion record is Al Gore did flip-flop, and that now Al Gore lies about the fact that he flip-flopped.

Bill Bradley was getting traction when his theme was Al Gore lies and is untrustworthy, but he's no longer even doing that.

HUNT: He's going to try to resurrect that in the next couple days with campaign finance stuff. i think it's going to probably be really tough.

We really missed Margaret Carlson tonight, but THE GANG will be back with the "Outrage of the Week."

NARRATOR: Our viewer "Outrage of the Week" is from James Collins from Jupiter, Florida.

"The mainstream media has been all over George W. Bush's case for his recent appearance at Bob Jones University on South Carolina. Much of the criticism is well-deserved, as the Jones family has long held some outrageous and disgraceful opinions. However, where is the media criticism when leading Democratic candidates, such as Al Gore, Bill Bradley and Hillary Clinton, all make pilgrimages to visit with the notorious race-bating demagogue, Al Sharpton?"

If you have an "Outrage" for next week, out e-mail address is capgang@cnn.com. Or call the toll free number at 1-888-847-8660. We will choose one "Outrage" to air at this same time next week on THE CAPITAL GANG.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HUNT: Welcome back.

And now for the "Outrage of the Week."

The Sunnyside Methodist Church in Portland, Oregon, was ordered by a city bureaucrat to limit attendance at its Sunday service and terminate a meals program for the homeless and poor. It seems some of the neighbors in this upscale community felt the church was attracting riff-raff. And Elizabeth Norman, a city official, issued this outrageous order. If the city council doesn't overturn this travesty, one of my favorite American cities will hereafter be known as the anti-First Amendment capital of America.

Next is Mark Shields.

SHIELDS: Good for you, Al.

To close the reform gap with John McCain, Governor George Bush has introduced his own bogus campaign finance initiative, which does not -- let it be noticed -- does not limit soft money, six-figure contributions from millionaire trial lawyers or big-business moguls. But even worse, Bush and the real opponents of all campaign finance reform continue to ignore the reality of this inconvenient truth. And that is that in 1998, all business interest gave $668 million to campaigns, candidates and to national parties, which was 11 times more that the $61 million given by all of organized labor. that is an outrage.

HUNT: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: This Monday, Americans will be enjoying the holiday that commemorates our first president's birthday, moved to the third Monday of February to provide a welcome three-day weekend. The legal name is George Washington's Birthday, but it has become the fuzzy, generic President's Day. The government should obey the law and refer to the holiday that honors indispensable man as George Washington's Birthday. It's an outrage that schools children could mistakenly think we're honoring all president, patriots and perjurers alike.

HUNT: Robert Novak.

NOVAK: Al Gore has publicly reassured the labor bosses. He told AFL-CIO President John Sweeney that he opposes Bill Clinton's trade deal with China and will fix it once he gets in the White House. The vice president stabbing his benefactor in the back? No problem, says the White House. Al Gore is entitled to his opinion. What message does that send to the Republicans in Congress whom President Clinton is relying to pass the trade treaty with China over a majority Democratic opposition.

HUNT: This is Al Hunt saying good night for THE CAPITAL GANG.

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