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Inside Politics

Straight Talk Express Heads to West Coast After Primary Victories in Arizona and Michigan

Aired February 23, 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)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You're supposed to know that I think I'm going to be the Republican nominee, and the reason why is because I'm going to win next week and I'm going to win the week after that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And that means that everyone can come aboard this train, because we're leaving the station, my friends.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: It's full steam ahead into the next round of GOP primaries, after John McCain's "two-fer" victory. Will George W. Bush get back on track?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He's up, he's down; he's winning, he's losing. This is the most exciting presidential campaign since -- well, it makes you think.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: Bruce Morton on the ever-changing, ever-thrilling Republican race.

WOODRUFF: Plus the Bush/McCain battle for the "Gipper's" mantle. Will the real Ronald Reagan please stand up?

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

SHAW: Thanks for joining us. We begin with John McCain, trying to establish a beachhead on the West Coast after winning his battles with George W. Bush in Michigan and Arizona. McCain is in Washington State, where he believes his maverick message will play well with voters in next Tuesday's open Republican primary. CNN's Jonathan Karl is traveling with McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCCAIN: Obviously Cindy and I are feeling pretty good this morning.

(APPLAUSE)

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Pumped by a Michigan victory fueled by independents and Democrats, John McCain got right to work right on the group he needs most: Republicans.

MCCAIN: I am a proud, proud conservative, pro-life Republican.

KARL: McCain was greeted in Spokane, Washington by enthusiastic crowds at Gonzaga University. Those who couldn't fit inside crowded into a tent outside to watch on television monitors.

McCain said Republicans should be drawn to him because he's a true conservative and he can win.

MCCAIN: And what I'm trying to do here is start what we're calling "the McCain majority."

KARL: McCain talked tough about the tax code.

MCCAIN: We're going to take that 44,000-page tax code, we're going to get rid of the corporate welfare, close those loopholes and throw it in the trash can so you can have a tax code you can understand.

(APPLAUSE)

KARL: In Spokane, McCain avoided mention of his rival, George W. Bush. But before leaving Arizona in the morning, he ridiculed Bush's ill-fated efforts to score on McCain's home turf.

MCCAIN: I do want to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) leave Arizona thank the Bush campaign again for their $3 million economic infusion into our state. We're very grateful.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KARL: McCain's aides think Washington State, with an electorate known for its independents, is their best chance for their next victory. But most of McCain's resources and time will be spent south of here, in California, which votes on Super Tuesday, now less than two weeks away -- Bernie.

SHAW: Jonathan, is the campaign indicating how much it thinks it will have to spend in huge California with all of those television media markets?

KARL: Well, they say they've gotten nearly $10 million in the bank, and they think they'll have plenty of money. They think their biggest problem actually may be running up against the cap.

They have accepted matching funds, and therefore they are bound by the Federal Election Commission's cap on fund raising and spending, something which George W. Bush is not. So they think that they've got enough money to go in California. They're just worried if indeed they may have to raise more than they're allowed to.

SHAW: Jonathan Karl, thank you, from Seattle -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Well, George W. Bush is also on the West Coast today, but he is focusing on a bigger prize: California and its March 7th primary. Even as he tries to secure future victories, Bush hasn't entirely put his latest defeats behind him, as CNN's Patty Davis reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fresh off his losses in Michigan and Arizona, George W. Bush put the damage toll to his campaign this way.

BUSH: Glancing blow.

DAVIS: But he was clearly angry with his opponent, Senator John McCain, when it came to a series of phone calls the McCain campaign first denied and now admits it made suggesting Bush had aligned himself with anti-Catholic supporters at Bob Jones University.

BUSH: This is a man who yesterday denied all day long that his campaign was running these anti-Catholicism -- they're calling me an anti-Catholic bigot. He was denying all day long. We got on the airplane last night coming from Missouri to California, and lo and behold, there is a truthful revelation that has taken place after the polls have closed, after you all had to put up your notebooks, after the cameras were off. They admitted that they were making those calls.

I don't accept that kind of campaigning.

DAVIS: Bush also scoffed at McCain's appeal to Democrats and independents, and apparent weakness among Republicans.

BUSH: I find it amazing that somebody running for president feels like, on the Republican side, now all of a sudden has got to start reaching out to Republicans. I mean, when you count up the Republican vote, I like my chances.

DAVIS: Now Bush is turning his sights to California's March 7th primary. His strategy here: blunt McCain's appeal.

BUSH: I'm going to make sure I consolidate my Republican base.

DAVIS: That's important because although anyone of any party can vote for any candidate in the California open primary, only registered Republicans count toward awarding the state's GOP delegates, all 162 of them. During a campaign stop in Los Angeles's inner city, Bush returned to a message he thinks will appeal to those Republicans as well as independents: compassionate conservatism.

BUSH: I believe that when we change hearts, we change America.

DAVIS: And he reached out to California Hispanics in a town hall meeting. Bush predicted he's the one who will carry the day in California and beyond.

BUSH: We've got a strategy in place. We've got a plan in place . I'm going to win the Republican nomination. I knew it was never going to be easy. I've got a lot of work to do. I've got the right message.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DAVIS: Now, Bush announced that he will take part in that "Los Angeles Times"-CNN debate next Tuesday right here in Los Angeles. It will be a chance for Bush to make a very direct appeal to voters in this important delegate-rich state, and hopefully, he thinks to shore up his support here -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Patty Davis with the Bush campaign in California, thanks -- Bernie.

SHAW: Now, let's consider the advantages and disadvantages for Bush and McCain as they head into the next primaries. CNN's John King joins us from Phoenix, where he covered McCain's celebration of his Arizona and Michigan victories -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bernie, Senator McCain certainly has the momentum now. But there's a very difficult road ahead. He still remains the underdog.

The Republican race is now a 13-day sprint through 15 sates, and many believe that if he plays his cards right, Governor Bush can turn Senator McCain's support among independents and Democrats to his advantage: that's if the governor plays his cards right in the days ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED GOEAS, GOP POLLSTER: Where John McCain has to be careful is that if the perception is he is only winning because of Democrats, the perception is he is only winning because of independents, Republicans are not looking for there being a hostile takeover of the party. And I think you'll see them rally behind that cry and vote in even stronger margins for George W. Bush.

KING (voice-over): Bush has spent roughly $60 million; McCain, 28 million. Yet the Texas governor enters this critical stretch with just a small advantage in delegates: 105 for Bush, 95 for McCain, and a still significant but dwindling financial advantage.

Several sources estimated Bush's cash on hand at roughly $15 million. McCain has 8 million and says contributions are pouring in.

Next Tuesday's showdowns are in Washington State, North Dakota and Virginia: All are open contests, meaning Democrats and independents can vote. Then comes March 7th, 13 states led by California, New York, Ohio, and Georgia. The next two Tuesdays offer a combined 692 delegates. It takes 1,034 to secure the nomination.

SCOTT REED, 1996 DOLE CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I think whoever wins on the Republican side the big states of New York, Ohio and California will be the Republican nominee.

KING: Bush says he'll be fine, because from now on McCain can't count on as much Democratic support.

BUSH: You see, pretty soon we're going to start having these primaries where those who would want to come into our primary to hijack are going to have that difficult decision to make. They want to stay and support Al Gore or Bill Bradley or not.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Now McCain is well-aware the calendar is about to get less friendly to him, because he will be competing with Democrats for Democratic support. That's why we see him openly stressing his conservative credentials, his support for outlawing abortion, and the trump card the McCain camp hopes will work in the next two weeks, his electability.

He will focus more and more on the fact that the polls show him now the stronger Republican candidate in the November election. The McCain campaign knows this momentum will be short-lived if he does not have a very big night on March 7th -- Bernie.

SHAW: John, how does McCain appeal to the very basic and important Republican Party base?

KING: Well, he certainly believes he has a very solid record to do so. The problem is there's been so much attention focused on all of his support -- the winning margin, anyway -- coming from independents and Democrats, and Governor Bush has all the establishment groups in the Republican Party behind him.

Senator McCain complains his record has been distorted, Governor Bush certainly has that support locked up. Senator McCain has to whittle away at it. One way, he says, is to talk about his conservative record. The other way, again, Governor Bush vaulted out to the front-runner's role by saying he was so electable. Senator McCain now has a better position against Vice President Bush -- Vice President Gore, excuse me, in the national polls: Senator McCain hoping that helps him. But they understand the clock is ticking.

SHAW: Indeed. Thank you, John King in Phoenix.

One quick correction to the reported date for next week's CNN- "L.A. Times" debate with the Republicans. That will be next Thursday, not next Tuesday. The Republicans on Thursday and the Democrats the previous night on Wednesday -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Bernie, let's talk more now about what's ahead in the Republican race and about last night's results with McCain communications director Dan Schnur -- he's here in Washington -- and Bush campaign senior adviser Ari Fleischer. He joins us in Austin.

Ari Fleischer?

ARI FLEISCHER, BUSH CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: I'm here, Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Hello there. Thank you both.

Let me begin with you, Dan Schnur. We heard Governor Bush say today that in effect, John McCain had won Michigan because he said people hijacked the Republican primary and they were doing it because they want Al Gore to win in November.

DAN SCHNUR, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Judy, I've got to tell you, I just don't understand that. When George Bush attracted Democratic votes to be elected and reelected governor of Texas, he thought it was just fine. When George Bush Sr. fought in the Michigan primary in 1980 against Ronald Reagan, he also campaigned on the strength of his support among Democrats.

When Ronald Reagan won the New Hampshire -- fought in the New Hampshire primary against Gerald Ford in 1976, he based his -- he reached out to Democrats. So I don't understand why Governor Bush thinks, all of a sudden, it's such a bad idea to recreate the Reagan coalition of independents, of swing Democrats, and of course, of Republicans.

WOODRUFF: Ari Fleischer, what is wrong with recreating the Reagan coalition?

FLEISCHER: Well, there's nothing wrong with it. We wish Senator McCain would get -- would try to do it. The difference is the Reagan coalition included Republicans.

Senator McCain is running a campaign in which he seeks to unify the party, but the problem is it's the Democrat party, and then he reaches across to the center. If the Michigan electorate had just been held, if that election was just Republicans and independents, Governor Bush would have won it by four points.

The reason Senator McCain won it is because he had so much Democrat support and he did not have any Republican support. As every election goes along, he got 37 percent of the Republican vote in New Hampshire and less than 30 in South Carolina and in Michigan.

WOODRUFF: Dan...

FLEISCHER: I think John McCain is a real Republican problem.

WOODRUFF: Dan Schnur, does it diminish John McCain's victory in Michigan that he would have barely -- would have lost to George Bush if it had just been for Republican votes?

SCHNUR: Oh, I don't think so. As John King mentioned in his piece, the strength, if not the essence, of George Bush's message for over a year now has been electability.

And in fact, at the lead-in at the beginning of your show, you heard the Bush message in all its glory. He said, I'm going to be the nominee because I'm going to win next week and the week after. The problem with inevitability, Judy, is you're only inevitable until you aren't. And once you're not, what are you?

All of these people -- all of these Republicans -- in Michigan, in California, and elsewhere, jumped on the Bush bandwagon early on last year when it looked like Governor Bush was the only candidate who could take on Al Gore in November of 2000. Now all of a sudden, they're seeing for the first time that John McCain, not George Bush, is the strongest candidate. So we'll bring him back.

WOODRUFF: And, Ari Fleischer, what about that?

There are after all now national polls showing that John McCain would run significantly stronger against the Democratic nominee than would Governor Bush.

FLEISCHER: Well, the problem with that, Judy, is you can't get to the fall election without first securing the nomination. And again, I think the problem with Senator McCain's strategy is that he's counting on Democrats to put him over the top. He doesn't have enough support among Republicans.

Now what we think is going to happen is, after Governor Bush wins, and secures the nomination, those independents, when they're faced with the choice between Al Gore and George W. Bush, are going to come on home. They're going to come right back to George W. Bush.

WOODRUFF: Dan Schnur, what is it that John McCain can say now -- we're already starting to hear some of this -- in order to appeal to those conservative Republicans that Ari Fleischer is talking about?

SCHNUR: Well, he could do two things -- and in fact, he is. Number one, he can talk about his record: a 17-year consistent, conservative voting record in Congress and the Senate. And the second thing he can do is talk about winning in November. Again, the essence of the Bush message for over a year now has been: I'm the guy who can win. He can't anymore.

Last point, and I think this is something that's going to play very big in those closed primaries in California and New York is, you're talking about a different kind of Republican in California and New York than in South Carolina, where it was more of a social conservative as opposed to economic conservative.

George bush said an awful lot of things and did an awful lot of things in South Carolina in order to win that primary. I don't think he can take off his South Carolina coat when he gets to the California border, all of a sudden pretend he didn't go to Bob Jones University; all of a sudden pretend he's not against the three exemptions in the party's antiabortion plank; and several other things he said to a very religiously conservative-oriented electorate down there. That's going to cause him real trouble in the big primary states in the next couple of weeks.

WOODRUFF: Is that sort of thing, Ari Fleischer, going to hurt Governor Bush in California and elsewhere?

FLEISCHER: Well, Judy, no, and here's why. They, the McCain campaign, said the same things as we left South Carolina and headed to Michigan. The governor got 67 percent of the Republican vote in South Carolina. And with a very different group of Republicans in Michigan -- industrial, midwestern, multiethnic -- he got 66 percent of the Republican vote in Michigan. He's going to run strong with Republicans in all regions of the country including California. The only way John McCain is going to win...

WOODRUFF: Bun Dan Schnur is saying there are different kinds of Republicans.

FLEISCHER: Sure, because there are kinds of Republicans for South Carolina and Michigan.

(CROSSTALK)

SCHNUR: What I'm saying is that George Bush stood up in front of Hispanics today, one week after standing up in front of a school that didn't allow interracial dating. I doubt he brought that up to the Latinos in Los Angeles. I think if he had, he would have gotten a much different reception.

FLEISCHER: When he met with the Latinos in California, he got a huge reception because they know who he is. They know how he is inclusive, how he's able to reach out across to the center. And he has a wonderful record on education, particularly important to the Hispanic community.

WOODRUFF: All right.

FLEISCHER: But if you're suggesting that his message won't carry out of South Carolina, it certainly did among Republicans in Michigan, and you thought it wouldn't carry there.

WOODRUFF: All right, gentlemen, we are going to have to leave it there. We appreciate both of your being with us. Dan Schnur, Ari Fleischer, thank you both. And I know we'll be talking to you again soon.

SCHNUR: Thank you, Judy.

FLEISCHER: Thank you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS: how voters across the country are responding to the McCain campaign. Does his primary success qualify as a phenomenon?

We'll ask our own Bill Schneider.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: New poll numbers show John McCain on the move in two northeastern states holding primaries on March 7. In New York, a Marist College poll shows McCain has cut George Bush's lead among likely GOP primary voters to three points. Bush led McCain by nine points two weeks ago.

A University of Massachusetts poll shows McCain leads Bush by 24 points, again, among likely GOP primary voters in that state. Both polls were conducted after Bush's win in South Carolina, but before McCain's twin victories yesterday.

Well, now, a further look at McCain's support.

Joining us, our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

All right, Bill, John McCain has now won three primaries. We hear his fund raising is up, we know his poll numbers are rising. Is there some sort of McCain phenomenon going on out there?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, absolutely. Look, John McCain is stimulating a huge surge of voter turnout this year, both for him and against him. The number of voters in the South Carolina and the Michigan primaries more than doubled. He's generating real excitement in many voters, and fear in other voters.

WOODRUFF: And what's the evidence of that?

SCHNEIDER: Well, Judy, take a look at the deep divisions in McCain's Michigan vote yesterday. McCain got an astonishing 82 percent of the vote among Democrats who voted in the Republican primary. He took two thirds of the independent vote, but less than 30 percent of the vote among his own fellow Republicans. That is a huge party split. McCain also created a big ideological split. He took almost 80 percent of the vote among self-described liberals.

Liberals in a Republican primary? Don't laugh. They were 17 percent of the voters. McCain got nearly two thirds of the moderate vote, but his support dropped sharply among conservatives. Among Michigan voters who described themselves as somewhat conservative, McCain got less than 40 percent of the vote, and his support collapsed to 18 percent among very conservative voters.

Now, finally, look at the split between supporters and opponents of abortion rights. McCain took two thirds of the vote among supporters of abortion rights, and this man is an ardent opponent of abortion, with a near perfect anti-abortion voting record. But among abortion rights opponents, McCain got only 38 percent. It's amazing, McCain and Bush are virtually indistinguishable on the issues, yet the voters are responding as if this were a race between Ted Kennedy and Jesse Helms.

WOODRUFF: So why is there such division? SCHNEIDER: Well, McCain voters are genuinely excited about their candidate. There is no evidence it has anything to do with ideology or philosophy. McCain voters told us they were casting a personal vote, not a vote on the issues. Even campaign finance reform, McCain's signature issue, is really a symbol of what McCain supporters like best about him, his independence, his willingness to defy the system.

WOODRUFF: Now, what about the Bush vote?

SCHNEIDER: Well, the Bush vote, unlike the McCain vote, is issue driven. Partisan Republicans and conservatives are closing ranks around Bush because they see McCain as a threat. Conservatives fought for decades to turn the Republican Party into a conservative movement.

McCain wants the GOP to be a reform party, not an ideological movement. He's welcoming Democrats and independents in, and he says he wants to govern from the great center. You know, to conservatives, the great center is the great Satan. McCain is threatening conservatives' hard-won hegemony over the Republican Party, and they are not going to give up without a fight.

WOODRUFF: Bill Schneider, thank you.

SCHNEIDER: Sure.

WOODRUFF: Bernie.

SHAW: And when we return, fighting to claim the Reagan mantle, but can either candidate follow in the footsteps of the "great communicator"? In a moment, we're going to take a look.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: His 11th Commandment may be in tatters, but Ronald Wilson Reagan's name is still being invoked by the two leading Republican candidates and for good reason, unless they can match Reagan's winning coalitions, neither is likely to make it to the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCCAIN: In the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, this is where you belong, the Republicans who practice the politics of addition over the politics of division. We are creating a new majority, my friends, a McCain majority.

SHAW (voice-over): Backing up John McCain's boast that he alone can recreate the Reagan coalition, an impressive record of winning over independents and Democrats. Now he's appealing to core Republicans -- again, invoking Reagan.

MCCAIN: There are those who rule the establishment, who want more than anything to defend Washington's big-money, big-spending status quo. They want to fool you about me. Well, here's some more straight talk: I am a proud Reagan conservative.

SHAW: McCain's claim to the Reagan mantle is fiercely contested by George W. Bush.

BUSH: That's something that I noticed last night, the rhetoric started talking about Ronald Reagan. It is not Reaganesque to discourage charitable giving. It's not Reaganesque to support a tax plan that is Clinton in nature.

SHAW: And to critics who said he should have steered clear of South Carolina's conservative Bob Jones University, Bush says this:

BUSH: I want to remind you, President Ronald Reagan went to that university and he came back here to Michigan and won this state, not only in the -- in the general election, he won this state, and that's exactly what's going to happen this fall.

SHAW: Of course, Bush lost Michigan and has yet to prove he can reach beyond his base. The true test of who is the real Reagan Republican comes, where else, but California, the Gipper's home turf. Reagan's great skill was his ability to simultaneously appeal to hard- core Republicans with his anti-tax and anti-spending message, and to independents and Democrats with his charm and optimism. Bush may have the right, McCain the middle, but so far, neither has matched Reagan's ability to win both.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHAW: There's been speculation whether Nancy Reagan might endorse either McCain or Bush before the primaries end, but we can put that to rest. CNN spoke to Mrs. Reagan's office today, and a spokeswoman said the Reagans have no intention of backing a candidate before the Republican primary voters have their say. To do so, said the spokeswoman, would be a violation of Reagan's famed 11th Commandment, which in case you've forgotten is: "Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican."

Well, there is much more ahead on this edition of INSIDE POLITICS.

WOODRUFF: Still to come: the Democratic hopefuls.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They echo one another in their efforts to attract the extreme right wing and to dismantle some of the protections that we have in our country for seniors today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Al Gore turns his attention to the Republicans and a key group of voters.

Plus...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In his struggles to reclaim the public's attention, Bill Bradley's daily message is that he, not Al Gore, is the candidate with bold new ideas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHAW: Bob Franken looks at the Bradley strategy. Are the attacks on Al Gore working?

And later...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MORTON (voice-over): Clinton and Bush? Yawn. Clinton and Dole -- kind of like watching a funeral. This time it's exciting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Bruce Morton on the most must-see White House race in recent memory.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

The question of whether four white New York City Police officers were justified in shooting an unarmed West African immigrant is now in the hands of the jury. Deliberations began this afternoon in the case of Amadou Diallo. Officers testified they thought Diallo was reaching for a gun when they fired 41 shots at him, hitting him 19 times. They are charged with second-degree murder, but jurors can consider lesser charges as well.

SHAW: The Los Angeles Police chief and district attorney's office are teaming up with the FBI to investigate alleged corruption inside the LAPD. Key players in the probe held a news conference this afternoon after Chief Bernard Parks asked the FBI for assistance. The agency will provide six agents for the ongoing investigation into police corruption. About 75 current and former LAPD officers are facing charges.

NATO suspects the Serbian government could be behind the escalating violence in the Kosovo city of Mitrovica. Ethnic Albanians and Serbs have been clashing there for nearly three weeks. NATO intelligence says reports suggest that the Yugoslav army has resumed training along the Kosovo border. NATO's council will meet Friday to discuss the problem.

WOODRUFF: California is getting battered by days of bad weather, and it looks like it won't be over anytime soon.

CNN's Jim Hill takes a look at the damage.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): California turned from the "Golden State" to the gray state, as a strong Pacific storm brought rain from one end of the state to the other. In Rancho, San Diego, a 40-ton boulder crashed down a rain- softened hillside and into the master bedroom of a home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, Herb. This woke me up this morning. I heard it.

HILL: Fortunately, the family was away at the time, but the home suffered extensive damage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Poor, poor people. Oh, I feel so bad for them.

HILL: Central and Southern California were under a heavy surf advisory and flash-flood watches were in effect, especially for hillside areas left bare by recent wildfires.

In Northern California, rain caused the collapse of a K-Mart store roof in San Jose. And in Daly City, people were told to leave some hilltop homes that are in danger of tumbling down the slope.

In the Sierra Nevada mountains, the cold, wet storm dropped up to three feet of snow at elevations above 7,000 feet. Tire chains were required over mountain passes, and Lake Tahoe had travel restrictions.

Although there has been snarled traffic and incidents of flooding and small mud slides, no one was reported hurt.

(on camera): Forecasters say California can expect more wet weather, with a weaker storm on Thursday and another a stronger one moving in on Sunday.

Jim Hill, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHAW: And when INSIDE POLITICS returns, congressional Democrats, all smiles because of the Republican presidential race.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: John McCain and George W. Bush may have felt their ears ringing today, not because of the analysis of the Arizona and Michigan primaries, but because of a new salvo by Al Gore.

CNN's Chris Black reports, Gore used the Republicans as ammunition in Florida when he rolled out a new senior-friendly Medicare proposal.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After a warm-up of Tony Bennett recordings, Al Gore got a rousing welcome.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Vice President Al Gore -- let's hear it for him! BLACK: And a ringing endorsement from the 81-year-old political boss of the largest retirement complex in Deerfield Beach, the man known as "Trenchi."

TRENCHI: You're here to elect the next president of the United States, Al Gore! You and I know why we got to elect him. We got to elect him because we need our prescriptions paid for.

BLACK: Trenchi was referring to Gore's new proposal to pay for catastrophic drug costs for seniors.

GORE: To help every single senior citizen in the United States of America purchase prescription drugs to meet his or her needs or medical expenses. It is time, and we should start with the first dollar.

BLACK: The proposal is aimed at the three million Medicare recipients with chronic illnesses, like arthritis and heart disease. It would pay for all prescription drugs after the first $4,000, at a estimated cost of $35 billion over 10 years.

The local Congressman joked that his constituents could use the help.

REP. ROBERT WEXLER (D), FLORIDA: I am privileged to represent the congressional district in the United States, which has the highest per capita use of Viagra of anywhere in the world.

(LAUGHTER)

WEXLER: We've got to have coverage, Mr. Vice president.

BLACK: Campaign officials for Bill Bradley criticized the proposal, saying Bradley's plan would provide unlimited drug coverage for seniors. But Gore ignored his Democratic rival in Florida, instead attacking the Republican presidential candidates McCain and Bush as:

GORE: Not a choice but an echo. They echo one another in their efforts to attract the extreme right wing and to dismantle some of the protections we have in our country for seniors today.

BLACK (on camera): Gore's Florida visit had a twofold purpose: to pick up voters in that state's March 14 primary and to target vacationing seniors from the Northeast. Many of these snow birds, as they're called, will be voting back home on March 7.

Chris Black, CNN, Deerfield Beach, Florida.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHAW: The vice president isn't the only Democrat talking about the Republican presidential candidates.

We're joined by CNN White House correspondent Major Garret.

What are the Democrats on the Hill saying about that Republican battle?

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting the transformation in the way Democrats are looking at this race. Just now in Chris Black's piece, we heard the vice president describe both George Bush and John McCain as an echo, not a choice. Of course that is a complete reversal of the signature line that Barry Goldwater used when he ran for president in 1964, calling himself a choice, not an echo.

Clearly, Vice President Gore felt the need today at the Michigan primary to describe both George Bush and John McCain as too extreme, too right wing for the rest of the country.

SHAW: So do they see the Republican contest as helping or hurting the Democrats in the fall general election?

GARRETT: Well for now, and really that's the period of time we can focus on, Democrats are gleeful about the situation. The way they look at it, George Bush is having to spend much more money and move much father to the right than he ever intended. The way they look at it, they hope that John McCain will dog George Bush through March, possibly through April, leaving him at the end with almost no money left in his bank a count and an image much farther to the right that he would ever prefer.

SHAW: But still, Tom Daschle and other party leaders must be concerned about how much attention John McCain is getting from those Democratic voters.

GARRETT: Well actually, Tom Daschle, after coming out after a meeting at the White House with the president today, actually described this race as amusing and helpful to Democrats.

Democrats are exactly in the same position as the Republican establishment right now. They see this race in exactly the same way. They don't see how John McCain can string enough primary victories to actually topple George Bush. And what they're hopeful for is that Bush won't be able to have it. The wild card here for Democrats, for George Bush and even for John McCain is, can he transform what is now an insurgency into a crusade, a crusade that adds Republican regulars to independents and to Democrats.

SHAW: Major Garrett, thanks very much. It will take a little time, but we will find out.

Well, Democrat Bill Bradley doesn't have the luxury, if you will, of zeroing in exclusively on the Republicans, he still is hammering away at the vice president hoping to get some primary season traction.

CNN's Bob Franken reports from New York on Bradley's latest pitch.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FRANKEN (voice-over): In his struggles to reclaim the public's attention, Bill Bradley's daily message is that he, not Al Gore, is the candidate with bold new ideas. At Columbia University, the topic was the economy.

BILL BRADLEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The new economy demands a new politics.

FRANKEN: The economically disadvantaged, said Bradley, must share in the current prosperity.

BRADLEY: Despite all our success, far too many Americans are still on the outside looking in.

FRANKEN: Bradley outlined two ideas: the infostamp program to purchase so-called computer packages for children from families below the poverty line, and an earning insurance program where the federal government would pay half the lost income for those whose jobs disappear because of new trade agreements. As Bradley spoke, Gore operatives passed out leaflets: "Bradley is risky on the economy." And Bradley continued to hammer away at Gore's record on abortion, gun control and health care.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, BRADLEY RADIO AD)

UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: So when it comes right down to it, what does Al Gore really stand for?

(END AUDIO CLIP)

FRANKEN: The ad mentions this Bradley campaign Web site, moreaboutgore.com, which invites voters to take a closer look at Al Gore's record. It is playing in Washington State, where Bradley intends to make his biggest push. He plans to spend all his time there between now and Washington's non-binding Democratic primary next Tuesday. Until then, he'll stay away from all the states which are part of the massive March 7 primary. His aides acknowledge it is a highly unorthodox way to create momentum.

ERIC HAUSER, BRADLEY CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN: In politics, you play it as it lays.

FRANKEN: Right now the lay of the land is that Bradley is way behind Gore.

(on camera): The Bradley campaign says that means dramatic new strategies, what the Gore campaign dismisses as "desperate politics."

Bob Franken, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Still ahead, our Bruce Morton on the surprisingly riveting race for the White House.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: When this presidential race began, many Americans, based on what they saw in the news media, expected that it would turn out to be a contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore, but a lot has happened on the campaign trail. And as our Bruce Morton reports, the 2000 contest has turned into something truly worth watching.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MORTON (voice-over): He's up, he's down, he's winning, he's losing. This is the most exciting presidential campaign since -- well, it makes you think. Something new made 1960 exciting -- televised debates. And a question: would American elect a Roman Catholic president? By the skinniest of margins, they did.

1964: the Republicans tore themselves apart, booing moderate Nelson Rockefeller, cheering their conservative hero, Barry Goldwater.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARRY GOLDWATER (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Moderation, in the pursuit of justice, is no virtue.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORTON: Lyndon Johnson won the general election in a landslide. Sometimes, not often, one issue dominates. 1968: Robert Kennedy murdered, anti-Vietnam war demonstrators beaten outside the Chicago convention by the city's police.

Sometimes a moment defines a campaign. Ronald Reagan never looked back after this New Hampshire moment in 1980.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RONALD REAGAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORTON: Never mind the line was from an old Spencer Tracy movie. Sometimes, lately, it's been scandal. Gary Hart's 1988 campaign falling apart after stories about him and Donna Rice and a boat called the Monkey Business appeared.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GARY HART (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know I could have been a very good president, particularly for these times. But apparently now, we'll never know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORTON: Most of the recent ones, though, have been boring. Bush and Dukakis in '88? Come on! Clinton and Bush? Yawn. Clinton and Dole? Kind of like watching a funeral. This time, it's exciting! The Democrats have had some moments -- Gore and Bradley in the Apollo Theater, though it was probably better when Duke Ellington topped the bill. But those Republicans! McCain wins New Hampshire. Bush comes storming back. McCain comes counterstorming back. And turnout -- because it is close and exciting, turnout is up.

(on camera): McCain keeps saying he wants to give government back to the people. This campaign is doing that, in a way, by getting more people to participate. And we still don't know who's going to win. You have to like that.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHAW: Up next, the Republican hopefuls and Democratic voters. Margaret Carlson and Tucker Carlson on how they are connected and what may change.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: Joining us now, Tucker Carlson of "The Weekly Standard."

You're fresh he off the plane from Phoenix, Arizona. A basic question, Tucker. What must Senator McCain do? What must Governor Bush do to improve their chances over the next two weeks of getting their party's nomination?

TUCKER CARLSON, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Well, the conventional wisdom is that McCain needs to move right. In his speech last time where he talked about defending the unborn and cutting taxes was an appeal to your basic Republican primary constituency.

I think McCain needs to appear presidential, and I think foreign policy is the easy way for him to do it. McCain knows a lot about it. He looks like a man of gravity when he talks about foreign policy.

I think the polls show, and my experience is that watching these shows that the reform message is more a vehicle for McCain to show himself than it is something that people understand or are interested in of itself. You know, I spent a week with him, and I still haven't figured out what the iron triangle is.

But I think McCain needs to spend much more time talking about America and his vision of a vigorous foreign policy, et cetera, et cetera. And in so doing, make himself seem presidential.

Bush I think needs to stop being nasty. I think the South Carolina campaign was deeply revealing of Bush's character. It came as a real surprise to me and I think a lot of people the degree to which the Bush campaign really turned out to be vicious there. In spite of his many promises not to campaign like that, he did, and I think that hurt him.

SHAW: Margaret Carlson, of "Time" magazine, what must Senator McCain and Governor Bush do over these next two weeks to improve -- each -- to improve his chances of getting the nomination. MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, Senator McCain has to become a Republican, and George Bush has to become a compassionate conservative. It's like two trains -- the college board question: How fast are two trains going when they leave the station, and how soon will they pass in middle America? So they each have to go very fast toward the middle, because New York and California aren't going to respond to what worked in California. And when Bush went back to Austin to try to figure out what to do after New Hampshire.

He came out saying, well, the easiest way to win South Carolina is to go nasty. And now having done that, he's got to really race back away from that. He didn't have time in Michigan to move away from that. He only had 24 hours. So now that's what he has to do.

And they both need to try to get Nancy Reagan's endorsement, but I think McCain has the inside track on that.

SHAW: Well, we reported a short while ago, we checked with her office, and her office through a spokeswoman indicated that she is not going to endorse anyone before these primaries, saying that would violate her husband's 11th commandment of speaking no ill of any fellow Republican.

SHAW: What's John McCain's problem. Why is he still getting so few Republican votes?

T. CARLSON: It's odd. I mean, if you look at both candidates stated positions on the issues, McCain doesn't come out as more liberal than Bush necessarily at all. I mean, they're both fundamentally moderate Republicans.

In the last couple of days, I think it began really on Sunday, McCain was clearly frustrated with the Christian right, as he called it, in South Carolina, and started using phrases like extreme right, Christian right, phrases that Republicans primary candidates don't often use, and I think that probably makes, you know, the liberal label stick more when you talk like that.

M. CARLSON: Well, the truth of the matter is, is that McCain is actually a more conservative Republican than George Bush, if you just at his record, but he decided earlier that what was working for him was to be a processed reformer and not concentrate on his position on the issues, because remember, when George Bush was bragging, I can get Democrats and independents. That was his calling card, in addition to getting the money. McCain decided, hey, if he thinks that's good, let me see if I can do that, and it turned out he can do that all too well, forgetting that he's a conservative Republicans, and now he has to remind people that that's what he is.

T. CARLSON: And it's also part of their rap. I mean, the Bush campaign is attempting to run, sort of, an ideological campaign: We're right; he's left. That worked in South Carolina. And McCain of course makes the point that that's an outmoded kind of politics, and I think it may be certainly in California.

M. CARLSON: It could be, if McCain weren't cutting off the spigot to the right for their causes, the interest groups that need to keep the money coming in order to do their ads and run their campaigns. He might have been embraced as the candidate of the right, because he looks more like the candidate of the right.

T. CARLSON: You see, that's what McCain says, that they don't like me because I'm, you know, they've made cause into a business, et cetera, et cetera.

M. CARLSON: We're trying to figure out why, except that, you know, everybody decided Bush was a winner, and maybe you give up your principles on the Christian right in order just to go with a winner, finally.

T. CARLSON: I think part of it is personal. I think that McCain probably, you know, said something pretty rude and grumpy to some of those people in Washington.

M. CARLSON: People on the bus like him. People on the press bus like him.

SHAW: Margaret Carlson, Tucker Carlson, thanks very much. Glad both of you could make it. Good to see you.

T. CARLSON: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Good thing they're not rude and grumpy.

SHAW: Exactly. Never,.

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

WOODRUFF: And this programming note: former New York Congressman Bill Paxon, who supports George Bush, and McCain senior adviser Ken Khachigian will be the guests tonight on CROSSFIRE. That's at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.

I'm Judy Woodruff.

SHAW: I'm Bernard Shaw.

"WORLDVIEW" is next.

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