Californians Get Hip to John McCain; Gore Borrows Page From McCain Playbook; Where Are Candidates Spending Ad Dollars?Aired February 24, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: Californians get hip to John McCain, but can he broaden his base enough to carry the Golden State?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From the banks of the Hudson River, Al Gore seems to be borrowing a page from John McCain's playbook.
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JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Chris Black on Al Gore's response to the current political environment.
SHAW: And where are the presidential candidates spending their precious ad dollars, heading into the biggest primary day yet?
ANNOUNCER: From Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS with Judy Woodruff and Bernard Shaw.
WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us.
Many presidential candidates have viewed California as a political promised land, and that seems especially true for John McCain. He went there today, knowing how much the Golden State possibly could do for his insurgent campaign, and knowing that primary rules may stand in his way.
CNN's Jonathan Karl is traveling with McCain.
JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): John McCain is California dreaming. Fifteen states will hold GOP contests in the next 12 days, but McCain will spend half of that time right here in California. There is no state he wants to win more.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But I just saw a wonderful sign back there, it's the first time I have seen that in this campaign. I (INAUDIBLE) -- "Hippies for McCain." KARL: McCain likes what he sees here. In Sacramento, he had one of the largest town hall meetings of his campaign. And he picked up the endorsement of the mayor of San Diego.
MAYOR SUSAN GOLDING, SAN DIEGO: He is the best candidate. He will make the best president. There are very few people I have known -- and I have known for a number of years -- who has his courage, his forthrightness, and his ability to lead.
KARL: But the battle for California will be a tough one.
DICK ROSENGARTEN, PUBLISHER, CALIFORNIA POLITICAL WEEK: California's open primary is a mess. And to give you a brief answer on the open primary, it's a mixed bag for John McCain. McCain has the potential to actually get more votes than George Bush, but George Bush might get more Republican votes, and therefore, get all the delegates.
KARL: That's because all candidates, Democrat and Republican, will be on the ballot. But the results will be divided. First, there's the popular vote. Simply, he who gets the most votes wins.
(on camera): But in terms of winning delegates, this popularity contest is meaningless. Delegates are awarded based only on the votes of registered Republicans.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The name of the game is delegates. It's not necessarily popular vote here in California. And, you know, it's winner take all. So I think that, you know, McCain has a ways to go before he's going to be able to catch Bush.
KARL: Without independent and Democratic voters, McCain would have been trounced in Michigan. In California, non-Republicans won't do McCain any good.
MCCAIN: I am the real fiscal conservative in this campaign, have no doubt about it. If don't believe me, look at our records.
KARL: But the McCain campaign thinks Bush will suffer in California because of his appeal to the religious right in South Carolina.
Another challenge for McCain is organization. Until last week, he had only four staffers in the state. Now, he has eight. But advertising is another story. .
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN AD)
MCCAIN: I'm a proud Reagan Republican. I'll tear up the 44,000- page tax code that benefits special interests.
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KARL: So far, McCain has been outspending Bush in Los Angeles, and he is running ads in all 23 of the state's major markets, except for San Francisco. His aides say he will spend between $3 and $4 million on TV ads in California. McCain's aides won't quite call California a must-win, but they acknowledge it would be almost impossible to win the nomination without California. As McCain likes to say, everyday is do or die for this campaign.
Jonathan Karl, CNN, Sacramento, California.
SHAW: One-hundred and sixty-two delegates to that Republican convention in Philadelphia are up for grabs in California, more than any other state. But there may be even more at stake for Republicans.
Our Bill Schneider is here with more on Bush versus McCain in California.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Bernie, it looks like this Republican contest could all come down to California, just like it used to. Only, the California primary used to be in June. This year it's in March, less than two weeks from now.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): In January 1999, a group of 25 California legislators were the first Republicans to write Governor George W. Bush a letter petitioning him to run for president.
They wrote -- quote -- "America needs an experienced leader who brings conservative values and a winning candidacy that will reach out to all."
The key word? Winning. You see, Bush had just won a huge reelection victory in Texas, pulling in nearly half of that state's Hispanic vote. In that very same election, California Republicans were devastated.
Democrats now control six of the state's eight statewide constitutional offices, including the governor's office, for the first time in 16 years. Both U.S. senators are Democrats, as well as a majority of California's House members. Desperate California Republicans reached out to Bush as a savior. But now, look what's happened.
STEVE MERKSAMER, GOP CONSULTANT: This sense of invincibility, to the extent that that has been punctured by New Hampshire and now by Michigan, tends to tarnish that sense of invincibility.
SCHNEIDER: Is Bush really a winner? The latest field poll shows Al Gore leading Bush in California. How about John McCain versus Gore in California? Neck and neck. The state's highest ranking GOP office-holder recently switched to McCain.
BILL JONES, CALIFORNIA SECRETARY OF STATE: It's about winning in November, and he's the right man to do it.
SCHNEIDER: McCain is still largely unknown to California Republicans, but they're hearing some things they like.
MCCAIN: The Republicans who practice the politics of addition over the politics of division. We are creating a new majority, my friends!
SCHNEIDER: To many California Republicans, that sounds pretty good.
MERKSAMER: For California Republicans, politics is always addition, not subtraction, and we need to increase our vote, not decrease it.
SCHNEIDER: After all, Senator McCain also got reelected in 1998. And he carried a majority of Arizona's Hispanic vote. But can that message get through in time for the March 7 primary?
A poll this month, showed Bush eight points ahead of McCain among all likely primary voters. But the only votes that count in selecting delegates are those of registered Republicans.
Among Republicans, Bush was nearly 20 points ahead. The March 7 primary could produce a California split: McCain winning among all voters, but Bush winning Republicans, and therefore, all the delegates. What would happen then?
MERKSAMER: It could create some chaos, to say the least.
SCHNEIDER: Democrats and independents who vote for McCain in California will not be happy to hear that their votes don't count, especially because their votes do count in state Republican contests. Cries of fraud will be heard. Delegate credentials will be challenged. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!
SHAW: Oh boy! Bill Schneider, thank you -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: All right. In the Democratic presidential race, Al Gore paid tribute, in a way, to John McCain today, even as he continued his new tack of criticizing both McCain and George W. Bush. The issue? The environment. The backdrop? New York state.
Here is CNN's White House correspondent, Chris Black.
BLACK (voice-over): From the banks of the Hudson River, Al Gore seems to be borrowing a page from John McCain's play book, appealing to votes across party lines.
AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want you to know I want to welcome all of the pro-environment Republicans to stand with me and to march under my banner in this election. I need your help.
BLACK: And to prove his point, Gore rolled out a prominent cross-over voter. LARRY ROCKEFELLER, NEW YORK LEAGUE OF CONSERVATION VOTERS: Al Gore is our environmental champion.
BLACK: In New York, it was a day to feature the environment with the endorsement of the state chapter of the League of Conservation voters and unveil an ad, starring environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
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ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR., GORE SUPPORTER: There's no American political leader in our history with a greater understanding or commitment to environmental protection than Al Gore.
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BLACK: Despite his pitch for bipartisan support, the vice president lashed out at both Republican candidates, John McCain and George W. Bush.
GORE: Zero and one -- a zero record of support for the environment in the Congress -- in the Senate on the one hand -- and number one in giving the polluters whatever they want, to the detriment of our citizens.
BLACK: Gore mentioned his rival, Bill Bradley, magnanimously.
GORE: Bill Bradley does have a good environmental record, and I acknowledge that.
BLACK: Although the Bradley threat seems to be fading, the Gore campaign remained vigilant, responding within hours to a Bradley ad in Washington State, where a nonbinding beauty contest takes place on February 29. But on this day, he was in a New York state of mind.
(on camera): Al Gore is touching all of the bases of the convoluted New York primary landscape, making a case for his candidacy as part of our national campaign aimed at locking up the Democratic nomination by March 7.
Chris Black, CNN, Dobbs Ferry, New York.
SHAW: In addition to running ads in Washington State, Bill Bradley is making a personal pitch there.
As CNN's Bob Franken reports, it's part of an all out-blitz to win votes in Tuesday's primary and to try to undercut Al Gore.
BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Another day, another issue for Bill Bradley to use against Al Gore. Today's topic, Gore's record on education, contrasting past Congressional votes with present statements. BILL BRADLEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In this campaign, Al Gore is proposing that we spend more new money on a military buildup than on education.
FRANKEN: From the Al Gore operatives here, a rapid response. Once again, they hurriedly passed out statements at the Bradley event. It echoed a radio ad the Gore team released here last night: With attack ads and negative campaigning, Bradley sounds more like a Republican every day.
Today, the Gore campaign unveiled another new radio ad, featuring an abortion rights leader, Kristina Kiel (ph), who said she was changing her mind about Bradley.
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KRISTINA KIEL, ABORTION RIGHTS LEADER: Today, I no longer support Bradley, because his unfair attacks divide us at the very moment we should stand together against the real enemy, the Republican candidates who don't trust women to make responsible reproductive choices.
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FRANKEN: Bradley told reporters he wasn't aware that Kiel had endorsed him, and besides:
BRADLEY: Look, I don't think that it's negative campaigning when you tell the truth about somebody's record.
FRANKEN: As the air war intensifies, Bradley has set up camp here in Washington, hoping the state will give him the momentum he needs to climb onto the comeback trail.
BRADLEY: Next Tuesday, Washington has the opportunity to send a message to this entire country. The independent spirit of Washington now has an opportunity to register itself nationwide.
FRANKEN (on camera): With its moderate politics and high-tech mindset, Bradley says Washington State is a favorable place to try for a comeback. But he hastened to add that he's behind in that state to make sure he's not tripped up by high expectations.
Bob Franken, CNN, Seattle.
WOODRUFF: As evidence of the hurdles the Bradley camp faces, in his home state of New Jersey, Bradley's lead over Al Gore has shrunk to 11 points in a new Quinnipiac poll of registered Democrats in that state. Back in September, Bradley had a 39-point lead over Gore. In the GOP race, George W. Bush and John McCain are dead-even in New Jersey. The survey of registered Republicans was taken before McCain's wins in Michigan and Arizona. New Jersey doesn't hold its primaries until June 6. Still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS: rallying the troops in another primary state. A look at Bush's plan to muster the heavy artillery in Virginia.
WOODRUFF: Texas Governor George W. Bush is taking a rare day off today, a brief respite in this most frantic presidential race. But tomorrow he's back on the trail, headed to Virginia in advance of Tuesday's primary. Bush will hit the high-tech Washington suburbs for an online chat at AOL, and then on to Richmond for a Republican Party gala. And if he's looking for a state to steady his campaign, the Old Dominion may be just the place.
CNN's Jeanne Meserve surveys the battleground.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After slipping up in Michigan, George W. Bush appears to be back on solid ground in Virginia, in a commanding position just five days before the GOP primary. Bush has a highly organized campaign, strong in every corner of the commonwealth. He's got the support of every important Republican, from the popular governor, Jim Gilmore, to the senior senator, John Warner, and on through the ranks. And he's got the backing of the Christian right, as powerful a force here as in South Carolina, including Michael Farris, a leader of the home school movement, who ran an impressive campaign for lieutenant governor, and of course, Pat Robertson, whose Christian Coalition is based in Virginia Beach.
In every region, the Bush troops are mobilizing. In the rural South, his allies are criticizing McCain's sponsorship of a bill that called for $1.10 tax hike on a pack of cigarettes, a threat to the state's tobacco industry. That issue alone was enough to push Virginia's only independent Congressman, Virgil Goode, into the Bush camp. McCain had hoped for Goode's endorsement.
In the suburban north, Bush's allies are talking up McCain's push for dozens more daily flights at Reagan National Airport, deeply unpopular among residents along the flight paths. And in the veteran- rich area around Norfolk Naval Base, they're reminding voters of McCain's opposition to the Seawolf submarine, an attempt to chip away at a natural McCain constituency. To upset Bush, McCain will need those veterans, plus the support of moderate Republicans in the suburban north, and a significant cross-party vote.
Virginia's primary is open to anyone who signs a pledge not to vote in another party's contests, and there is a history of crossover voting in GOP contests here. In 1996, Democrats turned out in force to back Senator John Warner in the GOP senate primary, mostly because they feared his opponent, a conservative backed by Oliver North. John McCain's campaign may be hoping for a similar backlash against Bush's ties to the religious right, especially Pat Robertson.
PROF. MARK ROZELL, AUTHOR, "THE NEW CHRISTIAN RIGHT IN VIRGINIA POLITICS": Robertson can be looked at full blaze as a mobilizing force in Virginia politics. He can mobilize the Christian social conservatives to come out in favor of George W. Bush, but he can also, if he overplays his hand, create a countermobilization of moderate independent Democratic voters on behalf of John McCain.
MESERVE: McCain's campaign today accused Robertson of sending automated calls to Virginia voters, calling McCain's co-chairman "a vicious bigot," the same calls that were so controversial in Michigan. Robertson's office strongly denies it.
But running against the right is a risky strategy in a state like Virginia.
(on camera): McCain may be in a tight spot, but he's not completely ceding the state to Bush. In fact, he's added a campaign stop Monday in Norfolk. But it's going to be tough. And compounding the challenge for McCain is the fact that Virginia's 56 delegates are awarded on a winner-takes-all basis. In Virginia, close doesn't count.
Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Alexandria, Virginia.
SHAW: And joining us now to talk more about Governor Bush's support among the Christian right, Bush adviser and former executive director of the Christian Coalition, Ralph Reed.
Ralph Reed, some prominent Republicans are very concerned about Governor Bush's tacking to the right. Former Republican National Committee Chairman Rich Bond says he believes the governor can get his moderate image back, but listen to this quote from today's "Hotline": "But he," meaning Bush, "makes it much harder with these Bob Jones and Pat Robertson episodes which make people from my background, Northeast, blue collar, former Democrat, Catholic, very uncomfortable. We count too." What's your thinking about all this?
RALPH REED, BUSH ADVISER: Well, look, I think the truth is, Bernie, that if you look at it, John McCain's problem in this race isn't just that Governor Bush is enjoying religious conservative support, it's that he's enjoying economic conservative support from people concerned about taxes and spending. In fact, in South Carolina, Governor Bush won those voters four to one. In Michigan the other night, he won them more than two to one.
And the truth is, is that the difference between John McCain and Governor Bush is that Governor Bush is uniting the entire Republican coalition, pro-life conservatives, pro-choice moderates. He not only has the support of pro-life conservatives like, for example, Henry Hyde, Chris Smith of New Jersey, and Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, but he also enjoys the support of more moderate and pro- choice leaders in our party like Rudy Giuliani, the mayor of New York, George Pataki, the governor of New York, and Tom Ridge, the governor of Pennsylvania. He's the only candidate who is uniting the entire party, that's why he's going to be the nominee, he'll be the next president. SHAW: Could Pat Robertson turn out to be an albatross around the governor's neck?
REED: Well, again, I don't think that his name is on the ballot. I think Governor Bush's name is on the ballot. And I think when people like John McCain try and propel themselves to the nomination by echoing the slurs of the chatter class and the attack words of the opinion elites against the respected conservative leaders of this party, I think there is going to be a backlash. And we have seen people try to do that before and it hadn't worked.
Look, Governor Bush practices the politics of addition, not the politics of subtraction. The people who were coming onboard for him, whether they're pro-choice or pro-life, whether they're moderate or conservative, are endorsing his compassionate conservative agenda, Bernie, not the other way around.
SHAW: Tell me something, with McCain out to show conservative Republicans that he is one of them, what does Bush do to counteract that?
REED: Look, I think the truth is this is one of the big differences between Governor Bush and John McCain. John McCain is like a chameleon. He changes in every primary in which he's running. You know, when he was running in New Hampshire and some of those other states he was talking about how his own party was wrong. He said, my party has lost its way. We're not inclusive anymore. We need to change that.
Then all of a sudden he gets out to California and he starts looking at the calendar on March 7 and he realizes that Republicans and conservatives are going to start choosing delegates and all of a sudden he tries to turn into a Reagan conservative. The truth is that John McCain is not a Reagan conservative, because Ronald Reagan never attacked the conservative leaders of this party.
SHAW: Last question...
REED: In addition to that, John McCain's tax cut is actually to the left of Bill Clinton's, and it includes a $9 billion tax increase on charitable contributions, and Ronald Reagan would have never done that, Bernie.
SHAW: Last question, brief response please. How long do you think this nomination struggle is going to go on?
REED: Well, I think it's going to probably be somewhere between March 7 and March 14, probably March 14. But I can assure you of one thing, you can't be the Republican nominee for president getting only one out of every four Republican votes. That's what John McCain is doing. George Bush is uniting the entire party. He'll be the nominee.
SHAW: Ralph Reed, thanks for joining us, Bush adviser.
REED: You bet. SHAW: And up next, a look at how much Governor Bush and Senator McCain are spending to get the message out. David Peeler on ad spending as the primary season rolls on.
WOODRUFF: Fifteen states are holding primaries or caucuses from now through March 7. So where are the candidates focusing their ad dollars? Joining us from New York with the answer is David Peeler of Competitive Media Reporting.
DAVID PEELER, COMPETITIVE MEDIA REPORTING: Hi, Judy.
WOODRUFF: Let's start with the Republicans. Where are George W. Bush and John McCain buying political ad time?
PEELER: Well, both Bush and McCain are clearly focusing on Tuesday's primaries. You know, and they're slightly different stories, but if you look at Virginia for example, while George W. Bush has mobilized the field forces, he's also mobilizing the air war. He's spent almost $2 million to John McCain's little over $200,000. So he's clearly not relying just upon the field forces, but also on the airwaves to get his message across.
As we move on to the state of Washington, a different story here. Bush while he's outspending John McCain almost two to one, the interesting story here is that John McCain has spent almost all of that $600,000 in the last couple of weeks. So it's a very intense media campaign in the state of Washington.
As we move on to the only effort that we see for the March 7 contest, and that's California, it's just really started to kick off from a media standpoint where both George Bush and John McCain have spent a little under a million dollars, but obviously, in a state like California, that will expand and grow rapidly.
WOODRUFF: No doubt. David Peeler, the Democrats, as we know, have had a quiet month as far as the primaries go, but with March 7 coming up, where are Al Gore and Bill Bradley spending?
PEELER: Again an interesting story here, Judy. What's different in this strategy is that the March 7 primary is where the Democrats are focusing all their efforts. Both Bradley and Al Gore are very active in quite a few states. As we look at the state of Washington, which comes up on Tuesday, Bill Bradley and Al Gore are almost neck and neck, spending up almost $300,000 and they'll go well over that by Tuesday.
But looking forward to March 7, we go on to the state of California -- interesting, Bill Bradley outspending Vice President Gore considerably in that state. We move on to the state of New York, again the same story where Bill Bradley is spending -- far outspending Al Gore. And the story continues in the state of Maryland which, while much smaller, is a very significant amount of media spending in that state.
If you take it in total, also there are six other states where Bill Bradley has started advertising that Al Gore has yet to go on air. So clearly, it looks like March 7 is Bill Bradley's last stand, and he's spending his media dollars trying to get out his message and get his vote out.
WOODRUFF: All right, David Peeler, thanks very much for that inside look, appreciate it.
PEELER: Thank you, Judy.
SHAW: There is much more ahead on this edition of INSIDE POLITICS.
Still to come, politics and the death penalty, the issue from Washington to Texas.
And later, all bets are off in the Republican match-up. Stu Rothenberg and Charlie Cook size up the candidates and the new odds.
Plus, are the candidates skilled in the martial arts? Our Jeff Greenfield talks political judo in the GOP race.
SHAW: We will have more of this day's political news coming up, but now a look at some other top stories.
The life of a Texas death row inmate could end this evening. Betty Lou Beets killed her husband 17 years ago. She is set to die by lethal injection unless either Governor George W. Bush or the United States Supreme Court step in.
We go live now to Huntsville, Texas, for more from CNN's Charles Zewe.
CHARLES ZEWE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bernie, at this hour, 62-year- old Betty Lou Beets is in a holding cell just feet from the execution chamber where she is set to die by lethal injection 90 minutes from right now. Authorities are saying that she has been calm and subdued throughout the day today. This morning she visited with her family members, this afternoon with her spiritual adviser and, we think, her lawyer.
Joe Margulies was seen coming out of the prison a little while ago, he was turned down in his attempts to get a reprieve for Beets earlier this afternoon by the U.S.Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. They are taking an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington in hopes that the high court will stop the execution, no indication so far that, that will happen.
Governor Bush's office in Austin -- the governor says that he will consider -- only consider a stay in the case once the courts have finished their action -- once the Supreme Court acts. The governor's office told me just minutes ago that they have gotten more than 1,600 letters and phone calls from people opposing -- opposing the death penalty for Betty Lou Beets, and only 30 in favor. This is a state that heavily favors the death penalty, some by a 75 percent margin. So Beets is standing by for word from the U.S. Supreme Court, that word expected perhaps within the next half hour to 40 minutes.
Charles Zewe, CNN live, Huntsville, Texas.
WOODRUFF: Thank you, Charles.
Jurors deliberating in the murder trial of four white police officers who shot an unarmed African immigrant have asked the judge to reread them the law on a less serious charge, first-degree manslaughter. Amadou Diallo was shot 19 times in front of his Bronx apartment last February. The officers say they acted in self-defense, contending they thought the wallet in his hand was a gun. The prosecution argues the police opened fire because of racial stereotypes.
We will all pay more at the gas pump this spring. The U.S. Energy Department says that gasoline reserves are low, so look for more price increases in the coming months. However, an oil official with the United Arab Emirates says Persian Gulf ministers have agreed to increase production to help stabilize prices.
When INSIDE POLITICS returns, a closer look at George W. Bush's latest death penalty dilemma.
SHAW: Now we focus on George W. Bush and the death penalty. As we reported a short while ago, 62-year-old Betty Lou Beets is scheduled to be executed in Texas some time after 7:00 p.m. Eastern.
Let's go to CNN's Patty Davis in Austin, where Governor Bush has been reviewing the case and whether to grant a reprieve -- Patty.
PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Bernie.
All eyes now on Texas Governor George W. Bush. Will he grant this one-time 30-day reprieve in the case of convicted murderer Betty Lou Beets? He does have that option, but he has never exercised it at any time since he's been governor. Now, he has not exercised that option.
In fact, Betty Lou Beets would be the 121st death-row inmate executed here in the state of Texas since Governor Bush took office. Human Rights Watch and other groups here have asked the governor to stave off execution. He says he will make his decision one the appeals process is exhausted. The question that he will ask, he says, is Betty Lou Beets guilty of the crime?
The question that his critics are asking is, does Governor Bush practice what he preaches? He is a compassionate conservative, but they say he does not practice compassion when it comes to these death- row inmates. He's allowing too many executions to take place. Another (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that the critics say is that he talks about God changing people's hearts, well, he allowed the execution of Carla Faye Tucker about two years ago to go forward, she was a convicted pick axe murder, yet in fact she had a change of heart and became a born-again Christian, yet, they say, that he allowed that to go through.
Now, just a short time ago, Governor Bush's camp -- Governor Bush's governors office here in the state of Texas released a letter from a juror who had been on the Betty Lou Beets case. That juror, Connie Harrington (ph), saying -- and I have the letter right here -- saying that while she has no stomach for the death penalty, didn't at the time, still doesn't, she believes that Betty Lou Beets is guilty of this crime and deserves to die for killing her husband -- Bernie.
SHAW: Thank you, Patty Davis in Austin -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: Well, as Governor Bush and other presidential hopefuls are well aware, most people across the country support the death penalty. Our new CNN/"USA Today" Gallup Poll shows two thirds of Americans say they are for executions as a punishment for murder.
CNN's Major Garrett looks at how public opinion and politics are shaping the election-year dialogue about the death penalty.
MAJOR GARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If are you running for president you almost have to support the death penalty. Al Gore and Bill Bradley do, so does George W. Bush and John McCain. Republicans backed the death penalty long before Democrats. But new Democrats, led by President Clinton, have used it to prove they are tough on crime.
ED KILGORE, DEMOCRATIC LEADERSHIP COUNCIL: The death penalty was an important symbolic issue for Democrats in the 1970s and '80s primarily because Democrats were perceived as not really credible on crime.
GARRETT: But the death-penalty consensus is now under assault. Governor George Ryan of Illinois has declared a moratorium as newly found evidence has exonerated several death-row inmates.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: If you're going to have the death penalty, you should also have zero tolerance for mistakes, we do not have zero tolerance for mistakes in this country.
GARRETT: Leahy is pushing legislation that would require DNA testing for all death-row inmates, federal and state, testing that has freed several condemned to die, and national polls show the country is with him. But so far, neither the president nor anyone seeking the presidency publicly supports Leahy.
WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm trying to come to grips with it and as soon as I do I will be glad to state a position. GARRETT: Gore and Bradley ignored the issue at their debate earlier this week, focusing instead on whether minorities are more likely to face the death penalty, a question the Justice Department is now reviewing. Since reinstatement of the death penalty there have been 615 executions. New evidence freed 85 inmates awaiting execution. Governor Bush says everyone executed on his watch in Texas was guilty. Senator John McCain has come closest to supporting DNA testing.
MCCAIN: If there is evidence that maybe there is some controversy where DNA with this new technology could help authenticate the fact that the person was guilty of the crime, there is nothing wrong with that.
GARRETT (on camera): Senator Leahy says, you don't have to oppose the death penalty to support DNA testing. He is waiting for the leading presidential candidates to say just that, giving his bill and death row justice a big political boost.
Major Garrett, CNN, the White House.
SHAW: Still ahead, how are the presidential hopefuls faring in the fight for the White House? We'll hear it from Stu Rothenberg and Charlie Cook.
WOODRUFF: In the midst of this wild and woolly political season, joining us now: Stu Rothenberg of the "Rothenberg Political Report" and Charlie Cook of "The National Journal."
Gentlemen, Stu, does John McCain have a chance, a real chance at winning the Republican nomination?
STUART ROTHENBERG, "ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": I think so, absolutely. I don't think he's the favorite; I don't think he has an advantage with the way the calendar flows, but Judy, I have to believe that momentum is the single most important element in American politics.
If you have momentum, if you start to win, if you build up a sense of inevitability, your opponent starts to crack and suddenly, the race changes. Is McCain the favorite? No. Should he be treated as a serious candidate who has a chance of winning the Republican nomination? Of course.
WOODRUFF: But, Charlie, we keep seeing, more and more stories about how well McCain may be doing better on the popular side, but when it comes to raw -- to delegates -- the real numbers, he's at a real disadvantage there.
CHARLIE COOK, "NATIONAL JOURNAL": Well, I don't know. At this point, I'm thinking about the Alcoholics Anonymous slogan: one day at a time. That, you know, no one, not even the McCain campaign thought they were going to win New Hampshire with the kind of margin they did. Nobody, not even the Bush campaign, thought that he was going to win in South Carolina with the margin he did. Nobody -- but even the McCain campaign thought he was going to win Michigan on that kind of margin.
We don't know anything anymore. We just have to take this thing one step at a time. A traditional, conventional, political analysis would suggest that when we get down to close primaries, with Republicans only, that Bush ought to win.
But at the same time, the central -- the thing that pulls Bush together -- voters together more than anything else, is electability of perception that he could win in November. And losing primaries in this -- and all these polls showing him weaker and weaker and against a general election, unable to pull in Democrats and independents, it erodes the number one argument for being for him. And so, we don't know any more.
ROTHENBERG: Let me just add this too. Right now, George Bush has a significant lead in California, which is a critical contest, I would argue. It's going to define the rest of the race. But he's not going to go with his old message. He's already started to change his message.
You're going to see, on the air in California, a McCain ad referring to Ronald Reagan, his conservative credentials. He's starting to change how he's running. And so, I think you have to wait to see how the voters respond to that. They may say, oh, this is just politics as usual and dismiss. The Republicans may still side with Bush, but I think you have to give him a legitimate chance.
COOK: And then I talked to the Democratic campaign consultant, who saw some brand-new, private tracking polls in California that showed that McCain is coming on very, very strong out there. Again, I don't think he's going to win the Republican-only primary, but he has a very good chance of winning that beauty contest and that will, sort of, spook a lot of this, sort of, soft Bush voters.
WOODRUFF: In a nutshell, Stu Rothenberg, what does John McCain, what does George Bush need to do?
ROTHENBERG: Well, John McCain needs to win some Republican primary voters. It's as clear as that. If he does that, he has chance on the 7th.
WOODRUFF: And he needs to change what he's talking about?
ROTHENBERG: Absolutely, he has to change his emphasis. Look, he's been beating up on the Republican political establishment for a long time, I think probably too long. He didn't have to do that. If he turns his attention to Clinton, Republicans may respond positively to that, and certainly, if he changes his message to more conservative, more explicit appeals to Republicans.
I think Governor Bush just needs to slog along, holding the Republicans. If he wins California, he's in terrific shape, and Texas and Florida on the 14th. Then, it looks like he can slide to the nomination. I don't think he needs to -- I don't think at this point in the campaign, Judy, George Bush can remake himself with a new message or a new candidate. But he's got -- he has that organizational advantage he finally has to mine.
COOK: But with Bush, you know, we have the reformer with results. I think he needs to start focusing on the second half of that slogan, the results part.
You know, right now, John McCain is seen as a reformer, a crusader fighting against the establishment. I think what Bush has got to do is get the message across that there's a peer review process at work here.
It's not the establishment against John McCain, it's his peers in the senate, the people that have worked with him day to day, don't think he would be a good president. He hasn't been that effective, I've been effective in Austin. I think that's the message that George Bush has to get across.
WOODRUFF: Just quickly to the Democratic race. Stu, you've written in "Roll Call" this week that the Democratic contest is all but over.
ROTHENBERG: Judy, you really didn't have to go out on a limb on that one. I mean, it's pretty obvious, in terms of -- Bradley's been trying to sell his "Fine Day" message, and sell his argument that either Gore is too conservative, raising questions of ethics. It just hasn't -- it hasn't moved Democratic numbers...
WOODRUFF: Well, let me just ask what a voter -- what I heard a voter say on National Public Radio this morning. Most of us haven't even voted yet. What's going on here?
ROTHENBERG: Well, that's true. But enough people have listened to the message, looked at these candidates, and there's no indication of softening in the core Democratic base. And as long as the Democrats hold, as long as African-Americans hold, as long as organized labor unions members hold, Al Gore is going to be nominated.
COOK: I think that there was an opening there. Gore was very, very vulnerable last -- late summer, early fall. There was a real opening for Bill Bradley and he muffed it. I think his message was too lofty too intellectual. His appeal just wasn't broad.
I mean, you go out to Iowa and you look at his supporters, they were all college professors, college students, and drivers of Volvos, Peugots, or Saabs, you know. I mean, it was a very narrow constituency there. He never -- you know, education is the top issue in the country in every single poll. He finally comes out with his plan a week before last, you know, when the campaign's practically over. I think this is over. He had a shot, but he didn't make it.
WOODRUFF: So I hear you both saying Al Gore would have to do something very unusual not to pull this off? ROTHENBERG: I can't imagine anything that he could do. I mean, I could imagine things we couldn't talk about on air. But, no. It's hard to imagine him throwing away the -- he's a veteran politician, he's performed well on the stump. I think he'll probably continue to do so.
WOODRUFF: Gentlemen -- Charles Cook, Stuart Rothenberg -- thank you both, we appreciate it.
And when we return, Jeff Greenfield on applying Judo techniques to the rough and tumble world of politics.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GORE: Anyone have as many as 10 grandchildren, 20, come on, 80, 90? 100, 110, 200?
GORE: I should have known. When I started counting by tens, they were going faster, higher, higher.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHAW: Vice President Al Gore addressing an orthodox Jewish community in Rockland County, in New Square, New York.
Joining us now from another part of that state, CNN senior analyst Jeff Greenfield, who's here to talk about a possible secret weapon in the Republican campaign.
Now, Jeff, it's called political judo.
What are you referring to?
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Political judo is a term I coined about 20 years ago in a book that was read by, I guess, dozens of people, and basically, what it means is you take an opponent's strength, or one of your weaknesses, and instead of resisting it, instead of saying, oh no, it's not really, you acknowledge it, and then, as in judo, you flip it and you turn an opponent's strength into a weakness or one of your weaknesses into a strength.
SHAW: Can you give me an example?
GREENFIELD: Well, probably two very well know examples from recent campaigns: In 1976, Jimmy Carter, after Watergate, would go around and he'd say, here are my qualifications to be president: I've never been a lawyer. I've never served in the Congress. I've never lived in Washington. Because after Watergate, all those things were seen as liabilities. And in 1992, at one of the debates, Ross Perot was asked about his lack of experience, and instead of saying, well, I have a lot of experience, he said, you're right, I have no experience in running up a $5 trillion debt, and instantly, the lack of experience in Washington kind of becomes an asset.
SHAW: Well, in this campaign, how is it working?
GREENFIELD: Well, I would suggest that John McCain and his attempt to present himself as an outsider is actually helped by the fact that Governor Bush has so many Washington endorsements. Governor Bush talks about he's got 25 governors, 39 senators, 175 congressmen, and what John McCain is saying, is see, that proves I'm an outsider. The reason they're against me is I want to come in here and break up that iron triangle and busts this system of big money and money corrupting politics, and the reason all these insiders are against me, is I'm on to their game, so even though I have spent all these years in Washington, I'm really the insider Bush is; I am really the outsider.
SHAW: Last question: So can Governor Bush resort so to judo?
GREENFIELD: Well, what he has to do is redefine all those numbers. He has to say no, no, senator, the reason all those people are with me is not only they respect my results in Texas, but they know you, and because they know you and don't believe you'll be an effective leader, they're deserted you, even though you're one of their colleagues in Washington, to come to me. That's less judo than it is trying to resist the technique of taking a weakness. What Bush has to do is make the weakness of lack of endorsements a weakness again.
SHAW: Interesting. Thanks very much, Jeff Greenfield.
See you later.
And that's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. We'll see you again tomorrow when our Tony Clark will report on the "draft Perot" movement. That's right. And we'll have Bill Schneider's political "Play of the Week." Of course you can go online all the time at CNN's allpolitics.com.
WOODRUFF: And this programming note: The politics of capital punishment will be the topic tonight on CROSSFIRE. The guests will be human rights activist Bianca Jagger and Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating. That's at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.
I'm Judy Woodruff.
SHAW: And I'm Bernard Shaw.
"WORLDVIEW" is next.
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