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Capital Gang

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge Discusses Campaign 2000

Aired February 26, 2000 - 7:00 p.m. ET

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

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.

MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields, with Al Hunt, Robert Novak and Margaret Carlson.

Our guest is Republican Governor Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania.

It's good to have you back, Tom.

GOV. TOM RIDGE (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Nice to be back. Thank you, Mark.

SHIELDS: Thank you.

After Senator John McCain's victory over Texas Governor George W. Bush in Tuesday's Michigan primary, the candidates argued over who turned out to vote.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have proved, I hope to my Republican friends and I believe to most Americans, that we can reassemble a coalition, a coalition that reaches out across party lines.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Last night, I won the Republican and independent vote combined in that state. Last night, I lost the liberal Democrat vote of people who come into our primary to try to hijack the election, to hijack the primary to help Al Gore.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Senator McCain called on more Republicans to support his candidacy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: Don't fear this campaign, my fellow Republicans, join it. I am a proud Reagan conservative. I love the Republican Party. It is my home.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SHIELDS: For next Tuesday's Washington state primary, the American Research Group poll shows Bush and McCain tied. For the Virginia primary also on Tuesday, the Mason-Dixon poll shows Governor Bush now with an 11-point lead.

Al Hunt, who is the leader in this hot Republican race?

AL HUNT, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, you still have to give the edge to Bush because of his core Republican support, but all the indicators are moving to McCain. First, I think you're going to see some other politicians follow the gutsy lead of Peter King, the conservative New York Congressman who switched from McCain to Bush last week. Bill Bennett's putting out every signal he can that John McCain is our only hope in the fall.

Look, John McCain has to pick up Republican votes to win now. He can't do it by tacking hard right. What he can do is by emphasizing -- what he will do -- emphasizing some genuinely conservative views.

Opposition to pork barrel spending: That drives some office holders crazy. Trent Lott has told a few senators, I'll quit the Senate if John McCain is elected president, but it resonates with voters.

Continue to emphasize debt reduction over tax cuts. I think this week you also will see him hitting school vouchers with the help of Lisa Keegan, a popular Arizona education official, and national security issues. Those are a basket of issues that I think could change the tide in California.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, all indicators, but, I mean, I'll tell you. If Trent Lott is going to leave, I'm switching my support from McCain to Bush, I mean, we've got to keep Trent Lott in Washington.

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": Don't be sarcastic now. It doesn't become you. I would say this, that this is the strangest new coalition I have ever seen. I've been covering politics a long time. I have never seen a front-runner who starts off getting murdered in his own party two-to-one nationally in state after state. And usually you start off with your own support, and then you build the others. He has the other people's support.

And also, we're entering that very strange period, most reporters in this town have never seen it before, last time we had it was '76. We have to count delegates. And you start counting delegates which are problems, winner take all in Florida, winner take all in Texas, winner take all probably in California among Republican voters. It's going to be very hard to beat George W. Bush, so he is in the lead.

SHIELDS: He's in the lead?

NOVAK: Definitely.

SHIELDS: But your colleague John Engler on election night in Michigan -- he was kind of a hurt puppy -- and he said, you know, well, we're going to win the delegate thing. Well, we looked at it Wednesday, Tom, and the delegates were 52 to 6 for John McCain out of Michigan. And McCain now has the lead among delegates. Is there a leader?

RIDGE: Well, I think there is. I think you need to take a look at this long term, and I think you have two different strategies that we've seen play out over the past month. My friend John McCain's going from state to state, and that's how it's being reported. I think Governor Bush, who's also my friend, is looking at long term.

And I think, Al, you talked about the indicators going toward McCain. I think it's going stronger toward Governor Bush, because if you play it all out like a chess match and just don't move a couple of pieces but look at the endgame, there are about 1,450 delegates left where just Republicans vote. And the overwhelming winner in every primary so far has been Governor George Bush. There's only...

NOVAK: Among Republicans.

RIDGE: Among Republicans. There's only about 625 delegates left where it's open, independent, and one of those is Texas. And I think Governor Bush is going to do pretty well in Texas, too.

SHIELDS: Margaret, who's right here?

MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, you know, the long term was supposed to be this term so far, in which Bush has been losing places he was supposed to be winning. And when he doesn't get votes that he bragged about attracting in Texas -- independents and Democrats. He boasted that that's why he should be the candidate -- he calls them hijackers of his party. You know, these are votes, and these are -- McCain is building a new coalition.

His trajectory is up, and Bush's trajectory is down so far. And he vowed to win Michigan, and he lost Michigan.

RIDGE: But don't you find it puzzling and very intriguing that now, after we've gone through four or five primaries, that, listen, we've got two heavyweights battling it out. I mean, I -- a healthy, competitive, primary in the Republican Party. I mean, who's paying attention to what the Democrats are doing? Not too many people. In the long run, I think that's going to be good for us.

But the bottom line is, is that we find ourselves -- and one of these heavyweights is now, after five or six primary states, appealing to Republicans to vote for him.

NOVAK: That is really strange that he has to...

RIDGE: Very unusual.

NOVAK: Let me make one caveat.

SHIELDS: Quickly, Bob, because I have to (OFF-MIKE)

NOVAK: There is a -- there's a primary right across the river here in Virginia on Tuesday, 58 winner-take-all delegates, where Governor Bush is heavily favored.

SHIELDS: Overwhelmingly favored.

NOVAK: Overwhelmingly favored. Only 11 points in the polls.

SHIELDS: The entire establishment behind him, as usual.

NOVAK: Yes, but if -- this is one that I really do believe that if John McCain wins that, then they -- then all the rats start running for the -- what do they run for?

SHIELDS: I think they run, Bob, basically for the cheese. But let me just...

CARLSON: To leave the ship.

RIDGE: I don't share that point of view, Bob.

SHIELDS: Let me just make two quick points. First of all, Margaret's point is absolutely insightful about hijacking the primary to vote for Al Gore. I know of no Democrat with an IQ above room temperature who would rather run against John McCain than run against George Bush. John McCain is now leading Al Gore by 25 points in a CNN/Gallup/"USA Today" poll.

NOVAK: (OFF-MIKE)

SHIELDS: I mean, so it's just absolutely remarkable. I mean, there's no question that McCain is a stronger candidate in the fall right now than is Bush. And secondly, I would point out that Bush led McCain by 40 points in New York just two months ago. Today it's nine points or seven points. And I -- you know, the Republicans can't have it both ways. They can't boast over the fact that their primary is open in Michigan, which they did, and we invited Democrats and independents, and then complain when the results don't go their way.

HUNT: Mark, let me pick up on that, because I talked to Mary Lewkins (ph) and Dave Bianelli (ph), who work for the polling firm of Peter -- Bob Teeter, who, of course was George Bush Senior, the president's...

SHIELDS: Campaign manager.

HUNT: ... campaign manager. They were dazzled when they looked at those Michigan results on Wednesday. And what they said was dazzling was that where McCain had this huge outpouring of support was not left-wing, liberal labor areas or it was not African-American areas, it was things like the 8th District, a swing district up near Lansing, Michigan, where it was a huge McCain outpouring. It was Oakland County, Bob.

Now it's true George Bush did carry Bloomfield Hills, your millionaire friends out there...

CARLSON: Grosse Point.

HUNT: But Oakland County went for McCain.

And let me tell you one more thing. Warren, Michigan, that is the heart of Reagan Democrats. That's what Reagan Democrats are all about. McCain got 10,600, 7,900 for George Bush...

NOVAK: I hate to...

HUNT: That is a coalition that win any general election.

NOVAK: I hate to repeat these numbers. Thirty percent of the voters in that primary were labor unions members, 25 percent new voters. I wonder how many of them will vote Republican in the fall.

HUNT: I'll take Mary Wilkins over Bob Novak's analysis any day.

SHIELDS: Those hijackers -- I would point out you're wrong. Thirty percent of them came from families, households, where there was a union member. That doesn't mean they're a union member. It might be their grandchild, it might be their grandfather. But, Bob, nevertheless, thanks for being with us.

And Tom Ridge and THE GANG will be back to discuss the implosion, pending implosion, of the Republican Party. Is it real?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back.

In the Michigan primary campaign, the Christian Coalition's Pat Robertson sent voters a recorded telephone message calling former Senator Warren Rudman, McCain's national co-chairman, quote, "a vicious bigot," end quote.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: To call Warren Rudman a bigot, Pat Robertson should be ashamed of himself. Governor Bush has a responsibility to stop those things.

PAT ROBERTSON, FOUNDER, CHRISTIAN COALITION: I think it's wrong for people of faith to be castigated as they have been. And what Warren Rudman said was just wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Michigan voters also heard a telephone message attacking Governor Bush for his visit to Bob Jones University.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN PHONE MESSAGE)

NARRATOR: This is Catholic voter alert. Governor George Bush is campaigning against Senator John McCain by seeking the support of Southern fundamentalists who have expressed anti-Catholic views.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Mr. McCain's making phone calls in this state accusing me of being an anti-Catholic bigot, and I don't appreciate it.

MCCAIN: That was a factual message. Governor Bush went to a university that bars interracial dating, which I find particularly offensive. That's a fact.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, is the Grand Old Party before our very eyes imploding?

NOVAK: My answer may surprise you. It may be, because I think Governor -- Senator McCain is playing with fire with this. I think that to put out -- and this was his campaign -- a message under a fictitious, Catholic voter alert organization, which implies -- implies, it doesn't say -- that Governor Bush is an anti-Catholic bigot is outrageous. But the broader sense is that in his comments from Detroit Tuesday night attacking Pat Robertson, his statements after South Carolina -- well this -- we got the votes of the non- religious right -- writing off what the polls show to be one-third nationally of the Republican Party, which is the religious right, that is really extremely dangerous. And, no, I think you ought to look at the consequences down the line in November, not just for his campaign against Governor Bush.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, is John McCain the only person here with guilt on his hands?

CARLSON: No, I mean George Bush has a terrible problem. He's paying a high price for taking a desperate measure, which was to align himself with Bob Jones. You can't go there not say anything about what they believe and hope to come out untainted. You know, he thinks -- Bob Jones thinks we belong to a Satanic cult, those of us who are Catholics on this panel. This is hung around George Bush's neck just like Pat Robertson is. It was a costly win in South Carolina that he's going to have trouble dropping as he moves to the general election.

Also, he's dropped a huge amount of money. He's spending money like a drunken sailor. And this week, you heard various money people saying, gee, I don't know where we're going to get more. And when they find out that he spent, you know, $2 million when he was 26 points behind in Arizona, he spent $147,000 on FedEx charges -- does everything absolutely, positively have to get there overnight in the Bush campaign? This looks like he's wasting this money, and now he's got to go out and drum up more.

SHIELDS: Tom Ridge, you are in the rare position of being a friend of both candidates...

RIDGE: Right.

SHIELDS: ... John McCain and George Bush. How worried are you as a Republican leader that this is getting (OFF-MIKE) RIDGE: Well, first of all, I'm glad you pointed that out. Because I truly don't believe that either one of my friends feels or believes perhaps what the surrogates are saying on their behalf. And that's cause for problem, I think, for all of us within the Republican Party, because all of is who know and respect these individuals don't believe that they share that point of view.

At the end of the day, I think it will be best for everybody in this campaign, including those -- and I say this with great respect -- covering it to get back to the issues. I mean, this -- the presence of this phone call and the speech at Bob Jones University has got a shelf life that, I think, far exceeds its significance in the campaign. Let them talk about who's got the deepest and the best tax cut, who's got the plan to reform education.

I mean, I would tell my friend Governor Bush, let John McCain keep talking about process reform and campaign finance, and every time he says reform, you talk you about how you reformed education, how you reformed the tax code, how you reformed the criminal justice system. But I think everybody, including the panelists here -- and I say this -- we've got to start talking about issues. There are a lot of strawmen that are getting a lot of publicity. We've got to focus back on the candidates.

SHIELDS: Pat Robertson, though, hasn't been heavy on issues.

HUNT: Well, Tom Ridge just showed why he ought to be on the short list of running mates for either one of these guys if they get the nomination. And now I'm going to do something terrible. I'm going to disobey the wise advice he just gave -- because I have to go -- I have to go to...

RIDGE: It's short-lived. That's all right.

HUNT: ... to Bob Novak, just extraordinary distortion. First of all, Bob, you ought to look up "imply." I mean, you ought to read words. There was nothing in there that said George Bush was a bigot.

NOVAK: Oh, my...

HUNT: Bob Jones is an anti-Catholic bigot, That is indisputable. And, Bob, for the sake of putting together coalitions, if you or others want to overlook that, you can. But you do it and you pay a price for doing it.

As for the McCain thing, I think denying it was totally indefensible. I don't particularly like those kind of radio show, but what Pat Robertson said just was untrue. He neglected to mention that what Warren Rudman said while defending Colin Powell from attacks from the religious right, that of the religious right there are some fine, sincere, very descent people, but there also are anti-abortion zealots, homophobes and latter-day Elmer Gantrys. Does anyone deny that?

SHIELDS: That's unfortunately the last word, except for the fact, I would add, that George Bush was brilliant in following Tom Ridge's lead when he went and took on the House Republican leadership, who were trying to postpone payments to the working poor that they were owed under the earned income tax credit. And he was right and strong to do it. And then he goes down to South Carolina and hangs out with the cast of "Deliverance." He shouldn't do that.

NOVAK: Any...

SHIELDS: Next on CAPITAL GANG, Gore versus Bradley in Harlem.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back.

Democratic presidential candidates Al Gore and Bill Bradley returned to the spotlight with a debate in Harlem's Apollo Theater.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL BRADLEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Me calling attention to the fact that he was a conservative Democrat before he was Bill Clinton's vice president is simply truth-telling.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Problem is, these attacks don't solve any problems. They do divide us as Democrats.

I cast the tie-breaking vote to close the gun-show loophole. Where were you? You had left. You had left.

BRADLEY: What you've seen is an elaborate, what I call, "Gore dance." It is -- it is a dance to avoid facing up to your conservative record on guns.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, who won this debate, and did it make any difference?

CARLSON: Well, it was a great debate. "Time" magazine sponsored it. It didn't make that much difference, but it was great to be in the hall because it was very, you know, audience participatory -- kind of like daytime TV. I thought actually that Al Gore had the best line of the debate, when he pulled out "The New York Times," and Bradley's calling for a special prosecutor to investigate Democrats. And he said, Bill, you're the only guy in America who misses Ken Starr.

But moving on from the debate...

NOVAK: That was really funny.

CARLSON: I thought it was very good. And the audience liked it, Bob.

NOVAK: I bet they did.

CARLSON: You know, going to Washington state and putting everything on Washington state... SHIELDS: Which is what Bradley's doing.

CARLSON: ... it's like a Hail Mary pass. there are no delegates at stake, but maybe he's not fighting for delegates, he's just fighting for survival.

SHIELDS: He needs a win. Bill Bradley needs a win.

RIDGE: Well, he needs a win. Actually, Margaret, I disagree. I think the Republicans won that debate. I mean, I thought every answer to every problem was more government, which will lead to more government programs and more taxes and whatever. And I think the Republicans won that debate.

It's interesting in Washington. You've got Bill Bradley's going to spend five or six days there contesting for votes that John McCain wants and Al Gore wants. So you've got three folks out there looking for Democratic votes. And I think -- I don't understand the strategy. You don't get any delegates from that contest. I don't understand, but he'll have to explain it himself.

CARLSON: But he might get some attention.

RIDGE: If he gets attention.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, you're a great analyst of debates, Bob, especially Democratic debates.

NOVAK: I thought that Bradley won the debate. I really did think he won. I just think Gore looks bad. But I'll tell you this, I talked to some of the Gore people afterwards. They're very smug. They think he won the debate. They don't think it matters. They think they have the nomination wrapped up, which they surely do, but they also think they got the election wrapped up, which they surely don't.

And I agree with Tom Ridge that I think you take a tape from that debate, pandering to that minority audience, and play that in certain parts of the country without comment, I think that's pretty effective.

SHIELDS: I'll give Tom Ridge a chance to respond to your agreement with him, but let's go to Al Hunt.

HUNT: We don't pander to African-Americans, but we do pander to Bob Jones and to Pat Robertson. I understand that.

SHIELDS: That's right, yes, yes.

HUNT: I didn't think it was a debate where either man necessarily showed his finest attributes. I agree with Tom and Margaret, though. I'm just baffled by the Bradley strategy in going to Washington state for six days. I just -- there are no delegates. I just simply don't understand.

I'm also baffled when he now is criticizing Al Gore for being soft on the environment. That's like saying Bob Novak is soft on cutting taxes. I just don't think that one is going to sell.

You know, I think Bill Bradley is really one of the best people in political life I've known. I don't think this campaign has worked to his advantage.

SHIELDS: It appears not to have, but I think -- I understand his going to Washington because he needs victory. He needs to win.

NOVAK: (OFF-MIKE)

SHIELDS: He needs a win. He's got to have a win going into the big one. And if he gets wiped out again, then it's just going to be a debacle on the 7th. So I can understand that. That's why it makes sense to me, and that's why I'm doing this instead of running campaigns.

NOVAK: Let me ask you, a question.

SHIELDS: I would, Bob.

NOVAK: Can I ask you a question?

SHIELDS: After the show.

NOVAK: No, wait. We've got a minute or two. I want to...

SHIELDS: I'm sorry.

CARLSON: (OFF-MIKE)

NOVAK: I want to ask you a question. What would you think in the Democratic Party if somebody came in with a -- as a moderate, a middle of the roader, not running to the left of Al Gore but to the right? Would he have any chance?

SHIELDS: I think a populist would have had a real shot at Al Gore, a populist.

NOVAK: A Bob Kerrey?

SHIELDS: Dick Gephardt I think would have had a real shot at it.

CARLSON: Yes, a genuine populist would have, not an intellectual.

SHIELDS: That's my -- OK, we've got to go, Bob. I'm sorry.

Governor Tom Ridge, thanks for being with us.

THE GANG will be back with the "Outrage of the Week."

RIDGE: Good to be with you, thank you.

ANNOUNCER: Our viewer "Outrage of the Week" is from Elmer Nottage of Clearwater, Florida: "I am outraged that Vice President Gore, while attacking his opponent, the ex-senator from New Jersey Bill Bradley, blamed the state of New Jersey for being the first in racial profiling. Mr. Gore should check his facts -- starting with his own home state -- before taking a cheap shot at another state in order to capture the black vote. One can only hope that the people of New Jersey will remember his remark on Election Day."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back.

And now for the "Outrage of the Week."

Don't criticize China, whined the million dollar lobbyists for money-grubbing multinationals, things are improving. People are better off. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Thanks to U.S. assistant Secretary of State Harold Koh and his colleagues, we know that China's quote, "poor human rights record deteriorated markedly throughout the year as the Beijing government intensified efforts to suppress dissent," end quote. When will American apologists for Chinese oppression admit the ugly truth?

Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Belatedly, President Clinton is asking Congress for $1.6 billion for Colombia to fight the narco-guerrillas that are slowly winning the war to take over the country. But yesterday, the State Department's annual report on human rights said the Colombian government's record remained poor. Why? Apparently because police officers sometimes kill terrorists. Could it be that the State Department's left hand doesn't know what the far left hand is doing?

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Mark, Governor Bush is running an ad boasting about delivering a patients' bill of rights in Texas when the opposite is true. He vetoed such a bill in 1995. Two years later, he signed a vastly weaker bill but opposed the measure that's at the heart of patient protection, allowing suits against HMOs. Facing a veto that would not survive, he allowed the measure to become law without his signature. This isn't negative advertising, it's false advertising, claiming credit where none is due.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt.

HUNT: Mark, like the John McCains, we have an adopted daughter from Asia and thus are sensitive to Asian slurs. But I have no empathy for those who criticize Senator McCain for calling his North Vietnamese captors, quote, "gooks," end quote. During the 5 1/2 years he was a prisoner of war, they viciously tortured him and beat him, even intentionally breaking his arms. There are far harsher words that would be appropriate, and in this instance it has nothing to do with race or national origin.

SHIELDS: This is Mark Shields saying happy birthday to Bob Novak and good night for THE CAPITAL GANG.

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