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Special Event

McCain: 'I Will Beat Al Gore Like a Drum, George Bush Cannot'

Aired February 29, 2000 - 12:44 p.m. ET

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

FRANK SESNO, CNN ANCHOR: And we want to take you out to Stockton, California, where we have John McCain teeing up at the microphone, something of a press availability on this day when Washington, North Carolina (sic) and Virginia are voting. We listen.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... our next stop here in California.

From the very beginning of my candidacy, it has been my goal to reform our government to the people through reform of our institutions, to end the grip of special interest like trial lawyers, unions and corporate welfare-seekers. We can then take such steps as reforming education and tearing up the entire 44,000-page tax code to make it fairer and simpler. However, I also run as a proud conservative Republican who entered public service inspired by the unifying influence of President Reagan. But frankly, our crusade, our reforms and our Republican ideals are hopeless if we don't reclaim the presidency from the dishonesty and electoral corruption of Bill Clinton and Al Gore.

As my good friend Bob Dole said last week, the goal is winning in November. Here in California, I have found my Republican friends yearning for victory. This is a state where we have lost the last two presidential races, we lost the governorship in a landslide and have lost too many congressional and state legislative vote -- votes in the last two election cycles. We allowed Barbara Boxer to be reelected. It's time to put California back in the winning column, and I now firmly believe that I only can make that happen this year.

While polls are polls, they have consistently recorded that by large margins I can defeat Al Gore, while George Bush cannot. I am bringing new people into our party and speaking out against those who would build a wall around our party and relegate us to another lost election with a 40-percent minority. If Republicans nominate the weaker candidate, Al Gore will be able to continue the big money, special-interest politics of truth twisting that has shamed his party and America for seven long years.

I served in the House with Al Gore. I faced him down in debates. I know him and I know his lack of principles and will eagerly put him on the defensive for his embrace in 1996 of Bill Clinton's financial corruption. I've won broad victories in New Hampshire, Michigan and Arizona, and that's what I call a reformer with results. The voters clearly believe that I am fully prepared for combat with the vice president while George Bush is not. In this presidential race I will beat Al Gore like a drum, George Bush cannot.

Next Tuesday, all of California, led by Republicans, can march with our ballots to condemn Al Gore's exploitation of Buddhist monks, his ridiculous defense of no controlling legal authority and his identification with the corruption that permitted a Clinton big-money donor to turn over to Communist China secrets that compromise our national security.

My message to California Republicans is simple: If you want to win back the presidency, make our ticket strong and rid our great country of those who degraded our institutions, then listen to those who have supported me in other states, follow their good sense and allow me, a proud, consistent, mainstream conservative, to lead you. I'm not just -- I seek not just to redeem our integrity and pride but to rebuild our party's strength. I want California Republicans to know that we will at last start winning again.

Finally, a word about debates. Consistently, I have accepted debates and happily participated in them. Unfortunately, after the media reported that Governor Bush was quoted two weeks ago, quote, "balking at participating in the 'L.A. Times' debate," I adjusted my schedule accordingly. Now that Governor Bush has reversed himself, I find myself committed to other events I cannot cancel. However, I challenge Governor Bush next Sunday in an hour-long debate on NBC's "MEET THE PRESS" with Tim Russert. If that doesn't work for the governor, we're taping a special edition of "HARD BALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS" tomorrow afternoon in Los Angeles. I invite him to join me there in person or by satellite so we can debate. Governor Bush wants a debate, we will have one. If, however, none of these works, I will change my schedule, cancel events in New York, land somewhere on my way back to New York and engage in a satellite debate with CNN and the "L.A. Times." We are adjusting our schedule, we hope that CNN will agree to satellite, I understand that they have, and we will have this debate with me participating by satellite.

Any other questions?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) change your mind (OFF-MIKE)?

MCCAIN: I believe that we had to adjust our schedule. I looked at it, it's going to hurt us in New York to cancel events that are already scheduled, but since we could do it by satellite that I agreed to do that.

QUESTION: Senator, are you saying flat-out that George Bush cannot win if he is the nominee?

MCCAIN: I am saying that I am the much stronger candidate, and every poll indicates that in match-ups between me and Al Gore and Governor Bush and Al Gore. I'm not saying he can't win, I'm saying I'm by far the stronger candidate, in some polls by as much as 20 points.

QUESTION: Senator...

(INTERRUPTED BY BREAKING NEWS)

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

MCCAIN: ... a couple of years ago in Arizona of some lights that were seen over Arizona, and that has never been fully explained, but I have to tell you, I do not have any evidence whatsoever of any aliens or UFOs, except that, well, I won't continue the conversation.

(LAUGHTER)

So I understand that they're -- I understand -- I would...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're not registered.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN: But as soon as they land, we're going have Bill Jones out there to register them right away, and we hope that they share our conservative values.

QUESTION: Senator, I hate to follow this with that, but Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell: How concerned are you that this -- you might slip down that slippery slope and this might backfire?

MCCAIN: Look, we've had a campaign that is based on principle, on honorable behavior. This is a defining moment for our party. We have to reject a couple of people who have led our people astray. The overwhelming numbers of people in the Christian right, we want them back, we want them to join us, but they have to reject these leaders that are on the extremes that have caused, frankly, a very harmful impact on not only the American people but our party. This is a chance, this is our opportunity, to reject that leadership, embrace the leadership of others like Chuck Colson, Dr. Dobson and many others and reject these people. Anyone -- anyone who, as Pat Robertson did, would make phone messages that call a good and decent man, Senator Warren Rudman, a vicious bigot has no place, in my view, in the Republican Party, and that kind of politics which has been practiced so often by him and Mr. Falwell should be rejected by the American people.

QUESTION: Senator, can you describe what happened since last night in the decision on the debate? When we talked to your folks last night, the satellite linkup was a no-go.

MCCAIN: We didn't know whether we could adjust our schedule. Now we're going to have to cancel events, we're going to have to land someplace like St. Louis or someplace else in order to achieve that -- Yes.

QUESTION: Senator, you're exempting James Dobson. Dobson is incredibly intolerant of homosexuals, who, he says, need to be cured. He's vilified you personally. Why have you exempted James Dobson?

MCCAIN: I say there are people like him. I don't always have to agree with him. I don't...

QUESTION: Can you give me an example of -- of a...

MCCAIN: I think that his Focus on the Family has overall been very beneficial. I don't know all of his positions on all of the issues, but I think Focus on the Family has been -- has been helpful to America.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Senator, the Bush campaign is denouncing you, saying that you are injecting religion into the race. And they say that you're tearing apart the coalition, the winning coalition that Ronald Reagan put together.

MCCAIN: Excuse me, the winning coalition? Which winning coalition are we talking about that stayed together? We've lost the last two presidential elections, we've lost the last two Congressional elections here in California. It has been electoral disaster. To somehow allude to some winning combination flies in the face of the electoral results.

Look, these people have led our party out of the mainstream of America. They are exclusive and not inclusive. They are -- they practice politics of division. not addition. I want people to come into our party, I want them there, and that's what I've been doing. I'm the candidate that independents and Democrats and Libertarians and vegetarians have been coming over to support. I'm proud of that support, while maintaining my strong, Reagan, conservative credentials. I believe that we should reject categorically behavior such as that exhibited by Pat Robertson, and there's -- if we don't, then we will again suffer electoral defeats as we have for the last two presidential and last two congressional elections. I suggest they check the last two presidential election results if they think that there's been a -- a winning coalition in the Republican Party.

QUESTION: Senator, have you ruled out a challenge to the -- to the Republican National Convention this summer if there is a split decision?

MCCAIN: Look, if -- if there's a split decision, and we keep talking about this, and I'm confident we'll win both, but if there's a split decision then that's going to have to be a debate that takes place within the Republican Party. Do they want somebody who wins the majority or do they want somebody who only wins Republican votes? But we don't intend to lead that fight, that's going to be -- that's going to be a great debate within the Republican Party.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Senator, could you just explain for us again, why is it that you decided to do this debate, even though you're going to have to do it by...

MCCAIN: We are able to adjust our schedule in order to land, cancel events in New York and participate by satellite. QUESTION: What are you cancel -- what are you canceling? What are you canceling...

MCCAIN: They'll tell you. It's an event in Long Island, I know, but I don't know what other events that are being canceled.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

MCCAIN: I don't -- you'll have to -- look, I don't know the schedule in the next three hours. You're going to have -- but I know we're -- I know we're canceling events.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) why part of the question, though.

MCCAIN: I just mentioned to you, because we are able to do it by satellite by canceling events and by stopping in mid trip. I can't give you an any larger explanation than that because that's simply the reason behind it.

MCCAIN: Yes, sir? Can I answer your question? Yes, sir.

SESNO: You've been listening to a news conference. John McCain in Stockton, California. And the news out of this is that McCain says despite his comments earlier and those of his campaign that he was unable to participate in the debate among Republican candidates in California later this week because of scheduling conflicts in New York, that now apparently not the case. His campaign will be looking for events to cancel. He'll try to be on the ground and join by satellite. That debate sponsored by CNN and the "Los Angeles Times" in California.

McCain also repeated his criticism of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson as the type of political leaders within the Republican Party who practice the politics of division and not addition, and he says that his message to Californians is, if you want to win back the presidency, allow me to lead you.

So a very strong and, again, critical performance by John McCain on this day, when the states of North Dakota, Washington and Virginia are holding their primary and caucus contests.

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