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CNN Insight

U.S. Campaign 2000: Shifting Focus

Aired March 9, 2000 - 0:00 a.m. ET


JONATHAN MANN, INSIGHT (voice-over): Round one has been won, and now the big round begins. The U.S. presidential election campaign goes into higher gear with primaries essentially over and the candidates clear.

(on camera): Hello, and welcome.

The candidates for the U.S. presidency have been at it for more than a year already, and their race has really only now begun. The primary votes, organized to choose delegates to party nominating conventions, will continue, but so many were held Tuesday that the outcome for the Republicans and especially the Democrats is no longer in doubt.

Vice President Al Gore swept every one of the Democrats' Super Tuesday contest from one coast to the other. His competitor, Bill Bradley, saw the numbers and the map and decided that he would retire from the race Thursday.

The Republican governor of Texas, George W. Bush, won his party's contests in most of the states and the ones that matter most - heavily populated New York, California and Ohio. But Senator John McCain won in practically all the northeastern states of the U.S. known as New England, denying Bush's sweep and keeping his own campaign alive, if unpromising.

Just a short time ago, we got in touch with CNN's Patty Davis in Austin, Texas, to find out where the results leave the Bush campaign and the candidate headed now.


PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Texas governor George W. Bush is here at the governor's mansion in Austin today, taking a breath - trying to catch his breath after his big victory here for Super Tuesday. Now what he does now is he heads to the contests in several other states. He also voted today with his wife, Laura, absentee ballots in advance of next Tuesday's primary in Texas. Also that day, Florida and other states.

He heads tomorrow now to Colorado, Utah and Wyoming to campaign there for Friday's contests. Ninety-one GOP delegates at stake there. Now that he is so far ahead of John McCain, George W. Bush is turning his attention to Al Gore, the vice president of the United States and the likely Democratic nominee.

GEORGE W. BUSH, REPUBLICAN PRES. CANDIDATE: If people are happy with the status quo in Washington, then vote for Al Gore. If people are happy with what Al Gore and Bill Clinton, the tone they've set for America, then you've got a perfect person to vote for.

I believe we ought to share some of the surplus with the people who pay the bills. He doesn't. I know we need to reform public education. I know we need to restore morale in our military. Morale is dangerously low.

DAVIS: The war of words between Al Gore and George W. Bush likely to get much more heated in the coming days and the coming months as the campaign for the primary and then the general election heats up. They both will be jockeying for position to win the White House in November. Jonathan?

MANN: Patty, if he does win the White House in November, what does George W. Bush want to do with the presidency? What are big issues in this campaign to him?

DAVIS: George W. Bush said his number-one issue is education, and he's hoping to get women voters especially under his umbrella by appealing to them on that issue. Number two issue - tax cut. He has a much bigger tax cut in mind than Al Gore does - $483 billion over five years, and he gives that tax cut to everybody, not just to the middle class or targeted, as Al Gore wants to do.

Another issue - increase spending in the military. He says morale in the military is very low, pay in the military is very low. He wants to fix those two things. His main theme now going against Al Gore is that we need a change in Washington. Washington has had enough, seven years now, of Clinton-Gore. It's enough, and it's time for a change.

MANN: Up until now, Bush has been campaigning, of course, against John McCain and other challengers within the Republican Party. How different do you think his campaign is going to be now that he's facing Gore?

DAVIS: His campaign will likely now, he will - he's been pushed to the right by Senator John McCain. In South Carolina, he was appealing to a lot of the Christian conservatives. He's going to have to now move back to the center. That's where most people in American politics are located, trying to win their votes. And so, you'll be seeing him moving back to the center, trying to reposition himself, trying to get the independents that John McCain was so successful in getting and the moderate Republicans beginning to come over to his ticket.

That's the job ahead for George W. Bush as he looks ahead now to win more races and to win the nomination. Jonathan.

MANN: CNN's Patty Davis, thanks very much for this.


Another one of our correspondents, Candy Crowley, is with the Bush campaign and had a chance to interview George W. Bush today. The first topic - the second name in the campaign. Presidential candidates have to choose a running mate for vice president. Here's how George W. Bush addressed that issue and others.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Let me say, first of all, congratulations, and move you to a subject you always hate me asking about. Vice presidential nominee - I know you don't want to talk about, you know, names and when you will have a timetable, but beyond the three things that you've listed - supporting your agenda, be ready to take over the job and you like each other - do you feel the need to have a geographical balance in a ticket?

BUSH: Not necessarily. But it is really too early to tell. It truly is. I'm sitting here talking to you after I had a big night last night. I know there's more primaries ahead. I am looking forward to securing my party's nomination. And then, of course, we will have a thoughtful plan and approach to the vice presidential nominee may be.

CROWLEY: But you don't look to things like, OK, I have state experience, executive experience, perhaps I need someone who has federal-level experience?

BUSH: That will be a consideration, you bet. I mean, there will be a lot of considerations. The primary criterion is that what you and I have discussed. But there will be a lot of considerations.

CROWLEY: Let me move on to something you said last night that -- talking about honor having been exiled from the White House. To what extent do you blame Al Gore for that?

BUSH: I talk about an administration. It is going to be up to Vice President Gore to explain what's happened in this administration. I was amazed yesterday, he talked about soft money. He wants to, all of a sudden, abolish soft money. He said he has got a campaign finance reform agenda that he's had in the past. And yet, his president -- the president is now raising soft money and touting it as great accomplishment last week.

And if this man is serious about reforming soft money, he needs to debate the president first, it sounds like. And he ought to go to AFL- CIO and say the members of the AFL-CIO, union workers, ought to have paycheck protection. The money ought not to be spent without their permission.

CROWLEY: But by those words, do you think that there are things that the vice president could have done to bring honor back to the White House? Did he act dishonorably, is that what you are saying?

BUSH: No, I'm not casting aspersions on Vice President Gore. What I am saying is America wants somebody to restore honor and dignity to the White House. That is what America is looking for.

CROWLEY: And the fact that that honor and dignity isn't there isn't something you necessarily attribute to the vice president?

BUSH: I think the administration has let us down. After all, it was the vice president who went to a Buddhist temple to raise money. And I think there's an attitude, as a frame of reference that I was referring to. And this is going to be a spirited contest. I look forward to it.


MANN: We'll hear from the man that the Republican candidate will face right after this break. Stay with us.


MANN (voice-over): At the start of the campaign season, Al Gore was looking vulnerable, while George W. Bush seemed almost invincible. Now Gore has handily disposed of his Democratic rival and has improved in opinion polls against Bush.

(on camera): Welcome back. Earlier in this program, we heard George W. Bush take aim at the vice president, saying the Clinton-Gore White House has to be cleaned up. Al Gore himself has to be thinking about how to respond to that kind of criticism from his Republican rival.

We spoke to CNN's Gary Tuchman on the Gore campaign trail about the vice president and his next moves.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, one might presume, since he's the only Democratic candidate left for presidency after Bill Bradley makes his official announcement tomorrow, that he doesn't have to worry about campaigning for these primaries and caucuses still to come.

But on the contrary, it's a great opportunity for Al Gore to campaign in these states and start talking about the general election, start talking about the Republicans, start talking about George W. Bush. So he'll be as active as ever, despite the fact that he doesn't have any Democratic opposition anymore.

MANN: He's still making his living, of course, as vice president of the country. But running for the presidency, he will be expected to choose his own candidate for vice president. Any word on that?

TUCHMAN: Well, it doesn't benefit a candidate to declare this early in the game. Generally speaking, the presidential nominees from the parties choose at their party's conventions their vice presidential running mates. The Democratic Convention comes up this August. Sometime it's a little bit earlier.

But Al Gore is giving no hint about it. What we do know is he's been a very loyal vice president to Bill Clinton. We would expect him to look for somebody equally loyal.

MANN: OK, that's a people question he's going to put off for a little while. There are still policy issues, though, that he has to talk about. What are the big issues for him?

TUCHMAN: Well, Al Gore and his campaign staff will focus on certain issues which they think they're on the right side of, which they think the American people will support - issues like the environment, gun control and abortion. They believe George W. Bush is vulnerable on those issues, and they will talk about them a lot in the days, weeks and months to come.

MANN: One more question for you. The primaries are over. The campaign begins now. Ideologically, politically, how does that change things for Al Gore and for the Democratic Party, do you think?

TUCHMAN: Well, certainly, he can now focus his attack on the GOP, in particular George W. Bush who looks like will be the man who he faces in the general election. However, we still do have primaries and caucuses to go. Some big states haven't gone to the polls yet - Florida, Texas and Illinois.

So he will still campaign in those states. There will soon be - there will still be primary elections. But he can focus his attack to the Republicans, and he doesn't have to worry about saying anything bad about Bill Bradley. As a matter of fact, he will say lots of good things about Bill Bradley because we expect Bill Bradley tomorrow will endorse Al Gore for the presidency.

MANN: Gary Tuchman in Nashville, thanks very much for this.


The morning after his Super Tuesday triumph, the vice president spoke to CNN's Leon Harris about his campaign and likely next opponent.


AL GORE, DEMOCRATIC PRES. CANDIDATE: I had no preference for who the Republican nominee would be. I'm going to let the voters in the Republican primaries make that decision. You're assuming it's George Bush. I won't quarrel with that, but I'm going to let them make the decision.

LEON HARRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John McCain was really attracting independent voters and many Democrats as well, Democrats that are leaking from your party. How do address that leak?

GORE: Well, actually, of the four candidates running last night, three of us support reform, including campaign finance reform. I will elevate that issue in the general election campaign.

I think the main issue is how to keep the prosperity going and protect Social Security, protect a women's right to choose and get child-safety trigger locks. I don't know how Governor Bush can oppose mandatory child-safety trigger locks.

But where campaign reform is concerned, we don't have to wait for the passage of a law. I will ask the Republican nominee to join with me in calling for a ban on the so-called "soft money" and a ban on the unregulated, secretly funded, so-called "independent expenditures" of the kind that flooded into the Republican primary in New York and California and Ohio in the last days of this election.

We ought to get rid of that and then go further and eliminate the 30-second and 60-second ads and debate twice a week on a different issue each time, every week, from the time the nominees are selected until election day.

HARRIS: Well, it will be interesting to see what the Bush camp comes back with -- in response to that.

But isn't it quite a risk for you to bring up campaign finance reform as an issue going into the fall considering your own vulnerabilities? Republicans have promised that we're going to be seeing lots of video of you at that infamous Buddhist temple.

GORE: Well, I said right in my speech last night to the crowd gathered here in Nashville that I've learned from my mistakes, and like John McCain, I bring the passionate commitment born of personal experience to the cause of campaign finance reform. Like John McCain, I condemn the secretly funded special-interest attack ads that distort and dishonor our Democracy. We need to give this process back to the people, and the best way to do that is to have regular debates, as I've mentioned.

And also, I will call upon the Republican nominee to have joint, open meetings with me with undecided voters. Maybe you could host one of those, Leon. I'm going to start on my own having open meetings with undecided voters, and I'll have the first one tonight in Michigan.


MANN: We have to take a break. But when we come back - the ballot and the boom. Running for office with a rocketing economy. Stay with us.


MANN (voice-over): You can almost divide people in the United States into three groups - the ones with no money invested in the stock market who, for the most part, wish they had some; the people who do have money in the stock market who, for the most part, wish they had more; and a tiny number of people who think the current stock market boom could have unpredictable consequences and find, for the most part, that very few people are listening.

(on camera): Hello, and welcome. No one has ever run an election campaign with this country feeling so rich. The United States is enjoying the longest peace-time economic expansion in its history. New economic figures suggest that productivity is up, labor costs are down, and Americans are spending and spending and spending.

Joining us now to talk about how that will affect the election is Deborah McGregor, Washington correspondent for the British newspaper the Financial Times. Thanks so much for being with us.

Let me ask you, first of all.


MANN: .how you think this extraordinary economy is likely to color the election campaign?

MCGREGOR: Well, obviously, Al Gore will be wanting to associate himself with all the successes of the Clinton years, distancing himself from Mr. Clinton's personal problems, but very much wanting to associate himself with the low unemployment and the high growth of the Clinton years.

And it will be a bit of a dicey path for George Bush to try and make a case against Mr. Gore and the economic performance because he is trying to paint Mr. Gore as a kind of Washington insider, and isn't that awful? But in fact, the economic successes of the Clinton years have been something that anybody running for office would love to emulate.

So there are some risks in Mr. Bush trying to attack the Clinton record on that. I think what you will see more than anything else is that you will see a grand debate about the bigger policy issues. For example, tax cuts - and you will see Al Gore trying to sort of claim the mantle of the good economic steward by trying to paint Mr. Bush as having a risky tax plan.

Mr. Bush is calling for about a billion dollars in tax cuts over the next 10 years, whereas Al Gore is saying we don't need a big tax cut. He has very targeted provisions that would be about a third of the size of Mr. Bush's tax cut over the next 10 years.

MANN: Tax cuts sound like a nice thing to everybody. But let me ask you, looking at the United States economy beyond simply how much money is going to be in the pocketbooks of the people who pay taxes, is either of these men in a position to do real good with their policies or to do real harm?

MCGREGOR: Well, I think that there will be a big debate about whether you do harm if you pretend that these big surpluses that are now going to flow into the federal Treasury are definitely going to materialize and start making policy on the basis of that. So that I think you will see a big debate from Mr. Gore certainly trying to charge that Mr. Bush wants to spend a lot of that money before it's even flowing into the coffers.

We're talking about $4 trillion worth of federal surpluses over the next 10 years. And Mr. Gore will talk a lot about whether some of that money should be used to shore up Social Security, the federal pension - federally funded pension scheme, or Medicare, the health plan that the government sponsors.

And so you will see, you know, there will be an argument between them about whether or not you can do harm if you automatically go out and start spending that money before it's even materialized.

MANN: Is there a consensus among smart people, among economists, among investors on those kinds of issues?

MCGREGOR: I think the general feeling on Wall Street is that this is not the time for a tax cut and certainly not a major tax cut. And there has been a fair bit of worry in what would be called nonpolitical circles among the investment community and also, by the way, from Alan Greenspan, the Fed chairman, who has really signaled pretty strongly that he doesn't think that it's a very good idea to have a big tax and has argued for paying down the national debt, for example, and also for trying to restore the entitlement programs - Social Security and Medicare.

So there is - I think that there is some territory there that Mr. Bush will be vulnerable on. He's also said unequivocally that he will not back off from that tax cut, and that could present him with problems. As you recall, his father once broke a pledge on taxes, and it was very politically difficult for him when he decided to increase taxes, having promised during the campaign not to do so. And it became a very tough issue, and he was basically punished by the voters eventually for that.

MANN: Let me ask you about another aspect of George W. Bush's campaign. He's from Texas, and they pump a lot of oil in Texas. The Clinton administration has been trying to talk down the price of oil in the United States and worldwide, for that matter. Would a Bush White House be more content with higher oil prices than the current administration has been?

MCGREGOR: I think George Bush's basic philosophy is that he's very hands-off when it comes to market. So I don't think you would see any of the so-called job owning to try and lower the prices. And as you point out, he is, you know, he is from the governor of a very big oil and gas state, Texas, and he himself was an oil man and was in the oil business in Texas for a very long time.

So he's - I think that's where his heart is. But more importantly, perhaps, his broader economic philosophy is very traditional, bedrock Republican hands off the marketplace.

MANN: Deborah McGregor of the Financial Times. Thanks so much for this.

MCGREGOR: My pleasure.

MANN: Money is always an issue. The economy always an issue. Campaign finance another big issue in U.S. politics. But it's nothing new. We close this program with CNN's Garrick Utley and the alarming activities of New York politicians of yesteryear.


GARRICK UTLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New York City at the turn of the last century, a city run by the political bosses of the Democratic party machine, Tammany Hall.

"Men ain't in politics for nothing," said one of its leaders, "they want to get something out of it." The words of George Washington Plunkitt, a Tammany Boss and legend who dispensed his political wisdom from Graziano's Shoeshine Stand in the county court building which still stands. At one point, Plunkitt held four public offices simultaneously, complaining only that it was fatiguing drawing four salaries.

(on camera): For those unhappy about the state of politics and campaigns today, we offer a modest perspective from the sidewalks of New York, a city which, for most of a century, was controlled, governed, built up and ripped off by Tammany Hall, which itself began as a reform movement.

(voice-over): It was retail politics at the street level, offering much-needed assistance to the poor and immigrants in exchange for their votes. What critics called vote buying turned into massive corruption. The infamous William "Boss" Tweed, in the mid-19th century, led a ring of cronies who plundered the city of tens and perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars. Tweed went to prison and died there, but Tammany Hall rolled on.

By the time George Washington Plunkitt rose to power and millionaire wealth as a Tammany leader, he was careful to distinguish between what he called honest graft and dishonest graft.

(on camera): Dishonest graft, in Plunkitt's view, was taking bribes. Honest graft was using his political position for profit, learning, for example, where the city might be building a new park or municipal building, and then buying up the real estate around it. If that struck some as abuse of power, Plunkitt said proudly, "I seen my opportunities and I took 'em."

(voice-over): Today, municipal employees are hired, in theory, according to the city's needs and the worker's skills. In Plunkitt's time, political patronage was rampant when civil service reform was mandated by the state constitution in 1894 over Tammany Hall's bitter opposition. "What is representative government for," Plunkitt complained, "if it does not reward those who won the election with government jobs?" And, he asked, "What is the Constitution among friends?"

But it was the emergence of primaries, the selection of party candidates by the voters that challenged and eventually destroyed the power of the old-time political bosses. "The men who put through the primary law," Plunkitt thundered, "are the same crowd that stand for the civil service blight." They want the destruction of government, the downfall of the Constitution, and hell generally." The so-called "good old days" in politics.

Garrick Utley, CNN, New York.


MANN: And that's INSIGHT for this day. I'm Jonathan Mann. Stay with us. There's more news just ahead.



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