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Larry King Live

How Fierce Is the 2000 Presidential Fight Going to Be?

Aired March 14, 2000 - 9:00 p.m. ET

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

LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, focus on Southern Super Tuesday and beyond: How fierce is the 2000 presidential fight going to be? We'll talk live with GOP Governor George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, from Austin, Texas.

Later, Democratic Vice President Al Gore will join us from Tallahassee, Florida. All that and more next on LARRY KING LIVE.

We begin with Governor George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, the first lady of Texas, married 22 years. He's in his home state. He's going to win that primary tonight.

Were your plans always to be where you are tonight, governor?

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I'm glad -- I'm glad we cinched the nomination here in Texas. I told the people when I filed, I said by the time we get back for the Texas primary, I think I'll have the nomination secured. There were a couple of moments where I wasn't so sure. But I'm glad to be here in Texas. We've got a lot of friends here tonight. And I know people are going to be excited.

This is just a moment in time, though, Larry, because the main event starts here pretty soon, and I'm looking forward to it.

KING: Laura, are you looking forward to this, because I know I spoke to your husband about a year ago, and he had some concerns about the family and his daughters and what lie ahead? Are you concerned?

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY OF TEXAS: Well, I am -- I am looking forward to it also. I think it'll be great. We've had a wonderful time so far on the campaign trail. We've met great friends everywhere and seen beautiful states. And so I'm looking forward to it.

I think it'll be hard. I understand that. I think it'll be wild, but I think it'll be great.

KING: Governor, your spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said today, it starts dead even. Do you agree with that?

G. BUSH: Well, if it starts even, I'm in pretty good shape. I'm running against a man who's been the vice president for eight years. People got to know him well. I've got a lot -- I've got a lot of work to do. But if it's even, I like my chances. And the reason I like my chances is because I've got a message that's so hopeful for changing our schools and reforming our military, sharing some of the surplus with the people who pay the bills.

I've got a message of reform and a message of renewal. I want to renew the spirit of America. And that's what people are looking for.

KING: Are you going to renew your party? Obviously, you've had a rift. Is that going to be repairable?

G. BUSH: Well, step one in any good campaign is to unite our party. I think we're coming together a lot faster than anybody anticipated. The really positive results from the primaries and the competition I had with Senator John McCain and others is that the turnouts were huge, Larry.

The people in our party are excited. The people who share our philosophy are excited about the fall campaign.

This is going to be an interesting race. It's whether or not we want four more years of Clinton-Gore and the attitudes of what's been taking place in Washington, or if we want a fresh start after what I call a season of cynicism. I'm going to give the country a fresh start.

KING: Are you going to be able to patch it up with Senator McCain, do you think?

G. BUSH: Oh, I really do. I'm sure John and I will find a lot of areas of agreement. We both believe we ought to reform the Social Security system by giving people the opportunity to have personal savings accounts. We both believe we ought to have paycheck protection when it comes to reforming public funding -- financing of campaigns.

There's a lot of areas of agreement. He raised a good fight, and frankly, I'm a better candidate as a result of the competition.

KING: Do you agree with that, Laura? Were you -- are you in retrospect glad that McCain did what he did, putting your husband through that kind of fight?

L. BUSH: I guess so. I think, you know, certainly. It would have been great to win every primary. But I also think that a fight gave people the opportunity to see George, to see that he could take a punch and get up and fight on. I think probably he was able to prove himself to a lot of people who weren't sure that he really wanted it that bad. And I think that really helps.

KING: Governor, before we take a break and come back with some more moments, our mutual friend, Bill Bennett, is suggesting that Colin Powell is a way to mend a lot of fences. He's a big fan of you and of Senator McCain. Both of you admire him. Senator McCain said in the South Carolina debate he'd make him his secretary of state. You said you consider him very highly.

Is he -- is he -- are you going to talk to him about administration, vice president, whatever?

G. BUSH: Well, it's a little early to talk about vice presidents, but there's no question that a man of Colin Powell's stature would send a strong signal to America that I know how to attract the best minds in America. I -- of course, I'm going to talk to him. And I hope I can count on his support.

KING: We'll take a break, come right back with some more moments with Governor George Bush and his wife, Laura. Another historic night, victories in Texas and Florida, not unexpected.

Later, the vice president, a panel in between. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with Governor and Mrs. Bush. Governor, in an e-mail tonight from the vice president congratulating you on the party's nomination, your victory this evening, he asked you for two things. He says, "Let's start debates within two weeks and let's drop all soft money."

He said he would take the first step by banning soft money from the campaign and asking the Democratic National Committee not to run any issue ads financed by soft money.

What do you think of both those ideas? No soft money and a debate within two weeks?

G. BUSH: Well, first of all, there's going to be plenty of time to debate when America is paying attention, and secondly, if I believed him, I might be willing to accept it. But this is a man who said he wanted to ban soft money, and then turned around, announced he's going to go out and raise $35 million of soft money. This is a man who says he wants to ban soft money, and at the same time, President Bill Clinton is out raising soft money. These people don't have any credibility on the issue, Larry.

If I felt...

KING: Is your answer -- if he's telling the truth, you accept or you don't believe him?

G. BUSH: Well, I'm not so sure. I just don't believe it. I don't believe the labor unions are not going to run soft money ads against me. I don't believe these special interest groups that are closely aligned with the Clinton/Gore administration are going to adhere to that policy.

And so this is an amazing attempt for him to cause us to forget the past. This is a man who went to a Buddhist temple to raise money, and a friend of his was convicted because of that fund-raising event. And I'm not going to let America forget that.

I don't believe they have any credibility in the discussion of campaign funding reform. If I believed him, if I thought it was very sincere, I might consider that.

KING: All right. And on the debate thing, you said you want to wait, but you said at the beginning that you were impressed by the fact that it's dead even, because he has been vice president for eight years. Wouldn't you be anxious to jump in to that debate?

G. BUSH: Oh, there's going to be plenty of time to debate. There's an old tradition in American politics to have the debate on the debate. It looks like he wants to start it early.

I'll be prepared to have the debates. I'm going to lay my groundwork for a successful electoral strategy. I've got a lot of work to do, and that's what I'm going to do.

KING: All right. A couple of other things. Oil prices are $30 today, I think, a barrel. They would make a profit at $8 a barrel. What can a president do? What would President George W. Bush do?

G. BUSH: Well, the first thing I would do is I would call in some chips from our friends overseas, the Saudis, for example, or the Kuwaitis, or perhaps our friends in Mexico, countries with whom we've had good relations and whom we've helped in the recent past, and say, do not hurt our economy by running up the price of crude oil, you need to open up your spigots, you need to increase the supply of crude oil. Somehow this administration has not had the diplomatic cards to play.

Secondly, I would have a national energy policy in place. We need to be exploring for more energy in our country, starting in ANWR up in Alaska. I think we can do so. I know we can do in an environmentally friendly way to explore those vast reserves or some overthrust (ph) exploration we need to have.

I'm running against a man, for example, at least a man who is a part of an administration that wants to get rid of hydroelectric dams in eastern Washington and eastern Oregon. These are dams that produce clean electricity, and yet here we're facing dependency upon OPEC and they want to get rid of that amount -- that supply of energy.

I mean, something is amiss in this administration when it comes to energy policy.

KING: So you're saying in a sense this is definitely an issue?

G. BUSH: I think it's a big issue, I do.

KING: Energy?

G. BUSH: I do.

KING: And on the NRA, the president, Wayne LaPierre, the head of the NRA, said: The NRA says Clinton is willing to accept a certain level of killing to further his political agenda. The White House said those remarks are shameful. Do you -- would you comment on that statement?

G. BUSH: I don't think the president, you know, expects killing or accepts killing in America. I don't believe that.

I do believe the administration has been -- has failed in not enforcing gun laws. And when I'm the president, we're going to enforce federal gun laws. We're going to say to people loud and clear, if you commit a crime with a gun, there's going to be a consequence in our society. If you illegally sell guns, we're going to come and find you.

I support instant background checks. I support laws that keep the guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them. But I am for -- what I really is enforcing laws on the books.

KING: You don't support everything the NRA stands for, though? I don't want to put words in your mouth.

G. BUSH: No, we can go down issue by issue. I don't think the president supports killing of people in America. I don't believe that. I do believe that they have fallen down on the job of enforcing laws on the books.

KING: And Laura, finally, are you all geared up for this? Are you ready for what's going to happen? Because as Nancy Reagan told me, Sacramento ain't Washington. Austin ain't Washington.

(LAUGHTER)

Are you ready?

L. BUSH: That's right. Well, I hope so. I'm looking forward to it, actually, Larry.

G. BUSH: Let me say this, Larry...

KING: No doubt? No qualms?

L. BUSH: No qualms.

G. BUSH: If anybody is ready -- if anybody is ready in our family, it's Laura. She's going to make a great first lady. She's a fabulous campaigner. And one of the reasons I'm beginning to do better than I thought is because people know I married above my head.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Didn't we all?

Thanks, governor.

G. BUSH: Yes, sir.

KING: Thanks, Laura.

L. BUSH: Bye. Thanks, Larry.

KING: Governor George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, from Austin, Texas. Later in the program, Al Gore. Back with more of LARRY KING LIVE right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In a couple of minutes, we'll be joined by Jack Kemp, the former vice presidential candidate, and the honorable Ann Richards, the former governor of Texas, both of whom are here to analyze the condition of American politics, circa this date, this night, but we're going to spend a few moments with our own CNN senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield.

What do you make of Governor Bush's statement that he does not believe that Gore will not run -- will not use money that Gore has proposed not to use tonight?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: It's a microcosm of this whole argument about campaign finance reform. We've heard it before. We're going to hay hear it again. Al Gore, who knows that he is vulnerable on this issue, is kind of the repentant sinner, saying, I have learned from my mistakes, and now let's clear the decks. And he's making the same challenge to Governor Bush as he did to Senator Bradley -- no ads, let's just start debates tomorrow. And George W. Bush, who I think understandably, doesn't want to start a debate in March -- I mean, Al Gore is considered the favorite going into these debates, based on his past experiences, and he wants to keep that campaign finance issue alive, and so for to them accept anything like that at this point is a way of giving Al Gore a pass on an issue the Republicans want to use to their advantage.

KING: But how -- why say, though, I don't believe you?

GREENFIELD: Well, because I guess if he said, I did believe him, that undermines the Republican argument that they're going to be making from now until November, that one of the major issues in this campaign is the character and trustworthiness of the Clinton-Gore administration.

KING: Do you think he was smart not to agree with the head of the NRA on the statement about Clinton and guns?

GREENFIELD: Oh, yes, I mean, one of the -- in "Life is in Politics" one of the old rules is, I can protect myself from my enemies, but God protect me from my friends. That is not statement that you, as the nominee of a major political party, want to embrace, that the sitting president of the United States likes to -- accepts the idea that American civilians should be killed here to advance his political agenda. No, no, I think the vice president -- I'm sorry, the governor had to create some separation on that.

KING: Jeff, what's the biggest surprise to you so far in this whole bailiwick story to this date?

GREENFIELD: Well, it's certainly not the identity of the all- but-certain nominees, because this is what you would have predicted in September. I think for me, the biggest surprise was when we take a step back and see how close John McCain came to really upsetting the apple cart here. This is no knock on his campaign, because he -- you know, but when you are a long shot, you have to do everything perfectly, and no campaign does everything perfectly -- not the people who wind up winning, not the people who wind up losing -- but when you look back and see that John McCain actually came pretty close to derailing the consensus choice of the Republican Party, the fellow who was endorsed by almost every senator, every governor, almost every sitting Republican Congressman and who had the biggest money advantage in American political history, I think that was a surprise, that in a time of peace and prosperity, there was this mood, if not of disaffection, this hunger for something else that Senator McCain came to symbolize.

KING: And was Bradley, on the other hand, a disappointing surprise?

GREENFIELD: Yes, that's a very good point. I think -- I'll certainly cop to that, that given where Senator Bradley was in September of 1999 -- outraising the vice president, with leads in New Hampshire and New York, with a good campaign staff in place, the kind that most insurgent candidates don't have -- to realize that when the game started, if I may, there was no there, there, that it almost seemed at times as if Bill Bradley didn't know what the contest was about -- that was surprise to me.

KING: We'll take break and come back.

Jeff remains with us, of course. He will be joined by Ann Richards and Jack Kemp.

Later, the vice president.

This is LARRY KING. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with Jeff Greenfield, CNN's senior analyst. He's in New York. Joining us now in Washington, the honorable Ann Richards, the former governor of Texas and a political analyst for this program, and in San Diego, Jack Kemp, former nominee of his party for the vice presidency and a cofounder of Empower America.

Governor Richards, do you agree with Jeff that it was wise of Governor Bush to decline on the soft money thing now and to decline debates?

ANN RICHARDS, FORMER TEXAS GOVERNOR: Oh, absolutely, he had to say that. You couldn't possibly agree with some statement like the NRA guy made.

And by the way, I think, Larry, that the whole issue of guns is going to be a big issue in this campaign. We are playing...

KING: We'll get to that in a while, but did you agree with what he said tonight, though, about, on that part, dealing with soft money and debating? RICHARDS: Well, I think it's interesting. What's happened here, Larry, is that Al Gore has now moved and staked out that territory, and you've got McCain over here who's saying I want Bush to get where I am or I am not going to endorse him, and yet Gore has taken the territory. It's a very interesting situation that Bush finds himself in, because how is he going to get over there and holler, me too, me too, me too at this stage of the game?

So as just an analyst watching how it's working, I think Gore pulled a very, very smart maneuver as saying, you know, I've got religion. I have sinned, and I have changed my mind.

KING: Nothing wrong with that.

RICHARDS: I am in the amen corner.

KING: Jack Kemp, what's your read? .

JACK KEMP, FMR. GOP VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think Ann's right. It's a maneuver. It's a clever one. Jeff Greenfield pointed out that Al Gore is playing the role of a repentant sinner. I don't think the American people are going to buy it, Larry, particularly when "The L.A. Times" and "New York Times" recently have come out with stories about the Justice Department turning down a special investigation of Al Gore's fund-raising tactics, both soft and hard money, in the White House.

So with all due respect, it was a ploy, a maneuver, the American people don't buy it, and I think we're going to get on to bigger issues, notwithstanding the fact that the soft money spent against Bob Dole in 1996 was about $120 million. No way the Democratic Party is going to give up soft money.

KING: Jeff, will George W. Bush be able to pull McCain back in?

GREENFIELD: Ah, you want a prediction. I was waiting for this.

KING: No, I...

GREENFIELD: The odds are yes, because Senator McCain, he talks about the Republican Party is his home. He also happens to be the chairman of a significant committee. He was going to be a Senator for four more years, assuming that's what he wants, and unless you assume that John McCain is so offended by what Governor Bush did in the primaries, and moreover, can't find any common ground, yes, there has to be some kind of rapprochement.

But we should remember, in recent American political history, sometimes when a defeated candidate sort of surrenders his sword, it's not done with full enthusiasm. Ronald Reagan in 1976, after he lost to Gerry Ford, said I am going to campaign for the Republican platform and was, at best, very grudging in his support of Gerry Ford. I think the question is, how enthusiastic or how full throated will Senator McCain be once he moves back into the fold?

KING: Do you think, Ann Richards, that -- governor, you're an honorable governor -- I should always say that, because you're always honorable and you're always governor.

RICHARDS: Of course you should.

KING: Do you think that McCain might make a fight at the convention for a plank about money?

RICHARDS: I would doubt that seriously, but I think he is going to stick to his guns, because we all agree that McCain is a principled guy. He feels very, very strongly on this issue. And one of the things that I find the most interesting about what's happened here is the idea that you attack in an area where you don't have the most solid ground. That's what Bush did to McCain on the environmental issue. Where was it? New York, where he ran ads showing that big cloud of black stuff. Well of course, the environment has gone straight to you know where in the state of Texas since George Bush has been governor, and here he attacks McCain, stakes out a position that keeps him from being attacked in return.

KING: But you don't expect, then, McCain to make a fight for platform -- for the platform to...

RICHARDS: Well, he may do that about the platform, but I fully expect -- McCain is a Republican. I think eventually, some way, they're going to try to find an accommodation. But Bush is going to have to find a place that he has some comfort on campaign finance reform, because everybody is there but him.

KING: Jack Kemp, could Colin Powell, as Bill Bennett has suggested, be that suggestion?

KEMP: Well, I think Colin Powell would be a great choice. I am a big Colin Powell fan and a big Bill Bennett fan. I mentioned John McCain himself or Elizabeth dole. There's a number of men and women in our party that would make outstanding vice presidents.

And with all due respect to the arguments that were made earlier, John McCain, a, is a good Republican. He's courageous. He lost fair and share. It was brutal at some levels on both sides, but there's a number of areas where he and George Bush are going to agree -- Social Security, having opportunity for people to have personal retirement accounts where, where they can get a much higher rate of return than in government bonds and T-bills. Not only Social Security, but tax reform. George Bush wants to tear up the 44,000-page tax code. The Internet -- George Bush has pledged that under his presidency, the Internet would be tariff, duty and tax-free; good issue both for McCain and George Bush, among other issues -- military reform, which John McCain should get a lot of credit for.

I think Bush should run as a reform Republican and squeeze Pat Buchanan out and move that -- center right -- to the center.

KING: Jeff, this Powell movement. Supposing, Jeff, that Powell were agreeable to be vice president, would that be the right move? Would Bush do it? Would the right stay with him?

GREENFIELD: It would be a very smart move. But I just want to say something to you an as an old sports buff. Vice presidents should not be speculated on before we've played the Final Four, run the Indy 500 or had opening day in baseball. This is very early, because this thing has been wrapped up earlier than in history. You realize, Larry...

KING: They're both thinking about it, have to be.

GREENFIELD: Yes, but you know what, probably not that much, because it's early.

I would just point something out to you. A child conceived on the night of the New Hampshire primary will have been born before this election takes place. This is a long process. We've never had this long a general election campaign.

Yes, do I think it would be smart to put Colin Powell on the ticket and risk the wrath of the right, sure I do, but I can think of several other vice presidential candidates in both parties, and what I'm saying is, it's March. They're going to hard look at the prospective nominees and not really begin to calculate who they need until they what the electoral map looks like three or four months down the road.

KING: Ann, do think that at this point, do you agree that this race looks dead even?

RICHARDS: Yes, I think this is going to be one of the tightest races in our history. I think it's going to be highly personal, I think it's going to be really tough, and I think it's going to be really close. And frankly, today being such a sort of non-event, it's going to be a long eight months, and I'm not sure that we're going to be able to keep the attention of the American public all that interested and excited for ...

KING: I'm in.

RICHARD: ... this long haul.

KING: I am in.

We will take a break and come back with more. The vice president will be joining us as well. Our panel remains with us. This is LARRY KING LIVE.

Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with Jeff Greenfield in New York, the honorable Ann Richards in Washington and Jack Kemp in San Diego.

Jack, is guns going to be a big issue, and is your party in trouble on that issue just on the numbers?

KEMP: Well, it's an issue, as Ann Richards pointed out, and it's a big issue, I'm sure all over the country. And it affects people in different parts of the country perhaps differently. You know, Columbine, Colorado is going to be a lot different than, say, Montana, with all due respect.

Now, I think George Bush made a very wise statement tonight when you asked him to sit -- whether or not he was going to separate himself from the NRA or Wayne LaPierre's, who runs the NRA, statement about President Clinton. That was a very fortunate -- indeed, terrible -- statement. And Wayne should apologize to the president.

No one wants to see anybody killed in order to make political points, and I was glad that George Bush suggested that he totally disagreed with that.

Is it a big issue? Yes. I think Bush will have a very credible position on the issue of guns, and the enforcement of the law. There should be an extreme penalty for anybody who commits a crime with a gun.

Virginia is doing that under Jim Gilmore, Governor Gilmore, and crime with guns has gone down sharply in Virginia. Yes, it's an issue.

KING: Jeff, basically the NRA -- I guess any observer would say -- is not very popular in the United States today, and Gore's going to run against them.

GREENFIELD: Yes.

KING: Does this put Governor Bush in a bind?

GREENFIELD: It does and I'll tell you why: If you take a look at what I think is the model of this campaign -- you go back to 1988, sitting vice president who has to establish his own identity versus a governor trying to run on his record -- what George W. Bush's father did to Dukakis was to identify him as outside the mainstream on issues like the Pledge of Allegiance and crime. And I think that the Gore campaign needs to do that to Bush on a couple of issues, one of which is guns.

KING: Ann, would you agree that Gore will press guns as a big, big issue?

RICHARDS: I hope he presses guns, and one of the things you've got to remember is that the core vote of the Democratic Party are females. And females are absolutely solidly opposed to any weakening of gun laws, of any future opportunities for people to carry more guns, for automatic weapons to be in the hands of people who have no business having them. And I think Al Gore needs to solidify his female base as best he can, and guns is a great issue to do it.

It was the issue in the campaign that I ran with George W. Bush before, because I was totally opposed to concealed weapons, people carrying guns in their pockets on the street.

KING: But you lost. Does that mean that it may not be a winning issue? RICHARDS: And I lost it. But the times have changed in the country. Now kids are killing kids in guns with school -- in schools. So the atmosphere is different. The -- the -- the pressing nature of paying attention to guns is different. And it is going to be one of the real issues of this campaign.

KING: Jack, are you concerned, as some are reporting Republicans are concerned, about the a debates? That George W. Bush is going to have a tough time with a debater like Al Gore, who is sort of like relentless?

KEMP: He is relentless. He's very disciplined.

KING: You know that firsthand?

KEMP: Yes, yes. And the opinion was that I lost and Quayle lost and Perot lost. And he's good. He's disciplined. He's probably focused on George Bush's debates right now. He started preparing for me right after I got the nomination. So to that extent, yes, it will be tough.

Secondly, I think Bush will do a lot better than I did and Quayle did. I think he has got...

KING: Because?

KEMP: ... going into this as a presidential candidate, it's a lot easier to debate Al Gore running for president than it was as vice president for me and Dan Quayle. So I think he'll do a lot better, and the issues, with all due respect to Ann Richards, I think the issues are clearly going to be with George Bush, albeit, I'm sure there's a sharp disagreement on this panel.

KING: Do you think Gore -- Bush might use, Jeff, lowered expectations in the debates?

KING: Well, yes. I mean, it's not something -- it's not something that you really choose. I mean, if you think about it...

(LAUGHTER)

... it's not an honor to go in a debate where people think, well, you know, if he doesn't drool, I guess we give him points. But yes, I do think that that's true. The same thing that happened on your program, Larry, when Al Gore debated Ross Perot, and the White House was very nervous about this, and most people think that Gore -- Gore did well.

But I also think -- and it's interesting in talking to the campaigns, one of the things that somebody in the Bush campaign said to me the night of Super Tuesday was "This is not going to be a campaign run on issues," because they said, "If this campaign were on the issues now, Gore should be way ahead, because there's peace and prosperity and low crime. It's going to be a campaign on character and trustworthiness and a fresh start."

You'll notice Governor Bush used that phrase with you tonight: fresh start versus more of the same.

And I must say that traditionally, I mean, from like 1968 through '92 the issues -- Cold War, crime, values -- were all tilting toward Republicans. I think those kind of issues are either gone or the Democrats have control of them.

So I would be very wary if I...

KING: We'll take.

GREENFIELD: I'm sorry, go ahead.

KING: No, no. Good point.

GREENFIELD: If I were the Republicans, I would be very wary about how this -- how this campaign shapes up when you realize that the country, through the polls at least, say they are more content with the way things are now than they've been in 40 years.

KEMP: You know...

KING: We'll take a break, and we'll come right back. We'll talk with Vice President Al Gore, and then the comments of our panel as they stay with us. Don't go away. The vice president's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We now turn to Vice President Al Gore, a winner in his primaries tonight as well. He's on hand in Tallahassee, Florida.

Is that a state you think you can win? It's interesting you're there tonight.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, I'm here on purpose, Larry, to send that signal. I think it's going to be a real battleground state.

KING: All right. I've got bad news for you. We gave Governor Bush your challenge and he rejected both. He will not meet you in debate yet. He said it's too early, the public's not focused. And he said he doesn't believe you on soft money, and he can't believe you or this administration. If he can't believe, he can't accept the deal.

GORE: Well, the way it was reported to me, I found a little good news in it, Larry, because he did not express any objection on principle.

KING: No, he did not.

GORE: And he said that if he thought it was a sincere offer, he might accept it.

KING: Correct.

GORE: Well, I assure you it is a sincere offer, and I -- you know, I'm going to demonstrate that. In fact, I sent him in that e- mail tonight a proposal that has three parts. I'll -- I want to eliminate all the soft money, and I went farther than that. I said I'm asking the Democratic National Committee not to spend any soft money on advertising until and unless the Republican Party does. So it -- this is in Governor Bush's hands. He and his party can decide to accept this or they can start the ad war. And I hope they'll make the right decision, because it is very much a -- a sincere offer.

The second challenge is to eliminate the 30-second and 60-second TV and radio ads, and instead debate twice a week with a different issue each time.

Would you be willing to host one of the first debates, Larry?

KING: Absolutely, of course.

GORE: Well, I accept. I accept. Now, the third challenge is to have joint open meetings where both campaigns agree on genuinely undecided voters, and then the two of us, Governor Bush and I, stand in front of them and respond to their questions.

See, I think this is important because we need to give the process back to the people and take it away from the special interests, and I think, frankly, we have such a great opportunity to use this election in the year 2000 to rekindle the spirit of America and to redeem the promise of our representative democracy, and in the process, make the kinds of choices that can open up this wonderful future that we can have if we do the right thing: Keep the prosperity going; make sure nobody is left behind; use the prosperity to bring about revolutionary improvements in our public schools, not squander the money by draining it away on vouchers; don't have a risky tax scheme that puts us right back into big deficits again and wrecks our prosperity.

Let's instead expand health care and clean up the environment and reduce the crime rate with more community police and prevention programs.

KING: Frankly, Mr. Vice president, were you forced into this, in a sense, because of the reports this week concerning Miss Reno, yourself, recommendations by the Justice Department, et cetera, that you're sort of saying, well, maybe I did, maybe I goofed in the past, but I'm not going to do it again, I'm going down the right road?

GORE: No, this comes from the American people, Larry. Look at the support that was gained by Senator John McCain in the Republican primaries and the enthusiasm for the message of Bill Bradley. And each time I talked about this in the primary campaigns, I felt a very enthusiastic response because the people know that we have got to limit the power of the special interests.

Just look at what the NRA is doing now. Just look at what the HMOs are doing in blocking the health care patients' bill of rights that put the medical decisions back in the hands of doctors. Look at what the pharmaceutical companies are doing to block the prescription drug benefit for our seniors. Look at what the special interests as a group are doing in getting Governor Bush to advocate this risky tax scheme that would spend a trillion dollars more than the entire surplus for the next 10 years.

You know, a proposal like that really does beg the question, does he have the experience to be president?

KING: So you're saying, then, it has nothing to do with your own travails. This is what the people want. You accept what they want.

GORE: I accept what they want, and like John McCain, I bring the passion that comes from personal experience to this battle for campaign finance reform. It is not a new battle for me. In my first term in Congress, 23 years ago, I proposed full public financing of all federal elections. I have sponsored or co-sponsored more than a dozen major campaign finance reform bills over the last quarter century.

I don't accept any PAC money today. I'm following a higher standard than the one that is required in the law.

I have the smallest average contribution of any candidate running for president, and I have just asked the Democratic National Committee not to use any of this soft money until and unless the Republican Party definitively rejects the offer and goes first. And I hope that they will hold back and do the right thing, because then we can change our democracy for the better forever.

KING: We'll take a break and come back with some more moments with the vice president and then get the comments of our panel. He's in Tallahassee, Florida, where his opponent's brother is the governor, a state he says he can win in November.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: A couple of other things, Mr. Vice president. Of course, we'll be seeing lots of you in the months ahead. And again, we extend out the challenge to Governor Bush. We'll be happy to host that debate right here on this program. We'll give it an hour, an hour and half, two hours, whatever it takes. The more we exchange ideas, the better off we are as a country. I think everybody would agree with that.

GORE: Well said.

KING: I think the governor just disagrees with the timing.

GORE: Well, we'll see.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: All right. Everybody is talking vice president. They're talking now about Colin Powell. The governor said he would certainly talk to Colin Powell a lot about involvement. Have you given it any thought, honestly? Who knows better about being a vice president than you?

GORE: Well, I'm not drawing up a short list or even a long list right now.

KING: At all?

GORE: No, I'm really not. I'm going to take -- take all the time that's necessary to do that right.

KING: Can you say you're going to wait until they select, since they go first?

GORE: No, I haven't even made that decision yet. I might. But the only criterion that will -- well, the main criterion that will be followed is it has to be somebody who is capable of being president on a moment's notice if that should ever become necessary.

KING: The governor said that different policy would have led to lower oil prices. Closing down plants in the Pacific Northwest is not the answer. Alternative power, new sources of power in the United States, too dependent on Mideast oil. What's your response, at $30 a barrel?

GORE: Oh, we need alternative sources of energy and conservation and new technologies, but we've been concentrating on the tough diplomacy that we hope will convince the OPEC nations and the major producers there to boost up the supplies and let supply and demand drive the price down. And frankly, we've gotten some favorable responses, and with the meeting coming up in a relatively short period of time, I'm optimistic.

Now, there are other options, and we have all of them under consideration. But the tough diplomacy that is necessary to get them to lift this -- these restrictions on production right now, that's the key to it.

KING: You are optimistic, though?

GORE: I am. I am.

KING: The governor separated himself and criticized Wayne LaPierre for his remarks about the Clinton administration and guns.

GORE: I hope so.

KING: Is that a big issue?

GORE: Oh, I think it is. I cast the tie-breaking vote to close the gun show loophole, and yet that provision that closes that loophole is being bottled up right now by the Republican leadership in the Congress and by the NRA. And of course, as you probably know, Governor Bush overturned a 150-year ban on concealed weapons in Texas and passed legislation giving the gun manufacturers protections against the efforts by communities to get them to change their ways and accept a responsibility for this flood of guns and gun violence in our country.

And you know, even child safety trigger locks, they have been stirring up opposition to that. And when you have a 6-year-old first- grader killed by a classmate in class, what more does it take to say we need mandatory child safety trigger locks, and the kind of common- sense restrictions that don't affect hunters or sportsmen but do reflect the values of the American people in responding to this flood of guns that are in the wrong hands?

KING: Mr. Vice president, finally, do you think this race is, right now, close, even? Do you look for a very close race?

GORE: It feels like it's real close, yes, and -- but you know, it's not about the politics and the horse race. This is a chance, Larry, for our country to define who we are and to decide our course into the future.

We have the -- we've ended that long recession from the Bush- Quayle years and the big deficits, and now we have the biggest surpluses ever and the strongest economy in the history of our country.

We have a chance now to really lift up America, rekindle the American spirit, and use this prosperity to make wise choices in dramatically improving our schools and our health care system and our environment, and making sure that we keep the economy growing strongly and make sure that nobody's left behind.

If instead we were to use that risky tax scheme and squander the surplus and go right back into deficits again, it would be a lost opportunity.

I am going to be fighting to make the right choices, and I hope the American people will seize this mountaintop moment in American history.

KING: Thanks, as always, Mr. Vice president. We'll be seeing lots of you.

GORE: Thank you, Larry.

KING: Al Gore, vice president of the United States.

We'll get the comments of Jeff Greenfield, Ann Richards and Jack Kemp right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Jack Kemp in San Diego, he says he means it on soft money, says he's proven it. He's asked a Democratic committee to so ban it.

KEMP: Well, you know, for me, I would call his bluff, because I think it's a big bluff.

KING: And how do you call the bluff, by what?

KEMP: Well, you accept it. Look, I am not giving any advice and I certainly wouldn't take it in the Bush camp anyway, but I would call his bluff. I think, as I said before, the Democratic Party and the unions, with all due respect, spent hundreds of millions of dollars between April of '96 to August of '96 to demonize Bob Dole, demonize the Republican Congress, demonize everything, and with all -- I would call his bluff. I think he's bluffing, but he's got to be called. However, I don't think that'll be done.

KING: Ann Richards what -- do you think he's sincere?

RICHARDS: Sounded good to me. He -- you know, he -- Bush said he didn't believe him, and he said, well, I'm going to tell the Democratic National Committee not to run those ads. So it really chucks it to him.

And you know, I can't help but sit here and be, well, an amused observer, because I -- you know, I think what's happened to Bush is that he is over there on the right, McCain put him there. He's got Wayne LaPierre in his lap on one knee, and he's got Bob Jones on the other one. I don't think there's any way he can get rid of them.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Jack, do you want to comment on that?

KEMP: Yes, that's a really cheap shot. Ann knows better than that.

RICHARDS: Well, I don't think it was cheap at all, Jack. I thought it was perfectly accurate, as a matter of fact.

KEMP: Well, with all due respect, Ann, there are plenty of extremists on the left, and I haven't heard anybody say that they're sitting on Al Gore's kneecap or at his kneecap. Let's have a race on the issues and not attack personally.

RICHARDS: I think the I think the issue is...

KEMP: Bob Jones...

RICHARDS: ... is going to be the right wing in this country.

KEMP: Everybody knows George Bush knows that he is not some type of a flaming right-winger. He reformed education, reformed tort law, criminal justice, taxation and education, and he's going to be a very good campaigner....

RICHARDS: Then I think he should disavow the NRA.

KEMP: Oh, the NRA -- he disagreed with LaPierre.

RICHARDS: I think he should disavow them and Wayne LaPierre...

KEMP: He disagreed.

RICHARDS: ... and Bob Jones and the whole lot of them.

KEMP: Ann, he disagreed with them.

KING: Ann, we all know the right wing does not like compassion, at least I think they don't.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: I was kidding. I am kidding, Jack.

KEMP: OK.

KING: Jeff Greenfield, do you believe the vice president? And do you think, as Jack Kemp suggested, call the bluff?

GREENFIELD: Well, you know, it's not my place to believe. I do just note that I don't want you to be too flattered that he offered you the show, because he offered Jim Lehrer the debate a few hours ago, and I suspect if he goes on the food network, he'll offer Emerald (ph) the same things .

(LAUGHTER)

GREENFIELD: And the whole point about this is to say, look, you know, a few days ago, there were some very embarrassing reports that came out, that revealed that some people within the Clinton administration's own justice procedure were looking at Vice President Gore with some very suspicious eyes, so for him to say, OK, let's clear the decks and start anew is tactically very smart.

Look, it may well be -- I believe that if George W. Bush accepted the offer on soft money, it might be a very good idea for him, because one thing that we don't yet know is whether or not the Democratic and Republican National Committees would then say, OK, no soft money for the presidential campaign, we'll throw it all into national party building. I mean, you have to be very, very careful when you look at these offers and who accepts what to know what's on the table, because as somebody once said, political money is like air in a balloon: You push it down at this end, it pops up in the other.

KEMP: Could I make a point real quick, Larry, just a small one?

KING: Sure.

KEMP: No one has talked about, particularly in the press -- and I'm sorry the issue has not come up yet -- that the reason there's so much soft money is because it is so difficult to raise the money that has to be raised for television at $1,000 levels. That has not been changed since the Watergate era of 1974, so if you hold down the limit to $1,000, you're going to force parties and candidates all over the country to try to get around it, and I really believe that with full disclosure and lifting that limit, you would have, I think, more participation by more people and less soft money, ergo, less problems.

KING: We're close on time.

Ann, is it going to get nasty this race?

RICHARDS: I think it's going to be a very tough race, yes, I do, and I'm sorry about it.

KEMP: Yes, me too.

RICHARDS: But you know, one thing, Larry, about the whole business of the money, you know, we're all sick of it, we all agree the system's broke, we all agree that soft money ought to go...

KING: Quickly.

RICHARDS: ... but the solution would be, if we had a shorter campaign season, where we didn't have to talk about this stuff forever.

KEMP: Well said.

KING: Your lips to God.

Jeff Greenfield, Ann Richards, Jack Kemp, thanks to you all.

Stay tuned now for CNN "NEWSSTAND."

I'm Larry King. Good night.

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