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Inside Politics

'Classroom Campaign' Takes Bush to Desegregation Landmark and Gore Through a Day of School; Will Liberal Ideology Take Hollywood's Top Prize?

Aired March 24, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This I believe is the next advance in the cause of equality, the next frontier of civil rights.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: George W. Bush takes his message of education reform to a landmark in the battle for school desegregation.

Plus, Al Gore improvises his way through a day in the classroom. But can he score higher than his rival on the key issue of education?

And later, will liberal ideology take the prize in Hollywood? A look at the political messages in this year's Oscar race.

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS, with Bernard Shaw and Judy Woodruff.

WOODRUFF: Thanks you for joining us. Bernie is on assignment.

We'll call it "the classroom campaign." With education so important to the voters who may decide this election, both candidates have made full use of schools to help frame their messages. And today was no exception.

We have two reports, beginning with Jonathan Karl on George Bush's visit to a famous Little Rock high school.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): George W. Bush went to Little Rocks's Central High School to proclaim excellence in education a civil rights issue.

BUSH: This is a place where African-Americans confronted injustice, where white Americans confronted their conscience, and where the rule of law ended the reign of segregation.

KARL: It was here in 1957 that it took military force, under orders from President Eisenhower, to get nine black students into the all-white school against the will of Arkansas' segregationist governor.

BUSH: This school -- you couldn't come to this school in the past if you were a black person. You weren't allowed in. And now the fundamental question is, once in, are you going to come out with an excellent education? Central High School is meeting the challenge. Not all schools are in America.

KARL (on camera): The Bush campaign claims to be making a little history here as the first Republican presidential nominee to visit Little Rock's Central High School since the school became the symbol of the struggle against segregation more than 40 years ago.

(voice-over): Bush hopes he can score more political points on the education issue -- usually one that favors Democrats -- than Vice President Gore. His aides cite a recent poll where, by a slight majority, people say Bush can do a better job on education than Gore.

Here at Central High, Bush spoke at a tightly controlled event, shielded from almost all of the school's 1,900 students. The lone student allowed to question Bush took issue with the governor's suggestion that competition is a key to improving schools.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: I feel that having school districts and school industries fight over children as if they were commodities is kind of appalling to the American way and the way things should be done when we're trying to increase education within the state.

BUSH: Parents ought to be involved with education as well, and if they're frustrated with Central High School and the program being delivered here, why shouldn't they have a different option? Why shouldn't there be a different alternative?

KARL: Bush plans to continue his education push next week, visiting more schools and, the campaign says, unveiling new education proposals.

Jonathan Karl, CNN, Little Rock, Arkansas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Seeking to grab the spotlight on education from Texas Governor George W. Bush, Vice President Al Gore spent the day at a middle school in Macomb, Michigan.

Al Gore, the vice president became Al Gore, the teacher, lecturing an eighth-grade Civics class on the Industrial Revolution.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So the Industrial Revolution got started in the North, partly because the ideas came there first.

DAVIS: Al Gore, the fellow student, eating pizza for lunch in the school cafeteria, speaking gibberish as part of a sixth-grade drama class exercise.

Gore staffers joked the vice president was getting ready for a debate with George W. Bush. He did his best to blend in as an army of press and Secret Service agents tracked his every move.

GORE: I'm looking forward to seeing many of you throughout the day.

DAVIS: The event was one of what his campaign calls, "School Days," a series of planned school appearances designed to highlight his education proposals, including smaller class size and more teacher training.

GORE: The purpose is to learn as much as possible about how we can improve our schools. And I learned in my work heading up to the "Reinventing Government" program that the most important insights and lessons, by far, come from the people who are actually doing the hands-on work.

DAVIS (on camera): It's no coincidence Gore chose this blue- collar suburb of Detroit for his first school day. Macomb County is known for its Reagan Democrats, party switchers who Gore wants to win over. He's also targeting independent voters.

(voice-over): This county and the entire state considered a major battleground this fall. Education shaping up to be a battleground issue.

Patty Davis, CNN, Macomb, Michigan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Well, as they emphasize education in their presidential campaigns, one issue in particular is likely to come up again and again: publicly-funded vouchers for children who attend private school.

Put bluntly, Al Gore thinks they're a bad idea, that vouchers siphon money away from public education.

As for George Bush, vouchers are his centerpiece.

CNN's Pat Neal has examined the Bush education plan, including how his voucher program would work.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BUSH: So, I want you to have the best education possible...

PAT NEAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): George W. Bush says that helping disadvantaged kids in failing schools will be his top education priority. That means a major focus on a 35-year-old federal program called Title One. It's the biggest federal education program, doling out $8 billion each year to schools with underprivileged youngsters. Bush is calling for new accountability. He'd require students in schools receiving Title One money to be tested every year, and if kids aren't learning, he'd take action.

BUSH: If at the end of three years there is still no progress, its Title One funds will be divided up, matched by other federal education money given to the state and made directly available to parents, coming to about $1,500 per year.

NEAL: Parents could then use the money towards private school tuition. It's a voucher program modeled after one his brother, Governor Jeb Bush, started in Florida. But his brother's plan was recently shot down by a state judge.

(on camera): Governor Bush tried and failed to get vouchers passed here in his home state of Texas, but he still wants to push them nationwide as an option.

(voice-over): Almost all public school districts depend on Title One funding. So how difficult would it be to change it, as Bush wants?

CHESTER FINN, REAGAN EDUCATION SECRETARY: It will be bloody hard. There are zillions of education interest groups and thousands of school systems that are used to Title One the way it is.

NEAL: Bush also wants to change the focus of headstart, the nation's program for underprivileged preschoolers, to concentrate more on preparation for school.

BUSH: Headstart will be an education program first and foremost.

NEAL: Headstart now is a child development program run by the Department of Health and Human Services. Bush would move it to the Department of Education, a plan first proposed by President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat.

Bush also wants to broaden tax-free savings accounts that are currently only available for college. He wants them to cover educational expenses, including private school from K through 12. He'd allow parents to put away up to $5,000 each year tax free.

Democrats say Bush's plan would only benefit the middle and upper classes, those who could afford to save.

On testing, Bush wants states to follow Texas' lead and test all kids every year. States would set their own curriculum, design and administer their own tests. Report cards would be publicly released on how well students, teachers and schools are performing. Financial rewards would be given to good schools.

UNIDENTIFIED TEACHER: Can you spell morning for me?

NEAL: Bush says he'd give states more flexibility in designing their own plans. If federal programs aren't effective, he'd toss them out, send block grants to states, and hold them accountable. FINN: Bush has suggested that all federal programs should be subject to a standard of effectiveness. This will be hard to do. This is not the culture of Washington.

NEAL: Bush would also push charter schools. There are now about 1,700 of these independent public schools across the country. Bush would provide $3 billion to start or improve charter schools within two years.

Democrats say Bush's education plan fails to address several important issues. They say it does nothing to cut class size, build and improve schools and has no program for universal kindergarten. And, they add, with Bush's centerpiece, a tax cut, students would suffer.

SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), WASHINGTON: There is no way, with the huge tax cut that George Bush is proposing, that we will have money available to provide the educational resources that he is promising to states and local schools.

NEAL: With Bush's emphasis on huge programs like Title One testing and headstart, some conservatives claim he's actually strengthening the federal role in education.

But Bush's approach seems to be working. Recent national polls show Bush and Vice President Al Gore close on the question of who would be most likely to improve education.

ED GOEAS, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: If you look at the best demographic definition today of a Republican, it's a married baby boomer with children at home. And so the education issue is an issue that addresses Republicans as much, if not more, than Democrats.

NEAL: Education is a top issue with voters and a central theme in Bush's campaign. He hopes his agenda will have broad appeal and swing voters his way.

Pat Neal, CNN, Houston.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Of course, we'll have much, much more on the candidates' education proposals as the campaign moves on, including an in-depth look at the Gore plan.

But now, let's turn to the politics of all this with Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times."

Ron, first of all, let's be very clear here. How much substantive difference is there between what Gore is proposing and what Bush is proposing on education.

RON BROWNSTEIN, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES": There are some similarities. There are common themes that have emerged between reformist Republican governors in the '90s and some of the centrists Democrats like Al Gore and Bill Clinton -- charter schools, the idea of more competition within public schools, ending social promotion. But they do disagree pretty fundamentally over the role of the federal government.

Bush sees the federal government primarily as urging -- trying to leverage greater accountability on the states by saying, look, you have to test every year, and we're going to hold you accountable for results.

Gore sees a much more activist role, in which Washington would provide money to states to basically replicate reforms that have emerged in some places like class size reduction, expanded preschool, after school programs, but haven't emerged everywhere. He says the federal government is sort of -- as almost in a "Johnnie Appleseed" role. Bush sees it much more as a demanding accountability and standards but not really providing much more money.

WOODRUFF: Well, let's talk about the politics of it, Ron. In your piece today in the "L.A. Times," you quote a Bush adviser saying that, "Education is the best thing for us to talk about to show we are not a typical Republican."

BROWNSTEIN: Education in 2000 is pretty much for George Bush, I think, what welfare reform was for Bill Clinton in '92. It is the single core issue around which he's going to try to change some of the perceptions of this party among voters who have viewed it as too ideological in the past.

In the last two elections, especially in '96, the Democrats controlled the center in presidential elections. They won independents, they won moderates, they won most definitions of swing voters.

And what Bush sees education as, I think, above all, politically, at least, is a way to reach out to those voters and show that he is not as ideological as they have viewed the party's previous nominees.

WOODRUFF: And so far, the polls are showing that he's considered at least as able as Vice President Gore to address this issue.

BROWNSTEIN: There have been four -- it's really extraordinary. There have been four recent polls that have showed Bush even with Gore, essentially on the issue of education.

In '96, Bill Clinton had a two-to-one lead over Bob Dole on this issue. In '92, Clinton led his father, George Bush by 20 points. And this is really key, Judy. I think if Bush can maintain this, it will be his best hope of reducing the gender gap. He's got some obvious vulnerabilities with women on issues like guns and abortion in particular, but if he can keep the credibility as an education reformer, it will allow him, I think, to do better than the Republicans have done in the '90s with married women, a group that did vote Republican in the '80s. And if he can do that, he can hold down the overall gender gap.

WOODRUFF: Are the Gore people worried about this? And if so, what are they going to do about it? BROWNSTEIN: I think they are worried about it. And I think they're -- they said to me this week they're going to criticize Bush's education agenda as aggressively as they did Bill Bradley's health care plan.

They make several points, some of which came up in your piece.

One is that some of the reforms that Bush is proposing are things, particularly in Title One and headstart, apart from the vouchers, that the Clinton administration has already signed into law.

Two, they're going to go very hard at the vouchers, arguing that they will undermine accountability by moving resources from public to private schools.

Third, they're going to make a big press on the funding issue, arguing they have more money set aside out of the budget surplus for educational needs like building more schools, which came up today in Little Rock when he spoke at Central High School. The principal brought up the question, are you going to help us build more schools?

And finally, they're going to try to criticize his record in Texas, which may be tougher.

WOODRUFF: Well -- given that, is education going to dominate this campaign?

BROWNSTEIN: I don't think any one issue will dominate it, but I do think this will be a central issue, absolutely. In peace -- first of all, in peace and prosperity -- in a time of peace and prosperity, it rises right up to the top of national concerns.

Secondly for Bush, I think it is the key for reaching swing voters, which makes it key to Gore to prevent him from doing that, because Bush does have some of the same vulnerabilities: on guns, abortion, perhaps the environment, that have hurt Republicans in the center in the last two elections.

The big difference is he has this: He has a record on education, has a willingness to talk about it. He has a comfort level and he has an agenda that goes well beyond vouchers, which is essentially the one note the Republicans had in '96 and '92. When he talks about accountability and leaving no children behind, he is really striking very different chords than Republicans have done in this decade. And that gives him a chance to reach, I think, a different group of voters.

WOODRUFF: All right, Ron Brownstein, thanks very much.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: And coming up next: hooray for Hollywood! Heading into Oscar weekend, we'll focus on the political themes in this year's best picture nominees.

And, we'll discuss Bush and Gore's Hollywood connections. This is INSIDE POLITICS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: When the Academy Awards are handed out on Sunday, there will be the usual glitz and glamour that cry out Hollywood, but this year's Oscars may also reinforce the entertainment industry's political image as a star-studded outpost for the left wing.

As CNN's Jennifer Mikell (ph) reports, four of the five best motion picture nominees have liberal themes.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE CIDER HOUSE RULES")

MICHAEL CAINE, ACTOR: Are you so stupid you imagine you're going to find a more gratifying life?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JENNIFER MIKELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In "Cider House Rules," Michael Caine's character is a doctor who runs an orphanage in the 1940's and conducts what were then illegal abortions on unwed mothers. Through the eyes of the doctor and the orphan he raises like a son, an abortion is seen as an act of compassion and often a necessity.

JOHN IRVING, NOVELIST/SCREENWRITER: Who would be sympathetic among qualified physicians to performing that procedure, even illegally, if not an orphanage physician?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE GREEN MILE")

MICHEAL CLARKE DUNCAN, ACTOR: Will you leave the light on after bedtime?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MIKELL: "The Green Mile" offers a sympathetic portrait of death row inmates, focusing more on their emotions, humanity and their sometimes brutal treatment in prison, than on the crimes that landed them there.

Adding to the warm and fuzzy aspects: Hollywood's male sweetheart, Tom Hanks, as the head guard, who views death row as an intensive care unit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE INSIDERS")

RUSSELL CROWE, ACTOR: There is extensive use of this technology known as ammonia chemistry. It allows for the nicotine to be more rapidly absorbed in the lung and, therefore, affect the brain and central nervous system.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MIKELL: "The Insider" blows the whistle on the tobacco industry, as scientist Jeffrey Weigand did in real-life in a "60 Minutes" interview. Weigand is portrayed as the maligned hero, big tobacco as the bad guy. Since much of the movie is about the fight to get Weigand's interview on the air, there's a free speech message to boot.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "AMERICAN BEAUTY")

KEVIN SPACEY, ACTOR: Then I blackmailed my boss for almost $60,000. Pass the asparagus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MIKELL: Traditional values are turned upside down in this year's best picture front-runner, "American Beauty." There's the diminished husband lusting after his teenage daughter's friend; the wife, falling apart and falling into bed with a business rival. We see the warts on Mr. and Mrs. Suburbia, while outsiders and homosexuals are sympathetic characters. Facades are shattered.

ANNETTE BENING, ACTRESS: The movie is very much about that, about what's going on behind the perfectly-painted front door, about what's going on behind the perfectly painted front door and what's going on behind the shower curtain and what's going on under the covers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "AMERICAN BEAUTY")

BENING: You think you are the only one who's frustrated?

SPACEY: I'm not? Well, then come on, baby, I'm ready!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MIKELL: Jennifer Mikell, CNN, reporting.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Well, beyond those films and their themes, there is more concrete evidence of a Democratic bent in Hollywood. Al Gore took in more than $711,000 in contributions from the entertainment industry in the last 14 months, compared with $442,000 for George W. Bush. The figures, compiled by Campaign Study Group, a consulting firm for CNN, show most of Gore's entertainment money came from cable interests, and movie and TV production firms. He raked in considerably more than Bush from those donors, and from some others on the creative end of the industry, including actors, writers, directors and music industry figures. Bush actually did better than Gore in attracting donations from TV broadcasters and radio stations.

Well, Bush does have some allies in the entertainment world. An article in the April issue of "Vanity Fair" focuses on Bush's ties to producer Jerry Weintraub, and the intersection of Hollywood and presidential politics.

I spoke earlier today with the author of the article, Michael Shnayerson. I asked if he had found Hollywood to be a lot friendlier to Democrats than Republicans, including Governor Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL SHNAYERSON, "VANITY FAIR": Hollywood is a little more complicated than that. Remember, you know, California did vote for Reagan and he's a native son, but I think the greater point is that Hollywood is a town of image, and they like attractive, charismatic candidates, and George W. might be their man this year because of that.

WOODRUFF (on camera): Well, the man you focused so much of your article in "Vanity Fair" on, Jerry Weintraub. What can a Hollywood movie producer like Weintraub really do for a presidential candidate?

SHNAYERSON: Well, the first answer, obviously, is money. He can give soft money. And he's given something like 140,000. But he can also raise money by giving big dinners at a thousand dollars a head.

More importantly, he can recruit some of his influential friends to give other fund-raisers and have the ripple effects go out. He did that last year with Terry Semel, the then co-head of Warner Brothers. And as one young producer put it to me, having Semel give a fund- raiser for Bush, Semel a relatively centrist guy, gave everyone else in Hollywood cover, so to speak, to come out for Bush themselves or at least consider it.

WOODRUFF: You described, Michael, Shnayerson, how Jerry Weintraub had at least a very colorful and at times even controversial life.

SHNAYERSON: Yes.

WOODRUFF: Could someone like him end up being as much a liability for George W. Bush as an asset?

SHNAYERSON: Well, he could say something stupid, but I think though he's brash and brazen, he's too smart to do that. If Bush were elected and decided to pay back Weintraub by making him ambassador or something, I suppose he would have the potential to embarrass the administration. But he's been a loyal fund-raiser, and supporter and friend of the Bush family for decades, and he's done that all that time without doing something to embarrass them, so I think the odds are pretty good he'll not embarrass them now.

WOODRUFF: Finally, Michael, let me ask you this, if George W. Bush has this kind of support in Hollywood, where does that leave Al Gore? What does he have?

SHNAYERSON: You know, I don't think he has that much. I did talk to Sherry Lansing, and she is very strongly for him, and so are some other prominent Hollywood people, but after all, as the Republicans pointed out to me, Gore came out to Hollywood something like 60 times in his capacity as vice president. And yet he, didn't -- hasn't yet raised that much more money at a thousand dollars a head than Bush has, so I think he's got a ways to go.

WOODRUFF: All right, Michael Shnayerson, with the piece in the April issue of "Vanity Fair." thank you very much.

SHNAYERSON: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: And much more ahead on INSIDE POLITICS. Still to come...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I look forward to seeing where those e-mail are and what was in those e- mails.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Are questions about White House e-mails turning into a campaign issue? And how will the investigation affect Al Gore? We'll ask E.J. Dionne and Bill Kristol.

Plus:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's the moment we've all been waiting for. Ladies and gentlemen, the envelope please for this week's political "Play of the Week."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Bill Schneider reveals this year's nominees in the best political ad category.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: We'll have more of the day's political news coming up, but now a look at some other top stories.

A federal judge says Iran must pay $341 million to former hostage Terry Anderson and his family. U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson says Anderson's treatment during nearly seven years of captivity was -- I quote -- "savage and cruel by any civilized standards," Anderson was held in Lebanon, but he and his fellow captives claim the kidnappings were engineered by Iran. Despite the judgment, it may be hard for Anderson to collect the money.

CNN has learned that Microsoft has made an offer to settle an antitrust case with the federal government, 19 states and the District of Columbia. Microsoft is not saying what it has offered the plaintiffs. Government officials are reviewing the proposal.

The Pentagon's inspector general has released a report on how the military treats its gay troops. The inspector general says anti-gay harassment is widespread on military bases. Eight percent of the surveyed troops said they had heard offensive speech aimed at homosexuals during the past year. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEN BACON, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: Overwhelmingly, the harassment was verbal, although there was a disturbing amount of graffiti or gestures, and in some cases, even reported violence, as part of the harassment. This behavior is not acceptable, and can't be tolerated in the military.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: U.S. officials say that they will draft a plan for improving conditions for gay troops.

The director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service says that she will not let an arbitration panel decide the fate of the Cuban boy who is at the center of an international debate. Attorneys for the American relatives of Elian Gonzalez suggested today that arbitrators decide whether Elian should stay in the U.S. or go back to his father in Cuba. The relatives' lawyers say if their request is turned down, they will agree to an INS offer of an accelerated appeals process.

Talks continue at this hour to head off a threatened shutdown at U.S. Airways. Flight attendants remain hopeful that they will reach an agreement, they say, with the airline by midnight tonight. If a deal is not reached, the flight attendants may stage random work stoppages. Some progress has been made in the talks, but major issues like pensions and wages remain unresolved.

And when INSIDE POLITICS continues, the case of the missing White House e-mails, chapter two.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: It didn't take long for the matter of those missing White House e-mails to become fodder on the campaign trail, especially with the White House admission that the vice president's computer system doesn't keep comprehensive e-mail records. Because many e- mails were not recorded, they were never reviewed as part of the Justice Department's 1996 campaign finance probe. It's not clear if those messages can be recovered.

CNN's Bob Franken reports now on how the e-mail flap is playing politically.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The revelations of Vice President Gore's e-mail problem brought the inevitable reaction out on the presidential campaign trail.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need to let the sun shine in and put all the facts on the table so everybody knows what the truth is.

CHRIS LEHANE, GORE CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN: I think voters pretty much see through the partisan smokescreen and can separate the facts from the fiction.

REP. DAN BURTON (R-IN), GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE CHAIR: Good morning. A quorum being present...

FRANKEN: House Government Reform Committee Chairman Dan Burton is probing how the existence of thousands of White House e-mails dating back to 1996 was never made known to authorities who had subpoenaed them. Record show that White House officials were aware for nearly two years a computer foul-up prevented thousands of e-mails from being recorded.

The latest disclosures suggest the vice president's problem with e-mails began earlier than elsewhere in the White House and may not yet be fixed. Although the contents are not known, the missing material could include correspondence about Gore's 1996 fund-raising activities, the subject of Justice Department and congressional investigation.

BURTON: Since those e-mails were not given to us, we want to find out why. Was there another glitch? And was it an intentional glitch?

FRANKEN: There is no evidence Vice President Gore knew of the foul-up. But Burton wants to know why the White House withheld the information about the computer problem and whether contractors overseeing the e-mail system were threatened if they disclose it, as alleged in Thursday's hearing.

White house officials deny the charge.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FRANKEN: The next one to face the committee is White House counsel Beth Nolan, who can expect scathing questions from the committee, such as why it took two years for the computer problem to surface, two years after the White House knew about it -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Bob Franken at the Capitol -- thanks.

Well, as if Al Gore didn't have enough to worry about with the e- mail probe, his campaign chairman, Tony Coelho, is apparently in some hot water as well. According to "The National Journal," the State Department is conducting a criminal investigation of Coelho's financial dealings in relation to the 1998 World's Fair in Portugal. Coelho was head of the U.S. exhibition. The vice president said today that Coelho is doing a terrific job as his campaign chairman and will continue to do so.

Joining me now to talk more about all this and the rest of the week's campaign news, E.J. Dionne of "The Washington Post," and Bill Kristol of "The Weekly Standard."

Gentlemen, first of all, Al Gore now has not only the ethics -- not only the e-mail question to consider, but the this investigation of Tony Coelho.

E.J., is this something that has legs? Is this going to be an ongoing problem for Mr. Gore?

E.J. DIONNE, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I don't think it will be an ongoing problem, because if it goes on too long I suspect Gore will ask Coelho to leave or Coelho would leave. And I think you look at the details of the story and you can say it could go either way. I was struck that when Vice President Al Gore was asked today, you know, is this hurting you? Is this a problem? He simply repeated his statement. He's doing a great job and he will keep doing it. That isn't like George McGovern saying he's behind Tom Eagleton by 1,000 percent and then dumping him.

But I think -- you know, I don't think the campaign can afford, especially with a race this close, to have this scandal brewing on the side. So I think that Coelho's going to have to clear it up fairly quickly.

WOODRUFF: How do you see it, Bill?

BILL KRISTOL, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I was with a bunch of Republicans at the Nixon library, of all places, an appropriate place to discuss scandals. And they were, you know, so many of them said to me, will this scandal finally do it? After all these years, and Clinton keeps dodging the bullet, and Gore dodges the bullet? I don't know. And, you know, very few presidential elections in the last 25 years have been decided by scandals, even though the opposition party thought at this stage of the campaign that it could be a big issue. Think of 1988, Vice President Bush was allegedly out of the loop on Iran-Contra, which was a huge scandal after all, and it did no damage at the end of the day to Vice President Bush.

Unless Vice President Gore is personally, somehow, implicated in either the e-mails or Coelho's behavior, which I don't quite see, I think he can dodge this bullet, too.

WOODRUFF: All right, let me ask you all about some of the rhetoric. I mean, it seems to me that the ways that Bush and Gore are talking about each other are getting tougher and tougher. They're both questioning each other's credibility. You have Bush calling Gore an unprincipled campaigner. E.J., is this just one more confirmation it's going to be a dirty -- a tough campaign?

DIONNE: Oh, I don't think there's any doubt that they're just going to be bashing each other all the way to the end. I mean, it's really just a continuation of the primary campaign. They both ran pretty tough primary campaigns.

And I think what you're talking about is a race where, you know, Gore has actually started opening up a lead in the polls. There's this new Pew poll that shows Gore ahead by six. We haven't seen Gore with that kind of lead, and so I think Bush wants to use some of these scandals, use whatever he can, to prevent this trend from continuing. And I think in Gore's case, he knows that there are an awful lot of Democrats who just deeply mistrust Bush, he's gaining ground among independents, I don't think he sees any reason to turn around the style that worked for him against Bill Bradley.

WOODRUFF: Bill, should the Republicans be worried at this stage about Gore opening up the lead?

KRISTOL: Well, sure they should. In the same Pew poll in December, Bush was ahead by 15 point. About six weeks ago, he was ahead by one point. Now he's down by six points. So over the three or four months -- if one were pro-Gore, one could put it this way. Over four months in which the voters have seen much more of Al Gore and George W. Bush, by 20 points they've moved in Gore's direction. And that's not quite fair. McCain was a tougher challenger to Bush than Bradley was to Gore. And it's a very close race now.

No, but Bush should be worried. And the negative campaign, I think, won't be enough at the end of the day, certainly from Bush's point of view. Bush has to make a case for why he should be president, why the incumbent administration should be replaced, despite peace and prosperity. And that needs, ultimately, to be a positive case, I really do think. If it just becomes a negative campaign, at the end of the day, voters will say, yuck, a crummy campaign. Neither candidate is very attractive. But we've got a pretty good economy, things are going OK, let's go with the safer guy who's got experience. So I think it's really incumbent on Bush to make the positive case.

DIONNE: And I think that when you looked at the poll, a couple of significant things. One is that Gore has gained a lot of ground among Catholic. He was down 2-1 among Catholics. Now they're even. He's gained a lot of ground among independents, and especially the McCain independents. What that suggests is that what has happened out on the campaign in these last couple of months actually seems to have affected real groups of voters whom you expect might be moved by what happened.

WOODRUFF: You are talking about McCain, and E.J. you write and have written this week that McCain -- and your words -- "will cause as many headaches in Austin as in Nashville."

DIONNE: I was saying that, you know, that Al Gore is going to change his name to "John McGore," because he can't say 10 sentences, except if he's at a fund-raiser, without praising McCain and saying I'm on his side on campaign reform.

I think you're seeing Austin somehow not handling John McCain very well. You had a story today, I guess it was in the "L.A. Times," where McCain is mad at the Bush people because they don't seem to want to give him his delegates out of Michigan and Massachusetts, where they'll have to vote for McCain legally. Although that doesn't matter now. But they won't give him his people. It seems to me that they need a diplomat. I don't know if Henry Kissinger wants to do shuttle diplomacy from Austin to Washington or Austin to Arizona. But something is wrong there that Bush needs to fix.

KRISTOL: I think that's actually today. Today, I think Karl Rove got on his case, told by someone at top of the McCain campaign. There were much more serious efforts to reach out to the McCain campaign, to put to rest these minor problems with the Michigan and Massachusetts delegations. I think you're going to see a much more intense effort, partly because of this poll by the Bush campaign to reach out to McCain.

Look, Al Gore keeps citing John McCain. Who is the best person to stand up and say, I know John McCain, and Al Gore is no John McCain? John McCain. John McCain is the guy you want criticizing Al Gore and debunking Al Gore's claims to be a reformer. Let George Bush go ahead and present his vision on education and health care and all of that. So I think you're going to see a change in strategy and attitude by the Bush campaign.

VARNEY: Reconciliation?

KRISTOL: Yes, I think so. Bush-McCain, the ticket.

WOODRUFF: Right. We heard it here first.

All right, Bill Kristol, E.J. Dionne, thank you both. Appreciate it.

And still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, a presidential election with international implications.

Wolf Blitzer reports from Moscow as Russians prepare to go to the polls.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: The election of the next president of the United States is more than seven months away, but this weekend, Russian voters will cast ballots in their own presidential election. It is a decision that could have a great deal of effect here in the U.S.

Joining us now from Moscow, our own Wolf Blitzer.

Wolf, you're over there to cover this election.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, there doesn't seem to be much suspense. Everyone here suspects that Vladimir Putin, who's the acting president, will be elected. There seems to be very, very little doubt about that. He is running way ahead in all of the public opinion polls. The 47-year-old Mr. Putin was named acting president by Boris Yeltsin on New Year's Eve. Since then, he's intensified his popularity, seems to be well on his way to making it official.

He does have 10 other opponents, though, running against him on Sunday. And the man who comes in second in all of the polls is the communist leader Gennady Zyuganov. He ran in 1996. Of course, he lost at that time. But given the tough economic times here in Russia, he does have a following. Many people are nostalgic for what they consider to be the good old days.

The man who comes in third in the recent polls is the liberal reformer Gregory Yavlinski. He seems to be the darling of many in the West because of his very pro-Democratic tendencies, his liberal reforms. He, too, ran in '96, did not do very well at that time. Now in order to be elected on Sunday, Mr. Putin needs to overcome two hurdles. First, he must capture more than 50 percent of the vote. Those who show up, he must get more than 50 percent in order to avoid a runoff against the number two candidate on April 16. He seems to be in pretty good shape to achieve that. Secondly, though, more than 50 percent of Russia's 108 million eligible voters must show up in order to make it official. And there seems to be some apathy. There is some question, not a huge question, but some question, if more than that 50 percent voter turnout will make it to the polls. If there isn't a 50 percent voter turnout, of course they'll have to do it once again -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Wolf, is it clear how the outcome of this election will affect Russian relations with the U.S. and U.S. domestic politics?

BLITZER: It's by no means clear. There are many, many question marks about Mr. Putin. U.S. officials are concerned that there have been some authoritarian tendencies that he's exhibited over these past few months. In Chechnya, for example, the very aggressive Russian posture, the widely reported abuse of human rights. There is other questions about his willingness to promote Democratic tendencies. He's consolidated the government's control over the two major television stations here in Russia, which routinely only provide favorable coverage of Mr. Putin and negative coverage of all his opponents. And finally, there's the whole issue of the so-called loose nukes. Is there strong enough security, both in the civilian as well as military sectors here in Russia, to maintain the nuclear security situation. Many, many questions affecting the United States. And of course, U.S. officials will be watching all of that very, very closely.

WOODRUFF: Wolf, of course, before you took on your current assignment, you covered the White House for many years, the Clinton/Gore administration. Given what we know about their attitude toward Putin and what happens to them, is Al Gore in any particular jeopardy on this?

BLITZER: Well, Al Gore was the architect, the pointman, if you will, in the Clinton administration for maintaining the U.S.-Russian relationship over these past seven years, the chairman, the co- chairman, with the Russian prime minister of this U.S.-Russian commission. He's been widely criticized. I have to tell you, I've spoken to many allies of Vladimir Putin here in Moscow. They seem to suggest that while they have some problems with Mr. Gore, they would have a much greater problem with Governor George W. Bush of Texas. They don't like his stance on unilaterally, if necessary, abrogating the 1974 ABM, Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. They think he would be a harder-liner toward Russia than Al Gore.

So if you speak to the circles surrounding Vladimir Putin, he is by all accounts going to be the next president of Russia. They certainly seem to prefer Al Gore.

WOODRUFF: All right, Wolf Blitzer, fascinating.

And good luck. We know you're going to be covering those elections that take place on Sunday. Up next, viva Las Vegas. We'll check in with our Bill Schneider, as the nation's political consultants hold an awards ceremony of their own.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: As everybody knows, this weekend Hollywood honors its best and brightest at the Academy Awards. But today, the attention is on another gala event, and our Bill Schneider is there -- Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Judy -- I mean, the Academy Awards? Who cares about that? What we have here is the Pollie. Yes, folks, we're here in Paris -- make that the Paris Hotel and Casino in glamorous Las Vegas, where the moment of truth has arrived. Here, at the annual meeting of the American Association of Political Consultants, the ceremony is under way to honor the best political ads of 1999.

Last year was an off year for elections, but there were plenty of issue and initiative campaigns and ads for them and against them. Well, you can just feel the excitement in this room, as the country's greatest hacks and flacks meet to honor their own and to show off their outfits. It's the moment we've all been waiting for.

Ladies and gentlemen, the envelope, please, for this week's political "Play of the Week."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): Chilling horror ad on behalf of Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, BUSINESS LEADERS FOR SENSIBLE PRIORITIES AD)

NARRATOR: The U.S. has 12,000 nuclear weapons. Tell the presidential candidates the Cold War is over. Invest in our kids, not nuclear weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: MacWilliams, Cosgrove, Smith, Robinson produced the ad. Eat your heart out, Stephen King.

And speaking of the creepy crawlies, how about this ad run by Consumers Against Fraud and Higher Insurance Costs?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CONSUMERS AGAINST FRAUD AND HIGHER INSURANCE COSTS)

NARRATOR: A bad law is moving through the California legislature. Sponsored by personal injury lawyers, SB-1237 will strike hard at your wallet.

SCHNEIDER: Message: You want to discredit a repellent law? Use the image of a repellent creature. This one brought to you by McNally, Temple Associates.

You want stars? We got stars. We got Tiger Woods in a Pollie- winning national public affairs ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, ENTERTAINMENT SOFTWARE RATINGS BOARD AD)

TIGER WOODS, PRO GOLFER: I love sports, but you've got to know which games are right for you. Same with computer and video games. That's why parents have to make sure each game is right for their kids. How? Check the rating.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: Speaking of stars, two of the greatest in political ad history made a comeback last year. Remember Harry and Louise from the Health Insurance Association of America's 1994 campaign against the Clinton health plan? Well, they're back, this time touting the Health Insurance Association's own reform plan in this Pollie-winning ad from Goddard, Claussen, Porter, Novelli.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, HEALTH INSURANCE ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA AD)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: News on the Web?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Forty-four million Americans without health insurance.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: That's huge, an epidemic.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: That only coverage can cure.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: We can't leave working families and kids without insurance.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Well, someone actually has a workable plan, called Insure USA...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: Uh-oh, sounds like Harry and Louise have gone liberal on us.

Remember a few weeks ago when California primary voters approved Proposition 22 barring the state from recognizing gay marriages? Well, here's a Pollie-honored ad promoting the measure made by Cavalier & associates.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CALIFORNIANS FOR PROTECTION OF MARRIAGE AD)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: That's why parents and teachers like me ALL across California are voting yes on Proposition 22. It sends a simple, positive message to our children. Marriage should be between a man and a woman. Let's keep it that way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: It's a positive, feel-good ad targeted at minority voters -- and it worked. African-Americans and Hispanics strongly supported the anti-gay marriage initiative on this month's California primary ballot.

Finally, we have a Pollie-winning ad from Northwoods Advertising. Those are the guys who won the Pollies last year for their Jesse Ventura ads, this time for Overthrowthegov.com.

Warning to viewers: this ad contains material we on INSIDE POLITICS find offensive. Showing this ad should not imply any endorsement of this cause. Parental discretion is advised.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OVERTHROWTHEGOV.COM)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: We need leaders with vision who aren't guided by every rise and fall in public opinion. So hang up on the pollsters.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Well, as they say here in Vegas, those ads were money -- or at least votes. Well, ladies and gentlemen, this has been another glamorous awards ceremony from Glitter Gulch on the Las Vegas strip, where dreams really can come true -- if your dream is to make an award winning political ad or maybe hit the jackpot or perhaps be a showgirl.

Well, on that note, back to you, Judy, because, you know, you're money, too.

WOODRUFF: Where will you go next, Mr. Schneider. Thanks very much. Bill Schneider in Las Vegas.

And that's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS, I'm Judy Woodruff.

"WORLDVIEW" is next.

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