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Inside Politics

Gore Breaks With Administration's View on Elian Gonzalez Custody Case; Ventura Talks Trade; Who Will Entice Garden State Voters?

Aired March 30, 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: I would hope that the vice president would use his influence within the administration. At the very least he ought to state what his position is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHAW: More pressure and politics in the Elian Gonzalez case now that the Cuban boy's father appears ready to come and get him.

Also ahead:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New Jersey gets dissed a lot. People look at the aging industrial ugliness crouched along the Jersey Turnpike and think that's the state. Wrong, of course.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHAW: Bruce Morton offers a more varied picture of a key presidential battleground.

And:

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JESSE VENTURA (I), MINNESOTA: This is the biggest economic decision of the 21st century. Please don't blow it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHAW: There's a hint of the old Ventura bluntness. But now he's winning kudos from Congress as a serious political player.

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

SHAW: Thanks for joining us. Judy is off today. In response to the Elian Gonzalez custody case, Vice President Al Gore today announced he is breaking with administration policy. Within the last few hours, Gore endorsed legislation that would give the Cuban boy, his father and several other family members permanent resident status in the United States. This, as the legal and political wrangling over Elian grows even more intense.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GREG CRAIG, JUAN GONZALEZ ATTORNEY: Juan Miguel Gonzalez loves his son. There is no one on the face of this planet that cares more for the well-being and the welfare of Elian Gonzalez than does his father.

SHAW (voice-over): Elian Gonzalez's father is making preparations to fly to America, right into the eye of a political hurricane.

CRAIG: I am today submitting formal applications for visas to travel to the United States on behalf of Juan Miguel Gonzalez and the other members of his family, including his wife, his 4-month-old son, and a favorite cousin of Elian's.

SHAW: But before he leaves Cuba, Juan Gonzalez wants assurances that he'll get custody of Elian while an appeals court decide whether the boy can remain with his relatives in the United States or go back to Cuba with his father. The government is asking Elian's Miami relatives to agree to the possibility of turning the boy over to his father during the legal proceedings.

And government lawyers want the Miami family to promise to give Elian up if their appeal fails. Without that last promise, the Immigration and Naturalization Service says it will revoke Elian's legal right to stay here at 9:00 a.m. Friday.

In Washington, Attorney General Janet Reno said she's heartbroken by the case, but determined to enforce the law.

JANET RENO, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: But we believe that the law is clear. The father must speak for the little boy because the sacred bond between parent and child must be recognized and honored. And Elian should be reunited with his father.

SHAW: Even as officials prepare to possibly take Elian away from the people who have sheltered him, Reno went out of her way to empathize with Miami's Cuban community and to appeal for calm.

RENO: It's a community I was born in, raised in. It's a community I love, and when it's hurting, it hurts me. The people I know in the Cuban community came to this country and have contributed so much to it because they believe in the rule of law. They came to this country seeking a Democratic society in which to live, where all people can speak and there are processes and procedures for people to be heard. I don't think they came to this country to incite violence.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SHAW: Of course, Janet Reno is not the only administration figure getting heat because of the Gonzalez case. The issue has been injected into the presidential race. We're joined by CNN senior White House correspondent John King and CNN's Jonathan Karl, who is on the road with George W. Bush.

First to you, John. Tell us more about the vice president's new position on this case?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bernie, aides insist this is an evolution of the vice president's policy view. They say this is a principle decision that he has made after watching this case unfold. Of course, though, he is already being subjected to some political criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike.

Let's take a closer look at the vice president's statement. He said -- quote -- "from the very beginning, I have said that Elian Gonzalez's case is, at heart, a custody matter. It is a matter that should be decided by courts that have the experience and expertise to resolve custody cases with due process and based on Elian's best interest. It now appears that our immigration laws may not be broad enough to allow for such an approach in Elian's case."

Now remember, just yesterday at his news conference, the president said that he wanted everybody here to try to calm down, remove this from politics, but in the end, he said he expected everyone to obey the law. And the president made clear as the attorney general did earlier today, that they believe the law that applies here is U.S. Immigration law.

By using the words "custody" several times in his statement today, the vice president making clear that he disagrees now. And by endorsing that legislation that would give not only the boy but his father and some other relatives permanent resident status. If that were to happen, now that legislation is bottled up in the Senate, the president opposes it, but if that were to happen, the boy would then be a resident and because he resides in Florida, jurisdiction would go to the Florida family court system.

So this, a dramatic break by the vice president. He says it's because as he's watched this case unfold, his position has changed. Some of course, will question whether Florida's 25 electoral votes might have more to do with the vice president's evolution -- Bernie.

SHAW: John, stand by for a moment please.

Jonathan Karl, any reaction from the Bush campaign to Gore's new stance.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, immediate reaction from the Bush campaign. Governor Bush's aides saying this is an 11th-hour decision, a copy-cat decision, pointing out that Governor Bush endorsed that very same legislation granting permanent legal status to Elian Gonzalez and his family. The governor endorsing this legislation more than two months ago. The governor himself was touring a Harley-Davidson factory when this news broke and he had this to say about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: And I'm glad the vice president has seen the wisdom of the ways. And what he ought to do is convince the attorney general and the president to accept the same position.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: And the governor saying that it is now up to the vice president to go and excerpt that influence he has within the administration to push for the administration to back off on this.

As a matter of fact, earlier, Governor Bush, before the news of the vice president's reversal, was asked about this, and he accused the administration of taking a heavy handed approach to the issue and saying that this should be a matter that should be resolved in family court.

Interesting, though, at that point, Governor Bush made no reference whatsoever to the idea of grating permanent legal status to Elian Gonzalez. This is something that the governor had endorsed two months ago, but it's not something he's talked about a lot recently -- Bernie.

SHAW: Thank you, Jon Karl.

John King, behind the scenes within the Clinton administration, what's the anticipated political fallout by the vice president? I'm reminded that at one point a few weeks ago, he said he decided to stop being the best vice president he could be and become the best presidential candidate he could be.

KING: Well, certainly there have been other disagreements in the past and the White House spokesman Jake Seaward (ph), telling us a short time ago, that the vice president has made it clear from the very beginning of his campaign that he would have some disagreements with the president and administration policy, and that he would make them clear when he does so.

Obviously, they have laid the groundwork for the vice president to take issue, but this of course a major case dominating the headlines and behind the scenes, just before the vice president's statement came out, I was checking around here and one senior administration official said, well we don't really know what his position is. Do you?

So there has been some criticism of the vice president here not only on these issues, but on other controversial issues that, perhaps, he's playing it safe from time to time. Certainly, though, they do expect the vice president to disagree. One of the questions now is how will that disagreement factor in this very volatile political debate in which we've seen the mayors in the area say they would not make their police available if there were trouble involving any federal decision to enforce this order. Already some Democrats, Congresswoman Maxine Waters on our air earlier when this news broke, said she would reconsider her support for the vice president. So obviously, the vice president taking this position today, it will only begin, not end, the political discussion.

SHAW: And Jon Karl, quickly back to you. Does Governor Bush think he has the vice president on the ropes? In other words, how much of a political issue does he think this is?

KARL: Well, one of the governor's top aides told me just a few minutes ago that this is an emotional issue in a campaign that has very few emotional issues. So they believe this will be a factor, certainly in Florida, obviously a critical state, the fourth largest state in terms of electoral votes.

But they're also realistic. They say this is very early in the process. If this situation with Elian Gonzalez is resolved to the satisfaction of the Cuban community in Miami sometime soon, sometime in the next few weeks or even the next couple of months. By the time the election rolls around in November, it may have dissipated. But they are saying that this may well be a critical factor in Florida. Again, being an emotional issue in a campaign that hasn't really had many emotional issues.

SHAW: Jonathan Karl in Wisconsin. John King at the White House. Gentlemen, Thank you.

George W. Bush's brother, Jeb, is adding to the criticism of the Clinton/Gore administration's handling of this case. Here's what the Florida governor said today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: I think the INS has blown this. They've raised the stakes. They've allowed it to be politicized, and they've heightened tensions in Miami that, otherwise, wouldn't necessarily be that way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHAW: Let's talk more about the Elian Gonzalez case with Representative Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, a Cuban- American and an Al Gore supporter. He's with us here in Washington.

And this gentleman, joining us from Miami, Jorge Mas, the chairman of the Cuban-American National Foundation, which has been critical of Gore's response to the Gonzalez case.

Mr. Mas, first to you, what is your basic reaction to the vice president calling for permanent resident status for Elian, his father and some of his family members?

JORGE MAS SANTOS, CHAIRMAN, CUBAN AMERICAN NTL. FOUNDATION: Well, we applaud the decision of the vice president. We have been supportive, as has Representative Menendez, of granting a permanent residency to Elian Gonzales and his family, so that this case can be determined in state court, where custody issues can be determined, that it not be determined in a political forum by the Justice Department or in other venues.

And we applaud the vice president's decision, and we're very, very glad that he's supporting this.

SHAW: Congressman, you are a supporter of the vice president. How much of a factor are Florida's 25 electoral votes in his decision today?

REP. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: Well, Bernie, I think this position of the vice president is a principled position. From day one, when the vice president asked me my opinion on the question, he has stood squarely on the proposition that in fact the boy should have his day in court on custody issues, and that the best interests of this child is what should be considered. And he has said that consistently. He wanted to wait for the court process to take its course. He's seen where it's headed.

And I applaud him promoting the legislation, that I was the first one in the Congress to suggest permanent residency versus U.S. citizenship, and I applaud him for taking this position at this time. I think he wanted to wait to see what the courts did. He sees that the only way that this child will get the proper opportunity to have his day in court, to determine what's in the best interests of this child, is by giving him permanent residency at this time.

SHAW: Although principled, his position, as you stated, how much of a factor are those 25 electoral votes?

MENENDEZ: I think he's made this decision primarily on what is in the best interests of this child on this case. He could have jumped up right in front for those 25 electoral votes and said -- for those who said, let's give him U.S. citizenship, which was the original cry -- he could have said that. He could have said, let's give him permanent residency. He has taken the principled position all along, and I applaud him for doing it in a very thoughtful way and for being steadfast in his position, despite some criticism of it.

SHAW: And when you hear Governor Bush say -- quote -- "this is an 11th hour copycat decision," you say?

MENENDEZ: I say the fact is that the vice president has been with us from day one, and what I said as a Cuban-American he has said from the very first day of this case. And this vice president has stood with us four square on many issues revolving around U.S.-Cuba relations.

SHAW: Jorge Mas, will the vice president's new position be persuasive in the Cuban-American community.

MAS SANTOS: Well, I believe it's persuasive. It's a right position. It's a principled decision. He's breaking with the president of the United States of America. All of this community has asked for since day one is for Elian Gonzalez to have his day in court. We have not wanted to dictate the outcome of this. We're a community that believes in the rule of law in contrast to the tyranny of Fidel Castro. We do think it's persuasive. And along with Vice President Gore, several members of the Senate and the House, led by Congressman Menendez, my good friend. We hope that this legislation can pass, and we can take it out of the hands of the Justice Department that I do not think is capable of making the right decision in this case.

SHAW: Jorge Mas, this question to you and then the Congressman. If -- if Elian Gonzales is returned to Cuba before November 7, Election Day, in the United States, who will pay?

MAS SANTOS: Well, I believe if the court process is short- circuited, if Elian Gonzalez' rights are not respected, there will be a political price to pay. I do believe if the court process is done correctly, if all of the evidence, the psychological evaluation, and above all, the best interests of that child is kept in mind, I think that the political price to pay from this community will not be a price which will affect either candidate in a presidential race.

SHAW: Your thoughts along those lines, Congressman?

MENENDEZ: Well, I certainly agree. All this family ever wants -- this is an American family that want to have their opportunity to exhaust all of their appeals as any other American would want, and that's the difference between life in the United States and life in Cuba. And if that is allowed to take place, and not circumvented and not short-circuited, then I think that the Cuban-American community and this family, as heart-wrenching as it might be, if a decision at the end of the whole judicial process is against them, they will obey the law, as will the community.

SHAW: Congressman Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Jorge Mas of Miami, gentlemen, thank you very much.

MENENDEZ: Thank you.

SHAW: Quite welcome.

And still to come on INSIDE POLITICS:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were kind of talking about their own agendas and nothing that really interests me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHAW: And that could spell big trouble for Al Gore and George W. Bush. Bruce Morton on New Jersey voters' opinions of the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates.

Also, if not New Jersey, in what states are Bush and Gore riding strong? Bob Novak joins us for that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SHAW: New Jersey has been tabbed as one of the battleground states in November, but a new Quinnipiac College Poll shows Vice President Gore has built a 13-point lead over Governor Bush in that state. Gore led Bush by only six points last month, before the two locked up their nominations. The poll also shows adding New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman as Bush's running mate would not be a plus in her home state. Twenty-seven percent say they would be less likely to vote Republican and 53 percent say it would make no difference.

Our Bruce Morton, now, with a profile of the Garden State and how the race is shaping up.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MORTON (voice-over): New Jersey gets dissed a lot. People look at the aging industrial ugliness crouched along the Jersey turnpike and think that's the state. Wrong, of course.

Actually, it's mostly suburbs. This is Summit. But it's more than suburbs, more than pleasant towns like this.

GOV. CHRISTIE WHITMAN (R), NEW JERSEY: We have everything from 127 miles of glorious beaches to the Appalachian Trail, some of the toughest parts, too, some cities with some major challenges ahead of them, in Camden and in Newark.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Noble citizens, join us, and luxuriate in all the offerings of my empire. And, Noble citizens, may the odds be with you.

MORTON: New Jersey has Atlantic City, two hours from Manhattan. Gambling revenues last year, 4 billion-100-odd million, just behind Las Vegas's 4.4 billion.

It is the old industry, but it has high-tech too -- pharmaceuticals, computers. The state is doing very, very well.

WHITMAN: We've got a little bit of everything. We have a very sophisticated population. It's the second-highest median income and the third-highest average wage in the nation, and we're the most densely populated state in the nation.

How can you dis New Jersey? What's the hot new TV show this season? Right. And where does it happen? You got it. Jersey.

Politically, who are they? Over 50 percent, independents...

CHUCK HAYTAIAN, NEW JERSEY GOP CHAIRMAN: ... 25 percent Democrat, 19 percent Republican, which means most people are unaffiliated.

MORTON: And not in love right now, with either George W. Bush nor Al Gore.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're kind of talking about their own agendas and nothing that really interests me. My vote at this point is time is going to come down to see who really is going to do the least amount of trouble for me.

MORTON: A Rutgers University polls shows a quarter of the voters either undecided or dissing both Bush and Gore.

PROF. CLIFF ZUKIN, RUTGERS UNIVERSITY: I would say they did not like them because they were not the other guy first. I think New Jerseyans preferred McCain over Bush. I think New Jerseyans preferred Bill Bradley over Gore. We tend to be a very, very moderate state. We are pragmatic. We're not ideological. We don't like a lot of rhetoric, and I think we really did prefer the two candidates who lost to the two candidates who won.

MORTON: Pat Buchanan?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that Pat Buchanan may be relying on a Republican vote, and he didn't do well in Republican primaries, and he wouldn't do well in New Jersey.

MORTON: The state is a bellwether, last voted with a presidential loser back in 1976. Bush and Gore do have strengths here.

ZUKIN: I think we're a state of environmentalists, which could play very well for Al Gore, and again, we're also a pro-choice state. That's probably good for Gore. And we're a very moderate state. And New Jerseyans generally like Bill Clinton.

MORTON: Clinton and Gore have done their homework here.

ZUKIN: They try to use patronage or any type of appointment they have at the White House to help New Jerseyans, so I think they're very well received as far as the state is concerned.

MORTON: Black voters? Bush won some in Texas. In Newark, the four-term mayor points to revival, prudential, thousands of new jobs, other industries and projects. The president, he says, has helped.

MAYOR SHARPE JAMES (D), NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: It's about someone who cares for the citizens, someone who's made a statement about urban America, someone who's talked about progress, partnership and opportunity. That's why we're going to vote for an Al Gore, and that's why we support the president.

MORTON: Republicans talk about character.

WHITMAN: People care about the quality of their life, what is it going to be for future generations. They want someone in whom they can believe and have faith.

MORTON: And if Bush goes to Atlantic City, there's a saguaro cactus he can needle the vice president with. It's a long boardwalk, a long season. Neither candidate is really ahead here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel, you know, the general wave of politics is they generalize so much, and of course so many things are centered on the polls and what people thinks, so a lot of issues are being skirted nowadays...

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(INTERRUPTED BY COVERAGE OF LIVE EVENT)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: The latest "Evans & Novak Political Report" shows Al Gore and George W. Bush in a dead heat in the electoral college. The projections show the two tied, with 269 votes each. A candidate needs 270 of the 570 electoral college votes to win the White House. Bush's once-strong lead was wiped out by his tough primary battles with Senator John McCain. Joining us now, one of the authors of that report, Bob Novak of "The Chicago Sun-Times."

And, Bob, based on your information, where is Gore's strength?

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": Before I answer that, Bernie, let me just say that we've been doing this electoral college projections through the campaign starting in 1968. We have never had a dead heat before, exactly even, so this is fascinating.

SHAW: It is.

Vice President's Gore's strength -- and the map shows it is on the East and the West Coast. He's a bicoastal candidate. He has all of New England and all of the Northeastern states, except -- major Northeastern states, except Pennsylvania, which a lot of people don't think classed anymore as East anymore. Then he has the West Coast states of Washington, Oregon, and then importantly, California. Now, the interesting thing about that is that Al Gore must win California to be elected president, not necessarily so for George Bush.

SHAW: Where is the governor strongest?

NOVAK: He is the Southern candidate. The South is now the solid South, and he sweeps the entire South, including Florida, which was won by Bill Clinton in 1996. Similarly, Al Gore can win -- could be elected without winning Florida, but George Bush cannot, he absolutely needs Florida.

SHAW: OK, how about the battleground states, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey?

NOVAK: Those are the old Rust Belt states and they are where the election is going to be determined, and right now George Bush has the advantage in them, but not by much. We have him ahead in Michigan and Pennsylvania and Ohio whereas the vice president is ahead in New Jersey by quite a bit but not very much in Illinois and Wisconsin. He has just small leads in those states.

You see, all of these states can be very closely contested and so we have a situation -- frankly, in almost a half a century of looking at presidential races, I haven't quite seen since the '60 race between Kennedy and Nixon, where one state, one small state like Arkansas, which we very tentatively give to Gore right now, could determine the size of -- the fate of the election.

SHAW: The vice presidential choice of both candidates, how might that affect the political landscape?

NOVAK: Well, it is very tempting to try to find somebody who would carry a state. For example, if Gore won Florida he would really kind of tip the balance, so they may look very strongly at Senator Graham of Florida. On the other hand, there is a lot of people who are telling George Bush that he should get somebody from Ohio like John Kasich, or Pennsylvania like Governor Tom Ridge, sort of a zone defense type instead of trying to find an attractive, charismatic candidate, somebody who would carry one of these key states.

SHAW: Now, Bob, you also write that the Gore campaign is brimming with confidence right now. Does he have the momentum?

NOVAK: I think he has a little bit of momentum. I don't -- I think it is the momentum with the elites, with the news people who are covering him, with the people in the Washington Beltway community, the lobbyist community. I am not sure whether that spreads over to the ordinary voter, Bernie, because I think these people are very evenly divided.

We have a long, long way to go in this race. There is going to be a lot of ups and downs and you're going to find a lot of tactical moves such as Vice President Gore changing his position on the Elian Gonzalez case with the Florida electoral votes at stake. This is going to be a very interesting ride for people who like politics.

SHAW: And we love it, of course. Thank you, Bob Novak.

NOVAK: You're welcome.

SHAW: Well, there is much more ahead on this edition of INSIDE POLITICS.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was an official vice presidential event with the big three auto makers, clearly designed to give Al Gore maximum political mileage.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHAW: Patty Davis on a Gore event driven, at least in part, by concerns about gas prices.

Plus, the latest addition to George W. Bush's education plan and why John McCain is getting credit for it.

And later...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VENTURA: I am no trade expert. I don't speak Chinese. What I do bring to you today is a dose of common sense. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SHAW: Jesse Ventura talking trade in a language members of Congress seem to understand.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: On the presidential campaign trail today, George W. Bush reached out to America's teachers and to John McCain in one full swoop. Once again, Jonathan Karl with a report on Bush's latest education proposal and how McCain figures into it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BUSH: One pickle. What letter does the word pickle start with?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After a photo-op at a Head Start program in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, George W. Bush proposed $2.9 billion in new spending over five years on education programs aimed at teachers.

BUSH: Teachers oftentimes lead with their hearts and wonder about their wallets.

KARL: One element of the Bush plan is a new tax break: a $400-a- year standard deduction, recognizing that teachers often spend their own money on teaching supplies. The tax break would cost the federal government $750 million over five years.

Other elements of the Bush plan include: an additional $400 million a year in federal spending on state programs to train teachers, spending $30 million a year, a more than ten-fold increase, on "Troops to Teachers," a program that recruits retired military personnel for teaching jobs. Bush credited his formal rival, John McCain, for the "Troops to Teachers" idea.

BUSH: Senator McCain talked a lot about this in the course of the primaries and I appreciate him for bringing this issue to our collective attention.

KARL: Governor Bush says he can beat Al Gore on education, even though Gore would spend more on the issue.

BUSH: I'm not competing on money. There's no way that I can possibly outspend Al Gore on any program, anyplace, anytime in government. His motto is "Vote for me, I'll spend more money."

KARL (on camera): All told, Governor Bush has called for more than $13 billion in new spending on education over five years, that's a fraction of the vice president's call for more than $115 billion in new spending over the next 10 years.

Jonathan Karl, CNN, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SHAW: Though Al Gore also has made education a major campaign issue, today he was mindful of a matter that may cause him problems down the road: high gas prices.

As CNN's Patty Davis reports, Gore announced an agreement that could eventually reduce fuel costs.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVIS (voice-over): It was an official vice presidential event with the big three automakers, clearly designed to give Al Gore maximum political mileage.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The recent hike in gasoline prices shows once again why it's so important for us to push hard to get not just gradual slow improvement in efficiency, but dramatic improvements.

DAVIS: Gore aides tell CNN it took last-minute arm-twisting to convince Ford, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler to commit to mass produced vehicles with significantly higher gas mileage within the next three to four years. The automakers credit Gore with launching their partnership seven years ago as a way to challenge them to develop cars that would get 80 miles to the gallon.

A longtime environmentalist, Gore once called for the elimination of the internal combustion engine in most cars to ease fuel consumption and decrease air pollution.

The announcement by the big three to produce cars with greater fuel efficiency comes at a critical time for Gore, with high gas prices now a pocketbook issue for many Americans. Gore touted the administration's efforts to bring those prices down by jawboning OPEC to increase oil production.

GORE: I think that the result, along with other outcomes that will soon become evident, represent a real success.

DAVIS: Meanwhile, Senate Republicans, staging a press conference at a Washington, D.C., gas station, say the White House isn't doing enough to reduce U.S. dependence on overseas oil.

SEN. FRANK MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: The Department of Energy says by the 2015 to 2020, we are going to be 65 percent dependent. Now this administration doesn't have an energy policy, but what they do have a policy of is begging OPEC for more oil.

DAVIS: Gore aides dispute that, saying the new commitment to produce higher mileage vehicles is evidence the administration does have an energy policy.

(on camera): In the words of one staffer, anything Gore can do to increase gas mileage and produce affordable fuel-efficient cars helps Gore and the administration's economic message, a message Gore hopes to ride to the White House in November.

Patty Davis, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHAW: Up next on INSIDE POLITICS, the NRA takes aim at the gun- lock legislation of Maryland's governor.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: The National Rifle Association is going on the offensive against Maryland Governor Parris Glendening. Starting tomorrow, the NRA plans to air television ads attacking Glendening's proposed legislation requiring locks on all new handguns sold in the state.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, NRA AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Glendening wants an integrated trigger lock on your handgun.

GOV. PARRIS GLENDENING (D), MARYLAND: Part of my job here is to show in theory how easy this is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But if your family is in danger, how much time will you have to unlock the firearm you depend on for protection? Tell Speaker Taylor you oppose integrated trigger locks because your safety is no laughing matter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHAW: Governor Glendening is calling the ad "an outrageous attack." If the bill becomes law, Maryland will be the first state in the nation to require built-in locks on new handguns sold after January 1, 2003.

The gun-control issue nearly dominated the debate last night among the six candidates running for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania's Democratic primary. Two of the three front-runners had this testy exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALLYSON SCHWARTZ (D), PENNSYLVANIA SEN. CANDIDATE: I am the only one who stood up to the NRA, I am the only one who's taking them on and has said that this nation's children are more important than the NRA leadership, their money or the clout they might use against me.

REP. RON KLINK (D), PENNSYLVANIA SEN. CANDIDATE: When I voted for the 72-hour waiting period to close the gun show loopholes, they were livid. They stood outside the Capitol, they were upset, they were in my office, they didn't like that. That was not something that the NRA wanted to see happen. They are not happy about the gun trigger locks which I voted for. So I have gone against them when I thought they were wrong and I've voted with them when I thought they were right.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SHAW: But who will challenge Republican Senator Rick Santorum in November? With only five days to go before Tuesday's primary, no one has emerged from the pack as a clear front-runner. According to the latest Keystone Poll released today, 52 percent of the Democrats remain undecided. Now, that is down from 58 percent in February. Furthermore, none of the top three contenders was supported by even 20 percent of the Democrats.

Joining us from New York to talk more about this, David Peeler of Competitive Media Reporting. David, this poll shows the top candidates are Congressman Ron Klink, former state labor chief Thomas Foley, and State Senator Allyson Schwartz. But the Pennsylvania voters don't seem to be interested. What's going on?

DAVID PEELER, COMPETITIVE MEDIA REPORTING: Well, Bernie, let's frame this race. You know, Santorum is viewed as a vulnerable by the Democrats and so you have an expected outcome.

You have a tremendous number of candidates vying for this Democratic option, so that has caused a very crowded field. They have a couple of problems. Most of them are state officials, state representatives, and so their name I.D. across the state for this kind of race is relatively low. That in combination with the fact that you have the presidential primary already decided, I think is going to lead to a relatively low voter turnout. So the candidates are all kind of faced with they need to get their name out in front of the voter, because they only have five days left.

Let's take a look at some of the ads that they are running and I think what you'll see is all of the candidates using kind of a biostrategy, get their name out in front and perhaps maybe tag it with one issue that they are trying to focus on, but it is basically about themselves, not about their candidates -- not about their opponents.

Let's see some of the ads.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, KLINK CAMPAIGN AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is the only Democrat who has had the courage to take on Rick Santorum and vote in Congress to pass a patients' bill of rights. Ron Klink, he's fought for working families in Congress. He has the experience to do it in the Senate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SCHWARTZ CAMPAIGN AD)

SCHWARTZ: I'm Allyson Schwartz. In the Pennsylvania Senate, I've stood up to the NRA to protect our children. I'll do the same in Washington. As a mother, as your senator, you can count on it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FOLEY CAMPAIGN AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So who can we trust in the Senate to protect Social Security and Medicare and stand up to the insurance companies?

Tom Foley.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, ROVNER CAMPAIGN AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which candidate can beat Rick Santorum? Bob Rovner can. A former assistant prosecutor endorsed by Philadelphia D.A. Lynn Abraham (ph) and one of the most effective state senators in Pennsylvania history.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PEELER: Well, let's take a look at the spending behind the individual campaigns. Klink and Schwartz are clearly the two spending the most amount of dollars for this race. Klink has spent over $300,000. Schwartz is right behind him at $291,000. Five days to go, I would anticipate that their spending will accelerate over the next couple of days.

As we move to Foley and Rovner, both have spent close to $170,000 for Foley, Rovner pretty close at $152,000. The only interesting tactic here is we see Rovner was out early on in the race and has reduced his level of spending as we get down toward the campaign.

It's my guess that in order to get across the goal line they're going to have to accelerate spending, they're going to try and have to get their name out and they're going to hopefully get to the targeted base that they are trying to get to, even in a low voter turnout environment. It's going to be very difficult.

SHAW: Now, on the Republican side, David, a free-for-all is expected in Pennsylvania's 19th District -- that House race -- to replace Republican Bill Goodling (ph) who is stepping down. Who should we be watching in this one?

PEELER: Well, Bernie, this is very similar to the situation that we saw in Illinois. You have three candidates running for an open seat. Two of them are self funded, so they are willing to spend quite a bit of money. The difference here that we see from the statewide race is that because this is a congressional seat, one that will be important in the fall, you see a lot of local issues coming into play in the ad campaign that they're running.

Let's take a look at some of those ads.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, STEWART CAMPAIGN AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm really proud of the values that I grew up with here in central Pennsylvania and I think that is what we need down in Washington.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MASLAND CAMPAIGN AD) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Al Masland's work in legislature has given prosecutors tremendous tools to get drunk drivers off the roads.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He has a proven record in Pennsylvania. Al Masland would be an excellent congressman.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, REILLY CAMPAIGN AD)

CHRIS REILLY, PENNSYLVANIA HOUSE 19 CANDIDATE: I'm Chris Reilly. I'm a conservative Republican with ideas. If you agree with me, I would appreciate your vote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PEELER: Here we see Stewart and Masland spending the most, $100,000 both, all -- both got out early. They needed to, to get their name I.D. up. Reilly, though, don't count him out. He has spent $10,000. He first went up on air today. He's going to spend a tremendous amount of money between here and the primary on Tuesday, and he probably has a little more name I.D. than the other two, so he may be the dark horse.

SHAW: OK, David Peeler of Competitive Media Reporting, see you the next time.

PEELER: Thanks, Bernie.

SHAW: You are welcome.

That New York Senate race is shaping up to be a contest between two very big-time spenders. So far, the campaigns of New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton has raised a total of $31 million. Now, breaking that down, Giuliani continues to outpace Clinton, raising about $7 million during the first three months of this year and that compares to a little more than $4 million for Mrs. Clinton. Last year, the mayor raised nearly $12 million compared to the first lady's $8 million.

Up next on INSIDE POLITICS, the evolution of Jesse Ventura, find out how his global view is helping bolster his image as a national political figure.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: Jesse Ventura acknowledged he is not a trade expert, but when he went to the Hill today to talk about that subject he brought what may be more important credentials. In politics, he is a hot commodity.

CNN's Chris Black reports on the Minnesota governor's day and his role as a national figure.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VENTURA: Jesse "The Body" is here. Jesse "The Body" is here to stay. You are going to see a lot of me, whether you like it or not.

CHRIS BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Like it or not, Jesse is now a national political player, telling Congress to establish permanent normal trade relations with China.

VENTURA: This is the biggest economic decision of the 21st century. Please don't blow it.

BLACK: Ex-wrestler Jesse Ventura was a comic book figure when he burst upon the national scene just over a year ago as Minnesota's new governor. But his proven appeal with independent voters and identification with reform has turned him into a figure of respect to more conventional politicians.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You just hit a home run.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought it was a body slam.

VENTURA: We all have our sordid past.

BLACK: The governor is walking away from one link to his past: the national Reform Party.

VENTURA: It's a dysfunctional party that only cares about a certain agenda, and I don't think it's -- in the way it's going today it's at all centrist, and in order to be victorious in third party -- as a third party, you have to take the centrist road.

BLACK: Congressman Jim Ramstad, a Minnesota Republican, invited Ventura to testify, hoping the governor would be able to persuade like-minded centrists in Congress to follow his lead on the China issue.

REP. JIM RAMSTAD (R), MINNESOTA: Governor Ventura brings the common sense approach to the trade issue and does a very effective job of explaining the virtues of free trade and the importance of this normal -- permanent normal-trade relations with China. He tells it like it is.

BLACK: But Ventura is not telling which way he is leaning in the presidential race.

VENTURA: I don't know at this time. My first choice would not be to have it start as early as it does. I am already burned out on it and I don't even try to watch it.

BLACK: Vice President Al Gore has already paid a courtesy call to Ventura, and he gives the vice president high marks for his campaign finance proposal.

VENTURA: Well, it's smart. He's trying to win. You know, the -- ultimately, that's the goal, is to win, win the election. But the proof will be in the pudding after the election -- you know, campaign finance reform. I want to see it.

BLACK (on camera): Ventura says the Reform Party has become isolationist and a captive of extremists. The governor says he's staying in the political middle and focusing his energy on building an independent movement in Minnesota.

Chris Black, CNN, Capitol Hill.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHAW: And that's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. We'll see you again tomorrow, when our Candy Crowley will be reporting from Miami on the political fallout from the Elian Gonzalez case, and Bill Schneider will have his political play of the week.

Of course, you can go online all the time at CNN's allpolitics.com.

I'm Bernard Shaw. "WORLDVIEW" is next.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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