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Inside Politics

Gore Campaign Fine-Tunes V.P. Search; Midwest's Views on Gun Control Could Shape National Debate; America Tunes Out TV News for the Internet

Aired June 12, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: He knows a lot about being No. 2 on the ticket. Now Al Gore's campaign is searching for his running mate. We'll have the latest on his informal list.

Also ahead:


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): About 900 miles from Manhattan, 2,300 miles from Los Angeles, lies Michigan's 1st District. The view is different here.


BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: Candy Crowley on gun politics in the Heartland.



BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This Web site, some other Web site is the future. I was Bruce Morton on television -- remember television?


WOODRUFF: Perspective and polling on the tuning out of TV news in favor of the Internet.

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

SHAW: Thanks for joining us.

This is the week Al Gore begins his big pitch to voters to give him some credit for the nation's economic boom. But while Gore focuses on the bottom line, some of his aides are focusing on the bottom of the ticket.

Our John King has new information on Gore's vice presidential search. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): ... Democrats in recent weeks. But in recent days, Warren Christopher's discussions appear to be more focused. Democratic sources tell CNN Christopher raised these seven names in recent conversations with several party elders: Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts, Bob Graham of Florida, Richard Durbin of Illinois, and Evan Bayh of Indiana.

The sources say Christopher also asked about: former Senator George Mitchell of Maine, Governor Jim Hunt of North Carolina; and Energy Secretary Bill Richardson.

Top Gore campaign aides and advisers say there is no official short list yet, and several said it would be a mistake to count out former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. Democrats who have spoken with Christopher in recent days say he is stressing that the process is in its early stages, and Gore's thinking could be dramatically reshaped by Texas Governor George W. Bush's choice of a running mate.

Former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney is leading Bush's search. GOP sources say Cheney and the governor are now talking several times a week and working off a list of about a dozen prospects. House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri is among the party leaders recently sounded out by Christopher. But before Christopher came looking for advice about other candidates, Democratic sources tell CNN several top Gore campaign advisers checked to see if Gephardt wanted to be considered himself.


KING: Gephardt, though, sent word through top aides that his answer was no, that he was not interested in joining Gore on the ticket because of his commitment to helping the Democrats try to retake the House. That, of course, would make him the speaker -- Bernie.

SHAW: John, looking and listening to that piece, are women not under consideration?

KING: Well, we know from sources and public accounts that Mr. Christopher has met with both of California's Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. You hear the name of New Hampshire's governor, Jeanne Shaheen, from time to time.

What struck many who have spoken to him recently, when he was using just these seven names, is that there were no women on this list. Again, though, he's stressing it's early. We should stress this is Christopher's list right now. We have no reason to believe it is Gore's list. And again, most people in the Gore campaign view him as a very tactical politician. They believe his decision will be very heavily influenced by who Governor Bush chooses.

SHAW: OK, thank you, John King -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, well now to the campaign trail and the issue Gore is trying to emphasize: economic prosperity. Gore touched on the topic during a Democratic National Committee luncheon in New York today, a scene setter for the week ahead.

Our Chris Black has more on Gore's latest strategy.


CHRIS BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Vice President Al Gore is getting back to basics, the longest economic expansion in U.S. history and how he intends to keep it going.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you want progress and prosperity, the ability to solve these problems that need not go without solution, we can deal with them successfully.

BLACK: Gore advisers say the roaring economy of the Clinton-Gore years is the strongest argument for keeping as Democrat in the White House.

This week, Gore begins what his campaign calls a "progress in prosperity" tour to talk about how he intends to govern during prosperous times. The formula is a familiar replay of the familiar Clinton-Gore strategy of balancing the budget and using the surplus to invest in priority programs, beginning in New York Tuesday with a proposal to safeguard Medicare by protecting Medicare tax dollars from regular government spending and using the excess to pay down the national debt, then heading to the swing states of Pennsylvania and Ohio to talk about health care and tax incentives for things like protection of open space and savings for college tuition.

The vice president is reminding voters how things have changed since a Republican held the presidency.

GORE: There is a big difference between what's going on now and what was going on eight years ago.

BLACK: Gore advisers say voters in Iowa and New Hampshire liked what they heard when Gore made this case at the beginning of the campaign season. His message is being reinforced by Democratic National Committee ad campaign. For now, Gore is avoiding direct criticism of George W. Bush, letting his supporters make the case the election of his opponent might hurt prosperity.

SEN. BYRON DORGAN (D), NORTH DAKOTA: Governor Bush has, you know, had questions raised about his grasp of certain issues. I would say that the grasp on this issue is just about a trillion dollars short of reality.

BLACK: Even Republicans acknowledge the strength of the economy in the very first sentence of the GOP's first ad airing today in 17 states.


ANNOUNCER: With our nation at peace and more prosperous than ever, now is the time to find real solutions to America's problems. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACK: A Republican strategist says the strong economy is the biggest obstacle for Bush.

SCOTT REED, GOP STRATEGIST: The biggest challenge for the Bush campaign is running a national campaign in this environment, where there is economic growth and job creation and all the economic signs are facing up.

(on camera): June can be a make-or-break month, depending upon what a candidate does or doesn't do. So this month, Al Gore is setting the groundwork for his case, that it's hard to argue with the economic success of the Clinton-Gore years.

Chris Black, CNN, Washington.


SHAW: Joining us now are Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times."

Sir, I have for you a three-part question: Does Al Gore deserve credit for the economy? If so, how much? And how does he get it?

RON BROWNSTEIN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well historically, the party in power in the White House has gotten credit or blame for how the economy is doing. That's been one of the tenets of American politics for a very long time. There are signs, Bernie, that that is breaking down. If you look in polling now, people are more likely to attribute the growth that we're seeing in the economy to the technology industry, the private sector, than to Clinton and the administration, to Congress, even Alan Greenspan. That's a problem for Al Gore. He needs some credit for prosperity.

In the end, though, the question of who gets credit for what's happened may be less important, though, than whether Gore can make a case that changing direction would threaten it -- I don't know if he has to win a debate about what has already been, what he does have to do is win a debate that we need to keep going in the same direction that we are policy-wise in order to keep these good times going. And I think that will be the key to this argument over what to do with the surplus, tax cuts versus debt reduction and so forth.

SHAW: So you're saying that the American people generally right now don't see a connection between things that happen here in Washington and their purses and wallets?

BROWNSTEIN: At the moment, that connection seems to be attenuating somewhat. We're a long way from the election and we have a long history of the economy and the, sort of, the general state of the nation being a decisive factor in whether the party in power holds the White House. So it's kind of early to write this off, but there's no question that one of the key problems for Al Gore at this point is that good times are not doing him enough good. If you look at voters who say the country is moving in the right direction, they are not voting for Al Gore at nearly the percentage they have in the past for the incumbent president or his successor.

SHAW: Ron Brownstein, the national mood: Is the national mood a help or a hindrance for Gore?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think Gore, as I -- Gore has two problems at the moment: one is that the percentage of the country who are basically satisfied with the way things are going has actually been declining this year. That's critical because the pool of votes that is out there for the party in power are people who are happy with the way things are going. People who are dissatisfied are overwhelmingly voting for George Bush, as they always vote for the out party.

The second problem Gore has is that of this somewhat-shrinking pool this year, he's not getting nearly enough, as he should, nearly enough -- as Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton in '96 or even George W. Bush in '92 would have gotten -- from people who are satisfied.

So basically, the task ahead for them, I think, is twofold. It is to sort of regenerate some of this optimism about the way things are going and then it is to peel off more of those voters as they enlarge that pool.

SHAW: In weeks ago, Al Gore was on an attack and attack mode. Now starting tomorrow in the Northeast he's going fob talking about prosperity and the connection between this prosperity and the Clinton- Gore administration. The Bush people, are they going to be tracking what he's doing?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, and the Bush people very much are going to try to reinforce this argument that the government, the Clinton-Gore administration, does not deserve credit for what happened. They put out a release today talking about Al Gore and his "I invented prosperity" tour, parodying his comments about the Internet. They want to make the case that we want to use this prosperity now to deal with long-range problems, like Social Security, Medicare, education reform, and that the administration cannot simply claim credit for it.

Ultimately, though, Bernie, the key question will be whether the historical patterns hold, because when things are this good, the party holding the White House tends to have an advantage. The question is whether that historical relationship is breaking down as people perceive differently this new economy.

SHAW: One last quick question: Are American voters listening to all this right now?

BROWNSTEIN: No, and that's why I say it's too early to say for sure. If you go back to 1988 and if you look at 1996, in both cases, Bush and Reagan in '88, Clinton in '96, they spent the summer trying to remind people that things were better than they were four or eight years ago. And they drove up that right track number, and with it they drove up their own prospects. If Gore can do the same things, he will put Bush in a more difficult position than it looks right now. SHAW: OK, Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times" -- nice looking back you have there, Bill -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: That was an interesting shot there, wasn't it?

SHAW: It was.

WOODRUFF: Who's back was that?

SHAW: That was Schneider.

WOODRUFF: All right, for more on the vice president's efforts to use the economic boom to his political advantage, we do turn to our Bill Schneider.

Bill, tell us, is this prosperity a Democratic issue or a Republican issue?


And you know, you certainly have to believe it helps the Democrats just as it did in 1996. Four years ago, just over half the public thought the economy was moving in the right direction, now it's up to three quarters, Al Gore is trying to promote a message with his prosperity tour: It's still the economy, stupid.

But here is something interesting, about half the voters describe the nation's economy as in very good shape, over 40 percent call it fairly good, just about 10 percent say this is a poor economy. Well, if you are very positive about the economy, you vote for Gore by a 10- point margin. The people who say it is fairly good are voting for Bush by 12 points.

The good economy is not good enough to get them to vote for Gore. We are sort of ratcheting prosperity up on the political scale. You only vote for Gore if you think this economy is just fabulous.

WOODRUFF: Now, haven't the Democrats, though, always appealed to the people who are -- for lack of a better term -- economically insecure?

SCHNEIDER: Well, sure they have, and they still do. People who say they're worried about their own personal financial situations vote for Gore, those who are not really worried vote for Bush. Gore really benefits at both ends of the economy, from those who believe times are great and for those who are looking -- who are really worried and looking for help.

WOODRUFF: So what does that leave for Bush?

SCHNEIDER: Well, it leaves a lot of people in the middle. I mean, people who believe the economy is pretty good, but -- and who are not worried about their finances, they vote for Bush. That's why the new Republican Party ad starts out saying -- quote -- "With our nation at peace and more prosperous than ever, now is the time to find real solutions for America's problems." Peace, prosperity? Sounds like the Republicans are making the Democrats case. No, what they are saying is, let's assume peace and prosperity. They're not at issue in this election. What we have to ask, Republicans say, is which candidate has more new ideas?

WOODRUFF: So now does that explain why Bush is ahead in many polls right now?

SCHNEIDER: No, what this explains is why the election is so close. Our latest poll shows Bush 4 points ahead nationwide. But you know, Bush is about 50 points ahead in Texas, and Texas is a lot of the country, it's the second largest state. Let's throw Texas out and see what happens.

Aha, with Texans -- with the Texans expelled -- I can't say that -- with Texas expelled, the race is virtually a dead heat in the rest of the country. A lot of Bush's lead is caused by his immense advantage in his home state. Lot of people would like to throw Texas out. Not me, I love Texas.

WOODRUFF: But that's not going to happen, Texas is not going to secede, Bill.

SCHNEIDER: No, but there are a lot of Texans voting for Bush and he could use those votes in places like California and Michigan and Ohio. A big lead in Texas, he would rather see it spread out around the country.

WOODRUFF: All right, we always learn something from you, Bill Schneider, thanks.

Still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS: politics, and more, online. Are Web sites gaining fans at the expense of traditional news sources?


SHAW: A new study by the Pew Research Center finds fewer Americans are tuning into network television for their daily news. One reason: the Internet.

Our Bruce Morton now with more on the study results.


MORTON (voice-over): The Pew Research Center says Americans don't care about news as much as they used to and are turning to the Internet for the news they do want, away from traditional media. Not as interested? Forty-five percent of the sample surveyed enjoys keeping up with the news, down from 50 percent just two years ago. Young people care least. Just 31 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds enjoy it.

Sixty-four percent say they only follow international news when something important is going on -- a war, maybe. Forty-one percent of college graduates only pay attention to national news when something big is happening. Two years ago, the report says, just 31 percent were that inattentive.

The Internet? Thirty-three percent go online for news at least once a week, compared to 20 percent just two years ago, a huge increase, and that's hurt the broadcast networks. Just 30 percent regularly watch the broadcast network newscasts, down from 38 percent in 1988, a big drop. The broadcast networks' news audience has been cut in half since 1993. And just 17 percent of the under 30s watch regularly, and they're jumpy.

Sixty-percent of all viewers say they watch the news with the remote control in hand. Twenty-one percent of those surveyed regularly watch CNN, down a little from 23 percent in 1998. The survey says the Internet hasn't hurt cable TV or print, but the declining interest in news has.

Just 29 percent of the under 30s read a newspaper yesterday, compared with 63 percent of those 65 and older. They don't disbelieve the news. Over 75 percent are at least fairly satisfied with business and financial coverage. That drops to 62 percent when you get to Washington and politics.

The good news? CNN gets the highest believability ratings of any network. The weird news? The Web site does even better. CNN's high believability rating? Forty percent.'s? Fifty-four percent. And it's not just us. ABC News? Twenty-nine percent. Forty-four percent. CBS News? Twenty seven. Forty one. "USA Today?" Twenty one. Thirty seven.

(on camera): Go figure. I have no idea what all this means, but I have seen the future, and I'm not included. This Web site, some other Web site, that's the future.

I was Bruce Morton on television. You remember television?


WOODRUFF: Bruce isn't gone just yet, he's going to be around for a while.

Well, according to the Pew Survey, financial news is driving Americans to the Web, but there is also a huge potential audience for political coverage. Another poll by the American University Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies shows 19 percent of Americans view the Internet as a very important source for political information. Another 32 percent say it is somewhat important. Taken together, that is a majority. Thirty-nine percent, though, say it is not very important or not important at all.

Joining us now, James Thurber of American University, whose center conducted that study, and Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center.

Gentlemen, thank you for being with us.

Andy Kohut, to you first. In the world of polling are these changes in news habits a big deal? ANDREW KOHUT, DIRECTOR, PEW RESEARCH CENTER: They are a big deal. And I hope you are not going to shoot the messenger with all this bad news for the news,

These are very dramatic findings. I mean, this is not a matter of being different than things that we've seen -- Americans less interested in the news and the Internet growing, but it's the extent to which they are growing and the extent of disengagement on the part of many Americans who are so event-driven who only follow the news when something's really happening. And this is a new media world, and it's changing ever so rapidly.

WOODRUFF: Why so rapidly?

KOHUT: Well, one -- for one thing, it's the good times, There's no compelling news, and the new generation are not only the children of peace and prosperity, they're the children of the children of peace and prosperity. And they just don't have the news habit. And now the Internet comes along and takes fragmented audiences and fragments them further.

And broadcast news, both local and network, is get -- is take -- is getting it on both ends. The serious news consumers are going to places where they can get more, and -- on the Internet, and the weak news consumers clicking on and just clicking those few headlines that they want -- that satisfies their modest news habits.

WOODRUFF: And just quickly, the age difference in news preferences: You account for it how?

KOHUT: Well, I think you account for it in the different experiences of these generations. If you grew up in the '40s, '50s and '60s at the time of the Cold War, and not so long after the Depression and economic upheavals in this country, you have a different perspective on looking out at the larger world than if you grew up if the '70s and '80s.

WOODRUFF: But Jim Thurber, for your -- from your study, if -- for people who are looking for political information, the Internet is not yet so important?

JAMES THURBER, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, we found that 50 percent of our survey, people surveyed -- and it was the Yankolovich National Survey -- were on the Internet. But only 29 percent of them were going there for political information. And most of the respondents actually in our survey were not paying attention to this election. But 30 percent were paying attention to political things.

They were going to the Internet for political information. The younger people, in particular. The candidates, I think, have overstated the importance of the Internet with respect to campaign contributions and volunteers. Only 3 percent had given money through the Internet. And 8 percent had volunteered for a candidate at any level through the Internet.

WOODRUFF: Is there a sense that, in any way, that the Internet is important for political candidates or campaigns?

THURBER: Well, I think all candidates must have a Web site. And in fact, we did a study in '98 of all competitive races in the House -- all Senate races -- they all had Web sites. You've got to have a Web site to tell people who you are, where you're going to be, and what your stands are. And I think that's fundamentally changed the way -- one way candidates are communicating with the public.

WOODRUFF: But you're saying they've got to have a Web site, but they can't count on that Web site for donations, for participation, and for most people coming for information.

THURBER: I think that's coming in the future. I think that it hasn't -- there's no indication yet that it really made that much of a difference, although there are some statements by some candidates that it has.

WOODRUFF: Andy Kohut, where is all this headed?

KOHUT: It's headed to increasingly fragmented news audiences. It's headed to a situation where we all don't drink out of the same cup. We don't have that same national town square, in political terms. You know, getting the president's pictures on network television in the evening, which used to be the sign of a good publicist's success in the White House, it doesn't mean that much anymore. It's tougher to communicate with voters.

And the Internet, per se, I don't think is going to make it any easier, because we find that people go on the Internet for more about the things that interest them. Now just because we have this big ballpark there, the voters aren't going to come and become engaged because of the availability of this information. In effect, the Internet will drive them further into aviation news or the things that really turn them on.

WOODRUFF: Will it drive them further into political news?

THURBER: I don't think so. And there's no indication of it. I call it, rather than a big ballpark, a big junkyard. And it's hard to figure out the quality of information that they're going after in various places. And I think some people are figuring that out.

The real political junkies are online, but that's very few people in America, in my opinion.

WOODRUFF: All right. Jim Thurber, Andy Kohut, thank you, both.

Bernie and I have to have a talk about whether we still have a job or not.

SHAW: Absolutely.

WOODRUFF: Thank you, both. We appreciate it.

And much more ahead on this edition of INSIDE POLITICS.

SHAW: And still to come...


CROWLEY (voice-over): They do not believe their side of the story has been told. This, then, is their side.


SHAW: Candy Crowley with a different perspective on the issue of gun control.


WOODRUFF: Can Al Gore sell voters on his new campaign message of progress and prosperity? Jodie Allen and Beth Fouhy weigh in.

And later:

SHAW: The president's unfinished legislative agenda and the partisan politics that may keep it that way.


SHAW: We'll have more of the day's political news coming up. But now, this look at some other top stories.

An Atlanta jury says Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting are not guilty of two murders following the Super Bowl. The two men were cleared of all charges: murder, felony murder, and aggravated assault. Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar died after a brawl in the Buckhead District in -- of Atlanta.


BRUCE HARVEY, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: According to the evidence in this case, the real killer stood up and said, "I stabbed him," and then left. And we presented that evidence to this particular jury. Now whether the state decides to present that evidence to another jury remains to be seen.



PAUL HOWARD, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: We are deeply, deeply disappointed in the verdict. We thought that we had presented substantial evidence in this case, substantial evidence that we thought should have resulted in a verdict of guilty for these defendants.


SHAW: Oakley and Sweeting went on trial with Baltimore Ravens' player Ray Lewis, who testified against them last week. In exchange for his testimony, murder charges against Lewis were dropped. WOODRUFF: A 13-year-old Florida boy will be tried as an adult in the shooting death of a middle-school teacher. A grand jury in Palm Beach County indicted Nathaniel Brazill today on a charge of first degree murder. If he is convicted, he could face life in prison without parole.

The president and CEO of Philip Morris takes the witness stand in the penalty phase of the Florida tobacco trial. He is the first of five tobacco company chiefs expected to testify. They hope to persuade the jury not to level a multi-billion-dollar punitive damage request. They contend that it would cripple their industry. Cigarette companies have already paid out $254 billion to the states.

SHAW: World dignitaries are arriving in Syria for tomorrow's funeral for President Hafez Al-Assad. The influential Middle East leader died Saturday. He was 69 years old.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is leading the United States delegation. Albright says the transition of power to Assad's son, Bashar, appears to be going smoothly. Bashar could face a challenge from his uncle, who was banished from the country in 1995.

CNN will bring you live coverage of Tuesday's funeral services for Hafez Al-Assad throughout the day.

A historic three-day summit between leaders of North and South Korea is scheduled to begin tomorrow. The summit was supposed to start today in the North Korean capital Pyongyang, but North Korea delayed it by a day for minor technical reasons.

WOODRUFF: In another high-profile case, the Justice Department took on credit card giants Visa and MasterCard today in federal court. The lawsuit contends the two companies operate as a "duopoly" and stifle competition by not letting member banks issue other credit cards. Visa and MasterCard control about 75 percent of the credit card market.

When INSIDE POLITICS returns, new details on flaws in the death penalty process as the issue keeps dogging George W. Bush.



GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know there are some in the country that don't care for the death penalty. But I -- as I've said once, I've said a lot: that I believe every case has been -- we've adequately answered and guilt, and everybody's had full access to the courts.


SHAW: That was George W. Bush's latest defense of the executions carried out in Texas during his tenure as governor. Bush was responding to a "Chicago Tribune" report that dozens of inmates put to death in Texas were inadequately defended by their lawyers, who in some cases had been disbarred or suspended.

Nationwide, a study released today shows there have been many serious errors in the capital punishment process.

CNN's Charles Bierbauer looks at the report and some of its political ramifications.


CHARLES BIERBAUER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's called "death row." As final as that sounds, many men, and women, on death row do not die there. A study of nearly 4,600 death penalty cases since the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling reinstating capital punishment says the process is flawed.

Serious errors, suppressed evidence, judges' mistakes, jury bias were found in 68 of every 100 cases: in 41 cases, on direct appeal at the state level; at a state's second review, six cases. And when appealed to federal courts, another 21 flawed cases were found.

PROFESSOR JAMES LIEBMAN, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL: The incentives are to generate a lot of death sentences, even ones that don't belong there, even ones where you have to cut corners to get there, and then let somebody else worry about it over the next nine years, 10 years to see what happens.

BIERBAUER: When those 68 cases were retried, 12 again resulted in death sentences; 51 received lesser sentences, and five were judged innocent. The chance an innocent may die is causing officials to pause before allowing executions to go forward.

In Texas...

BUSH: A 30-day reprieve for the case of Ricky McGinn.

BIERBAUER: ... for DNA testing in the rape and murder of McGinn's stepdaughter. In Maryland, a death sentence commuted to life without parole for Eugene Colvin-El.

GOV. PARRIS GLENDENING (D), MARYLAND: He almost certainly is guilty of this horrible crime, but almost certain is not enough to carry out the death penalty.

BIERBAUER: Incompetent counsel -- sleeping lawyers, drunk lawyers -- was the major cause of trial errors.

LIEBMAN: 37 percent of all the error that is being found in this system is because of lawyers that are so bad that you can actually prove that the outcome probably would have been different if you had a better lawyer.

BIERBAUER (on camera): Only 1 to 2 percent of all death row inmates are executed in any year, a rate Professor Liebman attributes to the flaws in the system that stretch out appeals.

Charles Bierbauer, CNN, Washington. (END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: In this election year, debates about crime and punishment often turn to the question of gun control.

Our Candy Crowley has an inside view of how the gun issue plays in the Midwest, a region that may decide the outcome of the presidential race.


CROWLEY (voice-over): Melissa Romanowski: bookkeeper for the National Cherry Festival, wife, mother.

MELISSA ROMANOWKSI: I'm very comfortable with it. I like the results I get because it's immediate gratification.

CROWLEY: Jim Anderson: building contractor, husband, father.

JIM ANDERSON: I can compare it to meditation. I mean, you focus in on what you're doing and that's all your doing.

CROWLEY: About 900 miles from Manhattan, 2,300 miles from Los Angeles, lies Michigan's 1st District. The view is different here. Up north in Michigan, members of the Cedar Rod and Gun Club and the Benzie Sportsman's Club gather for target practice and gun talk. They do not think their side of the story has been told. This, then, is their side.

TONY ROMANOWSKI: I keep my guns locked up. I treat them with respect. My guns have never harmed anyone. It's a sport for me.

We're just like everybody else. We're Americans. We do everything that they do. And it just so happens instead of playing soccer or football, we like to hunt and we like to shoot.

And to be categorized as being something evil for something that, you know, I was raised on and my kids are going to be raised on, I don't know, it just doesn't seems unfair.

CROWLEY: Here, the words "gun culture" describe a heritage they believe is both misunderstood and threatened. Here, they were horrified by Columbine.

JEROME BUFKA: My initial reaction was about violence. Why is all this violence going on?

CROWLEY: But here, where some remember bringing guns to school for show and tell, they do not blame the guns.

KENNETH CARTER: The combination between what they're watching on TV and some of the -- some of the substance abuse that goes on -- it's just a dangerous combination.

MICHAEL BORKOVICH: They're unable to say anything to each other. They're unable to say the phrase, "Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me." It seems like everything's offensive to everyone now.

CROWLEY: Here they believe in education: reading, writing, arithmetic, gun safety.

BORKOVICH: But I think what we need to do is we need to get the firearms education into the schools. First and foremost, leave guns alone until you're old enough to safely and responsibly handle them. And second, once you're old enough, encourage these youths to get into something constructive with firearms.

CROWLEY: Mike Borkovich is a conservation officer. His two children came to the morning shoot.

(on camera): If you were some place and you saw a gun, what would you do?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: Stop. Don't touch. Leave the area. Tell an adult.

CROWLEY: And who taught you that?


What do you -- what are the two rules of guns?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: Not to point at people, only at animals, targets and animals.

CROWLEY (voice-over): A mom and a retired water-well drilling contractor, a gun shop manager, and a college administrator, a city commissioner and a retired insurance salesman. To a person, they oppose further regulation.

JEROME BUFKA: The criminal is not going to register or get his gun licensed and stuff like that, so it's just a harassment to the gun-owning person.

CROWLEY: When the talk is of gun registration, what they hear here is gun confiscation.

DONNA ANDERSON: I'm a mother, and I'm concerned with children, too, but removing them from society and registering, from what I've read, that would be disastrous. That's what was done in Nazi Germany.

CROWLEY: They do not see themselves as pro-gun or anti-gun control, but pro-Constitution.

JOHN LONG: We look at that and say it's the Second Amendment. I'm going to own a gun because I can and I'm responsible. I lock it. I teach my kids about it. It's basic core rural American values. We don't rob 7-Elevens. We don't shoot policemen. We -- most of us -- are volunteer firemen, and we give up time to the school system.

CROWLEY: Here at the gun clubs in Michigan's 1st District, they intend to vote their passion in November. DON TANNER: It's an important issue for me. If -- you know, if a candidate is pro-gun, he's more apt to get my vote, and if he's anti-gun, he's not getting my vote. And if you're talking about trying to legislate proper behavior with firearms, I don't think you can do that.

CROWLEY: And that's their side of the story.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Traverse City, Michigan.


SHAW: When we come back, more on the death penalty and the dilemma it poses for George W. Bush, and the presidential candidates navigating the politics of prosperity.

INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.


SHAW: For more on the presidential hopefuls, the issues and the strategies, I sat down earlier this afternoon with Jodie Allen of "U.S. News & World Report" and Beth Fouhy, the executive producer of CNN's political unit. I asked them whether the death penalty is becoming a slow and burning problem for George W. Bush.


JODIE ALLEN, "U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT": No question about it, Bernie, it is -- it's getting to be more than slow and rumbling. It's beginning to be a loud problem for him, especially with this new study just out saying that two out of three death penalty cases get reversed on appeal. That isn't to say that all the defendants go free, but that they find that there were serious problems in the trial and some of them do go free.

So it's something that George Bush has to take on more frontly, he can't go on saying that he is sure that everything has been fine in Texas where he has presided over a record number of executions.

BETH FOUHY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and he has also boxed himself in, Bernie, in that he continually says when he talks about this issue that inmates in -- the death penalty inmates in Texas have both had access to the courts and are definitely guilty.

Well, a couple of times in the last two weeks he has agreed to things or has acknowledged the reality of a couple of mitigating circumstances that really throw some question on to those two points. One, he commuted or stayed a guy's sentence to make sure that the DNA evidence that they are going to now look at would not exonerate him. The other case was the Supreme Court acknowledging that there was some racial bias in some of the death penalty decisions there.

So in both cases, the access to the court and the question of guilt had been raised just in the last two weeks. And as Jodie says, he's presided over so many cases, to then say, well, there is no question that those issues didn't happen in any of these past cases is just very hard to imagine.

SHAW: Is one of the problems that the governor has been so categorical in defending the death penalty, is that one of his problems?

ALLEN: Definitely, Bernie. And as Beth points out, when he was questioned about this, you know, you presided over more than 130, I think, death -- 131 death executions, which is a record for any governor since the death penalty was reinstated -- he said, "Well, I am sure that in every case here in Texas, the defendant was in fact guilty, so I don't have any second thoughts."

But now with a major -- a Republican governor, Governor Ryan of Illinois first putting in this moratorium, now with all this new evidence coming up about all the problems that Beth points to in the legal cases, it's getting to be a very serious problem for him simply because he was so categorical.

SHAW: Well, that's the Republican candidate's problem.

Let's go to the Democrats, Vice President Al Gore. He is doing surgery on his campaign, doing surgery on his image. What kinds of problems confront Al Gore when he tries to claim bragging rights for the economy?

FOUHY: It's a strange kind of box that he is also in. He is tying himself to an economy that data suggests people don't necessarily attribute the good luck of the economy and all the prosperity to him, that they in fact attribute it to the power of the market, which is a great Republican line and that has always been the case that Republicans would make.

So Gore either has to say, yes, this is the best thing I can say to recommend myself, I've been part of the stewardship of this economy, and then be prepared if people don't necessarily believe that he's been the steward or that if in fact the economy turns south that it's also going to be his problem. It's a hard decision for him to make, because there is no guarantee.

As we have seen, the economy has changed a bit in the last couple of months -- whether or not that's going to change voter perception next November. But it really is the strongest thing he has to run on right now, there's no question.

ALLEN: Yes, that seems exactly right to me. And in any case, he needs, Bernie, to do what he is apparently doing, and that is put a more positive face on his campaign to not just be against what George Bush is proposing, and he has let Bush move to the center, begin to make a lot of compassionate noises that appeal to centrist voters, and he has -- so he has to do it carefully, he has to lay out his plan in a way that will show the contrast in his emphasis.

But because he drew so much press criticism anyway for being the attack dog, he has to -- he can't be too specific about what it is he thinks is faulty in Bush's approach. So it is -- it's a very careful balancing act that he has to do. FOUHY: And it will be interesting to see how he handles it this week and next. His prosperity tour right now is planned to be two weeks. And this week, Governor Bush is up in Kennebunkport with his senior advisers, they are plotting strategy for the convention, for his convention speech, looking at some vice presidential potential choices. So it's going to be a very quiet week up in Maine, where the governor is and where his entire brain trust is.

So that means that a vacuum can be filled, it could be filled potentially by Gore and the announcements he's going to make on prosperity and the new economy, or it could be filled potentially by this death penalty controversy that's now engulfing him, because when there's no news, something else is going to jump in there. And right now I think it's been the death penalty for Bush.

SHAW: Thank you.


And up next, a look at how an election year strategy could cost President Clinton a chance at a legislative legacy.


WOODRUFF: The general election is less than five months away, and for President Clinton that means time is running out on his legislative agenda. But partisan politics and an election year could leave the president with a great deal of unfinished business on the Hill.

Kelly Wallace reports.


KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Clinton put the spotlight on the environment and sent a blunt message to congressional Republicans.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to make one earthly plea, which is that the Congress stop blocking our common sense efforts to combat global warming.

WALLACE: It is part of a White House strategy, almost daily events to lobby for Mr. Clinton's final-year domestic priorities, including: a prescription drug benefit for Medicare patients, a patients' bill of rights, an increase in the minimum wage, gun control and education funding.

JOHN PODESTA, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I think we'll have some more wins to put on the board this year, and I think they will be wins for the American people.

WALLACE: But in the halls of Congress, some Republicans charge that Democrats do not want to make progress, preferring to save the issues for the fall elections. REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), HOUSE SPEAKER: And I think it's a shame that the Democrats try to make this a do-nothing Congress, they end up being do-nothing Democrats. And I don't think that's what the American people want.

The president's chief of staff says the GOP is putting up the roadblocks, but Congress-watchers say Republicans, who hold the majority, will need accomplishments to show voters in November.

THOMAS MANN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: It's just simply too risky to simply do nothing, and they will look for some accommodation.

WALLACE: Republicans and the president have shown they can work together, particularly in the House, on a plan to increase investment in inner-city and rural communities and on a China trade bill.

(on camera): White House aides say the president hopes to use the momentum from that China trade victory to press his agenda, an agenda those closest to Mr. Clinton say he will keep pressing as fights the perception of being a "lame duck."

Kelly Wallace, CNN, the White House.


WOODRUFF: And that's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. But, of course, you can go online all the time at CNN's I'm Judy Woodruff.

SHAW: I'm Bernard Shaw.

"WORLDVIEW" is next.



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