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Inside Politics

Gore Holding Onto His Convention Bounce; Bush Making Adjustments to His Presidential Campaign

Aired September 8, 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'm excited about this race. I love people. I love America. I am just going to tell you what I think. And we will just let those political chips fall where the they may.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: George W. Bush in an-I-love-people mode: a sign of the retooling under way in his campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want to present you with your momentum, so you'll remember Delgado...

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, wait a minute, you're going to present with momentum? I want everybody to capture this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Al Gore is acting like a man with momentum. Do our new poll numbers help explain why?

Plus...

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE LOCKHART, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't think I'm going to say anything up here on this issue that's going to get on INSIDE POLITICS today. Watch it every day: 5:00.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: We will flashback to some Joe Lockhart moments as he prepares to make an early exit as White House press secretary.

And if you think style is everything, you may be disappointed by the "Political Play of the Week."

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

WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us. Bernie is off today.

On the presidential trail, the candidates' actions are speaking volumes about the state of their campaigns. Al Gore is exuding confidence, as our new CNN/"TIME" poll of likely voters shows that he still is holding on to his convention bounce and is running neck-in- neck with George W. Bush.

As for Bush, he is trying to boost his standing by getting up close and personal with voters, just once of several adjustments in his campaign.

We have two reports on the candidates.

First, out Candy Crowley with the Bush campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A turn on the road, a new ad on the air, and an evolving position on debates: George Bush is trying to shake loose.

BUSH: How can America count on him to deliver? They can't. They can't.

CROWLEY: As Bush pounded on Al Gore in Springfield, Missouri, he got an assist from the Republican National Committee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, RNC AD)

NARRATOR: Now Al Gore is promising more accountability in our schools. And that sounds good, until you find out he doesn't require any real testing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: The RNC says it will air the ad in Michigan and Pennsylvania, two hugely important states where Bush has dropped in the polls. The limited run suggests that Republicans will hit Gore when necessary, but don't want to risk alienating voters with an aggressive ad in places where something softer might do.

On the road, Bush's style has gone retro for a new look. He has resurrected South Carolina-Michigan m.o. with town-hall meetings.

BUSH: I am just going to tell you what I think. And we will just let those political chips fall where they may.

CROWLEY: What followed was a substantive discussion with voters on the environment and education.

BUSH: But if we find that disadvantaged students -- the Title 1 money trying to help students that are disadvantaged -- are not learning to read and write add and subtract, instead of just standing idly by and hoping something might change for the better, than we are going send that portion of the federal money to the parent.

CROWLEY: On his Social Security plan and his tax cuts, versus Al Gore's:

BUSH: Targeted tax cuts. That's code word for we we'll pick and choose who the winners and losers are in society. I believe that everybody who pays taxes ought to get tax relief, if we're going to have tax relief.

CROWLEY: In an era where packaging can enhance or obliterate the message, the Bush camp thinks up-close-and-personal discussions with voters can put a human face on Bush's policies and give the campaign the traction it lost in the post-convention era. Expect fewer moments at the podium and cozy moments with voters in between the rallies, and expect a new sign coming to a campaign event near you: Real Plans for Real People.

And for the Bush campaign, some real welcome news: The National Board for the Fraternal Order of Police has endorsed the Republican nominee. Though the organization traditionally endorses Republicans, it endorsed Bill Clinton in '96. On a final front, he's moving to leave the mire of the debate-debate.

Bush has told his campaign chairman to work things out with the Gore team through the Presidential Debate Commission. Bush told one Voter: Gore is a really good debater. I just hope I can hold my own.

Bring on the expectations game.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is Jonathan Karl, traveling with the Gore campaign.

Al Gore is acting like a candidate on a roll.

GORE: I am not satisfied. You ain't seen nothing yet!

KARL: An overflow crowd of several thousand greeted Gore's arrival in the French Quarter of New Orleans, where the candidate's wife helped warm up the crowd.

TIPPER GORE, WIFE OF VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I've got a man here who knows how to let the good times roll for this whole nation, if you will elect him president.

KARL: Mrs. Gore, who arrived in New Orleans before her husband took a giddy dance on St. Charles Street in the French Quarter, and spent much of the day frolicking around the city, even taking the controls of the St. Charles street car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want to present you with your momentum, so you'll remember Delgado...

GORE: Now, wait a minute, you are going to present me with momentum? I want everybody to capture this.

KARL: At Delgado Community College, Gore's daily message was education, and his goal: dramatically increasing college attendance and graduation rates. But his most pointed comments were about his rival, demanding George W. Bush explain how he plans to pay for his plan to allow young workers to invest some of the their Social Security taxes in private marks. Gore charges Bush's plan would either bankrupt the program or deplete the surplus.

GORE: When we have to make hard choices, we don't pretend that we can have our surplus and eat it too. We face up to the hard choices and then just make them.

KARL: The Bush campaign says payroll taxes would finance Bush's plans for Social Security, and argue it is Gore who has not detailed how he would pay for many of his campaign promises. The campaign is also energized by news that the Teamsters have decided to endorse the vice president.

Teamsters president James Hoffa, who campaigned with Hillary Clinton, said the endorsement came after he won assurances from Gore on the issue that has caused the Teamsters to withhold their endorsement for so long.

JAMES P. HOFFA, TEAMSTERS PRESIDENT: I have a pledge from Vice President Gore that he will be -- he will consult us with regard to trade issues. And he will do everything he can to make sure that there are -- you know, that there built-in environmental -- and different rights built into these trade policies.

KARL (on camera): Although Gore has had two of what may be the best weeks of his campaign so far, most polls still put him in a statistically tie with George W. Bush.

Jonathan Karl, CNN, New Orleans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Well, the poll standings and some Bush missteps prompted some Republicans to publicly second-guess the governor's campaign strategy, and to second-guess the people behind it.

Let's talk about those grumbling and more with GOP strategist Scott Reed and William Bennett of Empower America.

Gentlemen, thank you for being here.

WILLIAM BENNETT, CO-DIRECTOR, EMPOWER AMERICA: Thank you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Scott Reed, should these Republicans have been grumbling? We've seen the quotes for the last few days. Are they right to be worried? SCOTT REED, DOLE '96 CAMPAIGN MANAGER: The last few weeks have been a little depressing for Republicans. Ever since Gore picked Lieberman, it seems Gore and his team have been on the offense. And the free media has all been defensive for George Bush. I was relieved today to see the polls were as close as they are after the last couple of weeks.

And this is a very winnable campaign. Bush has an agenda. And he needs to get off talking about all this mechanical stuff and the new diner strategy and all that and get back on the issues, because every day that goes by that he doesn't draw a clear contrast with his agenda and Al Gore's leftist, left-wing, liberal agenda is a day we lose. And we don't have many days left to lose.

WOODRUFF: Bill Bennett, what -- where did Governor Bush get off track?

BENNETT: Well, I think Gore got on track. He found -- they were running this series of personalities for Al Gore. And they finally found one that worked. It's happy Al Gore.

And he connected. He picked Lieberman, which was a good choice. And Joe Lieberman got out and started talking like a Republican: talking about morality, talking about religion, doing all sorts of things, which Joe Lieberman is inclined to do. They had a good couple of weeks. I agree with Scott.

I said, just before we went on, I said: Scott, when you were running the campaign last time, if you were at 46-46 -- which I think is what the "Washington Post" has -- if you were there in '96, you would have been very, very happy.

So I mean -- I think George Bush will still win. I think he's a better candidate. I think he's got a bolder agenda. But Scott is absolutely right. Let's get back to agenda. Let's talk about the differences. This prescription-drug plan this week was a very good set of ideas. Engage on the issues in debates or not.

And, by the way, on the debate thing, I don't think that gambit worked particularly well. So I think they're smart to get off it and get back to the issues.

WOODRUFF: And I should just add, I've just been told that just -- even since Candy Crowley filed that report -- she reported that Don Evans from the Bush campaign was going to come and talk with the Commission on Presidential Debates -- I'm now told that conversation has taken place.

She has now talked to the Gore -- the woman at the -- Janet Brown at the commission has now talked to the Gore campaign. And plans are under way for the two campaigns to talk to each other about commission debates.

What was that all about with the Bush Campaign, Scott?

REED: It was a mistake. The way you do debate negotiations is directly with the other candidate. And then you go the Debate Commission and you tell them what you want to do. You tell them where you want to go. You tell them the format. You make sure they put down some nice new carpet and they turn on the lights. There's no need to negotiate with the commission. They're there to do what the candidates want to do.

I think there was little misperception of how to do this. Look, Bush was smart on one thing. He laid down: Let's do a quick debate. Let's do a debate next week. I hope they get that debate, because the sooner the better. They can get a debate in there. And people can see Al Gore, who is really going to have a difficult time in these debates.

He can't help himself. He drips with sarcasm every time he says things. And that's what turns off voters. That's what we need.

WOODRUFF: Bill Bennett, you know, there was a -- we had a Rick Burke report in the "New York Times," where he -- he has some very interesting reporting about people at the Republican National Committee saying for a while the folks in Austin, the Bush campaign, were not listening to them, that they went off on their own debate strategy, they went off on their own advertising strategy.

Has that been a real issue?

BENNETT: Well, in general, it's probably been a good idea not to listen to a lot of people in Washington. I think Scott would agree. From the time of the primaries to the general, to our convention, this was one of the best-run campaigns we've ever seen. And I was asked in California, is the Bush campaign listening to you, are you talking to them, you know, are they taking your advice? I said yes, I'm talking to them, they're not taking my advice, and they're doing terrifically. So one hesitates to second-guess this group.

But I think now is a different time. You were ahead 12 points three weeks ago, and now you're tied or maybe down three. So you, obviously, you can't coast. You have to engage, and again, I think on the issues.

There have been opportunities, too, that haven't been seized. I mean, Al Gore did an odd thing at the convention a lot of us thought, which is he went to his left. You know, he started talking about this terrible class war in American and so on, he will represent the people against all these horrible interests. A lot of people scratched their head, and said, well, you know, we're part of those interests, we're part of those companies, that's where our stocks are.

But I think George Bush needs to remind people that Al Gore is a -- let me say the word -- a liberal. He's a liberal and identified himself as a liberal at that convention, and what that means.

Bush, I think, needs to define the new center of American politics. I think they're just about there.

WOODRUFF: Scott, what about this whole advertising back and forth, that they've put some ads our there and then pulled them? They've told the press they were going to run ads in a bunch of states, and then they come back and only run them in a few places if at all. What's -- what's going on there?

REED: First of all, if Richard Nixon had read that article, Rick Berke's article, today in "The New York Times," he would have rolled over in his grave. If he ever saw the Republican National Committee slapping back like that at Austin. Look, there's a loss of confidence...

WOODRUFF: Anonymously.

REED: Anonymously. There's a loss of confidence between the national committee and Austin because of the way the media campaign has been sputtered out and rolled out and these show me buys put out. I mean, this is serious business. There's limited dollars right now in their national campaign arsenal in Austin, and they have to be used very wisely and it can't be wasted.

BENNETT: And when you do an ad such as the one they did, if you're going to go after the corruption of the Clinton-Gore...

WOODRUFF: This is criticizing Gore on campaign finance.

BENNETT: Yes, on campaign finance, but then also throwing in this little thing about the Internet. Now, if you're going to go after campaign finance, this is a deadly serious issue. This is one of the most corrupt administrations, I believe, in history. I believe they should be held to account and Al Gore should be held to account for his role in it. Make it a serious ad. In fact, make it a subject of a serious speech.

I think this whole business about forget about...

WOODRUFF: The tongue in cheek...

BENNETT: Yes, this is very serious. People should care about what happened, and Al Gore should not be rewarded with the presidency. And that's an argument that needs to be made.

REED: That's right. One of the things that needs to happen -- and Bush can do this -- is raise the whole stakes of this election. This is a serious election. We're at a turning point. We've got -- we've got chances to do everything as Republicans this cycle and we need to take full opportunity and do that.

WOODRUFF: Should there be, will there be staff changes in Bush...

REED: I don't think so. I think Bush is very comfortable with his team. There's always room to add a little. But look, they went through this last February and March. He put his shoulder to the wheel and dug through it, and I think they're going to do that again.

The only change that needs to take place is they need to get back talking about issues, his agenda, and draw the contrasts with Gore. The rest is all peripheral, the rest will all fall back in line. BENNETT: I agree. It's a cracker jack team. They've proved themselves for a while. I mean, one can understand -- for a while, I think we all watched as very little was going on in the campaign but Bush was gaining a point, you know, every two or three days. So it might have led somebody to conclude maybe, we don't have to do anything. Well, we're at a different point now, because the other guy has shown up. He has shown up, shown up with an agenda. You now have to counter that agenda.

REED: And the polls have all bounced back in place to where they traditionally are.

WOODRUFF: All Right, Bill Bennett, Scott Reed, thank you both. Appreciate it.

And a quick correction on our new CNN/"TIME" poll: Al Gore is ahead 47 to 46, but that qualifies as a dead heat. And we'll have more on that poll a little later.

Still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, the presidential race in the battleground states. We'll talk to journalists from Florida, Missouri and Ohio.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Now for a sense of how the presidential race is playing out across the country, we turn to three guests: Tom Fiedler of "The Miami Herald," Robert Vickers of "The Cleveland Plain Dealer" and Steve Kraske of "The Kansas City Star."

Steve, let me begin with you. What is your sense of where the race stands right now in the state of Missouri?

STEVE KRASKE, "KANSAS CITY STAR": We just had a poll out this week, Judy, that showed the race at 45 percent for Gore and 41 percent for Bush. That's a very dramatic turnaround from where it was two months ago in July when we also did a poll. Back then, we had plus 11 points for Bush. So we've seen a very big swing in the state for Gore the last couple of months.

WOODRUFF: Robert, what about Ohio? What are you seeing there?

ROBERT VICKERS, "CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER": Governor Bush has held about a 4 to 8 percent lead in the polls here consistently since the primary season. He's still holding on to that even after the Democratic convention.

WOODRUFF: So no change to speak of?

VICKERS: Not just yet.

WOODRUFF: And Tom Fiedler in Miami, what about in Florida?

TOM FIEDLER, "MIAMI HERALD": It sounds a lot like what's happening out in Kansas. Vice President Gore has gone from I think about 12 points down earlier in the summer to within the margin of error, a point up or so right after the convention. And he seems to be holding onto it now. They're very excited about keeping Florida.

WOODRUFF: What do you think turned things around for Gore in Missouri, Steve?

KRASKE: Well, our poll picked up a very big change among Gore's standing with women. Texas Governor Bush was actually ahead with women two months ago in Missouri. All of a sudden, now, Al Gore is 18 points ahead of Bush in this state. So I think women have come back to their traditional base, which is the Democratic Party, at least if you go back two or three decades in American politics.

So women have come back to Gore and they're very happy about it out here.

WOODRUFF: Now, Robert, what about -- Robert Vickers -- what about in Ohio? You're saying overall the numbers are not changing, but as you look beneath those numbers, are you seeing any shifting in terms of preference?

VICKERS: Well, I think what's happening is the Democratic base in Ohio is becoming more mobilized. It seemed to be something of a sleeping giant up until the Democratic convention, but it seems to be much more mobilized now.

WOODRUFF: How can you tell that?

VICKERS: Well, essentially, the delegates have come back from the convention and are much more active. They're doing more things on the grassroots. They're involved in more activities as far as getting campaign literature, making the kind of contacts that need to be done. There's more fund raising going on. And there's just a general atmosphere of positiveness in the campaign.

WOODRUFF: And Tom Fiedler, what about in Florida? What do you think is making -- has made the difference for Gore in what is clearly a state that Bush feels he must win? His brother is the governor.

FIEDLER: Well, it's clearly a new excitement. It's just shortly after we finish this program Joe Lieberman is going to be appearing at a middle school literally a mile or two away from here, across on Miami Beach. And just adding him to the ticket truly changed the energy level of the Democratic Party.

The Democratic base here in southeast Florida particularly is in many ways is driven by the Jewish community, and they have -- they perceive Joseph Lieberman as being something akin to a rock star, at least for that generation.

A lot of excitement here. I think in some ways like Ohio, there's been a sense that when the delegates came back from the convention there was this belief that they can win after all. And the combination of that -- I do believe the women's issues are important, and of course in Florida, as always, the senior issue, the prescription drug benefit issue, is going to be a major one.

WOODRUFF: And, Steve Kraske in Missouri, what are you hearing from voters? What is it that's most on their minds? Is that coalescing?

KRASKE: Well certainly among -- on the issues, Judy, we're hearing a lot about a drug benefit for seniors. That's on the minds of a lot of people.

But, you know, it's also sort of these other factors that are very much at play here. You hear a lot of voters saying that Al Gore is suddenly more human, more down to earth than they've seen him before. They had this very big perception of him that he was stiff and wooden. We've heard a lot about that over the years. But when Al Gore came to Kansas City a couple months ago, even Democrats were surprised at how relaxed he seemed to be.

And, you know, the other thing I hear a lot about is that kiss at the convention between Gore and his wife. The state auditor of Missouri just told me she thinks that's a turning -- a defining moment of this campaign. I've heard that from other voters as well.

WOODRUFF: Robert Vickers, if not the kiss, what is on the minds of the voters in Ohio?

VICKERS: Well I think education, particularly K-12 education, is right at the top in Ohio. We have a state where the educational funding system was struck down by the Supreme Court and the legislature has not really made a decision. And the deadline is coming up on how to fund education in the state of Ohio. And I think voters are looking for leadership anywhere it can come from in that issue.

WOODRUFF: And, Tom Fiedler, you've already mentioned, of course, seniors in your state and women and what is on their minds. Tom, I know you've been covering politics in Florida for a very long time. What do these races turn on in the end. We've got, what, eight weeks to go? What are you looking out?

FIEDLER: Well, turnout and excitement is going to be a big one here. And again, to go back to the seniors, the importance there is that virtually half of the Florida electorate is over the age 55 and these are people most likely to turn out. So just in mobilizing that base, I think the Democrats have a big advantage here.

The other factor in Florida, which makes this more than just a race, is that the governor of Florida is Jeb Bush, George W.'s brother. And he too is going to be energized by this. I'm sure he doesn't want to go to any Fourth of July barbecue at Kennebunkport next summer and have to explain why 25 electoral votes eluded his grasp to his brother. So I think all of that is going to come to play, and we're going to see just a great deal of excitement here in the closing weeks.

WOODRUFF: Are you surprised at Lieberman, Tom Fiedler? Are you surprised he's campaigning there?

FIEDLER: Well actually not at all. I think that he probably will just pick those few states where the Jewish vote in particular is going to be decisive and will, you know, be on a regular odyssey, going around the country hitting those places perhaps every few days. But we're in a situation where he'll be here, Al Gore will be here, President Bush is going to be here in a few days. We're going to see a lot of either the surrogates or the candidates themselves coming in and trying to take the state to that side.

WOODRUFF: Steve Kraske, Missouri is known as a state that almost always goes with the winner. You know the politics, you know the voters in your state. What do you think? I know we're eight weeks out, but what do you think this election is turning on?

KRASKE: Well, you know, I think it's too early to say, Judy, exactly what's going to happen here. Missouri is such an interesting state because, you're right, only once in the last century did the state go for a presidential loser, and that was in 1956 when it went for Adlai Stevenson over Dwight Eisenhower.

So I think it's still hard to say. I think a lot will depend on how much attention these two candidates give this state. The polls have shown bounces either way when Gore spends time here or Bush comes back. Bush was just here yesterday, and we're going to be seeing a lot of these guys, I think, in the weeks ahead. We'll have to wait and see what it turns on, Judy.

WOODRUFF: And just quickly, Robert Vickers, any last word, thought, on what the factor is going to be there in Ohio?

VICKERS: Well I think what's happened is both of the candidates were campaigning in the opposite base. The Republicans were campaigning in the liberal base, and Vice President Gore was campaigning in the conservative base. That has completely changed. They're focusing their campaigns on their bases now.

And again, Ohio is a very moderate state. There's not much of a difference in too many issues policy-wise for the Democrats and the Republicans. Even though the Republicans control all the statewide seats here, Ohio voted for Clinton-Gore in both the past elections.

WOODRUFF: All right, Robert Vickers, we want to thank you. We want to thank Tom Fiedler and Steve Kraske. Gentlemen, thank you all.

FIEDLER: Glad to be here.

VICKERS: Thank you, Judy.

KRASKE: You bet.

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BROOKS JACKSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is a race after all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Our Brooks Jackson with the latest numbers in the neck-and-neck race between Al Gore and George W. Bush.

Plus:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The weeks started off like this -- uh-oh, another gotcha campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Our Bill Schneider on what changed to earn the political "Play of the Week."

And later, why Joe Lockhart is walking away from the White House press corps.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Indiana Basketball coach Bob Knight is under investigation again for an accusation of misconduct. A university spokesman says the school considers it a serious matter. Knight has been under scrutiny since he was accused of choking a player during a 1997 practice session. The university warned him he could be fired if there are other incidents. Now, Knight is accused of grabbing and cursing at a 19-year-old student who was picking up football tickets. The stepfather of the alleged victim talked about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK SHAW, STEPFATHER OF STUDENT: Probably the most reserved of the three saw Knight coming up. He was kind of startled, celebrity and everything, and he said, "Hey, Knight, what's up?" And for whatever reason, Bob just went off. He grabbed his right arm right here on the muscle, above the elbow -- last night we saw where the skin had been torn away -- grabbed him, pulled him around, kind of edged him back toward the doorway so he was confined, and then got right in his face and started using all the expletives that he likes to use about no respect and...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: The police are investigating the matter. Knight has not commented on the accusations.

Too close for comfort is how an Air Force official describes what happened between an F-117 stealth fighter and a United Airlines passenger jet over Los Angeles. The Pentagon says the two planes flew close enough to trigger the collision avoidance system on the United flight. However, officials say they were never on a collision course.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JERRY SNYDER, FAA SPOKESMAN: About five minutes after takeoff, at around 11,000 feet, the plane's traffic collision avoidance system alerted to the pilot to the presence of another aircraft in the vicinity. The 757 pilot lowered the aircraft to about 10,800 feet and reported that an F-117 fighter crossed by overhead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: The FAA says that it will investigate to decide if the incident can be called a near midair collision.

And in Florida, it was a flawless liftoff for the Space Shuttle Atlantis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... 4, 3, 2, 1, we have booster ignition and liftoff of the Space Shuttle Atlantis.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: This was the first time a space shuttle took off on its first try since John Glenn's return to orbit in 1998. Five Americans and two Russians are aboard with supplies for the International Space Station. Their goal: to make its control module liveable for numerous missions ahead.

Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat met briefly today at the United Nations but Barak indicates no progress was made toward resolving their differences ahead of Wednesday's Middle East peace deadline. More from Israel's prime minister tonight in an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour on "THE WORLD TODAY" at 8:00 Eastern.

When INSIDE POLITICS returns, our Bill Schneider on the common themes in the latest presidential polls.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Sixty days before the election, with Labor Day behind us, there is heightened interest in the presidential campaign and in public opinion polls. So, let's take a closer look now, at the latest numbers and what they tell us about the race.

First, CNN's Brooks Jackson has detail of our new CNN/"TIME" survey.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JACKSON (voice-over): It is a race after all. The latest CNN/"TIME" poll shows the presidential stakes dead even. The poll, released Friday, shows 47 percent of likely voters favoring Al Gore, 46 percent favoring George W. Bush, well within the margin of sampling error. Too close to declare either man a front-runner.

And it could go down to the wire: though most likely voters say their minds are made up, one in five say they could change their mind before election day. This campaign will matter.

Bush's recent tactics aren't working very well. Accusing gore of ducking debates?

BUSH: I guess it depends on what the definition of anytime and anywhere is.

JACKSON: It's falling flat: the poll shows only 22 percent of registered voters think Gore is trying to avoid debate, while 34 percent think Bush is. Nearly two out of three voters say Gore wants to debate; just over half say Bush does.

And the Republican attack on Gore's credibility?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, RNC AD)

ANNOUNCER: Al Gore, claiming credit for things he didn't even do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JACKSON: The claim that Gore will say anything to get elected: 57 percent say Gore would say anything. But hold on: 58 percent say Bush would, too. Bush's overheard remark about a reporter didn't help.

BUSH: There's Adam Clymer, a major league (EXPLETIVE DELETED) from the "New York Times".

JACKSON: But it wasn't a major league faux pas. Twenty-seven percent said Bush's vulgarity made them feel less favorable toward Bush, but 7 percent said it made them feel more favorable, and 62 percent said it didn't change their view.

Bush was so far ahead after the Republican convention that many wrote off Gore's chances. But since the Democratic convention, Gore has surged back, and the new CNN/"TIME" poll sheds some light on why.

GORE: I stand here tonight as my own man.

JACKSON: He's creeping out of Bill Clinton's shadow, for one thing. A month ago, only 42 percent said Gore was a candidate in his own right. Slightly more said he was a creation of Clinton. Now, 51 percent say Gore's his own man.

Many groaned at this, but the poll shows people like Gore more now than before: 69 percent said gore was likable then; 76 percent say he's likable now -- 81 percent of women and 70 percent of men, even. And most importantly, while only 42 percent saw Gore as a strong and decisive leader a month ago, 51 percent see him that way now.

But Gore's gains only makes the race even. More voters, 62 percent, still think of Bush as strong and decisive. Seventy-two percent say Bush is likable too. Slightly more say Bush is someone they would be proud to have as president.

(on camera): And the others in the race? The real underdogs? Ralph Nader gets 4 percent of likely voters, putting him far ahead of former CNN commentator Pat Buchanan, who gets 1 percent. Brooks Jackson, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: And our daily tracking poll also shows the presidential contest is close. The CNN, "USA Today" Gallup survey of likely voters shows Gore leading Bush by 3 points, the same spread as yesterday. There are a number of new polls out there, so our Bill Schneider has put together one of his "Poll of Polls".

And Bill, what does it show?

SCHNEIDER: Well, Judy, remember "Guys and Dolls," Nathan Detroit, "I Got a Horse Right Here"? Well, Nathan Detroit would just love this race: it's neck-and-neck. Two polls this week show a dead heat: the Bipartisan Hotline Bull's Eye poll and our the "Washington Post" poll.

Our own two polls show a slight Gore lead within the margin of error: 3 points in the CNN/"USA Today" Gallup tracking poll and 1 point in the CNN/"TIME" poll.

WOODRUFF: Do the polls tell us why the race is so close?

SCHNEIDER: Well, you remember that Bush was in the lead all year as long as the voters were not paying any attention. Then, last month, the conventions came along and the voters said: oh, there's a presidential election. We'd better paying attention.

When the voters started thinking about the issues, Gore caught up with Bush. In fact, in both the CNN/"TIME" poll and the "Washington Post" poll, Gore has seized the advantage on education, health care, Social Security, and the economy. Now, those happen to be the issues voters consider most important. Both polls give Bush the advantage on taxes and defense, but those issues are much less important to voters this year, even taxes.

WOODRUFF: But if Gore has the advantage on issues, then why is the race so close?

SCHNEIDER: Well, Judy, take a look at this. The CNN/"TIME" poll asked: Does Al Gore agree with you on issues you care about? Fifty- four percent said yes. Does George W. Bush agree with you on the issues? Fifty percent said yes. Not much difference.

Similar majorities said both candidates have new ideas. Both candidates are hard working. Both candidates will be effective in managing the economy. More than 70 percent said both candidates are smart enough to be president. That's right, effete, intellectual snobs, 71 percent said George W. Bush is smart enough to be president. Voters do not dislike Bush on the issues. Gore's better, but Bush is OK.

WOODRUFF: Now, does Bush have an advantage, though, in anything?

SCHNEIDER: Well, yes he does. He actually leads on two qualities. Both polls show Bush is still considered a stronger leader than Gore. And in the "Washington Post" poll, a majority of voters say Bush would bring needed change to Washington while Gore would not. Gore may be ahead on the issues, but voters have more confidence that Bush would get results and that is what keeps Bush competitive.

WOODRUFF: And that's what makes the race exciting.

SCHNEIDER: It does.

WOODRUFF: Bill Schneider, and we'll see you again in a few minutes.

SCHNEIDER: OK.

WOODRUFF: Well, democratic vice presidential candidate, Joe Lieberman, today unleashed his sharpest attack yet on George W. Bush, and he did it in Bush's home state of Texas. Lieberman accused the Texas governor of not caring enough about the poor children of his state to give them health insurance.

Bush's running mate, Dick Cheney stopped in Vermont and Connecticut today, as his campaign scrambled to explain his record of not voting in past elections. The "Dallas Morning News" reports that Cheney failed to cast a ballot in 14 of 16 elections, most of them state and local, since he moved to Texas in 1995. Now that includes his state's March presidential primary, when he could have voted for Bush.

During that period, his spokeswoman says that Cheney spent a good deal of traveling for the Halliburton Company, but she says Cheney has voted in every federal general election for 20 years, and is an avid participant in the political process.

Turning to the Reform Party, Pat Buchanan has cleared the initial hurdles in the battle to receive the federal campaign funds earmarked for that party's presidential nominee. Staff members of the Federal Election Commission have recommended to the panel that Buchanan get a preliminary certification for the $12.6 million.

Those staff members recommended the Buchanan rival, John Hagelin, be denied his claim of the money because he only has been able to show that three states list him on their ballot as the Reform Party nominee.

A public hearing on the matter is scheduled for Tuesday. Whatever the final decision, the losing side is expected to appeal in federal court.

Just ahead:

Keeping tabs on media coverage of the candidates in Election 2000. We'll talk to Steve Hess about air time and influence.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: The credibility of the Bush campaign is being questioned today, about an ad that charged Al Gore with being untrustworthy. The ad accused Gore of trying to duck presidential debates.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Does Al Gore now mean debates depend on his meaning of anytime, anywhere? If we can't trust Al Gore on debates, why should we trust him on anything?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: The Bush campaign said the ad would go into the existing ad rotation, suggesting it would run in 18 states. That was widely reported on television and in newspapers. But according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group, a CNN consultant, the ad actually ran in just one market: Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Well, as the debate-ad story illustrates, the campaigns are well aware of the power of the media to influence voters. And no one reaches more voters than the "big three" broadcast networks.

With that in mind, presidential scholar Steve Hess, of the Brookings Institution, is planning to keep tabs on how and how much the networks cover this campaign, through an ongoing study with the Center for Media and Public Affairs, being funded by the Pew Charitable Trust.

Before we talk to Steve Hess, just briefly, about his project, a little history. According to Hess' research, the total minutes ABC, NBC and CBS devoted to political stories fell between 1992 and 1996, from more than 1,400 minutes to fewer than 800, a drop of 45 percent.

As the overall coverage fell, so did the number of longer stories. In 1992, the networks ran 226 stories of two and half minutes or longer. But in 1996, they ran just 74 long reports. And that was decrease of 67 percent.

Well, joining me now, as he will every Friday until election day, Steve Hess of the Brookings Institution.

And we're looking forward to having you with us every week.

STEPHEN HESS, PRESIDENTIAL SCHOLAR: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Steve, why is it important to do this kind of a study?

HESS: Well, to begin with, more people still get their news from over the air broadcast television than any other source, and particularly from the nightly news. And still, it may be in decline, but there's still over 20 million people that are watching.

Why did it drop like that? I mean, it just took a dive. Was it simply that one, '92 was an interesting election and '96 was not, or is there something else go going on here?

Is it something that has to do with the reorientation of these programs away from political news is. Is this something in which the counting house is winning over the news rooms?

WOODRUFF: And just quickly Steve, you're also looking at the negativity of some stories, are you not?

HESS: Yes, I'm looking at the negativity of the stories, which are very high, and there's a lot of scholars that think that this is creating a cynicism toward government in the United States.

We'll look at that; we'll look at the objectivity of this; we'll look at how the stories break between substance stories and horse-race stories, and does that make any difference.

WOODRUFF: All right. Well, Steve Hess, we are very much looking forward to having with you us every week and we'll be looking for the results of your study.

HESS: Thanks so much.

WOODRUFF: Thanks a lot. Great to have you with us.

And along with his appearances on INSIDE POLITICS, Steve Hess is writing a weekly column for "USA Today." The first one runs on Monday.

And one more media-related note today: White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart says that he will leave the briefing room for good by October 1. Lockhart is stepping down, he says, to spend more time with his family and consider his career options.

Kelly Wallace takes a closer look at his decision and Lockhart's tenure at the podium.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Joe Lockhart is giving up this podium, perhaps for another one: leaving the White House to spend more time with his family, give speeches, and pursue more lucrative opportunities. For months, the presidential spokesman talked about moving on, but agreed to stay on until October, when Congress is scheduled to recess for the year.

JOHN PODESTA, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, we've been talking about it for some time. And I think that in Joe's case, he voted himself off the island. We wished he had stayed until the end.

JOE LOCKHART, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We've now had four hours or so of opening statements and they have yet to the spend a minute talking about what is a reasonable standard for impeachment.

WALLACE: It was baptism by fire. On the day, in 1998, when the House of Representatives decided to hold impeachment hearings, Lockhart assumed to the reins for Mike McCurry, and became one of the most passionate defenders of the president.

LOCKHART: We don't believe that there's anything that's transpired that approaches the standard of impeachable offense. WALLACE: But Lockhart's says his toughest days weren't during the impeachment saga.

LOCKHART: ... they prove that they have a leadership role in Congress.

WALLACE: He could be combative, going head to head with the NRA over gun control, and could be temperamental.

LOCKHART: That question is so ridiculous, I'll pass on.

WALLACE: But he also showed a quick wit. For example, here's what he said about the Republicans using actors, riding in a limousine to deliver the bill of eliminating the marriage tax penalty.

LOCKHART: This is the worst contrived marriage since our friends Darva Conger and Rick Rockwell got together.

WALLACE: Before politics Lockhart worked as none other than a journalist, an experience he says helped him understand the way the media work.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALLACE: And he says his greatest contribution to the press corps, that he remained a bridge to the president and senior officials, even during the tensest times of the administration -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Kelly Wallace, we know we'll miss his bright shining face up there.

WALLACE: We will.

WOODRUFF: Thanks a lot. Up next: style versus substance. Bill Schneider gives one "The Political Play of the Week."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: George W. Bush is making some stylistic changes to his campaign. But as a whole, the presidential race seems to be taking a more substantive tone. Our Bill Schneider joins us now to explain -- Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Well, Judy, could the 2000 campaign be another negative campaign like 1988, when the big issues were criminal furloughs, the Pledge of Allegiance and school prayer? And oh yes, Michael Dukakis taking a ride in a tank?

Well, this week, substance came to the rescue and it carried off "The Political Play of the Week."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The week started off like this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: There's Adam Clymer, a major league (EXPLETIVE DELETED) from "The New York Times."

DICK CHENEY (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Oh yes, he is. Big time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: Uh-oh. Another "gotcha" campaign? Not exactly, because the week ended up like this.

BUSH: I want to seize this moment to modernize the Medicare system.

SCHNEIDER: And this...

GORE: Today I'm setting out in black and white 10 goals for the future of America's economy.

SCHNEIDER: The two candidates are offering dramatically different models for governing. For Bush, it's competition: in the Medicare system, for instance...

BUSH: It's the best way to make a health bureaucracy responsive: giving customers the freedom to choose.

SCHNEIDER: ... and in the Social Security system.

BUSH: But it's also time to have new thinking in Washington that says we must trust younger workers to manage some of your own money, your own hard-earned money in the private sector.

SCHNEIDER: For Gore, it's safety net. Gore wants to secure it...

GORE: First of all, let's make Social Security financially sound into the second half of this new century and make Medicare financially sound for at least another 30 years.

SCHNEIDER: ... and extend it.

GORE: Let's reach the lowest level of poverty in recorded history during the next four years.

SCHNEIDER: A bigger safety net, less risk. This is a big debate on fundamental issues. Why is it happening this year? There's no big crisis, but there is a big surplus, trillions of dollars. When you've got big money, you have to make big choices.

Imagine, a campaign where substance trumps superficiality. That's something to celebrate with "The Political Play of the Week."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: This election was not supposed to be about ideology. It was supposed to be about competence. But each candidate is using ideology to show how competent he is. So the choice facing the voters is getting bigger every day -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And we've got two months to go.

SCHNEIDER: We do.

WOODRUFF: Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

And that's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. But of course, you can go online all the time at CNN's allpolitics.com.

This weekend programming note: Adam Clymer, "The New York Times" reporter who was called a vulgarity this week by George W. Bush, will be the guest tomorrow on CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES." That's at 6:30 p.m. Eastern.

I'm Judy Woodruff. "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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