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Inside Politics

Gore and Bush Agree on Three Presidential Commission Debates; Fund-Raising Flap Dogs Gore Campaign; Who Won Hillary-Lazio Debate?

Aired September 14, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET

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

BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: Negotiators for the Bush and Gore campaigns fill in some of the blanks about presidential debates. We'll have the latest.

Also ahead:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Just today, there are new revelations about the potential misuse of the White House for fund-raising purposes, new evidence that my opponent may have crossed a serious line.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: A new flap over Democratic fund raising prompts a denial by the Gore camp and a slap from George W. Bush.

Plus:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RICK LAZIO (R-NY), NEW YORK SENATE CANDIDATE: I think I did fine. I think I got my point across -- and my record -- talked about mainstream record that reflects our values.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: What are Hillary Clinton and Rick Lazio doing for an encore after their first debate?

SHAW: And who says a profile of Ralph Nader cannot include a few laughs?

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

WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us.

Less than an hour ago, representatives of the Gore and Bush campaigns announced that they have agreed to accept the debate schedule proposed by the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates. Now, this is the same schedule that the Bush campaign had largely rejected at first, but later agreed to consider when the issue appeared to be working against him.

All of the debates, three presidential and one vice presidential, will be 90 minutes long. But the campaigns have not yet agreed on two other points of contentions: the formats for the face-off and who should moderate them.

Here's what negotiators had to say when they emerged from their talks in Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DON EVANS, BUSH CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: We have agreed to debate four times: three presidential debates, one vice presidential debate. We have agreed to the sites. We have agreed to the time. The governor is very eager to debate. He's looking forward to a free-flowing, substantive, real and genuine discussion of all the issues.

WILLIAM DALEY, GORE CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: We have other issues to be decided. And we will come to conclusion on those shortly. But we've made great progress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: The first of the three presidential debates will be held in Boston on October 3 -- the next in Winston, Salem, North Carolina on the 11th -- and the last in St. Louis on October 17. The one vice presidential debate will be in Danville, Kentucky on October the 5th.

Well, joining us now with the Bush campaign in California, CNN's Jonathan Karl.

Jonathan, what is the campaign saying about their decision now to go ahead and go along with the commission's schedule?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, on the face of this, it looks like their debate strategy backfired. After all, the Bush campaign had been hoping to have just one of these commission debates, and then having the other two debates appear "LARRY KING LIVE" and on "Meet the Press."

But actually, what the Bush campaign is saying is that this is not a capitulation. They're saying that what this shows is that Al Gore was wrong when Gore suggested that Bush did not want to debate. They said: We always wanted a debate. We always wanted three debates. The Bush campaign is saying they always wanted three debates before the largest possible audience. And that's, they say, what they will get here.

But this does come after they have been, for two weeks, wrangling over this debate situation. The Bush campaign obviously even ran an ad where they suggested that Al Gore was trying to get out of the debate that he agreed to on "Meet the Press." But the Bush campaign is saying that they actually even got something good out of that, by saying for two weeks that Al Gore was the kind of a person that doesn't keep his commitments.

So they are trying to make the best out of what may seem to be a difficult situation otherwise, in saying they have got three debates, three debates between the largest possible audience, and three debates that they wanted to do from the beginning.

WOODRUFF: And Jon, just one other question. One of the sites that they had been reluctant to agree to was Boston. Any reading there of how they came around to accepting that?

KARL: Well, Bush campaign spokesman Ari Fleischer says that there was never a problem with the Boston site. He denies those reports. He says the Bush campaign never had any specific objection to having a debate in Boston, right next to the John F. Kennedy Library, saying that those reports were wrong.

Of course, we had heard for quite some time from advisers to Governor Bush that they thought that the Boston location was just out of bounds. But by Ari Fleischer saying that officially, from the Bush campaign, they never had a problem with the Boston location.

WOODRUFF: All right, CNN's Jonathan Karl in Pomona, California. He's been traveling with Governor Bush. Thanks, Jon -- Bernie.

SHAW: And joining us now live from the city room of the "Washington Post": David Broder.

We just heard Jon Karl's reporting on the Bush campaign's contentions about this debate.

But Dave Broder, in your judgment, who won the debate over debates: Bush or Gore?

DAVID BRODER, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, Gore won the debate over the debates. And what forced Governor Bush to move, Bernie, was that many Republicans were telling him that this argument over where and when they would debate was not doing him any good.

In state after state, Bush has been losing ground -- not by massive amounts, but appreciably -- and the pattern had to change if he was not going to find himself seriously behind before these debates begin. The good thing now is that the American people are going to have a two-week window in which they are going to have tremendous exposure to both halves of these tickets. And if there's anything that's going to jolt this presidential campaign alive, it will be those first two weeks in October.

SHAW: Has Governor Bush diminished himself in the skirmish?

BRODER: I think on the margins. But now that those logistic questions have largely been settled, I think people will probably take the next couple weeks off, enjoy the athletic spectacle in Australia, and then come back and say: OK, now it's time to get serious and pay attention to who we are going to choose as our president.

SHAW: David Broder, we want you to come back in just a few moments, because we are going to talk about that New York debate.

Now, we turn to the latest setback in Al Gore's effort to put allegations about his past fund raising behind him. At issue this day: campaign donations from trial lawyers and whether any promises were made to secure them.

We get detail -- we get details from our senior White House correspondent John King.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN KING, SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is a controversy about a phone call the vice president says he never made. George W. Bush says it's a big deal.

BUSH: Just today, there are new revelations about the potential misuse of the White House for fund-raising purposes, new evidence that my opponent may have crossed a serious line: solicitation of campaign contributions linked to a presidential veto.

KING: Raw deal is the term favored by Gore loyalists.

JOE LOCKHART, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You know, it doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that documents that were provided three years ago -- and have been there for three years ago -- that now get circulated this close to election, may have something to do with politics.

KING: The events at issue date back to late 1995. Republicans were pushing a measure to limit damage awards in major lawsuits. The president was on record promising a veto. And the Democratic Party was trying to raise money from trial lawyers with a huge stake in the legislation. The vice president was asked to call Texas trial lawyer Walter Umphrey and ask for a $100,000 contribution.

A Democratic National Committee memo on the call noted -- quote -- "Walter is closely following tort reform."

Records show then-party chairman Don Fowler was asked to call Umphrey two weeks later. His script read as follows: "Sorry you missed the vice president. I know you will give $100,000 when the president vetoes tort reform, but we really need it now. Please send ASAP if possible."

Fowler says he would never have followed such a script. And in any event, Umphrey didn't immediately open his wallet. But since the president vetoed the bill in May, 1996, records show Umphrey and his law firm have contributed nearly $800,000 to the Democrats. Gore aides say the vice president never called Umphrey and that he had nothing to do with the language in the party fund-raising memos.

They also note the documents in question were turned over to two congressional committees and the Justice Department in October, 1997, nearly three years ago. Since then, the attorney general has consistently refused to name an independent or special counsel to investigate the vice president's fund raising. And she was quick to raise questions about the timing.

JANET RENO, ATTORNEY GENERAL: As we approach the election, I think there will be more issues like this raised, and we should be very careful.

KING: But Republicans rushed to get the documents to reporters, hoping to revive a controversy they long have hoped would derail the Gore campaign.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Now, most Republicans concede there's no evidence of illegal activity, but they insist it's more evidence, in their view, of poor judgment, poor character on the vice president's part -- the Gore campaign by saying there's nothing new here. They say it's nothing but mischief from Republicans trying to turn attention away from Governor Bush's recent struggles.

SHAW: John, will this story have a life all the way through to election day, November 7?

KING: Well, that depends on who you talk to. But it's certainly clear Governor Bush will raise this in the debates -- which we were just talking about. Republicans say the headlines in the newspapers today perhaps might end in Republican National Committee TV ads. The interesting group to watch would be independent voters.

If you look at our polling, Gore has started to pull ahead because he's leading now by a significant margin among independents. Reform issues, campaign finance reform tend to matter to those voters most. The Bush campaign makes no secret of the fact, it hopes to use this issue to blunt the vice president's recent progress there.

SHAW: Thank you, John King -- over to Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right.

And now to the Gore campaign and how it's dealing with these new fund-raising questions.

Here's our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Gore campaign wanted as far away as possible from the fund-raising story. Visible for the cameras, but out of reporter reach, the vice president did his part: business as usual in a Manchester, New Hampshire middle school.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All week long, all across America, I've been talking about an issue that is fundamental to our families and our future: a dramatic new commitment to education.

CROWLEY: With their candidates on the best three-week roll of the campaign, Gore staffers tried to clear the road. The story, insisted one aide, is debates, r.e. negotiation between Bush and Gore officials in Washington. The aide confided that the vice president would have a little something to say on the subject, "a little something," as it turned, out was an understatement.

GORE: I certainly look forward to education being a major topic of the Presidential Commission debates.

CROWLEY: This is called staying on message, but no matter how determined a candidate is to do that, there are always others out there with a different message. George Bush took note of the story during a campaign swing out West and got an assist from "Mr. Campaign Funding Reform" in the East.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: You've got groups of Americans such as the trial lawyers contributing really hundreds of millions, if not tens of millions to the American political campaigns. So I don't know if they were -- there was a quid pro quo or not, but I do know there is so much money now that when someone gives that kind of money they expect a quid pro quo.

CROWLEY: Even before this particular story, Republicans have poured money onto Gore's soft spot.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, RNC AD)

NARRATOR: Who is he going to be today: the Al Gore who raises campaign money at a Buddhist temple, or the one who now promises campaign finance reform?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: The vice president has tried mightily to turn the corner by putting campaign fund-raising reform on his litany of issues, but any reminder of campaign fund-raising abuse is not helpful to Gore, who came into the contest with some baggage on the issue.

"We are not a part of this story," a Gore aide insisted. "I don't see that it effects us."

(on camera): For the Gore campaign, there are two exit routes from this story: either it proves to be a blip on the screen and disappears, or Republicans could overplay their hand in a way that alienates voters, it's something the GOP has proved capable of in the past.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Manchester, New Hampshire.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHAW: These latest developments over campaign fund raising and presidential debates did not stop George W. Bush from pressing ahead with a swing through California. But then again, Bush is trying not to appear deterred by the many hurdles he faces in the Golden State.

Here once again, Jonathan Karl. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And this is a letter signed by our ASB members and it honors you as a saint for the day.

BUSH: Thank you very much, Lisa. Did everybody write that down back there?

KARL (voice-over): Saint for a day in California, a state where George W. Bush could use a little divine intervention. Although he was trailing badly here even before Vice President Gore's post- convention surge, and although Republicans haven't even started advertising in the state's largest media markets, George W. Bush insists he'll keep his promise to campaign hard in California.

BUSH: Pretty soon you might call me citizen of the state of California. But I'm coming a lot for a reason, I'm coming a lot for a reason, I want the good people of this important state to know that I intend to win in California come November.

KARL: Bush's aides say he has a shot here, but they also acknowledge there are two other related factors driving him back to California: first, the party needs a decent showing at the top of the ticket to help vulnerable House Republicans; and secondly, Bush gave his word to top donors and political allies here that he would not write the state off.

BUSH: (SPEAKING SPANISH)

KARL: During a visit to the heavily Hispanic Santa Ana High School, Bush spent about 40 minutes doing a wide ranging Q&A session with teenagers.

BUSH: Let me just tell you what we've done in Texas, because we're ranked first in the nation in certain test scores. I know there's a skeptical press corps occasionally, but I have the statistics right here.

(APPLAUSE)

And for example, in African-American 4th grade math we are no. 1 in the nation. In African-American writing -- 8th grade writing -- we are first in the nation.

I know how it feels.

KARL: Bush also made an unscheduled stop at Watson's (ph) Diner during a campaign tour that has centered on Orange County, one of the few strongly Republican areas left in the state.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KARL: Bush says he'll be coming back to California, and in fact, his campaign has scheduled a return visit here the week after next.

Bernie, back to you. SHAW: Jonathan Karl in Pomona, California, thanks a lot.

When we come back, New York Senate candidates Lazio and Clinton debate; David Broder assesses.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Opinion is divided over just who won the big debate between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rick Lazio.

But as CNN's Deborah Feyerick reports, neither candidate for the New York Senate race minced words in their confrontation last night.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): (AUDIO GAP) ... to shake a few hands, both energized by the hour-long debate.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK SENATE CANDIDATE: I felt very good about talking about the issues.

LAZIO: I was able to talk about my record, what I've done.

FEYERICK: From the get go, Rick Lazio went on the attack.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAZIO: Mrs. Clinton has had two opportunities to make policy: one on health care and one on education. And on health care it was an unmitigated disaster.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FEYERICK: First lady Hillary Clinton fending off the verbal jabs by linking Lazio to right-wing Republicans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

H. CLINTON: He was a deputy whip to Newt Gingrich. He voted to shut the government down. He voted to cut $270 billion from Medicare. He voted for the biggest education cuts in our history.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FEYERICK: Both Senate candidates came off well-rehearsed, if a bit nervous at the start, says political consultant Joseph Mercurio.

JOSEPH MERCURIO, POLITICAL CONSULTANT: Both candidates had jobs to do. I think Lazio did it a little better, he spoke to his base, he energized his base, he showed that he was a fighter capable of coming up to the level of United States Senate.

FEYERICK: To some voters, the fighter image worked; to others it backfired.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lazio came off as the more assertive one who was now using like different tactics to attack Hillary.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lazio was so aggressive. He was so, almost negative, and that turned me off.

FEYERICK: Aggressive especially when he approached the first lady, demanding she sign a campaign finance reform pledge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

H. CLINTON: That was a wonderful performance and I...

LAZIO: Well, why don't you sign it?

H. CLINTON: And you did it very well.

LAZIO: I'm not asking you to admire it, I'm asking you to sign it.

H. CLINTON: Well, I would be happy to when you give me the signed letters.

LAZIO: Well, right here, right here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FEYERICK: Pollster Mickey Blum says the reaction to the cross- stage move was split along gender lines.

MICKEY BLUM, POLLSTER: I think women had a, sort of, startled reaction to that, to having him walk over and point his finger at her and that they may have felt that that was a bit too aggressive, whereas, I think, to men it didn't come across that way at all.

FEYERICK: And on the streets of New York:

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When he handed her that paper, I thought it was rude.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought it was a cheap trick.

FEYERICK: Mrs. Clinton did not sign.

(on camera): The candidates tried to define themselves on several issues, including health care, the budget surplus and who was more trustworthy. Some thought Rick Lazio did a better job, others, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and a few said neither discussed the issues fully enough to win their vote.

Deborah Feyerick, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHAW: Joining us now from the "Washington Post" newsroom, CNN political analyst David Broder -- you had a ring-side seat up in Buffalo last night. What does that debate tell you about this New York Senate race? BRODER: Well, it's a terrific race and it was a wonderful debate.

I mean, these are two people who, clearly, know what they have to do and they went after each other from the opening moment until the final farewells; and it was just about as good a political debate as I can ever remember seeing, Bernie.

SHAW: Based on what you saw and heard: the best and least best moment for each candidate?

BRODER: Well, I thought the best moment for Mr. Lazio came when -- the opening question from Tim Russert was -- included a quotation from Senator Moynihan, the man that -- whose seat they're both trying to take over, which basically said that the New York state would have suffered badly under the Clinton health proposal of '93-'94.

Mrs. Clinton tried to explain that she had changed her views about some of the elements of that, but Lazio came back and said, no New Yorker would ever have made that proposal. That was the best moment for him.

I thought the worst moment, frankly, was when he came up with this, sort of, cockamamy idea about a pledge of no soft money, and then walked over and pushed it into her hands, as you just heard in the report. Some people thought that he was kind of out of line in doing that.

SHAW: And Mrs. Clinton?

BRODER: Well, the best moment for her, I thought, came when -- it was also the most difficult moment, when Russert asked her to explain that famous appearance on the "Today" show, where she told the American people that these were lies and concoctions by a vast right- wing conspiracy about her husband's relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

She managed to say, in a genuine way, that she had been lied to. She was not the one who was lying to the American people; and the people that I was sitting with in the audience there, you could just sort of feel their empathy for her at that moment. It was a terrible thing to have to -- for her to have to deal with it, but I thought that her emotions came through as genuine in that motion.

SHAW: And the worst moment?

BRODER: The worst moment, as far as I was concerned, was when she managed to mangle the response to Lazio's pushing that paper at her.

All she had to say was, give me a break. You don't collect soft money, but the Republican party in New York collects it by the gobs; why don't you talk to them and then come back and talk to me.

SHAW: David Broder, we got to talk to you more about future debates. Thanks for joining us.

And there is much more ahead here on INSIDE POLITICS. Up next:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (on camera): In a few short weeks, Al Gore has gone from sure loser to front runner. What happened?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHAW: Our Bill Schneider offers an explanation for Gore's turnaround.

WOODRUFF: And, later, some are calling it greedy TV.

We'll tell you what it is and who wants it stopped.

SHAW: And, move over Planet Hollywood; the movie-themed restaurants may have some new competition, at least among those who think political figures are stars.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: We will have more of this day's political news coming up, but now a look at some other top stories.

No injuries reported in today's three-alarm fire in downtown Chicago. Officials say it was caused by damage to a transformer in an underground vault. A construction crew was doing work on the roof of the vault at the time. People suddenly heard something popping like popcorn and they saw smoke everywhere. Power was cut off to several buildings.

WOODRUFF: Port authorities at Halifax Harbor in Nova Scotia seize another premier cruise line ship; this time, The Sea Breeze. They seized The Rembrandt earlier today. A total of about 1,300 people were aboard the two cruise ships. Authorities say they seized the ships because of unpaid bills.

Boeing is redesigning the rudder-control system on the world's most widely used airliner, the 737. The redesign is part of an agreement with the FAA. The plane's rudder system has been under the microscope since fatal crashes in Colorado and Pennsylvania.

SHAW: President Clinton says he is troubled by the way the federal government handled its case against former Los Alamos nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee, but Attorney General Janet Reno says she has no reason to apologize to Lee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RENO: I think Dr. Lee had the opportunity from the beginning to resolve this matter and he chose not to, and I think he must look to himself.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think that you can justify, in retrospect, keeping a person in jail without bail when you're prepared to make that kind of agreement.

It just can't be justified and I don't believe it can be, and so I, too, am quite troubled by it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHAW: Lee was freed in a plea bargain after admitting to mishandling nuclear secrets.

WOODRUFF: Meantime, President Clinton plans a visit to Vietnam in mid-November. He will be the first U.S. president to visit the country in 31 years.

The White House says it hopes to further improve relations with Vietnam, which have made major strides since Mr. Clinton took office in 1993.

When INSIDE POLITICS returns, big changes in Bob Novak's electoral map.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: Fifty-four, 54 days until the presidential election, Al Gore remains the leader in our daily tracking poll. After a week in which the vice president made gains on George W. Bush, he now has 49- percent support among likely voters to Bush's 42 percent.

Our Bill Schneider is here now to take a closer look at Gore's recent turnaround -- Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Well, as we just saw, Bernie, in a few short weeks, Al Gore has gone from almost certain loser to front-runner, which means millions of Americans have changed their minds. What happened?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): All year long, Gallup has been asking people, which is more important when you decide how to vote: issues or leadership qualities? Voters looking for leadership, favor Bush.

BUSH: They had a chance. They have not led, we will.

SCHNEIDER: When voters say they want leadership, what do they have in mind? A new leader, someone who's not Bill Clinton and not like Bill Clinton. The desire for new leadership was the driving force in this election for most of this year. In fact, it was the premise of the Bush campaign: he would run against Clinton as a flawed and failed leader.

BUSH: So when I put my hand on the Bible, I will swear to not only uphold the laws of our land, I will swear to uphold the honor and dignity of the office to which I have been elected, so help me God.

SCHNEIDER: But look at what's happened to the leadership market over the course of this year. Kerplop! As President Clinton faded from the scene, the demand for new leadership became less and less of a dominating force in the campaign.

In August, Gore unshackled himself from Clinton. He picked a scathing critic of the president as his running mate. He demonstrated his own commitment to family values, and he declared his independence.

GORE: And I stand here tonight as my own man.

SCHNEIDER: When the market for new leadership tanked, Bush lost his lead. But what propelled Gore into the lead? Go back to the Gallup poll question. Voters who say issues matter most, favor Gore.

GORE: I'm here to talk seriously about the issues.

SCHNEIDER: Now look at what's happened to the issues market over the course of the year. Kapow! The issues market boomed. What issues? Well, peace and prosperity to begin with. Americans overwhelmingly agree they've never had it so good.

There are problems, of course: prescription drug costs, Medicare, Social Security, health care. But those are the Democrats' territory. Gore has a double-digit lead over Bush on all those issues. Bush's big issue is taxes, but tax cuts aren't selling. And surprise, voters rate Bush and Gore about equal on taxes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: This race has been transformed from a personal vote to an issue vote, and that's what's turned it around for Al Gore -- Bernie.

SHAW: OK, thank you, Bill Schneider.

Judy, your turn.

WOODRUFF: All right, and as we are speaking of this subject, Gore's lead in the polls is reflected in our Bob Novak's new Electoral College map, which shows Gore ahead of Bush for the first time.

Bob projects that, right now, Gore would win the election with 296 electoral votes to Bush's 242. In his last analysis right after the Republican Convention, he had Bush way ahead, 355 to 183.

Bob shows nine states and the District of Columbia going for Gore, including electoral-rich California and New York. He has 11 states leaning toward Gore, including Florida, once thought to be comfortably in the Bush camp.

Novak gives Bush 20 states seen in red here, including much of the South and the Western Mountain states. And he has 10 states leaning toward Bush, including the battleground states of Ohio and Wisconsin.

Well, joining us now from Los Angeles, Bob Novak himself.

All right, Bob, first of all, tell us what has changed since your last electoral map, which had Bush way ahead? ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": Yes, and we had a 2-1 lead, Judy, for Governor Bush. What has happened is as part of this national movement on the popular vote -- and you've got to remember we elect presidents by electoral vote -- the check taken by the "Evan's Novak Political Report," compared to six weeks ago, shows that the small margins that Governor Bush had in these battleground states: Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Missouri, that those small margins have shifted in Vice President Gore's favor by a small margin now.

So that leads to a 50-vote electoral vote, electoral -- a big 50- vote lead in the electoral count. Now what's really interesting, Judy, is in Florida -- Florida, we have Gore ahead. That is just amazing because that was considered a safe state for Bush at one time, and that's what really makes it very difficult right now for the Bush camp.

What he has to do -- we only have Bush leading in two battleground states right now, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin -- so, what he has to really do is concentrate on those battleground states and of course he has to do better in Florida, where he went for a very hastily arranged visit on Monday and Tuesday of this week.

WOODRUFF: Bob, right now, as we know, Governor Bush is in California where you are. What is the strategy on -- behind his spending time in a state where he's clearly behind?

NOVAK: Well, that's what the Democratic politicians are asking. What is the world is he doing here? Because Governor Gray Davis, the Democratic governor, in his private poll has Gore 13 points ahead -- and that's not much different than what the public polls show.

I am told by the people in the Bush campaign that he had made a commitment to come out here to raise money for local campaigns, to try to give the congressional candidates a boost, and they say, he's going to come out again. He's not going to abandon the state as Bob Dole did four years ago.

But there's no question this is going to be a very difficult state for Bush to win. He doesn't really need it to win, and as we saw from that map, these battleground states, where he narrowly led six weeks ago, and where Gore narrowly leads today, are the places that he really ought to be, instead of here in California.

WOODRUFF: All right, Bob Novak, I want you to stick around for one more question. But first I want to turn on this whole issue of the debates. We do have agreement today, announced by the Commission on Presidential Debates, both the Bush and the Gore camp will go along with the three presidential debates, one vice presidential debate.

Bill Schneider, what affect does this agreement have on the campaign? Does it effectively freeze everything until the debates take place?

SCHNEIDER: Well, you know, there's a reason why George Bush agreed to the debates, essentially as proposed by the commission. He sort of caved in on this. Debates restart the race to a lot of voters. I mean, when you show up at a debate, people see it as an equal contest. They want to be fair, give both candidates a chance.

And I think George Bush looked at Bob Novak's electoral map and figured we've got to do something to restart this race, let's just have debates.

WOODRUFF: Bob Novak, does that mean really nothing else matters effectively between now and the election or at least not until these debates are over?

NOVAK: Yes, and I think -- I hate to say this, that some people are going to be watching another network instead of CNN because the Olympics are going to be on starting this week -- and so it's going to be very hard to get the country's attention, so I think that what Governor Bush's problem is going to be between now and the debates is to avoid really sinking lower and lower. The race is not a toss-up anymore. But it's still not a runaway.

He has got to avoid it from being a runaway in these next three weeks. So he just can't go into debate preparation in Austin. He has got to keep campaigning hard. But the next big event comes after the Olympics. And it's these three very important debates, which I once thought, six weeks ago, was the last chance for Al Gore to be elected. Now, they may be the last chance for George Bush to be elected.

WOODRUFF: All right, Bob Novak joining us from California, Bill Schneider here in Washington. Thank you both.

And when INSIDE POLITICS returns: making big bucks off political ads. Are local TV stations greedy? Chris Black looks at that debate next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: Many local TV stations are making a lot of money as campaign 2000 heats up. But critics say the candidates and the voters are being short-changed.

Chris Black reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, GORE CAMPAIGN AD)

GORE: I'm going to fight for the values and the principles that I think are important in this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, BUSH CAMPAIGN AD)

BUSH: If he says something I don't agree with, I am going to point it out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Local TV stations raked in nearly $212 million from political ads during the first seven months of this election year. But a group pushing for more TV campaign coverage says only 42 stations, less than 3 percent, are willing to give candidates five minutes each night to talk about issues. Most are falling short of their obligation to do public- interest broadcasting.

PAUL TAYLOR, ALLIANCE FOR BETTER CAMPAIGNS: We have a political system on television that reduces politics to a nightly drone of money and ads, rather than nightly discussions of ideas and issues.

BLACK: An industry spokesman says critics are not counting forums like televised candidate debates and Sunday-morning talk shows.

DENNIS WHARTON, NATL. ASSN. OF BROADCASTERS: Many stations are giving five minutes a night in political discourse and will continue to do so. Some are giving more. Now, as the election season heats up, there will be a lot more coverage of the campaign.

BLACK: Estimates are a billion dollars could be spent on political ads during this campaign. Therefore, some lawmakers say the industry needs to give political candidates more exposure.

MCCAIN: I am deeply disappointed that the broadcasters will not comply with their public-interest requirements.

BLACK: A new analysis finds $28 million was spent on political ads in Los Angeles, $21 million in New York, $12 million in Philadelphia, and $11 million in San Francisco. Those larger media markets have the highest advertising rates.

WMUR, the only network affiliate in New Hampshire, sold more political ads than any other station in the country. But the station says it is also committed to heavy coverage of politics.

JULIE CAMPASANO, WMUR TV: We absolutely take our responsibility very seriously: the responsibility to informing viewers as to what candidates have to say to them. We do this here again in non-election years as well.

BLACK (on camera): Because of record profits from political ads, sentiment for requiring TV stations to provide free airtime seems to candidates seems to be growing. But the television industry is a powerful lobby and is fighting any new mandates.

Chris Black, CNN, Capitol Hill.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader faces an admittedly tough road in his run in the White House. But as Anne McDermott explains, the Green Party candidate believes that he is a winner, regardless of the outcome in November.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNE MCDERMOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sometimes, out on the trail, the crowds are warm and welcoming. And sometimes, they're so small, introductions seems necessary.

RALPH NADER, GREEN PARTY PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My name is Ralph Nader and I am running for the Green Party -- candidate for president.

MCDERMOTT: But here in California, where Nader is perhaps more popular than anywhere else, the believers turn out -- turn out, then cheer as Nader bashes big business.

NADER: That they have stripped us of our power as voters, consumers, taxpayers, workers, viewers and listeners.

MCDERMOTT: Many of Nader's constituents are young, too young to remember Nader the crusader.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, NADER CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR: Here is Ralph Nader.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCDERMOTT: Why, for a time, Nader was of a sort of Mr. Consumer, dispensing information on the talk shows of the day. These days, though, some call him a Puritan of politics. He has never married, never owned a car. But he does his work and, according to his campaign ads, looks for justice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, NADER CAMPAIGN AD).

NARRATOR: Finding out the truth: priceless.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCDERMOTT: Another thing he does is persevere: whether that means awkwardly indulging in the back-slap and kiss-kiss of campaigning, or gamely giving it his all on late-night TV, as he did this week with Jay Leno.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO")

NADER: The only explanation I can give you as to why Bush and Gore are afraid to have me debate on the presidential debates...

JAY LENO, HOST: There you go. Well, this comedy is not easy, is it, Ralph?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCDERMOTT: No, comedy is not easy, nor is convincing people that corporate crime is as compelling an issue as street crime. But Nader is trying. NADER: ... corporate criminals can take far more lives than street criminals can take, because they have far more products and they're exposing far more innocent people to death, injury, or disease.

MCDERMOTT: Want to change all of that, says Nader. Then vote for him.

NADER: Because the two political parties have morphed into one corporate party with two heads wearing different makeup, beholden to the same corporate interests.

MCDERMOTT: Sure, he must know he won't win, and may not even be competitive in California. But he says voting for him is not a waste, that those votes will wind up making the Green Party a watchdog for the people, something Nader's been doing all by himself for 40 years.

Anne McDermott, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHAW: Pat Buchanan has gained two needed victories. The Federal Election Commission today awarded the Reform Party presidential candidate $12.6 million in federal-matching money this -- this today after a judge declared Buchanan the true Reform Party candidate over John Hagelin, the leader of a rival faction.

Hagelin drops his plans to appeal the FEC decision. Buchanan's sister and campaign chairwoman, Bay Buchanan, says the money he will help kick-start his campaign.

WOODRUFF: When we return:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL STERNBERG, RESTAURANT MANAGER: If you come in for lunch, you are not going to see your name in the "Washington Post" tomorrow.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Brooks Jackson takes us on a tour of a new eatery for those who have made their bread trying to influence those in power in Washington.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: First, there was Planet Hollywood, the restaurant backed by box-office luminaries. Now the nation's capital has a new food and watering hole for its stars.

Brooks Jackson reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HALEY BARBOUR, CO-OWNER: There are more and more requirements. BROOKS JACKSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This guy you probably remember: Haley Barbour, the Republican National Committee's chairman from 1993 to 1997, once a partisan warrior, now a big-time lobbyist.

And this fellow you may have heard of: Washington super-lobbyist Tommy Boggs, a Democrat down to his DNA. Both his parents were Democratic members of the House at different times.

Now they've teamed up to open a restaurant -- only in Washington.

BARBOUR: We've got some great business-people here from the community, a bunch of Republican activists and Democratic activists, operatives, lobbyists.

JACKSON: The list of investors includes: Democratic fund-raiser and presidential golfing pal Terry McAuliffe; Republican poll-taker Frank Luntz, who once toiled for Newt Gingrich; Boyden Gray, who used to be President Bush's lawyer; and Tom Downey, who used to be a Democratic Congressman.

And here, lunching: Beth Dozoretz, a top donor to the Democratic Party -- also an investor. It's D.C.'s version of Planet Hollywood.

(on camera): What is this, like: Planet Washington here?

TOMMY BOGGS, RESTAURANT CO-OWNER: This town has been kind a mean town the last few years. And I think of when Haley had the idea of doing this, it was a great idea, because it is -- we're not mean people. We like being with each other. It is an attempt to sort of make it a happier place.

JACKSON (voice-over): Happier, at least for those who can afford coq au vin -- the cheapest entree on the dinner menu at $24 -- or lobster tails and filet at $59. With House and Senate gift limits in effect, don't look for many lawmakers to get wined and dined here.

BOGGS: You know, I grew up in a congressional family, and the last thing a congressman wants is to be invited to dinner by somebody.

BARBOUR: They do work long hours. And when they go out to dinner, a lot of times it's work. It's not pleasure. We hope sometimes they'll come over here with their families or with people from home that are friends, and it will be a good time.

BOGGS: It's also a nice place to have fund-raisers, because of the private room that you're in now. There are a number of them.

JACKSON: In fact, the place is deliberately engineered for lobbyists and deal-makers who don't want to be overheard: private rooms, lots of space between tables, and a management team that doesn't blab to reporters.

STERNBERG: ... people can talk business or talk about personal things without anybody interrupting. Again, one of our business practices is that you won't -- if you come in for lunch, you're not going to see your name in the "Washington Post" tomorrow.

JACKSON: The paint's hardly dry on the place, which cost more than three million dollars just to build. But they've given it some instant history: people who never actually dined here. It's so Washington, the menu itself has a credibility problem. Tommy's House Salad? Haley's Chopped Salad? Come on.

(on camera): You don't look like salad kind of guys to me. Who do you -- who are you kidding here?

BARBOUR: This is another example of softening the image of Washington, make the world think that we're not really beef brothers, but that we are -- that we eat salads.

BOGGS: I mean, I suggested we call this place Fat Boys, not The Caucus Room, but I couldn't sell that.

BARBOUR: Well, you can tell Tommy and I are not really in charge here, because he wanted to name the restaurant Fat Boys. And I thought the bar ought to be called the Loophole Bar. And we're zero for two on that.

JACKSON (voice-over): This restaurant alone probably won't make Washington a kinder, gentler place. It will give Boggs and his co- owners a way to recoup some of the money they'd spend on power lunches anyway. And oh yes, the name. It is The Caucus Room, as Boggs said. And that's on the record.

Brooks Jackson, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: And what if you go there and you do want your name in the "Washington Post" the next day? I guess you have to pay the maitre 'd to call the "Post."

SHAW: And further more, CNN on in every room there? We will find out.

WOODRUFF: That's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. Of course, you can go online all the time at CNN's allpolitics.com.

We'll see you again tomorrow, when George Bush will be on the campaign trail in California and New Mexico. Al Gore will be campaigning at Howard University in the nation's capital.

SHAW: And this programming note: The Clinton-Lazio Senate race in New York will be the topic tonight on "CROSSFIRE" at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. The guests: New York Representatives Nita Lowey and Vito Fossella.

I'm Bernard Shaw.

WOODRUFF: And 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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