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Inside Politics

Polls Show Bush Gaining Ground on Gore; On the Campaign Trail, Bush Stresses Education While Gore Talks Medicare

Aired September 25, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET



AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will never go along with any plan to raid Medicare or turn it over to the HMO bean counters, shaking the foundation of health security for our seniors.


BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: Al Gore offers a new chapter in his bid to be seen as the chief protector of Medicare.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: America today is in the midst of an education recession that can threaten our very future.


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: George W. Bush offers a new catch phrase, hoping to persuade voters he'll be an education president.

SHAW: We'll chart the candidates' ups and downs in the polls and whether the momentum has shifted.

WOODRUFF: Plus, the political dance in a presidential battleground state that embraces diversity.

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

WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us.

Well, while some political observers are buzzing about a possible rebound by George W. Bush, both he and Al Gore are talking issues on the trail today. For Bush, the topic is education. For Gore, it's Medicare.

But in this close race, even discussions of the issues tend to include an attack or two, or more.

We begin our coverage with Jonathan Karl, who is with the Gore camp in Florida. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the vice president, a new line of attack on Medicare and a chance to play to the crowd he'll need to take Florida, the largest battleground state of them all.

GORE: I'm fighting for the seniors of America, the people who have worked hard all their lives, paid their taxes, and deserve some peace and security in their older years.

I will fight for you! I will fight for you! I will fight for your families!


I will fight for your loved-ones, for your community, for the future of Florida and the United States!

KARL: Gore unveiled "Medicare at the Crossroads," a 74-page book filled primarily with previously announced proposals and attacks on his Republican rival.

GORE: And their plan would make seniors go beg the HMOs and insurance companies for prescription drug coverage, even if the HMOs don't want to provide it.

KARL: Gore's Medicare booklet summarizes his plans, including adding a prescription drug benefit and putting the Medicare surplus in a so-called "lockbox," to be spent only on the program and on paying down the national debt.

GORE: Some see that surplus as a piggy bank they can use for a tax cut that primarily benefits the wealthiest Americans at the expense of everyone else.

KARL: Gore also added some new details to his Medicare plans, including eliminating co-payments and deductibles for some preventative care services at a cost of $8 billion over 10 years, and steps to make it harder for HMOs to leave Medicare, including forcing them to sign up for two-year contracts instead of the current one year.

GORE: Here's my bottom line: tough new penalties for any HMO that tries to exclude or drop our seniors.


KARL: In a new criticism, Gore said George W. Bush's plan to give low-income seniors drug coverage could force seniors in some states to go to welfare offices to qualify. The Bush campaign dismissed Gore's charge as a "gross distortion."

Gore's focus on Medicare comes after Republicans have spent millions over the last three weeks hammering his prescription drug plan. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, RNC AD)

NARRATOR: Gore's plan? When seniors turn 64, they must join a drug HMO selected by Washington.


KARL: Bush strategists say Gore's latest salvo on Medicare is a sign their attacks are working, forcing the vice president to respond.


KARL: This is Gore's 11th trip to Florida since January. He has also spent nearly $2 million on television advertising here.

The reason for the effort is simple. Gore's strategists think if they can win here, they'll win the election -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Jonathan, why the focus this week on Medicare. Is it that they think the older voters are that important to Gore's doing well?

KARL: Well, they certainly think they're absolutely critical to doing well here in Florida and also in several of the other battleground states. They also believe that they've got a chance here -- that Bush has got some vulnerabilities on the Medicare issues.

They believe that if Bush -- if Gore can talk about this issue, talk about what is wrong, in their view, with Bush's prescription drug plan, that they can win over those senior voters. Also tied into this, of course, is the Social Security plan, which they will be talking about as well this week.

WOODRUFF: All right. Jonathan Karl on the road in Florida, thanks -- Bernie.

SHAW: Now to Governor Bush and how his education theme is playing out in the Pacific Northwest this day.

Here's our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): George Bush says jobs are plentiful, the Dow Jones is up, and the country is in a recession. He knew that would catch your attention.

BUSH: America today is in the midst of an education recession that can threaten our very future. While many schools are doing well -- and Laura mentioned Austin High School, where our twin daughters went -- there are some, in the last 7 1/2 years, some schools have shown stagnation and decline. There are too many of our schools not meeting the challenge. Expectations are not high enough, performance is not strong enough, and our leaders are not bold enough to reverse this slide. CROWLEY: The use of the word "recession" is an attempt to blunt Al Gore's strong suit, the booming economy, as well as to infuse a sense of urgency into the education issue.

BUSH: When 68 percent of fourth-graders in our highest poverty schools cannot read a simple children's book, America faces an education recession.

CROWLEY: Returning to the classroom Monday, Bush pushed his $5 billion a year education program, which features a plan to allow parents of kids in failing schools to find another option, locally administered testing every year in every grade, and early and intensive reading instruction.

BUSH: Just the other day, the secretary of education announced Gore's new three R's for American education: "relationships, resilience, and readiness."

Now, that sounds nice.


But what happened to reading?


CROWLEY: The Clinton-Gore administration, Bush charged, focuses on process, not children, regulations, not results.


CROWLEY: From here in Beaverton, Oregon, Bush moves onto Washington. Neither state has voted for a Republican presidential candidate in the last three elections. But within the numbers, the Bush camp sees a chance that their candidate could win here. And besides, if you take the electoral votes of Washington and Oregon, and add them up, they equal that of the electoral count in Michigan. And at this stage of the game, you have to keep every calculation open -- Bernie.

SHAW: Candy, education a Bush theme during the primaries, we all recall. But tactically, why a return to that subject now?

CROWLEY: Well, first of all, they're buoyed by the polls and believe that they are making headway by focusing on single issues day by day. Basically, they believe that education is a Bush strong suit and there's some polling that indicates that.

When you're in a swing area, which Beaverton is here in Oregon, and you're trying to appeal to those all-important suburban moms, education is one of those issues that does it, that reaches out to them, and that's why they returned to it.

SHAW: OK, Candy Crowley in Oregon -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Now, 43 days until the presidential election, and our daily tracking poll suggests Bush has had an upswing. Though the race is still neck and neck, Bush now leads Gore by three points in a CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup survey of likely voters. Now, that is a statistically insignificant margin, but no doubt a comfort to Bush, who trailed Gore by as much as 10 points in our survey last week.

Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider joins us now from Los Angeles.

Bill, is this a Bush gain or is it a Gore loss?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, both. In the past four days, Gore has lost seven points and Bush has gained six. We're seeing that shift across the whole electorate: men, women, young voters, seniors, rich, poor, everybody. Maybe Gore's convention bounce is wearing off.

You know, Judy, a kiss doesn't last forever.

WOODRUFF: That's right.

Bill, what about Gore's, all of the talk last week about oil?

SCHNEIDER: Well, you know, it may have backfired. We know it didn't do Gore any good. Two weeks ago, we asked people which candidate would do a better job handling rising oil prices, and voters gave Bush a narrow edge. We asked the same question this weekend and got the same result, which means Gore certainly didn't gain anything from his move on oil prices.

The timing of the move may have fed voters' suspicion that it was totally driven by politics. For the first time since the conventions, Gore had a bad week and Bush had a good week. Gore was forced to spend time defending himself against Bush's charges that he exaggerated how much his mother-in-law pays for prescription drugs compared with his dog, and explaining what he said was a joke that he was sung a union song as a lullaby when he was a child. He also raised $4 million at a Hollywood fund-raiser after denouncing the entertainment industry, which led Republicans to call him a hypocrite.

Now, by comparison, Bush had a pretty good week: no gaffes, appealing appearances on "Oprah" and "Regis," and he stayed on his "cradle to grave" message all week, which is Bush's version of the safety net.

You know, Judy, this thing could go down to the wire. A lot is riding on those debates.

Bill, what about the voters? Are they paying more attention to all of this?

SCHNEIDER: Well, Judy, some are, and that could be a clue as to why Bush is making gains. A week ago, three-quarters of Republicans and three-quarters of Democrats said they were paying a lot of attention to the campaign. No difference.

But that figure has now jumped over to 80 percent of Republicans, with no change among Democrats. Something is rallying the Republican base. Bush? Maybe. But maybe something else: perhaps a horrified realization that Gore really might win this election -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All Right, Bill Schneider, thanks very much. And we will see you a little later -- Bernie.

SHAW: We're joined now by our political analysts: Bob Novak of the "Chicago Sun Times" and Ron Brownstein of the "Los Angeles Times."

A double-barreled question: Why is this race so close? And how might it end? -- Ron.

RON BROWNSTEIN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, it is so close because you have, I think, two fundamental currents at work in this campaign that push in opposite directions. One is a general satisfaction with the way things are going in the country: the economy, crime, welfare. All of these things are moving in the positive direction. That benefits Al Gore as the incumbent party.

On the other hand, you have a natural desire for change after eight years, reinforced by a lot of scandal and gridlock here in the -- especially in the second Clinton term. And that obviously helps the challenger, George W. Bush.

Bernie, this is an extraordinary moment. This is the first time since 1980 that the lead has changed hands in Gallup poll after Labor Day, only the third time since 1960 that this has ever happened. We really are in unusual race between two candidates who are very closely matched at a time when the parties are almost at parity in the nation. And I think we're going to have some more twists and turns before it's over.

SHAW: Bob.

ROBERT NOVAK, CNN "CROSSFIRE": This is really no surprise to people in both parties. Some of the old hands in the Gore party have said from the beginning that this reminds them very much of the 1960 race, which went back and forth continuously. And nobody really ever will know who got the most votes in that race.

The -- I disagree with Ron to a certain degree, though. I think that what we have -- as to why it goes back and forth -- I think what we have here is two candidates who really disagree on the basic issue of the role of government. And they have a very strong base. Each one has a strong base: Bush for less government; Gore more for government.

Now it's that other 10 percent, 12 percent, whatever it is in between, who is affected by things that really probably don't have anything to do with issues. It's gaffs. It's Gore looking pompous. It's Bush looking dopey. And that is why the good week, bad week is not just a figure of speech by reporters. It's something that really does affect the swing voter.

But there is no doubt, this is not just a little blip. Just as there was a momentum for Gore after the Los Angeles convention, I think that there are several polls that show a momentum for Bush right now.

SHAW: Now, both of you, as -- being the journalists you are -- have in the backs of your notebooks information that sometimes you don't get a chance to impart. Ron alluded to upcoming twists and turns. What do you foresee?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, one thing that is very unusual about this race -- I think quite striking -- is the size of the battlefield. Both candidates, because they are relatively centrists, are proving capable of competing in states that the other side has usually considered their own.

Look at today. Al Gore is in Florida, a state where the Democrats averaged less have 40 percent of the vote from 1968 through 1992. George Bush is in Washington and Oregon: states where the Democrats -- as Candy noted -- have won the last three campaigns. Bush is competing in Wisconsin, Iowa, West Virginia.

Gore is adding Nevada to his buy list. And they're talking about possibly the DNC going on in Arizona and Colorado. I think one of the defining characteristics of this is just how big a battlefield. Sure, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio are important, but they're not the whole story anymore, because both candidates really can compete in a lot of different places.

NOVAK: The -- I think one of the interesting things, as many politicians told me, there can be no change in this race until the debates, because that's the next event. And we have the Olympics. Everybody is watching the Olympics.

Number one, everybody is not watching the Olympics. That is first thing. And the second is, there can be changes. You -- yes, politics, you can have a good week or a bad week in between. I think that the number of states that are contested is going to -- is going to shrink pretty soon. Al Gore has made a valiant effort in Florida.

But all my information is that Bush is back in the lead in Florida. And maybe he better abandon that and worry about those central states that are going to decide the election.

BROWNSTEIN: Gore has never demonstrated that he will really spend the money it takes to win Florida. He is close there. But he is letting Bush outspend him at least 2-1. And you know, it will cost a lot of money to really try for it.

SHAW: How are the Democrats reacting to Bush's movement?

NOVAK: I think they are very -- not happy about, because the -- some of the top people in the Gore campaign really expected to go into the debates six, seven points ahead, so all that Gore had to do was coast.

I think that was unrealistic. So they are not happy about this at all. But nobody -- but I will tell you this, the -- quite frankly, the Democrats are less apt to panic than the Republicans. The Republicans are a little skittery. The Democrats have been through some hard times, so they are not panicking.

SHAW: Let's get away from politics. A very serious and regretful note: Over the weekend, Carl T. Rowan, 75 years old, a very famous American journalist and a friend -- former "Chicago Sun Times" syndicated columnist -- died.

NOVAK: Yes he was a colleague of mine in the Gridiron Club as well. He lived in two worlds, Bernie. He was a member of the Washington establishment, formerly ambassador to Finland, former -- sat with Lyndon Johnson's cabinet, a very prominent journalist, knew everybody in town.

I mean, he was also a great battler for civil rights. He never gave it up. He was a courageous fighter in the South, exposing racism as a young reporter. And just recently, in recent years, he exposed corruption in the NAACP -- got a lot of criticism within the African- American community, but it was the right thing to do.

He was a -- really, a towering figure. And he will be missed. And he was -- he was a lot fun at the Gridiron club, too. Sang from a -- he couldn't walk at the last meeting, but he sang -- played the part of Monica Lewinsky in the last show.

SHAW: I remember it. He came out on the stage. He was wearing a blue dress.

NOVAK: That's right.


SHAW: Bob Novak, "Chicago Sun Times," Ron Brownstein, the "Los Angeles Times," thanks very much.

We are going to miss Carl.

WOODRUFF: Indeed, he will be missed. Thanks very much. That was great.

And when INSIDE POLITICS returns: Is George W. Bush's assessment of the state of education in this country accurate? Our Brooks Jackson checks the facts.


BROWNSTEIN: George W. Bush is using his education proposal to criticize the state of education under the current administration. But how valid is the Bush argument?

Our Brooks Jackson checks it out.


BROOKS JACKSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A new charge this week from George W. Bush.

BUSH: America today is in the midst of an education recession. JACKSON: A charge made in a new TV ad.


NARRATOR: America's having a recession, an education recession, that's hurting our children. Our students rank last in the world in math and physics, and most fourth-graders in our cities can't read.


JACKSON: The ad is running in 17 states. But what about the facts? Let's rewind.


NARRATOR: Our students rank last in the world in math and physics.


JACKSON: Last in the world? In fact, that was almost true in 1995, when a massive international study was last conducted, but only for U.S. high school seniors, who ranked 18th in math and science out of the 21 countries participating.

U.S. fourth-graders did much better, ranking 12th in math and tying for third in science out of 26 countries. A new study is due in December.

How about this?


NARRATOR: And most fourth-graders in our cities can't read.


JACKSON: In fact, Bush is referring only to fourth-graders in highest-poverty, where reading scores are poor, but not that bad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most of them, if we were to give them material, they could read it. They could read it slowly. They could understand some of it. Can't read sounds like they're totally illiterate, and that's, again, somewhat exaggerated.

JACKSON: Overall, reading scores have shown modest gains since 1971 according to the official National Assessment of Educational Progress. But progress has slowed to a snail's pace in the last 10 years, according to a report this month by the Brookings Institution.

And how about the ad's main point?


NARRATOR: The Clinton-Gore education recession. It's failing our kids. (END VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It sounds like a vast overstatement to me. There are portions of the educational system that need vast improvement. There are other parts that are working real well.

JACKSON: More facts. Compared to 30 years ago, far fewer Americans are dropping out of high school. Far more are graduating from college. Latest figures show that in 1998, 24 percent of Americans over age 25 had completed at least four years of college. That's up from only 11 percent in 1971, more than a doubling in a single generation.

(on camera): Bush may be swimming against the tide here. Half of all Americans in a recent CNN/Gallup poll said they're satisfied with the quality of education, and that's up significantly from the Clinton-Gore administration's first year in office.

Brooks Jackson, CNN, Washington.


SHAW: From running mates to third-party candidates, we took a look at others on the trail today. Republican vice president candidate Dick Cheney talked tax cuts, Medicare and Social Security reform with factory workers in Ohio. Cheney also scored points by sporting this Cleveland Indians jacket.

In Connecticut, Democrat Joe Lieberman was playing two roles: first, as the senator up for re-election at a campaign rally in Middletown, and later, as the vice presidential nominee at a fund- raiser for the Democratic Party.

And on the third-party front, Green Party Ralph Nader accepting the endorsement of a number of celebrities and activists at news conferences here in Washington and in New York and Seattle. Nader criticized Bush and Gore for not opening up those presidential debates, and he said he plans to be in Boston and St. Louis when those debates take place.

There's much more ahead on this edition of INSIDE POLITICS.

WOODRUFF: Still to come, the New Mexico battleground..


PAT NEAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Both Al Gore and George W. Bush are trying to lasso this state's five electoral votes, which could be critical in a tight race.


WOODRUFF: Pat Neal's on the candidates' wrangling for votes in the Southwest.

Plus... SHAW: How does a moratorium on soft money affect the New York Senate race? We'll take a look.

And later...

WOODRUFF: Remembering a political milestone.


WOODRUFF: We'll have more of this day's political news coming up, but now a look at some other top stories. U.S. and Western European officials say it is evident that President Slobodan Milosevic has been defeated handily in Yugoslavia's presidential election. Despite celebrations by many supporting Mr. Milosevic's opponent, nothing suggests the president will concede defeat. The official results of Sunday's balloting still have not been released.

Yugoslav opposition leaders are calling out their supporters for a second night of protests in Belgrade.

SHAW: Israeli Prime Minister -- rather president -- President Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat are holding their first direct talks in two months. The two leaders sat down for discussions about 2 1/2 half hours ago at Barak's home in central Israel. They're hoping to end a deadlock in the Middle East peace talks.

WOODRUFF: World champion shot-putter C.J. Hunter, husband of track star Marion Jones, is vowing to defend himself against allegations that he tested positive for a banned substance.

CNN's Nick Charles reports.


NICK CHARLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's doubtful either Marion Jones or C.J. Hunter were smiling as the news rippled through the Olympic community, and certainly not when the IAAF, which governs track and field globally, finally admitted the rumors were fact.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He got an adverse report from a laboratory. We evaluated it. We gave the American federation the necessary information and asked for an explanation from the athlete. If the explanation would have been OK, we would have said, fine, forget about the case. We did not accept the anti-doping (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the IAAF did not accept this explanation given.

CHARLES: The IAAF then informed the governing body of U.S. track and field, which immediately erected a wall of silence Monday in refusing to confirm that it was Hunter who had tested positive.

But executive director Craig Masback and other official defended the organization's procedures and its record of drug testing.

JILL GREER, U.S. TRACK AND FIELD SPOKESWOMAN: USA track and field has the most exhaustive testing system of any athletics federation in the world, and we're actually very proud of our testing system. For instance, ad the Olympic trials alone we tested 300 athletes. So to insinuate that USA track and field does not take drug testing seriously is ridiculous.

JOHN CHAPLIN, U.S. MEN'S TRACK AND FIELD COACH: We have a process which we go through. It has nothing to do with a cover-up. It has nothing to do with (UNINTELLIGIBLE) know them, it's the process. You can like it or not like it. You seem to have a problem with it, but that's your problem, not mine.

CHARLES: Hunter has the right to confidentiality and to an appeal. And the 31-year-old world shot-put champion vowed Monday to vigorously defend himself.

The IOC attempted to wash its hands of another drug scandal, claiming C.J. Hunter was not their problem because he's not competing in these games. However, he is still his superstar wife's trainer, and that is a concern.

In Sydney, Australia, I'm Nick Charles.


WOODRUFF: The trial begins in Canada for former Boston Bruins enforcer Marty McSorley. The hockey player was charged with an assault after striking a Vancouver opponent in the head with his stick.

If convicted, McSorley could face up to 18 months in prison.

SHAW: One editor's notes. You perhaps saw and heard me a few minute, had a mental lapse. I identified the official -- ranking official in Israel as Israel's president, Ehud Barak. I now and you know that Ehud Barak is Israel's prime minister. My apology.

And when INSIDE POLITICS returns, is Gore holding onto his lead in this -- in the land of Lincoln? Stay tuned for the latest state polls.


SHAW: In Kentucky, George W. Bush leads Al Gore by 10 points in a new "Louisville Courier-Journal" poll of likely voters. Earlier this month, an ARG survey had Gore up by six points in the Bluegrass State, which has been widely expected to be in Gore -- Bush's corner.

In Illinois, Gore is holding on to a double-digit lead. He's ahead by 12 points in a "Tribune" survey of likely voters in that Midwestern battleground.

A new Vermont poll suggests some tightening in the race there, though Gore still has a double-digit lead, 13 points in the Research 2000 survey of likely voters.

And in New York, Gore is maintaining a wide lead. He's up by 23 points among likely voters in a new Marist poll.

The most recent presidential polls show a close race in New Mexico, which helps explain why President Clinton is there today. He spoke about domestic violence at a Santa Fe community center and he was due to attend a fund-raiser for Democratic candidates.

CNN's Pat Neal has been in New Mexico, too, to help explain why the state has become a battleground this year.


NEAL (voice-over): New Mexico was claimed by Spanish conquistadors looking for gold back in the 1500s and ceded by Mexico to the U.S. in the 1800s. Now it's a battleground again.

CHRIS GARCIA, UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO: The race in New Mexico is extremely tight. The candidates are neck-and-neck and have been so for several months.

NEAL: Both Al Gore and George W. Bush are trying to lasso this state's five electoral votes, which could be critical in a tight race.

DIANE DENISH, CHAIRWOMAN, NEW MEXICO DEMOCRATIC PARTY: This is the most intense I've seen an effort to win this state in the presidential column since about 1984.

NEAL: Plus, it has a history of picking winners.

(on camera): New Mexico is considered a bellwether state, having accurately selected the president every time, except for one, since it joined the Union back in 1912.

NEAL: To win here, a candidate must seize the state's cultural diversity, celebrated at the annual State Fair in Albuquerque. Hispanics total about 40 percent of the state's population.

Anitra Atler (ph) says Gore's in step with her.

ANITRA ATLER: Education is big, especially with Mexico being so low in teacher pay, and you know, other issues, health issues, and medical coverage for families.

NEAL: Hispanics historically vote Democratic here, keeping the state from being a Republican stronghold like much of the West. But Bush has shown he's in tune with them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's got the right answers for what I'm after, you know, when it comes to what I believe in.

NEAL: The candidates also need to win over women. Many are still undecided, like Lily Montoyo (ph).

LILY MONTOYO: I'm waiting until they debate, so right now I'm undecided.

NEAL: And like the rides along the State Fair midway, this state tends to swing wildly.

GARCIA: The state is very balanced in its voting patterns between the Democrats and the Republicans, and has been so for a long time.

NEAL: Bush's base is in Albuquerque while Gore's strength comes from the artsy area of Santa Fe.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm out with the Democratic Party.

NEAL: The campaigns say the difference may be made in the footwork. Every day Democratic volunteers walk the Santa Fe precincts to ensure Gore supporters go to the polls and vote.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're out campaigning for Governor Bush.


NEAL: But Bush followers are also targeting Santa Fe, looking for converts.




NEAL: Both sides have poured about $250,000 each in ad buys here in the past month.


AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We need a patients' bill of rights.


NEAL: There's no escaping this tight race even at the State Fair.


NEAL: Both campaigns say in a tight competition, the race for New Mexico will go down to the line.

Pat Neal, CNN, Albuquerque.


WOODRUFF: And I'm not sure what those were. But anyway, we're joined now by Ceci Connolly of "The Washington Post" and Beth Fouhy of CNN's political unit.

Well, whatever they were, Ceci, what has George Bush done to, what appears at least to have done to catch up to Al Gore? CECI CONNOLLY, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, let's keep in mind that this -- most of these polls we're talking about a few points in either direction. So I don't necessarily think there are enormous shifts taking place from week-to-week, but subtle, small, nuanced things may be occurring.

I think that no one doubts that last week we saw Governor Bush get his footing back a little bit, even just reassure many in his own party and in terms of being back on track. Also, he caused Vice President Gore a little bit of heartburn last week on a couple of issues. You'll recall there was a big flap last week over Vice President's Gore's story about prescription drug medicine for his mother-in-law and his dog. Put Gore on the defensive on that. Put Gore a little bit on the defensive over the strategic oil reserve.

So you saw a little bit more assertive Bush campaign.

WOODRUFF: Beth, if that's the case, which voters were receptive to these changes out there in the campaign?

BETH FOUHY, CNN POLITICAL UNIT: Well, evidently, looking into the polling, just about everybody moved a little bit, Judy. But really among women is where our polls showed the most significant change. He -- Governor Bush really seemed to stem the bleeding among women voters, who really were moving very heavily over to Gore.

Actually, Bush had a really remarkable week last week, Judy, if you think about it. It was almost a slight of hand, because what he did was he made himself again the very likable candidate that we all remember from the spring by going on "Oprah" and going on "Regis," talking about what was in his heart. Gore recently has been considered the more likable candidate in some of the polls. Bush got some of that back.

But he also managed to really level some of his harshest criticism of Gore that he's done in quite some time, raising those issues of character and of questioning Gore's tendency to embellish and to pander.

He didn't use necessarily those words, but those were definitely the implications. So he made himself more likable while at the same time making Gore less likable and doing it all in a way that didn't seem to reflect badly on himself.

WOODRUFF: So, Ceci, a combination of Bush doing some things right and Gore getting some things wrong?

CONNOLLY: I certainly think that's part of what's been going on, Judy. One thing -- and I think Beth makes a great point in terms of likability. That -- that seems to be the trend this season in the campaign.

One thing, though, that struck me about some of those attacks that Governor Bush tossed at Gore, especially over the weekend -- we saw him do a couple of via satellite speeches to Republican groups in California and Pennsylvania. And in some of those lines that he was delivering, I thought that looking into the camera, he looked as if he were reading a script and he was not entirely comfortable with it.

Remember, for the longest time when George Bush was doing well, he was the different kind of Republican. He was going to change the tone in Washington. I'm not certain that he is entirely comfortable yet with this character attack on Vice President Gore, and that's going to be a central question this week as we head into that first debate.

FOUHY: I totally...

WOODRUFF: That -- go ahead, Beth.

FOUHY: I totally agree with that. I mean, in fact, yes, we saw him really do a big stem-winder on Saturday: he, Governor Bush, calling Vice President Gore somebody who misleads voters. That was a strong statement out of his mouth.

But really, it was left to the campaign surrogates to do a lot of the harsher things earlier in the week: Dick Cheney doing some of the most harsh criticism on the Gore-Lieberman ticket on them taking money from Hollywood, while at the same time slapping them on the wrist for their apparent excesses -- that kind of thing.

Also, the campaign staff really driving some of these stories: the disparity on the drug prices for the dog and the mother-in-law; the "Union Label" lullaby that he was criticized for saying he listened to. And he said -- he, Governor -- excuse me, Gore said it was a joke. But it was just one more thing that, it gave the Bush people the opportunity to say, "Hey, how can you believe this guy?"

And it was really very much driven by the staff and by others.

WOODRUFF: Ceci, what about between now and when the debates get started -- a week from tomorrow -- what is it that you see in the candidates' schedules and their strategies that is going to make some differences for them?

CONNOLLY: Well, actually, I think what we are about to see in the coming days, Judy, is both of these candidates doing a lot less public campaigning and really hunkering down for those final days of preparation for these debates.

Both of these men know there could be 64 million people tuning in next Tuesday night for that first encounter. Obviously, the expectations are very high for Gore. But Bush must perform as well. Vice President Gore is planning several days up in New England over the weekend and into the debate, where he will be in what they refer to as "debate camp."

He will run several mock-throughs. We know that George Bush has been having rehearsals since, I believe, May or June. So both of them are taking that part of it very seriously. The campaign: For the next several days, they'll make a few appearances. There will be some photo opportunities, a little bit of fund raising. But that is really the emphasis at this stage of the game.

WOODRUFF: And so, Beth, how much campaigning really goes on during this pre- and during-debate period?

FOUHY: Well, they both have schedules all throughout the week. But Ceci is right. There is so much now riding on these debates, because the polling has closed up again so much. It's the next big thing that everybody is going to be looking for. We have seen the polls swing around a lot, which nobody expected really to happen.

So we really need to get to the next place where something actually happens to judge these candidates face-to-face. And that is obviously what is it going to be.

WOODRUFF: All right, Beth Fouhy, Ceci Connolly, thank you both very much. We appreciate it.

Just ahead, changing the rules in New York: the deal that has both candidates saying no more soft money ads.


SHAW: On Wednesday, the New York Democratic Party will wrap up a pre-paid ad purchase on behalf of Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. After that, Clinton and her Republican opponent Rick Lazio have agreed not to spend any soft money on television advertising. And they're asking their supporters to do the same.



NARRATOR: Can we trust Rick Lazio to fight for us?


SHAW (voice-over): If the Clinton-Lazio deal holds, this will be the last soft money ad New Yorkers see in the Senate race until Election Day. After intense negotiations, both candidates agreed over the weekend not to raise or spend any more soft money on political ads.

Lazio, who tried to get Clinton to sign a soft money deal during their debate, claimed credit.

REP. RICK LAZIO (R-NY), NEW YORK SENATE CANDIDATE: My campaign showed leadership in not -- not raising soft money, not spending soft money, and frankly, holding the Clinton campaign's feet to the fire.

SHAW: The deal gives Lazio a cash advantage at a time when opinion polls show him tied with or behind Clinton. With soft money off the table, both must spend their precious hard money to pay for new ads. As of August 23, Lazio had $10.2 million in his hard money account to Clinton's $7.1 million.

With hard money donations capped at $1,000 per individual, Clinton will have a difficult time closing that gap, evidence, she says, of her sincerity.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK SENATE CANDIDATE: This will put my campaign at a disadvantage. I'm willing to take that risk.

SHAW: But the deal is riddled with loopholes. Both candidates said they have asked independent groups not to run ads on their behalf, but there's no guarantee those groups will abide by that request. And soft money can still be raised and used for purposes other than television ads, including direct mail, often the biggest expenditure in political campaigns, and get-out-the-vote activities.


SHAW: The Clinton-Lazio deal has won the enthusiastic support from two of the best campaign finance supporters. Senators John McCain and Russell Feingold today sent a letter to all candidates for federal office asking them to ask to follow suit and to reject the use of soft money for political ads in their races.

WOODRUFF: Well, there was no agreement on campaign ads in the Virginia Senate race today. Instead, the topic sparked a heated exchange at a debate between the Democratic Senator Chuck Robb and former GOP Governor George Allen.


GEORGE ALLEN (R), VIRGINIA SENATE CANDIDATE: Our ads have always been on the truth, on facts, and on our aspirations for the future.

MODERATOR: Senator Robb.

SEN. CHARLES ROBB (D), VIRGINIA: Wow! I haven't found an ad that you have run yet -- or at least that has been run in your name by the Republican Party of Virginia and the Senate Campaign Committee -- that comes anywhere close to the truth, George.


WOODRUFF: Today's debate was the second in less than 24 hours for these two candidates. Recent polls show incumbent Robb trailing his Republican challenger.

SHAW: Up next, we're going to look back 40 years to the first televised presidential debates.


WOODRUFF: In just eight days, George W. Bush and Al Gore will meet in their first televised presidential debate. They will be carrying on a tradition started 40 years ago tomorrow by Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy.

Our Bill Schneider joins us once again from Los Angeles with more on those now-famous debates -- Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Judy, Kennedy won because he looked better than Nixon did on television. That's what we remember about the first-ever televised campaign debates 40 years ago. What we forget is how different the political world was back in 1960. It was the height of the Cold War, and that shaped and controlled everything in American politics.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The first Kennedy-Nixon debate was supposed to be restricted to domestic issues. Fat chance.


JOHN F. KENNEDY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The question before us all that faces all Republicans and all Democrats is, can freedom in the next generation conquer, or are the communists going to be successful? That's the great issue.



RICHARD NIXON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are in a deadly competition: a competition not only with the men in the Kremlin, but the men in Peking.


SCHNEIDER: The Cold War shaped the debate on everything: on the economy...


KENNEDY: We're not able to consume what we're able to produce at a time when the Soviet Union is making great economic gains.


SCHNEIDER: ... on labor relations...


NIXON: We cannot afford stoppages of massive effect on the economy when we're in the terrible competition we're in with the Soviets.


SCHNEIDER: ... on civil rights...


KENNEDY: We sit on a conspicuous stage. We are a goldfish bowl before the world. We have to practice what we preach.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SEPTEMBER 26, 1960) NIXON: When we have Khrushchev in this country, a man who has enslaved millions, a man who has slaughtered thousands, we cannot continue to have a situation where he can point the finger at the United States of America and say that we are denying rights to our citizens.


SCHNEIDER: ... even on Kennedy's Catholicism.


NIXON: Communism is the enemy of all religions, and we who do believe in God must join together. We must not be divided on this issue.


SCHNEIDER: The Cold War diminished ideological differences. The country was at war, so the candidates were very conscious about minimizing their disagreements.


KENNEDY: The goals are the same for all Americans. The means are at question. The means are at issue.



NIXON: I know Senator Kennedy feels as deeply about these problems as I do, but our disagreement is not about the goals for America, but only about the means to reach those goals.


SCHNEIDER: So what did they really debate about? Whether or not the U.S. was slipping.

Remember Ronald Reagan's closing statement in his 1980 debate with Jimmy Carter? He stole it from Kennedy.


KENNEDY: If you feel that everything being done now is satisfactory, that the relative power and prestige and strength of the United States is increasing in relation to that of the communists, that we are gaining more security, that we are achieving everything as a nation that we should achieve, that we're achieving a better life for our citizens and greater strength, then I agree. I think you should vote for Mr. Nixon.


SCHNEIDER: Nixon's response? Stop running the country down. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SEPTEMBER 26, 1960)

NIXON: We're well ahead, and we can stay ahead, provided we have confidence in America and don't run her down in order to build her up.


SCHNEIDER: The Cold War also highlighted the biggest issue in the campaign: experience. Kennedy was 43; Nixon was 47. Which candidate had the right experience to lead the nation in a life-and- death struggle with communism?

After eight years as Eisenhower's vice president, Nixon claimed the advantage.


NIXON: I can only say that my experience is there for the people to consider, Senator Kennedy's is there for the people to consider. As he pointed out, we came to the Congress in the same year. His experience has been different from mine. Mine has been in the executive branch; his has been in the legislative branch.


SCHNEIDER: The debates worked for Kennedy because he showed himself the equal of the more experienced Nixon.


KENNEDY: Abraham Lincoln came to the presidency in 1860 after a rather little-known session in the House of Representatives, and after being defeated for the Senate in '58, and was a distinguished president.

There's no certain road to the presidency. There are no guarantees.


SCHNEIDER: Now there is. It goes through the debates.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One last word: As members of a new political generation, Vice President Nixon and Senator Kennedy have used new means of communication to pioneer a new type of political debate. The character and courage with which these two men have spoken sets a high standard for generations to come. Surely they have set a new precedent. Perhaps they have established a new tradition.



SCHNEIDER: And they did, although it took another 16 years for debates to become a standard feature of presidential elections, and it took the end of the Cold War to turn American politics into the free- for-all it is today -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Bill, as you -- as we pointed out, tomorrow is the anniversary of that Nixon-Kennedy debate. Are historians having another look at that and the significance of it?

SCHNEIDER: Well, they certainly are. It, of course, started a round of debates that we're continuing next month, with the debate actually next week.

The Nixon Library -- that's why I'm out here in California -- the Nixon Library is having a commemoration tomorrow on the exact 40th anniversary of that first debate. A lot of people say, "Well, wasn't that the debate that damaged Richard Nixon's candidacy?" Well, I think the Nixon Library makes a claim that Nixon did pretty well in that debate, and they're having some historians, some people who were involved in that.

Richard Reeves will be there. He a book on Kennedy. He's writing a book on Nixon. I'll be on the panel to discuss the meaning and the importance of those debates, and how they really influenced American politics.

And of course, the first debate next week, in this year's campaign, is at the University of Massachusetts, right next to the Kennedy Library, which is also commemorating the 40th anniversary of those debates.

WOODRUFF: All right. Well, Bill Schneider, we hope to see you from there, tomorrow. Thanks a lot. We appreciate it.

And that is all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS, but of course, you can go online all the time at CNN's

SHAW: We'll see you again tomorrow when Al Gore will on the campaign trail in Michigan and Iowa, and George W. Bush will be campaigning in California.

I'm Bernard Shaw.

WOODRUFF: And I'm Judy Woodruff. "WORLDVIEW" is next.



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