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Inside Politics

Bush and Gore Trade Jabs on Energy Policy; Florida Could Turn Tide of Election 2000; Candidates's Bring Contrasting Syles into First Debate

Aired September 29, 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: Today America has no energy policy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The other side now proposes to misuse high oil prices...

BUSH: The Clinton-Gore administration was caught napping, and it's taken an election to wake them up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JUDY WOODRUFF, CO-HOST: George W. Bush and Al Gore go tit for tat on energy policy.

Also ahead:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Lawn bowling is one of the rituals here at Sun City, and don't forget voting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: John King looks at the political turf in Florida.

Plus:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You might call Al Gore the rottweiler of political debate. But Bush is no pussycat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Jeanne Meserve contrasts the candidates' styles heading into their first debate. ANNOUNCER: From Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS with Bernard Shaw and Judy Woodruff.

WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us. Bernie is on assignment.

George W. Bush and Al Gore are offering a little taste of what their first debate next week may be like. For the second day in a row they have sparred, long distance, over a single topic. Today, it was energy policy.

As our Candy Crowley reports from Michigan, Bush believes the issue will add more power to his recent rebound.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The days are colder and the election is closer. George Bush put the two together in a campaign speech on energy policy.

BUSH: We're now paying a steep price for 7 1/2 years without an energy policy. Americans are concerned about the staying power of our prosperity, and more immediately, they're concerned about paying their bills in the winter to come.

But before the cold of December, comes November and one day of decision.

CROWLEY: Bush advisers think this issue plays into their column. For one thing, they like the contrast.

BUSH: The vice president likes electric cars, he just doesn't like making electricity.

CROWLEY: Bush strategists call Al Gore's emphasis on alternative energy sources fuzzy and futuristic. "Gore is doodling in the margins," said one aide, "he is pie in the sky, while the governor is dealing with the here, the now and the future."

BUSH: No matter how advanced our economy may be, no matter how sophisticated our equipment becomes, for the foreseeable future, we will still depend on fossil fuels.

CROWLEY: At an engineering and manufacturing plant in Saginaw, Michigan, Bush argued that reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil means, in part, drilling and exploring for energy in the U.S. His $7.1 billion plan includes opening up about 8 percent of protected land in Alaska for oil and gas exploration.

BUSH: The vice president says he would rather protect this refuge than gain the energy, but this is a false choice. We can do both, taking out energy and leaving only footprints.

CROWLEY: Bush says he would use the bid money and royalties from Arctic exploration to fund research into alternative energy and to establish a conservation fund. On other fronts, Bush would increase domestic refining capacity by easing the regulatory process for permits and licenses and he would encourage the use of renewable and alternative fuels with a $1.4 billion tax credit.

In the short run, Bush proposes to expand energy assistance to low-income Americans and establish a privately-managed home heating oil reserve for the Northeast. What Bush says he won't do is what the Clinton-Gore administration has: tap into the strategic petroleum reserve.

BUSH: The strategic reserve is meant for a foreign war or a major disruption in supply, not for national elections. It's a petroleum reserve, not a political reserve.

CROWLEY (on camera): The oil policy speech caps a week designed by the Bush campaign to outline what they see as threats to prosperity.

There was the education recession, followed by a sharp critique of Al Gore as a big spender who will bloat the government and deflate the economy; and now the oil policy speech.

All three of topics you can expect to hear in next week's debate and in what remains of the fall campaign.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Saginaw, Michigan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: And now to the Gore campaign.

The vice president denies that he is being reactive on the energy issue. But privately, his aides say that they rejiggered his schedule, so that he could respond to Bush's attacks.

Our Jonathan Karl has more on Gore returning fire.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Under attack because of high oil prices, Vice President Gore is firing back with an impassioned assault on one of George W. Bush's energy proposals.

GORE: The other side now proposes to misuse high oil prices as an excuse to let oil companies invade precious national treasures like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

If you entrust me with the presidency, I will not let that happen.

KARL: At issue is Alaska's pristine wilderness area. Bush says tapping a small part of this area would help free the U.S. from dependence on imported oil. In an interview after the speech, Gore said such a move would not only do damage to the environment, but would also be ineffective. GORE: I think it's a mistake because it's an environmental treasure, and it wouldn't produce any oil for many years to come, and then it would only produce a few months worth.

So, you'd destroy an environmental treasure, or put it very much at risk, and in return for a few months supply many years from now.

KARL: Bush aides acknowledge it would take four to five years to get access to the Arctic oil, but they say this is a long-term measure that would eventually yield as much oil as the U.S. currently imports from the country Iraq.

Gore's long-term vision is much different: getting beyond dependence not just on imported oil, but oil, period.

GORE: We don't have to accept a future of old engines and old power plants that waste too much energy and cause too much pollution, making our air less healthy and our climate less stable.

We don't have to build our lives around a fuel source that is distant, uncertain and too easily manipulated.

KARL: Gore presented a futuristic vision of a world where cars get 80 miles to the gallon and energy comes from alternative sources. Realizing this vision, he said, would mean less pollution, something he called another kind of national debt.

GORE: We should no more saddle our children and grandchildren with the cost of cleaning up our pollution and paying for short- sighted energy policies than we should saddle them with the burden of paying our budget deficits.

KARL: As Gore talked in Maryland, his running mate Joe Lieberman took the case directly to Texas, using smokestacks in Houston as a backdrop while he attacked Bush's environmental record.

(on camera): Gore aides are saying the debate over oil drilling in Alaska is a golden opportunity for Gore to move the environment, the issue he cares most passionately about, from the periphery towards the forefront of the campaign.

Jonathan Karl, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: While Bush and Gore are talking a great deal about energy and its cost, most economists say they do not expect gas prices to climb any higher before election day. But energy could still be an issue for many voters, depending on where they live and the weather there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): A new energy price jolt could be as close as the next cold snap, when consumers are expected to get hit by high home heating oil and natural gas bills. ED ROTHSCHILD, ENERGY ANALYST: It's not a hypothetical. Prices are going to be higher. Prices for heating oil and natural gas are definitely going to be higher; the point is, when it will impact the actual consumer.

WOODRUFF: When the cold comes, a gallon of home heating oil, commonly used in the Northeast, is expected to rise 30 cents to $1.31. In the Midwest, where natural gas is used to heat homes, the hike could be even steeper.

Illinois Nicor Gas is warning customers that last year's average monthly winter bill of $91 could rise to $130. The problem: stockpiles of both oil and natural gas are running low. By coincidence, the regions most affected include many of campaign 2000's most important battleground states.

But consumers likely won't feel the pinch in the short-term. The forecast calls for a warmer-than-normal winter in the Midwest and a normal winter in the Northeast. And, unlike gas-pump prices, visible every time you fill up, most heating bills come monthly. So, even if winter starts early, the sticker shock probably won't hit until well after election day.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Well, the presidential election now is 39 days away, and our daily tracking poll still suggests that it will be a squeaker.

George W. Bush leads Al Gore by two points: 46 percent to 44 percent in today's survey. The numbers have been relatively steady this week, since the tables turned and Bush took the lead in our survey last Sunday.

The race is just as close in Florida, according to recent polls.

So our John King went to that battleground state to get a snapshot of voters and the issues they care about.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Keep going! Keep going!

KING (voice-over): Lawn bowling is one of the rituals here at Sun City; golf, another.

And don't forget voting. Turnout averages nearly 90 percent among the 14,000 residents of this Florida retirement community. And the local joke is that you can count the Democrats on one hand.

But Ina Coplin thinks this year is a little different.

INA COPLIN, VOTER: I was with some friends the other day and someone said to me, "Are you a Republican?" And so I leaned over and said, "No." And they said they weren't either, which was a surprise to me. KING: Thirty-five to 40 percent of Florida's vote will come from people over the age of 60. And as folks here take the measure of the two leading candidates for president, two words pop up time and time again: Medicare and morality; 86-year-old Mary Bucha is leaning Bush and longing for the way things were long ago.

MARY BUCHA, VOTER: If you were bad in school, before you got home, your mother already knew and was waiting with a strap or something -- was waiting for you, right? I don't know what has happened today. We don't concentrate on character.

KING: Harvey Kempke says he usually votes Republican, but is undecided: the economy and Medicare drug coverage his top concerns.

HARVEY KEMPKE, VOTER: The things that I'm pointing out here are things that Bush has not answered to my liking at this point. I'm waiting to see what's going to develop as they get into a debate.

KING: Tampa was once the nation's cigar capital, and that tradition still runs deep here in the city's Historic District. But Tampa's new face is one of the reasons Florida's politics are so hard to predict. Newcomers along the Interstate 4 corridor are another pivotal swing-voting bloc, a major target as the campaigns plan their final push.

(on camera): The way the Democrats see it, just being competitive here helps. Any time and money spent in Florida by Governor Bush, they say, is time and money not being spent in the key Midwestern battlegrounds. For the Texas governor, the calculation here is much more simple: Florida is a must-win.

(voice-over): Education is the issue raised most among these younger voters. Party loyalty means little, and many say they will decide late.

PAUL DOUCETTE, VOTER: It's not just the things they said, but the appearance, the way they've come across, and like I say, the sincerity. I haven't been convinced yet on either party that they necessarily mean what they say.

KING: But the elderly are the most reliable voters and get the most attention from the candidates. Governor Bush visited Sun City just last week, and these are the targets of the bruising TV-ad war in the state's critical Tampa media market.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, BUSH CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR: Al Gore's prescription plan forces seniors into a government-run HMO. Governor Bush gives seniors a choice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, GORE CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR: Newspapers say George Bush's prescription drug ad misrepresents the facts. In fact, Al Gore's plan covers all seniors through Medicare, not an HMO.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My parents were not very enthusiastic about this.

KING: All of these undecided voters in Sun City read a daily newspaper, and all say they use the Internet to keep track of the campaign.

YVONNE PONSER, VOTER: I didn't like this latest business with -- I think that Gore waffles. I think he says one thing to one group and something else to somebody else.

KING: Many folks here are children of the Depression, who marvel at the good economic times, but remember the bad, and worry the boom won't last much longer.

ROLF SULZBERGER: There are signs that the next president is going to have to deal with probably a minor, but maybe a major recession.

KING: Many can recall votes for Roosevelt and Eisenhower. And they take their politics seriously. But with more than a month to go, they know there is time to study their choices, still time to work in a few more rounds of golf.

John King, CNN, Tampa, Florida.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: And a reminder here: Our Wolf Blitzer will be in Tampa next Tuesday night for a town meeting. He'll be talking with voters just before and just after Tuesday night's presidential debate.

Still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE LOCKHART, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's 10:00 a.m., live at a Elizabeth Arden Salon for deep tissue massage, seaweed wrap, salt glow and pedicure; 5:00 p.m.: Meet the mole at the private residence, Watergate Hotel.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: What are Joe Lockhart's future plans as he says goodbye to the White House? We will ask him -- just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Most people think Joe's leaving for purely selfish, monetary reasons. But the truth is, he told me that I was no longer in enough trouble to make it interesting for him.

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: Do the briefing, Joe.

LOCKHART: OK. One more.

CLINTON: Keep me out of trouble. Stay bored!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: President Clinton, with a light-hearted send-off for Press Secretary Joe Lockhart, as he gave his final briefing today. Lockhart is ending a two-year stint. His successor is Deputy Press Secretary Jake Siewert.

Joe Lockhart, he joins us now from the White House.

Hello, Joe.

LOCKHART: Hello, Judy, how are you?

WOODRUFF: Thank you for being with us. Now, the comment about the mole, is that true? You know the mole, the one who sent the package? The debate package?

LOCKHART: Oh, listen, I -- this campaign has been so weird. I mean, the only thing people know about are moles, rats, dogs. At some point, we'll get to the real issues. But I guess it's been amusing.

WOODRUFF: Joe, you've been around the White House for some time before you took this job. Was there anything about the job that surprised you after you were in it, or did you know everything there was to know?

LOCKHART: Well, I don't think you really understand, you know, how important it is and how careful you need to be with every word until you actually take the job and stand behind the podium. There are people around the world who look to the U.S. for leadership on all sorts of issues. And until you have actually stood there -- and, frankly. actually made a few mistakes -- you don't realize, you know, just how -- how difficult it can be.

So you can prepare for it. It was great to have two years to work with Mike McCurry to get ready. But there is very little you can do, beyond just standing up there and doing it to really be ready.

WOODRUFF: When the president said you are really leaving because he is not enough trouble anymore, was there a little grain of truth there? Is -- has the job lost some of the spark?

LOCKHART: Well, I don't think so. I think, as I said at the briefing, I enjoy every time I go into the briefing room and sort of go and spar with the reporters. But, as I also said, it has gotten harder and harder over the last few months to do all of the work you need to do to prepare go in there to do the kind of job that the president expects.

So couple that with, you know, spending so much time away from home, away from my wife and daughter, we just -- we talked about it and we thought that this was the right time. I talked about it with the president. And he graciously agreed to let me go.

WOODRUFF: After almost eight years, do we now know everything there is to know about President Clinton?

LOCKHART: Oh, I think you know everything that there is to know, which is probably a lot more than people really care to know. I think if you -- when we reflect and look back over the last eight years, we'll find we spent a lot of time on things that really wasn't -- were not that important, didn't impact people's lives.

But you know what? I think, you know, we have to go through this. We have to figure out what the boundaries are. And this is the way we do it.

WOODRUFF: How does it make you feel when the vice presidential nominee, Dick Cheney, Republican nominee for vice president, says, as he said yesterday, that putting Al Gore in charge of campaign finance reform is like putting Bill Clinton in charge of abstinence, end quote?

LOCKHART: Well, you know, I think it makes me feel that Dick Cheney was someone who I think a lot of Americans admired a lot, did a good job as secretary of defense, was a very conservative member of Congress, but I think served his constituents well. I think sometimes people forget why they're in politics. And when he says something like that, it means that getting elected has become more important than why you're there. And I think it demeans him a bit. And I think people, when they see him say things like that, will be disappointed in him.

WOODRUFF: Does it matter who's president?

LOCKHART: Absolutely. We, over the last eight years, have turned this country around. We are a far different place, a far better place than we were eight years ago. And it's really the work of the American people, but it's also the leadership that the president shows.

It's an extraordinaryily important job, and I think without this president and this vice president and their leadership, we would have gone in a different direction and we could be in a wholly different place right now.

So I think it matters a lot. I think people forget in times of prosperity, and in times when things are going well just how important it is. They focus more in on it in bad times or times of crisis, but it is important.

WOODRUFF: You've obviously worked very closly with reporters the last few years, Joe. You've made some pretty tough comments about reporters in general the last few days. What do you really think is going on today with journalism?

LOCKHART: Well, I think journalists are struggling. And the tough comments are tempered with a lot of admiration for most all of the reporters I work with. But I think we're struggling with a new technology, with the ability to go live from anywhere, to be on the air 24 hours a day. And how we balance that against trying to provide some real perspective and real information. And I think we're continuing both as people in government and people in the media to struggle with how you strike the balance, how you get substance and perspective and stay away from sort of the sensational. And it's an ongoing process. It will all get worked out. I just think we happen to be in period of real change, when a lot of problems are being worked out.

WOODRUFF: All right, Joe Lockhart. Your last day at the White House, and we wish you well, and we hope you stay in touch.

LOCKHART: I sure hope to. Thanks, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thanks a lot. We appreciate it.

And there is much more ahead on this edition of INSIDE POLITICS.

Still to come: style and substance. Jeanne Meserve on how the candidates stack up when it comes to debating.

Plus,..

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATE SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He may not be on the guest list, but he's planning a trip to Boston with a message about the debates.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Kate Snow on Ralph Nader and the third party protests to the two-man debates.

And later, turning talk about the issues into a political "Play of the Week."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Still no word on the fate of the pilot of an F-18 fighter jet that crashed in the Persian Gulf this morning. The Navy says the single-seat warplane had just taken off on a training flight from the aircraft carrier, USS Abraham Lincoln, when the ship lost contact. Search crews have found the wreckage, but, so far, not the pilot.

A second straight day of violence at the bitterly-contested holy site in Jerusalem, said to be the key sticking point in Middle East peace negotiations. At least four Palestinians killed, more than 200 people hurt in Palestinian clashes with Israeli police. Tensions are unusually high at that holy site following yesterday's controversial visit there by Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARIEL SHARON, LIKUD PARTY LEADER: It's a normal thing to visit the Temple Mount and every Jew can visit Temple Mount exactly as every Arab can visit any other place in the country. And all of us would like to have peace, all of us are committed to peace, I cannot see any possibility for real peace if Jews were not allowed to go to the holiest place that belonged to them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Also today, in the West Bank, an Israeli border guard was shot and killed by a Palestinian policeman.

Spanish officials say two police officers were slightly hurt in an explosion today at a Barcelona newspaper office. A reporter with the newspaper says three armed people, claiming to represent a Marxist group, planted the bomb in a waste basket.

Opposition leaders announce a campaign of strikes and civil disobedience, hoping to force Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic from power. They insist Mr. Milosevic lost to the opposition candidate in Sunday's presidential election and should step down.

Canada is mourning Pierre Elliott Trudeau. The former prime minister succumbed to prostate cancer at the age of 80. For Canada, Trudeau represented a new breed of politician when he rose to power in 1968. He would remain prime minister until 1984, with only a brief time away in 1979. His funeral will be Tuesday in Montreal.

President Clinton signed a stop-gap spending bill today that will keep the government operating through October 6th. The president and Congress want to avoid shutdowns like those in late 1995. The White House has received only two of the 13 spending bills that are pending. The fiscal year ends tomorrow.

In Great Britian, Prince William is getting ready to stretch his royal legs on his so-called "Gap Year." The heir to the British throne will spend the time working and traveling before beginning courses at the University of Scotland. William is said to be planning an expedition to Chile.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRINCE WILLIAM, GREAT BRITAIN: I wanted to do something constructive in my gap year, rather than -- I mean, I could do quite a bit of work, but I thought this was a bit more of a way of making -- trying to help people out and meet a whole range of different people from different countries and at the same time, helping people in remote areas of Chile.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: The teen prince raised about $8,000 to cover his expenses on the trip.

When INSIDE POLITICS returns, an update on how the presidential candidates are preparing for their leadoff debate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: A new poll shows George W. Bush leading in the traditionally Democratic state of West Virginia. He is two points ahead of Al Gore in the "Charleston Gazette" poll. Gore led by eight points in an ARG poll two weeks ago.

In Iowa, the vice president is ahead by eight points in a new Research 2000 poll. Gore led by two points in an Iowa Project poll released yesterday.

Well, with hopes of boosting their poll numbers, Bush and Gore are gearing up for their first debate next Tuesday Boston. Bush returned to Texas this afternoon to prepare for the debate at his ranch in Crawford. Bush communications director, Karen Hughes, said today that the Governor will take part in practice drills with Senator Judd Gregg, who will be playing the role of Gore.

She says Bush is, quote, "looking forward" to his first face-off with the vice president, whom she called a, quote, "world-class debater."

Gore, meantime, heads to Sarasota, Florida, where consultant Paul Begala will play the role of Bush in the vice president's practice sessions. Gore also has recruited a dozen so-called real people from battleground states to join him in Florida and to offer their input.

Well, once the two candidates are standing side-by-side in Boston, voters will get a chance to compare their different views, and as CNN's Jeanne Meserve reports, their rather different debate styles.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GORE: Well, that's not a plan, that's a magic wand.

MESERVE (voice-over): You might call Al Gore the rottweiler of political debate.

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: When Gore is given a choice between a subtle attack and an attack with a two-by-four, he almost always grabs for the two-by-four. Now that does the job. And your opponent comes off pretty bloody and bruised. But it doesn't win the hearts and minds of the people watching the debate.

MESERVE: Gore can spew out facts and figures so fast, he sometimes seems like a walking, talking world book, sometimes a real plus.

GORE: While we have a $5.6 billion trade surplus with Mexico, we have a $49 billion deficit with Japan, a $19 billion deficit with China, a $9 billion deficit with Taiwan.

RODERICK HART, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS: Gore's strategy is -- probably reflects his, you know, kind of philosophy of leadership. And that is the person with the greatest command of the facts, the greatest historical understanding of the issues, should come out the winner.

MESERVE: A debate-team coach might agree, but voters don't always.

SABATO: They don't feel good about the smarty-pants in the class who always raises his hand first, who always has the right answer, and who always wins the argument in class.

BUSH: Well...

MESERVE: George W. Bush suffers from the opposite problem. In his early debates, in particular, he seemed to be reading off mental note cards. It contributed to the impression, right or wrong, that he isn't the brightest bulb in the pack.

SABATO: Bush has always reminded me of a student who crams for an exam. He goes over the material, but instead of really learning it, he memorizes it. And that is what makes his performances often sub-par.

MESERVE: Bush does better when he paints a big picture.

BUSH: I think we ought to open up markets all around the world. I think we ought to reduce barriers and tariffs -- we should not be using food as a diplomatic weapon.

HART: He has some of Ronald Reagan's ability, who is not very good at getting into details. But when he articulates principals, he does a pretty good job.

MESERVE: But Bush is no pussycat. He can attack, but often softens his pushes with humor.

BUSH: You talk a lot about the Iron Triangle, and you are ringing it like a dinner bell.

MESERVE: His humor, his extroverted personality, may be an advantage in relaxed debate formats.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: When you run ads saying you're going to take care of Social Security, my friend, that's all hat and no cattle.

BUSH: I...

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH: That's cute. But...

(LAUGHTER) MCCAIN: You know, they are always cutest when they're true.

MESERVE: Bush has evolved and improved as a debater, becoming more confident and comfortable. And he has virtually eliminated the unfortunate expression know as "the smirk."

(on camera): You can bet Bush and Gore are both working to further refine their debating techniques. In these face-offs, style, as well as substance, is critical.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: And we are joined now by E.J. Dionne of the "Washington Post" and Rich Lowry of the "National Review."

Rich Lowry, to you first: What about this preparation for the debate? What are expectations going in? Is it the conventional wisdom: Gore supposedly the better debater, Bush the better styler, and we will see who comes out...

RICH LOWRY, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Yeah, I think there's some truth to that, to some extent. As we saw on "Oprah" and "Regis" last week, he can be pretty quick and witty, and can be pretty fast on his feet. And I think we'll see some nice self-effacing one-liners.

And he knows the -- on the important issues, he knows the policies pretty well: on taxes, on education, on health case. The challenge for Bush is, you know, that inevitable movement when he is knocked off the stride a little bit, does he have the verbal dexterity to get through that? Can he project a sense of command and authority? Those are the really important questions for Bush.

WOODRUFF: E.J., is that we what ought to be looking for with George Bush: just to see if he can hold his own when the punches come from Gore?

E.J. DIONNE, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, I think that Bush has to look, as Rich said, knowledgeable. But I think, when you look at these two guys, they each have very different problems. Gore really needs to attack some of Bush's positions, because, say, on the tax cut, that hasn't become as big an issue in Gore's favor as Gore would like it to be. But Gore has to attack him in a way that doesn't look mean or arrogant or know-it-all.

Bush has to preserve this folksy style. And I agree with Rich: His debate record is very mixed. There are some debates where I think he was better than John McCain, other debates where he was much worse than John McCain. But Bush has to convey a sense a command of some sort without losing this folksy image that he has.

WOODRUFF: Well, how does he do that, Rich Lowry? I mean, what can he do to do that? I mean, is it just literally a matter of rehearsing? LOWRY: Well, yes, it's knowing the facts and having them down cold. But there's also -- there's an intangible factor here that is just very difficult to put your finger on. And we can -- we know for sure there is going to some important symbolic event in this debate. It is going to be totally spontaneous and unexpected.

But, you know, we have no idea what it is going to be, which makes it -- is going to make it such fascinating television.

WOODRUFF: E.J. ...

DIONNE: I think that...

WOODRUFF: Go ahead, E.J.

DIONNE: I think that when Bush is really in control of an issue -- and education is probably in the one he's most control -- in control of -- he actually sounds competent and not like the cliches of him. I think his problem is that are a lot of other issues, where, as the set-up piece says, it doesn't sound like he really understands the issue. And he is reciting from cue cards.

And he has got to extend that mastery that he is capable of showing on education to a lot of other issues where he hasn't yet in earlier debates.

WOODRUFF: And the challenge for Gore -- just to be clear here -- Rich Lowry?

LOWRY: Yes, I agree with E.J. It's basically not to go too far, not to seem too nasty, not to seem too arrogant, to come across as likable. You know, there is not going to be anyone on the stage he can kiss this time to convey a nice impression. Jim Lehrer is not an impression.

So they're really -- both of these guys are missing a piece of the puzzle that the other one has. Gore undoubtedly has command of the facts. Bush undoubtedly has a likable, folksy style. And the question is whether they can sort of get a piece of the other guy's part of the puzzle.

WOODRUFF: What about the debate that is under way out there right now, as each of them is out campaigning?

E.J., with regard to energy policy, with regard to oil -- heating oil prices and so forth -- is either candidate coming out stronger on this?

DIONNE: Well, I think it's very hard for a candidate to come out strong with the American people on oil, because the American people have seen so many energy plans in the past that either did not live up to expectations or were so complicated, no one could understand them.

I think the risk Bush runs on this is -- was reflected earlier in the show, there were a lot of swing voters, middle class swing voters, who care passionately about the environment. I was in the north suburbs of Chicago; John Edward Porter, a Republican Congressman, said that in his district, middle class swing voters make the environment one of their central litmus test issues.

So I think the question is, can Bush recreate a debate out of the '80s where it's a choice between the economy or the environment, or does that not work anymore, and is the environment more important?

I lean toward the second view.

WOODRUFF: Rich, do you want to...

LOWRY: I think the Gore strategy on this, all along, has been that the best defense is an aggressive offense. So that's why he tries to create a lot of noise about quote, unquote, big oil; because he wants everybody to ignore the fact that, fundamentally, he wants us to drive cars that are powered by little propellers and solar panels, and that's just not where the American people are. They're in big SUVs.

Let me tell you, Judy; I think the most interesting that happened this week is a fundamental shift in the dynamic of the race, where Bush is no longer trying to associate Gore with Clinton. In fact, he's trying to do the opposite. He's trying to say, I will be the better protecter of the Gore legacy, I'm closer to the new Democrats than Gore is, and I'm the best protecter of the strong economy we have -- which is a total, fundamental shift in the Bush strategy.

WOODRUFF: All right. We are going to have to leave it there. Rich Lowry, E.J. Dionne. Thank you both, great to see you.

And, speaking of SUVs and other vehicles of that size, we have this story we're able to report at this hour: Federal regulators have opened an investigation Friday into another brand of Firestone tires after receiving reports that they were involved in accidents in which two people died and 12 people were injured.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, says that it has received 167 complaints about the steeltex R4S tires and the A/T light truck tires just since the first of August. Now, these tires were original equipment on the Ford F250 and the Ford 350 pickups, on Ford Excursions, on the General Motors Suburban and the GM G van.

CNN will bring you more information on that story just as soon as we get it.

Still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, courting voter support without the benefit of national debates. A look at the third party predicament.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

Green Party presidential hopeful Ralph Nader gave David Letterman his candid views on the two major party candidates last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RALPH NADER, GREEN PARTY PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: George W. Bush is really a big corporation running for president disguised as a human being. I mean, how can you satire that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NADER: Al Gore's dillemma, every day, on the campaign trail is to figure out if he is a great imposter or a great pretender.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Ouch!

Well, Nader and Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan are relying on talk show appearances and campaign rallies to get their message out to voters, since neither candidate has been invited to participate in the presidential debates.

As Kate Snow reports, that is a decision both Nader and Buchanan criticize.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(APPLAUSE)

KATE SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ralph Nader has never been one to give up a fight. He may not be on the guest list, but he's planning a trip to Boston with a message about the debates.

NADER: How did we ever end up with a democracy where challengers to the entrenched corrupt political system in our country cannot get to tens of millions of voters without going through a gate whose key is controlled by the two major parties who want to exclude reforms?

SNOW: On a crisp fall afternoon at Youngstown State University in Ohio, Nader is preaching to the choir. His supporters are signing petitions to open the debates to third party candidates. Some say if Nader's not there on Tuesday, they won't bother tuning in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not if he's not included, because I've already heard everything that Gore and Bush have to say.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But if Nader was there, I think he would bring out some of the other issues that are important.

(APPLAUSE)

SNOW: Recent Nader rallies have drawn the biggest crowds of the presidential season.

Die-hard Nader fans have held protests demanding their candidate be included in the debates. Nader's repeated the message on TV talk shows, backed up by star power.

SUSAN SARANDON, ACTRESS: I want to do anything I can. He's been, kind of, shut out by the powers that be in terms of having a voice.

SNOW: There's even a guy in a chicken suit with a not-so-subtle message.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Open the debate!

NADER: If the majority of people polled want the candidate on, regardless of whether they're going to vote for him or her, that ought to be good enough.

SNOW: But the Commission on Presidential Debates says rules are rules. A candidate must average 15 percent support in five national polls to qualify for the debates.

Ralph nader is pulling around 2 or 3 percent lately, not nearly enough to win a ticket to Boston.

CROWD: Go Pat go! Go Pat go! Go Pat go!

SNOW: Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan is drawing even fewer voters. His poll numbers have hovered around 1 percent all month.

PAT BUCHANAN, REFORM PARTY CANDIDATE: So they're deconstructing our country right before our eyes.

SNOW: Buchanan is fighting a court battle for the right to debate, arguing the Reform Party is one of the three recognized parties by the Federal Election Commission and, therefore, ought to be included.

BUCHANAN: I feel like, you know, I'm walking up and down the sidelines here and the Super Bowl's going on out there and I would like to get in the game.

SNOW: At New Orleans' famous Cafe du Monde, most of the patrons don't recognize Buchanan. And that's precisely why he'd relish a primetime debate. Candidates know the power of the mass audience. In 1992, when Ross Perot was included, his popularity jumped.

For his part, Ralph Nader is hoping things might change after the first debate this year.

I think if Gore does Bush in on the first debate, Bush would be smart to open it up to four debates; because if he can't handle Al Gore, maybe he wants to let me do the job.

SNOW (on camera): Nader and Buchanan plan to be in Boston on Tuesday, both hoping for some last-minute loophole to let them in the gate. If not this year, both candidates say, maybe they can at least lay the groundwork to include third parties in 2004.

Kate Snow, CNN, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Along with debates, media coverage can be a crucial part of reaching voters across the country. To find out how the media are handling political coverage, I sat down, once again, with Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution and I asked him what he's finding out in week three of his survey of network coverage.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEPHEN HESS, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: This is very surprising. You remember that 1992 was the high-water mark for network coverage of the presidential campaign. 1996 was the low-water mark.

And we expected this one to be sort of close to '92; Not quite, but it was a close election, no president running. What's happening both in number of minutes and a number of stories: It's below the 1996.

If this goes on for another week, it would be the lowest figure ever recorded for the month of September.

WOODRUFF: In a close election?

HESS: In a close election.

WOODRUFF: Now, how do you account for that?

HESS: Well, a bit of it has to be accounted for NBC and the Olympics. If you took NBC, for the first 10 days of the Olympics, and compared it to the 10 days before the Olympics, you would see that they have half as much news about the presidential campaign. They have dropped in half.

But I think that there's more to it than that; much more to it. As I talked to reporters who are covering the campaign, they tell me that New Yorks says the public isn't interested; and if the public's not interested, we're not going to show it.

So these are very troubling figures.

WOODRUFF: What about, Steve -- you also are looking at the quality of coverage. What are you finding there?

HESS: Well, again, my bias is that we have two types of coverage: horse-race coverage that involves who's ahead, who's behind, the strategies -- that's a lot of fun -- and also issues and the qualifications of the presidents. That I call substance, and that's very important. I would like to see a balance. We should have both.

What are we having? We're having two-thirds horse race one-third to substance.

That's again the lowest figure we have had in many, many elections.

WOODRUFF: Any explanation for that?

HESS: Well, the horse race: It's a close election. I think we're going in that direction, and also we seem to be overwhelmed by the superficial: the "Rats" commercials, the Adam Clymer thing, the question about Gore's drugs for his dogs. And every time we do that, that gets recorded as a horse-race story.

So it's not at all the balance that I was looking for.

WOODRUFF: Finally, you're also looking at the positive/negative. Which candidate is -- the last time we talked to you, Bush was getting a tougher, more negative press. What's happening this week?

HESS: That was very interesting, because that first week when we talked Bush was getting 79 percent negative, 21 percent positive. Third week, Gore is getting 78 percent negative, 22 percent positive. So there's a tremendous lurching feeling to the coverage of the news this year.

WOODRUFF: Tracking the polls to some extent.

HESS: It tracks the polls. Very much it's poll-driven. I think that's important, too.

WOODRUFF: The press looks at who's behind and piles on.

HESS: That's right. That's right. But it's almost as if they're reaching the golden mean by averaging. We're not getting a sort of smooth, an interesting of news, but we're getting a back-and- forth that I find, at least I find, very disruptive.

WOODRUFF: All right. Steve Hess, fascinating. Thanks very much. Appreciate it.

HESS: Thanks, Judy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: And he'll be back every week until the election. And just ahead, Bill Schneider with his political "Play of the Week."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: From energy policy to economic plans, Al Gore and George W. Bush have stuck to the issues this week. But one candidate's approach to those issues made our Bill Schneider take note -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Judy, is George W. Bush becoming the pro-choice candidate in this campaign? That would be ironic and it would be the political "Play of the Week."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Bush made up a lot of ground in the polls this week thanks largely to his message of choice. Listen to Bush compare himself to Al Gore.

BUSH: Because we have a difference of philosophy. I believe that the American people ought to be empowered to make decisions for themselves. That's part of my tax-relief plan. That's part of the reform for Medicare for seniors, part of education reform.

SCHNEIDER: Bush advertises himself as the pro-choice candidate on Medicare.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, BUSH CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR: Al Gore's prescription plan forces seniors into a government-run HMO. Governor Bush gives seniors a choice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: A government-run HMO? hold on a minute, says his opponent.

GORE: You know what they -- you know what they're talking about there? You know what that refers to? That's the way they describe Medicare. There's no big government HMO.

SCHNEIDER: OK, says Bush, but Medicare ought to be a choice.

BUSH: We say to seniors, "You can stay in Medicare if you want, but we're going to give you a variety of options from which to choose."

SCHNEIDER: On taxes, Bush deflects criticism that his $1.3 trillion tax cut is too big. He says he wants people, not the government, to choose how to spend their money.

BUSH: I would rather this couple have $2,400 to spend where they make the decisions, and I don't want Al Gore spending that 2,400 on their behalf.

SCHNEIDER: He's even applying his choice message to Social Security, the fearsome third rail of American politics. Let the workers, not the government, choose how to invest their retirement money.

BUSH: The answer is we better trust younger workers to take some of their own money and invest it in the private markets under guidelines that won't allow it be the lottery pool or the horse-racing pool, but under reasonable guidelines, you get a better rate of return.

SCHNEIDER: On education, Bush says let all parents now have the kind of choices rich people now have: private schools, public schools outside their neighborhood, home tutors. What about that Republican favorite, school vouchers? They're controversial. So Bush says, let's make them a choice.

BUSH: No, I'm not positive vouchers work. I think we ought to try them. I think states ought to try them. I don't think the federal government ought to say, "You will voucherize."

SCHNEIDER: But Bush doesn't want to take this pro-choice thing too far. This week, Bush issued a statement saying -- quote -- "I think the Food and Drug Administration's decision to approve the abortion pill RU-486 is wrong. I fear that making this abortion pill widespread will make abortions more and more common."

The Republicans have finally nominated a pro-choice candidate on every issue it seems except abortion. That's a twist. And it's the political "Play of the Week."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Bush's line is, don't let the federal government make choices for you. Al Gore's response? Don't let big business make choices for you. You shouldn't be at the mercy of HMOs or big oil or big insurance companies. Big government or big business -- pick your threat, pick your candidate -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. We pick you, Bill Schneider.

(LAUGHTER)

Thanks a lot. Have a good weekend.

SCHNEIDER: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: And that's it for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff. "WORLDVIEW" is next.

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