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Inside Politics

Presidential Race Turns Into Battle Over Bucks; America's Poor Feeling Left Out of Prosperity Talk on Campaign Trail

Aired October 19, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET



AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Both sides in this election have proposed targeted tax cuts. The difference is, my plan targets the middle class, the Bush plan targets the wealthy.


BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: Al Gore stays targeted on his opponent's economic proposals as the presidential race becomes even more of a battle over bucks.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Maybe if you've been in Washington too long, you lose your ability to count real money.


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: George W. Bush zeros in on Gore's numbers and their battle over Social Security.



MARIA HINOJOSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Carrier, Mississippi is a tiny town worlds away from Washington, D.C., far away from that magical economic boon the presidential candidates rave about.


SHAW: Maria Hinojosa on the politics of the poor.

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

WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us.

We begin with Al Gore's attempt to get more political dividends from America's economic boom. The vice president used a speech today in the nation's financial capital to press his charge that George W. Bush poses a threat to prosperity.

CNN's Jonathan Karl is with Gore in New York.


JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Launching a final campaign push to make the election a referendum on the economy, Vice President Gore said the choice voters make this year may be more important than any since Harry Truman was on the ballot.

GORE: On November 7, we face one of the biggest choices America has faced in half a century: a choice of priorities, a choice of values, a choice as fundamental as prosperity itself.

KARL: The campaign called Gore's speech at Columbia University a major economic address, not because of any new proposals, but because it laid out a theme he'll hit relentlessly until Election Day: prosperity. Gore says he'll build on it and that his opponent would destroy it with a tax cut too big and a Social Security plan too risky.

GORE: Governor Bush's plan gambles with our prosperity by bringing back deficits, draining Social Security, delaying debt reduction, and fueling higher interest rates.

KARL: The prosperity message is the umbrella for everything, a way to take credit for the economic record of the Clinton-Gore administration and a way to hit Bush's proposals on taxes and Social Security.

Gore used the kickoff of what he's calling his "Prosperity for All" tour to directly respond to George W. Bush's charge that Gore is an a old-style, big spending Democrat: the attack aides acknowledge has hurt gore the most.

GORE: You'd better believe that the era of big government is over. But the era of smaller, smarter government is just about to begin. Under my plan, within eight years, government spending will be the smallest share of national income in 50 years.

KARL: Gore also defended his planned tax cuts from the charge they are too targeted and too complicated.

GORE: Let's cut to the heart of the matter: both sides in this election have proposed targeted tax cuts. The difference is my plan targets the middle class, the Bush plan targets the wealthy.

KARL: The Gore campaign says it is spending more than $5 million on ads this week hitting the prosperity theme.


NARRATOR: From high unemployment and record deficits, the hard work of all Americans turned our economy around. We now have record jobs and a record surplus, but George W. Bush has a tax plan that gives away almost half of the surplus to the wealthiest 1 percent. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: The ads are running in 18 states, and most heavily in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. The three have emerged as the most hotly contested of the battleground states. But Gore is also trying to shore up support on his home turf, spending $140,000 this week on an ad running in Tennessee.


NARRATOR: Tennessee's Al Gore: He'll put our values to work for America.


KARL: On top of that, the Democratic National Committee is spending $2 million on advertising this week, most of it on an ad attacking George W. Bush's Social Security proposal.


KARL: In about an hour, Gore and his running mate, Joe Lieberman, will make a rare campaign appearance with New York Senate candidate and first lady, Hillary Clinton. And also while in New York, the vice president is hitting the talk show circuit, taping appearances with Regis, Rosie O'Donnell and "Saturday Night Live" -- Bernie.

SHAW: Jonathan Karl on the roof in New York City.

President Clinton publicly gave Gore a hand today in attacking Governor Bush. During a Democratic rally on Capitol Hill, Mr. Clinton praised Gore's performance in Tuesday's presidential debate, and he slammed some of Bush's responses during that face-off.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I almost gagged when I heard that answer on the patients' bill of rights in Texas. Could you believe that? This a guy who takes credit for a bill that he vetoed. And then he was bragging about how you have the right to sue in Texas. Did you hear that?


CLINTON: You know how that go in? Without his signature. He sort of -- so, they are real good. They cloud. And I've been reading in the press, apparently no one thinks that was exaggeration or something that was troubling. But it sort of bothered me.


SHAW: In response, Bush senior adviser, Ari Fleischer, tells CNN, Mr. Clinton -- quote -- "just can't resist being Al Gore's campaign manager." And Fleischer says the more the president involves himself in the campaign, the more it will hurt Gore with ticket-splitters and independents who will decide this election. The Bush camp also hit back at the Democrats today on economic issues, including Social Security.

Here's our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley.




NARRATOR: Bush has promised the same money to pay seniors their current benefits.


CROWLEY: Al Gore and the Democratic Party are in full battle gear for an assault on George Bush's Social Security reform plan. The Texas governor has watched more than one fellow Republican get pounded on this issue right into the losing column.

BUSH: It's irresponsible for the chairman of the Democratic Party and for Vice President Gore to stoke the fears of seniors, while ignoring the hopes of younger workers. A true leader does not try to pit grandparents against grandchildren.

CROWLEY: Bush was in Michigan to court the youngest voting bloc with what he calls an agenda for the rising generation. It includes his plan to allow younger workers to take a part of what they currently pay in Social Security taxes and invest it.

BUSH: When this money is accumulated, it will be more than a government program. It will be your property.


BUSH: You will own it. You will control it. You can pass it along, if you wish, to your children.

CROWLEY: The vice president figures the governor's budget is about a trillion dollars short of being able to let younger workers take money out of the system and still pay current Social Security checks.

BUSH: Maybe if you've been in Washington too long, you lose your ability to count real money.


BUSH: Independent analysts confirm the Social Security system has $2.4 trillion surplus over the next 10 years, more than enough money to pay all the benefits it owes to America's grandparents, while allowing grandchildren to open personal accounts within the Social Security system. CROWLEY: Nationwide, the 18-29 year old set votes in smaller percentages than any other age group. But in Michigan, the younger bracket outvoted seniors in the last election. Bush's event was held in Macomb County, now in the political registry as home to Reagan Democrats. Bush needs these blue-collar middle-class socially conservative voters to counteract Gore's support in Michigan's powerful labor unions.

He appeals to them on two grounds. First, the future of prosperity:

BUSH: He is all for the new economy, just so long as it goes to fund the old politics of tax and spend.

CROWLEY: And, albeit gently, Bush tries to stoke voter doubts about the vice president. Thursday, the governor of a Texan who recently won the Nobel Prize for inventing the integrated circuit.

BUSH: It was an amazing achievement, unrivaled in the annals of technology until 1986, when one senator from Tennessee, alone in his office, invented the Internet.


CROWLEY: The governor has since flown about an hour-and-a-half east of Detroit and landed here in New York City, where his paths will across tonight with the vice president at the Al Smith dinner for Catholic charities. The governor is also still reaching out to younger voters during an appearance this evening on "David Letterman," where, presumably, he will reach not just the young, but those who might not otherwise listen to a politician -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Candy Crowley, thanks very much.

Governor Bush told CNN today he hopes he does not win the presidential election as a result of a downturn in the stock market. After losses yesterday, stocks prices surged today, with the Nasdaq composite index scoring its third largest percentage gain ever.

Certainly, Al Gore wants that upswing to continue. But will it help him come Election Day? Our Bill Schneider has more on the economic equation this election year.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): The big puzzle in this election is: Why isn't the economy paying off for Al Gore? The Clinton-Gore administration has presided over the longest economic recovery in history.

But when you ask people: Which candidate would do a better job maintaining prosperity -- does Gore have a big lead? No. It's virtually a tie. Gore intends to change that. Good times is his trump card.

GORE: It's undeniably true that our economy is stronger, crime is lower, home ownership is higher, the debt is down. Instead of debt -- instead of deficits, we have surpluses. There are more -- 22 million new jobs.

SCHNEIDER: Does George W. Bush care to quarrel with that? Yes. His argument: Government didn't make it happen.

BUSH: Some of the folks in Washington kind of think they invented prosperity. That's not the way it works.

SCHNEIDER: But Gore isn't just asking voters to reward him for the past eight years. He says he wants to extend the prosperity to those who haven't benefited from it.

GORE: I'm going to talk about how we can keep our economy growing, how we can extend the prosperity, and how we can make sure that everybody participates in it.

SCHNEIDER: Bush's response: He wants government to pick winners. All the new government spending he's proposing would wreck the economy.

BUSH: The vice president's proposals would produce the largest spending increases since Lyndon Baines Johnson.

SCHNEIDER: See what's happened? Gore wants the election to be a referendum on the economy. Bush is defining the issue differently. It's not, "the economy, stupid," it's "big government, stupid."

(on camera): Don't people always vote on the economy? In bad times, yes. In good times, not necessarily. American voters practice tough love: They always punish, but they don't always reward.

Bill Schneider, CNN, Washington.


SHAW: Amid all this talk about the economy and prosperity, some Americans are feeling left out of the boom and the political process.

CNN's Maria Hinojosa has a field report from Mississippi.


HINOJOSA (voice-over): Carriere, Mississippi is a tiny town worlds away from Washington, D.C.; far away from the politics of power, far away from that magical economic boom the presidential candidates rave about.

Off Minkler Road (ph), a small trailer park, 12 strong, sits where a watermelon patch once grew. Every day, the kids come home from school to a neighborhood with no name. There's no extra money for signs here, just one trampoline, a tree that substitutes for a jungle gym and a dirt patch for riding bikes.

Fifty-one-year-old Claudia Jo Jackson babysits kids to make money. She broke her arm six months ago and can't work as a house painter. All this talk of prosperity in the presidential race -- it makes little sense to her.

CLAUDIA JO JACKSON, HOUSEPAINTER: I live from payday to payday and hope it gets there; hope that your money stretches that far.

HINOJOSA: Down the road, Becky Clary is raising two teenage daughters in her small trailer on less than $1,000 a month.

REBECCA JO CLARY, WAITRESS: Being a waitress, sometimes I feel ashamed to say, yes, OK, I'm a waitress.

HINOJOSA: Becky can't afford new flowerpots, so used milk crates will do. She says she's going to vote, probably, for Gore, but says she's heard little to give her hope.

CLARY: I mean, you hear them say all kinds of things, but you wait and wait and wait and nothing happens. I mean, you still can't afford health insurance. You still can't afford car insurance. You can't afford, you know, half the time to keep your kids in school clothes.

HINOJOSA: Once a week, her neighbor Shadrack Quave, a retired firefighter, carries his laundry back from his grandkids' trailer to his own because he can't afford a washer and dryer. Still, he's feeling optimistic.

SHADRACK QUAVE, RETIRED FIREFIGHTER: Everybody lives good around here. There's plenty of work going on, plenty of building.

HINOJOSA: Shadrack already knows who he likes for president.

QUAVE: You hear Bush; they want Bush. You can go to the barbershop, coffee shop, it's Bush, Bush, Bush.

HINOJOSA: In this Southern state wrapped in local pride, nearly a fifth of the people live below the poverty level. It's gotten better in recent years, say the government statistics, since the last time a politician really paid attention to the poor here.

At least, that's how 81-year-old Hilda Hart (ph) sees it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They don't understand you. You have to go through this, here, to know what it's like.

HINOJOSA: Understand the difference, these folks say, between politicians talking to the poor and what it's really like to live in downright poverty.

Maria Hinojosa, CNN, Carriere, Mississippi.


WOODRUFF: Still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS: Bob Novak's latest electoral outlook.

Plus: taking sides in the debate over school vouchers in a key battleground state. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: George W. Bush has pulled further ahead of Al Gore in a new electoral college outlook by the "Evans-Novak Report." The new survey shows Bush with 308 electoral votes to 230 for Gore. Two weeks ago, Bush led 278 to 260. It takes 270 electoral votes to be elected. The "Evans-Novak" survey gives Bush 23 states, including much of the South and the Plains states. It says another 11 states are leaning toward Bush. This survey gives Gore nine states, including New York, as well as the District of Columbia. It puts California among seven states leaning toward Gore.

Joining us now: Bob Novak.

Where has Bush made the most gains?

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN TIMES": He has made the most gains in critically important states: Florida, Michigan, Missouri, and also Ohio. We have Ohio now out of the leading category into the probable category. He has also made gains in Pennsylvania, which we had before probable Gore, Now, it's leaning gore.

So all these critically important battleground states, in the last two weeks, we find Governor Bush making -- slipping -- moving farther ahead, not dramatically, but substantially.

SHAW: Looking at the big four -- some you alluded to: Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Ohio -- who has the edge in each of these states right now?

NOVAK: In Michigan and in Florida, we give a small edge, but a growing edge to Bush, to -- in Pennsylvania, the big Gore lead is gone. It's no longer as far ahead as it was. And what was the other one? Ohio, we now have Bush moving into a much bigger lead than he had before. One of the most interesting states, though, Bernie, is California, where all these survey -- this is our seventh survey we have done in this cycle.

Almost we have always -- almost always said -- at least for the last several of them, we have had Gore way ahead, probable in California. Now that lead by Bush is single digits. There's a number of different polls. And we've talked to a lot of people out there, including Democrats. And we -- I would say the lead now is somewhere between five and eight points for Bush -- I mean for Gore. I'm sorry.

Obviously, it's still a strong state for Gore -- not as strong as it was. And if Bush were ever to overcome Gore in that state, it's all over.

SHAW: But would you say categorically yes or no that California is in play?

NOVAK: Absolutely in play. There is just no question about it, particularly with the Bush people spending $8 million on television. I just checked with the Gore headquarters in Nashville, whether they were going to try to counter that. And they told me they had no plans to counter the spending there so far.

SHAW: Before you leave us, which states are complete toss-ups?

NOVAK: Complete toss-ups right now, I would say as close as you can come is Michigan and Missouri and Florida, but we give a lead -- we don't use toss-ups in our calculation.


NOVAK: We give the lead in all of those states to Bush.

In summary, Bernie, I would say that, since the last time I was here, there was substantial Bush progress. I think that the Gore campaign has to really stop this now or it's going to get out of hand. This is still a close election, but it may not be close if this trend for Bush continues.

SHAW: Bob Novak, good to have you back from the debates -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right; and 19 days before the election our daily tracking poll -- national poll -- also shows gains for George W. Bush. Bush leads Gore by 10 points in the CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup survey of likely voters nationwide. But only about one-third of the interviews were conducted after Tuesday's presidential debate. So it is too early to tell whether the governor's current strength is based on his final debate performance or a reflection of the momentum he had beforehand.

In the battleground state of Michigan, voters -- that Bob just mentioned -- voters are considering an issue that came up in Tuesday night's debate: school vouchers.

CNN's Patty Davis takes a closer look at the proposed state program and the politics behind it.


CARLA KNIGHTON-THOMAS, VOUCHERS SUPPORTER: The bus has been getting you to school on time?

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 7:15 in the morning and Carol Knighton is on her way to public school in Detroit. She and her mom hope that will soon change -- school vouchers are on the ballot in Michigan.

CAROL KNIGHTON, 10TH GRADER: We should have school vouchers so we can move into the school of our choice.

KNIGHTON-THOMAS: Just because of lack of funds does not mean that she should not be able to receive the best education she possibly can like any other person.

DAVIS: Proposal One, as it's called, would make vouchers worth as much as $3,300 a year available to students in failing school districts where less than 2/3 of the students graduate. The measure has sparked a major battle, dubbed "Goliath versus Goliath." Leading the pro-voucher side -- Amway president Dick DeVos, a multimillionaire who's bankrolled vouchers of sorts with his own money for years.

DICK DEVOS, PRESIDENT, AMWAY: Are we going to simply say to them, you've got to continue going to this school because you happen to live here and, frankly, if it's a failing school -- tough, that's just the way it is. I think that's wrong.

DAVIS: The opposition is led by Michigan's largest teachers' union.

GEORGENE CAMPBELL, VOUCHERS OPPONENT: They're touting this proposal as going to be the premier reform for education in Michigan. But when you remove resources from any kind of program, what you're doing is diluting what they can do.

DAVIS (on camera): School vouchers are such a hot topic here in Michigan -- a major presidential battleground state -- that both sides are pouring in millions of dollars to influence the outcome.

DANE WATERS, INITIATIVE AND REFERENDUM INSTITUTE: I think the school voucher fight will go down as the most expensive, the most money spent pro and con.

I mean, there's a voucher measure in Michigan and in California. The two combined will probably equal over $100 million spent pro and con.

DAVIS: Much of that money is being spent on an expensive TV ad war.


NARRATOR: There is an answer to a plan that threatens schools, raises taxes and doesn't add up.


DAVIS (voice-over): Just as the Goliaths disagree, so do the politicians. Arizona Senator John McCain, who won the Michigan's GOP presidential primary earlier this year, has joined school voucher supporters.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Proposal One is vital reform for our kids.


DAVIS: Michigan's Republican governor opposes Proposal One.

GOV. JOHN ENGLER (R) MICHIGAN: It's not a proposal that I would have put on the ballot, and I'd urge the folks to reconsider. DAVIS: The issue has also sharply divided the African American community. Michigan's NAACP is fighting the proposal, but many African American pastors support it.

If polls are any indication, Proposal One could be in trouble. Once ahead by 10 to 15 points, the latest "Detroit Free Press" poll shows support has eroded to a statistical tie.

Carla Knighton-Thomas knows how she'll vote.

KNIGHTON-THOMAS: I think the vouchers will help. That's a start -- we have to start somewhere.

DAVIS: Public schools, she says, just aren't getting the job done.

Patty Davis, CNN, Lansing, Michigan.


SHAW: And there's much more ahead on this edition of INSIDE POLITICS.

WOODRUFF: Still to come:


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He walks with us, he talks with us, he understands our needs.


WOODRUFF: Frank Buckley tours Lazio country and explains why those New York suburbs may not matter.



JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They were once faithful to the Democratic Party, but no more. This presidential election may rest in the hands of Catholic voters.


SHAW: Jeanne Meserve on faith and changing political affiliations.

And later:


MICHAEL DUKAKIS (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You said many, many times in this campaign that you want to give America back to the little guy.


Mr. Vice President, I am that man.


WOODRUFF: Honoring a Catholic political pioneer with comedy.


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

Yemen's president says authorities in his country have arrested a number of suspects in last Thursday's attack on the USS Cole. The suspects are said to have ties to the group, al-Jihad, which has been blamed for attacks on Western tourists and public figures in Egypt. United States officials say al-Jihad has ties to accused terrorist Osama bin Laden, a Saudi dissident now in exile in Afghanistan.

In another development, the bodies of the last four victims trapped in the wreckage on the USS Cole were recovered earlier today. That attack killed 17 United States sailors.

The commander of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf region testified today at a Senate committee hearing on the USS Cole attack.

CNN military affairs correspondent Jamie McIntyre joins us from the Pentagon -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bernie, Senator John Warner of Virginia started off that hearing with the question that he said he'd gotten from the families when he attend the memorial service in Norfolk yesterday; and that was, simply, why Yemen? Why go to Yemen when the U.S. State Department had listed it among the countries that was a safe haven for terrorists?

The question was put to the recently-retired commander of forces in the Persian Gulf, Marine General Anthony Zinni, who said that the U.S. needed more places to refuel in the area, and there's simply no such thing, he said, as a risk-free port.


GEN. ANTHONY ZINNI (RET.), FMR. U.S. GULF FORCES CMDR.: We were limited with a choice, in terms of force protection, of options that were not very good. And actually, and I think you'll hear this in further testimony, especially in closed session; the threat conditions in Aden, the specific threat conditions were actually better than we had elsewhere.

It was not good, certainly. There were threat conditions that existed. But, certainly, they were no worse than anywhere else.


MCINTYRE: But some of the senators who had just received an intelligence briefing yesterday suggested that those threat conditions had changed in recent months since Zinni left his command and was replaced by Army General Tommy Franks; and that suggesting, perhaps, the U.S. had missed some red flags of increasing danger in Yemen.

The senators also questioned the Navy's reducing the number of refueling ships from 32 to 21 over the last decade and suggested that having more of those refueling ships might give U.S. commanders more options.

The Pentagon today said it looked like the attack had been long- planned for several months, perhaps as much as a year, and General Zinni repeated that there really is no 100 percent way to protect any ship from terrorists who are willing to give their lives in order to take the lives of American troops -- Bernie.

SHAW: Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Fewer than 24 hours before the Sharm El-Sheikh cease- fire deadline, Israelis and Palestinians accuse each other of violating it.

Today, Palestinian gunmen trade fire with Israeli combat helicopters attempting to rescue Jewish settlers trapped on a West Bank hillside. One Palestinian and one Israeli were killed.

A somber mood at the governor's mansion in Missouri today. An honor guard carried the coffin of the late governor Mel Carnahan to the mansion where he now lies in state. Carnahan, his son and a top aide were killed Monday on a plane crash. A memorial service is set for tomorrow.


SHAW: One-third of likely voters in California say they are closely following the U.S. Senate race in their state pitting Democratic incumbent Dianne Feinstein against Republican Tom Campbell.

However, the field poll shows 57 percent of those Californians say they are closely following the U.S. Senate race in New York, featuring Hillary Rodham Clinton versus Rick Lazio.

Mrs. Clinton is scheduled to appear at this hour with Al Gore and Joe Lieberman at a union rally in New York City. Lazio also is stumping in New York City today, even though his political prospects are far better outside the city.

CNN's Frank Buckley looks at how the battle for the Hill is playing out in suburban New York.


FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Rick Lazio is in friendly and familiar territory: the suburbs. Suburban voters, his natural base in the New York Senate race.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He walks with us. He talks with us. He understands our needs.

BUCKLEY: Lazio grew up in the suburbs of New York City: West Islip, Long Island, a community he now represents in Congress. With his family at his side, beaming wife and lovely daughters, he could be a poster child for soccer dads.

His opponent, Hillary Clinton, is also a suburbanite now, living in Westchester County's Chappaqua, but she's also the first lady of the United States whose other home is this one. And to some, she's simply a city person who couldn't possibly relate to suburban concerns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't have the Met or something like that. You know, we have a kid's softball game to go to, and I don't know that she is going to understand that. I do think that Rick Lazio will.

BUCKLEY: Mrs. Clinton would disagree. She's intensively campaigned on issues with appeal to suburban voters like education, health care and the environment.

(on camera): But it is Lazio with the lead in the suburbs that could prove to be important in a close race, especially if Mrs. Clinton produces what's expected to be a strong showing for her in New York City.

(voice-over): Polls suggest the first lady will win at least two-thirds of the vote here in the city. Upstate, traditionally Republican territory, she's polling in the 40s, a strong showing for a Democrat, meaning, in the suburbs, she can afford to lose.

MICHAEL TOMASKY, "NEW YORK MAGAZINE": And she could probably cede Lazio a 15- to 18-point margin in the suburbs and possibly still win.

BUCKLEY: Some polls have shown her down by double digits, but others indicate she is gaining ground and could actually win in the suburbs. Lazio believes in the end, however, suburban voters will award him for his work in the House of Representatives.

REP. RICK LAZIO (R-NY), SENATE CANDIDATE: In the suburbs, people know me the best. That's why the people that have sent me to Congress have sent me to Congress by the widest margins in the history of the district.

BUCKLEY: But Lazio has yet to connect in such a way with voters elsewhere in the state, and unless his numbers improve outside of the suburbs, it's unlikely he'll return to Congress next year as a U.S. Senator.

Frank Buckley, CNN, New York.


WOODRUFF: And we are joined now by Stu Rothenberg of "The Rothenberg Political Report" and Charlie Cook of "The National Journal."

All right, gentlemen, we've just been listening to the story of a senate race in New York, but let's talk about the House.

What are your predictions right now, starting with you, Charlie, in terms of which party's going to end up in control in the House of Representatives?

CHARLES COOK, "THE NATIONAL JOURNAL": Right now, if you go through and look at all of the 435 House races you'd come up with a house basically evenly divided with Democrats within two votes one way or the other of getting control over the House of Representatives.

But there are signs and polls and we're seeing Democratic strategists get very worried that as Al Gore slips behind and if he stays behind for very long that there's going to be a disillusionment set in among Democratic voters and they become less likely to vote, which hurts Democrats up and down the ticket.

Ironically, this is exactly what Republicans were worried about two weeks ago when Bush was slipping behind, now it's Democrats that are worried about it and you can start seeing that in polls in individual races around the country pretty soon.

WOODRUFF: What about you, Stu? What are you seeing here?

STU ROTHENBERG, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": Well, Judy, I hate to be boring, but I've been


ROTHENBERG: But I've been at a four to eight seat Democratic gain for some time, I'm still there. But I have to tell you, I don't know whether it's Al Gore, but I'm starting to look at the moment or at least flirting with the lower end of that scale.

The recent polls that are out suggest that maybe some Republican districts are firming up behind vulnerable Republican candidates. I'm not ready to move those numbers yet. but I'm starting to wonder whether or not I'm a little high. I'm still at four to eight. It looks like a toss-up for the control of the house, but as I say, I'm at least flirting with the lower end of the scale for the first time.

WOODRUFF: What about the theory that Charlie put forward, Stu, that Democrats, if Al Gore were to continue to slip, that Democrats might become just disillusioned and not turn out?

ROTHENBERG: Oh, I think there's no doubt that if the presidential race opened out -- I believe that we had a 10 in today's three-day Gallup track if it opened to a 10, 12, 14 point race, if Democrats became convinced that Al Gore and Joe Lieberman, that they were going to lose, I think it would affect Democratic turnout.

I am not figuring that calculation into my assessment at this point, although I do see some better Republican numbers, but Charlie is absolutely right. If that were to happen, I think we could see a surprisingly Republican year across the board.

WOODRUFF: All right...

COOK: Judy...

WOODRUFF: I was just going to say, Charlie, we've got to look at about five or six of these close races, if you don't mind. We've only got a couple minutes and I want to try to squeeze them all in. Let's look at some of these races that you all have said are key.

First in West Virginia, the 2nd district, it's an open seat for the Democrats -- Charlie.

COOK: Yes, I think we're watching -- Jim Humphreys is a trial lawyer, former legislator. He's the Democrat. He's spent five, six million bucks so far and had a big lead over Shelly Moore Capito, a state representative and the daughter of the former governor.

This has raced -- Humphreys, the Democrat had a big, big lead but it really has closed down. There's some new polling that shows the race basically dead-even. And Republicans are very, very hopeful. I think this has become an even-stephen race. And it's interesting that the Democratic Party has to jump in and spend much of their money on behalf of a multimillionaire, who had already spent $5 million. This is a very close race and an important one for control.

WOODRUFF: All right, Stu, I am going to ask you to look at Florida's 8th District. This is Bill McCollum old seat.

ROTHENBERG: Right, this was a late-breaking Republican primary between a conservative and a moderate: Bill Sublette and Ric Keller. Keller, the conservative, won. The Democrat is Linda Chapin. We have, for a long time now, been assuming that the late Republican primary, Chapin has positioned herself as a moderate, would give her a terrific chance. We've had the seat tilting Democrat, although in the broader toss-up category.

We're flirting with moving it back to a pure toss-up, because there are some recent numbers and indications, in fact, that the Republican base in the congressional district is moving behind Keller. This is a very conservative district. It sent Bill McCollum to the House. And he's about as conservative as you can get. This is another example of a potential Republican bright spot, just like West Virginia, too, where suddenly a race that looked like a 20-point Democratic lead has closed up to a toss-up.

I think the same is hold here.

WOODRUFF: All right, Charlie, we're going to try to move briskly through these other four. Oklahoma, 2nd District: This is a Republican open seat.

COOK: This is a very, very Democratic district. But Tom Coburn, a conservative Republican, grabbed it six years ago. The Democrats: Brad Carson, a former -- young former White House fellow. The Republican is Andy Ewing, a car dealer. This is -- you know, polls have shown the Democrat, Carson, ahead. But this is a very rural, small-town-oriented district. And although it's got real strong Democratic tendencies, in these kinds of rural areas, Al Gore is running unusually weak.

And so we are expecting this to be a very, very close race, despite its underlying Democratic tendencies.

WOODRUFF: Stu, Missouri 6th: an open Democratic seat.

ROTHENBERG: Yes, well, this is a toss-up with Sam Graves and Steve Danner. It's a marginal district that slightly tilts Democratic. There were some early polls suggesting -- actually, each party has a poll showing it's ahead. I think it's a completely competitive rice. Maybe I would put a pinkie on for the Republican, Graves. But it's too close to call.

WOODRUFF: All right. We are going to have leave it there. We were going to look at seats in Kentucky and Illinois. We will just have to come back to them in the next few days.

Stu Rothenberg, Charlie Cook, thank you both.

ROTHENBERG: Thanks, Judy.

WOODRUFF: We will see you again soon.

Still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, winning over Catholic voters: Jeanne Meserve on why the traditionally Democratic group is now in play.


SHAW: As the candidates push on toward Election Day, they are focused on the undecided and the independent voters. This year, many Catholics put themselves in that category.

Jeanne Meserve now on the battle for these unlikely swing voters.


MESERVE (voice-over): They were once faithful to the Democratic Party, but no more. This presidential election may rest in the hands of Catholic voters.

BRIAN TIERNEY, RNC CATHOLIC TASK FORCE: The idea, for my father, of voting for a Republican, I mean, it was almost like changing your religion. And now what we have seen is people have moved from Democrat -- most Catholics have moved now to the independent column, where they are the swing.

MESERVE: Tierney heads a Republican task force that is trying to attract more Catholics like Ed Kist, an electronics technician in Wisconsin.

ED KIST, ELECTRONICS TECHNICIAN: I am definitely going to vote for Bush. As a Catholic, one of the first things that stands out to me is Bush's stand on abortion, as opposed to the vice president's stand on abortion.

BUSH: Surely this nation can come together to -- to promote the value of life.

MESERVE: Bush's opposition to abortion rights, and particularly the late-term abortion procedure some call partial birth, has helped him with many Catholics. But despite church teachings, on this issue, Catholics are not a monolithic group.

JOE ANDREW, DNC NATIONAL CHAIRMAN: The question of choice has been around since the 1960's. And Democrats have been able to win the Catholic vote every since year since 1960. It won't, in the end, be as big of an issue this year as tolerance and inclusion are.

MESERVE: Bush's credo of compassionate conservatism has some appeal to so-called social-justice Catholics, but not all. Jim Bownas, a Columbus, Ohio lawyer and ice cream shop owner, is voting for Al Gore.

JIM BOWNAS, COLUMBUS, OHIO ATTORNEY: I see Al Gore and his predecessor, Bill Clinton, as personifying a concern for people, a concern for Americans who don't have as much voice perhaps in the government.

MESERVE (on camera): Catholics vote in high numbers and account for 20 percent to 30 percent of the vote in key battleground states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri and Wisconsin. And Republicans are fighting for them.

(voice-over): If Bush alienated Catholics with his visit to Bob Jones University, a school with an anti-Catholic history, he has done his best to make amends. His schedule has been peppered with visits to Catholic leaders and institutions. And the Republican Party will spend more than $3 million in the coming weeks on mailings to swing- Catholic voters in a dozen critical states.

Democrats dismiss the Republican's efforts as a P.R. stunt, but they appear to be paying off. Gore led with white Catholic voters in September, but now Bush has regained a decisive lead. Gore has not singled out Catholic voters, but his campaign believes that, by reaching out to some ethnic groups and union workers, he can woo and win the vital Catholic vote.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Washington.


WOODRUFF: When we return: a political tradition five decades old honoring a Catholic groundbreaker.



SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: OK, before the Yankees were named the "Yankees," what was their name? A -- oh, you got it already -- The Spartans. B: The Highlanders. C: The Lions. Are you ready -- D: The Dashing Democrats.



LIEBERMAN: Is that your first answer?


LIEBERMAN: You're right.

WOODRUFF: Vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman's visit on Live With Regis Philbin" this morning looked more like a spot on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?"

Presidential hopeful Al Gore's taped chat with Philbin will air tomorrow morning; and the vice president's interview with Rosie O'Donnell will air tomorrow as well.

Tonight, Republican hopeful George W. Bush will make a return appearance on "The Late Show With David Letterman." This comes more than seven months after Bush's last, less-than-successful visit with Letterman.


DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": Governor, I want to remind you of one thing here: The road to Washington runs through me. You're aware of that, aren't you.

BUSH: It's about time you had the heart to invite me.

LETTERMAN: You're winning delegates left and right here tonight, governor.

You keep saying, you're a uniter not a divider -- I'm a uniter, not a divider. You say that, isn't that correct?

BUSH: That's true.

LETTERMAN: Now, what exactly does that mean?


BUSH: That means, when it comes time to sew up your chest cavity, we uses stitches as opposed to opening it up, that's what that means.


WOODRUFF: Letterman had just returned to work after recovering from quintuple bypass surgery in January.

During tonight's appearance, Bush is expected to come up with his own "Top Ten List." SHAW: Also tonight, both Gore and Bush will try out their comic skills at the 55th annual Al Smith dinner in New York. Now, this is an event former mayor Ed Koch once called the most important political dinner of the year.

Our Bruce Morton, now, on the dinner, the humor and the man in honors.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The dinner is named for Al Smith, the first Roman Catholic nominated for president back in 1928. He lost. Why Smith, Vice President Al Gore wondered when he and the Republican Vice Presidential candidate, Jack Kemp, spoke in 1996.

GORE: What about Joseph Taylor Robinson, the vice presidential nominee in 1928? How come Joseph Taylor Robinson doesn't get a dinner? Jack and I would go. We would go.

MORTON: The point, of course, is to be funny.


JACK KEMP (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: People say my speeches are too long. I don't know, I enjoy every minute of them.

They say I'm arrogant, but I know better.


MORTON: Usually it's the presidential candidates. President Bush and challenger Clinton skipped it in 1992; they had a televised debate that night. And Clinton and Dole weren't invited in 1996 because, some said, the church objected to Clinton's views on abortion.

Dole was a speaker in 1993.


SEN. ROBERT DOLE (R), KANSAS: The cardinal said, Senator, we'd like to have America's most powerful and important Republican as our speaker at this year's Al Smith's dinner. Needless to say, I was flattered. As I began to stumble out an acceptance, the cardinal added, so I was wondering if you could give me Rush Limbaugh's phone number.



MORTON: Barbara Bush, without her president husband, spoke in 1989.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARBARA BUSH, FIRST LADY: At last I get a chance to prove I'm more than just a pretty face.


MORTON: In 1988, Democrat Michael Dukakis, shorter than his opponent, George Bush, seldom used humor, but did here.


DUKAKIS: You've said many, many times in this campaign that you want to give America back to the little guy. Mr. Vice President, I am that man.


MORTON: The dinner is a big event in New York that raises money for health care programs in the archdiocese. But what does it mean politically?

Michael Tomasky, of "New York" magazine, has covered his share.

MICHAEL TOMASKY, "NEW YORK" MAGAZINE: It does bring both presidential candidates to New York city for the first time, really, in the heat of this campaign season, because New York is not a contested state. Al Gore is going to win New York.

MORTON: The Al Smith dinner honors a loser, doesn't pick winners, but does celebrate something good in American politics.


CARDINAL JOHN O'CONNOR: I thank almighty God, as I'm sure does each one of you, that we live in a land where candidates war only with words.


MORTON: Hard to argue with that.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


SHAW: Indeed. That's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. But, of course, you can go on-line, all the time, at CNN's

WOODRUFF: And we'll see you again tomorrow, when George W. Bush will be on the campaign trail in New Hampshire and Maine, and Al Gore will be campaigning in Louisiana.

I'm Judy Woodruff.

SHAW: I'm Bernard Shaw. "WORLDVIEW" is next.



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