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Bob Dole Addresses His Election Struggles

By Candy Crowley

bob dole

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN REPORTER: You have got a little over a week...

ROBERT DOLE, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Little over a week.

CROWLEY: ...to make what's an uphill climb. Is there something left for you to say to voters, a kind of a closer, that you think can bring in the undecided?

DOLE: Well, we hope so. We're talking about the public trust, we're talking about our economic package. You know, we get different numbers from different groups, and we think there's still 20 percent of the people who are now beginning to focus. Some may not focus before the weekend, and we need to reach those voters, and we'll stay on our economic message. We'll talk about our tax cut. We'll also talk about maybe other issues in California, specific, maybe talk about Medicare in Florida, but primarily the economic package.

CROWLEY: What do you think has been your strongest message? Is that what you're going to rely on? You have been sort of doing what we call the "kitchen sink" approach. Is there one issue that you think you have to drive home in this final week, that you feel you have to either bring up or re-bring up?

DOLE: I think trust is a very important issue just from the response we have had from the people who show up at rallies. (224K WAV sound) Maybe they're partisans, maybe they're activists, maybe they'd be for anything you said, but there appears to be a lot of focus on trust, keeping your word, a lot of these allegations floating around about the Indonesian money, money from some fellow named Gandhi and all the different things that have happened over the past couple of weeks.

But I think the economic message. We find in our surveys 40- some percent support -- you know, we keep pushing it and pushing it to get it over 50 percent, then I think we may have something for the people to think about when they go into vote.

People are going to think. When they vote for president, my view is, they really think about it. Maybe not everybody in America, but this is a very important vote and they are going to weigh -- they do want to be proud of the vote they cast, so we're just going to keep on doing what we're doing. (160K WAV sound)

But the FBI files, the issue of the pardon -- the public trust, the whole gamut of things that this White House is -- one after another and nothing seems to stick. I mean, people -- maybe they think, well, it just happens all the time with the Clintons, and don't worry about it.

CROWLEY: Why do you think it doesn't stick? Because these things are...

DOLE: I am baffled, I am really baffled. It seems to me -- and I am not trying to be judgmental, but if the American people really care and they're really concerned about who is in charge, something ought to get their attention sooner or later. (224K WAV sound) Maybe there's so much of it, a flood of it that they just say "Oh, well, that's just Bill Clinton."

CROWLEY: You have mentioned it a couple of times. I hear you in your speeches searching for a reason why these numbers haven't moved, why people -- I mean, you say, well, maybe people aren't listening, maybe they're not focusing. What do you think has gone wrong in the sense of why these numbers have been so stubborn for you?

DOLE: I think first of all, you have to give the president credit. He's a very smooth talker. He hits the right buttons. He's flexible. He'll adopt things the Republican Congress has passed, claim welfare reform as his own, child adoption credits, a whole list of things as his own. So he's very adaptable . (256K WAV sound)

And maybe the electorate doesn't have any interest this year. Maybe they don't believe either candidate is what they're searching for. Ross Perot is out there. My view is that it certainly doesn't help my campaign to have Ross Perot in this race and some of these states that could be very close, if we should lose the close states, we'll see where the Perot vote, where it went, how it was distributed. But our view is if he gets six percent, four percent will come from us, which will be two percent from Clinton, which means we'd lose about two points in every state.

CROWLEY: Do you think when you look back at it, when you look back at the last year and a half...

DOLE: Long time.

CROWLEY: It's been a long time. Do you think, "It went wrong here, I wish I hadn't done that, I wish I had started earlier on this," when you look...

DOLE: I don't know. You can always go back and second-guess. We had a very spirited primary. We knew then that -- Steve Forbes, who has been very helpful in the general campaign, spent a lot of money, drove my negatives almost sky high in states like Iowa, and sometimes it takes a long time to recover them. We're still having difficulty, then you have that followed with the millions and millions of dollars of negative ads on Medicare, and that adds to that, but -- so I don't know.

I mean, I have gone back and think about it. I fly around, obviously, as you know. You have a lot of time to think about what you might do or what you should do. But it's been my view we stick to the economic message. We obviously have to talk about other issues as they pop up, but people are even suspect about cutting taxes. They like to have a tax cut, but they're not certain it's going to happen. They think back to what President Bush said, back to what President Clinton said and they say, here's another guy that is going to promise me a tax cut. I say I am not Bill Clinton, and we do believe it's gaining a little traction now.

CROWLEY: Do you think it would have helped with the 15-percent tax cut for you to say specifically, "This is what I want to cut." Can you tell me now? Like, "These are some programs we don't need," because I think what we have heard from you is the things you do want to protect, but we haven't heard -- what is he going to cut? I hear that a lot when people...

DOLE: There are thousands of programs. I can go down the list and say we're going to cut, this, this, this. It seems to me when I say very clearly that President Clinton wants to increase spending 20 percent, I want to increase spending 14 percent, give that six percent back to the people, protect Social Security, Medicare -- of course you can't touch interest on the debt, maybe even add a little to defense spending. It's not rocket science, It's not that much money. $132 billion of this tax cut is for children, 40 million children, and it seems to me that it is a family tax cut. It's not a Wall Street tax cut, as I have said.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you something about Ross Perot you brought up earlier. Can you tell me the genesis of your decision to send Scott Reed out there and talk to Ross Perot? Had you talked to Mr. Perot prior to that?

DOLE: No.

CROWLEY: Have you talked to him at all?

DOLE: I've talked to him a couple of times this past week, but it seemed to me, I mean -- I, again, I know a little bit about politics and I know that I am running against Bill Clinton and Ross Perot. This is not a two-person race. This is a three-person race. And without Perot in it in some of the key states, we do much better. So let's check it out. And we checked it out, and he finally indicated that he didn't have an interest in it, even though I think he's been supportive in some of the things he's said since his meeting with Scott Reed, my campaign director.

CROWLEY: What's been the nature of the conversations that you've had with him?

DOLE: Well I'm -- you know, we've known each other for a long time. We have worked together on veteran's issues, we have worked together to try to defeat president's -- Clinton's health care plan, on the balanced budget amendment. In fact, he's given, I think it's fair to say , $100,000 to the Dole Foundation for the Disabled years ago.

So it's been a friendly relationship. I think he has -- I think he believes that I am a person of integrity, somebody to trust, but he also believes that, you know, he has an obligation to the Reform Party . He is the candidate of the Reform Party.

But in any event, I mean, it makes it more difficult. I don't mind a fairly steep hill, but you've got to go straight up when you're running against Ross Perot and President Clinton. Obviously, the Clinton people like it this way. We prefer it just be a two-person race.

CROWLEY: What did he -- what did you talk to him about? Did you say, "Look, Ross, you have really got to get out of this thing?"

DOLE: No, I didn't say that. I mean, I know Ross Perot fairly well. I just said that -- I think I'm paraphrasing, I don't repeat conversations I've had with people. But I indicated to him I thought that we had a good opportunity of winning this race, but it made it more difficult because he was getting a lot of people who I thought would vote for me.

That was sort of the -- I said, you know, I would be happy to talk issues, any of the issues I would be happy to discuss. But it was a very friendly conversation. You know, we have talked together a lot over the years. It wasn't something that never happened or unique, just another conversation.

CROWLEY: But basically, he said, "I'm in it to stay?"

DOLE: Well, basically I think that was his final judgment. That was his final judgment. In fact, I think he's repeated that since, but he didn't indicate -- I didn't ask him that. I mean, I didn't call him to say, "Tell me yes or no." I just called to let him know that I appreciated him meeting with Scott Reed and that I thought about it a lot, November 5 was right around the corner. And it seemed to me that his staying in the race was a benefit to Bill Clinton, and I didn't believe he subscribed to Clinton's policies.

And -- But, after all, he has to make the judgment so...

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about a couple of ads that are going to go out there for some congressional candidates, which basically say this: if you have to elect Bill Clinton, elect Bill Clinton, but don't give him a blank check. Keep the Congress Republican. Do you see that as a desertion?

DOLE: I don't know anything about the ads, so I don't know. All I know is I that I've traveled around the country, I'm greeted by the governors or the senators or the members of Congress. I have worked with most of these people for years.

So I don't know anything about anybody's ad. There may be an ad out there somewhere. I think Governor Thompson made one statement and you'd think from the media that the world had fallen in on Bob Dole. He made a statement.

He later said he regretted it. But you can't -- I can't be in every state. I think he was looking at it from his standpoint. Wisconsin is important to him. He's an outstanding governor. He's a friend of mine.

But that was one person, and for a week the media left the impression out there that the sky was falling in. And it's not true. You know, I can't think of any place that I have been where anybody has suddenly decide they couldn't be there.

CROWLEY: Let me talk to you about the media thing for a minute. Despite what you've been saying over the past couple of days, I have a hard time believing you don't like the media.

DOLE: (LAUGHTER) I like the media. They don't like them in the South.

CROWLEY: They don't like the media in the South?

DOLE: I think there's -- I think, you know, let's face it, I think there's an honest feeling that the media generally -- I am not speaking about specifics. I like everybody on our airplane. I don't agree with everybody on the airplane, and I get along fine with the media.

But there is a little tilt to the left, liberal tilt. And I think the American people understand that. I think they consider that when they make a judgment. But there's, you know, some -- let's take the New York Times, they might as well be part of the Democratic Party. I mean, everyday...

CROWLEY: Why do you say that?

DOLE: Oh, they hammer us on a daily basis. We make a major speech, they bury it back on section D. They put a front page story that well, Bob Dole and Jack Kemp didn't get along together 12 years ago. I mean, and so it's a little frustrating, but it's there. It's not going to change. And we're going to go ahead with our campaign.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about -- at times there are times when you seem to be -- and I don't want to use this as a pejorative -- scolding voters, saying, "Where is the outrage? Where are you people? Are you.." You know...

DOLE: No I'm just saying, "Wake up, America." And I don't say it in a scolding way. Wake up America. This is an outrage. I mean, I'm not saying it's an outrage that they're outraged. I said this is an outrage when the president refuses to say, "I will not pardon somebody that might implicate him in -- this is an outrage when he can't explain who hired Craig Livingstone. I mean, I can't -- it's just not believable. It's outrageous.

And it's an outrage that somebody would walk into the White House, give him a plaque and the $300,000 is given to somebody's committee. I mean, maybe -- maybe I have been around there too long, but it seems to me, I haven't seen this kind of conduct in the past. In Watergate , yes. And we took our lumps for it, and we paid the price. But here, nobody pays the price.

CROWLEY: Well where do you think the outrage is? Let me ask you your own question. Where is it? Because we see in poll after poll, and I know how you feel about polls, but we see that people -- the economy's good and people...

DOLE: No, the economy is not good. (288K WAV sound) I mean, I think it's perceived as good, but personal bankruptcies never been higher; credit card debts never been higher; it's the slowest growth of this century -- 2.5 percent; wages are stagnant; wages for women have actually gone down. The economy is not good. I mean, the economy is not growing. We're not growing jobs, and we get -- that's the thrust of our economic package. If we get economy to grow and cut the capital gains rate, cut taxes, child credits, all these regulatory reform, then we get the economy up to 3.5 percent growth, it creates better jobs, you make more money in your present job. It helps Social Security, it helps everything.

That's been our point, and it's frustrating when people say, "Well, the economy is good." The economy is not good. And I think we'll see that in the next six or eight months.



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