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Inside Politics

Bill Bradley Attacks Al Gore's Record on Agriculture; George Bush and John McCain Take Fire at Each Other's Tax Cut Plan

Aired January 12, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET



BILL BRADLEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're in the fourth quarter. We're headed down to where people are going to make a decision, It's important that they understand the differences.


BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: Bill Bradley playing offense with a more aggressive gameplan against Al Gore. Also ahead: the Confederate flag controversy in South Carolina. Who has handled it better, George W. Bush or John McCain?



BARBARA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: George W. is doing a wonderful job without his mother. You notice, I'm not in New Hampshire or Iowa.


SHAW: Barbara Bush helping her son where he does seem to need it, in McCain's home state.

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

SHAW: Thanks for joining us. Judy is off today.

We begin with new evidence that Bill Bradley is backing off from his "Mr. above the fray" demeanor in favor of tougher tactics in his race with Al Gore.

CNN's Jonathan Karl has more on Bradley's evolving strategy as the Democratic presidential contest gets later in the game.


JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The day after Bill Bradley accused rival Al Gore of being soft on "Big Tobacco," he resumed his assault on Gore's agriculture record. The usually laid- back Bradley is turning up the heat.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Has your campaign entered a new phase here? Are you being more aggressive?

BRADLEY: We're in the fourth quarter. We're headed down to where people are going to make a decision. It's important that they understand the differences. It's important to understand the level of commitment. It's important to understand who's been there, who hasn't. It's very clear that that's what choices are all about.

KARL: His aides say Bradley's language will get sharper as he challenges Gore on the issues and on the Clinton-Gore administration's record. But Bradley's aides insist they will not attack Gore in their television commercials, case-in-point, a new Bradley commercial running in Iowa, addressing the needs of low-income families.


BRADLEY: And these are real concerns of real people in the country, in the midst of all this prosperity, and they have to be addressed.


KARL: No mention of Gore by name. The challenge to the administration's record is indirect, but Bradley hasn't completely ruled out attacks ads. As one top adviser said, "If we are attacked on the air, we may have to respond on the air."

Flanked by local farm leaders and Minnesota senator Paul Wellstone, Bradley said Gore had failed to help Iowa's struggling farmers.

BRADLEY: So I asked family farmers in Iowa, are you better off than you were seven years ago? I haven't heard one person say yes.

KARL: The rhetorical assault was even more pointed by Bradley's farm allies.

SEN. PAUL WELLSTONE (D), MINNESOTA: Where has the vice president been? Where has been his voice? The vice president talks about stay and fight, but he hasn't led the fight.


KARL: Bradley arrived here in Manchester, New Hampshire just over an hour ago from Iowa. He'll spend the next 24 hours here in New Hampshire, trying to shore up his narrow lead in the polls, before going back to play catch-up in Iowa, where Al Gore still remains very much the front-runner -- Bernie.

SHAW: Jon, in turning up the heat with sharper language, why is Bradley doing this now?

KARL: Well, part of it is just getting into the home stretch of this race, especially in Iowa and New Hampshire. But there's something else going on here. Bradley wants to raise questions about Al Gore's electability. He wants to put a question in the minds of core Democrats of whether Al Gore can beat George W. Bush or whoever the Republican nominee is. Their message to those core Democrats is that Bill Bradley's got a better chance to win in November. So to get that message across, they're trying to point out Gore's weaknesses.

SHAW: Jonathan Karl, thanks you very much.

And very shortly on INSIDE POLITICS, we're going to check in on the vice president's day on the campaign trail, and correspondent Patty Davis.

John McCain has been trying to get more traction against Governor George Bush by taking aim at the Texas governor's tax plan. McCain was at it again in New Hampshire today.

And CNN's Candy Crowley has the latest on the Republican wrangling over how much to cut.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Day two: the battle over the size, shape and politics of tax cuts. John McCain says George Bush's tax cut helps the rich too much. And George Bush says John McCain's tax plan doesn't help the poor enough.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The best thing I can do for low-income Americans is to make sure that their Social Security is there.

CROWLEY: The senator from Arizona pushed his plan across New Hampshire in a trifecta of town hall of meetings in Millford, Dublin and Keene. McCain's tax cuts are considerably smaller than Bush's, he says that's because he wants to use the surplus to reduce the national debt and bolster Social Security.

MCCAIN: Don't you think that we owe these young kids, don't you think we should make Social Security solvent for them, as well as those who are the present beneficiaries?

CROWLEY: The implication is that George Bush's far heftier tax cut plan comes at expense of Social Security solvency, which the governor of Texas says is not so.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The senator and I also have a disagreement about the size of the tax cuts, I believe that the $2 billion -- or $2 trillion of money set aside for Social Security, for the long run, is -- I need to make that point clear. But there is $2 trillion for Social Security.

CROWLEY: Bush made his remarks while in South Carolina, but a new ad up as of Thursday ensures they will get the message in New Hampshire.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, BUSH CAMPAIGN AD) GEORGE W. BUSH: There are concerns amongst Americans that a tax cut would affect Social Security. Mark my words, under President Bush, there will be sound Social Security system.


CROWLEY: The battle is as much, maybe more, about politics than policy. The Bush camp believes his program is more in line with traditional conservative Republican thought and will wear well beyond New Hampshire. The endorsement of conservative Florida Senator Connie Mack seems to enforce the theory.

SEN. CONNIE MACK (R), FLORIDA: My Senate colleague's tax plan is tepid in comparison to what the country needs and in comparison to what Governor Bush has proposed. Therefore today, I am announcing my support for Governor George W. Bush for president.

CROWLEY: McCain's program is expected to serve him well in New Hampshire, where independents play a key role in the primaries. McCain has staked it all here, campaigning nearly nonstop in New Hampshire, virtually ignoring Iowa. A loss could be fatal, unless of course, it's not seen as a loss.

MCCAIN: The definition of "win" -- quote -- is in the view of those who judge who winners and losers are, but yes, we have to win in the view of those who judge these things.

CROWLEY: Kind of makes you want to talk tax cut policy, doesn't it?


CROWLEY: The truth is, McCain is doing so well here in New Hampshire, it may be the only place he can win expectation games is in Iowa. There, McCain has put in virtually no effort, so any kind of credible showing could be easily translated into some kind of win -- Bernie.

SHAW: Thank you, Candy Crowley, in Nashua.

Now let's talk about the shaper give in take in both the Republican and Democratic races. We're joined by Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times."

Observation in the form of a question: Are both campaigns getting nastier?

RON BROWNSTEIN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": Inevitably, Bernie. As Bill Bradley suggested, this is the fourth quarter. After a whole year of preliminaries, the voters are going to the polls very soon in Iowa and New Hampshire, and that puts a lot of pressure on candidates trying to define their differences as clearly as they can to segment the electorate. You have an added element on the Democratic side in what seems to be a genuine personal dislike building between Gore and Bradley.

SHAW: Are the Bradley people hearing the ice crack in New Hampshire? Are they hearing footsteps?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think that they understand, as McCain understands this really isn't an expectation game, contrary to what Senator McCain said in there in the spot. At this point, having been ahead this fall, having staked so much in New Hampshire, and with New Hampshire being an electorate so tailor-made for both Bradley and McCain, with its overwhelmingly white population, high percentage of independents, college-educated voters. If they can't win there, it's going to be very difficult for them to gather the momentum they need, to overcome the leads that Gore and Bush still possess in most other places.

So yes, in that sense, New Hampshire really is -- do or die may be a little strong. But it's very hard for Bradley or McCain to construct a scenario to win without a victory in New Hampshire.

SHAW: And Governor Bush, where is he tacking now as he tries to keep McCain off balance?

BROWNSTEIN: I think we see a parallel process between Gore and Bush. Both started the campaigns addressing centrist voters primarily, thinking more about the general election than the primary. But both of them, because of the strength of these challenges, have been forced to tend to their base. We saw Gore make his comments originally last month about allowing gays to serve openly in the military, then the comment, which he had to retreat from in the debate, about the litmus test. The same process is going with the Republicans. Bush is now touting his tax-cut plan using much more traditional anti-government rhetoric than he did earlier, and also going after McCain's campaign finance reform in very partisan terms. All of this may have some implications and costs in November.

But what he's hoping to do is right now box in McCain, make him unacceptable to conservative voters, which becomes a real problem for McCain, not so much in New Hampshire, where it may be, but especially beyond that, places like South Carolina and Michigan.

SHAW: And, Ron, is not one of your points the fact that McCain and Gore, in effect, are comporting themselves as if they were running already in the general election?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think that on one particular issue, both McCain and Gore are defending the fiscal strategy of the 1990s; they're taking a very centrist position. You're seeing Gore going after Bradley, saying health care plan is too expensive. You see McCain going after Bush, saying his tax cut is too expensive. Those aren't arguments you usually hear in the party primaries.

There is a lot of enthusiasm for tax cuts on the Republican side, and for spending on the Democratic side, but Gore and McCain seem to be betting that the surplus, the existence of the surplus, is creating a constituency for defending it. And each of them are trying to present themselves as more fiscally responsible than their opponent. It's a fascinating and really, in some ways, unprecedented argument that is playing out on each side.

SHAW: It really is.

In looking at the campaign tactics as they've gone back and forth, what are the ramifications of Vice President Gore and Governor Bush tacking away from their centers?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think each of them are creating problems for the general election if they get that far. Bush and Gore spent a lot of 1999 trying to position themselves in the center. You have the McCain people saying now that what Bush has done has undermined all of his repositioning, put him in a position where he could be in trouble in the fall. Same thing with Gore. A lot of Democrats are nervous about some of the steps he's taken to try to preempt Bradley lately.

SHAW: OK, Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times". Thanks very much.

Coming up next on INSIDE POLITICS, Patty Davis covering the vice president on the campaign trail.

The Confederate flag battle controversy in the South Carolina republican primary. Will the two leading candidates take a stand?


SHAW: While Bill Bradley sharpened his strategy this day, Vice President Al Gore seemed to take a kinder, gentler approach.

It happened in Iowa, as CNN's Patty Davis reports, where the vice president was busy courting undecided Democrats and confronting his Clinton problem.


ALBERT GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a stubborn group, I'm telling you, and that's good.

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The questions were tough as Vice President Al Gore addressed more than 200 Iowa Democrats, mostly undecided, all of whom had been invited by the Gore campaign. This undecided voter had doubts Gore is electable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm concerned that your ability to win the election is reduced by your association with the Clinton scandal.

DAVIS: He suggested Gore make a statement separating himself from the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I would have a suggestion for that statement, which is something along the lines of, "I wouldn't have done that, and also, also...

GORE: I wouldn't have done that.


DAVIS: Gore insisted he's his own man. GORE: I'm running for president on my own, as who I am, with my vision and my agenda.

DAVIS: This skeptic questioned Gore's commitment to addressing global warming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You and President Clinton have had seven years, and we haven't made much progress on that issue.

DAVIS: Gore blamed the lack of progress on the Republican Congress, and said he'd use the bully pulpit as president to deal with the problem.

Although Gore is ahead of his Democratic opponent, Bill Bradley, by double digits in recent Iowa polls, campaign officials say they're not taking anything for granted. A "Des Moines Register" poll finds as many as 7 percent of Democratic voters remain undecided.

Gore highlighted his differences with Bradley, but in contrast to the sharp exchanges of recent days, he publicly took the high road.

GORE: He is a good man, he is a decent man, he is a man of strong character.

DAVIS: Behind the scenes, however, the Gore campaign was in full gear, distributing press releases to reporters attacking Bradley's Senate votes on rural issues affecting people in Iowa.

Gore said he'd extend a strategy he had used against Bradley in the campaign, this time, though, against the Republican nominee.

GORE: My first act as your standard bearer will be to challenge the Republican standard bearer to twice-weekly debates, and get rid of all of the TV and radio 30-second and 60-second ads.

DAVIS: Later in the day, Gore rallied some of his staunchest supporters. Iowa's United Auto Workers have thrown their support behind him. Gore is still waiting for the endorsement of the national UAW.

(on camera): Now, Gore is still meeting with those union members here at the UAW hall in Waterloo. His agenda tomorrow is agriculture; he meets with farmers here in the state.

Then he heads to New Hampshire and he'll -- he's neck-and-neck -- appealing for voters to back him neck and neck with Bill Bradley in that state -- Bernie.

SHAW: Thank you, Patty Davis, with the latest from Waterloo.

A week and a half before Iowa holds the first presidential contest of campaign 2000, our new poll shows Gore is leading Bradley by 29 points among registered Democrats nationwide. Gore was 14 points ahead in December.

In the GOP race, the CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll of registered Republicans nationwide shows George W. Bush 45 points ahead of his nearest competitor, John McCain. Now, that margin is about the same as it was in December.

Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes is in Iowa today, and he is appealing strongly to conservative voters. The Forbes campaign is airing a new ad on abortion. It features three women talking about what they felt when seeing a fetus on ultrasound.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I remember thinking, what would she grow up to be?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If someone kills a pet, it's called a crime. If someone aborts a child, it's called a choice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean, just because someone doesn't want them doesn't mean that these children aren't still alive.

STEVE FORBES (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to protect the rights of all Americans, including the unborn, but I need your support to make this happen.


SHAW: The ad is Forbes' first on the abortion issue, and reflects his hard-line stand against abortion rights.

In South Carolina, groups opposing abortion rights have launched two ads attacking Republican candidate John McCain. The ads are funded by the South Carolina Citizens for Life and National Right to Life political action committees.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John McCain wants South Carolina voters to think he's pro-life. But in California, he struck a different pose regarding the Rowe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion on demand.

McCain told the editors at "The San Francisco Chronicle" on August 19th, quote, "Certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support the repeal of Rowe versus Wade."

If you want a strongly pro-life president, then on February 19th don't support John McCain.


SHAW: February 19th is the date of South Carolina's primary.

Abortion is just one of the hot-button issues stirring the emotions of South Carolina voters. The other, or another, is the flag that flew over the South during the Civil War. Now, 135 years after the last shot was fired between North and South, the Confederate flag battle flies over the state capitol, and it is shaping up to be a major issue in the South Carolina primary.


SHAW: The battle flag of the Confederacy is casting a long shadow over the South Carolina Republican primary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bring the red rag down.

SHAW: The lines are clear. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People charges the flag is a racist symbol that glorifies slavery, and wants it removed from the state capitol building.

The flag's supporters are just as determined that it stay put. The rhetoric is getting hot.

ARTHUR RAVENEL (R), S.C. STATE SENATE: Those who think that the general assembly of South Carolina is going to (UNINTELLIGIBLE), knuckle under, grovel and do the bidding of that corrupt organization known as the National Association for Colored People.

SHAW: Republican State Senator Arthur Ravenel, calling the NAACP the "National Association of Retarded People."

Today, George Bush said that kind of comment is out-of-line.

But on the issue itself, Bush has steadfastly refused to take sides, saying only that he wouldn't fly the flag in Texas.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The people of South Carolina are plenty capable of making the decision. I know that -- that -- I just know that they can do it. They're plenty qualified and capable of doing it. We did. We made that decision in our state. We're proudly flying the Lone Star flag.

SHAW: Except at Hays High School in Kyle, Texas. There, the battle flag flies proudly on behalf of the Rebels football team, and according to its supporters, the state's "Southern heritage."

As in South Carolina, the high school flag has divided the local community. And what's the governor's position on this Confederate flag flying in his home state? Bush says it's up to the school district.

John McCain has staked his campaign on a strong showing in South Carolina. He, too, is struggling with the flag issue.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Confederate flag is offensive in many, many ways, as we all know. It's a symbol of racism and slavery. But I also understand how others cannot view in that fashion.


SHAW: So does McCain want it taken down?

QUESTION: Senator, can you clarify what your position on the...

SHAW: Following a "New York Times" story pointing out inconsistencies in his position, McCain was asked today to clarify. At first, he refused, and when pressed, he read a paper statement.

MCCAIN: I understand both sides. Some view it as a symbol of slavery; others view it as a symbol of heritage. Personally, I see the battle flag as a symbol of heritage.

SHAW: "Symbol of heritage" is precisely the argument the flag's supporters use. But McCain stopped short of saying the flag should stay. That, he said, is for South Carolinians to decide.


SHAW: Joining us now from Columbia, South Carolina to talk about all the primary issues, former South Carolina Governor David Beasley, a supporter of George W. Bush, and Republican South Carolina Congressman Lindsey Graham, who supports John McCain.

Congressman Graham, does your candidate have the right position on the flag issue?

REP. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), MCCAIN SUPPORTER: I think George Bush Jr., John McCain, all the candidates have the right position. It's up to the people in South Carolina to decide. We will -- we will come together one day on this issue, I think.

The best thing we can do presidentially is focus on issues that most South Carolinians are concerned about: saving Social Security, cutting taxes, paying down the debt.

If you look at the news reports, you think everybody in South Carolina, all they do is think about the flag. That's not true. There are a lot of issues down here on people's minds other than the flag. And all the candidates, I think, have the right approaches. That's our issue to decide.

SHAW: Well, we're going to get to those other issues, of course. But Governor Beasley, does Governor Bush have the right position on the flag?

DAVID BEASLEY (R), FORMER GOVERNOR OF SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, what Congressman Graham, a friend of mine, has said is very clear and very true: Both candidates are right on the issue. And I think John McCain has learned a valuable lesson. It is a hot issue and it's also a local issue.

If anybody has a right to demand from a candidate their view on that issue, that's me, because I was the first governor to ever propose resolving that issue. And I clearly believe that it is a state issue. It's not a federal issue. And George Bush has been very consistent, very clear that this is a South Carolina issue. And George Bush is making it clear across this country that this is a campaign that's about America's future.

And I believe, before it's all said and done, George Bush with his tax cut plan is going to showcase why America is going to support George Bush and why South Carolina is going to be again the fire wall for George Bush.

SHAW: Congressman Graham, going to the primary issues, some of them, why is Senator John McCain, a decorated veteran, running in a state that has the largest portion of veterans -- why is Senator McCain trailing Governor Bush?

GRAHAM: Well, Governor Bush, his family is well thought of in South Carolina. Governor Bush has a lot of name recognition. There's a 30-point difference in name recognition.

Here's what I predict. I predict John's going to do very well in New Hampshire. And when it comes time for South Carolina voters to decide, they're going to take a long hard look at what's best for the country overall.

People in South Carolina are very discerning voters. I think John's view that the surpluses should be dedicated to saving Social Security is going to resonate well here. We've stolen for the last 30 years from the Social Security trust fund. John's No. 1 goal is to put money back into the system so we can buy some time to fix it, to pay down the debt. To get our kids and grandkids out of debt is going to resonate very well, and to have a working family tax cut we can afford.

And John McCain's message about the military is going to resonate very well here because of who he is and how he served his country.

SHAW: Governor Beasley, is McCain too moderate, too liberal for South Carolinians.

BEASLEY: Well, I'd like to reiterate what sort of Lindsey Graham said this weekend on "Meet the Press" that John McCain needs to stop attacking George Bush's tax cut plan, because George Bush's tax cut plan is very good for America. It's good for South Carolina. It's twice the size of McCain's. It will protect Social Security. It will protect Medicare.

And We've seen from the practical experience of George Bush in Texas that he can provide the tax cuts and provide safety for the necessary programs. And South Carolinians will support George Bush.

I've talked to Steve Merrill, Governor Merrill in New Hampshire just a couple of hours ago. And he said that New Hampshire is -- the momentum is strong for George Bush. And South Carolina is going to be for George Bush just like it was for his father and just like it was for Bob Dole in 1996.

SHAW: Gentlemen, on that note, thanks very much for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS.

GRAHAM: Thank you. Thank you. SHAW: Quite welcome.

And when we return, the former first lady, taking care of business for her son, the presidential candidate, on the home turf of his main Republican rival for the White House.



GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I used to be known as the owner of our bestselling dog, Millie.


You remember she was kind of checkered with her role model, and I was Barbara's husband.

Hell, I was president of the United States once.


And now I'm the father of the governor of Texas and the father of the governor of Florida. So...




SHAW: That was former President Bush receiving the "victory of freedom" award for public service last night at the Nixon Library in California. Today, his wife, former first lady Barbara Bush, took care of some political business for their son, the presidential candidate.

Mrs. Bush made sure the Texas governor is included in Arizona's Republican primary.

CNN's Jennifer Auther reports.


JENNIFER AUTHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nominating papers to put George W. Bush on Arizona's primary ballot were filed Wednesday, under the watchful eye of one of the Texas governor's most loyal allies, his own mother, Barbara Bush.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, that's good.

AUTHER: Not only is this former first lady stumping for votes in the backyard of her son's chief rival, Senator John McCain. She's taking swipes at the Democrat her son hopes to replace.

B. BUSH: As president, George will restore dignity to the White House, and he'll serve with honor and surround himself with good people, set clear goals and then strive to meet them. He'll help Washington return to a climate of mutual respect instead of personal destruction. And...


AUTHER: G.W. Bush is hoping to cash in on his mother's popularity, as evidenced in one remark at a recent GOP debate in South Carolina.


GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, as you know, I've had a perfect background.


TIM RUSSERT, HOST, NBC "MEET THE PRESS": Haven't we all, sir.

GEORGE W. BUSH: After all, I was raised by Barbara Bush.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think you're a wonderful lady and I'm going to vote for your son.

B. BUSH: I appreciate that.

B. BUSH: George W. is doing a wonderful job without his mother. You notice I'm not in New Hampshire or Iowa now.

AUTHER: She's in Arizona, where in 1996 publisher Steve Forbes won this state's first-ever primary. But then, the man many consider to be Arizona's favorite son, Senator McCain, wasn't seeking the GOP nomination.

Embracing his shoot-from-the-hip style, voters have elected McCain to office five times in the past 17 years.

Lisa Graham Keegan co-chairs the McCain 2000 campaign. She admits Mrs. Bush resonates among this state's large number of retirees, but...

LISA GRAHAM KEEGAN, CO-CHAIRMAN, MCCAIN 2000 ARIZONA CAMPAIGN: They'll go see Barbara Bush because they love her and enjoy her, but they'll vote for John McCain.

AUTHER (on camera): Even though this is Senator McCain's home state, George W. Bush is in a tight primary race here. Already he's won endorsements from five Arizona state senators and Arizona's governor, Jane Hull. (voice-over): In fact, Mike Hull, Governor Hull's son, is managing Bush's Arizona effort.

MIKE HULL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, BUSH 2000 ARIZONA CAMPAIGN: Historically, the favorite son wins their own state by 47 points, and we're sitting deadlocked in the state of Arizona. So, that makes us feel real good.

AUTHER: Mrs. Bush says she doesn't know how much she'll be campaigning, but aides here say they hope her visit to this cactus- studded state pays off come February 22nd.

Jennifer Auther, CNN, Phoenix, Arizona.


SHAW: There is much more ahead on INSIDE POLITICS. Up next...


JAMES BROWN, MUSICIAN (singing): I feel good! I knew that I would!


SHAW: Why do Americans sound a lot like James Brown these days and what does that have to do with Al Gore? Also ahead...


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They were hand-in-hand both literally and figuratively on the issue of corporate America's responsibilities.


SHAW: Gary Tuchman on Hillary Clinton, Jesse Jackson and the African-American vote in New York. And a snapshot from Delaware. Has the state's bid to be a primary player fallen short again?


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

Janet Reno is upholding last week's INS decision to return 6- year-old Elian Gonzalez to Cuba. The attorney general is brushing aside Monday's state court ruling that said the boy must remain in the United States for now. Reno says any challenge to the INS ruling must come in federal rather than state court. The INS is postponing its Friday deadline for sending Elian to his father in Cuba.

The United States Supreme Court has moved to protect your privacy by allowing Congress to bar states from selling the personal information on your driver's license. States have routinely sold the information, including names, addresses, and Social Security numbers to businesses and political candidates.

If you feel your children's teachers are not doing as good a job as they could, you're not alone. An annual study of public schools finds efforts nationwide to improve teacher quality are deserving of only a C grade. Jonathan Aiken has more.


JONATHAN AIKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In its fourth annual look at state-by-state efforts to improve U.S. public schools, "Education Week" magazine says not enough is being done to attract good teachers, and it judged education improvement efforts under way as mediocre.

VIRGINIA EDWARDS, EDITOR, "EDUCATION WEEK": Most states do not ensure that all teachers have the knowledge and the skills they need to teach in the classrooms of this nation's schools.

AIKEN: Scoring the nation's schools from kindergarten through 12th grade, no state got an "A"; five states scored a "B"; four states received an "F"; most states are doing "C" and "D" work.

On the key issue of teacher competency, the report says while 39 states require would-be teachers to pass basic skills tests, 36 of those states offer what the study calls loopholes allowing teachers to stay on the job after they fail. And of the four states that earned "F"s from "Education Week," only one, Alaska, even requires a basic skills test in order to earn a teachers license.

The Clinton administration agrees there's a shortage of qualified teachers.

RICHARD RILEY, EDUCATION SECRETARY: It's gotten so bad that some schools have been forced to put any warm body in front of a classroom that they can find.

AIKEN: Some encouraging news in this report: Nearly all the states are spending more now per pupil than they did just two years ago. And all but six states now have standards for the basic subjects: English, reading and math.

One of the country's largest teachers unions agrees with the report's generally pessimistic tone and says improving teacher pay will improve the quality of what comes out of the classroom.

DONNA FOWLER, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS: It's a way that you will get more qualified people into the profession. In most other businesses, when there's a shortage, salaries go up and the shortage is filled.

AIKEN (on camera): Money is a major problem, but the biggest challenge may be keeping young teachers in the classrooms at all. An Education Department study finds one out of every five college graduates who become teachers quits the profession after just three years.

Jonathan Aiken for CNN, Washington.


SHAW: When INSIDE POLITICS returns, President Clinton trying to prove he's not a lame duck and perhaps helping Al Gore in the process.


SHAW: As we reported earlier, Al Gore has more than doubled his lead against Bill Bradley in our new poll of registered Democrats nationwide. But our poll also suggests Gore has a serious problem, which appears even more serious, given the fact that many Americans seem downright giddy these days. More, now, on the numbers and the nuances from our Bill Schneider -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Bernie, just like we always do on the eve of an election, we went asked -- we asked people out there in the country, "how do you feel, America?" And the answer came back loud and clear. To paraphrase the immortal James Brown, they feel good.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): That's a far cry from 1992, when the lyrics to that election went, "I can't get no satisfaction." When Bill Clinton took office back in 1993, only 25 percent of Americans said they were satisfied with the economy. When Clinton started his second term in 1997, that number was up to 58 percent. And now? Holy Greenspan! Eighty-three percent of Americans say the economy is just fine. Let the good times roll!

Remember all those "angry white men" who turned against the Democrats in 1994? Well, this year, most white men say they're not angry any more. They say they're content. Contented white men? Sure. They've got jobs. They've got stock. They've got Viagra. That ought to make incumbents very happy. A majority of voters even say Congress is doing a good job. Imagine that!

There's only one incumbent who doesn't seem to be benefiting from all this good feeling. That's the incumbent vice president. We polled likely voters -- that's the one half of voting-age Americans likely to vote in a presidential election -- and we found Al Gore trailing George W. Bush.

Would Bill Bradley do any better as the Democratic nominee? The answer is yes. Put Bradley up against Bush and the race is nearly tied. What if the Republicans nominate John McCain? Same thing. McCain beats Gore by an even bigger margin, but a McCain-Bradley race is still a tie. There's a big puzzle in this election.

If people are happy and things are going well, why isn't Al Gore doing better?

After all, President Clinton has a 63 percent job-approval rating. That usually means voters want to keep the president's party in office. Yes, but only 31 percent of Americans say they approve of Bill Clinton as a person. Does that rub off on Gore? You bet it does.

And then there's this: Times are good, and the issues voters are concerned about -- education, health care, Social Security -- favor the Democrats.

So we asked voters, which is more important to you in deciding who to vote for, where the candidates stand on the issues, or their leadership skills and vision? For most voters, leadership trumps issues. Among voters concerned about issues, Gore is ahead of Bush. But among the larger number who say they're looking for leadership, Bush has a huge lead. We've solved the puzzle. How can the issues favor Gore and Gore still be losing? Because people aren't voting the issues.


SCHNEIDER: It looks like a personal vote for a change of leadership. Now what can the Democrats do? Well, they can nominate Bradley. He's a change of leaders, and he runs stronger than Gore. Or they can nominate Gore and then try to get more people to vote on the issues -- Bernie.

SHAW: Thank you, Bill. We'll see what happens.

President Clinton offered a new proposal today that may play well with some Democratic constituencies Al Gore needs heading into the primaries.

CNN's Chris Black joins us with details of what Mr. Clinton is proposing and why -- Chris.

CHRIS BLACK, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Bernie, with all the leaks and announcements leading up to President Clinton's State of the Union Address later this month, one theme that is emerging is something the administration is calling the "new opportunities agenda."

Today, President Clinton, in a speech at George Washington University, proposed the first major increase in the earned-income tax credit since the increase he signed into law in 1993.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am proposing to expand the EITC for families with three or more children. The pressures on these families rise as their ranks increase. Twenty- eight percent of them -- let me say that again, 28 percent of them are in poverty.


BLACK: He would also ease the so-called marriage penalty on low- income working couples and not count as income the money low-income families put aside in 401(k) accounts. Now the earned-income tax credit has enjoyed broad bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. But today, Republicans were raising questions about fraud and about the difficulty of the program in being administered. And on the campaign trail, Republican George W. Bush said he preferred his own broad-based tax cut instead.


GEORGE W. BUSH: I think the Clinton administration spends money every day, it seems like. If you look at the newspapers and look at the programs, there is always another program, there is always another initiative. This man is active, involved, and I guess that's the way it's going to be during the course of a campaign.


BLACK: Even though Mr. Clinton only has one year left in office, it's clear he's going to present a very full plate to the Congress in this election year. Today, his longtime friend, Senator Joe Lieberman, a Democrat from Connecticut, praised Mr. Clinton's seven- year record.


SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: That, Mr. President, is one heck of a record. You might even call it -- and I will -- a great legacy.


BLACK: There are two words you rarely here today at the White House: "legacy" and "lame duck." Today, Mr. Clinton put them both in the same sentence.


CLINTON: I always get nervous when people start talking about legacies the way Senator Lieberman did. You know alliteration, having the appeal it does, it's just one small step from "legacy" to "lame duck," I keep hearing that, and I finally found out what a lame duck is. That's when you show up for a speech and no one comes. So thank you for making me feel that we're still building on that legacy today.


BLACK: Tomorrow in New York, the president will propose doubling the tax breaks for businesses that agree to invest and expand in port communities -- Bernie.

SHAW: Thank you, Chris Black, at the White House.

And coming up: a contender for the U.S. Senate seat from New York, talking about corporate responsibility, with help from an old pro.


SHAW: Hillary Rodham Clinton took up the cause of the poor today in the capital of America's major corporations. A candidate for the New York Senate seat, Mrs. Clinton, spoke at a Wall Street event sponsored by the Reverend Jesse Jackson.

CNN's Gary Tuchman reports.


TUCHMAN (voice-over): They were hand-in-hand, both literally and figuratively, on the issue of corporate America's responsibilities.

HILLARY CLINTON, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: The lack of equal opportunity for access to capital and for jobs is one of the unfinished pieces of business from the last century.

TUCHMAN: Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke at the third annual Rainbow/Push Wall Street Project Conference, a program set up by the Reverend Jesse Jackson to persuade corporations to increase and improve their business dealings with minorities.

REV. JESSE JACKSON, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: She is intelligent. She has integrity.

TUCHMAN: The Reverend Jackson's enthusiasm was mirrored in the reception Mrs. Clinton received here, and she wasn't shy about linking herself to her husband's administration.

H. CLINTON: We unleashed a lot of entrepreneurial energy. We've created more capital by bringing down the deficit and enabling the private markets to have access to that capital, and the results are there for everyone to see.

TUCHMAN: President Clinton is speaking before the same group on Thursday. Meanwhile, Mrs. Clinton prepares for a pilgrimage tonight to David Letterman's "Late Show." Letterman has made fun of the fun of the first lady for weeks because she hadn't yet agreed to a debut appearance on the program. Now that she has, her likely Senate opponent, a veteran of many Letterman appearances, was asked:

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are there any tricks to going on Letterman and surviving his acerbic wit?

MAYOR RUDY GIULIANI (R), NEW YORK: I'm not going to give any advice.


TUCHMAN: As it is, neither Mayor Giuliani nor Mrs. Clinton have officially declared their candidacies, but the first lady confirmed reports she'll make a formal announcement soon.

H. CLINTON: I am, and next month.

TUCHMAN: She says she will do it with her husband and daughter by her side.

(on camera): Even though the official announcement is still to come, Hillary Rodham Clinton has been campaigning and raising money for this U.S. Senate seat for months now. And this event was considered an important step along the way, as the first lady works to show, she's not taking minority voters for granted.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, New York.


SHAW: And when we come back, the small state of Delaware, hoping to be a Goliath very early in this year's presidential primary season.


SHAW: Mention the words primaries and caucuses and New Hampshire and Iowa immediately come to mind. But there's one small state that wants very much to be a big player in the early goings of campaign 2000.

Our Bruce Morton has the inside view on Delaware's primary aspirations.


GEORGE W. BUSH: Should I be fortunate enough to be my party's nominee, I'd like to make sure we can carry Delaware in November.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The front-runner, George W. Bush, in Delaware, a state which wants to be a key state with an early primary. They tried four years ago, but only Steve Forbes came, and he won here. Why does Delaware want an early role?

NANCY CHARRON, "THE JOURNAL": They want to attract media attention to publicize the state, and they see a financial advantage, because when a campaign comes to a state, it brings a lot of money in from the people who are covering it and participating in it.

MORTON: State chairman Basil Battaglia sees, with delight, a battleground.

BASIL BATTAGLIA, DELAWARE GOP CHAIRMAN: I think really Delaware is going to be the battleground. If Governor Bush wins New Hampshire, obviously Steve Forbes is going to try to upset him here in Delaware. I think he has to be strong here in Delaware, Governor Bush, going into South Carolina, and if he's not successful in New Hampshire, obviously Delaware is going to be a huge battleground for the Bush campaign.

MORTON: Probably not. Bush may campaign here, but John McCain will be going straight to South Carolina. Delaware is a good mirror of the country -- banking, DuPont, liberal incorporation laws make it a little more affluent than the U.S. as a whole. Ethnically, it's much like the rest of the East Coast. A better sample than New Hampshire?

BATTAGLIA: We're the microcosm of the country. If the candidate's issues don't play here in Delaware, they will not play across the country. MORTON: And it is small, the kind of state where in-person campaigning still works.

CHARRON: Television is very expensive here, because you have to buy the Philadelphia market to get to most of the people in Delaware, so it's very much a retail state.

MORTON: Of course, when you really want Delaware to like you is in the general election, after the parties have picked their nominees. Delaware has voted with the winning presidential candidate every November for the past half century.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Dover, Delaware.


SHAW: And that's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. We'll see you again tomorrow, when our Patty Davis will be with Steve Forbes as he kicks off an Iowa bus tour. And you can go online all the time at CNN's

This programming note: The Republican presidential race will be the focus tonight on "CROSSFIRE" at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. The guests will be Ari Fleischer from the Bush campaign and Mike Murphy of the McCain campaign.

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


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