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Campaign 2000: Battle for Iowa Intensifies as Caucuses Approach

Aired January 21, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, just three more days until the Iowa Caucuses. After votes are counted, who will be heading to New Hampshire as a winner, and who will be going as a loser?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Mary Matalin. In the CROSSFIRE, in Boston, David Nyhan, a columnist for "The Boston Globe," and in Manchester, New Hampshire, Joe McQuaid, publisher of "The Union Leader" and New Hampshire's "Sunday News."

PRESS: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

And at last, we're in the home stretch. Iowa caucuses Monday night. Don't forget, we'll be there with special CROSSFIRE shows Sunday and Monday and then New Hampshire primary the following weekend, and we'll be there, too.

In Iowa, latest polls show big leads for two front-runners. Bush up 23 percent over Steve Forbes. Al Gore up 24 over Bill Bradley. And as if Bill Bradley didn't already have enough problems in Iowa, his heart problems have resurfaced again, Bradley admitting to four incidents of irregular heartbeats this month, but he insists it's no big deal.


BILL BRADLEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There are millions of Americans with this. This is truly a nuisance. But beyond that, it's not a serious problem at all. George Bush had it when he was president of the United States. It is -- you know, it's just a nuisance.


PRESS: On the GOP side, Bush and McCain continue dueling over who's got the best tax plan? The battle intensified today when John McCain released a new ad attacking Governor Bush for attacking him. Governor Bush responded by sending his mother to New Hampshire. Take that, John McCain.

So tonight, we look ahead at both states with two political journalists, David Nyhan, columnist for "The Boston Globe," which has endorsed Al Gore, and Joseph McQuaid, publisher of "The Manchester Union Leader," which has endorsed Steve Forbes -- Mary.

MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: Welcome, gentlemen. And, David, let's start with a candidate that "The Boston Globe" has not endorsed: Bill Bradley. If Bill Bradley's campaign was a food, it would be a souffle. It is collapsing. He's going to lose, by all accounts, by double digits in Iowa. Worst than that, our poll today, our CNN poll today, has it 53 -- excuse me, 50-43, Gore, Bradley. And as Bill Just noted, the reemerging health issue, which may not be a big deal, but it certainly is a big distraction.

What's going on on the ground to this Bradley campaign, which had such great promise only a few weeks ago?

DAVID NYHAN, COLUMNIST, "BOSTON GLOBE": Well, in New Hampshire, Mary, it's not collapsing. I haven't been out to Iowa, and I'm not much of a souffle chef, so I can't address the culinary aspects. It was always in the cards for it to be a difficult campaign for Bradley, an incumbent vice president with close ties to labor and the environmental movement. I think Gore seems to be pulling ahead steadily in New Hampshire. I think his lead in New Hampshire tonight is probably bigger than the shaky lead that John McCain has over George Bush.

By the way, I should point out to "The Globe" also endorsed John McCain in the Republican primary.

MATALIN: We knew that. Let me go back to the health issue for a minute. In addition to what the senator had to say today, about its not being a big deal, he also did offer this explanation about the aggravated heart fibrillation:


BRADLEY: When I shared this with the doctor, he thought maybe this might have contributed to it, and the answer is cream soda. I changed what I drink on the road; you know, I had Gatorade, orange soda, and I went to cream soda.


MATALIN: Does that strike you as kind of...

NYHAN: Mary, all I can say is in politics, if you're not throwing leather, you're taking punches, and backing up is bad for candidates on the eve of an election just as it is for quarterbacks in an NFL game. So I think this is not going to help Bradley. It'll probably nick him a little bit.

MATALIN: That's why I brought it up. It was amusing, but nonetheless, stepping on his message, which puts me on to my final question for you.

On Bradley, it's widely reported in A long story about that today in "The New York Times" that he's running his own campaign. I'm an advocate of campaigns count, having done that work most of my adult life. And in that "New York Times" article, his campaign manager was quoted as saying about Bradley's theory: "I want to run a campaign as an extension of the way I want to govern: to restore trust and bring back civility. And if you say that, you have to operate that way. Those who elevate tactics, we disagree."

Well, that's a great ideal, but it's a pretty incompetent strategy if you're running against a political thug, like Bill Bradley is.

NYHAN: Well, I don't agree with you that Gore is a thug. But I think it is a mistake for a candidate to be his own campaign manager. The only person I can think of for whom that worked, and worked brilliantly, is Bill Clinton.

PRESS: Mr. McQuaid, speaking of collapsed souffles, in 1996, your campaign endorsed Pat Buchanan. He won the primary. In 2000, you've endorsed Steve Forbes -- collapsed souffle -- who's running a distant third. My question is, what went wrong? Did you get a bad candidate, or has your paper lost its clout?

JOE MCQUAID, PUBLISHER, "THE UNION LEADER": My question to you folks is, are you hungry? Cream sodas and souffles? God. Pat Buchanan was certainly not a cream soda souffle, and I don't think Forbes is either. And I think it's a little too early to be counting people out, either as desserts or as main courses. As you pointed out at top of the show, the Iowa caucuses are Monday and the presidential primary is a week later, and then we'll see what's what.

PRESS: But, Mr. McQuaid, Forbes has spent 60 days in Iowa. Bush has spent 30 days in Iowa. Bush -- Forbes is running a distant third.

Here's one of the other people in the race -- lest we forget, there are six total in the race -- Gary Bauer had to say about your candidate today. From "The Des Moines Register," Gary told them -- quote -- speaking of Forbes, "He spent $80 million since 1996. And in most national polls, he's tied with me. If I spent $80 million and was tied with me, I'd drop out. Do you think maybe there's a message there?

MCQUAID: Well, the message might be for Mr. Bauer to drop out. You say that Forbes is running third. I don't believe he's running third in Iowa. I believe he's running second there, and he, other than Bush, is the only guy who's really conducting a national campaign. So I wouldn't count him out at all.

PRESS: Well, let's try to get real a second, if we can. What miracle do you think that Steve Forbes has to pull off in Iowa in order to come into New Hampshire and be a player in New Hampshire?

MCQUAID: I don't know what the polls show in Iowa. I imagine he has to beat the expectations game, which is what you folks in the national press like to play, and I think we're real in New Hampshire by waiting for the voters to decide.

PRESS: And you still think that he'll be a player in New Hampshire, even given the fact that McCain and Bush are way up there, almost neck and neck? MCQUAID: By all means, I do, yes. I think Buchanan was quite a bit back in '96 a week two before the primary as well.

PRESS: Hope springs eternal -- Mary.

MATALIN: All right, David, let's talk about the candidate "The Boston Globe" did endorse. I'll agree with you for the purposes of civility that maybe he's not a political thug, but Al Gore's campaign was going nowhere until he started sucker punching Bradley, distorting his record, lying about his proposal, so the Bradley campaign says. So if Gore wins, what does he win? And is the more precise description of what event -- what happened here is that Bradley lost?

NYHAN: Well, I don't think you can say that Bradley has been a bad candidate. As I said earlier, it's terribly difficult to dump an incumbent vice president who is moving to step up to the presidential nomination. We've seen that in the other party as well.

Gore is a tested, tough campaigner. He is energetic, and he's got very brawny support of organized labor, which I think is probably discounted in the national coverage I've seen so far. From what I understand, talking to people, including Republicans, in Iowa, the Gore operation there is substantial, and I believe Joe McQuaid would affirm that it is in New Hampshire as well, where he has Governor Shaheen, and I guess he has the tacit support of Governor Vilsack in Iowa.

So the Gore operation, which had its problems, hiring the lady who was the consultant on earth tones, or whatever it was, but he seems to have found his feet, and I think Bradley has just -- is in the process of being rolled up. I think it's very difficult in this era of front-loaded primaries against established, entrenched establishment candidates for an insurgent to come on. And I think New Hampshire is the place where insurgents have a chance. Gary Hart showed that in '84. George Bush learned it. And we saw Buchanan win with the help of "The Union Leader" newspaper.

It's not inconceivable to me that Forbes could surprise in Iowa and Forbes could challenge well in New Hampshire, although I still think that New Hampshire is basically a McCain-Bush operation, unless McCain falls through the floor if in Iowa. If John McCain finishes fifth in Iowa that's not going to help him in New Hampshire.

MATALIN: Let me go back to Gore for a moment because in his victory -- impending victory -- stabilization, maybe jumping ahead in New Hampshire, he's hurt himself potentially for the general. He has the highest negatives, the highest unfavorable of all the candidates, and he's lagging far behind the likely front-runner, the likely nominee on the Republican side, George Bush. He's down 11 points with Catholics, down 14 points with married women, down 25 points with men. On key Democratic issues, education and Social Security, bush is tied with him. Has his primary campaign hurt him in the general?

NYHAN: I think he got crowded a little bit to the left, particularly on the gays in the military and the joint chiefs. I think he'll be hearing about that in the fall should he be the nominee, as I expect he will be.

But I think Bush has also been roughed up a little bit in the process. And I think whether the debate is over abortion or something that hasn't come up yet, gun control, I told one of the Bush braintrust about three weeks ago over dinner in New Hampshire that I thought Bush signing that right to carry law in Texas could be his Boston Harbor. It might go down well in the South and in the West, which is gun country, but in the urban centers, I think signing that law to allow carrying a concealed weapons could come back to bother him.

But I would agree with you, Bush would start out as a favorite for the fall.

MATALIN: The South and West, of course, being where the Republican Party is going, which brings us up to our topic which we'll turn to when we come back from the break. Why does New Hampshire and Iowa have all of this power and should they? Stay with us on CROSSFIRE.


MATALIN: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Iowa and New Hampshire would secede from the union before they would give up their first-in-the-nation nominating contest position. But does this serve the parties or candidates? or for that matter, the rest of the country well?

Two New England newspaper giants weigh in on the process and possible outcomes of this finally unfolding campaign 2000. "Boston Globe" columnist David Nyhan and "Union Leader" publisher Joe McQuaid -- Bill.

PRESS: Joe, before we dump on Iowa and new Hampshire, let me ask you another question about another person in the race because your paper has been successful not only in pumping up Steve Forbes, but in trying to knock down some of the other candidates.

Here's what you had to say, you yourself, about John McCain, quote: "U.S. Sen. John McCain would be a better nominee of the Democratic Party. His endorsement this weekend by the ultra-liberal 'Boston Globe' is further proof that McCain is running in the wrong race."

Now, Mr. McQuaid, I happen to be a Democrat and I know that John McCain is pro-abortion -- pro-life, I'm sorry -- he is pro death penalty, he is pro school voucher, he is clearly no Democrat. Aren't -- isn't there room for more than one point of view in the Republican Party according to your paper?

MCQUAID: Well, on abortion, I think you were right to be a little hesitant on where McCain stands. I don't think he knows where he stands anymore.

Across the spectrum of people who vote in Republican primaries in New Hampshire, McCain is by far the most liberal and I am glad that David pointed out that "The Globe" had endorsed him, because we would have been happy to if David hadn't done so.

NYHAN: Thanks for the plug, Joe.


PRESS: Joe, if McCain is such a Democrat, why is he leading in New Hampshire among Republican voters?

MCQUAID: I don't think he is.

PRESS: That's what all the polls show. That's what all of our polls show.

MCQUAID: Well, I think the polls polled an awful lot of people who are really undeclared independent voters, and I would grant you that across that group, McCain would be in the lead. But the history of the New Hampshire Primary is that independent undeclared voters do not turn out in great numbers, whereas Democrats and Republicans do, and Republicans tend to be conservative in primaries and Democrats more liberal.

PRESS: Just a quick question about the latest, this dueling between McCain and Bush on taxes. As you know, Governor Bush has had an ad up saying that if you leave the money in Washington, people in Washington sort of implied John McCain, like him, would spend it.

And here was John McCain's response today to that add. Please, take a look and a listen.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I guess it was bound to happen. Now my opponent has started the political attacks after promising he wouldn't. Mr. Bush's attacks are wrong. My plan cuts taxes, secures Social Security, and pays down the debt. There is no tax increase.

When I began this campaign, I promised you something better, that I wouldn't engage in attack politics. I am keeping my pledge. If you agree with my conservative reform agenda, I'd appreciate your vote.


PRESS: Who is winning the tax battle in New Hampshire, Joe McQuaid?

MCQUAID: Well, the tax battle, that's where I think Forbes would tend to win, but of course I am prejudice. What amazes me about the TV ads is, if that's all that people are watching up here, they got to be mightily confused. You have got Bush and McCain in an ad in which they're shaking hands pledging not to attack each over. You have got somebody attacking Forbes for attacking then, and now you have got McCain saying Bush is doing the attacking. It's an all out onslaught, whatever it is. But taxes are very important up here and that's why I think Forbes is right to go after Bush on this pledge he made in Texas and then broke.

MATALIN: Well, David, is this the point of Iowa and New Hampshire, it might be confusing, but the nation has left to those two states to sort through all of this on our behalf. And though all four of us have spent many an hour in the snows of those great states and love the people, not to mention the bars, they do not have the breadth of problems that the country has and they certainly aren't reflective of the diversity of this country. According to the World Almanac, the percentage of African-Americans and Hispanics, for instance, growing communities in this country are -- there are far fewer in those two states than there are in the United States. And they do have issues peculiar to those states. So should these peculiar issues and demographics of those two states dictate the presidential agendas the way that they do?

NYHAN: Well, I think Iowa is overrated because the caucus system is easily manipulable. Although if I was on with my pal Dave Yepsen of the "Des Moines Register" I would be hearing from him on that score.

I'd like to defend the New Hampshire, because even though New Hampshire is not representative of large industrial states and has no minority population or Hispanics, as you accurately point out, it's still the only place -- the only retail place where a little guy, a new guy, an upstart, can come and make his case.

And there -- as you know, Mary, they are independent. They are tough-minded, and they don't mind embracing a maverick.

Look at the people who've won up here. Jimmy Carter won here. Ronald Reagan won here when he wasn't a candidate of the Republican establishment. Clinton won here. Dukakis won here. Gary Hart won here as the -- in 1984 as the guy who was given little chance.

So there's a lot to be said for keeping New Hampshire where it is not just because it's in our circulation area and I like to go skiing up there, but because it's the last place where somebody can get in and have -- gain some traction in what would otherwise be a contest of millionaires fought out on TV across a 50-state spectrum.

PRESS: Joe McQuaid, Governor Bush was asked by the "Nashua Telegraph" whether he would continue to support New Hampshire's primary position, and here's how he responded. He said -- quote -- "I will tell you how happy I am with the system after the vote."

Do New Hampshire-ites take that as a joke or as a slap in the face?

MCQUAID: Well, I don't think they took it all that funny and I don't think underneath that Mr. Bush meant it to be all that funny. His dad had a tough time up here. Bob Dole had a terrific time up here. And I think the Republican establishment is out to get New Hampshire if at all possible. I agreed with just about everything David Nyhan from "The Boston Globe" says, which causes me heart failure. The great thing about New Hampshire is that the Republicans and Democrats do take it seriously. They're very well-read on the issues. Between "The Union Leader" and "The Globe," how could you not be? And they turn out in great percentages.

In 19 -- in 19...



PRESS: We're just about running out of time, so let's just put it this way: We take these primaries seriously too. And we will see you both in New Hampshire soon. And we thank you both for joining us tonight: David Nyhan in Boston, Joe McQuaid up in Manchester. We'll see you soon.

And Mary and I, of course, will be right back with closing comments, but first before that break, here's a tour of CNN's Web site, your first stop for the latest news from the campaign trail.

ANNOUNCER: Get on the campaign trail online. See live and on- demand video of major candidate debates and speeches, plus get exclusive online analysis from Allpolitics insiders. It's all at


MATALIN: This important programming note: We're hitting the road for a special edition of CROSSFIRE on Sunday night, live from Des Moines, Iowa at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.

And Bill, I'm so happy. I was just kidding with our guests. I love Iowa, love New Hampshire, love the snow, love the bars, love democracy. Can't wait.

PRESS: I'll see you there, kiddo. Well, let me tell you something: We learned in Iowa Al Gore, when it comes to being a candidate, is a lethal weapon. Watch out in November.

MATALIN: He's a lying lethal weapon. You left out an adjective there.

PRESS: No, lethal weapon. And I have three words for Iowa. Go Steve Forbes! I want to see it happen. I want to see the upset in Iowa.

MATALIN: You heard it here. He's for Forbes.

PRESS: From the left, hey, have a good weekend. We'll see you Sunday night from Des Moines. I'm Bill Press. Good-night for CROSSFIRE.

MATALIN: And from the right, I'm Mary Matalin. Join us again soon in the caucus state for another edition of CROSSFIRE.


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