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Capital Gang

A Discussion of Candidates' Prospects for Monday's Iowa Caucus and Beyond

Aired January 22, 2000 - 7:00 p.m. ET



MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields in Des Moines, with Al Hunt, Robert Novak, and in Washington, Margaret Carlson. Our guest in Des Moines is William Kristol, publisher and editor of "The Weekly Standard."

It's good to have you back, Bill.

BILL KRISTOL, "WEEKLY STANDARD": Good to be here, Mark.

SHIELDS: Thank you.

SHIELDS: Four days before Iowa's presidential caucus, Democratic candidate Bill Bradley answering a question revealed four more recent episodes of irregular heartbeat.


BILL BRADLEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I didn't think we needed to disclose it. You don't want me to go around disclosing every time I flip out for an hour or two hours.


SHIELDS: Before that disclosure, "The Los Angeles Times" poll of likely caucusgoers gave Vice President Al Gore a 23-point lead over former Senator Bradley.


BRADLEY: I think Iowa is a state that rewards entrenched power.

Has the backing of the leadership of organized labor and arrives on Air Force 2. That is entrenched power.



ALBERT GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What I bet you I am going to see in a lot of caucuses on Monday night is not entrenched power; it's people. Fighting for the family isn't about entrenched power.


SHIELDS: Al Hunt, has Bill Bradley looked like a goner tonight?

AL HUNT, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Mark, that's premature. Senator Bradley has time to recover. He had a dreadful performance two weeks ago at "The Des Moines Register" debate. That hurt him. He's made several strategic miscalculations, I think spending more in Iowa and less in New Hampshire. And moreover, this state is tailor made for Al Gore's establishment support. But I think the Bradley followers out here are more enthusiastic than are the -- than is the Gore flock, and I think they hope that that's enough to get them 35 percent Monday night. And that'll be enough for them, and the real showdown will be in New Hampshire.

One note about the health issue. I think Bradley should do a John McCain and release all those records. But I also think, Mark, it's a phony issue. His doctors say he's fine. I've independently talked to several doctors. They say, if what they read in the paper is true, he's fine. I saw his wife Ernestine this morning. She says it's much ado about nothing, and it's the exact same thing condition that President George Bush had.

SHIELDS: You know, if it's not a medical problem, Bill Kristol, though, it is a political problem, because, quite frankly, Bill Bradley has a run different kind of campaign. He's been a man who's emphasized his privacy. He hasn't talked about boxers, or briefs or any of that stuff but. But the privacy thing raises questions about how forthcoming he's become.

KRISTOL: Yes, if you got up here this morning and looked at "The Des Moines Register," the headline right on the front page: "Bradley Assures His Heart is OK." Not what you really want to hear an insurgent going up against Gore. I think his heart is OK. I hope it is. His campaign, I don't think is OK. He had a window moment. There was moment, the end of 1999 and the beginning of this year, when I really thought he could beat Gore. But I think his poor performance in debate here two weeks ago, his failure to hit back, a mistake John McCain hasn't made. If you look at the two insurgents, McCain's hitting back at Bush. Bradley thought he could float above, and Gore has really done damage to Bradley.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, how does it look in Washington?

MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME": Well, now that all the hot air is out there, and I have to supply all of it here, Bill is right about Bradley. You could see the energy go out of him toward the end of the year, as if he was discouraged by his own performance. And a signal that he's not doing well that is he is wining, and the statement about entrenched power doesn't sound right coming from him. Even though he considers himself the insurgent, he was a member of the Senate, he's gotten -- he has as much money, if not more, than Gore, he's got Hollywood money, Silicon Valley money, Wall Street money. He doesn't look like the fly -- you know, the seat-of-the-pants candidate. That was very unappealing. The other thing he does when he doesn't hit back is he's -- something comes up that he hasn't done that sticks with voters, like the flood relief or his farm votes, he says, that's about the past, I'm about the future, and then he moves on, and the charge just sits there.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, doesn't Al Gore deserve some credit, though? I mean, this isn't simply Bradley's collapse.

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": Well, you anticipated what I was going say, because I don't think he deserves much credit at all. That's the conventional wisdom. Boy, Gore has put it together. I think he's still a lousy candidate and a lousy campaigner. And no matter what Margaret says, what Al Gore says, this is a state of entrenched power, and it fits itself to these caucuses, where these poor people have to go out for two hours on a Monday night and be shuffled around the Democratic caucuses from one corner to another. At least in Republicans, they can vote in secret ballot. And of course when you have organized labor, and the party, and the school teachers, all pushing people into the caucuses, that's bad. But of course, Bill Bradley should have known in the first place and he should have known that his attempt here to win this primary -- I mean, this caucus, with television advertising was doomed from the start. I think that's more important than the other mistakes he made.

SHIELDS: Let me just say, I could not disagree more with brother Novak. I think this is not a state of entrenched power, quite frankly. I think it's the most and open honest politics of any state in Union. It's rewarded insurgents in the past. Ask Pat Robertson, ask Pat Buchanan, ask Ronald Reagan, running against the president of the United States Gerry Ford, getting half the votes. It's a state that's welcomed insurgents in the past. And, quite frankly, Dick Gephardt was not by any means the establishment choice in 1988. Add to that the fact that when economy is bad, the economy is the only issue; when the economy is good, you better beat somebody on something else -- 2.2 percent unemployment in the state, 1.0 percent in Hancock County on under Bill Clinton's economy, Bob Novak.

HUNT: Mark, let me give you this thing about -- I tend to be in sympathy about Iowans in general. But about this system, let me give you just two good examples. On Monday night, at these caucuses, two caucuses, not one, two will be held in the home of Congressman Leonard Boswell, a Gore supporter. So you're going to go -- you're a neighbor. You're asking Congressman Boswell for help on your Social Security check, and you're going to go and you're going to stand up in his dining room and say, I'm sorry, I'm against your candidate, congressman?

In Marshalltown, Iowa, ASCME, the Gore headquarters is run out of the ASCME. Now that's tremendous power out here, and that matters in a caucus state much more than it would in a primary state.

KRISTOL: Bradley had chance. He never really had a -- 88 percent of Iowa Democrats approved of Bill Clinton's policies. Al Gore is Bill Clinton's vice president. Bradley never clearly said, with all that $1.5 million of television advertising money, why you had to take Bradley over Gore.

NOVAK: I want to say one other thing really quick, that the Gore technique is you find something that's weak; you look for the weak spot in the other person. They found his vote on a lousy flood control bill. He didn't even know he voted that way two weeks ago, and he's been going downhill ever since.

CARLSON: It's been an opportunity, Bob, for Bradley to show that he had some fight in him. And none of those -- he didn't come back. McCain doesn't let any charge stand. He comes right back, goes out at it. Bradley let those pass.

SHIELDS: Margaret, let me just make one prediction right now: Al Gore will be a tougher candidate than I had any idea he would be. He makes George Bush in 1988 the way went after Michael Dukakis -- they're going to go after George W. Bush in Texas. You forget Boston Harbor, forget Willie Horton, it's going to be tougher than anything George W. Bush or any Republican had an idea of.

Bill Kristol and the GANG will be back with Bush against Forbes in Iowa.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

"The Los Angeles Times" poll showed Texas Governor George W. Bush 18 points ahead of Steve Forbes in Monday's Iowa Republican caucuses. Forbes attacked Bush's tax-cutting record in Texas, and criticized the tax-cut plans of Bush and of Senator John McCain.


STEVE FORBES (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Tweedledum, Tweedledee, the same old same old -- why not get to heart of problem, which is the tax code?



GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One of my opponents says my tax cut for America is too big and too bold. Another raised questions about my record. They're both wrong.


SHIELDS: Governor Bush spent a part of week in New Hampshire, where he trails John McCain, and ran this TV assailing the senator's tax plan.


BUSH: If he says something I don't agree with, I'm going to point it out. I don't agree with leaving money in Washington D.C., and I darned sure don't agree with, you know, saying that you're going to take $40 billion in employee-related benefits and have the people pay tax on it.



SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now my opponent has started the political attacks, after promising he wouldn't. There is no tax increase. When I began this campaign I promised you something better, that I wouldn't engage in attack politics.


SHIELDS: Bob Novak, does George Bush's nomination look as inevitable today as so he to so many six months ago?

NOVAK: I think about the same, and a lot more inevitable than it did a year ago. I think it's very interesting that the fight for this party -- this is a conservative party, and to get the acclimations from you and Al, John McCain has drifted to the left, which has not helped him. May win in New Hampshire, but the future is very bleak.

But what's very interesting, is the fight for who's -- whether Bush is conservative enough. Forbes people are going around Iowa saying, he's not conservative enough, he's not conservative enough on abortion or taxes. But I'll tell you -- we had -- Al and I interviewed the governor on "EVANS, NOVAK, HUNT & SHIELDS" earlier today.

HUNT: A good show.

NOVAK: And it's very interesting, you couldn't be more conservative, in my opinion, on both abortion and tax cutting than George Bush was.

KRISTOL: Even though he told you that he wouldn't cut capital gains tax cut; used to be a litmus test for Bob Novak, but now Bob's become...

NOVAK: Nobody's perfect.

KRISTOL: Bob's become a Bushy, because Bush came through on key things. The key thing that Bob Novak cares about -- this is in the "Evans, Novak Political Report," excellent inside newsletter. You can pay...

SHIELDS: I don't get to see it regularly.

KRISTOL: It costs too much. But everyone -- why is Bob against John McCain? Because he caps the estate tax phase out at $5 million, whereas Bush, Bush does away with any estate tax at all. Now do you really want to go into general election with a program, no estate tax at all, Bill Gates pays no tax.

NOVAK: But we're not in Marxist society. We're not -- we're trying to confiscate the wealth?

KRISTOL: I don't think -- was it Marxist who introduced the estate tax in America?

NOVAK: No, it was Theodore Roosevelt.

KRISTOL: The great Republican.


SHIELDS: Margaret, settle this dispute you, would you please?

CARLSON: Republicans are not put on this Earth for tax cuts, Bob. I know that that's your religion. You know, McCain merged from this large field as the only candidate who matters, to make a difference, and to come out of Iowa with anything, Steve Forbes would have to get about 100 percent. He's the only person who thinks he's going to be president. McCain was wise to skip Iowa. Bradley should have taken -- not put so much emphasis on it, and he'll probably win New Hampshire.

This -- the attack ad thing this week was very interesting, because what the challenger wants most is to be attacked, so that he can successfully refute the attack ad and get attention. That's what McCain did this week.

SHIELDS: Al, is that what McCain did?

HUNT: Yes, he did. But let me go to Bush for a second, because I agree with Bob. This is a supremely confident candidate right now, and he is better, and I think, privately, his people think that they're going top 50 percent in this, which would be a pretty impressive achievement.

But one note of disquiet. Margaret's right, Steve Forbes is not going to be a nominee. But at noon on Saturday, I went to a Forbes rally at Sioux City North High School, and, Mark, they had almost 700 people there. You couldn't get a spot in the parking lot. I it was incredible. And this is...

SHIELDS: Chateaubriand for two?

HUNT: Now Steve Forbes -- he still offered -- I mean, at one point, he said, "Washington treats children the way -- "Washington treats voters the way a nanny treats children," and all these Sioux City people said, What's a nanny?

But, I'll tell you, there's a premium on enthusiasm here. And if Steve Forbes. I think he could outperform his polls Monday night. He'll never be nominee, but he could become a real factor in New Hampshire if that's the case.

SHIELDS: OK, let's indulge in that terrible game then right now. We've had people come out of New Hampshire, as -- 1988, we had third-place finishers in both parties. Michael Dukakis said he won the bronze, went on to win New Hampshire, win the nomination.

HUNT: Out of Iowa, too.

SHIELDS: Out of Iowa and to New Hampshire. George Bush, the vice president, finished third behind Bob Dole.

NOVAK: Twenty percent.

SHIELDS: Eighteen, 18 percent; 37 percent for Bob Dole, 18, two to one behind, and yet you know, better than expected -- who is -- what does Steve Forbes need on Tuesday?

NOVAK: What Steve Forbes needs is to do better than expected.

SHIELDS: Which is?

NOVAK: Which would be close to 30 percent, which is going to be hard for him to get, but just possible.

Now what does George Bush need, that's the very interesting thing. And I would say that the expectations are so high now that he has to be around 44, 45 percent, or people say he didn't do so well. But really, let me tell you this, he has got so many cards in this deck for the nomination that I cannot see, I cannot see the scenario where he loses it.

SHIELDS: Let me throw it to Bill Kristol with just one point, historical reference. Fritz Mondale against a far tougher field than George Bush is facing, all right, with not nearly the establishment support, won 49 percent of the state.

KRISTOL: I think Forbes can get within 10 points of Bush on Monday night. I think that Forbes is coming up. And I think that Bush in a little bit of a -- there are effective Forbes attack ads up on radio against Bush. If you ask Forbes people, what are your television ads? They're all positive now. But on radio, effective negative ads against Bush. I think can take Bush down to about 40 percent. That makes New Hampshire more of a three-way race, not a two-way race. I do not agree that Bush is by any means the inevitable nominee. I think he's in deep trouble.

HUNT: Bill Kristol is right, and Bob Novak is wrong. Can I say one thing about the Iowa caucuses?

NOVAK: Wrong about about?

HUNT: About the inevitability.

Let me say one thing -- I love the people of this state. They really are nice people. They've got great institutions -- "The Des Moines Register, great universities, Michael Gartner and the Des Moines Cubs (ph). But this place, this caucus is an anachronism, Mark. First of all, I'll tell you something, the contested caucus -- a winner of a contested caucus out here has never been elected president of the United States. I mean, it's really remarkable. This doesn't help either party.

SHIELDS: Bill Clinton got 2.7 percent here in 1992, remember that?

Margaret Carlson, does Iowa matter? CARLSON: Well it matters in that we're all there, and we're going to write about it, and it's the first lots of people are going hear about the -- really pay attention to this campaign. If Forbes does well against Bush, I think it helps McCain in New Hampshire, because it shows that Bush is vulnerable.

SHIELDS: OK, last word, Margaret Carlson.

Next on CAPITAL GANG: Stalinism in New York.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

Senator John McCain stood in front of the Russian Consulate in New York City, there to protest the Republican establishments keeping him off that state's presidential primary ballot. McCain addressed his complaint to state GOP Chairman William Powers, who supports George W. Bush for president.


MCCAIN: My message today is, Mr. Powers, open up those ballots. In Russia, there will be a presidential election. In Russia, there will be more than one name on the ballot. In New York, unless something happens, there will be only one name on the ballot.



BUSH: The chairman of Republican Party is enforcing the rules in place. It's been this way for every single campaign. And the party can deal with this issue.


SHIELDS: One prominent Bush backer in New York disagreed.


MAYOR RUDY GIULIANI, NEW YORK: They should open it. They should allow Senator McCain to contest.


SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, isn't John McCain just getting the typical New York treatment?

CARLSON: No, that was such great political theater, going to the embassy that way. I love New York, but it has the distinction, not since the poll tax has there been a more unfair system protecting the party choice, and that George W. Bush would hide behind the party chairman on this. One time, Pataki had an agreement with Bush not to challenge Forbes, but when McCain got in, they decided, OK, we're going to play this out this way, and we're not going to let the guy on the ballot. And this is this is not fair play. It's not what people admire in this country. He should -- George Bush should -- he can -- with the snap of his fingers, he can get McCain on the ballot, and he'd get a lot of credit for it. It's silly for him not to do it.

SHIELDS: Bill Kristol, George Bush looks offensive to the rules of fair play that Americans respect. Add to that, the fact that not only Rudy Giuliani shrewdly backed McCain's petition, but so has Al D'Amato and so has Congressman Peter King courageously. Tell me your response.

KRISTOL: Well, George Bush is the candidate of the Republican establishment, and they are terrified of McCain, and they now see that he's coming up in polls. I think if McCain were in polls two months ago, Bush would be magnanimous. You might almost say he'd be compassionate, a compassionate conservative and let people vote for McCain. Now Governor Bush says that people must get grass roots support to get on the ballot in New York. McCain is a 25 percent in polls in New York. They're scared of the challenge, the Republican establishment. Once McCain wins New Hampshire, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The Republican establishment is going to come down on John McCain like a ton of bricks, because they are terrified of him winning the nomination.

SHIELDS: That's a lot of lawn -- that's grassroots.

NOVAK: They're terrified of Senator McCain having support from the liberals like you, from Margaret Carlson.

I love these crocodile tears in "The New York Times" about the Republican Party being so mean and so tyrannical to the all this fair play. Let me tell you, I think it's a stupid system. It's been going on a long time. I think George Bush makes a mistake. But I think all this all this weeping for John McCain is just ridiculous. And John McCain's problem is that as he has gotten support from people like you, he has abandoned Republican principles, and that's why they hate him, not because they think he's going to beat bush, Bill, but because he's seizing to be your kind of Republican.

HUNT: Bob, that's just all babble. It's not just "The New York Times," "The Wall Street Journal" editorial page -- it united "The Wall Street Journal" and "New York Times" editorial page, that really is -- that's remarkable.


HUNT: These are a bunch of pols up there who are trying to ingratiate themselves with Bush and they're really acting like a cheap bunch of political thugs. But I'm disappointed in Governor Bush, because he should be better than this. And Bob has always admired people who level. Governor Bush told us, the interview show today, in that clip we just showed, hey, this is just all local. I'm sorry, William Powers, state chairman, couple months ago wrote to the Bush delegates, saying, the Bush campaign will decide whether to challenge opponents petitions. These are decisions made by campaign. Bush ought to call the dogs off.

SHIELDS: Last word, Al Hunt. Thanks for being with us.

Bill Kristol and THE GANG will be back with the outrage of the week.

ANNOUNCER: Your outrage of the week is from Paul Hollrah of Locust Grove, Oklahoma. He writes, "The outrage of the week is that the federal courts would involve themselves in the question of grandparental rights. Since the case had its way up to the Supreme Court, the high court had little choice but to take the case. The problem is that no matter what the court decides the decision will cause untold misery for millions of American families.


SHIELDS: Now for outrage of the week. The boo of the primary season goes to those cynics and elitists in and out of press corps who condemn Iowa as a bad place to begin choosing a president. Iowa, which is truly a wonderful place, deserves better. The Children's Rights Council name Iowa the best state in which to raise a child. Iowa's politics are open and honest, something that cannot be said about sophisticated New Yorks. Highly literal and well educated Iowans, who are as hospitable and welcoming as any Americans, take their presidential responsibility seriously. Three cheers for Iowa -- Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Also have very good pork tenderloin, too.

SHIELDS: That's the truth.

NOVAK: It was reported that the two grandmothers of Elian Gonzalez suddenly changed their minds and took up the U.S. Council of Churches on its offer to bring them to America, as if they that had freedom of choice in Castro's dictatorship. But the outrage is the Council of Church rendering what is Ceasars, not God's -- why do millions of American Protestants tolerate this organization's left wing social activism -- Al hunt.

HUNT: Arkansas Congressman Jay Dickey met last week with a couple hundred black farmers in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, who had a number of grievances, but the lawmaker told these constituents he couldn't help them because they hadn't supported him in the past or made financial contributions to his campaigns. Unfortunately, Jay Dickey's comments are all too typical in this corrupt system of campaign financing. Those that have money get a hearing and have clout; those without resources don't.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Mark, after the death of a teenager in September at the University of Pennsylvania's Institute for Human Gene Therapy, the government found the school had no proof that the patients in the study were eligible or that they'd been warned they could die. The school lost track of genes that had been infused into patient's livers and did not report dangerous side effects. The university has indefinitely suspended the program, but the government must investigate the rest of these programs before someone else dies. SHIELDS: Beginning at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Monday night, with a special edition of "INSIDE POLITICS," CNN will keep you up to date on the results from the Iowa presidential caucuses. This Mark Shields, saying good night for the CAPITAL GANG.

Next on CNN, "SPORTS TONIGHT" previews, Sunday's NFL conference championships.


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