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Crossfire

Who's Going Into the Iowa Caucuses Looking Like a Winner?

Aired January 23, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Tonight, live from Des Moines, Iowa, a special edition of CROSSFIRE.

With just 24 hours until the Iowa caucuses, who's going into the home stretch looking like a winner?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Des Moines, Iowa, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Robert Novak. In the crossfire, Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a George W. Bush supporter, and Congressman Bob Barr of Georgia, national co-chairman of the Forbes campaign. And later, Congressman David Bonior of Michigan, an Al Gore supporter, and Harvard University Professor Cornel West, a supporter of Bill Bradley.

NOVAK: Good evening from Des Moines, and welcome to a special edition of CROSSFIRE.

After literally years of plodding through Iowa, the presidential candidates finally wind it up here Monday night when voters trudge out to partisan caucuses to stand by their man.

On the Republican side, Texas Governor George W. Bush got a double boost this morning from the state's biggest newspaper: The "Des Moines Register." The "Register" poll show Bush way ahead of runner- up Steve Forbes by 23 percentage points with everybody else in single digits. And just to give Bush a sweetener, the newspaper endorsed him, saying -- quote -- "Three others running lack the requisite experience. Steve Forbes, Alan Keyes and Gary Bauer lack have never served one day in elective office" -- end quote.

So is Iowa all wrapped up for George Bush, or does Steve Forbes have a surprise or two? We'll get to the Democratic contest in the next segment -- Bill.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Senator Grassley, I'm going to start with the issue I've heard more about than any other in the two days that I've been here in Iowa, your state, and that is the issue of abortion: an issue that George W. Bush didn't talk a lot about until this week when he said, among other things, he told The New York Times -- quote -- "Roe v. Wade was a reach. It overstepped the constitutional bounds, as far as I'm concerned."

So suddenly he's saying Roe v. Wade ought to be overturned. It ought to go back to the state legislatures. My question, Senator, is, isn't true that suddenly George W. Bush has veered far to the right on this abortion issue to try to reverse the losses of social conservatives that have been going to Steve Forbes or Gary Bauer or Alan Keyes?

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA), BUSH SUPPORTER: Absolutely not: because of his six years of pro-life record as governor of the state of California (sic), signing the parental notification bill, promoting abstinence education and adoption.

I think he has a very pro-life record as governor and a proven record of where he will go as president of the United States.

PRESS: Well, senator, it's, I think, an issue and a position that will help him in Iowa. The question is, how does that translate into November? What are you setting up?

Here's someone who knows a lot -- someone who knows a lot about campaigning had to say about that yesterday. Please listen up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is absolutely no question in my mind that whether Roe v. Wade is preserved or scrapped depends on what happens in the presidential race, and to pretend otherwise is naive in the extreme.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: So senator, aren't you setting up this election, November 2000, as a referendum on Roe v. Wade? And do you really think the Republicans can win on that issue?

GRASSLEY: It is not being set up that way. First of all, George Bush is proud of his pro-life record. It would be wrong for him to try and run on it. He's trying too build consensus. He makes it very clear that when it comes to Roe v. Wade, constitutional amendment overturning the Supreme Court case by appointments, anything else, that it's a consensus-building process.

And don't forget, in our system of government -- abortion or not -- it is a consensus-building process that we're in. That's exactly what representative government is all about.

NOVAK: Congressman Bob Barr, we asked on "EVANS, NOVAK, HUNT & SHIELDS" yesterday, we asked Governor Bush what he thought of your man, Steve Forbes, whether he'd be a good president. This is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've been a little disappointed at the kind of attacks that have been taking place. I've been worried about him doing to me what he did to Bob Dole in 1996. The good news is the Republican Party is going to reject that kind of campaigning. (END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: I hear from Republicans all over the country, congressman, aggravation about the Steve Forbes negative attacks, saying it is like Dole. Isn't this a real problem for Steve?

REP. BOB BARR (R-GA), CO-CHAIR, FORBES NATIONAL CO-CHAIRMAN: Well, I'll tell you what's a real problem, Bob, and that is when the governor launches a broadside against the Congress that is trying to help the American people, as he did last fall when we wanted to reform the earned income tax credit giveaway program very modestly. He mischaracterized, he mislabeled it, and he blasted Congress and guaranteed that President Clinton would have its way on that. I mean, that's a negative campaigning with a vengeance. That's what's going to hurt the Republican effort.

You know, this constant whining after the fact about what happened in the 1996 campaign really is sort of laughable. It would be good for Republicans finally to come to grips with the fact that sometimes we have bad candidates who run bad campaigns. And if they would stop blaming other people for it, maybe would they do something about running better campaigns in the future.

It's interesting also: I think you probably recall the fact that the negative numbers or the numbers that President Clinton was beating Bob Dole by were exactly the same the day Steve Forbes left the race as the day he ended the race.

NOVAK: Congressman Barr, on the question of negative campaigning, the television ads that Steve Forbes are pretty positive. But if you tune on the radio here in Iowa, you hear a stealth campaign which is attacking Governor Bush: his record in Texas, his record on education, saying he's not conservative enough. We can't even get the texts of those commercials.

Isn't that kind of sneaky, working under the radar screen with negative radio commercials?

BARR: Well, talk about working under the radar screen it was very interesting that one of you all's colleagues, Bill Kristol, noted today on an earlier show that the Bush campaign is making under-the- radar-screen phone calls to Forbes supporters, and then turning around, feeding that information to a front organization called the Republican Leadership Council that then calls those people up...

NOVAK: Bob, you're a straight-shooter. You usually answer questions. Why don't you answer my question about those radio spots? Do you think that is a little bit sneaky when he won't even put out the text of them and you're trying to work under the screen on that? What about that?

BARR: I'll tell you, I don't know how you can say, Bob, that a radio spot is under the radar screen. It's there for everybody to hear. The press can hear...

NOVAK: Why won't you (UNINTELLIGIBLE)? BARR: ... Bob Novak can hear it. You know, have you ever heard of a tape recorder, Bob?

PRESS: We can turn on the radio, right, senator? Senator, as important as your great state of Iowa is and these caucuses are tomorrow night, there are some other states down the road, including some big states, like New York State, where with Governor Bush's blessing the state party chair is trying to keep John McCain off the ballot in New York State.

Why would your man and you be part of such an undemocratic process?

GRASSLEY: Well, of course, we aren't, and you understand that...

PRESS: It's on your letterhead, senator, on the Bush's letterhead.

GRASSLEY: And you understand within our political system there is not one national party. There are 50 separate state party. And each party is going to run their system, their primary, their caucus the way their rules and their laws say, just as we are in Iowa. We would resent somebody from New York telling us how to run the Iowa caucuses. I'm sure they would resent my telling them how to run their primary.

PRESS: But again, the state chair explains that he's following the candidates' lead, and he says that on Bush stationary. So senator, if George Bush called New York State and said, hey, I want a fair game, I want a level playing field, you know that that's what the state chair should do.

Why shouldn't George Bush do that?

GRASSLEY: I think we should play by the rules, and that's what we are: We're playing by the rules. And when it comes to...

PRESS: Even if the rules are crooked.

BARR: That's easy to say when you make the rules.

GRASSLEY: The rules are according to what the majority of the party in that state has decided or the laws of those states have decided.

NOVAK: Congressman Barr, I'm baffled by your campaign, the Forbes campaign's attacks on Governor Bush's position on abortion. Just in the last two days, the governor has said that he stands by the 1984 platform plank, which has been repeated year after year, unchanged. He is for parental notification -- signed a bill on that. He said he would sign a partial birth abortion bill. He says he is for the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

What in the world do you want him to do?

BARR: Well... NOVAK: Make a speech at the grave of a fetus, line one of the other candidates did?

BARR: No, we're not involved in theatrics here, Bob, any more than you are. We're on CROSSFIRE.

(LAUGHTER)

What I think -- what I think bothers an awful lot of people, including Steve Forbes, Bob, is the fact that what you've just enunciated on behalf of Governor Bush is the first time he's done so. He refused to answer the question over and over and over again when put to him by Mr. Forbes.

(CROSSTALK)

Yes, as it is -- by Mr. Forbes and other people just within a few weeks ago during the Michigan debate.

NOVAK: He said...

BARR: It's very nice that he's not coming out and staking this position, but that's not leadership: that you stake out a position only when you're absolutely forced to do.

NOVAK: In the Michigan debate, Mr. Forbes gave him a list of about three or four different items, but on the question...

BARR: Heaven forbid that somebody that wants to be president couldn't answer two or three different questions.

NOVAK: In 30 seconds, in 30 seconds.

BARR: Well, I'll tell you, as president, he better learn, if he were to be president, he better learn to answer things a lot quicker than that.

GRASSLEY: There again, you get back to the record that he's had as governor. It's very pro-life. He's not running from anything. The -- he's not running from the tradition of the Republican Party on the abortion issue.

PRESS: All right, gentlemen.

BARR: And it's good to finally know that.

PRESS: Gentlemen, good luck tomorrow. Senator Grassley, Congressman Barr, thanks for being here.

The Republicans aren't the only ones having a contest of course. Tomorrow, also the Democrats will be just as hot. Any surprises on the Democratic side? We'll at that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. And now to the Democrats. Bill Bradley woke up to good news and bad news from Iowa this morning. The good news: endorsement by the powerful "Des Moines Register." Bad news: front page headline on the same paper, "Gore Way Ahead."

Indeed, the "Register" shows Gore beating Bradley in tomorrow night's caucuses by 2-to-1, 56 percent to 28 percent. Today, both candidates continued to campaign as if the outcome were still up in the air, but what's for real? Is it all over for Bradley in Iowa? And will a big win for Gore in Iowa propel him to victory in New Hampshire? -- Bob.

NOVAK: Congressman Bonior, over the last couple of weeks in Iowa you could see a commercial with Senator Tom Harkin who's a Gore supporter saying this, and let's take a look at it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, GORE CAMPAIGN AD)

SEN. TOM HARKIN (D-IA), GORE SUPPORTER: Al Gore came through for us as he's done so many times when I've called on him to help Iowa. In fact, Al Gore was the only Democratic candidate for president who helped to make sure that Iowa got the help we desperately needed after those floods.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Let's talk about the 1993 floods. "The Washington Post" said that is highly misleading, because it indicates that Bradley didn't support the flood amendment. He did vote for a $4.8 billion flood program and there's no evidence, even in an interview with the "Register" by Senator Harkin, that Al Gore ever did anything. Why do you put out that kind of stuff?

REP. DAVID BONIOR (D-MI), GORE SUPPORTER: Well, Al Gore certainly did something. He was very much involved in making sure that the people on the Hill were -- we had a big debate then. I don't if you remember, Bob, on whether we should provide assistance for this -- these people in Iowa who were suffering from this massive flood.

NOVAK: But nobody could find any...

BONIOR: Well, I certainly talked with him during that time. I talked to him on a regular basis. I know a lot of our leadership did. We were very much interested in making sure that issue was dealt with. We had people's lives in the balance there. Their livelihood was gone. And so, he has every right to put that on.

NOVAK: Let me tell you something, I had a conversation with a Bradley supporter last night, a veteran worker in the party, and he is appalled by Vice President Gore. He started out this campaign thinking he was a fine man. He is just appalled by him. And I have talked to many Democrats who feel that this has been -- this combative, pugilistic style is just not in keeping with politics in the year 2000. Don't you realize that the vice president is making a lot of enemies for himself in this kind of hard hitting, as he says, fighting campaign? BONIOR: The vice president has something in him that is needed when you run for the presidency. He has got determination, he has got fight. He's always had it and he's always risen to the occasion when difficult issues came to the fore.

When he -- we were elected at the same time, Bob, 1976. I remember we were both veterans of the Vietnam-era War. He came into the Congress -- we had a problem with Agent Orange, we couldn't get the Veterans Committee to do anything about the Agent Orange issue. Al Gore took that issue in the Commerce Committee, spotlighted it, gave it attention and we got something done.

NOVAK: I don't know what that's got to do with negative campaigning.

BONIOR: You know what it's got to do with? It means that he is willing to stand up and fight for people, farmers, veterans, people that need education, need health care, and that's what he's been doing -- him and Tipper -- throughout this state.

PRESS: Professor, the "Des Moines Register" this morning shows your man down 2-to-1, 56 percent to 28 percent, this the insurgent campaign of Bill Bradley, who was going to surprise everybody and bounce out of here and go to New Hampshire. Why did you run out of gas the day before the primary -- caucus?

PROF. CORNEL WEST, HARVARD UNIVERSITY, BRADLEY SUPPORTER: Oh, no, we have not run out of gas at all. It's very important to keep in mind what the endorsement said. Bill Bradley has a compelling vision, he has fundamental decency...

PRESS: I think I asked you about the poll, not the endorsement.

WEST: No, no. But the poll is -- polls are uncertain. I think the point that Mr. Novak is a very important one, that we are running a different campaign. We want to restore trust in the political process. We want a candidate who has vision, commitment, conviction. And we want to respect voters. We want to respect Iowans. We want to respect the American citizens. We're going to stay on that high ground. Why?

Because what's at stake is the quality of American democracy. We're going to win the election, because also the quality of American democracy. And I think the level of attacks that Mr. Novak is talking about here goes far beyond just Iowa. We're going to insure that Bill Bradley represents a campaign that we can all be proud of, and those of who are working for him are quite proud.

PRESS: Well, I must admit, you sound like a candidate, except you've taken it one step further. I mean, Bill Bradley complained when he saw the polls that this is a state that rewards entrenched power, and now you're saying you got a candidate who's been too aggressive and sort of been unfair to you. I mean, why don't you stop the whining and just admit that you lost this fair and square?

WEST: There is no whining at all. We are running an insurgent candidacy. No one has gotten over 30 percent who's run against the establishment. My dear friend and brother, Congressman Bonior, he knows that the trade unions and others are behind the Gore campaign. We understand that.

This is an insurgency candidacy. But we are no way pleading, please. Don't put in that -- don't use that language. We're not pleading at all. We've got pride and dignity about the work that we've done. We have got hundreds of young people stirring the idealism of the younger generation to once again feel that the political process has a legitimate...

NOVAK: I want to take up what Bill said about this entrenched power that the vice president was -- he was the one who was whining when Bradley said there was entrenched power. My goodness, David, when you have the union bosses bussing out the members, when you have a caucus taking place in the home of a congressman who's for Gore, when you have the school teachers bring out their people, if that's not entrenched power, what it is?

BONIOR: Entrenched power is a word you sue, Bob, and Cornel, my friend, when you're behind 56 to 28.

(LAUGHTER)

BONIOR: Entrenched power are the teachers in this state who teach our children, they're the people who make the farms so we can have agriculture, they're the farmers who give us good everyday. These are the people that Al Gore has been fighting for and these are the people are going to come out and reward him for it.

NOVAK: I want to ask you a question, this is -- Sunday is talkie-talk day on television and we had -- all the other people campaigning in Iowa were giving interviews, tough interviews in the case of Governor Bush, tough interviews in the case of Mr. Forbes, but Al Gore is absent from the Sunday shows, he doesn't go on...

BONIOR: Oh, come on.

NOVAK: And today, he was campaigning on a so-called canvas in Des Moines and he kept the press 20 feet away from him, as he -- there he is. Look at him, you -- I mean, nobody could get close to him. He waved to Bill at one time, but there was no press close to him.

PRESS: I didn't get even close. I just got away.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: What in the world is he afraid of?

BONIOR: I'll have him take you out to dinner after the election.

NOVAK: All right. Well, that's a good deal. On the record?

BONIOR: He's not afraid of anything. He's been on a lot of these talk shows on Sunday and you know...

NOVAK: No, he hasn't.

BONIOR: ... darn well.

NOVAK: He's never been on "Meet The Press."

BONIOR: He's been in a debate on "Meet The Press" with Bill Bradley.

NOVAK: He's never had an interview on "EVANS -- he's never been on CROSSFIRE.

BONIOR: That's what this is about. He hasn't had an interview with you.

PRESS: Well, Al Gore just hasn't played fair. He has campaigned -- wow.

BONIOR: He has gone out and talked to the people.

NOVAK: Is he afraid of the people?

WEST: But Bill Bradley has been working among the people...

BONIOR: No, he's been with the people.

PRESS: All right. Let me...

WEST: He's been open to the press and all of us are open to the press.

PRESS: Let me ask you about another issue.

WEST: Yes.

PRESS: Back in December, the first time we heard about the heart problems that Bill Bradley has had, I said, no big deal, should not be an issue, you know, a lot of people live with that, even President Bush. Now we find out that were four times this month. Doesn't that raise a serious question about his ability to operate under stress?

WEST: No, no, not at all. We know President George Bush had the same thing. Millions of fellow citizens have the same thing. It no way effects his ability to function. I think he wants to keep the focus where it belongs, which is how we're going to eliminate this child poverty, how we're going to deal with campaign finance reform, how we're going to deal with racial justice, how in fact are we going to deal with universal health care. That's where the focus needs to be. He's in very good shape. He's in much better shape than I am actually, and I'm in good shape.

PRESS: Let me look ahead, because for a long time Bradley was leading Gore in New Hampshire. Just a week from Tuesday, the vote there, and now the latest CNN poll shows Gore up 7 points over Bradley already in New Hampshire, that's before the Iowa vote. If Bradley loses both here and in New Hampshire, isn't your candidate toast? WEST: No. No, not at all, not at all. We're looking both beyond Iowa and New Hampshire, but we're going to surprise people in Iowa and we're going to win New Hampshire, and then we're on to March 7.

NOVAK: I want to give you a quick question, David. In the Brown & Black Debate here in Iowa, Vice President Gore said that Mayor Sharp James of Newark had asked for help from Senator Bradley on racial profiling and implied he didn't get anybody help. I have checked that out -- it takes a little time to check it out. He never asked for such help.

BONIOR: Did you ask Sharp James?

NOVAK: No, but I found out from other people. What he asked for, he always asked for more money for Newark. Why does the vice president put out this incorrect information?

BONIOR: Well, I may be wrong here, but I thought Sharp James is the one who mentioned this.

NOVAK: No, the vice president mentioned it, and I have it right here.

BONIOR: Listen, the vice president is a decent person...

NOVAK: Well, why does he put out that kind of stuff then?

BONIOR: ... who cares very much about the same issues that Cornel talked about, the education issues, the health care issues, making sure that we have prescription drugs for our seniors. Listen, he is a man with incredible experience. House...

NOVAK: Just -- is he fast and loose with the truth?

BONIOR: No, he's not. House, Senate, seven years as vice president, greatest prosperity.

NOVAK: Got it. We have to go.

WEST: But what you agree on is that Bill Bradley works for all poor children.

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: Got to go, guys.

BONIOR: Bill Bradley is a good person.

NOVAK: We're out of time. Thank you very much, David Bonior, Cornel West, Professor, thank you.

BONIOR: Thank you.

WEST: Thank you very much.

NOVAK: And Bill Press and I will be back to summarize this entire story.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: Closing comments.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: OK. This programming reminder: Tomorrow night, CROSSFIRE will be right here for the Iowa caucuses. Mary Matalin joins me Monday at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. And stick around right after tonight's show, because our guests will be on CROSSFIRE's chat room at cnn.com/Crossfire -- Bob.

NOVAK: Bill, you seem overjoyed that Governor Bush has reaffirmed his opposition to abortion, but let me try to explain something that liberals like you don't understand and that's the American people don't like abortion on demand. All the people you run with do. But any -- it's a winning issue as it was for Ronald Reagan to be against abortion on demand and that's what the governor of Texas is against.

PRESS: Well, I totally disagree, Bob. I think the American people, particularly American women respect -- it's not that they're pro-abortion. They respect a woman's right to choose. And I think that Governor Bush has painted himself so far here in Iowa to the right on taxes and on abortion, he's dug himself in a hole that's going to be hard to get out of in November.

NOVAK: Well, you hate any conservative and the funny thing about George W. Bush, the dirty little secret is that he is a conservative.

PRESS: And he has proved it here.

From the left, I'm Bill Press, good night for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak, join us again tomorrow night for another edition of CROSSFIRE from Iowa.

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