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Who Will Win and Who Will Survive the Iowa Caucuses?

Aired January 24, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, live from Des Moines, Iowa, a special edition of CROSSFIRE. The Iowa caucuses get under way in just 30 minutes. After all the fuss, who will still be left standing?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Des Moines, Iowa, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Mary Matalin. In the crossfire, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, an Al Gore supporter, and Senator Paul Wellstone from Minnesota, a supporter of Bill Bradley. And later, former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, an adviser to George W. Bush, and Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, national chairman of the Forbes campaign.

PRESS: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE, live from Des Moines where voters of both parties are already arriving for tonight's caucuses which get under way finally just a half hour from now. CNN, of course, will be bringing you the results as soon as we get them.

On the Democratic side, it's a showdown between Vice President Al Gore and Senator Bill Bradley, both of whom criss-crossed the state one last time today: Gore telling supporters not to be complacent about his big lead in the polls, get out and vote for him; Bradley telling supporters not to be discouraged by Gore's big lead in the polls, get out and vote for him.

And we'll soon know who did the best job and who flies to New Hampshire tonight with the nation's first big win under his belt.

In our second segment, we'll look at the Republican front- runners, but first the Democrats. Will Al Gore hold his lead and bury Bradley, or will Bill Bradley pull off an Iowa surprise? -- Mary.

MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: Senator Harkin, this isn't -- you're not just a Gore supporter. This is your state. When you ran in the presidential race here, no one else came. It is totally your state. And I presume that you had something to do with the preparation of the ad for the vice president here.

Let's look at one right now, an ad running in Iowa.


SEN. TOM HARKIN (D), IOWA: In fact, Al Gore was the only Democratic candidate for president who helped make sure that Iowa got the help when we desperately needed after those floods. I'm Tom Harkin. I'm here to say that Al Gore has stood up for Iowa. And in the caucuses on Monday, January 24th, it's time for us to stand up for Al Gore.


MATALIN: Well made, senator. The problem is, according to The Washington Post, not entirely true. Al Gore wasn't the only senator that supported the flood aid. Senator Bradley did as well. And also, The Washington Post reports that you were complaining about the White House's help on that particular legislation. Up to a day before, the White House did nothing. Do you want to explain to us what that -- why that ad is saying what it is?

HARKIN: Well, I'm surprised that Senator Bradley would say he supported it. There is no record to show it. In fact, three times he voted against my amendment to increase aid for farmers that were flooded in Iowa, three times. On the final vote, it was a voice vote and he wasn't even there. So if he said he supported it, I don't know where he was standing, because he certainly wasn't standing in the Senate at the time we held the vote.

The fact is we were hurting then, I mean really badly. We had farms being washed away. And I had legislation and an amendment to increase aid to farmers just to make them like farmers were two years ago before they changed the formula.

MATALIN: But what did Al Gore have to do with it? You complained to the White House?

HARKIN: Well, because I called -- well -- oh, I was complaining to OMB, because it was OMB, the bean counters there, that weren't going to let us have the money. And so I complained to the White House. I complained to OMB. Finally, I turned to Al Gore and said: Al, you've got help us, you've got to weigh in on this. This is not right. It's not right that a farmer in Iowa gets 50 percent of what a farmer got a year and a half ago in Minnesota or Nebraska or someplace else. And Al Gore went to bat for us.

MATALIN: Al Gore charged in at the last minute and saved it. Let's...


PRESS: Quick response, senator. Go ahead.

WELLSTONE: No, I'm listening to this with a smile, because I was actually in the cloakroom on the phone to talk to the administration. They did come through after we told them you've got five minutes to go or we're going to go out on the floor and we're going to give a speech condemning you for no action. Then they came through. That's when they came through. We really had to put the pressure on them.

On the voice vote, if Bill Bradley didn't want to vote for the overall bill, he would have objected to a voice vote and he wouldn't have let it go through. Of course, Bill -- of course, Bill supported the overall bill.

PRESS: All right, Senator Wellstone, I was out at Drake University last night for the big Bill Bradley rally at the tennis center there. You were in rare form, senator. You were talking about how important it was to elect Bill Bradley for all kinds of very noble ideas: taking care of children, health care.

But senator, let's be honest: Isn't the real reason you're supporting Bill Bradley is because you think that Al Gore is so tainted by Bill Clinton's scandals that Al Gore cannot win the November election? And if so, why don't you say so?

WELLSTONE: I wouldn't say so because I don't believe that it's impossible for Bill Bradley -- for Al Gore to win the election. I don't think that's true.

I'll say two things: (a) I'm supporting Bill because of his integrity. I think Bill -- I think Bill is authentic. I think he connects to people. I think people are disillusioned with lot of the politics. And I think he's got by far the best chance to win this general election if he can win the nomination.

On the vice president, I don't think the administration has a great record on a lot of issues, ranging from campaign finance reform, ranging from what we're going to do for children in child care, ranging from fighting for family farmers, ranging from pushing for universal health coverage. I think Bradley captures the heart and soul of our party. I think he represents ethics and integrity. I think he has by far the best chance to win a general election.

That's not to say the vice president couldn't win it. It's just to say that Bill's a much stronger candidate.

PRESS: Well, Senator, there are a lot of Democrats who felt that Al Gore couldn't win last October, maybe last November. The perception has changed around the country today. And your man, Bill Bradley, is given a lot of credit for that, including this morning's "Wall Street Journal" where John Harwood writes -- quote -- "... the biggest change Mr. Bradley has engendered so far is to make the often lackluster Mr. Gore a more effective candidate."

Was it worth spending over $2 million in Iowa just to make Al Gore look better?

WELLSTONE: Well, I'm -- listen, I think the vice president is campaigning hard. He's got a lot of institutional power and a lot of people behind him, like my good friend Tom Harkin in Iowa.

But you know what Bill has? Bill has the excitement. Bill has a campaign of idealism and values. We're going to have a respectable showing in Iowa despite what we're up against. And then Bill Bradley is going to go on and win New Hampshire, and then he's going to go and win New York and California. And then he's going to win the nomination, and then he's going to win the election, and then I'm going to be famous throughout the world. And I'll take all the credit! MATALIN: And then he's going -- and then he's going to lose to the Republican.

HARKIN: One thing I like about Paul is he is a great dreamer.

PRESS: Save the tape. Save the tape.

MATALIN: Well, one thing the Bradley campaign does have -- and it was noted by his endorsement by the "Des Moines Register" this week -- he does have the vision thing.

We've run a Gore ad; let's run a Bradley ad.

WELLSTONE: And fundamental decency. And fundamental decency.

HARKIN: And so does Al Gore have fundamental...


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: "Of the two candidates for the Democratic nomination, Bill Bradley has the better appreciation of the possibilities and the right kind of leadership to realize them."

NARRATOR: Monday caucus for the man with a "compelling vision" and "fundamental decency," Bill Bradley for president, endorsed by the "Des Moines Register."


MATALIN: That is a big endorsement, senator. And also what about that Bradley does have the vision thing? He does see possibilities. Al Gore in this time of unfettered publicity is running a little incremental campaign.

HARKIN: No, I'm sorry about that, Mary. First of all, you know, every time I hear my good friend Paul and others say something about, well, Bill Bradley has all this integrity. There's no one with more integrity and more solid character and better family values than Al Gore. And I defy anyone to come here and say that he doesn't have it.

MATALIN: He was (UNINTELLIGIBLE) with multiple campaign finance abuses of this administration...

HARKIN: This man has got the guts and the courage.

MATALIN: ... and said nothing, senator.

HARKIN: Now, you want to talk about vision? You know, it's one thing to have pie-in-the-sky visions and things like that. The one thing I like about Al Gore and why I believe he's going on very well here in Iowa -- and he will in New Hampshire -- and why he'll win, is his vision is based on common sense: good common-sense values.

When he talks about covering every child with health care, that's something we can do. When he talks about saving money for Social Security and Medicare, that's something we can do. When he talks about making sure we have health -- prescription drugs for the elderly without deductibles, we can do that. This is common sense.

MATALIN: You raise...

WELLSTONE: But you didn't answer Mary's question.

MATALIN: What -- if there's so much integrity to this man, why did he sit through and say nothing during the worst campaign finance abuses in the history of this country? Buddhist nuns, the selling of the Lincoln Bedroom: That's integrity, that's character.

HARKIN: Look, you know, you really don't want to get into this. Bill Bradley's own home town newspaper called his fund raising "nauseating": Bill Bradley. When you look at how he's raised money from Wall Street and the drug companies and the people that he has helped on the Finance Committee, look...

PRESS: We've got to give...

HARKIN: ... that's why -- no, let me just say...

WELLSTONE: That's wrong.


HARKIN: ... that's why we've got to have campaign finance reform.

PRESS: We have to give Paul a quick last word here.

WELLSTONE: My last word is I'm not going to engage in that kind of discussion about the vice president. I think what Tom just said is just part of their campaign is why I think the vice president isn't going to make it. I think Bill's record on reform is genuine. I don't think the administration has been there. I, frankly, don't think it's a good record. I think that's why a whole lot of people, including young people with idealism, are drawn to Bill Bradley. I think he will connect to people and I think he's going to win this nomination.

MATALIN: Both these campaigns are privileged to have such great spokesmen...

WELLSTONE: Thank you.

MATALIN: Thank you, Senator Wellstone. Thank you, Senator Harkin.

PRESS: Thanks, senator.

MATALIN: And as we go to break, he's real live voting happening at a Republican caucus in Iowa. Stay with us.


MATALIN: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE, live from Des Moines, where we turn to the more crowded six-man GOP field, all except John McCain stumping across the Hawkeye State today in last minute bids to turn out their voters.

George W. Bush remains the prohibitive front-runner, but to survive the spin cycle he has to beat his closest competitor Steve Forbes with a healthy lead. For his part, Forbes is promising a surprise, but he may be showed up by the hard closing Alan Keyes. Only 15 minutes to go until Iowans speak. They're convening even as we speak, and CNN will bring you the results at the top of the hour.

In the crossfire with us are Bush advocate, former Iowa governor, Terry Branstad, and Forbes national chairman, Ohio secretary of state Ken Blackwell -- Bill.

PRESS: Governor, good to be in your state. Earlier this afternoon, I walked just about a block away, 5th & Grand, Scruffy's Pizza right here in downtown Des Moines.


PRESS: Familiar scene, Senator -- Governor. I want you to role some video here of this scene, because after Steve Forbes went in there and shook hands with diners, he walked outside to the sidewalk and he stood on the sidewalk for 15 minutes and he took questions from reporters about any issue they wanted to ask him about.

What's significant is this is the very same day that the Bush campaign announced that George Bush would not be holding anymore news conferences because Mindy Tucker, his spokesperson said, quote, "It is not in our best interest. We're not going to have one big fat news conference on our schedule when you come and ask about what you think is the news of the day."

Now, Governor, if Steve Forbes, who has never been elected to anything, can face the media, why can't George Bush?

BRANSTAD: Well, because George Bush is spending his time with Iowa voters and he's working to make sure that he wins. You know, instead of spending all of your time talking to the national media and this -- the people of Iowa really appreciate, because when he comes to an event there might be 400 or 500, 600 people there, he literally stays until he shakes every hand. He looks them in the eye. He answers their questions.

And so, people really appreciate the fact that with George W. Bush, we not only have a man that was elected twice governor of Texas, has broad-based bipartisan support and has a vision for the future, but he also is very personable and is willing to go direct one on one with the voters.

PRESS: Governor, I congratulate you for giving me that answer with a straight face, but isn't the truth that last Thursday Governor Bush bombed. He wanted to talk about farm prices, instead he ended up talking about abortion the whole day. Then he goes on "This Week" on Sunday, he gets all tied up trying to explain his pledge, all tied up trying to explain abortion. Isn't the truth that his campaign is keeping away from the media because he makes too many mistakes, they can't trust him?

BRANSTAD: The truth of the matter is he's done an outstanding job of relating to the people and he has got a lot of momentum going into tonight. I think he's going to do exceptionally well. I could tell you, I am really proud of the kind of campaign he's run and the quality of people that he is attracted to his cause here. He is the only candidate that has a record of cutting taxes, has a plan to implement quality education with accountability, and he's already in Texas eliminating passing people along just to get along. He wants to see no kids left behind.

PRESS: Let us...

KEN BLACKWELL, FORBES CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: Bill, when you zig and zag, duck and doing, it's exhausting. They're giving him a rest. Look at him where he is on the issues.


MATALIN: Secretary Blackwell, beautiful segue to my question to you, Steve Forbes may be talking to every Iowan, may be talking to every national press member, but what he is saying in this race is not quite the same as what he said in the 1996 race last time he ran. We visited with Governor Whitman on the show last week. Let's hear what she had to say about her childhood friend, Steve Forbes.


GOV. CHRISTIE WHITMAN (R), NEW JERSEY: I think he figures this is the only way he can win the nomination, because he really is the one who has changed, and the thing that troubles me about it so much is, you know, you can change your opinion. That's what is so funny about this transformation. He is now walking away from everything that he just -- and this was just a matter of a couple of years ago.


MATALIN: Those two grew up together. He was a key adviser to her successful gubernatorial campaign. He used to be a Christie Todd Whitman Republican. He called Pat Robertson a "toothy flake." Now he is courting the Christians. How can they trust that he's not going to turn on their agenda?

BLACKWELL: Mary, give me break. You know that he has fought Christie Todd Whitman on partial-birth abortion. He was on the side of pro-lifers and they won.

Secondly, you and I both know without question that Steve Forbes is consistent on where he was in 1995 and 1996 on the issue of abortion. That is why he can take a pledge and say that he will appoint only pro-life justices. He will in fact choose a pro-life running mate and he will protect the Ronald Reagan pro-life plank in the Republican platform.

The governor ducks and dodges. He runs, zigs and zags. And I can just tell you right now, that is what is happening to his lead in this state. Conservatives are in fact coming over to the Forbes camp. And I think when we come out of Iowa, there will be a clear conservative, true conservative alternative to both McCain and Bush.

MATALIN: But the governor's lead is not decreasing. Let's talk about where Forbes is. In this state, he's at 20. OK. These polls are notoriously hard to match caucus-goers. But he said this is a marathon, let's go down the path a little bit. When we get to New Hampshire...

BLACKWELL: We're going to do that for the long run.

MATALIN: ... he's at 13 points, we get to South Carolina, he's at 2 percent. This isn't a marathon for him. He's standing in place. He's running backwards.

BLACKWELL: Come on, Mary, give me break. Look, look at this. Where was he in December in New Hampshire? He was at 5 percent. He is now around 20 percent. The fact of the matter is, with the "Union Leader" endorsement, coming out of here with a conservative momentum, he will be in the middle of a race.

Look at what's happening to Governor Bush here in Iowa. If you go back to the straw poll, you aggregate the Dole, Alexander and Bush vote, it was 51 percent. He is uncontested for the moderate vote and he has gone from -- early polls show him getting 60 percent to right now where he's trying to say that 37 percent will be a good showing. Give me a break.

PRESS: Governor, I'm going to have you tell that I have been surprised coming here to Iowa. Expected to come here -- been here three days now -- and hear a lot of talk about agriculture. I have heard almost no talk except about abortion.

Governor Bush says now he wants -- he thinks the state legislature should deal with it, not the Supreme Court. He said on Sunday on "This Week" that if that happens in Texas they'd have the votes to outlaw all abortions in the legislature. My question to you as former governor, if that were the case, Roe v. Wade reversed, would there be the votes in the Iowa state legislature to outlaw all first trimester abortions?

BRANSTAD: Well, what Governor Bush has passed in Texas and which we passed here is a ban on partial-birth abortion.

PRESS: I'm not talking about that.

BRANSTAD: That's not going before the Supreme Court. That's the issue that's before the courts at this time. And I think we have to talk about issues that are current and are before the courts. That's the issue.

PRESS: I know, Governor, but your candidate said in Texas they would outlaw all first trimester abortions, which is where 95 percent of the abortions take place, if Roe v. Wade were reversed. I'm asking you, would you have the votes in Iowa? BRANSTAD: It's hard to say. In Iowa, with the Republican- controlled legislature, there's a good chance that we could be able to get pro-life action through the legislature. However, we now have a liberal Democratic governor who'd probably veto it. So it's probably not likely to happen at this time. I was consistently pro-life in all of my years. In fact, I was the first Catholic governor of the state, and we have consistently seen more pro-lifers become Republicans.

PRESS: OK, so here's my follow-up question then -- so we're going to -- we'd end up with a situation where some states yes, some states no; women have rights in some states, they don't have the same rights in other states. You succeeded, and your candidate, in making this election a referendum on abortion.

How can you possibly win in November with that pledge?

BRANSTAD: That's not the issue at all. The point of the fact is that a Supreme Court decision that was made back in 1972, where the courts took away the rights from the states to make those to make those decisions. I believe the states should be able to make those decisions. But that's not the most important issue; what the important issue is restoring respect in the White House and having a president that will lead on education, that will reduce taxes and give this country an opportunity to provide the leadership we need to in the world.

Right now, our defense on decline. The administration has really destroyed respect for the presidency itself. We need to restore that respect. We need someone that will fight for international markets and open up opportunities for Iowa agricultural products, like ethanol.

BLACKWELL: We need Steve Forbes.

Let me say this to, Mary.

PRESS: You know what, I can't do it, because I know you both have to get to the caucuses and we are out of time. Thanks very much to the both of you.


BLACKWELL: ... filibuster, vote for Forbes.


PRESS: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

Mary and I will be back with closing comments. And don't forget, the results from the Iowa caucuses are coming up right about the top of the hour.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATALIN: Bill and I still have more to say about the Iowa caucuses. No surprise there. Join us in our chat room right after the show at Can't wait to see you there, although I do want to get out and see the caucus-goers. Isn't this exciting? You know, it's really exciting...

PRESS: Do you think we can vote?

MATALIN: No, but we can watch. You would vote, because Democrats always cheat, right, early and often?

PRESS: Thank you, yes.

MATALIN: Here's going to be the surprise: Alan Keyes. Conservatives always close hard, and that's where the other campaigns are feeling energetic, but not they're feeling that surprise element like the Keyes campaign is.

PRESS: I think he's going to surprise everybody, coming in a strong third. But I think the story, Mary, in these caucuses is not going to be the vote count; I think it is how George Bush has been willing to sell his soul on this abortion issue in order to appeal to these social conservatives. He's going to spend the next nine months digging his way out of a hole that he dug himself into in Iowa.

MATALIN: Pro-abortion like you who are not going to support him, if you want to talk about what's the story of this campaign so far, the guy who's dug himself out of the hole has been Al Gore. It's only been by distorting and by, frankly, lying about his opponent's record, and his policies and his campaign, yes sir,

PRESS: Al Gore's just an aggressive campaigner. I am not pro- abortion. I am pro-choice, as most people in this country are. And that's why they're in the hole in November.

From the left, I am Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

MATALIN: And from the right, I am Mary Matalin. Join us again tomorrow night for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

And stay with us on CNN for its continuing coverage of the Iowa caucuses.

PRESS: Up next.


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