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Crossfire

Who's Positioned to Win in New Hampshire?

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

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

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, live from Manchester, New Hampshire, a special edition of CROSSFIRE. The race tightens in both parties two days before the nation's first primary, but do the polls tell the whole story?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Manchester, New Hampshire, a special edition of CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Mary Matalin. In the crossfire, Congressman Jim McDermott of Washington, a Bill Bradley supporter, and Congresswoman Nita Lowey of New York, a supporter of Al Gore. Later, Rick Davis, campaign manager of the McCain campaign, and Mark McKinnon, media director for the Bush campaign.

PRESS: Good evening and welcome to a special edition of CROSSFIRE live from Manchester, New Hampshire. No rest for the weary in the Granite State today, neither for candidates nor for voters.

Two days before the nation's first primary, the candidates were out in full force, Republicans and Democrats, for one last round of campaigning before the Super Bowl shut them down. John McCain held his 114th town meeting in Peterborough, stressing campaign reform. George Bush told morning talk shows he might consider an even larger tax cut.

And for the Democrats, it was a total role reversal: Now, Bill Bradley's on the attack, calling Al Gore a liar and comparing him to Richard Nixon, especially on the issue of abortion, and Al Gore now accusing Bill Bradley of negative personal attacks: a sure sign we're getting close to D-Day, Tuesday.

Republicans will be up next. We start with the battle between the Democrats -- Mary.

MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: Congressmen, thanks for joining us. I don't think Bill Bradley called the vice president a liar. Let's look at his ad, his latest ad on abortion. This is the Bill Bradley ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, BRADLEY CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR: Of the seven men running for president, only one candidate has been pro-choice for everyone all the time: Bill Bradley.

BILL BRADLEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is the kind of issue that you can't straddle. You can't be on both sides. (END VIDEO CLIP)

MATALIN: So the argument here is less on substance, more on consistency and honesty, since Al Gore said in the last debate -- and I quote -- "I have always supported a woman's right to choose," which caused one of the right to life activists, Gary Bauer, on our side to say he almost fell off the chair.

When he was in the House and in the Senate, Al Gore voted for amendments that -- well, specifically, said that the unborn children -- that a person is an unborn children (sic) from the moment of conception. He supported the amendment which included that definition. He was against federal funding for poor women (ph) for abortions. So he's not a -- yes or no. He is not consistent on the issue.

REP. NITA LOWEY (D), NEW YORK: Just a minute, Mary, the real issue is what has Al Gore been doing since the Republicans took over the House in 1994, trying to undermine the right to choose, trying to make sure that we did away with Roe v. Wade. We've had over 100 votes. This Clinton-Gore administration has been probably the strongest I've ever worked with, as chair of the pro-choice caucus, on the issue of choice.

(CROSSTALK)

MATALIN: Why didn't Al Gore just say that?

(CROSSTALK)

... want to go through since 1994. Why did Al Gore say, "I've always been"? Why didn't he say, "I have really worked hard since 1994"?

LOWEY: I think the real question is, with the Republicans trying to outdo each other on who's more anti-choice, why did Al Gore -- excuse me -- why did Bill Bradley wait a couple of days before Tuesday to try to undermine Al Gore's credibility on the issue? It doesn't make a sense.

MATALIN: Well, that's a question to your colleague. Let me ask you more about Gore. This is language from letters when he was a member of Congress and in the Senate.

"It is my deep personal conviction that abortion is wrong. It is arguably the taking of a human life." OK? That's what his language is then. He says now he would not use that phraseology -- quote, unquote. This is what I think Bradley's meaning when he says that he uses tricky words. What does that mean not that, that abortion is not wrong, that innocent life should not be protected, that it's not taking a human life? What does he mean he would change the phraseology?

LOWEY: Mary, the Republicans are trying to undermine Roe v. Wade. The Democrats are fighting hard to maintain the women's right to choose. I think it's unfortunate that a senator who has a very distinguished record, has run a very vigorous, strong campaign -- and that is Bill Bradley -- has to wait a couple of days before Tuesday to try and divide Democrats. We should be going after the Republicans record on abortion.

MATALIN: So just finally, we don't know what this means, what Al Gore means when he says he wouldn't use that phraseology.

LOWEY: What I care about is that Al Gore...

(CROSSTALK)

... has been fighting with me and the pro-choice members of the House trying to maintain the support for the right to choose and has made it very clear that this is a personal decision. And this Congress and this government should stay out of this personal decision. Let the Republicans keep fighting about who's more anti- choice.

PRESS: Congressman McDermott, you and I are both liberals. We're both proud of it. We're both pro-choice.

I don't care about 1970 or 1975 or 1984. I care about today. Wouldn't you have to agree that on the issue of choice Bill Bradley and Al Gore are absolutely identical, 100 percent pro-choice?

REP. JIM MCDERMOTT (D), WASHINGTON: The question really is why does Al Gore...

PRESS: No, that's not my question. My question...

MCDERMOTT: ... when they point out -- they are, of course. We're...

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: ... together?

MCDERMOTT: And they are together on this issue. But Al Gore won't say where he was. He was once 84 percent for pro-life. That's what they rated him as. So he ought to just say: "I've changed my position. I was wrong then. I made a big mistake."

But this is what we've had in this White House for the last four years, is this shading of the truth -- "There's no controlling authority" -- these kinds of words.

PRESS: Well, Congressman, I really take exception to that. Look, what Al Gore has said was his thinking has evolved on this issue. He admitted that he voted wrong when it came to federal funding for abortion.

I've got to tell you something. I went to Catholic school. I grew up thinking abortion was wrong. I marched in anti-abortion marches. I've changed. I've grown. So has Al Gore. What's wrong with that? Why do you condemn someone for their position today when it's good? MCDERMOTT: Nobody condemns changing your position. What we...

PRESS: You are. You're saying that's character.

MCDERMOTT: No, no. No, no. It's when you're confronted with where you were on the record, you stand up and say, "I have been always for the right to choose." That is not true. And you should just say that is -- and you should say, I was not there once.

PRESS: Congressman, I've looked at those letters. He's for the right to choose. He is questioning -- wrongly, and he admits it now -- he is questioning federal funding for abortions. I believe that's a distinction that he has made very clearly.

MCDERMOTT: But there is -- there is another issue that he avoids, and that's the Marksel-Gender (ph) amendment to the Civil Rights Act, that creates the life of the child at conception. That's what the right -- the right to life people have wanted from the very start. And he was with them at that point. Now, he's obviously seen the light -- and I'm glad he has. But admit where you were.

MATALIN: Exactly, and that's the issue, Congressman. We're not talking -- we're not going to have a whole show on abortion, although I love to see the Democrats fighting about this. But Bradley's bigger issue is one echoed in "The Union Leader," very influential paper today, and it's almost an endorsement for Bill Bradley, saying "Gore's dishonesty makes him an unacceptable choice for Democrats."

And they go on to ask: "How can this man continue to deny, deny, deny in light of the facts? The answer is that that cancer of the Clinton presidency has morally infected him and he is ethically damaged beyond repair."

Another point that Bradley's making is that your best candidate in a general election is one infected by this administration.

LOWEY: Al Gore has been a fighter for the right to choose. Al Gore has been a fighter for education reform, for modernization of our schools, for the patients' bill of rights, for health care, for preserving Social Security and Medicare. And frankly, all this hullabaloo about the distinction without a difference, in my judgment, between Al Gore's position on choice and Bill Bradley's position for choice now is irrelevant to this campaign.

MATALIN: All right, congresswoman, it's not just with choice. Here's another, for instance. "He has consistently said that he didn't" -- "he always has said he didn't know it was a fund-raiser" at the infamous now Buddhist temple. Documents collected by the Congress show irrefutably that not only was it a Democratic fund-raiser but that Gore knew it. That's what Bradley's talking about. Just tell the truth. It's not just abortion. It's his capacity for veracity.

LOWEY: You know, Mary, I could discuss today or tonight where Al Gore's been since he left the Senate and the kind of money he's raised and the people to whom he has spoken. But I don't think that's relevant, because Bill Bradley had a distinguished record in the Senate. Al Gore has been a distinguished vice president.

And a couple of days before a primary to really stoop to this negative campaigning I think is inappropriate.

PRESS: Can I ask you about that, Congressman? I have to tell you, I've been trying to stay religiously neutral in this primary and I really like Bill Bradley. And I like him particularly because he reminds me of my first candidate, Gene McCarthy in '68. He's classy. He's above-the-fray. It's not politics as usual.

And yet in the last couple of days, I hear him calling Al Gore tricky, which we all know is a pseudonym for Nixon-life. He doesn't have to say Nixon. Tricky means "Tricky Dick."

Why does Bill Bradley stoop to that level? I have to tell you, it turns me off. And don't you think it turns a lot of other people off?

MCDERMOTT: If you put out the facts and people don't like it, they call that negative campaigning. Bradley has said, I don't want to any of that. He tried for weeks and weeks, and he was hammered on a lot of things in the health care issue, which were simply not true.

He never put out a $150 voucher for people. He never took away Medicaid to poor people. All these things that Gore said over and over again with absolute conviction, finally had to call him, and gave chapter and verse, and nailed him.

MATALIN: All right, congresspersons, thank you both. Good luck in your primary, not in the general.

(LAUGHTER)

We appreciate you being here. Coming up next, the Republicans, Bush and McCain are in a neck-and-neck race up here as well. And we'll have their strategists when we return on CROSSFIRE. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATALIN: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. The Republicans are also racing to the finish line. Front-runner McCain held his 114th town hall meeting today, and Bush basked in the afterglow of a family event with his folks.

For their comments on the big close here and life beyond New Hampshire -- is there one?

(LAUGHTER)

We're joined by McCain campaign manager Rick Davis and Bush media director Mark McKinnon -- Bill.

PRESS: Mark, I think you'd have to agree -- and I've been impressed all over again -- with how seriously the voters of New Hampshire take this first primary. I think they're very perceptive. They certainly look these candidates very closely, and they come to some conclusions about them, like they have this years.

We asked some questions about -- of New Hampshire voters. Three of them I want to talk with you about.

First, which candidate do you think is in touch with average Americans? McCain, 43; Bush, 24.

Which candidate is somebody you can trust? McCain, 38; Bush, 26.

Which candidate would improve the country's moral standards? McCain, 33; Bush, 21. He's actually below Alan Keyes in that one.

Mark, you're big guy came up here from Texas, and the New Hampshire people are seeing right through him, aren't they? Is it like all hat and no cattle, as they say?

MARK MCKINNON, MEDIA DIRECTOR, BUSH CAMPAIGN: No, that sounds like a Washington waltz to me. But no, strangle the numbers long enough, you can get them to admit to anything. The fact is that this has become -- John McCain has lived -- virtually lived here. If he decided to campaign -- he decided to run for governor of New Hampshire, which is fine. And I give him great credit for running a great campaign. But we've been campaigning in 49 other states. And as we have come here in the last few weeks and we have campaigned aggressively on a tax message and an education message, and the numbers have changed dramatically. And it looks like we've got a real contest here. And that's based on a message that has gotten traction with New Hampshire voters.

PRESS: Well, it doesn't seem to me the issue of trust would depend on how many days you spend here.

MCKINNON: Well, let me also...

PRESS: Let me ask -- let's move on, if I can, because we have a short period of time. So...

MCKINNON: Well, they're running a personality campaign, but on the issues, we're winning this race.

RICK DAVIS, CAMPAIGN MANAGER, MCCAIN 2000: Well, I disagree with that. If you look at every poll that's ever been taken on the tax plans -- your tax plan, our economic plan for America...

MCKINNON: You're running your campaign by polls. We're running it by leadership.

PRESS: Three to one.

DAVIS: Three to one, and everybody's...

MCKINNON: Lead and the polls will follow.

PRESS: Gentlemen, I have, believe it or not, heard, Mark, John McCain speak about one issue over and over. It's campaign reform. I was out at Peterborough today at that town hall meeting, and he said, again, that when he gets to the debate with Al Gore he can look Al Gore in the eye and say, you did wrong, and take him on. But George Bush will have nothing to say in that debate because George Bush is defending the same system that Bill Clinton and Al Gore used.

Isn't that true? You've got nowhere to go in that fight.

MCKINNON: No. We have a defining difference between not only Al Gore but John McCain in that we don't want to hand over campaign finance reform to big labor, let big labor run the politics in America.

(CROSSTALK)

DAVIS: Show me the difference between John McCain and George Bush on big labor. John McCain supports paycheck protection...

MCKINNON: Paycheck protection. Why wasn't it in his bill?

DAVIS: We've been for it.

MCKINNON: Why wasn't it in his bill? Why wasn't it in his bill?

DAVIS: Because it was used in the past to kill campaign finance reform.

(CROSSTALK)

MCKINNON: ... legislation in the United States Senate and it was not in his bill.

DAVIS: And this is just Washington code for killing reform.

MCKINNON: Rick, if you believe that...

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: We need one at a time, and Mary's next. OK, and we'll do more campaign finance reform. But McCain, whom we all love -- we're all on the same side here in the end -- is -- his closing argument is that we're going to beat Al Gore like a drum. I mean, we're all on the same side that we agree with that sentiment is what I meant to say.

Where's the evidence that McCain's the guy to do it, since we're shoveling out polls here?

In the worst possible matchup of head to heads, Bush -- this is an NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll -- Bush still beats Gore by four points, and Gore beats McCain by seven points. In other "Newsweek" polls, Bush beating Gore by 13 points.

Where's the evidence that McCain is the guy to beat Al Gore like a drum?

DAVIS: In fact, those polls are great for my case. I mean, only five or six months we were getting beat by everybody by 45 points, and John McCain is the only one in the last eight months to go up in the polls. And Al Gore's been slipping, George Bush has been slipping, and John McCain keeps building a coalition of people, both Republican conservatives, independents, switching voters. And he's the only guy out there right now who can appeal to a broad base of support.

MATALIN: Rick, if he was at 5 percent, there's only one place to go, and that was up, OK? And before he gets to Gore, he has to get Bush. So let's move on to the next state, because there is life after New Hampshire and it's the second part of the two-pronged McCain strategy, which is South Carolina, where McCain hasn't moved. He's still 20 points below George W. Bush.

What is it? Fifty-two...

DAVIS: Well, 20 points is up by half. I mean, we were only about 15 about a month ago. So...

MCKINNON: I'd like to, at this point, remind Rick about a prediction that he made, which was the day after New Hampshire the polls would be even -- would be even in South Carolina.

DAVIS: That's right.

MCKINNON: And let me add one other thing.

DAVIS: And I don't think South...

(CROSSTALK)

DAVIS: Until New Hampshire has voted, I'm not sure what we know about South Carolina.

MCKINNON: Sure.

DAVIS: I mean, these things all have a big impact on what's going on. And I think this is a close race. Both candidates invested heavily here in New Hampshire. I think George Bush has spent just about as much effort here as we have. He's got money. We had time. We split the difference.

MATALIN: But what's the evidence...

DAVIS: In fact, one point I wanted to make is on this 49 state campaign and John's ability to deal with voters outside of New Hampshire. We've been to almost as many states as George Bush's campaign has. You've got us beat by two. So in your campaign in 49 states, you've got a lot left on the table to get to, and frankly, it's all right with me if you don't go to South Carolina and tend to some of those other states.

PRESS: Speaking of beating up on Al Gore, there has been a story in the last week or so -- and apparently, it's going to appear in "Newsweek" -- that Mr. Gore used marijuana -- it's reportedly -- more frequently and over long -- more years than he originally said. Is that an issue that the Bush campaign will use against Al Gore?

MCKINNON: I can't imagine. They wouldn't do it.

PRESS: Because?

MCKINNON: I don't think it's a relevant issue what somebody 20, 30 years ago.

PRESS: OK. We'll hold you to your word on that. I want to squirrel that tape.

Let me ask you then about New York State. Al D'Amato...

DAVIS: Let's talk about New York State. I love this issue.

PRESS: Al D'Amato, Rudy Giuliani and Peter King -- three prominent New York Republicans -- all say the state ballot system is wrong, because it's denying everybody a place on the ballot.

George Pataki and the state Republican chair, doing George Bush's duty, have kept Steve Forbes and John McCain off the ballot. With one phone call, George Bush could put everybody on the ballot. Why don't you do it?

MCKINNON: You know, these crocodile tears over the New York ballot just shock me. You know, it's as if there were suddenly new rules that didn't exist. Everybody knew the rules going into this. They knew the rules -- the New York rules have been there...

PRESS: Are the rules fair?

DAVIS: No, the rules aren't fair. Three years ago, they were deemed unconstitutional by a federal court, and the only change that they made is they reduced by a couple of signatures in every district what they were required.

Guess what? This year, the federal court is going to say they're unfair again. And if not for our efforts to try and get on the ballot, we don't understand what the crying's about. The only crocodile tears are coming out of...

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: In tonight's Super Bowl, if there were one field on the team and it won, would you call it a fair contest? Why don't you put everybody on the ballot, and win it fair and square, and stop trying to cheat?

MCKINNON: This is coming from the campaign that knocked two people off the ballot in Arizona. Now, suddenly, because it's there candidate they say...

DAVIS: I think there's a big difference between trying to get people who have not been able to get signatures in a district and aren't credible candidates, to take a credible...

MCKINNON: Oh, you get to decide who's credible.

DAVIS: ... like taking a credible candidate like John McCain...

MCKINNON: You get to decide who's credible.

MATALIN: Let me ask you this,..

DAVIS: ... and saying you don't get...

(CROSSTALK)

MCKINNON: Why should you decide who's credible?

MATALIN: Rick, Rick...

PRESS: Time out. Time out.

MATALIN: Rick, let me...

PRESS: Time out.

MATALIN: Let me ask you this. New York is the only state -- it's one of 10 state that requires petition gathering and signature gathering. In Virginia, you needed to get -- you needed to get 20,000. You got 10,000. In Vermont, you needed 1,000. You got 2,000. Pennsylvania, you needed 2,000. You got 6,000. You were able to get...

DAVIS: There's a little trick to New York...

MATALIN: Let me finish my question, please.

DAVIS: Sure, go ahead.

MATALIN: You only need to get about 7,000 signatures total across the state. There are over 3 million registered Republicans in New York. McCain doesn't have the support of 7,000 Republicans there.

DAVIS: And how many other states require a notary public to be with you when you get those signatures? How many other states take off the signatures if the comma's out of place?

Or like the protest that the Bush campaign did and knocked some of our districts out, because we hyphenated the name of the city they lived in. And that took us off the ballot.

MCKINNON: The difference, Rick...

DAVIS: We're down to one district now, the 12th district of New York, where there's one woman who stands in the way of our access to the ballot. And you know what happened? We got a map of the district from the registrar there, who happens to be a Bush supporter. And she lives on the wrong side of the street. Guess what? The map was an old map. She now is inside that district.

(CROSSTALK)

They've taken us to court on that district. That's what's really going on.

MCKINNON: Final comment is the same rules applied to us. We got registered voters. We found supporters who put us on the ballot.

DAVIS: Well, maybe you should have given the maps you were working off of.

MCKINNON: And finally, if you hadn't been to Delaware -- if you hadn't been in New Hampshire...

DAVIS: You're right. We haven't been to Delaware...

(CROSSTALK)

MCKINNON: We haven't been there either. You're going to have trouble there as well. But if you've been in New York campaigning, you could have gotten on the ballot.

PRESS: Who said this is not a spirited contest? We love it, and we thank you for being here, Mark McKinnon and Rick Davis.

MCKINNON: Thank you.

DAVIS: Thank you very much.

PRESS: Good luck to both of you on Tuesday. It's going...

DAVIS: Mark...

MCKINNON: Rick...

DAVIS: Good luck.

PRESS: There's a little -- a few more things left on the table. Mary Mc -- Mary Matalin and I...

(LAUGHTER)

... will clear it up when we come back with closing comments.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: Be sure to tune in CROSSFIRE tomorrow night. Mary and I will be right here in New Hampshire on the eve of the primary with top campaign strategists for all four front-runners. That of course Monday, tomorrow night, 7:30 p.m. Eastern.

And then you can log on to our Web site and join Mary and me in the chat room at cnn.com/crossfire.

Mary, I have to tell you, I think Bradley's making a big mistake to get off the pedestal and get in the gutter. But very quickly, ran into a woman today in Peterborough at a town hall meeting who went to see McCain in April, she went back in December, she was back there today. And today, finally she agreed she would vote for him.

These are New Hampshire voters are tough.

MATALIN: That is absolutely right, but you are absolutely wrong on Bradley. He's coming back in the polls. He's surging back, because he's finally campaigning like a man. He's taking Gore's own record to him and making him explain it.

And I hope he beats him here and I hope he goes on, because it'll prove that you can't do what the Clinton team has done for seven years.

PRESS: I don't consider Nixon a man. And I don't admire Bradley for sounding like another Nixon. He's gotten in the gutter. It's desperate. It sounds desperate.

MATALIN: It's just like Gore. He never called him Nixon.

PRESS: And -- no, no, no. He -- from the left...

MATALIN: OK, Gore boy.

PRESS: ... I'm Bill Press. Good-night for CROSSFIRE. See you tomorrow night.

MATALIN: And from the right, I'm Mary Matalin. Join us again tomorrow night for yet another special edition from New Hampshire.

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