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Will John McCain's Message Appeal to Voters in the Next Primary States?

Aired February 2, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET



SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. God bless. And on to South Carolina. Thank you.


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Tonight, with New Hampshire under his belt, John McCain moves on, but will his message appeal to voters in the next primary states?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left Bill Press. On the right, Robert Novak.

In the CROSSFIRE, former New York Congressman Bill Paxon, an adviser to the Bush campaign, and Vin Weber, an advertiser to the McCain campaign and former congressman from Minnesota.

NOVAK: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Texas Governor George W. Bush, the Republican presidential front- runner, was finally out of New Hampshire, where he got the licking of his life, a 19-point drubbing by Senator John McCain of Arizona. But consider the source, said Bush's man on Capitol Hill, Congressman Roy Blunt of Missouri. Of New Hampshire's independent late-deciding voters, blunt was blunt -- quote -- "This is a scenario that could heavily influence and skew results in a small population state with a history of obstinate political primary behavior" -- end quote.

Governor Bush was off to a slightly larger state with a historic reputation for true obstinacy: South Carolina, where the Texan got an endorsement from a familiar face and voice.


DAN QUAYLE (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Of all the candidates that are running, I can tell you, Governor Bush is the most prepared to be the next president of the United States.


NOVAK: Both Bush and McCain were lyrical in describing what will come next in their campaigns.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The road to the Republican nomination and the White House is a long road. Mine will go through all 50 states, and I intend it to end at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.




MCCAIN: A wonderful New Hampshire campaign has come to an end. But a great national crusade has just begun.



NOVAK: For all the talk about high roads and crusades they will duke it out in South Carolina February 19. Can McCain win there? Can he afford to lose there? We'll ask next in the CROSSFIRE -- Bill?

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Bill Paxon, yesterday in Manchester, when the exit polls started coming in, people were in disbelief that this could be a win this big, yet it happened -- 19 points over the anointed front-runner by a candidate who talked about, God forbid, smaller tax cuts. Isn't there just the beginning of doubts among party Pooh Bas like you that you have rushed to the wrong candidate with the wrong message.

BILL PAXON, FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE/BUSH ADVISER: I've been called a lot of names, but never a Pooh Ba before.

Bill, look, nothing has changed in my view in the last 60 days to change the underlying dynamics of this race. I will give credit to my friend Mr. Weber and his friend John McCain. They had a great night last night. But you know what, campaigns are not one night; they're a series of events. We won in Iowa. We won in Alaska, a little primary. Coming into New Hampshire, came in second. We're on our way now to South Carolina.

Today, 6,000 people showed up at the largest political rally in the history of the state for Governor Bush. I believe you're going to see a campaign that focuses and going to do very well. We're going to win. We're going to continue to win. Yes, they had a good night last night. John McCain lived in New Hampshire the last six months. He shook every hand of every voter who voted for him. You cannot do that when you get to South Carolina, Michigan and the rest of these states. We have a campaign that's focused and enjoys tremendous support nationwide -- 50-state campaign, not a one-state campaign. And remember, four years ago, who won in New Hampshire? Buchanan. Four years before that, who won? Buchanan. Who became the nominees? Not Buchanan . (CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: No, that's not right. Bush won.

PAXON: Four years ago.

VIN WEBER, MCCAIN ADVISER: Let's get the facts straight. This strange, little obstinate state -- no Republican has ever been elected president without wining in this strange little obstinate state -- people like Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan, and George Bush, but he when he won in 1988, won in New Hampshire. Nobody said to them this is a funny little state. It's only losers that say it's a funny little state. And the history of the primary also says, if you should lose New Hampshire, and then go on to win the Republican nomination, what happens? Barry Goldwater, Gerald Ford -- you'll lose the election.

PAXON: No, Vin I didn't say funny state; I said it was an unusual state, where you can literally -- you complained yourself -- take all the hits. You now have all of these big states coming up you, and cannot run that kind of a retail campaign.

PRESS: I just want to look another quick look at this small, little obstinate state, and look at how it wasn't just deep, McCain's victory, but broad his victory was. Just was looking at the exit polls, for example, two categories: among -- of course, he won among independents, bigtime, right? Three to one, I think it was. Among Republicans: McCain 42 percent, Bush 37 percent. Then they asked people what the most important issues were as they came out of the polling places: moral values number one, even in New Hampshire. Of course, not surprisingly, taxes was the second most important issue, and yet still McCain won on his message of smaller tax. If you go down to South Carolina, our CNN poll shows that given a choice between a smaller tax cut or a bigger tax cut, smaller tax cut and doing something about the national debt, it wins three to one. Again, isn't McCain on to something?

PAXON: Bill, the Titans beat the Rams in regular season play. It doesn't happen. Super Bowl, it's a different victory. This is a year when you're going to have...


PAXON: OK, it's a regular season, not the Super Bowl.

WEBER: I quit following after the Vikings.

PAXON: And me the Bills.

We have a 50-state campaign, where we won in Iowa. Governor Bush had a victory. Everybody said, oh, he has to win, and then they say, oh, it's the next test. He's the front-runner. He's going to keep winning these primaries as he goes forward.

NOVAK: Vin Weber, a Little thing that was just up there showed that among New Hampshire Republicans only nine percent of thought campaign finance reform was the most important issue, and yet this is something that your candidate, Senator McCain, talks about all the time. People really don't care about that that much.

WEBER: He talks about a lot. But let's remember, how John McCain talks about campaign finance reform is as a gateway issue, in his view, to allowing more reforms, such as military reform, reform of pork barrel spending, ultimately, tax reform, which I think people do care about a lot more.

NOVAK: Mr. Weber, I have so many interesting things to ask you and so little time.

WEBER: I am sure.

NOVAK: Your candidate obsesses on talking about the special interests all the time -- get rid of the special interests, that is my mission, that's the crusade. Now, as a bigtime lobbyist in Washington, you represent special interests. Now are the special interests that you represent exempt from that program?

WEBER: Most of them work for Bush, but I'm not.


WEBER: No, I think John McCain has made argument that says that the system, not the individual senators or congressman, not the individual lobbyists, but the system itself, breeds corruption, because money permeates the entire system. I'm pretty comfortable with that.

NOVAK: Tell me what special interests he's talking about. I'd like to know. Tell me.

WEBER: I am not going to start naming...

NOVAK: Well, Just name one. Give me one. He never mentions them by name. What are they?

WEBER: Well, we talk about the telecommunications bill, for instance. But I don't know, I'm not...

NOVAK: A bill is not a special interest. He's talking about, what, the telecommunication industry? Is that what...

WEBER: I am not going to put words in my candidate's mouth. You say he doesn't name them. I am not going to either.

NOVAK: Just admit it, Vin -- he goes all over -- I have heard him. I went to many of his rallies, and he gets all these rural people all upset


NOVAK: ... about the special interests. I'd like to know what special -- where -- is it the labor unions? What are you talking... WEBER: I think labor, unions, yes. I certainly think the NEA is a special interest that stops the advancement of school choice, is one all Republicans would agree on.

Now when we start talking about corporations that give our party a lot of money, we get a little more nervous, but it's true they're...

NOVAK: I'd like you to name just one, but you can't do it.

WEBER: The tobacco industry.


PAXON: I just want to respond to something. Vin said, all of these great reforms. There's only one candidate in our party who has implemented reform as governor of a state -- tax reform, education reform, welfare reform, and by the way, in terms of politics, the only candidate I know of who's gone out and made sure we've elected every statewide office as a Republican to grow our party's support; at the same time been able to bring 50 percent of the Hispanic vote to our party, and I think that's a record of real aggressive reform.

WEBER: And we admire Governor Bush. We admire Governor Bush. That's not an issue.

PAXON: Like I do John McCain, but that's a record that can stand up against Al Gore when he talks about things the Clinton administration wanted to do to this country that weren't popular, we have a candidate who can say, here's what I've done, this is popular.

PRESS: If I could get a word in here, gentlemen.

I have to ask also a question about campaign tactics, because up in New Hampshire, it was like rolling out the big names one day at a time -- Jack Kemp, John Sununu, then he brings in daddy, who talks about "our boy." And you'd think they learned a lesson, because it didn't get him very far in New Hampshire. So what happened in South Carolina today? They roll out, I guess, the biggest name of all. I mean, here it is -- Bob showed it in the open -- Dan Quayle.

I mean, Bill, first of all, he set me up for saying, what's the message? Dumb and dumber? But seriously, the serious question is, do you really think these endorsements get you anywhere? Aren't the questions about his lack of experience compared to John McCain?

PAXON: No. First of all, his lack of experience is the only executive manager of a government that's implemented real reform I think is an important message, No. 1.

But two, I think today's example -- and I mentioned before -- 6,000 people showing up at a rally, the largest...

PRESS: Where? Bobby Jones University.


NOVAK: Bob Jones -- Bob Jones.


PAXON: ... 6,000 voters coming out to vote to stand up for this candidate today.

PRESS: At Bob Jones University, which bans interracial dating.

PAXON: Could I just -- and in addition, today we found six key Bauer supporters, his cabinet coming over and supporting the Bush campaign. You're going to continue to see this kind of momentum.

Grassroots support, that's important. Today in Michigan alone he had 200-and-some county coordinators come forward.

This is the kind of grassroots support that this campaign enjoys that I think is what really matters.

WEBER: But it's exactly -- but it's exactly what they had in New Hampshire. They had Senator Gregg, they had Congressman Bass, they had all those state legislatures.

I mean, I think -- hate to agree with Bill Press on anything...


... but endorsements in politics have become like Druid religious ceremonies. They don't matter anymore.

PAXON: I'll take 6,000 voters at the biggest rally in the history of the state any day.

PRESS: We've got -- at Bob Jones University. And we've got to take break. And I never considered Dan Quayle grassroots support.

All right. In 1996, South Carolina saved Bob Dole from Pat Buchanan. Will it save George Bush from John McCain? We'll continue our debate here on CROSSFIRE. And as we go to a break, here's the next round of primaries for the Republican candidates.

Take a big look at Delaware coming up.


PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Guess what? No coronation after all. It's now a wide-open battle for the Republican nomination, or is it? Does McCain's big New Hampshire win signify strong national support or will it prove to be, as it has so often in the past in New Hampshire, just a fluke?

We look at the McCain-Bush battle in South Carolina and beyond with two top Republican strategists: Bill Paxon, supporter of George W. Bush, and Vin Weber, who's backing Senator John McCain -- bob.

NOVAK: Bill Paxon, out of all the verbiage last night after the wipeout of your candidate, the best quote came from George W. Bush himself. Let's listen to it.


BUSH: He came at me from the left here in New Hampshire, and so it's going to be a clear race between more -- a more moderate-to- liberal candidate versus a conservative candidate in the state of South Carolina.


NOVAK: Now gag me with a spoon, but is...


Is John McCain a liberal now? I mean, tell me. Whatever he is, has he become a liberal?

PAXON: You're sugar coating this tonight, Bob.


Look, I think that on issues, we -- is this campaign (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Let's just talk about one of the issues, taxes, which I find we have interesting allies on. Vin Weber's on our side on the issue of tax cuts.

WEBER: Not true. That's not true.

PAXON: We -- George Bush has put forward a plan to cut taxes, the kind of tax cuts that Ronald Reagan would be proud of, and John McCain has decided that the money should stay in Washington. I think we need to move money out of Washington.

I'm glad that Vin Weber has said in the press -- we have the -- that...

WEBER: I get to respond to this.

PAXON: ... he'd vote for the tax cuts of George Bush.

NOVAK: That's a nice -- that's a nice speech. But tell me, is John -- in the opinion of Bill Paxon, whose -- whose judgment I respect so much...


... is John McCain a liberal? Tell me.

PAXON: Well, I think that you need to look at the issues.

NOVAK: No, no. Yes or no. Give me...

PAXON: George Bush -- George Bush is for bigger tax cuts.

NOVAK: All right. All right. All right. All right. All right. PAXON: Wants to move more power out of Washington, and he is truly the candidate of reform.

NOVAK: Now, we know, you and I know, you're a big, rich Washington lobbyist now.


And lobbyists on K street, the thing they hate the most is the thought of John McCain as president. If he is nominated...

PAXON: By the way, I don't agree. I would much rather have John McCain than Al Gore. But...

NOVAK: Well, that's my question. Could you support him if he's nominated?

PAXON: Oh sure. I think any of the Republican candidates are preferable to a continuation of the Clinton administration. But I -- but I...

NOVAK: But some of your K...

WEBER: Bill, that's my point on (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

PAXON: But listen, let me tell you. There is not going to be a problem, because Governor Bush is to going to continue to win. He's going to win, as he did in Iowa, Alaska. He came in second in New Hampshire. But he's going to win this nomination, and he's going to take it with the support of Vin and John McCain and the rest of our party right to Al Gore on these issues.

PRESS: Bill -- or Vince, let me ask you -- and I want to speak to this liberal question, because I'm the one who can. All right.

I am a liberal. John McCain is no liberal.

NOVAK: You're a socialist. You're not a liberal.

PAXON: Nobody is liberal compared to you.

PRESS: Thank you. But when you look at John McCain -- and Bill, I'm trying to help you out -- I mean, you look at his position on campaign reform -- anti-party -- you look at his position on tobacco legislation -- anti-his party -- you look at his position on tax cuts -- anti-his party -- the question is, isn't he too far to the left for a rock-ribbed Republican state like South Carolina.

WEBER: No, no. He's not too far to the left. No, no, no. He's not too far to the left.

Look, he's got a 94 percent conservative record and he's the...


WEBER: ... he's the inheritor -- he's the inheritor of Barry Goldwater's seat in the United States Senate.

He has a different position than most mainstream Republicans do on campaign finance reform, and he articulates it because he says, we are not going to get conservative reforms that conservative voters want -- like school choice, like deregulation, and like lower taxes -- and a flat tax particularly -- unless you deal with the problem of special interests.

Now, you might agree with him, you might not agree with him, but it is a gateway issue to a conservative reform agenda that he has been very consistent about in this campaign.

On the tax issue, John McCain is saying cutting taxes and paying down debt is a conservative position. It seems like you're saying tonight that's something that is not conservative, because what we're arguing about is how much you should put to Social Security and paying down debt.

PAXON: I'll tell you what: Governor Bush's plan pays down Social Security debt.

WEBER: No, it doesn't.

PAXON: It pays down Social Security debt, and it moves money out of Washington through Reaganesque tax cuts that you know are the right way to go.

PRESS: We've heard this speech so many times.

WEBER: Almost precisely the same as the Dole tax cut of four years ago which failed four years ago.

PRESS: Vin...

PAXON: Would you vote for that tax cut if it was put up before Congress?

WEBER: Sure, I'd vote for it. But the voters don't want it.

PAXON: I disagree. I think the voters do want it.

WEBER: It's like the dogs won't eat the dog food.


PRESS: Hello, Vin, I suggest -- Vin, you have another problem. You're candidate has a 202 area code. Let's listen to what George W. Bush had to say today about John McCain.


BUSH: No question he was a valiant soldier. No question about that.

But his experience has been a legislator. They legislate. They go to committees, and they have subcommittees on committees and they amend things. I've been -- my experience is an executive. That's what executives do: They lead, they set agendas, and they bring people together to achieve those agendas.


PRESS: So you've got a Southern governor versus a Washington senator. Aren't people looking for somebody from outside?

WEBER: No. We have a Southern governor in the White House now. I think that anybody -- I mean, this whole conversation's suddenly turned around. It's John McCain -- the guy who is too far outside, too much the outsider, too much taking on the special interests -- all of a sudden, we flip the argument. He's the insider. He's got the inside-the-Beltway area code.

I think that's just nonsense. I think we've had senators, governors, vice presidents and secretaries of commerce elected to the presidency in the past. That's kind of a phony argument.

PAXON: Listen, look, this is no reflection on John McCain. I think that if you think, though, in the fall standing there taking on Al Gore, who has lived his whole life inside this Beltway, nothing better than to have a governor who has lived and worked in Texas and who has changed the path of that state in a positive way to be able to stand up and say, let's try outside the Beltway solutions.

NOVAK: Bill, if -- in your candidate's home state of Texas, if you have a pulse and $20, you can go in and run for anything in that state, anything in the world, president, anything, get on the ballot, no trouble. How, in good conscience -- and I'm serious -- can you and Governor Bush and Governor Pataki keep McCain's name off the ballot in New York?

PAXON: We're not, not at all.

NOVAK: Oh, come on!

PAXON: Wait, wait. The rules of the road, 10 states have petition requirements. The petition requirements are tougher in Virginia. Senator McCain qualified in all of those districts. In New York, let me tell you, Bob, let me tell you, when I ran for Congress in New York, I used to have to get 2,500 signatures to get on the ballot. He -- McCain has to get between 80 and 800 in a district. If you don't have 15 volunteers in a district you don't belong on the ballot.

NOVAK: Well, Bill, let's not kid me. I have been around longer than you. They use technicality.

PAXON: No, they didn't.

NOVAK: Just a minute. They used technicalities. Why not say OK, let's just have a race in New York between George Bush and John McCain?

PAXON: Bob, you mean technicalities like Senator McCain used to knock off a Republican primary opponent two years ago and to knock off a former governor in 1992.

WEBER: You're blowing smoke, Bill.

PAXON: The truth is that it takes 15 volunteers to get those signatures, 15!

WEBER: Bill, even Al D'Amato and Rudy Giuliani, who are supporting George Bush, agree with what Bob just said. You guys ought to just give in on this.

PAXON: The rules are the rules.

WEBER: Why don't you -- what do you think you're going to win or lose the race based on a few congressional districts around New York?

PAXON: There's nothing wrong with it. There was nothing wrong with John McCain -- there was nothing wrong with what McCain did in Arizona.

WEBER: How about D'Amato and Giuliani?

PAXON: What about when John did it in Arizona? Was it wrong?

NOVAK: Wait a minute.

WEBER: Is Giuliani wrong?

PAXON: Was it wrong when John did it in Arizona?

NOVAK: We have got to finish, but just a yes or no answer. That is like Stalinist politics.


WEBER: Thanks, Bob, and I agree.

NOVAK: Thank you very much, Vin Weber, Bill Paxon. And Vin Weber and I will be back with closing comments.


NOVAK: We're talking Republican strategy tonight, but tomorrow we'll shift gears and talk about the Democratic presidential race. Joining us will be President Clinton's former strategy guru James Carville. That's tomorrow night on CROSSFIRE.

Bill, Bill Paxon is a good guy, he says he will support John McCain, but let me tell you that many of his fellow lobbyists on K Street if by some chance, and it's still uphill, John McCain has the Republican nomination they would be throwing themselves out the windows.

PRESS: But they would not be voting for Al Gore, Bob. They would have nowhere else.

NOVAK: Don't be too sure, don't be too sure. I think they think they can live easier with Gore.

PRESS: Well, let me just say, Bob, I mean, I think, and we've been talking about this, I think you just can't accept the fact that John McCain has got something going, Bob. The days that Republicans can talk about tax cuts only are over.

NOVAK: Well, I know this. See, you're -- you used to be a chief politician and the fact is...

PRESS: I was an expensive politician.

NOVAK: ... you just think whatever works. I think certain things are right, and I know the American people are overtaxed and we should have tax cuts for principle.

PRESS: All right. From the left, I'm Bill Press, good night for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak, join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.


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