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Inside Politics

Bush, McCain Come Out Swinging as GOP Race Heats Up; Hillary Clinton Makes Her First Official Appeal to New York Voters

Aired February 7, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET



GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What we need -- is somebody running -- leading our ticket who can get results done and somebody who can bring a message of reform from outside of Washington, D.C., and I am that candidate.


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: George W. Bush comes out swinging and takes direct aim at his chief rival.



SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well first of all, I understand that Governor Bush is now a reformer. If so, it's his first day on the job.


WOODRUFF: John McCain fires back as the Republican race for primary support heats up.

Plus, from listening to campaigning, Hillary Rodham Clinton makes her first official appeal to the people of western New York.

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS with Bernard Shaw and Judy Woodruff.

WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us. Bernie is off today.

Having lost a round to the underdog and falling again in the polls, George W. Bush did come out swinging today at John McCain, now a heavyweight since New Hampshire. Among other attacks, Bush now said McCain has accomplished little despite his many years in Washington. It is Bush, says Bush, who knows how to govern and how to get results.

He spoke this afternoon to supporters in Wilmington, Delaware.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BUSH: In this race, there's only one person who can stand up and say, I'm a reformer with results; of the major candidates, only one person who doesn't have a Washington, D.C. zip code, somebody who comes from outside the system but somebody who's got a record of reforming and a record of results.


WOODRUFF: A little later on INSIDE POLITICS, we'll have a live report on Governor Bush's day from our own Candy Crowley.

For his part, John McCain today took a temporary break from South Carolina, whose crucial primary looms on February 19th, and rode his surging wave of support to Michigan. In suburban Detroit, McCain dismissed the new attacks from Bush as acts of, quote, "desperation."

Our Bob Franken is with the McCain campaign.


BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Senator John McCain swept through Michigan, an open primary state, hoping to attract support among independent voters and even Democrats, as Ronald Reagan did 20 years ago. Instead, he spent the day fending off charges from George W. Bush that he has failed in Washington.

MCCAIN: I understand that Governor Bush is now a reformer. If so, it's his first day on the job.

FRANKEN: For several days, Bush and his supporters have claimed Senator McCain has a double standard, talking campaign finance reform, for instance, while accepting private jet transportation from corporations who do business before his Commerce Committee. It's legal, but as McCain's bus sped across the Michigan countryside, he told reporters he took his last corporate jet ride on January 9th.

MCCAIN: We had almost no money when we were using the corporate jets. I could not get around from one place to another and meet my campaign schedule without it. Now we have a lot of money, thanks to the Internet and our successes, and we're able to charter a jet.

FRANKEN: Meanwhile, McCain has released a new TV ad accusing Bush of going back on his promise to avoid negative campaigning. It closes with the line, "Do we really want another politician in the White House America can't trust?"

(on camera): In a political campaign, what one calls an attack ad the other calls delineating differences. Both McCain and Bush make it very clear they will be delineating differences in much harsher tones.

Bob Franken, CNN, Flint, Michigan.


WOODRUFF: Well as we promised just a minute ago, our own Candy Crowley is traveling with Governor Bush today, and today they are in Wilmington, Delaware.

Candy, this new tougher line from Governor Bush, is this what we're going to see from here on out?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we began to see it at the end of last week, Judy, after the New Hampshire defeat. And the answer, the short answer, is yes. I think you can see behind me what -- which way they're tacking. And that is that Bush is now portraying himself as the reformer, saying, look, I have some results here. I reformed the education system in Texas. I reformed the tax policy in Texas. I reformed a number of things there. And he wants that message top get out because the Bush campaign believes that they were outmaneuvered in New Hampshire. In fact, Bush said it today. He said, you know, he misconstrued what my tax cut was all about and I let it go. And I'm not going to let it go any longer.

At one point, we asked him, well, you sound mad. He said, no, but I like a good scrap. And you haven't seen the Barbara Bush in me yet. So that, of course, a reference to his ever-feisty mother.

Absolutely they are out there punching, and they would describe this as defending themselves and defending their record, because they believe they were mis-portrayed by John McCain with some success in New Hampshire, and they're bound and determined they won't let it happen in South Carolina.

WOODRUFF: Candy, how do they respond to McCain's point that we heard just a moment ago, you know, this is day one for Governor Bush, I've been at this for a long time, this whole business of reform?

CROWLEY: Well, they respond by saying, look at the record. I mean, yes, John McCain is talking about campaign finance reform, but I will tell you that they will also point out that on the one hand he talks about campaign finance reform but, says Bush, he also has more money percentage-wise from political action committees and from Washington-area donors than any other campaign. Bush calls this, you know, on the one hand saying one thing, on the other doing something else.

They will also respond that Bush's record in Texas is up there, and it will show that he reformed welfare, that he reformed the tax system and that he reformed education. So he thinks he has a solid record of reform, and that's what they're pointing to.

WOODRUFF: All right, Candy Crowley, once again traveling with George W. Bush in Delaware. Thanks, Candy.

WOODRUFF: Well, our latest poll shows John McCain enjoys the highest favorable rating of all the presidential candidates -- Republicans and Democrats -- nationwide. And the poll shows McCain has cut into Bush's status as the GOP front-runner.

In the CNN/"USA Today" poll -- Gallup poll, Bush now leads McCain by 22 points among registered Republicans throughout the country. By comparison, Bush led McCain by 50 points among the same group just last month.

And another item from the poll: For the first time, McCain does better than Bush in hypothetical match-ups against Al Gore, although Bush beats Gore as well.

Well now we turn to campaign commercials. In the air wars, the candidates appear, so far, to be avoiding out-right assaults.

As Howard Kurtz of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES" reports, the campaigns have found ways to bash their opponents by somewhat gentler means.


HOWARD KURTZ, CO-HOST, CNN "RELIABLE SOURCES": John McCain and George W. Bush have been pledging for months to run a positive campaign.


BUSH: Oftentimes, campaigns resort to mud-throwing and name- calling, and Americans are sick of the kind of campaigning.

KURTZ: But as the contest has heated up, both candidate are turning to negative advertising -- not classic attack ads of the past like these:


ANNOUNCER: Forbes says no...


KURTZ: ... but a more subtle approach for the new millennium. It's a fine art, the negative ad that blames the other guy for going negative first.


ANNOUNCER: John McCain's ad about Governor Bush's tax plan isn't true and McCain knows it. McCain's economic adviser says he'd support Bush's plan, $2 trillion to protect Social Security, pay down debt and a real tax cut. McCain's plan: a tax cut smaller than Clinton's and not a penny in tax cuts for 30 million Americans.


KURTZ: But there are problems with this ad. The economic adviser Bush refers to is former Congressman Vin Weber, who denies backing Bush's plan. In fact, Weber says, quote, "The Bush campaign has stooped to a new low by twisting my words to mislead voters."

And McCain's tax cut isn't smaller than President Clinton's, it's nearly twice as large.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN AD) MCCAIN: I guess it was bound to happen. Now my opponent has started the political attacks after promising he wouldn't. Mr. Bush's attacks are wrong.


KURTZ: Bush was responding to an earlier ad by the former Navy pilot, in which McCain played the victim while blasting right back.

(on camera): One way of going negative without seeming to go negative is not to mention your opponent's name. Bill Bradley took this approach when he said he's the only candidate to have always supported abortion rights.

(voice-over): Bradley implies that Vice President Gore's opposition 15 years ago was to abortion instead of federal funding of the procedure.


BILL BRADLEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is the kind of issue that you can't straddle. You can't be on both sides. You have to decide which side are you on. Are you anti-abortion or are you pro-choice?


KURTZ: Gore, meanwhile, avoids appearing negative by getting someone else to make the charge. In this ad, Iowa Senator Tom Harkin plays the surrogate, and he makes a misleading allegation that Senator Bradley opposed flood relief for Midwestern farmers in 1993.

Bradley actually supported the $4 billion bill and voted against a billion dollar Harkin amendment.


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 we desperately needed after those floods.


KURTZ (on camera): All this finger pointing -- you started it. No, you started it -- may leave viewers lunging for -- lunging for the remote control. But it's an important part of modern campaigning: trying to project a smiling, upbeat image while shaking your head that your opponent has sunk so low.

This is Howard Kurtz of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES."


WOODRUFF: Well, joining us now are representatives of the McCain and Bush campaigns. From here in Washington, former Republican Congressman Vin Weber, a McCain adviser. And from Austin, Texas, Bush senior spokesman, Ari Fleischer.

Gentlemen, I'm going to begin with Vin Weber and specifically this ad that we just saw in Howard Kurtz's report, quoting you, Vin Weber, as saying that if George W. Bush were president, you would support his tax cut.

Now, you did say that, did you not?

VIN WEBER, MCCAIN ADVISER: That's a huge distortion, and Ari Fleischer, who's one of the best guys in this business, knows it's a huge distortion.

What I said is that as a former member of the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives, I would, of course -- if I were back in the House of Representatives -- expect to support the tax proposal of any Republican that got elected president. I would have voted -- if Bush got elected, I would vote for his plan; McCain, his plan; even Steve Forbes, his plan. I think the party owes that to a newly elected president.

Then I went on to say -- and I actually had to quote my own words. I couldn't believe the ad when I saw it -- but I would opt for a more conservative tax cut, because I don't want to be in the position to have a Republican president have to raise taxes if the economy sours.

I specifically said I preferred the McCain tax cut to the Bush plan. The Bush ad is just plain deceptive.

WOODRUFF: Ari Fleischer.

ARI FLEISCHER, BUSH SENIOR SPOKESMAN: Well, Judy, I think Vin is half-right. I appreciate the compliment he extended to me. But he's...

WEBER: You're a good guy.

FLEISCHER: ... absolutely wrong on what he said about the ad.

And let me read right from Vin Weber's own words in "The Washington Times." If I were in Congress and a Republican president presented it, I would vote for it.

WEBER: That's what I just said.

FLEISCHER: It's as simple as that.

The point -- the point we were making...

WOODRUFF: But isn't his point...

FLEISCHER: ... that Chairman McCain has vilified Governor Bush over those tax proposals, saying it's a tax cut for the wealth and it'll hurt Social Security. However, Congressman Weber says he would vote for it.

WEBER: Ari, that's not the point you were making.

FLEISCHER: And you also said it on "CROSSFIRE."

WEBER: Ari, the point you were trying to make was that I prefer Bush's plan to McCain's, and that's not true and you know it. And you ought to pull the ad off the air.

FLEISCHER: We didn't say that. The ad -- Vin, the ad says...

WEBER: That's the implication of the ad.

FLEISCHER: The ad...

WEBER: You've been in this business a long time. Don't tell me that you think that ad implies anything other than I support Bush's plan over McCain's. And it's not true.

FLEISCHER: Vin, if you would like to take back your words...

WEBER: No, I'm not. I stand by my words. I prefer McCain's plan. And (UNINTELLIGIBLE) implies I don't.

FLEISCHER: But you would still vote for Governor Bush's, wouldn't you? Would you vote for Governor Bush's?

WOODRUFF: Ari Fleischer, would you at least say that the ad is misleading and that it suggests that Mr. Weber would prefer the Bush plan over the McCain plan?

FLEISCHER: Judy, show me what in our ad says that. It says that he'd support Governor Bush's plan. That's what Vin Weber said. That's accurate.

Of course, Vin would prefer John McCain's plan, but we don't get into that. We say...

WEBER: You sure don't.

FLEISCHER: ... that he would support Governor Bush's as well. That's fine and that's fair.

WOODRUFF: Ari Fleischer, let me ask you about some of the other comments that we have been hearing today from Governor Bush and over the weekend late last week. John McCain is reacting by suggesting that this is a campaign moving in desperation.

What is going on in the Bush campaign right now?

FLEISCHER: Well, we're moving forward. As you saw today in Delaware, Governor Bush came out giving a speech, which talked about he is the only candidate in this race who is a reformer with results. Governor Bush is focusing on what he has been able to accomplish taking on the special interests in Texas and winning, which is a big difference between what people in Washington have tried to do involving special interests and reform and have gone nowhere. Governor Bush has a very strong record on welfare reform, on education, on tort reform, on fighting the special interests and bringing together to get results.

WOODRUFF: Well, let me -- let me ask you, Vin Weber, what -- I mean, essentially, what Governor Bush is saying is that there's hypocrisy in what John McCain is arguing, because on the one hand, he's saying, I'm for reforming campaign finance -- the campaign finance system. On the other, he's benefiting from lobbyists. He's benefiting from his many years in Washington.

WEBER: John McCain is saying that anybody that wants to endorse his reform agenda is welcome to support his candidacy. He's never said that the individual people involved in the system are all individually corrupt. He has said we have a system which by its structure yields corrupt decisions.

And all of us -- many of us who are close to the system know better than anybody that it ought to be cleaned up. And I think John's position is perfectly legitimate.

WOODRUFF: In that case...

FLEISCHER: But Judy...

WOODRUFF: Go ahead.

FLEISCHER: You're on to something here, because the real problem is that Senator McCain has a pattern of saying that what everything -- everything everybody else does is wrong, and therefore, they shouldn't do it. But when I do it, please look the other way and understand that I'm different. I need to be doing this for myself. But everybody else who does it is wrong.

Senator McCain goes too far. He's right we need to clean up the system. And that's why Governor Bush is the best man who can enact reform and get it done.

WOODRUFF: Vin Weber.

WEBER: I don't -- I don't agree with that. I think that John McCain has said, look, we have a system. You can't run for president in this country without operating in the system of laws we now have. He has simply led the charge for many years in arguing that we ought to reform and change that system.

And now, other people are starting to flock to the bandwagon, and that's fine with me.

WOODRUFF: Ari Fleischer, a meeting over the weekend in Austin. Will there be changes in the Bush campaign? Is the campaign being retooled as a result of New Hampshire?

FLEISCHER: Well, Judy, I would say that New Hampshire was obviously something we were not counting on, and the governor is now fighting for this nomination one state at a time. This is very serious. We do need as the Republican Party to decide who our nominee is going to be to lead us into the future.

Whether it's somebody, as the governor did today start to focus on, somebody who's a reformer with results, or somebody who says one thing, does another, pits people against each other, vilifies his opponents, and says, don't judge me by what I do, judge me by what I say.

WEBER: I've got one question for Ari before we quit though.

FLEISCHER: And that's where Governor Bush, we think, is the best candidate to bring the Republican Party together if we want reforms to be enacted into law.

WOODRUFF: Just quickly -- just quickly, Vin Weber.

WEBER: Ari, my question is, will you tell me is it true what we heard today that the Bush campaign has begun utilizing the discredited practice of push polling in South Carolina? Is that what came out of this meeting?


FLEISCHER: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Absolutely not true.

WEBER: I'm glad to hear that.

FLEISCHER: But let me ask you, is it true -- is it true...

WEBER: Glad to hear it.

FLEISCHER: ... that Senator McCain has an ad on that says that do we really want another politician in the White House America can't trust? Do you think Republicans should be comparing each other to Bill Clinton and saying that one Republican is just as dishonest as Bill Clinton? (UNINTELLIGIBLE) don't need that in our party (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

WEBER: I think -- I think in the week of Ronald Reagan's birthday, we should all observe the 11th commandment.

WOODRUFF: Let me just -- let me just clarify from both of you...

FLEISCHER: Then I hope you'll tell Senator McCain to take that ad down.


WEBER: You've got to take your ad off first.

WOODRUFF: Well, let me just clarify, Ari Fleischer, no so-called "push polling" in South Carolina? Is that correct?

FLEISCHER: That's correct, Judy. No push polling in South Carolina. WOODRUFF: And Vin Weber, this ad that he cited, is that -- is that something that is going up for John McCain?

WEBER: I haven't seen the ad, but we're going to respond. And Governor Bush...

FLEISCHER: It is, Vin...

WEBER: Governor Bush went negative first. We're not going to stand back and be a punching bag for Governor Bush.

WOODRUFF: All right, gentlemen, we're going to have to leave it there: Ari Fleischer in Texas...

FLEISCHER: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: And Vin Weber here in Washington.

WEBER: Thank you. Bye, Ari.

WOODRUFF: Thank you both.

And still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS...


HILLARY CLINTON, FIRST LADY: I promise I will go to the United States Senate and work my heart out every day to help the people of western New York.


WOODRUFF: Hillary Rodham Clinton on the stump. We'll take a look as she makes her case to the voters in Buffalo.


WOODRUFF: First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton launched a four-day swing through New York today. It is her first as a formally announced candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Our Frank Buckley is with the Clinton campaign.


FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hillary Clinton battled the Buffalo cold on her way to the embrace of supporters at an airport rally.

H. CLINTON: ... for my first stop after my official declaration that I am running to be the United States senator from the state of New York.

BUCKLEY: Candidate Clinton saying that while she hails from the Midwest, she feels very much at home in western New York. H. CLINTON: I may be new the neighborhood, but I'm not new to your concerns. I did grow up on the Great Lakes. I have spent time in western New York. I have listened to the people of western New York.

BUCKLEY: The overriding issue in western New York and blue- collar Buffalo: the local economy and jobs, which have not kept pace with the rest of the country. Mrs. Clinton saying the next senator from New York must bring change.

H. CLINTON: So the real challenge is, how do we make change work for us? How do we turn from the Rust Belt to the Byte Belt?

BUCKLEY: A message she emphasized at an event at a center that provides technology training.

H. CLINTON: If we build on the high-tech skills of people, build up our high-tech infrastructure, we will see more businesses starting right here and moving here.

BUCKLEY: The Clinton campaign also unveiled a plan they say will generate new jobs for the region. It calls for doubling the training partnerships between industry and institutions like community colleges, bonds to promote investment in telecommunications, and the lowering of local taxes.

H. CLINTON: New Yorkers pay the highest combined rate of state and local taxes in the nation. That is not an inducement for businesses and jobs in the new economy.

BUCKLEY: Mrs. Clinton's trip to Buffalo on the first day since declaring underscores the importance of the Erie County region. Buffalo is the state's second largest city and, unlike much of the rest of upstate New York, a strong base of Democratic voters. Democrat Chuck Schumer capitalized on this base in his successful run for Senate in 1998.

STEVE PIGEON, ERIE CO. DEMOCRATIC CHMN.: Erie County is just key for a Democrat winning this state, because the 41 rural counties will generally vote Republican, and if you can achieve, like Chuck Schumer did, a 54 percent win of Erie County, that margin will really negate the rural county margin of the Republicans.


BUCKLEY: Schumer won here in Buffalo in '98. He also won in the cities of Rochester and Albany and he came very close in the upstate city of Syracuse. They were all important cities to Chuck Schumer and his '98 victory. They are all cities that Hillary Clinton will visit this week.

Frank Buckley, CNN, reporting live from Buffalo.

WOODRUFF: Thank you, Frank.


WOODRUFF: There is much more ahead on INSIDE POLITICS.

Coming up, the vice president hard at work for labor support in the Empire State.

Plus, California's big day is approaching. A look at the state's new prominence on the primary calendar.

And later...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I said, oh, my goodness, look whose bracelet I have.


WOODRUFF: A look at how a bracelet connects one Michigan woman to a GOP hopeful.


WOODRUFF: We'll have more of the day's political news coming up, but now a look at some other top stories.

President Clinton's budget proposals are coming under fire on Capitol Hill.

CNN's White House correspondent Chris Black explains why many congressional Republicans are unhappy with plans Mr. Clinton laid before them today.


CHRIS BLACK, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Clinton leaves office just four months after his final budget takes effect, but he's urging Congress to adopt fiscal policies with implications well into the 21st century.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This budget, in short, makes really strong and significant steps toward achieving the great goals that I believe America should pursue in this new century.

BLACK: Mr. Clinton is reviving last year's unsuccessful proposals to extend the life of Social Security and Medicare and to pay off the national debt by 2013.

CLINTON: There is nothing academic about that chart. Fiscal discipline matters to every single American.

BLACK: The president is also proposing $351 billion in targeted tax cuts over 10 years, including an expansion of the earned income tax credit for the working poor of $23 billion; a reduction in the marriage penalty of $45 billion; and a deduction for college tuition of $30 billion.

Mr. Clinton is calling for $96 billion in higher corporate taxes by closing loopholes and eliminating tax shelters. Republicans oppose the corporate tax increases and have different ideas about tax cuts.

The president also wants $340 billion in new spending over the next decade for prescription drug benefits for Medicare recipients, renovations of public schools and health insurance for the working poor. That is causing Republicans to question his motives.

SEN. PETE DOMENICI (R-NM), BUDGET CHAIRMAN: I think it is an election document, a potential help some friends of Bill Clinton get elected to public office this next time.

BLACK: Observers say Mr. Clinton has crafted his spending plan for political effect.

JAMES THURBER, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: It is definitely a political document. All budgets are political documents. This one just won't see the light of day, in my opinion, on most items.

BLACK (on camera): White House officials say budget politics could work to their advantage. Because it is an election year, it's in the interests of both the White House and Capitol Hill to offer voters some victories.

Chris Black, CNN, the White House.


WOODRUFF: At a London-area airport, talks continue with the hijackers of an Afghan airliner to try to end their two-day-old hostage-taking. Police describe negotiations as "fairly calm and businesslike." Eight hostages were freed today. In all, 30 have been released so far. Some 150 people remain on the Ariana airliner. Those other 22 hostages were freed in exchange for supplies during stops in Uzbekistan, Kazakstan, and Russia. The plane was hijacked over Afghanistan Sunday shortly after taking off on a domestic flight.

State Department spokesman James Rubin is leaving his post, at least in part to spend more time with his family. Richard Boucher, who served as spokesman for secretaries of state Warren Christopher, James Baker and Lawrence Eagleburger, will take over for Rubin on April 1. Rubin will join his wife in London. He is married to CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour. She is expecting their first child, a boy, in March.

And next on INSIDE POLITICS: the Democrats and John McCain. How do they feel about McCain's sudden surge?


WOODRUFF: That poll, as you can see, reflects no real movement in the race between Al Gore and Bill Bradley. Gore, maintaining his lead nationwide of more than two to one. Today, Gore is campaigning in Bradley's home area in hopes of denying his rival that one big win that might provide momentum.

CNN's Bruce Morton is in New York.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Al Gore is wooing labor hard in New York, a state in which Bill Bradley may have his best chance of a win. So the vice president courted construction workers at a west side Manhattan condominium project. But he got his biggest welcome at the state, county and municipal workers District 37 -- 124,000 city workers. AFSCME endorsed Gore last spring. He touted President Clinton's record, adding...

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You ain't seen nothin' yet! We have just begun to fight. We have just begun to prosper. We have just begun to fight to keep our budget balanced and pay down our debt and keep that prosperity going. We have just begun to fight for the Social Security and the Medicare that you have worked for and that you have coming to you.

MORTON: And he wondered, why support someone, Bill Bradley, who has criticized that Clinton record?

GORE: I want to describe to you one of the big differences between myself and my opponent in the Democratic primary. I don't believe that you can run for the Democratic nomination by running down the progress and achievements of the Democratic Party over the past seven years.

MORTON (on camera): Gore's overall strategy these days is to wrap this nomination up, and a look at his schedule shows it -- visits this week to New York, Ohio, and California, which vote March 7; Michigan, which caucuses on the 11th; and Florida, which votes on the 14th.

Meanwhile, Gore and Bradley staffers had a meeting about Bradley's call for weekly debates -- serious talk, Gore aides said, no agreement yet, and they can't help reminding reporters of how many debates Gore proposed and Bradley declined before New Hampshire.

Bruce Morton, CNN, New York.


WOODRUFF: At this hour, Bradley is due to address supporters in Tampa, Florida. He is to fly tonight to Cleveland. Over the weekend, Bradley conceded that to stay in the race, he will need to score big in the slate of primaries scheduled for March 7. To that end, Bradley says that he will sell his agenda more forcefully to the hard-core Democrats Gore rode to victory, first in Iowa and then in New Hampshire.

On the topic of hard-core Democrats, we're told that some of the highest-ranking party officials are eyeing John McCain with a certain amount of apprehension. As we mentioned near the top of the hour, McCain is beating Gore in our latest poll matching the two in a hypothetical race for the White House. McCain is running ahead of Gore by 22 points. For the first time, McCain's margin over Gore is bigger than that of George W. Bush. Bush leads Gore by 9 points.

Joining us now from the White House for more on all of this is CNN's Chris Black. Chris, first of all, you're talking to people at the White House, what are they saying about the McCain momentum, are they worried?

BLACK: Judy, the political people here at the White House really don't pay a lot of attention to hypothetical match-ups nine months before an election. But that said, John McCain's showing among independent voters in the New Hampshire primary did cause a lot of people to sit up and take notice. Independent voters are the battleground in the election in November.

And if John McCain won his party's nomination and continued to have this strong appeal to independent voters it could create a big problem for Al Gore or whoever is the Democratic nominee. But that said, I haven't found anyone here that really believes that John McCain is going to go the distance. The feeling here is that the Republican Party has invested -- the establishment has invested in George W. Bush, that they will rally to shore him up and that they will not give this prize to John McCain.

WOODRUFF: Well, if, despite that, if McCain were to win the nomination, do they have a strategy for what they would do about it?

BLACK: Well, of course, it's up to Al Gore and his campaign to decide what the strategy is, but the Democrats here in the White House, who they do talk to, think that McCain would be vulnerable on his voting record. He is strongly opposed to legal abortion. He voted in favor of the Republican tax cut. He opposed President Clinton's initiatives on education funding.

They think that one of the reasons that he's showing so well in the national polls is that the voters really don't know a lot of detail about him. They sort of like the image, but as time goes on and he gets a little muddied up in this primary process and people learn a lot more about him, they think his numbers will come down.

WOODRUFF: All right. Very interesting. Chris Black reporting from the White House. Thanks, Chris.

Up next, a look at the California primary as the candidates battle voter confusion.

Plus, Mark DiCamillo and Dick Rosengarten take a look at how the candidates are faring with California voters.


WOODRUFF: Voters in California will cast their ballots in the presidential primary one month from today on March 7th. But changes in state elections rules and a new deadline may take some voters by surprise.

Jennifer Auther explains.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you registered to vote yet?

JENNIFER AUTHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Deadline? Midnight? By all accounts, many California voters are unaware that unless they register by party affiliation by midnight tonight, they'll have no impact in the way California delegates are allocated in the March 7th presidential primary election.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I wasn't aware of that.

AUTHER: While California allows primary-goers to vote for any candidate of any party, there's an important hitch: Only the votes of registered Democrats will count toward Democratic delegate allocation, and only the votes of registered Republicans will count toward the GOP allocation. That's why urging his supporters to register as Republicans is critical for John McCain. The Arizona senator enjoys the support of independents and crossover voters, but unless those voters sign up as Republicans, their votes won't count on March 7th.

JOHN FLEISCHMAN, CALIFORNIA REPUBLICAN PARTY: There are voters in California who would be interested in voting for a number of our Republican candidates -- Senator John McCain, Gov. Bush, Mr. Forbes, Mr. Keyes -- none of whom will be able to have their vote counted if they're not registered as a Republican.

AUTHER: California holds roughly 20 percent of the delegates needed to win the nomination for each party. For its part, the McCain campaign has worked to get out the word.

JOEL FOX, MCCAIN FOR PRESIDENT CALIFORNIA CO-CHAIR: We've done it through the Internet, blast e-mails to people asking them to contact other people. We've had a number of press conferences up and down the state.

AUTHER: Of California's 15 million registered voters, 1.9 million are not listed by party affiliation.

SHERRY BEBITCH JEFFE, POLITICAL ANALYST: I am extremely concerned that many crossover voters, that many decline to state registrants are going to be very surprised if not frustrated when they find out that by voting in the primary they will impact only the beauty contest.

AUTHER (on camera): Possibly adding to the confusion has been that so far the early campaign contest in New Hampshire and in Iowa have yet to make an impression on Golden State voters.

(voice-over): Another problem for California voters has been a spate of competing news events: an Alaska Air crash off the California coast the day before the New Hampshire primary drew attention away from the important first contest. The Iowa caucus competed for attention with voters keyed up by the Super Bowl or headlines of a growing L.A. Police Department scandal. Still, many voters like Danielle Holland say they don't need to change party affiliation.

DANIELLE HOLLAND, CALIFORNIA VOTERS: I'm a Democrat, so I kind of have an idea what I'm going to stick with.

AUTHER: Music to a vice president's ears, especially when his trips to California number somewhere in the 70s over the past seven years.

Jennifer Auther, CNN, Los Angeles.


WOODRUFF: And a new poll of California voters shows a surge in support for John McCain. The latest Field poll shows McCain just 19 points behind George Bush among California Republicans. Last month, McCain trailed Bush by 40 points in California.

On the Democratic side, the Field poll shows a shift in Al Gore's favor. He leads Bill Bradley 54 percent to 13 percent. Last month, Gore led Bradley 47 percent to 19 percent.

WOODRUFF: Well, joining us now from San Francisco, the director of the Field poll, Mark DiCamillo; and in Los Angeles, Dick Rosengarten of "The California Political Report."

Mark, to you first. Looking at those numbers, how concerned should the people around Governor Bush be?

MARK DICAMILLO, DIRECTOR, FIELD POLL: Well, Bush had a nomination -- it looked like a very comfortable lead. We had five previous polls in which he was leading by 35 or more points. Now we're seeing significant movement for McCain. He's doubled his support in the last three weeks, so I think with that kind of momentum there should be concern since the numbers are dynamic on McCain's side.

WOODRUFF: Is this purely, Mark, because of New Hampshire?

DICAMILLO: Well, it's certainly reaction to the national events, and I think New Hampshire was a national event. I think when you look at the California numbers, it's interesting to note that strong conservatives are still very much behind Governor Bush by about a five-to-one margin, but it's the moderate conservatives and the moderates, which make up about two-thirds of the GOP electorate out here, that are now wavering and evenly divided between Bush and McCain.

WOODRUFF: Dick Rosengarten, you've been watching politics in the state of California for a long time indeed. How concerned do you think the Bush people should be?

DICK ROSENGARTEN, "CALIFORNIA POLITICAL REPORT": I think they should be pretty darned concerned. I mean, when I talk to Bush operatives here in California, they still put on that very smiling face and say, oh, nothing to worry about. But when I talk to people up in Sacramento, they keep telling me that McCain is the Democrats' worst nightmare. And, of course, that is beginning to play a little bit. And then when I mention that to one of Bush's top operatives here, he says, oh, Rosengarten, that's just Democratic spin.

Like I said, I think that Bush is probably still in pretty good shape among those core Republican voters. But McCain is creeping up. And you've got to remember this. Ken Khachigian is one of the best operatives, political operatives in the state of California, and he's working for McCain.

WOODRUFF: And he's working for McCain.

Mark DiCamillo, at the same time, how closely are Californians paying to all of this? There was a story in "The Los Angeles Times" today by Kathy Decker saying a lot of people really are just not keying on it yet.

DICAMILLO: That's true. I think up until maybe a few weeks ago. I think New Hampshire may have been a turning point. The spotlight is now going to be fixed on California, especially after South Carolina. So I think Californians will be up to the challenge. They'll start paying attention. It has been a little slow process. It's perhaps more compressed this year than in prior years, but they will be paying attention in the next few weeks.

WOODRUFF: And Dick Rosengarten...


WOODRUFF: Go ahead, Dick.

ROSENGARTEN: I was going to say, and thank goodness for all the details that CNN has had on television, because that, obviously, boosts the interest in the election. And I think that's critical.

You know, most people still get their news from television, whether it's cable or regular. And no matter what you see in the papers, it's television where most people get their news. And, like I say, thank goodness the television networks and cable networks are all doing these debates. I think it's critical.

WOODRUFF: And in fact CNN is doing one in conjunction with "The Los Angeles Times" the first week in March...


WOODRUFF: ... with Democrats and Republicans.

ROSENGARTEN: And Republicans, yes.

WOODRUFF: Mark DiCamillo, let me come back to you. You -- just looking more closely at these numbers, are John McCain's issues, his positions on the issues, positions that many Republicans and independents in California are going to feel comfortable with? DICAMILLO: Well, it's going to be interesting to see how it plays out. I think at this point issues aren't really what's cutting the divide between Bush and McCain. I think it's more personality variables. I think people are looking at Bush a little less positively than they were maybe a month ago. McCain's positives remain very strong across the board. I think that's why he seems to have greater general election appeal. His image rating is about four- to-one positive among all California voters, and that's a critical set of numbers.

WOODRUFF: Dick Rosengarten, let me quickly switch over to the Democrats.


WOODRUFF: These numbers for Al Gore must be very reassuring to him. I mean, can he pretty much rest easily at this point?

ROSENGARTEN: Oh, no. No, no, no, no. Bradley -- remember, Republican primary out here is winner take all. Out here in California, the Democratic side is proportional. So I don't think Al Gore can ease up at all. And you have to remember. Just like Ken Khachigian may be one of the better operatives for the Republicans, Gail Coughlin (ph) up in Sacramento is Bradley's key person here in California. She is extremely, extremely sharp, and she knows how to stick it, you know, right to Al Gore right where it counts. What she's doing right now is she's trying to put Gray Davis, Governor Gray Davis, right in the middle of the two of them. And it's sort of fun to watch...

WOODRUFF: He's endorsed Mr. -- Vice President Gore.

ROSENGARTEN: Oh, yes, as most of the establishment, most of the elected leaders here in California -- the assembly speaker, the Senate president pro tem, John Burton, all of them are behind Al Gore.

WOODRUFF: Mark DiCamillo, as you look at what people are saying about Gore and Bradley, do you see openings for Bill Bradley there?

DICAMILLO: Really, the latest poll is a very bad news piece of information to the Bradley camp. There really isn't any constituency for Bradley that is exceeding the teens. As we look at the subgroups of Democratic voters, it almost seems as if Democrats are coalescing around Gore and rallying around the leader. The momentum is for the leader on the Democratic side as opposed to the Republican side, where the momentum seems to be for the challenger.

ROSENGARTEN: Yes, but, Mark, don't...

WOODRUFF: All right.

ROSENGARTEN: I was going to say, don't forget. Bradley has an edge on Gore in terms of money. And that's very critical at this point. And California is a media state, and Gore will need all the resources he can to keep up the momentum.

WOODRUFF: Well, one thing is for sure: We're going to take a very close look at California between now and the day of the primary.

Dick Rosengarten, Mark DiCamillo, thank you both. We appreciate it.


WOODRUFF: Still ahead, a nun, her bracelet and a presidential candidate: a look at how they are linked when we return.


WOODRUFF: As we've been reporting this hour, our new poll shows John McCain with the highest favorable rating among the presidential candidates.

For one woman, a nun, the Arizona senator and his name carry special memories.

Our Ed Garsten reports from Michigan.


ED GARSTEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sister Mary Leanne long ago put away and forgot about this POW bracelet she bought back during the Vietnam War.

SISTER MARY LEANNE: This article appeared March 14th, 1973. I cut out the article and said, "Oh my goodness, this is my POW." So I removed the bracelet, and I put it in a box of treasures.

GARSTEN: But then about three weeks ago, for no particular reason, the nun, who is now a high school principal, felt drawn to that box, and it was a revelation.

SISTER MARY LEANNE: And I said, "Oh my goodness, look who's bracelet I have!"

GARSTEN: It was the bracelet inscribed with the name of a young pilot shot down and taken captive on October 26th, 1968, a man from Arizona named John McCain. Sister Mary Leanne knew there was only one thing to do. She had her opportunity Monday morning when McCain's presidential campaign came through Michigan.


SISTER MARY LEANNE: I hope that this bracelet does not bring memories of pain and suffering that he endured while a prisoner of war, but to remember that while he was there a young nun in Garfield Heights, Ohio prayed every day for him and his release.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, sister. I'm honored. And I would be doubly honored if you would keep that bracelet so that every once in a while when you look into your treasures, that you would remember me and all my comrades, including those who were not fortunate enough to return. And we still hope you'll keep us in your prayers.


GARSTEN: Carrying an inscription from the candidate in her copy of his book and what she calls a radiating warmth from finally meeting him, Sister Mary Leanne, previously an undecided voter, promises she will.

SISTER MARY LEANNE: I can't assure that my prayers are going to get him to the White House, but I'm going to do my best. I'll do my best.

GARSTEN: Ed Garsten, CNN, Harper Woods, Michigan.


WOODRUFF: Quite a story.

Well, that's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. We'll see you again tomorrow when Bruce Morton will be reporting from Wilmington on voting in the Delaware Republican primary. And you can go online all the time at CNN's

And this programming note: The Hillary Clinton-Rudy Giuliani New York Senate race will be the focus tonight on "CROSSFIRE." The guests will be Democratic New York City consumer advocate Mark Green and Republican Congressman Vito Fossella.

I'm Judy Woodruff. "WORLDVIEW" is next.


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