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Inside Politics

George W. Bush Unveils Campaign Reform Plan; Gore Gets Key Endorsement From Abortion Rights Group

Aired February 15, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET



GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: These are reforms that will make the system work better, these are real reforms, these are wholesale reforms.


BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: George W. Bush offers his own version of campaign finance reform as he tries to steal John McCain's thunder in South Carolina.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It would be bogus if we didn't get rid of soft money, because everybody knows that's the root of all evil.


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We'll focus on McCain versus Bush heading into their big debate showdown tonight, and tell you how Rhett Butler reflects South Carolina's political dynamic.

SHAW: Plus, a new endorsement of Al Gore as an abortion rights champion that has the Bradley camp seething.

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

WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us.

John McCain joked today that George W. Bush is borrowing so many pages from his campaign playbook the Texas governor soon may move to Arizona. Bush's new emphasis on campaign finance reform comes at a significant moment in his battle with McCain in South Carolina. Their only debate in the state begins four hours from now.

Here's our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On debate day in South Carolina, George Bush tried to put his imprint on John McCain's signature issue.

BUSH: I'm a reformer when it comes to how we fund are campaigns. I want to enunciate some reforms that need to be in place about campaign funding reform to make it really clear to the people of this state.

CROWLEY: The ideas include a ban on corporate or union soft money contributions; a moratorium on contributions from lobbyists while Congress is in session; and instant disclosure of contributions.

It was largely a packaging of initiatives Bush has talked about many times before. It was dismissed by McCain as a joke, because there are no limits on individual contributions to political parties.

Why take on McCain's trump suit now in South Carolina? Because the race is tight, and with South Carolina Republicans now showing themselves solidly in Bush's corner, Bush is trying to peel off some of the independents who have flocked to McCain, and he feared on campaign finance reform they had not heard his message.

BUSH: And I felt for certain that people were hearing it, evidently they weren't, so I just -- I'm putting out -- officially putting out a plan now so that there should be no question in anybody's minds that I'm now on the record with a plan that I have been on the record for ever since last summer.

CROWLEY: Also with independents in mind, Bush will focus on HMO reform and a patients' bill of rights in speeches leading up to Saturday's primary. As for the evening's debate, aides say Bush needs to be humorous. Still, he can't be seen as too flip. Aides say he needs to outline his own record as a reformer and challenge McCain's results. Still, Bush can't seem too negative. No pressure here.

BUSH: Somebody told me it was what we call free-flowing, whatever that means, and I'm looking forward to free-flowing with the best of them.


CROWLEY: Aides do not see this as a do or die debate, nor do they see Saturday as a do or die primary. Still, they knows if they don't do it in South Carolina, it will be a very, very rough road elsewhere -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Candy, you say it's not do or die. How important is it?

CROWLEY: Well, look, it's pretty important. I mean, this wasn't in the original game plan, as you know. They thought they'd be coming to South Carolina with a win off New Hampshire. They lost big in New Hampshire, so there's a lot on this, but you know, Bush clearly has the money to go on. He still talks about the long road.

They still talk about primaries in Texas and Florida, where Republicans' vote is supposed to, you know, always be open primaries, which they're getting right now with the independents and the Democrats coming in. Still, it's very important. They would really like to begin to turn the dominoes toward Bush as opposed to toward McCain as they have been since coming out of New Hampshire.

WOODRUFF: All right, Candy Crowley in South Carolina, thanks -- Bernie.

SHAW: Now to Bush's prime opponent.

John McCain kept on courting South Carolina voters this day, apparently undaunted by Bush's new campaign finance proposal or tonight's debate.

Our man John King is in Columbia, South Carolina.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bernie, the second town hall today at a synagogue, John McCain, a woman stood up in the crowd said she had read a letter in the local newspaper today saying any Democrats that wanted to vote in the Saturday primary were "idiots." Senator McCain said that's not the case. He said it was an obvious effort by supporters of Governor Bush to suppress turnout.

The senator's focus on Democrats and independents here an obvious sign that in his camp they are concerned that Governor Bush's attacks on McCain's conservative credentials are taking hold.


MCCAIN: Best kind of Democrat I know.

KING (voice-over): It's debate day in South Carolina and John McCain is warming up.

MCCAIN: I am fully prepared to be president of the United States, and assume these responsibilities, and I need no on-the-job training.

KING: A key McCain debating point will be his plan to set aside 62 percent of the federal budget surplus for Social Security and to pay down the national debt.

MCCAIN: Governor Bush wants to put it all into tax cuts.

KING: McCain wants South Carolina and the nation to see him as a populist reformer.

MCCAIN: I am going to fight until the last breath I draw to give the government back to the people of this country and get young people connected back again to their government.

KING: McCain's conservative credentials are under attack in Bush campaign speeches and mailings, and the senator expects there's more to come in tonight's debate.

MCCAIN: I hope you'll judge me on my record, I'll hope you'll judge me no my commitment to conservative causes and beliefs, but I also hope that you'll make a judgment as to how I can lead this country in the next century and restore integrity and respect to the institution of the presidency of the United States.

KING: McCain supporters says Bush and others are distorting the senator's record on issues like abortion and gays in the military.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want you to go back and tell your Christian conservative friends that my number is 864-224-7401, and you give me a call and you put this trash in the trash can where it belongs.

KING: South Carolina polls show a close race, McCain perhaps narrowly trailing.


KING: Yet the senator says he's optimistic he can pull off a victory here. On the hand, also today though on his campaign bus he said he wanted to -- he was more concerned about how his campaign would be remembered than he was about winning, perhaps a sign he has been reading the polls.

In any event though, McCain people feel confident regardless of the results here. They're very competitive in Michigan, obviously ahead in his home state of Arizona. The McCain campaign will go on from here regardless of the results Saturday -- Bernie, Judy.

SHAW: John, on the Saturday results, what's the outlook for turnout?

KING: Well, that is the big question in the McCain camp. They are desperately trying to get Democrats to cross over and vote, desperately trying to get the independent vote.

The McCain camp privately, begrudgingly a hat's off to the Bush campaign today, they view his campaign finance reform statements as a tactic, they don't -- they question his commitment to the issue, but they do think it is a very wise tactic in courting independent voters. McCain wants a big turnout because that would mean more than Republicans are coming out to vote -- Bernie.

SHAW: John King in Columbia, South Carolina.

Now, of course, the third remaining Republican presidential candidate, Alan Keyes, also will take part in tonight's debate in South Carolina moderated by CNN's Larry King. But given his distant showing in the polls, many viewers and political observers will be focusing on McCain and Bush.

Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times" joins us now from the debate site in Columbia. He spent some time with Governor Bush today. Ron, a question, is there any difference in George Bush's pre-South Carolina debate attitude versus his pre-New Hampshire debate attitude?

RON BROWNSTEIN, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, I think that in both of them -- in fact, I was with McCain yesterday, and both Bush and McCain said the same thing, after so many debates and really more to the point with so much information being directed at people here -- this campaign, Bernie, is really omnipresent on the front page of the newspapers, on the news, in the ads -- neither one of them see any single event as a make or break defining kind of moment unless something unusual and unexpected happens.

SHAW: In South Carolina, what do you see as the strategic difference between Bush and McCain?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, Bernie, right now this is a very unusual and engaging campaign in this sense, I think both of them are largely succeeding in what they're setting out to do.

John McCain is trying to define the sort of coalition of the center of independents, moderate Republicans and Democrats, a sort of Perotesque coalition drawn to the issue of political reform, and as you go around the state with him you see it. People are turning out and they are very enthusiastic.

George W. Bush, even more aggressively than in New Hampshire, is trying to define this as a left-right race and rally the conservative Republican base sort of against the infidel, John McCain, and as you travel around with him, he is succeeding in doing it.

One telling sign, when you go to a McCain event often the biggest applause line is when he promises to pay down the national debt. When you go to a Bush event often the biggest applause line is when he promises to cut taxes, antithetical programs.

The problem McCain has, Bernie, is that if both of them succeed the share of the electorate that Bush is mobilizing is in fact larger in a conservative state like this and it becomes very hard for McCain to get over the top if Bush really can consolidate Republicans, especially conservative Republicans to the degree that he seems to be at this point.

SHAW: So if someone were to tap you on the shoulder and say, tell us, South Carolina, what issues are playing best, what would you say?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think as I -- I think we talked about this a little last week, it's almost as if there are parallel campaigns going on.

For McCain, certainly what is most effective for him is campaign finance reform and paying down the debt, this idea of being fiscally responsible, not spending a lot of money on a tax cut. And also I think the military strength and his focus on veterans issues -- a lot of veterans turn out at his rallies; it's really striking.

For Bush, it's really -- it's the flip side. I think the tax cut issue, the overall conservatism, the sense that he is more conservative on social issues is very important here.

And the sleeper, and what is probably a better reform emphasis for Bush than sort of the campaign finance reform, is education reform. I'm struck: A lot of voters seem attracted to his record in Texas. I mean, this is a state that has struggled to improve its public schools. And even in a Republican primary, the idea that Bush has a fairly broad agenda for federal action to try to leverage reform at the state level comes up a lot with voters when you talk to them.

SHAW: Very quickly, I must ask you this last question: Who, who has the best chance of capitalizing on the wild card? The independent vote?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, certainly -- certainly McCain does. But one thing that's really striking here, Bernie, is that unlike New Hampshire Bush is having more success at peeling away conservative independents, independents who consider themselves ideological conservatives.

We saw that very clearly in our "L.A. Times" poll this week. It's a sign that he is basically building the box around the election that he wants, a left-right frame, just as McCain is, an insider- outsider frame. They're both succeeding. McCain's problem is Bush's box seems to be a little bigger right now.

SHAW: Ron Brownstein, "Los Angeles Times," Columbia, South Carolina. Thank you.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

SHAW: Judy.

WOODRUFF: Well, the intense lead-up to Saturday's South Carolina primary is a far cry from some presidential races of the past. Our Bill Schneider has been looking at political traditions and trends in the Palmetto State -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Judy, for the first half of the 20th century, the GOP presidential vote in South Carolina averaged 4 percent. That's 4 percent.

But after Barry Goldwater carried the state in 1964, the floodgates opened and South Carolina has voted Republican in every presidential election since, with the exception of Jimmy Carter in 1976.

It's a state where the Republican tradition is fairly new, but the conservative tradition is very old.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): In fact, there are two conservative traditions. The low country along the coast has a tradition of aristocratic conservatism: big plantations, slavery, rich food and good breeding. The low country is deeply conservative on economic issues, but socially cosmopolitan: Charleston, the Spoleto (ph) Festival, and coastal resort towns like Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head that attract wealthy Northern retirees.

Remember "Gone With the Wind?" Rhett Butler of Charleston typifies the low country attitude toward moral issues like drinking and gambling. Frankly, my dear, they don't give a damn.

Right now, the low country is John McCain country. He's the less hard-line conservative.

The up country of South Carolina has a tradition of populist conservatism: hard-scrabble farmers, barbecue and the "Bible Belt." Up country conservatism is more social than economic. Fast-growing places like Greenville and Spartanburg, with a lot of new industrial growth and foreign investment, and a lot of old-time religion in places like Bob Jones University, where they do give a damn -- make that a darn -- about moral issues.

The up country is George W. Bush country, where social conservatives are trying to hold the line for the true conservative faith.

The big split is not geographic, but partisan. It appears to be between Republicans who favor Bush, and independents and Democrats who can vote in the primary and who favor McCain. McCain jokes that the Bush forces see his campaign as threatening a hostile takeover of the Republican Party. Ha-ha. They do.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And so what I worry about, what I think about is I think about Democrats coming in our primary and not staying with our nominee.

SCHNEIDER: Is that why so many independents and Democrats support McCain? Actually, no. Almost two-thirds of non-Republicans who are voting for McCain believe McCain would have the best chance of beating the Democrat in November. They're not voting for McCain because they see him as a loser; they're voting for McCain because they like him.


SCHNEIDER: The McCain forces are threatening a takeover of the Republican Party, but it's not a hostile takeover. They want the GOP to be a Reform Party. In fact, Bush now calls himself a reformer too while McCain protests that he's just as conservative as Bush.

You see why this race is so close? Two conservatives, both of them claiming to be reformers.

Now, conservatives, that's something South Carolinians understand. Reformers, that's something new to South Carolina -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And by the way, Bill, you were just looking at that -- those numbers we were showing and saying that they weren't the numbers that were supposed to be up there, just to be clear.

SCHNEIDER: The numbers were showing that among independents and Democrats who are supporting John McCain 64 percent -- roughly two- thirds of them -- believe that McCain would be stronger than Bush as the nominee who could beat the Democrats in November, which means that they're not voting for McCain because they think he's a weak candidate. They're voting for McCain because they think he's a strong candidate who could win.

WOODRUFF: All right, Bill Schneider, thank you.

And still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, the vice president gains a crucial endorsement. We'll look at how his rival reacted when we examine the Democratic race next.


SHAW: In California, and elsewhere, Al Gore's commitment to abortion rights has been a campaign issue for rival Bill Bradley. Today, however, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League stepped forward and gave the vice president a trump card on this key issue.

Chris Black reports.


CHRIS BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With one stroke, the political arm of the abortion rights movement undercut Bill Bradley's questions about Al Gore's support for legal abortion by endorsing the vice president.

KATE MICHELMAN, NARAL PRESIDENT: We know that as president Al Gore will be a strong, effective and determined leader in the fight for a woman's right to choose. He has fought with us long and hard over the long past years on the front lines. We know we can count on him in the future.

BLACK: Gore promised to defend a woman's right to end a pregnancy if elected.

ALBERT GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As president, with your help, I will make sure that that right to choose is never threatened, never weakened and never taken away.

BLACK: The NARAL board decided last weekend to abandon its official neutrality in the Democratic contest because members say Bradley's use of the abortion issue against Gore was diverting attention from the Republicans who oppose legal abortion. It was also hurting the movement's efforts to bring Republican-leaning and independent voters to the polls in November to back candidates who support abortion rights.

MICHELMAN: It is NARAL's No. 1 priority to elect a pro-choice president. And we reject attempts to use this issue as a divisive political weapon to divide pro-choice voters.

BLACK: Bradley is questioning Gore's commitment to abortion rights because of votes Gore cast early in his congressional career, forcing the vice president to admit he voted against using public money for Medicaid abortions.

GORE: The exceptions to the general rule that Medicaid should provide funding for abortions constituted virtually the only votes in the House of Representatives during those years. And I've told you that I wrestled with that. BLACK: The Gore campaign learned of the endorsement Saturday when Kate Michelman called Gore and told him the board had just unanimously voted to back his candidacy. The blessing of NARAL may make it difficult for Bradley to keep using the issue against his opponent.

STUART ROTHENBERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it makes it awfully difficult for Bradley to continue with the issue. It's now going to be so easy for Gore to simply say: "Look who's endorsed me. Move on to the next issue. Issue's over."

BLACK: NARAL's board includes Republicans and Bradley supporters, but board members tell CNN that all agreed Bradley had to be stopped from further damaging their multimillion-dollar effort to bring a pro-choice majority to the polls in November.

Chris Black, CNN, Washington.


WOODRUFF: Well, meanwhile Bill Bradley was campaigning in New Jersey today. There, news of the NARAL endorsement overshadowed his efforts to earn the support of the Teamsters Union.

Pat Neal reports.


BILL BRADLEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was on a picket line here in New Jersey not so long ago.

PAT NEAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bill Bradley came to New Jersey, courting the support of the Teamsters Union. At the same time, he learned he was loosing another endorsement to Vice President Al Gore, this one from an influential abortion rights advocacy group.

BRADLEY: ... very surprised that NARAL would endorse someone who had an 84 percent right to life record when I've had a 99 percent NARAL record. And for me, this is an issue of core convictions. It's an issue that I've believed from the beginning of my political life.

NEAL: Bradley has made reproductive rights a central theme in his campaign, and support from the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League could have provided a boost just weeks before the critical multistate primaries.

Bradley has blasted the vice president for his past votes to stop federal funding of abortions for poor women, and he's questioned Gore's commitment to abortion rights, pointing to a 1984 letter where Gore wrote that abortion is -- quote -- "arguably the taking of a human life."

ERIC HAUSER, BRADLEY PRESS SECRETARY: We're going to go out there and on reproductive rights and other issues make clear to voters that there are clear differences between the two candidates. NEAL: NARAL's endorsement comes just days after the Human Rights Campaign, the largest gay rights organization in the country, also announced it's support for Gore.

Despite these setbacks, Bradley is also looking for endorsements and reached out to organized labor.

BRADLEY: I think, you know, it shouldn't be possible for the management to bring in people to break that strike. So I think we need a ban on striker replacement.

NEAL: He received standing ovations from the Teamsters at a regional meeting in New Jersey and won an impromptu though unofficial endorsement.

The AFL-CIO has already said it's backing Gore. The Teamsters Union is expected to make its decision before the March 7th primaries.

BRADLEY: My position on labor law reform, my position on health care, my position on the minimum wage, my position on all of these issues is not related to whether I got an endorsement or not from the leadership of the AFL-CIO.

NEAL (on camera): On the issue of abortion rights, Bill Bradley says he plans to step up criticism of the vice president's record. And on Wednesday, Bradley supporters plan news conferences across the country detailing why they believe Bill Bradley has been the constant supporter of women's rights.

Pat Neal, CNN, New York.


SHAW: And INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.


WOODRUFF: Still much more ahead on this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. Still to come...


MCCAIN: I'd like to ask those veterans to stand so that we can thank them and recognize them for their service. Please, gentlemen, I know you're here.

Thank you. Thank you personally. Thank you.


WOODRUFF: We'll take a closer look at the veterans vote and the effort to win it in South Carolina. Plus...


NARRATOR: If straight talk is the issue, John McCain is not the answer.


WOODRUFF: John McCain under fire from special interests groups. We'll find out why and get the campaign's reaction.

Plus, what to watch for in the Republican debate with CNN senior analyst Jeff Greenfield.


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

President Clinton is endorsing the creation of a national cybersecurity center to help fend off computer hacker attacks. Last week, a massive cyberattack disabled some of the nation's most popular Web sites. Mr. Clinton said the government is not looking for a way to control the Internet, but simply protect it.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We know that we have to keep cyberspace open and free. We have to make at the same time computer networks more secure and resilient. And we have to do more to protect privacy and civil liberties. And we're here to work together.


WOODRUFF: The FBI has seized a computer in Oregon thought to have been used in last week's attack.

SHAW: People in south Georgia are mourning the dead after tornadoes ravaged the area Monday night.

CNN's Brian Cabell is at the site.


BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two days after the tornadoes hit, Stephan Williams (ph) smoke detector is still beeping but almost everything else in his mobile home is demolished.

He and his fiance, Betty Gilbert (ph), searched for anything salvageable. Not much. Her purse was a pleasant surprise.

But they're thankful that she and her son escaped with their lives. She had actually been trapped underneath the house.

BETTY GILBERT, TORNADO SURVIVOR: I could feel it overturn, and I was holding on to my son, asking God to save us. And then I guess it just exploded and landed (UNINTELLIGIBLE) my left shoulder. And my hands were (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in between it. And I couldn't get out. And my son was screaming that he wasn't going to leave me, and then somehow the Lord gave him strength to get me from under. He ran across the path and (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and that's when I realized that my feet were (UNINTELLIGIBLE) bleeding.

STEPHAN WILLIAMS, TORNADO SURVIVOR: When I got back home, I thought she was dead. I thought -- I thought everybody out here was dead, because all the trees -- when I got to the road right there, all the trees was down. All the trees was down when I got here. And when I seen her at the emergency room, it was like I seen Jesus Christ, you know; that was the kind of feeling I had, you know. It was beautiful when I saw her, and my stepson, you know. It was beautiful.

CABELL: Brian Cabell, CNN, Camilla, Georgia.


SHAW: The Federal Aviation Administration reports 27 aircraft have been found to have defects or problems with the jackscrew assembly. The FAA had ordered all U.S. airliners to inspect more than 1,000 airplanes. The jackscrew assembly is part of the aircraft suspected in last month's Alaska Airlines crash.

WOODRUFF: And when INSIDE POLITICS returns, Jeff Greenfield plays the role of political operative for Bush and for McCain, as they prepare for tonight's debate.


WOODRUFF: John McCain's credentials as a military man and former prisoner of war have always been among his strongest selling points on the campaign trail. McCain evidently hopes that that is especially true in South Carolina, where he is counting on fellow veterans to stand with him on primary day.

CNN's Jonathan Karl has the inside view on McCain, Bush and the veterans' vote.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'd like to ask those veterans to stand so that we can thank them and recognize them for their service.

Please stand gentlemen. I know you're here. Thank you. Thank you very much.


JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From the start, John McCain has made South Carolina veterans central to his campaign strategy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd like to thank you for being a veteran and standing up for the principles of this country. I'm a Persian Gulf War veteran.

KARL: The effort has set off a scramble to appeal to South Carolina's sizable veteran population.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm running against a good veteran, but I'm not conceding the veterans vote. The veterans here my call for a promise made should be a promise kept.

KARL: Bush has traveled the state with a group of veteran supporters, and offers a tribute to vets at virtually every stop. So far, the score card reads: advantage McCain, but only slightly. In the latest CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll, McCain leads Bush among veterans by only five percentage points.

PROF. NEAL THIGPEN, MCCAIN SUPPORTER: To assume that all 400,000 veterans in the state of South Carolina are going to vote for John McCain on February 19 is a complete misnomer.

KARL: That's because veterans and active duty personnel rarely vote in a bloc. Instead, they are driven by the same issues that unite and divide the rest of the electorate.

Consider Wayne Cockfield, a Bush supporter and a Vietnam veteran.

WAYNE COCKFIELD, RETIRED U.S. MARINE CORPS: George Bush is the pro-life candidate. He is the only conservative alternative to the Clinton-Gore liberal era.

KARL: But there is a segment of the veterans population where McCain seems to do especially well -- veteran activists, like the folks at VFW post 641 in Columbia.

RAY RAST, RETIRED U.S. ARMY: Most all of them I have talked to here at this installation out here, our club, they're all talking John McCain.

KARL (on camera): How important do you think that personal story, his personal experience, is to this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, to be honest with you, I think to a group like ourselves here, he's pretty much a hero.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When McCain walked off of that airplane half crippled, it brought tears to my eyes. It still do. And I couldn't sleep at night if I didn't vote for him.

KARL (voice-over): In fact, McCain has used veteran activists around the state to try to overcome Bush's considerable organizational advantage here.

THIGPEN: If you look down the list of McCain county organizational chairmen, I'd say probably half of them are veterans of the American military.

KARL: It is frequently said that South Carolina has the highest percentage of veterans. In fact, veterans only comprise 10 percent of the population here, the seventh highest in the nation, not the first.

(on camera): But more importantly, veterans are expected to make up almost one-third of voters in Saturday's primary. That's potentially enough to be a decisive factor, but only if they're relatively united behind a single candidate.

Jonathan Karl, CNN, Columbia, South Carolina.


SHAW: Now let's bring in our CNN senior analyst Jeff Greenfield.

In your spring chicken days, you were a political operative.


SHAW: Pretend you're an operative tonight for George W. Bush. What would you tell him?

GREENFIELD: I'd say, "Governor, reform, reform, reform, reform. John has talked about it; you've done it. Your whole argument about education, about tort reform, whatever you can raise as a reformer, is what you need to put on the table, and you need to do it for two reasons. One, it's in the air, and second,it's important for you to do what Al Gore successfully has done against Bill Bradley: Minimize the differences. The more you can minimize the differences, the less likely it is that all those independents and Democrats will leave their homes on Saturday and come out to vote for McCain. The more you can define this race between two reformers, you've done it, he's talked it, the better off you'll be.

SHAW: Now step over to the John McCain side in tonight's debate. What would you whisper in his ear tonight?

GREENFIELD: I want to hear the word "conservative" as often as you can get it out without sounding like a broken record, because South Carolina is a conservative state. And you need to do, senator, what you did successfully in New Hampshire, when you convinced people that your campaign finance reform was a political weapon against Democrats. You've got to make the argument in South Carolina that you are the reincarnation of Ronald Reagan. You are as conservative as he is, but you're taking on the establishment the way he did. And you've also got to make the argument that this is about something beyond who gets votes. The more you can make this a crusade to change American politics, the more likely you will be to get those independents and Democrats, who disproportionately support you, to leave their homes on Saturday and vote for you. The bigger the turnout of independents and Democrats, the better you do, senator.

SHAW: Now you're going to come back in a few minutes here on INSIDE POLITICS and assess the importance of tonight's debate.

GREENFIELD: I want to just take a look at what happens in debates, because it's often what we don't think will happen.

SHAW: OK, Jeff Greenfield, we'll come back to you. Thank you.

And when we return, two groups take issue with McCain. A look at their efforts in South Carolina. Plus, reaction from the McCain campaign.


WOODRUFF: In these closing days before the South Carolina primary, John McCain is the target of a number of special interest groups that are attacking his conservative credentials. The National Smokers' Alliance spent $20,000 on TV spots that aired in South Carolina earlier this month accusing McCain of being a Washington insider. Now the group is launching another ad hitting McCain on taxes.


NARRATOR: John McCain told the American people, I've never voted for a tax increase, yet in 1998 John McCain sponsored the largest consumer tax increase in history. Though it failed, McCain's tax would have hit people making less than $30,000 a year the hardest.


WOODRUFF: McCain also is getting heat on the airwaves on the issue of abortion. Three radio spots have been running in South Carolina sponsored by South Carolina Citizens For Life and the National Right to Life Political Action Committee. Here's a sample.


NARRATOR: In 1992, Senator John McCain promised pro-life groups in Arizona that he would oppose federal funding of medical experimentation that uses the body parts of aborted babies, but within a few months McCain flip flopped and voted to use taxpayer funds for just such experimentations.


WOODRUFF: Now, let's talk about those spots and the motivation behind them. We are joined by Carol Long Tobias, of the group National Right to Life Committee, and Michael Hambrick of the National Smokers' Alliance.

Carol Tobias, to you first, your group gave John McCain, I understand, a rating of somewhere between 80 and 100 percent throughout the decade of the '90s. Why now turn around and not just criticize him, but try to defeat him?

CAROL LONG TOBIAS, NATIONAL RIGHT TO LIFE: John McCain has been saying a lot of things in the last six months that really concern us and we think signify to pro-lifers that he should not be trusted with the White House.

Back in August, he said that he would not support the reversal of Roe v. Wade in the short term or in the long term, and he used arguments that were really scary for pro-lifers, he was saying that abortion is necessary. He would work to eliminate -- work with pro- life and pro-choice groups -- his words -- so that there was no need for abortion.

Well, pro-lifers don't believe there is a need for abortion, we don't believe that abortion is necessary, and his arguments sounded like they were written by our opponents. We were very concerned at that point.

WOODRUFF: But as you know, Governor Bush has refused to say that he would nominate people to the Supreme Court based on their commitment to overturn Roe. Most observers would say that the two men don't disagree that much on abortion. Why then is your group making the distinction?

TOBIAS: There is a big difference between John McCain and George Bush. George Bush says that his appointments to the Supreme Court will be strict constructionists, they will interpret the Constitution as it was written and not legislate from the bench.

Some judge or any judge who is intellectually honest is not going to find a right to abortion in the Constitution. George Bush has never said that he would oppose the reversal of Roe v. Wade. In fact, he says that he supports this reversal. There is a big difference in the two candidates.

WOODRUFF: One point you're making in your ads is you're pointing out a vote that Senator McCain cast having to do with fetal tissue research. There were 94 members of the Senate, including all the -- virtually all the Republicans but 4, including South Carolina's own Strom Thurmond, who voted as Senator McCain did. Why do you choose to single him out on that one?

LONG: That is not the vote we are referring to. There was a vote in 1997 that was 60 to 38, where we were going to try to prohibit the use of tax dollar funds so that they could not be used to experiment on the body parts of unborn babies, aborted babies. John McCain voted against us on that. It's not the vote that he's referring to. That's a bogus issue.

WOODRUFF: Michael Hambrick, to you now with the Smokers' Alliance, is it your view that Governor Bush, George W. Bush would be more sympathetic to your position than Senator McCain, is that why are you opposing Mr. McCain?

MICHAEL HAMBRICK, NATIONAL SMOKERS' ALLIANCE: Absolutely not, Judy. The purpose of our spot is to really set the record straight. As you heard in part of the spot that you played, in 1998, the senator sponsored legislation that would have raised -- increased taxes by $516 billion, the single largest tax increase in history, largely a regressive tax thrust on the backs of those making less than $30,000 a year. Yet to the American people, the senator has said, I have never voted to raise taxes. This is not a campaign spot.

We are not supported by any candidates or candidate's committee. We are here basically running the spot to set the record straight. Now, if the senator were to come forward and admit that he was not truthful when he was referring to his voting record on taxes and admit that he made a mistake, we will pull the spots, we will stop them tonight.

The media has basically given the senator a pass on this question. He has been asked questions about our ad, our spot, and basically he has said he is gratified to be attacked by the National Smokers' Alliance. But no one has pointedly asked him the question, is what the National Smokers Alliance saying true, senator? Did you in fact sponsor legislation that would have been the single largest tax increase in the history of this country while telling the American people that you have never voted a tax increase, which is it?

WOODRUFF: Mike Hambrick, let me also ask you about a reference in "Time" magazine this past week quoting advisers to Governor Bush saying that they can count on organizations, including yours, including National Right to Life, to come to South Carolina, in so many words, to help them out. Obviously, it is illegal for there to be coordination between your groups and the campaign...

HAMBRICK: Absolutely.

WOODRUFF: ... but is there communication at all?

HAMBRICK: No, and I defy anyone to come forward and state that categorically and prove it. There is absolutely no alliance or allegiance or communication between the National Smokers' Alliance and the Bush campaign. It is just -- absolutely is not happening, Judy.

WOODRUFF: And, Carol Tobias, we're going have to move quickly here, just if you can tell me...

LONG: There is no coordination between our campaign and the Bush campaign.

WOODRUFF: Communication?

LONG: It was an obvious -- there was -- it was an obvious statement, because we've been running ads on the radio in South Carolina, it would have been strange if they didn't know we were doing it.

WOODRUFF: All right, well, we thank you both. Carol Tobias of National Right to Life, Michael Hambrick of the Smokers' Alliance, thank you both.

HAMBRICK: Thank you.

LONG: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Well, joining us now from Columbia, South Carolina, state Senator Terry Haskins, he is a co-chair of the McCain campaign in that state.

Terry Haskins, when you hear these two individuals say there is no coordination, no communication between what they are doing and the Bush campaign, do you take them at their word?

TERRY HASKINS, MCCAIN S.C. CAMPAIGN CO-CHAIR: Well, first of all, let me point out, I am just a state representative, I'm not a state senator.

But no, I can't take them at their word, because the conversation in the Bush campaign that indicated that they knew these ads were coming, that they were expecting them, that was before the ads started, and both of these groups are being very insincere in their attacks on Senator McCain.

WOODRUFF: Let me ask you, and I'm sorry about the title, Representative Haskins, when you hear that the National Right to Life representative saying, we are going after John McCain because George Bush would only appoint strict constructionists to the Supreme Court, they see a real difference between these two men, they say.

HASKINS: Well, I don't know what the difference would be. John McCain has insisted from the start that he would only appoint strict constructionists to the Supreme Court.

The only difference between John McCain and Governor Bush on the issue of abortion is that John McCain supports campaign finance reform and the National Right to Life organization is vehemently opposed to campaign finance reform. They were down here in South Carolina just two or three months ago campaigning and holding news conferences against campaign finance reform, and I say that as a committed pro- life legislator.

There is nobody in the South Carolina General Assembly who has been stronger on the issue of protecting unborn human life than I have, but I am deeply disturbed and disappointed in the National Right to Life organization and in South Carolina Citizens For Life for allowing themselves to be drawn into a political battle because they enjoy their insider lobbying status more than they're devoted to the principle for which they were founded.

WOODRUFF: Well, you just heard what Ms. Tobias said among other things, she said they are concerned because he sort of waffled on whether or not he would work to reverse Roe v. Wade.

HASKINS: No, he hasn't waffled. And they know they're misquoting him. They know he has stated categorically over and over again -- if they watch any of the coverage of the news media, every time the question is asked he says he is for the overturning of Roe verses Wade. He said it just last week on Hardball."

There is no issue that defines George Bush from John McCain on abortion. The only issue that differs is campaign finance reform. And it's an extremely insincere thing.

One of the -- one of the board members of South Carolina Citizens for Life resigned because of the insincerity of this campaign.

WOODRUFF: Now let me ask you about one of the comments by the -- by Michael Hambrecht from the Smokers -- National Smokers' Alliance. They are upset because this vote that Senator McCain cast to raise 500-and-some-odd billion dollars in taxes, which would clearly affect the tobacco industry and affect the price of cigarettes. HASKINS: Yes. They know that was an attempt to legislatively handle the settlement and get these lawsuits out that the states were filing. They know what that was. And frankly, John McCain has made it clear: If he has to have an enemy, it'll be the big tobacco companies, and he's glad to have them after the way they've lied to Congress and tried to addict our children.

WOODRUFF: Let me finally ask you, Terry Haskins, about what Governor Bush is saying over and over again. I mean, one of his primary points right now is, yes, John McCain talks about reform but I've done real reform. He brought out today his campaign finance plan. He's been talking about education, tort reform.

What do you say to all that as a McCain supporter?

HASKINS: Well, just because you get a bill passed doesn't mean that's reform. I would expect that the governor should have passed some legislation since he's been in office. But real reform means reforming the way the government operates, not just getting legislation passed. And John McCain is promoting real reform.

I noticed this morning Governor Bush has decided to jump on the campaign reform bandwagon, and we welcome him, because we believe that's important in American government to clean up what's going on in Washington.

WOODRUFF: All right, South Carolina state representative Terry Haskins, we thank you very much for joining us.

HASKINS: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Co-chair of the McCain campaign there. We appreciate it.

And up next, Jeff Greenfield's final thoughts on what to expect during tonight's debate.


SHAW: And joining us once again, Jeff Greenfield.

GREENFIELD: Bernie, tonight's debate will be the most closely watched of any in this campaign season, but what is it we'll be looking for? The logic of an argument, a candidate's skill in assembling facts? No, that's for the college debate circuit.

What the political and journalistic community will be looking for are those moments played and replayed on the morning and the evening news programs where one candidates seized and holds the emotional high ground, where a single phrase or sentence can crystallize a strength or weakness.

The litany of these is familiar to any political junkie. When Ronald Reagan proclaimed he was paying for this microphone, when Walter Mondale asked Gary Hart "where's the beef?," when Al Gore pointed to an Iowa farmer in the audience and asked Bill Bradley why he voted against flood relief: those are the moments that linger.

And the candidates' desire to shape such moments are clear enough. But what no one can predict is whose strategy will succeed and whose will backfire. And that's precisely what makes these debates compelling.

They're often scorned as theater, but at least it's theater where for all the scripted one-liners, the unexpected often defines the outcome.

And compared with 30-second TV commercials, at least the debates force the candidates to emerge from their handlers' shells and stand before us on their own, which is what they're doing tonight.

SHAW: And we'll be watching and listening. Thank you, Jeff.

WOODRUFF: That we will.

SHAW: That's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS, but you can go online all the time at CNN's

WOODRUFF: And these programming notes: CNN will have live coverage tonight of the South Carolina Republican debate, of course, moderated by Larry King. That starts at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Immediately following, we will present a Jeff Greenfield special, "Election 2000." That's at 10:30 Eastern.

I'm Judy Woodruff.

SHAW: I'm Bernard Shaw. "WORLDVIEW" is next.


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