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Crossfire

What Issues Will Carry the Day for George Bush or Al Gore?

Aired March 3, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET

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

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, Gore's visit to a Buddhist temple and Bush's visit to Bob Jones University. Could these two visits come back to haunt the candidates in a general election matchup?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Robert Novak. In the crossfire, Republican strategist Ron Kaufman, a George W. Bush supporter, and in Los Angeles, Democratic strategist Bill Carrick.

PRESS: Good evening, and welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Last guests before Super Tuesday, and all candidates, today, left standing were out scrambling for undecided voters. John McCain and George Bush left the stage, or screen, of last night's California debate to zero in on New York State. Al Gore was stumping in Florida, Bill Bradley went hunting up in Portland, Maine. But even before Tuesday's vote, the spotlight is more and more on what separates the two likely November nominees, George Bush and Al Gore.

Republicans are crowing over the conviction of Gore fund raiser, Maria Hsia, a reminder of Gore's visit to that Buddhist temple.

Democrats crowing over Bush's continued difficulties in explaining his visit to Bob Jones University. And the candidates themselves, today, engaged in a long distance debate over trigger locks on guns.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't mind trigger locks being sold, Doyle. But, the question is how do we enforce it? Are we going to have trigger lock police knocking on people's doors saying, show me your trigger lock?

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Is that what passes for courage in this debate on the Republican side of this contest? I certainly hope not. I'm for a law making child-safety trigger locks mandatory for guns that are sold in this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: So, tonight, an early look at the final round. What issues will carry the day for George Bush, or Al Gore?

Bob Novak and Bill Carrick are in Los Angeles. Ron Kaufman, let me start with you.

You've got to say that George Bush's position on trigger locks is a work in progress. If you look at his Web site, it says, quote, "he supports voluntary safety locks." Last night, we just heard him say, "I don't mind trigger locks being sold." Today, his press secretary Karen Hughes, communications director Karen Hughes, said quote, "that he would sign -- the governor would sign mandatory legislation, making trigger locks mandatory on new guns, but he wouldn't push for it."

Now, Ron Kaufman, he would sign it, but he wouldn't push for it. Is that what we call leadership in Texas?

RON KAUFMAN, BUSH SUPPORTER: No, leadership in Texas is putting criminals who commit crimes with guns behind jails, not letting them out in streets. If you really care about gun control, if you really care about crime, you really care about kids killing kids, the way to do it is put criminals in jail. People who commit crimes should go to jail. In D.C., only two felons who committed crimes with guns have gone to jail. That's the way to get the crime -- guns off the street, that's the way to get crime down, Bill, get criminals in jail where they belong.

PRESS: Whoa, the issue here that -- the reason Bush was even talking about it this week, we're not talking criminals, we're talking a 6-year-old, Ron, a 6-year-old up in Flint, Michigan, gets a gun that was in a house that he was living in, takes that gun to school and kills another 6-year-old. Isn't it time to push for -- that's the message isn't it, you need mandatory trigger locks on all guns?

KAUFMAN: With all due respect, Bill, certainly it is a tragedy beyond belief, for anyone -- particularly folks -- us who have kids, see kids shoot kids. But do you really believe in the crackhouse this kid had to live in that mandatory trigger locks were going to make a difference. That was an awful place. The problem with the system is he shouldn't have been there in the first place. He should have been some place else. The system broke down. Mandatory trigger locks would not have saved that child's life, unfortunately, in Michigan...

PRESS: Wait, whoa...

KAUFMAN: ... I'll tell you, Bill, if the police who knew that, that was a crackhouse had put those folks in jail where they belong, it wouldn't happened, not mandatory trigger locks.

PRESS: Ron Kaufman, wait a minute. If there were a trigger lock on that gun, that 6-year-old would not have been able to fire it, that other little 6-year-old, that 6-year-old girl would be alive today. Again, it's a question of leadership. After Littleton, Bush said that he wouldn't do any new gun control laws. After this, why wouldn't he push for mandatory trigger locks?

KAUFMAN: Bill, you're avoiding the real question.

PRESS: You are avoiding the reality.

KAUFMAN: No, the reality is exactly right. PRESS: A 6-year-old was killed with a gun that had no lock on it.

KAUFMAN: Because that 6-year-old was in a crackhouse with criminals, he had tons of guns there...

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: I think we got the message.

KAUFMAN: ... they were not going to put trigger locks on that gun, those criminals, those crackheads weren't going to put trigger locks on that gun no matter what happened, Bill. Not what the law said, Bill...

PRESS: Go, Bob.

NOVAK: Bill Carrick, the news of day was Maria Hsia, the close associate of Vice President Gore, convicted on five counts. I think nobody is more surprised than the attorney general. They're, actually, getting a conviction in the Clinton campaign finance scandals. But during the primary, Bill Bradley asked Al Gore repeatedly, what he was doing in that Buddhist temple. Now it turns out that in the trial, we find that the $100,000 was raised illegally. Don't you think that the vice president is going to have to answer that question on what in the world he was doing there?

BILL CARRICK, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, nobody ever said the vice president knew anything about the money being raised illegally. Obviously, she did wrong, she was laundering money and she got convicted. But it had nothing to do with Al Gore, he didn't know -- have any idea what she was doing, and she -- and it was wrong.

NOVAK: You mean, the future, the man who would be president spent a whole day -- several hours at a place where they were raising hundreds of thousands of dollars and he didn't know what was going on?

CARRICK: He had no idea that she was laundering money, none whatsoever. And there have been a lot of politicians victimized by people who have been engaged in laundering, there's no way to prevent that.

NOVAK: I'm glad you can believe that, Bill. The -- you are a crack strategist, and I want to ask you what happens after Al Gore is nominated. They had a race to the left, he and Bill Bradley, and it looked to the ordinary people like the Democratic Party was composed of environmental extremists, homosexual activists, feminist activists, labor union presidents and, who else -- any other -- oh, minority group leaders, certainly. When -- you think you can win an election with that coalition?

CARRICK: Look, Bob, I think -- Al Gore is going to win in -- have a coalition this coming Tuesday in California, in New York, and across the country, where he's going to have rank-and-file Democratic support everywhere, and he's going to have support across the board. This is the most diverse state in the country, and he's going to win a substantial victory here -- big. He's winning -- "The L.A. Times" has him beating John McCain among independents, 47 to 29. So we're going to see across-the-board victory built from the center of the political spectrum. And he's laying down a great foundation to run a very competitive general election.

NOVAK: Now that -- I'm glad -- you segued into just way I going to ask you, Mr. Carrick. And that is that after all this beating up on each other by McCain and Bush, just pounding each other mercilessly, you would think that this would be at least a moment in time when Al Gore, who has been left off the hook by Bradley the last couple of weeks, would forge ahead in the polls. Not so.

The CNN/"USA Today" Gallup poll says likely voters choice for president, McCain, 59 percent, Gore 35 percent; Bush 52 percent, Gore 43 percent. Is there something wrong with this candidate?

CARRICK: There's nothing wrong with this candidate, and he's certainly not going to be running against John McCain, he's going to be running against George Bush, when he's closed that gap substantially since the start of this campaign.

I think as voters start to look at the general election, they're going to see an experienced, intelligent, capable candidate in the vice president, who's talking about issues they care about, talking about health care reform, talking about education, and somebody who really has a substantive knowledge of those issues. And that's going to be a stark contrast to Governor Bush.

NOVAK: Bill, let me bring up something that the Democrats never brought up in the primary, and that's the wonderful book by Al Gore called "Earth in the Balance." Did you read that book, Bill?

CARRICK: I'm sorry, I missed that, Bob.

NOVAK: It's just a wonderful book.

CARRICK: Give me a synopsis.

NOVAK: Well, let me just give you a paragraph. I won't give you a synopsis.

It says, "Within the context of the SEI" -- that's the Strategic Environment Initiative -- "it ought to be possible to establish a coordinated global program to accomplish the strategic goal of completely eliminating the eternal combustible engine" -- that's an automobile -- "over, say, a 25-year period."

How did you like them apples in Detroit?

CARRICK: Well, look, Bob, I think everybody would like to see us come up with an alternative to the internal combustible engine. and it's going to take a while, and it's going to take a lot of new technology to get the job done in a way that we can make it affordable for the average American. But there's nothing wrong with that goal. Now you troglodytes who want to live in the past find that hard to accept. But Al Gore is prepared to take this country into the 21st century boldly and with innovative and creative solutions to our problems. NOVAK: I've always preferred...

PRESS: Thank you, Bill. Ron Kaufman here...

NOVAK: I've always preferred...

PRESS: Hey, Bob -- hey, Bob, Ron Kaufman's getting lonely here. I just want to get him back in the...

NOVAK: I'm just saying I prefer in the 13th century, Bill.

PRESS: We heard this, yes.

Ron Kaufman, let's get back to reality here. George Bush is campaigning as a uniter, not a divider. There's a new radio ad that will start tomorrow run by the Log Cabin Club. I'd like you to hear just a little bit of it please.

KAUFMAN: Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, LOG CABIN REPUBLICAN AD)

NARRATOR: I was happy to hear George W. Bush say he's a uniter, not a divider. But then he said he would not meet with gay Republicans. And worse, he wouldn't hire them. Then Bush went to Bob Jones University, a place that preaches intolerance against the Catholic Church gays and minorities, and he aligned himself with Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell? I am sorry, that doesn't build the kind of Republican Party that wins elections.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: Now, Ron, you know the Log Cabin Republicans, we're not talking about "Cage Aux Folles," we're talking about chamber of commerce types. They're button-down, they're business people for the most part. Why wouldn't George Bush sit down and meet with these guys?

KAUFMAN: I'm not familiar with that exact situation, Bill. But listen, this is a governor who has built the best, most diverse voting bloc in history in the second-biggest state in the country. He won re-election with 70 percent of the votes. That means Hispanics, that means blacks, that means gays, that means straights, that means women, that means black. It's a terrific coalition. As a matter of fact, as you know, the most powerful Democrat in the state of Texas, the lieutenant governor, supported him...

PRESS: But that has...

KAUFMAN: There's a reason for that.

PRESS: But, Ron, that has nothing to do -- and I'll remind you in case for you forgot, George Bush said on "Meet the Press" with Tim Russert he would not meet with the Log Cabin Republicans. John McCain did meet with them. Now I ask you, isn't it curious that George Bush would go to Bob Jones and stand at a place that doesn't permit interracial dating, stand alongside of a guy who called his father the devil, alongside of a guy who said -- this is not the present president, but his father -- that the pope is a communist agent. He would meet with him to say I'm getting my message out and not meet with a group of gay Republicans to get his message out. Isn't that a total contradiction?

KAUFMAN: Bill, I'm not sure about this particular group, but I know this. Governor Bush has met with all stripes of people across the country. Listen, Bob Jones University is a big red flag and you know it. When President Bush visited there, when Governor Bush visited there, when a Democratic governor visited there, when...

PRESS: No, no, no...

KAUFMAN: Wait -- when John McCain's campaign chairman got his honorary degree from there and said it was the most, biggest thrill of life, believe me, Bob Jones University is -- you know it and I know it -- is a red herring.

PRESS: OK, but you're an honest guy. Don't you think if the governor really wants to get his message out, he ought to be willing to meet with all Republicans...

KAUFMAN: Absolutely.

PRESS: ... including gays and lesbians?

KAUFMAN: He should meet with everybody, and he has.

PRESS: Then why -- no, he won't meet with them. Why don't you tell him that?

NOVAK: All right, I'm glad Bill -- I'm really glad Bill Press is advising Governor Bush. He really needs help from Bill. We're going...

PRESS: And I'm not even getting paid for it, Bob.

NOVAK: It's worth every penny he's paying for it.

We're going to take a break. And when we come back, we're going to explore just how mean these two candidates can get this year.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. I'm joining you from Los Angeles.

What do Al Gore and George W. Bush have in common? Not much. But the primary elections have shown they both really like to dish it out. Could this be one of the meanest general election campaigns ever?

We're asking Bill Carrick, one of the nation's leading Democratic campaign consultants who works out of Los Angeles, and Ron Kaufman, the Republican national committeeman from Massachusetts, who is a longtime Bush supporter. He's in Washington.

Bill, one thing I think we might agree on, when Al Gore comes up against George W. Bush, he's going to find a different barrel of apples than when he was debating Bill Bradley and he get a kind of passive, inconsistent retort to his own attacks. George W. is pretty tough, isn't he?

CARRICK: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely, I think we're going to see a campaign in the fall where both of these candidates are going to be much tougher. I hope we get a campaign that's more about substance than the Republican primaries has been. The Republicans continue to talk about process, process, process, whining about who's being negative about each other, and they never get to the substance of issues. They never talk about anything substantial, never talk about anything that matters to anybody other than themselves.

NOVAK: Well, you know, being negative sometimes does get to the substance of things. And one of the interesting things, I think, is that Vice President Gore met secretly, privately, with the Reverend Al Sharpton, who is, I think every -- you and I can both agree has had a terrible public career with black racism. And he has never criticized him. He has said that he won't even say what he said to Al Sharpton. Do you think that that isn't the subject for a proper debate?

CARRICK: Well, I think that vice president dealt with Al Sharpton in a very appropriate way. Al Sharpton represents some people. Some people look to him as leader. He met with him in private, didn't give him a public relations event for him to get some benefit out of. I thought he handled it very well.

NOVAK: Well, you know, he was asked the other night in the debate, the exciting debate in Los Angeles -- were you excited about that Democratic debate, Bill...

CARRICK: I was...

NOVAK: ... as I was.

CARRICK: I was just on the edge of my seat. It was really very exciting.

NOVAK: Me, too. And Al Gore was asked about the racist language used by the Reverend Sharpton. He says, I do condemn the language that he used. I think in America we believe in redemption. I did not meet with Reverend Sharpton publicly, I met with him privately. And I talked with him about some of the concerns that I have. I will not violate the privacy of that conversation.

You know, there used to be a guy they called "Tricky Dick," and he'd say things like that. I can't reveal the concerns I had about this guy. I have concerns, but I won't tell them to the American public...

CARRICK: Bob, I think,,,

NOVAK: ... You think he's going to get way with that? CARRICK: Bob, I think it's much worse to go to Bob Jones University. As you know, I group up in South Carolina in a Catholic family. And Bob Jones University has been a notoriously anti-Catholic institution for as long as I can remember, my entire life. He...

NOVAK: Did you tell the governor of -- the Democratic governor of South Carolina, Governor Hodges, that he shouldn't have gone there when he won his campaign there?

CARRICK: Let me clear something up. The Bush campaign's been saying that Governor Hodges went there to speak. He's never been there to speak ever in his entire career. He went there last year to a Easter passion play with a Republican member of the legislature. That's the only time he's ever been there. He went there as a private citizen and wasn't even introduced when he attended the passion play. It's far different than George Bush going there and giving a pandering speech instead of dealing with the issues, the notorious issues, infamous issues that Bob Jones is known for.

NOVAK: Is that...

PRESS: Ron Kaufman, let me...

NOVAK: Is Bob Jones the substance you're talking about?

PRESS: Ron Kaufman, let me come to you, if I may, please, and I want to talk to you about a couple of ads that are running in New York state right now, one of them is a radio ad that the Bush campaign is running against John McCain, claiming that John McCain voted, and he did, vote against an item for breast cancer research for a New York hospital.

McCain explains he voted against it. He's voted for breast cancer research many, many times. He voted against this one because it was pushed into a Defense Department bill rather than being in Health and Human Services budget where it belongs. You're former political director in the Bush White House, don't you think an ad like that just totally misrepresents the senator's position and is below the belt?

KAUFMAN: No I don't, Bill. If you read Senator McCain's own Web site on this very issue, he says, if I was president, I would not vote for that money. If I was president -- not that bill, if I was president I would not vote for that money, so that is a legitimate view on that -- a specific piece of legislation, on a -- not a broad thing, on that issue itself, on money for the New York University woman's center he said on his Web site on that money if he was president he would not vote for it, Bill.

PRESS: Yes, but the point is he would not vote for that money where it went, it was attached on, pinned on to this Defense Department bill, rather than going through the legislative process and being part of Health and Human Services where it belongs. Again, he's voted many times for breast cancer research, his sister, Ron, is now battling breast cancer research. You really want to paint John McCain as against breast cancer research and you think that is fair tactics? KAUFMAN: Bill, what we are saying here in that ad, what they said is that in this particular legislation, a woman who works there, not just some woman off the street, a woman who works there herself said that John McCain voted against money for that specific thing, and on his Web site, he says he would vote to veto again.

NOVAK: I want to get one last question in.

PRESS: Now, I want to ask him about -- hold it, Bob.

NOVAK: Bill...

PRESS: I think this is fair and we are not running the clock here, but I just -- I want to ask you about this second ad. There is an ad up there run by Republicans For Clean Air, which I always thought was an oxymoron. The Bush campaign says it knows nothing about it. It accuses John McCain of basically being pro-pollution and Bush being pro-clean air. This ad -- $2.5 million paid for by two men from Texas who are the biggest contributors to George Bush among them, one of them is a Pioneer who raised $100,000 for him, and the Bush campaign claims they know nothing about this ad. Do you really want us to believe that?

KAUFMAN: A hundred percent I believe that, and you know...

PRESS: Ron.

KAUFMAN: There is a thing called freedom of speech in this country, you may not like it, Bill -- as a lefty I thought you would enjoy that -- it's freedom of speech.

NOVAK: Bill, with your permission I want to get...

KAUFMAN: These men have the right to do what they want, Bill, that's what it's about.

NOVAK: I want to get one last question in.

PRESS: Go, Bob.

NOVAK: In the debate the other night, the Democratic debate the other night, son of the old Confederacy, Al Gore, referred to the Confederate flag as a symbol oppression and injustice. Bill Carrick, as a son of South Carolina, do you think that is a good way for a Democrat to campaign in the South?

CARRICK: I think this issue of the flag, it should come down in South Carolina, it is -- the people of South Caroline show in poll after poll they want the flag to come down. This is an issue that the vice president's right about, it's not doing the country any good, it's not doing South Carolina any good for this debate to continue and be as polarizing as it is. He is absolutely right about it.

PRESS: All right, the clock has run out on this bicoastal CROSSFIRE. Bill Carrick in Los Angeles, thank you for joining us, and Ron Kaufman here in Washington, thank you, both. The bicoastal closing comments coming up, Bob Novak, Bill Press.

Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Bill, let me suggest a dream come true for the Republicans, it is left-wing Democrats like you attacking George W. Bush for spending too much time with Christian conservatives and not enough time with homosexual activists. If you think that is good politics, it explains what happened to McGovern and Dukakis.

PRESS: I'll tell you, Bob, the dream come true. The dream come true is George Bush as the Republican nominee. I mean, he's run the perfect primary campaign for Democrats to go after. I think it's going to turn out we get the strongest Democrat, you get the weakest Republican, my dream come true.

NOVAK: Why is he 9 points ahead of Gore in the CNN poll then?

PRESS: Why isn't he 20 points ahead the way he used to be?

NOVAK: I'm asking why he's 9 points ahead.

PRESS: Hey, Bob, you can ask the pollster, don't ask me. The fact is, ask me what it is November 4, Bob. Yes, good bye, Bush.

From the left, I'm Bill Press, have a good weekend, 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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