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Governors of New York and California Debate the Merits of Al Gore and George W. Bush

Aired March 8, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET



AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We need to build, we need to build on our record of prosperity. We don't need to go back to where we were eight years ago.



GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Eight years of partisanship, gridlock and division. Eight years is a long time, and eight years is long enough.


MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: Tonight, it's off to the races, as the front-runners charge toward November.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Mary Matalin. In the CROSSFIRE, in San Francisco, California Governor Gray Davis, state chairman of the Gore campaign, and in New York, Governor George Pataki, New York chairman of the Bush campaign.

MATALIN: Good evening, and welcome to CROSSFIRE.

The most unpredictable primary season in memory has resulted in the most conventional outcome for campaign 2000. Front-runners Al Gore and George W. Bush racked up hundreds of delegates yesterday in victories from coast to coast and have already begun redirecting their campaign messages to general election themes.

From the Texas state capitol where he cast his vote absentee for next Tuesday's Lone Star state primary, today governor Bush reiterated his policy priorities.


BUSH: I believe we ought to share some of the surplus with the people who pay the bills. He doesn't. I know we need to reform public education. I know we need to restore morale in our military. Morale is dangerously low. I know we need a president who will lift the spirit of the country, somebody who will change the tone of Washington, D.C.


MATALIN: Vice President Gore also spent most of the day in his home state, Tennessee, visiting his mom and sounding similar themes.


GORE: I want to take the surplus and continue paying down the debt, safeguard Medicare and Social Security, instead of blowing it all on a risky tax scheme that would put our prosperity at risk. We've got the strongest economy in history. We need to keep our prosperity going.


MATALIN: There are primaries left, but not too much of a contest left. Top Bradley aides confirm the vice president's challenger will drop out tomorrow and endorse Gore. Bush's challenger, John McCain, has returned to his home state of an Arizona to ponder his possibilities.

So tonight, only six short weeks since the primary season kicked off, the general election is here, and the two biggest contests yesterday and in the general election are California and New York. So we turn to those states' leaders to assess their candidates, yesterday's results, the fallout from the primaries and previews of coming general election attractions -- Bill.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: That's a lot of work for you guys. Governors, I know you can handle it.

Governor Pataki, let me start with you. First of all, thanks for joining us, and congratulations on your big win in New York yesterday.

GOV. GEORGE PATAKI (R-NY) BUSH NEW YORK CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Bill. Good being on with you.

PRESS: Now we were wondering last night before we wrapped up shop how long it was going to be before the last skirmish. Well, it didn't take long, governor. Actually, Vice President Gore fired the first shot this morning on CNN's "EARLY EDITION."

Please listen to this challenge.


GORE: Where campaign reform is concerned, we don't have to wait for the passage of a law. I will ask the Republican nominee to join with me in calling for a ban on the so-called "soft money" and a ban on the unregulated, secretly funded so-called "independent expenditures" of the kind that flooded into California, New York and Ohio in the last days of this election.

(END VIDEO CLIP) PRESS: Now, Governor, not to debate those commercials again, but my question is, wouldn't it be a good idea for both parties to ban soft money for the November election?

PATAKI: Well, I think it would be a good idea if we could make sure that both candidates had an equal opportunity to get their message out about the future of America. And I think it's just incredible to me that Senator Gore still talks about campaign finance reform and raising ourselves to higher standards, when last week we had a conviction at a Buddhist temple of someone of a number of felonies for violating the campaign finance law at a fund-raiser that Al Gore did illegally. I think you have to set the tone by your own actions and your own standards, and I think that's what Governor Bush has done in Texas. I think he has shown the character and the vision, and I think that's why, one of the reasons, why I'm very optimistic about the future.

But the campaign finance laws are what they are. The Republicans, to their detriment, have obeyed those laws and worked to reform them in a positive way, while the Democrats, particularly the Clinton/Gore administration, have violated them.

And let me say, one of the good things -- one of the good things, Bill, that Senator McCain has done during the course of his candidacy --and Senator McCain has done a lot of good things -- he has talked about campaign finance reform. We have to take a good look at his reform agenda, because the Republican party has been and should be the party of reform, and I think if we embrace some of the McCain initiatives and work with his followers, we can have a great win.

PRESS: Well, Governor, look, first of all, if John McCain could learn from the Keating Affair and become a real apostle of campaign reform, Al Gore can learn from the Buddhist temple and become an apostle of campaign reform. But the question is, you want a McCain challenge? Here it is, governor. It's coming right down at you, right across the plate.

PATAKI: All right, let me...

PRESS: It's a ban on soft money. So let's come back to the question, why wouldn't it be -- don't wait for Congress to pass a law.

PATAKI: Let me answer that question.


PATAKI: And it's what Al Gore didn't say, and that's always the case with the Clinton administration and Al Gore. It's not what they say, it's how they say it and what they don't say. And what he didn't say is what's going to happen with independent expenditures. What are the unions going to do? Is the AFL going to be allowed to spend $40, $50, $60 million bashing Governor Bush. He didn't mention that.

PRESS: Not if you ban soft money, governor, not if you ban soft money, they won't. PATAKI: No, you're wrong, Bill. That's not soft money. That's an independent expenditure. And the Constitution has said that independent expenditures, under the freedom of speech provision, are exempt from limitations. So all Gore would love it if we couldn't get our message out to the people but the unions in a so-called independent expenditure can spend $50, $60 million.

And, Bill, by the way, in the last presidential campaign, the Democratic National Committee and the AFL, or the teamsters, one of the unions -- I forget which -- illegally used money back and forth, so I don't trust Al Gore at all when he talks about policies like this.

PRESS: Just a quick point of order. I know we want to go to Governor Davis, but I don't want to play the whole bite again. But Al Gore said banning soft and independent expenditures, governor -- Mary.

PATAKI: I didn't hear that part of it.

MATALIN: All right, Governor Gray, let me pick it up there. Not oddly, George Bush himself also raised the issue of campaign finance reform last night. Let's hear what he had to say.


BUSH: I will stand on principle, and I will bring honor to this process and honor to the office I seek. I will remind Al Gore that Americans do not want a White House where there is no controlling legal authority.


MATALIN: So let me ask a couple of questions, picking up where your colleague Governor Pataki left off. What about the $46 million that the AFL-CIO has already pledged to the Democratic ticket for this fall's elections and the hundreds of millions of dollars of effort that go on behind the scenes. Is the vice president suggesting that that money should also be banned from this election process?

DAVIS: Well, Mary, I find this whole discussion somewhat irrelevant. People want to know what is their president going to do for them on issues that matter?

GOV. GRAY DAVIS (D-CA), GORE CALIFORNIA CHAIRMAN: And in California, when you have a good economy and crime is going down, they want to know are you for a woman's right to choose or not? Al Gore is, and George Bush is not. Are you for sensible gun control? Al Gore is. George Bush just signed a law saying you can take a weapon into a church or synagogue. That's not going to play out mere with Republicans or Democrats. And are you for the environment or not? And Al Gore gets very good marks, and George Bush does not. Campaign finance reform, in my judgment, is only meaningful to people when you connect it to an issue they care about.

MATALIN: All right, governor, we're going to get to those other issues, but this is because of the McCain insurgency, and both of the candidates raising last night this issue. It is a top priority. And the vice president came right at Governor Bush this morning, also suggested that those commercials that were run in New York, these independent expenditure ads, were awful. He's going to ban those, too. But of course these same kind of independent expenditure groups are running millions of dollars of ads against George Bush in New Hampshire -- NARAL, and Americans -- whatever your other liberal groups are called -- the Sierra Club. Is he suggesting that the liberal independent expenditure groups also be banned from the general election?

DAVIS: Well, again, Mary, if the candidates can agree on some rules that they both think will allow them to communicate their message, that is fine with me. But poll after poll has convinced me that Americans don't really think campaign reform is their highest issue. Yes, if campaign reform is stopping us from getting sensible gun control, fine, but John McCain is against that and so is George Bush. It only matters to people if money is keeping the Congress from doing what America wants.

PRESS: Governor Pataki, it was a big victory for Governor Bush yesterday, but I want to show you a couple of numbers out of California that suggest maybe there's less there than meets the eye. And you know, the California primary was the first time in an open primary that it was Bush versus Gore, sort of an early test of what could happen in November. Let's look first at moderates. Clearly, Governor Bush wins among conservatives. But among moderates, Al Gore, 39 percent; George Bush, 20 percent.

So I mean, this was a guy, a candidate, governor, who was sold as somebody having broad appeal. He hasn't shown that yet in one primary.

PATAKI: Well, Bill...

PRESS: Doesn't that trouble you?

PATAKI: No, because, Bill, he has shown it as governor of Texas. You take a look at Al Gore. Al Gore's never run anything except when maybe he was involved in starting the Internet. Apart from that, he hasn't any executive experience at all. And take a look at Governor Bush. He's been a successful executive. He's run a diverse and large state exceptionally well.

And in that state, he not only appealed to moderates, he appealed to Democrats -- got re-elected with over 30 percent of the Democratic vote, over 40 percent of the Hispanic vote, a significant percentage of the African-American vote. So if he has the opportunity to get his reform message out to America, as he's gotten his reform message out in Texas, I have no doubt he's going to be enormously successful in appealing not just to a broad cross-section of Republicans and conservatives, but moderates and others who want character in the White House.

PRESS: But the point is, governor, he did have a chance to get the reform message out in California. Let's look at another group that we were told that this was going to be George Bush's baby. He speaks Spanish. He appealed to Latinos in Texas. Here's what happened in California.

Among Latinos, Gore 56 -- this is all voters, all Latino voters -- Gore, 56; Bush, 18. Again, where's the proof of the pudding, governor?

PATAKI: The proof of the pudding is in Governor Bush's record and vision for America. He got over 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in Texas because they knew him and they had a chance to see his record. We had 13 primaries, I think, yesterday. And he's had to spend an enormous amount of time in states like New York and Missouri and Ohio and cross the country.

As the campaign gets out there and he has the opportunity to get his broad inclusive message, his record in Texas, his vision for America, his education reform agenda -- which I think clearly contrasts Governor Bush as a person of the future who wants to make sure that every child gets a high-quality education as opposed to Vice President Gore, who says everything is fine the way it is or maybe a little more money with strings attached would solve our educational dilemma.

So I think there's just a tremendous opportunity for those numbers to grow as this campaign goes forward.

PRESS: All right, governors, we're going to have to take a break at that point. And of course, one of the big questions facing both Al Gore and George Bush is who is going to be the vice presidential running mate. Question: Are we looking at him tonight on CROSSFIRE?


PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE and our kickoff of the main event. So what will Al Gore and George Bush do to keep busy for the next six months before the conventions: talk about issues or start throwing mud? And how about a vice presidential running mate? Might it be one or both of tonight's CROSSFIRE guests? New York's Republican governor, George Pataki, a Bush supporter, or California's Democratic governor, Gray Davis, a member of the Al Gore team?

Let's find out, Mary.

MATALIN: Well, Governor Davis, it's been suggested that the vice president needs to pick someone mature and successful, which does describe you. Any interest, or you think you're on the short list?

DAVIS: I've answered this question before on CNN, Mary, and I challenge you to get as direct an answer from George as you're going to get from me.

I am honored to be governor of this state. I intend to serve a four-year term. I do not want to be vice president, although I have great admiration and respect for Vice President Gore.

Being governor has allowed us to make progress on gun control. We've signed seven bills last year, 21 bills on HMO reform and to make great strides in education. I want to continue serving the people of this state. And to quote my friend Regis Philbin, that's my final answer.


Let me see -- let me see if you can get an answer that direct out of George. I bet you can't.

MATALIN: OK, we've got to ask -- let's move on to other issues. I know they are, as you've suggested particularly for the vice president's run there, abortion and guns and the environment. But let's go to the other issue that both the candidates raised last night, Social Security. This is George Bush on Social Security.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's got a tough case to make in the general election. For eight years, Clinton- Gore administration has had history's greatest opportunity to reform Social Security with a growing surplus and a willing public. But they have chosen to demagogue Social Security, not repair it.


MATALIN: Governor, let me ask you about that, because on the government's two biggest programs for the elderly, Medicare and Social Security, this administration has rejected or just let lay limp bipartisan suggestions for solutions. And it was suggested by some Democrats who were a part of those bipartisan solutions that this party wanted an issue, not a solution. Why hasn't there been more activity by this administration? Isn't the governor right they chose to demagogue and to save it as an issue, not work toward a solution?

DAVIS: Well, first of all, every single American entitled to Social Security has received every penny they're entitled to. Secondly, the president and the vice president were the first to sound the alarm when tax cuts were too exorbitant, proposed by George Bush and the Republican Congress, that would threaten America's ability to keep its commitment to the World War II generations who did so much for us and to our parents.

Moreover, poor George Bush doesn't have much to talk about. I mean, Al Gore has participated in decisions that have led to the greatest economy the world has ever known: incredible reductions in welfare and in crime. Education is stronger. Health care is better. There's not much to complain about. So he's got to kind of pick around the edges and see if he can't find an issue here or there.

But the reason Al Gore won 81 percent of the vote last night is that people are happy with the progress America has shown and they're happy with Al Gore's position on the issues that matter out here.

PRESS: All right, Governor Pataki, I'm going to give you a chance to rise to Gray Davis' challenge. Do you want it? Are you interested? Yes or no?

PATAKI: Let me first agree with Gray Davis that I think being governor of a major state like New York or California is one of the great jobs you can have in America. And I'm very proud and honored to be the governor of New York.

My goal over the course of the next eight months, in addition to doing the best job I can for the people of New York state, is to try to help Governor Bush become the next president.

And I think when you look at the position of vice president, the governor has laid out his criteria. His most important criteria is he wants someone who could be president if that eventuality occurred. He wants someone who shares his philosophy and who he can work well with. And I think -- I think there are a number of people out there, a number of governors, a number of people in Washington. Certainly, among all of them who has shown his ability to cross party lines and attract support is Senator McCain.

PRESS: Well, I did -- don't take that as a no, governor. But let's move on. I think you can tell a lot about a candidate by the people that he stands with and the people who stand for him. Yesterday in New York our exit polls show that your support for Governor Bush helped him win New York. But you were not the first one on television last night who was praising George Bush. I want you to listen to the first Bush supporter who showed up on national TV. Here he is.


PAT ROBERTSON, FOUNDER, CHRISTIAN COALITION: George Bush is a very fine man. He's done a good job in Texas. He has been able to unite people. He's united the Democrats. He's united women, united the Hispanics. It is just astounding what he has been able to do in Texas. And I think we'll have the same thing in the United States.


PRESS: My question, governor -- this is now a general election -- does Pat Robertson really help George Bush around this country?

PATAKI: You know, Bill, I don't think people make a decision for a president based on whether or not Pat Robertson or Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton or anyone else is supporting their candidacy. What they make a decision on is the vision, the character and record of the person running for office. And I think if you look at Governor Bush's record, it's an outstanding reform record with results as governor of Texas, raising educational standards, raising educational performance for all children.

He has the right vision for America. I'd love to debate Governor Davis on the tax cut question, because there's no question in my mind that cutting taxes while protecting Social Security will make our economy and Social Security stronger. And I just think he also has demonstrated character in a way that the American people will respond to.

MATALIN: Governor, let me slip in what Governor Bush has said on this topic as opposed to Governor Bush's supporters, which Bill is trying to do.

This is what Governor Bush said at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in your own Los Angeles this week.


BUSH: Tolerance can never be assumed, and it always must be taught. We must teach our children to respect people from all walks of life. We must teach our children to respect people whose skin is of a different color.

We must teach our children to respect those whose ancestry or religion may be different from their own.


MATALIN: Governor, reports are rampant that the Gore campaign plans to charge that George Bush is a bigot. His campaign manager, Gore's campaign manager has already said all Republicans are bigots.

Do you think these kinds of divisive attacks are good for the country and should be included in this general election?

DAVIS: Well, first of all, I want to associate myself with the remarks that Governor Bush made last night. There's no state more diverse than California. People from all over the planet have their sons and daughters living here. And I believe all immigrants -- I come from the Bronx, by the way, George -- all immigrants have to meet resistance out here. And when they overcome it, they make a better product, they run a better company, and Californians are the beneficiary of that.

I believe the vice president will run a positive campaign. He's got a great deal to be proud of. I mean, the economy, reductions in crime and welfare, historic investments in education. And he's right on the issues that Californians care about in good times, namely choice, gun control and the environment. So I don't think he's going to run a negative campaign. I think he's going to run a positive campaign. And he already starts out in the lead here in California.

MATALIN: Well, we'll see. Governors, you both did great jobs, thank you for joining us the day after. From New York, Governor Pataki. From California, Governor Gray Davis.

Bill and I will be back with our closing comments next.


PRESS: According to CNN's John King, he's learned that John McCain will announce tomorrow that he is temporarily suspending his presidential campaign, temporarily. So Mary, with due apologies to Alan Keyes, it is a two-man race.

MATALIN: And your man, whom you've been bragging about closing the gap on these polls, I just want to point out he has never risen above 45. It was never to be an 18-point race and your guy has never broken anywhere near 50.

PRESS: But he was the first one to go after the McCain voters this morning. This is a simple game, The first one to get the McCain votes wins. Al Gore's got a head start.

From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

MATALIN: From the right, I'm Mary Matalin.

Join us again tomorrow night for another edition of CROSSFIRE.


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