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Why Has Bush Jumped Ahead of Gore in Recent Polls?

Aired April 11, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET



GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Make no mistake about it: In my administration, low-income Americans will have access to high quality health care.


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: George W. Bush prescribes a health plan.


AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our No. 1 priority for investing in the future must be to bring revolutionary improvements to our public schools.


NOVAK: Al Gore goes back to school. Tonight, the latest on campaign 2000, including, why has Bush jumped ahead of Gore in the polls?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Robert Novak. In the crossfire, Ron Klain, former chief of staff to Vice President Gore and an adviser to the Gore campaign, and Republican strategist Ed Gillespie, a supporter of Governor Bush.

Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Ever since Super Tuesday so long ago, the perception here inside the Beltway has been happy days are here again for the Democrats, but not so fast. A CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll shows among likely voters, a nine-point lead, 50 percent to 41 percent, for Governor George W. Bush over Vice President Al Gore. Both candidates keep campaigning hard, and they each found themselves today in the pivotal state of Ohio, but not together of course.

Bush was in Cleveland, unveiling his health insurance plan, which the candidate said included a tax cut for the poor. What's good for the rich is good for the poor, he's implying. Gore was in Columbus at another of his "school days," talking to kids, but certainly not to journalists. In fact, he hasn't had a press conference for seven weeks. So have the angry news people cast an evil spell on the vice president, accounting for his nine-point deficit? That and other weighty political questions come next.

Syndicated columnist Matthew Miller is sitting in for Bill Press -- Bill -- I mean, Matt. I forget sometimes.

MATTHEW MILLER, GUEST CO-HOST: Thanks, Bob. Glad to be here.

Ed, there were some really fine ideas in that Bush speech today that was touting a new prosperity initiative today. And one in particular really brought tears to my eyes. I want to share that with you, if we can roll it.


BUSH: Our newspapers and television programs praise and profile the winners in our high-tech economy. But we must never become the winner-take-all society. As president, I will be committed to the advancement of all Americans, including those who struggle.


MILLER: Now, those are really noble sentiments, and they're beautiful, and I hate to spoil what's a very compassionate day for conservatives. But we have still got to look at facts of what George W. Bush is actually proposing. And if you look at what his priorities are -- let us put up a little graphic we've got -- what George Bush proposed today in his new prosperity initiative is over five years, $42 billion. That's for poor folks, for health care, for housing and other stuff. But oops, if you look at the tax cuts he's proposed for top 1 percent over the same period, it's $178 billion. For the top 10 percent, it's $295 billion. So it looks to me like he's got five times the more moral concern for the top than the bottom.

Isn't this whole thing an unbelievably cynical ruse?

ED GILLESPIE, BUSH SUPPORTER: Actually, I think what's unbelievably cynical is for Citizens for Tax Justice, a liberal, left- wing organization, to do some kind of phony analysis and not note that you can't cut taxes in this country without having to cut taxes on the top, because in fact...


MILLER: Why don't we cite John McCain instead of Citizens for Tax Justice. Let's use John McCain. That was his critique of your guy's plan.

GILLESPIE: Let's look at facts. The fact is that bottom 50 percent, the bottom half of taxpayers in the country, the bottom half of earners, only pay 5 percent of the taxes. If you're going to cut taxes, the fact is that the top 10 percent pay 65 percent of the taxes. So to cut taxes and cut income taxes, you're going to end up -- I know you hate it -- but getting to those who pay the taxes, Matt. But there's another important point here.

MILLER: I'm with John McCain on that.

GILLESPIE: The fact is this, that what George Bush proposed today is the essence of compassionate conservatism. I know you'd rather have a big government program to help poor people, but we know that the key to upward mobility is what George W. Bush is talking about, and that's giving people the ability and the power to control their own destiny, to get them on the economic escalator and into the economic system, and that's what he's talking about, helping cover, by the way, 90 percent of the health care costs of a low-income family in his proposal.

MILLER: I'm glad you brought that up, because there's one thing that puzzles me when I looked at his health care plan today, and that's the way it compares to his daddy's plan that George Bush Sr. put out in 1992. We've got a graphic on that also. If you compare the plan of the father in 1992 and the son in 2000, it's astonishing. In 1992 -- this is at a time of $290 billion deficits -- George Bush Sr. proposed a plan of $5,100 per family, almost $50 billion a year. Now eight years later, the son who's supposed the compassionate conservative, has put out a plan that's worth only $2,000 per family, only $8 billion, and yet know we've got these huge surpluses.

Wouldn't his father be ashamed of this token plan he's put out at a time of unprecedented bounty?

GILLESPIE: Oh, I doubt that. I think the fact is this: This plan, as I said, the $2,000 covers 90 percent of a poor family's health insurance and health coverage costs. It also incentivizes employers to provide health care and allows for people to invest in medical savings accounts and in private accounts that can help them fund their health insurance.

NOVAK: What's wrong with that?

GILLESPIE: I know you want to see government spending, but allowing the tax code to encourage participation in health insurance coverage is another approach to it, Matt.

RON KLAIN, GORE ADVISER: Look, Ed, with George Bush and health care, the record speak for itself. "The New York Times" on the front page today has an amazing story where it details that Texas is at the bottom of the heap with regard to insurance coverage for poor people, for women, for children, 50th out of a 51 based on objective facts.

NOVAK: Who wrote the story?

KLAIN: Adam Clymer of "The New York Times"?

NOVAK: Is he Teddy Kennedy's stooge?


KLAIN: Let me be fair to Governor Bush, though -- he isn't at the bottom of every category. In fact, Texas leads the nation in tuberculosis, diabetes, teen pregnancy, AIDS.


NOVAK: I've got some bad news for you, Ron. You're going to have to talk about Gore tonight.

KLAIN: I'm happy to do it, happy to do it.

NOVAK: Now this poll shows that the American people actually like Gore on the issues better than they like Bush. No wonder, Bush hasn't said very much that I like anyway. But on character and personality, he's double digits below George Bush after putting on all of these earth tones and remodeling himself.

You know what they used to say about Nixon, you know, I do not like thee, Dr. Fell, the reason why I cannot tell, but I do not like thee, Dr. Fell.

Why do they not like Al Gore after all his remakeover?

KLAIN: I think they do like Al Gore. I think his stunning victories in the primaries, the most unprecedented victories in any contested primary, speak for themselves. Look, Al Gore is out there introducing himself to the American people, spending days what the voters one on one, in small groups. They're getting to know him better and better. They like him. More importantly, they recognize two things: one, he is a leader, and two, he has agenda for this country's future. His agenda on health care is better than George Bush's. His agenda on taxes is better than George Bush's. His agenda on all of these issues outranks George Bush's.

NOVAK: But they don't like him so far, Ron. And I was interested in what he was doing today. He was at school with a bunch of fifth-graders.

KLAIN: In Ohio.

NOVAK: In Columbus, Ohio.


NOVAK: And he was building triangles and parallelograms with colored shapes, and a fifth-grader, an 11-year-old fifth-grader named Angela Crossley (ph) said she enjoyed it, but it was a little weird. And you know, the question...

KLAIN: Bob...

NOVAK: Wait for the question.


NOVAK: The question is, when I remember John F. Kennedy talking about the new frontier and the great vistas of heroism, is this what we have today as our leader, the guy who makes the little parallelograms with Angela? KLAIN: We have as our leader a person who's going into the schools to talk to parents, teachers and students. You know, George Bush visited two schools in the past several weeks and talked to a grand total of seven students at both schools. Yes, Al Gore is talking to students at schools. He's talking to teachers. He's talking to teachers. He's learning about schools. And that's why he's said his first priority as president is a revolutionary change in the public school system in America. He's right to put that at the top of the list. He right to talk to students and work with them.

NOVAK: Why doesn't he talk to reporters?

KLAIN: He talks to plenty of reporters. He talks to plenty of reporters, Bob.

NOVAK: Facts, facts -- George W. Bush has a press conference every day he's on the road. Al Gore hasn't had one in seven weeks. Why? Why not?

KLAIN: Because he is talking to the voters. He's talking to plenty of reporters one on one. But I've got a deal for you right here, right here and right now. You want to talk to Al Gore? Let's get Al Gore in this studio next week, with George Bush sitting in this chair, have the two of them here, have a debate, and have them right on CROSSFIRE, and you and Matt...


NOVAK: How about just Al Gore? I want to show you the RNC flier, Republican National Committee flier.

KLAIN: You're talking about my sources, and you're putting up RNC flyers, Bob?

NOVAK: Yes. Now you see, that's "Republicans Held Hostage." Do you know who those people are? You don't know reporters if you're going with Gore. That's Ceci Connally of "The Washington Post" and Howard Fineman of "Newsweek." Now, Ron, since you may be a little gullible since you used to be with Gore, they're not really in stocks, you understand that. That's just a gag, but it's pretty clever, isn't it?

KLAIN: I appreciate the gag. I always appreciate the creativity at the folks at the RNC. They're very creative with the facts, most of all usually. The fact of the matter is, the vice president has been accessible to the press.

NOVAK: He has?

KLAIN: He has.

The best thing we can do is make him and Governor Bush accessible to the voters. After all, they still do matter a little more than the press in this process. Let's get them in here. Let's get them debating. Let's get the issues before the American people.

NOVAK: Why won't he talk to the press?

KLAIN: He talks to the press every day, every day, every day.

NOVAK: he doesn't.

MILLER: And let me ask you, I want to give you a chance to engage with the facts again...


MILLER: ... in terms of George Bush and his daddy's health plan, because before you said big government et cetera, why is George Bush Jr. putting out a much smaller plan than his daddy did in an era of big deficits?

GILLESPIE: The fact is...

MILLER: It's not about big government or not. It's just Bush versus his father.

KLAIN: But...

GILLESPIE: Or surpluses is what he's trying to say, I think. But look, this is the point, because...

MILLER: No, his father proposed it in the era of big deficits.

GILLESPIE: Look, I want to -- Ron said that "The New York Times" today said that the number of children in Texas, the uninsured went up. There was a slight increase. What it didn't mention was the fact is that four times...

MILLER: You're not answering my question.

GILLESPIE: I want to make this point, because it's important to clear up the record here. The rate of increase for children uninsured in Texas, the national increase was four times as much as what we saw in Texas. The fact is that Bush has implemented a Children Health Insurance Program down there that has held down the rate of increase and...

MILLER: Can you try answering my question?

GILLESPIE: Well, I want to correct the record first.

KLAIN: But if you want to correct the record, Ed, Governor Bush tried to put through a CHIP plan that would have left out 200,000 people of the 500,000 ultimately covered. The legislature wanted him to cover those children.

GILLESPIE: Ron, the number of adults...

KLAIN: And now you guys are claiming credit for it.

GILLESPIE: The number of adults -- these are facts, these -- you can't argue these facts. KLAIN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

GILLESPIE: The number of adults without insurance went down in the last four years under the Bush administration in Texas.

KLAIN: But why is he going to do so much less when he's president?

MILLER: Right, exactly.

GILLESPIE: And the rate of increase nationally was four times as high, which was -- by the way, I believe nationally was where Al Gore has been for the past four years...

MILLER: So why is he offering...


MILLER: Let him answer, Ron.

GILLESPIE: Because the fact is he is proposing an insurance program that is based in the private sector. Why do you hate that?

MILLER: Like his father did that was much bigger.

GILLESPIE: It was -- this is far more effective, and you can't argue with the fact that in Texas he has been very effective....

MILLER: His plan that's smaller was more effective than his father's plan?

GILLESPIE: Yes. You can be more effective without spending more money. I know that's hard for you to understand, Matt, but it's true.

NOVAK: I think we...


MILLER: ... with his father.

GILLESPIE: He doesn't...

NOVAK: ... have completed the father envy.

Now we're going to have to take a break, and when we come back we will explore Al Gore's new and improved position on Elian Gonzalez.


MILLER: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

It was a big day for George W. Bush as he offered new plans for the poor, and basked in the new polls that showed him pulling away from Al Gore. Does Bush's growing lead mean the vice president is on the ropes, or is Team Gore right when they say that the more you get to know the Texas governor, the more you'll learn to love their man? Helping us find eternal truth on these questions are Ron Klain, Gore's former chief of staff and a key adviser, and Ed Gillespie, a Republican strategist who supports George Bush -- Bob.

NOVAK: Ron Klain, I was one of the few, maybe the only journalist, left or right, in Washington who commended Al Gore for his position which I said was a principled position on not sending Elian Gonzalez back to the communist dictatorship, but keeping him here. And what did he do in return? Pulled the crowd right out from under me.

Let's listen to what he said today.


AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: With tensions as high as they are and both sides trying to figure out a way to come to a resolution on it, I think that, you know, we need to encourage the talks between the family members themselves because that's the ideal solution.


NOVAK: Now what happened, Ron, to his proposal for legislation to give the little boy permanent resident status just 10 days ago? Now, that just kind of disappeared. What happened to that?

KLAIN: No, Bob, his position on this has been the same since January. Since January he has said that the courts -- the family courts of Florida should adjudicate what's in the best interests of this child like any other child that loses a parent in a dramatic situation like this. That has been his position since January. He has said he supports legislation to give the kid permanent residency so that, that adjudication can take forward -- take place in a orderly way if the government is going to try to remove him.

What he said there on television I think is what resonates with every parent -- resonates with me as a parent. In a terrible family situation like this, the best thing would be for all the child's relatives to work out a solution. But it doesn't change his basic position, Bob, that if the family can't work out a solution that is in the best interests for the child, a court in Florida should adjudicate that fairly and free of pressure.

NOVAK: Can we -- and that -- I agree with that, but let's fairly stick to the facts, and maybe he's still OK.

KLAIN: Sure.

NOVAK: Maybe I haven't been betrayed. He was -- he had the same position, and then what caused all the furor 10 days ago was he -- for the first time, he said -- came out for legislation...

KLAIN: Sure.

NOVAK: ... to give him permanent status. Is he still for that legislation? KLAIN: He is for that legislation, and the reason he wants to see..

NOVAK: Why doesn't he say so?

KLAIN: Well, you know, I don't know what he was asked to respond to that question, Bob.


KLAIN: What I do know is this, he's for that legislation, but most importantly, what he's for is letting Elian's status be adjudicated in a family court here for the best interests of the child and having -- and, you know, but if the family can solve it as a family unit, of course that's better. I don't know anyone who would disagree with that.

NOVAK: Well, a lot of people disagree with that, including the New York attorney general, but we don't want to do an Elian Gonzalez show. I want to get back to the -- some of the -- why in the world the American people don't like this wonderful man that you're so fond of, and "The Boston Globe" did a long piece today -- "Boston Globe" is not an organ of the Republican National Committee, is it, Eddie?

GILLESPIE: Never was when I was there.


NOVAK: I don't believe so. And it went on and on and on about -- well, the headline was "Record Shows Gore Long Embellished Truth," and it just goes on. It's like Dr. Munchausen, the famous German liar, where he just doesn't tell the -- did you read that story?

KLAIN: I did. And I think this story does go on and on and on and it amounts to very little.

NOVAK: Anything inaccurate in it?

KLAIN: There is tons of things inaccurate.

NOVAK: What? Name one.

KLAIN: Let's go through the basic point here, in my mind, which is this, in a 20-year career people have gone through and nit picked, was this statement exactly right, taken out of context -- look this way. The fact of the matter is, what -- the one thing the American people do know about Al Gore, Bob, in the CNN poll and all the polls is he is truthful, he is honest, he has character, he has integrity. People believe him.

NOVAK: Why does he have such high negatives then?

KLAIN: He has high negatives because Republicans have been attacking him. We're fighting back. We're going to win this election.

NOVAK: They haven't even gotten to him yet.

KLAIN: We're going to win this election. But, he is a person of character, integrity. The American people know that, and that is the serious issue in this race.

NOVAK: They haven't even touched him yet.

MILLER: Ed Gillespie, let me ask you, I was a little confused today by a development. George Bush is trying to move toward the middle, signal his moderation, and yet at the same time we have news that John McCain is going to boycott this gala fund raiser that Bush has planned with a bunch of Washington GOP fat cats on April 26th that is going to raise $15 million. That's the biggest fund raiser in history.

Doesn't he understand that in the face of McCain's credibility and integrity and the whole call for campaign finance reform that this is exactly the kind of thing that's going to turn off voters in the middle?

GILLESPIE: I think the fact is that Republicans are rallying behind Governor Bush, because the prospect of four more years of the Clinton-Gore -- as we just heard again, some of these exaggerations and this kind of...

MILLER: And record low unemployment...


MILLER: ... and record long prosperity. That's...

GILLESPIE: No, what people are looking for is a fresh start.


GILLESPIE: And that's what Governor Bush can provide them that AL Gore can't.

And -- but I want to go back to this point, because I think that the Republicans do want to help to offset this onslaught. I mean, The New York Times is a classic example.

Look, the reason that Al Gore wants to say no commercials, the Republicans shouldn't buy any more commercials, we won't buy any more commercials is because we get hammered in The New York Times and on the news -- network newscasts. And we have to go (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of paid advertising...

NOVAK: Was that a commercial in The New York Times this morning?

GILLESPIE: It wasn't a paid one, Bob. It wasn't a paid one.


GILLESPIE: So we've got to -- we've got offset this to communicate directly with voters so that we can get the facts out and clear these things up.

MILLER: Let me ask you then: Is part of the way you're going to offset it by selling the Microsoft decision? We got word today also that Ralph Reed, who's a close Bush adviser, is now going to be on Bill Gates' payroll, trying to funnel in what seems to be a real conflict of interest and at least raises the appearance that his justice is for sale.

GILLESPIE: I don't know much about that. I heard about it late in the day. But I know this: Ralph Reed is not the one who got Bill Gates to go to the White House and have that nice closeup with President Clinton, who then said, I want a personal briefing on the Microsoft issue. The Microsoft issue is a big issue whether or not Ralph Reed is involved in it or not.

MILLER: So it's OK to have a Bush adviser, you know, trying to work his way through to get Microsoft's will on the biggest antitrust case in history.

GILLESPIE: I don't know what the nature of the agreement is. I don't have any problem with it.

NOVAK: Ron Klain, the event that Matt talked about, the reason that McCain is so upset by it, he didn't -- Matt didn't mention is it's soft money. Soft money is this unlimited spending which everybody is against but everybody takes.

I would like to ask you one question tonight that I get a short, sweet answer on.

KLAIN: Please.

NOVAK: Does Al Gore take soft money?

KLAIN: The DNC takes soft money. Al Gore wants to ban it, make it illegal, not have it taken. He has offered to support a law that John McCain supports, a bipartisan...

NOVAK: I'm going to try -- I'm going to try once...


KLAIN: He has said -- he has said -- he has said...

NOVAK: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. No, no, no, no.

KLAIN: ... he has said he will give it up in this campaign right now if George Bush will do the same.

NOVAK: No, no. You want to run off, but you know -- and look me in the eyes. You know that Al Gore takes soft money, don't you?

KLAIN: Of course, the DNC takes soft money because...

NOVAK: He takes it. Al Gore takes it for his campaign. KLAIN: The DNC takes it, Bob.

NOVAK: Oh, come on.

KLAIN: And I'm not drawing a line. That's just a legal distinction. But Bob, here's the point...

NOVAK: We're out of time.

KLAIN: You want to get rid of soft money?

NOVAK: We're out of time.

KLAIN: Let's get rid of it right now if the Bush campaign will agree.


KLAIN: That's all that has to happen.


KLAIN: Both...


... right now. Right now.

NOVAK: That's what they -- that's what they -- that's what they did to poor Bill Bradley. Thank you very much, Ron Klain.

KLAIN: Thanks, Bob.

NOVAK: ... Thank you, Ed Gillespie. And Matt and I will be back with closing comments.


MILLER: You know, I've got to hand it to you guys with that George Bush speech today, the New Prosperity Initiative for poor folks, because he's able to dress up in this wonderful pretty rhetoric about the disadvantaged -- this plan, it overall is a huge giveaway to the best-off folks in society. It's political genius, I suppose, huh, Bob?

NOVAK: Well, the best-off folks pay the most taxes. I didn't like that speech much today. I thought it was too much "me too" Republicanism.

You know, let me tell you something, Matt: They've got a real problem with Al Gore. He isn't likable. After all the hard times for George Bush against McCain, he's nine points ahead. And I can make a prediction that I know is going to be true: The only way the Gore people know how to campaign is to start throwing the mud at Bush. And you -- you're going to see that -- I mean not on the question of the little stuff that you're talking about but some really mean stuff against Bush, and it may backfire.

MILLER: But some of that mud is going to come from Texas. It looks like it's the hungriest, poorest, most underinsured, ill-clad, ill-housed state in the country.

NOVAK: Why do people keep moving in to Texas then?

MILLER: Well, he's had a couple of years. He hasn't moved the needle much at all.

NOVAK: Oh, but why do people move there?

MILLER: Why are they -- why do they move anywhere? They're moving to Austin for some high-tech jobs.

NOVAK: Because it's a nice place to live.

MILLER: There's a lot of bad places.

Well, from the left, I'm Matt Miller, subbing for Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

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



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