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Crossfire

Rick Lazio Gains Dramatically in Latest Polls

Aired May 26, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET

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

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Tonight, now it's a horse race. Hillary Clinton's challenger, Rick Lazio, moves up dramatically in the polls. If he can catch up this quickly, can he also win?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE.

On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Robert Novak.

In the CROSSFIRE, in Utica, New York, John Zogby, president of the Zogby Poll. And later, in New York City, Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel, a supporter of Hillary Clinton; and in Buffalo, New York, Republican Congressman Tom Reynolds, campaign chairman for Congressman Rick Lazio.

NOVAK: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

It was only last Saturday that a virtually unknown young Republican congressman from Long Island named Rick Lazio entered the U.S. Senate race in New York way behind. He trailed Hillary Rodham Clinton by 19 points in one poll. Rick Lazio was no Rudy Giuliani and the Republican optimists figured he might be able to close the gap in, say, three or four weeks. It actually took three days.

The Zogby Poll yesterday gave Democrats a dose of reality. Lazio had quickly picked up 12 points while Mrs. Clinton stayed even. So it reads Clinton 46 percent, Lazio 44 percent.

While Mayor Giuliani in his unannounced campaign had kept mostly to City Hall, Congressman Lazio has been on the road constantly since Saturday and was in Staten Island today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RICK LAZIO (R-NY), U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: Well, I think we're working very hard. I'm trying hard to earn this, leaving no neighborhood behind. And in the first 72 hours, we've made 20 stops. We'll continue to go to different areas of the state, whether it's East Harlem or Staten Island or back on Long Island, upstate again very soon, Syracuse this past week.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: But can Lazio close the money gap as well? Can he cut into Mrs. Clinton's 46 percent, and what will make the difference in New York?

Bill Press is in Atlanta -- Bill.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: John Zogby, of course your poll also shows that Mrs. Clinton is ahead by 32 points in New York City, 62 to 30. But you know, John, Bob Novak is so excited about this poll he's about to pop the buttons his vest, I think. Before that happens, can I ask you to agree with me? As good as your polls are, John Zogby -- and they're damn good -- even you've got to admit this is very, very early, these polls are going to change again and again and again between now and November, and there's no reason for Rick Lazio to pop the champagne or for Hillary Clinton to slit her wrists, right?

JOHN ZOGBY, INDEPENDENT POLLSTER: No, that's right. Obviously, things will change, but I think basically, Bill, in a race like this where Hillary Clinton is so well-known -- has 97, 98 percent name recognition -- and that there's a fundamental anti-Hillary vote out there, that these numbers are fairly well-frozen within a margin of error. I don't expect that they'll change all that much over the next three or four months, especially during the summer when people won't be paying to close attention.

PRESS: Now, John Zogby, last week you predicted that one week later this race was going to be a dead heat, and as William Goldschlag in the "New York Post" -- "New York Daily News" writes this morning -- quote -- Zogby's methodology sometimes gives Republicans higher numbers than other pollsters do."

John Zogby, having predicted it a week ago, are you trying to make your prediction come true? Are you trying to make this race look a lot closer than it really is?

ZOGBY: Oh, Bill, I know you and you know me, and that's silly. I'd be out of business in an hour with nonsense like that.

No, the fact of the matter is that my polls have been accurate. There are at least 15 races that my polls have called that no other pollsters have gotten right or even close to getting right, and that includes up in Canada as well as throughout the United States and especially in New York State. I may have blown one or two here or there by publishing some numbers too early and then changes took place in the last 48 hours.

But I did read that "Daily News" piece and I got quite a laugh out of it.

NOVAK: John Zogby, I want to just read you some of your poll numbers for the upstate and suburbs. Your upstate polling shows Lazio 46 percent, Clinton 41 percent. And this really knocked me over. The suburbs show Lazio 54 percent, Clinton 36 percent.

Are those the typical Republican numbers? Does Lazio -- is that about his ceiling or are those -- has he still got some ground to make up in the upstate -- in the upstate area particularly?

ZOGBY: In upstate particularly there's ground that he has to make up, and it's going to be difficult for him. I think Chuck Schumer rewrote the rule book last year by doing so well in upstate New York cities. That's the play book that Hillary is playing this year, campaigning vigorously in some hard-pressed areas, like Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, Utica. Those are Democratic pockets and also areas where she picks up white working women and union voting households.

And so given the fact that she's become almost a daily presence in those areas, Rick Lazio is going to have to do better than 46-41.

NOVAK: Let me ask you this, John. The -- there was -- Mrs. Clinton has been just about frozen -- you used the word frozen before -- but in the mid-40s to low-40s. Doesn't look like she's going to get a lot higher. Even when nobody knew Lazio, she was still frozen at 46 percent.

Do you think -- you can't win with 46 percent. Do you think that Lazio has an opportunity to beat her, say, with 48, 49 percent of the vote, or even 50 percent?

ZOGBY: Oh, I wouldn't make a prediction at all on this race. I think it's a dead heat and I think it's going to stay a dead heat until people start paying very close attention later on in the campaign.

But at least to date, given the fact that Mrs. Clinton has almost a hundred percent name recognition and the fact that there is a ceiling of acceptability, at least so far for her, voters do know her and a lot of people have made up their minds about her.

So I think, as we saw with Rudy we'll see with Rick Lazio: that some of the movement is going to take place with Lazio going up and Lazio going down, but Mrs. Clinton staying about at that point, at least for a while.

NOVAK: Thank you very much, John Zogby.

We turn now to Congressman Charles Rangel of New York, who has been a strong and early supporter of Mrs. Clinton in the Senate race.

Congressman Rangel, on this network and on this program, you have repeatedly.

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: I don't have any sound.

NOVAK: Well, all right.

PRESS: All right, Bob, let me pick up there and start with Congressman Reynolds up in buffalo.

Congressman, I hope you...

RANGEL: I don't have any sound.

PRESS: Congressman Reynolds, good evening. Congressman Reynolds, are you there? REP. TOM REYNOLDS (R-NY), LAZIO CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: Great to be with you.

PRESS: Good to be with you. Thank you for joining us tonight.

Let me start with you. We'll work on Congressman Rangel's sound there.

But one of the things that Congressman Rick Lazio is claiming is that he is pro-choice, a Republican but pro-choice. Yet at the same time, congressman, you know that Rick Lazio voted for the Hyde amendment, which would deny federal funding for abortions to poor women.

Congressman, given that vote, for Lazio to call himself pro- choice is just a big fat lie, isn't it?

REYNOLDS: No, I think the congressman said it as he sees it. He's a pro-choice Republican. He is opposed to partial birth abortion and has publicly said that. He's a pro-choice Republican. I accept him at that.

PRESS: Well, congressman, I didn't mention the late-term abortion issue at all. I'm talking about the Hyde amendment. As you know, also today the National Abortion Rights Action League, which had not taken a position in this race so far, because they figured that both Giuliani and Hillary Clinton were both equally supportive on this issue, they came out today and they endorsed Hillary Clinton. And Kelli Conlin, who's head of the NARAL in New York State, was quoted as saying: "For Rick Lazio saying he's pro-choice is like a street-corner vendor who says his Rolexes are real."

I mean, congressman, you can't be pro-choice and be pro-Hyde amendment at the same time, right?

REYNOLDS: A congressman's pro-choice who favors partial birth amendment that would stop that procedure in our country, and I accept him as he says what he is. And I've seen everyone from the right to the left try to define whether one is pro-choice or pro-life. Congressman Rick Lazio is a pro-choice Republican.

PRESS: Well, on that matter of definition, don't you think the women of New York, when they look at NARAL's endorsement, will believe NARAL and not the congressman as to which one in this race is really pro-choice and which one is phony?

REYNOLDS: I think as the Congressman continues to travel throughout the state. He will talk about many issues and certainly this issue is one that may come up. But the Congressman is pro-choice Republican, and I take it just as he says it.

PRESS: Let's move onto a couple other issues.

We're still working on that sound for Congressman Charles Rangel, who is anxious to get into this debate. He'll be with us shortly. Again, the Congressman, Rick Lazio we're talking about, your candidate, portrayed himself as a moderate, and yet when we look at his votes in the Congress, he voted to eliminate the Department of Education. He vote against the Patient's Bill of Rights. He voted for that $800 billion dollars tax cut last year. And he's against the registration of handguns. I mean, for people to call him a Gingrich clone is not far off, is it, Congressman?

REYNOLDS: No. I think you're taking his votes out of context. Now some people might think that I look a little like Newt Gingrich, except he has a little more hair, but he's lost a little weight, but I haven't, but Rick Lazio has a strong record on education. He voted for the Brady Bill, and I think was an early proponent of the Brady Bill, before many talked about it in the Congress, and I don't think anyone in New York would hold tax cuts against Rick Lazio or his leadership in bringing about a balanced budget in that amendment in the Congress, and I think that that's a heck of a record for him to run on, and I know as he takes that message to the voters they'll look pretty keenly at that.

PRESS: But it's not taking it out of context to point out Rick Lazio voted 94 percent with the Contract of America and 83 percent he voted with Newt Gingrich right down the line in 1995. I mean, if that's not a Gingrich clone, who is?

REYNOLDS: Well, the Contract for America, I guess I'd would have to ask you, what part of the Contract of America wouldn't you want, a balanced budget, welfare reform, Social Security earnings limits lifted, middle class tax cuts? Those are all part of the Contract for America that's got this country running again in a strong, vibrant economy.

PRESS: All right, congressman, we're going to take a break right there, bring back Charlie Rangel when we come back. And when we come back, let's talk about some of the issues on which Hillary Clinton and Rick Lazio differ. And are either one of them extremists, or both of them may be right smack dab in the middle?

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Polls change in the New York Senate race faster than a New York minute. What looked lopsided just last week is now, according to the Zogby Poll a dead heat between Hillary Rodham Clinton and her new GOP challenger Rick Lazio. But how long will it lasts? What issues will push the race one way or the other? And is Clinton really a far out liberal and Lazio really a far-right conservative? We'll find out assessing the mother of all Senate races tonight with two New York Congressman, Democrat Charlie Rangel from New York City and Republican Tom Reynolds from upstate New York. I'm in Atlanta, and Bob's is in D.C. -- Robert.

NOVAK: Congress Rangel, I'd like to you listen to yourself what you said on this program on November 23, on why you said you needed Rudy Giuliani to be the Republican candidate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: We need Giuliani because on the issues that affect our country, while Rick Lazio knows them, you will never get any statement out of Giuliani on Medicare, on Social Security, on school bonds, on Patient Bill of Rights, on gun control, on education.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Do you still think now that Lazio is a much stronger candidate than Giuliani?

RANGEL: If you're talking to me, I've just been clued into the station so I haven't the slightest idea as to what you were talking about, because there was no sound. So will you reframe your question?

NOVAK: Charlie, we just played a soundbite from November 23, where you said that you thought that Lazio was a much stronger candidate than Giuliani, and you needed Giuliani to run against Mrs. Clinton. Do you still think that?

RANGEL: There's no question that Giuliani would not have the slightest idea what was going on in Washington and that Lazio does. He's a new, fresh face. He doesn't bring any baggage. I'm really surprised at the numbers in closing the gap, but I don't think that's going to last that long, because the reason why I think he's so popular is because no one knows who the heck he is, but once we see exactly what Republican ideals are, what their goals are, their lack of a legislative program, then I think we're going to see the difference between the Democrat an Republican, and I think we are going to have a much better campaign.

NOVAK: Congressman Rangel, Bill Press in his questioning of Congressman Reynolds spent a lot of time on the abortion question. And Hank Sheinkopf, who is a Democratic consultant in New York that says Mrs. Clinton is making a big mistake to attack Congressman Lazio on abortion because she has such high negatives, for her to go on the offensive with a negative attack is a mistake. What do you think about that?

RANGEL: I'm not that good professionally as to -- I don't like negative attacks by any one personally, and I do believe that she has the high ground on the other issues where the Republicans don't have a leg to stand on. They the haven't done a darned think about Social Security, tax reform, Medicare, affordable prescription drugs for the aged. They want to abolish the Education Department.

And you have to realize, as charmed as Rick Lazio is, that you haven't heard his voice against these Republicans positions. As a matter of fact, Mike Forbes walked away from the party. We do hear from Peter King. And so I'm just saying that you are going to find that Lazio is a nice guy, but the program is just as mean-spirited as it's ever been. NOVAK: But, Congressman Rangel, right out of box last week, immediately Mrs. Clinton's aides started attacking Rick Lazio as another Gingrich. I just want to read what Floyd Flake, one of your former colleagues from New York City in the House of Representatives, said the other day in "The New York Post," he said, quote:

"Rick Lazio is no Newt Gingrich. I've watched the two men take decidedly different paths to success and failure. I have endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton, but if her campaign takes the, 'he's just like Newt Gingrich course' this summer, it will quickly learn the differences between Lazio and Gingrich are night and day."

You can't disagree with that, can you?

RANGEL: Well, I can tell you Floyd Flake voted with Republicans almost as many times as Republicans did, and he strayed away from the party.

I think the real issue -- and you should agree with me -- is the difference between a Republican and a Democrat. Now I think we're going to have a much better campaign. And if you go down the issues that separate us, you would find that Lazio doesn't run away from the Republican Party or Republican issues or the $1 trillion tax cut or the elimination of funds for a decent education.

NOVAK: Let me ask you one quick question, Congressman Rangel. You've been in a lot of campaigns in New York. Last Sunday, Rick Lazio went on six Sunday talk shows. By all accounts he did very well. That's why I think he had this jump in the polls. Mrs. Clinton has yet to be on a Sunday talk show. If you were advising your candidate, would you tell her to stop putting her hired hands on Sunday and go on these shows herself?

RANGEL: I think she should go on herself. I think that the other people should be there. But you have to realize, Lazio hasn't covered 61 counties as Hillary Clinton has. She's been in every county, she's spoken with the people, the farmers, the business people. She has a fantastic campaign going for her. It may not be the one you want her to run, but obviously it's working for her.

PRESS: Congressman Reynolds, back to you for one quick question before we run out of time here. With the Independent Party in New York, Mrs. Clinton said she would not run on that party ticket if Pat Buchanan headed it because of his anti-Semitic views. Rick Lazio says if Buchanan's there, it's OK with me. Doesn't that undercut his attempt to paint himself, again, as a moderate in that state?

REYNOLDS: No, he's a mainstream Republican. What we're trying to do now is get an endorsement by the Republican Party and shortly thereafter by the Conservative, and then I think the campaign needs to take a hard look at where we are and where we need to go with both party endorsements and other campaign contributions.

Remember, Rick Lazio has been a candidate for the United States Senate one week. I think he's done a heck of a job.

NOVAK: Congressman Tom Reynolds, thank you very much.

REYNOLDS: Thank you.

NOVAK: Congressman Charles Rangel, thank you.

And Bill Press and I will be back with closing comments.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Bill, you can try all day and all night to turn Rick Lazio into a right-winger and Hillary Clinton into a moderate, but it's not going to work because she's a left-winger and he's in the middle of the road. But Charlie Rangel is a smart old pol, and he knows she has got to go on these Sunday talk shows, as much as she's afraid of them, or else she's going to lose.

PRESS: And listen, I think she should go on the talk shows, Bob. But, you know, I -- look, I love this race now. I think it's going to be a tougher race, it's going to be a tighter race, it's going to be a better race, it's going to be a race based on the issues and not just the personalities. And when people in New York look at Hillary on education and on health care and on taxes, on her ability to deliver for the state, I still think she wins. But your buddy -- our buddy -- our friend John Zogby wouldn't even try to call the race.

NOVAK: Well, nobody should call the race. But I'm telling you, he says it's going stay as a dead heat for quite a while, and I agree with him. And could you believe that a week ago, when you were rejoicing over the fact that she was 17 points ahead?

PRESS: No, it surprised me. But you know, Bob, Bill Clinton won those New York suburbs and so can Hillary Clinton if she works them, and she is.

OK, from the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE. Have a great Memorial Day weekend.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak.

Join us next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

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