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Has the New York Senate Race Become Too Negative?

Aired July 6, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, the New York Senate race turns nasty. Did Rick Lazio go too far in a new fund-raising letter and Hillary Rodham Clinton go too negative in her new ads?

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Robert Novak. In the crossfire , Democratic strategist James Carville, a supporter of Hillary Clinton, and Republican strategist Mike Murphy, senior strategist for the Lazio campaign.

PRESS: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

It's a presidential election year. The campaign's in full gear, and so, of course, all eyes are on the Senate race in New York state, where the contest has become downright nasty.

In a new fund-raising letter Republican Rick Lazio says that Democrat Hillary Clinton -- quote -- "covets power and control, and thinks she should be dictating how other people run their lives."

He also links the first lady to her husband's White House behavior even though he once promised not to.

On her side, Mrs. Clinton all but calls her opponent a hypocrite. Citing his votes in Congress against licensing of handguns and federal funding for abortion for low-income women, she accuses Lazio of talking like a New York moderate but voting like a Washington conservative. Even President Clinton jumped in to help out his wife. Complaining of Lazio's campaign -- quote -- "You're going to need a shovel to deal with this between now and November," which maybe true for both sides.

And both candidates were on bus tours of upstate New York today: Hillary Clinton in Johnson City, Rick Lazio in Syracuse and Buffalo, with both candidates neck-and-neck in the polls and in raising money.

So there you have it, New York, New York, the mother of all Senate races, where anything can happen. Tonight, what will happen? -- Bob.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: James Carville, ever since I heard President Clinton say something last Friday, I have dreamed that I would be able to ask you about it, and sometimes your dreams come true.


NOVAK: And so, let's listen to what your old friend, your...

CARVILLE: My dear friend.

NOVAK: ... your dear friend, your protege, President Clinton said.




Listen to this. Listen to this. You all listen to this. You're going to need a shovel to deal with all this between now and November.


NOVAK: They call me -- he was calling Rick Lazio slick. Could you keep a straight face when he was doing that?

CARVILLE: No, I think, I think -- I think the president gives the wrong term. And I take issue with my president. Mr. President, you shouldn't have called him slick; you should have just called him a two-face hypocrite, because that would have been a lot -- that would have been a lot more accurate.


This guy, he ought to be running for coin collecting. He can take two sides of anything.

MIKE MURPHY, ADVISER TO RICK LAZIO: And so he's being called...

NOVAK: So you're...

CARVILLE: You're right. The president, he's a little bit slick, but slick is not quite the word. I do, Mr. President, but I disagree with you. I don't like to disagree with the president in public, but I disagree on that.

NOVAK: So you agree with me then that for one of the slickest characters in politics to call anybody slick is a disgrace?

CARVILLE: Well, I don't know. I don't think -- I think that sometimes you can be -- you can have a little political dexterity. It's another thing to go out and just say one thing and then another, and say, you're not going to do this and then to do that.

I think this guy -- I'm going to make a prediction right now on national TV (UNINTELLIGIBLE). You can butter this guy by the end of September. He's going to be gone. He's toast. He's -- there ain't nothing to it.


He's -- he's like...


NOVAK: Just like -- just like -- just like Christie Todd Whitman and the last race you lost in New Jersey, but we won't get into that.

MURPHY: I've got...

NOVAK: But wait a minute.


NOVAK: Wait a minute, James. I want to ask you about the -- the abortion decision by the Supreme Court, the 5-4 decision. They said this barbaric practice called partial birth abortion was -- was protected by the Constitution. And because Rick Lazio was against partial birth abortion, your candidate, Mrs. Clinton, has come out against him because he wants to ban it. But let's see what Lazio said. Just a minute.


REP. RICK LAZIO (R-NY), SENATE CANDIDATE: I do differ from NARAL and from Mrs. Clinton on this issue of their support for partial birth abortions. I just think that's wrong.


NOVAK: You're for partial birth abortion, James?

CARVILLE: Well, I don't think Mrs. Clinton is either. I think what they want is an exception for the life of the mother. It's just like, you know, last year...


NOVAK: Health of the mother. Health of the mother.

CARVILLE: Health or the life of the mother. If you have bad -- you know, bad health can cause you to die. Did you know that? I don't know how to -- I don't know how to tell you that.

But let me say this: If you want the Supreme Court to turn the clock back and overturn Roe v. Wade, vote for Rick Lazio. He will not tell people I will not appoint anybody to the Supreme Court.

NOVAK: No, we're talking...

CARVILLE: No, no. I want to go to the heart of the matter, is if you want to go back to the time when abortion was outlawed in this country, vote for Rick Lazio, because he will vote to confirm people to the United States Supreme Court on a 5-4 court that will overturn abortion.

NOVAK: That's demagoguery.

CARVILLE: That's not demagoguery.

NOVAK: That's...

CARVILLE: No, it's not.

NOVAK: James, James...

CARVILLE: It's fact. You people can't...

NOVAK: James...

CARVILLE: ... distinguish between demagoguery and facts.

NOVAK: James, let me just -- let me just tell you what it is, if you can calm down for a minute. He -- all he wants to do is outlaw this...

CARVILLE: Well, he...

NOVAK: Just a minute. A barbaric practice called partial birth abortion, and what your candidate...

CARVILLE: So does Mrs. Clinton. So does Mrs. Clinton.

NOVAK: No. Wait.

CARVILLE: Yes, she does. She said she wants the health of the mother.

NOVAK: Just a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Mrs. Clinton says health of the mother -- and you know who decides it? The abortionist. The abortionist decides it.

CARVILLE: It's a physician. It's a physician.

NOVAK: It's an -- I call it an abortionist.

CARVILLE: Well, you can call it what want, but it's a physician.


MURPHY: ... doctors just came out and said there's never any reason for this...


PRESS: Mike Murphy. Mike Murphy, good evening.

MURPHY: Hey. Hi, good to see you.

PRESS: Good to see you. You're ready to get a word in?

MURPHY: I'm going to try. PRESS: All right. Now, I want to talk about your guy. I mean, it's true, he looks like a Boy Scout, but he campaigns like Jack the Ripper. I mean, let talk about this fund-raising letter that Rick Lazio just -- just sent out.

I mean, here's -- here's what he says in this.

By the way, this is a letter that went to people who don't live in New York, so he can be nastier outside the state boundaries.

He says -- quote -- "Hillary Clinton and her husband have embarrassed our country and disgraced their powerful posts." He continues: "She covets power and control, and thinks she should be dictating how other people run their lives."

And then Lazio, as James just points out, Lazio has the gall to say our campaign is not a negative campaign.

I mean, who do you think you're kidding?

MURPHY: Well, I have three things to say: to anybody who agrees with that, it's Get out your credit cards, send us some money.

It's true, they did embarrass the country. But I want to finish a little business with my pal Carville here.

PRESS: Wait. What about this thing, what about -- no.

MURPHY: I want...


CARVILLE: I don't blame you for wanting...


PRESS: So let me ask my question. What about this, putting out a hatchet letter and then denying he even saw the text of the letter, disclaiming any responsibility, and pretending that he's running a positive campaign?

MURPHY: One, he didn't deny that. I was standing there when he talked to the press. He made no such statement.

Second, the letter is about, you know, the typical kind of direct mail letter you get with a lot of hot language. But look at what counts. Here's the bottom line. This was a perfectly positive campaign until Mrs. Clinton put on negative television ads that aren't true.

We're not -- she is! She's spending a million bucks on television twisting the truth, because everybody knows the first casualty of a Clinton campaign is the truth.

CARVILLE: All right... MURPHY: And they're -- and look, if they want a positive campaign, pull the mudslinging ads...


CARVILLE: Let -- I want to show you something. I want to show you something. Let me show you this.

Here's "The New York Times," 5/21, his announcement (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

"Candidate opens race with attack on Mrs. Clinton."


He's not even...


MURPHY: ... million dollars on (UNINTELLIGIBLE) commercials? Not Lazio.

CARVILLE: You're spending -- you sent out a million pieces of direct mail, and you say she thinks profit is a dirty word.

Do you know what -- do you know what board of directors Mrs. Clinton served on? Do you know?

MURPHY: I have no idea.

CARVILLE: Wal-Mart. Do you think Sam Walton thought profit was a dirty word? What proof (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

MURPHY: James, nice try. She's a liberal, OK. They did...


CARVILLE: I'll tell you -- they didn't...


MURPHY: Look it up. Look it up.

CARVILLE: Again -- again, where do you -- what proof do you have that she says...

MURPHY: Look it up.

PRESS: Gentlemen, gentlemen...

CARVILLE: No, I want to go -- no, let's finish this.

PRESS: One at a time. I'm just saying one at a time.

CARVILLE: Sam Walton selected her to serve on board of directors Wal-Mart. These clowns put out -- quote -- "Profit is a dirty word." They're not slick. They're two-faced. Folks you've got hypocrisy on a level that we have never seen out coming out of...


MURPHY: Folks, if you trust James Carville, vote for Hillary.

PRESS: I want to -- I'm going to pick up, Bob, to just follow up real quickly.


PRESS: You said truth is what matters, truth is what counts. I agree with you. So I want you to listen to what Rick Lazio said on "This Week" just a few weeks ago about the fact that there was no way he was going to involve Bill Clinton, because he's not running against Bill Clinton, no way he's going to involve Bill Clinton in the campaign.

Quote: "This campaign for the United States Senate is not going to be about Newt Gingrich and it's not going to be about Bill Clinton." That's what he says on TV, and the letters go out attacking Bill Clinton and tying him to Hillary.

MURPHY: Well, I think President Clinton...

PRESS: Hypocrite?

MURPHY: No, not at all. President Clinton jumped into the campaign with the ugly like (UNINTELLIGIBLE) about being slick.

PRESS: After the letter, Michael. After the letter.

MURPHY: No, no, the letter came out yesterday.


The fact is this race is pretty simple. It's about the mainstream versus extreme, and Mrs. Clinton can't win. New York's doesn't want her. I can imagine the meeting, you know, "Where to run?" They picked New York, they came there. The campaign's been a disaster. So then guess what? They've gone totally negative, because they want to fool people about Rick Lazio.

CARVILLE: Do you know what -- do you know what Rick Lazio? He is a dyed-in-the-wool conservative.


Did you know that? No, no.

NOVAK: Oh, come on.

MURPHY: James...

CARVILLE: I'm not -- James Carville didn't say that. Do you know who said that? Steve Forbes said it. I didn't say it.

Ladies and gentlemen, Steve Forbes' campaign manager...

MURPHY: Oh, come on. This is ridiculous.

CARVILLE: Steve Forbes said Rick Lazio is a dyed-in-the-wool conservative.

MURPHY: James...

CARVILLE: So when he goes out on his Mainstream Express, remember Steve Forbes -- not James Carville, not Bill Press, not Bill Clinton -- Steve Forbes said this guy's a...


CARVILLE: ... dyed-in-the-wool conservative -- wait, let me finish -- who voted to abolish the Department of Education, who voted to shut the government down not once, but twice...

MURPHY: No, no, no.

CARVILLE: OK. Who voted -- who's voted...

MURPHY: No. You're making this all up.

CARVILLE: Who's voted against reasonable -- I'm not making...

MURPHY: Look...


Why is Carville about to have a heart attack? We've got a crash cart and oxygen right over here. Because they know Lazio's going to be...



MURPHY: James, I'll bet you 200 bucks right now on...


NOVAK: Wait. Wait a minute, James. Wait a minute. James! Give him a chance. All right. Go ahead. You had something to say.

CARVILLE: Did Steve Forbes call him a dyed-in-the-conservative?

NOVAK: Wait. Wait a minute, James.

MURPHY: I have no idea, James.

CARVILLE: Of course he did. That man's...


Why do you people go on some kind of... NOVAK: James! James, let him respond.

PRESS: Just a second...

MURPHY: Rick Lazio's mainstream. He is pro-choice. He voted for the Brady bill. He voted for the assault weapons ban, all the stuff you guys get excited about. He's just not for big taxes, big spending. And guess what? He's from New York. He can actually find the place on the map. He didn't need an exploratory committee, James, to know where to run.

NOVAK: James, can I...


Can I agree with you on something?


NOVAK: I think -- in disagreement with Rick Lazio. I think Mrs. Clinton is for profits, particularly when she gets them through ill- gotten gains, through Whitewater, through Tyson's...


NOVAK: ... through the -- wait a minute. Wait a minute. Let me -- let me answer -- ask the question before...

CARVILLE: And then I'm going to get to answer you.

NOVAK: Yes. Through the Tyson's stock deal, through all the manipulations with the -- with the mafia in Arkansas in Arkansas that's going to disbar her husband. She likes that kind of profit, doesn't she?

CARVILLE: All I've got to tell you is, is this: very simple. Let's just make it real clear. Mrs. Clinton released all the tax returns, Mrs. Clinton released all the trading records. Why don't little Ricky do the same? Where's the ethical guardians of the Republican Party?

Just make it public. Just put it out there. Let people take a look at it.

Where are your trading records? Where are your tax returns?

You know, it's just all jive. And now the Straighttalk Express is the jive express, man. That's all you get from these people.

Where are the tax returns?

MURPHY: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) be able to change the channel. No more Clinton, no more Hillary, no more Carville. End this national nightmare.

CARVILLE: Where are the tax returns? Where are the tax returns? MURPHY: He's going to release the tax returns.


MURPHY: By the end of August. I'll send you a copy.

CARVILLE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) working on it. They've already been filed. They've already been filed.

NOVAK: We're going -- we're going to have to take a break. And when we come back, we will ponder when the first lady will appear before questioning reporters on television.


NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

No New York political campaign is fought with kid gloves, but Hillary Clinton and Rick Lazio for the Senate shapes us as a bare- knuckles brawl. We have in the crossfire two connoisseurs of the art of the political poison dart: James Carville, who once managed Bill Clinton into the White House and now is a humble supporter of Mrs. Clinton's Senate race, and Mike Murphy, who not long ago was masterminding John McCain's bid for the White House and now is doing the same for Congressman Lazio's Senate campaign -- Bill.

PRESS: Mike Murphy, I'm so glad that Bob Novak raised the question of questionable investments, because the whole world, if they don't know by now, they will know right now, 1997. Here's Rick Lazio. He's on the Commerce and the Banking committees. And he suddenly buys stock in this firm up in New England, Quick & Riley (ph). Then he buys some stock options. First time in his life he ever bought stock options. And then he buys more stock options. And lo and behold, that firm is sold to Fleet Bank. Rick Lazio makes a 600 percent profit.

At the same time, all through this process, he's getting campaign contributions from the officials of this Quick & Riley firm. And you tell me this is not an insider trading deal?

MURPHY: Bill, you ought to be ashamed. Come on, this is a cheap shot.

PRESS: Huh! You ought to be ashamed.

MURPHY: Here's a guy in the '90s who made about -- I don't know -- $11,000 in the stock market. He lost some money, made some money, like everybody else in the middle class. He has done nothing wrong, and this is typical Clinton character assassination.

Political hacks pop up -- this was three years ago, on all the disclosure forms, nobody cared, it's nothing. He runs for Senate against the Clintons, all the sudden the federal government, Democratic office-holders are jumping up trying to make a mountain out of a molehill. There is nothing there. Now, take Mrs. Clinton, who took a thousand dollars into a hundred grand in commodities trading. You want scandal, go to Clinton.

PRESS: Buying stock options. How many people know what the hell a stock option is?


He not only buys them for the first time in his life, first time in his life, in a firm from which he's getting campaign contributions. Then he buys even more.

Let me ask you first, the basic question, how appropriate is it for a member of the commerce and banking committees to be buying stock in a firm that's got business in front of his committee?

MURPHY: He invested $2,600...

PRESS: I don't care how much it was.

MURPHY: ... made about $11,000, all publicly disclosed.

NOVAK: $11,000!

MURPHY: Yes, I'm shocked, I'm shocked.

NOVAK: You know that James Carville makes that in an afternoon.

MURPHY: Carville won't even a shopping center for that kind of money, OK. And that's just ridiculous, it's a smear, and it's typical Clinton negative politics.

CARVILLE: I tell you what: We can (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Where's the tax returns and the trading records? I mean, that's just a little simple thing.


Just release them. That's no problem (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

NOVAK: James, he said he's going to release them...


CARVILLE: It's more jive, it's all a jive...

NOVAK: All right, James...

CARVILLE: It's more jive.

NOVAK: James.

CARVILLE: Just release them. Just -- my question is this, because I've been asked by the powers that be at CROSSFIRE not to get rough. I just want to make my point. Just release them. What's the problem?

NOVAK: Well, you've said that four times.

CARVILLE: I understand, but I...


What's the problem?

NOVAK: He said he's going to release them.

PRESS: When?

MURPHY: I don't have them with me. I have your Ritalin...


NOVAK: All right. James, James, do you know who Fred Dicker is?


NOVAK: Yes, you don't who many people are. But Fred Dicker is...


CARVILLE: Oh, of course.

NOVAK: He's an ace reporter for "The New York Post," one of the really respected political reporters.

CARVILLE: What a respected newspaper. Who owns "The New York Post"?

NOVAK: Rupert Murdoch, and I write for it.

PRESS: Two strikes against it.

MURPHY: Part of the vast right-wing conspiracy...

NOVAK: But James...


NOVAK: I was -- I was traveling...

CARVILLE: I just want to make sure we know who we're talking about in America.

NOVAK: I was...

CARVILLE: This is a tabloid out of New York.

NOVAK: I was following Mrs. Clinton around the other day, and she has a funny kind of a campaign. It's very hard for anybody to get close to her. And this is what Fred Dicker, who's covered -- followed a lot of campaigns, said.

He said -- quote -- "You go up to her like you would any candidate, and say, 'Mrs. Clinton, can I ask you...' and she runs off. She does that time after time after time. You can't get to her. She's using the resources of the federal government to prevent us from having the access you would have to any politician" -- end quote.

Isn't that a fact? Isn't she using -- isn't she using -- just a minute. Let me ask the question, and then you can answer it.

Isn't it a fact that she's using the Secret Service to fend off honest reporters like me and Fred Dicker?

CARVILLE: Well, first of all, first of all, this is a Clinton hate sheet this guy works for. So let's be very careful about that.

The second thing is, is that Mrs. Clinton talks to reporters all the time. I always see her quoted in different things around the state. She's got on I don't know how many town-hall meetings. I'll be glad to give you a list of how many interviews.

NOVAK: Why won't she go on CROSSFIRE?

CARVILLE: If she went on CROSSFIRE...

MURPHY: She won't do anything.

CARVILLE: ... she'd be crazy.


CARVILLE: Because she's sane. Why don't Lazio go on CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: He has gone on CROSSFIRE many times.

CARVILLE: Let me tell you...

PRESS: Not since he's been a candidate.

CARVILLE: Not since he's been a candidate.


CARVILLE: All I'm saying here is here's a guy that puts out that she thinks profit's a dirty word and she was on the board of directors at Wal-Mart. This is a guy that says that he's all ethical, he will not release his trading record.

NOVAK: Wait a minute. I'm asking you...

CARVILLE: And then you asking me -- I understand. And then you ask me about some guy that writes for a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) sheet. I don't care what Fred Dicker said. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

NOVAK: All right. Let me ask you this. Let me ask you this, James. Why is it that she won't go on -- forget me. Why won't she go on with Tim Russert, who you go on with all the time, and she goes on with Katie Couric and Rosie O'Donnell, her sisters? Because she wants a soft question, isn't that right?

CARVILLE: She goes on -- again, the question is not whether she goes on national TV. She's running for the Senate of New York. If you want to use this as a way to lobby to get Mrs. Clinton on your show -- of course the ratings will go through the roof if she came on.

MURPHY: She won't...

CARVILLE: Of course she goes on television.

NOVAK: She's doesn't do any...


MURPHY: She's afraid of the dangerous question (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And I'll ask...

CARVILLE: I'll ask: Where's the tax returns? Where's the tax returns? Where's the...

MURPHY: No, here's a question. Here's a question...

CARVILLE: I'll answer your question if you tell me. I'll...

MURPHY: I'm going to send them to you. I'm going to send them.

Here is the question Mrs. Clinton is afraid of and the media want to ask her. Name one thing you've done for New York.

CARVILLE: Oh, let me name them now. I'll be glad to.

MURPHY: Yes, rattle them off.

CARVILLE: OK. First of all, she was instrumental in writing (UNINTELLIGIBLE) adoption. Babies get adopted in New York. She was instrumental in writing violence against women legislation. Women are victims of violence in New York. She was instrumental in...

MURPHY: What do you mean...

CARVILLE: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. You asked a question, you wanted an answer, now I'm giving the answer. Let me finish. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

She was instrumental in breast cancer funding and research.


CARVILLE: Women in New York -- hang on.

Would you let me...


CARVILLE: Again, folks, you don't like the answer, don't interrupt.


MURPHY: ... interrupt (UNINTELLIGIBLE) James...

CARVILLE: You be quiet! You asked -- you asked -- you asked me a question. Let me finish.

PRESS: Quickly. Please. Quickly.

CARVILLE: Women get -- women get breast cancer in New York.

PRESS: Got that one.

CARVILLE: Now, Republicans, they attack each other...

NOVAK: What does instrumental mean?

CARVILLE: What does what?

NOVAK: Instrumental.

CARVILLE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) policy that implemented this. Mrs. Clinton was...


Hold on just a second.


CARVILLE: Mrs. Clinton...



CARVILLE: Let me finish.

On the vanguard of nutrition programs for children. They have children who are hungry in New York.


CARVILLE: You're not letting -- you're not letting me finish. You asked a question, you asked one thing (UNINTELLIGIBLE) because they don't like the answer. Because they don't like the answer.

PRESS: And we're also just about of time, and I've got to ask you one more. The problem is not knowing where Rick Lazio -- where Rick Lazio stands on a position. It's where he stands on a position any particular day.

Let me give you an example, OK. Bernie Sanders has legislation that says reasonable prices have to be charged for drugs for the pharmacy companies that have had federal funds. Two years ago, Lazio votes against it. This year, comes up, he votes against it. Five minutes later, he changes his vote. He votes for it.

Isn't that typical of Lazio? On all these issues, he tries to be on both sides of everything?

MURPHY: I guess he was instrumental in that vote.

PRESS: But what does he stand for? Who knows?

MURPHY: What does he stand for? It's obvious. Go to It's all there. And you can make a contribution...


CARVILLE: They have two Web sites: one for dyed-in-the-world conservatives, one for the mainstream.


MURPHY: ... the Clinton health care plan, which would have destroyed health care in New York.

PRESS: All right. Gentlemen, bare-knuckles brawl indeed in New York, here on the CROSSFIRE set. Michael Murphy...


... good to see you. James Carville, good to have you back. Both chill while Bob and I come up with closing comments, coming up next.


PRESS: Bob, first, I think you have to agree that if the debates between Hillary Clinton and Rick Lazio are as lively as that I can't wait. But you know, Bob, unlike you, I've worked in a lot of campaigns and I see happening here what I've seen happening before. When a candidate is desperate, the candidate gets personal and negative and nasty, and I think that's what's happening to Rick Lazio already, Bob.

NOVAK: Bill, that is strictly for fund raising. His campaign on the stump is not doing it.

Let me tell you what this campaign is about. This campaign is a referendum on whether the voters of New York want to elect Hillary Clinton. Unlike you, I don't have the powers of divination that I can tell you what's going to happen. I don't know what they're going to decide. That's all it is.

You could be running against her, I could be running against her, and the idea to demonize poor Rick Lazio is really silly, because this is a referendum on whether you want this interloper first lady to be the U.S. senator from New York.

PRESS: She's a New York resident now. That's all that counts. And she's right on the issues for the people of New York, Bob. NOVAK: She's left of them.

PRESS: From the left, I'm 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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