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Can George W. Bush Attract African-Americans and Other Minorities?

Aired July 10, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET



GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And for those of you who support me -- I see a couple here.



Maybe more than a couple!


MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: Tonight, can George W. Bush win over African-Americans and other minorities? Or will these traditionally Democratic voters stand by Al Gore?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Mary Matalin. In the crossfire, Congressman Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Democratic caucus vice chair and a Gore supporter, and Republican conference chair Congressman J.C. Watts, Oklahoma co-chair of the Bush campaign.

MATALIN: Good evening, and welcome to CROSSFIRE. Presidential politics is no longer an exclusive white boys' club. In a trend accelerating each election, minorities and women enjoy increasing clout with candidates. Of both parties. Today, George W. Bush addressed the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People -- convention, the first major Republican to do so since his father was booed during the Reagan administration.

Bush repeated his pledge to be a different kind of Republican.


BUSH: While some in my party have avoided the NAACP and while some in the NAACP have avoided my party...


... I'm proud to be here.


MATALIN: Al Gore addresses the convention Wednesday, and both candidates regularly attend Hispanic events, showing off their Spanish and familiarity with the Latino culture. And of course, appealing to the majority voting bloc -- women -- is now commonplace on campaigns. Longtime Democratic strongholds, such constituencies appear to be at least taking a look at Republicans. George W. Bush garnered a significant percentage of female and minority votes in Texas, and his national outreach effort is cutting into previously superior Democratic support. But will Bush's appeal hold or will Clinton's popularity among traditional Democrats propel them back to Gore? -- Bill.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Congressman Watts, good evening. Good to have you back on CROSSFIRE.


PRESS: Let me ask you -- first of all, of course, Governor Bush gave a good speech there today, but as you, I'm sure, agree in politics it's not just talking the talk but you've also got to walk the walk. So I want to ask you to walk with me through the governor's record, first of all, in the primary states.

This isn't his first encounter with the NAACP. The NAACP during the primaries was very active in South Carolina. They were boycotting the state because of the Confederate flag. Governor Bush went down there and refused to take a stand.

Congressman, if he wouldn't stand with the NAACP during the primary, why do they believe he stands with them now?

WATTS: Well, Bill, based on the record and based on what we have to go on, concerning the Confederate flag in South Carolina, if that's what you're using to determine support, I would assume the NAACP wouldn't support the Democrats as well when you consider that it was a Democratic governor by the name of Ernest Hollings that raised the Confederate flag.

Governor Bush, I think, since has said that he should have taken a stronger stand. I think the Confederate flag should have come down. I think they did the right thing. But I have cried for consistency in this matter, and say, and I have said if you're going to beat up George Bush for not taking a stronger stand, you should, I guess, stomp on Ernest Hollings, who was the Democrat governor that raised the Confederate flag in about 1962.

PRESS: Well, last time I checked Ernest Hollings wasn't running for president this year. Al Gore is and he took a stand.

Let's talk about another issue, South Carolina...

WATTS: Well, Bill, I think you also again -- I cry for consistency. If you mention George Bush, you surely have to mention Ernest Hollings and the Democrat governor. We wouldn't even be talking about this issue if Ernest Hollings wouldn't have raised the Confederate flag to start with.

PRESS: Congressman, I condemn anybody who's for the -- raising the Confederate flag, but we are talking about the presidential election of 2000. I think it's fair to talk about George Bush and Al Gore.

Let me go back to the primary in South Carolina. George Bush kicked off his campaign by going to Bob Jones University, the university that lost its accreditation because it would not allow blacks, did not allow interracial dating at the time that he went there. Since then they've changed their policy. They now allow interracial dating as long as you have your parents permission.

Now, why again, why should African-Americans trust George Bush when he's hanging out with the enemy?

WATTS: Well, you know, Bill, you've had Republicans and Democrats both that have spoken at Bob Jones, and again, it only becomes an issue if a Republican speaks at Bob Jones.

I said during that time, I was asked and I said I disagreed with the policy of Bob Jones. But to say that -- you know, Bill, I don't -- I don't drink liquor. I was a youth minister for eight years. I talked to kids about not drinking liquor and staying away from alcohol. But you know, I often went into a grocery store that sold beer and sold liquor. You know, that would -- me going in and shopping there did not mean that I condoned or condoning liquor.

That -- that -- to say that George Bush speaking at Bob Jones, that that condones the policy of Bob Jones is about like saying that me shopping at a grocery store that sells liquor that I condone liquor. That's nonsense.

PRESS: Well, again, congressman, these are opportunities he had to show that he's a different kind of Republican. He went there. He not only went there. He never criticized, never one word of criticism about the policies of the university.

But let me ask you this then. After...

WATTS: Bill, look at the track record. Look at the track record.

PRESS: Well, we're talking about his track record.


PRESS: After he went to Bob Jones, he apologized to Catholics, whom he said he might have offended by going there. He never apologized to African-Americans he offended by going there. Why not, congressman? Why shouldn't he have apologized?

WATTS: Well, Bill, I've yet to hear anybody on the Democrat side apologize -- I've yet to hear Ernest Hollings apologize to blacks for raising the Confederate flag. Again, there seems to be -- racism, Bill, seems to be determined by your ideology, not by racism or by actual facts of racism, actual incidents of racism.

Racism seems to be determined by whether or not you're in the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. I think we ought to stand and denounce racism regardless of what party it's in. We just can't say that this -- that racism is in the Bush camp or that George Bush that's racist.

I mean, there's a lot of things that -- Al Gore, who's running for president, his dad -- his dad filibustered the Civil Rights Act back in 1964.

PRESS: Let's get...

WATTS: Nothing's been said about that either.

PRESS: Let's get Congressman Mendenez in here.

MATALIN: Congressman Menendez, I don't know. I blame your colleague there for filibustering. Do you think a Democratic governor of South Carolina who went to Job Bones University only this spring before should -- should apologize, or do you think that all of this clamor about Bob Jones University is obscuring what George Bush was talking about and why he went to visit with the NAACP? To increase racial harmony, to talk about policies where we can find common ground and work together. Isn't that what the issues are that we should be talking about in this presidential campaign?

REP. ROBERT MENENDEZ (R-NJ), GORE SUPPORTER: Well, I think there is a legitimacy to the measure of your actions when you seek to become the president of United States. It's the largest officeholder of all of the people of this country. And when you send a message by your actions that I think that you do condone a certain set of circumstances whether you go to a Bob Jones University or whether you're silent on issues that are very important to certain communities.

And I think that if we are going to look at the record of Governor Bush as it relates to African-Americans, I mean, the fact of the matter is he fought very heavily in Texas and did not assist efforts on affirmative action. The fact of the matter is that African-American children are more likely to drop out of schools than others inside of Texas.

So, that's part of the record that he needs to deal with...

MATALIN: Well, that...

MENENDEZ: And he needs to deal with the record of the Republican Party that he is now the standard-bearer of.

MATALIN: Well, you know what, he's the first Republican outside of -- certainly the first presidential candidate who has gone this far, and I think you're taking selected statistics from the state of Texas.

Let's go to one that George Bush himself raised at the convention today.


BUSH: And I'm especially proud in my state that we're -- our minority students are improving faster than almost any other state in the Union, and I'm especially proud of this fact: American -- that African-American fourth graders in the state of Texas have better math scores than any other students -- African-American students than any state in the United States of America.


MATALIN: OK, congressman, liberals, progressives of all stripes have applauded the Bush education record in Texas. So now just because of the baggage of the Republican Party minorities should ignore the progress he's made in Texas and what he wants to do nationally because of the baggage of the party?

MENENDEZ: Well, I think as I just pointed out that record is disputed, and he seeks selective criteria to show success. But look, what is past is prologue, and the fact of the matter is that the Republican Party, whether it's with African-Americans or Hispanic- Americans in this country, you know, Hispanic-Americans won't forget the Republican Party when they were bashing us in proposition 187. They won't forget taking away the rights of legal permanent residents of the United States in the welfare reform bill that the Republicans passed. They won't forget the Voting Rights Act infringements that they created with ballot security squads. And Governor Bush was silent during these different items in which the Latino community needed to hear that he was on their side.

MATALIN: No, that's not true, congressman.

MENENDEZ: And he didn't. He didn't.

MATALIN: That's not true. He was against that proposition. He's never been for ballot security squads. Don't make it up!

MENENDEZ: He has been -- no, I'm not making it up.

MATALIN: If you disagree with him on policies, let's debate.

MENENDEZ: He was totally silent, Mary -- Mary, silence in the face of being a party leader is in fact, I think, allowing your party to move in the direction when you want to lead that party, and more importantly, you want to lead the nation. He was not there, as Al Gore was, saying it is wrong, proposition 187 is wrong. He was not there, as Al Gore has been, in restrengthening the Voting Rights Act. He has not been there on the census and making sure that we have statistical sampling so that all people in this country are counted.


PRESS: All right, congressman -- let me go back to Congressman Watts. And congressman, a little while ago, you said look at his record. We don't have time to look at his entire record in Texas. But appointments -- I mean, one of the most important things a governor does is appoint people to different positions. The Board of Regents that has responsibility to the university system in Texas -- there are nine members appointed by the governor, not one African- American among them, J.C. Watts.

Don't you think in the entire state of Texas that Governor Bush could have found one qualified African-American to sit on that most important educational body?

WATTS: Well, Bill, again, you know, you're avoiding the issue. I think the proof is in the pudding.

PRESS: That is the issue.

WATTS: The proof is in the pudding. Governor Bush -- went from 15 percent of the African-American vote back in 1994 to 27 percent of the African-American vote in 1998. He got 48 percent of the Hispanic vote in the state of Texas in 1998.

So I think that -- I think that says that the people in Texas -- red, yellow, brown, black, and white -- they do agree with the fact that Governor Bush has shown up, that he has gone to every community and said: These are my values. These are my principles. How can I help you accomplish what you want to accomplish in life?

I think that -- I think that stands for something, those numbers, those re-election numbers in 1998. The people who did the voting, you know, they don't come on CROSSFIRE and manipulate the record and try to skirt the issue. They -- they go to the polls, and they vote...

PRESS: Congressman...

WATTS: ... 48 percent of the Hispanic, 27 percent of the black vote. And many, many Republicans would love to have those numbers.

PRESS: We're going to have to take a break. But let me just make one thing clear. We do not manipulate any figures or any records on this show. The record stands. You can disagree with it, you can agree with it.

WATTS: How about Mike Williams, the appointment of Mike Williams?

PRESS: But if you show me -- if you show me one member...


If you show me one member -- one member of the...


WATTS: The appointment of Mike Williams as an African-American on the -- on the oil and gas commission in the state of Texas. He appointed a Hispanic to the secretary of state, the highest appointive office in the state of Texas.

Bill, now, you know, let's get it all out there on the table. Let's get it all out there on the table.

MENENDEZ: Let's get it out about the person who is being nominated for a federal court judge that he has not supported who's Hispanic from his state that he's allowing the two United States senators to block. He should be there advocating for him...


PRESS: All right. Members, on that point...


WATTS: That doesn't mean he's against Hispanics because he's not advocating the appointment of this judge.

PRESS: Congressman, on that question, we're going to have to take a break here, please. And when we come back, the American melting pot is changing color. But how much do you know about what makes up the American electorate? CROSSFIRE's got the hard numbers for you if you just check in at, and then our debate continues right here.


PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

It's a race for the minority vote with George Bush, unlike other Republican candidates before him, making a direct pitch for black and Latino voters. But have he and the Republican Party done anything to earn their vote, and is Al Gore taking the minority vote for granted?

Our debate tonight with two minority members of Congress, Republican House conference chair J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, and Democrat Robert Mendenez of New Jersey, vice chair of the Democratic caucus -- Mary.

MATALIN: Congressman Mendenez, before we resume our debate, let me throw out this opportunity for you to show how modest you are. You're being pushed by Minority Whip Bonior as a vice presidential contender. Are you interested and what is the status of that selection process? Can you tell us?

MENENDEZ: Well, the selection of the vice president, candidate, on each of the parties' tickets is up to the party's nominee -- in this case, Al Gore. He's going to make a decision of what's best for the party, someone can do the job and someone who ultimately can help them get elected. And we look forward, Mary, to helping him in that success.

MATALIN: And Warren Christopher, his vetter, has he contacted you?

MENENDEZ: Yes, he had, and we had a half hour conversation. And we look forward to supporting the vice president in any decision he makes.

MATALIN: Hmm. All right. So you're not going to tell us what's going on here.

All right. Let's get back to what's -- what the discussion is tonight. Gore does enjoy Hispanic support over Bush right now -- 50 to 34 approximately. But this is about 25 percent less than President Clinton enjoyed.

Do you attribute this to George Bush's appeal or Al Gore's lack thereof?

MENENDEZ: No, I think that when the electorate, including Latino-Americans in this country, focus on the election that those numbers will shift even greater in Al Gore's direction. Al Gore is a friend of our community, not a newfound friend as George W. Bush is.

He has known from the streets of New York City to the valley in Texas to El Barrio in Los Angeles, and the fact of the matter is that he has fought with us on behalf of our issues. He helped us with a major Hispanic education action plan that the federal government put into effect, over 500 million to improve the quality of education for Hispanics in the country. Across the spectrum he has been on our side.

And when we go down memory lane with what the Republican Party's history has been, when we look at George W.'s own record in Texas and versus Al Gore and his record with our community, those numbers will increase even more dramatically for Gore.

MATALIN: OK. I'll say again, congressman, when Hispanics in -- in the governor's state were exposed to his record, their support for him increased. Let me ask you about a couple...

MENENDEZ: I think that's a very limited...

MATALIN: Can I ask you about...

MENENDEZ: You know, if you look...

MATALIN: Can I get beyond...


MENENDEZ: ... election of a governor, that's very different than a national election.

MATALIN: Congressman, I want to get to the rest of the base, because George Bush is beating right now, in the most recent "Los Angeles Times" poll, Al Gore amongst women, 46 to 43. Your support amongst unions, the UAW and the Teamsters haven't supported Gore yet.

I know we keep saying all this is going to happen in the general election. But the base is not solidified or unified for your candidate. Why is that?

MENENDEZ: The base is going to be solidified right after the conventions. Their choices are stark here. George W. Bush is not on the side of working families represented by organized labor. The fact of the matter is they're a little disappointed by the China vote, but that's not Al Gore's necessary policy. He talked about what he would do if in fact he had an opportunity to promote trade in his vision of it.

And the fact of the matter is with women, when women see what Al Gore has been part of this presidency and promoting the interests of working women in this country, promoting and raising the glass ceiling so that we don't have it anymore, of creating equality in terms of payment, all of things you're going to see Al Gore do much better with women.

PRESS: Congressman, just a couple of minutes left. I want to come back to you.

WATTS: George Bush has appointed -- one-third of his appointments in Texas are women, and that's one of the reasons he's favored with women, with women voters.

PRESS: Let me jump from the candidate to the party if I can for a second, Congressman Watts. I've -- I've been to every Democratic convention since 1976, every Republican convention since 1984. And I've got to tell you, when you look at those audiences, it is a big, big difference. You know, the Republican convention, a sea of white face.

Let me show you the figures from 1996. Out of a total 1,990 delegates, only 54 were African-American, only 47 Latinos.

Congressman, if the Republican Party loves Latinos and blacks so much, why don't you invite more of them to your big party?

WATTS: Well, Bill, why don't we talk about the facts. The fact is George Bush wants to eliminate the death tax. The fact is George Bush wants to eliminate the marriage tax. The fact is George Bush wants to give working people tax relief. The fact is George Bush believes it's very important that every single child in America, in spite of their skin color, that they should get a quality education and we should not have social promotion.

PRESS: Congressman, can I ask my -- can I ask my question again?

WATTS: These -- well, let me tell you...

PRESS: When African-Americans look at that screen and see no black and Latino faces, what are they supposed to think about the Republican Party? Please answer my question.

WATTS: These are things that matter in African-Americans' lives.

PRESS: The fact...

WATTS: Doing away with the death tax.

PRESS: The fact that they're not included.

WATTS: The fact that, you know, you might see more white faces at a convention than black faces, you know, Bill, based on your policy, you know, the Democrats are going to stay in an uproar all the time because you're trying to balance it out. You're trying to get a third red, a third black, a third white, you know, and so forth and so on. So you're trying to balance it out.


MENENDEZ: We're not -- we don't have to balance anything.

MATALIN: Congressman...


WATTS: You're trying to balance it out for cosmetology reasons.

PRESS: More than that, congressman.

WATTS: What happens in people's lives, what are we doing in Washington, what is Governor Bush proposing that will make a difference in people's lives? It's not about your red, black and white faces at the convention.


PRESS: Congressman Menendez, quickly.

WATTS: Those are the things that are important.


PRESS: Menendez, quickly.

MENENDEZ: ... government as well as in the convention, which nominates a candidate and ultimately leads out of that convention into what the message is for America. It needs to be inclusive of all America. That's not a quota system.

MATALIN: Well, we know...


... who's going to be included at both conventions, the two faces we'll see.


Excuse me, congressmen. We'll see both of your...


Congressmen, please. We must have (UNINTELLIGIBLE). We'll see both of your faces at both conventions, maybe on the ticket.

Thank you. We'll be right back with our closing comments.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) PRESS: OK. The debate doesn't end here. It's your turn to take on tonight's guests at right after the show.

Mary, when you look at the issues like housing and affirmative action, I think J.C. Watts' father said it best: "A black voting for the Republican ticket is like a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders."

MATALIN: Every time J.C. is on you just want to use that line.

PRESS: It's a great line. He's right.

MATALIN: Bush has offered policies for health care, for home ownership, for kids to learn, safer neighborhoods. You're just freaking out because George Bush isn't going to...

PRESS: He talks the talk; he doesn't walk the walk.

MATALIN: No, no, no.

PRESS: That's the problem.

MATALIN: Well, you can make it up, but the record stands for itself.

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

MATALIN: And from the right I'm Mary Matalin. Join us again tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



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