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Bush Putting More Punch Into his Do-Nothing Dig; Gore Poses as Medicare's Protector in Chief; Wrestlers Pump Up Voter RegistrationAired August 30, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I'm going to remind the people of New Hampshire and anybody else who is listening the vice president has done nothing for seven years.
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FRANK SESNO, CNN ANCHOR: George W. Bush putting more punch into his do-nothing dig by repeating it over and over again.
Al Gore suggests Bush poses a threat to Medicare, while portraying himself as its protector in chief.
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"CHYNA," WWF WRESTLER: Now, we know we can't go bossing everybody in Washington around and making them do this debate. So we sort of -- the WWF sort of has a little proposition of its own.
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SESNO: Wrestlers trying to pump up voter registration urging Bush and Gore to get in the ring.
ANNOUNCER: From Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS, with Judy Woodruff and Bernard Shaw.
SESNO: Hello, everybody. Thanks for joining us. I'm Frank Sesno, sitting in today for Bernie and Judy.
As we near Labor Day and the unofficial fall campaign kickoff, the presidential candidates continue to sharpen their lines of attack. For George W. Bush, that means taking repeated aim at Al Gore's record as vice president.
As our Candy Crowley reports, Bush tested his lines today and pressed his campaign themes from New Hampshire to cyberspace.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bygones are apparently bygones. For the first time since his primary defeat here, George Bush returned to New Hampshire.
BUSH: A place where I have many fond memories, I want you to know. And I learned a good political lesson: coming in first is a heck of a lot better than coming in second.
CROWLEY: Focusing primarily on education, Bush moved on to electorally-endowed Pennsylvania and Ohio. In Erie, he produced a young college student who Bush said would benefit by the new money he wants to pump into the Pell college grant program.
Taking time off the tarmac and out of the classroom, Bush went online, on air, and on the radio to answer questions from voters in cyberspace.
(on camera): Do you consider yourself as knowledgeable in world affairs as your opponent Al Gore?
BUSH: I consider myself to be fully prepared to lead when it comes to foreign affairs,
CROWLEY (voice-over): Looking comfortable in the multimedia setting, Bush spoke at length on a number of issues: defending vouchers for the parents of kids in failing public schools.
BUSH: Why put money in a system that is not providing what we need in a society, and that is producing an educated child?
CROWLEY: While treading gently on the subject of whether you can win a campaign without negative advertising.
BUSH: You know, it's -- I guess it all depends on the definition of "negative ads."
CROWLEY: Personal attacks are out, he says, but the public record is definitely in.
BUSH: This is an administration that campaigned on cutting taxes on the middle class in 1992. Incredibly enough, it's still part of their campaign in the year 2000, and the reason it has to be is because they didn't fulfill their promise in '92.
CROWLEY: There is an edginess now, a sharpness to the rhetoric. Education events are laced with Gore critiques, it's no longer just about what Bush would do, but about what Gore didn't do. Airport rallies echo the squandered opportunities theme of his convention speech.
BUSH: After seven years of failed leadership and failed policy, I'm asking Americans to give me a chance to work with both Republicans and Democrats. After seven years of talk and no leadership, it's time for a new leader in Washington, D.C. After seven years of talk and no leadership, morale in the United States military is too low. CROWLEY: The rhetoric is definitely tougher than the mellow summer months, a sign that the election is closing in and the polls already have. It is, as well, an effort to refocus the debate by a campaign that believes this election will hinge not as much on the details of programs, as on the leadership of the man who will carry them out.
Candy Crowley, CNN, Erie, Pennsylvania.
SESNO: And as for Al Gore -- well, he took some swipes at Bush today, beyond his "where's the beef" criticism of the governor's health care proposals.
CNN's Pat Neal is covering the vice president's swing through the Pacific Northwest.
PAT NEAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Believing his four-day focus on health care wins with voters, Vice President Al Gore targeted Medicare in an Oregon forum.
AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In this election, have to take responsibility for adjusting Medicare, strengthening Medicare, putting new resources into Medicare.
NEAL: The vice president says Governor George Bush does not guarantee protecting Medicare for the future, but Gore will by assuring all Medicare payroll taxes are held in a lock box to cover Baby Boomers when they retire.
GORE: We will make sure that Medicare is financially secure and sound for another 30 years. Now, our opponents do not.
NEAL: Gore criticized Bush for supporting a Medicare commission plan that called for raising both premiums and the eligibility age.
GORE: I will not support that commissions recommendation to raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67.
NEAL: But the Bush campaign says Gore has it wrong: the governor does not support raising the eligibility age. Instead, he wants to build on a congressional plan that would provide subsidies to Medicare recipients. They could then pick a private or public plan with varying premiums and co-payments.
BUSH: What I am for is changing the Medicare system to allow seniors to have more options from which to choose. Our Medicare system is so antiquated that many procedures are denied to seniors.
NEAL: The Bush campaign says the governor will outline his Medicare reform proposal, including a prescription drug benefit, next Tuesday. Gore reiterated that if Bush follows through with his $1.3 trillion across-the-board tax cut, medical research into new drugs and therapies will come up short.
GORE: It's your money, but it's your Medicare.
NEAL (on camera): Although Clinton-Gore took Oregon the last two elections, the race here now is tight. But the vice president knows polls show Americans believe he would better handle the issue of health care than George Bush, so he'll continue to hit these issues here in the Northwest.
Pat Neal, CNN, Portland.
SESNO: And the Gore campaign is also pouncing on a new federal court ruling, ordering Texas to fix problems in its Medicaid system. The judge in the case determined the state has not lived up to a 1996 agreement to make major changes in its medical coverage for low-income Texans, including providing greater access for children. Bush's spokesman says the Texas governor has made Medicaid a priority and he says the program has been criticized -- or that has been criticized, rather, was enacted by Democrats before Bush's election in 1994. But the Gore campaign says the ruling is more evidence Bush's policies have -- quote -- "left countless families without health insurance."
And now let's talk more about the presidential race with Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times." He is in Oregon covering Gore's campaign swing out West -- in the great Northwest.
Ron, how much are these states in play, and how surprising is that?
RON BROWNSTEIN, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, I think they are very much in play, at least this one. Oregon is a state, that as the report said, Clinton won both times in '92 and '96, but the margin dropped from '92-'96 and now Gore faces a challenge from the other side, with Ralph Nader and the Green Party -- this may be one of the strongest states in the country for them. When they -- Gore and Lieberman had a rally in downtown Portland last night, the Nader demonstrators were almost as loud as the Gore-Lieberman supporters. So there could be a little bit of a squeeze here with some Republican strength on the one side and some Green strength on the other, making this tougher.
Washington state is a more Democratic leaning state and you would suspect that Gore would have a somewhat easier time there, though Bush has signaled that he intends to fight for both. The real point, I think, Frank, is that both of these are, I think, becoming essential for Gore. If you look at what's going on in the South with Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, some of the Midwest states, even the Northeast and New Hampshire and Maine, Bush trying to pick off states around the edges, Gore may have a hard time getting to 270 unless he can hold both of these Northwest states.
SESNO: Now, we heard Al Gore just a moment ago talking up health care in that swing. That and other issues -- are they working out there for him, seem to be a rallying point? BROWNSTEIN: Well, you know, this week, I thought, was very interesting, because it gives a sense of what the framework of this debate really is and was likely to be throughout the fall. I mean, Al Gore on Monday was in Florida saying, "I -- Here's my plan to provide prescription drugs for the elderly. Where is your's, Governor Bush?" On Tuesday, he was in Albuquerque, he said, "Here's my plan to provide universal health care for all children. Where's your plan, Governor Bush?" And on Wednesday, here today in Portland he's saying, "Well, here's my plan to put more money in to stabilize Medicare over the long-term. Where is your plan?"
And the reality is, is that Bush will have ideas in all of these areas, but they will not be as sweeping as Gore's, because Bush invests much more of the surplus in his across-the-board tax cut. And for all of the repositioning that's going on, all of the centrism we see in both of these candidates, the questions of them blurring in the middle, you end up with a very stark and somewhat familiar choice that is focused, at least in the way Gore wants to frame it, on what do you do with the surplus? Do you put the money into programs, or do you use it primarily for a tax cut?
What Bush wants to do is what Candy was talking about, basically argue that putting more money into these programs without reforming them simply won't work. But it leaves voters, I think, with a very stark choice in the end focused on this question of what do you do with this unprecedented surplus we're looking at over the next decade?
SESNO: And, Ron, if we rewind just a bit back to that convention in Philadelphia when we heard George Bush talking about character and integrity and his running mate, making the same sorts of appeals and striking the same themes -- is that coming up out there at all? Is that dogging Al Gore, is it an issue in his town meetings?
BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think it's -- no, it hasn't really come up at all this week. Now, it's hard to tell how good a reflection we're getting of the grassroots, because these meetings seem to be very screened and somewhat scripted in the sense of who gets up to ask questions.
But post convention, I think that one of the things that Gore has been able to do is establish his own independent identity and there are -- not to say there are no voters who will hold him accountable for how they feel about Clinton, but that's probably less of a direct factor for him in the sense that he now is seen as a three-dimensional person in his own right with a life that predates the vice presidency, and a personal and family life.
I can tell you one thing: Joe Lieberman and Al Gore certainly spent of a lot of time talking about Gore's family life, his devotion to his wife and his kids and his parents. And all of that, I'm sure, is a reflection.
SESNO: What from the George W. Bush line of attack most gets under Al Gore's skin, as you see him campaigning?
BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think the idea that the last seven years have been one of wasted opportunities and squandered opportunities. And in fact, in some ways, Bush has argued -- as he did in an interview with me a few weeks ago right before the convention -- that the country is not better off than it was when Clinton took office -- Clinton and Gore took office.
I think they view that, as you know, as sort of fundamentally difficult to support when you look at the economic numbers, the welfare rolls dropping in half, violent crime at the lowest levels in decades, and so forth. And I think they view that, you know, as an unfair criticism, but in some ways, a hanging curveball, that they can then go out and try to make the case that the country is in fact doing better on a whole series of measures -- and underlying their argument of trying to make -- portray Bush as pointing backward toward those policies of his father.
SESNO: Let's come back to that beautiful region that you are sitting in front of there behind you.
SESNO: Talking about the Northwest, specifically Oregon -- much more in play. Give us a little bit more detail on what is going on, what the dynamic is in Oregon right now.
BROWNSTEIN: Well, you know, when you look at what's happening here -- and I think the biggest thing, the biggest challenge for Gore is that not only is Bush competing here and putting money into the state -- and, you know, in a state, as I said, where the Clinton margin dropped from '92 to'96 -- but you have possibly the strongest Green movement in the country.
Everywhere he was yesterday, there were Green demonstrators saying -- chanting, "Let Ralph debate," you know. And Nader put 10,000 people into a hall here about -- a little less than two weeks ago, which is -- are more than either of these candidates has done. I'm sorry, it was last week.
So, you know the potential for a squeeze from the left and the right is as acute here as anywhere -- I mean, Washington state, Wisconsin, Colorado, a couple other places -- Colorado, Gore doesn't really have much prospect anyway -- but this is one where you could see that developing. I met someone at a rally who said he was starting a "Greens for Gore" organization, because he felt the need to try to drive down that number to hold onto the state.
And this is, I think -- as I said, if you look at what's happening elsewhere in the country, this is an important state for Al Gore to hold onto.
SESNO: All right, Ron Brownstein, thanks very much. If you go mountain-climbing, we'll know where to find you.
BROWNSTEIN: Yeah, thanks.
SESNO: Thanks very much. And still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS: tough talk from the GOP ticket. We'll have more on that, as the issue of military readiness returns to the campaign trail.
SESNO: Former Defense Secretary-turned-Bush-running-mate Dick Cheney today attacked Al Gore on the issue of military readiness once again. Cheney, in a speech to the Southern Center on International Studies in Atlanta, took direct aim at recent statements by Gore and the administration about the status of the U.S. military.
Jamie McIntyre has the latest.
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Republicans continue to hammer the Clinton-Gore administration for allegedly overworking and underfunding the U.S. military.
DICK CHENEY (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When you triple our commitments around the world, while at the same time taking the Army from 14 divisions down to 10, the Air Force from 17 wings to 13 , and the Navy from well over 400 ships down to fewer than 300, that Mr. Gore is -- quote -- "running down the military."
MCINTYRE: The former Republican defense secretary ran through a laundry list of specific problems, often using the Pentagon's own statistics against them.
CHENEY: As of January 1993, 85 percent of Air Force, air combat units were fully ready for their mission. Today that number is 65 percent. Part of the problem, according to the secretary of the Air Force, is that pilots are flying more missions on older aircraft.
F. WHITTEN PETERS, AIR FORCE SECRETARY: That statement is true as far as it goes, but it needs some explanation.
MCINTYRE: Air Force Secretary F. Whitten Peters argues the Air Force is just now recovering from last year's major war in Kosovo, where it flew 37,000 missions without a single loss of life, but also drained spare parts reserves and strained it's personnel.
PETERS: Could we use more money? Sure, we can always use more money. We could provide, you know, more equipment more quickly. We could fix things more quickly. But we are basically a Force today that is in better shape than 10 years ago under some critical indicators.
MCINTYRE: The Pentagon argues it has reversed the trend and will add as much as $16 billion more to the budget next year.
(on camera): While the Bush campaign blasts the Clinton administration for making the U.S. military too small, it does not propose to make it any bigger. Instead, the campaign says it will focus on cutting back overseas commitments, something the current defense secretary, Republican William Cohen, discovered was easier said than done.
Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.
SESNO: And take note of this: My colleague, Wolf Blitzer, talked at length with Dick Cheney today. And you can watch that interview tonight. That's at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time during "The World Today. "
And joining us now, Margaret Carlson of "Time" magazine, Tucker Carlson of the "Weekly Standard."
Good day to you both.
MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME": Hello, Frank.
SESNO: Great to see you, as always.
All right, we've just -- very interesting -- here we have Dick Cheney out campaigning on the issue of military readiness, citing the secretary of the Air Force for his contention that readiness is down. And then we hear from the Air Force secretary saying: We're in better shape than we were 10 years ago.
M. CARLSON: Well, Dick Cheney has not been out talking about defense, because it's not a clear-cut issue for Republicans. It's been safer for him to be reading "The Hungry Caterpillar" to schoolchildren, as he has doing for the last two weeks. The peace dividend and the cutbacks began with Cheney. And the readiness that he is talking about has been depleted in some ways, or hurt, by the fact that the Democrats have actually used the military, which is something, apparently, that Republicans don't want to do.
They want to have a gold-plated military and never use it.
SESNO: Okay, Tucker.
TUCKER CARLSON, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": The peace dividend. God, that's just -- where did you get that? That is so old that it's unbelievable.
M. CARLSON: An echo, I know...
T. CARLSON: This is a case that he ought to be able to make. And I think it's a shame -- for the past weeks, he's wanted to point out -- that he really hasn't been making it. They have been flirting around with this dumb stock-option business, and otherwise wasting time. I think it is a legitimate case. They made that, of course, one mistake at the beginning, apparently.
But I think it's totally fair for him to bring this up. And what do you expect for the Air Force secretary to say? Well, you know, Secretary Cheney is absolutely right. We are in terrible shape.
No, of course. M. CARLSON: Well, but you have a Republican defense secretary joining that fight, and saying: Listen this is not right, and in fact...
SESNO: There are conflicts of political interest here.
M. CARLSON: Yes, well -- and -- but there is -- at the convention when Bush said the military is not ready to fight a war, and you have the generals coming back and saying: Listen, not only is that not true, it hurts our credibility as a superpower
SESNO: Tucker, what's the most effective line that you heard from Cheney or others on the subject of military readiness? How do they make this stick?
T. CARLSON: Well, I actually think the argument about the military being overextended is a fairly clever one, because I think it points to one of the central weaknesses of the Clinton foreign policy, which is a lot of these things have not been well-defined, or at least not well explained to the public, and I think they can keep hammering that; you know, why exactly were we doing this, that and the other, and to what affect? And why should ordinary soldiers have to suffer for this sort of feckless foreign policy?
SESNO: They will continue to debate this issue, which turns me to the next issue, which is debates. There is Still no agreement between the Bush and the Gore camps on this, and the question is, is this squabble between the two campaigns starting to make anybody look bad?
T. CARLSON: Well, Bush, obviously -- I mean, this kind of plays to the perception that he's afraid to go up against Al Gore, this monster debater. I think the Bush people are clearly more confident than they pretend to be. There is this kind of, you know, "don't throw me in the briar patch," you know, quality to their constantly saying -- and they do constantly say it -- Al Gore is a brilliant debater, as you know. I mean, I think that's evidence they think they're going to do better.
But after a while, if Gore keeps hammering this theme, which is ludicrous on its face, that Bush doesn't want to debate in primetime, like he thinks he can, you know, just debate and just no one will see it -- but I think rhetorically it works. They keep saying that; Bush looks like he's afraid.
M. CARLSON: Yes. I mean, he's lowering expectations to the point where he looks like a scaredy-cat, and that's a line that you don't want to cross that I think he's crossed. And I think it was an effective rejoinder when Chris Lehane, Al Gore's press secretary, said he wants to do it during the gymnastics competition of the Olympics.
T. CARLSON: On cable access.
M. CARLSON: On cable access. Thank you, Tucker.
T. CARLSON: You're welcome.
M. CARLSON: Let us have as few people see this as possible, so that if Bush strings together three sentences, he's going to look like a genius, and no matter how well Gore does, he does badly. But I think the debate-debate has shifted, so now if a chicken-man shows up at some of the Bush rallies, we'd know exactly what it meant.
SESNO: And it shows that in the end, this is probably all rather silly, because people will get through this, this is not what people base a presidential vote on. They'll watch the debates and make their judgments at the time. Expectations games and negotiations over when, and where and with whom notwithstanding?
T. CARLSON: I like them. I actually think they're talent. And the Bush are people making this point again and again. Every sentence that you use to talk about this contains the word "historic" -- this is a historic number of debates, five; this is the most debates held during a presidential election.
M. CARLSON: "Ripley's Believe it or Not!"
T. CARLSON: That's exactly right.
SESNO: Over to Joe Lieberman for just a minute. I mean, if we're going to be shining the spotlight on, let's do it fairly. Joe Lieberman told by the ADL -- Anti-Defamation League -- this week, back off all this stuff on religion?
M. CARLSON: Well, I think a little bit -- in this matter, the cliche is true, a little bit goes a long way of religion in the public debate.
SESNO: Margaret, don't you think that if this had been a conservative candidate, a Christian candidate invoking religion like this, the media attention would have been altogether different?
M. CARLSON: Yes, I think it is, because there's this sense that the evangelical community wants to convert people, and you know, cast out those who don't believe in certain things, and want to change the civic arena, which is like, let's have school prayer, let's do this, let's do that, that makes religion part of state activity, whereas I don't think Lieberman's mentioning of religion has an agenda. It is his own personal display of it. I still say a lot less would be better.
T. CARLSON: Right. In other words, he doesn't actually mean anything.
M. CARLSON: No, he doesn't want to change anything.
T. CARLSON: So he has said, you know, God is the basis of morality, and then he says, but you know, really, I wouldn't mind if we had an atheist in the White House, and in fact, don't worry. I don't really mean it, I won't base any of my government decisions on my personal faith. So you know, basically don't take anything I say seriously. It's really trying to have it both ways.
M. CARLSON: No, I actually don't think that is right. He's saying I will not have religious displays in city hall, I will not have prayer in schools. He's not saying I don't base any of my decisions...
T. CARLSON: No, he said I won't make decisions based on my faith.
SESNO: Tucker Carlson, Margaret Carlson, we're just about out of time, but thanks very much, polite...
M. CARLSON: Amen.
T. CARLSON: Amen.
SESNO: All right, I'm not touching it. We'll just move on. Thanks very much.
More ahead on this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. And still to come, which states will tip the balance in the presidential election? The latest from our Bill Schneider and from Stu Rothenberg and Charlie Cook.
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BUSH: There's no telling how candidates are eventually going to communicate with voters, and the Internet is going to be a useful tool.
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SESNO: Putting politics online, Rick Lockridge on what it takes to reach Web-savvy voters.
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KATE SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Professional wrestling has bodyslams and powerbombs, and now they have something else.
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SESNO: Kate Snow, on an unlikely setting for a "get out the vote" drive.
SESNO: We'll have more of the day's political news coming up, but now a look at some other items making our headlines this hour. Materials used to make bombs were found near a route used by President Clinton during his visit to Colombia today. CNN's Major Garrett reports Colombian authorities found kerosene and gunpowder an hour before Mr. Clinton arrived in Cartagena. Garrett says the president was never in danger. Three people believed to be sympathizers of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia were arrested. Mr. Clinton was there to announce aid to help Colombia fight drug trafficking.
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WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are proud to stand with our friend and our neighbor, as it fights for peace, freedom and democracy, for prosperity, human rights and justice, and for a drug-free future. All these things should be the right of all Colombians.
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SESNO: The U.S. will give Colombia $1.3 billion to help promote the war on drugs.
The father of Dodi Fayed believes the United States is withholding information about the Paris crash that killed his son and Princess Diana.
As Robert Moore report, Al-Fayed is willing to sue to get the information he wants.
ROBERT MOORE, ITN REPORTER (voice-over): The announcement was carefully timed to coincide with the third anniversary of the Paris car crash. The lawyer acting for Mohamed Al-Fayed is now filing a lawsuit demanding information that its alleged is being withheld by the U.S. Security agencies.
MARK ZAID, LAWYER FOR MOHAMED AL-FAYED: The lawsuit is designed to obtain information. It is filed under the Freedom of Information Act. Named as defendants will be such agencies as the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Departments of Defense, Justice, and State.
MOORE: The allegations circulating again here today are not new, but they center on claims that the CIA and other agencies have information on the circumstances surrounding the death of the Princess of Wales and Dodi Fayed. They may be conspiracy theories that are ridiculed, but they also command remarkable media coverage in the United States.
In a prerecorded video statement, Mohamed Al-Fayed alleged again that the U.S. and British intelligence agencies are suppressing key documents about his son and Princess Diana.
MOHAMED AL FAYED, DODI AL FAYED'S FATHER: I believe they are withholding some of the documents at the request of the British secret service, who cannot afford to let the truth be known because they know exactly where the truth lies.
MOORE: The Princess of Wales was always a hugely popular figure in the United States. The lawsuit that is being filed tomorrow seems certain to spark renewed public interest, even as members of the royal family are preparing to mark the anniversary in private.
Robert Moore, ITN, Washington.
SESNO: And to another case now, a judge demands to see federal documents used in the Wen Ho Lee case. He wants to know if prosecutors used Lee's race as a reason for his arrest for mishandling nuclear secrets at the Los Alamos National Laboratories. The judge ruled yesterday that Lee can be released on bail, if the government does not appeal. Lee's lawyers accused investigators of targeting Lee because he is Chinese-American.
And when INSIDE POLITICS return, just how close is it? What state polls are telling us what about the presidential race. We'll have that, a lot more right after this.
SESNO: Two weeks after the Democratic National Convention, and how time flies, we're still tracking Al Gore's bounce and whether it has given him a leg up in battleground states.
Bill Schneider is here now.
Bill, with a number of polls showing the race is tied nationally -- statistically anyway -- what is happening at the state level? Can we learn anything more there?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we've looked at non-partisan polls -- those are the ones we like to look at -- in seven states that have been taken since the Democratic Convention, and most of them do confirm that Gore got a bounce out of the convention. Although, I should caution that they were states where Gore was doing pretty well to begin with.
Gore strengthened his lead, generally going from a single to a double-digit margin in New Jersey, New York, Minnesota, and California. Now, those states represent the Democratic base, what I think of as the three-legged stool of the Democratic Party, which is the Northeast, the West Coast, and the upper Midwest, sort of the liberal belt of the country. The key battleground states are the industrial Midwest. Now, two of those states, Michigan and Illinois used to show Bush with a narrow lead; now they show Gore slightly ahead. Only one small state shows a trend toward Bush, that is New Hampshire, where he was today. Imagine, Bush going back to New Hampshire, but his lead there has gone from single digits to double digits.
We are waiting for more polls to come out in the Farm Belt, in the South, and in the Rocky Mountain states, where Bush is strongest, to see if Bush is becoming entrenched in his base the way Gore seems to be in the Democratic regions of the country.
SESNO: So what, if anything, can we suggest from these polls in terms of the race overall?
SCHNEIDER: Well, it may be a close contest nationally, but locally the pieces are falling into place exactly as we might expect. Gore seems comfortably ahead in the liberal regions of the country. Bush may be well ahead in the conservative regions -- we don't have a lot of polls there yet. And the race still looks very tight in the industrial Midwest. Gore has done a very good job of steadying himself after months of looking weak in states that really should be shoe-ins for the Democrats, and that is very good news for Gore, but he still has to go after the swing voters.
SESNO: And the swing voters, let's talk about them for a moment.
SCHNEIDER: Right. The swing voters I would describe as those people who approve of the job that Clinton is doing as president, but who don't like him personally, have a negative personal opinion of him. Now, normally, people who approve of the job that the president is doing should be voting for the president's party. That was not happening in early August. Voters who thought Clinton was doing a good job, but who didn't like him personally, were going for Bush by an enormous margin. Look at this! Forty points. Now, where are those voters now? Well, they are split.
Bush's margin among those swing voters shrank after the convention to just -- the Democratic Convention to just 2 points. They are not yet voting for Al Gore, but their displeasure for Clinton is not exacting a penalty on Gore the way it did just a few weeks ago. In effect, you might say Gore used the convention to shake off Clinton's cooties. Now, remember what he said at the convention? "I stand here today as my own man," he told the country in his acceptance speech. And what is happening is more and more voters are seeing Gore as his own man.
SESNO: Any surprises in all of this for you?
SCHNEIDER: Not really. I mean, you expect the candidate to step out of the shadow, the vice president out of the shadow of the president. But what it does indicate is we could have a very unusual race where Democrats are entrenched in some regions, Republicans in other regions, and the real competitive races are in just a few states.
SESNO: All right, Bill Schneider, thanks a lot.
For more now on the state of this presidential race we turn to Stu Rothenberg of "The Rothenberg Political Report," Charlie Cook of "The National Journal."
Gentlemen, good day to you both.
All right, I will ask the same question I asked to Bill Schneider: Any surprises in these numbers as you look at them state by state and pick them apart? CHARLES COOK, "THE NATIONAL JOURNAL": Well, I mean, I think -- I don't disagree with anything that Bill said, but the thing is...
SESNO: You wouldn't dream of that, right?
COOK: No. But, you know, some of these polls were taken the Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday right after the Democratic Convention when the bounce was still at full blossom. And you know, personally, I'm going to start looking at polls that are taken after the 1st of September. If you still see these things true -- you know, existent then, that means that Gore really is coming back and that it's a comeback -- it's a bounce that's sticking to a certain extent.
STUART ROTHENBERG, "ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": Well, I think that Gore actually did transform the race, he transformed it more than I thought he was going to. Clearly, we all expected a bounce, I'm not sure we expected one of this magnitude. Look, Frank, if you have the national changes, if the national numbers are at all right you are going to see these kind of changes at the state-by-state basis.
And I think Bill is absolutely right, the Democratic base has firmed up from the convention, the Republican base has seemed to be behind George Bush for some time now, swing voters are in play. I look at Illinois and Michigan as the keys here. Illinois has a slight Democratic tilt in many of these presidential races. Gore has that slight Democratic advantage. Michigan is the true toss-up. Bush is either a point ahead or a point behind, you know. Who knows? It looks like a dog fight the rest of the way to me.
COOK: You know, a week or two from now, it will be interesting to see, for example, does the Gore as a strong leader dynamic -- is it holding up? Because before the Democratic Convention, Bush had a huge lead.
SESNO: Something like 60-28 for Bush, right.
COOK: Yes, it was huge. It was huge.
And Gore has really improved. Now, is that going to stick around or not? Because particularly now that Bush is coming across a little bit rattled, not quite as strong and confident a campaigner as before. And the other thing is, what about the Nader vote? Because Ralph Nader had typically been in the 4-8 percentage point range prior to the Democratic Convention; lately it's been 1, 2, 3. The only way Al Gore wins this race is if Nader is at 1, 2, 3 percent, is way down. Does that stay, or does Nader start coming back as well?
ROTHENBERG: And I think that's what happened. That's the Democratic base coming back. That's why Nader is down and Gore is up.
SESNO: Well, we were talking -- you know, Bill was talking about the swing voters, we were talking about the states -- certainly, you look at the internal of these polls and you see tremendous movement among women and among independents toward Gore.
COOK: And again, these are people that should have been with him before.
SESNO: So it's not some great dynamic, tectonic shift, but it's things...
COOK: Well, the fact that they weren't there before was a huge problem.
COOK: And now it's people that should have been with him are coming back to him and, thus, there may be a greater likelihood that they're going to stick, at least the women, I don't know about the independents.
ROTHENBERG: Let's not minimize the shift here, the shift was very significant. But, at the same time, looking at these Michigan votes and AN epic MRA (ph) in "The Detroit News," one of which shows Gore ahead by two or three, the other shows Bush ahead by a couple.
Interestingly, the vice president of the United States, in good economic times, with the world at peace, is drawing 42 percent of the vote or 43 percent of the vote.
Now, if this is a House race or a Senate race, Charlie and I would say this is a referendum on the incumbent. If an incumbent is that low, he's got some problems. So I still think the vice president still has some work to do in states like Pennsylvania -- we'll see when those numbers come up -- but certainly Michigan and some of these key Midwestern states, like Missouri.
SESNO: Which also explains his mix of issues that he's hitting on: health care, education, some of these connect with some of these...
COOK: Well, I think he has done quite well after the convention. He just seems more relaxed, more articulate. I mean, he seems like a normal person, rather than a guy who's watching every word or every syllable.
SESNO: Based on these numbers and the dynamic we knew about and are now watching, does this suggest firmly that this band of states, especially in the Midwest, is going to be where this election is determined?
COOK: Yes, but that's always true. I mean, it's always the same states. I mean, yes they're -- Oregon and Washington haven't been key in the past and it looks like they're pretty important this time, and West Virginia's never in play, and it is this time. But typically Michigan, Ohio, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, I mean those are states that are -- that if it's a close race, those states will determine the winner.
ROTHENBERG: Right. Let's wait and see whether Florida truly is in play and, again, see how long Oregon and Washington stay in play. There may be a few other states that don't typically -- aren't typically right on the cusp between the two parties, but I think the action is Missouri, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Tell me how two of those three states are going to go and I'll tell who's going to be the next president.
SESNO: OK. Does anybody pay attention to this debate-debate?
COOK: I think this is awfully important, because to the extent that voters have reservations about George Bush: Is he smart enough? Does he know enough about the issues? Does he have the right kind of experience?
And to the extent that it looks like he's avoiding the tough debates, that he's shopping around for the easiest questioners around, that looks awful. And I think he's buying a lot of really bad stories if he looks like he's trying to avoid the commission debates. These are the official debates.
ROTHENBERG: I think that it drags on, same thing with questions about prescription drug and his plan. To the extent these questions drag on, it's going to put him on the defensive and people are going to start to wonder about him and believe the worst things about him. Look, a couple days of questioning can be dealt with.
SESNO: You both are also watching, of course, the state -- the action at the state level. Tough Senate races, like Ashcroft in Missouri, and you're watching Spence Abraham; are you seeing some of these presidential dynamics affect the momentum or any of the drift there?
ROTHENBERG: Not a one that I can tell. I think they're race by race, state by state, depending upon who the candidates are. I -- especially in a tight race there's no reason to believe there's going to be any kind of coattails.
COOK: Yes, I think probably a typical Republican Senate or House candidate probably moved up a little bit right after their convention, a typical Democrat moved up a little bit after their convention, but nothing that's really sustainable.
SESNO: Wait until we're through the ad campaigns, and after Labor Day it'll really sharpen up. Gentlemen, thanks very much, appreciate it.
ROTHENBERG: Thanks, Frank.
SESNO: And now to the New York Senate race. Both Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rick Lazio are trotting out big names there to help their campaigns.
In Mrs. Clinton's case, a new fund-raising letter features an appeal by her husband. In it, the president warns that his wife's opponents will, quoting here, "spare no expense, respect no boundaries in their efforts to defeat her."
Lazio's bid to defeat the first lady is supported by Senator John McCain, who takes aim at Mrs. Clinton in a new ad of his own.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: When Mrs. Clinton said she wouldn't take huge special-interest soft money contributions if her opponent wouldn't, I believed her. But since then, she's taken in millions in soft money and used it for attack ads distorting Rick Lazio's record. Rick Lazio has said he'll agree to a soft-money ban, but Mrs. Clinton just refuses.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SESNO: McCain's questioning of Mrs. Clinton's credibility echoes Lazio's latest line of attack against his Democratic rival.
And up next: campaigning on the Internet, a closer look at George W. Bush's foray into cyberspace.
SESNO: George W. Bush's on-line interview today is just the latest sign of the World Wide Web's growing role in the 2000 election. But, how effective is politicking on-line?
Rick Lockridge takes a look in today's "Political Bytes."
RICK LOCKRIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It seemed like an awful lot of trouble to go to just to manufacture some text on a screen.
The questions for George W. Bush came in from all over the world, to this room on the 10th floor of CNN Center. Some were flagged and forwarded to control rooms in Atlanta and Washington.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ask if they are going to take business or not?
LOCKRIDGE: Then to the moderator, then to the candidate, then transcribed for the Web; all so Bush could reach about as many people as he'd see at a big Friday night Texas high school football game.
CHUCK WESTBROOK, CNN INTERACTIVE: During the entire two-hour event, we had over 12,000 people.
LOCKRIDGE: So did the Bush campaign have another reason for doing this?
MICHAEL BINFORD, GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY: Because it gets reported in the other media.
LOCKRIDGE: Political science professor Michael Binford says today's chat was more about polishing the candidate's image than attracting new voters.
(on camera): Is it a little bit of one-upsmanship? Al Gore always likes to take a lot of credit for being in the forefront of all of this, and then the first on-line chat: George Bush.
BINFORD: Right. I think that might be a little bit of it, and it's also part of not being left behind, and showing that you are aware of new technology, and are aware of how to use it for electoral advantage.
LOCKRIDGE (voice-over): But so far, the only candidates who have demonstrated they really know how to use the Web for electoral advantage have been the losers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It'll change politics in America permanently because...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LOCKRIDGE: John McCain raised more money on-line than any other candidate: over $6 million. He was the first to do an on-line fund- raiser. Now he's a spectator.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's the type of man that I want in the White House.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LOCKRIDGE: Bill Bradley's Web site was rated number one by a panel of Internet gurus, praised for its content and design. That was just before Bradley dropped out of the race.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've had over 3 million hit.
LOCKRIDGE: At the Republican National Convention, Web sites built skyboxes along the major TV networks. Move aside, the dot.coms seemed to be saying, we're here to stay. Well, they weren't. Most folded up by the time the Democrats went to California.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. JESSE VENTURE (I), MINNESOTA: And I want to thank my...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LOCKRIDGE: On the other hand, Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura says he couldn't have won his race in '98 without a strong on-line campaign, which gave him an estimated three to five percentage-point boost.
BINFORD: Three percent could be very important. With competitive and narrow elections, any advantage helps.
LOCKRIDGE (on camera): So maybe the Internet isn't the political force television is yet. But over the coming years, as the Internet absorbs television, becomes television, and much more, well, it will be interesting to see which medium has the political clout then.
Rick Lockridge, CNN.
SESNO: Up next, from the ring to the ballot box, can pro wrestlers boost political interest? They will try.
SESNO: For many 20 and 30 somethings, the mechanics of wrestling are far more interesting than the machinations of politics. Now, those inside the ring are using their celebrity to put fans in the voting booth.
Kate Snow takes a look.
KATE SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Professional wrestling has body slams, and power bombs, and now they have something else.
Wrestling fans, registering for the right to vote.
KURT ANGLE, WWF WRESTLER: There are many young Americans out there that are very distant from our political process.
SNOW: The World Wrestling Federation has teamed up with the Youth Vote Coalition to tell people, as they put it, to "smack down your vote." It might sound like a strange mix, but it's working. Since early August, they've registered some 40,000 voters.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What most wrestling fans get is a, kind of, some kind of role model who is leading them in the right direction.
SNOW: And they are trying to set an example. Wrestling superstar Lita just registered for the first time.
"LITA," WWF SUPERSTAR: And I wouldn't normally register to vote or vote, but because these issues have been shoved in my face, these really are important issue, and I do need to register vote.
SNOW (on camera): Who is our favorite?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Probably The Rock, the most electrifying man in sports entertainment. He is so cool.
SNOW (voice-over): 11-year-olds can't vote, but the WWF says they have 14 million viewers who are over 18, and they estimate about a third of them are not currently registered. The Rock kicked it off the voter drive at the Republican National Convention.
"THE ROCK," WWF SUPERSTAR: What is the matter with you people? If The Rock didn't know any better, he would say you might be trying to reach out to all of The Rock's fans, the 14 million eligible voters who watch The Rock every single week.
SNOW: There is no evidence Republicans have a chokehold on wrestling fans, and the WWF says it's not taking sides. The federation is not telling people how to vote, it's just trying to get the vote out.
(on camera): And they're not stopping with voter registration. The wrestling world is issuing a challenge to George W. Bush and Al Gore to go at it in the ring: five minute of debate time for each candidate, moderated by who else? Governor Jesse Ventura.
MICK FOLEY, WWF COMMISSIONER: With respect to our audience and our concern over inappropriate materials for our WWF viewers, we do, however, ask Mr. Gore to keep his displays of public affection to a minimum.
SNOW: Actually it's a serious offer. Youth voting groups are punching for a debate geared toward younger voters. And if it could include an arm wrestling match between Gore and Bush, all the better. After all, politics and wrestling have something in common.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Guys are trying to back stab one another to get higher on the ladder, they are making alliance, they are creating enemies.
SNOW: Kate Snow, CNN, Washington.
SESNO: And the cheer of the roaring crowd.
That is it for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. We'll see you again tomorrow, when Bob Novak joins us with his "Reporter's Notebook." Also joining us, David Broder of "The Washington Post." And, of course, you can go on-line all the time at CNN's allpolitics.com.
I'm Frank Sesno.
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