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Will Republicans Hold Onto the U.S. Senate?

Aired September 4, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: ... and Democrats are determined to seize it. New York, of course, the most talked-about contest, Rick Lazio running neck-and-neck with first lady Hillary Clinton. But there are lots of other races with less pizzazz and just as much at stake, like Missouri and Florida and New Jersey and Delaware.

Tonight, we'll look at as many states as we can squeeze in to find out, whatever happens to the White House, will Republicans hold onto the U.S. Senate? -- Bob.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Bob Shrum, in New York, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who everybody knows, is running no better than even in a dead heat with Rick Lazio, who nobody knows. And so what is the first lady doing about it? Let's take a look at a commercial and see.


NARRATOR: The end to nursing home standards, the largest education cuts in history, the slashing of Medicare by $270 billion. Who voted for all this? Rick Lazio.

Four years as Newt Gingrich's deputy whip. You won't see that in his ads.


NOVAK: All...

BOB SHRUM, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I guess they know a little bit more about him now.

NOVAK: All Hillary knows how to do is attack, attack, attack. Isn't that stale, calling him Newt Gingrich's aide?

SHRUM: Well, first of all, she has run a lot of positive advertising at this point. That's an ad that defines him. He's running a negative ad about her, which is very inaccurate and very unfair.

But Bob, your premise with which you started, I think, is entirely wrong. Fred Dicker from "The New York Post," who I think you would concede is not exactly a partisan of Hillary Clinton, said the other day that in the polling she's now approaching 70 percent of the vote in New York City. If she wins that 70 percent of the vote, he said, there's no way she can lose the race.

I think you're going to be sitting here doing CROSSFIRE a year from now very, very, very unhappy because you're going to have Senator Clinton in the U.S. Senate from New York.

NOVAK: Well, you know, you say that she was -- he was doing incorrect or inaccurate spots about the first lady. But let's take a look at one that Rick Lazio's running.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: You know, 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.


NOVAK: Well, I believe John McCain over the Clintons any day, and I think most New Yorkers...

SHRUM: Bob, did you pick which spots you wanted to run, Bob?


SHRUM: You didn't pick the one that they just put on the air that Mike Murphy made that at the end...

NOVAK: What do you think...

SHRUM: Well, I like John McCain. He's out there trying to be a good Republican...

NOVAK: Well, isn't he right? Isn't he right?

SHRUM: ... so that when George Bush loses, John McCain can run for president.

NOVAK: Don't change the subject, Bob. Didn't -- didn't he really tell the truth on that?

SHRUM: You know, Bob, you are so hypocritical on the issue of campaign finance reform it's unbelievable. You don't want Rick Lazio to support the McCain-Feingold bill to ban soft-money, do you? You're for soft money. You're for no campaign limits. You're for no campaign reform.

If people in New York want campaign reform, they ought to vote for Hillary Clinton.

NOVAK: You just evaded the question.

PRESS: Yes. Ed Gillespie, the rest of that spot, if we see the rest of the McCain spot, it says that Rick Lazio is the only one you can trust on campaign reform. And yet, Hillary Clinton has challenged Rick Lazio to say no soft money in this race, she'll use no soft money in advertising if he agrees, and he refuses. So he's the one who's being a hypocrite, right?

ED GILLESPIE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Actually, there's zero soft money being taken on the Republican side by Rick Lazio.


PRESS: ... groups.

GILLESPIE: Bill, Hillary Clinton has four soft-money accounts running right now, running ads against Rick Lazio, and Rick Lazio has zero. Now, where's the hypocrisy there?

PRESS: There are other Republican groups, you know, and Hillary has said no soft money. He's disagreed. So just your take on the New York race, in the can for Hillary?

GILLESPIE: In the can for Hillary!


In the toilet for Hillary I think is the problem. The fact is if you're right now Hillary Clinton running even in the state of New York with the Democratic advantage that that registration in that shows, you've got a real problem. And the fact is that Rick Lazio, as people get to see him, the more they see him, the more they like him.

PRESS: Let's go to a neighboring state: New Jersey. Jon Corzine spend $34 million, or $35 million to win, or buy, the primary -- whatever you prefer -- up against Bob Franks, a representative.

With that kind of money and Corzine certainly to spend -- certain to spend at least that much if not more, isn't Bob Franks just doing the party a favor by being the sacrificial lamb?

GILLESPIE: Actually, I know a little something about this because I'm from New Jersey, a New Jersey native. I just got back from there, and my family are Franks supporter. My family swings back and forth. They're a good focus group.

The fact is that Corzine, according to "The New York Times" -- no friends of Republicans -- says that Corzine has a socialist streak as wide as Wall Street. He is way to the left of New Jersey voters. Bob Franks is right down the middle, where most New Jersey voters are. It's a swing state, as you know. And the fact is that Franks is likely to win that seat right now.

SHRUM: Can I -- I know your definition of a prescription drug benefit for all seniors under Medicare, but moving step by step toward universal access to health insurance, starting with all children, registering all guns is socialism. That's your definition of socialism. I think in New Jersey those are mainstream positions, that Jon Corzine is going to win that race.

GILLESPIE: The fact is, look, Bob -- this is "The New York Times" saying this. "The New York Times" is to the left me, believe me. When they say socialist, their definition is further than I am.

The fact is that Franks has a record that is completely consistent with New Jersey, and people in New Jersey resent the notion when...


... and trying to buy a seat. They're not going to sell a Senate seat in New Jersey.

SHRUM: He's lived in New Jersey for 25 years, and they don't like the fact that Bob Franks voted to slash Medicare.

GILLESPIE: Bob Franks never voted to slash Medicare.

SHRUM: He most certainly did.

GILLESPIE: He never did.

NOVAK: Bob, let me -- let me...



Let's look at the politics of this. As you know, the polls show that after this big lead that Corzine had to begin with, it's tightening up right now. And you know, your candidate Mr. Corzine is so tongue-tied that he lost "The New York Times" endorsement in the primary when he fouled up in the session with the editorial board. Isn't that why Corzine refuses to debate Bob Franks?

SHRUM: First of all, they had four debates in the primary. He has challenged Bob Franks to have three statewide televised debates, and Franks keeps saying, no, no, no, I want to have 21 debates in 21 counties. Let's have four -- three debates televised now. Let's schedule them. Let's them go in front of the people.

But let me tell you something, Jon Corzine's argument -- argument to the people of New Jersey, Jon Corzine's argument to the people of New Jersey is that people want a prescription drug benefit, they want a patients' bill of rights...

NOVAK: All right. Well, you made your point...

SHRUM: ... and -- yes, and I'm going to continue to make one other point. The fact is that Bob Franks stood with Newt Gingrich and voted to cut Medicare by $270 billion. And you guys have double-talk way to try to get out of that.


GILLESPIE: Bob Shrum, let's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) facts (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on the table. There was not a single year in Congress that Bob Franks voted where the next year's spending on Medicare wasn't going to be higher than the existing year. And you know that's the facts.

SHRUM: But there were -- we had this argument before...

GILLESPIE: You know that's the facts.


SHRUM: But that's like...


No, I'm not moving on. I'm going to say it, because that is a false argument.

GILLESPIE: It is not a false argument.

SHRUM: That is like saying we can have the same budget...

GILLESPIE: It is a fact.

SHRUM: ... we had in 1930 and that wouldn't constitute a cut.

GILLESPIE: It is a fact.

SHRUM: In education spending it would, because there are more kids going to school. More seniors on Medicare.


NOVAK: We're going to move on to Pennsylvania, where the Republican senator, first-term senator, Rick Santorum is considered very vulnerable. Last poll I saw he's 20 points ahead of Congressman Klink, the Democratic senator. And what it is -- and I think, Bob, you and I can agree on some of these things. I think you'll agree that because Congressman Klink is pro-life and pro-gun that your people are cutting him in Pennsylvania, and that's what the Democratic Party is, if you don't pass the litmus test...

SHRUM: No. Actually, that's not true, and the truth is that are there are major fund-raisers across the country who are involved in raising money for Ron Klink.

You know, you guys keep wanting to talk about poll numbers, not issues. Rick Santorum is going to get in trouble in that race. He's going to get in trouble in that race because he's been against a patients' bill of rights, he's been against a prescription drug benefit under Medicare for seniors.

NOVAK: You...

SHRUM: I know, Bob, I have this disturbing habit of talking about issues.

NOVAK: Well, you -- that's the only issue you want to talk about.


GILLESPIE: Let's talk about another issues. Let's talk about...


... that it was Senator Rick Santorum who led the charge for a Social Security lockbox to keep Bill Clinton and the rest of the Democrats in Congress from raiding the Social Security trust fund for more wasteful Washington spending. And for that reason and that reason alone right now, because of Rick Santorum's efforts, that we have fenced off Social Security surplus money from wasteful Washington spending. That's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that's a fact.

SHRUM: Ed, you would cite almost anything. It's Bill Clinton who proposed a Social Security lockbox.

GILLESPIE: No, he didn't. No, he did not.

SHRUM: It certainly is.

GILLESPIE: He said he wanted to fence off 65 percent of it...


SHRUM: No, no. No. No, no.

And it's Bill Clinton...


... who wants to use the surplus for Social Security and Rick Santorum who wants to use it in a tax cut for the wealthy that will wreck the economy.

PRESS: Moving down the Eastern Seaboard to the Commonwealth of Virginia, Chuck Robb up in a tough fight. Everybody, I think, agrees that the -- we would agree he's maybe the most endangered Democrat. Tough fight against former Governor George Allen. But Robb's been underestimated before.

I remember, everybody said he was going to lose to Ollie North. If he beat Ollie North -- if he beat Ollie North, he sure can beat former Governor George Allen.

GILLESPIE: No, George Allen is a very strong candidate. He was the architect of the resurgence of Virginia. He's the one who pretty much started the notion that Virginia was going to be a high-tech capital just like Austin and just like Silicon Valley. The Dominion -- Silicon Dominion was partly his doing. And the fact is that he's very popular with the voters of Virginia. And he is going to win in November. And he's up five points right now, by all accounts.

PRESS: And he's already -- he's already been accused in the "Washington Post" editorial this week of distorting Robb's record on tax spending...

GILLESPIE: "Washington Post"?

PRESS: Yeah -- but...

GILLESPIE: Came out against the Republicans?

PRESS: ... distorting the record on tax cuts...

GILLESPIE: I'm shocked.

PRESS: ... distorting the record on abortion, distorting the record on military pay. And then yesterday, he says: I'm not going to the Senate to push for school vouchers. I mean, he's even turning offer the conservative supporters in that state, isn't he?

GILLESPIE: No -- well, I happen to be one of them who's a conservative. And I'm excited about Allen.

PRESS: Probably pro-voucher.

GILLESPIE: I am pro-voucher. And I'm excited about George Allen.

PRESS: He's not.

GILLESPIE: He's got plenty of things that I'm for that he's for. And I'm going to vote for him. And so are a lot of other people in Northern Virginia, which is supposed to be Chuck Robb's stronghold.

NOVAK: Bob Shrum, you know, he mentioned -- Bill mentioned the Ollie North race. Ollie North was opposed by Nancy Reagan. He was opposed by Senator John Warner. He was opposed by all the establishment people. None of those people are opposing George Allen. Chuck Robb is history, isn't he?

SHRUM: You know, Bob you told me with back in 1994: There was no way Chuck Robb could get reelected. You had a set of reasons then.

NOVAK: Did I tell you that? You got proof of that?

SHRUM: Yeah, you did. I think you told me on this show, actually. And the fact of the matter is that Chuck Robb is you one of the best candidates I've ever seen in the last couple of months of an election. He's very good. I think he's going carry this case and he's going to win.

NOVAK: You think he's Silky Sullivan, huh?

SHRUM: No, I don't think he's Silky Sullivan. I'll tell you what he is: He's a terrific senator who represents kind of Virginia values of fiscal conservatism while caring about investing in areas like education.

NOVAK: That's -- well, at least you didn't mention drugs.

We have got to take a...

SHRUM: I know, Bob, because I thought I would give you one- minute break.

NOVAK: Thank God. Thank God.

SHRUM: Don't worry, I'll come back to it.

NOVAK: We're going to take a -- we are going to take a break now.

And when we come back, we are going to talk about some more ferocious races: in Michigan, Missouri, and the great state of Delaware, if we have time.


NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

We are going over the hottest races for the U.S. Senate with two of the hottest politicians in Washington: Democrat Bob Shrum and Republican Ed Gillespie -- Bill.

PRESS: Let's move on to the battleground state of Michigan. Freshman Senator Spencer Abraham trying to get back in against Representative Debbie Stabenow -- battleground state also for Gore and Bush -- close race -- do you think the top of the ticket is going determine this Senate race, Ed?

GILLESPIE: I don't think it is. I think the top of the ticket, we are going carry Michigan, but I think that Spence Abraham is going to determine this race in the fact that he has been an effective legislator for Michigan. He's passed 12 bills in his own name since coming to Congress. And we have in him someone who has demonstrated his ability to win in Michigan, whereas Stabenow has run twice and lost statewide.

PRESS: But if Gore can really energize labor -- which it looks like he's doing more and more -- I mean, this is the Big Labor state. Doesn't that give the Stabenow the advantage?

GILLESPIE: It is a Big Labor state, but Spence Abraham is a very good campaigner. And he is aggressively going after rank-and-file union members. And I think he is going to get his fair share of them in November.

NOVAK: Bob Shrum, didn't Congresswoman Stabenow make a serious mistake when she allied herself with the know-nothing, racist, anti- immigration forces, referring to kind of an insult to the very substantial Arab-American minority of which Spence Abraham is a part?

SHRUM: What did she do, Bob?

NOVAK: She allied herself with this -- these terrible ads against him.


NOVAK: FAIR ads. SHRUM: Yeah, I think she has a position on immigration reform that I don't happen to agree with. But let me...

NOVAK: Well, I'm glad you said that. It was a mistake.

SHRUM: But let me tell you -- let me tell you something, it's a bigger mistake -- and Bob, you're going to get mad at me -- that Spence Abraham is wrong on prescription drugs, wrong on a patients' bill of rights, and voted to cut $270 billion from Medicare to finance a $270 billion tax cut for the wealthy.

GILLESPIE: But race-painting ads are OK?

SHRUM: The voters of Michigan -- I don't -- I think it is quite possible to disagree with the position of FAIR -- the people who call themselves immigration reform -- without assuming that the ads are race painting. I haven't seen the ads. I don't know what they say.


SHRUM: I think it is perfectly legitimate to take a position I don't agree with, which is that we should have less immigration in this country. I don't agree with that. But it's a legitimate position.

NOVAK: One of the meanest, nastiest, toughest races in the country is Missouri, where Governor Mel Carnahan -- supposedly a popular governor -- according to the polls, is running no better than even against Senator John Ashcroft. How is it possible that this is the outcome in what should be a Democratic state?

SHRUM: You know, you love celebrating races where it's sort of even, or you're only three behind or only 10 behind.

NOVAK: Well, they're not behind at all.


SHRUM: I'm talking about the races. I'm talking about the Corzine, where you're 10 behind.


SHRUM: No, he's not.

GILLESPIE: Yes, he is.

SHRUM: No, he's not. He's 10 behind according to the latest Penn, Schoen poll. But let me tell you something, Hillary Clinton...


SHRUM: Mel Carnahan is going to do a very effective job in that state and in that race. And I think he's going to win. And he's going to win because John Ashcroft is one of the most reactionary members of the U.S. Senate... NOVAK: He's against prescription drugs.

SHRUM: ... has consistently voted against working families. I'll give you another one. He was against the Department of Education.

NOVAK: So am I.

SHRUM: He would like to close down the Department of -- I know, Bob, and you couldn't get elected in almost any state in America.

NOVAK: Well, you're right no that.

PRESS: OK. Just moving on again, we've got to go to Delaware. Delaware, little state, but we've got a lot of big interest in Delaware, both me and Bob. Bill Roth up for his sixth term, Ed -- sixth term -- he's already 78 -- going to the well just one two many times against Governor Tom Carper in this race?

GILLESPIE: Absolutely not. This is not Tom Carper's time. The fact is that Senator Roth has a proven track record. Look, everybody knows the guy's name is in the dictionary -- Roth IRAs -- because of his effectiveness as a legislator. You know what, this -- the United States Senate was made for a state like Delaware.

And they are going to keep the person who is responsible for the Senate Finance Committee and chairing that, and who's responsible for Medicare allocations, taxes, and policy in terms of trade, which is very important to a state that's on the border like -- that's on the coast like that.

NOVAK: You know, Bob, I'm a voter in Fenwick Island, Delaware, only for local elections.

SHRUM: You moved?

NOVAK: No, no. I can vote in local elections.

SHRUM: I thought you were a Democrat registered in the District of Columbia so you could mess up the Democratic Party.

NOVAK: In the District of Columbia, yes. But I can vote in the local elections.

PRESS: I think we just got him, he's voting in two places.


NOVAK: It is legal.

SHRUM: This is Labor Day, but you're voting overtime.

NOVAK: I can't vote...

GILLESPIE: He's registered as a Democrat, I thought it was mandatory. NOVAK: I can't vote for the Senate, but you know, all my friends in Delaware, people in Delaware told me, don't worry, the old man, Bill Roth is going to win this election, and you know, all the polls showed him so far behind and, you know, like the -- what is the...

PRESS: The Energizer bunny.

NOVAK: The Energizer bunny, he's moving slowly up piece by piece...

PRESS: That's the hare, or the tortoise.

NOVAK: The hare and the tortoise -- the tortoise...


SHRUM: I was going to say, was he going to put on a pink rabbit suit?

NOVAK: No, the tortoise is moving up. You wouldn't bet against Chairman Roth being -- coming back in -- next year, would you?

SHRUM: Sure I would, Bob. And let me tell you something, I think you invite too small a sample of people to your house to talk to you about this. I don't think you talked -- and you are also in a neighborhood where there's probably a lot more support for Bill Roth.

PRESS: Quickly, Florida, impeachment manager Bill McCollum up against insurance commissioner Bill Nelson. The impeachment managers have scheduled a fund raiser in Washington on October 4 with Ken Starr as their featured speaker.

Is that the kiss of death for Bill McCollum and all the rest of them?

GILLESPIE: No, not at all. Bill McCollum is a strong candidate with a strong record also in the House of Representatives on crime and on -- in judicial matters. The fact is...

PRESS: How about prescription drugs?

GILLESPIE: Yes, yes. The fact is here's a state where the Democrat, Bill Nelson has already sought statewide office and holds statewide office now. You know what? Both of those candidates are in the 30s right now, and that's bad for Bill Nelson because no one outside his own congressional district knows Bill McCollum, they all know Bill Nelson.

SHRUM: Bill Nelson has a pretty big lead in Florida, I think he'll hold the lead. But you know, Nelson has a record to take into this election that I think working families, middle-class families in Florida really respond to. He became insurance commissioner after Hurricane Andrew basically wiped out the insurance market in that state, he re-established it and he took on big insurance companies to hold down rates. That's exactly what people want in a Florida senator, come up here and get somebody who will say no to the HMOs, no to the pharmaceutical companies, no to big oil.


NOVAK: And get prescription drugs, and get prescription drugs.

SHRUM: Absolutely, Bob.

PRESS: All right, we didn't even have time yet for the close race in California. We'll have to have you back. Ed Gillespie, Bob Shrum, thanks for being here.

SHRUM: Feinstein is going to win.

PRESS: Happy Labor Day.

GILLESPIE: Campbell.


PRESS: All right, when we come back Bob and I will tell you the truth in our closing comments.


NOVAK: Bill, theoretically the Democrats can gain control of the Senate, but the cards have to break really in their way at all these very close races, which they usually don't in a -- when the electorate is divided. And I tell you something, I love Bob Shrum, but I don't think that prescription drugs is going to create a landslide for a Democratic takeover of the Senate.

PRESS: Maybe not in every seat, Bob, but maybe in a couple. But like you, I didn't think the Senate was in play until poor Paul Coverdell dies, Zell Miller now, it's down to four. But, Bob, if you look at those four, Florida, Delaware, Missouri, Michigan, maybe Rhode Island, it's doable, Bob.

NOVAK: Yes, but that -- they win -- the Republicans win Nevada, which we didn't talk about, I think they're going to win Virginia. I'd be very surprised -- it's possible, but uphill.

PRESS: If I were Trent Lott, I wouldn't count on it yet.

From the left, I'm Bill Press, good night for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak, and all my fellow laborers, have a happy Labor Day.



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