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Inside Politics

Bush Addresses GOP Jitters About Campaign; Gore Continues Assault on Opposition's Tax Cut Plan

Aired September 7, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET



GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Sometime, when times get tough, people get a little nervous. But that's OK. That's OK.


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: In between speeches on military readiness, George W. Bush confronts GOP jitters about the readiness of his campaign. Al Gore keeps cranking out criticism of Bush's tax-cut plan. Does that issue mean everything to the Gore machine?



THOMAS MENINO, BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS MAYOR: It gives us real new meaning to the phrase: Boston chicken.


WOODRUFF: A dig at Bush in Bean Town after he apparently spoiled the city's plans to host a presidential debate.

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS, with Bernard Shaw and Judy Woodruff.

WOODRUFF: Thanks you for joining us. Bernie is off today.

We begin with George W. Bush's acknowledgement that some of his fellow Republicans are expressing anxiety about his performance on the stump and in the polls. In the process, Bush managed to take some of the focus away from his big photo-op and message of the day.

Our Candy Crowley has more now on Bush's remarks and what's next for his campaign.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Struggling to get his groove back, George Bush campaigned with the reinforcement of Gulf War heroes. BUSH: The general talked about being retired from public service. If all goes well...

CROWLEY: But all does not go well. And some Republicans are openly complaining that the Bush campaign is fumbling.

BUSH: Washington: That's the people where you find people getting ready to jump out of the foxhole before the first shell is fired.

CROWLEY: But even as he suggests nothing is wrong, Bush is moving to correct it.

BUSH: Well, I may go more alpha male coming down the stretch.

CROWLEY: Presumably that's a joke, but Bush has become progressively more aggressive as the race has tightened. And the campaign says it's serious about trying to put Bush into less formal settings: lighter on the rallies, heavier on conversations with voters. Bush calls it putting faces on policy.

BUSH: It's a better picture, Dave. You know, when I come back on the back of the airplane and speak to you on the airplane, people don't get a sense of my ability to relate to people.

CROWLEY: Republican critics also worry that the debate over debates is working against Bush, because Al Gore is suggesting that Bush is afraid to debate. The governor now seems poised to find a way out.

BUSH: There will be debates. I'm confident that there will be debates. As to what they look like and where they are, it will be worked out in due course.

CROWLEY: Even without the friendly-fire from his own party, fall has brought a noticeable chill across Bush's once white-hot campaign. But the candidate says it's really only reality setting in.

BUSH: I'm under no illusions, and neither should our supporters be. It's going to be a tough contest.

CROWLEY (on camera): Staffers insist Bush is best as a challenger. And his Texas-centric campaign team says: At about this time in '94, during the governor's race in Texas, George Bush was trailing a popular and powerful incumbent, Ann Richards, who is now the former governor.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Dayton, Ohio.


WOODRUFF: As for Al Gore, the Teamsters Union tells CNN that its General Executive Board unanimously voted this afternoon to endorse him for president. As you might expect, the Gore campaign says the vice president is pleased to get the Teamsters' backing. For months, the one-and-a-half-million-member union had balked at endorsing Gore because of his stands on free trade.

But the union's spokesman says several of the group's concerns have been answered since the Democratic Convention. An official announcement of the endorsement is expected a week-and-a-half from now in Las Vegas.

On the campaign trail today, Gore continued to zero in on economic issues.

CNN's Jonathan Karl is on the road with Gore.


AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to fight for you. I want to fight for Pennsylvania, for your future. God bless you!

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hitting his campaign groove in Northeastern Pennsylvania, Vice President Gore continued his assault on George W. Bush's tax-cut proposal.

GORE: I will not go along with any plan to take the entire surplus and squander it on a big tax cut for the very wealthy at expense of the middle class, when we need to use it to keep our prosperity and progress going.

KARL: The Gore campaign tried to turn the debate on military readiness into a debate on taxes, issuing a statement saying Bush's -- quote -- "priorities are clear on his budget: He squanders the surplus on a massive tax cut and devotes a pittance to national defense."

Aides say it's a line to be repeated issue after issue. One senior aide called tax cuts the -- quote -- "everything issue," leaving no money for priorities, ranging from education to prescription drugs to military hardware. In a full-page "New York Times" ad the Bush campaign calls a fantasy, the Gore campaign claims Bush's tax and spending proposals would overspend the surplus by more than one-trillion dollars.

The biggest item, aside from taxes, was nearly one-trillion dollars Gore says Bush's Social Security plan would cost.

GORE: That's just wrong. And when you ask, where does that trillion dollars come from, where does it show up in your budget? How come you won't give the answer to that until after the election?

KARL: The Bush campaign says the money to finance the governor's plans on Social Security will come from the payroll taxes that finance the program.

(on camera): The Gore campaign plans to venture into enemy territory tomorrow, dispatching Joe Lieberman to Houston, where he will continue the campaign's assault on Governor Bush's record on children's health care in Texas.

Jonathan Karl, CNN, Carbondale, Pennsylvania.


WOODRUFF: Our new poll suggests that Gore may be gaining some support in what remains essentially a neck-and-neck presidential race. Gore leads Bush by three points in the CNN/"Usa Today" Gallup tracking poll of likely voters. Gore was a point behind Bush in a similar survey nearly two weeks ago.

Well, our Bill Schneider is here now.

Bill, this is the first installment of what we're going to be doing on a regular basis. First of all, refresh our memories. How does a tracking poll work?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Judy, the Gallup organization is interviewing at least 250 likely voters every day from now until election day. And we'll be reporting to you the results of the latest three-day sample every day here on INSIDE POLITICS.

WOODRUFF: Now, is there anything we should be careful about when we look at these tracking-poll results?

SCHNEIDER: Yes there is: Changes from one day to the next in a tracking poll can be erratic. A tracking poll is most useful for looking at trends over the course of a week or more. And we'll be doing just exactly like that for the rest of the campaign.

WOODRUFF: So what about today's results? What do you see anything that's interesting?

SCHNEIDER: Well, you know, press critics say an election should not be covered like a horse race. But you know what? This is horse race. Is Bush collapsing? Well, he has slipped since the conventions. But there's no evidence here that Gore has opened up a solid lead. As they say at the races: It is neck-and-neck.

Now what's behind it? Gender wars. Men are voting for Bush by an 18-point margin. Among women, Gore leads by 24 points. Why? My guess is, it's the issues. In his big speech this week, Gore promised to secure and extend the safety net. In his big speech this week, Bush said he would promote competition in the Medicare program. Words like safety net and competition trigger a gender war.

WOODRUFF: Any other big differences that you see?

SCHNEIDER: Well, here's one: Take a look at the age differences in the vote. Bush does best among young voters. Middle-aged voters are split. Seniors are giving Al Gore his lead. What's behind it? Same thing: Young voters don't trust government. They trust the market. They have confidence in their ability to manage their own futures. Seniors rely on the safety net. They oppose Bush's plan to allow workers to invest some of their Social Security tax money.

Younger workers say: Hey, that's a good idea, dude. WOODRUFF: Now, what about -- and you use that word all the time.

SCHNEIDER: Of course.

WOODRUFF: What about the debate over the debates? Does this poll -- do these polls tell us about anything who's winning that?

SCHNEIDER: Well, it gives us an interesting clue. One-quarter of the voters told us they expect the debates to make a lot of difference in deciding how they are going to vote for president this year. And people who give that answer tend to be the swing voters. How are they voting right now?

Those who say debates are a deciding factor give Gore a 20-point lead. I think that's a good indication that Bush is losing the debate over the debates.

WOODRUFF: All right, Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

And now joining us now with his "Reporter's Notebook" is Bob Novak of the "Chicago Sun Times."

Bob, I'm turning to you. What is the reaction you are hearing in the Bush camp about his falling off in the polls?

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": Believe it or not, tremendous relief that he's only three or four points behind, depending on which poll you look on.

There was a tremendous fear among Republicans -- leading to the panic that I discovered just a few days ago -- that this would be a double-digit Gore lead when it came out today. That's because the first poll came out a week where "Newsweek" had a 10-point lead. And then there was a report of one of the polls tracking -- not Gallup -- one had an 11-point lead.

So when they say it's really close within the margin of error, they are relieved. Now, was there a panic in Republican ranks? Down in Austin, they say no. I guess it depends what your definition of panic is. It looked like panic to me, and a lot of and relief that it is still that close. But there is a lot of discontent, Judy, with the way Governor Bush is campaigning.

A lot of people feel that he didn't present a very, very good Medicare plan very well, that he is not pushing the tax cut issue effectively, while Gore, with his position, Vice President Gore is hitting very hard on all the issues.

So there's a lot of feeling that -- and I hear this from people inside the Gore campaign -- that the governor has to push a little bit more on Republican issues, and in attacking big government by Al Gore.

WOODRUFF: When you say inside the Gore campaign, you mean inside the Bush campaign.

NOVAK: I mean inside the Bush campaign, I'm sorry. Yes. WOODRUFF: Now what about this whole controversy over the debates, what are you hearing about that?

NOVAK: Well, that -- there's a lot of Republican complaint, and again, even some inside the Bush campaign, that this has been mishandled. You don't win debates on debates.

A lot of people feel that Governor Bush had just gone right ahead into a debate plan, and really he needed a debate after the Democratic Convention, some kind of short debate before the Olympics in September takes over the country's attention.

There was a rumor, again, I got this from Republicans, that there was going to be two debates plus "Meet the Press" on Tuesday night. That was going to be the compromise.

Not true, the Gore people just are not going to buy the "Meet the Press" option on Tuesday. But there will be debates, but it will not come until after the Olympics, and some Republicans think that's a mistake -- a tactical mistake on Bush's part. He needs a boost right now.

WOODRUFF: All right, and finally: Congress. What do we expect in this final days of the session?

NOVAK: It's going to be politics, politics and more politics: who's going to get the advantage.

The most interesting thing that I have heard is on the so-called patients' bill of rights, the Democrats' version, which is an HMO reform bill, a health care bill.

It's been -- the vote in the Senate, right now, if everybody votes as they did before, will be 50 to 50. That's because Republican Paul Coverdell of Georgia died, replaced by Democrat Zell Miller; a 50 to 50 vote, and guess who will cast that deciding vote in favor of the Democratic plan? Al Gore, as vice president of the United States.

Think of the publicity he gets. So that Republican leadership is desperately trying to get a couple of the Republicans who are voting for it, not up for re-election, not to vote for it.

Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, they're trying to get, and Senator Fitzgerald of Illinois. If they can get those, they defeat it, and they don't give this big boost to Al Gore.

WOODRUFF: To the vice president.


WOODRUFF: All right, Bob Novak, it's always a treat. Thanks a lot.

And still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, snubbed by George W. Bush: Boston's reaction to the debate controversy.


WOODRUFF: As the wrangling over the presidential debates continues, residents of Boston are watching closely.

The reason: George W. Bush has so far declined the invitation to debate there. And that, our Bill Delaney reports, could have some negative repercussions.


BILL DELANEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As it turns out, if you're George W. Bush, you can run for president and you can, apparently, hide from the people of the good city of Boston.

Refusing the debate with Al Gore there the Commission on Presidential Debates had hoped for; for which Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has an explanation.

His carefully honed theory why the governor won't give in:

MENINO: He gives us real new meaning to the phrase Boston chicken.

DELANEY: A bite at Bush from an admittedly partisan politician who, like most voters in Massachusetts, does support Al Gore.

Still, the new $15 billion traffic tunnel they're building in downtown Boston is far from the biggest dig in town these days.

DAVID NYHAN, "BOSTON GLOBE": Apparently his advisers feel that he will have trouble standing up under tough grilling. He has some problems with his language. He mispronounces words like bureaucracy, or peacemaker becomes pacemaker, bureaucracy becomes burrowcracy, and he is not a polished performer.

DELANEY: The Bush campaign says declining the debate in Boston has nothing to do with hostile turf. It is a geographic decision.

KAREN HUGHES, BUSH CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: In all fairness, there should be a commission debate, and that one -- we picked Missouri, rather than either of the other two locations, and the reason was quite simple: that Missouri was the one that was left out last time.

DELANEY: Trouble is, ornery Boston is not accepting being left out this time. Work continues at the University of Massachusetts, as if an October debate there were undebatable.

JANET BROWN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, PRESIDENTIAL COMMISSION ON DEBATES: The preparations here are well in hand, and the only thing I would like to say in addition to that is how grateful we are to everybody at the University of Massachusetts.

DELANEY: Plans continue also at the John F. Kennedy library, right next door to the University of Massachusetts in Boston, for forums connected to the debate. But will Bush pay a price if he's a no-show in Boston?

Well, there is a price...

(on camera): ... to taxpayers here in Massachusetts, who, after all, fund the state university, and whose money, so far, has paid for at least $200,000 in spending on the prospective debate; numbers not likely to raise George W. Bush's numbers in Massachusetts.

(voice-over): Still, tough. Does all this matter to voters far from the left-leaning bay state? The mayor says it should.

MENINO: You're running for president of the United States. Make those decisions to go everywhere in America. It's all about, you know, the character of George W. Bush.

DELANEY: Which is debatable, unlike the fact that George Bush has dug himself quite a hole in Boston.

Bill Delaney, CNN, Boston.


WOODRUFF: And much more ahead on this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. Still to come:


CHRIS BLACK, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Republicans are losing their battle to bury the estate tax and cancel the marriage penalty. But they say they're winning a campaign issue.


WOODRUFF: Our Chris Black on the Capitol Hill battle for election year credit.

Plus, tuning in to the key races and the ad wars, with Stu Rothenberg, Charlie Cook and David Peeler.

And later, the latest sign of the economic times.


WOODRUFF: We'll have more of this day's political news coming up, but now a look at some other top stories.

The Justice Department is studying whether Bridgestone/Firestone violated any criminal or civil laws in the way it reported problems with its tires. Attorney General Janet Reno says her department will investigate to see if the government needs to take action against the tire manufacturer.


JANET RENO, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: We've received a request from Senator Leahy to look into the matter, and we're reviewing that request to see what, if any, federal action by the Justice Department is warranted. We are discussing the matter with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has primary regulatory responsibility, and we're considering what, if any, statutes apply.


WOODRUFF: For the past several days, Justice officials have denied being involved in any review of Bridgestone/Firestone.

Effects are being seen in France from the fuel cost protest. Truckers have blockaded fuel depots and seaports. They've been joined by farmers and taxi drivers, also angry at rising prices. The protest is causing a fuel shortage in France. And this has slowed transportation and the delivery of merchandise. The government has warned protesters that they are endangering the country's safety.

The United Nations Security Council has endorsed changes to its peacekeeping operations. The council voted to strengthen the training of peacekeeping soldiers and to raise the commitment of troops by individual nations. The resolution affirms the council's determination to enhance U.N. peacekeeping -- quote -- "by adopting clearly defined, credible, achievable, and appropriate mandates," end quote.

Peace in the Middle East is the subject of CNN interview tonight with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak face a September 13 peace deadline. The Arafat interview, conducted by Christiane Amanpour, airs on CNN's "THE WORLD TODAY" at 8:00 Eastern to this evening.

Retail giant Kmart says that it will start carding adolescents who are buying violent video and computer games. Kids younger than 17 will not be allowed to buy games with an M, or mature rating. The move is in response to a request by the U.S. Senate.


SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R), KANSAS: We applaud and we commend Kmart's decision to protect kids from M-rated video games, the same as they would protect them from buying alcohol or tobacco. It is a decision worthy of celebration.


WOODRUFF: Kmart says it may take several weeks to implement the new policy.

A citywide teachers' walkout in Buffalo, New York cancels what would have been the second day of class for almost 50,000 students. Teachers went on strike this morning, after union leaders rejected a contract offer by the Board of Education. Wages and benefits are among the sticking points.

Government medical experts say they still don't know what causes Gulf War Syndrome. A new study by the Institute of Medicine couldn't link the illness with exposure to sarin gas, depleted uranium, or anthrax and botulism vaccines.


HAROLD SOX JR., INSTITUTE OF MEDICINE: Now, when it comes to the long-term effects of these substance, the bottom line is that we simply don't know enough to say whether there is a connection between exposure to these agents or combinations of these agents and specific health outcomes that remain long after the time of exposure.


WOODRUFF: Tens of thousands of Gulf War veterans complain of symptoms, including joint pain and chronic fatigue.

And coming up on INSIDE POLITICS, congressional Republicans lose a battle, but vow to win the war on Election Day.


WOODRUFF: Today, George W. Bush once again hammered the administration on the issue of military readiness, with retired Generals Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf at his side.

As Jamie McIntyre reports says, the Pentagon is fighting back, pointing out the flaws in the Bush argument.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Flanked by a phalanx of retired four-stars, including joint chiefs chairman Colin Powell and Desert Storm commander, Norm Schwarzkopf, George W. Bush redoubled his frontal assault on the Clinton/gore administration's stewardship of the U.S. military.

BUSH: The signs are disturbing. Recruitment goals aren't being met. We're short of equipment. We got people on food stamps. Less than two hours after Bush left the stage, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon, an administration appointee, was returning fire, arguing Bush once again had his facts wrong. Recruiting is on an upswing in the last couple of months. The service has exceeded their recruiting goals. The good news is that the percentage of force on food stamps is far less today than it was when President Bush was president and Secretary Cheney was the secretary of state defense.

MCINTYRE: Bush played to the administration's strength in calling for reforms the Pentagon could say were already under way.

BUSH: Our military future for the future must be easier to move, harder to find, more lethal and will, must be able to strike longer distances in short times.

KEN BACON, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: We are doing all of that. We think that it's good that Governor Bush wants to continue these programs. MCINTYRE: Colin Powell criticized the administration for troop cuts he approved when he was chairman during President's Clinton first time in 1993.

COLIN POWELL, FMR. CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Before they considered a single member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during the campaign of 1992, they just said cut it another 200,000 and cut the budget.


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: As I understand it, you signed off on this 200,000-troop reduction.

POWELL: But I didn't -- that's right -- but they kept going below that. And what I didn't sign off on was the fact that they didn't fund it to the level that they needed to fund it.


MCINTYRE (on camera): The Pentagon can't deny that its forces are stretched and it's suffering some readiness problems. But Governor Bush keeps citing examples that don't quite make the case: such as claiming a Navy ship had to cut short its training because of a lack of fuel, while the Navy says the ship simply finished and returned to port to save some money and give the sailors a break.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.


WOODRUFF: And INSIDE POLITICS back in a moment with much more.


WOODRUFF: Well, on Capitol Hill today, the House failed to override President Clinton's veto of a bill to repeal the estate tax.

But as CNN's Chris Black reports, many Republicans who voted for the override are hoping that, come election day, they will be winners, anyway.


SEN. DICK ARMEY (R), TEXAS: The bill is rejected.

BLACK (voice-over): Republicans are losing their battle to bury the estate tax and cancel the marriage penalty, but they say they are winning a campaign issue.

SEN. PETE DOMENICI (R), NEW MEXICO: The two bills he vetoed, they are gone. We just have to campaign on them.

BLACK: Next week, Republicans will try again to override the president's veto of repeal of the marriage penalty tax. They want to keep focusing public attention on the tax cuts, hoping the issue will ultimately keep them in control of Congress.

REP. TOM DELAY (R), MAJORITY WHIP: People are mad that he vetoed this: more mad that he vetoed the death tax than they are made over the marriage penalty, because they know how unfair a tax it is.

BLACK: And they will emphasize that charge of unfairness as they fight to hold on to their 11-seat majority in the House. The Congressman in charge of getting Republicans elected says the tax-cut message has wide appeal.

REP. TOM DAVIS (R), VIRGINIA: It's part of a winning formula. And it's one that makes a difference to a lot people who are living paycheck to paycheck.

BLACK: The tax issue is already hitting the airways on the campaign trail, from Michigan to the Virginia Senate race, where Virginia Republicans are making this charge against incumbent Democrat, Chuck Robb:


NARRATOR: Chuck Robb calls himself a fiscal conservative -- typical Robb-speak. Robb voted seven times to continue the marriage tax penalty.


BLACK: Robb has taken to the air to deny the charge. Repealing the marriage penalty, ending the estate tax: All are components of the massive tax package President Clinton vetoed last year. Republicans now say it's easier to sell bite-size pieces, unlike the huge tax cut offered by GOP presidential candidate George W. Bush.

But Democrats say the public is not buying tax cuts of any size.

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: I was in St. Louis going door-to-door last weekend and the weekend before. I did not have one constituent bring up the estate tax. They did bring up prescription medicine. They did bring up patients' bill of rights. They did bring up education. They did bring up the minimum wage increase. They did not bring this up. So this is a manufactured issue.


BLACK: Still, tax cuts are popular enough that Democrats have come up with their own more modest versions of the marriage penalty and estate tax breaks. But on these issues, Republicans are pushing all for nothing -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Chris Black at the Capitol, thanks.

Well, now, the big picture of the fight for control of Congress. I spoke just a short while ago with CNN political analyst Stu Rothenberg and Charlie Cook. I began by asking them how the battle for the House looks overall. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STUART ROTHENBERG, "ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": Well, Judy, I haven't changed my mind really on the House. There are not a lot of seats in play, but there are enough, if the Democrats hit most of their opportunities, I think still think the Democrats are going to pick up a handful of seats in the House, anywhere from a low of three or four, to as many as seven or eight. So I think the House is in balance.

CHARLES COOK, "NATIONAL JOURNAL": I would say a 50/50 shot.

WOODRUFF: For the Democrats.

COOK: Yeah. Fifty -- or fifty -- that control will switch.


COOK: This is so close. And it's going to be down to the last dozen or so seats. And, you know, you can say that the thing is so close that the presidential race may impact on it. Or maybe it's just a random outcome of, you know, in a dozen races of who said something stupid the week before the election, or ran the best ad, or had the best phone banks. But this thing is going to be a photo finish.

WOODRUFF: All right. That is the House. The Senate: There's a number of really interesting races, four of them particular close. Let's talk about them.

Stu, Minnesota.

ROTHENBERG: Well, this a race the Democrats still have to pick up a nominee in the primary that is coming up shortly. The frontrunner on there side is Mark Dayton. And a few weeks ago -- few months ago -- that name produced more laughs than nods. He is a veteran office-holder of the state. But he was widely regarded as kind of old hat and passe. He leads for the Democratic nomination.

And in one recent poll, he was leading Senator Rod Grams in a general election ballot. Grams' campaign has continued to have some problems: question about staffers. The polling doesn't look good. I still consider this to be a major Republican headache. And for sometime I have said that Senator Grams is probably the most vulnerable Republican senator up for election. I continue to believe that is the case.

COOK: Remember the old comedian, Henny Youngman? He used to say -- somebody would say, "How is your wife?" And he would say, "Compared to what?"

I mean, you look at Rod Grams, and he is so vulnerable. You look at him and say: Gosh, this guy can't possibly get reelected. And then you look over at the Democratic field, and it's a very weak field. And so I am not quite as sure about this as Stu is. I -- I mean, I think it's going to be a very close race. And I -- you know, it's like -- but it's -- you keep looking around, saying: Where is the winner here? And I can't find one.

ROTHENBERG: I think when I talk to people, they say that Mark Dayton is one guy that Rod Grams might be able to beat. But even that is not a sure thing.

WOODRUFF: All right, let move on to Michigan.

Charlie, another Republican who may be in trouble.

COOK: Spence Abraham, a freshman Republican Senator. The Democrat is Debbie Stabenow. Most of the polls last spring and early summer were showing Stabenow either even or ahead of Senator Abraham who just hadn't left a clear impression. Voters didn't have any sense of who he was or what he had done.

Abraham has done a very substantial television buy over the summer. And Stabenow is kind of holding her money back. And she hasn't gone up heavily yet, so that Abraham has kind of pulled ahead. And Republicans are starting to feel more confident about it. I think that may be premature. My guess is that when she goes back on the air, this race is going to tighten right back up, and it's going to be one of the closest of the evening.

ROTHENBERG: Well, Abraham certainly got a bump from the advertising, we just have to see whether it's a short-term bump, or a Gore-like bump that lasts.

He has a financial advantage over Debbie Stabenow. That could prove significant over the final couple months. It's certainly a very close race -- competitive race. It's a concern for the Republicans.

WOODRUFF: Charlie, that obscure open Senate seat in New York?

COOK: You know, a lot of times you'll see a lot of factors out there and the question is: How much weight do you put behind each factor?

You know, for every person who -- you know, for every six people that like Mrs. Clinton, there are five that hate her, and it's just so polarizing, so controversial -- she carries such huge negatives. You look at her and say, against a relatively non-controversial candidate, how could she possibly win?

But then you look over at Rick Lazio and, I think there's sort of a question of does he have the stature, that -- New Yorkers have -- I can say this, I'm not from New York -- a somewhat out-sized view of themselves and their state, and they expect their senators to be sort of Titans.

I mean, even Alfonse D'Mato, in his own way, was sort of a larger-than-life figure, and Rick Lazio, I mean, he's a good Congressman, but he comes across as sort of an enthusiastic young puppy that jumps in your lap and licks your cheeks.

And the thing is, is that what they see in a Senator? I think this thing is going to be an extremely close race. ROTHENBERG: Yes, I don't think Lazio has had a particularly good last month or month and a half, that he's hanging right there in the polls.

I think Mrs. Clinton needs to get up very close to 50 percent of the vote by the time election day rolls around or she's going to lose. I don't know if she's going to do that; she may.

WOODRUFF: Ten people undecided in New York.

COOK: But they're an important 10 people.

WOODRUFF: They're an important 10 people.


COOK: To play off of something Stu said, the reason is that she's not likely to get many undecided voters, that's why.

WOODRUFF: All right, we made that point.

Finally, Virginia, Stu?

ROTHENBERG: Well, the most recent poll that came out, a "Post" poll, shows George Allen up by a handful, maybe a half-dozen points, the Republicans have the race.

WOODRUFF: He's the Republican challenger?

ROTHENBERG: Yes, he -- George Allen, Republican challenger against Chuck Robb. The Republicans have the race to a larger margin, the Democrats have consistently had it much narrower, just a couple points in the -- separating Allen and Robb.

Allen's cash-on-hand advantage has weakened somewhat. There is a Virginia Republican Party ad that's really a Republican Senate Committee ad that I'm not thrilled with in Virginia. I think it's a little heavy handed, and I think the Allen people have to worry about being too negative too soon.

But if Allen doesn't make any mistakes, then George Allen is going to beat Chuck Robb.

I think it's uphill for Robb. It's not impossible.

WOODRUFF: Charlie, quickly.

COOK: I wouldn't go quite that far. I mean, I think Robb's got three different areas, education, the transportation issues and the environment, that they're hoping they can find a silver bullet in there in Allen's record as governor that Allen didn't do enough by, sort of, what people would expect in the year 2000. But it's going to be a great race, and, I think, very close.

WOODRUFF: Charlie Cook, Stu Rothenberg, thank you both. And now, a closer look at the ads in that Virginia Senate race between Chuck Robb and George Allen. The latest spot is a State Democratic Party ad defending Robb, a response to a State Republican Party ad criticizing Robb's record on a number of issues.


NARRATOR: Chuck Robb calls himself a fiscal conservative. Typical Robb-speak.

Robb voted seven times to continue the marriage tax penalty. Raised taxes on Social Security recipients struggling to make ends meet. Pushed a radical new gas tax of 50 cents per gallon and called eliminating the car tax irresponsible.



NARRATOR: Isn't it sad how some politicians twist the facts and take votes out of context? Take George Allen. He says Chuck Robb is against ending the marriage penalty. Not true.

Robb voted six times to end the tax; and the Social Security vote, it was actually a budget bill needed to strengthen Medicare. The gas tax Allen Refers to, Robb is now against. It was proposed seven years ago after the Gulf War to protect American soldiers. Tell George Allen to tell the truth and give us all the facts.


WOODRUFF: And joining us now, David Peeler of Competitive Media Reporting.

Hi David.


WOODRUFF: First of all tell us, how much are the state parties in Virginia spending in this race?

PEELER: Well, Judy, the bulk of the media spending, so far, has been by the two parties.

We've seen the Republican party in the state of Virginia spend about $750,000. We've seen the Democrats counter that recently with about $440,000.

So the bulk of the spending has been by the two parties, and what's interesting here is that the bulk of that spending -- or all of that spending, has been on negative attack ads.

So the two parties are kind of mirroring what we're seeing on a national level, where the parties go out and spend against the negative, try and pound the opponent, and the individual candidates will then come in and try and get their message out.

We've seen it again in the state of Virginia. George Allen, the only one on air so far from a candidate level, spending $550,000. So far, we've not seen Chuck Robb on air with his own dollars. We expect that he's keeping his powder dry at this point.

But as we get down into the election season, we'll see them spent.

WOODRUFF: All right, let's look a little further north to another race. On Tuesday, Rhode Island voters will choose a Democratic to face Republican Lincoln Chafee in the race for his late father's Senate seat. The bitter battle between former Lieutenant governor Richard Licht and Congressman Bob Weygand has focused on a number of issues, including abortion and prescription drug coverage.


NARRATOR: Bob Weygand is headed in the wrong direction. His prescription drug plan would make his seniors pay a 50 percent co- payment.



NARRATOR: Weygand says we can't afford more, but he voted to spend billions on Star Wars and space stations.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: False attacks, lobbying, cronyism. Richard Licht is just politics as usual -- at its worst.


WOODRUFF: All right, David Peeler, how much are these candidates spending in this primary?

PEELER: Judy, this is interesting, they are spending a tremendous a amount of money. Licht has spent so far $600,000. Weygand has spent about $540,000. All of it on very negative attack ad campaigning.

Now what is interesting here from a tactical standpoint is that both of these candidates have the primary on Tuesday. One will come out as a winner. However, because of the negative ads that is going out, they're go ti have to overcome some very, very high negatives as they face Chafee in the general election. They're going to have to spend a tremendous amount of money to overcome what Chafee has been able to do, which is to spend a little bit of money, but all in a positive way, because he's had the Rhode Island Republican Party spending for him. So this will be a very interesting tactical race watch. WOODRUFF: And all that in the little state of Rhode Island.

Well, before we go, David, what are the latest ad spending numbers in the presidential race?

PEELER: Well, this is the one that we all want to watch. We've seen George Bush spend about $6 million over the last several weeks, including, on top of that, $3.5 million spent by the Republican National Committee. That's in the same 21 states that we've seen him spending on since the conventions.

Let's take a look at some of the individual states, because I think here is where the stories will become interesting as the elections unfolds. In Florida, we've seen Bush and the Republican National Committee combine to spend a million dollars in that state. And let's remember now if you assume that California and New York go to the Democrats, that Florida is a must-win state.

So clearly, George Bush is spending some money in that state. In Pennsylvania, 2 million combined between the Bush party spending. In the state of Washington, which used to be in the Democratic column, that's a competitive state, $890, 000 just in the last few weeks. So this is a very, very extensive tactical media campaign.

Gore and the Democratic National Committee has countered with $4.2 million for gore, $2 million dollars for the DNC. If we take a look at some of those same states, in Florida, Gore is the only one on air. We haven't seen any DNC spending, but that's about $430,000. In Pennsylvania, again, the competitive state, $1.3 million in combined party and Gore spending. And in Washington, $590,000. So you know, what we are going to see as we move toward November is a very, very tight tactical race in some of these battleground states.

And I think what's going to be interesting from a media perspective here is in the next couple of weeks you will have the Olympics on air, you are going to have a lot of clutter in the media landscape, and it's going to be hard for the candidates to get through all of that and get their message out. So I think advertising is going to play a very crucial role, particularly in the early going here, in trying to move some of the poll numbers, because it's going to be hard to break through.

WOODRUFF: Interesting. In each one of those states, you mentioned Bush outspending Gore.

All right, David Peeler, thanks a lot.

PEELER: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: And up next, counting down the national debt, saying goodbye to a campaign standard.


WOODRUFF: While George Bush was on the campaign trail today attacking the administration's defense policy, some of his own policies in Texas have come under scrutiny.

Eileen O'Connor checks the facts and the arguments over children and health care in Texas.


BUSH: I stand by my record in the state of Texas.

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That's George W. Bush responding to a judges's decree that his state has failed to provide adequate care to a million and a half teens under Medicaid. The judge cited data showing one million of these low-income children were receiving no dental care at all. With only one in four, Medicaid families even aware that the government covers such services. In addition, he charged children were not getting enough preventative care, which meant many ended up in the emergency room with infections that could have been prevented.

But many observers, including the state's attorney general, say some facts do support Bush's claim that the state is trying to correct the problems in its Medicaid program. And, he points out, Bush inherited the mess from a Democratic governor -- his predecessor, Anne Richards.

(on camera): State officials and Bush campaign advisers say the government there made almost five million outreached contracts to Medicaid families last year alone to make them aware of available services, and they say that outreach has been largely successful. Under Governor Richards, the medical checkup participation rate for children under Medicaid was 29 percent. Today it is 66 percent, among the highest in the country.

(voice-over): But Texas is failing to deliver services to a huge number of those signed up, not to mention children without any insurance. This charge in an ad sponsored by the Democratic National Committee...


NARRATOR: Texas ranks 49th out of 50 in providing health coverage to kids.


O'CONNOR: ... is true. And last week, Bush acknowledged the state had some ground to make up.

BUSH: We are now signing up children at a faster rate than other states. Our high school CHIP program, that also will help us.

Let me finish. Ron, let me finish please.

Yes, it is the issue, to get children the health care, that's the issue.

O'CONNOR: But that goal has come into conflict in another -- Bush's efforts to balance the Texas budget. Democratic lawmakers say that while Bush has boasted on the campaign trail about expanding the children's health insurance program and signing up more children to Medicaid, as governor, he originally proposed raising the income eligibility level. That would have left 175,000 more children with no insurance.

When if comes to health care in Texas, critics say Bush's record is not one to boast about.

Eileen O'Connor, CNN, Washington.


WOODRUFF: And finally, the end of an era. Eleven years ago, a New York real estate named Seymour Durst erected a huge digital debt clock in Times Square to dramatize the nation's massive national debt. But today, with the government running record surpluses, the debt clock's time finally ran out.


WOODRUFF (voice-over): With little fanfare, New York's Durst family shut down its National Debt Clock, the best-known symbol of what was once among the nation's worst problems. In early 1992, the national debt, reflecting years of deficits, was nearly $4 trillion and was growing at the staggering rate of $13,000 a second. By then, the debt had become a potent political issue.


PAUL TSONGAS (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look at these kids in the eye and tell them, we're going to crush with you with debt because we want to get elected. Is that what America is about? One panda bear after another?


WOODRUFF: Democrat Paul Tsongas used it in the primaries that year to attack rival Bill Clinton's tax cut. Ross Perot used it to hammer George Bush.


ROSS PEROT (I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you take a patient into the hospital that's bleeding arterially, step one is to stop the bleeding.


WOODRUFF: That arterial bleeding was symbolized by the triple- digit blur at the end of the clock. But by the end of the decade, thanks to the economic boom, the blur slowed to a steady tick. And this year, as the government bought back debt for the first time since the 1930s, the numbers actually fell. Just before the curtain went down on the Times Square landmark today, the clock was ticking back at a steady $32 a second. (END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: That's up to real money. You may have noticed that the clock was still well over $5 trillion when they pulled the plug. Both candidates say they have plans to eradicate the debt completely.

And that's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. But of course, you can go online all the time at CNN's

I'm Judy Woodruff.

"WORLDVIEW" is next.



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