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Capital Gang

Campaign 2000: Candidates Compare Energy Policies; Previewing the Presidential Debates; Washington Congressional Races in Focus

Aired September 30, 2000 - 7:00 p.m. ET


ANNOUNCER: Live, from Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.


I'm Mark Shields, with the full Capital Gang: Al Hunt, Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne and Margaret Carlson.

George W. Bush responded to higher oil prices. He urged drilling in the Alaska wildlife refuge.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The vice president says he would rather protect this refuge than gain the energy. But this is a false choice. We can do both, taking out energy and leaving only footprints.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The other side now proposes to misuse high oil prices as an excuse to let oil companies invade precious national treasures, like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.


SHIELDS: The candidates also reacted to the proposal from Senators John McCain and Russ Feingold to ban soft money for the remainder of this presidential campaign.


GORE: I called both them and wrote them a letter and said, OK, I agree, and I will send representatives to talk with you guys if Governor Bush will. And you know, Governor Bush said he doesn't trust me. So, the offer is still open.



BUSH: I think we ought to get rid of soft money. It's hard to ask people to get rid of soft money in the middle of a presidential campaign when you've got outspent 30 to 15 during the summer. I mean, it's kind of like, okay, fine now, we fired our weapons, you lay down your arms.


SHIELDS: The latest Gallup tracking poll for CNN shows a two- point lead for vice president Gore, which is statistically insignificant.

Bob Novak, who has the momentum 38 days before decision day, Election Day?

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": What makes it fun is neither one does. It was some momentum for Governor Bush a couple weeks ago when he caught up with Vice President Gore, but it's even now. You've got maybe 10 percent of the voters who -- I don't know what they've been looking at. They can't make up their minds. I guess they look and see who makes the fewest mistakes, or interested in these distractions who are going to decide the election.

But right now, I don't there's much movement at all. The polls -- you look at all the polls, it's just about a dead heat, very little movement from day to day and these strange people who can't -- who make up their minds on how a candidate looks and sounds rather than what he stands for are going to pick our next president.

SHIELDS: And you're not happy about that at all.

NOVAK: No, it's a democracy.

SHIELDS: Margaret, Margaret.

MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Last week you were saying how great it was that Bush went on "Oprah," and how well he did...

NOVAK: I didn't say that. I said he had to go on. You should listen to me carefully...


CARLSON: Oh, yes, no. Here's what I wanted to say.

SHIELDS: Momentum.

CARLSON: Here's what I want to see. I want to see what John McCain is made of now that Bush has turned down the giving up of the soft money and Gore has gone with it. Let's see what McCain does about that now, whether he sticks with Bush or whether he keeps at it.

I'm surprised that Gore hasn't in this period, when I think the race is frozen, not because of the Olympics as we thought, but just because it's frozen. Nobody seems to be interested at the moment. Waiting for the debates.

Oil, you know George Bush's solution is let's just drill more. And here's Al Gore, "Earth in the Balance" man. He's just so afraid of people like Bob Novak criticizing him for criticizing the internal combustion engine that he seems reluctant on that when actually every auto manufacturer agrees with him that you've got to find another way because we can't keep drilling more.

And the SUV, which is the vehicle of the Republican Party, gave -- all kinds of fuel standards went out the door when the Republicans just let that, you know, said listen, we have all the oil the in world. Let's just let EPA let those go.


KATE O'BEIRNE, "NATIONAL REVIEW": It's not my car of choice.

SHIELDS: The company car of the Republican party? What is the company car of the Democrats?

O'BEIRNE: This is a terrific issue for the Bush campaign, I think, and they're beginning to talk about it more in places like Michigan. Al Gore has spent most of his career urging higher fuel prices. He ought to be delighted at the moment and instead he's running away from that record. Not just because he's afraid of Bob Novak, because he's afraid of voters in those Midwestern states.

It obviously is a dead heat. I can't remember it being so close, this close out to Election Day. Even in 1980, regardless what the polls said, you just sort of knew Ronald Reagan was going to win. But there's one poll this week that the Austin campaign is looking at, not just the horse race poll, for the first time there the battleground poll more people think the country is on the wrong track than the right track. That's good news for a challenger.

I think George W. Bush's message about education recession is trying to get to that feeling on the part of people that the economy is great, but we have other problems.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, the condition preceding for the challenger to win is that people have to not feel good. They've felt good all year long about the economy and the direction of the country.

AL HUNT, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": And that one poll notwithstanding, they still feel pretty good. I mean, the GDP this week was bigger than expected.

SHIELDS: Yes, I saw that.

HUNT: I think we're still reaping the benefits of that 1993 tax increase, Mark, but the race is -- the race is absolutely dead even. Neither candidate has any momentum.

I actually thought the energy debate was pretty good this week. I think it's quite clear not that if your priority is more oil and gas production, George Bush is better for you. If your priority is more energy conservation, Al Gore is. That's a good debate to have, and I really do believe that.

Mark, I think lurking beneath the surface, though, is a lot people holding their breath, especially in Austin, over this story about the so-called mole, the tape -- the debate tape that was sent to Tom Downey, a Gore aide. I don't know if anything will happen. The FBI has an intensive investigation going. Probably nothing will come out before November 7, but if it does, in a race this close, it could really have a significant impact.

SHIELDS: Especially if it looks like dirty tricks.

But let me just say one thing about this. The analysis I've heard, which made more sense to me than these people who are deciding on the basis of "Oprah" or Larry King's show or whatever else, is that all the Democrats are home with Gore now. They believe that George Bush is a 40 watt bulb and a tool of the rich. All the Republicans are with George Bush because they think Al Gore would say anything, do anything, is a liar, whatever. And the problem is the people in the middle think both sides have something that they're right, so that's why they're conflicting.

O'BEIRNE: I'm not sure they do. I think the people who are now undecided, the voters still let out there as Austin talks about them, are the most inattentive voters in the electorate. They don't pay really close attention, Mark...

NOVAK: And that's why they're not going to be voting, for goodness sakes, on soft money. People who really care about soft money.

SHIELDS: Are right here.

NOVAK: Are right here. They're not going to be doing -- I mean, obviously they should drill oil in Alaska without worrying about fuzzy little animals because it's important for our economy. I've said this here, and at -- but that isn't going influence it.

The thing that could influence it, other than the debate which we're going to talk, about is some stupid distraction like this mole thing. If it -- I don't know what the story is, but nobody knows. But that's the kind of crazy thing that could turn the course of election.

SHIELDS: Right, yes.

CARLSON: A lot of those undecided people do care about the environment, and a lot more of them care about John McCain and what he has to say.

NOVAK: What does the environment have to do with it? I'm talking about fuzzy animals in Alaska. That's hasn't got anything to do with the environment.

SHIELDS: Bob, you and fuzzy animals are a story unto themselves, and I think it's a special. The Gang of Five will be back to preview presidential debate No. 1.


SHIELDS: Welcome back. The first of three presidential debates will be held in Boston Tuesday, preceded by mutual flattery.


BUSH: Look, I want to debate the man. Now, I understand he's a great debater.

GORE: I think he's an excellent debater. He defeated John McCain in the debates when the chips were down, when nobody expected that. He's won every debate he's been in, practically.


SHIELDS: Margaret, which candidate really has the edge going into this first and important debate?

CARLSON: Well, no one has tamped down his expectations better than George Bush. You know, the other guy is supposed to drive them down, but I think he's done a good job of driving them down.

They each have to prove something. Bush says his biggest problem, which he describes himself, is that he got where he is because of his daddy, he puts it. So he has to go on and show that he's deeper than a one-pound box of candy, he's not a lightweight, he's familiar with the issues. He has to avoid potholes on the oratorical highway.

Gore, on the other hand, has to show he's his own man. He has to understate, not exaggerate. He wants to stay on issues, because he's got the depth already, and he needs to talk at a normal pace so that he doesn't seem pedantic and wooden. And Jim Lehrer needs to be careful that neither one tries to kiss him.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, looking at this, though, it strikes me that Al Gore really has more going, because the expectations are so high. I mean, he's got more riding on this debate.

NOVAK: I think they both have an enormous amount. What interests me, of course, the old debates 40 years ago or even the 1976 debates, they kind of went in blind. Now the aides on both sides have watched every second of the opponent's debates. They've seen all their tendencies. They're like Joe Gibbs, you know, spending the night -- for the Redskins...

SHIELDS: Former Redskins coach.

NOVAK: ... looking at the film.

But I really do believe that it is very hard to war game or predict these debates. Sometimes when a guy really doesn't try very hard, like Jack Kemp did against Al Gore last time, you're going to have a loss from the beginning. But I think both of these candidates are very focused. And it may be days and days afterwards regarding to the media reaction before you know who won it. SHIELDS: Al, the first debate, though, is really the one I think people are looking at. This is when the window is open, and people, especially those who are undecided or their commitment is not intense, won't they be looking with fresh eyes?

HUNT: Yes, they will, Mark, but I have a minority view. And that is, first of all, I think the expectations game is played in Washington. I don't think the voters in Saginaw, Michigan, play any of that expectations game. Poll after poll shows they think that George Bush is the stronger, more forceful personality. They're not expecting a weak performance on Tuesday night. They just simply are not.

I think it's clear -- I agree with Margaret -- I think that Gore has to -- if he is professor Gore and he talks down to people, that's going to be bad for him. George Bush has to look like he's at least a middleweight.

I think Bush has this advantage in that if he does go 90 minutes and doesn't make any big mistakes, he will get the better press coming out of the debate.

I will say, again, probably being the minority, I think if we're going to have four debates, it really is a shame that Nader and Buchanan aren't in one of them. It would make a livelier and probably more interesting and informative session.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: It's actually, obviously, Al Gore. Austin keeps calling Al Gore the world's most accomplished debater, and Al Gore's trying to do what he can to build up George Bush as a debater. It's, of course, not true that he ever bested John McCain during the primaries in a debate. I think he held his own in the debates.

We're now told that he didn't do very much practicing before those primary debates, and what's different is he's doing a lot of practicing now. He's been doing it for weeks and weeks and weeks. So I'm not sure what effect that's going to have on him. You can just bet he's being told to look at the camera, smile at the audience, be pleasant but look serious, and here's a 6-inch briefing book. You know, memorize the contents and then relax and be yourself.

And because I think he came across fine in the primary debates, as a person comfortable with who he is, conversant enough on the issues and likable, that is actually a strength. And I think his team has to hope that they haven't made him more tense than he ought to be.

Al Gore has to worry about looking mean and arrogant and an android moment, where he's asked a question and can't respond like normal people do.

SHIELDS: I would say this. This race is close. There's no doubt about it.

1960, you could say the debate neutralized Richard Nixon's advantage as the experience issue.

1980, Ronald Reagan went in, the mad bomber, as his critics called him, his opponents called him, the war monger, and he absolutely put that to sleep and put it away -- Jimmy Carter. This race is that close. It's locked in right now in a dead heat. Can we say the debates are going to be decisive?

HUNT: No, I don't think you can say that, Mark. That debate in 1980 was held a week before the election.


HUNT: I mean, that is a decisive difference. There's still a month -- there's still five weeks. There's a lot of things that can happen. It will be one of the factors...

SHIELDS: Influential?

HUNT: ... but -- it will be one of the factors. It will be influential, but it will only be one of the factors. There may be a more important factor before it's all over.

CARLSON: It's more likely to be decisive if a big mistake is made, because we remember the big mistakes.

SHIELDS: Or if -- Or if...

NOVAK: Let me just say...

SHIELDS: ... or if Gore reminds people why they didn't like him before.

NOVAK: ... in 1976, Gerald Ford made a huge mistake...


NOVAK: ... and he was stubborn enough he wouldn't apologize for it.

SHIELDS: For five days.

NOVAK: But there was no -- there was absolutely no public reaction to that mistake until the press pounded it home to them.

The other thing I'd like to say is I don't agree with Al on this. I don't think that the public thinks of George W. Bush as dumb. I mean, some of the people at this table might. I don't think he's dumb, but some people -- and some of the late-night comedians might make fun of him, but I the polls don't indicate they do.

HUNT: Can we take a vote? I don't think he's dumb, Bob.

CARLSON: I don't think he's dumb, but the caricature of him...

NOVAK: Gee, that's nice of you, Al.

HUNT: So who does?

SHIELDS: I don't know. Bob, why would you suggest such a thing?

Next think about CAPITAL GANG, focus on 2000 looks at very close races in the state of Washington.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

"Focus on 2000" looks at the state of Washington. While no Republican presidential candidate has carried the state since Ronald Reagan in 1984, George Bush is within range of Al Gore this year. But veteran Republican Senator Slade Gorton is threatened by former Democratic Congresswoman Maria Cantwell.


NARRATOR: Did Maria Cantwell's ads tell the truth? They say she never voted for a 70 percent tax increase on Social Security benefits, but the congressional record proves she did, not once but five times.



NARRATOR: Why are the big insurance companies spending half a million dollars attacking Maria Cantwell? Why are they distorting her record on taxes? Because Maria Cantwell can't be bought.


SHIELDS: Republican Congressman George Nethercutt, who defeated House Speaker Tom Foley in 1994, is under attack for breaking his own promise to serve just three terms.


YVETTE RUSELL, TEACHER: I try to teach young people values like honesty and integrity. And it makes it much more difficult when public officials like George Nethercutt break their word.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why should we be term limited when no one else is?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: George changed his mind, and he was honest about it.


SHIELDS: Al Hunt, in the great Evergreen State of Washington, how is it going to turn out?

HUNT: Well, Gore hasn't put Washington away yet in his column, which he's hoped to. But -- by now. But, Mark, I think Gore, aided by the environment issue, is clearly going to win the state of Washington somewhere between the Dukakis margin of two points and the Clinton margin of 13 points in '92 and '96.

On the Senate, in 1994, great Republican year, Slade Gordon outspent a mediocre opponent four to one and still only got a little over 55 percent of the vote. This time, he's running against a self- made multi millionaire in the high-tech field. Bob Novak, I'm sure, must think the world of Maria Cantwell. I think Slade Gordon is toast.

On the...


HUNT: Done, gone.

NOVAK: That means done, doesn't it?


HUNT: You know, Bob for years regaled us almost weekly about the virtues of term limits. Now we haven't heard very much about them in the last six years, and I think, Bob, it's where the voters are. The voters really don't care about them much anymore. George Nethercutt broke his pledge, but he's going to survive. But the Democrats are going to pick up a seat in the state of Washington from another Republican member, Jack Metcalf, who kept his word...

SHIELDS: Kept his promise.

HUNT: ... and is retiring. And they're going to win that old Scoop Jackson seat back.

SHIELDS: Is Al right, Kate?

O'BEIRNE: Regardless of how you feel about term limits, one is obliged to keep even stupid promises. I can't believe that George Nethercutt now has ads running that he changed his mind and he's been honest about it. What choice did he have?

He's one of those people who came to Washington and now thinks he's indispensable. Maybe you're going to be -- maybe you're right, Al. Maybe he will pull it off. But it seems to me voters ought to care about the promise much more than they do about the issue of term limits.

Washington, of course, is such a closely divided state, and I disagree here, I don't think Al Gore's environmentalism, he can count on that helping him in Washington as much as it may have in the past.

First of all, they see the administration suit against Microsoft as a complete assault on their economy and there's a huge issue about dams on the Snake River, where Al Gore's green friends want to help their fish friends at the expense of agriculture and business; and that could be a big problem for Democrats. SHIELDS: Bob Novak.

NOVAK: I think Microsoft is a big factor. Al, in his brilliant discourse on Washington state, didn't even mention the assault on that industry in the state and how much it hurts the Democrats.

That's why it's an even race -- it is an even race in Washington, and I'm not smart enough to know who's going to win in the state of Washington because it's like the rest of the country.

Slade Gorton, who's not a great candidate, is running his best race ever, but the Republicans are scared to death of Maria Cantwell because she's going to pour so much of her own fortune into the race. I'm fascinated...

SHIELDS: Self-made fortune?

NOVAK: Self-made fortune.

I'm fascinated how sensitive she is to the attack on her vote for tax increases when she was in the House of Representatives. To listen to people here, nobody cares about taxes, but she's very nervous about that.

And George Nethercutt's behavior has been disgraceful. It's not just that he made the pledge, Al, it's that he ran against Tom Foley on the term-limit campaign. And sometimes you have to live with something you have done, and he hasn't done it. Having said that, he'll probably win.

SHIELDS: We ought to, probably, say a word about the people who have kept their promises, like Mark Sanford and Tom Coburn and...

NOVAK: Helen Chenoweth.

SHIELDS: Helen Chenoweth.

O'BEIRNE: Tillie Fowler, Charles Canady.

SHIELDS: That's right, who have kept their promises.

CARLSON: Ding ding ding! No more answers!

NOVAK: Matt Salmon.

SHIELDS: Matt Salmon out in Arizona.

CARLSON: I'm surprised you aren't for the millionaire, Bob, out there in Washington.

Listen, by the way, the Microsoft suit was the right suit to bring. Washington state is bigger than Microsoft now, and Slade Gorton doesn't get much for being the senator for Microsoft. He's made a lot of mistakes against the Indians on the fishing rights. He accused Al Gore of wanting to break up the dams and it turned out not to be true -- and he said, oh well, I think it's true anyway. He's not as popular as he was, and he ran as the new guy against Warren Magnuson. Now he's got this young person running against him, he's been in Washington for 40 years, I think he goes down; and Bob, I congratulate you on being against Nethercutt for breaking that promise.

SHIELDS: I have to say this, though. If Michael Dukakis only carried 10 states in 1988 against George Bush, the father, and the fact that Al Gore is in a real contest for one of the 10 states that Michael Dukakis and Bill Clinton carried comfortably really tells you something about...

HUNT: It's the flip side of Florida.

CARLSON: And Nader is a big factor there, Mark.

SHIELDS: Don't -- look at those Dukakis beach heads. There's a number of those states: Wisconsin, Oregon and Washington.

NOVAK: I think Margaret was trying to say that Nader is a factor there.

CARLSON: Nader is a factor there. You know, 10,000 people paid $8 each to come and hear him. He's got 6 percent of the vote in the polls there.

I actually think he helps Cantwell, but he hurts Gore.

SHIELDS: Last word, Margaret Carlson.

THE GANG will be back with the "Outrage of the Week."

Good, Margaret.


SHIELDS: Now for the "Outrage of the Week."

Even the severest critics of Arial Sharon, the hawkish leader of the opposition Likud party in Israel, acknowledge that General Sharon is a smart and savvy man. So when Arial Sharon led a small band of right-wing politicians to the Temple Mount, a most holy place in Jerusalem, revered by both Muslims and Jews, he had to know his visit would incite hostility. Deadly riots followed and they have sabotaged the fragile hopes for permanent peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and that is an outrage.

Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Even for Bill Clinton, it took special audacity for this super-spending president this week to complain about a free-spending Congress. President Clinton has added enough bureaucrats to man two U.S. Army divisions and would have spent much more had it not been for the Republican-controlled Congress. But Republicans have trouble criticizing the White House when they earmark pork for their home districts. Anyway, they're about to capitulate to the president on spending. The outrage has to be shared.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Mark, poor NBC, taking a bath broadcasting yesterday's Olympics tomorrow. But does NBC have to make up those lost profits by showing a baseball playoff instead of the debate? NBC is backing out on what all the networks agreed to do as a public service, citing contractual obligations. Surely they knew in a presidential year to allow for such a conflict. NBC argues the affiliates and MSNBC can show the debate. Yes, let them eat cable. NBC, proud as a peacock -- how about ashamed as a vulture, and that goes for Fox as well.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: In August, when the Democratic campaign committed stepped in to help its embattled incumbent in New Jersey's 12th district, it's TV ads were rejected as untrue, and one local newspaper slammed them under the headline "Liars for Holt." Now Congressman Patrick Kennedy's committee's mailings against Republican Dick Zimmer falsely accuse him of opposing women's health and cancer screening. The campaign committee's latest deceit fits these liars for Holt.


HUNT: Mark, this is the last day of the fiscal year. Now, in the calendar year there have been over 190 working days in 2000, not counting weekends, but the United States Senate has held votes on only 81 of them. Only three times on Monday and six Fridays. This is the most dismal work effort since the infamous do-nothing Congress of 1948, and Trent Lott and company have the chutzpah to try to blame the last-minute circus on Bill Clinton.

SHIELDS: This is Mark Shields saying good night for THE CAPITAL GANG.



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