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Inside Politics

Gore Campaign launches Sharpened Attacks on George W. Bush and His Texas Record; Poll of Likely Voters Shows Bush With Lead Over Gore

Aired October 9, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: The Gore campaign launches a sharpened plan of attack on George W. Bush and his Texas record.


JOE ANDREW, DNC NATIONAL CHAIRMAN: He simply does not have the experience, we believe, to be up to a presidential standard.


BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: One target: pollution in the Lone Star State. We'll get past any political smoke and check the facts. Plus: the Republican response.



CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Their translation: The Gore team is back on its heels in a major way.


WOODRUFF: Candy Crowley reports on the Bush camp's spin and its counter-strategy.

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

SHAW: Thanks for joining us.

Twenty-nine days before the presidential election, Al Gore's campaign has looked at the calendar and the latest polls and decided it needs to hit George W. Bush harder. The new salvo sets the stage for the second Bush-Gore debate Wednesday night, and for a new round of finger-pointing, as each campaign accuses the other of going negative.

Here is CNN's Jonathan Karl.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Privately acknowledging Republicans have drawn blood with attacks on the vice president's credibility, the Gore campaign is waging a multi-pronged attack on George W. Bush. Weapon one: Democratic National Committee ads slamming Bush's record as governor of Texas.


NARRATOR: As governor, George W. Bush made key air-pollution rules in Texas voluntary, even for some plants near schools. Last year, Houston overtook Los Angeles as America's smoggiest city. Now take a deep breath and imagine Seattle with Bush's Texas-style environmental regulation.


KARL: The ads, which first aired in some markets two weeks ago, are specifically targeted to an expanded list of battleground states, including Missouri, Michigan and West Virginia. The ads also hit Bush on education and the minimum wage.

Weapon two: Joe Lieberman, who will take a trip through Texas later this week, dubbed the "failed leadership tour." If a preview of the trip by Democratic National Committee chair Joe Andrew is any indication, it may get nasty.

ANDREW: And we're going to go back to Jasper, Texas and talk about hate crimes. And you all know why Jasper, Texas. That's where James Byrd was dragged to his death behind a pickup truck because he was black. Bush opposed hate-crimes legislation in Texas.

KARL: Democrats are also stepping up attacks on Bush's experience and his intellect, drawing attention to their Web sites, including one dubbed Bush Lite, which includes transcripts of Bush's verbal flubs. Democrats insist none of this is personal.

ANDREW: The fact of the matter is, is we are not going to be doing the personal, kind of character assassination that Bush has become synonymous with right now. As well, we are going to turn this volume up, hold him to a presidential standard for leadership.

KARL: The Bush campaign points out the people of Texas were apparently happy enough with Bush's performance to reelect him in 1998 by a 37-point landslide. DNC chair Andrew says Texans just didn't realize how bad they had it.

ANDREW: One of the reasons that he won is because the people of Texas didn't know what we are right here telling everybody across this country. And now that they know, he is not going to be able to win.

KARL: Gore's strategists privately acknowledge Bush's recent attacks on Gore's alleged tendency to exaggerate have inflicted short- term damage, moving some likely voters from the Gore column to undecided.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KARL: As his surrogates wage their assault on Bush's record, Gore himself is trying to stay above the fray: the vice president sequestered with his aides down here in Florida, preparing for debate No. 2 on Wednesday -- Bernie.

SHAW: Jonathan, how that will Wednesday-night debate differ for Gore than last week's debate?

KARL: Well, one thing the Gore team is trying to do differently is really win the expectations game. They believe that Bush went into debate number one with extremely low expectations. They say that's changed now -- for one reason, the format is different. This is the format that Bush asked for: the talk show format, with the two candidates sitting at table with a moderator, the one where Bush theoretically would be most comfortable.

They are also saying that Gore will do just fine. Of course, they don't want to see him sighing, and with some of the off-camera theatrics that we saw during debate number one. As one aide joked, they don't want to have a situation where Bush could lean over and say, "Stop sighing about my record" -- Bernie.

SHAW: Jonathan Karl, with the latest from Sarasota -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Well, now to the Bush campaign and its take on Gore's new battle plan.

Here is our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.


CROWLEY (voice-over): Republican strategists find comfort in the plan of attack being outlined by the Gore campaign. Their translation: The Gore team is back on its heels in a major way.

Said one top Bush aide, "This is a pretty transparent effort to change the topic from criticism of Gore's debate performance and exaggerations," much of that fomented by Republicans.

JIM NICHOLSON, RNC CHAIRMAN: Well, Al Gore said these debates are an interview for a job. And the interview is with the American people. How many people would hire somebody that comes for a job interview that misstates the truth and exaggerates?

CROWLEY: The Bush people insist there is a difference between Republicans attacking Gore on his exaggerations and Democrats attacking Bush about his English. As for Gore's plans to portray Bush as bumbling or incoherent, Bush aides say it is a major strategic mistake.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Governor Bush, you have attacked my character and credibility. And I am not going to respond in kind.

CROWLEY: Bush staffers believe voters will see the Gore camp's assault on Bush's verbal stumbles as the sort of personal attack Gore promised not to make. This, predicted one aide, sustains the question about Al Gore's credibility. Bush aides discount the planned assault on the governor's Texas record as same-old stuff.

The Gore camp has spent $8 million on Texas ads since the convention, said one strategist, and -- quote -- "It hasn't stuck." Do not look for any immediate counter-ads from Austin or out of the Republican National Committee. "Gore's credibility problem is in the groundwater," said one Republican. "We don't have to pour money into the air."

One RNC aide says, "For the immediate future, we are going to sit there nicely on the economic stuff," pounding home the big spender issue with an ad they call "Gore-gantuan."


NARRATOR: And Al Gore's plan: three times the new spending President Clinton proposed: so much, it wipes out the entire surplus and creates a deficit again. Al Gore's deficit-spending plan threatens America's prosperity.


CROWLEY: GOP strategists think the Al Gore as big-government guy has resonance, and say their internal polling shows it is emerging as a major issue. They also cite this figure within the latest CNN/Gallup poll showing Bush enjoys a 10-point advantage when voters are asked which candidate shares your view of the size and role of the federal government.

Asked if truthfulness will be a debate topic Wednesday, one Bush staffer said the governor will recognize the fact that not only is there difference in philosophy, but there is a problem with credibility.

(on camera): Still, the staffer insists, when George Bush talks about credibility, it will not be about things like who went to Texas to visit which disaster, but rather about things like who actually has accountability in their education program.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Austin.


SHAW: Our daily tracking poll helps explain why the Gore campaign is planning to go after Bush in a tougher and more coordinated way. Bush leads Gore by eight points in today's CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup survey of likely voters.

It is Bush's third straight day in the lead, after a brief surge for Gore fizzled last week. We'll have more results from our tracking poll later here on INSIDE POLITICS.

Right now, Bush adviser, Ed Gillespie, joins us from Austin, Texas. And Gore campaign spokesman, Chris Lehane, is with us from Sarasota, Florida. Chris Lehane, what is your explanation of the governor's eight- point lead over the vice president?

CHRIS LEHANE, GORE CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN: Well, frankly, Bernie, I've gotten a little dizzy trying to follow the CNN/Gallup poll. It's gone up and down so many times, it's hard to keep track of.

The bottom line here is that this is going to be a very close, very hard-fought election. We feel very well positioned though, given the fact that the American people agree with Al Gore on the most important issue: How do we use our prosperity in a responsible way to help all of our people?

Al Gore has put forth a responsible agenda that invests in our people and that benefits the very many. George W. Bush has put forth an irresponsible agenda that will benefit only the very few, the very wealthy in America.

SHAW: That's your message. But your answer to my question: How do you explain the governor's eight-point lead over your guy?

LEHANE: Again, I think if you look at the range of polls out there. most of the polls show this a very close race, with Al Gore slightly ahead. Again, you guys have your CNN/Gallup poll. I've gotten a little dizzy following it -- following it going up and down, sort of like one of those Internet stocks.

But I think the bottom line here is that this is going to be a very hard-fought, very close election that is going to go down to the wire. But we feel very well-positioned.

SHAW: Ed Gillespie, how do you explain your man's eight-point lead over the vice president?

ED GILLESPIE, BUSH CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Well, I think that people saw last week in the debates that Governor Bush is a man who trusts people to invest a little bit of their payroll taxes into retirement accounts that would harness greater returns from the marketplace than what we're getting today. He has a plan for education that would improve public education by implementing accountability there, and he trusts parents to have greater control over their children's education.

He has a plan that trusts families to spend more of their own hard-earned money rather than have political appointees in Washington spend it for them. And they've started to learn more about just how massive a spending increase Vice President Gore is talking about here: three times more new spending than Bill Clinton proposed in 1992. And they recognize that when -- if he's elected, the era of big government being over is over, and so too will be our prosperity.

His plan will bring down our standard of living.

SHAW: Chris Lehane, with this new DNC ad salvo planned, with the plan to send Senator Lieberman into Jasper, Texas, are you at all concerned that there might be the perception that you're going over the line in getting personal in this campaign?

LEHANE: Absolutely not. Our campaign is going to focus on the issues.

The governor's record in Texas is a window into his priorities, into the types of choices he will make as president. One of the issues he faced as governor of Texas is, did he give away his prosperity in a tax cut for the wealthy of Texas or would he invest the surplus two years ago into dealing with a children's health care crisis in Texas? He chose a tax cut for the wealthy.

In this campaign, the same issue is at stake: Do we use our prosperity in an responsible way to address health care or do we give it all away in this big tax cut for the wealthy? Once again, the governor wants to give it away in this tax cut for the wealthy; Al Gore wants to use it responsibly to address a major issue like health care.

Senator Lieberman is going to go down to Texas and take a hard look at that record. That record informs the voters about the types of choices, about the types of priorities that the governor will make.

SHAW: Your thoughts about that, Ed Gillespie?

GILLESPIE: Well, they've clearly pushed the panic button in Nashville. The fact is this: The governor was elected in an overwhelming landslide because of his success here in Texas, including providing health insurance to over 420,000 children in this country. In fact, since 1994, when Governor Bush took office and was elected, the rate of uninsurance for children in Texas has gone down while it's gone up in the national average. The rate of uninsurance, in general, has gone down here while it's gone up on the national average, which, of course, is under Vice President Gore's watch.

The percentage rate decrease in uninsurance among children was twice as fast in the past year under Governor Bush than it was on the national level.

So we welcome Senator Lieberman to Texas and we're anxious to talk about the governor's record here. And the fact is the kind of personal, nasty rhetoric that we've seen coming out of -- out of the Gore camp today is reflective of Vice President Gore's style in the past. We're going to see more of it between now and November, and that's unfortunate for the voters.

But I'm not sure they're going to buy what they're selling out of the Gore camp.

SHAW: Chris Lehane...

LEHANE: The governor has been engaged in negative personal attacks for six or seven weeks now after promising for a year-and-a- half not to engage in that type of politics. Al Gore is going to focus on the issue.

The bottom line is that Texas is 49th out of 50 in coverage for children. It was listed as the second-worst place in America, the second-worst in America to raise a child in.


Those are the facts. As much as they want to spin or duck and dodge and bob and weave...


SHAW: OK, gentlemen...

LEHANE: ... they can't avoid the fundamental facts that the children of Texas are much worse off today than they were before because of the governor's stewardship or lack thereof.

GILLESPIE: Bernie, can I make a point? Can I make a factual point here?

SHAW: Make your point. I have another question to ask each of you.

GILLESPIE: All right, I'll just say it quickly. Emissions have gone down 11 percent. Governor Bush, this state is the third to require of those companies that were grandfathered under the Clean Air Act to require them to comply with the Clean Air Act. The fact is he has a strong record. But I'll take your question, I'll be happy to.

LEHANE: Three weeks ago, you had a federal judge slam the governor and...


SHAW: OK. I'm going to ask this -- I'm going to ask this question whether you like it or not.


SHAW: Chris Lehane, as you know, the Republicans say your man is not to be trusted. My question is, will the vice president address that subject Wednesday night at Wake Forest University's debate?

LEHANE: The bottom line is that Al Gore is going to talk to the American people about his agenda, about the future. The American people trust him on the issue. They do not trust the governor on the issues, which is one reason why the governor and his campaign refused to talk about the issues. They don't want to talk about his health care plan. They cannot defend his tax cut plan.

He had 10 or 11 opportunities last week to try to justify his tax cut and he simply could not do so.

SHAW: Chris Lehane -- Chris Lehane, will the vice president address the subject of credibility at the Wednesday night debate?

LEHANE: The vice president has 25-plus years of government experience where he has fought hard on behalf of the American people. People judge character by who's going to fight on behalf of them and their families. Al Gore has done that throughout his entire career. The governor, on the other hand, has represented the interests of the special interests.

SHAW: All right. I have to get in one quick question, a parallel question to Ed Gillespie. What will the governor be out to do Wednesday night that he didn't do last week?

GILLESPIE: I think -- look, Bernie, I'm a big let Bush be Bush fan. I think that people saw Governor Bush and saw what Texans have seen in him for sometime.

I want to make one point because I think it's important. The fact is when someone says they went to Texas to aid and comfort victims of flood and fire, when in fact they did not, when someone says that they co-sponsored the McCain-Feingold bill when, in fact, they were gone from the Senate by the time Senator McCain -- Senator Feingold had even gotten there, when someone says that do education testing every year when in fact they don't require every student to be tested every year in their plan, and when someone misstates how much of the tax cut goes to 1 percent relative to how much the governor spends on Medicare, health care, education and defense, and to point out that those things are factually incorrect, that's not attack. That's a statement of fact.

And I think you're going to see in the debate tomorrow night the governor talk about the facts, talk about his plan, and why it's going to benefit real people in the real world.

LEHANE: Sounds like a negative personal attack to me, Bernie.


GILLESPIE: Let the voters decide.

SHAW: Gentlemen, Chris Lehane, Ed Gillespie, thank you so much for joining us.

LEHANE: Thank you.

GILLESPIE: Thank you, Bernie.

SHAW: Quite welcome -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Well, and we are now joined by Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times."

Ron, after that very gentle...


WOODRUFF: ... airing, it's all clear. They agreed on everything. Where does this campaign stand?

BROWNSTEIN: I decided that the difference between an attack and a fact must be like one of those Escher drawings, where it depends on which angle you're looking at it from. From Austin, the facts all look like attacks and from Nashville it's the reverse.

WOODRUFF: It's the opposite.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think that, you know, clearly what we saw in the wake of the first debate was instant polls that showed most people thought that Gore won the debate, but winning the aftermath has been elusive for him. And I think Bush has obviously gained more than Gore in the days since the debate.

Not all the polls have had as much movement as the CNN/Gallup poll, which has been a little volatile, but all of them do show the same direction, where the honesty gap is reopening, where Bush has led through most of the spring and summer when voters were asked, "Who do they consider to have the honesty and integrity to serve as president?" Gore dealt with those issues at the convention. Now, we're seeing a gap reopening on that question. Some of the polls are showing a gap reopening on leadership questions.

You can say that George Bush did not solve the problem that still is out there with swing voters for him, which is the question of whether he has the experience and sort of the personal qualities to serve as president, but he didn't exacerbate it. And Gore clearly seemed to exacerbate the problem that he has with swing voters, which is, you can trust him? Is this someone who is someone who is credible and likable as well?

WOODRUFF: Why wasn't that obvious in the immediate aftermath of the debate, in the immediate polls?

BROWNSTEIN: You know, the history of these debates, I think, is that they do tend to snowball, you know, that the initial reaction is not necessarily the most lasting reaction, and you get sort of a cumulative effect as the consensus forms both in the media and in the public. And to some extend, they reflect each other over time. And you usually see this pattern where each day, you know, it reinforces the other.

Now, I think we're in a situation, as we look forward to the second debate, where the pressure is probably more on Gore than Bush, the opposite of going into the first debate.

WOODRUFF: Well, that's my question. What is, given what you've laid out here, what is it that Al Gore needs to do? I gather you're saying there's more pressure on him?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, I think there is. I mean, I think that going into the first debate Bush had to prove that he belonged on the same stage as Al Gore: very similar to what Jimmy Carter faced in '76, Ronald Reagan in '80, John F. Kennedy in 1960, showing that he could stand next to the guy who was better known, had more experience in national office.

Now, Bush had his tentative moments, but by and large he passed that test. Now, Gore, I think, is going to have to show -- do in effect again what he did at the convention, which is change the image that some swing voters have of him, of being sort of a calculating politician who will almost say anything to be elected, back into someone who has convictions, will fight for me and has an agenda that I care about.

WOODRUFF: Well, how does he do that in a debate where somebody else is asking the questions?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think that -- you know, it reminds me a little bit of the task Ronald Reagan had in 1984, you know, after the first debate when he told that same strange story at the end about going down the coast of California. And they were all these stories about "Is he too old for the job?" And he made in the second debate a very memorable joke: "I won't hold my opponent's youth and inexperience against him," and he defused the whole issue.

Al Gore has got to find a way, as he did at the convention. It's harder than the convention, because he doesn't control the cameras, he doesn't control the communication. But he's got to find some way to reassure people that he is someone who is both believable, credible, and in this because he wants to make their life better, not because he's some calculating politician trying to advance.

WOODRUFF: So Gore has the tougher job, but does that mean Bush really doesn't have any hurdles to...

BROWNSTEIN: Not at all, and I think both campaigns are a little unnerved by how loosely tethered the last 10 or 15 percent of the electorate is to either one of them. And if Gore's big problem are doubts about his believability, Bush clearly -- in your polling, both CNN and "TIME" and the tracking poll -- show Bush hasn't answered all the doubts voters have about this capacity and whether he's up to the job.

And if he makes any kind of big factual mistake in this debate, then next week could be as hellish for him as the last week has been for Al Gore. And those last 10 percent of swing voters are really not connected to either of these guys and will probably move back and forth more than once before this ends.

WOODRUFF: All right, Ron Brownstein, thanks a lot. We'll see you soon.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: And still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, are the attacks on George W. Bush's environmental record valid? Our Brooks Jackson takes a closer look.


SHAW: As reported, the Democratic National Committee is expanding its ad attack on George W. Bush's Texas record, especially on environmental matters.

Our Brooks Jackson now takes a closer look at one of the ads and the facts.


BROOKS JACKSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They're arguing about air pollution in Houston. You'd think George Bush and Al Gore are running for mayor. Look at this ad.


NARRATOR: There's nothing wrong with your screen. What you're seeing is the worst smog in America. The city: Houston, Texas.


JACKSON: This Democratic Party commercial says Bush was soft on polluters and Houston became No. 1.


NARRATOR: Last year, Houston overtook Los Angeles as America's smoggiest city.


JACKSON: But Bush aides dispute that.

KARL ROVE, BUSH CAMPAIGN CHIEF STRATEGIST: It's absolutely ridiculous. Houston is -- its air quality is better than Los Angeles. Los Angeles has now got the worst air quality in the country.

JACKSON: Well, in fact, Houston did have the worst ozone pollution last year, according to the Environmental Protection Administration, and the ozone is a key smog ingredient. But Los Angeles had worse carbon monoxide pollution and worse particulate matter: soot, dust, that sort of thing. And by another measure, Houston had much worse air than L.A. It had 50 days in 1999 when air was deemed to be unhealthy, when the EPA's air quality index exceeded 100. Los Angeles had 27 days of unhealthy air.

But Houston wasn't the worst: Atlanta, Bakersfield, Fresno, and Riverside-San Bernardino all had many more days of unhealthy air than either L.A. or Houston. So, it depends.

This attack ad is tailored to one battleground state with a love for clean air.


NARRATOR: Now, take a deep breath and imagine Seattle with Bush's Texas-style environmental legislation.


JACKSON: But Democrats, including Democratic National Chairman Joe Andrew, are making it a national attack theme.

JOE ANDREW, NATIONAL CHAIRMAN, DNC: Texas is an example of the wrong way to do it, which is to literally let the polluters come in and put together voluntary programs rather than having state-mandated programs.

JACKSON: But in fact, that line of attack may be out-of-date. Bush did try to induce voluntary reductions from polluters not covered by federal clean air regulations, but last year, he signed legislation making reductions mandatory for electric utilities.

The Environmental Defense Fund called it a model for other states. Quote: "This Texas utility deregulation law is the strongest in the nation, putting a permanent cap on emissions for more than 130 grandfathered power plants."

(on camera): There's no question the air in Houston is lousy, and by some measures, got worse after Bush became governor. But it may be getting better now. Texas regulators say the number of unhealthy air days is down this year.

Brooks Jackson, CNN, Washington.


WOODRUFF: An update now on the investigation into how Bush campaign debate preparation materials were mailed to a Gore campaign ally. CNN has confirmed that a sitting federal grand jury in Washington has issued subpoenas for records from the Bush presidential campaign and from its consulting firm Maverick Media.

The Bush camp tells CNN that it has been informed that no official within the campaign is a target of the investigation. The campaign says that it will comply with the subpoenas, calling them, quote, "a good sign that investigators will get to the bottom of what happened."

The FBI has focused, to a large extent, on Maverick Media employee Yvette Lozano. A surveillance camera showed her mailing a package last month at the same post office from which the Bush debate materials were sent to Gore adviser Tom Downey and around the same time. Lozano has said that she was simply returning a pair of pants to The Gap for her boss, Mark McKinnon.

And there's much more ahead on this edition of INSIDE POLITICS.

SHAW: Still to come, sorting through the latest poll numbers: the candidates, the issues and public opinion. Plus...


FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: On display at New York's Columbus Day Parade, Italian-American pride and the candidates for U.S. Senate.


WOODRUFF: Frank Buckley on the New York Senate race and a key post-debate issue. Plus...

SHAW: Lampooning the presidential hopefuls: an irreverent TV take on the first debate.


WOODRUFF: We will have more of the day's political news coming up, but now a look at our top international story.

It has been another volatile day in the Middle East. Amid new fighting between Israelis and Palestinians, international diplomats are stepping up their efforts to salvage the peace process.

We get the latest now from CNN's Jerrold Kessel in Jerusalem -- Jerrold.

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Judy, desperate diplomatic efforts from the international community, spearheading by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, to stop the fighting -- desperate efforts for desperate times, and getting each more desperate, in a way.

Over the last hour or two, since the end of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, reports flooding in from all over Israel -- and I say pointedly, Israel, not the West Bank of Gaza -- of clashes between Jews and Arabs -- and these Jewish citizens of Israel attacking primarily Arab citizens of Israel or Arabs from the West Bank, who may have been living and working in Tel Aviv and other towns around Israel.

Several of such reports of restaurants where Arabs have been working have been set on fire -- and this the latest of such clashes between Israeli and Israelis: Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs. That was the scene last night in Nazareth, where the most fierce of such clashes took place. And two Israeli Arab citizens were shot dead -- a serious, serious event there, because the police say, as they tried to intervene, they did not fire live bullets.

The two men killed were killed by live bullets, they believe fired by Jewish-Israelis in those clashes. On the West Bank, the situation has tapered off to some degree tonight. And it did taper off during a degree during the day, although there was one fierce clash in the town of Ramallah on the West Bank -- Palestinian demonstrators, after a funeral of one man who had died of his injuries sustained earlier, clashing -- clashing fiercely with Israelis troops outside on the outskirts of that Palestinian town.

All this as Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Barak convened his cabinet in emergency session, and ominously says, before that meeting, the Palestinians do not want peace. They are no longer peace partners. That seems to be Ehud Barak's mood going into this critical meeting of his -- emergency meeting of his cabinet at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv.

We shall keep on reporting what the Israeli government decides to -- decides -- and what policy it decides to adopt now -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Jerrold Kessel, thanks very much -- Bernie.

SHAW: President Clinton has been on the telephone trying to defuse this crisis.

Our senior white house correspondent, John King, joins us -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bernie, a great sense of urgency and frustration here at the White House. This was to have been a day off for the United States president. Instead, Mr. Clinton huddled right now in the Oval Office with his Middle East peace team, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger among those on hand.

We are told the president is in the process of placing telephone calls to leaders in the region. Over the weekend, he put this proposal on the table: an emergency Mideast in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt. So far, U.S. officials say that has not be been accepted by the Israelis or the Palestinians. Among those the president due to call today, the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, to see if he could bring about such a summit.

Again, U.S. officials saying very little, as they watch these very troubling developments -- the president trying here first to bring an end to the violence and then take at least one small step toward reviving a very tattered peace process -- Bernie.

SHAW: John King, with the latest on the situation from the White House.

When INSIDE POLITICS returns, the presidential campaign by the numbers: We'll talk to Democratic and Republican pollsters.


SHAW: Now the race for electoral votes: Our CNN analysis finds Al Gore still leading George W. Bush, but not by as much as he did last week. Gore has a lead in 14 states and the District on Columbia, which would give him a total of 208 electoral votes.

Since last week, we have taken Ohio -- with it seven electoral votes -- out of the Gore's column, and we have bought it in the toss- up category. Based on our analysis, Bush now leads in 22 states, which would give a total of 184 electoral votes. And that includes Arizona -- with eight electoral votes -- which was in the toss-up category last week.

That leaves 146 electoral states up for grabs in 14 toss-up states, including Gore's home state of Tennessee and Florida, where Bush's brother, Jeb, is governor. A new poll from Florida reinforces the state's toss-up status. It gives Gore a three-point lead over Bush. And in Georgia, a new survey shows Bush has widened his lead over Gore in the Peach State to 16 points.

WOODRUFF: Nationally, Bush has gained ground in recent days in our daily tracking poll, as mentioned a little earlier. Well, now, let's take a closer look at that survey and some of the reasons behind the shift toward Governor Bush.


WOODRUFF (voice-over): For the first time, George W. Bush has hit the 50 percent mark in the CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup tracking poll, moving eight points ahead of Al Gore, who is at 42 percent. Why is Bush leading now?

KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLING DIRECTOR: He's got a major advantage on several personal characteristics that we weren't sure, at the beginning of the fall, were going to really matter to voters all that much. But now it looks as if he's kind of tied with Gore on a number of different issues. Personal characteristics may be becoming more important.

WOODRUFF: The poll asked which candidate was seen as more honest and trustworthy: Bush beats Gore 48 to 34 percent. On who is seen as a stronger and more decisive leader, it's Bush over Gore 48 to 38 percent. And on who is seen as a more likable person: Bush is ahead 49 to 38. The survey was conducted over three days -- Friday, Saturday and Sunday -- just after the political news was dominated by questions about Gore's truthfulness in certain statements during last week's presidential debate.


TIM RUSSERT, HOST: This is "Newsweek" tomorrow, with Jonathan Alter: "Al Gore and the Fib Factor." The front page of today's "Washington Post": "GOP Hones in on Gore's Credibility."

(END VIDEO CLIP) WOODRUFF: The tracking poll underscores a clear campaign dynamic: When Bush pulls ahead, it's because of character. When Gore leads, as he was before the debate, it was because Gore held a decisive advantage on the issues. But our latest poll shows Gore losing ground on the issues as well.

On the question, "Which candidate generally agrees with the issues you care about?" Bush is ahead of Gore 48 to 44 points. And asked, "Who cares..."


WOODRUFF: It is worth noting that while Bush has been ahead for several days now, the presidential horse race has been somewhat volatile. Gore led by as much as 11 points last week.

Well, joining us now, Democratic pollster Vic Fingerhut and Republican pollster Neil Newhouse.

Thank you both for being here.

Volatile, talk about volatile!

Vic Fingerhut, in your opinion, what is going on here?

VIC FINGERHUT, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Well, I think there's, you know, 15, 20 percent of the electorate. I think it's more than just this five or 10, because, in fact, you have soft people moving around who are not only undecided, but are soft on both sides.

I think there's -- I think people haven't been paying as much attention up to this point as they have in the last week or two, and I think there's been a shift in the dialogue. I think when Gore got to the populous stuff at the convention, I think that moved the voters decisively in his direction. I think in the last week or two, the discussion has been away from populism, it's been back to personal character. I think that's a loser for Gore. I think he has get things back to populism and party.

And for example, the issue of...

WOODRUFF: Let me just interrupt you then and get Neil Newhouse's take.


WOODRUFF: I mean, have you ever seen a presidential election this volatile, this close?

NEIL NEWHOUSE, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: I don't think it's quite that volatile. I don't buy the fact we've had an 18-point shift in the data. That just -- none of my statewide data, none -- in all polling we're doing we don't see that kind of shift. And it's an aberration in some of these polls. It's an...

WOODRUFF: Well, what do you see?

NEWHOUSE: Well, we're seeing a slow increase in Bush support so that now he is -- he's moving ahead in some states. It's edging up a little bit.

I think, when you average all of those polls together, Judy, in terms of the national polls, Bush comes out with a one- or two-point lead. That's probably where it is.

WOODRUFF: One or two points?

NEWHOUSE: It's within the margin of error. This is a very tight, very close presidential contest.

WOODRUFF: And what about Vic Fingerhut's point, that when Gore did well when he was stressing populism at the convention and after, and now he's gotten off-message for whatever reason? Others have gotten him off message?

NEWHOUSE: Well, it's been -- when personal character is an issue, he doesn't do well. I think that's an indictment against Al Gore truthfully.

WOODRUFF: Is that what's going on?

FINGERHUT: Well, I don't think it's an indictment, I think. It's a way of people looking at -- when he's focusing on things that are party-related, that relate to long-term commitments of the party, like Social Security and Medicare. For example, I think the Democrats have been foolish in saying, "Who's telling the truth on this?" They should say, "Which party?" For anyone who hasn't been asleep for the last 40 years will know that it's the Democrats who are concerned about Medicare and Social Security. The Republicans overwhelmingly opposed those things.

I think Gore has been reluctant to invoke that kind of stuff and I think it's a big mistake.

NEWHOUSE: You know, what's happening is somewhat standard: It's almost -- the race is close enough so that whatever candidate is on the defensive any given week falls behind, and it's nothing necessarily -- I mean, George Bush had a good debate, a solid debate. He exceeded expectations, but the post-debate spin on Al Gore was the embellishments, was the truth telling, and I think that he got hurt because of that.

WOODRUFF: Well, is the analysis now as simple as for Gore to do better he's got to get the focus off of character and truth telling and anecdotes and whatever?

NEWHOUSE: It's not just -- he's got to put that behind him somehow. He's got to put that to rest, and he has to, you know, in some way resolve that issue with the American people, otherwise it's still going to be hanging out there.

FINGERHUT: Can I just say a word about that? It's interesting, when people shift on issues, then all the other things follow it. For example, if you remember when Gore moved up on the -- after the Democratic convention, before the Democratic convention, on all the personal characteristics, Bush was better. Then Gore lays on his populous rap: His numbers go up 15 points and all the other personal characteristics went up 15 points, too. In other words, they got...

WOODRUFF: Together? It happened together.

FINGERHUT: ... sucked up in the wake of his populism.

Now, when he moves away from that, everything goes down.

NEWHOUSE: But you no longer have that political vacuum like in the convention. You have one side fighting against the other and you have the ability to get out your message unfettered as you did during the convention.

FINGERHUT: You know, just if I could -- I saw the same thing in '48 -- in '68 with Humphrey. On every single personal characteristic -- and this was very painful as a long-term Humphrey supporter -- Nixon was seen as more honest, more likable, more trustworthy. I couldn't believe the numbers, but they kept coming back like that.

When Humphrey started moving in the last three weeks and picked up 15 points in three weeks, 8 million votes, all the other personal characteristic stuff went up with him.

WOODRUFF: They came -- came together.

Let me ask you both about the debates. What does -- what has to happen? How important are these debates, the one this week and the one next week?

NEWHOUSE: I mean, the stakes keep getting bigger and bigger, you know. If there's no knockout -- and neither candidate had a knockout this past -- I mean, no knockout, the stakes are incredibly high. I think both candidates have got do the same thing. They've got to make a personal connection with the voters that they didn't quite make this past time. And George Bush has got to demonstrate, again, his ability to be a strong leader.

WOODRUFF: And what do you think has to happen?

FINGERHUT: I think people have -- I think the Democrats have to get their votes where they usually get there. They have to get people thinking about who is going to protect me in my workplace, who's going to take care of grandma's Social Security and Medicare, who's going to make sure my kid when they get out of school is working and is not one of the 10 people unemployed that we had in 1991.

I think if Gore tries to win this on the basis of personality, he's going to lose.

WOODRUFF: All right. Vic Fingerhut, Neil Newhouse, thank you both.

NEWHOUSE: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: We've got a lot to look out for this week and next. Thanks again.

And up next, the New York match-up: the polls and the issue of the day as the first lady and the congressman battle for the Senate.


SHAW: In less than a month, the voters of New York will choose either Rick Lazio or Hillary Rodham Clinton as the state's next senator. Today, the two candidates appeared at the same event and they talked about one key campaign issue.

Our Frank Buckley reports.


BUCKLEY (voice-over): On display at New York's Columbus Day parade, Italian-American pride and the candidates for U.S. Senate: Rick Lazio and Hillary Clinton. Both issued of statements on an issue of great interest to many of New York's important Jewish American voters: the unrest in the Middle East, Lazio critical of the Clinton administration for not blocking the U.N. Security Council resolution criticizing Israel.

REP. RICK LAZIO (R-NY), SENATE CANDIDATE: We should have stuck with Israel. We should have vetoed that measure. We should have sent the statement that it was Yasser Arafat who inspired that violence and the Israelis were trying to protect themselves.

BUCKLEY: Mrs. Clinton, in a break from Clinton administration policy, also opposing the veto, also blaming the Palestinians, saying an erosion of trust could hurt the peace process.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), SENATE CANDIDATE: That mutual trust has been lacking on the side of Chairman Arafat and the Palestinians in the last days, and that must be rebuilt.

BUCKLEY: The issue was one both candidates agreed on in their second debate of the race Sunday. It was less combative than their first, but a pointed clash came with Mrs. Clinton accused Lazio of breaking the band on all outside money in the race by running his commercial, paid for in part by the Republican National Committee.

H. CLINTON: You know, last month, Mr. Lazio said that this was an issue of trust and character. He was right. And if New Yorkers can't trust him to keep his word for 10 days, how can they trust him for six years on issues like Social Security, Medicare, prescription drugs, and education?

LAZIO: Mrs. Clinton, please, no lectures from Motel 1600 on campaign finance reform.


BUCKLEY: Lazio referring to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and the White House, which Lazio says the Clintons have improperly used for sleepovers for campaign contributors.

Both sides declared victory after the debate. But with Mrs. Clinton at the 50 percent mark now in at least two polls within the past two weeks, Lazio may have had more riding on it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the 50-43 Quinnipiac numbers are right, then obviously, as long as nothing happens, she's home free. She doesn't want to rock the boat. Lazio has to do something, and that's hard.

BUCKLEY (on camera): And he has less than month in which to do it. Still, Lazio aides say they remain confident -- with plenty of money in the bank -- even the first lady suggesting she'll be outspend in the final days of this race at least 2-1.

Frank Buckley, CNN, New York.


WOODRUFF: When we return, politics and parody.


WOODRUFF: The presidential hopefuls meet for a second round of debate on Wednesday night. But over the weekend, Al Gore and George W. Bush impersonators recreated the first debate for laughs on "Saturday Night Live."




... the lockbox would be only used for Social Security and Medicare. It would have two different locks.



ACTOR PLAYING GORE: Now, now, one of the keys to the lockbox would be kept by the president. The other key would be sealed in a small, magnetic container and placed under the bumper of the Senate majority leader's car.


ACTOR PLAYING LEHRER: Governor Bush, the next question is for you. As president, would you apply pressure on Milosevic and openly aid Kostunica and his (UNINTELLIGIBLE) party, or by working with neighbors...


... such as Karadon Ragonjavic (ph) of Croatia, Istivan Kajnoinsy (ph) of Hungary or Antos Paslagaros (ph) of Greece?

ACTOR PLAYING BUSH: First of all, I think that any instability in that first country you mentioned...


... is troubling. And clearly, the second guy you spoke of beat the first guy. Personally, I favor seeking the diplomatic help of the person I call guy No. 3. But I'm not going -- I'm going to pronounce any of their names tonight because I don't believe that's in our national interests.


ACTOR PLAYING LEHRER: Each candidate will now give a brief closing statement.

ACTOR PLAYING GORE: Jim, could I make two closing statements?


ACTOR PLAYING LEHRER: I'm afraid not. In fact, we are almost out of time, so I will instead ask each candidate to sum up in a single word the best argument for his candidacy. Governor Bush?


ACTOR PLAYING LEHRER: Vice President Gore?




SHAW: We have this late word. I'm sorry to interrupt the humor there, but a little bit more serious than what we just witnessed on INSIDE POLITICS. CNN senior White House correspondent John King reports that his afternoon President Clinton has talked by telephone with the leaders of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, the president there in Cairo, Yasser Arafat, and Ehud Barak. There is no resolution of the question as to whether or not there will be a summit, an emergency summit. The main hangup is the continuing violence.

CNN will have the latest on this coming up on "WORLDVIEW."

And that's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Bernard Shaw.

WOODRUFF: And I'm Judy Woodruff. "WORLDVIEW" is next.



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