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Capital Gang

Vin Weber Discusses Campaign 2000

Aired October 21, 2000 - 5:30 p.m. ET


ANNOUNCER: Live, from Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.


I'm Mark Shields, with Al Hunt, Robert Novak, and Margaret Carlson.

Our guest is former Congressman Vin Weber of Minnesota, a Bush campaign adviser. it's good to have you back, Vin.

VIN WEBER, BUSH ADVISER: It's great to be here.

SHIELDS: Thank you.

From the start of their third and final presidential debate in St. Louis, Al Gore and George W. Bush were confrontational. It began when the vice president challenged the governor on the patients' bill of rights.


AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I specifically would like to know whether Governor Bush would support the Dingell- Norwood bill.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The difference is is that I can get it done.

GORE: What about the Dingell-Norwood bill?

BUSH: When you total up all the federal spending he wants to do, it's the largest increase in federal spending in years.

GORE: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. I'm so glad that I have the chance to knock that down.

He proposes spending more money for a tax cut just for the wealthiest 1 percent then all of the new money he budgets for education, health care and national defense combined.

BUSH: If you pay taxes, you're going to get a benefit. People who pay taxes will get tax relief. Under my plan, if you make -- the top -- the wealthy people pay 62 percent of the taxes today. Afterwards, they pay 64 percent. It was a smart thing to do is what I called it. I labeled it affirmative access.

GORE: I don't know what affirmative access means. I do know what affirmative action means. I know the governor is against it, and I know that I'm for it.

BUSH: If affirmative action means quotas, I'm against it.


SHIELDS: Bob Novak, did this last debate rescue Al Gore?

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": I don't think so. You know, since I watched this, it looks a little bit like the "Saturday Night Live" version of Al Gore. It's hard to tell the difference between the real thing and the comedian.

SHIELDS: How about George Bush?

NOVAK: I don't think so -- the comedic version.

You know, I think that the Gore people were really trying to score something. They had -- they felt -- they knew that they hadn't done well in the first two debates, they claimed they did well in the third. And although they got a very good play from the media saying, ah, he finally won a debate, I don't think it really was very effective. He was rude, he interrupted, he walked around.

The problem is that when Al Gore is in his debating mode, he's not very likable. And the dirty little secret is the issues he brought up, big government and anti-tax cuts, may not be as popular with the American people as with the panelists on THE CAPITAL GANG.

SHIELDS: Panelists over here?

NOVAK: Panelists.

SHIELDS: All right, Al?

WEBER: On our left.

AL HUNT, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Look, Mark, another dismal performance by Gore would have been curtains, and he certainly avoided that. In fact, it was the substantive performance of Bush that was aptly dismal and disingenuous.

The HMO debate they referred to, Bush boasted that he got Democrats and Republicans together to pass an HMO bill in Texas including the right to sue. He said he favored national legislation to cover everyone. Mark, that simply is not true. In Texas, he vetoed a bill, and it only passed without his signature when there was a veto-proof majority in the legislature.

And when he had a chance in the Senate to come out for a bill that covered everyone, as he said he was for, he chose to side with the HMOs. He either is not telling the truth, or he wasn't competent enough to know his own record. And he made some astonishing assertions. He said at one point, on the fact that Texas is last in health insurance for kids, he said insurance is just a Washington term. What does that mean?

SHIELDS: What does it mean, Vin?

WEBER: Well, first of all, I think that Vice President Gore spent a lot of time in Congress. Most of his best friends are in Congress, and he ran the debate like he was running for Congress. He was into the technicalities of specific legislation, challenging Governor Bush on Dingell-Norwood, which means precisely zero to most people, while Governor Bush was doing what a presidential candidate ought to do. He was painting a large picture of America, talking about a broad philosophical direction in which he's taking the country. So I think that that was exactly right.

In terms of the governor's record in Texas, I think the governor's record is pretty good. This whole Dingell-Norwood patients' bill of rights thing, at the end of the day they got a patients' bill of rights passed in Texas. The question is, did Al -- did Governor Bush make that bill better and more likely because he vetoed a bad version of it, which is what he said and which is what I believe, or should he have just rolled over and allowed a bad bill to become law? He didn't do that. He -- the process worked well. Very few people in Texas criticize what came out of that process, and I think that he deserves credit for it.

But the end of the day, the main point is we've had now three with debates. And, you know, people say, who won the debate? Well, the ultimate judgment on who won these debates is how does it affect the voters? The voters seem to have taken their measure of these three debates, and they've said that Al -- that George Bush won all three of the debates, because he's improved his position in the polls by virtue of them.

Maybe they've seen something that the inside-the-Beltway observers do not see here. They've seen a person whose temperament, judgment and positions on the issues they believe in.

SHIELDS: Taken from a guy who straddles the Beltway very well.

Margaret Carlson, your take.

MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME": I don't want to get lost in specifics and not generalities, but that HMO bill came back to him, by the way, with a veto-proof majority. So that -- and he never signed it. So that was every bit as much -- I mean, that is every bit as much of a -- I mean, when you weigh Gore v. Bush, Gore's exaggeration on going with Jamie Lee Witt to Texas and saying what he did about the patients' bill of rights...

WEBER: Exaggeration.

CARLSON: No contest, no contest, no contest, no contest.

WEBER: That's an exaggeration.

CARLSON: No, the patients' bill of rights was actually, you know, not true.

WEBER: Jamie Lee Witt was not true.

CARLSON: Here's the thing about the debates -- here's the thing about the debates. You know, they've been dumbed down to the point where it's like a Miss America contest without the swimsuit competition, so that all you do have to do is go through with a bunch of generalities and know enough to get through, you know, about the level we know on this show, only, you know, it lasts about an hour and a half.


CARLSON: Sorry, sorry. But the debates simply don't bring out debating skills in two candidates.

WEBER: Margaret, let me ask you quick, is that dumbing down, is that not what people said about the first televised national presidential debate? Isn't that what people said about Kennedy versus Nixon in '60, Kennedy looked better but Nixon, if you only listened to it, actually won the debate on substance?

CARLSON: Well, Kennedy was one of the most intellectually astute presidents we've ever had, and so in fact...

WEBER: But that is the analysis of (OFF-MIKE)

CARLSON: ... but there was that he looked better. He did look better. And I will grant you that. But I'm still saying that if George Bush can skate through these debates with what he knows, than the debates surely have been dumbed down.

SHIELDS: Quickly, quickly around. That's what I want to ask you is, there are two sort of events that people talked about, Al Gore's invading George Bush's sort of comfort zone and Bush sort of grimacing, and then Gore -- Bush complaining, almost whining, to moderator Jim Lehrer when Gore asked him a question about affirmative action.

Your reaction, Bob.

NOVAK: I thought it made Gore looks obnoxious. And he did break the rules. They decided on rules, and they broke the rules continuously. And that's part of the personality. But I don't think we should get away from the fact that it is amazing that for people who don't understand, that when you come out, when you put a Democrat in a position that he's for bigger government, that's not a good for a Democrat.

CARLSON: Bob, I'll never invade your space, but I will say this: Bush did look a little whiny hiding behind Jim Lehrer's skirt saying, please, teacher, don't let this happen.

SHIELDS: Last word, Margaret Carlson.

Vin Weber and THE GANG we will be back with a preview of the campaigns final 17 days.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

With 17 days left before the November 7th election, the CNN/"USA Today Gallup tracking poll shows an 11-lead by Governor Bush over Vice President Gore. The Gore campaign is attacking Bush's Social Security plan.


ANNOUNCER: He's promising to take a trillion dollars out of Social Security so younger workers can invest in private accounts. Sounds good. The problem is, Bush has promised the same money to pay seniors their current benefits.



BUSH: It's irresponsible for the chairman of the Democrat Party and for Vice President Gore to stoke the fears of seniors while ignoring the hopes of younger workers. A true leader does not try to pit grandparents against grandchildren.


SHIELDS: President Clinton went to Capitol Hill to take on Governor Bush.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I almost gagged when I heard that answer on the patients' bill of rights in Texas. Could you believe that? Here's a guy who takes credit for a bill that he vetoed.

They're real good. They cloud.


SHIELDS: When the president and vice president embraced at the funeral of Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan, it raised questions of whether Bill Clinton was going to enter the campaign.


GORE: This is a campaign that I'm running on my own. I'm running in my own right with my own vision about the future of our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, does Al Gore need Bill Clinton to win this election?

CARLSON: He looked like he could use a little bit of him in that debate on Tuesday.

You know, what's happened is that Gore has mismanaged the relationship. He's -- the bad stuff has stuck to him like velcro, and the good, the prosperity, he hasn't been able to glom on to. And he doesn't have any of the gauzy language that Bill Clinton is able to use to package his program, so he just says Dingell-Norwood instead of painting a bigger picture about what he can do for people.

He's left with just his programmatic and none of the music. In fact, Bush has stolen the music. During the debate, he's saying love, and heart and judge me by what I feel and my intentions and has blurred the differences so that he's captured some of the issues. So actually Bush has gotten some of the good Clinton stuff and just left Gore with the bad.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, Bill Clinton is a two-edge sword, but in an election that is passionless with the exception of Ralph Nader, passionless across the board -- the only reason Bush people are for Bush is because they don't like Gore, people -- Gore people don't like Bush. Doesn't Al Gore need Bill Clinton to excite and generate enthusiasm among rank and file?

NOVAK: That's a debate that's going on in the Democratic Party. I was dying to find out which side Margaret was on, and I couldn't find it.

SHIELDS: I know what side you're on.

CARLSON: I'm on the side of the people.

NOVAK: But what the -- a lot of Gore supporters are pleading with him to take on...


NOVAK: ... President Clinton and he is resisting it. My opinion, I think it's still possible for the vice president to win this election, but I don't think Bill Clinton can win it for him. I think he turns off the undecided voters. I think this "it gags" me and all that deep sarcasm about this, that isn't going to go over. So I think Al Gore is right. But Al Gore is in trouble, and he is in danger of losing this election. But he's got to win it for himself. He can't get Bill Clinton to do it.

SHIELDS: Let's not limit sarcasm when someone talks about pitting grandparent against grandchildren. Wasn't that sarcasm?

NOVAK: That's not sarcasm...

SHIELDS: Oh, that wasn't?

NOVAK: That's the truth.

SHIELDS: Oh, I see, OK.

WEBER: Mark, Bill Clinton looms large over this election, but Al Gore made the decision to separate himself from the good things about Clinton without Clinton's help or hindrance. He decided in his Democratic convention speech and other speeches he was going to revert to a traditional class-warfare, big-government, liberal approach. And it appeared very briefly to work for him after the Democratic National convention, and now he's stuck with that. And it's unfortunate for him that that's the case, but you can't -- Bill Clinton can no more remedy that for him now than he could have caused the problem in the first place.

So I -- you know, Republicans, we're fine if Clinton goes out there and campaigns a lot more in the next few weeks. We've deployed Barbara Bush as our secret weapon. It's sort of a pearls versus cigars, and we think we're going to win that argument.



HUNT: I mean, If class warfare...

WEBER: Are you on our side?

HUNT: If class warfare -- if George Bush and Vin Weber think class warfare is being for a patients' bill of rights instead of being for the HMOs -- if you want to be for those people giving big money, that's fine. I don't think that's class warfare.

Look, I think Bush is ahead by a couple points now -- not by 11 points. That's absurd. We know that. But it is, as Bob said, still winnable for Al Gore. But more and more Democrats think he's not going to win it because they think their voters don't appreciate what the stakes are in this election, and they're not going to turn out. And there's one person that can energize that base and that can, I think, articulate what the stakes are, and that is William Jefferson Clinton. Gore people said, yes, but he energizes the other side's base, too. They're already energized.

WEBER: He also turns off moderate voters.

HUNT: I want to tell you what it really says. These are two sorry candidates. If Clinton were the nominee, he would have put this guy away weeks ago. And if John McCain were the nominee, he'd have put the other guy away weeks ago.

NOVAK: Just...

SHIELDS: Let me just point out -- I'm sorry, no, you're absolutely right. You're absolutely right, Al, and I didn't mean to interrupt. Let me just point out, just for your edification, Bob, and that is that according to Bob Teeter and Peter Hart, their NBC poll done Wednesday night, the undecided in this election are 71 percent favorable toward Bill Clinton. That's the one out of four voters who haven't decided, are soft, have not...

HUNT: Persuadables.

SHIELDS: Persuadables. You run the risk, OK, of the other side getting upset. I'll tell you this, you also run the advantage. That is, some of the nutbags, Vin, on your side -- and there are a few.

WEBER: I don't know them.

SHIELDS: I know you don't -- will make outrageous statements about Clinton within in the race, and that will hurt Bush.

NOVAK: Let me just say, it would be the first time in American history that an incumbent president came in in the last part and saved the election for his vice president.

But let me tell you this, whatever the national polls are some of these state polls are very bad. It's gotten to a virtual dead heat in Illinois, which was safely for Gore before...

HUNT: Republican polls.

NOVAK: It's even closed up in New Jersey -- No, it's a "Chicago Sun-Times" poll. It's closed up in New Jersey, and I would say right now that the -- all -- there is not all these states like Minnesota and Wisconsin and Illinois that were safe for Gore are now in contest.

SHIELDS: Bob, that's the last word. You've certainly got a plug in for the newsletter.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, focus on 2000 looks at the crucial state of Florida.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

Focus on 2000 looks at the important swing state of Florida. American research group gives Vice President Gore a two-point lead for the state's 25 electoral votes, while Rasmussen Research shows a 4-point lead for Governor Bush.

In Florida's U.S. Senate race, earlier polls had Democratic state insurance commissioner Bill Nelson leading Republican Congressman Bill McCollum.


ANNOUNCER: "The Wall Street Journal" has revealed Bill McCollum is using his position in Congress to target banking and financial corporations to underwrite his campaign, trading favors for cash. Bill McCollum: paid for by the special interests.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MCCOLLUM CAMPAIGN AD) REP. BILL MCCOLLUM (R-FL), FLORIDA SENATE CANDIDATE: Bill Nelson and his special interest supporters have started their typical negative campaign, mud and distortions. It's ridiculous and demeaning to both you and me.


SHIELDS: Al Hunt, what is the outlook today in Florida, the Sunshine State?

HUNT: You know, Mark, as the great Dan Rather might say, it's as tight as tick in a summer heat wave. I mean,this thing -- everything down there is tight. The presidential race, the Republicans say they're pulling ahead now beyond the margin of error, the Democrats say it's even.

The Republicans have the advantage of having Jeb Bush as the governor, the candidate's brother. I think Gore has some issues that work to his advantage. It's just a toss up right now.

On the Senate level, the Nelson lead has narrowed. But I think this race is following the pattern of that 1988 race, when Connie Mack beat Democrat Buddy McKay by 34,000 votes but Michael Dukakis lost the state by a million votes. And that's not going to happen this time. Nelson's going to win narrowly. And in the House race, the Democrats think they're going to win the McCollum seat, and they think they're going to upset Clay Shaw on the Gold Coast with a very energetic candidate named Elaine Bloom. It may happen.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, Florida was given to the Republicans going in. I mean, a popular governor, Jeb Bush, 65 percent favorable job rating, you know, state trending Republican at every level, what happened?

NOVAK: Well anybody who thinks that Florida is a safe Republican state is crazy. It was -- it had -- it was elected -- Lawton Chiles was the winner there, Bob Graham, the senator, is not about beatable...

WEBER: Clinton carried it.

NOVAK: Bill Clinton carried it.

And the idea that suddenly this was a disastrous collapse by the Bush brothers is just silly. It was always going to be a close state. I would say the trend shows, along with the trend in other states, a mild win, a mild surge, by Bush and by McCollum. But are they going to win? I don't know if they're going to win or not. It's a very close race. Al's right.

SHIELDS: Mild surge. Is that a suit?

WEBER: I think there are two very good pieces of news for Republicans in Senate races this week. One, I have to just put this in here, Rick Lazio has pulled ahead according to the "New York Post" poll in the New York Senate race against Hillary Clinton, and the other is that Bill McCollum, my friend, the guy I was elected with in 1980, served with through 12 years, for whom I must admit I have just enormous affection and respect.

SHIELDS: You served with Bill Nelson, too.

WEBER: I served with Bill Nelson, too. Not a bad guy, not a bad guy.

But Bill McCollum has been behind throughout this race. He's pulled about even now. And George Bush has pulled ahead according to the polls that I've looked at. I think that -- I agree with Bob. Florida is far from being a safe Republican state, but it's going to be in the Republican column both for the presidency and for Bill McCollum on Election Day.

SHIELDS: While I've got you quickly, Rod Grams in Minnesota -- trouble?

WEBER: He's down by 12 points according to a Minnesota poll that showed Bush ahead by 3 points in Minnesota yesterday.

SHIELDS: OK -- Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Bob called you silly and crazy. Did you realize that?

SHIELDS: He did, he did.

CARLSON: You took it well.

SHIELDS: It seemed to be consensus. It seemed to be consensus that Florida was a given. That's OK.

CARLSON: Yes, you took it very well.

SHIELDS: Yes -- consider the source.

CARLSON: The reason that McCollum won't win is that he's most famous as the shrill House management for impeachment. Now he's raising money...

WEBER: Anything but shrill.

CARLSON: He's raising money from right wingers based on that.


CARLSON: Vin, I didn't know -- based on having done that to run these very gauzy, sweet, moderate ads that paint him as a guy who is for children and, you know, just generally a moderate...

WEBER: If you voted for impeachment you can't be for children, is that what you're saying?

CARLSON: ... and he's not that way a bit. But he's not -- he's not -- he's not going to be -- he's not going to be able to pull that off, and he's not going to win. SHIELDS: He's always been pro gun, now he's for gun control. He's always been anti-gay, now he's for hate-crimes legislation.

CARLSON: See -- he's a -- he's against...

NOVAK: See, the difference is the...

CARLSON: He's against the Brady Bill for god's sake.

NOVAK: ... the Republicans tried to move toward the center for the campaign, Democrats move to the left. Who's got the brains?

HUNT: Bob...

WEBER: That's exactly right.

CARLSON: He's against the Brady Bill, and he should admit it.

HUNT: But this is a guy who was for term limits. Why aren't you, you know, bothered by that?


HUNT: Are you, Bob?

NOVAK: Nobody's perfect.

SHIELDS: Vin Weber, thanks for being with us.

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

Thanks, Vin.


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

Republican pollster Lance Terrence (ph) conducted a survey of major executives in the nation's largest businesses for the respected Committee for Economic Development. The subject: money in politics. Now get this, by a more than 4-1 margin these executives said businesses make those unregulated six-figure soft money political contributions to influence legislation, not for any altruistic reasons. A majority of the executives, interestingly, endorsed a publicly financed system of donations to end the big money arms race. These findings obviously contradict soft money apologists among the Republicans, including Senator Mitch McConnell and Governor George W. Bush.

Bob Novak.

NOVAK: In today's "Washington Post" reporter Keith Richburg gives a straightforward account of a two-hour battle in the West Bank town of Nablus between Israeli troops firing automatic weapons and Palestinian boys shooting stones with slingshots. Palestinian casualties: five or six dead, dozens wounded. Israeli casualties: none. That's a commonplace event evoking no outrage in America, but is this any way a civilized democracy should deal with an insurgency?

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Mark, in 1998, Governor George Bush received a letter from Akim Marino (ph) confessing to the rape and murder of a 20-year- old woman in a Pizza Hut 10 years earlier. Bush ignored the letter. The criminal justice system Bush calls perfect had already nailed two poor guys for the crime. KBUTV and the Innocence Project nonetheless took up the case. They found that Marino's DNA matched the victim's, and crucial evidence confirming his guilt was exactly where he said it would be. The Austin police won't comment. No one has heard yet from Governor Bush.


HUNT: Mark, Jimmy Carter, the most religious man to occupy the White House over the past 40 years, resigned from the Southern Baptist Convention. A lifelong Baptist, Mr. Carter no longer could tolerate the intolerance of the ideological zealots who insist the Bible be taken literally, that wives should, quote, "submit," end quote, to their husbands and engage in a fair amount of gay and race bashing. There are millions of decent, compassionate Baptists who no doubt share President Carter's view of these narrow-minded so-called leaders of the denomination.

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

Next on CNN, "SPORTS TONIGHT" reports on the Big Apple's Subway series.



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