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Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields

Karl Rove Discusses the Final Days of Campaign 2000

Aired November 4, 2000 - 5:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

AL HUNT, CO-HOST: I'm Al Hunt. Robert Novak and I will question George W. Bush's top political adviser.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: He is Bush campaign chief strategist, Karl Rove.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): The CNN/"USA Today" Gallup tracking poll as of last night shows a four-point lead by Governor Bush over Vice President Al Gore for the third straight night. Other polls show the race even closer.

Governor Bush had to deal with the revelation that 24 years ago he was arrested for drunk driving.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... become clear to America over the course of this campaign that I've made mistakes in my life. But I'm proud to tell you I've learned from those mistakes.

NOVAK: The candidate also had to deal with a misstatement in defending his Social Security plan.

BUSH: This frightens some in Washington, because they want the federal government controlling the Social Security like it's some kind of federal program. We understand differently. though. See, it's your money, not the government's money.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Do you want to entrust the Oval Office to somebody who doesn't even know that Social Security is a federal program?

NOVAK: Meanwhile, Governor Bush stressed his basic campaign theme: Because I believe that we ought to give people some of your own money back not only to encourage economic growth but to make the system more fair.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HUNT: Karl Rove, is it possible that Governor Bush after all these months of talking about the Social Security program doesn't know that this is a federal program? In fact, many conservatives have called it a federal ponzi scheme? KARL ROVE, BUSH SENIOR ADVISER: Well, obviously not. He was in the heat of the campaign and obviously knows it's a government program. He was saying that -- the point that he was trying to make was that Al Gore wants the government to make all the decisions about your Social Security and your retirement, and Governor Bush wants to give younger workers the chance to make the decisions for themselves. We got a Social Security system that's going to go broke by the year 2035.

Workers today are going to find themselves in a place where they're not going to be able to get their Social Security checks. And the only way to save the system and strengthen it is to allow younger workers the option of putting some of their money in the market so that it'll grow at a faster rate.

Today, the Social Security system grows at two percent a year. If you put your money in an inflation indexed government bond, you grow it at twice that rate.

NOVAK: Mr. Rove, I understand from some of the private tracking polls last night that many of the senior citizens who had been undecided are moving at a very fast pace into the decided category. Does that alarm you that these senior citizens getting off the fence may end up in Vice President Gore's column?

ROVE: No, not at all. In fact what we've seen is just the opposite. The undecideds here at the end are breaking towards Bush as they have, incidentally, in every open race for the presidency back to 1952. The late deciders, the undecideds who make their decisions in the final days of the campaign have voted for the out of party power in every election ranging from a low of 55 up to a high of 72 percent of the undecideds. And that's the pattern that's appearing here as well.

HUNT: Mr. Rove, as you know, a local Fox TV affiliate, a reporter broke a story with the help of a Democratic activist in Maine that Governor Bush was arrested for drunk driving 24 years ago. This was not divulged in any confidential health or financial records. IT was a matter of public record. Now if Governor Bush a year ago had told the public about this, that he was arrested for drunk driving at age 30 it would have been a non-story. Don't you think Mr. Bush had an obligation to tell the American people about this?

ROVE: Well, he did tell the American people the truth all along. He said, I did things when I was a young man that I wasn't proud of. He never attempted to paint a picture different than what it was. Incidentally, I think Tom Connolly is more than just a Democrat activist. He was the Democrat candidate for governor of Maine in 1998. He's a Democrat delegate to the Democratic National Convention and Gore supporter in Los Angeles this year and he is also the author of an extremely nasty and viscous web page, anti-Bush web page called, Weiner.com. And I think to characterize him as a Democrat activist is to -- that really underplay this man's credentials. This was a...

HUNT: Mr. Rove, let's go back to the story itself. Last November on Meet The Press, Governor Bush was asked by moderator Tim Russert about the possibility of someone releasing embarrassing information about him. And he said -- and we'll put this on the screen for our viewers to see -- this was Governor Bush's response and I quote, "If someone was willing to go public with information that was damaging, you would have heard about it by now. My background has been scrutinized by all kinds of reports." Obviously, the governor knew then that he had a drunk driving arrest record. Wasn't he being disingenuous with that statement to Mr. Russert?

ROVE: No, not at all, Mr. Hunt. In fact, the governor was -- shot straight with the American people. He said there's things that I'm not proud of. Let's put this in context. Twenty-four years ago he was arrested for driving too slowly. He paid the $150 fine, had his driving privileges suspended in the state of Maine, and he learned from it. And, as you know, when he turned 40, 14 years ago, he stopped drinking alcohol altogether. So look...

HUNT: Final question on this...

ROVE: ... you can make a lot of this but...

HUNT: No, I'm not. Just one final...

ROVE: ... let me finish. The American people...

HUNT: One final question, if I may, and then we'll totally get off and that is can you tell...

ROVE: The American people -- the American people have made a decision about this. They really don't want -- they don't like these last minute charges. They don't like these last minute injections of personal issues into the campaign. And they also very emphatically have said in response to at least several polls that I've seen this morning that they don't consider it an issue.

HUNT: One final question. Can you assure the American people right now that on bank loans or any kind of business applications or drivers licenses or background checks, that Governor Bush, on this issue of his drunk driving record, has never misled or withheld information?

ROVE: Yes.

HUNT: OK.

NOVAK: Mr. Rove, I understand that there are polling data available to many people in both parties that indicate that the American people now feel that the top issue in the campaign is no longer education, but it is the character issue. Does that mean that your campaign and perhaps the other campaign for these remaining few days will be attacking the other person's character as much as possible?

ROVE: No. Today, the governor for example is talking about tools for parents, things that the government can do to help strengthen families like online filters on the Internet and family programming hours and safe school programs. Tomorrow, he'll be talking in Florida about Social Security, Medicare, about his plan to strengthen Social Security and his plan to provide a prescription drug benefit using market mechanisms under Medicare. Monday, he'll be talking about education in a rather interesting sweep through parts of the country that should be locked away for Al Gore at this point.

But, no, look, we're going to keep talking about the issues that have brought him here. Governor Bush has come to this point and is ahead in the polls because he's emphasized five big issues and he's going to continue to emphasize them right up until the moment the polls close.

NOVAK: Mr. Rove, one of the things that the vice president has emphasized and many of the -- the vice president has not emphasized, I should say, but many of his surrogates have emphasized and certainly the Democratic commercials have emphasized is that George W. Bush is not ready for the job, that he's inexperienced. Is that your candidate's Achilles heel that he has inadequate amount of experience?

ROVE: Look, in the words of the immortal philosopher Yogi Berra, that's deja vu all over again. We heard that from Ann Richards when he ran for governor in 1994. We've heard it several times during this campaign. They said, well, Governor Bush is not going to really get off on the trail right because he's not prepared. That didn't happen. Governor Bush is going to be beaten in the primaries because he's not prepared. That didn't happen. They said, well we're going to demonstrate -- the Gore campaign said we're going to demonstrate that he's unprepared to be president in the debates. That didn't happen.

Look, Governor Bush is the chief executive officer of a big state, the second biggest state in the union. He's the only candidate running for president who has experience as a chief executive officer. He hasn't been a legislator. He hasn't been a Washington insider, but he is a leader, somebody who knows how to set priorities to work across party lines to get Democrats and Republicans to agree upon things that need to be done and then he get them done. And that's what America is looking for.

They're not looking for the continuation of the gotcha politics, the demonization of political opponents, the nasty politics that we've seen emanating from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the last eight years.

HUNT: Mr. Rove, you have complained about the nasty politics that the Gore campaign has used and I must say you've provided plenty of fodder for that charge. But at the same time, the Republicans have run a misleading ad claiming that Vice President Gore has a polluting mine company mining zinc on his property while he gets $500,000. Dick Cheney has suggested that Al Gore simply can't tell the truth. George Bush has suggested that Al Gore will not have honor and integrity in the Oval Office. When it comes to down and dirty politics, there really isn't much difference between the two campaigns, is there?

ROVE: Well that may be in your mind but you've mis-stated a couple of things there. It is absolutely accurate that the mine, that Al Gore has received a rather lucrative set of royalties from is polluting the local source of drinking water in that area, the New Canaan River, is absolutely factual that Vice President Gore has problems telling the truth.

ROVE: He claimed to have written the earned income tax credit, which was passed two years before he went to Congress. He claimed to be a co-sponsor of McCain-Feingold campaign reform legislation. That piece of legislation wasn't introduced until after he left the Senate. We know all about the exaggerations of Al Gore.

And when Governor Bush talks about restoring dignity and honor in the White House, he's talking about what his goal is. If you want to read into that a comment about Al Gore, that's your privilege. Governor Bush is focused on talking to the American people...

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: Mr. Rove, we have to take a break now. On that note, we'll take this break and we'll be back in just a minute to talk about the horse race with Karl Rove.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Mr. Rove, the pivotal states of Florida and Michigan are very close, but most of the public polls, at least, show Vice President Gore ahead of Governor Bush in both of those states. The question is this: Is it possible for you to lose both of those states and still be elected president?

ROVE: Well, there are lots of different combinations to get to the magic 270, but Governor Bush is ahead in Florida, and not only in our own internal polling, but also in most of the recent public polls.

And there's a new poll out in Michigan today showing Governor Bush ahead in that state as well. We're going to carry both Michigan and Florida.

NOVAK: Mr. Rove, did you feel that -- a lot of people feel, in the Republican Party, that I have talked to -- that Governor Bush would have been better off going to Florida for the time that he went to California, which has been given up largely as a sure thing for Al Gore. And you didn't get Mr. Gore to spend more money in California to stave it off. Now I know it is -- the polls have tightened in California, but was this a dangerous gamble you made in going to California and spending money there at the expense of Florida?

ROVE: Well, no, not at all. In fact, we've spent $1.8 million on television in California. The rest of the money was money raised for the California Republican Party for issue-advocacy ads.

Now it's important for the leader of the Republican Party to contest California, and the good news is, it's working. You've seen in the field poll that was published last week that Governor Bush had cut Albert Gore's lead in California in half in two weeks. And the latest tracking polls out of California are internal polling, and those are the congressional candidates in California, show Governor Bush moving ahead at a pace that might bring California in to the Republican column on Election Day.

Our own internal tracking on Thursday night-Friday morning showed us 39-43 among all voters, and tied 42-42 among likely voters.

HUNT: Mr. Rove, let me ask you, then, about another critical state, which is Pennsylvania. There are many Pennsylvanians who say if you had picked Governor Ridge as your running mate, Pennsylvania, a key battleground state, would have been a shoo-in for you.

I guess I have two questions: What are your internal tracking polls showing in Pennsylvania? And any regrets about not picking Tom Ridge?

ROVE: Well, I understand why people in Pennsylvania are enthusiastic about Tom Ridge. He's a good man and a good friend of the governor's. Our internal tracking poll shows Pennsylvania will be a very competitive race, within a couple of points either way.

HUNT: And no regrets about not picking Tom Ridge?

ROVE: Dick Cheney's a wonderful man. I think Tom Ridge -- the governor took him at his word. Tom Ridge said this was not the time in his life for him to make a commitment to move to Washington and be vice president of the United States. The governor accepted that decision regretfully. But Tom Ridge is a good man, and Governor Bush hopes to prevail upon him to serve in public life after he finishes his term...

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: You've got an extraordinarily able political mind. One final state: Tennessee, the vice president's homestate. Who's going to carry it next Tuesday?

ROVE: George W. Bush. The fact is that this is a state that has become more Republican and grown very distant from Al Gore. He has not cultivated his home-base, the fact that he's spending one incomplete day out of the last four days of the campaign in his home state is a sign of something. The latest poll in Texas shows against by 30 points. The latest polls in Tennessee show Governor Bush up by a goodly number.

NOVAK: Karl Rove, there are several states that were conceded to Vice President Gore just a few months ago which are toss-ups now, and perhaps you could win them all: Oregon, Washington, Minnesota and Wisconsin -- those four states. If you win those states and that brings you victory, do you owe a thank-you note to Ralph Nader for taking votes, the liberal votes, in all of those states away from the vice president?

ROVE: Well, I don't know. We'll see what the final margins say. I think Ralph Nader has done something a little extraordinary, which is, he's not just taken votes from the left wing of the Democratic Party, he's also energizing some people who have not heretofore participated in the political system.

But, look, what's interesting about this math is, is there were a number of states that were supposedly toss-up states as recently as August, states like Montana and Colorado and South Dakota and Louisiana and Kentucky, all of which are now firmly -- I suspect everybody agrees -- in the Republican column.

There are also a large number of states which were thought to be safely Democrat states -- you named some of them. I'd add to that list Iowa and Minnesota, West Virginia, Maine and New Hampshire, all of which some experts said, as recently as August, were comfortably in the Democratic column, which are clearly either toss-up states, or in the instance of a few of them, very much in the Bush column.

And some of them are pretty striking. I mean, West Virginia was last won by a Republican presidential candidate in an open race in 1928. The only times the Republicans have won it since then have been in re-election contests. Yet all the polls show Governor Bush in a great shape to take the state.

NOVAK: That brings up -- I was going to ask you about where I was last night.

Last night I was in Morgantown, West Virginia, at a little rally. The last I saw West Virginia -- granted, it's usually a Democratic state, but it's five electoral votes, not very many. What in the world was George W. Bush doing in West Virginia that close to the election on a Friday night?

ROVE: We like playing on the other guy's 20. And when you're on the other guy's 20, you score a lot more often than when you play on your own 30. And this is a state where the latest public poll has Governor Bush ahead by 10 points. Pretty strong numbers. And it's because of a lot of issues -- cultural conservatives, coal, steel, disenchantment with the Clinton-Gore administration.

But we visited three times. And a mark of how much this state has in play is the fact the vice president of the United States is in Huntington, West Virginia, today campaigning.

This is a state very much in play, and in a close election like this one could be, five electoral votes is five electoral votes.

HUNT: Mr. Rove, again, put on your prognosticator hat. Tell us, next Tuesday, what margin -- the margin will be between Governor Bush and Al Gore and what percentage of the vote you think Mr. Bush will get.

ROVE: He'll get -- he'll lead by six points, and he'll get 320- plus votes in the electoral college.

HUNT: What percentage of the vote, the popular vote, will he get?

ROVE: Fifty to 51.

HUNT: Fifty to 51, all right.

Thank you, Mr. Rove.

We will be back in just a minute for the "Big Question," with Karl Rove. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HUNT: And now the "Big Question" for Karl Rove.

Sir, you have just told us that you're confident that Governor Bush will get 325 electoral votes and win the popular vote by six points next Tuesday. But if one candidate next Tuesday should lose the popular vote in a much closer election than you anticipate, by a point or two, and still get 275 or 280 electoral votes, would he be a legitimate victor?

ROVE: Well, look, I've seen all the speculation in the last couple of days about this so-called popular vote-electoral vote scenario. I just don't think it's going to happen at all. I mean, the last time that it happened was 1888, and what it took to make that happen was an extraordinary set of circumstances. You had a highly polarized election, which the northern states voted for the Republican candidate and the southern states voted overwhelmingly for the Democrat candidate. But because the Democratic Party had imposed Jim Crow laws in the South, they drove down the voter registration and the voter turnout enormously.

States with comparable populations in the North and South, that it is to say, with roughly the same number of electoral votes, like, say, Indiana and Alabama or Minnesota and Alabama, there were a lot more votes cast in the North than were cast in the South. So the winner of the electoral college, you know, had a smaller number of votes generating their states in the South than the Republicans had in generating their votes in the North. And I just don't see it happening.

I think this is all hogwash. It's not worth the time.

NOVAK: But hypothetically, Mr. Rove, let's just assume it did happen. Wouldn't you think that my colleague, Mr. Hunt's column in "the Wall Street Journal" calling for the abolition of the electoral college, has some merit?

ROVE: No, I don't. I don't think America is headed for a constitutional crisis. And I do think the electoral college does give a sort of a evening out.

If all we cared about was the popular vote, then the presidential candidates would not campaign in a broad number of states. They would campaign in large metropolitan areas in the big states and we wouldn't have a truly national contest.

I think it's healthy for the country to have the electoral college which helps give some advantage to geography and diversity, and I think that's important.

But I -- the assumption that we're headed for a constitutional crisis Tuesday is ludicrous.

NOVAK: Karl Rove, thank you very much.

Al Hunt and I will be back with a comment after these messages.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HUNT: Bob, I believe Karl Rove thinks they're going to win this election, but he's not quite as confident as those numbers he tossed out to us or, as you say in your question, Governor Bush would not have been in West Virginia with five electoral votes in the Friday night before election.

NOVAK: He was very confident, too, about Michigan and Florida. He said they're ahead in their polls. But I really think he has to be, because they have to win at least one of those states. I don't think you can get to 270 without Michigan and Florida unless -- unless there's a huge surprise in California. He obviously has some good polling numbers from California but that would be the real Republican coup of the election.

HUNT: It sure would be. You know he's a very, very smart guy, but he's a colleague of the late Lee Atwater, practitioners of very tough politics. For Karl Rove to complain about dirty or negative politics, a little bit like Larry Flynt complaining about pornography.

NOVAK: I was talking to one of the elders of the Democratic Party who never met -- the other day -- never met Karl Rove in his life. He said he is more impressed with him than anybody he has come across in ages.

I think keeping the campaign down in Austin under his direction was a smart deal not bringing it up to Washington to be run by the people who lost the last two elections for the Republicans.

I'm Robert Novak.

HUNT: And I'm Al Hunt.

NOVAK: Coming up in one-half hour on "RELIABLE SOURCES": Has the press gone overboard with the story of Governor George W. Bush's 1976 DUI arrest?

And at 7 p.m. on "CAPITAL GANG," our election prediction special. We'll look into our crystal balls and pick winners in House and Senate races and who will take over the White House.

HUNT: And be sure to tune in at 11 a.m. Eastern tomorrow when we hear from the Democrats with Gore campaign chairman Bill Daley.

Thanks for joining us.

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