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Presidential Race Too Close to Call; Campaign Finance Reform to Face Strong Opposition in Senate; International Reaction Mixed

Aired November 8, 2000 - 8:50 a.m. ET

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

FRANK SESNO, CNN ANCHOR: Dogs don't get to choose. We do, though, and we are joined now by Chuck Lewis. He is with the Center for Public Integrity. You saw the Brooks Jackson piece there.

Now, let's delve into it: Does it really matter? I talked to John Corzine earlier. He spent $65 million of his own money. He said, in the end, once I get there, people don't care. Now it is to the business of governing.

CHARLES LEWIS, CENTER FOR PUBLIC INTEGRITY: Well, I mean, I think it does matter because certain people don't enter politics unless they are a millionaire or they are willing to dial for dollars several hours a day. We have a system now where 36 or 40 members of the U.S. Senate are millionaires, and that's who enters public service now. And you got to wonder about Harry Truman and Abe Lincoln, could they have entered this kind of process. Every presidential election since 1976, the candidate to raise the most money the year before the election got the nomination. Same thing this year.

SESNO: We didn't think we would have this conversation, Chuck, that we wouldn't know who the president of the United States was. If it's Al Gore, he has said first thing he will send to Hill is campaign finance reform. George W. Bush has not embraced campaign finance reform, but I am told by some Republicans on the Hill, that people like John McCain and others are going to be expecting a little bit of payback, and they are going to want some attention to what to do about this flood of money. What's likely to happen?

LEWIS: Well, you are going to hear an awful lot of discussion about the McCain-Feingold legislation that passed a majority of both Houses the last two years. McCain will be very, very prominent. But don't forget, you have Trent Lott and Mitch McConnell still blocking the door. You need 60 votes in the Senate. No one has gotten near 60. It has been 53 or 54 votes in the past. And I don't know what the new numbers will shakeout to be, but the bottom line is that the Senate will be the battleground in Washington on that question.

SESNO: Mitch McConnell and others say this is not about barring the door, this is about opening the door. This is about freedom of speech. If I want to put up a billboard to say: Vote for Lieberman, or vote for Trent Lott, I should be free to do that. One person commented yesterday: The public doesn't much care. This is an issue that, quoting this senator, "ranks right up there with static cling with the American people."

There is not going to be a groundswell for this, is there?

LEWIS: Well, actually, there is not a groundswell for any major issue in this country, if you think about it. When was the last time we have seen a march over some issue in Washington.

We are at a complacent time in our history.

There are 100 million people who didn't vote the last two election cycles, who have stayed home. There is a lot of distrust towards government. A majority think politicians are corrupt. They just don't know who to complain to. Who do they talk to? their member of Congress who just raised over a million dollars for their seat?

So we have a system here where alienation and distrust is very extensive. No one knows what to do about it. Politicians are just very happy because 99 percent of the incumbents have been re-elected again; I think last night it was 98 percent.

So we're in the stalemate potential situation, and the new president has to deal with this.

SESNO: All right, he does. Chuck Lewis, thanks.

LEWIS: Thanks.

SESNO: Leon, back to you.

LEON HARRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All right, thanks, Frank. Let's now get some international perspective. CNN's Chief correspondent Christiane Amanpour is in Jerusalem. Let's get some reaction to this -- this presidential race, this undecided race at this particular hour from Christiane.

Christiane, from your vantage point, how do you think that the last few hours of activity here politically are going to be seen overseas, particularly in the Middle East?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly here, where the United States plays such a major role, everybody is on tenterhooks wondering who is going to be the next United States president. We have watched Israeli television all day and they have been carrying a lot of the election coverage, taking a lot of CNN. It has been on the radio. So it is very, very closely watched here.

It seems to boil down to the following, as far as I can gather: to the Israeli public, the majority would prefer to have Gore as the next president; to the Palestinians and most of the Arab world, they don't really care who is the next president.

According to a leading Israeli columnist who I spoke to today, there has been a poll of Israeli public opinion on Sunday, which put 50 percent in Gore's favor to 22 percent for Bush. And basically, they say, this leading columnist, that that, he believes, reflects the private view of the current Israeli government as well.

In essence, better the devil you know than the devil you don't know. They have worked with President Clinton for eight years, Gore was his vice president. They know exactly where they stand with the Clinton-Gore team. The Israelis also feel that they have much better access to the halls of power in the United States, through the United States Jewish community. They know very well that the majority of American Jews do vote Democratic. And so they feel a greater familiarity and a greater access with a Democrat, and particularly with Gore, who they know very well.

The opposite appears to be true, according to Israelis, of a potential George W. Bush as president. They say his record is very unclear at the moment. They view him as somewhat inexperienced in foreign affairs, and they also remember how George Bush Senior, when he was president, along with his secretary of state, James Baker, was quite tough on the Israelis. They view that presidency as having put a lot of pressure on the Israelis to come to peace agreements with the Palestinians.

On the other hand, according to this Israeli columnist, there is a certain faction of Israeli opinion that might prefer George Bush as president, might prefer a Republican president, because they hope that a Republican president might keep slightly a more hand's off attitude towards Israel. They would like to see the Americans perhaps take a lesser role in this current peace process.

Now, according to a Palestinian analyst who I spoke to, again, they say, that at the moment they really believe that it doesn't make any difference who is the United States president. With the current confrontation, the last five weeks of fighting, there has been a great amount of bitterness engendered towards the United States. They view the U.S., and particularly the U.S. president, as heavily pro-Israeli to expense of the Palestinians. And they say that they would, frankly, prefer, perhaps, a new administration, a different administration, somebody different to work with.

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, who gets a great deal of international aid from the United States and is also a mediator in the Arab-Israeli peace process, said today, when he was asked in Egypt, that it didn't matter to him whether Bush or Gore wins. That's according to a wire report from Egypt.

Basically they believe and many in the Arab world, and even from Iran there's been reports today, that no matter Republican or Democrat, they view the United States government as heavily pro- Israeli.

So that's the basic view that we are getting at this particular time -- Leon.

HARRIS: Thank you so much, Christiane Amanpour, reporting live for us this morning from Jerusalem.

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