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THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Tonight, he's tan, he's rested, he's bearded, but is Al Gore ready to make another run for the White House? And are Democrats ready to give him another chance?
ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Robert Novak. In the CROSSFIRE, in Atlanta, Ralph Reed, chairman of the Georgia Republican Party. And in Las Vegas, Democratic strategist Victor Kamber.
NOVAK: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. Who was that bearded man with the familiar face down in Nashville? A new country singer? No, it was Al Gore, surfacing after eight months of such reclusiveness that nobody knew he had become hirsute until he surfaced in Valencia, Spain.
The Democratic presidential candidate reappeared this weekend in Nashville at a political workshop, all closed to the media, of course. Still, that's the closest to Gore going public since he belatedly conceded to George W. Bush.
What's next? He says he's going to campaign for Democratic candidates and work with wife Tipper on a non-Clinton type book about marriage and the family. But what about '04?
Last week's CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll of registered Democrats shows Al Gore leading with 32 percent, followed by Hillary Clinton's 19 percent. Is the Democratic glass one-third full, or two-thirds empty for Al Gore?
Mr. Gore's chief strategist in 2000, who certainly is not responsible for the way his candidate campaigned, Bob Shrum, sits in for Bill Press on the left tonight.
Vic Kamber, with two out of every three registered Democrats against, not in favor of Al Gore getting another chance for president, do you think maybe he ought to go back to growing tobacco in Tennessee?
VICTOR KAMBER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Bob, I'm not sure we read polls the same way. The poll didn't say who you're against and who you're for. Who would you be for. He happened to be one-third of the choices of the people who responded. Others were there, didn't say if those who were for other people wouldn't still be for Al Gore. BOB SHRUM, GUEST HOST: Bob, I've got to say to you, by the way, I was one of his strategists and proud to be associated with the campaign.
Ralph, Bob Novak can be very selective about his poll numbers. Don't you think it might be fair to say that Al Gore has had a pretty good six months in that the same CNN poll shows that if the election were held today, he'd beat George W. Bush, he'd win the election again?
RALPH REED, GEORGIA REPUBLICAN PARTY CHAIRMAN: Well, it depends on which poll you look at, actually, Bob. An ABC poll actually showed that George W. Bush would defeat Al Gore.
But I think the more important point is for him to not be doing better among core Democrats, I think, is a potential problem if he wants to do it. It's a decision he's going to have to make, but those are certainly not Nixon circa 1968 numbers, where the party is looking and begging for a saviour.
NOVAK: Vic Kamber, I'm going to give you one more poll data from that CNN Gallup poll and then I'm going to leave you alone. You know, when I was growing up, and maybe even when you were growing up, you're younger than I am...
KAMBER: Not much.
NOVAK: ... we used to talk about the guy who, who lost the last election as the titular leader of his party. In this poll, they were asked who is the leader of the Democratic party, and we had no one, 10 percent, we had Dick Gephardt 9 percent, Tom Daschle 7 percent, Al Gore 6 percent. And as I said, no one 10 percent. And no opinion, 51 percent. That's pathetic, isn't it?
KAMBER: Well, Bob, the interesting thing in using -- as you grew up, you said, and even now, Republicans -- and I'm not being critical -- but the Republicans are different than the Democrats.
Put this election aside, you can never name a period in time in our modern times when a Democrat who has lost office has been the titular leader of the party, whether it was Walter Mondale, George McGovern or whoever it may have been.
We've always gone to the elected officials who were in office or the next round of candidates who want to run who become, sort of, the front-runners, leaders of the party. We also have not had the luxury in the past of a popular sitting president who has left office. When Jimmy Carter lost, he wasn't particularly popular, so he couldn't take over the titular leadership in the way that Bill Clinton seems to be -- not the leader, but certainly a great spokesperson for the party.
NOVAK: Well, I think the problem, Vic, is that Al Gore has just hid out for these last eight months. He's gone to Spain to grow a beard. And of course the Democrats all tell me that he has just been AWOL these weeks. But you know, there's only one Democrat I know who is gutsy enough and God bless her she will always say what's on her mind, and let's listen to what Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California has to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: There's been some terrific battles in the Congress of the United States dealing with this tax cut by the president of the United States, and social security, and stem cells, you name it. And where is Al Gore? He doesn't act like a man who wants to run again for president of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NOVAK: Maxine has got that right, doesn't she, Vic?
KAMBER: Well, what she's saying, is what a lot of people are saying in a different way. Our party, Bob, you've got to understand, you don't get anointed in the Democratic party, you got to work for that nomination. Al Gore had the nomination before. He happened to -- he lost, although he had the popular vote, and if he wants the nomination again, he's going to have to go out and work for it.
I happen to think, no matter what anyone says, he's the front runner today. He can raise the money and he, I think, has a base of support. But it's not going to be given to him on a silver platter. He's got to go out and work for it, mostly because we have such a talented field of candidates who can also run.
NOVAK: That's wonderful.
SHRUM: Ralph, that's the first time I've ever heard Bob Novak complain that there wasn't enough criticism of George W. Bush. The truth is, the truth is, Al Gore wasn't out there from day one going after George Bush and he said that he thought the country needed time to heal after what had happened in Florida, and after the divisiveness of the presidential election.
If he had attacked him day after day, gone after him day after day, don't you think you and other Republicans would be on programs like this accusing him of being negative, accusing him of kind of hit and run tactics against Bush -- that he did exactly the right thing by taking some time off and stepping back from the wider stage.
REED: Well, you know, Bob, I think that's a decision that Al Gore really has to make. And the more important question is, do the core activists: labor, minorities, feminists and others who make up -- the core activists who will decide the next nominee, do they believe he's been AWOL or do they believe he's been there when they needed him? That's not really a question I can answer. That's a question that I think probably you and Vic could answer better than me.
But I will say this, if you look at "The Washington Post" story yesterday, in which they talked about Gore's decision, there was a fascinating quote from what was identified as a senior adviser to Gore, and that person said this, and I quote: "The most important thing that Gore must figure out fully before returning to political life is "who he is"." Now, you know, Bob, if you've been in public life for 25 years, you're 53 years old, you've been in the U.S. House, the U.S. Senate, and you've been vice president of the U.S. and you're still trying to figure out who you are, in the words of your friends, I think that's a political problem.
SHRUM: Ralph, I don't think that senior adviser is a friend of Al Gore's, and I don't know who it --
NOVAK: It wasn't you?
SHRUM: ... and I don't -- it certainly wasn't me, because I don't think that's true at all. He was much maligned in the campaign. He's being maligned here tonight.
Let me ask you about a central issue of that campaign.
SHRUM: During the campaign, Al Gore said that George Bush's $1.6 trillion tax cut would take us back toward deficits, would lead us to invade the Medicare and Social Security trust fund, would shortchange education and wouldn't leave us with enough money for a prescription drug benefit for all seniors under Medicare. Now, all that seems to be happening. Where was Al Gore wrong?
REED: Well, Al Gore was wrong about a couple of things. First of all, he didn't put his finger on what George W. Bush talked about in the campaign, which was a slow down in the high tech sector that endangered the entire economy, number one, and number two, an energy crisis, which he pointed to, then Governor Bush, now President Bush, in the fall in a major policy address in which he said if we didn't solve the problem of energy supply and prices and dependence on foreign oil, that we were going to slow down our entire economy.
And that is in fact exactly what has happened. We have basically flat to anemic growth, and that's the main thing, Bob, that has caused the change in the long-term surplus picture. I think we're going to have a recovery by later this year. I think you're going to see a Bush economy and a Bush recovery and I don't believe Al Gore was ever right about that tax cut and I think it was demonstrated by the fact, Bob, by the way, that the tax cut, the Bush tax cut, was passed with a bipartisan vote in both the House and the Senate.
SHRUM: Well, very few Democrats, you have got to agree.
NOVAK: Vic Kamber...
REED: Well, about 25 or 30 in both chambers, that's pretty good.
SHRUM: Yeah, out of about 300.
NOVAK: 300? Since when did we get 300 Democrats? Anyway, Vic Kamber, you and I can agree on something.
KAMBER: That scares me, Bob. NOVAK: Well, I don't know if you'll say anything publicly, but that is that when people get together in Washington, in restaurants and parties, and they talk about Al Gore, they don't talk about, as Bob Shrum said, gee, he was -- he really had it right in the campaign. They talk about -- they talk, including Democrats, how he screwed up this election. How could he lose this election? I mean, the economy was going great, and there was a high rating for President Clinton, and one of the things I have heard from dozens of Democrats is why in the world didn't he use Bill Clinton more.
What side of the fence are you on, there? Do you think he was right, because he thought that Bill Clinton's scandals would rub off on him, to just rub off the guy who made him the presidential nominee?
KAMBER: Hindsight is always, I think, the Monday morning quarterbacking is always the way people want to sit around, especially in Washington. We all like to pontificate, we all like to second guess, yeah. I probably do come down on the side, Bob Shrum might disagree with me, I probably would have used Bill Clinton, President Clinton more had it been my decision to make.
But I also didn't have all the polling numbers, the data. I didn't know, I wasn't privy to all the strategy that took place. The fact is, Bob, I mean, when you lose by electoral votes, not popular votes, any one decision could have made a difference.
Had he stopped in X city versus Y city. Had he not, you know, coughed on television one day. Had he worn a blue shirt versus a white short. We're talking about 300 votes. We're not talking -- in Florida, they could have made -- we think we won Florida, but even if he didn't, the 300 votes that could have made the difference.
So, to suggest any one thing that could have made a difference, any one strategist or pontificator in Washington, frankly, sure, they're second guessing.
NOVAK: Well, that's silliness to say you won Florida when all the indications are...
KAMBER: Well, I'm saying, if you didn't, it's 300 votes. Even if he didn't, it's 300 votes, Bob.
NOVAK: Here, here is the point that a lot of people are making. This was first pointed out to me by a very astute Democrat, Senator Zell Miller of Georgia, pointed this out to me. That if the same states are won in 2004 by George W. Bush against Al Gore, George W. Bush would win not by five electoral votes but by 18 electoral votes because of the change in the census of the electoral college.
I mean, it is, this is a very high mountain for Al Gore to climb against George W. Bush, isn't it?
KAMBER: No. First of all, I mean, to suggest that you go from three electoral votes to 18 as a mandate, I don't view that as particularly significant. I understand what you're saying. The population shifts have given those states more electoral votes. Secondly, though, I don't quite give away those states that we lost any more than George Bush is going to give away the states he lost. 19, or 2004 is going to be a whole different election. No longer is it going to be Clinton versus -- as an issue. It's going to be George Bush and his record as an issue, and frankly I'm delighted that Republicans are salivating at an Al Gore or some Democrat.
I think any Democrat today we're talking about could give George Bush a run for his money and, frankly, I think three or four, including Al Gore, would beat him today.
SHRUM: By the way, Bob, it's 259 Democrats in the House and Senate. Less than 10 percent voted for that tax cut. But, you and Ralph are full of predictions, so I'd like to put up a quote from Ralph last November 3rd here on CROSSFIRE.
"I think Bush is going to be rewarded at the polls on Tuesday with a big victory."
Ralph, aren't the polls so close now between Gore and Bush because, in fact, on the environment, on health-care, on the minimum wage, on arms control, on a woman's right to choose, the American people are whole lot closer to Al Gore and the Democrats than to George Bush and the Republicans?
REED: No, I wouldn't agree with that Bob. And, in fact, if you look at a lot of the polling, not only does George W. Bush enjoy, in historical terms, vary high approval ratings, 59 percent according to the latest ABC poll. But even more importantly, if you look at the underlying numbers, he's got a majority approval on traditional Republican issues like taxes and crime and the economy and the military.
But in addition to that, he's got a 63 percent job approval on education and for the first time in 53 years of polling by the Gallup organization, the American people say that the Republican party, not the Democratic party, is better at dealing with the education issue. That's because as a governor, George W. Bush has dealt with education and been a national leader on education.
In addition to cutting taxes, he's passed a bipartisan education reform bill. He's broke six years of gridlock and finally gotten us a patient's bill of rights that protects patients without leading to needless litigation. He's passed a bipartisan...
SHRUM: All right, all right...
But, he would lose the election to Al Gore if it were held today according to the CNN poll.
NOVAK: All right. Well, we don't know about the electoral college. That's the popular vote. SHRUM: Well, and what games you guys might play in Florida again.
NOVAK: OK. We're going to have to take a break, and when we come back, we'll ponder whether the Democrats really would like a fresh face in '04.
SHRUM: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. I'm Bob Shrum, sitting in for Bill Press on the left.
A year ago this month, at the Democratic National Convention, Al Gore erased a 15 point Bush lead and then went on to win the popular vote in November. After the Supreme Court decided the election, Al Gore bowed out gracefully as George W. Bush himself has said, and left the wider stage to teach and write.
But now he's back, tied with President Bush in the polls, and gearing up to campaign hard for Democrats.
With us tonight to discuss all this, Democratic strategist Victor Kamber and Georgia Republican Party Chairman, Ralph Reed.
Ralph, I can't really recall a newly elected president who was losing at this point in his term to the candidate he ran against in the last election. But before 2004 comes 2002, and as I just said, Al Gore is going to go out there, he's going to campaign very hard for Democrats.
Aren't you, as a Republican strategist, worried about the effect of that in all of those key states that Gore carried? For example, if you were Governor George Pataki in New York, Republican, running for reelection, wouldn't you be worried about Al Gore coming in there and campaigning for the Democrat in the state he carried as big as he did?
REED: Well, you know, Bob, we'll just have to see how many places he gets invited to. I don't see Mark Warner, the Democratic nominee in Virginia, you know, calling out the cavalry and asking Al Gore to lead it. We'll just have to see. I would turn your question on its head and suggest that there are states in 2002 where there are critical pivotal today to close to call U.S. Senate races, where George W. Bush won those states by large margins. Places like South Dakota, Montana, Georgia, where you've got Democratic incumbents that are in serious trouble.
What we know is this: Al Gore lost a presidential election he should have won, in historical terms. No one has ever won with incumbency, peace and prosperity, with wind at their back, and lost that election and, indeed, he became the first incumbent vice president or president since 1844 to lose his own state.
So, make no mistake about it, George W. Bush's election was remarkable in both historical and political terms and I think Al Gore lost an election that in many ways was his to lose. SHRUM: Yeah, well, Al Gore, in my view, won the election, but leaving that aside, the fact is that we have had before Al Gore, in modern times, two vice presidents, both running to succeed popular presidents, run for the presidency.
Richard Nixon lost in 1960, narrowly, and in 1960 -- in 1988, George W. Bush won by a somewhat larger margin. So, my question to you would be, if you look at Democrats around the country, you look at the polling today, you look at the fact that Al Gore is beating George W. Bush and that Al Gore is going to go campaign in New Jersey for Jim McGreevey, wouldn't you have to think that maybe the Republicans ought to be a little bit worried about this midterm election and that's why George Bush is trying to moderate himself on everything from the environment to a patient's bill of rights?
REED: Well, first of all, you talk about one survey that shows Al Gore winning. There is another survey, of course, by ABC News, that shows him losing. So, I just want to make it clear, you know, it's hard to predict three years out.
SHRUM: Ralph, I want to be fair. I'm just trying to use the same poll precertified by Bob Novak as the poll we should be talking about here.
REED: All right. Well, in any event, to answer your question, Bob, I think the fact of the matter is that if you look at what George W. Bush is doing, he's focusing on doing his job. He's redeeming the promises he made to the American people to reduce taxes, break gridlock in Washington, change the tone, deliver a patient's bill of rights, a bipartisan energy plan. And if you look at that same ABC News poll I eluded to earlier, 60 percent of the American people say that he is governing on the same promises he ran on.
REED: At this same point in Bill Clinton's presidency...
REED: ... that number was 46 percent.
KAMBER: Ralph, you can give another campaign speech for George Bush. Bottom-line is, between the pundits, the comedians in the country and the American public, they like him as a human being. There isn't the great confidence you're trying to elude to in his leadership.
We hear more about his vacations in Texas and his time off from the White House than we do about his time in the White House. But, be that as it may be -- be that as it may...
NOVAK: Gentlemen, gentlemen, this...
REED: Can I just respond, Bob?
NOVAK: This program is supposed to be about Al Gore and I have a question now about Al Gore. I want you to take a look, Vic Kamber, at a quote from William Lynch, who is the chairman of the Rhode Island Democratic party. Just appeared in Sunday's "Chicago Tribune."
It said, "When you go eight or nine months and no one has seen or heard from you, it leaves an opening for a fresh face."
Fresh face is the phrase I've been hearing from Democrats all year long. They talk about Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota. Somebody different. That has to appeal to you to, doesn't it?
KAMBER: Well, I mean, there is nothing wrong with Mr. Lynch's quote. I would agree with that. If you sit back and do nothing, there is going to be an opening. I -- that's why I said the part earlier. Our party doesn't anoint somebody, you've got to work for the nomination. If Al Gore, Al Gore has already said what he's going to do in the immediate future. He is going to be back in the fray. He's going to probably raise money for candidates. He's going to campaign for candidates. He has not made up his mind whether he wants to run for the nomination.
And in that void of him not making a decision and being absent for a period, other faces have emerged. We're blessed, I'll say this again. This party, the Democratic party, is blessed with a number of very, very talented, gifted leaders in this country who could step into the breach.
He's going to have to fight for that nomination if he wants it, but I think he's the front-runner.
NOVAK: Well, Edwards and Daschle might have fresh faces, but vice president Gore has a bearded face, and you know the last Republican -- the last president of the United States with a beard was Benjamin Harrison. And the last president with any facial hair was William Howard Taft. That was all a long time ago...
KAMBER: You know, Bob, it's...
NOVAK: Let me ask, let me ask the question, Vic. Would you recommend that if he runs for president he gets a good razor?
KAMBER: What I -- you know, I'm fascinated by the media, including yourself, who have commented about Hillary Clinton's hair and Al Gore's hair. I mean, that's all you seem to be wanting to talk about is facial hair or hair hair.
NOVAK: What's your answer to that? Yes, you would have him shave?
KAMBER: I don't know. I don't know. You know, I think he's got to be comfortable with who he is.
SHRUM: Bob, he already had an election that was a close shave, so maybe he can keep the beard.
REED: Well, the important thing is George Bush doesn't have to figure out who he is.
NOVAK: Well, that'll have to be the last word.
REED: That's the important thing.
SHRUM: Oh, Ralph. Come on. I think he knows who he is. It's -- lighten up, a little.
NOVAK: Thank you. Thank you, Vic Kamber.
KAMBER: Thank you, Bob. Both Bobs.
NOVAK: In Las Vegas. Shoot one for me at the table. And thank you Ralph Reed in Atlanta.
REED: Thank you.
NOVAK: And Bob Shrum, who has no facial hair at all, and I, will be back with closing comments.
NOVAK: The Democrats are the only party that run losers again for president. William Jennings Bryan, Adlai Stevenson.
SHRUM: How about Richard Nixon? What happened with Richard Nixon? Who was he?
NOVAK: Consecutive losers. You know, Bob, you devoted two of the best years of your life to Al Gore. I certainly hope if he runs again that you find a fresh face and you don't go with the old -- because I like you.
SHRUM: Let me tell you something, Bob. Thank you very much for that and thank you for your solicitude for the Democratic party. I'm proud I worked for Al Gore and I'll make a prediction here tonight. I think if George Bush's poll ratings stay the way he is, he may be the one who doesn't run in 2004. Then he can have a permanent vacation on the Texas ranch without going around with some phony heartland of America story.
NOVAK: Can we -- would you like to put a little money on that one?
SHRUM: Sure. Absolutely! I'll bet you right now.
From the left, I'm Bob Shrum. Good night from CROSSFIRE.
NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.
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