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What Does the Future Have in Store for Janet Reno and Elizabeth Dole?

Aired August 16, 2001 - 19:30   ET


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: From attorney general to governor? From presidential candidate to senator? Tonight what does the future have in store for Janet Reno and Elizabeth Dole?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington: CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Robert Novak. In the "Crossfire," Democratic strategist Mark Mellman and Republican strategist Scott Reed.

NOVAK: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. The candidates for next year's midterm elections are getting ready to run, and thinking it over are two women we have seen before: Janet Reno and Elizabeth Dole.

Everybody knows Janet Reno from her often tumultuous eight years as President Clinton's attorney general, and now she leads the polls to be the Democratic candidate for governor of Florida, running against incumbent Republican Governor Jeb Bush, the president's brother.

Janet Reno has held only one elective office, district attorney in Miami-Dade County. Elizabeth Dole never has been elected to anything. But she is a familiar face as Bob Dole's wife, a cabinet member for two presidents, president of the American Red Cross and a failed candidate for president.

So, she seems to be the front-runner for the Republican nomination in her native North Carolina to succeed Senator Jesse Helms, if he doesn't run. Can Janet and Elizabeth win? Bill Press is in Chicago tonight. We are going to start first talking about the Florida race.

Mark Mellman, I have taken you seriously as a serious person.


NOVAK: You have to be kidding, don't you? The idea you are going to even contemplate in the Democratic Party running Janet Reno against Jeb Bush?

MELLMAN: Well, you know, the reality is that Janet Reno is a brilliant woman who is tenacious and not just for members of her own family, like Jeb Bush. She actually works for the public. She has been elected five times in South Florida. She would be a tremendous candidate for governor of Florida if she decides to run.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Scott Reed, every Democrat in the country knows that the election was stolen last year. They can't get rid of George Bush until 2004, but they can get rid of Jeb Bush, in 2002. And they will write a check to do it. Doesn't that make Jeb Bush vulnerable no matter who runs against him?

SCOTT REED, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think you are right, Bill. Every liberal activist is going to crawl out from their cave in the next year and go down to Florida and try to effect the campaign. But it is not going to work. Bush is going to run on a record, a record of raising kids tax -- I mean raising kids education scores, lowering taxes and he is off to a good start.

Janet Reno is a dream candidate for Democrats to run against. You know you see all these sharks down in the water, that is the Democrat circling around. I think that is Terry McAuliffe in that ski boat looking at them. He has got a real problem because I can't wait to see him stand on the stage with Janet Reno, and embrace her as the nominee of Democrat Party.

NOVAK: Mark Mellman, you have been around politics. This a classic case of a well-known person, who, in the wild world of a Democratic primary runs very well, but is a loser. Let me just show you some results from the Mason-Dixon Poll taken July 27, among Democrats only in Florida. Janet Reno: 47 percent.

I mean she is so far ahead, Pete Peterson -- who is Pete Peterson -- former congressman, former governor, former ambassador to Vietnam: 12 Percent. Jim Davis, he's the guy all insiders like, congressman 7 percent, Lois Frankel, you remember Lois Frankel? She was the one who was so nice on television in the recount, 2 percent.

OK, then we look at the same Mason-Dixon Poll, the result for Governor Jeb Bush, 54 percent, Janet Reno, 39 percent. That is a disaster, isn't it?

MELLMAN: It is a campaign that hasn't been waged yet. The reality is these numbers change. That is why Scott and I are in this business. We like to change those numbers from where they start. But the reality is, Jeb Bush has serious problems in Florida, partly for the reasons that Bill outlined.

The only thing he really focused on, the only think he really cared about, the only thing he was tenacious about was making sure that his brother won that election, no matter how it had to be done. When it comes to kids, when it comes to crime, when it comes to all the issues that Janet Reno has been so strong on, so tenacious on, Jeb Bush has been largely absent.

When Janet Reno I think, is out there making the case for herself, I think you are going find a very, receptive audience.

NOVAK: She has got about 90 percent name ID and she is running way behind right now. MELLMAN: People don't look at her as candidate right now. They look at her as a former attorney general. When they see her as a candidate I think those numbers are going to change and change quickly.

NOVAK: Then why is she so far ahead in the primary? Anyway, I want you to listening to what somebody, who unlike all of us, knows what they are talking about, about Florida politics, Tom Fielder of "The Miami Herald." He was the long time political writer, he is now the editor of the paper, and I'd like to you to listen to what he told us on "CAPITAL GANG" on CNN.


TOM FIEDLER, "MIAMI HERALD": The polling numbers that the Democrats are passing around don't really look particularly good for Janet Reno. She has far and away the biggest negatives of anybody in the field. In fact, she is the only Democratic candidate who is upside, who's negatives are higher than her positives.


NOVAK: That is a disaster isn't it? If a candidate came to you, Mr. Mellman, and said, I want to run, and her numbers are upside down, more people hate her than love her, you would say, find another line of work, wouldn't you?

MELLMAN: No, I think that you have to understand who those people are. I don't doubt that there is a lot of Republicans who really don't like Janet Reno.

NOVAK: Democrats only.

MELLMAN: No, no, the primary is Democrats only, the general election numbers are Tom Fiedler's are general election electorate. And there is a lot of Republicans that don't like Janet Reno. They are not going to vote for the Democrat anyway. We are not going to win this getting mostly Republican votes. We are going to get it from independents, going to get it from Democrats.

She has to make the case for herself, but nobody, I think, is stronger, more articulate, more able and more tenacious than Janet Reno. She is going to be able to make that case and make it very compellingly.

PRESS: Scott Reed, I find this so predictable. Look at Janet Reno. She is a woman, she is 63 years old, she has got Parkinson's disease. So no wonder you guys all want to beat up on her and bully her. She is your typical person to beat up on.

But I think you are making a mistake, and I don't want you to take my word for it. I want to quote the same source that Novak uses, so you must know that this is an impeccable source. Here is Tom Fiedler on why Janet Reno is the strongest candidate. Same man, same show.


FIEDLER: She would be tough to beat. She comes in to the Democratic primary with 95 percent name recognition. Everybody else is under 40 percent, so she clearly dominates. And all it would take is as you say in a crowded field is a rather small plurality to get it.


PRESS: Scott, she raises all kinds of money across the nation to take on Jeb Bush. She saves it all for the fall because she has a lock on primary. That is a huge advantage for her, isn't it?

REED: Just today, Senator Graham, former governor of Florida and a very popular senator, admitted that the Democrats are behind the eight ball on this race, because there is no runoff this year. So the party's going to go ahead and -- the Democrats -- and nominate a lefty, a lefty that is going to lose in the general election.

So look, we are very pleased. We are not going to get involved in the Democrat race. Let them do their own thing. But even the process and even Senator Graham admits with only weeks go from the primary to the general it's going to be very difficult for the party to rally around anybody, especially someone as left leaning as Janet Reno.

MELLMAN: Oh, come on, that is really crossing the line to drop left leaning. This is a woman who as the attorney general, the top law enforcement officer of this nation, who five times was elected as a tough prosecutor in Miami, who has worked to stop price fixing for prescription drugs, who has cracked down on drugs, who's cracked down on violent crime.

To say that she is a lefty is great rhetoric on the show. Nobody in Florida or anyone else is going to believe it.

REED: When you compare to the other two men who are running, Pete Peterson and congresswoman, she is a lefty and she is going to have to run as a lefty.


MELLMAN: Wait and see how she runs.

PRESS: Scott, let me just follow up on that. I think you are missing the point that the issue in Florida is not going to be the issues you talked about, taxes or education.

The issue is that Florida under Jeb Bush has become a national embarrassment. They can't even count the votes. They had five weeks and they couldn't count the votes. The only way to clean up that image is to get rid of Jeb Bush, and who better to do it than a straight shooting, straight talking prosecutor, judge, attorney general -- Janet Reno?

REED: Send her a Check, Bill, look... PRESS: I have already.

REED: Governors are voted for on how to they affect the quality of life in the state and even the polls and even Mark will agree the quality of life has improved as Jeb Bush has been governor. He is focused on issues. He is not going to get into this Democrat thing. Let them work it out themselves.

This is one of those deals where we don't have any effect on it, so lets just let them do to themselves what they are doing going to do.

NOVAK: The thing, the last quote by Tom Fiedler was how -- he wasn't talking about the general election -- he was talking about the primary.

PRESS: Of course, I know that.

NOVAK: But Mark Mellman, I want to give two examples of why she is a disaster for your party. The first: She is the butcher of Waco.

MELLMAN: Come on. That is outrageous.

NOVAK: They are going to run all those films of her burning up those children...

MELLMAN: Oh, Bob, come on.

NOVAK: There they are, they are right on the screen now -- how do you deal with that!

MELLMAN: If they start talking like that, they are going to be slammed down by (UNINTELLIGIBLE) good thoughtful person in Florida. Nobody talks like that and gets away with it in politics. Nobody should.

NOVAK: You wait and see. The other thing in Florida, she is the person who is responsible for George W. Bush being president of the United States, because sending Elian Gonzales, taking him out on holy weekend, out of his home, sending him back to a communist dictatorship, lost the state of Florida for Al Gore. Al Gore said, don't do it, Janet! She said, I'm going to do it, because I'm -- I like Fidel. Now, isn't that...

PRESS: Oh, come on!

NOVAK: Isn't that a tremendous -- isn't that...

MELLMAN: Is that a direct quote, "I like Fidel," or is it just...

NOVAK: No, I...

MELLMAN: OK, not really a quote.

(CROSSTALK) NOVAK: Isn't she an absolute disaster in the state of Florida, with the Cuban vote, of getting any percentage of the Cuban vote because of the Elian Gonzales thing?

MELLMAN: The reality is that the Cuban vote tends to be Republican in any event. That's not going to be a major issue for Cuban Americans.

NOVAK: Clinton did very well with them.

MELLMAN: It's not going to be the major issue for Cuban Americans going into this election. People are going to be concerned about things like the cost of prescription drugs, Janet Reno's cracked on them. They are going to be concerned about violent crime, she has cracked down violent crime. They are going to want somebody who's tough, who is a straight shooter, that is Janet Reno, and it's certainly not Jeb Bush.

PRESS: And God forbid that anybody put a father back together with his son. All right, we're going to take a break right there, gentlemen, and all of our viewers. When we come back, another big race, another famous woman -- North Carolina and Elizabeth Dole.


PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE! With Jesse Helms expected to announce his retirement, another big political battle is shaping up for U.S. senator from North Carolina, and another famous woman is leading the pack: Former Republican presidential candidate Elizabeth Dole. The big question is, will she do any better running for Senate than she did running for president?

All eyes on North Carolina now, with Democratic strategist Mark Mellman and Republican strategist Scott Reed. I'm in Chicago, they all missed the bus, they are in Washington with Bob Novak.

Scott Reed, I want to ask you about Elizabeth Dole. I mean, last year, her campaign clearly delivered the most hype and the least votes. Why do you think she will do any better next year than she did last year?

REED: Well, I think that running statewide is totally a different thing than running nationally, running for president. But look, in a way, Elizabeth is a dream candidate for this race. She was born in North Carolina, she grew up in North Carolina, her mother, her 100-year-old mother who she talks to every day still lives in Salisbury.

She went to school at Duke, and she is going to very successfully be able to put together a coalition of social conservatives and economic conservatives to not only keep everybody out of the race in the Republican side, but be very strongly positioned to run a very strong general election campaign. She studies hard, I guarantee she's memorized every county down there by heart, she is going into this knowing more about the state of North Carolina than any other candidates. NOVAK: Mark Mellman, can you tell me anybody that the Democratic Party has in their wildest imagination who could give Elizabeth Dole any kind of a contest in state of North Carolina? Just give me a name.

MELLMAN: I can give you several names.

NOVAK: Give me one.

MELLMAN: Elaine Marshall, she's one of the few people that beat Richard Petty.

NOVAK: Elaine who?

MELLMAN: Elaine Marshall, as I said, beat Richard Petty. I'd say that counts for something. In addition to that...

NOVAK: In a car race, or?

MELLMAN: Actually, in an election.


MELLMAN: In an election. Dan Blue, former speaker of the assembly, and a number of other Democrats.

NOVAK: Do you think they can beat her?

MELLMAN: A number of Democrats, because Elizabeth Dole is not going to get -- may not even be the nominee. The reality is, Richard Vinroot has said he is going to run against her. She has got a problem, you know. Scott is emphasizing here that she actually is going to learn the counties in North Carolina, and she was once born there.

The woman hasn't lived in the state for 30 years. She is married to a senator from Kansas. She's going to walk into this state, and people are just going to lay down and say, well, of course? Absolutely not! She is going to have a primary, she's going to have a tough primary, she may not make it through.

And you look at her campaign, as Bill said, for president, it was disaster. Never has so much hype, so much promise been squandered so quickly.

PRESS: Scott Reed, clearly, she is a celebrity, she is a celebrity candidate. As Bob said earlier, she has been cabinet secretary for a couple of presidents, president of the Red Cross, she ran for president last year, she's got huge name identification. But as we know -- ask Warren Beatty -- celebrities don't always make good candidates.

I would like you to listen to something that Harrison Hickman, who is a North Carolina pollster, had to say about Elizabeth Dole, which throws a little cold water on her candidacy. Here is Mr. Hickman. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARRISON HICKMAN, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: I don't believe she has been elected to anything since she was elected May queen at Duke, and that was a few years ago. And she has not really spent that much time in the state, going around, talking to voters about their concerns and about sort of where she stands on the issues that concern them.


PRESS: Scott, she is not running for May queen this time -- ain't automatic, is it?

REED: I think you ought picking on those May queens, there's a lot of them in North Carolina. Look, we all know Elizabeth is an extremely capable woman who has held a number of very important jobs and has done very well throughout her career.

MELLMAN: Except as a candidate.

REED: This will be the next challenge and this will be the next step for her to go. I believe you are going to see her come out of the box very quickly after Senator Helms makes his announcement, get out there aggressively and barnstorm the state, and she is capable of putting this together. And I have a lot of confidence in her, and I know the Bush White House very much wants her to run, because we need to hold this seat.

PRESS: I know, but I don't know what that confidence is based on -- if I can just follow up quickly -- I mean, she has never been elected to anything, she had a disaster of a candidacy last year -- there are all kinds of rumors that she is responsible for the budget mess at the Red Cross. I mean, this woman is all sizzle and no steak, Scott, you've got to admit it.

REED: You can't admit that, and I don't think you can hold anybody because they ran for president last time as a real marker.

But you are right. The proof will be in the pudding, we'll see how she comes out of the block. If she gets out there and talks about issues, shows passion, she clearly is very knowledgeable about national issues and state issues -- and again, how she comes out of the box will be important.

But I'm very upbeat, as a lot of Republicans are, and you look at the polling down there -- she is, as Bob Novak said once, almost like Mother Theresa.

NOVAK: That was the question that I was going to ask you. The polls that I have seen, they say that only Mother Theresa could defeat her in the primary. I don't think Mother Theresa is a Democrat -- was a Democrat before she passed away anyway, but the question I have for you is -- or the challenge I have for you is: Do you really believe that she is going to have serious primary opposition? Do you believe Richard Vinroot will run against her? Do you believe Richard Brewer will run against her? Do you know anything about North Carolina Republican politics? She is going to have a smooth path.

MELLMAN: Well, I do know that Richard Vinroot said definitively that he will run whether she runs or not. So, you may know that he is a liar, I don't know that about that. I take him at his word, I think he is going to run, but I think conservatives in North Carolina -- that's a very fringe Republican primary there -- I'm not sure going they are going to want Libby Dole.

She zigged left, she zagged right during her presidential campaign. Nobody even knows what her positions are anymore. I'm not sure she is going to have a smooth ride. She hasn't been there for 30 years -- my God, I don't know if she's registered to vote in the state of North Carolina, and if she isn't, it may be a crime.

NOVAK: Here is the situation. You have been getting beat for five straight elections by Jesse Helms in the great state of North Carolina with Duke University and the University of North Carolina, all the fancy people, all those liberals -- and Jesse Helms squeaks out most of the time a victory, and suddenly you are rid of Jesse Helms, you're not going to have another humiliation, and you turn around and it's Elizabeth Dole. You must feel terrible, don't you?

MELLMAN: I'm delighted. I tell you, you guys.


MELLMAN: Jesse Helms has had a long career, you guys would probably say it's distinguished, too, but there is no...

PRESS: He's my favorite senator.

MELLMAN: I'm sure he is your -- there is no doubt in my mind about that. What's Libby Dole going to say about it, that will be interesting to see.

NOVAK: Nothing but good, I guarantee you.


MELLMAN: ... I'm not sure what she said in the past about him.


NOVAK: ... nothing but good, I think -- I think if you find Libby Dole attacking anybody in her life, it's going to be a scoop.

PRESS: All right, all right. Scott Reed, I want to tell you Libby Dole's problem. You want to know what Libby Dole's problem is? I like her, that's what it is. Last year, except for John McCain, she was my favorite candidate. You know why? Because she is for banning some assault weapons, she is for banning cop killer bullets, she is against a constitutional amendment to ban abortion, she is for safety locks on guns. If I like her, you got to admit she is much too moderate to win in North Carolina.

REED: I'm very troubled by this, Bill, you are right. And I don't know what we are going to do about this.

PRESS: I told you.

REED: But look, she is capable of putting together a coalition that is going to win this election, she is a very smart lady who will take the time to get down there and get to know the folks. This not like the Hillary Clinton thing, having to move and buy a house and pretend you live in the state. She has got roots there. She is from both sides of the state.

I think you are going to see this thing put together and you're going to see it put together very quickly, and soon the Democrats are going to write it off as a state they know they can't play in.

PRESS: Well, just look at it this way...

MELLMAN: She's from both sides of the state, she's also from Washington -- I don't know how -- this woman has been living everywhere.

REED: She's amazing.


PRESS: Look at it this way, Scott. You've got John Edwards on one side, Republican conservatives there are really going to have -- want to have a true conservative, not a moderate representative of the Republican Party. Lauch Faircloth is talking about maybe running again. Wouldn't you have to admit if Mr. Conservative runs in that primary, Libby Dole is dead meat?

REED: Oh, that's ridiculous. Look, there are a lot of good conservatives in that state, and they may run. I just think at the end of the day, Elizabeth is going to have the strength to put together a conservative coalition and beat them, and she is very popular right now. Her poll numbers are going to hold up strongly, you watch.

NOVAK: Do you know more -- I think you a little brighter than Bill is. Do you understand Republicans want...

PRESS: Cheap shot, Novak!

NOVAK: I think you understand the Republicans want to get back in control of the Senate, that Bill Frist, that Karl Rove are looking for winners in every state, they're not looking for ideological blood lines?

MELLMAN: Well, you know what? The primary -- Republican primary voters in North Carolina don't care all that much what Karl Rove wants. They want someone who is going to represent their point of view, their radical right-wing point of view, and people like Richard Vinroot -- they voted for him, they voted for him for lieutenant governor...

NOVAK: Not enough, not enough. MELLMAN: The Republicans did, all of them did. They voted for Lauch Faircloth. They've never voted for Libby Dole, not even for president.

NOVAK: They never voted for you either. Thank you very much, Mark Mellman.

MELLMAN: That's true.

NOVAK: And thank you, Scott Reed. And Mr. Chicago and I will be back with closing comments.


PRESS: Bob, hearing you talk about Janet Reno was so deja vu. I remember last year there was another famous woman running for a statewide office, and you said, "she had so many negatives, she could never win, and she was Republican's dream candidate." Remember Senator Hillary Clinton, Bob?

NOVAK: Did she win that race? Anyway.

PRESS: Yeah, Bob.

NOVAK: Anyway, Janet Reno -- when she first said she was interested in running, Bill, the Democrats that I know in Florida laughed. Now, they are crying. They are going to be stuck with her, they don't know how to beat her in the primary, and she is a sure loser.

And I'll tell you what, a few hundred miles north, in North Carolina, they are not crying, they are cheering, because Elizabeth Dole may not be a solid conservative, but she is a dream come true in a state where it's getting harder to elect conservatives.

PRESS: Well, I like Elizabeth Dole, but the problem in Florida is that Jeb Bush is the surrogate beanbag for his brother. He is going to take all the punches that are aimed at W, and when it's over, he's going to be black and blue and busted.

NOVAK: Look at me, do you think Janet Reno could beat Jeb Bush? Honestly?

PRESS: You bet. From the left, I'm Bill Press from Chicago. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: You had your fingers crossed. From the right, I'm Robert Novak, join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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