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Is Wellstone's Death Going to Impact Balance of Power?; Bush Campaigns for Republicans; Sniper Suspects Apprehended

Aired October 26, 2002 - 19:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.

I'm Mark Shields, with Al Hunt, Kate O'Beirne, and Margaret Carlson.

Our guest is Congressman Tom Davis of Virginia, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Good to have you back, Tom.


SHIELDS: Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota was killed in a plane crash in the midst of his reelection campaign against Republican Norm Coleman.


SEN. PAUL WELLSTONE (D), MINNESOTA: I will love the people of Minnesota for the rest of my life, the opportunity they've given me, and I hope they'll give me the opportunity again to be a senator. But personally, I think I could be a lot -- with my looks, I could get elected in any state.

GOV. JESSE VENTURA (I), MINNESOTA: I will only state this unequivocally and absolutely, I will not appoint myself...


SHIELDS: The governor could only make a temporary appointment. The state Democratic Party will select a new candidate, and the winner on November 5 will immediately take office.

Democrats looked at former vice president Walter Mondale, now 74, as a logical successor.


WALTER MONDALE (D), FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: I think if Paul were here, he'd want us to think about one thing, and that is to carry on the fight that he led with such brilliance and courage over all of these years. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, after Paul Wellstone's tragic death, is Fritz Mondale really the best bet to save that seat for the Democrats?

AL HUNT, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Oh, sure he is. And I haven't spoken to the former vice president. I spoke to several people who know him quite well. And I suspect that he's torn. He is a senior statesman, he's had no desire to get back into the political arena. On the other hand, he is a great loyalist to the Democratic farm labor party, and he is a real patriot.

The pressure is building, it's tremendous. I suspect if he does run, he would win.

Let me just say a word about Paul Wellstone, though, Mark. He -- we may never see his like again. He was thoroughly honest, a man who I think came to the Senate -- they thought he was a flake, and he really got the respect of conservatives as well as liberals.

And unlike some of -- he was the most exuberant politician probably since Hubert Humphrey. And unlike some other liberals, he loved human beings as much as he loved humanity. There was a wonderful anecdote in "The New York Times" this morning about a former Republican sergeant-at-arms, telling the story of one time late at night, Paul Wellstone came back to the Senate to thank the cleaning people for everything they did.

And he said, They -- those people had never met a senator before.

So I don't think you're going to replace him. But I think Walter Mondale will bring a wealth of great experience if he will get to the Senate.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, what is the political landscape after Paul Wellstone?

KATE O'BEIRNE, NATIONAL REVIEW: Well, first I have to second (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the point Al just made. Paul Wellstone was an extremely likable, decent man. And this is a terrible loss for all of those families in this accident.

HUNT: That's right.

O'BEIRNE: But unlike two years ago when there was a similar terrible accident just before election there in Missouri and the governor was killed, candidate for the Senate...

SHIELDS: Mel Carnahan.

O'BEIRNE: ... there doesn't seem to me in Minnesota to be any kind of an acrimony whatsoever. There hasn't been between Norm Coleman and Paul Wellstone during the campaign. In fact, Norm Coleman endorsed Paul Wellstone when he was still a Democrat, the last time Paul Wellstone ran for the Senate. The heartfelt sympathy is really across party lines in Minnesota. So it might be sort of difficult to have an anti-Coleman vote come out of this. I assume Fritz Mondale would be, as a senior statesman, the most competitive candidate. I can see why he'd have second thoughts, after having been a vice president and a senator and an ambassador. He wouldn't want to go down as having made an ill-advised attempt at a comeback should he not be successful.

I can see why he's torn. But if he looks reluctant, if he's only doing it out of a sense of duty, I'm not so sure that that's what it would take to beat Norm Coleman, who is a popular politician in Minnesota.

SHIELDS: Margaret, Al mentioned Fritz Mondale's dedication, the Democrat (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the party in Minnesota. Other than Paul Wellstone, the party is in tatters in Minnesota. They haven't been able to elect a governor in a generation. I mean, it's just -- it's really, you know, almost -- it was the model for parties in the nation, and now it's just kind of a boutique politics, isn't it?

MARGARET CARLSON, TIME MAGAZINE: Right, Wellstone is the party, was the party, and it's going to be hard to replace him on this ballot even with somebody as good as Mondale, because, as Kate says, there wasn't a lot of acrimony, and there's not going to be an anti-Coleman vote as a result of this.

Wellstone kept that party alive, and he -- in some ways, he was the life of the Senate. He, he, he was gifted emotionally and personally, so that he didn't make enemies. I watched a whole hour of "Charlie Rose" last night, which I don't always do, replaying an interview with Wellstone.

And in the whole thing, he never once took any bait to characterize his opponents. He had his own point of view, and he had the things he believed in, but he was a serious man who wore the office lightly and happily, which is something that's hard to find on the Hill.

SHIELDS: A happy warrior, Tom Davis?

DAVIS: Well, he was a diminishing breed in Congress. He spoke his mind. As you said, he was not a hater. And he -- I think he was loved by both sides of the aisle. But he will be missed, whether you agree or disagree with him. He added a lot to the debate. And in many ways, he was the spiritual leader of the Democratic Party, when you talk about issues. He wasn't compromising with corporate interests. He was the old Democrats.

Problem with Mondale is, races are about the future, not the past. And I think Norm Coleman is strong in his own right. We forget that. And I think it's going to be a heavy lift for the Democrats now.

SHIELDS: Let me just say about Paul Wellstone, whom I liked enormously, and like E.J. Dionne in "The Washington Post" columnist, I admit I liked him. You're not supposed to say you like politicians. I liked him very much. I like Tom Davis too.

CARLSON: We like Tom, yes.

SHIELDS: But I think the thing about him is, he's called a liberal, I don't think he was a liberal nearly as much as a populist. And Tom put his finger on it. I mean, I mean, it was not only taken -- talk -- he consistently took on interests, big interests.

And even in China, when an awful lot of liberals said, Oh, we're going to do business and everything, it was Paul Wellstone and Jesse Helms who were leading the fight, saying, Wait a minute, until they improve their human rights and their slave labor record, we should withhold awarding them that permanent trading status.

HUNT: He never, he never forgot where he came from or who he was. Our producer, Deborah Nelson, was in his last class at Carlton College and said he never forgot her. Every time he'd see her in Washington, he'd talk about that class.

One quick word about Fritz Mondale. Fritz Mondale is not the past. This is a guy with a wealth of experience. John Quincy Adams might be an analogy. He would bring incredible experience to the Senate, Tom, if he got there.

O'BEIRNE: It does raise the question, though, where are the talented young Democrats?

SHIELDS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), that's a legitimate...

O'BEIRNE: Given Frank Lautenberg and Fritz Mondale...

SHIELDS: ... that's a legitimate question, but I would say Hubert Humphrey came back to the Senate after he ran for president, and I think, I think he made a real contribution.

HUNT: As did Barry Goldwater.


DAVIS: ... Minnesota.

CARLSON: And Mondale is a statesman and looks that way. And so he...

SHIELDS: Anybody that wants to bet...

CARLSON: ... has the eminence to win.

SHIELDS: ... on Coleman, I'll be happy to take their wagers afterwards.

Tom Davis and THE GANG will be back with George W. campaigning for the ticket.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

President George W. Bush was on the campaign trail, pleading for the election of Republican senators to confirm his judicial nominations.


BUSH: The record of this United States Senate is a lousy record. They have politicized the process. They have distorted the records of many of our good candidates we put forward.

They're playing petty politics with the candidates that I put up there.


SHIELDS: The president and Democratic leaders also debated taxes.


BUSH: The tax relief we plan -- passed is not permanent. It's temporary, which means some in Washington, D.C., want that $15 billion, more or less, of tax relief, of your money, to go to the government coffers.

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: If Republicans win control of the Congress, the American people can expect more tax cuts for special interests like Enron and little attention to the real economic problems in people's lives.


SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, on November 5, will Republicans find out that President George Bush has coattails?

O'BEIRNE: Mark, all the Democrats running with George Bush certainly hope he has coattails. What struck me about this election season is while some Republicans have adopted soft liberal positions on, like, prescription drugs, defensively, they have not abandoned personal accounts, private accounts and Social Security. And on the other side, Democrats are all running with George Bush prominently featured in their ads, not just on national security in Iraq, on tax cuts, on education, on welfare.

So if he has -- he's got enough coattails one way or another, just that it might wind up electing some Democrats who insist when they're back home that they're with President Bush even though Tom Daschle runs a caucus as though he has nothing but blue state senators from Al Gore's states, as opposed to Bush red states.

SHIELDS: Tom Davis, address the coattails matter, but I do recall a document coming out of your congressional campaign committee establishing that Republicans would not talk about privatization of Social Security in any way this campaign year. Am I right? DAVIS: Absolutely, because there's -- it's not privatization, and even Dan Moynihan said it, personal accounts aren't privatization, and we're not going to let the Democrats call it a name it isn't.

But more importantly, this president's midterm popularity is one of the highest ever in this century. So it's not hurting Republicans running under him, and that's why so many Democrats are running ads with the president at this point.

I think Republicans are going to pick up seats in the House for only the fourth time in history, and the Senate's very close, and he has every right to go out there and push his program two weeks prior to an election so his legacy is intact.

CARLSON: Mark, I would note that the president at one time called it privatizing, so I think at one time it was, and now it isn't.

Even more than Clinton, who was a master at this, the president has been out fund raising and engaging in sheer politics day after day after day. So he should have some coattails, and he is enormously popular still, at about 67 percent.

Nowhere has he been more active than in Florida, going there 11 times. He may make it an even dozen next week to try to toe his brother Jeb across the finish line there. He's had a surprisingly close race with Bill McBride, the Marine veteran with the Bronze Star who is not, by the way, Janet Reno, who's the opponent that Jeb Bush was hoping he would have.

That one, I think, will be one where Bush may or may not make the difference, but it is one in which he has really interjected himself.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, coattails, or is he wearing a...

HUNT: Oh, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), I expect it's more like the Eisenhower jacket...

SHIELDS: An Eisenhower jacket.

HUNT: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE) he's not going to hurt anyone, and sometimes...

SHIELDS: Tank top.

HUNT: ... sometimes incumbent presidents can hurt candidates in an off-year election.

Kate, you've seen different people than I have. Someone like Jeb Bradley up in the First District of New Hampshire says, Social Security off the table, don't touch it. You don't have, you have candidates running away from personal accounts all over America. That's a, you know, direct quote. And it seems to me that just as Democrats are embracing some -- or embracing Bush, so are, so are a number of Republican candidates running (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from -- away from their traditional issues. But for this president to talk about, you know, in pejorative terms, the politicalization of an issue, I have never seen a more political president, including Bill Clinton, including the fund raising. And yes, he is popular, but (UNINTELLIGIBLE) popular is, Mark, he's never asked a single sacrifice of any American. Every, every issue he's taken is poll driven, every issue is popular. There's -- we have a great war on terrorism, there are going to be no sacrifices at all.

And as "The Washington Post" reported a few days ago, the K Street lobbyists are celebrating if Tom Davis is right, because, boy, do they have an agenda to foist upon you.

O'BEIRNE: He completely shaped public opinion on Iraq, how can you say that? He completely shaped public...

HUNT: Saddam Hussein is...

O'BEIRNE: ... opinion (UNINTELLIGIBLE) as a matter of...

HUNT: Wait, wait, Kate, Saddam Hussein...

O'BEIRNE: ... will...

HUNT: ... was popular beforehand?

O'BEIRNE: ... he -- no, he made, he made the case at the U.N. and he made the case on Capitol Hill, and the polls weren't promising when he set out making that case. And I personally wish he were more partisan. He's far less partisan than Bill Clinton ever...


O'BEIRNE: ... he criticizes the Senate, never even calls it a Democratic Senate.

HUNT: Most political president in my lifetime.

O'BEIRNE: Holding up his, holding up his judges.

DAVIS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) understand, two-thirds of these House races that are going to decide control of the House are in districts that President Bush carried. This election is being run on Republican territory too. I think we need to bear that in mind when we talk about what his effects...

O'BEIRNE: Red states.

DAVIS: ... is going to be this time.

SHIELDS: Ed (ph) and Tom, there -- Democrats have won seats in the last three House race (UNINTELLIGIBLE) elections, right? And so has the low-hanging fruit already been picked off?

DAVIS: There is very little low-hanging fruit for the Democratic Party. SHIELDS: For either party?

DAVIS: And redistricting strengthened a lot of weak incumbents and probably helped the Republicans on the margin.

SHIELDS: And your prediction is?

DAVIS: I think we're going to pick up a handful of seats.

SHIELDS: A handful, under 10.

DAVIS: Absolutely, under 10. There just aren't that many seats in competition.

SHIELDS: OK. That's the last word, Tom Davis.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, solving the sniper case.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

The two suspects in the sniper murders were apprehended under local law enforcement leadership, despite calls for the federal government to take over.


JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think Chief Moose, who has coordinated this investigation, has done a spectacular job. It's a model.


SHIELDS: Although the two men are in federal custody, Montgomery County, Maryland, announced it would obtain arrest warrants against John Muhammad and John Lee Malvo.


DOUGLAS GANSLER, MARYLAND STATE ATTORNEY: Virginia and Maryland have the death penalty. Both of these jurisdictions intend at this time to seek the death penalty. Maryland cannot seek the death penalty against Mr. Malvo if indeed he is a juvenile.


SHIELDS: But hasn't the governor of Maryland imposed a moratorium on the death penalty?


GOV. PARRIS GLENDENING (D), MARYLAND: We will not in any way be deterred or impacted by that moratorium.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, they let the locals handle the investigation and the arrest. Now will the feds insist on big-footing and moving in on the prosecution?

CARLSON: Let's hope. Doug Gansler took his 15 minutes yesterday, and I think it was one of the more discouraging displays of ego. He came out and said since Maryland had six of the 10 murders, I'm taking jurisdiction over this, as if it were a jump ball and he had the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- he was going to just grab it. Very dispiriting.

The second thing the sniper incident showed was that there's not sufficient coordination among the jurisdictions when you have an event like this, which really immobilized the whole region. It doesn't matter that it wasn't al Qaeda, it was a terror-like attack on the area.

And there was no homeland security coming into play, and treating it like the event that it was, so that the snipers were caught any sooner.

SHIELDS: Tom Davis?

DAVIS: Well, you had over 1,200 federal agents on this, and in large part, I think it was the coordination with the locals, but a large federal role in terms of their computers and everything...

CARLSON: But not sufficient.

DAVIS: ... and everything else. Well, it all worked together at the end, putting these clues together to put it together. I think victory has a thousand fathers, defeat is an orphan. We got these guys. I think where they're prosecuted will have to be worked out.

SHIELDS: Let me just say as a resident of Montgomery County, I disagree strenuously with Margaret. I thought Doug Gansler had been enormously restrained. I thought that -- I thought everybody was. I thought, I thought Charles Moose had handled it very well. I thought -- I saw very little grandstanding in this whole experience by politicians of over party or any jurisdiction.

Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: I saw more grandstanding than you did, Mark...

SHIELDS: Well, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) as a resident of Montgomery County...

O'BEIRNE: ... but what's interesting, what's interesting...

SHIELDS: ... I can tell you.

O'BEIRNE: ... and as a resident, you're fairly representative of fellow residents of Montgomery County. It is a liberal county, and it's a liberal state, and it's so interesting to watch now, the most current definition of a Maryland conservative is a Maryland liberal who lived with the sniper for three weeks. All of a sudden, up and down the political ladder in Maryland, everybody's in favor of the death penalty, even though there's a moratorium on it.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend says it's a no-brainer that these two will get the death penalty.

What I think is a no-brainer is that Maryland will not be the first state to prosecute. They have a weak death penalty compared to Virginia and the federal government and Alabama. They have appellate court hostile to the death penalty.

My best is, the federal government will take jurisdiction to this. They can try, unlike any place else, all 13 attacks. They'll have a Maryland jury in a federal courtroom, which I think is probably pretty appropriate.

SHIELDS: Albert Hunt.

HUNT: I agree with you, Mark, that there wasn't much grandstanding here. But I think Margaret is right about it did, it did really, I think, highlight the lack of coordination. And, you know, Gary Hart and Warren Rudman put out another report. They had that incredibly prescient and largely ignored report that really foreshadowed 9/11.

They put out another report this week that said, We're -- 13 1/2 months later, we're not much better off (UNINTELLIGIBLE), we're just at much at risk. There is no coordination. Local state, local and state cops don't have the federal terrorist watch list in most places.

We're in real trouble.

Kate may be right on the politics of the death penalty. But I'll tell you something else. We argued about ballistic fingerprinting on this show last week. That rifle, the so-called Bushmaster, was purchased, first-time purchase, it appears, out in the state of Washington, which has no gun laws at all, sent from Maine. If we'd had ballistic fingerprinting, a number of law enforcement officials say it's perfectly possible we could have known the identity of that person...

O'BEIRNE: Well, of course they...

HUNT: ... three weeks earlier.

O'BEIRNE: ... have gun laws, because they're federal gun laws. The -- it -- in fact, he had a, he maybe shouldn't have been able to pass a background check because there is domestic violence.

HUNT: Well, the NRA says (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

O'BEIRNE: Record against him.

HUNT: ... Kate, the NRA says that the, that that shouldn't matter...

O'BEIRNE: Al, we see examples here...

HUNT: ... that you can...

O'BEIRNE: ... of laws that have not been enforced, possibly that one, certainly the INS, who let the young 17 Malvo go even though he was a stowaway in here illegally. So as I said, the INS ought to be looked at with some extreme scrutiny here too.


SHIELDS: I just have to say a word in conclusion in defense of Montgomery County. Residents of Montgomery County, strangely enough, we love our children, we work hard, we go to church, we vote, we serve our country. You know, we're just like...

O'BEIRNE: And now you like the death penalty.

SHIELDS: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- we're like (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- I don't like the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), I never -- I didn't like the death penalty before, I don't like the death penalty now. And, I mean, that, this is a, this is a tragic, terrible, horrendous crime, but I don't think the death penalty is the answer. But I'm not going to change on that.

But I think that the re...


SHIELDS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), yes, he said, yes, well, what, wait, listen, why don't we just send them to Libya, for God's sakes? You know, what -- why stop at Alabama? You know, I mean, if you really want to do it, just send them to a Republican jurisdiction. Is that the answer?

DAVIS: Not Libya.




CARLSON: ... you know...

SHIELDS: Tom, you're quick.

We'll be back with our CAPITAL Classic, Paul Wellstone's last appearance on CAPITAL GANG in the summer of 2000.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

On July 15, 2000, Paul Wellstone made his last appearance on THE CAPITAL GANG. The senator weighed in on the repeal of the estate tax.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, July 15, 2000)

WELLSTONE: I think that at the risk of being called left wing by my friend here, Bob, I think that the choice is pretty clear. You got a break for the top 2 percent of the population, 2.5 percent of the population, or you're going to take the $850 billion (UNINTELLIGIBLE) over 20 years.

Don't focus on a giveaway for the richest 2 or 3 percent of the population and erode the revenue base and make it impossible for us to do well for families in the country.

ROBERT NOVAK, CAPITAL GANG: When you find really astute politicians, like your Democratic campaign chairman, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Kelly of New Jersey voting yes on this bill, when you find the two Louisiana senators voting, voting yes, and Patty Murray in Washington state...


NOVAK: ... Dianne Feinstein voting yes, there's something, there's something really going on there.

O'BEIRNE: It also distorts people's financial planning. It inhibits capital formation.

WELLSTONE: What you all are saying, and I trust the American people on this, you're saying, Listen, we can't afford even in this booming economy to provide a good education for every child, or affordable child care.

O'BEIRNE: Yes, we can.

SHIELDS: We've got the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in here, he's the champion (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of the powerful, the well off and the well...


SHIELDS: And I think, I think that takes a...


SHIELDS: ... I think...


HUNT: It's inconsistent, Mark.

SHIELDS: ... it takes a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for Bob Novak.



SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, did Paul Wellstone truly embody the spirit of the Democratic Party? CARLSON: The old Democratic Party before they started chasing the dollars just the way our guy Tom does here, selling their souls to GE and any number of other...


CARLSON: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- right, yes.

DAVIS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) sell our souls, we believe in capitalism.

CARLSON: That's right, you believe in the corporate crime spree that we've just gone through.


CARLSON: The Enrons...


SHIELDS: ... Paul Wellstone.


SHIELDS: Paul Wellstone.


CARLSON: But do let me say...

DAVIS: Thanks, Mark.

CARLSON: ... that before Tony Coelho took over the Democratic fund-raising machinery and kind of sold the Democrats out, I think there was a more of a Paul Wellstone wing to the party, where the little guy got represented, because the big guy has all the representation he needs.

SHIELDS: Paul Wellstone, sort of a vanishing breed.

DAVIS: A, a very much a vanishing breed, and frankly, could recenter the Democratic Party. If they knew where they were this year on tax cuts and these issues like Wellstone, they might have been poised to take a majority, but they're not.

SHIELDS: Interesting observation. Al?

HUNT: Take your pick, Bob Torricelli or Paul Wellstone. I just want to tell one quick personal story. I went to the movies last December with my 15-year-old son. We ran into Paul and Sheila Wellstone. I'm a big, you know, columnist, TV guy, right? So we talk about the Senate and politics. Suddenly Ben says that he asked...

SHIELDS: Your son.

HUNT: My son Ben is asked what sport he's doing. He says wrestling. Paul Wellstone dropped me like a hotcake, and he spent the next 20 minutes talking to Ben about wrestling, because it was far more important to him. And I think he was right.

SHIELDS: I'll tell you how important it was, at University of North Carolina his junior and senior year, he did not lose a single wrestling match at the 126-pound category in class, and he was the ACC wrestling champion.

Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: Let me disagree with Margaret. Paul Wellstone is on like the National Democratic Party. The true spirit of the -- of today's Democratic Party is better represented by the personally ambitious cynics like Bill Clinton or the phonies like Al Gore. Paul Wellstone, unlike them, was a true believer. He was in politics for the right reason. He cared deeply.

And not as most, and was honest about what he believed, and that's most on like most national Democrats.


O'BEIRNE: There you go.


SHIELDS: ... no back seat here tonight, Kate.


CARLSON: I -- yes, I -- you know...

HUNT: Kate, Kate, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) most unlike national Republicans?

O'BEIRNE: No, they're ideological conservatives who I would compare, ideological conservatives in the Senate like Jesse Helms I would compare to Paul Wellstone...


DAVIS: They have principles.

SHIELDS: Let me get this straight, let me get this straight...


SHIELDS: ... they're noble, principled conservatives, and then there are self-serving...

DAVIS: Right, I...

SHIELDS: ... self-promoting liberals. Kate O'Beirne's definition of American politics.

DAVIS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). SHIELDS: Thanks for being with us, Tom Davis. Coming up in the second half of CAPITAL GANG, our "Newsmaker of the Week" is TV critic Tom Shales, talking about political humor on "Saturday Night Live." "Beyond the Beltway" looks at the crucial and tightening Senate race in New Hampshire with Kevin Landrigan of "The National Telegraph."

And our "Outrages of the Week." That's all after the latest news following these urgently important messages.


ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.

SHIELDS: Welcome back to the second half of CAPITAL GANG.

I'm Mark Shields with Al Hunt, Kate O'Beirne, and Margaret Carlson.

Our "Newsmaker of the Week" is "Washington Post" chief television critic Tom Shales.

Tom Shales, age 48, residence McLean, Virginia, bachelor's degree American University 1973 at the age of 19, film critic, National Public Radio, joined "The Washington Post" in 1971, television editor since 1979. Won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism in 1988.

His latest book, "An Uncensored History of `Saturday Night Live: Live From New York,'" is co-authored with James Andrew Miller.

Earlier this week, our own Al Hunt sat down with Tom Shales.


HUNT: From Chevy Chase's Gerald Ford to Darrel Hammond's Al Gore, describe the role that "Saturday Night Live" satire has played in shaping political perceptions in America.

TOM SHALES, TV CRITIC, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, I don't think it's decided any elections, exactly. But I think that they crystallize the dominant caricature, Gerald Ford, what, he tripped maybe once coming down the stairs of a plane, bopped somebody on the head with a golf ball once or something.

But they seized on that and they used it as a symbol of his sort of ineptitude.

HUNT: Fumbling presidency.


HUNT: Right.

SHALES: Yes, literally fumbling, and then falling down, that became falling down.

It really caught on, and Gerald Ford, being smart, and his advisers, they embraced it rather than condemned it.

Which also began a "Saturday Night Live" tradition, you know, let's -- when they pick on you, it's better to, Ha-ha, go along with the joke, you know, pretend you find it funny, than to get mad.

HUNT: What are your one or two favorite moments of political humor on "Saturday Night Live"?

SHALES: Well, Jim and I have a favorite sketch of all time, which was a Republican primary debate...

HUNT: Eighty-eight.

SHALES: ... Danny Aykroyd came out of retirement to do Bob Dole, and everyone thinks of Norm McDonald doing Bob Dole. But Danny did the most brilliant Bob Dole, slipping in all these zingers in this debate. Pierre DuPont was there, and, you know, Aykroyd as Dole would say -- he was trying to call himself Pete DuPont, and Aykroyd would say, "Now, come on, your name's Pierre, let's be honest here." And he would get Bush with, "I never had the automatic dishwasher. I never had the boat to spoot around -- speed around Kennebunkport." Hilarious, one of the best sketches they ever did.

HUNT: Over the more than quarter-century, the role of politics on the show seems to have ebbed and flowed. Sometimes it's central, sometimes, few years it's just been marginal. Why is that?

SHALES: Well, there was a period of five years there when Loren and the original group left, Dick Ebersol, who was the producer for most of that time, was not as enamored of political humor as Loren was. He also tended, I think, to be a little more cautious.

He was a network executive, after all.

HUNT: Right.

SHALES: And you know how they are.

HUNT: Right.

SHALES: They don't encourage controversy too much.

HUNT: John McCain hosted the show last weekend. It was widely considered a tour de force. Looking at the political landscape today, who, apart from Bill Clinton, would you think that Loren Michaels would love to have on "Saturday Night Live" (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

SHALES: Well, apart -- did you say apart from Bill Clinton?

HUNT: Yes.

SHALES: Because he, he's, he's numero uno.

HUNT: Yes, right.

SHALES: And having done Letterman, who knows? He might. Janet Reno came on, she busted through a wall.

HUNT: Right, right.

SHALES: I think Hillary, they would probably be glad to have. Who else is particularly funny right now? I mean, McCain was a great, a great catch for them.

HUNT: But political humor has really been pretty non-ideological or non-partisan over the years, hasn't it? They're sort of equal opportunity slashers.

SHALES: Yes, absolutely. I mean, I don't think Bush -- either the Bore or Bush camps could claim this last time that one got worse than the other. And part of this is because Jim Downey, who was kind of running the political humor then, is himself a Republican. You know, we just assume that people in the arts are all liberal Democrats, despite the occasional Charlton Heston or whatever.

But not the case. Downey is pretty conservative.

HUNT: You have said, though, that you don't think the show in many ways is as adventurous as it was in the beginning. But do you think that's true of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) too? Has George W. Bush gotten a free ride since he's been president?

SHALES: I think because of 9/11 and other things, I think that he's gotten through pretty easily so far. Of course, when the next election comes around, he'll be fair game, and they'll open up on him and do whatever is necessary. They don't have a good George W. Bush impersonator right now, that's the problem.

HUNT: They have Chris Parnell (ph) is doing it now.



SHALES: You know, it was supposed to be Darrell Hammond, their resident impressionist par excellence, a guy who can do, you know, almost anybody, I mean, he can do Dick Cheney. How many people can do Dick Cheney? But he couldn't seem to get George W. Bush down.

So they finally had to give it to Chris Parnell, at least for the time being.


SHIELDS: Al, Tom Shales has written a terrific book here. But is "Saturday Night Live" still today politically relevant?

HUNT: Well, it certainly was two years ago, just ask Al Gore. I think since the election, they've actually been quite soft on George Bush. They haven't had a real edge, and key in the next year will be whether they can get hat edge and capture Bush the way they captured Clinton and Gore and Gerry Ford and the others.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: You know, they really captured Al Gore as the, as the class nerd during the campaign, and Bush as the dummy. But I think it actually helped Bush because of our preference for the class clown over the class nerd.


O'BEIRNE: I'd agree that the portrayal of Bush was sort of helpful to him, I -- for two reasons. They did the same thing with Reagan, Reagan was dumb, and the public wound up disagreeing, and I think they did with respect to Bush. Also, they were simultaneously, the Dems, trying to scare you about what George Bush might do, which just conflicted with the likable, you know, guy stumbling around.

SHIELDS: I thought that Tom Shales made a very good point in the interview with Al, and that was about Gerry Ford's people embracing the caricature that was made of him. Once you laugh at yourself, it becomes almost impossible or difficult for your political opponents to do so. And I thought it was a great political move on their part after Chevy Chase's deadly depiction of him.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, "Beyond the Beltway" looks at a tight and tightening Senate race in New Hampshire with political reporter Kevin Landrigan.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

Congressman John E. Sununu, after defeating incumbent U.S. Senator Bob Smith in the New Hampshire Republican primary, is locked in a tight race with Democratic Governor Jean Shaheen. A write-in effort for the defeated Smith has cut into Sununu's lead, which is reduced to just two percentage points in the latest public opinion poll.

The candidates debated last night.


GOV. JEAN SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: I do support the president's tax cut. I said if I had been in the Senate, I would have voted for it.

REP. JOHN E. SUNUNU (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: She doesn't want to make it permanent. She doesn't support permanent repeal of death taxes. She doesn't support making the marginal rate cuts permanent.

SHAHEEN: One of the biggest threats to our Social Security system are efforts to privatize Social Security. The proposal that John Sununu supports would take a trillion dollars out of the Social Security system over the next 10 years. That's what would put it in crisis. SUNUNU: I oppose any changes to the current retirement benefit for retirees, any changes to the retirement structure of those that are going to retire in 20 years, and I'll always support a guaranteed minimum benefit for Social Security. Jean Shaheen knows that.


SHIELDS: Joining us from Derry, New Hampshire, is Kevin Landrigan, political reporter and columnist for "The Nashua Telegraph."

It's good to have you with us again, Kevin.

KEVIN LANDRIGAN, "THE NASHUA TELEGRAPH": Great to be here, Mark. Thanks.

SHIELDS: Kevin, coming out of last night's debate, which candidate now has the momentum?

LANDRIGAN: I, I think it's, it's been nip and tuck for the last six weeks. I mean, Sununu had a lead of 8 points after the primary, after he beat Smith. But ever since then, this election's been one of inches rather than yards and miles.

Last night I think they both -- in the debate, they both did what they needed to do. Sununu needed to raise questions about whether you could trust Jean Shaheen on taxes, and he did. Shaheen needed to show Sununu as a right-wing Republican ideologue, because many in this state have -- don't know John Sununu's complete record. And this fall Shaheen has done a pretty good job of pulling a lot of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- pulling a lot of his votes and using them against him.

SHIELDS: And the question of Bob Smith, the Republican senator who lost, well, I'll move right to Kate O'Beirne, and let's ask Kate what you want to ask Kevin.

O'BEIRNE: Mark, the Republicans are accusing Governor Shaheen of doubling state spending in six years and imposing a new statewide tax. There was a day when calling or accusing a candidate in New Hampshire of being a tax-and-spend liberal would have been fatal. Are those Republican charges not sticking to Governor Shaheen, or has New Hampshire so changed?

LANDRIGAN: Kate, there real -- in part, they're not sticking, because she's been saddled, for better or worse, with a Republican legislature all six years she was in office. So whatever's been done on taxes and spending has been with the support of the Republican Party.

She did -- what Sununu has been able to do in this fall campaign, and I think it's kept her from overtaking him, is to raise the question whether she's shown leadership on education and funding and taxes, because, after all, every proposal she came up with, a sales tax, a capital gains tax, all of them either failed in the Republican legislature, or were rejected by the courts. And I think she -- he's trying to make it a test of leadership rather than the traditional debate here about whether you're a tax- and-spender.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Kevin, so far, Bob Smith has shown that he's not going to go gently into that good night of political obscurity. Is he going -- is there any chance he's going to come around? And if he doesn't, is he going to take more than, say, 2 percent from John Sununu?

LANDRIGAN: That's a great question, and John Sununu would really like to know the answer. Karl Rove invited Bob Smith to accompany the president when he came to New Hampshire on Air Force One, and Bob Smith said he had a family commitment and declined, which, as you know, in Washington is like Halley's Comet when a senator decides they don't want to travel to their home state with the president.

SHIELDS: Good point.

LANDRIGAN: He -- we still don't know whether he will come into the state before the election. Sununu, of course, would like him to, and Republican supporters of Sununu have invited Smith to other events and he's yet to show. But this write-in campaign really lacks what it needs, which is not only a willing candidate, which it doesn't have in Bob Smith, but enough money to promote it. And it doesn't have either one.

As long as it stays 2 percent or under, John Sununu can win this race. But if it's over that, it's very hard for him to prevail.


HUNT: Kevin, let me ask you about the Social Security issue. I think that John Sununu, unlike some other Republicans, has not run away from private accounts. He's probably to be commended for that. On the other hand, Governor Shaheen is absolutely accurate, there would be a $1 trillion transition cost if you did that.

Is, is, is Mr. Sununu explaining where that would come from, or has that become an issue (UNINTELLIGIBLE) just too complicated for people?

LANDRIGAN: Well, it is sort of a green eyeshade issue when you start talking about the prospective surpluses of Social Security. He argues that over the next 10 years, Social Security could run surpluses of $2.5 trillion, so the transition costs could be afforded.

But there's no question, Jean Shaheen thinks she has an Achilles heel in the Social Security issue, and she's been hitting it very hard.

John Sununu's response, basically, has been not only to defend his support for private accounts, but as you point out, Al, it takes some courage even to talk about that issue in this climate right now, particularly with the stock market where it is. And he's banking on enough voters deciding, this is a guy who is independent, who has some big ideas, and is not afraid to talk about them in the middle of a campaign.

SHIELDS: Kevin, you've covered this campaign, and covered it like the dew covers Dixie, you've covered it very well. Tell us your own assessment. What does John Sununu and what does Jeannie Shaheen have to do in the last week to win?

LANDRIGAN: Well, it's -- and it's a -- it's really an open question right now. All the debates are over, so we're now almost down to that -- those last efforts to try and get out the vote. There's no question in my mind that of the two campaigns, the Shaheen campaign on the ground appears to be better organized. So if this campaign is tied the weekend before the polls, she has a very good chance of pulling out her vote and winning.

What John Sununu's going to try and do in the last 10 days is campaign with the rest of the ticket, which, after all, is far ahead of all the other Democrats on -- for the major offices in New Hampshire, and try as much as possible to lean on that ticket and try and make him -- give him enough momentum to prevail.

SHIELDS: Hey, Kevin Landrigan, thank you so much for being with us.

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


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

Now is the time for Vice President Dick Cheney to take a break from shaking the Republican money tree and to apologize to Californians for saying during that state's grave electricity crisis last year, quote, "The basic problem in California was caused by Californians," end quote.

Last week, an Enron executive pleaded guilty to illegally manipulating California's electricity market, and the Bush administration's U.S. attorney for California stated, quote, "These charges answer the question that has longed troubled California, whether the energy crisis was spurred in part by criminal activity. The answer is a resounding yes," end quote.

Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: This week, President Bush had a friendly visit with China's president that the Chinese people will never hear about unless their repressive government chooses to tell them. Recognizing the power influence of uncensored facts and ideas, Beijing has strict regulations that block Internet access and pressures service providers to snitch on Democratic activists.

The freedom movement must come from outside China, so the U.S. government should be doing far more to combat blocking of the Internet, the most powerful pro-democracy tool of our time.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Mark, when respected accountant John Biggs agreed to head up the commission to reform accounting practices, Republicans, SEC chair Harvey Pitt, and others (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the accounting industry mobilized to deep-six him. They pushed through former FBI head William Webster instead, a Washington eminence who nonetheless lacks the accounting experience the law requires.

Webster's simply no match for the criminal minds that devised the Enron scams. Bush just pretended to go after corporate evildoers when voters were up in arms. When the fuss died down, he cut funds for the SEC and is letting the boys cooking the books keep cooking them.


HUNT: Mark, Art Linkletter used to be admired before he became a shill for a drug company front trying to dupe voters. The United Seniors Association, funded by the pharmaceutical industry, is spending millions of dollars deceiving Americans on which congressional candidate voted for a real prescription drug benefit.

The answer is simple. If you want a less costly prescription drug benefit run by HMOs, listen to Linkletter and the drug companies. If you need more generous benefits run by the government's Medicare program, use your TV clicker when these duplicitous ads come on.

SHIELDS: This is Mark Shields reminding voters and listeners that our Robert Novak is off this week at his college reunion. He'll be back next week.

I'm saying good night for THE CAPITAL GANG.

Coming up next, "CNN PRESENTS: House of War."


Bush Campaigns for Republicans; Sniper Suspects Apprehended>

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