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Paul Begala & Haley Barbour discuss the 2000 Presidential race

September 18, 2000
Posted at: 7:45 p.m. EDT

(CNN) As state-by-state and national polls tighten and see-saw, both the Gore and Bush campaigns attempt to refine and retool their messages to reach the diminishing pool of swing voters that will decide this election. Vice President Gore seems to be building on the momentum gained from the Democratic National Convention. The once invincible Bush campaign suffered a few stumbles, but hoped for a strong recovery with its Middle Class Blueprint.

Paul Begala is a former Clinton adviser and Haley Barbour is a former Republican National Committee chairman.

Chat Moderator: Welcome to the Crossfire Chatroom, Paul Begala.

Paul Begala: Great to be here!

Question from PostalPete: Isn't Governor Bush reinventing himself like the weather here in Kentucky's Ohio River Valley: if you don't like it, just wait a minute?

Paul Begala: He is. As my friend James Carville said, there is more change of tactics from Bush than Al Gore has change in clothes.

Question from bytheway2: Please define the "Middle Class" because Gore seems to contradict his position on this important group time and time again!

Paul Begala: I think middle class is more a state of mind, attitude, and values than simply economics.

If you looked only at the numbers, you'd say the 'middle of the middle' are folks making around $40,000 a year. Those are the folks Al Gore targets his tax cuts to while George Bush is much more targeted to those making $400,000.

I have nothing against my rich friends, but if the surplus is indeed Our Money, than why does George Bush want to give it to our rich friends

Question from TonyB: Mr. Begala, if Vice President Gore is so interested in the environment, why did he choose to arrive in St. Louis two-three weeks ago during the middle of rush hour and choose car transportation instead of taking a helicopter from Lambert Airport to downtown St. Louis?

Paul Begala: I think all politicians cringe and wince when they see how they tie traffic up. I think if Al Gore were here, or George W. Bush for that matter, they would tell you how sorry they are for the huge motorcades in which they travel, largely because of staff and security.

Question from Fox: Do you remember the famous words of Clinton, "I will not raise takes on the middle class to pay for my programs"? Isn't Gore doing the same thing?

Paul Begala: Gore, like Bush, enjoys the unprecedented Clinton/Gore surplus.

In contrast, Bill Clinton inherited the Reagan/Bush deficit. Our next president will inherit the largest budget surplus and the strongest economy in our nation's history.

So, I think it is safe to say that unless there is a war or other emergency, neither candidate will do what former president Bush did - say "read my lips" and then raise our taxes.

Chat Moderator: Mr. Begala, you have chided Governor Bush for his lack of service in Viet Nam. Didn't the election and re-election of President Clinton prove

that military service is no longer an important factor in winning national elections?

Paul Begala: I don't chide Bush for his lack of service in Viet Nam. In my book, I take pains to point out that Bush' s service in the Texas National Guard was both dangerous and honorable. What I do chide Bush for is an entire year when the Boston Globe says, "Bush was obligated to report for Guard duty but failed to show up."

Question from Matt: Paul, do you think the Democrats have a shot at taking back the Senate?

Paul Begala: A shot, but a long shot. We have to pick up a lot of close races. I think for example, Mel Carnahan in Missouri will defeat incumbent Senator John Ashcroft. But, I think we will need a lot of breaks for the Democrats to take back the Senate.

Question from Vince: What is Bush going to do about the $1 trillion hole in Social Security?

Paul Begala: He won't tell us. Even the Bush campaign admits that to move from our current Social Security plan to Bush's plan of partial privatization would cost $1.3 trillion, but he won't tell us where the money is coming from. I am worried there won't be enough money after Bush gets through cutting taxes for the rich, so I fear that once again senior citizens will be targeted for Social Security cuts by the Republicans.

Chat Moderator: Thank you for being with us this evening, Paul Begala.

Chat Moderator: Welcome to the Crossfire Chatroom, Haley Barbour.

Haley Barbour: Hello. Sorry I am late

Question from PostalPete: Isn't Governor Bush reinventing himself like the weather here in Kentucky's Ohio River Valley: if you don't like it just wait a minute?

Haley Barbour: Beginning last summer, Governor Bush issued a series of major policy proposals on issues: taxes, spending, improving Social Security, reforming Medicare with a prescription drug benefit, better education - just to mention a few.

He has stayed with those proposals consistently from when they were put forward. Now, the voters can compare what Bush proposes to what Gore proposes. Despite the baloney that people like Paul Begala spout, the voters will see Bush's proposals are better for the average American.

When the Democrats have to resort to saying senior citizens are being targeted again for cuts in Social Security, it shows they cannot compete on the facts.

Social Security's never been cut. It's gone up every year for three decades, and no one in either party has ever proposed that Social Security payments be reduced.

Question from OBEY: Why not let Nader in the debates?

Haley Barbour: Suits me, but the news media is hell bent and determined

that the Commission on Presidential Debates will make the decisions. The media castigated Bush for even suggesting any debates besides those sponsored by the commission. So, Nader and Buchannan are locked out by the commission.

Question from Vince: Mr. Barber, what is Bush going to do about the $1 trillion hole in Social Security?

Haley Barbour: There is no $1 trillion hole in Social Security until approximately the year 2035. In the next ten years, there is estimated to be a Social Security surplus in excess of $2 trillion. Bush would use the surplus to reduce the national debt so that the Social Security trust fund can be stronger and to be sure every current retiree and every one who will retire in the next 10 or 15 years will have absolute certainty of receiving all the Social Security benefits to which they are entitled, including cost of living increases.

Further, this surplus gives us the opportunity to allow younger workers to have personal retirement accounts that allow them to have a far better return on their payroll taxes and the ability for their families to inherit these personal accounts. The three most important goals for Social Security, therefore, all achieved by Bush's plan are:

One: Give senior citizens more certainty and security in their retirement income.

Two: Give younger workers a better return on their money.

Three: Accomplish the first two goals while strengthening the economy instead of burdening the economy. It's a rare opportunity that this surplus gives America.

Question from Fox: Mr. Barbour, don't you think the liberal media has given Governor Bush a raw deal? Why won't he defend himself against all these charges that just aren't true?

Presidential Race 2000

Haley Barbour: Who would be surprised that the liberal media elite is favorable to Gore and antagonistic to Bush? There's nothing new about that. However, the voters have a lot more sense than the media gives them credit for. This is borne out by the fact Gore has had a big wet kiss from the media for a month, Bush has had the worse media coverage imaginable, and two of the three big national tracking polls still show Bush ahead.

Question from Wallyj: Haley Barbour, your candidate has gone from being ahead to being behind (or even). What can be done to get back on top, other than more of the same?

Haley Barbour: Clearly, when the public hears nothing but process stories in the media, stories about polls, advertising, debates, strategy, it's bad for Bush and good for Gore. When the campaign is about issues, that helps Bush and the Republicans.

Look at tonight's Crossfire show. The last thing the Democrats wanted to talk about was the issues. But, if Bush has discipline and keeps the focus on issues, what he's for versus what Gore is for, the voters will side with Bush.

Question from flrdli: Haley, isn't it true that the GOP rushed to nominate Bush, believing the name would win the election, only to find now that that was a hasty decision?

Haley Barbour: In fact, the opposite is true. Bush got shellacked in the first primary. He fought back, then lost again in Michigan before he ultimately prevailed. Bush had as tough a nomination contest as I can remember, and certainly John McCain was one of the most formidable primary opponents any nominee has had since Reagan challenged Ford, or Kennedy ran against Carter. Bush is a better candidate for the experience.

You will see that reflected this fall when Bush again has to recover from a media swoon for his opponent this time, Albert Gore.

Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Haley Barbour..

Haley Barbour: Thanks!

Paul Begala and Haley Barbour joined the Allpolitics chatroom after the Crossfire program on Monday, September 18, 2000; provided a typist for them. The above is an edited transcript of that chat.

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