JIM LEHRER: Now a Steve Forbes campaign snapshot, and to Terence smith.
(Playing Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again")
TERENCE SMITH: Since his strong second place showing in the Iowa straw poll last month, publisher and Presidential hopeful Steve Forbes has campaigned vigorously in 11 states. Yesterday, as part of a five-day campaign swing through California, the candidate spoke with student newspaper editors at McLane High School in Fresno.
STEVE FORBES: I am running for President, for the republican nomination. My platform comes from Abraham Lincoln's words at Gettysburg, where he said that "this nation, under god, shall have a new birth of freedom." I believe that a new birth of freedom would include allowing parents to choose schools they think best for their children; would allow you to choose your own doctor instead of an HMO or a bureaucracy telling you where you have to go; the freedom to be safe and secure in this world, which means enforcing the law here at home so we can avoid future Columbines; and finally, on one of the most sensitive issues in America today, I believe the freedom to be born. I recognize that many people don't agree with my pro-life goal, but I hope to begin a national dialogue to help persuade people each step of the way towards that goal. Why don't we start the questioning?
NYDIA ANGULO, Roosevelt High School: Mr. Forbes, when you were running in 1996, you dropped out of the election for candidate. What made you want to run again?
STEVE FORBES: I believe that there is still a very real need for bold and exciting leadership in the White House to make positive things happen. In Washington, they talk. I want to do real things, whether it's Social Security, getting rid of this tax code that oppresses people. None of the other candidates have put real proposals to make these positive things happen.
TERENCE SMITH: Mr. Forbes seemed delighted to get a question on a favorite theme of his, the need for standards in public life.
ORASONE THAVISAY, McLane High School: What are the basic standards that you'd like to convey to the youth of America?
STEVE FORBES: That's a very good question. And that is, again, a strong sense of what is right and what is wrong-- not just talking about it, but trying to live by example. And that is not telling lies, not trying to skirt the law, not trying to misuse the powers of the government against your opponents, as has happened in recent years; being faithful to one's...in this case, one's wife; not using drugs; respecting others. It's very basic.
TERENCE SMITH: In this session, as in others, the candidate, who has never held public office, was questioned about why he thinks he is qualified to be President.
STEVE FORBES: I'm not a lifetime politician. I think it's very important to bring an outsider in to make the changes so we break out of this rut, this ditch that we're in, in Washington. I am a businessman, CEO. I've run a real company, over a thousand people, having people work together for a shared purpose, having to satisfy customers. If you don't satisfy customers, you don't succeed. As a businessman, I've been around the world doing business, writing stories, visited almost 60 countries. So I have, I think, as much or more knowledge of the workings of the world than the other candidates. That's why I'm running, and that's why I'm taking my case to the people. And the people will be the ultimate judge, as it should be. (Singing "God Bless America")
TERENCE SMITH: Later that morning, the candidate attended a Rotary luncheon at the Fresno Convention Center. Once again, he stressed the outsider theme.
STEVE FORBES: In America today, there probably hasn't been a time when there's been such a disconnect between the political culture-- in Washington too often, even with our own Republican Party there, it too often seems to be an isolated world. One wonders what happens to the air there, what is in the water there that turns otherwise sensible people into doing what they do. You wonder, where is the EPA when you need it? (Laughter) And while we can chuckle about it, this kind of disconnect does have some very real consequences. We have enormous opportunities, but we also face enormous problems; problems with China, growing tax code, regulations here at home, our schools not doing the job they should. Can we make these positive things happen? The answer is yes. And that's why I'm running. And that's why I'm making my appeal to the American people. Thank you very much. And bless you. (Applause) Thank you.
TERENCE SMITH: For more, we turn to "Washington Post" reporter Michael Powell. The NewsHour is working with the "Post" in covering the 2000 Presidential race. Michael has traveled with Steve Forbes in Iowa, and is working on a profile of the candidate. Michael, welcome. You've been out on the campaign trail with Mr. Forbes. What's it like?
MICHAEL POWELL: It's very controlled. It's very orderly. He sometimes changes a joke nary a wit from one setting to the next. If you're a national press, print press it's hard to get a lot of access. In fairness to him, I think not unlike a lot of candidates, they want -- what their concentration on - and they do it with a prescient efficiency -- is to get the local media, be it the radio guys or the local newspaper on to the bus with them, give them 20 minutes. Get them off.
TERENCE SMITH: What about the fellow from the "Washington Post"?
MICHAEL POWELL: He eventually got that 20 minutes and got hustled off. No, he was fine. I got neither more nor less than the other people. I think really the sense was in Iowa, they wanted to talk to Iowa media and not particularly to myself.
TERENCE SMITH: But is that a matter of style so it control of the candidate?
MICHAEL POWELL: I think it's both. I think that there's a sense that they are trying to shift his message a bit and his message a bit from the last time around. And I think they don't want to...this is sort of... they're doing their test runs out here, and I don't think they want to have us running around behind the set sort of asking questions. What about this and this?
TERENCE SMITH: Well, the last time out, of course, he stressed one big issue, the flat tax. And he basically campaigned on that; soft pedaled the social issues. What about this time?
MICHAEL POWELL: Social issues are very much to the forefront. I think there's a ... in fact, I know there's a strategy to go right and worry about capturing the center later, the assumption being clearly that Bush has that center. So he's gone right with a passion talking about abortion, talking about the Ten Commandments, even talking a little bit about evolution. And those are all clearly designed-- and I don't mean to suggest that they're not real deeply-held positions--but they're clearly designed to capture the right, to convince them that I'm the man with the money. When the Gary Bauers and the Dan Quayles are on the side of the road, I'm going to be sitting there with my money and I have your positions, you being the Christian right or other groups -
TERENCE SMITH: And in my mind.
MICHAEL POWELL: That's right.
TERENCE SMITH: How is it playing? What is the reception he's getting generally?
MICHAEL POWELL: I think he's not the sort of candidate that send people screaming into the streets wanting to sign up. But I do think he has an earnestness that at least places like Iowa, played very well. People seemed very respectful. They listened. I would ask people afterwards, well, what do you think, and they would say, "he's in the mix." And they would name on or two or three different candidates they're looking at. They seem to like him. And it is a very well-funded campaign.
TERENCE SMITH: Is the money a presence in the campaign? Can you feel it and see it?
MICHAEL POWELL: Yes. Relative to some of the other candidates, because you will come into tiny little towns and there will be four or five advance people there. He'll come in with the two buses. They have somebody driving the cars behind. It's a very... yeah, I mean, there's a lot of thought. He's already running some ads in some these states well ahead of some of the other candidates.
TERENCE SMITH: Does he seem to enjoy himself? Does he seem to enjoy campaigning?
MICHAEL POWELL: I think it's at best, an acquired taste for him. I think-- and you'll see that in some of the clips there-- when he tells a joke and gets a response, he'll get a little glimmer that sort of suggests that he's liking it. He's not somebody like a Bush, God knows, a Bobby Kennedy or somebody like that, somebody who seems to revel in it or Clinton. He's not like that. That's sort of part of his appeal, to be the anti-candidate, the antithesis of all that. At least that's what he'd like you to buy.
TERENCE SMITH: And, of course, there's a long road ahead.
MICHAEL POWELL: That's right.
TERENCE SMITH: Thanks very much, Michael Powell.
JIM LEHRER: You can get more information on this story on the Washington Post Web site, as well as ours.