August 20, 1999
MARGARET WARNER: We want to look now at the Democratic race. We'll begin with a report by Elizabeth Brackett of WTTW in Chicago. She followed the candidates in Iowa earlier this week.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Iowa Democrats haven't had a straw poll in years. But the two Democratic presidential contenders have spent many hours in this state, gearing up for their first head- to-head contest, the Iowa caucuses next January.
BILL BRADLEY: I need your help in the caucuses. I need your help reaching out to your friends. Fund-raisers people say, is there anything we can do other than raise money, and I say, yes, call a few other people and have them raise money.
SPOKESMAN: The Honorable Albert Gore.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Their campaign styles differ, a difference heightened by Vice President Gore's incumbency: Former Senator Bill Bradley, sometimes alone in a crowd, Gore always surrounded; Bradley more inclined to sit in small groups and answer questions.
SPOKESMAN: I ask you about the NAFTA and GATT.
SPOKESMAN: Yeah, good.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The one-to-one conversations shorter with Gore. Bradley travels the state in a two-car caravan. The Vice President comes and goes with all the trappings of the White House. Bradley spends a lot of time introducing himself, usually with references to his days as a star basketball player with the New York Knicks.
BILL BRADLEY: I did make my living running around drafty arenas in short pants for about ten years.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: But he soon moves to issues, as he did at this A.F.L./C.I.O. Convention in Waterloo on Wednesday. He stressed his own union background with the N.B.A. Players Union, said he would lift the constraints on union organizing, ban striker replacements, as well as compulsory overtime.
BILL BRADLEY: I am running so that more and more people will get to a higher economic ground in this country. I believe we need more economic growth, more fairly shared. That's why we have to increase the minimum wage. There's no question about that in this country. No question that needs to happen. That's why we need to make sure that every American is covered by a health insurance policy in this country with an economy as good as ours. (Applause)
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Speaking to the same convention yesterday, Gore too supported a higher minimum wage and a ban on striker replacements. And the Vice President relies on the administrations record to garner support.
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: As part of this administration, I want you to know that I'm proud that President Clinton has vetoed every anti-labor bill that has come to his office in the White House, and if they pass another one, he'll veto 'em again. And if they pass another one, he'll veto 'em again. And with your help, if they try it after 2000, I'll veto it and keep them from doing that.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Gore never mentions Bradley, aiming his fire at Republicans instead, particularly at the $800 billion tax proposal from the Republican Congress.
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Under the risky Republican tax scheme, the wealthiest 1 percent in America would get four times as much money as the bottom 60 percent put together. I'm not making that up. Of course, you know, it sounds like a Republican tax proposal because it is a Republican tax proposal. Now the worst of it is it would automatically put us right back into deficits again. And that would raise interest rtes again. So under the Republican plan, you would pay more on car payments. Under the Republican plan, you would pay more on home mortgage payments, under the Republican plan you would pay more on consumer interested, credit card interest, and every kind of interest rates.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The A.F.L.-C.I.O. won't endorse a candidate until October, but Gore has pulled in two big unions in Iowa, A.F.S.C.M.E. and the U.A.W.
BILL BRADLEY: I thought it was very interesting, after the UAW endorsement, Steve Yokich issued a very strong letter, essentially saying that this was not an endorsement, that the UAW Endorses nationally, and so this was not valid. So I think that was instructive.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The jab did not bother the Vice President.
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: I'm not talking about any other candidates, and I'm not going to say anything negative about him at all. I'm focused on my own campaign.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The farm crisis is at the top of both candidates' agendas here. Drought is not the problem. Predictions are for the third best corn crop in history. But for the first time, the price of four major commodities-- corn, soybeans, beef and pork-- is below the cost of production. The Vice President chose one of Iowa's 13,000 farms that have been family-owned for more than 100 years to stress his understanding of the crisis.
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Farming may be a smaller part of the overall employment in our country than it was when this family first owned this farm 107 years ago, but there are still 22 million jobs in America that are directly and indirectly tied to the farm, and we need to save those jobs and those farms, and I promise you I'll do everything to accomplish that result.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Corn and soybean farmers sue and Keith McKinney think Gore gets it when it comes to farm issues. The Vice President and his wife overnighted with the McKinneys in April.
KEITH McKINNEY: I came away with the idea that he really did understand. He understood that what we were doing wasn't working. We needed to have a better safety net for the commodities that we try to sell worldwide.
BILL BRADLEY: I didn't know much about Iowa agriculture until last January, when I started talking to people and learn what I could.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Meeting with a small group of hog farmers, Bradley asks as many questions as he answers.
BILL BRADLEY: The question is what's the best thing to help a family farm hog producer?
MAN IN GROUP: I think addressing the captive supply issue from an antitrust standpoint.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The Bradley camp hopes to turn those who meet the former Senator into supporters on caucus night. There's only one way to do that, says Press Secretary Eric Hauser.
ERIC HAUSER: The first three things you have to do in Iowa are organize, organize and organize. And I think we've gotten a good start on those three things.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: And Bradley's organizational efforts seem to be producing results. A surprisingly large mid-August crowd turned out to hear Bradley speak in Dubuque on Wednesday. Campaign finance reform, strict gun control measures, and as always, race relations make up the core of his pitch.
BILL BRADLEY: For me, racial unity is always at the center of what I try to do. It's important for who we are. But it's increasingly important for who we could become.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Dubuque City Councilwoman Ann Michalski says Bradley's organizing efforts are right on track.
ANN MICHALSKI: I know that Senator Bradley, when he was a basketball player, was a great man to see the pace of the game and understand the pace of the game. I think that he's really understood the pace of the caucus campaign and the caucus calendar in Iowa, and he's working well in that rhythm.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: But Gore has already picked up many more endorsements from Iowa's political establishment, and is further down the road in turning his contacts into supporters.
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: I'm so grateful to the Farmers for Gore who are formed here today, and who, as I said, will be having other events across this state.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: But both candidates would agree there are a lot more meetings to attend and hands to shake before the opening round of the presidential campaign begins with next year's Iowa caucuses.
MARGARET WARNER: Now back to Paul Gigot and Tom Oliphant. So how do you see the Democratic race shaping up?
PAUL GIGOT: I think the dynamics so far is Al Gore's relative weakness. I mean for a sitting Vice President, for somebody who has the institutional network and support of the Democratic Party, particularly the unions, particularly public employee unions, a lot of the activists, he's not blowing away Bill Bradley. It looks like he has a real contest on his hands. And Bradley is getting the benefit of whatever discomfort anybody had with, for whatever reason, ideological-- and there has been something of an impeachment backlash among Democrats too. You know, they supported Bill Clinton during it but they were not all thrilled about it and Bradley is their chance, frankly, for some of them, to wash their hands of it.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think Gore looks unusually weak?
TOM OLIPHANT: Not recently. In the last couple of weeks I think it's become clear that former Senator Bradley has taken this idea of being the vessel for whatever doubts or dislikes you have about - he has taken that about as far as he can. And I think he's hit a bump, maybe even hit a wall. The dynamic in Iowa has been in Gore's direction for two or three weeks now, particularly because of the way he jumped on the farm crisis early and very heavy. I think there's some signs of it in New Hampshire as well. Gore on the road is quite different than I think he's seen here or in Los Angeles or Cape Cod or New York City. I think his message these days is very much middle class and working family, a kind of "I'm on your side" pitch that is a little different than what maybe people were hearing nationally. Bradley, you know, has made the decision, he is going to announce formally in the middle of September. Then we're going to hear from him. I think his big push, it looks from some of the things he said this week, it's going to be health care and poverty. We'll see if that ignites something but I think right now this thing has gone about as far as it can go as the current dynamic is working.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think he has to get more specific? I mean, he has, like George W. Bush said, "I have my own timetable and I'm going to stick to it."
PAUL GIGOT: He is running on the politics of biography too: I'm not part of this crowd, I'm a Rhodes Scholar, former Rhodes Scholar, independent thinker, and so on. It looks - when he's showing a little leg on ideology and ideas -- it looks like he thinks there is an opening on the left. He has moved to the left of Al Gore on registration of handguns. He's moved on health care. He's talked about his doubts about the welfare reform bill. He seems to think he can rally people with that. I don't know if he can but that's where he seems to be moving.
TOM OLIPHANT: You know, I was thinking history, the last time the more liberal candidate was nominated for President by the Democratic Party was 1972 -- George McGovern. The moderate or the more moderate has tended to win in all the intervening elections. Gore has strengths that I don't think Bradley is attacking yet but he has this ability to fascinate people in a second.
MARGARET WARNER: Bill Bradley does.
TOM OLIPHANT: In Cedar Rapids just a week ago, he got a story in the local paper, a nice one simply by going to the Y and working out on the Stairmaster with a reporter present. You just -- I mean -
PAUL GIGOT: You can't buy that.
TOM OLIPHANT: If you say it's biography, that's right, there it is.
MARGARET WARNER: Someone was telling me one reason he has been able to raise all this money and that is one reason the press is taking him so seriously -- because he has done so well -- is that being a former star athlete really still has stroke with a lot of men, big givers.
PAUL GIGOT: Oh, I don't think there is any question about that. I mean, there are a lot of people my age group who remember he had a wonderful jump shot and the Knicks won a couple of titles. And, you know, I mean, for those of us who couldn't do that quite as well, people say, wow. And it's a little bit like meeting any famous person. The celebrification of American politics is a very powerful force. Look at Jesse Ventura.
TOM OLIPHANT: And, yes, insurgency -- insurgency needs a cause and it doesn't have one yet.
PAUL GIGOT: I agree.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thank you both. Have a great weekend.