KERRY/WELD: DEAD HEAT
SEPTEMBER 19, 1996
The race for U.S. Senator from Massachusetts is now neck-and-neck, as Sen. John Kerry's lead drops from last spring's high of 12 points ahead of Gov. William Weld, to zero. Margaret Warner looks at the contest that has seen the contenders debate each other five times already...
MARGARET WARNER: Most U.S. Senate races are just gathering steam, but Monday night in Worcester, Massachusetts, John Kerry and Bill Weld met for what was the fifth debate of their campaign. Political circumstances have changed since their first debate in April. President Clinton still holds a commanding 20 point lead over Bob Dole in this traditionally Democratic state. But the past summer left Democrat John Kerry fighting to remain competitive in his race.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
June 5, 1996
Margaret Warner looks at the Kerry/Weld race as of June.
Browse NewsHour coverage of Election '96.
Kerry's challenger, Gov. Weld, dominated the political agenda and home state news coverage for most of the summer. Sometimes the events were a bit off beat, like the day a T-shirt-clad Weld signed a popular environmental bill outside.
GOV. WILLIAM WELD, (R) Massachusetts: This law not only is going to make the rivers safer for humans, it's great news for the fish too, equally important.
MARGARET WARNER: Then to demonstrate his commitment to clean water, the governor dove into the still not quite clean Charles River. It was just one of many times over the summer that the governor commanded center stage by signing a popular bill. And much of the legislation he approved, which had been passed by the Democratic state legislature, served to highlight Weld's core campaign issues of crime, welfare, and taxes.
In Washington, Kerry found it hard to compete. He and his colleagues were laboring over legislature that did little to help Kerry highlight his core campaign issues of job creation, education, and the environment. Democrats did manage to push through a couple of popular Kerry-supported measures, a minimum wage increase and health insurance reform. But most of the credit for those bills went to Massachusetts senior Senator Ted Kennedy. Kerry admitted some frustration over this when he and Weld debated in August.
SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D) Massachusetts: (August 19) For a United States Senator, there's a great difference from a governor. The governor's here every day. The governor gets to jump in the river when he signs a bill. The governor gets to do things. We're down in Washington, fighting a different kind of battle. And we don't have the same kind of visibility.
MARGARET WARNER: The big national political events of the summer were the two major party conventions, beginning with the Republicans in San Diego. In this arena too, Weld seemed to score more political points. When Republican convention organizers denied Weld the right to give an abortion rights speech, he refused to speak there at all. Instead, he addressed audiences outside the convention hall, like this early morning pro-choice rally in nearby La Jolla.
GOV. WELD: (August 14) Believe me when I tell you I'm grateful for this opportunity to speak. (applause) Along with others, I've spent the last several weeks tussling with the powers that be so that the pro-choice point of view, ironically the point of view shared by the majority of all Republicans, can be heard in San Diego. (applause)
MARGARET WARNER: The convention coverage back home helped the governor bolster his image of independence and undercut Kerry's strategy of trying to tie Weld to Newt Gingrich and the hard right of the Republican Party. At the Democrats' convention in Chicago two weeks later, Kerry was given a brief evening speaking slot to address one of his core issues, education.
SEN. KERRY: I'm John Kerry, and I come from Massachusetts.
MARGARET WARNER: But his speech wasn't broadcast live by any of the major television networks. And he was overshadowed once again by the prominent role given Sen. Kennedy. Kennedy's liberal call to arms was carried by the networks.
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY: We will do better with President William Jefferson Clinton leading us into the next American century!
MARGARET WARNER: The summer also saw Weld move ahead of Kerry in fund-raising. Then early last month, the two men agreed to limit how much they would spend on the campaign and how much of that money could come from personal funds. The agreement won them national acclaim. But Kerry's aides were baffled by his decision to forego the chance of tapping the $760 million fortune of his wealthy new wife, Aris Theresa Hines. Weld also got the jump on Kerry in the advertising wars. Weld went on television in mid July with ads that drew sharp distinctions with Kerry on Weld's three core issues: crime, welfare, and taxes.
AD SPOKESMAN: Gov. Bill Weld passes a seventh balanced budget with his record tax cuts. Tough laws to track down deadbeat dads, true welfare reform. But in John Kerry's Washington, there is gridlock, taxes keep increasing. The "Boston Globe" reports Kerry has voted to increase gas taxes and taxes on millions of middle income retirees.
MARGARET WARNER: Kerry began advertising a month later, but even Kerry's aides admitted his early ads failed to give a clear or compelling rationale for reelecting the two-term Senators.
AD SPOKESMAN: John Kerry, on duty, in the United States Senate.
MARGARET WARNER: Last week, Kerry hired a new media team, and last Friday, the campaign began running new commercials, drawing sharp differences with Weld on bread and butter economic issues.
AD SPOKESMAN: Who's on the side of working families? First, Bill Weld vetoed an increase in the state minimum wage. Then he opposed raising the minimum wage at the federal levels. John Kerry believes work should be rewarded. He fought successfully to increase the minimum wage. The real difference--Kerry fighting for us.
MARGARET WARNER: But in trying to demonize Weld, Kerry's biggest hurdle, his own aides admit, is that the people of Massachusetts simply like their governor. Kerry, by contrast, is struggling with a public personality that voters still find hard to warm to or know.
SEN. KERRY: (August 19) I'm very well aware that when God made me one of the debits he gave me was sort of an over level of intensity, maybe an over level of earnestness, or whatever you want to call it. On the other hand, what I do know about myself is that when you have a fight, I'm a good person to be in the fox hole with, and I know that we're in a fight right now.
MARGARET WARNER: A fight it is. Kerry's 12-point lead from last spring is gone. The most recent polls show Weld has drawn dead even with his rival. Not surprisingly then, with just seven weeks to go, Monday night's debate was their most combative ever. The two men went at each other from the start as each was asked to define his rival.
GOV. WELD: Well, the real John Kerry, in my book, is the man who voted for $1/2 trillion in tax increases in Washington, D.C., and I think that's relevant in the context of the Senate elections. Sen. Kerry is the man who has voted against mandatory sentences for gang activity and for people who sell drugs to children.
And he's the man who made a career out of opposing welfare reform for 10 years in the Senate, protesting against a work requirement, saying that it was troublesome to him, personally troublesome to him, that welfare recipients should have to work 16 hours a week, so he's a man who has set his face against the type of progress we've made in this state, in these areas of taxes, crime, and welfare, which I think are very important to the working men and women of Massachusetts.
SEN. KERRY: I think I'm qualified to talk about who the real John Kerry is, and let me say who he is. John Kerry that wants to go back to the United States Senate is somebody who has, unlike my opponent, fought for tax fairness. If you add up all my votes in the United States Senate, I have voted for a tax cut for people earning $75,000 or less. I'm fighting for working people, for fairness, I want the average citizen of this country to get the break.
SPOKESMAN: Senator, who's the real Bill Weld, and is he distorting his record?
SEN. KERRY: The real Bill Weld is a person who was down in Washington, cheering on and fighting for and lobbying for the passage of the $270 billion cut in Medicare. It is a governor who has vetoed the minimum wage. I mean, look, the minimum wage is at a 40 percent record low in this country. People are working for, for $8500 a year. I think that's unconscionable. At least let them work at the rate of poverty and lift themselves out of poverty, but he said, no. This governor denied it to them. (applause)
GOV. WELD: Speaking of tax fairness, it was Senator Kerry who voted to increase the income tax on senior citizens on Social Security, earning as little as $32,000 a year. I know he says he just soaks the rich. Senator, if your name was John 6-Pack instead of John Forbes Kerry, and you had to gas up your racing motorcycle and your speedboat and your airplane every weekend, as well as your cars, you would have thought twice before you would have proposed raising the gas tax by 50 cents a gallon. We have cut taxes here. (applause) We have cut taxes 15 times the last six years, an aggregate of a billion dollars. At the federal level--
SPOKESMAN: Time's up, Governor.
GOV. WELD: --that would pay for a $700 billion tax cut.
MARGARET WARNER: Kerry repeatedly attacked Weld for what the governor had done in Massachusetts.
SEN. KERRY: Bill Weld decided to veto a health care bill for 165,000 kids paid for by cigarette tax. He sided with the tobacco companies on the cigarette tax. I side with those kids and think they should have had that health care. He vetoed the right of people to have a minimum wage. Those are the issues that divide us in this race.
GOV. WELD: John, if you think people believe that Washington, D.C. is better managed than Massachusetts has been the last six years, you're dreaming. (applause) People aren't stupid. I mean, people remember in 1990, the unemployment rate was 10 percent. Now it's 4 ½ percent. We've got 1/4 million jobs that we've created.
SPOKESMAN: Gov. Weld. Sen. Kerry.
SEN. KERRY: Well, Governor, you're darn right; people aren't stupid, and they can read the figures. (applause) And the figures show--the figures show that Washington's budget during the years you've been governor has grown at only 13 percent, while your budget has grown at 26 percent. You've gone--you've gone--
GOV. WELD: At least mine balances.
SEN. KERRY: You've taken your budget, Governor, from $12 billion up to $17 billion. Now what have we done in the last few years? We've created 10 million jobs, Governor, nationally, lowest interest rates, lowest unemployment, lowest level of inflation. We're doing the job, Governor. The stock market reflects it, and the President's popularity reflects it, and when people realize the difference between you and me on these issues, mine will too. (applause)
MARGARET WARNER: Weld tried to turn the tables on Kerry, attacking the Senator for his votes on the federal budget.
GOV. WELD: Let me ask you a question about Medicare, Senator. You have voted to cut Medicare by $56 billion and then again last year by $156 billion, which is a steeper cut than I have ever supported. You have also voted to increase the tax on seniors on Social Security. You've even proposed that Congress consider carefully raising the retirement age for Social Security. Why do all those assaults on senior citizens make sense?
SEN. KERRY: Governor, as I listen to you, it's really extraordinary. You talk out of both sides of your mouth more than the Budweiser frogs. It's the most amazing thing I've ever seen in my life. I'm surprised--I'm surprised you want to talk about Medicare outside the confessional, to be truthful with you. You, you, you went down to Washington lobbying Newt Gingrich and pushing for a $270 billion cut in Medicare. It's documented. You lobbied for it, you were part of the team. Newt Gingrich was cheering for you, and you tried to do that. I stood on the floor of the United States Senate and voted against that, and the only reason I voted for $156 billion was it was the only alternative to your $270 billion. That's the only reason. (applause)
MARGARET WARNER: Sen. Kerry and Gov. Weld have at least four more debates scheduled in this campaign. They next meet this coming Sunday in a debate sponsored by MTV.