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Regional Views

February 3, 2000 at 12:00 AM EDT


TERENCE SMITH: If the race for the presidency is a marathon, the first lap is over. The Republican candidates will square off in nine more states between now and the end of the month. Then on March 7, five weeks from now, 16 states will have primaries or caucuses. A look at the road ahead with NewsHour regulars Cynthia Tucker of the "Atlanta Constitution," Bob Kittle of the "San Diego Union-Tribune," Lee Cullum of the "Dallas Morning News," and Patrick McGuigan of the "Daily Oklahoman." Joining them tonight is Lee Bandy of the "State," a newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina. Welcome to you all. Lee Cullum, what was your reaction to the results in New Hampshire particularly the defeat of your fellow Texan, George W. Bush?

LEE CULLUM: Well, Terry, naturally I felt astonishment. I had no idea the spread would be what it was. You know, it occurs to me that George w. Bush is not the first Texan with a lot of campaign money to run into trouble. If you remember back in 1980, John Connolly raised a fortune, refused all federal funds, all matching funds, looked like he was going to be a sure winner and wound up with one delegate in Arkansas. Phil Gramm was about to run for president in 1996, raised a lot of the money, he’s a good fund raiser, but didn’t survive into the election year. Now George W. Bush is not in this position. The polls have proved that he has considerable appeal around the country, far beyond the borders of Texas which Connolly and Gramm never had, as they discovered and I think that his organizational strength as well as his financial strength are about to assert themselves. It seems to me that his tale will be told by the ides of March. If by then he has carried Texas the day before, March 14 which I think he’s certain to do, if he’s carried Florida where his brother Jed Bush is governor which I think he’s likely to do, if the week prior to that he carries California which I think he probably will. He’s be raising money in California since 1996. That’s when I first heard about it. And New York occurs that same day. He should be strong in New York. Of course there’s a problem with McCain who is trying to get on the ballot in a third of those congressional districts. He’s been kicked off by rules in New York that are a little convoluted. If he gets on the ballot, that may be another issue. If bush carries three of those four pivotal states, I think he’ll be well on his way to winning the nomination.

TERENCE SMITH: Actually this evening the governor of New York has assured that McCain will be on the ballot throughout the state. Cynthia Tucker, what’s your reaction to the Democratic results in New Hampshire?

CYNTHIA TUCKER: Well, Terry, the Democratic results were actually less surprising. They more or less tracked the polls. For a while bill Bradley had built a commanding lead in New Hampshire but then Al Gore came in campaigning very vigorously, working hard, bringing his new aggressiveness to that campaign. He narrowed the gap. He overcame and won by a narrow margin of about four or five points, as I recall. That’s not a terribly big surprise since Gore had the organizational strength. What was more surprising was the change in tactics by bill Bradley. Bill Bradley had campaigns saying that he wanted to be a different kind of politician. He was going to change politics, as usual. He wasn’t going to be negative. He wasn’t going to be nasty. He was going to be lofty. He was going to talk about ideas and ideals. But by the time the New Hampshire campaign was over, Bill Bradley had changed his campaigning strategy. He had become very assertive. Al Gore, his opponent, called it negative, called it nasty. Bill Bradley has sharpened his criticism of Al Gore. And I think what we’re going to see going forward is not only vigorous debate between the two Democratic opponents but they’re very even in money. Bill Bradley will go the distance and I think this is going to be a very aggressive campaign, perhaps even a nasty one on the Democratic side.

TERENCE SMITH: Bob Kittle, tell us your reaction particularly looking ahead to the California primary that Lee Cullum referred to.

ROBERT KITTLE: Sitting here on the west coast, we’re about as far from New Hampshire as you can get in the continental United States. And while the results are interesting and somewhat important in New Hampshire, they are not definitive. I mean, the reality is that the entire state of New Hampshire has a population less than that of the city of San Diego. So its importance I think is inflated by the custom of New Hampshire going first and by the fact that it does engage the candidates in politicking on a retail level. But we’re not really going to be able to take a strong measure, I don’t think, of these candidates until march 7. That, as lee indicated, is when California and New York and several other states will be casting ballots. On that day, those states have a combined population of about 100 million. So that’s where we’re going to see, I think, how the country really feels about these candidates. New Hampshire is a small homogeneous state. California and New York by contrast more or less reflect the future of America, and that is a very racially mixed, diverse population. And the candidates are going to have to prove themselves there, think, in a much more important way than they did in New Hampshire.

TERENCE SMITH: Patrick McGuigan, earlier Lee Cullum said she was astonished by John McCain’s measure and margin of victory. Were you? And what did you think of that result?

PATRICK McGUIGAN: I was surprised by the margin. I mean, if you believe the polls, you would have guessed a 5 to maybe 12 percent victory from McCain so it was a bit of surprise, the margin, not so much as the result. But some of the analysis on election night was a bit overwrought. If you take a deep breath and look at the numbers at this point, delegates actually selected, Bush is up. In fact, he did get delegates in New Hampshire. He’s up 15 to 11 over McCain. As this thing heads toward not only Super Tuesday but some of the intervening primaries, the truth is that Bush will probably do a little better because of the absence in the independent vote, being able to cross over and vote in the Republican primary. On the other hand, it might give a boost to Steve Forbes as things continue, and we might even see Alan Keyes, if he stays in, jump up like he did in Iowa and get a respectable percentage. Personally, I think the big story the other night was two things: The margin that McCain gained and then the second thing was Bradley’s strong performance. I really think that the indication from New Hampshire that I take, at least, is that Bradley has become more serious about winning this instead of just taking all these body blows– I don’t think it’s nasty to fight back when lies are being told about your record by your opponent. Bradley was very stoic, almost Buddha-like for a long time. He began to fight at the end. And he made a very strong showing, stronger than Gene McCarthy did against Lyndon Johnson in 1968 and stronger than Ted Kennedy’s showing against Jimmy Carter in 1980. So this looks like it could last a little longer than a five or six-week sprint.

TERENCE SMITH: Indeed it does. Lee Cullum, from what you know of both Governor Bush and the Texans around him, how would you expect him to react to this defeat in New Hampshire?

LEE CULLUM: Well, I think that Governor Bush has shown himself to be a very disciplined candidate. You know, he’s been through defeat before. He tried to run for Congress out in West Texas several years ago and lost that race and regrouped and lived another life for quite a while and gathered his strength to run for President. He has been at this for a long time. He’s been planning at least four years, as I said. He’s well organized all over the country. I think he has a lot of residual self-confidence. I think you’ll find him very resilient. That’s what I would expect.

TERENCE SMITH: All right. Lee Bandy, the spotlight now turns to South Carolina, to your state. What is the situation there now and what do you expect?

LEE BANDY: Well, we have some new polling data out, and I find that data very surprising, stunned me a little bit. Those two surveys show either McCain holding a slight lead over Bush or the two candidates in a dead heat. Obvious rely McCain has gotten a huge lift out of New Hampshire. He’s gotten a big lift here than I expected from that, but I wouldn’t be writing bush’s obituary quite yet. South Carolina is a traditional state. The Republican voters here are very much unlike the voters in New Hampshire. They have an independent streak but the independent streak is not as pronounced as it is in New Hampshire. And the Republican primary voter here tends to be mainstream, tends to be establishment oriented, and also tends to follow the lead of the party leadership. Of course, the party leadership here in South Carolina is with George Bush.

TERENCE SMITH: And South Carolina has been friendly to the Bush family and the Bush ambitions.

LEE BANDY: Well there’s been a long-time love affair with the Bush family here. They loved President Bush. This was his second strongest state. Barbara bush went to Ashly Hall, a private academy in Charleston, and both have been here several times since they left the White House. President Bush has been here to address charitable organizations, to raise money for them and to raise money for the party. So they are well loved and well liked here. McCain has a tough row to hoe here. To win, he has to get a huge turnout in the veterans’ community. In addition to that, he needs to get a good turnout among the reform-minded independents and he needs to get a fairly good turnout among the moderate to conservative Democrats because he is not going to get a majority of the regular Republican primary vote. So that’s a tall order for McCain, and it’s there’s a strategy that says "we want you to vote in the primary of the Republican party even though you’ve never voted here before."

TERENCE SMITH: Cynthia Tucker, what do you think Bill Bradley, turning to the Democrats again, has to do to score well in the southeast or can you score well in Georgia and other states in the southeast?

CYNTHIA TUCKER: Well, the advantage Al Gore has over Bill Bradley is not so much in money but it is in organization. Bill Bradley has very little organization here in the South including Georgia. What Bill Bradley needs to do is appeal to African-American voters very solidly. I was listening to a woman the other day calling to a television program and complain that she wasn’t interested in Bill Bradley at all. He had done nothing for African-Americans. She would never turn away from Al Gore. The fact of the matter is that Bill Bradley has probably been more eloquent on issues of racial justice than Al Gore has. But that’s not very well known in the African-American community. So he has to certainly increase his appeal to African-American voters.

TERENCE SMITH: Bob Kittle, in California, what will be the role of the independents? They were very important in New Hampshire. Will they be in California?

ROBERT KITTLE: I think they will be, Terry. One of the reasons for is that California four years ago adopted a wide-open primary. It’s the most open primary there is in the country. And under our new system here, a voter simply gets a ballot that has all the candidates and all of the parties listed in it so that you can be registered in any party and everybody gets the same ballot in the presidential race you may be a Democrat and you may choose to vote on the Republican side for the next race down on the ballot — you may choose to vote on the Democratic side. You go back and forth. It’s a very wide open primary. Independent voters in California, as elsewhere in the country, have been growing in number. Party affiliation is weaker here than it has been in the past. So independent voters will be very important. But I’m not certain that the independent voter in California will vote the same way the independent voter did in New Hampshire. I don’t know that independent voters necessarily will embrace Bill Bradley or John McCain over Al Gore or George W. Bush. So I think it’s a wide open race. I think the candidates are going to have to appeal to a broad, broad segment of the electorate in California. You can’t simply come to California and campaign as a Republican seeking Republican votes. In our wide open primary, you have to try to appeal to the entire electorate.

TERENCE SMITH: All right. I think that will have to end it. Thank you all very much.