TOPICS > Politics

A Democratic Sweep

March 8, 2000 at 12:00 AM EDT


GWEN IFILL: What’s next for these two candidates? We hear from two prominent Democrats: Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, an early Gore supporter; and, from the Bradley camp, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. He now teaches social and economic policy at Brandeis University.

Senator Harkin, how did Al Gore turn what was a deprived campaign only a few months ago into a sweep last night?

SEN. TOM HARKIN: Well, I think Al saw early before anyone else did that he had to change his structure of his campaign and change the way he was doing things. And he did that. And I think that really takes a lot of courage and foresight. He moved the campaign out of K Street in Washington and moved it to Nashville, cut the staff, restructured everything, threw off the trappings of office and went out like a candidate. And I think the reason he did so well yesterday is the American people over the last several months saw the real Al Gore, someone who is a real fighter for our working families.

GWEN IFILL: Senator, of course he did throw off a lot of the trappings of Washington. In your opinion, is the vice president’s victory last night an endorsement of the last eight years?

SEN. TOM HARKIN: Well, I think the vice president’s victory indicates that people want to keep the prosperity going, keep our economic growth going. They don’t want to tinker with these risky tax schemes that the Republicans are coming up with, but they also want something else. This is what Al Gore has been talking about and so has Bill Bradley, and that is, making sure that the economic prosperity now reaches everyone. The gap between the rich and the poor is still too wide in our country. And Al Gore has talked about making sure that we close that gap by making sure that every child is covered with health care and making universal pre-school available, prescription drugs for the elderly. In other words, making sure that this economic prosperity that we have gained over the last eight years inures to everyone in this country.

GWEN IFILL: Robert Reich, Bill Bradley talked about a lot of those same issues as well yet it just didn’t take. What went wrong?

ROBERT REICH: Well, Gwen, I think that perhaps Bill Bradley made a couple of mistakes. One I think is very clear: He did not respond as clearly and as forcefully as he could to some of the accusations made by Al Gore during the campaign about Bill Bradley’s health care plan, about his failure to vote in favor of flood control or flood aid in Iowa, several other things.

Also there was one issue over which he had no control at all: And that was that John McCain stole some of the reformists’ thunder after the New Hampshire primary — where Bill Bradley didn’t perform as well as expectations held that he should. But I think right now Tom Harkin is absolutely right. It’s time for Democrats to “kiss and make up.” The general election begins right now, and all Democrats know that we have much more in common than we do with Republicans. It has a lot to do with making sure that this prosperity works for everyone.

GWEN IFILL: Before you kiss and make up, let me ask you one more question about this – what’s just come to pass. You were a member of this Clinton-Gore administration. Do you think that there are things that Bill Bradley failed to exploit in trying to go head-to-head with Al Gore?

ROBERT REICH: Gwen, I don’t think so. I think Bill Bradley should feel very good, and many of the thousands of people who supported Bill Bradley and worked for him ought to feel very good about making health care a very, very large issue — campaign finance reform a larger issue than it was certainly back in September, October and November — making sure that gun control and controlling the proliferation of weapons, registration of firearms. All of those issues become very central to the campaign as well as the issue of poverty, the widening gap between rich and poor in this country. Those are all very much Democratic themes. I think Bill Bradley pushed Al Gore a little bit to be somewhat bolder on them. He certainly made the vice president a better candidate, a more forceful candidate, a more energetic candidate.

GWEN IFILL: Senator Harkin, did he make the Vice President a more liberal candidate and is that good for the fall?

SEN. TOM HARKIN: I think I’d agree with Bob. He made Al Gore a better candidate. There’s no doubt about that. Al will say that himself. And I think it really honed, I think, the vice president’s approach in this campaign and I think Al rose to the occasion. But, you know, we can sit here and analyze this to death, Gwen.

But I think — again I want to agree with Bob: Now is the time to look ahead. There are primaries yet to be held. Al Gore is not taking any votes for granted. He’s going to be out there daily working to gain the votes of the people in the primaries coming up and to make sure that we lay the groundwork for a successful campaign this fall. So I think now is the time to get together.

I just want to say this. I’ve known Bill Bradley for a long time. He is a good guy. He is very bright and intelligent. He has a lot to offer our party. I want, I hope that Bill Bradley will be with us. I trust he will be in going ahead this fall so that we can not only elect Al Gore to the presidency but also win back the House and the Senate.

GWEN IFILL: But in your opinion is there such a thing as being too liberal in the general election campaign, Senator?

SEN. TOM HARKIN: Well, I believe in — there’s a difference between idealistic and having high ideals. Al Gore has high ideals. But those ideals are grounded in common sense. So when he talks about health care for all of our children and covering all of our children from prenatal care to age 18, that’s doable. We can get that done. And when he talks about universal pre-school for our kids, we can get that done. Those are high ideals. When he talks about prescription dugs for the elderly, those are high ideals but they’re grounded in common-sense practicality, we can get those things done.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Reich, you were in New Hampshire with senator Bradley when he started talking about the Vice President’s fund raising irregularities or at least the irregularities of people he was associated with. Do you think that Senator Bradley inadvertently handed Mr. Gore – handed George W. Bush a bat with which to beat Mr. Gore with in the fall?

ROBERT REICH: Well, Gwen, I think that George W. Bush is going to use that bat to the extent that he possibly can. You heard the Vice President say earlier today that he has learned some lessons. Remember, he is supportive of campaign finance reform. George W. Bush has not called for an end or a ban on soft money. The Democrats are very, very clear on this and very united that there has to be campaign finance reform. So although George W. Bush may try to use that bat, it’s going to be very hard for him unless he embraces the same cause of campaign finance reform himself.


GWEN IFILL: Yes, Senator.

SEN. TOM HARKIN: I just want to make this point. If they try to use that as an issue, keep in mind the reason we have not been able to get the McCain-Feingold bill through on campaign finance reform is because the Republicans keep filibustering it. Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, leads the filibuster. We have the votes here. We have some Republican votes and Democratic votes to pass campaign finance reform. The only reason we don’t have it is because the Republicans continue to till filibuster.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Reich, the same thing that many of Mr. Bradley’s supporters loved about him are the same thing that his critics hated about him, which is his high-mindedness, what they call his moral superiority, do you think that there was room for that? First of all do you think that that’s true and do you think there was room for him to win running the kind of campaign he ran?

ROBERT REICH: Gwen, I think high mindedness in terms of idealism is completely appropriate. It brought in a lot of voters who might otherwise not have been there. I think John McCain was quite high minded as well. Hopefully a lot of people who were brought into the primary campaigns will continue to be involved in politics. The biggest problem for the vice president and also for George W. Bush right now is that you have eight months to go before the general election. You have Gore and Bush, which is basically the two candidates you had eight months ago. And how do you continue to educate the public and have a good, solid discussion about major issues that affect this country over a period of eight months? How does the press stay involved and interested? That’s a big challenge that I think we’re all going to have to worry.

GWEN IFILL: Well, Senator Harkin, you get to answer that question. How does Vice President Gore do that for the next several months?

SEN. TOM HARKIN: Well, Gwen, again, I think it’s going to come out very clearly that George Bush has really sold himself and his leadership of the Republican Party to the far right wing. That’s what got him there. You know, there’s that old saw in politics, you dance with them that brung you. He’s going to have to dance with Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell and the people at Bob Jones University and the people that got him to where he is. He’s not going to be able to shake that off, and I think the people of this country don’t want that kind of narrow ideological leadership in the White House. They want, as I have said earlier, someone with good ideas that Al Gore has, but someone who has the common sense to know how to get forward with the American people but not on a narrow ideological basis.

GWEN IFILL: That big race to the middle, right, Senator?

SEN. TOM HARKIN: Well, it’s making sure that you get the middle to support the ideals you have to make our country better and to close that gap between the rich and the poor. That’s what Al Gore’s message is, and that’s why he’s going to win.

GWEN IFILL: Senator Tom Harkin, Bob Reich, thank you both very much.