Bush vs. McCain
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MARGARET WARNER: Joining us to assess the fallout from yesterday’s primaries and caucus- Ari Fleischer, a senior adviser to Governor Bush’s campaign, and Arizona Congressman J.D. Hayworth, an adviser to Senator McCain.
Congressman Hayworth, beginning with you, Senator McCain took a real drubbing yesterday in all three of these contests. What happened?
REP. J.D. HAYWORTH: Well, Margaret, I think we’ve seen this campaign season with great vicissitudes, ups and downs for everybody involved. John McCain ran behind in polls in the commonwealth of Virginia for a long time, closed that gap — of course surprised folks a week earlier in Michigan. And I think it’s important to remember that there is still a long way to go. Let’s not forget what Woodcover and Germane reminded us of this presidential process. It is, in fact, a marathon, not a sprint and we’ll pick it back up again on Super Tuesday.
MARGARET WARNER: Ari Fleischer, just a blip in the marathon?
ARI FLEISCHER: Well, I think that Senator McCain’s best days are behind him, frankly, Margaret. I think when you look at the calendar ahead and look how the Governor’s message of reform with results and his compassionate conservatives is connecting — the inroads we’re making among independent voters and the way the Republican voters have come home to Governor Bush, I think it is becoming very hard for Senator McCain to continue. We are looking forward to a big night on Super Tuesday March 7.
MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Hayworth, today Senator McCain said the establishment is intent on breaking me. But he did lose not only Republicans yesterday by two or three to one but even the Republicans and independents combined. Where is this McCain majority that he said he was going to be able to put together?
REP. J.D. HAYWORTH: Margaret, Ii think it is important to remember that this is an unfolding process. California and New York, two of our most populist states go to the ballots on Super Tuesday. Ohio, a key state in the Northeast or really the Midwest, if you take a look geographically at the political calendar, so still a lot can happen. And, in fact, I can make news tonight, Margaret, because Ari used to be our press secretary, our press spokesman on the House Ways and Means Committee. I know he appreciates the fact that Senator McCain at this hour is issuing remarks to Christian conservatives, I happen to be one, who took umbrage at his statement Monday in Virginia Beach. Now he is moving forward. But we know… and I’m not here to disparage Governor Bush in any way, but we know that every candidate running for the presidency has ups and downs and the things to remember about John McCain is that when he feels he’s made a mistake, he admits it and he moves on. I know this man. I know his heart. And I know he will campaign hard. And I will simply say, as I did on Saturday, following the South Carolina primary, when the press was very quickly writing off Senator McCain, do not underestimate him. He makes a real connection with the American people. His common sense, his values of a strong national defense, local leaders helping to rebuild education and moving forward to put parents and teachers in charge — these ideas resonate with the American people. That’s why we’re going to have a very interesting Tuesday to come in just a few days.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, let’s talk about his remarks about Christian conservatives a little more. Gary Bauer, the Christian conservative activist and former candidate who has endorsed Senator McCain also today called on Senator McCain to retract his denunciations of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell and called on him to apologize. Are you saying, that’s what is going to happen this evening?
REP. J.D. HAYWORTH: Margaret, at this hour, it is my understanding that a statement is going to be issued by the McCain campaign from Senator McCain himself apologizing to Christian conservatives and saying that it’s time to move on in the campaign. I’m issuing my own statement that I can offer you tonight saying that point has been made. There are foibles and frailties and mistakes made by all candidates for the presidency. It’s time to move on. You know what I find interesting Margaret –
ARI FLEISCHER: Margaret, can I get back in here a little bit?
REP. J.D. HAYWORTH: — fratricide, Ari – just one point I want to make about the other side — isn’t it interesting how Donna Brazil has never apologized about her disparaging comments involving a General Colin Powell and J.C. Watts?
MARGARET WARNER: All right. But let’s stay, if I can, Congressman, with the Republican race.
REP. J.D. HAYWORTH: Well, I know you like to watch us beat each other up, Margaret.
MARGARET WARNER: Ari Fleischer.
ARI FLEISCHER: Thank you, Congressman. Margaret, here’s what I think took place with the remarks the Senator made the other day. It just shows the difference between two candidates, and the people who have served with Senator McCain in the Senate have seen this side of him before. His approach is to vilify his opponents, even those with whom he has principle policy differences. Governor Bush is going to focus on how to lift people up and it looks like Senator McCain’s approach is to tear people down. I don’t think that’s constructive for the party. It’s something Ronald Reagan never did; Ronald Reagan never attacked the people even whom he had serious disagreements with in our own party. I think that’s one of the reasons that Senator McCain is going to have very tough sledding. One of the biggest groups Governor Bush performed well with in all three states last night were women. And one of the reasons for that is that women want somebody in the White House who can bring us together, who can put some divisive days of the Clinton years behind us, and that’s one of the strengths that Governor Bush is going to offer this country. He is going to unify our party. He’s going to across the center and then he’s going to beat Al Gore. And that’s how we’re going to move the nation forward.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, Ari Fleischer, now staying with you for a minute, in looking again at these exit polls in Virginia, Governor Bush did lose narrowly among Republicans who said they were not members of the religious right. Is there any concern that Governor Bush needs to expand beyond that base more successfully than he has so far?
ARI FLEISCHER: Well, I think he has several bases, Margaret. That’s one of the bases. But he has a base of women, for example, as I just mentioned, of young voters. If you look at the number of young people, first time voters who came out, they are drawn to his candidacy. He well over performed the younger voter vote compared to the rest of the demographics. So he’s going to continue to unify Republicans, reach out across the center. And you raise an important point. You have got to have an appeal to the center. The governor took 19% of independents in New Hampshire. He has continued to make inroads ever since then. He took 33% of independents in Virginia. Senator McCain has done an admirable job with independents. We are very confident that once the governor secures the nomination and the choice is between Al Gore and Governor Bush, independents will come home to Governor Bush.
MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Hayworth, looking ahead to Super Tuesday next week with primaries and caucuses, as you well know, many of them are closed to non-Republican voters. What is the Senator’s strategy at this point for winning Republican votes?
REP. J.D. HAYWORTH: Well, I think the fact is many Republicans agree with John McCain’s notion of tax reform for Americans who need it most, tax relief for Americans who need it most, a strong national defense, putting parents and teachers back in charge of education and moving forward to save Social Security and Medicare. That’s what people want to see, especially in terms of debt relief. I think John McCain will return to the issues. And I think we all would do well to remember Dwight Eisenhower’s admonition that it’s better to focus on policy rather than personalities. Again, I couldn’t help but note my friend Ari spoke somewhat disparagingly of Senator McCain. That’s fine; that’s his role — perhaps to do that in lieu of Governor Bush taking the shots at Senator McCain , but I will tell you that from here out Senator McCain will concentrate on the issues that will bring Republicans to his banner and continue that unprecedented appeal to independents, the fastest growing segment of our electorate, and also disaffected Democrats who don’t like the antics of Donna Brazil or the Chinese fund-raising scandal involving Vice President Al Gore.
ARI FLEISCHER: Does that mean he is going to stop those phone calls in which he suggests the Governor is an anti-Catholic bigot?
REP. J.D. HAYWORTH: Ari, I don’t have any -
ARI FLEISCHER: — focus on policy -
REP. J.D. HAYWORTH: I think he will focus on policy, sir.
ARI FLEISCHER: So can we…
REP. J.D. HAYWORTH: Again, please don’t put words in my mouth. I’m here in the House of Representatives.
ARI FLEISCHER: Will it stop?
REP. J.D. HAYWORTH: I think what you’re going to see is focusing on campaign.
ARI FLEISCHER: Sounds like he won’t stop.
REP. J.D. HAYWORTH: No, sir, Ari. Now, look, if you want to go back and dredge up and play who shot John about all the despicable tactics used in South Carolina we can. I don’t think that serves either candidate well when we work to unite against Al Gore. So, I’ll tell you what, If you put the e-mails from the folks out here and quit this kind of talk and quit engaging in needless fratricide, and concentrate on the issues, I think that together not only as spokesmen representing our respective candidates, we can raise the tone of this campaign but we’ll rally even more independents, folks who have not been involved in the process to the campaign and that way working together with honest policy differences we can make a choice for our standard bearer.
MARGARET WARNER: Ari Fleischer, you have the last word. Do you think there is the prospect for a cease-fire on all the attacks whether through e-mail, phone calls, ads or in person?
ARI FLEISCHER: Of course Margaret if you look at the kind of campaign we ran in Virginia, North Dakota and Washington, it was very policy based. The toughest we got in Northern Virginia, the Senator was going to increase the number of flights coming into the national airport, which would hurt a lot of the local residents. But that’s policy; that’s a man’s voting record. I think that’s fair game. Phone calls suggesting that somebody is an anti-catholic bigot, that is not fair game. And those calls really need to stop.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Ari Fleischer and Congressman Hayworth, thank you both very much.