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Political Wrap with Mark Shields and Paul Gigot

January 21, 2000 at 12:00 AM EDT
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TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: And to Shields and Gigot. Syndicated columnist mark Shields, and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. They are both in Des Moines tonight. They’re both in Des Moines tonight. Mark, Betty Ann says 10 percent of Iowa’s registered voters are going to participate. That’s only 108,000 people. How important is what they’re going to do going to be?

MARK SHIELDS: It will be enormously important, Jim, because after all the speculation and the endless calculations, real people are going to bestir themselves on a probably quite arctic Monday night here in Iowa leave home and hearth and trudge down in some cases, to the local fire house and school house to stand up in front of neighbors and friends and say I’m for Al Gore, or I’m for Steve Forbes or I’m for Bill Bradley.

JIM LEHRER: But, as a practical matter, Mark, let’s take the Republican race first. Is anything likely to happen in Iowa Monday night that could change who is going to be the Republican nominee?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. If the margin between… You have to understand, Jim, we’re going to have many winners and very few losers out of Iowa. The nice thing about the November election is that we have one winner and one loser. But candidates will claim they won the silver, second place. They won the bronze. And candidates will interpret it and so will we in the press, and so will voters look at it. If the margin is quite close in single digits between George Bush and Steve Forbes, it will be a blow to what has been the stated premise of the Bush campaign, that he is invincible. He is inevitable. And the invincibility will have been pierced and it makes New Hampshire that much more important.

JIM LEHRER: That’s the thing to watch is the margin by which Bush wins. There’s no doubt that he is going to win, right?

MARK SHIELDS: I would say this. If it’s really bad weather Monday night, if you’re a Bush supporter, you get a choice. You say he’s going to win. Everybody is telling us he is going to win, Shields and Gigot are telling you us he is going to win. I can sit in my own home in my own warmth and watch “Allie McBeal” or “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” because he’s going to win anyway. In that case, the committed well organized on the ground campaign can make it competitive and bring the upset.

JIM LEHRER: Paul, how do you see it? Upset even possible?

PAUL GIGOT: I think it’s a very long shot. There are two things to watch on the Republican side. One is how does George Bush prove himself to be as a vote-getter? I mean, he’s polling now in the mid-40′s. It’s the first time he has really run remember, outside of Texas.

JIM LEHRER: You mean nationally he is polling 40′s?

PAUL GIGOT: In Iowa among… and nationally it’s even better. Steve Forbes in the mid-20′s right now. I think you have to look at does George Bush get over 40? Does he… Is he able to get his people out? And then Steve Forbes, can he maybe break 30, and make himself, by that performance, a player in New Hampshire? Because right now he’s really not a player. The traditional thinking is you get three tickets out of Iowa, three candidates can come out of Iowa, and then go to New Hampshire. Two get out of New Hampshire. It may be this time if George Bush blows away the field, you get only one out of Iowa and that means it’s one-on-one against John McCain in New Hampshire. What Forbes is trying to do is to make sure he gets two out of here. To do that I think he’s probably got to get close to 30.

JIM LEHRER: Let’s move to the Democrats. Gore as head in the polls, Paul. What is it that would have to happen Monday night in Iowa that would be anything resembling a “surprise”?

PAUL GIGOT: Well, maybe if Al Gore has the arterial fibrillation that Bill Bradley has been having. I don’t know. I think… It looks like it is going to be a good night for Al Gore. If Bill Bradley can get over 40 percent, I think that he would then say he has had something of a moral victory, because he’s been running below that in the polls. And he’s running into a big institutional Democratic effort here for Al Gore. I mean the unions are for him. The official political people, the office holders are for him. Ted Kennedy is flying in. Ted Harkin, the Iowa Democratic senator, has taken out all the stops, cutting ads for him, doing whatever he can. So I think Bradley is going to have a tough time getting 40.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think, Mark, about the Democrats?

MARK SHIELDS: I think Al Gore deserves credit for turning around his campaign. Al Gore can thank Bill Bradley… If Al Gore, the campaign of last summer and the candidate of last summer who was really dull as dishwater, uninspiring, unenergetic and totally uncharismatic…

JIM LEHRER: And wearing white shirts?

MARK SHIELDS: Wearing white shirts. But he’s a different candidate. And make no mistake about it, Jim. When people look back at this race, if in fact Bill Bradley, after the investment of much time and much money and remember this, Bill Bradley could have skipped Iowa. If Bill Bradley had skipped Iowa and went directly to New Hampshire, the John McCain strategy which was more risky in McCain’s case because McCain risked a Republican getting a bump out of Iowa who could challenge Bush — if Bradley had not been here, then Al Gore would have had a peeric victory like Tom Harkin, the senator, did in 1992 when all the presidential candidates stayed out and he won 57 percent of the vote. I say that because Bradley invested time and money, more than Gore did, and if that happens, I think you’ll look back and say the Des Moines Register televised debate was the seminal event — that was the turning point. It energized Gore’s people because they felt as I did watching it that Gore beat Bradley and Bradley seemed laconic and just lackadaisical.

JIM LEHRER: Paul, you mentioned Bill Bradley’s heart fibrillation, his heart rhythm problem. The American Heart Association issued a statement today saying relax – this is not life threatening. They confirmed what Bradley has said. Politically is it a problem for Bradley?

PAUL GIGOT: I don’t think it’s a huge problem for Bradley. The timing of it is bad just because if you have any doubts at all, it’s just going to be fresh in your memory as you go to the caucuses. But I think that his bigger problems are that he just hasn’t found an issue with which he can pry those Democratic regulars away from Gore. He’s running a character campaign. And that isn’t proving to be enough. I talked to one prominent Bradley supporter, a Democrat, and he said Bradley just wasn’t willing to get into a character debate and be explicit about what he was trying to do, saying we got to separate ourselves from the Clinton problems, from the Gore ethical problems. He wanted to do it by misdirection. Without making that kind of a case, he hasn’t been able to find a way to rally people here.

JIM LEHRER: Mark… Go ahead.

MARK SHIELDS: Just one other thing. And it can’t be ignored. Probably the most important number in this campaign came out today. That’s the Iowa unemployment rate. If you’ll recall in 1980 when I was in this state, Ronald Reagan was running, the misery index, the combined numbers of inflation rate and unemployment rate was at 20 percent –

JIM LEHRER: I remember that.

MARK SHIELDS: — when Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter that fall. The unemployment rate today in the state of Iowa 2.2 percent.

JIM LEHRER: That’s two below the national.

MARK SHIELDS: Two below the national — 1.6 percent in Des Moines. I mean it’s 1 percent in Hancock county up North. These are numbers that are unbelievable. And, you know, there is an old line in politics about peace and prosperity. And Iowa has prosperity and the sense of optimism, the sense of confidence in the future here is deserved and real.

JIM LEHRER: That always helps incumbents. But, Mark, do you have a comment on Bradley’s heart thing? Are people talking about that at all in Iowa?

MARK SHIELDS: If you go to the last weekend of the campaign and you’re Bill Bradley’s campaign, they’re up to 2:30 and last night getting out their precinct caucuses that Betty Ann was talking about, getting out the information, the walking lists, the names, the telephone calls to be made, and instead the news is dominated by stories of your own candidate and his health, especially when your candidate was the NBA player — you know, you say wait a minute. Here’s Gore walking around here looking like young Tarzan and, you know, it’s in contrast. The other thing is Bill Bradley has run a different kind of campaign. He has been a private man. He hasn’t told us about boxers and briefs. That’s to his credit. But because he wouldn’t tell us about his favorite movies, his favorite books, his favorite philosophers, there is a sense of privacy and it raises questions are there other things perhaps that he hasn’t told us, like the health.

JIM LEHRER: Before we go, Paul, to you, not related to the presidential race, the announcement by Bob Kerrey, the senator from Nebraska, he is not going to run for reelection. How do you read that? What do you think about that?

PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think it’s troubling and maybe more so for Republicans than Democrats. Democrats might lose a senate seat, but I think what they’re also losing is an independent voice. Bob Kerrey is one of the few people in Washington in either party, but especially among the Democrats, who is willing to speak up and challenge some of the party orthodoxy, particularly on the issue of entitlements and Medicare and Social Security. He’s willing to work with a lot of Republicans. He has a very important seat on the Senate Finance Committee, as has Pat Moynihan, his sometime partner in heresy. And both are retiring. And if you get a President Bush or President McCain trying to put together a bipartisan reform or policy, those two guys would have been really helpful. And they’re going to be gone.

JIM LEHRER: Mark, Bob Kerrey.

MARK SHIELDS: After Paul has raised candidates and senators who defy the party orthodoxy, I assume his next editorial will be a testimony and tribute to John McCain, who has reached across the aisle to Democrats.

PAUL GIGOT: I said nice things about McCain. Kosovo.

MARK SHIELDS: I knew we’d find one. But I think Kathy Kiley in USA Today put it well; she called him a charismatic iconoclast. And that’s really what he was. He is enormously appealing and attractive figure. But for some Democrats today, they are looking upon him as a Pied Piper. Some who urged him to run in the Senate in 1998 and now chooses to walk away from it, which is certainly his own decision. I talked to Chuck Hagel, his Republican colleague, who they have a remarkable relationship, they’re both Vietnam veterans from Nebraska. He talked about when he came to the Senate how Bob Kerrey reached out to him, boosted him, promoted him, told people that they had to get to know him and all the rest of it, couldn’t have been more helpful. He had a long time with him and said Bob Kerrey sees the sands of time in the hourglass running and the death of Mike Dugan, his old colleague and Democratic state chairman in Nebraska last month hit Bob Kerrey hard and personally. I think he wants to do other things with his life.

JIM LEHRER: All right, gentlemen, thank you both very much.