Political Wrap with Mark Shields and Paul Gigot
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GWEN IFILL: Now, Shields and Gigot give us their take on the results in Iowa. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot.
Paul Gigot. A big night for George Bush, but more than half of the people who bothered to vote in these caucuses in Iowa voted for some other guy. Is that a sign of George Bush’s strength or weakness?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think he showed last night that he has a lot of strength. It also showed he’s not invincible. His greatest strength is his breadth of support. He won among liberals and moderates. He won among self-described conservatives. He’s the broadest coalition among all of the Republican candidates right now, the broadest breadth. He even won among those people who said that the most important issue was moral values. He beat Alan Keyes on that 37 to 28. So he won in the Christian right, as well. His weakness is conviction and strength of belief. There are a lot of voters who still voted for Forbes and Keyes and others because they really weren’t quite sure that George Bush is one of them. He’s got to make that case in New Hampshire now.
GWEN IFILL: Mark Shields, it seems that makes George W. Bush the target for both Steve Forbes coming at him sort of from the right, and John McCain comes at him sort of from the left once they get to New Hampshire.
MARK SHIELDS: I think you’re right, Gwen. I think there were two real bright spots for George Bush last night out of Iowa. The first was that among those voters who prize strong leadership, he still commands, which has been a central theme of his campaign. He commands overwhelming support. And among those, as well, who want to win in November, the stated premise of the Bush campaign, he carries them overwhelmingly. The two soft spots that you’ll see, I think, Bush exposed to or at least his opponents attack are, first of all, among independents.
Last night in Iowa, one out of six voters was an independent. He lost those voters to Steve Forbes by 12 points. And New Hampshire, where 40% of the electorate are independents and they can participate in either party’s primary, I think based upon last night’s results, there’s a lot greater likelihood that the independents in New Hampshire will flock in great numbers to the Republican side. Historically, they have gone, New Hampshire independents, where the action is, where they can make a difference, where they can have a signature difference on the election and John McCain, strength among independence is real, and Steve Forbes showed strength among independents last night and George Bush didn’t.
GWEN IFILL: Does that mean, Paul… Steve Forbes tripled his showing from the last time he tried this run in Iowa. Does this mean that John McCain is praying and hoping for Steve Forbes to do even better?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think it depends on what choice the Forbes campaign makes, and it does face a strategic choice. I mean, if it stresses his conservatism, his tax cutting and his abortion position, he’s arguably going to take out of George W. Bush, because George Bush has been trying to win the New Hampshire primary by appealing to the Republican base and conservative voters. If he stresses his outsider theme, his independent, I’m a non-politician, that might cut into some of John McCain’s support, which is heavily among independents. I don’t think the Forbes campaign has made that decision. Now, the press conference we heard — some of the snippets there suggested that maybe Steve Forbes is going to go after the conservatives, stressing some of the… saying that George Bush really isn’t a firm enough conservative. If he does that, that would certainly be what John McCain wants to happen. But I don’t think that that decision has been made yet by the Forbes camp.
GWEN IFILL: Mark, can he go after the conservatives? Alan Keyes got 14% of the vote in Iowa yesterday.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes, he did. He did get 14%, but make no mistake about this; Steve Forbes carried overwhelmingly those Republicans in Iowa who are concerned about a tax cut and those for whom abortion was the principle issue. He beat Alan Keyes and Gary Bauer both in those groups. So I think if you look at the Iowa precedent, that’s where the New Hampshire move probably would be for him. And I don’t think there’s any question that that’s where his strength… Both Steve Forbes and his campaign manager, Bill Delco, are on record saying they expect George Bush to finish third in New Hampshire. Now, that’s… You know, that’s some pretty chesty predictions going into the granite state.
GWEN IFILL: It sounds like words are going to be eaten at some point during the next week.
MARK SHIELDS: Or enjoyed. I don’t know.
GWEN IFILL: Paul, Bradley… Bill Bradley, on to the Democrats. He’s spent more time in Iowa, more time on television in Iowa than Al Gore, yet he was pretty much pasted by Al Gore last night. What happened?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, Al Gore beat him among just about every voting group. I think Al Gore did a couple things. One, he simply broke the back of Bill Bradley’s signature issue, health care. Gore won those voters 60 to 37 who said health care was the most important issue. And that was the signature of his campaign. The other thing that was striking to me is among those Democrats who said that they had an unfavorable opinion about Bill Clinton, there were 44% of the Democrats who said that as a person, Bill Bradley could only split those votes. That’s… if you’re trying to identify Al Gore as the incumbent with Bill Clinton and try to argue for a change, you’ve got win that majority. And he never made that case.
GWEN IFILL: Does that mean Clinton fatigue is not true or that Bill Bradley just didn’t go after that connection?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think it’s probably a bit of both. In Iowa, among those Democratic stalwarts, Clinton fatigue isn’t as strong as it might be elsewhere. But Bill Bradley never made that sale. Among the Democrats that said they want somebody who can win in November, Bill Bradley lost those voters two to one. And remember what Pat Moynihan said when he endorsed Bill Bradley some months ago.
He said, what – the reporters asked him, well, what do you have against the vice president? And he said, “nothing, but he can’t win.” Bill Bradley never made that same case, and unless he does that, he’s not going to be able to convince Democrats that they need to make a change.
GWEN IFILL: Mark, Al Gore had one big advantage in Iowa, and that’s that he had organized union support which counts on a state that depends on organization. Does he have that same advantage in New Hampshire?
MARK SHIELDS: No, organized labor doesn’t have nearly the clout in New Hampshire that it does in Iowa politically, but I think you cannot go by those results without saying Al Gore last night had an amazing victory. I mean, it really was of true… remarkable dimensions, Gwen.
Consider this: The fact that Bill Bradley not only spent more time, he spent more money. Bill Bradley is a formidable candidate by his… I mean, George Bush beat three guys, none of whom had ever won a general election last night in Iowa. Bill Bradley had done that. He had never lost one until last night.
And so Gore’s performance, Paul’s right, he won among every group, except the only group Bill Bradley actually carried were those — Democrats with incomes of over $75,000. Now, we’ve all heard about Volvo Democrats. I guess this would have to be called Jaguar Democrats. I mean, there really are very few bright spots for Bradley coming out of Iowa, going into New Hampshire. There’s no, other than new ideas, there’s no particular group that said, gee, that’s what Bill Bradley means and that’s the difference between them, thus raising the stakes and the ante for tomorrow night’s debate.
I think that’s the last clear best chance for Bill Bradley to define the differences between himself and Al Gore to make the case, to ask people for their support and try to carry them, lift them up to the mountaintop and say this is what a Bradley presidency would be like and this is why we have to join this crusade. Failing to do that, I think Al Gore stands on the position to do what no presidential candidate has done since 1976, and that’s to win both Iowa and New Hampshire as a challenger in the same year.
PAUL GIGOT: If there are a couple silver linings for Bradley, and they’re not very large, I think there are two; one, that he won among independents. Narrowly, but he did win. There are an awful lot more independents voting in New Hampshire than there are in Iowa. And if he can get some of those, steal them from McCain, for example, then I think he can score better. The other thing is that the turnout was low in Iowa, quite low in Iowa. I think it’s going to be a lot larger in New Hampshire. So if you can bring new voters in other than these Democratic Party regulars that voted in Iowa, then he has a chance to do better.
GWEN IFILL: What issues worked and didn’t work? Health care didn’t work for Bradley. Taxes, did it work for Bush?
PAUL GIGOT: Thank God for George… I mean, George Bush has to be thanking God that he had the tax cut, because if he didn’t, I think he would have been on very thin ground. Going around in the Bush rallies, there wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm. The best lines were the anti-Clinton lines, the character lines. The issues, the compassionate conservatism, the education issue, they may work well in a general election but they really didn’t inspire the rank and file Republicans in Iowa. That tax cut issue, and one of every four Republican caucus voters cited it as the most important caucus issue. It gave Bush something to talk about that said I’m economic conservative like you. I think that’s going to be a big issue for Bush coming into New Hampshire against McCain and Forbes.
GWEN IFILL: Mark, how about health care for Bradley, was that a miscalculation for him to pin so much of his campaign on that issue?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, it certainly didn’t work for him. Al Gore blunted it. And I really think we can emphasize Bill Bradley’s shortcomings, but I think Al Gore emerged from this Iowa campaign a different candidate from the one who had gone in, Gwen. This is somebody who had been hampered and almost become scorned for this image of a wooden, scripted, stilted, beige sort of fellow who is only a heartbeat away from the vice presidency.
GWEN IFILL: And we’ve seen the end of that now entirely?
MARK SHIELDS: I don’t think we there’s any question we saw an aggressive, energized, combative candidate out there who is a different fellow from the guy we saw going in and the one we saw just a few months ago in this campaign.
GWEN IFILL: Mark Shields, Paul Gigot, thanks very much.