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JIM LEHRER: Now some analysis of this great night so far for Vice President Gore and Governor Bush. It comes from Shields and Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot.
Taking them one at a time, the Democrats first. How big an accomplishment is this for Vice President Gore tonight, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: It’s enormous. It’s a knockout punch. It’s everywhere and it’s among every voter group, every income scale. It’s bigger in some than others. It’s bigger in the African-American community, for example. It’s bigger among women who just came to him as a Vice President in overwhelming numbers but it’s a very large victory, and remember, three months ago, this was really in doubt. So give his campaign credit for changing directions and knocking out Bill Bradley.
JIM LEHRER: You agree that there was a time, Mark, sometime in the past when it was possible for Bill Bradley to defeat Al Gore?
MARK SHIELDS: Sure. Absolutely.
JIM LEHRER: When?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, how about a week before New Hampshire? I mean, a switch of 3200 votes in New Hampshire and for the last five weeks we’re talking about Bill Bradley, the upset winner and John McCain the upset winner on the Republican side and the two establishment candidates reeling on the defensive. I mean, that’s how important New Hampshire was. If you want to look at the compression of this schedule this year, we are sitting here on the 7th of March, the 7th of March. At this point New Hampshire, great New Hampshire primaries, there hadn’t been a New Hampshire primary in 1968 when Gene McCarthy, you know, upset Lyndon Johnson. Robert Kennedy hadn’t even entered the race. Ronald Reagan hadn’t won a primary at this point in 1976. I mean so that’s how compressed it is. Sure, Bill Bradley had a shot. There’s no doubt about it. When you come that close, Jim, in a state that political, he had… I do agree with Paul, it’s a knockout punch that has been delivered tonight. If there were an attending physician at ringside, the fight would have been stopped.
JIM LEHRER: What you saw in the exit polls and what you said a moment ago, it’s just such a clean, clean sweep, it just touches every Democrat who voted — just about?
PAUL GIGOT: It does. You see it a little bit bigger in the Democratic base. I mean, African-Americans, 88 percent to 11 percent for Bradley.
JIM LEHRER: That is stunning in a way because Bradley has always been considered the most articulate Democrat and by some people at least, on race issues. Yet it didn’t resonate.
PAUL GIGOT: He made it a central issue in his campaign — right from the very beginning he had Cornel West arguing for him; he cut an ad with Michael Jordan to try to help him with that, but I think it’s the overwhelming favorability in this case of the Clinton administration, frankly.
JIM LEHRER: Among the Democratic base.
PAUL GIGOT: Among African-Americans that helps Gore.
JIM LEHRER: What did you see in the exit polls on the Democratic side?
MARK SHIELDS: On the Democratic side a couple of things that happened today. Women are a dominant influence in the Democratic Party. A number of states today — three out of five primary voters were women. Al Gore runs up those big numbers with women.
JIM LEHRER: It couldn’t be on the pro-choice issue because they were both pro-choice.
MARK SHIELDS: Both pro-choice. I mean, that was an interesting development. I mean that NARAL, the National Abortion Rights Action League, endorsed Al Gore even though if you stack up the two records on the issue of choice, Bill Bradley was longer and stronger by their measures but they went with him. I agree with Paul on the African-Americans. I think the… Bill Clinton, whatever else he’s done, I mean, he has become the president that African-American voters identify with. And I think Al Gore is Bill Clinton’s vice president… I mean in 1992 remember in that campaign? He went in and Sister Soulja — the rap singer who had done a song suggesting that they go out and shot cops and all that stuff — Bill Clinton went in and took her on and criticized her, made Jesse Jackson angry and all the rest of it, signed the welfare reform bill. All the way along he is somehow personally politically connected. And Al Gore was the beneficiary tonight.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Let’s talk about the Republican race. How would you characterize where we are now? Now, the thing isn’t over yet, but we still — New York is too close to call, and obviously we have got California still to come. What does it look like to you, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: It hasn’t yet reached any knockout proportions as it has on the Democratic side. But I think this is a big victory so far for Governor Bush. John McCain has done well in New England but George Bush managed to steal one state there in Maine. The biggest one so far is Ohio. And I think that that’s a swing state. That’s a state that Republicans have to win in the fall if they’re going to take the White House. And he won it very big, almost by 20 percentage points it looks like according to the exit polls. So, the rap on George Bush, that he was a regional candidate, could only win in the South, I think has ended as of 9:00 tonight with a win in New England, a couple of wins in the Midwest: In Ohio and in Missouri. If he can extend that elsewhere, it’s a big night for him.
JIM LEHRER: Mark, big night?
MARK SHIELDS: Sure. There was one big question tonight on March 7, and that was could John McCain win in enough places to justify his campaign going on with the prospect, or a semi realistic prospect of victory ahead — and that has not — even though the impressive showings in New England, that has not been the case. I mean, George Bush’s win in Maine is not unimportant and the Ohio and Missouri victories are convincing. There is one sort of dark cloud hanging over Bush in the states that he did lose: Connecticut which he did lose. He lost Catholics big to McCain. They were the decisive group. That continues to be a hangover from the Bob Jones exchange and the Pat Robertson involvement and McCain’s raising that issue.
JIM LEHRER: How do you explain McCain’s popularity in New England? Where does that come from? Is that a rebirth of the old moderate Republican wing of the party, the old Rockefeller wing? What’s going on?
MARK SHIELDS: There’s a deep reform impulse in New England, always has been. If you look at it, the two parts, the country, that is the reform is sort of the… there were Congregationalist reformers, there were Puritan reformers and they were political. It was Cotton Mather; it was the abolitionists. And they go from there to Minnesota and they go out to the Pacific Northwest. And you see it in the politics of all three regions, and it remains that way. There was a long, established tradition in the Republican Party there, but John McCain, beyond that, just lighted something up with independent voters. You had people switching from Democrat to independent to vote for John McCain.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think about the New England thing? Is it the rebirth of an old party, an old wing?
PAUL GIGOT: Part of it is the carryover from New Hampshire. Boston and… It’s also the least Republican area in the country right now. We’ve had this great switch. It used to be the most Republican. Now the South is the most Republican. So, John McCain did better among independents and Democrats. He got a lot of those votes in a lot of these New England states. The thing is — even in Vermont and even in Connecticut, which he carried, he didn’t win among Republicans. I mean, if you’re going to….
JIM LEHRER: That is the most significant thing you think?
PAUL GIGOT: Oh, it jumps right out at me. In New Hampshire he did manage to carry Republicans but he couldn’t do it — you know — a month-and-a-half later or a month later in these other states. That tells me that somehow John McCain didn’t connect with the voters he needed to connect to in order to win a Republican primary and a Republican nomination. If they look back, if you look back and you’re John McCain and he loses this, I think that’s going to be the seminal failure. It is still is a Republican nomination.
MARK SHIELDS: Massachusetts is a different place. It’s my place of origin and birth but only….
JIM LEHRER: Origin and birth.
MARK SHIELDS: Origin and birth. (Laughing) You’ve got a way with words. 8% of the voters in the Massachusetts Republican primary today are self-identified as religious conservatives.
JIM LEHRER: 8%.
MARK SHIELDS: 8%.
JIM LEHRER: That compares to what?
PAUL GIGOT: 20 in Ohio, 35 in South Carolina, 37.
MARK SHIELDS: But the problem is two problems. One is McCain carried religious conservatives in Massachusetts.
PAUL GIGOT: All 12 of them.
MARK SHIELDS: Probably tells you where the definition is. The problem is that Governor Bush consistently has done well in states with large religious conservatives. Paul is absolutely right. He’s carried Republicans. That has been the cornerstone of his support. That becomes less of an important factor in November when there are about 15 percent, less than one out of six, in the general electorate whereas they come to 30 percent in Republican primaries. You could see in states tonight where there wasn’t a lower percentage of religious conservatives, McCain did better and Bush did less well.
JIM LEHRER: As we sit here now, we still have, as I said earlier, we still have New York to go and we have, of course, California to go. Is it still possible for McCain to argue tomorrow that he still has a chance if he wins those two?
PAUL GIGOT: I think if he wins New York and if he can win the popular vote ahead of Bush in California, he can at least make the argument that he has won two very significant states, not the delegates. And therefore, he can make the case that he is more electable. But, in terms of delegates, I think it will be very, very hard because that means they’ll split the delegates in New York because it’s so close.
JIM LEHRER: If he loses New York and doesn’t win the popular vote in California and the open part of that vote, can he stay?
MARK SHIELDS: I don’t see how he could continue. I really don’t. I know this is the time in the campaign, Jim, when people get in the room and they say, we’re going to tough it out. We can do it. Just get a bus and we’ll go out there with a smile and a shoe shine and do it. It’s tough and the numbers become daunting.
JIM LEHRER: All right. We have to leave it there. Thank you both very much.