TOPICS > Politics

Regional Look at the Race

February 23, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now our regional commentators assess Campaign 1996 thus far. They are Lee Cullum of the “Dallas Morning News,” William Wong of the “Oakland Tribune,” Patrick McGuigan of the “Daily Oklahoman,” Mike Barnicle of the “Boston Globe,” and Cynthia Tucker of the “Atlanta Constitution.” Cynthia, are you seeing this kind of criticism from Republican leaders in Georgia?

CYNTHIA TUCKER, Atlanta Constitution: Oh, yes, absolutely. The mainstream Republicans in Georgia are just as worried as mainstream Republicans are everywhere about Pat Buchanan’s meteoric rise in the Republican presidential campaign primary so far. Georgia Sen. Coverdell, who had been a Gramm supporter earlier on, has now announced his support for Bob Dole. I suspect there will be other leading Republicans who will very clearly announce their support for either Dole or Alexander in an effort to slow down the Buchanan movement. But I still suspect that there will be a lot of support for Pat Buchanan among rank and file voters in Georgia. Our primary here is on March 5th. Pat Buchanan got 36 percent of the vote in Georgia in 1992 against George Bush. I suspect he will do well in Georgia again.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Bill Wong, how about in California, do you see a battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party?

WILLIAM WONG, Oakland Tribune: Yes, we are, although it’s interesting that Gov. Wilson, who is a moderate Republican and a strong supporter of Gov. Dole–of Sen. Dole has been distracted by the, the death penalty case of this Bonnen fellow, as well as spearheading the campaign to get rid of affirmative action, so he has really not come out yet to give an assessment of the New Hampshire results, but I suspect that California mainstream Republicans are quaking in their boots at this moment at the prospect that Pat Buchanan has thrown into the mainstream Republican Party?

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Pat McGuigan, in Oklahoma, do you think Republican leaders are making a big mistake in attacking Pat Buchanan the way they are?

PATRICK McGUIGAN, Daily Oklahoman: I think the nature of the attacks is a mistake, attacking his character, questioning his virtues on matters of race. I think they’re unjustified. Having said that, I think it’s fair game to criticize Buchanan’s views on trade issues.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Excuse me for interrupting, Pat. I just want to ask you, when you say that the attacks are unjustified, do you think it’s a risk that this could drive people into Patrick Buchanan’s arms?

MR. McGUIGAN: Oh, absolutely. For example, here in Oklahoma, Buchanan performed very well in his long shot candidacy in 1992. I think he got about a quarter of the vote, if I remember right, perhaps as much as 27 percent. In this year, I think by March 12th, when we are part of the Super Tuesday scenario, that the field will still be at least chopped up among three, leaving a very clear scenario for a Buchanan victory with the third of the vote or more. And my point is that in November, make no mistake, no matter who the Republican nominee is, Republicans are going to have to be united. If the nominee is Bob Dole, which I kind of still expect, he’s going to need the Buchanan brigades in order to win. And the divisiveness of recent days has not come from Pat Buchanan, other than the edge of his message on substantive issues. The divisiveness is coming from the Dole campaign and the Alexander campaign buying into the national media’s spin on the character and nature of Pat Buchanan and his support. I think it’s a mistake, I also think it’s unfair and doesn’t fit the actual man, Pat Buchanan.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mike Barnicle, what do you think about that?

MIKE BARNICLE, Boston Globe: Well, I think that, you know, to refer to anyone as a leader, Republican or Democrat, merely because they’re in office is, is to miss the point. It’s as if voters I think around here, and I think probably around the country as well, have one of those V-chips already implanted in their brain, and they’re managing to exclude a lot of the stuff that they’re hearing from Mr. Buchanan that has been referred to as the extremist stuff in the newspapers and on the editorial pages, and they’re honing in on a specific message that they’re hearing from him and they’re not hearing from him, and they’re not hearing it from anyone else. And it’s a message, I think, aimed at people between the ages of 40 and 55 years of age who have worked cases for ten, twelve, fifteen years, thinking that they were working there with some sense of economic security, and now they’re unsure. I think the seminole event of this decade, when it’s written, is going to be the day AT&T, the phone company, a great place to work, that’s what we were told, laid off 40,000 people, and their stock went up. Watching Buchanan against this field is a little like watching Gregg Mattox against a AA ball club. I mean, he’s in the zone, and he’s throwing it right across the plate, and people are seeing it and hearing what they want to hear.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So you’re saying, Mike, that it doesn’t really matter what the so-called Republican leaders say. They can just be tuned out by people who are, are receptive to Buchanan’s message?

MR. BARNICLE: Well, I think if you hear poor Bob Dole, if you heard him up in New Hampshire, you would have to say this fellow has absolutely no conception of what’s going on in this country. Lamar Alexander was playing catch up. He was sort of, you know, trying to hear what Buchanan was saying with one ear and sort of filter it out into his own language, but it was too late for him when he caught onto it. But the point is they had to catch onto it. I don’t know whether Pat Buchanan does his own grocery shopping or not, but he’s heard this language out there, and it’s cultural, as well as political, and he’s repeating in terms that people understand and applaud.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Lee Cullum, how does it look to you in Texas, an Republican leader sniping at Buchanan?

LEE CULLUM, Dallas Morning News: Well, there’s great concern among Republican leaders, and I want to say that Mike Barnicle certainly has a point. I think the fear down here is that the trade economic program would cause a great contraction of the economy, not an expansion of it. It would cost jobs. It would create great suffering. I spoke with a pollster in Houston named Mike Basilese, who does Republican polling, and is not working for any candidate at the moment, and he says that from the figures that he has seen from precincts around the state, if the election were held today, Dole would do very well, indeed. He would get close to a majority, if not a majority, certainly a very solid plurality. Buchanan would be second, with a third of the vote, and Alexander, a somewhat distant third unless he can do very well in South Carolina and unless he can raise some money. Now, Alexander does have some support in Texas. His campaign chairman is Rob Mosbacher, who’s the son of the former Secretary of Commerce under Bush. There is some talk that Gov. Bush might come out for Alexander. I heard that view from a staff member in the State Republican Office today. Now, I did talk to somebody in the governor’s office, the press office, who’s said that he’s not going to endorse somebody for a while. He’s going to wait to see how things go. Alexander’s wife is from Texas. She’s from Victoria, Texas. Nonetheless, he remains somewhat unknown here, and the state is still pretty solid for Dole, but he would be wise to take nothing for granted, and that’s certainly what Republican leaders are realizing.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And you think it could change in time?

MS. CULLUM: Of course, the vote isn’t until March 12th, of course it could.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Lee, do you think that Pat Buchanan’s success is a wake-up call for Democrats?

MS. CULLUM: A wake-up call for Democrats. Yes. I think it certainly could be. I would imagine they’re taking notice of the issues that he is finding resonate with the people, and certainly there’s this issue of this great disconnection between success of the company and the situation of the workers has got to be addressed. I think it needs to be addressed by the companies, themselves. I think it needs to be addressed by the government encouraging the creation of new companies. That’s where new opportunity comes from. But these issues do need to be addressed by both parties, no doubt about it.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mike Barnicle, the primary in your state, in Massachusetts, is less than or just a little more than 10 days away. How do you see it turning out at this point?

MR. BARNICLE: At this point, I would think Sen. Dole would be ahead. If Democrats could vote in the Republican primary, Pat Buchanan would win. His message is, it’s got wide acceptance among working class Democrats in this state, and if there were cross-overs he would win, he would beat Bob Dole, despite Gov. Weld having endorsed Sen. Dole. His message that part of it that I’ve been talking about in terms of people being afraid of what’s going to happen, losing hope, losing hope in terms of what they’re going to be able to do for their children five and six years down the road, that part of his message is tremendously powerful, and we’ve had people in Washington, the Speaker of the House, the President of the United States, Senators on both sides of the aisle in the Senate, talking for eight or nine weeks about are we going to use Congressional Budget Office numbers or OMB numbers? It’s meaningless to people who live real lives. Buchanan comes along and says you’ve been working at a place for 11 years, the Edison, the phone company, whatever, they’re going to sell your company, you’re going to lose your job, you’re going to be 51 years old making $18 an hour and you’re going to be suddenly looking at maybe making $6 an hour if you’re lucky. They don’t like you; I’m your guy. And they’re saying, hey, Pat, pop ’em.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Bill Wong, how about that in California? Some of the critics in the Republican Party of Buchanan says he sounds like a liberal Democrat. Is that going to resonate among Democrats in California?

MR. WONG: Well, it certainly is. I had a chance to talk to some labor leaders in the Bay area here, and what was ironic about their point of view is that they like part of his message. They like the fact that he is pointing out the economic insecurities and bashing corporate America for downsizing and taking the profits or exporting jobs, but they really hate the messenger, and I think the labor leaders I talked to were basically more angry at the Democratic Party and as I noted on a recent show, that President Clinton’s State of the Union Address seemed to really sound more Republican than Democratic and avoided the job insecurity issue which is a very huge issue that Buchanan had been able to tap into, so there is a concern among Californians who are progressive that he’s coopting a Democratic message.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Cynthia Tucker, what about Alexander? Do you think that he is going to move up? He’s from a state bordering your state.

MS. TUCKER: Alexander may a bit, a little bit better known in Georgia, because he’s a former governor of Tennessee, than he is in Texas, for example, but the Alexander campaign is already beginning to run out of money, and he’s got some primaries he’s got to compete in before he gets to Georgia on March 5th, so I’m not sure that he’s going to have the financing in place that he needs to compete effectively in Georgia. Pat Buchanan, on the other hand, has a message that is so resounding with so many people that interestingly enough he doesn’t need that much money. He does well, despite running a shoestring campaign. I think there’s something else noteworthy about Pat Buchanan. It is absolutely true that both mainstream Republicans and mainstream Democrats have failed to take note of the economic anxieties of voters, and Pat Buchanan is capitalizing on that. But it is fascinating to me to watch these mainstream Republicans in such fear of a Pat Buchanan candidacy when, in fact, Pat Buchanan is in large part their creation. They gave him a major platform at the GOP convention in Houston in 1992 in which he gave this really frightening hate-mongering speech about cultural warfare that sent chills up and down my spine, and Republican delegates applauded him heartily. It is also true, while Pat Buchanan is the person who goes after the jugular on attacking immigrants, for example, as contributing to the economic woes of native-born Americans, in fact, many respectable Republicans have been pandering to those fears as well. They’ve all bashed immigration to some extent or the other. They have all bashed affirmative action to some extent or the other. And so it, it is interesting to now watch them look around and say, well, where does Pat Buchanan come from? He came out of the heart of the Republican Party.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Patrick McGuigan, do you have anything to say about that?

MR. McGUIGAN: Well, first of all, they didn’t give Pat Buchanan a forum in 1992. He earned it by the number of delegates he gained through the fair process of the Republican primaries. The second thing is I want to propose for everyone to contemplate playing off of something Bill pointed out the last time we were together, when he talked about this anxiety in the middle class and among the working people in America, there are two highly trusted groups that I think are going to help decide the outcome of this election for the Republicans. They are small business and farmers. Both of them score unusually high with fellow citizens as being trusted groups of people. The battle for small business where 2/3 of all new jobs are created–in a state like Oklahoma it’s actually 90 percent of all new jobs–I think the battle for the hearts and minds of Main Street business people, small independent businesses, is going to be a crucial part of this, as well as how this farm issue plays out here in the West. I want to propose that for everybody to think about because I think Buchanan does have some vulnerabilities in appealing to farmers because of his protectionist ideas, but he resonates with farmers and with small business because of his views on moral issues.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Thank you all very much.