TOPICS > Politics

Eye on New Hampshire

February 19, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Now, how it all looks on the ground with David Broder of the “Washington Post,” Elizabeth Arnold of National Public Radio, and Ronald Brownstein of the “Los Angeles” Times. David, beginning with you, how do the polls, your own reporting, conventional wisdom, wherever that comes from, how does it all add up to you tonight?

DAVID BRODER, Washington Post: (Manchester, NH) Well, it adds up to a situation where you don’t want to make any predictions, at least I don’t, as to who’s going to win here. I would say that the best campaigns that we’ve seen in this state in the past week have belonged to Pat Buchanan and Lamar Alexander, and down a little bit further in the field, I think that Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana has finally begun to make some headway. The least effective campaigns I think here have been Sen. Dole’s and Mr. Forbes.

JIM LEHRER: But what does that mean? What does that add up to? You’re not going to tell me what it adds up to, right?

DAVID BRODER: I’m not going to tell you who’s going to win because I don’t know.

JIM LEHRER: Elizabeth Arnold, do you know who’s going to win tomorrow, and if so, why?

ELIZABETH ARNOLD, National Public Radio: (Manchester, NH) Oh, no, no, no. You’re not going to bait me into that.


ELIZABETH ARNOLD: I think it’s a wide open race. I think Patrick Buchanan has definitely revealed the weakness of the presumed front-runner, Sen. Dole. I’ve been going to Dole rallies all week. The rallies are sedate affairs. There are party people there. They have the red, white and blue bunting, and they have the music and the balloons, but that’s about it. I went to the Buchanan rally yesterday. The place was just packed. The sound system didn’t work, but those folks were very enthusiastic and I think that Sen. Dole’s got a problem.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. What kind of problem, Ron Brownstein, do you see for Sen. Dole?

RON BROWNSTEIN, Los Angeles Times: (Manchester, NH) Well, I think the problem for Sen. Dole is that in political races of any sort when you get to the very end, the undecideds tend to break away from the incumbent. And Sen. Dole, for all intents and purposes the de facto incumbent in this race, he’s running consistently around 25 percent in the polls. Almost all public polls have shown him at that level or lower. It may be hard for him to perform much above that, and when you look at the composition of the undecideds, as Linda Divall was talking about, other polling shows that too, they tend to be more moderate. That could help Lamar Alexander. The hard thing is that, that you have a three-way squeeze developing, where Alexander is competing with Dole for the moderates and women, and Buchanan is very effectively competing for men and conservatives, and Dole is sort of like an island in the middle with the waves rising in both sides. It’s going to be very tight. The winner, I think, will only be a few points ahead of the second place finisher, and then that only a few points ahead of the third place finisher.

JIM LEHRER: Dave Broder, is there some kind of a form sheet here dope sheet that, look, if Dole doesn’t do any better than such and such, that means he’s got this problem, Alexander’s got to do this, Buchanan’s got to do that, or is it so tight among the three that all three of them pretty much come out of New Hampshire still alive, no matter how they finish?

DAVID BRODER: No, I don’t think it means that. I think if Sen. Dole fails to win here, and particularly if he should fall to third place, he has a serious problem, and as he pointed out in, in the interview with Margaret, he has a national campaign, he has all of the endorsements of all of those Republican governors. He’s in place in all of those states, but the Republican Party establishment cannot tolerate the idea of Pat Buchanan being the party nominee. If Sen. Dole can’t stop Buchanan in New Hampshire, a I think a lot of those party stalwarts will look again and find that Lamar Alexander may be the one that they have to back.

JIM LEHRER: Elizabeth, is it conceivable to you that Bob Dole could finish third?

ELIZABETH ARNOLD: I don’t think in New Hampshire I can’t see him finishing third. I agree with David, though, that Lamar Alexander could do well if Sen. Dole doesn’t come out of New Hampshire in first place, because the party faithful will have to throw their weight behind someone else, although, you know, I think that Patrick Buchanan inadvertently has done one thing good for the party, and that is he has forced the rest of the field to talk to people about what they really care about, that their paychecks don’t go as far as they used to. He’s been out there doing that. That’s what fires people up, and suddenly you have Sen. Dole sounding like President Clinton last night at a rally talking about people who work hard and played by the rules who are getting the short end of the stick.

JIM LEHRER: Elizabeth, the people you’ve talked to on the–I’m talking about voters now, not the candidates, not their handlers, not their campaign people, do the people you talk to in New Hampshire feel that they are actually deciding who the Republican nominee is going to be? Is it that big a deal for them?

ELIZABETH ARNOLD: Oh, it is a very big deal to them. I meet people, I met someone just yesterday, a couple, and they’re just traveling around, they were traveling around all weekend. They had better schedules than I did for the candidates. They were going to go to Derry, then they were going to Manchester, then they were going to farther. They were seeing more candidates than I was in one day, and they were very serious about what they were doing. They were very methodical, and maybe that accounts for a lot of the undecideds. They do take this very seriously.

JIM LEHRER: And, Ron, does that help any of the candidates? If somebody’s sitting there, saying, I’m not just voting my emotions, I am voting for who I want to run against Bill Clinton in November, does that come out with a different result in your opinion based on your reporting?

RON BROWNSTEIN: Well, you know, I’m not sure that they–I think that you can be serious about this choice without necessarily making it in the strategic way in that sense of who you want the party nominee to be. Voters are not political consultants, and some of them will be swayed by electability, and, in fact, that’s one of the reasons why there probably is a ceiling on Buchanan’s support. He needs a three-way division to be viable. On the other hand, I think that many people are just sort of looking at these people as individuals, looking at what they’re saying, and going with their gut. You know, this is so close among the top three that even the second-tier candidates are going to have an effect. In Iowa, the 7 percent that Alan Keyes won from religious conservatives really prevented Pat Buchanan from coming in closer, perhaps even beating Bob Dole. Similarly, here Dick Lugar, as David mentioned, is doing better, is showing up a little higher in the polls. And what he pulled away from the more moderate side of the ledger, which is a significant part of the electorate here, that could affect whether Alexander or Dole gets past Buchanan and now Alexander and Dole sort out. So it’s, it’s very tight, and people do take it very seriously.

JIM LEHRER: David, there’s been much talk in the last two or three days that this is the most negative campaign in the history of New Hampshire primaries. You’ve covered not all of the primaries in New Hampshire in history but a lot of them in more recent history. Is that true?

DAVID BRODER: Well, I think we tend to forget how negative some of the past campaigns have been. In 1984, John Glenn threw a lot of heavy negative advertising against Fritz Mondale. In 1964, which was the first time I was up here, the supporters of Nelson Rockefeller were beating the begeezus out of Barry Goldwater about, about Social Security, so it’s not brand new, but I think in terms of volume, with what Mr. Forbes did early and what Sen. Dole is doing late, it really has been a very negative tone to this one.

JIM LEHRER: Elizabeth Arnold, speaking of Steve Forbes, what happened to him in New Hampshire, what is happening to him in New Hampshire?

ELIZABETH ARNOLD: Well, I went to a Steve Forbes rally the other day, and there weren’t a lot of folks there. In fact, they were asking the people in the back of the room to move up, and fill in the seats at the front. The people that I talked to there were giving him another look. They were very interested in the flat tax. They had specific questions about the flat tax, and they didn’t like the answers. I think that people like a winner, and, and when he came out of Iowa not doing so well, that accounted for some of the fade of the Forbes phenomenon, but I think another big part of it, people really did take a look at what it was that he was selling and weren’t so sure about it.

JIM LEHRER: What’s your reading on Forbes, Ron, as to what’s happened?

RON BROWNSTEIN: Well, I went out with him the other day also, and I actually saw him have a better day. I think he is recovering a little bit in terms of re-establishing what people liked about him in the first place, that he’s an outsider, he’s not a politician. He’s talking about economic reform. He’s obviously had a big impact on the campaign. Both he and Buchanan have forced, as Elizabeth suggested before, Dole and Alexander to move toward a, a larger discussion of growth. I mean, both Alexander and Gramm and Dole, all ran the same campaign in ’95, shrink the government and restore more values, with really no discussion of the impact on the middle class. Forbes has forced that agenda, but I think that he is stuck in this Catch-22. Each of these events exist only in the context of the previous event, and when he fell out of the inner circle in Iowa, a lot of people here felt, well, this is someone who’s not going anywhere and I can’t support him. But I don’t think he’s going to fall through the floor.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. David Broder, finally, winnowing is the operable word here and whenever–in any of these events. Do you expect–should we expect–I’m not going to ask you which, which of the winnowees are going to be–is this going to be a major winnowing event tomorrow?

DAVID BRODER: I expect so. Many of these candidates are out of money, and those who don’t manage to make it into the top three I think will have a hard time going back to their sponsors and supporters to raise additional funds.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Elizabeth?

ELIZABETH ARNOLD: Well, I think if it isn’t, we’ll all be forced to write these stories about whether New Hampshire should be the first in the nation’s primaries, but you know, you really have to start somewhere.

JIM LEHRER: And so–in other words, that’s a yes, right?


JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Ron.

RON BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think that you’ll probably have a three-way race coming out of this, but a three-way race, like a three-way relationship, is inherently unstable, and I think that before too long it’s going to narrow down to two people. Dole and Alexander I don’t think can stay in this race indefinitely, probably not past South Carolina, certainly not past Georgia.

JIM LEHRER: So it’s one of them versus Buchanan?


JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, David?

DAVID BRODER: Uh, that’s a pretty good hunch, I think.

JIM LEHRER: Elizabeth.


JIM LEHRER: Maybe. Oh, you all are terrific. (laughter) Thank you all three very much.