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GWEN IFILL: With election day just two weeks away we get a campaign update now from three veteran political reporters. Traveling with the Gore campaign in the Pacific Northwest is David Broder of the “Washington Post;” in the battleground state of Florida, Tom Oliphant of the “Boston Globe;” and here in Washington with me is David Brooks of the “Weekly Standard.”
David, since you’re with me, you get the first question. Who are these voters that we just saw in Betty Ann Bowser’s report? Are they truly undecided voters, or are they just not paying attention, or will they decide perhaps?
DAVID BROOKS: There’s a lot not paying attention. We know a couple things about them. One, we know they tend to be more female than male. They tend to be a little lower down the economic stream. But the most interesting statistic about them is they tend to be 30 to 45. Which means they are in the prime parenting years. They’ve got little kids running around. They’re bringing them from soccer practice to oboe practice and they don’t have time to pay attention to politics. One of the things we notice about this election compared to the last one is that Dick Morris and Bill Clinton really understood these people. He understood for them it’s not about must be, it’s about time. Time is a scarce resource. Talk about the Family and Medical Leave Act. The two candidates this year, it seems to me, have not focused on this specific group, this harried group, as much as Bill Clinton did four years ago.
GWEN IFILL: Tom Oliphant, how does this play out this there in the real world in Florida where you’ve been traveling?
TOM OLIPHANT: What I see here, by the way, I must say I tend to go more to shopping malls than wrestling matches.
GWEN IFILL: I’m shocked to hear that.
TOM OLIPHANT: But undecided to me above all means not willing to have made the commitment to actually vote. I think Florida, like many other battleground states, where it’s so close, is more a street fight than it is a battle over preferences at this point. People who are soft, to use the politician’s word in their views, tend to be unenthusiastic so far. They tend to be ambivalent about their choices. To fill out David’s portrait, I think they’re more Democratic than Republican, a little more independent than Democrat. But this is the biggest bloc of all is the people who have not yet made the decision to vote. And I think the composition and the intensity of the electorate will be what determines the result.
GWEN IFILL: Dave Broder, you’ve been out in the Pacific Northwest traveling with Al Gore. Is his issue a day approach working with those kinds of voters?
DAVID BRODER: Well, the issue-a-day thing now seems to have devolved, Gwen, into a let me tell you folks, this is an important election — because there’s a perception at least among some of the Democratic… local Democratic officials that I’ve talked to out in this part of the country, that there’s more energy and enthusiasm on the Republican side. So what Gore was doing at the stop that I just left at the airport in Everett, Washington, was really trying to pump up that crowd, not so much issue by issue, as just saying, “you put all these different pieces together, and there’s a big choice, and therefore, we ought to try to get a big turnout.” As Tom was saying, turnout now is really in a very important element in what both sides are doing.
GWEN IFILL: You have an additional issue for al Gore up there in the Pacific Northwest. And that’s a Nader factor.
DAVID BRODER: Yes. One of the people I talked to at the rally just a couple hours ago, interesting man from Bellingham, who said, “I voted for Nader four years ago,” which not very many Americans did, “but I’m not voting for him this time.” And I said why, and he said because, “this time it might make a difference; this time I’m voting for Gore.” He also told me that in his Unitarian Church in Bellingham, some Nader supporters slipped a Nader pamphlet into the church bulletin, and the pastor had to talk to him about that.
GWEN IFILL: Well, David Brooks, Ralph Nader hotly denies he is can actually drawing votes away from Al Gore, but do you see evidence otherwise?
DAVID BRODER: Yes. I think there is clear evidence there are about six or seven states where it’s within four points, much higher in some states like Washington State, Oregon, Minnesota, places like that. And one suspects that Nader vote will erode away as more people decide as the Bellingham gentleman did, that it’s really going to hurt Gore. One thing David did say was that the Republican vote is solid behind Bush, more solid than the Democratic vote is behind Gore, and that is striking. The conservatives have not been so united behind a candidate since Ronald Reagan left town. You know, George W. Bush had said something had some things about abortion, RU-486, that if John McCain had said that, you know, the Heritage Foundation would have exploded with righteous indignation. but he had made this party operationally pro-choice, and the right has stuck with him. That’s a Clinton factor, but it’s a huge advantage going into these final weeks.
GWEN IFILL: Tom Oliphant, another thing that seems to be kicking in is what’s happening beneath the presidential election level, House races. Are they driving any of the emotion, any of the last minuteness in these battleground states?
TOM OLIPHANT: Absolutely, Gwen. I gather David has written about Michigan recently, which is another one, but this state is a classic example of where I think the bulk of the enthusiasm really comes below the presidential level. For all this talk about unity and wanting to win, George W. Bush is not a particularly exciting candidate. He does not make people’s blood do anything. Al Gore has got the same problem with Democrats. But I’ll tell you, there are three or four hot congressional races in this state. I was in one over the weekend, in the Jacksonville area involving an African American incumbent, Corrine Brown. The turnout that will be generated in these hotly contentious congressional races is likely, I think, to influence the final result here. It could be more African American voters in North Florida, perhaps more conservative voters in the Gulf coast to the South of here coming out to support conservative candidates. But the enthusiasm for these people below the presidential level dwarfs that for the presidential candidates.
DAVID BRODER: Tom, I tend to agree with you, but I ran into something in Michigan which gave me pause. That is the television advertising in the Senate race and the really contested House race out there has turned so negative that I’m beginning to think maybe these down ballot races will turn people off rather than pull them out.
TOM OLIPHANT: Except that often, though, they involve local figures that people really know well. And if they lead to quirky things, for example, an explosion of African American voting in the North of Florida, which is a traditionally Republican part of the state, could skew some of the numbers in the presidential race there. And while I agree with you that the tone of many of these congressional and Senate races is quite negative, there is a feeling of engagement here that I think will in the end drive turnout.
GWEN IFILL: David Brooks, let’s go to the will he or won’t he question. When we talk about turnout, especially for the Democrats, they talk about Bill Clinton and the degree to which he can turn out some reliable Democrats. Do you think Bill Clinton will get out there on behalf of Al Gore and will it help or will it hurt?
DAVID BROOKS: There are no indications that Al Gore wants him out still, even with all the sibling rivalry over the past two weeks. I suspect it wouldn’t help. The people who get riled up about Clinton tend to be a bit on the negative. Secondly, you know, if I get my fantasy and they ask me to pitch for the New York Mets, they’re not going to have Tom Seaver come out with me. Al Gore doesn’t want the master politician coming out with him; it just leads to the stature gap. You know, Bill Clinton clearly wants to go out. His advice it seems to me is right on. He’s saying run on the record without the sex. Al Gore doesn’t want to do that. He’s made a strategic decision to become the prairie populist, the fighting populist. And there’s no indication that that breach will be healed.
GWEN IFILL: Dave Broder, it seems a bit that George W. Bush is anticipating the possibility of bill Clinton coming out. Today we heard him on the stump talking about how al Gore wanted to be the obstacle in chief. And they had eight years and they were presenting obstacles. Do you think that’s what the republicans are bracing for?
DAVID BRODER: Well, they’re not probably going to see that, because just in the last three hours, I’ve had a conversation with a senior Gore official who was pushing the campaign and the candidate to unleash Bill Clinton. And she said, “I’ve lost the argument. We’re not going to do it.”
TOM OLIPHANT: I should break in to say, I had conversation this afternoon with one of the officials on the side that appears to have won the argument. And the idea is Clinton would, yes to California, yes to New York, probably no to Michigan, where he… I mean, some of these so-called undecided voters tend to have negative views of the President. So it’s a delicate task, but I think he’ll be used to boost turnout in some states, but he won’t appear in all of the battlegrounds by any means.
GWEN IFILL: I’m glad you have been burning up the phone lines to Gore and Bush headquarters. David Brooks, in the end, for these undecided voters, is this coming down to a question of issues or personality? I know the polls say one thing, but anecdotes say another.
DAVID BROOKS: When you ask them what they want to focus on, they want to learn my about the issues, then they talk all about personality. And it really is a matter of temperament. They want to feel at one with somebody. And there has been a pattern in the final weeks, the candidate that is the most democratic, the most regular-Joe like.
GWEN IFILL: Little d.
DAVID BROOKS: Right. Little “d” – tends to do better, which may help George W. Bush. He doesn’t lower his intellectual superiority over anyone. So he may be the more democratic. But it tends to come down to just who am I comfortable with.
DAVID BRODER: I agree with David about that. When a voter says, “I need to research some more,” I’m thinking to myself, you are not going home to read voting records.
GWEN IFILL: Tom Oliphant, are you hearing the same things?
TOM OLIPHANT: Well, no. If I could dissent slightly, my favorite unsure or soft voters come down to two kinds of people who are sort of split down the middle in their nature. For example, the fiscal conservative and the social liberal within the same human being — or somebody who talks a lot about personality and might orient toward Bush, but at the same time makes it clear he finds many of his specific issue positions distasteful. So my ideal is an ambivalent, up-in-the-air totally conflicted person, like me.
GWEN IFILL: And David Broder, are we following the bouncing ball from now until election day?
DAVID BRODER: Well, there is no single event on this calendar that’s likely to move this one way or another. And these candidates are just going to drive themselves and their surrogates to the last ounce of energy that they have.
GWEN IFILL: David Brooks, Tom Oliphant, David Broder, thanks a lot.