TOPICS > Politics

Does Anybody Care?

October 23, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Now how these ads and the speeches and other things are playing around the country as seen by our regional commentators, Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Constitution, Pat McGuigan of the Daily Oklahoman, Mike Barnicle of the Boston Globe, Lee Cullum of the Dallas Morning News, and joining them tonight, Robert Kittle of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Bob Kittle, are these ads having any impact at all in San Diego?

ROBERT KITTLE, San Diego Union Tribune: (San Diego) I think, interestingly, Jim, they’re not having a very big impact. In fact, the polls have shown that there’s been very little change in the relationship between Bob Dole and Bill Clinton really since the spring in the polls. I don’t think the ads are having an impact, and one of the reasons is I think people have, as Kathleen Hall Jamieson suggested, have walked away from this race to a very large degree. I can’t remember a presidential race in my memory at least that attracted so little interest among the electorate and so little enthusiasm. And I think unfortunately the negative ads in particular reinforce the public’s cynicism and reinforce their view that voting in this race doesn’t make a difference, it’s not relevant to their lives, why participate, and all of that is bad for democracy, and bad for democracy, and bad for the electoral process, and if you’re Bob Dole, I think it’s bad for you because you’re trying to turn the voters around and give them a reason to make a change in the government. And the negative ads to the extent it simply turns people off and makes them feel that this is politics as usual failed to do, failed to accomplish Bob Dole’s strategic mission of getting them to take another look at him and to find a rationale for making a change in the White House.

JIM LEHRER: Lee, are they walking away from this election in Dallas?

LEE CULLUM, Dallas Morning News: They really are, Jim. I can’t get anybody to talk about these ads. I was at a luncheon today of businesspeople and some academic people, and I got the impression that they’ve tuned out the ads, and to some extent tuned out the election. Although I placed a call to a pollster in Houston named Mike Banzelese this afternoon with the Lance-Terrance Group. He’s on the Republican side, to be sure. He feels that Dole is moving in the polls, that last night he was down only 8 points, the night before last down 5 points. Now this is only one poll, but–

JIM LEHRER: In Texas, right?

MS. CULLUM: No. No. Nationally.

JIM LEHRER: Oh, nationally. I’m sorry. Okay.

MS. CULLUM: According to Mike, and so it may be that these ads are having some impact on behalf of Dole, but from the people I’m talking with, they are simply not being noticed.

JIM LEHRER: Do you pick up any of this kind of, of vigorous opposition to them that Kathleen just expressed, that people ought to be told they’re inappropriate and, I mean, the people making them ought to be told they’re inappropriate, or people just don’t care?

MS. CULLUM: No. People just don’t care.

JIM LEHRER: It’s irrelevant.

MS. CULLUM: I have to say for myself I certainly agree with what Kathleen Hall Jamieson just said. I think she’s absolutely right, but I’m not hearing that from people I talk to down here.

JIM LEHRER: Does it matter at all in Boston, Mike?

MIKE BARNICLE, Boston Globe: Jim, it is hard to overestimate the lack of interest in this campaign in Boston, as well as New England. Jimmy Hoffa has higher visibility here than either Dole or Clinton. There is no campaign. There are no TV ads. There are very few appearances by either candidate. Dole is probably looking at a Greg Maddux situation in New England. He’s going to get shut out six times, including the state of New Hampshire, which last–

JIM LEHRER: Greg Maddux, for those who are not following, is a pitcher for the Atlanta Braves. Okay.

MR. BARNICLE: Yeah. A pretty good one too.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah, not bad, okay.

MR. BARNICLE: And, you know, he’s probably going to even lose New Hampshire, and the last time they went Democratic I think was during the Ice Age sometime. There’s just nothing going on here.

JIM LEHRER: And that’s just because Massachusetts has been written off by the Republicans, so nobody’s challenging Democrats, right, except in the Senate race, the Weld-Kerry race?

MR. BARNICLE: Yeah. The Weld-Kerry race creates some interest but I think because people decided long ago that Bob Dole was not going to be able to beat Bill Clinton there’s little interest in the race. I think that’s one reason but I think there’s another umbrella reason, and it’s that a lot of people seem oddly uninterested in either political party, despite the candidate or maybe because of the candidate. There’s just no interest in what either candidate seems to be saying, and it’s, it’s an indifference that is kind of depressing.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Are you depressed about this, Pat McGuigan, in Oklahoma?

PATRICK McGUIGAN, Daily Oklahoma: (Oklahoma City) Well, no, not really. I would say this. I mean, Oklahoma, although we’re very different politically than Minnesota, like Minnesota, we have relatively high participation. Traditionally, the voter turnout here is higher than it is elsewhere in the country. So I think there may be higher interest. I don’t think it’s as intense. I will agree, I don’t think it’s as intense as the interest even in 1992, and certainly not–

JIM LEHRER: Why? Why not?

MR. McGUIGAN: –the passion that you had in 1980, for example, when–

JIM LEHRER: Why not?

MR. McGUIGAN: –Reagan first ran.

JIM LEHRER: Why not, Pat? What’s happen–what’s missing? What’s happening?

MR. McGUIGAN: Well, I think that, you know, we all talk about it would be nice if we could have all these discussions between competing campaigns without as much harshness and, and edge, if you will, but the truth of the matter is that Reagan had a clarifying identity. He had a philosophy of politics. He conveyed it very clearly. Sen. Dole has not done that as well. Uh, he may not share as much of the clarity that Reagan had. That’s simply a description of the man. And because of that, people don’t feel that there’s a banner of bold colors, as Reagan once put it, not pale pastels but bold, clear, defining issues that they can rally to. Despite all that, there’s a lot of affection for Dole in Oklahoma. He’s from next door, as you know, and I think that Oklahoma will be in his column. Right now, the lead that he has is apparently in high single digits in Oklahoma, but in all candor, that probably ought to be about 15-point lead at this point.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Cynthia, the view from Georgia, what does it look like?

CYNTHIA TUCKER, Atlanta Constitution: (Atlanta) Well, um, Jim, I don’t think very many Georgians are paying any attention. Atlanta, as you know, is in the middle of a World Series. Mike just referred to that. People are much, much, much more interested in that than they are in the presidential campaign. The candidates, oddly enough, do seem more interested. Uh, Bob Dole was here in Georgia today in Macon, Georgia. Bill Clinton is expected in Georgia before the end of the week, and that in itself was unexpected as recently as two years ago, or even a year ago. Bob Dole was expected to have Georgia completely locked up by now so that he wouldn’t have to spend any time here campaigning. Bill Clinton is not only competitive in the state of Georgia but the most recent poll by the Atlanta Journal Constitution showed Bill Clinton up by about 12 points. That was completed at the end of September, and I don’t think any of the ads and ads from both campaigns by the way are running on the airwaves in the metro Atlanta area, but they don’t seem to be having much effect. I think that by and large people made up their minds months ago, and they’ve now tuned out.

JIM LEHRER: Well, Cynthia, starting with you and working back up, what about the point that Kathleen just made to Elizabeth, that there’s an opportunity here for there to be a serious debate and thus some serious work done on campaign finance reform as a result of what has come out in this campaign. Has that been picked up in Georgia? Have you picked up that at all?

MS. TUCKER: Not at all. It is a very complex issue, and the ads have had the results, I think, as Kathleen suggested, of just turning people off because both parties are guilty of, of taking money from big money interests, and so, no, I don’t think people have yet become convinced that a serious discussion can be had or that they can affect that process.

JIM LEHRER: Pat, what about in Oklahoma on campaign finance?

MR. McGUIGAN: I think out here people certainly see a room for campaign finance reform. As you will remember, Sen. Boron, now the president of the University of Oklahoma, was a big advocate of this.

JIM LEHRER: Well, he sponsored some of the original reform legislation that always was defeated, in fact.

MR. McGUIGAN: Yes, and I don’t agree with him in all particulars, but that was kind of the cap stone of his career in the Senate. And he’s very respected for that. The disagreement comes in this idea of having more taxpayer financing of elections to take the place of private financing. I think if we could get full disclosure, that that would be sufficient to improve the quality of our politics, because what we’ve got now is a lot of money apparently coming in as in the case of this Indonesian controversy kind of being hidden under people’s names, it’s actually coming from somebody else.

JIM LEHRER: Mike, is campaign finance reform a big deal in Massachusetts?

MR. BARNICLE: Well, I think it’s of some interest but I, I think the larger interest in Massachusetts and maybe elsewhere is the sense that a lot of people have that as we head toward the 21st century in a country of 250 million people, is this it, is this what we get these two people on TV running for President? Can we not do better than that? And neither person seems to hit a lot of people’s hot buttons, and I think people scratch their heads and wonder what’s wrong with the political process that we seem not to be able to really come up with people who are more attractive to us as candidates, as people, as politicians, as a whole range of things.

JIM LEHRER: Lee, do you share some of Mike’s questions?

MS. CULLUM: Yes, I do, Jim, and, you know, it seems to me that one thing that is damaging our politics is the call to the message. Politicians are determined to stay on message. Don’t step on message. Well, we know now what the two messages are. Dole’s is the tax cut. Clinton’s is to have a tax cut, but protect education, the environment, Medicaid, and Medicare. I’ve learned it just about as well as he has. I feel that Dole is probably the more substantive in terms of what he would actually do, but the truth is that eloquence gets drained away. We have no philosophy of government being expressed, much less a philosophy of life. And these are the things that would make candidates come to life and loom large on the American political scene. And it’s the message that’s doing us in. It’s a stand-in for real discourse.

JIM LEHRER: Bob Kittle, it’s up to you to cheer us up.

MR. KITTLE: Well, I can only tell you that campaign finance reform is a very big issue in California, and, in fact, it’s one of the reasons that Ross Perot did better in California four years ago than he did nationally, because he talked about that issue. Among the 15 citizens initiatives on the ballot this November in California are two separate measures to reform campaign finances at the state level, so I think it’s an issue that is ripe for reform. I’m very glad to see Bob Dole in the last few days propose limits on soft money at the federal level, which is the huge loophole that the candidates take advantage of indirectly, but it’s a little late in the game to be doing it. We should have seen some action in the Senate before Bob Dole left actually, and that bill that John McCain wrote, unfortunately, didn’t get anywhere.

JIM LEHRER: Well, we–I’m going to leave it there with a semi-optimistic note from you, Bob Kittle. At least there’s a prospect of something good coming out of this, of this exchange on campaign finance reform. Thank you all five very much for being with us tonight.