|SNAPSHOT: STEVE FORBES|
November 18, 1999
TERENCE SMITH: Millionaire Steve Forbes officially launched his march on the White House yesterday by marching up the steps of the New Hampshire state capitol to register for the granite state's first-in-the-nation primary on February 1.
STEVE FORBES, Republican Presidential Candidate: Here you go.
TERENCE SMITH: Forbes, currently running a distant third in the New Hampshire polls behind Governor George W. Bush and Senator John McCain, immediately tried to reinforce his image as the Washington outsider at a press conference in concord.
STEVE FORBES: I am an independent outsider. I have more executive experience in running real things than any of the other candidates. I have a knowledge of the world, going around 60 countries doing business, doing journalism, that I'll match against any other candidate. And, most important, this campaign has the principles and the policies that is flow from those principles, to make real things happen. Right now, the political culture is run by a virtual club. "K" Street lobbyists, special interests, they're all tied together. And they have no hooks in me. I am truly independent.
TERENCE SMITH: The candidate began his day in Bedford, New Hampshire at a breakfast sponsored by local businesses. He did what he could to shed his stiff and remote image from four years ago.
STEVE FORBES: Being of Scottish descent, I don't mind getting a free meal once in a while. (Laughter) Given the expenses of campaigning, I'll catch a free meal whenever I can, and I love the theme of politics and eggs.
TERENCE SMITH: Forbes argued that Washington politicians are not in tune with the rest of the country.
STEVE FORBES: There probably hasn't been a time when there has been such a disconnect, such a gap, between the political culture of Washington, D.C. and the rest of the nation. America today is on the cusp, and you sense it, and many of you are part of it, of one of the most extraordinary eras in human history. Great things are before us. Only this time, America is the only dominant power in the world. That is a unique and fantastic historic opportunity, but it's also an enormous obligation. This election will determine not only just our future but truly the world's. And that's what this campaign should be about. What are the changes we need to make here at home? What role should America play in the world? Because it is going to have truly epochal significance and importance, and I think to move forward... you just can see in Washington today... each day they seem to confirm that they're in their own world.
TERENCE SMITH: After signing a few souvenir eggs, Forbes was off Nashua, to Martha's Exchange, a popular luncheon hangout for New Hampshire political junkies. As a guest on a local program, "radio free New Hampshire," Forbes criticized the Clinton administration's recent trade agreement with china.
ANNIE CONCIESON, WSMN, 1590 AM: I was listening to another talk show today, and I heard that it looks like the Congress once again is going to cave and bring China into the World Trade Organization. What are your thoughts on this?
STEVE FORBES: I don't know why China should be treated as if it were a small, poor, third-world nation. It's a big nation. It's a growing nation in power. It's got a big economy. And so why give it... Bring it in on concessionary terms? They want in. We should cut a better deal.
TERENCE SMITH: The candidate ended his long day with a question-and-answer session with about 70 people in the tourist town of North Conway.
STEVE FORBES: The question concerns spending, and one thing I've proposed is that we have spending caps. And those caps have to be enforced by the veto pen of the President of the United States. Two years ago, Congress agreed to spending caps, and now, through various gimmicks, they've busted them. Here revenue is coming in at record levels and they still can't live within the confines of spending caps. The only way it could be done is with the veto pen of the President, saying "if you go over the line, back to the drawing boards." It takes leadership to do it, and then I think you can get it done. I am asking for your vote and your support. I believe we can do great things as a nation. It's a fantastic opportunity, and I don't want to see us lose this opportunity. It's unique in world history. We've created it based on the principles of what we started over 200 years ago. Let's really show the world we're just getting warmed up. Thank you very much. (Applause)
JIM LEHRER: And to Gwen Ifill.
GWEN IFILL: For more insight on the Forbes campaign, we are joined
by David Von Drehle of the "Washington Post."
DAVID VON DREHLE, Washington Post: Not a big dent yet, Gwen. He's in a position right now where he needs to avoid falling off the screen. More and more, people are talking about the Republican campaign as a two-person race between George Bush of Texas and John McCain of Arizona. Forbes is trying very hard to remain a piece of that equation, but he's a distant third.
GWEN IFILL: What is it that slowed his campaign down this time? Is it lack of a message, or is it just the presence of other candidates?
DAVID VON DREHLE: He is... he's suffering from the curse of a one-issue candidate. He came in in '96 strong on the flat tax. He surprised a lot of people with how well he did. This second time around, other people have responded to that by adopting versions of the flat tax themselves.
GWEN IFILL: In fact, David, everybody else has adopted versions of the flat tax. What does that leave for him?
DAVID VON DREHLE: Exactly. And so he's trying to retool himself, reinvent himself. He doesn't have George Bush's natural charm, gregariousness. He doesn't have John McCain's compelling personal story, and so he's trying to create himself as the candidate of substance in contrast to those two.
GWEN IFILL: He's also trying to shake away the notion that he is the candidate who everyone is waiting to go negative. We haven't seen that yet in this campaign, have we?
DAVID VON DREHLE: We haven't. You know, the Bush people have done a terrific job from the beginning of this year of constantly whispering in the ears of people like me and you that we need to watch for Forbes going negative as he did in '96. They say that Forbes more than anyone, knocked Bob Dole down, made it easy for Bill Clinton to be reelected. And they planted this idea that at any minute, he could do it again this time. It takes an arrow out of his quiver because any time he does comparative advertising, he's in danger of being hit with this old reputation.
GWEN IFILL: But Steve Forbes has also got to find some way out of this. They whisper in the ears of people like you and me four years ago that he couldn't possibly win Arizona and he did. He surprised us. Does he have a survival strategy now?
DAVID VON DREHLE: His strategy right now is to do well in Iowa, where his money is effective. Iowa is a grassroots organization state. He then might get a bump going into New Hampshire, where he could... he could finish second maybe to McCain. This is their ideal strategy. And then George Bush, having looked inevitable this year, in the early part of next year, the first two states, and then it's a wide open race again. However, you look at the polls right now, George Bush is still very high in the national polls. And so this has got to be classed a long shot.
GWEN IFILL: David, we've seen so many candidates drop out of this race, from Dan Quayle to Elizabeth Dole. Each time, they say it's money. So Steve Forbes has the money. What else does he need to have?
DAVID VON DREHLE: He needs to... to be, I think, plausible. You know, he's a very smart man. He's a very dedicated campaigner. He's worked hard to get better at it. But at bottom, I think his biggest problem is that people don't see the presidency as an entry-level job. His only government experience is heading the board that ran Radio Free Europe. There is just no precedent in American History for someone with that kind of background going in one step to the presidency.
GWEN IFILL: So you're saying for Steve Forbes to bounce back, it depends on the big stumble from that 300-pound gorilla George W. Bush?
DAVID VON DREHLE: That's what everyone in the Republican field is counting on, a big stumble.
GWEN IFILL: What's the chance of that happening? I'll put you on the spot.
DAVID VON DREHLE: Well, you know, a month ago, I would have said zero. Since then, he botched his pop quiz on foreign policy. You know, he's had John McCain come way up in the New Hampshire polls. It looks like he's in a race, so now, well, maybe 5 percent chance. He's still... he's the strongest candidate at this point, non- incumbent, I think, that has ever been.
GWEN IFILL: And maybe people will still be interested in listening to Steve Forbes between now and the first votes.
DAVID VON DREHLE: I hope so.
GWEN IFILL: Thanks a lot, David Von Drehle.
DAVID VON DREHLE: Thank you.