|GORE AND BRADLEY|
January 13, 2000
MARGARET WARNER: Tonight, the Democratic contest in Iowa, where this year's first presidential caucuses will take place just 11 days from now. Vice President Gore and former Senator Bill Bradley held their first Iowa debate last weekend, and they've stepped up their campaigning all across the state in these final days. We caught up with Bradley Monday at a town meeting in Boone.
BILL BRADLEY: You know, when you run for President, I think it's very important that you be modest about running for President, because you're only one person and it's the most powerful office in the world. At the same time, I think you have to have confidence, that you are confident that you can be the President, that you can lead this country in a world that's still dangerous.
And so what you have to do is you have to try to find a balance between modesty and confidence that will allow you to gain people's trust, because ultimately that's what this election process is about. It's about gaining your trust and your support. And the way I look at this, if you're running for the Democrat nomination for President of the United States, that you ought to tackle the big questions, not the small questions.
You've got to have the courage of your convictions. You ought to be honest enough with the American people to let them know what we need to do if we are going to make sure we have access to affordable quality health care for all Americans.
Now, you ask me, do you want someone as president who's going to be a bold leader or do you want somebody as a president who's going to sit there and move around little blocks on a column on a page on a table? Because what is the objective here?
The objective isn't just insurance, the objective is better health for all Americans, which means prevention, early intervention; which means drugs for Medicare recipients; which means having people have access when they need that access. See, when I think about all this, I think, well, what's stopping us from having this happening? Why can't we get this done? And I think, well, one of the reasons is nobody is out there saying we better do this.
So I'm deciding I'm going to say we're going to do this. But what else stops people? I think what stops people is money and politics. That's why everywhere I go in this campaign I talk about campaign finance reform - the need to have public financing of elections so that the public provides the money and not the special interests.
How much would that cost? Well, every year we spend $900 million promoting democracy abroad; some of that's pretty good. For about the same amount of money, we could totally take the special interest out of democracy at home. In a budget of $1.7 and $1.8 trillion, you'd never find a better investment of your taxpayer dollars than that billion dollars to make sure that no special interests will be influencing the legislative process by contributing money to political campaigns. It will be the best single investment that could ever be made.
I want to thank you very much. And if you wanted to ask some questions, I'll be pleased to answer. Thank you very much. (Applause)
QUESTIONER: What is your stand on increasing or decreasing the Pentagon budget?
BILL BRADLEY: Okay. The question was what is my position on increasing or decreasing the Pentagon budget. I think we can have a steady state budget and achieve our objectives if we make some hard choices.
We're moving from a time where we had a Cold War budget to where we now have to be organized against new threats that are out there. And I think that means that we have to let go of certain weapons systems and reorient expenditures toward the new threats. At the same time, we have to keep motivated, talented people in the military at a time where the economy is growing very rapidly and there is a strong pull for that talent in the private economy.
So I think that we can do this with a steady state budget. I mean, this is one of the differences between Al Gore and me. That's one of the differences, in that he wants to increase defense spending by about a $127 billion, and I say I think we can do it with a steady state budget. I know that you are working with priorities, and think that it's a... you know, it's a great effort, and I applaud you for that. I am not where you are in terms of cutting the defense budget, but I am better than my opponent in this race, so consider that.
QUESTIONER: I wanted to know if you supported the '96 farm bill?
BILL BRADLEY: I voted for it. I voted for it because they said there was going to be a safety net. When President Clinton signed the law, he said, next year I'll be sending a safety net provision so that if the bottom falls out, farmers won't be in the bottom with - you know - we won't be gone; no safety net provision, none whatsoever.
So I have begun to make this an issue in the campaign. I have begun to say for Al Gore to criticize some vote I made in the United States Senate on farms 15 years ago, and then come out here and pose as if they is the defender of the family farmer - the administration has done nothing -- is to insult the intelligence of family farmers.
And so I've said it very clearly. What would I do? I would first of all use the antirust department to go after the big packers. Second of all, what I would do is I would put more acres in conservation program including environmental policy, good foreign policy, free up some land, prevent erosion.
Third thing I would do is I think we have to help our farmers, our family farmers by getting income to them in situations when prices drop in relation to their costs, I can guarantee you that I'm going to do that. And those people that argue well the family farm should go, they don't have the time of day with me, because I've met too many people that have touched me too deeply over the last year. That's what a Iowa caucus is all about - it is to give candidates for office who have never had the experience to have that experience and once they do, they are indelibly imprinted as I have with the plight of the family farmer.
MARGARET WARNER: On Wednesday, Vice President Gore was at a college in Cedar Rapids for a town meeting with an audience of mostly undecided voters.
AL GORE: I believe that keeping our economy strong is one of the keys to giving us the best chance to deal with health care and education and cleaning up the environment, job training and the other challenges that we face. And I think that one of the issues in the campaign here is who has the experience to have the best chance in avoiding some of the blunders that sometimes in the past have caused us to have unnecessary recessions.
If we blow the surplus, for example, on the kind of extravagant, risky tax scheme that all of the Republican nominees are supporting in one form or another, that could raise interest rates and cause the loss of this favorable set of economic circumstances that's been working for us so well these last seven years. Similarly, Senator Bradley's proposal on health care spending, because it devotes two thirds of the money who those who already have health insurance, ends up being so expensive that many independent analysts say it will completely use up the entire surplus without dedicating money to the Medicare fund, which is being rapidly depleted because of the aging of our population and the impending doubling of the Medicare population over the next 25 to 30 years.
Now, these and other issues therefore should be seen in the context of how we can be good stewards of America's economy. I believe that keeping the budget balanced and indeed keeping surpluses and in effect continuing to pay down the debt is good for progressive causes because it continues to generate the economic strength of the resources and the public support for well-targeted initiatives that help us to improve the quality of life in America and solve the problems that have been neglected for too long. That's my basic approach, and there is a contrast between my vision of the presidency and Senator Bradley's. Let me throw it open to your comments and questions, and whoever would like to go first, feel free to speak up.
QUESTIONER: I really appreciate the accomplishments of the Gore/Clinton administration.
AL GORE: Sometimes referred to as the Clinton/Gore administration.
QUESTIONER: That's right. However, my concern is not the issues. I also have a great deal of respect for Bill Bradley, which is why I'm undecided. My concern is that the next president be one of you two. And so... (Applause) I think the Democrats need to nominate somebody that can win the election. I'm concerned that your ability to win the election is, is reduced by your association with the Clinton scandal.
AL GORE: My relationship with President Clinton has basically four aspects to it, and one of them is he's my friend. I have worked closely with him. It has been a privilege to help him lead this country, and in the process we have become genuinely good friends. The second aspect of my relationship to him is that I condemn his personal mistake. It was reprehensible. I do think that the remedy of removing him from office, pursued in a highly partisan way by the republicans, was disproportionate to the offense that he committed. That doesn't make the offense any less reprehensible, but I condemned it before, I condemn it now. Third, I have been allied with President Clinton in fighting an awful lot of battles on behalf of the American people. (Applause) and we've had some success in winning those battles. Fourth, I'm running for President on my own as who I am (Applause) with my vision and my agenda.
QUESTIONER: Would you accept Senator Bradley as your vice-presidential candidate?
AL GORE: Here I am trying to get to you support me in the Iowa caucuses. And not until I succeed in that task will I earn... will I be closer to earning the right to pick out a running mate. But let me say this about Senator Bradley as a person. I said it last Saturday in the debate here. I said it a week ago today in the debate in New Hampshire. I have deep and genuine respect for him as a person. We've served together. He is a good man. He is a decent man. He's a man of strong character. And no candidate should be judged harshly in the hottest part of the competition when the pressure is greatest to, you know, attack and say something negative. I know that that's not really the accurate measure of who he is as a person. He is an extremely capable, decent man.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, more on the Democrats' contest in Iowa from two
"Washington Post" political reporters who've been on the road
with the candidates all week. Mike Allen's been covering Senator Bradley;
Ceci Connolly has been covering Vice President Gore. They are both in
New Hampshire now because those two candidates are in New Hampshire.
CECI CONNOLLY: Well, Margaret after spending most of the last three days there in the state, I would say that the Gore campaign feels much more confident about its prospect in Iowa than they did say three or four weeks ago. That is partially because she sent out perhaps the best operative in Democratic politics today, Michael Hooley, who has virtually moved to the state of Iowa to whip that organization into shape. The latest poll that came out this week shows gore with about a 20 point lead there, so they're feeling much better. The one thing that I noticed still missing from the Gore campaign in recent days while they are quite guide at sort are of the criticism and pointing out the weaknesses in Bradley's agenda, the Vice President has yet to really sell himself.
MARGARET WARNER: Mike, how did the Bradley folks see the state of their complain right now in Iowa?
MIKE ALLEN: Margaret, the Bradley campaign is in the interesting position of trying to convince people how badly they are doing so that when the caucus results come in everybody will be surprised and think that he is an insurgent. The Bradley campaign has opened a dozen offices throughout Iowa and is working hard on the tough job of trying to convince people that they should go out at 7 o'clock at night to one of these caucuses which unlike just going to the polls and the primary where you wait in line, check your ballot and you are done, a caucus can go on for a couple of hours.
So, most of the people who go are life long Democrats and most of these people are going out for Al Gore. So the Bradley complain is spending these weeks trying to convince new people that going to a caucus could be fun and they are putting out videos explaining how it works and really making an effort to convince new people, even Republicans, to come out. The sheets that they give out at Bradley's appearances that show where caucuses are going to be held, even tell Republicans how they can change their registration the day of the caucus to come and support Bill Bradley.
MARGARET WARNER: But, now, Mike, staying with you for a minute, a number of the stories coming out of that debate on Saturday used the same phrase to describe Bill Bradley which was on the defensives which has not been a phrase we've heard else where, what happened in that debate?
MIKE ALLEN: Very much so, if you remember the picture both about Alexander, this has been Bill Bradley's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week. He has had a number of things go wrong all in a space of a few days. And you are right. This was a campaign that was very sure-footed. It just kept getting attention for how surprisingly well it was doing, whether it was in money or support or elsewhere. In the debate he was tripped up on an issue that he new was going to be a problem -- farming. Al Gore is from Tennessee -- State -- the third largest producer of tobacco in the country. Senator Bradley represented New Jersey, which is known for growing what, turnpikes and cranberries.
So, he knew that was not a naturally strong issue but the Vice President in the debate asked him about a vote that he had cast that the Vice President said had denied flood relief to farmers. Instead of saying well it was a good idea but a bad bill which you can say about almost anything, Bradley really didn't provide any particular justification for. He sort of turned a back. So he spent all week trying to explain something that happened Saturday instead of being able to push his own message about farming which he has. He talks about how -
MARGARET WARNER: Yes. So, Ceci, the Gore folks must feel then that even if it strikes you as a little negative it is working because it has Bradley on the defensive, rather than out there talking as much about his own agenda as he'd like to.
CECI CONNOLLY: Yes. That's right, Margaret, and you know, we're been writing for months how it seems as if Al Gore just can't seem to catch a break in this presidential campaign either by his own doing or Bill Clinton's or the fates. And finally, this week, I think Al Gore got a little bit lucky with some of those Bradley missteps -- Bradley being on the defensive as you put it. But what we are seeing also is what many Democratic insiders expected would be both the strengths and weaknesses of Al Gore's presidential campaign in 2000. And by that, I mean that they learned well from the Clinton operatives in 1992 who ran the war room and did what they call rapid response.
This time around the Gore camp calls it prebuttals which means they are already burying us in opposition research against Bill Bradley before some of the words have even come out of bill Bradley's mouth. They have got computer programs loaded up with every Bradley vote under the Sunday and they spit these things out faster than we can read them. But what is also the weakness here is you don't always hear Gore articulating in some sort of a clear, coherent fashion why he wants to be President and what he would do.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay. Now. We did just hear him take this question about his connection with the President, his longtime association with the President. How much of a difficulty is that for him. How often does he have to deal with it?
CECI CONNOLLY: He still gets questions like that fairly regularly on the campaign trail, not as often, Margaret, as we might three or five months ago. But the interesting thing that we saw in that clip from Coe College this week was that finally after struggling for the better part of a year, Al Gore has come up with a response to that question, and he finally has figured out a way to say he is my friend, but I did not like that behavior one bit.
MARGARET WARNER: Mike, you had an interesting story in the Post today about what you said, you said in Iowa Bradley style leaves some cold. And you seem to be suggesting that there was more to Bradley's difficulties than perhaps the fact he doesn't have a lot of institutional support, which you talked about earlier. What do you mean by that?
MIKE ALLEN: Right. The clip that you showed us at the beginning was tremendous because it really captured Bradley, when you heard him talking about courage of convictions, sort of very high-minded, but fairly low decibel rhetoric. And that's why -- that's the reason for a lot of his support. He talked about his donors and his supporters, they talked about how they like somebody who brings dignity and statesmanship to the presidency. The problem with that is, is that it does not tend to excite audiences which is what you need in a caucus or a primary. This morning, Senator Bradley speak here in Nashua, New Hampshire. And he was in a fairly large banquet room full of fairly liberal people and he said we're going to ban Saturday night specials and the room was silent. You can't imagine that happening if the Vice President were speaking. So Bradley's challenge is conveying his big ideas and somehow making them exciting.
MARGARET WARNER: But Ceci, he is doing well in a lot of northeastern eastern states not just in New Hampshire but, as you pointed out, the polls in Iowa are very different. How do you explain Gore's strength in Iowa: What's different about Iowa?
CECI CONNOLLY: A couple of things are happening in Iowa, Margaret. As you well know, that is a caucus state. And as Mike talked about, people have to come out at night and spend several hours participating in that ritual. And that type of process favors the establishment candidates, in this case the Vice President who by the way the last few days in Iowa was campaigning with Senator Harkin by his side, Senator Max Cleland of Georgia, who is a Vietnam War hero, campaigned with him as well in Iowa. They have all sorts of Democratic party chairs, county chairs, mayors, state representatives, you name it, as well as just the other night in Iowa, the Vice President held a private meeting with Senator Harkin and 17 different labor leaders. And he went around the room and asked each of those union folks how many bodies they could get out on the night of January 24th.
MARGARET WARNER: Mike, but very quickly I noticed that in the polls there is still a high number of undecideds. We saw Gore in front of an audience of undecideds. So, how reliable do you think the polls really are?
MIKE ALLEN: Especially in Iowa it's very hard because the number of people who go to caucuses is very small. You never know who those people are going to be, even less so in a primary.
MARGARET WARNER: Thank you both. Ceci Connolly and Mike, thanks.
MIKE ALLEN: Thanks, Margaret.
CECI CONNOLLY: Thank you, Margaret.