|SHOWDOWN IN SOUTH CAROLINA|
February 17, 2000
JIM LEHRER: Andy, first, what are the most recent polls showing between McCain and Bush in South Carolina, as we speak?
ANDREW KOHUT: Well, these polls are showing this race to be about even. Most of them all have Bush ahead, but by a little bit. McCain caught up after the New Hampshire primary. In fact, since then, he's fallen back a little bit, as Bush has come back. But I think there's a real question about whether it's as close as these polls say because of a couple of things. One, the performance of the polls in New Hampshire on the Republican side wasn't so good. Primaries aren't like general elections. And, secondly, South Carolina is a bucket of worms when you look at the internals.
JIM LEHRER: Explain the bucket and the worms.
ANDREW KOHUT: Okay. Let's do that. We have a graphic. We basically there are two sets of opinions. There are Republicans in these polls and here are two good polls, the Gallup Poll, the Los Angeles Times Poll; and they show a very comfortable lead, 59 to 34 and Gallup 55 to 34 -- Governor Bush. So that looks very comfortable for Governor Bush. That represents about 60% of those samples, 55% in the case of the LA Times. Now the rest of the sample is made up of independents and democrats. That shows just the reverse: 36% for Bush; 54% for McCain and about the same results in the LA Times poll.
JIM LEHRER: That's important because in this... This is an open primary and Democrats and independents can vote in it.
ANDREW KOHUT: Important and confusing. Confusing because these numbers of 40% or 45% are very much unlike what previous... The previous history has been in South Carolina Republican primaries. Four years ago when Senator Dole defeated Pat Buchanan, only about 30% or less than a third of the participants were independents. And so the question is, are these polls right? Are they overestimating independents? Or are they like the polls in New Hampshire, which underestimated independent participation, and therefore, underestimated Senator McCain's big win up there?
JIM LEHRER: And one of the worms is that it's impossible to predict at this point whether or not the independents and the Democrats are going to vote at the same level as the Republicans on Saturday.
ANDREW KOHUT: Exactly. Let me explain why real quickly. In general elections, we have a frame of reference. When I do the election in the fall, I will have six elections to look back on and say, ah, look at these questions. They show a trend of lower participation or higher participation. These guys are doing good work, but they don't have the models. They're in virgin territory, so to speak. And who knows basically? So I think you have to put quotation marks around this. I think the trend is important. We have to say it's a toss-up.
JIM LEHRER: A toss-up, Governor Peeler?
LT. GOV. ROB PEELER: Well, right now I think the best thing to do is to throw the polls out the window. Most of them show governor Bush with a slight lead but it's really a dead heat. We're nowhere in a dog fight here. We've just got to work hard because it's going to boil down to turnout like it does in most elections. Certainly in this election it will come down to that.
JIM LEHRER: So, in other words, you agree with the polls though that it's too close to call.
LT. GOV. ROB PEELER: There's no question about that. It's close here.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah, yeah. Representative Haskins, do you see it the same way?
TERRY HASKINS: Yes, absolutely. The candidates are neck and neck. It will all depend on who does the best job getting their voters out to the primary on Saturday. I hope whenever that vote is taken that everyone in South Carolina and the republican party will join hands once again and realize we're all on the same side.
JIM LEHRER: But Lieutenant Governor Peeler, are you concerned and the Bush folks concerned that so many Democrats and independents may have a role to play in who is going to be the Republican nominee?
LT. GOV. ROB PEELER: Well, I encourage all Republicans certainly to vote this Saturday on the 19th and those conservative Reagan Democrats who are disenchanted with the system to come out and vote. But now we do have, it looks like, a movement by some hard-core democrats here in South Carolina, as they would say, to mess with the primary. And I hope that everybody will have some honor and dignity and not do that. As a matter of fact, a House member just this past Sunday who is certainly a Democrat and the same Democrat who brought suit against the Republican primary to try to block it encouraged Democrats to come out and vote for John McCain because he thought that was the weaker candidate. And we hope we don't have a whole lot of that.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Haskins, do you think that's why Democrats might vote for John McCain is because they think he could be easily beaten in November by a Democrat?
TERRY HASKINS: If that's the case, then they're not looking at any of the national polls and the information that has been coming out from the polling companies which all show that john McCain beats Vice President Gore by a much greater margin than governor Bush. But the great irony of this campaign is that the Bush campaign has spent more money trying to tell voters that John McCain is moderate and liberal than John McCain has spent in his whole campaign. John McCain's not trying to appeal to moderates or democrats. But the Bush campaign is on TV and radio and direct mail telling people that John McCain's more moderate. I think they may be inadvertently increasing McCain's independent vote.
JIM LEHRER: You don't object to that?
LT. GOV. ROB PEELER: I disagree with my good friend Terry Haskins on that because that's just not true. It's interesting to watch John McCain try to act like the victim of all these negative politics. After he ran negative commercials for 18 days, he pulled his because they started backfiring. Even in the debate this past Wednesday night, he said he didn't have any negative ads running, and Governor Bush showed him this flyer -- which is a negative piece.
JIM LEHRER: On Governor Bush?
LT. GOV. ROB PEELER: He said it was not his piece. Governor Bush showed it to John McCain. John McCain said this isn't our piece. We're not doing this. He pointed out that it says John McCain 2000 on it. He said it wasn't his. After the debate he said it was his. It was made a couple of weeks ago and we're not running it anymore. After that, as late as today he said it my piece and we're going to keep running it. One thing we in South Carolina like is somebody to look us in the eye and say the same thing today that we said yesterday. They have found that McCain is saying one thing and doing another in many cases. Governor Bush has a positive message that's working here in South Carolina.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Haskins, how do you respond to that?
TERRY HASKINS: Well, I think it's funny really. Anybody who lives in South Carolina has been barraged with a constant stream of negative Bush ads against McCain, has been barraged with personal attacks against Senator McCain's character, you cannot watch TV anymore without seeing filthy, dirty campaign ads from the Bush campaign. What's really funny about it is Governor Peeler says that the people of South Carolina want somebody who will tell them the truth. I saw Governor Bush just a few days ago on TV saying that he's not running any negative ads -- he doesn't need to pull anybody down because he's not running negative ads. If you're going to be honest about it, you have to realize that Governor Bush is the one who is running the negative campaign in South Carolina. Sure, John McCain did respond with an ad. But he pulled it down when he realized that it was dragging the campaign down into a level he didn't want to bring it.
JIM LEHRER: Are they making any difference at all?
LT. GOV. ROB PEELER: I can tell you this....
JIM LEHRER: Hold on one second, Governor Peeler, I'll be right back to you. I just want to ask Mr. Haskins, are the negative ads whether they're being run by john McCain or they're being run by George Bush, are they making any difference at all?
TERRY HASKINS: Absolutely.
JIM LEHRER: Are they controlling the outcome, do you think?
TERRY HASKINS: I don't know if they'll control the output, but we know that negative campaigns are effective because people are developing an impression of John McCain that's not true. And John McCain's advisors told him not to drop his ads, to continue to respond and to set the record straight. But he refused because he said he was going to run a positive campaign and he was going to stick to that promise. And I hope that the people of South Carolina will endorse that positive campaign and that positive message and tell these campaigners once and for all that negative campaigns don't work. That's the only way we'll get rid of this kind of campaigning.
JIM LEHRER: Governor Peeler.
LT. GOV. ROB PEELER: Can I respond to that?
JIM LEHRER: Yes, sir.
LT. GOV. ROB PEELER: Briefly. I can tell you I'm not getting into the who started who first, who hit who first. That serves no purpose, but in New Hampshire John McCain started the negative ads and Governor Bush didn't answer them. It hurt him. In South Carolina, he has stood up for himself and called it what it is. And even Senator McCain went so far as to compare George Bush's character with that of Bill Clinton's. That was over the line. Even Lindsey Graham, one of his co-chairmen said that it was. He pulled it because it was backfiring on him and as late as Wednesday had two or three different answers on whether he was doing this negative attack flyer. That's not the way we want politics to be done in South Carolina.
JIM LEHRER: Well, let me ask you both beginning with you, governor peeler, forget the negative ads. We've talked about that enough. What is the defining issue, do you think, from the Bush campaign point of view, the defining issue in South Carolina between the governor and Senator McCain?
LT. GOV. ROB PEELER: I think it comes down to the point that he has produced results. He's done it in the state of Texas on education. He's talked about social security and shoring it up -- on tax relief for all Americans, not just a few -- and rebuilding our military to make it strong and, to me, I think the bottom line to most people in South Carolina that they honestly think they don't go by polls or what all these experts tell them but that they think that governor Bush has the best chance of beating Al Gore in November and finally bringing an end to the Clinton-Gore era in America.
JIM LEHRER: Representative Haskins, what would you say are the defining issues?
TERRY HASKINS: The defining issues in South Carolina this election campaign are character, strength of personality and a commitment to country that goes beyond self-interest. I think people are seeing in John McCain a man who has repeatedly throughout his life put his country above himself. And they see him as a man who would restore dignity and honor and respect and maturity to the office of the presidency. We have lacked that greatly for the last seven-and-a-half years, and Americans are yearning for a president they can look up to in that way.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Andy Kohut, back to you before we go. How does what the... Mr. Haskins and Mr. Peeler just said gibe with the national polls about how people are defining their reasons for being for Bush and McCain and where that matter stands nationally outside South Carolina.
ANDREW KOHUT: Basically it's the same answer. For McCain it's character; for Governor Bush, it's experience and ability to get things done. The supporters of each cite those reasons. It's a different set of evaluations, for sure.
JIM LEHRER: And the level of support, as you went through in the beginning of South Carolina, republicans versus independents and Democrats, that holds nationally too
ANDREW KOHUT: It holds not to the same degree but Bush still leads nationally among Republicans and independents but there's this big gap. What's different in the national polls is that McCain has attracted the attention of a lot of independents, and he is well ahead of Gore where Bush and Gore are running pretty even in our poll, and in the Gallup poll as well.
JIM LEHRER: What are the national trends? Is there... Where is the movement? Where has the movement been say the last week or so?
ANDREW KOHUT: A number of important groups: Independents who are drawn to McCain like nothing since independents being drawn to Perot years ago. And secondly older voters. Older voters especially draft era men are drawn to Senator McCain. These two correlations stand out in the surveys with big, big margins of support for McCain in the general election tests that we conduct.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Haskins and Mr. Peeler, quickly, it's been predicted that you may have the largest turnout that you've ever in a Republican primary. Do you agree with that, Governor?
LT. GOV. ROB PEELER: We hope so. We had 276,000 vote four years ago. There have been estimates up from 300,000 to 400,000. I hope all of us get out and vote. We're not concerned about, in the Bush campaign, we encourage that.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Haskins, 400,000 or so?
TERRY HASKINS: Absolutely. I believe we'll hit 400,000 voters in this primary. Judging by the absentee ballots that have already been cast, the vote is going to be way, way above any past election in the state.
JIM LEHRER: Gentlemen, all three, thank you very much.
ANDREW KOHUT: Thank you.
LT. GOV. ROB PEELER: Thank you.