October 9, 2000
Gwen Ifill reports on George W. Bush and Al Gore's battle to win voters in the key election battleground state of Pennsylvania.
GWEN IFILL: Columbus holiday weekend in Pittsburgh: High school bands parade through downtown. The Sons of Italy gather for their annual picnic. And, one month before the November election, the politicians are out in force.
ANNOUNCER: U.S. Senator Rick Santorum.
GWEN IFILL: All competing for the attention of the Pennsylvania voter -- voters who have proved hazardous to Republicans and Democrats for decades, and who, this year, may hold the key to the presidential election -- voters like Vera Fioravanti, a Pittsburgh Democrat. She likes what Al Gore has to say about expanding prescription drug coverage, but prefers George W. Bush's stand against abortion.
VERA FIORAVANTI: I definitely am pro-life. And I just --I can't see it any other way. I really can't. So -- I just don't know what to do. I don't know what I'm going to do at the moment. But I have to make a decision.
GWEN IFILL: Across the state, at an orchard in a Philadelphia suburb, Kate Gilhool, a mother of two, can't decide either -- but for a different reason. She favors abortion rights, and leans toward the Democrats. Her husband, Jim, is backing Bush.
KATE GILHOOL: I don't like what either of them have been saying so far. At least I haven't found anything that I've been able to latch onto that I really strongly like or dislike. What I don't like is, and we disagree on this, is I do think Bush would put somebody on the Supreme Court Justice that would reverse "Roe v. Wade," so that's my biggest concern right now.
GWEN IFILL: These are the voters Al Gore and George W. Bush have to win: Voters divided on abortion and Social Security, and the role of government in their lives.
ANNOUNCER: They got to hear in you Philly, Scranton and Allentown and Erie, Pennsylvania. What time is it?
CROWD: Gore time!
MUSIC PLAYING: Here's to the babies in the brand-new world --
GWEN IFILL: During the final month of an intensely competitive presidential campaign, both men are engaged in a heated, high-energy battle for the hearts and minds of a notoriously fickle state.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Do you remember how bad it was eight years ago? The deficits were $300 billion a year; the unemployment rate was high. We saw jobs being shipped overseas. We had all kinds of social problems getting worse. And thanks to you, we had a chance to bring some changes. Instead of the biggest deficits, we now have the biggest surpluses.
SPOKESMAN: The next President and First Lady of the United States, Governor George W. Bush and Laura Bush.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: It's time for somebody who will unite this nation, not divide it. It's time for somebody to get rid of this class warfare, of trying to pit rich against poor. Now that's what time it is. It's time for a change. And when America shows up, and when you vote -- and by the way -- I'm here in this important state, asking for the vote. I want you to go the polls and support me. I don't care what your party is. Get in that booth and vote for George W. Bush.
JOSEPH DiSARRO: The candidates haven't really talked about health care with respect to the details.
GWEN IFILL: Joseph DiSarro, dean of the political science department at Washington- Jefferson College near Pittsburgh, says it's a tough balancing act -- tougher, he says, for Governor Bush.
JOSEPH DiSARRO: If a Republican does not carry Pennsylvania, they will not win the race in my opinion, unless they carry a heck of a lot of other states. This is the battleground state, and it's clear. Both candidates have visited this state over 15 times. They will continue to come here. This is also a battle for the soul of the Democratic Party.
GWEN IFILL: To outsiders, Pennsylvania is a political puzzle. Democrats outnumber Republicans, but it has a Republican Governor and two Republican Senators. Yet nothing fits into a comfortable partisan box. Here in western Pennsylvania many Democrats are more conservative than the moderate Republicans in suburban Philadelphia. In order to win this critical state, a candidate has to appeal to both. Democrat Trudy Cruice, a mother of six who attended a Bush rally last week, says she can't decide what to believe.
TRUDY CRUICE: I'm really confused. I have been watching the debates and reading as much as I can, but I really want a man with integrity. And at this point, I think they both are coming across as men with integrity, but I have some issues with their issues. I'm very pro-life, but in my heart, I think, I tend to be a more Democratic person.
|Pittsburgh: Views from the hills|
GWEN IFILL: In western Pennsylvania's Beaver Valley, Friday night football rules. The names in the local hall of fame include Mike Ditka and Joe Namath. The large elderly population also remembers when the steel mills closed two decades ago, and job security vanished. So now they worry about Social Security and Medicare and health coverage. Louis Pupi is a retired pharmacist.
LOUIS PUPI: The pharmaceutical companies, they have no mercy. The cost of the medication that they put out is extremely expensive. I mean, if you've seen the price of some of these prescriptions these people have to take and some of them don't take them -- I've seen some of them walk out and leave the prescription there because they don't have the money, or they weren't going to pay the kind of money, so they're taking they're health into their own hands, even though they may need the medication.
GWEN IFILL: Kristi and Jeff Koenig have listened to the same set of facts from the candidates. She remains undecided.
KRISTI KOENIG: They spin things without talking about the issues. For example, the prescription drug thing: why are drugs so expensive in this country? That is the issue - not who has the better plan - because I think their plans are wrapped up in a lot of this rhetoric and, you know, my way's better than your way, without really looking at the true issues.
GWEN IFILL: He is supporting Bush.
JEFF KOENIG: I like his view on vouchers specifically. I also like the fact that I think he would put monies into the schools, and give the schools a choice of what to do with the money, instead of forcing the schools to hire new teachers.
GWEN IFILL: As the race has turned into a dead heat, both Bush and Gore have turned to local politicians for advice.
GOVERNOR TOM RIDGE: Now who do you think trusts Pennsylvanians to make decisions about their money? Governor George Bush.
GWEN IFILL: Bush considered Governor Tom Ridge, a popular Republican who himself was elected by a narrow margin, for his running mate. Now Ridge is more valuable to him than ever.
GOVERNOR TOM RIDGE: We keep telling our friends in the Bush/Cheney campaign, come back to Pennsylvania, and then personalize that national message. And they've begun doing that rather successfully, and I think we've got the trend line moving in the right direction. We know their place is in Pennsylvania, we have to maneuver to and get them to deliver the message, but I think we're going to be okay. We never thought we could win by a large margin, it's impossible to win by a large margin in a presidential race, but we can still win this and the trend line's moving in the right direction. We have enough time, I think, to deliver.
|The PA Senate battle|
GWEN IFILL: Republican Rick Santorum is defending his U.S. Senate seat this year. He too faces a vigorous Democratic challenge.
SEN. RICK SANTORUM: Hand-to-hand politics is very important in this state. We're very diverse. And you can't go out and give a message to Pennsylvania and expect to connect because, you know, Harrisburg is not what Philadelphia is, and Pittsburgh is not anything like Philadelphia, and so if you were to go out and just sort of run a campaign and just sort of run a national campaign in Pennsylvania, you're going to lose. You've got to go out and run a campaign that focuses on issues and concerns because of the complexity of the state.
GWEN IFILL: Dan Onorato, a Democrat, is Allegheny Country comptroller. One of the issues that helps Gore, he says, is fiscal responsibility.
DAN ONORATO: The big debate right now is what to do with the surplus. You have two options: One, on the Republican side, is give it all back to the taxpayers; it's their money. Or, two, take care of the taxpayer's debt, because the debt is also the taxpayer's debt, and write that down so we don't have a problem with interest rates in the near future. I believe that at the end of the day, writing down the debt is what the taxpayers are going to vote for.
GWEN IFILL: Democrat Tom Murphy, the mayor of Pittsburgh, agrees. He says Gore can win votes by emphasizing western Pennsylvania's new prosperity.
MAYOR TOM MURPHY: Clearly, the economy, and what has happened for the last eight years, continues to be a remarkable selling point. In western Pennsylvania, that suffered really devastation with the collapse of the steel industry and had lagged behind significantly the success nationally with the economy until just a couple years ago. And we are now enjoying a really exciting, surging economy here. I think that continues to be Gore's major, major strength here in western Pennsylvania.
GWEN IFILL: Both candidates are flooding the airwaves, the Planned Parenthood Federation supporting Gore with the testimonials of Republican women.
WOMAN IN AD: Bush says he wants to take away a woman's right to choose.
WOMAN IN AD: And Bush is willing to support Supreme Court Justices who oppose a woman's right to choose. That's a risk I don't want to take.
GWEN IFILL: And the Bush campaign driving home a more basic theme: Asking in its ads, who do you trust?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Because when we trust individuals, when we respect local control of schools, when we empower communities, together we can ignite America's spirit and renew our purpose.
GWEN IFILL: Gore and Bush plan to return to Pennsylvania several times before the election. As each man travels the state, he implores voters to cross party lines.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: I understand this is a county full of loyal Republicans, discerning Democrats, and independents that need to be convinced. And I want to tell you all I'm not afraid to take my message to those discerning Democrats and open-minded independents.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I want to ask you now for something that is difficult for you to give, and something that people hardly ever give anymore. I want to ask you to open your hearts and allow yourselves to genuinely believe, without reservation, that we can do the right thing in this country and be the better for it. I ask you to push past the fear of disillusionment and disappointment.
GWEN IFILL: Joseph DiSarro of Washington-Jefferson College says Pennsylvania voters are still watching and waiting.
JOSEPH DiSARRO: This race is going to be close; it's going to go back and forth until November. My own feeling is that the voter is confused; he is in a maze of statistics and numbers that he or she does not really understand. They're going to go into the voting booth; they're still going to be confused; they're probably going to vote not based on reason, and the issues but just simply gut feeling.
GWEN IFILL: And whoever ends up on the top of the Pennsylvania seesaw on election day, experts say, could very likely be the nation's next president.