ARIZONA & THE DAKOTAS
FEBRUARY 28, 1996
JIM LEHRER: Now, how yesterday's results look to our regular team of Shields & Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, "Wall Street Journal" columnist Paul Gigot. They're joined tonight by Republican Pollster Linda Divall, who had worked on the Gramm campaign. Let's go through who won and lost what. First, Mark, on Steve Forbes, a victory in Arizona, is he now-- does that mean he's back as a serious contender?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Steve Forbes, Jim, has winnowed himself back in. He was almost winnowed out. That's one of the great advantages of having independent finances. Ordinarily, two fourth-place finishes in a row and you couldn't raise the money to pay the light bill, but he just wrote a check and if Bill Clinton was the comeback kid in 1992, Steve Forbes is the comeback capitalist in 1996.
JIM LEHRER: Comeback capitalist, Linda, is that--is it his money, that's all this is about?
LINDA DIVALL, Republican Pollster: Well, I think there are three things in Arizona that propelled him in the first place. I mean, $4 million did help, no doubt about it, but he showed some organizational smarts in terms of targeting the absentee ballot and the senior citizens. I mean, he got 30 percent of the vote with those over 60 years of age. In Iowa, he received only 9 percent with seniors. And No. 3., he had a good message. I mean, if you look at taxes, one out of four voters said taxes was most important to them, and he received about 70 percent of the vote with that group.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. How do you read Arizona, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: Well, I think Pat Buchanan's peasants turned out not to have pitchforks but to have pocketbooks, and taxes was a defining issue. The voters who voted favored the flat tax 60 to 37. In other states, it's been split more evenly, 45/45, and Forbes got the bulk of that vote. He had a message that went right at Pat Buchanan's economic group of voters, but with a different message, a much more traditional Goldwater-Reagan message of smaller government, more freedom, reduced taxes, reduced government. It seemed to work.
JIM LEHRER: Back in the race?
MR. GIGOT: I think very much so back in the race, very much so.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Bob Dole, Mark, he won the Dakotas. What does that mean for him?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, Bob Dole's life has been complicated, Jim, by Steve Forbes' reemergence. He was wanting to get this race down to a race between himself and Pat Buchanan, and Steve Forbes' reemergence certainly complicates that. But he had two victories yesterday. He needed two victories, and there's no taking that away from him. Still, it's sort of second guessing because twice now in 1988 and 1996 after losing the New Hampshire primary, Bob Dole was supposed to be the experienced, thoughtful, responsible leader, responded by firing his pollster, and that doesn't look like stable, grown-up leadership.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Coming in--coming in second to or being beaten by Forbes in Arizona, does- -the wins in the Dakotas offsets that, do you think, or just keeps things kind of even, or how would you balance the two?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, no, I think that--I think that Arizona became the focus, there's no doubt about it. It wasn't the same way, Jim, not to, not to be mistaken with Iowa and New Hampshire, where all the candidates are there. They're all in an adversarial setting. Mr. Forbes spent more time obviously there than the others and more money, but I think, I think that Bob Dole is very confident coming in here. His people have tracking--
JIM LEHRER: Here being where you are right now, which is in South Carolina.
MARK SHIELDS: In South Carolina.
JIM LEHRER: Right.
MARK SHIELDS: The Saturday race here. His folks have tracking polls which show him 30 points ahead, and that would be enormous victory for him.
JIM LEHRER: How do you assess the Dole element after yesterday?
LINDA DIVALL: Well, first of all, not winning Arizona was a serious setback because it was winner- take-all, and they had, I think, cast themselves in the light of being able to survive and overcome Buchanan and they failed in that regard. Yes, they overcame it, but they didn't get that first place win. So they have two goals and the silver to show for it. I think it puts even more pressure on them to win South Carolina. They clearly have the endorsements. They clearly have the organization. I don't think they yet have the message. The debate Thursday, I think, is important because one of the reasons Bob Dole lost this election in Arizona was he was not apparent in Arizona the last three days of this campaign. He avoided the debate. That was news throughout Arizona and throughout the West.
JIM LEHRER: That was a big deal, wasn't it?
LINDA DIVALL: It was a big deal, and he had almost 30 percent of the people making up their minds the last three days of the campaign.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Paul.
PAUL GIGOT: They are not going to make that mistake again, from what I hear from the Dole camp. They are going--
JIM LEHRER: There's another one in South Carolina, right?
PAUL GIGOT: That's right. Tomorrow.
JIM LEHRER: Tomorrow.
PAUL GIGOT: And they plan on being there, at least as of now. South Carolina is critical for Bob Dole. He has to, I think he has to win that. And the good news about yesterday was that he beat Pat Buchanan everywhere, and he wanted to prevent Pat Buchanan from having any momentum moving into South Carolina, which is the entryway to the South.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Let's talk about Buchanan. Bad day for Buchanan yesterday, right?
PAUL GIGOT: I think it was. I mean, obviously, it was a third place that was close. But what happened is--
JIM LEHRER: In Arizona?
PAUL GIGOT: In Arizona. But what Steve Forbes managed to do was steal one of the elements of Pat Buchanan's attractiveness, which was the outsider label. Among those people who said they don't like Washington, they want somebody who's not a politician, Steve Forbes got the bulk of those votes. The other thing that I think that Pat Buchanan has to be worried about is he's been trying to broaden his base. If he's going to win the nomination, he can't do it with 25 to 30 percent of the vote. You've got to expand, especially if it gets to a two-man race. It looks, and Arizona should have been a state where his message, anti-immigrant mood, populist roots, it should have played.
JIM LEHRER: He worked hard in Arizona.
PAUL GIGOT: He worked hard. He always works hard.
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
PAUL GIGOT: He did the same tactics, talk radio, and he still got only 27 percent. I think this has to be a warning to the campaign.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read Buchanan Arizona results, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I think if Pat Buchanan looks back at 1996 with regret, he will have more regret for the week between February 20, 1996 and February 27th than any other. This was the week that Pat Buchanan had the eyes and the years of the American political world upon him. Millions of Americans who had never thought seriously of him as a Presidential candidate before after the New Hampshire upset looked at him with new eyes. And it was a chance for him to reassure them, to broaden that constituency from just the base, passionate base of pro-life voters of gut enthusiasts, and those Americans most concerned about trade agreements and international tribunals. He should have done--he should have made a thoughtful speech to a state legislature, to a world affairs council. He should have cooled himself. He became a hotter messenger with a hotter message. And I think it was a serious mistake. I think it was a chance for him to show a kinder, gentler side, to spend an evening at a Salvation Army shelter, to do things that sent a message beyond just a set of issues that he has become, and I think it was a serious mistake.
JIM LEHRER: Linda.
LINDA DIVALL: I think Mark raises a good point. I mean, Pat Buchanan reveled in going around Arizona with his black hats and being a cowboy renegade. And I think what's interesting about Arizona is that I think it reveals three significant components in the Republican Party. You have Steve Forbes represents the economic growth wing of the party and has a vision. You have Pat Buchanan, who represents the social cultural conservative front and in some sense wants to go back to the past, and you have Bob Dole that represents the status quo, the establishment, who is the experienced figure. Nobody is in dominance at this stage of the game, and the interesting thing as we go through the next three weeks of the primary process is which one of these three in terms of the wing of the party they represent moves forward.
JIM LEHRER: So when Buchanan was going around Arizona in his black hat holding a gun over his head, what he was doing was reinforcing the people he already had and not bringing anybody in and scaring them away, in other words, is what you're saying.
LINDA DIVALL: Absolutely. I believe that's correct.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Now, the fourth person is Lamar Alexander. Paul, how did--how does-- where does he stand tonight as a result of yesterday?
PAUL GIGOT: He suffered the most of anybody.
JIM LEHRER: Suffered the most of anybody.
PAUL GIGOT: Of anybody. I think he, he finished behind Phil Gramm, who's out of the race, in North Dakota in part because it was a rolling mail-in primary so that the votes started earlier.
JIM LEHRER: We ought to explain that. People in North Dakota could have voted by mail up to 24 hours before and then they could cast a ballot, but they cast these mail, a lot of these mail-in ballots before Gramm got out, right?
PAUL GIGOT: Yeah.
JIM LEHRER: That's why Gramm got 9 percent and I think Alexander got 7, 6 or 7.
PAUL GIGOT: That's right.
JIM LEHRER: Go ahead.
PAUL GIGOT: I think the debate last week in Phoenix hurt him. I think Forbes outperformed him. That was the perception among most people in Arizona. And they've been fighting to see who would become the third candidate, who would be able to challenge Dole, to be able to take on Buchanan, who has this solid base, and it looks to me as if Steve Forbes dislodged him. I think that Lamar Alexander next week, it doesn't look like he's going to do well in South Carolina, so that means next Tuesday in some of the New England states, and in Georgia and Colorado, he has to--he has to get some wins. There is no tomorrow for him.
JIM LEHRER: What's your dope sheet on Alexander, Linda?
LINDA DIVALL: Well, Lamar is still winless. I think he has to struggle to be able to stay in this thing through Super Tuesday, which is his strength on the calendar, and I think a lot--
JIM LEHRER: Why is that his strength?
LINDA DIVALL: He's saying that he can do better in the Southern states. I mean, that's back home and that is his base. But I think the most significant problem that he faces is this argument that Alexander beats Clinton. You know, one of the things the exit polling data revealed across all three states was the voters believed only one candidate could defeat Bill Clinton, and that candidate was Bob Dole, not Lamar Alexander.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Mark, what's your reading on Alexander tonight?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, as Mr. Dooley said, Jim, politics ain't bean bag, and one fellow said to me today, Lamar Alexander says he can beat Bill Clinton and he can't beat Phil Gramm, who's back in Texas running for reelection to the Senate, so it's an awful kick in the teeth for him. He needs a victory in a hurry. His window is getting shorter, and the task is getting steeper.
JIM LEHRER: And so that--would you agree, then, Mark, that what we're confronted with now are--we're presented with now is--is--it's a three-man race, and the struggle between Forbes and Dole as to who really opposes Buchanan, or is that simple yet?
MARK SHIELDS: I think Alexander has a shot. I mean, certainly by a week from today if he has not scored that victory and scored it impressive fashion, I think that we'll be getting ready for an exit strategy, but certainly Steve Forbes has climbed back into it, and Jim, it is an enormous advantage not to have your fate, fortune, and future tied to any primary result. And that's the one position Steve Forbes is in. I mean, he--he can say, hey, I'm going to keep going, and New York coming up a week from Thursday next, and I'll tell you, that is--that is really an example of unintended consequences politically. The New York Republican bosses led by Sen. Alfonse D'Amato are about as democratic in letting candidates run as the Albanian government was from 1945 to 1995. They rigged the result so nobody could get on the ballot. Steve Forbes did; he sued in court. The federal judge put him on, and now Bob Dole is in the position of his people having transformed Steve Forbes into an underdog role, a position he's never had in life. And I just--I mean, this is that kind of a year.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. This is that kind of a year. Linda, Paul had said to me privately before we went on the air, this has been a bad campaign for pundits thus far because each week, each time there's a new thing happens that nobody expected. Do you expect this to continue?
LINDA DIVALL: I have to say that what we've learned in this campaign is that each day brings something new and interesting to the scene; it is totally unpredictable. We're dismissing Lamar Alexander. I think we have to be careful about that.
JIM LEHRER: What made me think of that--
LINDA DIVALL: There's enough calendar remaining. People could still pick their places. I mean, Steve Forbes could probably leapfrog the South and go to New York, go to the Yankee primaries and go to the Midwest and have money for California and nobody else may have the money to play the game that late.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Well, just in the question that I asked Mark, Paul, that if it's a three-man race, both Steve--you used the three that I used--Forbes and Buchanan and Dole--two of those were written off right at the very beginning, Buchanan and Forbes, and now here we are.
PAUL GIGOT: Sure. I mean, there aren't a lot of people in the Forbes campaign who thought they were going to win Arizona until yesterday or the day before. I mean, there was a--I mean, a lot of them were pessimistic. Nobody really knows what's going to happen to this. It's up in flux. I think we have a wide open race; it's complicated by some of the regional strengths and weaknesses of the candidates. Steve Forbes may be stronger in the West and the Northeast. Bob Dole has the organizational Republican Party in the South. Buchanan has a better message for the South. And then there's money.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah.
PAUL GIGOT: You know, nobody really knows what's going to happen.
JIM LEHRER: Well, Mark, it's great for people in our line of work as long as we don't predict anything, right, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I'm not even predicting there's going to be an election here Saturday.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Thank you all three very much.