February 25, 2000
|End-of-the-week political analysis from syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot with perspective on the Virginia and Washington primaries.|
JIM LEHRER: And to Shields and Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. How important is next Tuesday's vote in Virginia and there's also one in the state of Washington and caucuses in North Dakota. Big events?
|Bush revamping after primary losses|
MARK SHIELDS: Well, Jim, Washington is important. John McCain has an advantage in this race in the sense that he's fighting the guerilla warfare. And George Bush is running a national campaign, which he has from the beginning and said he's run in every state. The guerilla has the advantage when he doesn't lose. When he does win, it really hurts the organizational, the national candidate. I think that's the disadvantage. If John McCain pulls off a victory in Washington and runs George Bush close in Virginia, the perception is going to be, big day for McCain, a good day for McCain.
JIM LEHRER: And the fact is that McCain is really not challenging Bush that strongly in Michigan, I mean, in Virginia, right?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, he hasn't been, but I'll tell you, I think he's gaining, Jim. I talked to somebody close to the Bush campaign today, and they said he's losing by seven points, Governor Bush is, in Northern Virginia, tied in Hampton Roads which is Norfolk and down in the military area. These are areas if you're going to win, you have to do well. There is a momentum play going on, Jim, and this is the problem for Governor Bush. This Michigan victory has created a new momentum for John McCain, and it shattered the idea that George W. Bush was the certain nominee and was a certain winner or a likely winner against Al Gore. And that's really hurting him. Right now, George Bush, they're regrouping in Texas. He has to find some kind of message to stop the momentum or he could lose Virginia, not to mention Washington State.
JIM LEHRER: But what about the message that we just had in Kwame's tape that, hey, this is a Republican primary and let's make sure that it remains a Republican primary. Is that the right message now?
MARK SHIELDS: Really, I thought his right message for George W. Bush was when he went to Los Angeles and went to the church and he speaks in Spanish and he returns to the message of compassionate conservative. That's what really gives him sort of a... gives him a moral dimension. I really think that's what he has to do as well as substantively. I don't think when you start talking about procedure and process and who is going to vote and who didn't, eyes glaze over. It's of interest to Paul and me and a few other loony tunes people who watch politics.
PAUL GIGOT: Speak for yourself.
MARK SHIELDS: But it really isn't... Voters aren't saying that somehow this kind of declining party identification that, you know, we're going to take some vast conspiracy of labor bosses in Virginia, I mean, that's a real reach.
JIM LEHRER: Go ahead.
PAUL GIGOT: I don't like the procedural argument either. I think you end up saying don't bring people into our party. Even though if there was some mischief being played in Michigan, which there was, you know, Republicans really want to win this time. I mean, some people, I'll vote for Mickey Mouse if I thought he'd win. And that's going to take some independent votes. And that was the original appeal, remember, way back when, remember? When the press corps was praising George W. Bush -- he could broaden that appeal. He could broaden the base. He could appeal to Hispanics. So Mark is partly right when he says he's got... That an Hispanic appeal is still real. He's also got to reassure the base and say John McCain isn't somebody who can get things done the way I can and say John McCain is an insider. He has to go back to part of that South Carolina message: I'm somebody. I'm a Governor who's got things done. Here's what I've got done, and here's what John McCain's record is and it's not the same.
|McCain after two big wins|
JIM LEHRER: Now speaking of McCain, what has he done either to help himself or hurt himself since Michigan on Tuesday?
MARK SHIELDS: He's been a winner. I mean, he really has. I mean, McCain is now Rocky. He got up off the canvas. This is the underdog that's knocked down. He's out of it. He loses by 11 points in South Carolina. I mean, the early post mortems are being written. They're calling the mortuary, the flowers are being sent. All of a sudden he gets up off the mat and knocks out the heavyweight champ again. You know, the champ's handlers, Governor Engler is saying that somebody hit him with a stool when we weren't looking. There was a third guy in the ring or something. McCain... Paul is right. The momentum is back. He's riding it again. You see it, Jim, what's most fascinating to me is the total role reversal that has happened to Governor Bush. Governor Bush has become, in the southern regional candidate as a direct consequence of South Carolina. He is getting wiped out in the north eastern part of the country.
JIM LEHRER: There's a poll today, Massachusetts.
MARK SHIELDS: Connecticut, Rhode Island. When his father ran against Ronald Reagan in 1980, he carried Pennsylvania and Michigan by 25 percentage points against Ronald Reagan. He was a New England Yankee. John McCain has become the Yankee candidate as a consequence of the South Carolina primary. I think George Bush has to break out of that regional perception and pigeonhole.
|Dollars and sense|
JIM LEHRER: Paul, what about the money -- the money situation? I mean, he suddenly, he's a guy with $80 million and now he's down to $10 (million) or something like that. Do you believe those reports? Are they accurate?
PAUL GIGOT: I think they are, I think they are. He has prepaid, as they say in the business, for some of the advertising time out of that $70 million or close to it that he spent. There's a lot of recriminations that he shouldn't have spent here and there. Mark makes the point and correctly that this is a national campaign. You know, when you're the Union army and you've got, you know, masses everywhere, you spend everywhere. When you're Robert E. Lee you're living off the land and you don't need to spend as much, then you're picking your fights. That's sort of the way this has gone so far. The more important point about the money is it doesn't look like in the last bid here, the next couple of weeks it will be an advantage for either player.
JIM LEHRER: Why not?
PAUL GIGOT: McCain will have pretty much as good a television buy in California as George Bush is.
JIM LEHRER: And is Bush at a disadvantage because of the results in Michigan in raising more money?
MARK SHIELDS: He is. Paul's point about the recriminations, it was interesting, Jim, when you think you've got unlimited funds-- and they did at one point. They had so much more money-- you spend sometimes foolishly, and they got caught in a very foolish expenditure. That was $2 million in the state of Arizona. There was no reason; there was no rationale. It's an act of arrogance or stupidity to spend $2 million in another candidate's home state. John McCain is out of the race and you're going to win the state anyway or John McCain is still in the race and you're not going to beat him in his own state. Governor Frank Keating of Oklahoma who has been a strong supporter of Bush said this is the dumbest thing imaginable. McCain is not home free on the money by any means. John McCain is facing the federal limit. George Bush is not limited by the law because he's financing his own campaign.
JIM LEHRER: He's limited by contribution caps but he's not limited by the total.
MARK SHIELDS: That's right. But what he spends -- but John McCain because he's participating in federal matching funds like every other candidate has a ceiling of $40.5 million that he can spend in the primaries. That is looming as well for him probably sometime in the next month.
PAUL GIGOT: Can I make a point about McCain, Jim?
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
PAUL GIGOT: He's done something very smart in the last couple of days which is he's finally taken the advice that Bill Bennett and other people gave him six, seven, eight weeks ago which is you're winning on character. Find a couple of issues-- three or four-- that will reassure Republicans, that will reassure Republicans that you're one of them, that ideologically you're pretty close to them. He nodded to Bennett and didn't do anything about it for a while. It didn't matter in New Hampshire. It hurt him in South Carolina and among Republicans in Michigan. What they've done is put an ad on where, despite the fact including my esteemed colleague thinks taxes don't work very well, he's now the tax reformer, he's now the middle-class tax cutter, he's now the fiscal conservative. What he's done is a very good ad and it's running in California, it's running in Virginia, it's running in New York and it basically says to Republicans, "not only am I the candidate who can win, but I'm one of you."
|The Democratic race|
JIM LEHRER: The Democrats quickly before we go. Where's the action been this week there, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, the only American politician who was unhappier than Governor George W. Bush and Governor John Engler of Michigan with the Michigan results was former Senator Bill Bradley, because he was hoping that the McCain bubble would burst, the phenomenon would be over and all of a sudden maybe the press would, cameras and -
JIM LEHRER: He would be the only reformer still standing.
MARK SHIELDS: He would be the only reformer still standing and maybe the only race still unresolved because there hasn't been a democratic contest since the first of February. Think about that. That was the last one. All of a sudden he's back blanketed again. I think it's-- it remains uphill for Senator Bill Bradley virtually everywhere. He's gone to the state of Washington hoping to get the break-through there, to camp out hoping that the six days of the concentrated effort. But even there the Seattle paper McCain gets the big welcome and Bradley is kind of the second story again.
PAUL GIGOT: It's also forced Bradley, the McCain phenomenon, to change his strategy. Remember one time he was appealing to independents and even to some conservative voters. It's forced him now because McCain has occupied that ground and so sucked up the oxygen to move to the left of Gore, to try to hit Gore from the left on guns and on health care and on abortion and on some other issues. You know, that's like trying to drive on the shoulder of an inter-state highway trying to pass him. There's just not a lot of room there. Every time he does that, Gore comes back with Jim Brady, on abortion, the NARAL, Abortion Rights Action League; environment - League of Conservation Voters. Labor? Union. He's constantly pushing Bradley off. There's not a lot of room to run, not a lot of votes.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree?
MARK SHIELDS: I think it's tough for Bill Bradley. There's no doubt about it. He hasn't gotten the traction and the reality is that Gore's numbers have improved. Gore, it's an interesting political strategy, the lower the profile of Al Gore, the higher his numbers. I mean, you know, he really, he has not been visible. You haven't seen Al Gore doing talk shows or interviews or coming on here or whatever. He keeps, you know, he keeps rising. Maybe that will be an interesting fall campaign if that's the approach -- sort of a Howard Hughes approach to politics.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. I think that's a good place to leave it. Thank you both very much.