November 12 , 1999
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot discuss the 2000 presidential campaign and the ongoing budget negotiations.
MARGARET WARNER: And for our end-of-the-week political analysis, we turn -- as usual -- to syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot.
|Gore reverses his slide in the polls|
Mark, the new polls in New Hampshire show that Gore seems to be reversing his slide against Bradley and, in fact, gaining some ground. Does this jibe with what I found there last week?
MARK SHIELDS: It does. I mean, I think it's important that you put your focus exactly where it should be. National polls -- which Gore has this immense lead -- are a lagging political indicator in presidential races. I mean it's really down to two states at the outset, Iowa and New Hampshire. And the Bradley people are quick to point out that as recently as six months ago, Al Gore had a 33-point lead in New Hampshire. He has now battled back to the point where he has a six-point lead in a recent survey so they point out the trend, over a long period of time, has been good for them. But I don't think there isn't any question through sheer effort, determination and energy and effective campaigning, he stopped the hemorrhaging that certainly that campaign was absolutely terrified of.
MARGARET WARNER: Does it look that way to you? He is regaining a little of his footing.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, and he's doing it by a relentless assault -- day in, day out two, three times a day, going after bill Bradley. Bradley put the issue of health care on the table. Gore said "I'm for that, too." And then he picks out a couple of details: vouchers for Medicaid saying he wants to get rid of Medicaid. And the retirement age, once thought the idea he might want to raise the retirement age from 65 to 70 for the entitlements for the elderly and now he is hammering like Bill Clinton hammered the Republicans and like Bill Clinton hammered Paul Tsongas in 1992. I think it shows how much Al Gore wants the job and how, when he is threatened, he goes on the attack. And I think that should be something that Bill Bradley has to respond to.
MARGARET WARNER: And he's also, of course, attacking just the whole cost of Bradley's health care plan. Do you think this could be an albatross for Bradley?
MARK SHIELDS: I don't see it as an albatross certainly in the Democratic primary. Richard Nixon's great advice, of course, is that you run to the right as a Republican -- in the primaries -- and in the middle in the general election once you're the nominee -- and the reverse on the Democratic side. I mean, part of the Democratic debate between Bradley and Gore has been shaped by George W. Bush, strangely enough. I mean, both Bradley and Gore are quick to point out that we're still waiting for a health plan from Governor Bush in a state where one of four people are uninsured and his credentials are pretty spotty. But because he is not what the House Republicans and the congressional Republicans portray as this anti-government, rabid fellow, to get a hook with him, and establish differences with him, there is a need to define yourself. And they have moved to the left.
MARGARET WARNER: You mean a little more to the liberal end.
MARK SHIELDS: A little more to an activist. He does not...this is a man who does not demonize government, who says there is a need -- Governor Bush -- for a federal role in education. So the terms of the debate start off a little bit more in the middle than they had been in the past.
MARGARET WARNER: But how good has Bradley been in combating these attacks from Gore on the health plan?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I don't think nearly good enough. I think he was late and I think that he hasn't been as aggressive. Partly this was their own strategy. I think Bradley thought that somehow we'd moved beyond the days where if you put something positive on the table, you can survive it and do better. But when Gore and his people are beating you day after day and the way they're doing it, they're not just working on the cost. He's attacking Bradley from the left as a defender of the big three entitlements: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. And the way he is doing that is sort of the time honored Democratic attack on Republicans. And he is saying basically about Bradley, he entertained heretical thoughts that maybe the programs should be shaped up a bit. Now, there are an awful lot of people in both parties who agree with that, and Bradley entertained that thought in the Senate. But he is paying for it now in the primaries with the Democratic election.
MARGARET WARNER: Isn't the cost part of the hook into Bradley?
PAUL GIGOT: It is the hook, yes.
MARGARET WARNER: Saying it costs so much to provide this insurance coverage for uninsured, that there's nothing left for anything else.
PAUL GIGOT: But he uses that as a way to jump over and say see, he would destroy Medicare.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let's switch over to the Republican side.
MARK SHIELDS: Just one quick thing and not to dissent from what Paul said. Al Gore, in every campaign, presidential candidate begins a day in what the candidate wants to do is speak on that candidate's issues, the issues that are most favorable to, and they have the greatest credibility upon. What Gore has done this past week is force Bradley to debate Gore's criticism. You can't score points on defense. And he even used Gore's own language of saying, didn't "stand and fight" -- the language that Gore had used rather ineffectually -- I thought -- against him for leaving the Senate. But that is the problem. And Bradley's own people were concerned in New Hampshire and elsewhere that he hadn't responded quickly enough in the Dartmouth debate to the charges on cost.
|McCain gains on Bush|
MARGARET WARNER: All right, and staying in New Hampshire, but this time on the Republican side, same polls showing McCain -- at least one poll yesterday -- showed McCain and Bush essentially neck and neck. Now, again, does that jibe with what you found? Is this mostly McCain consolidating the non-Bush vote, or is Bush also having some problems?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, it's Dick Bennett's poll. And he is a long time New Hampshire pollster and he's been reliable in the past, and I think he is a very solid professional. There's no question that George W. has slipped back and John McCain continues. The irony based upon what Paul pointed out about Bill Bradley had not been attacking and John McCain has not attacked. I mean, it's been a very positive campaign. But McCain has caught something up there, and the Bush people are nervous. There is a certain resentment on the part of New Hampshire voters that George W. Bush did skip, I think stupidly. I think it was a big mistake on the part of the campaign. They should have had 15 debates early to the point where we had the debate fatigue. With seven candidates in the race, you can't lay a glove on anybody. Now what they've' done by skipping those first two contests -- competitions or debates in New Hampshire, they've' raised the bar in expectation, so that December 2nd, everybody's going to be looking and say, has he been ducking the debates because he doesn't know the capital of Norway or whatever else? And I think that was a mistake, and I think they're paying for it.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I agree with that. What it's also done is given McCain a chance to spread his persona. I mean, he's been there a lot more than George W. Bush. He stressed his resume, his career. He's had this tape of his biography that's very effective. When you see a personal history, when you see that, you see those war things, with the Vietnam War record, you're very impressed. And by staying away, it means that Bush hasn't really let himself get known to voters of New Hampshire. And I think that's what you're seeing.
MARGARET WARNER: You mean, he's still just sort of a name.
PAUL GIGOT: Yes.
MARGARET WARNER: They don't really have a sense of who he is.
PAUL GIGOT: He's a name. They know in general. He has done well in Texas, they know he's the son of a former President who they respect and didn't embarrass them, but they don't know what he stands for. So, so far, it has been a personality contest, a character debate, a resume, biography contest. McCain is going to do very well in that. George W. Bush, I think, the campaign is recognizing they have to come in and they have to start talking about something bigger than biography -- make this about some ideas. And I think you're going to see within the next month a very big tax cut put on the table by the Bush campaign. You're going to see them try to engage some issues.
|A final budget deal?|
MARGARET WARNER: Finally before we go, the budget impasse finally looks like it's close to being resolved. Give us a preview of this, Mark. I mean, do you think as the Democrats are saying that in the end the president is going to get much of what he wanted?
MARK SHIELDS: I think the president will get much of what he wanted but I think the Republicans will get out of town without being hurt. This is a party, don't forget, that began this session with essentially a three speakers in the space of five weeks -- with Denny Hastert who never sought a leadership position in the Republican caucus, untested, untried speaker. I think the fact that they're getting out... the irony is the Republican Party is unpopular. George Bush is popular. The Democrats are popular as a party; their presidential candidates are trailing George W. Bush. All the Republican hopes reside and repose in Austin, Texas. If anything happens to George W. Bush, if he catches a cold, the Republicans have pneumonia.
MARGARET WARNER: Somehow that connects to the budget but...
MARK SHIELDS: There is no Republican record in the Congress. There's nothing they can run on.
MARGARET WARNER: What you're saying is they just want to get out of town.
MARK SHIELDS: They want to get out of town because everything that's left on the table are Democratic issues whether it's HMO reform, whether it's Medicare coverage of prescription drugs, campaign finance -- they just as soon get out of town.
PAUL GIGOT: One of the reasons the President decided that he was going to run an election strategy, he doesn't want to get a lot of these things done. He wants a budget on his terms, he's going to get a lot, but the winners are the spenders in both parties. I mean, Ted Stevens, the president of the pork barrel republic of Alaska, charge of the Senate Appropriation Committee, he wanted to break the spending caps they imposed in 1997. He's managed to do that. Bill Clinton wanted to break the spending caps. He agreed to in 1997; he is managing to do that. And Mark is right, the Republican Congress will get out of town without a nervous breakdown which is with a five-vote margin. They'll all be happy about that. The biggest disappointment is going to be Dick Gephardt, the head of the Democrats in the House who wanted a huge blow-up, a huge cataclysm that he could tar the Republicans with. He won't get it.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. And we're going to have to get out of this. Mark, Paul, thank you.