October 20, 2000
MARGARET WARNER: That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and "Wall Street Journal" columnist Paul Gigot. All right. Gentlemen, the debates are over. How has the race shifted in the last three weeks?
PAUL GIGOT: It's flipped. The debates moved, Margaret, moved Bush into the situation that Gore really was in before the debates and that is with a small but nonetheless, significant lead. And I think the debates did a couple of things for Bush. One is they gave him a boost over Gore on personal qualities: Trustworthiness, honesty and certainly likeability, leadership -- and reinforced that personal qualities and credibility. They also allowed Bush to fight, I think, to a draw with Gore on what were supposed to have been some of Gore's best issues, defining issues, winning issues: Education, health care, maybe still a little behind on health care, but he has closed the gap on Social Security, and defined Gore as something he doesn't want to be defined as which is an old time Democrat, a bigger spender than Bill Clinton. That has hurt him in an awful lot of swing states.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree, Mark, do you think that the debates had that kind of an impact, a positive Bush impact?
MARK SHIELDS: I think they had a positive Bush impact, not to the dimensions that Paul described.
PAUL GIGOT: I said a small lead.
MARK SHIELDS: Small but significant lead. I think the race is an absolute dead heat today, but it wasn't three weeks ago. Paul is right. George Bush then trailed. And the debates were good. He exceeded expectations. I said earlier that I thought he faced a different standard from al Gore. He faced pass/fail. He passed. And Gore got B minuses and C pluses and more scrutiny. But the race today is a dead heat. Gore still enjoys enormous advantages over Bush on most of the issues of interest to people. Add to that Gore has a big lead in knowledge and compassion over Bush. Bush does have an honest lead over Gore on honesty and moral standards. But the race is a tie for very simple reasons, and that is that neither candidate has been able to resolve the doubts that people have about them. The "Wall Street Journal" pollsters Bob Teeter and Peter Hart this week found 43% of Americans find themselves comfortable with the idea of George Bush's knowledge and capacity that he has his vision to be President. The same 43% only found themselves comfortable with Al Gore's honesty and straightforwardness to be President. So each of them has that. And I don't know quite frankly, Margaret, how they resolve it in the remaining days. I mean, they're probably going to have to run with these liabilities to the end.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let's look at how the race is shaping up in another way now that the debates are over, because, as we know, the President isn't elected nationally but state by state. In the past three weeks, those standings seem to have shifted too. According to independent analyst Charles Cook, who closely tracks state polls, the electoral map right now looks like this. These states are solid, that is the ones in red, are considered solid likely or leaning for Bush. That adds up to 205 possible electoral votes. And here's how it looks for Gore -- the states in blue -- 187 potential electoral votes. And these, the others, are of course, the toss-ups. Now we know that these shift all the time and they are basically just based on state polls with margins of error. But still in the last three weeks, that's basically a reverse. Gore used to lead in the electoral vote count. What do you think is happening state by state? Where do you think the shifts have occurred and why?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think that the big picture is that more than in 1992 or 1996, this is a much more competitive race in many more states. The Republican National Committee source told me they're competing on the air and advertising in 22 states right now, which is an awful lot of states, almost half of them. So there is no question about that. There is no state that Bob Dole carried in 1996 that Al Gore is really competing in. But I counted about 17 states that Bill Clinton has carried twice where George Bush is at least competitive, not necessarily ahead, but is at least on the air or competitive. So I think this demonstrates that Bush, you know, a lot of the swing states is really competitive when you wouldn't expect them to. I mean Minnesota? The poll today said he was up three. Part of that is Ralph Nader because Ralph Nader is scoring eight points in Minnesota. Nader is hurting Gore, I think, in Minnesota, in Wisconsin, in Iowa in the upper Northwest and Oregon and Washington. And that's something that Gore has to watch out for because Bush could come in and steal those states; whereas Pat Buchanan, the third party candidate who has threatens Bush from the right, he is negligible in any survey.
MARK SHIELDS: Shields: America is not static. America changes. We have a tendency in politics to say well, Michael Dukakis carried that state, therefore it is a Democratic state permanently. States in play now that should be were reliably the Republicans -- North Carolina, all of a sudden North Carolina is up for grabs. Nevada, which people thought was a lock for the Republicans going in is now very much in competition.
MARGARET WARNER: So you're saying, in other words, the shift hasn't all been just towards Bush., that a lot more states are in play?
MARK SHIELDS: And it's not only migration from outside the United States; it's in migration within the United States. Take the state of Florida. I mean today there are more non-Cuban Latinos in Florida than there are Cuban Latinos. And the reality is that the Democrats are betting the farm on Florida. Make no mistake about it. It is a big, big bet for them. But they feel if they can deprive George Bush of the state where his brother is the governor with a 65% approval rating, Jeb Bush has, that they would deprive George Bush of the 270 votes he needs to put together for the presidency. So you have a whole series of other factors. First of all George W. Bush is not Bob Dole. All right. I mean, Bob Dole, while an admirable legislative leader and a distinguished American, was not a good national candidate. George Bush has been a lot better candidate with a lot more united party behind him and Al Gore is not Bill Clinton.
MARGARET WARNER: With only 18 days left though, don't the candidates have to start picking and choosing? Where do you think they're going to focus or can they continue spending money everywhere?
PAUL GIGOT: No, they can't. They have to make strategic choices. I think the pressure probably is a little bit more on the Democrats right now as far as the choices because they have maybe a little bit more... Less money at the national level. It's going to be fascinating. The Bush strategists today told me they feel they are only behind five points in California. Now part of that reason is they have been running ads and Al Gore hasn't because Al Gore thinks the state is safe for him. What happens if Bush makes a big push in the next week in California. Then does Gore have to take money away from Florida and away from Pennsylvania and Michigan, put it into California and contest that? Otherwise he is holding... Keeping his fingers crossed thinking he can win anyway. That's high stakes in a state he has to win. But the real point is that this year -- unlike 1992 and 1996 - in the last two weeks there will be tactical decisions where you put your money that could make the difference in this election.
MARK SHIELDS: Bush is in the same position, for example, in Illinois. Illinois and Ohio are sort of the book ends of the Midwest as far as electoral votes. The Democrats haven't written off Ohio but they don't think Al Gore is going to carry it. The Republicans haven't written off Illinois because the Speaker of the House's state and all of rest of it but there is an acknowledgment.
PAUL GIGOT: Pretty close.
MARK SHIELDS: It's reflected in expenditures they don't think they can. The wild card in this race and it can't be overstated is Nader. I say that not simply because of the states involved, I mean states the Democrats have carried in the past: Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa. But the fact that he... this is a passionless race. We have two men running for President, neither of whom is a movement. There is nobody running for office today saying I'm a Bush Republican. I mean George Bush was a President's son. Al Gore came up as a Vice President. There is no sense of maverick, there is no sense of movement, there is no sense of we're taking on the established order and we're going to change things. The only candidate who has generated passion is Ralph Nader and Ralph Nader has done it in a way that these guys couldn't do. He has had 12,000 people pay $10 each to get into rallies in Minneapolis and Boston and Portland and Seattle. I mean you couldn't... George Bush couldn't get 10,000 people to pay ten dollars. He could get ten thousand people to pay $1,000. Al Gore couldn't get ten thousand people to pay $10. That's where the turnout is going to be because Nader is going to be a factor in those states. And if Nader goes to high single digits or into double digits, Margaret, then it spells nothing but trouble for the Democrats.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, what about the other figure hovering over this race, not a candidate, Bill Clinton? I noticed today and we ran a clip of it earlier, Gore may be prompted by this "New York Times" story today, but Gore was asked twice today about do you want Bill Clinton campaigning for you and so on. What is this all about?
PAUL GIGOT: It's about, I think, Al Gore's fundamental ambivalence about Bill Clinton as his mentor and as somebody who may or may not help him. In a way, Al Gore's ambivalence is the country's ambivalence about Bill Clinton. Great job approval rating, awful personal approval rating. We have never had that in a two-term sitting President. Reagan -- Eisenhower -- both more popular personally than in their job approval. And the only people that Bill Clinton motivates than Democrats are Republicans. So there is a real danger for Gore, that if Bill Clinton gets in, that it no longer will be seen as a Gore-Lieberman ticket. It becomes again a Gore-Clinton ticket. And that historically over the last year has been where Al Gore has not been the strongest. He was strongest after the convention when he broke out on his own when it was a Gore-Lieberman ticket.
MARGARET WARNER: There are many congressional Democrats who want Clinton in this race.
MARK SHIELDS: Absolutely. I dissent from Paul in this sense. Al Gore might be ambivalent about Bill Clinton; he's not ambivalent about wanting the presidency. And Bill Clinton is the big enchilada in this race. He is the guy who is the most popular Democrat in the country among Democrats. Among the one out of four voters who are undecided according to Bob Teeter and Peter Hart, Clinton gets a 71% favorable rating. That's not much of a risk. I mean, you know, sure they don't like the guy, they prefer that he hadn't behaved the way he had. But you are talking about somebody who is coming in with enormously positive credentials on framing the issues for this campaign. I don't know a Democrat in shoe leather, Margaret, who didn't watch the third debate when George Bush got up there and said you're picking winners in this tax code. I mean, Bill Clinton would have hit that out of the park. You mean to say you don't pick winners the way you do it and the way you reward those well off... It would have been gang busters. You'll see Bill Clinton back in this race.
PAUL GIGOT: When Ronald Reagan and Eisenhower came on the stump in the last part of the '60 and '88 races, they were assets. Bill Clinton is a double-edged sword.
MARK SHIELDS: And Bill Clinton has to come out immediately, immediately for a simple reason. You get one day's story, as Paul is talking about. Should Clinton be out? Then the rest of it, you get Clinton campaigning and let's be frank about it. I mean, the gipper was good, but Clinton is better.
PAUL GIGOT: But Reagan was loved and Clinton, there is just this sense that they don't... A lot of people don't like him. A lot of people are going to go out because they don't want to give Bill Clinton that third term if he identifies himself so closely with Al Gore.
MARGARET WARNER: But Al Gore is going to have to say I really want him in for real.
MARK SHIELDS: I mean he's already out. He is doing for Democrats. But Gore is ambivalent but wants to win.
MARGARET WARNER: We have to leave it there. Thanks.