October 27, 2000
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot discuss the campaign with Election Day less than two weeks away.
JIM LEHRER: And that brings us to Shields and Gigot: Syndicated columnist
Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot.
Mark, what is your reading of where the presidential race stands right now as we speak?
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, it's unlike any race I've ever seen. Eighteen states are in play right now. Usually at this point in a campaign you're down to half-a-dozen to 10 states that are really the battleground. And some announcer comes on and says, the vote-rich industrial Midwest. This one, I mean, from the Northwest to the middle Atlantic and most of them, the Democrats, are defending those states. But I think there's one explanation for it, and that is we have become not only a more homogenous nation, we have nationalized our issues. Remember, when you were a kid there were issues like drilling offshore, or what was the... depletion allowance...
JIM LEHRER: Oil depletion allowance --
MARK SHIELDS: Oil depletion allowance, or offshore fishing and so forth. Now, if you look at it, patients' bill of rights, prescription drugs, Social Security, Medicare. Those are national issues that affect every single state. And I think we're seeing the first real national election we've ever seen.
JIM LEHRER: How do you see it?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think there are some regional differences still. The Northeast is still going to be Gore's --
MARK SHIELDS: Oh, sure.
PAUL GIGOT: California -- the Bush campaign opening up a big advertising campaign in California which is interesting. Gore making a strategic decision, we're not going to respond, probably smart, because they figure, if we're going to lose California, we're done anyway, so we might as well focus on the states we need to. But the South, this is one of the more interesting things in this election, the South, with the exception of Florida, has really coalesced for George W. Bush; and West Virginia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee; all states that Bill Clinton took twice, if I'm not mistaken. I think are probably going to go for Bush. Right now he has got leads in all of them.
JIM LEHRER: But, what about this, Paul, I mean, as Mark said, 18 states are in play, or any way you want to count... look at the polls, everything is very close.
PAUL GIGOT: Yes.
|Closing the deal|
JIM LEHRER: What has prevented one of these two men from breaking loose, from really closing the deal?
PAUL GIGOT: There are a lot of Republicans who would like to think of this race as 1980, that is after the debates, as long as Bush did what Reagan did with the debates and said, I'm a reasonable choice. I'm together. You can trust me -- he would break ahead. But I think the difference is that there's not the automatic case for change this year that there was in 1980. You've really got two competing forces this time. You've got the 75-mile-per-hour tail wind of prosperity, good times and peace helping Gore. You have got the 75-mile-an-hour head wind -- character, moral values, ethics, political mores -- that's helping Bush. They are really hitting each other head to head.
JIM LEHRER: And balancing each other out.
PAUL GIGOT: And balancing each other out. And one gets the advantage, Bush goes ahead.
JIM LEHRER: But what about the candidates themselves, Mark, are they an element in this, too?
MARK SHIELDS: They are, Jim, and there's an old standard rule in American politics: The higher the office, the more important the candidate. When you're running for county recorder of deeds, you really don't know whether the particular candidates are especially qualified. But president, everybody has a sense. That's the problem. That's the answer to your question. The fact is, even after the third debate, two out of five voters in the country feel confident that George Bush has the knowledge and ability to be president -- two out of five, 43 percent. Two out of five voters, 43 percent, are confident that Al Gore has the straightforwardness and honesty to be President. And these guys are not going to resolve those doubts about themselves between now and the election. I mean, all of a sudden people are not going to have an epiphany and say, you know, that George Bush, boy he really is one of the smartest guys, most experienced guys and thorough backgrounds I've ever been exposed to. I'm going to vote for him, Sally Lou. It's not going to happen. And they're not going to say, you know, Al Gore, he is George Washington, he's Abe Lincoln, he's all rolled in one. So the election will be decided but that's the reason nobody has burst forward.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that?
PAUL GIGOT: There's something to that and also the issues. Gore had thought that he was going to run away with this based on prosperity and that he had all the edge on the issues. These are the great Democratic issues: Social Security, education, health care. Bush from the beginning has said I'm going to compete on that turf; I'm going to go head to head. And in the CNN/USA Today poll, Bush -- and a lot of other polls -- Bush is breaking even on education; he is only slightly behind in Social Security, which we haven't seen since, well since the program was founded.
JIM LEHRER: Since the 1930s, you might say.
|A credit to the Bush campaign|
PAUL GIGOT: On health care he's cut what was a 20-point advantage down to about 10 or so. So those issues are not cutting either. That's a credit to the Bush campaign.
MARK SHIELDS: Paul quotes CNN/USA Today. I'll quote The Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll -- where Gore still has a solid edge on those issues. I think there is no question that the Republicans have done just as Stu Rothenberg and Tom Mann did in the earlier segment with Margaret -- pointed out, they've done a great job, Jim, of saying hey we're for it, too. We're for it as well. I mean, this week I was in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan. And every Republican candidate comes on there, patient's bill of rights, ignoring the fact that six months ago the Republicans in the Congress were dedicated to stopping and killing a patients' bill of rights and George Bush never came up with a bill until after Labor Day. He is saying, you know, these people follow the polls. Now, you know, I don't pay attention to the polls. I don't know where he got the idea for a patients' bill of rights?
PAUL GIGOT: Mark makes it sound like Republicans don't use prescriptions.
JIM LEHRER: That's a small dissent by the way.
PAUL GIGOT: I mean, this turf is not one party's. And both parties can compete, just as Bill Clinton, to his credit and to his party's political benefit, decided we're going to keep losing unless we compete on welfare, crime and the economy.
JIM LEHRER: The pure politics story of the week continues to be Ralph Nader. Has that become a really important thing in this race, the factor, the Nader factor?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mentioned those states that are up for grabs earlier and six of them...
JIM LEHRER: Six of the eighteen.
MARK SHIELDS: Six of the eighteen are among the states that Michael Dukakis carried when he carried ten against George Bush, Sr., in 1988. They are states like Minnesota and Wisconsin and Oregon and the state of Washington and Iowa. These are states that, quite frankly, Ralph Nader is a threat in part because of what Paul talked about. Bill Clinton was a cost to the Democratic Party when he said, let's embrace the Republican issues, because the liberal activists in the Democratic Party felt that they had been sold down the river for the past eight years. And Ralph Nader, let's be very blunt about it, is a truly historic figure. Until Ralph Nader came on the American scene, it would have been unthinkable that when a Bridgestone tire and Ford Explorer thing happens, that people would say, where was the federal government? I mean, we never thought of highway safety. I mean, Ralph Nader has changed the country. He is a serious figure and he has generated an enthusiasm among rank and following not in volume but in intensity that neither candidate has yet been able to spark although Al Gore did get 30,000 people yesterday in Madison.
|Encouraging a vote for Nader|
JIM LEHRER: I noticed, Paul, that the Republicans are now encouraging people to vote for Nader in California and elsewhere. They're running ads and say you liberals stay in there.
PAUL GIGOT: You put that in the category of some Republicans can't leave well enough alone. I mean, those people ought to be shot for doing that. It's ridiculous!
MARK SHIELDS: You don't mean shot. You mean...
PAUL GIGOT: Shunned. It's incredibly stupid. What is going to happen with Nader and Gore is going to happen anyway without any Republican help. So you don't need to underscore Gore's argument that a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush.
JIM LEHRER: That really does make his point then?
PAUL GIGOT: Sure. It exactly makes is his point. Give credit to Mark for saying something nice about Ralph Nader, because I have not seen more liberals say more mean things about Ralph Nader than in the last week. I mean, they're saying he is going to cost us the election. It is all about him. He is only selfish. This is a guy who's been one of their heroes.
JIM LEHRER: New York Times really laid it on him earlier in the week and said he was on an ego trip and all that.
PAUL GIGOT: Sure, sure, that's right. And I think in Oregon and Washington state, California, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, he's really... he is giving Gore problems. The Bush campaign thinks any state where he gets to be about 7 or 8 percent, he's going to hurt Gore, because that's when... it's about two to one, they believe, Gore voters to Bush voters who are now for Nader.
JIM LEHRER: Is Paul right, Mark, that the liberals who support Gore, the big Gore supporters are lining up that if Gore should lose, they'll blame it on Ralph Nader?
MARK SHIELDS: Oh, I think Ralph Nader is the number one villain. Remember Ross Perot was blamed for George Bush's defeat in 1992. I would defy the distinguished folks at The New York Times editorial page, which I have great respect and am a regular reader, to identify a presidential candidate who is humble, selfless, self-effacing and modest. I mean, running for president is the proud act of a bold ego; very few people leaving the window open, Jim, waiting for a draft. To single out Ralph Nader I thought was a little bit excessive.
JIM LEHRER: Quickly before we go, the thing that Stuart and Tom were talking about with Margaret at the top, this potential veto fight in the Congress -- does that have any presidential race ramifications?
|The veto fight|
PAUL GIGOT: I think it is intriguing, because I think the Democrats have been reluctant to do this partly because of George W. Bush's theme of stop the bickering, get things done, bipartisanship, too much gridlock, deadlock here. I think they've been reluctant to play into that. The fact that... and maybe hurt Gore by association by one more exhibition of gridlock. I think they're willing to do this now suggests to me that the House Democrats are worried about the fact that Gore could lose, and therefore we've got to do whatever we can to save the House. And therefore let's shake it up, let's re-juggle the issues and see if we can't pick a fight that does help our candidates.
MARK SHIELDS: Both Tom and Stu said earlier with Margaret that in every showdown between Bill Clinton and the Republicans on the Hill, there is one winner and one loser. The faces of the losers change, but it's always the House Republicans who lose, Bill Clinton wins. So Democrats obviously are hopeful that Bill Clinton can draw this distinction and the differences between the two parties in these closing days.
JIM LEHRER: But what is the distinction he draws...
MARK SHIELDS: Prescription drugs, education, patient's bill of rights. They didn't want it to pass any of those.
JIM LEHRER: -- so pull those things out --
MARK SHIELDS: You know what they wanted to pass? They wanted to pass a $24 billion break for the three martini lunch. Now, is that more important than building... rebuilding crumbling schools and making sure that grandma has her prescription filled, Jim? I know what you believe.
PAUL GIGOT: He's going to veto a dollar increase in the minimum wage that Mark claims is so important --
JIM LEHRER: This thing is getting nasty one way or another. Thank you both very much.