October 30, 1998
|With election day around the corner, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot look at the latest campaign ads to hit the airwaves.|
MARGARET WARNER: For analysis of the campaign in Wisconsin and other matters political we turn to syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist, Paul Gigot. So Mark, this Feingold-Neumann race is turning out to be one of the most closely-watched in the country. What's your take on it?
|Feingold vs. Neumann|
MARK SHIELDS: My take on it is whatever either one of them says, you can disregard, because it is going to be a referendum in the country on campaign finance reform. That's what it is. And Mitch McConnell, the chairman of the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, has gone in there, both feet first, and has already confided to one colleague that by Christmas, Russ Feingold be dead meat. You don't have to worry about campaign finance reform. And that's how the race is going to be read nationally. Whether voters decide on that, that's another question. That's how the results will be read. Right now, Feingold has improved his position over last week. He now has a slight lead, but it's certainly within the margin of error.
PAUL GIGOT: That race is going to be read that way by my friend but not by me. I bet you there aren't more than a handful of voters who are really going to vote on that election on campaign finance reform. People don't vote on it. It's fourteenth or fifteen on the list of serious issues. Mitch McConnell wants to win that race because he wants to win that race. He wants to increase the numbers in the Senate. Russ Feingold's problem as an incumbent, in what should be a good incumbent year, isn't all of this soft money that's coming in, because in the end Russ Feingold is going to spend an awful lot of money himself and have other people on his back. His problem is he wasn't defined in the state in any other way, except on campaign finance reform. That's the one thing people kind of identify with. You get a lot of press attention, a lot of good editorials in the New York Times. But that doesn't translate to things like partial-birth abortion, spending, are you for less or more taxes, Social Security? And those are the issues that Neumann then came in and defined Feingold on and told voters a lot of information they didn't know.
MARK SHIELDS: Paul's numbers, I think, are a little bit misleading. At the very least, according to independent judgments, reporters, news reporters, and academics in Wisconsin, it's going to be $2 million more in soft money going in to Neumann over and above. What Feingold did was limit himself to $3.7 million.
MARGARET WARNER: Didn't they both limit themselves - their personal spending?
MARK SHIELDS: They both limited themselves. He, Neumann, the Republican challenger, agreed to Feingold's limitation. But the reality is that's what the campaign is about. It is about campaign finance reform. And that really is how this - I'm not talking about what I believe. It's how that race is going to be read. You're not telling me, Paul, that on Wednesday morning Mitch McConnell is going to stand up and say if Russ Feingold wins, well, campaign finance carried the day, and if he loses, they'll say, boy, that proves there's one-half of McCain-Feingold, what happened to the second half of McCain-Feingold, and the argument will be, Margaret, this, that if you can't win on campaign finance reform in a state like Wisconsin, with a progressive reform tradition, what's it mean for Louisiana, Texas, Pennsylvania, and other states without that same kind of tradition? And the reality in Russ Feingold -- and a lot of Democrats are very angry at him, very angry at him because they think he's put his career at risk, he's put Democratic seat at risk, and he's put the issue at risk, but if all the guy does is stand up on an issue he believes and bets his career on it, it's pretty tough to criticize him.
MARGARET WARNER: Hasn't Mitch McConnell chosen a few other races also in the country that he particularly is channeling money to?
PAUL GIGOT: Yes, he has, but he's chosen the races where the Republican challengers have a chance to win. I mean, that's what he's done above all. I mean, yeah, there are two that probably in the back recesses of his mind he'd really like to win, yeah, he'd like to take out Russ Feingold and he'd like to win in his home state of Kentucky against Scotty Baesler, the Democrat who has tried to make campaign finance reform something of an issue, although when I called his press secretary up, when I said, how big a theme is this for you, he said, it's not a big theme, nobody votes on it. This is Scotty Baesler's press secretary - that's what he said. And that's why this isn't a referendum on it.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let's talk about another - a new political front that opened up this week, which is that the Republican congressional campaign committee on Wednesday for the first time released some ads that referred to the Lewinsky scandal. Then, of course, today the Democrats released two of their own. First let's look at a sample of each. We should say that these ads are running in a very limited number of media markets. The Republican ad we'll see, for example, is airing in just three congressional districts.
REPUBLICAN POLITICAL AD: In every election there is a big question to think about. This year, the question is: Should we reward Bill Clinton? Should we make the Democrats more powerful? Should we reward Democrat plans for more big government, more big spending? Should we reward their opposition to more welfare reform? And should we reward not telling the truth? That is the question of this election, reward Bill Clinton, or vote Republican.
DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL AD: This is no ordinary time. Republicans have made removing the president from office their top priority. They want to waste millions of our tax dollars on endless investigations. Democrats believe this election is about solving our real problems, protecting Social Security, patients' rights, smaller class sizes, more teachers. Haven't our families and our children had enough partisan investigating? Republicans - so intent on attacking the president they have forgotten about us. Next Tuesday, vote Democratic and tell Congress we're ready to move on.
MARGARET WARNER: So Paul, why did the Republicans decide to do this? And is it true that Newt Gingrich, himself, masterminded this?
PAUL GIGOT: You mean the Rasputin of this exercise? It's no surprise Newt Gingrich had a role in this. I mean, John Linder, the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee head, is a Georgian, a Newt Gingrich choice. I mean, sure, he's going to play a role in this just like Dick Gephardt had a lot to do with that Democratic ad; I can bet you that. They didn't run it without him looking at it and saying, yes, I think that's okay. This is an attempt by both parties to get out their base. Republicans have had a strategy in this campaign, which is, we don't need to talk about issues very much, because our voters are angry enough, we're going to get our vote out. So we don't need to take a lot of policy risks. And what they found out after the budget fiasco of a couple of weeks ago is that their base wasn't as enthusiastic as they thought. So they want to remind people about Bill Clinton, give them a reason to vote. The ad we saw, that ad is only running in three districts: Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, where Bill Clinton's unfavorables among white voters are 65, 70 percent. So that ad's going to play pretty well there. The other ads that are running - the other versions are more softer, and they're really -- don't give the President a blank check message - you need us to stop what Bill Clinton and the Democrats will do if they get all the power. I think it's a pretty good ad.
MARGARET WARNER: So was this a smart move by both sides?
MARK SHIELDS: It was a dumb move by the Republicans. It's only being run in three congressional districts. It's just been seen in 435. It's seen in 435 -- you don't want that congressional district being shone anywhere in the Northeast - that ad - you don't want it. I mean, it's a get out the vote ad, because once - in every front page of every paper in the country I checked today this story was out there. And there's Newt with his heavy -- you don't need Newt in the last 46 hours - you know, out there - as the face of the Republican Party.
MARGARET WARNER: Did the Republicans know this was going to get this national notoriety?
MARK SHIELDS: I don't think they thought it would get the free attention that it has gotten. I mean, I don't -- I really don't. I think that makes a lot of sense. I think it's an absolutely legitimate thing and especially in Carolina and Georgia to raise the question, do you want to reward Bill Clinton, and that's a great way to generate your base, and it's a legitimate question to ask, but you don't want that question, but out in California or places where Bill Clinton is sitting involves the Wall Street Journal poll this week showed him with the highest job rating of his presidency. And the euphoria of John Glenn's trip and the Middle East peace accord, I mean, all of these things happened -- you don't need that if you're national. You need it selectively. And unfortunately for them it wasn't selective.
MARGARET WARNER: I noticed that both the president and the vice president came out and really attacked the Republicans. The vice president was doing it on the ads, but the president more broadly on Republicans in Congress. Are the Democrats at the end trying to nationalize this election?
|Nationalizing the Elections|
PAUL GIGOT: To the extent that they can -- they notice the Republicans, in those ads, they don't talk about impeachment; they talk about a check on Democratic power, a check on Bill Clinton. The Democrats talk about impeachment. The Democrats immediately turn these ads into impeachment ads. And this is about railroading Bill Clinton out of office to gin up their base. It's really just a flip side of what the Republicans are trying to do. That's why I think both sides are right. You know, in politics sometimes both sides can be right, particularly in low turnout elections. I would have done exactly what the Democrats did but I disagree with Mark, the Republicans were looking at not doing as well as they thought. And they had to do something.
MARK SHIELDS: Paul's right. The last week in every single race I have checked the Democrats have improved their numbers over the week before.
MARGARET WARNER: Even the ones way down.
MARK SHIELDS: Way down. It's been a good week for the Democrats. I mean, some of them obviously are still going to lose, but I mean, it's been an improvement. And in every single -- across the country there are three issues that are cutting. They are Social Security; they're education and they're health care, all of which by a two to one margin, Democrats have an edge over Republicans. And I would say if in real estate the three principal elements are location, location, location, in a mid-term election it's turnout, turnout, turnout, anything you can do to get your own voters out you want to do, and I think that's what this is about. I think the mistake was you've got a little wider distribution.
MARGARET WARNER: And your point, Paul, is that the Republicans didn't have counter themes, counter substantive themes that they've developed?
PAUL GIGOT: Look! It's perfectly legitimate to run as a check on Bill Clinton. I think that's good, sound strategy and a lot of Republicans bouncing off the walls, waiting to get to vote on Tuesday. There is a problem, though, that Republicans have, which is they haven't given voters enough of a positive agenda. They ran a run-out-the-clock strategy. A four-corner Dean Smith, North Carolina stall - saying, let's not take any policy risks because our people are going to come out anyway. What they're finding is that they're still going to come out but not in the wave or the advantage that they had hoped originally, and that's why they're trying to get this strategy ginned up a little more, because it's really the only game they have.
MARGARET WARNER: So what's the most interesting thing you see out there, you looked at this nationwide, if you thought about where you thought it was going say a month ago and where it is now?
|The Big Picture|
MARK SHIELDS: I think there's - two quick things. First of all, this is a Mr. Magoo election. Mr. Magoo is the cartoon character, nearsighted, always bumping into things, voice of Jim Backus, the actor. It's an election with no vision. I mean, I think it's fair to say. Neither party has cornered the vision market in this one. But I think the governor's races are interesting. We're going to see Republicans with huge victories in states that have traditionally been fiercely fought to states like Pennsylvania and New York and Texas, and what that does to the congressional races, especially the tough ones is open to real question. I think Democrats are nervous there. The biggest surprise is the ease with which Gray Davis, the lieutenant governor of California, a Democrat, is cruising - and pointing out that his wife will become the first Democratic first lady of California in 32 years come next Wednesday.
PAUL GIGOT: The most under reported part of this election is the governors. At the national level we got a pudding without a theme. You know, it's really a kind of dispiriting election. At the governors level you have referenda on performance, and Republican governors, most of them are Republican, but there's some Democrat -- Jean Shaheen in New Hampshire -- they're really getting votes on what they did. And you're talking about ideas there. I was out in Texas, and George W. Bush, is actually saying something. He's standing on his record, and that's happening in a lot of different states. One of the surprises for me, just to pick one individual race, is the kind of mistakes that Al D'Amato has made in New York, he --
MARGARET WARNER: The New York Senate Race.
PAUL GIGOT: The New York Senate race. Al D'Amato - say anything else about him - but he knows how to run - knows how to campaign. And he has let his opponents set the agenda too often. And he's made mistakes that have really hurt him.
MARK SHIELDS: Let me just add to that, I think Al D'Amato doesn't have a wind-up pitch, a closing number, attendance, and Chuck Schumer's missed attendance, bad attendance record, is not the kind of homerun, which I expect from Al in the ninth inning, and I think Paul is right.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. We're in the ninth inning. Thank you both very much. See you next week.