September 29, 2000
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot discuss the abortion pill and the week in politics.
JIM LEHRER: And now back to syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Mark, how do you read Florida? Why is it still at play? What happened?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, Jim, I think Florida, when nobody was looking, became a lot more of a national state. George Bush Sr. crushed Michael Dukakis there in 1988. Dukakis, seeing they couldn't lose, withdrew, closed their campaign there early and probably expanded the margin of victory, but it was a solidly, reliably Republican state. This year there's two states I think that reflect the issues terrain of this election: Those are Pennsylvania and Florida. Both of those states have been better for the Democrats than the Democrats expected, better for Al Gore and Joe Lieberman than...
JIM LEHRER: Let me interrupt. Gwen Ifill is doing a piece on Pennsylvania that we're going to run in the next several days.
MARK SHIELDS: I'll be interested to see if she finds out the same thing, which is with an older population -- and both states have the oldest populations east of the Mississippi -- the issues that Al Gore is emphasizing, emphasized in his convention speech and in the campaign of prescription drugs and Medicare and Social Security and health care and full funding of those, I think resonate with that constituency better. And I think the observation was made in Margaret's piece, that the Bush folks did take it for granted early. They're scrambling to the point now where 40 percent of their money, soft money spent on television nationally is being spent in Florida.
|Double migration into Florida|
JIM LEHRER: How do you read what happened?
PAUL GIGOT: I think the state has changed. You've had kind of a double migration into Florida. You've had northeastern older retirees -- Democrats move in and retain their allegiances -- but you've had a lot of Republicans from the Midwest retire, but they tend to be more moderate suburban voters. So the state in a way has become more Republican, but less conservative, because the old blue dog Democrat conservatives respond to the real cultural issues that work in Alabama and Mississippi, they don't dominate the state as much anymore. I think that's happened and I think Mark is right about the prescription drug issue. As long as Al Gore was making the case without contradiction, and I'm going to give you a free lunch, free prescription drugs, that works with a lot of seniors. But what you've seen in the last two weeks is the Bush campaign fighting back on that, and saying it's not free -- the $600 premium you're going to pay, the government control that's going to come with it, and I think that's why he has fought back and now it's probably dead even.
JIM LEHRER: I found it interesting in Margaret's piece there seemed to be a very strong consensus about this, that the older you get, the more you care about the details of politics or of a proposal. Does that jibe with... I don't mean your personal experience, but your reporting experience?
MARK SHIELDS: I think it does, Jim and I think also the point was made that the older people are the more, the more apt, they are to read the newspapers and follow these things more closely. So I don't know which is the... which comes first but I don't think there is any question that you get far more specific questions, not as global often times in sphere and interest from older voters than you do from younger voters.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Speaking of global, let's talk about this recent resurgence, at least this week, in the polls, at least, as far as Bush is concerned. What's behind that?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think he's been better.
JIM LEHRER: They still show it very tight. I don't want to mislead anybody.
PAUL GIGOT: A long way from over, no question about it. Still I think probably a dead even race, no question about it. I think by looking stronger, by looking like he has a strategy, sticking with it and hitting issues, I think he has helped increase... gone back to the majorities he had, big majorities among men. He looks more in command. He has done better among married women according to the L.A. Times poll. I don't know quite what that is. Perhaps it's a return of the character issue last week, came back in a big way with Al Gore making some missteps on... misspeaking about drug prices. That was... the Bush campaign jumped on that. And I think that brought that vulnerability back for Gore. I think people looked at Gore again and said, well, maybe I'm not as sure as I was. So that helped Bush.
|A press overreaction|
JIM LEHRER: What do you think helped him?
MARK SHIELDS: I think what helped him most of all was a dramatic press overreaction to the fact that it is a tie race. Two of the pollsters I've talked to all the way through this year, one a Republican, one a Democrat, Bill McInturff a Republican, Peter Hart a Democrat; their polls have said the same thing all the way through. It has always been a race within the margin of error ever since the conventions. That's all it has been.
JIM LEHRER: That's usually three to four percent.
MARK SHIELDS: Three to four points. Each of them basically has it within two or three points.
JIM LEHRER: We ought to explain that. When you see a poll and if somebody is ahead three to four percent, forget it. Just assume it's a dead heat and it doesn't mean anything.
MARK SHIELDS: That's right. Basically. Or it could be eight points and four points the other way. But so if you say that, then when there is a poll jump, as there was over the weekend, a ten-point change in one of the national tracking polls, then we have to have an explanation for it. So immediately have an explanation for it, which is we're a little bit like we're stock market analysts, market goes down and, well, it's because utilities took early profit sharing or whatever the hell .
JIM LEHRER: Or Greenspan smiled.
MARK SHIELDS: That's right. We have to always have an explanation for what happened. And I think in this case, Jim, what happened was the change comes, so you have to have a reason for it and it was Al Gore's exaggerations, it was Al Gore's misstatements, it was Al Gore's disingenuousness, call it what you want, about prescription drugs -- I was there when the strategic petroleum reserve. And that brought back the character issue in this campaign and Governor Bush got it back without ever looking to be mean about it because it was naturally brought back. I think that contributed to it as much and I think it is a dead even race nationally.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. The RU-486 approval, the abortion pill was approved yesterday by the FDA. Does that put abortion right back out on the front table where it wasn't before as an issue?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think the Gore campaign hopes so. I think that probably explains some of the timing here coming 40 days before the election. But I don't know...
JIM LEHRER: I think the -- under the rules, they had to do it by Saturday. They had... there was some kind of a rule making procedure where they had to have a decision by... they could have delayed it but just for the record...
PAUL GIGOT: I stand corrected. But I don't think it changes the landscape of this issue much, frankly. I mean both sides are lined up. The bases on either side know where the candidates stand. They're going to vote on it. They are going to be enthusiastic or not based on how they view their candidates. I don't think it changes the issue very much.
|The abortion pill|
JIM LEHRER: What do you think?
MARK SHIELDS: I think it does change the issue, Jim, because I think the advances and the victories legislatively have been scored by the pro-life side have been scored when the argument has been about the lateness of the procedure. This is almost a baby about to be born. You can see the fingertips. You can see them. And you know, the idea of the late-term abortion has really let some people who are pro-choice in their voting record leave that side. I think this makes it easier. Americans have had a consensus of sorts that the earlier, that the first trimester, well, we shouldn't regulate it. It takes it away from a specific place where it's done and a procedure.
JIM LEHRER: Because the drug can be prescribed by a doctor and it's more private and all that.
MARK SHIELDS: That's right. More private and all the rest. The other thing though, we found time and again, and I think Governor Bush will find this out that the people who vote on this issue ranked 15th of the 17 issues in the Washington Post/NBC News poll. The people who vote on this issue, basically the ones who are driven by it are pro-life in the national polls. So in that sense, raising it may not be the worst thing that could happen to George Bush.
PAUL GIGOT: His voters more than Gore's may be looking, for example, in the debates for him to reassure them that if he wins, he may want to at least review it.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Now, going to a really big story -- this is the mole story... Well, you can tell us the story.
PAUL GIGOT: You're going to make me do it?
JIM LEHRER: I'll help you. Go ahead.
PAUL GIGOT: Just that a package with a tape of George Bush practicing debates ended up in the mail, I guess, of Tom Downey, who is an old friend of Al Gore and former congressman who helps him with debate prep. So the accusations have flown back and forth that this was a mole in... a Gore mole in the Bush camp. No, it was Bush incompetence or a dirty trick by Bush.
JIM LEHRER: Somebody stole it, somebody crept in at night.
|'The mole:' inside baseball|
PAUL GIGOT: I have to tell you -- as a reporter and you have to figure out where to put your energy, this is not one where I've been devoting a heck of a lot of time because it's so inside baseball, it's so processed. And unless you get a smoking gun -- real proof -- that there was something nefarious done, I think voters go, I don't care.
JIM LEHRER: Should the rest of us go like that, too?
MARK SHIELDS: They should probably go like that. What has been most interesting to me is how the Bush campaign has responded. The Bush campaign, Karen Hughes, the governor's spokesperson, said this is so mean spirited because a woman had been identified who worked in the media -- principal media consultant to George Bush's campaign -- as one of the people the FBI had been interviewing. She had had been to the post office that day and sent a package; it was sent by mail.
JIM LEHRER: She said returning something to The Gap.
MARK SHIELDS: For Mark McKinnon. But Karen Hughes didn't address that. She said they're going after an Hispanic woman with not enough money to hire a lawyer. I mean, you know, this was just a fascinating, fascinating reaction. I mean, you talk about open and overt demagoguery, but then they blame the FBI for being too cozy to the White House, something that hadn't been heard recently in Washington. Then the charge began well, let's let the FBI do it. I have to say, if you were stealing a videotape that you thought was going to help Al Gore, the last thing in the world you would do is mail it to Tom Downey. It's the kind of thing that would be given surreptitiously in a parking garage at 3:00 in the morning.
JIM LEHRER: We are often accused on this program of talking only about serious matters and not talking about things like that. We can now say we at least did it once.
PAUL GIGOT: I can handle the trivia any time.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Thank you both very much.