Bill Press analysis: Where was George?
By BILL PRESS
October 29, 1999
Web posted at: 6:44 p.m. EDT (2244 GMT)
Hasn't Gov. Bush ever heard of Woody Allen?
If 90 percent of success in life, as Woody Allen correctly maintains, is just
showing up, then George W. Bush made a huge blunder Thursday night by not showing up for
the Republican presidential town hall. His absence - or his cowardice - became
albeit unspoken, issue of the night.
Indeed, there are signs that Bush's absence and arrogance are starting to
independent New Hampshire voters. Even before the Dartmouth debate, CNN's
showed Bush's once overwhelming lead in the Granite State has melted to a
advantage over John McCain. By not showing up, Bush missed a great
stop the bleeding.
As for those five brave souls who did show? They all conducted themselves
grace and keen grasp of the issues.
Alan Keyes was his usual fiery self, pursuing his hopeless one-man crusade to
income tax. But he proved his real backbone in disagreeing with popular
funding for NASA and paying our U.N. dues, as much as I disagree with him on
Orrin Hatch showed surprising spunk and easily held his own, even though he
was the last
one to jump into the race. He played up his experience, especially on
issues, and made a shameless, but light-hearted pitch for $36 contributions
on his website.
Shades of Jerry Brown!
Gary Bauer came across as knowledgeable, down-to-earth and, in fact, quite
He was also the only one eager to mix it up, blasting Republicans in Congress
for being on
the wrong side of the patients' bill of rights and chiding Forbes for
including corporate tax
breaks in his flat tax proposal.
Steve Forbes is, without doubt, the candidate who has most improved his
the campaign stage. Thursday night, he was relaxed, at times even eloquent,
fired off his
answers with clockwork precision, and spiced the whole evening up with his
of humor. As when he chided fellow candidates for finally supporting the flat
tax: "When I
ran four years ago, virtually every Republican denounced the flat tax,"
"So education works."
But, in the end, the evening belonged to John McCain. He had the most to win,
did. McCain was at once funny, angry, thoughtful and passionate. Time and
punched home the issue of campaign reform, which he owns, linking it to every
issue. He made it clear that he is strongly pro-life, but said it was time
party accepted the fact that Republicans might disagree on this issue. And he
biggest applause of the night by condemning fellow Republicans for spending
billions on a
new aircraft carrier the Navy doesn't need or want, while thousands of men
and women in
uniform are on food stamps.
Bottom line: McCain was the big winner; Bush was the big loser. Watch McCain
even higher in the polls.
One final note about both town meetings. The real stars were not the
candidates, but the
good citizens of New Hampshire - who asked such intelligent, probing and
questions. How is it possible to get through two hours of debate without ONE
about a candidate's personal sex life? Only by having real people, not
reporters, ask the
Bill Press is co-host of CNN's "Crossfire."