Election 2000: `Des Moines Register' Democratic DebateAired January 8, 2000 - 1:48 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
GENE RANDALL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Gene Randall in Washington. In about 10 minutes, Al Gore and Bill Bradley will start to field questions in an hour-long debate in Iowa, which holds the nation's first presidential caucuses 16 days from today. For voters around the country, it is another chance to rate the two men pursuing the Democratic presidential nomination.
Bradley, of course, is giving Gore a run for his money, but in Iowa, Gore enjoys a fairly solid lead over Bradley: 45 percent to 32 percent, according to the latest poll.
Among other topics, we expect to hear some discussion today over gays in the military. In the last debate, Gore appeared to answer yes when asked whether his top-ranking military appointments would have to share his position that gays are fit to serve. Last night, a clarification.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALBERT GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would insist that my policies be followed. I would insist that my orders as commander in chief be followed. And I would expect nothing less. The military has always done that.
Now, but would I inquire into the personal political opinions of an officer as a condition for promotion? Absolutely not. Never.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RANDALL: That clarification followed reports of opposition within the Pentagon to Gore's original implication of a possible litmus test for military promotions. Joining us in Johnston, Iowa is senior White House correspondent John King.
John, what do you expect from each of these two candidates today, and where does the vice president go on gays in the military?
JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, on the policy of gays in the military, both Senator Bradley and Vice President Gore are in agreement. They both believe the "don't ask, don't tell" policy currently under way should be changed and that homosexuals should be allowed to serve openly in the military. So they agree on the policy. We'll see if Senator Bradley decides to attack on the vice president's apparent retreat from what he said on Wednesday. Otherwise, look for the vice president today to be aggressive in questioning Senator Bradley's commitment to three issues critical here in Iowa: agriculture, health care and education.
RANDALL: Let's go to Jeff Greenfield, our senior analyst, who will watch today's debate from New York.
Jeff, as you have watched these Democratic debates -- and I use the term "debate" for lack of a better one at this point -- have you seen any kind of pattern emerge with the way Gore and Bradley handle themselves and each other?
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Yes. I think -- I think the vice president keeps pushing Bradley on the issue that you really don't understand what we've done over the last seven years, you're going to jeopardize all this prosperity. And on issues, it's almost like "You're not with us on health care; you're not with us really on education."
Bradley's trying something that's very unusual in a debate. He's almost trying to deconstruct the debate. He's is almost trying to say to the audience, "This other guy is unauthentic. When he offers his hand in a deal to not do any ads, you know that's so much hogwash, to be polite about it."
And I think at times you almost see Bradley with an almost a kind of a sneer in his attempt to say to us, the audience, don't believe this guy.
It's two very different ways of going at this debate.
RANDALL: John King, how important are debates in a state like Iowa? It is a much bigger area to cover than New Hampshire, where retail politics is so important.
KING: Well, that's a debate among the campaigns, as to how important these are. We have a caucus setting here in Iowa, not a primary. So it is mostly activists who show up, people who are brought out, encouraged by longtime Democratic Party activists.
There was University of Northern Iowa polling not so long ago that said most people here still get their information from the newspapers and then directly from the candidates. But obviously, a chance to have one hour on statewide television and on national television because of our coverage gives these candidates a chance to air their views. A little more than two weeks left to go: The candidates will take any opportunity they can get to try to make their case.
RANDALL: And Jeff Greenfield, what do you make of the words we heard this week from Donna Brazile, the campaign manager for Vice President Al Gore? She suggested that Colin Powell J.C. Watts are paraded in front of the cameras by the Republicans because the Republicans have no policy toward African-Americans.
GREENFIELD: More than that, what she said, and I think what's caused so much flap, was that they have no warmth, they have no love. That's a very different from just saying we disagree. And I think it raises for Al Gore a dilemma. It's what I would consider the ghost of George Romney.
When you have to constantly explain what you, or for that matter, your top aide meant, it reminds of me a line a reporter got off many years ago -- in 1967 actually, when Romney was just beginning his campaign. He said he needed a key on his typewriter that would print out "Romney later explained."
And even on the gays in the military, I think what the vice president said yesterday was "Well, that's what you heard; that's not what I said about a litmus test." It was pretty clear from the debate what the vice president said.
And I think one of the biggest dangers he might have with respect to the Donna Brazile controversy and the gays in the military one is if people start hearing the vice president trying to constantly say what he meant to say.
RANDALL: John King, are the Gore people talking about Donna Brazile? She has a certain history of outspokenness, as we all know.
KING: Only privately. She does quite a controversial figure in the Democratic Party. I recall back in the Dukakis campaign she had to leave the campaign because of controversial statements she made. Privately, Gore and his top aides, we're told by several campaign sources, were quite furious not at her criticism of Republicans for insensitivity, in the Democratic view, toward African-Americans and other racial minorities, but by personally naming General Colin Powell -- obviously, a very popular figure.
Gore himself and top advisers furious, but publicly, the vice president praising her and saying she will stay on. She is a critical liaison to the groups now critical in the Democratic caucuses and primaries: blacks, labor unions, gay rights groups. Look for her, though, if Gore gets the nomination to have a much lesser role and certainly a much less public role.
RANDALL: All right, Jeff and John, stand by. We'll take a break and we'll be back in just a moment.
RANDALL: Welcome back. With a Democratic presidential debate in Iowa just minutes away, we go back to CNN's senior White House correspondent, John King, in Johnstown, Iowa, and senior analyst Jeff Greenfield in New York.
Jeff, is there a fine line that candidates must keep in mind: be aggressive in a debate, but don't be unfriendly?
GREENFIELD: I think you defined it very well. You know, the Republican governor of Texas once lost the debate -- Claytie Williams (ph) -- because he wouldn't shake hands with Ann Richards. And I think that's the challenge for Bill Bradley. Bradley is clearly emphasizing the theme that this vice president is not really a leader -- I, Bill Bradley, am a better leader -- and that this is a kind of campaign of tactics and ploys. But if voters see him as condescending as opposed to faintly amused -- maybe that's the fine line -- I think that leaves a bad taste in folks' mouths. And it's a -- it is a very difficult line to walk, particularly if one has a sense of Bill Bradley is genuinely if not contemptuous of the vice president -- that's too strong a word -- really kind of finds all of these tactics something that he would not do or wants to convince us he wouldn't want to do.
It is a fine line.
RANDALL: And John King, in your view, which man has the most at stake today?
KING: Well, certainly, I think the vice president does. He's trying to defend his lead here in Iowa. If he can win big here in Iowa, the Gore campaign hopes then to knock off Senator Bradley in New Hampshire where it's very tight right now. If Al Gore wins the first two contests, then what is Bill Bradley's rationale for staying in the race? That's the way the Gore campaign would argue it.
But Senator Bradley has late in Iowa invested quite a bit of money. The fear now among some of his supporters privately that if he has a disappointing showing here, it could hurt him in New Hampshire.
The critical few weeks here -- three, four weeks -- we might know who the Democratic nominee will be.
RANDALL: Fifteen seconds each, John and Jeff: Where do we expect the main focus today for each person? John?
KING: I think you'll see Vice President Gore go after Bill Bradley's health care plan, saying that it does not protect the Medicare program. Elderly voters here in Iowa among the most reliable caucus-goers: That's where the vice president wants to hit Senator Bradley.
RANDALL: And Jeff Greenfield in New York.
GREENFIELD: Gore will be trying to convince Democrats that Bradley is wrong on the issues. Bradley will be trying to convince Democrats that Gore is not really a leader.
RANDALL: And gentlemen, we will talk to you both after today's debate from Johnston, Iowa. Thanks very much.
This is the second Democratic presidential debate of the week between Vice President Al Gore and former Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey. Today's debate in Iowa is sponsored by the "Des Moines Register" and Iowa public television. Once the debate is over, we'll be back for more analysis.
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