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Special Event

Genteel Disagreement Marks Latest Democratic Presidential Debate

Aired January 8, 2000 - 2:58 p.m. ET


GENE RANDALL, CNN ANCHOR: For the past hour, genteel disagreement between Democratic presidential candidates Bill Bradley and Al Gore during a debate in Johnston, Iowa.

I'm Gene Randall in Washington.

In a few moments, advisers from each camp on why their man one. But first we turn to CNN senior White House correspondent John King and Mike Glover of the Associated Press, both in Iowa; and in New York, CNN senior political analyst Jeff Greenfield.

Gentlemen, first, give me your take on how it went -- Mike Glover.

MIKE GLOVER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Well, it was less combative than you might have expected, and that I think is reflecting some evidence we're seeing in the polling and elsewhere that the vice president may have started to stabilize his ship here in Iowa. There's a poll out today that shows he's got a pretty significant lead, he's doing pretty well here.

So it was a less confrontational, less combative -- although they did open this debate by fighting the last war at the second debate in just a few days, and Gore went right back to his basic charge that he stayed in Washington and fought while Senator Bradley left.

RANDALL: John King.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Predictable on the issues, the vice president saying that Mr. Bradley's health care plan would endanger Medicare, important to elderly voters who tend to go to the caucuses. The vice president also pressing ahead that while he was a member of the Senate, in Mr. Gore's view, Bill Bradley voted against the interests of Iowa farmers. You heard Senator Bradley repeatedly use the words misrepresentation.

Again, Senator Bradley trying to speak more about the future, saying that he's learned from Iowa and that as president he would take action, the vice president relying more on the administration's record over the past seven years and on Senator Bradley's record in the Senate, which, Mr. Gore says, hurt Iowa.

RANDALL: Jeff, what did you make of the tone of the debate? JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Well, I couldn't help but note the contrast between last night's Republican debate in South Carolina, which sounded like it was taking place in a fraternity house after the fifth keg of beer had been tapped. This sort of reflects Iowa's tradition. It's a civic-mined state, very high voter turnouts generally, very high literacy rate.

Questions -- you notice, not one question about gays in the military or any of those controversies?

The most striking single thing to me happened at the very end. One of the most famous debate lines in history was Ronald Reagan in the 1980s asking America, are you better off than you were four years ago? Because of the economy, I guess, not a single Republican has used that line about the Clinton administration. And yet today, with respect to agriculture, it was Bill Bradley who asked the farmers of Iowa, are you better off than you were seven years ago? Which was a kind of a striking turnabout.

But in terms of tone, I think it went the way we thought it would. The vice president was hammering on specific issues -- your votes on agriculture, you have a bad Medicare plan -- and Bradley was saying again and again the issue is leadership.

RANDALL: Mike Glover, clearly you know Iowa a lot better than the rest of us. Are debates like this apt to move numbers in that state?

GLOVER: Debates like this can move numbers in this state. And one of the comments earlier, I think, is very apt. This is a state that is driven by policy. There were 300 people in that room who were hanging on what these people were saying on policy issues. And one of the big debates -- it's going to come up. It doesn't happen elsewhere in this country, but it happens here -- is on farm policy. And I think the emerging farm policy debate you're hearing with Gore and Bradley is going to be an important one. It's going to make up a lot of minds in this state.

And that line that Jeff mentioned about are you better off now than four years ago is an evolving Bill Bradley position. He's been on the defensive on agriculture. He was an urban senator, didn't vote for agriculture interests very often, so he was on the defensive for a long time. He's starting to sound this theme of it in "their" camp. This whole farm crisis is on "their" shoulders. "They" were the ones in power when this happened. And he's starting to turn that issue around a little bit, I think.

RANDALL: John, what is the vice president's campaign hoping to achieve in Iowa, other than winning the state?

KING: Well, they hope to stay above 50 percent on caucus night on January 24, hoping that if the vice president can stay above 50, keep Senator Bradley in the 30s, that perhaps the vice president then could go on to win the New Hampshire primary a week later. If the vice president can win the first two contests, they believe Senator Bradley is out of business. You see in the competition here today, the proof is -- the truth is that these gentlemen actually agree on most issues. They were arguing over who would be the most effective leader, if elected president.

RANDALL: Jeff, I don't recall hearing Al Gore during the course of this debate mention the name of the man he has served for the past seven years, President Clinton. Now is this the end of the trial separation into the real thing?

GREENFIELD: No, I -- look, I think that this is the dilemma every vice president has is how do you establish your own independence? Every vice president who runs for presidency faces this. The special dilemma that Al Gore has is, of course, based on what happened with the president, you know, taking us through a scandal and through impeachment and yet presiding over economic good times. I don't think that was an accident that he didn't use those words.

The one thing that he did that was very Clintonian/Reaganesque/Bushesque was to treat this debate as a State of the Union speech. You know how beginning with Reagan the president has always trotted out heroes of the moment to introduce in the galleries? I don't remember a debate when one of the candidates has brought along people to pepper his answers almost like they were kind of living tableaus. You want to talk about agriculture? Here's Chris Peterson. You want -- you know, you want to talk about education? Here's a public school teacher. Very unusual kind of tactic, I think. Maybe my colleagues remember when this has happened before, but I sure don't.

RANDALL: Gentlemen -- John.

GLOVER: No, I don't remember when it's happened before, but that shows something else. That shows the degree to which the vice president has put together a campaign organization in this state. He's got a campaign organization that's far better than Senator Bradley's, and this shows he's not missing any Is to get dotted or Ts to get crossed. Everything is thought of. He's put together an organization, and this is an organizational state. These caucuses require organization.

RANDALL: And, Mike, the vice president wastes no opportunity to point out that Senator Gore -- or Senator Bradley in past has taken positions which might be found inimical to the interests of Iowa farmers, for instance ethanol. Does the agriculture community, by and large, trust Bill Bradley?

GLOVER: That's a good question. I don't know that they do. Those are charges that -- in this state, it doesn't matter whether you're a Democrat or you're a Republican, you're for ethanol if you want to survive. This is a state where a Democratic senator, Tom Harkin, actually drank ethanol at a Senate hearing to demonstrate how safe it is. Ethanol is kind of above -- it's sort of above all the political tests that you have to be with it. It will be interesting to see how that hurts him here. RANDALL: Well, short of going the Harkin route, John King, what do you suppose it is that Bill Bradley can do to alleviate whatever fears farmers in that state might have?

KING: Well, I think it is the point Jeff Greenfield made in his remarks, and Mike as well. He cannot go back to his Senate record, which is quite devastating on the issue of voting against, as the vice president pointed out, disaster relief, trying to he eliminate the ethanol program. So instead Senator Bradley trying to turn the tables, saying that look right now at the farm crisis in Iowa. We have a seven-year administration, and that while the country itself might be enjoying a prosperous economy, most farmers here are struggling. Senator Bradley trying to turn the corner, to say Mr. Gore is part of the current administration, and farmers here aren't do so well. Let's try a change. Trying to make the case then at the same time that he would be better than any of the Republican candidates.

RANDALL: Jeff, let's close this out with an overview. How do you see the snapshot of the Democratic presidential campaign at the moment?

GREENFIELD: Look, you still -- you know, sitting vice presidents tend to win their party's nomination, and that's why, from the very beginning, Bull Bradley has tried to change the whole dynamic of the campaign. That's what I wanted to mention very briefly as we close. While we talk about these specific issues and while there's no doubt that you can't ignore them, the way that Bradley keeps trying to he got people to focus on a broader picture, the way he did when he talked about violence in those stories about going to the middle school, he's basing his whole campaign on his belief -- and he may well be wrong. We don't know yet -- that you can get people to vote even against the vice president of a Democratic Party with a decent record, a very good record on the economy as far as Democrats are concerned, if you can get them to change the focus to other questions.

And, really, it is to me, at least in Iowa, I think, it is a case of Bradley's assumption or assumption or premise versus the obvious organizational strength of the sitting vice president. I think that's how that caucus is going to come out. That may well be how the nomination comes out.

RANDALL: John King.

KING: Gore is confidently ahead here in Iowa, still looking to shore up his base, nervous about New Hampshire, counting on the institutional support he enjoys in the Democratic Party in labor unions, in elected officials to carry him if this contest lasts beyond Iowa and New Hampshire.

RANDALL: And, Mike Glover, your snapshot is the final word.

GLOVER: Dave Nagle, former congressman, former Iowa Democratic chairman, once told me never bet against organization in Iowa. I think that's a good bet.

RANDALL: Jeff Greenfield in New York, Mike Glover and John King in Johnston, Iowa, thanks to all of you.



BRADLEY: I think Al has the view that if we provide universal health coverage for everybody, that we can't protect Medicare. If we protect Medicare, we can't provide universal health coverage for everybody. Now, I don't agree with that. I think we can do both.



GORE: Now the problem with the Bill's approach saying we can wait until Medicare goes bankrupt to address it, it kind of reminds me of the guy who fell out of a 10-story building, and as he passed the fifth floor he shouted "so far, so good ." Well, that is where we are with the Medicare trust fund.


RANDALL: More now on today's Democratic presidential debate from Johnston, Iowa.

We welcome Bradley campaign press secretary Eric Hauser, and senior Gore adviser Robert Shrum.

Mr. Shrum, we will make you the winner of the opening coin toss. Did your man score today on Medicare?

ROBERT SHRUM, GORE SR. ADVISER: Well, I think Al Gore clearly won the debate, I think he clearly won the Medicare issue. I mean, Bill Bradley still doesn't have an answer to how he would save Medicare, and in fact, cited a newspaper story in "The Des Moines Register" this morning that said there may be $800 billion more in the surplus. If you read down about eight paragraphs, it says the Financial Economic Counsel statements that virtually all of that is needed for the normal cost of existing programs. So we...

RANDALL: Mr. Hauser?

SHRUM: ... have gone five debates now, no answer on Medicare.

RANDALL: Mr. Hauser?

ERIC HAUSER, BRADLEY CAMPAIGN SECRETARY: Well, I think what we are getting from Gore campaign is scare tactics about Medicare. It is in good shape for 20 years, growing surplus means it will be in even better shape beyond that.

And on the question of prescription drugs, it particular was interesting to note, the woman who raised the question in the debate, quite frankly her circumstance would be much better served by the Bradley prescription drug plan, because there is no cap. So her expenses -- $400, $500 a month -- would be much more manageable because there is no cap.

We are not saying here is a limit, here is all you can do. And I think the "here's all you can do" was a pretty consistent theme today, the vice president over and over again saying we can't do this, we can't do this, we can't do this. And I think we got out of today clearly an optimism versus a pessimism about the nations future.

SHRUM: That sounds like a lot of...

RANDALL: Bob Shrum?

SHRUM: That sounds like a lot of pre-debate spin that was planned. The fact of the matter is -- the fact of the matter is that Al Gore is the person who is saying we can do health care and invest in education at the same time. We can do health care and we can save Medicare at the same time.

The woman on prescription drugs actually, Eric, because of her situation, financial situation, if she stays in the existing Medicaid program, she gets all of her drug costs covered.

HAUSER: So you are saying prescription drug benefit is not a good thing, you are backing off of that?

SHRUM: No, no, no, no, no. You are misunderstanding me. I'm saying that woman is better off under the existing Medicaid program which she is eligible for, than she would be under your program which would cost her 800 more dollars year that she doesn't have.

HAUSER: Well, in terms of, we can do health care and we can do other things, with the health care proposal and the Gore -- in the Gore campaign, it is a step, it is not even a step-by-step, and they have no more money do anything more with it.

And we learned today that of all the first priorities the vice president has, and there are a number of them, defense is greater than education, wanting to increase defense spending more than education.

SHRUM: No, I think actually all vice president said was that we should be on same path we are on now. In fact, I thought that is actually what Bradley said, steady stay. But in any event, Al Gore does say that education is his number-one priority.

HAUSER: But...

SHRUM: And his other great -- let me talk for a minute.


SHRUM: His other great priority is health care. And quite frankly, the best way to get to universal health coverage is to do it step by step. That is not me, that is not Al Gore alone saying who is saying that, that is the person who introduced and fought longest and hardest for health reform in this country, Ted Kennedy, who says that the right way to go is the Gore approach.

HAUSER: So, six years ago it was the wrong way to go to try to get to universal coverage?

SHRUM: You want to repeat -- you want to repeat that experience?

HAUSER: No, we want to repeat the principle, just do it differently to get it done, Bob.

SHRUM: But the way -- yes, you are going to do it differently for sure.

HAUSER: Look at all the things he didn't get done: we didn't get campaign finance done, we didn't get universal health care done, we didn't reduce child poverty dramatically, we didn't do a whole number of things...

SHRUM: That is not correct, you just made a misstatement. We reduced child poverty.

HAUSER: No, the economy reduced child poverty.

SHRUM: Well, the economy I think most people -- most Democrats, at least -- would think that the Clinton-Gore administration and the Democratic Party had something do with our economy.

HAUSER: They did, they did.

SHRUM: Maybe you are going to run in fall, if you could ever get nominated, denying that. But you are not going to get nominated because you keep attacking the Democratic Party and Democratic achievements.

HAUSER: No, and I think...

SHRUM: The fact that we do not have campaign finance reform, as the vice president said, is not the Democratic Party's fault, it is the Republican Party's fault.

HAUSER: Gene, let me make one point here that I think is very telling about the overall contrast. You are right, but that is not good enough, that is not the point. It is not who voted for it, it is getting it done.

SHRUM: How would you do it? Would you levitate the Senate?

HAUSER: It is called bipartisanship. It is called working toward a...

SHRUM: But wait a minute, wait a minute.

HAUSER: No. You didn't get it done.

SHRUM: Are you saying that this Democratic administration didn't try working with John McCain in a bipartisan way to pass campaign finance reform?

HAUSER: Oh, I am saying it was not a priority, absolutely.

SHRUM: Oh, I think it was a high priority, and we got every single Democrat in Senate to stand up for it.

HAUSER: That is not the point, that is not the point. How does that affect people if it is not done?

SHRUM: But Eric, Eric, you actually...

HAUSER: It doesn't affect people.

SHRUM: you actually spent a little bit of time in the government. The -- this isn't England. The president doesn't give a State of Union message, and it all happens instantly.


SHRUM: You guys will never...

HAUSER: ... but leadership gets it done you.

SHRUM: No, you guys...

HAUSER: Leadership gets it done.

SHRUM: You say words like "leadership" as if they were a mantra, that could translate ideas into...

HAUSER: Well, they are to the public.

SHRUM: ... ideas into -- oh, is that why you said it -- ideas into policy.

RANDALL: Gentlemen, gentlemen, remember me?

SHRUM: Yes, Gene.

HAUSER: Yes, Gene.

RANDALL: Bob Shrum, this week Al Gore's campaign manager, Donna Brazile, said Republicans bring out Colin Powell and J.C Watts from time to time because the GOP has no programs, no policies, and just doesn't care about African-Americans. In response, General Powell asked the vice president to stop playing the race card.

Now, did Mr. Gore apologize to Colin Powell, and should there be action taken about what Donna Brazile said, or was it simply misunderstood?

SHRUM: There is absolutely no apology. I think there was a misunderstanding by General Powell, probably promoted by people at the Republican National Committee.

The fact of the matter is that what Donna said is true. The Republican Party not only has no real program to effectively help African-Americans, in many respects -- for example, its opposition to affirmative action, where General Powell agrees with Bill Bradley, Al Gore and the Democratic Party -- the Republican Party has policies that would hurt African-Americans. RANDALL: Mr. Hauser, do you agree with Donna Brazile's assertions about the Republican Party?

HAUSER: Senator Bradley has said for 35 years that racial unity is critical, and racial divisiveness is something we all ought to work against. I think he has also said in general that the Democratic Party has been better on issues important to African-Americans than Republican Party. But I think that this is a situation for the Gore campaign, so we will let them...

SHRUM: I think its -- I thought you were actually going to take the opportunity to be magnanimous, and not try to sneak in...

HAUSER: I was, I was.

SHRUM: ... and sneak in -- Why, you think what Donna said was wrong?

HAUSER: No, I said what Democratic Party...

SHRUM: Do you think the Republicans...

HAUSER: Can I finish?

SHRUM: ... do you think the Republicans have a policy?

HAUSER: Can I finish?

SHRUM: Do think the Republicans...

HAUSER: Guess not.

SHRUM: ... have a policy? Do you think...

HAUSER: Tell me when I can finish.

SHRUM: I will...

RANDALL: Mr. Hauser?

SHRUM: ... as soon as you answer...

RANDALL: Mr. Hauser?

HAUSER: He's the anchor I think, Bob.

SHRUM: Yes, well.

RANDALL: Mr. Hauser?

HAUSER: I think that the Democratic Party historically...

SHRUM: But Gene is going to ask you the same question...


SHRUM: ... I'm going to ask you.

HAUSER: Right.

SHRUM: Do you believe the Republicans have policies...

RANDALL: Mr. Hauser?

SHRUM: ... that are designed to help African-Americans?

HAUSER: Yes, Gene.

RANDALL: Go ahead, Mr. Hauser.

SHRUM: And you won't answer the question...

HAUSER: I try...

SHRUM: ... just like Bill Bradley...

HAUSER: I am trying to.

SHRUM: ... won't answer why he voted against flood relief.

HAUSER: I think the Democratic Party...

RANDALL: All right, let's...

HAUSER: Go ahead.

RANDALL: Let's move on, let's talk about Iowa.

SHRUM: All right.

RANDALL: Where does Iowa fit in in each of your campaigns. Mr. Hauser?

HAUSER: Well, Iowa is a very important state, and it is uphill, it is uphill. It is a caucus state, it is an organization state, it is a labor state. The vice president has a number of institutional advantages in Iowa, and we respect those, and he is having to pour a lot of resource, a lot of time, a lot of people into the state to protect the lead.

We are going to be competitive here, we are going to be here fighting for Iowans for the next two, two and half weeks. We look forward to a spirited contest. I don't know how it will turn out. I know that history shows that challengers have a tough time, and we are going to do everything we can to get everybody to caucus for Bill Bradley.

RANDALL: Mr. Shrum, your candidate describes himself as the underdog in New Hampshire. How does he turn a victory in Iowa into a real bump in New Hampshire?

SHRUM: Oh, I think the voters would probably do that, and I don't think he would say he was underdog in Iowa. The fact of the matter is that you watch this debate today, he is clearly very in touch with Iowa voters, with foreign policy, with their feelings, with their feelings with what they want to see happen in this country in the next few years. I think Al Gore is clearly the kind of candidate that Iowans are going to vote for.

RANDALL: Bob Shrum and Eric Hauser from Johnston, Iowa, thanks very much. It was a memorable few minutes, because Bob Shrum seemed to swear off pre-debate spin.


When we come back, we'll talk with Iowa state Democratic chairman Rob Tulley. Stay with us.



GORE: We know you voted against ethanol and tried to kill it, and crop insurance and price supports.

BRADLEY: I opposed the mandate for ethanol: bad for my state. It would have meant higher prices. It would have meant also the fact that people had to pay higher costs. I still oppose the mandate for ethanol.

But I do not oppose tax subsidies for ethanol. That was the change, and that came after talking to a lot of family farmers.


RANDALL: Let's go back to Johnston, Iowa, and Rob Tulley, chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party. Mr. Chairman, good to see you again. Thanks very much for being with us.


RANDALL: Iowans have a well-deserved reputation for paying close attention to issues. Is a debate like today apt to move numbers among voters?

TULLEY: Well, I'll tell you that we've got about 23 percent are undecided at this point in time, and so I think the debate will go a long way in doing that. Both of them did a good job today, although I would probably give the edge to the vice president.

RANDALL: And how much is dependent on agricultural policy and what each candidate says about it?

TULLEY: Well, as has been pointed out by a number of pundits before, I mean this is an agricultural state. But one of the things you have to remember is that, you know, the majority of the state, we do other things here. There's other business, although when you have a farm policy that's based upon production, everything having to do with family farmers, we have inter-related industries that reflect an agricultural policy. So it's very important to Iowans that, you know, we have good sound agricultural policy here in the country.

RANDALL: Mr. Tulley, could you in a simplified way explain to people who might not understand how a presidential caucus differs from a primary?

TULLEY: You bet. The biggest difference is, is when you have a primary, the average citizen goes in, they go in a private booth and they vote, and nobody knows what they're doing. A caucus, especially in the Democratic side, you actually go to a location -- it could be even in your neighbor's living room, because we've got well over 2,000 precincts across the state. And what happens on that particular evening -- we'll get together at 7:00 p.m., and at 7:30, they'll break down into preference groups, presidential preference groups.

So you physically stand up in front of your neighbors, and you declare to the whole world who you want to be the next president of the United States.

RANDALL: And what kind of turnout do you expect?

TULLEY: Well, in the past, when we've had some really contested races -- the last real contested race we had in Iowa was in 1988. And then we were a little over 100,000, 125,000 for caucus attendees that night. If the weather -- and I've got to tell you the weather has been wonderful here in Iowa, as it probably has been all over the Midwest -- if this stays the way it is, we'll have record turnouts January 24th.

RANDALL: And Iowa, of course, has always been known for its tropical splendor in the wintertime.


TULLEY: Yes, you bet.

RANDALL: But are these candidates generating the kind of enthusiasm which would mean a large turnout?

TULLEY: Yes. Both the vice president and Senator Bradley have done a great job traveling all over the state. And I've got to tell you, the crowds that both of them are generating are good-sized. And I think that's certainly expected of a sitting vice president, but I think you have to give something to Senator Bradley, the fact that he's able to create these large crowds as well.

RANDALL: And how many satellite dishes do you expect this year in Des Moines?

TULLEY: There will be quite a few.

RANDALL: Rob Tulley is the Democratic chairman in the state of Iowa. Thanks very much, Mr. Chairman.

TULLEY: You bet. It's my pleasure. RANDALL: And we'll see you on the road.

That concludes our coverage of the Iowa presidential debate for now. There is more ahead.


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