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CNN Today

Election 2000: Bush Campaign in Danger of 'Collapsing' if McCain Wins South Carolina Primary

Aired February 4, 2000 - 1:24 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: The hour's top story: A magic week for John McCain. That's the candidate's own description for his big win in New Hampshire, his rise in the South Carolina polls and his expected appearance on all the Republican primary ballots in New York State. That last issue was all but settled yesterday when state Republican officials abandoned their claims that McCain didn't get enough signatures on some of his filing petitions. Most of New York's leading Republicans support George W. Bush for president. New York primary is March 7, South Carolina's February 19. And in South Carolina, John McCain says he's having a wonderful time.

CNN political analyst Bill Schneider joins us now with a pretty good idea of what's behind all those smiles.

Let's talk about New York first, Bill, the promise from the governor that he'll get on all the primary ballots, but the McCain campaign saying that's not good enough, we want to change those rules. So this fight isn't over yet.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, McCain -- he's always taking on the process. That's his issue. And the process in New York of getting on the ballot is ridiculous. I mean, it's like the old Soviet system. So he may have won this battle, but he wants to make the point that this is an arcane process that squeezes out outsiders.

And Pataki did this, allowed McCain on the ballot only because he realized that McCain was getting support because people were so angry at the way he was being treated.

WATERS: What's the practical effect of this in the face of the GOP establishment being firmly behind George W. Bush in New York?

SCHNEIDER: Well, they're behind Bush. They are hoping they can hold the line for Bush, but they are frightened of McCain. I mean, there is a fear and a trembling all over the GOP around the entire country because this guy has suddenly caught on, he's a popular sensation. In South Carolina they're worried, in New York they're worried, the United States Senate, all those Republicans who endorsed George Bush are worried. Could this guy really overcome them? The answer is yes.

WATERS: Yes, first things first. That South Carolina primary poll, you may have some poll numbers from other places, but the Zogby poll puts -- well, almost level within the margin of error -- McCain is now five points ahead of George W. Bush, but what's remarkable about this, it was the time CNN poll, what, over the weekend, it had Bush ahead 20 points.

SCHNEIDER: Yes, such is the way of momentum. New Hampshire, he's caught fire, he is a sensation. The Republican establishment has to stop McCain in South Carolina. If McCain beats Bush in South Carolina, I can see the Bush campaign just collapsing because, look, George Bush is an unknown quantity. The whole Republican Party, all those big contributors gave him -- they just threw money at him. They were betting on an unknown. He's not a hero, really, to conservatives.

And McCain claims he's a conservative, he's acceptable to conservatives. The establishment in South Carolina is split. There are two very well-known and popular Republican members of Congress, Lindsey Graham, Mark Sanford, who are supporting John McCain. And there are a lot of new voters there who are choosing to be supporting John McCain. So the establishment can just get run over by this guy.

WATERS: What about the money issue? There's more Internet money coming into the McCain campaign, but is it enough, and does he need a lot of money to overcome the odds in South Carolina and beyond?

SCHNEIDER: Well, apparently, he's raised about a million -- almost a million dollars over the Internet, which is a new way of raising money, and you can do it real fast. You don't have to wait for the checks to come in, I mean, the pledges are right there. But he doesn't need a lot of money because he's got something else: He's got the press, he's got free media. He cultivated the press in New Hampshire. That's what that bus tour was all about. The reporters like him, he's a great story. And look what's happening in South Carolina: There are no ads, there are no rallies, it's not his message. It's the media that's carrying this sensational story of this guy suddenly triumphing over the anointed crown-prince of the Republican Party.

WATERS: It's getting real interesting.

SCHNEIDER: And exciting.

WATERS: Bill Schneider, our senior political analyst in Washington today.

Thanks, Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Sure.

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