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Special Event

Democratic Presidential Candidates Focus on Race Relations in Debate From Apollo Theater

Aired February 21, 2000 - 10:30 p.m. ET

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

ANNOUNCER: Our "TIME" magazine and CNN "Election 2000" special report continues. Here now, Jeff Greenfield and Walter Isaacson at the Apollo Theater in New York.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome, and in the words of countless wannabe musical artists, we are live at New York's Apollo Theater, where a few moments ago a Democratic debate between former Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey and Vice President Al Gore concluded.

You now see the candidates working the crowd. You might notice some famous faces among them. There were many famous faces here.

With me, perhaps not so famous but just as estimable, "Time" magazine manager editor Walter Isaacson and "Time" magazine correspondent Jack White. In a few moments we'll be talking live with the candidates. We will be going to Candy Crowley and John King for a preview of tomorrow's Michigan and Arizona Republican primaries. But first to the business of tonight.

Walter, you were in the audience. What struck you, if anything, as particularly memorable about tonight's debate?

WALTER ISAACSON, MANAGING EDITOR, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, you know, it's the first time I've ever seen a prize fight or a wrestling match at the Apollo. It was amazing. I'm sitting there taking notes, and I felt like I was keeping score of the jabs and the low-blows and everything else. What struck me was that Bradley obviously decided he had to take the fight to Gore. He had to go on the offensive. And he tried real hard. He kept punching, but I don't think he quite exuded the passion of somebody really on the offense -- Jack.

JACK WHITE, "TIME" CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Walter, there's a tradition in the black community called "playing the dozens," in which you try to hurl the worst insults at each other. And that's really what we saw on this stage at the Apollo Theater here tonight, two white presidential candidates playing the dozens with each other. And they both gave as good as they got.

The thing about it, though, is that it probably does not change the condition that we came in here with, which is that Al Gore has the support of almost the entire black political establishment in New York state. I don't think there was any reason given for that to change, and I think that's -- the burden is on Bradley to try to find ways to shift that away. I don't think he quite did it.

ISAACSON: You know, Bradley has always said that race was his passion. Race was the reason he was in public life in many ways. And he just doesn't seem to be able to convey the music. Did he tonight?

WHITE: No, you can't have poetry without a poet. And I think Bradley is a little -- this is a community that is obviously used to very wonderful rhetoric from its pulpits, for example. He just does not have the passion and the lyricism that the black community wants to hear -- or the passion.

GREENFIELD: But there may be, Jack and Walter, a more fundamental problem. And that is that Al Gore is the sitting vice president of a -- in a presidency that is probably more popular among African-Americans probably than any presidency since Roosevelt. I mean, that sounds extreme, but I think that's right. How do you break through that?

WHITE: I don't think you can unless you give people a reason for breaking away with it. And I just don't think Bradley does that.

GREENFIELD: Let's talk for a minute, if I could, about policy. Some of the sharpest rhetoric was not about policy but about character. They did not seem, at least in my listening, to differ that much about fundamental policy grounds.

ISAACSON: I do think that what Bradley's trying to do is saying that Gore talks the talk now, but he hasn't been walking the walk over the years, that he's been a conservative congressman, a conservative Democrat. He was against eliminating the tax breaks for schools that discriminate, he was against gun control. He's done it before on abortion. He's trying to paint him that way, as somebody who's changed.

I think Gore's problem is not that he has changed -- because he has changed somewhat -- but he hasn't been able to explain the change in a way that's compelling.

GREENFIELD: If I may point out -- this is live television, Senator, come on in.

We are joined now by the tallest among us, former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley.

Welcome to our microphones and cameras.

BILL BRADLEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you very much. It's a great pleasure to be here, as always, and to see you, Jeff. I think that you did a remarkable job out there tonight asking the questions and following up, and it was a pleasure to be a part of the evening.

I think this was a historic evening here at the Apollo.

GREENFIELD: In what sense? BRADLEY: It shows respect for the African-American community in a profound way. I'm very pleased to have been a part of it. And I think that what it says is that the Democratic Party's presidential candidates are paying respect and in the process debating real issues before a wide number of people.

WHITE: Do you think you did anything, though, to shake the widespread support that the vice president has among the black political establishment in New York?

BRADLEY: Well, among the political establishment, probably unlikely. But I do think that people have to realize that he has not always been Bill Clinton's vice president, but that he has a very conservative Democrat record across the board when he was in Congress. And the question really is, what will the future be? And I think that in the course of the debate, there were any number of points that he did not successfully respond to in a way that would alleviate those concerns.

GREENFIELD: Let me suggest, though, something we were talking about just before you got here -- so now we can ask this to your face. He's the vice president in an administration which is more popular among African-Americans than any since Franklin Roosevelt on appointments, on what's happened in the economy, number of blacks in colleges, fewer blacks on welfare. Isn't it possible that there may be a fundamental problem you face in trying to undercut the vice president's support, not with the establishment but with the African- American community at large?

BRADLEY: Well, I think the question is, do they really know Al Gore? I think they know the president and they know what the president's administration has done. And I think there's the assumption that things will just continue. But I believe that there's at least a record that has to be explored to raise questions about that future. And that's, I think, what I did tonight in a way to let people know that if you're going to get into a general election, you might have more of a problem than you think.

GREENFIELD: Senator Bradley, this is a constricted program so we want to thank you for coming over.

BRADLEY: Thank you, thank you.

GREENFIELD: Best of luck to you -- if I can reach out.

BRADLEY: Well, you know, now I guess I'll go out and have a beer. The game's over.

GREENFIELD: And when we come back, we'll be joined by the vice president of the United States, Al Gore.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREENFIELD: a live shot of the Apollo Theater on 125th street in New York's Harlem. No, the crowd is not leaving a Motown review, this was the debate between the vice president, Al Gore, and former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley, the contestants for the Democratic presidential nomination.

We are joined now by the vice president. "Time" magazine managing editor Walter Isaacson, it's all yours.

ISAACSON: You know, Senator Bradley was sure punching at you tonight and made it a real fight on stage. And he says that you were once a conservative Democrat, a conservative congressman, and that you've changed on a whole lot of things, not to know what to believe about you. Let's take gun control, for example. You were less in favor of gun control 10, 15 years ago than you are now.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's definitely true.

ISAACSON: Tell us why you evolved.

GORE: That part's definitely true. When I represented a rural farm district in the House of Representatives, there wasn't a problem perceived by my constituents.

But two things changed. When I moved to the Senate, I saw through the eyes of citizens in Memphis and Nashville and Chattanooga and Knoxville. And secondly, the epidemic of gun violence swept across America and we have the situation we have now.

When I was in the Senate, I was one of the original co-sponsors of the Brady law. I began to work to impose more controls on guns. I support a photo license I.D. for the purchase of new handguns. And that distinction is not a rhetorical one, it's a practical one. Many of the experts think that's the best way to go about it.

ISAACSON: But do you think the general charge that you've evolved from being a more conservative congressman to a more liberal candidate is fair?

GORE: Well, I was always attacked in my campaigns in the House and Senate for being too liberal. I've always rejected both labels. I think they're both out of date. I mentioned in the debate that I have a higher COPE (ph) rating over my career than Senator Bradley does. And, I mean, I think that all of us grow and learn as we encounter people who have real experiences in life. And, you know, theory collides with reality, and you begin to see better solutions for problems. So sure, I've changed my views on some things and I think that's a good thing.

WHITE: Early on in the debate tonight, you said that New Jersey was practically the place where racial profiling was invented.

GORE: Yes.

WHITE: Wasn't that a bit of an unfair thing to say about Senator Bradley? GORE: Oh, I don't think so. I think -- well, it was the first place where I saw it reported. I think that the problem with the state highway patrol there really was the first time that a lot of Americans in the majority, at least, in the majority community, really became aware of the problem.

Now, Mayor Sharp James of Newark is here. You may know the story. He tells it to anybody who will listen. He supported Senator Bradley in his first campaign and claims that he and others asked him for help on profiling when it emerged in New Jersey, which was certainly at a time before I knew that it was an issue -- or realized it was an issue, and he claims that they didn't get the help. I know that in the White House we never heard from Senator Bradley on this question. So, you know, I don't think it's unfair to say that New Jersey was certainly one of the first places where it came up.

WHITE: But is Senator Bradley in any way responsible for that?

GORE: Well, I think if you talk to the mayor of the largest city in New Jersey, he will say yes, because he did not respond to it.

GREENFIELD: OK, you're saved by the bell, Mr. Vice President. I was going to ask you to name the lead singer of the Five Satins, but unfortunately we're out of time. Thank you for joining us.

When we come back, we go to Michigan and CNN correspondents John King and Candy Crowley with the Republicans.

Back in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREENFIELD: The scene at the Apollo Theater as the crowd is still mingling after the debate between Al Gore and Bill Bradley.

We want to go now to Michigan where tomorrow a critical Republican primary is going to be held. There's also one in John McCain's home state of Arizona. And we're joined in Michigan by John King, CNN senior White House correspondent, who's been covering John McCain, and Candy Crowley with the Bush campaign.

First to you, Candy -- we will not ask for predictions, but what's up? What's the drill out in Michigan the night before the primary?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I can tell you that members of the Republican Party that are loyalists to John Engler and George Bush are on the phone even as we speak. They think they've done over half a million phone calls by the time they get done Tuesday, from Thursday to Tuesday. They are all over this. They're trying to use the South Carolina formula to bring out a victory here, and that is to go back to your traditional Republicans and say, you've got to come out here. This is another one of those cross-over states, and if you want to decide who the nominee is, come on out.

So it's been purely "get out the vote" for the entire three days we've been here.

ISAACSON: I was going to ask John King a question. It's Walter Isaacson, John. McCain has sure been swinging in the past few days, trying to emulate the hard-knuckle tactics of Governor Bush. Have you seen that today? Is it having any effect?

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We saw that today at a morning rally in Traverse City, by far Senator McCain's best crowd here in Michigan: very aggressive contrast on taxes and spending. Senator McCain wants to put aside a big chunk of the federal surplus to Social Security. He says Governor Bush has not a penny. Senator McCain says his tax cut is much more targeted toward to working families, and he mocks George Bush, saying he wants to give Bill Gates a tax cut.

Very aggressive from Senator McCain today, but with only two days to campaign here in Michigan, a great concern in his campaign that the people of Michigan will even see much of this. And as Candy just mentioned, the polls here show a dead heat, but history will tell you in a dead heat the candidate with the organization wins. And in Michigan and in most other states, the candidate with the organization, the support of the Republican -- excuse me -- Republican governor and the support of so many Republican activist groups is George W. Bush. The McCain camp very worried about that.

GREENFIELD: John, talk to us for a minute about the McCain rhetoric. Saturday night in his concession speech, he was, to put it mildly, pretty tough on the governor. What's he been saying in Michigan about the governor?

KING: He has his line that he says it is mature to put aside money for Social Security, mature to put aside money aside for Medicare: again trying to make the case that Governor Bush is not ready to be president of the United States.

It is clear that George Bush got under Senator McCain's skin in South Carolina, Senator McCain complaining at every stop about the negative tone of the campaign. Today the McCain campaign complaining about so-called "advocacy calls," tape-recorded messages essentially phone banked into people's homes. One of those here today in Michigan from Pat Robertson, the founder of the Christian Coalition: very critical of John McCain and John McCain's national campaign chairman, the former New Hampshire Senator Warren Rudman. Senator McCain very upset, very angry in public about the tactics of the Bush campaign. But again, one reason a candidate complains about tactics is when he thinks he's losing.

WHITE: All right, John, we've been hearing some talk that some Democrats may decide to enter the Republican primary in order to support McCain. Is anything coming of that?

KING: Well, Senator McCain has publicly denounced any effort to have Democrats come out only to get at George W. Bush, but he has publicly courted Democratic support. He did so in Michigan. Some more Democrats came out but not enough. The question is will enough Democrats and independents turn out here in Michigan to offset Governor Bush's deep advantage among traditional Republicans. GREENFIELD: Candy Crowley, is there any concern in the Bush camp about this alleged surge of Democrats or independents into the Republican primary?

CROWLEY: Sure. I mean, they think cross-over is going to be pretty high from both Democrats and independents. They would tell you -- and in fact Governor Engler came up and showed the pool, that limited number of people who were on the bus with Bush and Engler -- a copy of a flier that was put out, paid for by the McCain campaign, that openly said to Democrats: Come on in; you can vote in this campaign; you don't have to give up any of your other Democratic activities. You know, Engler referred to it as hire a Democrat.

And so they -- they are worried about that. They're also fairly confident -- but the polls don't show it yet -- that they are going to bring out a fairly large number of Republicans. They're looking for almost but not quite double what they got during the Dole primary.

So it's going to be a huge turnout, and as you know, the conventional wisdom is that will favor McCain. It didn't work in South Carolina. They don't think it'll work here.

But they are worried about the Democrats. There have been a couple of sort of high-profile Democrats that have been out actively urging Democrats to -- quote -- "send a message to Engler." So they think there'll be some of that; they hope there just won't be too much of it and that they've got the votes to outweigh it.

GREENFIELD: Candy, I know -- I know that nobody in a campaign likes to be too cocky, but is there a sense in the Bush campaign that if they win Michigan, effectively the fight for the nomination is over?

CROWLEY: You know, I would have to mind read on that right now, Jeff. I mean, no one is even saying it privately. I mean, they just don't want to do it: first of all, because this has been a surprising campaign so far. I mean, everybody's kind of turned in margins in states that we didn't expect.

I mean, the governor was asked that today publicly, and he said, you know, it is up to everybody to decide, you know, when they're leaving, when they're staying. You know, John is a viable candidate. We're going to be out there fighting for every delegate.

And I essentially hear the same thing in private. I don't think that they trust this election cycle enough to be able to say, hey, yes, after Michigan it's all over. I think they would love it if we did. So sure, they're expecting that they'll get that kind of negative spin, if you will, out of Michigan, but I don't think you're going to hear it coming from them.

GREENFIELD: Candy Crowley, John King in Michigan, we'll be -- see you tomorrow. And I believe we are pretty much at the end of the hour. Any final quick thoughts from you, John -- Jack.

WHITE: No, I mean, I think what's really amazing is the level of intensity between the two candidates we saw debate here tonight. I don't think I can ever recall a debate that got really quite this personal for such an extended period of time. It was punch-up from beginning to end.

ISAACSON: You know, Bradley seemed so annoyed. He seemed like the exasperated grown-up, and Gore seemed like the feisty, almost teenage debate club president.

GREENFIELD: Jack White, Walter Isaacson, thank you, and thank you for watching. I will remind you that CNN will be covering the Michigan and Arizona Republican primaries tomorrow, starting at dawn. Special coverage begins at 8:00 p.m. tomorrow night with Bernard Shaw, Judy Woodruff and myself. And we will be on until we know exactly what has happened and why.

For all of us at CNN and for "TIME" magazine, thanks very for watching. Good night. And if you're in Michigan and Arizona, don't forget to vote.

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