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CNN Late Edition

Both Sides for Prepare for Super Tuesday Showdown

Aired February 27, 2000 - 12:00 p.m. ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's noon in Washington, 9:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 6:00 p.m. in Rome and 7:00 p.m. in Cairo. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks for joining us for this 90- minute LATE EDITION.

We'll get to our guests shortly, but first let's get the latest from the presidential campaign trail. Both Democratic presidential candidates are in Seattle, Washington today, campaigning before Tuesday's non-binding Democratic primary. No delegates are up for grabs in the so-called beauty contest, but Al Gore and Bill Bradley are taking every match-up seriously.

CNN's Bob Franken is in Seattle covering the Gore-Bradley campaign events today -- Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Wolf.

First of all, the fact that we are in Washington state, the state having its 15 minutes of political fame, is a little bit of surprise. The Democratic contest is a beauty contest, very, very confusing kind of primary.

The reason we're here is because Bill Bradley decided that he would take, what we're calling, his last stand. If he's able to achieve his momentum then this is where he wants to do it.

Now you're looking at the Vice President Al Gore at a chili event yesterday, the state Democratic Party in fact throws this event where people are fed chili and pay money to the party and both candidates were invited. Gore decided to go, but Bill Bradley did not.

It really sort of tells the whole story of the campaign. Bill Bradley held an alternative event at a nearby bar, the Old Time Cafe. Why did he do that? Because he said the state Democratic Party has been unfair and has favored Al Gore, he wants to be the anti- establishment candidate, so he held an event that was really quite raucous, particularly by Bill Bradley standards.

Here is the man described as aloof serving chili. The fact of the matter is, however, that he, so far, has not been able to serve up a real surge. Although his aides claim he is gaining momentum, he is quite far behind, even though Bradley this morning argued that he is the man who might best take on John McCain, the Republican.


BILL BRADLEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: With me, the independents get reform-plus. I mean, there are real differences between John McCain and I. I'm pro-choice, he is not. I'm pro-gun control, he is not. I want to protect the environment, he has a bad record. I'm making a major investment in education and health care, and he doesn't make any. I think I offer a stronger appeal to independents across the country.


FRANKEN: Well, John McCain has in fact been bad news for Bill Bradley throughout the campaign, including now. He's taken all the reform attention away from Bradley, Bradley's trying to recover it. He did get some good news this morning, "The Seattle Times," the Sunday paper, came out with an editorial endorsing Bradley, saying he offers intelligent stewardship of a great nation's hopes, fears and ambitions. "The Seattle Post-Intelligencer" has came out for Al Gore, a little bit of a tepid endorsement, saying that even though Gore is the insincere political person, he is the one who should get the endorsement.

See what kind of race it is, it's a very quirky state, Wolf, and Bill Bradley is trying to make it his place where he makes his last stand and hopefully a spring board for success that he hasn't had yet.

BLITZER: OK, Bob Franken, reporting live from Seattle, thanks for joining us.

Although three states hold contests on Tuesday, Washington state, Virginia and North Dakota, the candidates are increasingly focusing their attention on next week's Super Tuesday battles which could make or break their campaigns.

Joining us now to talk about the upcoming races are governors who lead the two states with the most delegates up for grabs. California's Democratic Governor Gray Davis, is supporting Vice President Al Gore. And New York's Republican Governor George Pataki is backing Texas Governor George W. Bush.

Governors, welcome to LATE EDITION. Good to have both of you on our program.

Let me begin with Governor Pataki. "The New York Post" today, a major newspaper in your state, endorses John McCain in the battle against George W. Bush, calling John McCain, quote, "our best hope." And goes on to say this:

"Who is best-equipped to restore dignity to the White House after two terms of Clintonian sleaze, corruption and moral delinquency? We believe that man to be John McCain. New York Republicans who value experience, maturity, sound judgment, and above all, honor and character have no real choice but to vote for him on March 7."

GOV. GEORGE PATAKI (R), NEW YORK: Well, Wolf, endorsements are nice but the most important thing is to have the best candidate. And I'm supporting Governor Bush because based on his principles, on his record and his character, the type of person he is, I have no doubt that he is not just best for the Republican Party, but he's best for the United States.

And I know right now a lot of the media is caught up in the McCain phenomenon, but I think when people take a cold look at their records and at their vision and at their stands, Governor Bush is the only one who has executive experience. He's run a diverse state, extremely successfully. He's been an inclusive governor, has reached out and got over 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in the state of Texas.

I just am confident that yes, it's going to be a difficult fight, but when people take another look at the two candidates in the Republican primary, they're going to say that Governor Bush is the person with the right experience and vision to lead our country.

BLITZER: You know, Governor Davis, a lot of Democrats seem to like John McCain but they may live to regret that if in fact he gets the Republican nomination, because polls show that he may be a more formidable challenger to Al Gore, or Bill Bradley for that matter, than George W. Bush. Look, in fact, in California, our latest CNN/"Time" poll shows that in a race between Gore and Bush, Gore, 54 percent, Bush, 41 percent. But John McCain and Al Gore would be about evenly divided, that Gore would have a much tougher race against John McCain than George W. Bush.

GOV. GRAY DAVIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I think everyone is proud of John McCain's service in Vietnam. As you know I served in Vietnam, Al Gore served in Vietnam. Many people answered the call.

But in California, that's not enough to get elected. At a time when we have a surging economy and the crime rate is plummeting, the issues that really count in California and the issues they are looking for presidential leadership on, are a woman's right to choose, the environment and gun control, sensible gun control. All three of those issues, Al Gore is in the right place for California and George Bush and McCain are in the wrong place.

So he's enjoying an enormous surge at the moment. But when people look at where he is on the issues, I think those numbers will start to come down.

BLITZER: Bill Bradley strongly disagrees with you when it comes to an eventual contest if it comes down to Al Gore and George W. Bush. In fact, listen to what Bill Bradley said earlier today on "Face the Nation."


BRADLEY: I think it would be very difficult for Al Gore to beat John McCain on one level because he is the reform candidate and Al Gore cannot be the reform candidate. John McCain has said he's going to beat Al Gore like a drum on the 1996 fund-raising scandals. I think that makes it very difficult for Al Gore to be able to get independent voters. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you say to Bill Bradley who makes the case obviously for himself but against Vice President Gore?

DAVIS: Well, I also have respect for Bill Bradley, but let me say this: we're forgetting that Al Gore participated in the greatest economic expansion America has ever known. And we in California were very late to come out of the recession. We were in it until 1994.

So we know how much better off we are today than just a few years ago and we realize that Al Gore participated in those decisions.

Now everyone has shortcomings, every candidate. I have them, everyone who runs. But in the end, people decide: Are you reliable and are you with me on the issues and have you done something for me? On all three counts, Al Gore's in very good shape against anyone.

BLITZER: Governor Pataki, one reason that George W. Bush may be having some problems and may have had some problems in Michigan, potentially in New York and California, was because of his controversial decision to go to Bob Jones University in South Carolina. He has now written a letter to John Cardinal O'Connor in New York saying that was a mistake.

Let me read to you an excerpt that Governor Bush has now written in this letter to Cardinal O'Connor:

"In my speech to the students, he says, I emphasize that I am a uniter, not a divider, and that Americans can work together for the good of all. On reflection, I should have been more clear in disassociating myself from anti-Catholic sentiments and racial prejudice. It was a missed opportunity causing needless offense, which I deeply regret."

PATAKI: Well, I'm glad that Governor Bush has sent that letter, because I think it really reflects his character. And I've known Governor Bush not just as a co-governor but I've know him since our college days together a long time ago. And he is a very, very inclusive person, he's a tolerant person, he's one who reaches out and wants to bring people together.

And I think Senator McCain and his campaign were very effective in using this incident to try to paint Governor Bush as something that he's not. He's a very tolerant, open person. And I'm pleased that he is recognizing that he has to stand for that tolerance.

And on the other hand, I have to say that I'm very disappointed that the McCain campaign has been out there using this and in fact acknowledging after first denying making phone calls injecting religion into the campaign. I think that is abhorrent in American politics. I just saw today where Senator McCain was talking about his campaign continuing doing that, and I would urge him to repudiate that type of divisive tactic and talk about the issues and talk about the records.

BLITZER: We'll speak to Vin Weber, who supports John McCain, later in this program.

But, Governor Pataki, the Bush decision -- which he now acknowledges was a mistake -- to go to Bob Jones University, plus a lot of people are concerned about the Pat Robertson endorsement, the Christian Coalition, is this going to be -- if Governor Bush gets the nomination, is this going to be an issue that Democrats down the road -- Al Gore, your man -- will continue to rail against, the alleged anti-Catholic bias, the racial issue involving his decision to go to Bob Jones University?

DAVIS: I would not have gone to Bob Jones unless I said initially that I oppose the policy of a ban on interracial dating. The only reason to go there is to say: I want to make a statement to you, but I don't agree with everything you're doing. Otherwise you invite the criticism George Bush is receiving.

I do think it will be an issue in the fall election -- assuming George Bush is the nominee.

But again, let me come back to the issues that matter in my state. With a strong economy and crime going down, you have just got to be on these issues. And if you're not, you're dead on arrival.

Sensible gun control: George Bush just signed a bill allowing you to take a weapon into a church or synagogue; that is not going to sell in California. You've got to be for a woman's right to choose; both McCain and Bush are on the wrong side of that. You've got to be a strong environmental proponent, and they both have terrible ratings from the League of Conservation Voters.

So when we get down to issues -- which is what people care about in the end -- I think both of those candidates are going to have a tough sell in California.

PATAKI: Wolf, let me say, I don't think they're going to have a tough sell at all. I think Governor Bush will be our nominee, and I think he will be the next president, I think in large part because people are tired of eight years of Clinton-Gore.

I think they have taken a look at what's happened in Washington, taken a look at the actions of the White House, and Governor Davis earlier said that Vice President Gore was a part of all those decisions, and I think that's right and I think the American people are looking for someone with a character to restore the dignity and prestige of the office of the presidency.

And I think that's Governor Bush, so I think there's a tremendous opportunity, including in California and in New York for Governor Bush to win based on that.

BLITZER: It's a pretty close race in New York state between Bush and McCain, in fact the "Albany Times Union" in an editorial today endorsed John McCain but it went on to take a slam at you for the effort that was eventually reversed to try to keep him off, McCain off, the ballot in New York state.

Listen to what "The Albany Times-Union" writes today:

"In New York, the party bosses wanted to rig the GOP primary in essence by keeping Mr. McCain off the ballot. On March 7, Republican voters can reject such heavy handed politics and help give their party's nomination to the principled conservative who's their best presidential contender of all."

PATAKI: Well, I think we should support the principled conservative who is the best contender of all, and that's Governor Bush and I think his message of compassionate conservatism, an inclusive, open Republican Party is a very positive one. I'm very confident that not because of any organizational support but because of the character and vision and the principles of the candidate, that Governor Bush is going to win in New York.

BLITZER: OK, Governors, stand by, we have to take a quick break.

More questions for Governors George Pataki and Gray Davis right after this.



VICE PRESIDENT ALBERT GORE JR. (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I make you this pledge: that if you entrust me with presidency, I will not let you down.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I proudly stand before you as a reformer who has gotten positive results when given the chance to lead.


BLITZER: Vice President Al Gore and Texas Governor George W. Bush speaking on the campaign trail this week.

Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

We're continuing our conversation with California Governor and Gore supporter Gray Davis and New York Governor and Bush supporter George Pataki.

Governor Davis, the latest CNN/"Time" poll in California shows that Al Gore is way ahead of Bill Bradley. In fact, it shows among likely Democratic voters, 56 percent for Al Gore, 12 percent for Bill Bradley. Gary South, who's one of the campaign chairman for Al Gore, is advising the vice president, stay away from California. Spend your money, spend your time elsewhere. You don't need to come here, you're so far ahead. Is that good advice for Al Gore?

DAVIS: Well, Gary South ran my campaign, and we came from way behind to win. So I'm not going to criticize him.

My own personal view is you ought to stay in there until the end, nothing happens until people cast their votes. But I do think Californians are going to be there big time for Al Gore, not just because he's right on the issues, but he's been there for us so many times, whether it was drought relief -- I mean flood relief earlier this year -- freeze relief, rather, earlier this year in the central valley, or class-size waivers, or family PAC (ph) waivers. I mean, time and again we've asked him for help and he's come through for us. That's why I'm sure California's going to come through for him on March 7 and again in November.

BLITZER: All right, let...

PATAKI: If I might, you just had the clip of Al Gore saying, As president I will not let you down. He's already let us down as vice president in raising funds in a Buddhist temple, and getting involved in some of the other Clinton scandals. So, I think there's an enormous opportunity for someone of character and vision, like Governor Bush, to win California and America.

DAVIS: If I may, this man came out of a Norman Rockwell painting. You would be hard oppressed to find a more decent, honorable man than Al Gore. And if you want make a big deal, George, about Buddhist temple, there's a thousand things that George Bush and McCain have done that will come out in the campaign. Let's not focus on the shortcomings, let's focus on their vision for America.

PATAKI: I agree with that part.

BLITZER: All right, let's move on. Let's talk about some other issues in the news, and one big issue in New York state, in fact around the country, the verdict in the Amadou Diallo trial. Four white police officers not guilty on all counts, even though they shot this man with 41 -- 41 times. Was this -- was justice served in this verdict?

PATAKI: Well, Wolf, it was a horrible incident, and everyone is shocked and really appalled by what happened to a person who was totally innocent -- an immigrant who came here with his hopes to achieve the American dream.

But I have confidence in our system of criminal justice in New York state. I think it is a fair and a just system. And we had a jury that was a cross-section of New Yorkers, a diverse jury that heard the facts and made the determination. And I certainly have no reason to do anything but support that verdict.

I don't think we should just stop there, though. Someone is dead, and I can understand the outrage in a community when someone is shot 41 times, who has no record, no gun and not engaged in criminal activity. The Justice Department has now agreed to investigate that incident further, I think that's appropriate. I hope they get through it speedily and come to appropriate conclusions.

But I think our Justice Department -- our justice system in New York is fair, this was a fair trial and there's no reason to do anything but stand by and support that verdict. BLITZER: Should New York City or New York state, for that matter, make a financial settlement with the Diallo family in order to prevent a civil lawsuit going against -- a wrongful death suit going against the state?

PATAKI: Well, that's -- it would be against the city. That's for the lawyers to decide.

I have to look at the broader system of justice. And I believe in our system of justice. I think the jury system worked as it should work in this case.

But we also have to learn from this incident. And whether it's better training for police or more supervision, we have to do everything in our power to try to see that something like this does not happen again.

BLITZER: All right, another big issue that's out there, Governor Davis, is this whole issue of whether the states should tax e- commerce, the Internet. And John McCain has made a flat statement; he doesn't think it should ever be taxed. The other candidates, by and large, are saying, Keep a freeze for the time being but leave the options open for the states to impose sales tax on e-commerce. What do you say?

DAVIS: Well, I think we ought to have -- I think we ought to extend the moratorium on taxation at least another three years. The Internet is at best nine years old. While we think it has enormous potential, let's see where it leads us over the next two or three years because it's not that simple.

I mean, even if you were to impose a sales tax on the Internet, which I oppose, people would just click on Quebec, or Mexico City, or Paris, and buy the same goods, and so it's not as simple as people think. Plus, if you're like New York and California, and have an income tax -- personal income tax, corporate income tax, you'll quickly discover the enormous increase in personal wealth, job opportunities, stock options, capital gains revenue, more than offsets any softening in the sales tax.

BLITZER: And you agree with the governor?

PATAKI: Gray and I are in complete agreement on this, and I think what Governor Davis just said is very important. The Internet is not costing states revenue, it is generating enormous revenue by impacting positively the lives of Americans across the country. It is helping for this economic expansion that we're seeing. It's one of the causes. It's a deflationary factor. And so I think we should certainly have a moratorium on new taxes and not impose any sales tax on Internet services.

BLITZER: And on a related issue, I know the two of you have been involved in this whole study whether there should be voting on the Internet -- e-voting what they call. At a time when there are so many hackers and there are security problems, is this a good idea to let people vote on the Internet? PATAKI: It's a good idea but we're not there to where we could implement that idea at this point. To allow voters greater convenience, particularly people who have to vote by absentee, to be able to just click on and vote would be a very positive thing.

But there is the risk of hackers, who could be there influencing the person casting the vote, there's the digital divide, where many low income Americans don't have the capacity to do that. Would that have an impact on the ability of people to cast fair and open voting? So we're not there. But it's certainly something that the Internet and e-commerce are exploding and creating enormous opportunities, this is one we should look at.

Wolf: Governor Davis, do you agree?

DAVIS: Yes, I agree. The question is not whether we are going to have Internet voting but when. And I predict we'll have it by the next presidential election. We do have to deal with issues we have not yet resolved of security and privacy.

But in Riverside County, just this fall, we're going to experiment with people voting by computer in malls, so that that's a precursor for Internet voting down the road. This is coming, you can count on it.

BLITZER: We only have a few seconds left. But some people look at the picture of the two of you right now may come to the conclusion that I am now interviewing two potential vice presidents of the United States. If the Democratic nominee, Governor Davis, asks you to be his running mate, will you be happy to serve?

DAVIS: I've been asked this a zillion times, so let me answer in one question, no. And to quote Regis Philbin, that's my final answer. I have one of the best jobs in America, and I'm not leaving it.

BLITZER: Governor Pataki, Vice President Pataki?

PATAKI: I certainly have one of the great jobs in America and there's a lot left to do in New York. And my goal right now is to see that we get Governor Bush the nomination and then win in November and I'm going to do everything I can to realize that.

BLITZER: Is that your final answer?

PATAKI: That's my final answer.

BLITZER: Governor Pataki, Governor Davis, thank you for joining us. I know you're both in town for the National Governors Association meeting. Whenever you come to Washington you have an open invitation to join us here.

PATAKI: Thank you.

DAVIS: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you very much. And when we return, a closer look at the hotly-contested Republican presidential race, McCain versus Bush. Will Super Tuesday determine which candidate wins the GOP nomination? We'll ask McCain campaign strategist Vin Weber and Bush supporter Haley Barbour.

BLITZER: LATE EDITION will be right back.



SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are creating a new majority, my friends, a McCain majority.

BUSH: He's going to learn in the long run it's going to be Republicans and like-minded independents who are going to make the decision in this primary.


BLITZER: Arizona Senator John McCain and Texas Governor George W. Bush after McCain's win in the Michigan primary Tuesday.

Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

Joining us now for perspective on the GOP race, McCain strategist and former Minnesota Republican congressman Vin Weber and Bush supporter and former Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour.

Gentlemen, welcome back to LATE EDITION.

And, Mr. Barbour, I'll begin with you. How big of a mistake was it for George W. Bush to visit Bob Jones University in South Carolina?

HALEY BARBOUR, FORMER REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CHAIRMAN: Well, you know, Wolf, as long as there's been politics in South Carolina, people have stopped at Bob Jones University just like they stop at Clemson, at the Citadel or the University of South Carolina or the Darlington Motor Speedway.

In fact it was interesting to me that Senator McCain, who has attacked Bush and tried to insinuate that he's anti-Catholic because he went to Bob Jones University, in his whole campaign through South Carolina Senator McCain had at is his elbow Congressman Lindsey Graham, his campaign manager for South Carolina, who's a great guy. But John McCain never said was Lindsey Graham has, in the last few months, got a honorary degree from Bob Jones University. Does John McCain think Lindsey Graham's anti-Catholic? Of course not, the phony hypocrisy of this issue is what the press doesn't point out.

BLITZER: All right, Vin Weber, what do you say?

VIN WEBER, MCCAIN STRATEGIST: A little different point of view. First of all, we don't think Governor Bush is anti-Catholic, we don't imply that Governor Bush is anti-Catholic. We don't imply that Governor Bush is anti- Catholic.

We say very directly, and I as a Catholic say very directly, he badly mishandled this issue. The appearance at Bob Jones University was one thing, but several days later to go on "Meet The Press," you've had several days to think about this, you know exactly what you're dealing with, have Tim Russert put in front of him words from Bob Jones' supporters describing the Pope as the anti-Christ, and the Catholic Church has a satanic cult spreading communism around the world and basically respond by saying, I disagree.

I disagree with Haley's choice of neckties, you condemn something like that. And he didn't condemn something like that, and he's going to pay a price for it whether it's with us or with the Democrats in the Fall.

BLITZER: You know, Haley Barbour, the governor does now say in this letter he's written to the Cardinal O'Connor that he does regret, deeply regret, the missed opportunity, in his words, to express his opinions on racism, on anti-Catholicism while he was at Bob Jones University.

BARBOUR: And I suspect, or hope at least, Senator McCain regrets the Catholic voter alert calls that his campaign paid for to insinuate that Bush was anti-Catholic, which first the campaign denied, after the polls closed admitted. And then last week Cardinal Maida, the archbishop of Detroit, condemned those Catholic voter alert phone calls, and so I hope maybe that Senator McCain will say that Cardinal Maida's right, we shouldn't be trying to pervert religion into political issue when we know George Bush is not anti-Catholic.

BLITZER: Vin Weber, here's a sample of that controversial McCain- sponsored Catholic voter alert phone call. Let me play this little sample of that because I think this is an important issue that gets to the heart of some of the credibility that John McCain has, of course, tried to promote.

Listen to this.


ANNOUNCER: Several weeks ago, Governor Bush spoke at Bob Jones University in South Carolina. Bob Jones had played strong anti- Catholic statements including calling the Pope the anti-Christ and the Catholic church a satanic cult. John McCain, a pro-life senator, has strongly criticized this anti-Catholic bigotry while Governor Bush has stayed silent.


BLITZER: All right.

WEBER: It's all accurate. I mean, you can argue about whether or not it was wise thing to put that on the phones, but there's not a sentence or word in there that's not accurate.

BLITZER: The point though is that on the day that we in the news media learned about this phone call, these phone calls, these massive phone calls, the McCain campaign, including the senator himself and a spokesman denied that the McCain campaign was behind all of this, yet after the Michigan primary, they acknowledged that, yes, this was an officially sponsored McCain phone calls.

WEBER: We have to straighten that out. I listened to John this morning, I think I understand what happened there. I think that he, when he was asked about that, those phone calls, thought he was being asked about something else.

But I will tell you, we are the straight-talking campaign, we got to make clear what happened there, I don't know exactly what happened. What I know is that the phone calls that were made were accurate in what they said, and I would repeat for my friend Haley, the former chairman of the party, if Governor Bush doesn't like what John McCain is saying about that, imagine what Al Gore or Bill Bradley will do with that issue in the Fall.

BLITZER: All right, Haley Barbour, what do you say about that?

BARBOUR: Well, here's what I say that anybody who tries to portray or convince Americans that George Bush is anti-Catholic or got any bigotry in a bone of his body is in for a rude awakening.

BARBOUR: The American people don't believe that any more just than Vin Weber doesn't believes it. But the problem here is...

WEBER: I don't believe he's bigoted at all.

BARBOUR: Of course you don't. And John McCain doesn't believe it either. But the purpose of those phone calls was to infer or give voters the idea -- Catholic voters -- only went to Catholic voters -- that Bush is somehow anti-Catholic. That was the purpose of the call. That's not straight talk.

I mean, you can say things that are literally true that are deceiving and misleading and that was the purpose of this. That's what's wrong.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask you in a follow up on another set of phone calls that were made in Michigan. These phone calls from Pat Robertson, suggesting that John McCain is not the person that he presents himself to be, the true Republican conservative.

Listen to this excerpt from that Pat Robertson series of phone calls.


PAT ROBERTSON, FOUNDER, CHRISTIAN COALITION: The man who chose as his national campaign chairman a vicious bigot, who wrote that conservative Christians in politics are anti-abortion zealots, homophobes and would-be censors. John McCain refused to repudiate these words.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Well, first of all, Haley Barbour, is Warren Rudman, the former senator from New Hampshire, a vicious bigot?

BARBOUR: Not in my opinion. But let's do talk about what the facts are both literal and in every way.

The Bush campaign said they weren't paying for these and that they didn't have anything to do with them. Pat Robertson said the Bush campaign didn't pay for these and didn't have anything to do with them. And then Bush said they ought to quit doing them -- that Pat Robertson ought to quit doing them.

Now I don't know if Pat Robertson is going to quit doing them or not quit doing them. But that is the fact that he said, not only do a disassociate myself and there's nobody who says to the contrary, we had nothing to do with this, but Bush said, I think they ought to stop.

BLITZER: And you think that there are -- though, this impression the McCain campaign is leaving is that Pat Robertson and George W. Bush are linked, attached at the hip. Is that a false impression that the McCain campaign is projecting?

WEBER: First of all, the characterization of Warren Rudman was really way, way over the line. I think Haley agrees with that.

Second of all, I don't argue that the Bush campaign, Governor Bush, Karl Rove, anybody was responsible for these ads. What we do think is, this goes back to the last issue too, coming out of -- in order to win in South Carolina, Governor Bush unfortunately put himself in the position where, throughout this whole campaign, all the way to November, he's going to be wrapped up with Bob Jones University and Pat Robertson. That's not the place the Republican Party wants to be, at least when they get to places to my home state of Minnesota or the state of New York or the state of California, if we want to win the presidency.

BLITZER: OK, we're going to take a break. We have a lot more to talk about.

Up next: Which Republican candidate is carrying the Reagan mantle? We'll ask Vin Weber and Haley Barbour.

They'll also be taking your phone calls, when LATE EDITION continues.



MCCAIN: I am a Reagan Republican. They have no doubt about that. And I have to convince and tell our Republican establishment: It's great over here, come on in, join us.

BUSH: He says he's the Ronald Reagan in the race. It's not Reaganesque to say one thing and do another. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Republican presidential candidates George W. Bush and Senator John McCain both invoking the name of Ronald Reagan this week on the campaign trail.

Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

We're continuing our conversation about the GOP race with McCain strategist, Vin Weber, and Bush supporter, Haley Barbour.

I want to get to the whole Reagan issue in a second. But Bill Bennett's going to be on this program in a little while. We're going to ask him what he thinks is shaping up within the Republican presidential race. But early in the week in "The Los Angeles Times," he was quoted as saying this: It is pretty clear that John McCain is a better bet for winning the presidency for the Republicans than George Bush.

Controversial remarks. He stopped short of endorsing either candidate, but he's simply analyzing the situation, Haley Barbour, in saying that John McCain has a better chance of getting to the White House than George W. Bush does.

BARBOUR: Well, I think Bill's mistaken in that. I think the one big thing that's missing here in the calculation: George Bush is going to have to win the Republican nomination the same way he'll have to win the general election: with the liberal media establishment against him.

John McCain -- there's never been a candidate for public office that has gotten as much promotion and puffing from the press as John McCain. When I said that once before, Mary McGrory, the liberal columnist in "The Washington Post" wrote a column and said: Haley Barbour says the press is slobbering all over John McCain, and he's right.

In fact, this Friday in "The Wall Street Journal," Mike Murphy, John McCain's media consultant, described literally, in quotation marks, the media as John McCain's base.

The problem is, McCain will have to win the general election like any other Republican with the press against him, where the press has been for him every step of the way.

That's where I think the equation breaks down, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Well, you're going to get a chance, Vin Weber, to respond, but I want to take a...

WEBER: I'm glad.

BLITZER: I want to take a quick caller from Georgia. Please go ahead with your question.

CALLER: Yes. Mr. Weber, what will be the impact, in your opinion, of the independent vote in both the Republican primaries and the general election, please?

WEBER: Well, the independent vote's going to determine the general election. I believe that strongly. I think, quite aside from the selection, the independence of the voter is a rising phenomenon in this country. I saw it very strongly in my home state of Minnesota and we elected Jesse Ventura governor in the last election.

I think that's an important phenomenon. That's going to determine who the next president of the United States is.

The impact of the independent vote in the Republican nominating process seems to me to be a little more of a question mark. So far John McCain has indeed done well because he's the overwhelming choice of independents, but he's got some catching up to do with Republican voters. And as we go forward, it's a little more even in terms of whether or not you can win those primaries without getting the bigger Republican vote. So we'll have to wait and see.

But make no mistake about it, you do not get elected president of the United States unless you carry a fairly substantial majority of independent voters, and probably a few from the other side of the aisle as well.

BARBOUR: I just want to say, Vin's right that -- and both of these candidates, Bush and McCain, do very well among independents. The thing that has been a problem in the Republican primary, particularly in Michigan, is about 20 percent of the turnout were Democrats, 82 percent voted for McCain. And the real question is: We know that many of those people are going to vote for Gore in fall. How many?

But among the true independents, Vin is right. The person who wins the most -- Bush won Republicans and the independents combined in Michigan, 50 to 44. In other places, McCain has won.

But it's really those like-minded independents we should be focusing on, not Democrats who are trying to come over and have a voice in our nomination.

BLITZER: All right, you get the point.

Let's talk a little bit about Ronald Reagan's shadow that's being cast over this Republican contest. Both candidates are playing ads now saying that they're the real successor or the real heir to the Reagan legacy. Listen to this sample of these various ads?


ANNOUNCER: He's the candidate with a tax cut called Reaganesque and worthy of a new president, seeking the best solutions, doing what's right.

BUSH: I fight for what I believe in and I get results.



MCCAIN: You can't turn on your TV without seeing an ad from the establishment trying to fool you about me.

Here's some straight talk: I'm a proud Reagan Republican. Give me your vote and we'll give you back your government.


BLITZER: Vin Weber, the senator is trying to make the case that he's more Reagan-like than George W. Bush. Yet when it comes to tax cuts, for example, his tax cut is relatively modest compared to what Governor Bush is proposing.

WEBER: Well, we have a smaller tax cut than Governor Bush because we put more money into paying down the debt than Governor Bush does. That's a reasonable argument Republicans can have...

BLITZER: Is that Reaganesque to have a smaller tax cut?

WEBER: Reagan's policy -- which I voted for as a freshman member of Congress, I was elected the same year that Ronald Reagan was elected president -- were precisely the right thing to do in 1980 after 10 years of high inflation, a 70 percent top marginal tax rate, and a combination of both inflation and recession that we called "stagflation." It was precisely the right thing to do.

WEBER: I'm not at all sure that Ronald Reagan would come into office 20 years later with a totally different set of economic circumstances and say nothing's changed. I think McCain's policy may well, if Ronald Reagan were to come into office for the first time today, be more Reaganite.

But that's not the most important point. The most important point, in terms of what Reagan is all about, beyond the policies, Ronald Reagan lifted the country up and gave it something to be optimistic about again, after four years of Jimmy Carter, and the Soviets in Afghanistan, recession and everything else. John McCain is in that mode. People get optimistic and excited about America when they look at John McCain.

BLITZER: All right, Haley Barbour?

BARBOUR: Wolf, Ronald Reagan's the greatest president of my lifetime, and he and George Bush have so much in common is why he -- Bush is the Reagan candidate. First, hugely successful governors of large states. Reagan, the biggest state, Bush of the second biggest state. And they had records of successful results in reforming: welfare reform, health care reform, tort reform, education reform. Bush has pushed through the two largest tax cuts in the history of Texas, yet they're constraining spending to the lowest level per capita in 40 years. Does that sound like Ronald Reagan? It sounds exactly like Reagan.

BLITZER: All right, well, unfortunately, we are all out of time. We could be talking about this for a few more hours if you had the time, but we don't have the time, unfortunately. Thank you so much, Vin Weber, Haley Barbour.

WEBER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Always good to have both of you on LATE EDITION.

BARBOUR: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And just ahead, which Republican candidate has the best chance of winning the fall election? We'll ask one of the nation's leading conservatives, author and former Education Secretary Bill Bennett, when LATE EDITION continues.


BLITZER: Just ahead, one of the leading conservatives, the former Education Secretary Bill Bennett when LATE EDITION returns.



MCCAIN: In November I'm going to beat Al Gore like a drum.

BUSH: We're going to send a loud message to America. It's the end of the Clinton era in Washington, D.C.


BLITZER: Senator John McCain and George W. Bush both promising they will return the White House to Republican hands in the Fall.

Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

Joining me now to discuss his thoughts on the GOP's best hope for winning the general election, one of the nations most respected conservatives, Bill Bennett. He's an author and co-director of Empower America, he also served as Education secretary in the Reagan administration.

Mr. Bennett, always good to have you on LATE EDITION, thanks for joining us.


BLITZER: Now you heard Haley Barbour say you are wrong when you insist that John McCain would appear to have a better chance of winning a contest in November than Governor George W. Bush and listen also to what Karl Rove, the campaign manager for the Bush campaign said earlier today on "Fox News Sunday."


KARL ROVE, BUSH CAMPAIGN MANAGER: He must have had a bad day. Look, all the polls indicate that Republicans believe George W. Bush is the more electable candidate for a very good reason, he's tested, they know that he's been a chief executive, they know that he got the right kind of experience. They know also that he's got the right kind of leadership.


BLITZER: Says you must have had a bad day when you said that McCain was in a better slot to win the presidency.

BENNETT: I've been having better days than Karl Rove has been having, I'll tell you that, that's clear enough. No, you said right now, does it look like John McCain has a better shot in the general election, sure he does.


BENNETT: Because of the laws of mathematics, the laws of addition. Adding it up Republicans are a minority party. A party affiliation in both parties is weak, weaker than it has been. Therefore, to win a general election you have to win the allegiance of independents, and for Republicans in a presidential, Democrats like Ronald Reagan did.

I don't think there's any question, Wolf, if you look at the numbers by anybody's analysis, George Bush is bringing out Republicans to his cause. John McCain is bringing out an avalanche of independents and Democrats. Now I agree that some of the Democrats are coming out maybe in the cynical business of trying to, you know, send a negative message, hurt John Engler, hurt George Bush.

BENNETT: But I think most of them are casting a vote for McCain because they like him.

Now what makes life interesting for the Republican Party, and we're all very proud it's the interesting party now, is that George Bush still looks, by the same laws of mathematics, to be somewhat more likely as the primary winner if these numbers hold. McCain does seem to have the enthusiasm, seems to have the imagination and the thing I do not understand, because I think George W. Bush is one of the most qualified people I've ever met, one of the most interesting and able candidates, but the campaign has not been very successful.

BLITZER: Well, why would that not take the next step, Bill Bennett, and if you believe that John McCain mathematically has a better chance of beating Al Gore in November, why not jump on the McCain band wagon and help him get the Republican nomination?

BENNETT: I'm not a band wagon type. I said early on when this season started I wasn't going to endorse anybody. I said I wanted to be a resource for both campaigns, all campaigns. And I have been a resource, I think.

The Bush campaign talked to me about education speeches and some other matters, and I have advised the McCain campaign on education and on drugs and on citizenship. And I'm happy to advise anybody, because what I'm interested in are the issues, you know, that have animated me my whole life. I'm not interested in picking the winner or throwing, you know, my support one way or the other. There are things I care about that I want them to talk about, so I'm going to remain where I've been.

BLITZER: You're going to remain neutral in terms of endorsement?

BENNETT: Not going to endorse, but I am going to say what I think.

BLITZER: OK. Let's take a caller from Frankfurt, Germany. Please go ahead with your question for Bill Bennett.

QUESTION: Yes, I have a question for Bill Bennett. I would like to know why he thinks that George W. Bush has the qualifications to become president since he was a poor student at Yale and generally is the governor of a weak state -- weak governorship in Texas. What makes him so qualified as someone as someone who's had everything handed to him on a silver platter all his life?

BENNETT: Well, some of it is personal qualities. High academic standing at Yale -- you know John McCain brags about the fact that he was fifth from the bottom at the Naval Academy. It's what a man does with what's given to him.

George Bush has had a lot given to him, but I think he was very successful as a businessman. He's hailed in Texas by people from both parties. I heard the head of the teachers' union in Texas praise Bush on education. George Bush's black and Latino students are among the highest scoring kids in the country in the 4th and 6th and 8th grade in mathematics. That's a real accomplishment; that's a real achievement. And I think he's entitled to that. He has reached across in Texas. He's got a lot of support from untraditional places for the Republican Party.

He is able; he is voluble; he's, I think, a very decent man, but again the campaign I think has not been there for him. It has been -- McCain has hit nerve, nerve after nerve after nerve and Bush has stepped into potholes.

BLITZER: You are a Catholic?

BENNETT: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: A proud Catholic.

BENNETT: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: Were you offended by the way George W. Bush dealt with the whole anti-Catholic position at Bob Jones University, and the whole visit to Bob Jones University?

BENNETT: A little bit. Look, I think people are missing it when they say, Well, all these other conservative Republicans went to Bob Jones, so what was wrong with Bush going?

George Bush presented himself, is presenting himself as a compassionate conservative. That suggests he wants to broaden the base of the Republican Party. If you're broadening the base, you don't go to Bob Jones, which has these odd views -- or people there have these odd views about Catholicism -- repugnant views and the business about interracial dating. If you're a compassionate conservative, you go to a different kind of place. Like the place Governor Bush was in in Los Angeles, The Dream House, I think it was. But then, I think to not -- to fail to be emphatic in his condemnation of anti-Catholicism, that was a problem.

I've got to tell you, though, I thought the McCain campaign made a terrible mistake in running that ad in South Carolina comparing George Bush to Bill Clinton. And I think that they need to straighten out this equivocation that you were talking about in the earlier segment about Michigan and these voter alerts. There have been some low-ball, low-road stuff by both campaigns that I think have not been proud moments for us.

BLITZER: All right, let's take another caller from Montclair, Virginia. Please go ahead with your question.

QUESTION: Yes, it's an honor to talk to you, Mr. Bennett.

BENNETT: Thank you.

QUESTION: Friday evening, in Richmond, Virginia, at the Republican Party's victory gala, headlined by Governor Bush, there were fliers distributed that say, "paid for by McCain 2000" on them, claiming that Governor Bush's plan does not put one red cent into Social Security. In fact he actually claims that Governor Bush's plan will put Social Security down by $3 trillion. And I was curious how you felt that the McCain campaign was still distributing this kind of literature.

BENNETT: Well, if that's accurate and I'm not up on the details, and it was distributed by the McCain campaign, they shouldn't be doing it.

Look, John McCain has said he is running the Straight Talk Express. It's very important that he stay on the high road and that he be the straight talker. If he does run against Al Gore in the fall, one of the things that seems to me a McCain or Bush will want to say about Al Gore is that this guy has the same problem with the truth that his master has --that the president has, Bill Clinton. In order to do that, your bonafides have to be there. That means he can't just talk the Straight Talk Express, he has to be the Straight Talk Express.

Also, anybody who looks at it realizes that with John McCain, John McCain's appeal is -- to a lot of people is the high road. He's a man of honor. His biography of the war prisoner is something that appeals to people's better instincts. Don't lower the bar, Senator McCain, raise it.

BLITZER: All right, we have to take another quick break.

For our international viewers, "WORLD NEWS" is next. For our North American audience, another 30 minutes of LATE EDITION. We'll check the hour's top stories, then take more phone calls for Bill Bennett, plus our LATE EDITION roundtable and Bruce Morton's Last Word.

It's all ahead when LATE EDITION continues.


BLITZER: Now back to our conversation with leading conservative Bill Bennett.

One of the -- you worked for Ronald Reagan, you knew Ronald Reagan, you still know Ronald Reagan. John McCain this morning was on ABC's "This Week." He was making the case once again that he's more in tune with Ronald Reagan's philosophy than George W. Bush.

Listen to this excerpt from "This Week."


MCCAIN: We have surpluses, we have a period of unprecedented prosperity. Ronald Reagan had a deep sense of obligation. I think that Ronald Reagan in this particular time would probably -- or will probably support the kind of proposal that I'm making.


BLITZER: If Ronald Reagan were in a position right now to endorse John McCain or George W. Bush, who do you think in his heart of hearts he would like to see as the Republican nominee?

BENNETT: I don't know. But I think it's something of a mistake to take on the Reagan mantle. I mean, I understand it. Ronald Reagan is a almost sainted figure for the Republican Party. I worked for him, I revere him, I always will. But this is the year 2000. You know, it's not the year 1980.

What is the Reagan mantle? It would be odd for either of these guys, wouldn't it, to come out and say, well, our priorities are anti- communism, taking down the Berlin Wall, contributing to American prosperity, ending welfare queens -- I mean, this is what this stuff was about in 1980 -- building respect for America abroad.

It's a different time, and therefore I think people should say, look, the Reagan philosophy was perfect for the time, right for the time, but now it's a different philosophy.

To talk about a Teddy Roosevelt, to talk about Lincoln, to talk about Reagan is fine, but different circumstances require a different emphasis. And I think Republicans have to see that the sorts of things that ought to be on our priority list are a little different from what they were in 1980,

So the invocation is fine, but notion that is the template I think is wrong.

BLITZER: All right. Let's take another caller. From Nashville, Tennessee, please go ahead with your question. CALLER: Yes, sir. I just had a question -- well, a comment. I'm a minority Democrat for a long time, but McCain has inspired me, and I will certainly vote for him in November.

And my question is: Why did the Republican establishment rush to judgment in supporting George Bush before he ever laid out his vision for America?

BENNETT: Well -- see, there you go, I guess, as the McCain campaign would say.

Because it's a traditional party. It's kind of -- it's the party that believes in orderly process and, you know, it was George W.'s turn. He was the presumed heir and almost everyone thought that he would be the nominee.

An irony here, Wolf, is that one of the arguments made by Bush supporters early on was that he was the most electable. That is the very argument that you and I started with. If it now appears to a lot of people that McCain may be more electable, that argument comes back and bites them.

But I will say again, there's an awful lot to George Bush, but we haven't seen it. This crimped figure we have seen in those debates with the little index cards, these stumbles in South Carolina and elsewhere don't measure up to the man's abilities. He needs to shake it off, he needs to shake it off soon, he needs to be very clear about the fact that he made mistakes. A new emphasis has to be put on there, and he has to talk. We have to see him talk more, more broadly and more fully, not saying, this is not in my heart, but telling people what's in his heart and telling people what he thinks...


BLITZER: Let's take another caller from Brooksville, Kentucky, go ahead with your question.

QUESTION: Hi, Mr. Bennett.


QUESTION: I love your children's books, my grandson has all of them.

BENNETT: Thank you very much.

QUESTION: We seem to already be seeing some hypocrisy from the McCain camp and I would kind of compare it to Clintonistic double talk and spin. Doesn't that, perhaps, explain his favor among the Democrats and Bush's lead with Republicans?

BENNETT: I think it is incumbent, without getting into specifics. Look, if you set the standard again, of being a compassionate conservative, if you're George Bush, you need to watch where you go and what you say if you set this to make sure it's consistent with that theme. If you set as your standard the Straight Talk Express, then you had better talk straight. And if the caller is referring to this business in Michigan, I would urge the McCain campaign to, you know, make plain what it was doing, that is to tell the truth. If the man says I'm coming to you on the ground of personal honor, I will never lie to you, I'll always tell you the truth, then tell the truth.

Even if they messed it up in Michigan, if they weren't being candid and straightforward, they should be candid and straightforward now because that's the idea, the big idea that he's trying to tap into.

BLITZER: All right, Bill Bennett, always good to have you on LATE EDITION. Thank you so much for joining us. And when we return, will a bruising primary season mean trouble for Republicans in the fall?

We'll talk about that and much more when we go around the table with Roberts, Page and Carlson.

LATE EDITION will continue right after this.


BLITZER: Time now for our LATE EDITION roundtable.

Joining me, Susan Page, White House bureau chief for "USA Today," Steve Roberts, contributing editor for "U.S. News & World Report," and Tucker Carlson, political writer for "The Weekly Standard."

Steve, all right, this battle is crucial right now, the key moment between McCain and Bush and you heard, you heard, Bill Bennett make the case that McCain right now seems to have a better chance of winning the White House in November than Bush. The electability factor, what do you think?

STEVE ROBERTS, CNN COMMENTATOR: I think that is becoming a very critical issue. Vin Weber, who you had on earlier, says that's about two-thirds of the McCain campaign at this point, electability and turning that issue against Bush who, as Bennett just said, has been arguing that.

I talked to some Republicans on Capitol Hill this week, people who are involved in congressional campaigns, of course that race is very tight, only a five-seat margin. They're starting to think that maybe McCain would be a better candidate for congressional Republicans as well because he could bring out -- bring independents and Democrats over to the Republican line. If that notion starts growing, that's real trouble for George Bush. And I think you're going to hear a lot more about that from John McCain because in some ways it's his best argument.

BLITZER: Well, you know there have been some Republican members of Congress like Peter King, Republican of New York, who has made the switch from Bush to McCain. In fact, listen carefully, Tucker, to what Peter King had to say earlier today on "Meet The Press." (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "MEET THE PRESS")

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: I felt as the campaign was unfolding, Governor Bush was not showing himself to be a presidential level, whether it's on foreign policy, whether it was on having a basic familiarity with the issues, I didn't think he was measuring up to the standard John McCain was showing. But then the South Carolina primary, I thought he took the low road going to Bob Jones University, to me, that put it over the edge.


BLITZER: Are there going to be more Republicans who, as Steve is suggesting, will rethink their endorsements?

TUCKER CARLSON, CNN COMMENTATOR: I think there may be. I mean, I would say though, just to be fair, that Pete King is not necessarily a measurer of where the bulk of Republicans are going. Pete King a great guy but a loose cannon.

But I think he makes a good point that the South Carolina campaign really was a campaign that the Bush people ought to be ashamed of, and they've taken a lot of whacks over it and I think they should take more.

They're making the argument now, if you speak to them, that it is a matter for the mathematicians, you know, that there's this sense that Bush is inevitable, that he's going to win California and he may and that he has Texas and he probably will. And that he's going to Florida, but I'm not sure that that holds up.

I mean at some point, it's the candidate with momentum. I'm not sure, for instance, why Bush needs to inevitably win Florida simply because his brother is governor. I mean that was the exact same argument they made about Michigan with John Engler and, of course, that didn't mean anything in the end.

BLITZER: Well, Susan, California does seem to be crucial in this contest. We have a new CNN/"Time" magazine poll likely Republican voters choice for the nominee, Bush at 48 percent, McCain at 23 percent, Alan Keyes at 6 percent. Is it do or die for McCain and Bush in California?

SUSAN PAGE, CNN COMMENTATOR: I think so. I mean, I think one reason we think that Bush will win in Florida, for instance, is that McCain really hasn't contested there. McCain has had to pick his shots, he picked New Hampshire, he won there. He picked Michigan, do or die, he won there even though a lot of us thought he wouldn't.

I think California, then, becomes the next place where he really needs to win. This latest poll is very discouraging for the McCain folks, he's behind two to one.

Now one thing that might work in his advantage in California is there's an even more lopsided margin on the Democratic side. Al Gore is ahead of Bill Bradley five to one. So it's possible that some Democrats will look at that and say, boy the energy, the interest, the contest is really on the other side, they can vote on that side. Now they can vote on that side, it doesn't affect the selection of delegates to the Republican convention, but it could have the effect of keeping the McCain momentum alive.

ROBERTS: One of the things that's so interesting, this campaign's been turned so much on its head, a month ago, six weeks ago, George Bush was the uniter not the divider, the compassionate conservative, the centerist who is going to appeal to a broad range. He has been pushed to the right by having to win South Carolina and the fact that John McCain, although no real moderate, has sort of occupied the political center, and they've gotten themselves in such strange twists. Haley Barbour, sitting here just a few minutes ago, saying, it's all the liberal media's fault, and we were sitting in the green room with Bill Bennett who says, yes, that's me, the liberal media.

ROBERTS: I mean, come on, please. You know, they've caught themselves in so many twists and turns now.

BLITZER: Let me ask Tucker, the whole notion -- is it fair to blame George W. Bush for the Bob Jones business and the Pat Robertson phone calls? Are we being the liberal media, let's assume we're the -- all the liberal media, are we being fair to George W. Bush in constantly coming up with this -- these Bob Jones and Pat Robertson comparisons?

CARLSON: Well, of course it's fair to the extent it's true. But I think it may miss the larger point. I mean, the press has been beating up on Bush by saying, Look, he's moved too far right to compete in the general election against Al Gore.

I think that partly misses the key. He has moved right in some symbolic ways but basically he is where he's always been which is where McCain is. They are both fairly moderate Republicans.

The point is that Bush has betrayed, as Bill Bennett said a minute ago, the original promise of his campaign, which was he was going to usher in a new kind of politics, a compassionate conservatism. It was going to, somehow, be different from the old, sort of, Lee Atwater style of, you know, negative campaigning.

The telling point for me, I thought, was in Michigan when George Bush lost. He refused to call John McCain to concede, as candidates typically customarily always do. He refused to call out of pique. And I think you're going to see, as the primaries go on, that unattractive side of him.

BLITZER: You know, Susan, I was going to say when I heard John McCain today try to explain why his campaign initially denied and then conceded that, yes, they were behind that Catholic voter alert, those phone banks that were going out in Michigan, I've got to tell you listening to his explanation, it did almost sound Clintonian-like, in parsing these words. And -- is this the John McCain that all of us have known these years?

PAGE: Well, these are really fighting words in the Republican Party to say they're doing something that's Clintonian.

I think it's a problem for John McCain. I think he needs to give the impression at least, more strongly that he's telling the truth about this and being straight forward. I think Bill Bennett was exactly right, if you set your standard as being on the Straight Talk Express, you really need to meet that standard. And in this care, I think his explanation does not have that ring of candor that we've become used to with John McCain.

ROBERTS: I agree with you about that, but I also think that George Bush is making the wrong point when he says, I'm not an anti- Catholic, I'm not a bigot. No one is calling him anti-Catholic and no one is saying he's a bigot. What they're saying is you've got to take responsibility for your own actions, and if you choose to go to South Carolina, if you choose to go to Bob Jones University, if you choose to ally yourself with Pat Robertson who's been on this show at least twice virtually speaking as a surrogate for George Bush, if these are your friends, you have to take responsibility.

That doesn't mean are you a bigot. It does mean that you have to take responsibility and I think that's what people are saying.

BLITZER: OK. We have to take a quick break. Just ahead: Is all the focus on the Republican contest resulting in disappearing Democrats?

We'll ask our roundtable, when LATE EDITION continues.


BLITZER: Welcome back to our roundtable.

Susan, you interviewed Vice President Gore this past week and he took an opportunity to slam both of his potential Republican challengers. This is what he said: They both have the same right- wing record. And in terms of their rhetoric, they're both going over to the dark side. I think they're two peas in the same pod.

Which one do you think he would rather face, though?

PAGE: Well, I think they have figured out their strategy on how they'd run against George W. Bush. I think it's a lot less certain how they'd run against John McCain. And I think that while Al Gore was trying to -- the main point he was trying to make in this interview was that there's no difference between them and they will portray John McCain as just as conservative, no different from George W. Bush.

In fact, the dynamic of the election will be quite different. I think there is some nervousness about -- among Democratic strategists, including some who work for Al Gore, that John McCain may have the ability to kind of go beyond the traditional attacks you can make in terms of policy positions and still have an appeal to independents and Democrats that would be tough for Al Gore.

BLITZER: Bill Bradley is spending all of his time between now and Tuesday in Washington State trying to win that so-called beauty contest against Al Gore. Let's say he wins. Does that put Bradley back in play to get the Democratic nomination?

CARLSON: Bill Bradley -- I've heard the name, but I'm having trouble placing it.


No, no, I don't think it does. I think it's over for Bradley.

I think what's interesting, though, is, there's this question -- and the Bush people are making a lot of this -- why does McCain get so many Democrats? That's part of what's going on with Bradley, is that McCain is siphoning off some of his support among Democrats.

Why is that? The Bush people argue it's because McCain's a secret liberal wacko.

I think the key to it, however, is that McCain asks for them. In his speeches -- and I've seen dozens of them -- he doesn't make a pitch to liberal ideology. He just says, look, if you're Democrat and you like me, vote for me. And that works. I mean, I think it really could be that simple, and then that effect is to hurt Bradley.

ROBERTS: And I think this is one of the reasons why the Gore people and a lot of Democrats that I talk to are growing increasingly uneasy about the prospect of facing McCain, because they know they can run against Bush on the argument that he's not ready for prime time, that his tax cut is too reckless, that he really doesn't -- they can raise this whole question of his intellectual abilities.

McCain cuts off the foreign policy question -- clearly a much more experienced person on that, and can reach over to independents. And I -- you -- just as the same time that you see Republicans starting to think, maybe McCain's a better bet, you start to hearing Democrats privately starting to get a little worried about it.

PAGE: You know, there's one other thing I think a McCain candidacy would do, it would perhaps get really -- revitalize the Reform Party, because there are some Republicans who might not be comfortable with John McCain. They might want to go to Pat Buchanan -- it looks like he'll probably be the Reform Party nominee. That could make that more of a factor. It could make it more of a chess game, less of a checker game, that you would have in Bush-Gore race.

BLITZER: And then McCain has effectively taken a lot of the oxygen away from Bill Bradley and has hope for getting those independents.

CARLSON: I would say absolutely. And I think one thing that McCain probably doesn't need is a lot of overt explicit support from Reform Party leaders -- all three of them, whoever they are. I mean, there is a sort of radical seat-of-the-pants quality to the McCain campaign. They have posters behind when he speaks that say "burn it down." You know, that's the kind of thing that can make people nervous, and I think he doesn't need a lot of, you know, Reform Party people making normal voters even more nervous.

BLITZER: Tucker Carlson, Susan Page, Steve Roberts -- our excellent roundtable. They're here every Sunday. Thanks for joining us.

And just ahead: We'll reveal what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines.

Plus Bruce Morton's "Last Word" on Republican presidential candidate John McCain.


MORTON: Reporters like McCain for other reasons. He talks to us, answers question in a straight-forward way, has a sense of humor.


BLITZER: Bruce shares some thoughts about the Arizona senator's appeal on the campaign trail.


BLITZER: Welcome back. Time now for Bruce Morton's "Last Word" on John McCain's love affair with the news media.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Beware, righteous conservatives have been saying ever since Michigan. Those wicked reporters like John McCain because he's a closet liberal. Liberal, in this context, means corrupt, sinful -- "child molester" would be a synonym.

The trouble is, the conservatives are wrong. McCain -- and this is obvious to anyone who looks at his voting record -- is what he says he is: a conservative. Conservative about money, anti-big government, an anti-abortion position the same as George W. Bush's.

He may also be, in some not quite defined sense, a radical. Tucker Carlson suggested this the other day -- a president in the Andrew Jackson tradition.

Reporters like McCain for other reasons. He talks to us, answers questions in a straightforward way, has a sense of humor.


MCCAIN: We just press on with our campaign and keep our eye on the ball. Luke Skywalker is getting out of the Death Star.


MORTON: And he looks like someone who might actually govern on principle, on what he believes. After the last eight years, that would be novel and interesting. But most of all, I suspect, we like him because he has turned this presidential campaign into a terrific story; up in New Hampshire, down in South Carolina, up again in Michigan. It isn't over yet, and we don't know how it will come out. Reporters love suspense.

And it's exciting because he, and/or Governor Bush, depending on what state you're in, brought new people into the process; record turnout in South Carolina and again in Michigan. If there's one thing democracies need, it's citizens who are interested enough to participate. If there's one thing the Republicans need, it's to bring in independents and maybe even some Democrats, just as their last politically successful president, Ronald Reagan, did.

One of the ironies of this primary season is that Bush, who was a success in Texas because he did exactly that, is now being hugged by evangelist Pat Robertson, who is not exactly Mr. Outreach. Robertson, in recorded phone calls, attacked McCain's New Hampshire chairman, Warren Rudman...


ROBERTSON: ... a vicious bigot who wrote that conservative Christians in politics are anti-abortion zealots, homophobes, and would-be censors.


MORTON: Robertson, who is strongly anti-abortion and regards homosexuality as sinful, did not add that Rudman said other Christian conservatives were "fine, sincere people."

Bush isn't responsible for Robertson's words, of course, but could be hurt if he's seen as a far right candidate. No matter. McCain and Dubya between them have given reporters a good, exciting, long-running, it's-not-over-yet story. Gentlemen, we're grateful.

I'm Bruce Morton


BLITZER: Thanks, Bruce.

Time now for a look at what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines.

Following Friday's verdict in the New York police shooting trial, "Time" examines cops, brutality and race, with Amadou Diallo on the cover.

"U.S. News & World Report" reviews Paxil, Prozac and Ritalin: "Are these drugs safe for your kids?" on the cover.

And on the cover of "Newsweek," "The Amazing Playstation Two: How Sony Will Change High-Tech Fun Forever."

That's your LATE EDITION for Sunday, February 27. Be sure to catch us again next Sunday and every Sunday at noon Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

And I'll be back tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern for "THE WORLD TODAY."

For now, thanks very much for watching. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.


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