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Republican National Convention: Rep. Peter King, Sen. Spencer Abraham, Gov. Jim Geringer Discuss Campaign

Aired July 31, 2000 - 12:20 p.m. ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to our coverage from the Republican National Convention here in Philadelphia. Right now, the Minnesota senator, Rod Grams, who's in a fierce battle for reelection in Minnesota, is addressing this convention. But in the meantime, John King, our senior White House correspondent, is standing by on the floor with a friend, an old friend of Dick Cheney, someone from Wyoming.


I guess we're having some technical problems. We're not hearing John King. He was speaking with the governor of Wyoming. We're going to try to fix that.

Jeff Greenfield, I want to get to you in a second, but our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is standing by on the floor. Let's see what she has.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf. What I have here is Congressman Peter King.

One of the things I wanted to talk to you -- we're into the sort of congressional part. I don't want to tell you, but this isn't primetime television. George Bush has not gone out of his way to bring -- when he goes from state to state, to bring on lawmakers. What's the message here to you?

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: I think he basically wants to run a national campaign. He wants to show that he's his own man and he's controlling the party. I think that, for instance, some of the other candidates -- I think, you know, Rick Lazio probably should have gotten a higher profile here. But listen, Governor Bush -- it's his party. It's his convention. I think he wants all attention focused on him. And also, we in the Congress, especially under Newt Gingrich, got a bad rap over the last few years. I don't think George Bush wants to be bogged down by that.

CROWLEY: Sure, but is it -- do you get the sense it's a bad rap that -- that he buys into? I mean, we've heard him in New York, as a matter of fact, speak about the tone in Washington. Do you think that he feels that the Republicans have been too partisan and it's not just a matter of image?

KING: Well, he doesn't confide in me, but yeah, I do think he believes that. I think, to some extent, he's right. I think that not under Denny Hastert, but certainly the damage was done by Newt Gingrich. We were very strident, very judgmental, and I think we gave a bad image. And I think George Bush wants to make it clear he's not part of that. I give him credit for that.

CROWLEY: Well, you don't feel sort of like the skunk at the party here, as a member of Congress?

KING: Excuse me?

CROWLEY: You don't feel like the skunk at the party here, as a member of Congress, because they seem so sort of shoved to the sides?

KING: No, that's all part of the game. I have no problem with that at all. And you know, the main thing is to win. I think George Bush is going to win. I think he has the right strategy. And I think, you know, Denny Hastert realizes what's going on.

CROWLEY: The issue of coattails almost always comes up. Is there anything -- if you've got a strong top of the ticket, anything to that that can help you save the House or hold onto it, anything in the Senate, or are you all out on your own?

KING: Well, you know, coattails -- basically we're on our own. I'm confident we're going to hold the House. I really am. I think we're going to hold the House. We should hold the Senate. And I think Rick Lazio's going to win in New York.

CROWLEY: You were -- first had endorsed Governor Bush, then went to John McCain.

KING: Right.

CROWLEY: I assume you're back in the...

KING: Right.

CROWLEY: ... Bush fold at this point. Your delegation is full of some McCain delegates. Where are they on that? Have they made that emotional turn?

KING: Yeah. John McCain met with all his delegates and alternates yesterday, and it was very emotional. It was emotional for John McCain. It was emotional for the delegates. But these delegates, they don't have any political agenda. They were there for John McCain, and they will follow his direction, I think, and they're going to support Governor Bush. They -- you know, they're not there trying to take over the party. They're not trying to score any political points. They would have preferred John McCain, obviously, but I think they're going to take their direction from John McCain.

CROWLEY: One of the reasons that -- when you made the jump, you were worried about Bob Jones University... KING: Yeah.

CROWLEY: ... and the visit there by the governor. Has that gone as a national issue? Still trouble you? Do you think he's made up with Catholics on that? Where are you on that now?

KING: Yeah, I -- I think it's behind us. I think he realized he made a mistake. And I think the fact that he's reaching out to Catholics the way he is -- for instance, Vito Fossella, our New York congressman, is speaking on Thursday night. I think it's all part of showing that they realize they made a mistake with Catholic ethnics, and they want them in the party. And I think -- I just don't think Governor Bush was ready for Bob Jones. I think that caught him off guard. So in fairness to him, I mean, I had to make the statement that I did, at the time, and I'm proud I did. I'm glad I did. But the fact is, I think he got the message, and I think, obviously, there's no anti-Catholicism. It was a bit of insensitivity at the moment, but he's gotten over it.

CROWLEY: OK. Thanks very much.

KING: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Congressman Peter King from New York.

KING: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Back to you in the booth.

BLITZER: Candy, thank you, and thank you to Peter King.

Jeanne Meserve is standing by in Michigan with Senator Spencer Abraham. He's in a tough battle himself to get reelected.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a very tight battle indeed.

Senator, let me ask you if you think a George W. Bush candidacy helps you.

SEN. SPENCER ABRAHAM (R), MICHIGAN: Oh, it definitely will help us. In Michigan, the positions of Al Gore, especially on the auto industry's issues, are going to be lethal. If he gets elected, it'll put people out of work in our state, and George Bush stands for policies that'll keep auto workers in their jobs and keep the industry, and manufacturing as a sector, strong.

MESERVE: Will there be coattails for you, however?

ABRAHAM: Well, I think -- you know, I think that there's going to be strength for the whole ticket, and I look forward to running with Governor Bush. I think he'll be very popular in Michigan.

MESERVE: You spoke a few minutes ago up on the podium about the accomplishments of Republicans in Congress, but in act, little is being made of that here at this convention. Does it bother you that your accomplishments are not being highlighted more?

ABRAHAM: Well, I don't think the convention is the right place for us to really talk about that. I think all of us who are incumbents will be doing that in our own campaigns, and this convention should be about George Bush, his vision and his -- his presidency, what he wants to achieve. And I think that's an appropriate way for the convention to be run.

MESERVE: It doesn't indicate that perhaps the Bush campaign sees congressional Republicans as a liability?

ABRAHAM: Well, I don't think it does at all, since our goal is going to be to work together next year to cut taxes, protect Social Security and continue prosperity and build a strong America and -- and certainly, we'll be working together to do that.

MESERVE: Immigration has been a huge issue for you. Are you happy with the way the platform came down on that issue?

ABRAHAM: Yes, I am. I think the platform reflects a party that's diverse, a party that has an open door to people who want to come to America to work hard, play by the rules and make a contribution, the way my grandparents did. And I think what we need to do, as a party, is make it clear to people that we're going to stand, as I said in my remarks today -- we're going to stand to make sure American remains a beacon of liberty to people throughout the world.

MESERVE: Senator Spencer Abraham, thanks so much for joining us.

ABRAHAM: Thank you.

MESERVE: Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jeanne.

John King, I think we've worked out some of those technical little problems, and you have the governor of Wyoming with you. Is everything OK down there?

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We hope the gremlins have gone away, Wolf.

Yes, Wyoming, as I was trying to say before, three electoral votes, reliably Republican, not a state one would expect to get a lot of attention at this convention. But because of Governor Bush's choice of the former defense secretary, Dick Cheney, as his running mate, Wyoming having an extra special celebration here on the floor. We have the governor with us, Jim Geringer.

Governor, I want to ask you, the Democrats are already running an ad. They say Dick Cheney is a right-wing extremist out of touch with the nation on issues like gun control, the Equal Rights Amendment. Who is Dick Cheney? Tell us, from his home state, what you think of this man.

GOV. JIM GERINGER, WYOMING DELEGATION CHAIRMAN: Oh, Dick Cheney is a true American hero. He's the one that will make people feel the most comfortable with his leadership style and his ability to lead. The reason those ads are running is because the Democrats are running scared. They see the quality of the candidate and how strong he is in the polls, and they're trying to do what they did with George W. Bush. They tried early on to paint him into a corner, call him a right-wing radical. It didn't work. They're trying it with Dick Cheney. It doesn't work because his -- his integrity comes through so much stronger than anything they could say in the ads.

KING: He was a House member from Wyoming, a state that doesn't get much attention in national politics. He has not campaigned in more than a dozen years because he was in President Bush's cabinet. What is he like as a campaigner? What will the country see of Dick Cheney in the weeks and months ahead?

GERINGER: They'll see a very steady person, very interested in one-on-one conversations, somebody who's willing to listen to you. He -- he listens before he speaks, and they'll see that calm, steady Dick Cheney that we all know, that we all got to know during the Persian Gulf war, when we had probably the best briefings that America's ever seen in any kind of a national situation. So they'll see that steady hand, that leadership, that confidence building that we've all come to expect in Wyoming.

KING: Governor, we thank you very much. And one thing Secretary Cheney told the delegation this morning is that he won't be back for his usual annual fishing trip in October because he will be out campaigning. About an hour from now, Secretary Cheney due to come here to say thank you to the Wyoming delegation on the floor.

Back to you in the booth.

BLITZER: OK, John King. Jackson Hole will not be seeing Dick Cheney, I guess, for -- at least for a little while.

Jeff Greenfield, this campaign that the DNC, the Democratic National Committee, has launched, $3.5 million TV ad campaign going after Dick Cheney right in the middle of the Republican national convention. I don't remember a time when -- when that kind of thing happened.

GREENFIELD: No, there is -- there is definitely a sense in which they empty the silos really quickly these days. The old tradition was that when one party held its convention, the other party went to ground. They took vacation time. They cleaned out the attic. They basically said, "OK, it's your show." And indeed, there used to be a tradition that the one party's nominee would send a congratulatory note to the other one after he was formally nominated. "Congratulations to my opponent. I look forward to a tough fight."

Apparently, this period of time is over, the notion of a permanent campaign is now such a reality that I think the Democrats have said, "We cannot let the Republican Party monopolize the media -- you know, their show, commentary -- for four days, put their people out. So we're going to have to get this -- you know, put the predicate down early that this is a bad choice." But it's certainly unprecedented.

BLITZER: It's almost as if the Democrats are trying to egg the Republicans on -- "Come on out and be mean and nasty" because that works for the Democrats if the Republicans are seen as not so nice.

GREENFIELD: Well, that might work in a schoolyard. I have a feeling that things are a little more disciplined these days. I think it's pretty clear that the Republican Party, the Bush campaign -- there is no party separate from that these days.

Basically, the Bush campaign has said, "We're going to kill 'em with kindness. We're going to respond more in sorrow than in anger. We want them to throw the first punch so that when we respond" -- it's very much like what Bush did to McCain in South Carolina. When John McCain used that one untoward phrase, "He twists the truth like Clinton," McCain dropped it, and Bush kept his ads on the air saying "This is a terrible thing to say. IT's unfair" long after McCain had dropped it.

It's the same thing, by the way, Bush did in '94 running against Ann Richards, as Trent Lott pointed out. He -- and I believe politicians always go to their kind of patterns, and his pattern is "I don't want to be seen throwing the first punch. I'll throw the last punch."

BLITZER: All right, Jeff Greenfield, stand by. We have a lot more to talk about.

We're going to take another quick break. Roger Cossack and Greta van Susteren -- we're going to hear from them. They're standing by, as well. We'll also have some questions to test your political IQ. Finally, coming up within the next half hour or so, there will be votes. There will be votes on the rules committee report, as well as the platform.

A lot more activity happening on the floor of the Republican national convention in Philadelphia. Stay with us.



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