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CNN Late Edition

New Polls Show Gore Catching Up With Bush

Aired August 20, 2000 - 12:00 p.m. ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's noon in Washington, 9:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 7:00 p.m. in Jerusalem, and 8:00 p.m. in Moscow. 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 check in with CNN reporters covering the hour's top stories.

And we begin in Moscow where Russian naval authorities are now conceding there are almost certainly no survivors in that sunken Russian submarine.

CNN's Mike Hanna has the latest from the Russian capital -- Mike.

MIKE HANNA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a team of international divers is struggling to open an escape hatch on the back of the submarine. Early on this day, a remote camera lowered by the international team revealed that the escape hatch was badly damaged, confirming, in fact, that this was damaged.

Speculation on the reasons as to why they cannot get the hatch open includes the possibility that there may be a body trapped in the airlock behind that escape hatch. The Norwegian team has succeeded in getting the bolts off it but now cannot lift the cover itself.

But despite all these efforts still continuing, there's a slim chance that any of the crew are still surviving within that submarine.

A long time ago, it was past what the navy described as "a critical survival point," but Russian President Vladimir Putin said these efforts will go on until the last shred of hope has been exhausted.

Mike Hanna, CNN, reporting live from Moscow.

BLITZER: Thank you, Mike.

We now turn to U.S. presidential politics. A new CNN/"USA Today" Gallup poll being released this hour on LATE EDITION has Democratic candidate Al Gore dramatically catching up to his Republican opponent, George W. Bush.

CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider joins us live from Los Angeles to help sort out what these new numbers mean. Bill, first of all tell us what these new numbers are?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Mr. Blitzer, we have bounce. We have a horse race also.

Mr. Gore, 47, Mr. Bush, 46. You can't get much closer than that.

Ralph Nader, well, he had a convention, but you don't see much bounce for him. Pat Buchanan had a convention. He's gone from virtually nothing to 2 percent. But this race, 47-46, that is about as close as you can imagine. And what the bounce is from the Democratic convention is eight points. That is a little bit better than usual. A typical bounce for a convention is six points.

So right now, it's neck and neck.

BLITZER: And Bill, you know the "Newsweek" poll that's coming out this weekend shows a similar improvement, obviously, for Al Gore.

Let's look at those numbers. Among registered voters, 48 percent for Al Gore, 42 percent for George W. Bush. The difference is in what's called registered voters, as opposed to likely voters. The CNN poll has likely voters.

Explain to our audience what the difference may mean.

SCHNEIDER: The difference is that not all registered voters can be expected to vote. Typically, about three-quarters of them vote. In our poll, we actually screen out, or screen for, those registered voters who are most likely to vote. If you take all registered voters in our poll, we're showing about the same thing as the "Newsweek" poll, a little larger lead for Al Gore, about 4 points. But that lead narrows as you screen out those who are most likely to vote.

What does that mean? That means the higher the turnout, the better Al Gore is likely to do.

BLITZER: In our new CNN/"USA Today" Gallup poll, perhaps the most dramatic change is the change among women voters. Tell us about that.

SCHNEIDER: What we're seeing is a 16-point gain for Al Gore among women and a negligible gain, just two points among men.

Now take a look at the results from women and men separately. Bush, who is Mr. Compassion, as he calls himself, is almost 20 points ahead among men. Mr. Gore, who is the fightin' man, is over 20 points ahead among women. This election looks more than anything else like a battle of the sexes, men versus women, with each gender voting for a different candidate by a very wide margin.

BLITZER: Bill, very briefly, why -- what do our poll numbers show us, what's behind this dramatic change in improving Al Gore's standing among women?

SCHNEIDER: Where did Gore make his biggest gains? On the issues. And the issues where he made those gains are Medicare, prescription drugs, health care and Social Security.

All of those are issues relating to personal needs, all of those are issues in which he claimed he would fight special interests, and all of those issues are very, very strong concerns among women. It's the health care, Medicare, prescription drug area of the issue agenda where Gore really scored at the Democratic convention.

BLITZER: All right. Bill Schneider up early this morning in Los Angeles, thanks for joining us.

Al Gore and running mate Joe Lieberman, meanwhile, are spending the weekend on a post-convention tour of key battleground states along the Mississippi River.

CNN senior White House correspondent John King is in Moline, Illinois.

John, first of all, how are they reacting in the Gore camp to these latest numbers coming out this weekend?

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They're certainly thrilled, Wolf. But for months, remember, the vice president had to shrug off as irrelevant all the polls showing Governor Bush with a big lead. So now he says, with the polls now showing him at least in a dead heat, he still has to say the polls are irrelevant at this point in the race, but he did joke with us yesterday that he thinks they're becoming suddenly more relevant.

And take a look at the candidate on the campaign trail. We have pictures last night. It's midnight in the little town of Clinton, Iowa, the vice president on stage with his wife, Tipper Gore. It's a birthday celebration for Mrs. Gore, birthday No. 52. You can see from these pictures and our experiences with the vice president the past three days, as we've gone down the Mississippi River, he is in much better spirits.

His campaign believes it got what it needed out of the convention. Still a very tough road ahead, but they are competitive now. They view the next big, critical test, obviously, as the presidential debates, and they hope to use their time here in the Midwest to build up their support heading into that period of the campaign.

BLITZER: John, what's the strategy in the Gore camp to not only hold on to these numbers, but to try to improve on them?

KING: They still have a problem in Midwest states like this, Iowa, a state that voted for Bill Clinton twice and Governor Dukakis in '88. Illinois, where we are today, voted for Bill Clinton twice. If you go state by state, they still have some difficulties in the important battlegrounds. They want to focus on those in the short term.

And as they focus on those states, niche marketing to blue-collar working men and to suburban women. They believe those are the two key constituencies right now. They allowed Governor Bush to make inroads in the March-to-July period. They believe the rest of August and September key to building up support, stressing the economy and stressing health care and the environment.

BLITZER: OK. John King in Moline, Illinois, thanks for joining us.

After taking a brief break during the Democratic convention, George W. Bush has returned to the campaign trail.

Earlier today, I spoke with his communications director, Karen Hughes.


BLITZER: Karen Hughes, thank you so much for joining us once again on LATE EDITION. Always good to have you on our program.


BLITZER: All right. The polls show, as you know, that Al Gore is getting a very, very nice post-Democratic convention bounce. Looks like this is going to be a horse race.

HUGHES: Well, Wolf, we said all along that it's going to be a close election, and we expect it to be a close, hard-fought election all the way until November. It's 79 days from today. Who's counting? I think I am.

But I will point out that the most recent poll, the Newsweek poll that you're referring to, also showed Walter Mondale ahead of Ronald Reagan in 1984 after his convention, and I think we all remember who won that election fairly handily.

So I don't think you can put too much stock in the instant polls in the immediate aftermath of a convention. Governor Bush, in one poll right after our convention, was up by 25 points.

So I think polls go up and polls go down. But what I think we are -- we were looking forward to a -- we think we're in strong position for a good campaign this fall.

BLITZER: What about the assessment -- and I want to play this sound bite -- that Bill Daley, the Gore campaign chairman, offered earlier today on Meet the Press, on why these numbers seem, at least for now, to be moving in favor of Al Gore. Listen to this.


WILLIAM DALEY, GORE CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: We are encouraged that people obviously listened to the vice president on Thursday evening. They say him for what he is, a strong leader, someone who understands America, understands the future, and understands that there are difficulties and there are issues that we've got to address. And he was specific about them. And I think that's what people reacted to.


BLITZER: What's your reaction to that assessment of why these poll numbers seem to be turning around?

HUGHES: Well, Wolf, I think that's what the Democrats are hoping and trying to spin, but I disagree. I think what people saw on Thursday night in the vice president's speech was, one, a litany of the promises unfulfilled from the Clinton administration. For example, they talk about prescription drug benefits for senior citizens yet, for the last seven years, have failed to do anything to provide prescription drug benefits for senior citizens.

So I think what they heard was a litany of, sort of, unfilled promises, and, trust us, we'll do it if you give us four more years.

But I think what they also heard was a vice president who talked about fighting, fighting everybody, and I think the American people are tired of all the fighting in Washington. They're tired of the division. They don't want four more years of the partisan bickering.

And Governor Bush offers a different style of leadership. He wants to unite our country. Here in Texas, he's worked with Republicans and Democrats to build consensus. And that's what he'll do as President.

BLITZER: All right. I want to get to some of those specific differences on substantive policy issues in a second, but let's nail down the issue of debates, since your campaign this past week said you're ready for three presidential debates and two vice presidential debates.

Are you insisting that they be outside the structure of the Presidential Commission, some less-formal kind of format? Or are you willing to accept the Presidential Commission sort of structured debates, which clearly the Gore campaign prefers?

HUGHES: Wolf, we have not decided on the exact venue or the exact format. What Governor Bush is interested in is a thoughtful and substantive series of debates, and that's why we went ahead and announced this week that we are willing to do a modern-day record of five presidential and vice presidential debates, three in which Governor Bush would participate, which would tie the record number of debates that a presidential candidate has engaged in in recent history, and two for Secretary Cheney, which would be more than any vice president in recent history has engaged in.

We're interested in talking about -- we think Governor Bush and Secretary Cheney, as the participants in the debate, have a right to discuss the format. And we want to make sure it's not a yelling contest or something undignified. We want to make sure that it's a substantive and thoughtful debate. And so we are going to meet with the Presidential Debate Commission and with other organizations.

A number of news organizations have offered us very intriguing proposals. We've received, I think, Wolf, so far, 42 different offers to debate, and Governor Bush wanted to make it clear that he is willing and eager to debate, and now we'll discuss the details of the format.

BLITZER: How does the governor feel about third-party or fourth- party candidates like Pat Buchanan or Ralph Nader participating in those presidential debates?

HUGHES: Well, Wolf, I think we'll have to see. That's not something we've really a specific discussion with the governor about at this point. That is one of the potential problems with the Presidential Commission debates. There have been talks about possible legal challenges to those debates. And so I think we'll have to see, as we go forward, what different sponsors are interested and what kind of proposals are made.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about some of the major differences between your candidate, Governor Bush, and Vice President Gore. "The New York Times," in an editorial today, seemed to summarize, at least their assessment, what the major difference involving tax cuts involved. Let me read to you from that editorial:

"Mr. Bush, warning that the surplus should not be hijacked by federal programs, would use about $1.3 trillion to cut taxes, mainly for affluent families. Al Gore would cut taxes by only $500 billion, mostly subsidies of one sort or another for middle class families."

Is the "New York Times" editorial accurate in assessing -- describing this difference on tax cuts?

HUGHES: No, I beg to differ on that. I think what the difference is, is that Governor Bush would take about a fourth of the surplus, about a quarter on the dollar of the surplus, and give it back to the people who pay the bills. He would offer a tax cut for every taxpayer in every income bracket.

In contrast, what Vice President Gore does is, he would spend the surplus. And that's why I think "The New York Times" may like his plan. He would spend the surplus on bigger government programs.

In fact, I saw an analysis in the last couple of days that he would actually spend more than the surplus. And if you ask the American people, I think they will say that is the proposal that is risky, is to use a surplus to fuel bigger government.

The reason we have a surplus, Wolf, is not because government isn't spending enough. It's because taxes are too high. The American people are now paying more taxes as a percentage of our gross domestic product than at any time since we were fighting World War II. And Governor Bush believes that we ought to return some of that money to the people who pay the bills.

The tax cut is very fair. It is balanced. It corrects inequities in the tax code. And it provides a tax cut for every taxpayer, in contrast to the vice president's plan.

BLITZER: Well, you know, you remember what the vice president said in ridiculing the governor's plan, making clear that the governor's plan would return a lot of that money to the wealthiest of Americans. I want to listen to specifically what he accused you of doing. I'll be anxious to get your reaction.

Listen to this:


AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Under the tax plan the other side has proposed, for every $10 that goes to the wealthiest 1 percent, middle class families would get one dime, and lower income families would get one penny.

In fact, if you add it up, the average family would get about enough money to buy one extra Diet Coke a week.


BLITZER: In fairness to the vice president, he may have slipped up because in his advance text, he said one extra Diet Coke a day as opposed to a week. But I guess that really does not make much of a difference. But you get the point that he's trying to drive home to the American people.

HUGHES: Well, he did misspeak on that point, and I'm not sure where he got his numbers. I think he must have pulled them out of a hat.

Let me tell you what Governor Bush's tax cut really does. Let's take an American family earning $50,000 a year. That's probably a policeman and a teacher with two children. It cuts their federal income taxes by 50 percent.

Let's take a young mother earning $22,000 a year, who has the hardest job in America, being a single Mom. She right now, as she makes more money or tries to get ahead, pays a higher marginal tax rate than a stock broker earning $200,000 a year. That's the tax code that Al Gore is defending in his plan.

Governor Bush believes that that's not right and that's not fair. He also believes on principle that no American at any income level should have to pay more than a third of their income to the federal government in income taxes. Now, that is again in stark contrast to Vice President Gore who once voted against lowering the top tax rate of 70 percent.

So Vice President Gore was willing to defend a tax code that taxed 70 percent of peoples' income. Governor Bush doesn't think that's right. On principle, he doesn't think that anyone in America, whether they are at the lower end of the economic ladder or whether they are successful, should have to pay more than a third of their income to the federal government in taxes.

BLITZER: One other thing that the vice president did make clear, that he would not support increasing the retirement age above 65 under any circumstances whatsoever. And if anyone was proposing raising it to 70, for example, that was off the table as far as he was concerned.

What is Governor Bush's position? Is he ready to put it back on the table, increasing the retirement age?

HUGHES: Well, first Wolf, let me make a point that that's an interesting thing that the vice president said, because his own running mate, Senator Joseph Lieberman, on the Sunday shows last week, said that any politician who tries to take that off the table is really not being honest with the American people.

So that's an interesting little division between Senator Lieberman, who says anyone who claims that taking -- raising the retirement rates off the table is not being honest, and Vice President Gore, who claims that well, believe him, trust him, he is taking it off the table.

Now, what Governor Bush has said is that he hopes we do not have to do that. He has promised those receiving Social Security and those nearing retirement that they would receive no cut in benefits. But he thinks it's very important for younger workers that we reform the system to allow younger workers to put a part of their payroll taxes into personal accounts that get a better return on their investment.

Right now the Social Security system gets about 1.8 or 1.9 percent on interest on money that we put into the system. Everybody in America knows that's a lousy return. You could double it over night by putting it in a 100 percent guaranteed Treasury bond. And Governor Bush believes that to save the system for the long run, we ought to let younger workers voluntarily to choose to do that.

BLITZER: Interesting enough, only last week on this program, Joe Lieberman said almost what you said about not taking it off the table. Mark Fabiani is going to be on this program shortly, and we will ask him to explain the difference.

Karen Hughes, I know you're off to church. It's an important thing to do every Sunday. Thank you so much for joining us on LATE EDITION.

HUGHES: Thanks, Wolf. I enjoyed being here.

BLITZER: Thank you.


BLITZER: And just ahead, the Gore response. What's the vice president's post-convention strategy for winning with voters. We'll ask his deputy campaign manager, Mark Fabiani when LATE EDITION returns.



GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've got a different purpose. I've got a different vision of leadership. A leadership is somebody who brings people together. A leader is somebody who finds common ground.


BLITZER: Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush making his case on the campaign trail Friday.

Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

Joining us now from San Diego to talk about what's ahead for the Democratic ticket is the Gore deputy campaign manager, Mark Fabiani.

Mr. Fabiani, always good to have you on our program as well. Thanks for joining us.

MARK FABIANI, GORE DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Thanks for having me back. I appreciate it.

BLITZER: Well, you must be pretty happy with these new numbers the CNN/"USA Today" Gallup poll numbers, the "Newsweek" numbers, what a difference a week makes.

FABIANI: Well, we've said all along that the only poll that counts is the one that happens on Election Day. But what's really happened over the last two weeks is that Al Gore has proved himself to the American people as a leader, with his bold choice of Joe Lieberman, and then with the speech of a lifetime that he gave on Thursday night.

You know, seldom in political history has there been as much pressure on a politician to give a speech, and Al Gore stepped up to the plate, he knocked it out of the ballpark, Americans saw it and they liked what they saw.

BLITZER: Well, one of the things that Bill Schneider points out in our new poll, as you heard, is the huge change among women voters.


BLITZER: Was that a specific strategy that you had in mind, going into that speech, to try to shift the attitudes among women?

FABIANI: Not really. The issues that Al Gore stands for, fighting for middle class families, fighting for prescription drug benefits against the big HMOs and the big pharmaceutical companies, protecting Social Security, these are issues that matter to people across the board, man or woman. Middle class families will decide the election, and Al Gore is the only candidate in this election who's fighting for middle class families.

BLITZER: All right, let's talk a little bit about some of the substantive issues. You heard Karen Hughes say that Governor Bush may be open to increasing the retirement age, doesn't want to take it off the table. But listen to what Vice President Gore said in his acceptance speech Thursday night. Listen to this.


GORE: I will never agree to raise the retirement age to 70 or threaten the promise of Social Security.



BLITZER: Now, contrast that to what Joe Lieberman said on this program exactly one week ago. Listen to Senator Lieberman.


SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would say fortunately we don't have to consider raising the retirement age. But you know, keep it on the table? I mean there's very little you take off the table if you want to be an honest public official.


BLITZER: Sounds like there's a serious difference of opinion between the Democratic candidate for the presidency and the vice presidential candidate.

FABIANI: Well, the real difference here is between Gore and Bush. Bush needs to raise the retirement age in order to afford his massive privatization plan for Social Security. It's either raise the retirement age or bankrupt the Social Security trust fund. So he needs to do that. As for Al Gore, he's got a plan in place that would use part of the surplus to protect the Social Security system all the way through the year 2055. And that's what Senator Lieberman meant last week when he said, we don't need to consider that now. We don't need to consider it all the way until 2055 under Al Gore's program.

So the real difference here, despite what the Bush camp would like to say, is between Gore and Bush. Gore will not increase the retirement age, period, end of story. Bush has to, if he wants to privatize Social Security, as he's proposed.

BLITZER: But, as you know, there have been other issues in which there seemed to be some differences, some daylight ...


BLITZER: ... between Gore and Lieberman -- on affirmative action, for example, on school vouchers. We heard in the speech that vice president delivered what many are saying was more of the old Democratic populist lines as opposed to the more moderate new Democratic positions, once again underscoring perhaps some daylight between the presidential candidate and the vice presidential candidate.

FABIANI: Look, Senator Lieberman is a man of impeccable reputation. People have never questioned his honesty in any way. And for the Bush campaign to stand up and question Senator Lieberman on these grounds is pretty outrageous. The fact is, Senator Lieberman and Vice President Gore, by the senator's own count, agree on about 95 percent of the things that they talk about. On some things they just disagree, but it's a mark of both men -- they're strong leaders, they can disagree and still move ahead. But when it comes right down to it, Al Gore is going to call the shots. And on the retirement age, Al Gore will not increase the retirement age for either Social Security or Medicare. That's the bottom line.

BLITZER: On the issue of tax cuts, what the Republicans are saying, what Governor Bush says and other Republicans, if you keep that budget surplus, all those billions in Washington, the federal bureaucrats are going to spend it, and it's not going to go back to the people. What do you say to that argument that it's better to just give that -- to reduce taxes, as opposed to letting the government come up with more federal programs?

FABIANI: Well, Al Gore would reduce taxes, except he would reduce them for middle income families, for working families. George Bush would reduce taxes and the vast bulk, as the New York Times said today, you quoted it earlier, the vast bulk of the Bush tax cut would go to the wealthy.

The second thing Al Gore would do, would be to use the surplus to pay off the national debt so that this country can for the first time be debt free by the year 2012. That will be huge for the economy, it will free up the capital markets, it will reduce interest rates, it will help every single person in this country. George Bush, because of his huge tax cut for the wealthy, can't pay off the national debt. This country will be in debt for decades to come if George Bush is elected president and his tax cut passes.

Al Gore wants to target his tax cut and he wants to pay off the debt. It's a better economic package for people.

BLITZER: All right, we have to take a quick break. But when we return, the ghost of impeachment loomed over Vice President Gore's big night at the Democratic convention. We'll ask Mark Fabiani what impact President Clinton's troubles are having on the Gore campaign.

LATE EDITION will be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

We're talking about the race for the White House with the Gore deputy campaign manager, Mark Fabiani. He joins us from San Diego.

Mr. Fabiani, you heard the Bush campaign this week announce they're ready for three presidential debates...


BLITZER: ... two vice presidential debates. Is that a good proposal as far as you're concerned?

FABIANI: Well, Al Gore has accepted -- Karen referred earlier to the fact that the Bush campaign has received 42 debate proposals. Al Gore has accepted everyone of those proposals.

Governor Bush has been running from the issues. Now he's figured out that he can't hide; he has to step up and debate.

But here's the issue: Al Gore wants the debates held under the auspices of the Commission on Presidential Debates. He wants all Americans to have the chance to see these debates. We're all in favor of as many debates as Governor Bush can handle. But they have to start with the Commission on Presidential Debates so that all Americans have the greatest chance to see these two candidates up against one another.

BLITZER: Do you want the other candidates, the Ralph Naders and the Pat Buchanans, to be part of those debates?

FABIANI: Well, the Commission on Presidential Debates will set the rules for those debates, and we'll follow those rules, whatever they are. All other presidential candidates in recent memory have followed the commission's rules, and we intend to do that too.

But after the commission debates, sure, we're open to debates with all candidates. But first, we need to have the presidential commission set the rules, have those debates. And then we're for as many debates, again, as Governor Bush can handle.

So far he hasn't been able to handle any. We're hoping that's going to change, because once people focus on issues in this election, Al Gore is going to have a strong upper hand.

BLITZER: I want to play for you a sound bite, an excerpt from Al Gore's speech on Thursday night. I want you to explain what he was referring to. Listen to this excerpt that has caused somewhat of a commotion out there. Listen to this.


GORE: If you entrust me with the presidency, I know I won't always be the most exciting politician, but I pledge to you tonight I will work for you every day and I will never let you down.



BLITZER: You, of course, have heard all the speculation that he was referring to his predecessor, Bill Clinton, who did let the American people down with his involvement in the Monica Lewinsky matter.

FABIANI: Well, Al Gore, as he said on Thursday night, as I think he's proved to people over the last two weeks, when he's taken the mantle of leadership from the Democratic Party, is his own man. He's running on his own terms. And he's focused on the future, not on the past.

And he told people what he would do, the things he would fight for, the things that are important to him in his life. And that's how we hope people will look at this election, as a debate about the future, not a debate about the past. BLITZER: But was he referring to President Clinton in making that comment?

FABIANI: No, not explicitly. He was simply telling people what he would do for them, the promise that he would make to them to fight for them against the entrenched special interests, and that's all he meant by that.

He's his own man now. We're focused on the future. He has the leadership stage all to himself, and that's exactly where we want to be.

BLITZER: How concerned are you that the independent counsel is now once again reviving this investigation of President Clinton? Is that going to be hovering over this campaign in the next several weeks?

FABIANI: I don't think so. People want this campaign to be about the future. As a great old politician said once, there they go again. You know, the Republicans have been debating these scandal issues for years and years now. And there's a good reason for that. They can't debate on the issues that are important to American people, so they're mired, they're wallowing in scandal. They can't get out of it. They tried to spoil Al Gore's big day on Thursday. They failed to do that. And I think people are too smart to fall to the old Republican tricks. They're going to focus on the future, just as Al Gore is.

BLITZER: But I just want to make sure we're clear, it's now been widely reported that the federal judge, a Democratically appointed federal judge, says he was the source of that leak, not the Republicans.

FABIANI: Well, I'm talking about how people reacted to that leak. I think you had a lot of -- you had the Republicans publicly saying as the Inspector Renault said in Casablanca, "I'm shocked -- shocked -- to find that gambling is going on here." But then privately behind the scenes talking about how this was going to hurt Al Gore. People are too smart for this. They know that this has been the Republican game for the last eight years, and they're tired of it.

BLITZER: Mark Fabiani in beautiful San Diego, partially explaining why he is such a happy man, the poll numbers the other explanation. Thanks for joining us on LATE EDITION.

FABIANI: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And when we return, there's widespread agreement that the United States is enjoying its strongest economy in decades, but who gets the credit? We'll talk with two guests with very different opinions: Gore campaign economic adviser Laura Tyson and House Majority leader Dick Armey.

LATE EDITION continues right after this.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My fellow Americans, are we better off today than we were eight years ago? You bet we are.


BLITZER: President Clinton touting his administration's economic record in front of an enthusiastic crowd last week at the Democratic National Convention.

Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

Joining us now to debate exactly who is responsible for America's sustained economic prosperity are two guests. In San Francisco, Dr. Laura Tyson. She served as President Clinton's economic adviser during his first term, and she's currently an economic adviser to the Gore campaign. And joining us from Dallas, Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, himself an economist.

Welcome, both of you, to LATE EDITION.

Let me begin with you, Representative Armey, is the -- are the Americans -- do you agree with Bill Clinton that the American people are better off today than they were eight years ago?

REP. DICK ARMEY (R-TX), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADERR: There's no doubt about it. You know, we're in the halcyon days of the greatest innovations, business cycle, perhaps any of us will ever see in our lifetime. And, yes, Mr. and Mrs. America, we are better off, and thanks to your efforts. We've got a great deal of creativity that's going on now, a great deal of invention, a great deal of innovation, a great deal of investment.

And the fact is, Republicans reduced the capital gains tax, Republicans gave us telecommunications reform that created all these dot-com firms that have now exploded on the scene, and we have just completed financial modernization. So we're setting the stage for the invention and innovation to take place.

But make no mistake about it, this great business cycle is the product of the works of American men and women, inventing and creating and working in their own communities.

BLITZER: All right. Dr. Tyson, what do you say about that?

LAURA D'ANDREA TYSON, GORE CAMPAIGN ECONOMIC ADVISER: Well, I certainly would agree with that. And the analysis is this is a private economy and the private economy is doing wonderfully.

However, it's clearly the case that government policy plays a role. And I would start with the simple observation made by Chairman Greenspan of the Federal Reserve, who is by his own accounts a Republican, and he credits the fiscal discipline of the Clinton administration with being instrumental in achieving this wonderful expansion.

So you have a sound fiscal policy led by Clinton and Gore. It creates the foundation for a halcyon, innovation-driven investment expansion. So you got to put the government in there, but give the private sector the majority of the credit.

BLITZER: Congressman Armey, if the economy were a mess right now, if unemployment were high, inflation were high, you would be blaming the Clinton-Gore administration for creating that mess. So why not give them some credit since the economy is in good shape?

ARMEY: Well, let me say first of all, yes, I would, because the government is more likely to screw something up than they are to make something good happen. But let's just look at this. The fact of the matter -- the fiscal discipline came with a Republican majority in 1985. The fact is, up until 1985 for a couple decades, Washington was spending $1.56 for every tax dollar came into town, and after 1995, we reduced that to less than 50 cents on the dollar.

So, the fact is, the fiscal discipline came with our welfare reform that Bill Clinton rejected and vetoed twice. It came with Freedom to Farm, the reform in agriculture policy. The reform in our Medicare that this president vetoed twice -- campaigned against us and then signed after the election.

So the fact of the matter is, the reform and mandatory spending that brought government spending down came from the Republicans, as did the financial modernization, telecommunications modernization, deregulation, the reduction in capital gains, which Vice President Gore rejected as a violation of what he called Democrat theology.

BLITZER: All right. Let me get to Dr. Tyson. And Dr. Tyson, you were there in the early days of the Clinton administration. And what Representative Armey is saying is true. The Republicans did put the pressure on the White House to cut spending and to come up with this balanced budget. Early on in the Clinton administration, there was a reluctance to concede that there was a need, even, for a balanced budget.

TYSON: Well, I think we need to have some historical perspective here. The Republicans had control of the White House for 10 years from 1980 to -- 12 years, from 1989 to '92. During that period of time, they had a very well-articulated economic strategy. Cut taxes and blow out the deficit. What happened? We had a debt which quadrupled, we hit the largest deficit in our nation's history.

By the way, during those 12 years, the unemployment rate averaged over 7 percent, real wages fell by about 5 percent, real family incomes fell by about $2,000. And at the end, by the end of 1992, the U.S. was looking at an economic expansion which was going to be hobbled by the debt of the federal government.

TYSON: In comes the Clinton-Gore administration, puts out a hand to the Republicans in the Congress to work with us, to develop a deficit reduction plan. The Republicans to a person walk away, say that our plan will throw the economy in the tank, in their words, and that they don't want any responsibility for what happens.

Everyone credits that 1993 deficit reduction package with setting the foundation. Was there a balanced budget agreement later in 1997 which was a bipartisan agreement? Yes, there was. That was when the Republicans were willing to work with the president and the vice president of fiscal discipline.

BLITZER: All right. Dr. Tyson, Congressman Armey, we have to take a quick break. When we return, more questions for Dick Armey and Laura Tyson.

LATE EDITION will be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

We're talking about who should be responsible for the strong U.S. economy, with Gore economic adviser Laura Tyson, she joins us from San Francisco, and House Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey, he is in Dallas.

Congressman Armey, I want to play for you an excerpt from what President Clinton said Monday night at the Democratic convention, referring to his 1993 budget proposal, which as you know, passed the House of Representatives without any Republican support. Listen to what he said Monday night.


CLINTON: We proposed a new economic strategy. Their leaders said our plan would increase the deficit, kill jobs and give us a one- way ticket to a recession. Time has not been kind to their predictions.


BLITZER: It got a big laugh at the convention. We went back to see who was making some of those predictions and, lo and behold, we found an excerpt from something you said in 1993, referring to the Clinton plan.

Listen to what you said then.


ARMEY: This plan is not a recipe for new jobs, more opportunities for our young people or more secure retirement for our parents. It's a recipe for disaster. You Democrats may give your president a political victory today, but it's a defeat for our economy and the well-being of the American people.


BLITZER: Well, the prediction did not seem to bode well. ARMEY: No, it didn't. And I, like Laura and like everybody in our profession, failed to recognize the strength of the innovation cycle of the private sector of the economy at that time. And understand that in 1994, the projections for deficits based on that plan for this year alone was $268 billion.

We then elected the Republican conference. We've reformed five major entitlement spending. We had fiscal discipline for the first time in decades. And we turned it around with a tax reduction in '93 specifically targeted at the growth sector of the economy. And quite frankly, we were saved from that plan because we were able to turn it around and get things going.

If you take a look at the way the economy took off, it took off in '95 and '96. Stock market soared. Jobs began to create. The unemployment rate came down. But only after we were able to reverse the '93 budget plan.

BLITZER: All right. What's wrong with that assessment, Laura Tyson? The Republicans do deserve some of the credit for this robust economy, don't they?

TYSON: Well, first of all, there was no reversal of the 1993 budget plan. That plan was in effect. It was in effect for three to four years while the Clinton-Gore administration negotiated with the new Republican-controlled Congress about the right way to balance the budget.

There are two sets of priorities, I think, the American people are concerned about. One is fiscal discipline, balancing the budget, bringing down the debt. The other is the right way to do that.

And so the debate was about preserving Medicare, preserving Medicaid, preserving spending on education, preserving spending on the environment. And I think that debate in '96 and '97 is very important in looking forward. We're talking about the past, but I think we have to look to this upcoming election. And the major distinction between the two candidates, as I see it, is number one, the vice president has clearly come out in favor of fiscal discipline.

And I would ask Dick Armey, how does he feel about a candidate, his candidate, who essentially, according to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, has committed to tax cuts and spending proposals which more than spend the projected surpluses. In contrast Gore is proposing saving the surplus...

BLITZER: All right. All right. We have to let Dick -- Dr. Tyson, we have to let Dick Armey respond because we're almost out of time.

TYSON: OK. Fine. Fine.

ARMEY: Well, it's just simply not so. We -- when we said 100 percent of Social Security surplus would go to debt reduction, you all said it couldn't be done and we did it.

This plan that's put together by George Bush begins from that point, where we are now.

TYSON: He's taking...

ARMEY: One hundred percent of all Social Security taxes are used for either debt reduction or Social Security benefits. We stopped the raid. You said it couldn't be done. We did it.

BLITZER: All right.

ARMEY: The fact of the matter is, his plan falls very nicely within that budget proposal.

BLITZER: All right. Unfortunately, we have to leave it right there. Dick Armey, Laura Tyson, this debate, obviously, is going to continue. Thank you to both of you for joining us.

TYSON: Thank you.

ARMEY: Thank you.

BLITZER: And up next, the lingering investigation of President Clinton. Is he facing more legal consequences from the Monica Lewinsky affair? We'll ask former Clinton White House special counsel, Lanny Davis, and former Bush attorney general, Dick Thornburgh.

LATE EDITION will be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

This past week it was revealed a new grand jury has been impaneled to continue the investigation of President Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The White House and many Democrats blasted the timing of the story, which was leaked just hours before Vice President Gore gave his acceptance speech. They said it was a politically motivated move by the independent counsel's office.

But on Friday, Federal Judge Richard Cudahy acknowledged he had mistakenly told a reporter about the new grand jury. Cudahy issued a statement saying, quote, he had been inadvertently -- he had been the inadvertent source of the information, with apologies to all concerned.

Joining us now to talk about the implications of the new grand jury investigation are two veteran attorneys who have been following the Lewinsky probe from the start. Lanny Davis, is a former White House special counsel for President Clinton, and Dick Thornburgh served as attorney general under the Bush administration.

Gentlemen, of course, it's always great to have both of you back on LATE EDITION.

And I'll ask Dick Thornburgh first, how much trouble is the president in? DICK THORNBURGH, FORMER BUSH ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, it's interesting that this is precisely the course that was recommended by Senator Lieberman and his fellow Democrats during the course of the impeachment proceedings, when they said that they would not vote to remove the president from office, but would leave his transgressions to the criminal justice system. I think it's useful to quote from Senator Lieberman's widely heard and admired speech.

He said, "whether any of his conduct constitutes a criminal offense, such as perjury or obstruction of justice, must be left to the criminal justice system, which will uphold the rule of law in President Clinton's case as it would for any other American." And that's where we are.

We're now going ahead with the investigation, utilizing the grand jury. And the prosecutor ultimately will have to make a decision as to whether or not there have been criminal offenses committed here.

BLITZER: Ken Starr's successor, Robert Ray, has got a job to do. He's got to finish up this investigation, as you just heard. What's wrong with impaneling another grand jury to try to finish it off and clean it up?

LANNY J. DAVIS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE SPECIAL COUNSEL: Well, what's wrong is the lack of exercise of good prosecutorial discretion, and that's what's called for here. I agree with Dick that the system should operate and should be allowed to operate. What I don't understand is why a new grand jury needs to be impaneled before the election and, moreover, what new is out there.

Let's remember that five Republicans, three of them former prosecutors or state attorney generals, that's Arlen Specter, Senator Fred Thompson, Senator Slade Gorton, voted to acquit on the perjury count. And they said if they thought there had been perjury, they would have voted to convict. Ten Republican senators voted to acquit on obstruction of justice. After all of the Ken Starr report investigations, after all of the Senate impeachment inquiries, they voted to acquit.

What else is new, why does Mr. Ray need to do this before the election?

BLITZER: All right, what's the answer.

THORNBURGH: Well, the difference is that the impeachment process was a political process and this is now a legal process.

By now, there certainly can't be any doubt but that President Clinton lied under oath and attempted to obstruct justice. Indeed, that's what was the basis for his being found in contempt of court by Judge Susan Weber Wright in Arkansas, charges, by the way, that he did not contest.

BLITZER: And as you know, Lanny Davis, the president is now facing possible disbarment in Arkansas. That's being considered as a result of that whole incident. You know, Michael Isikoff, writing in the new issue of "Newsweek" magazine that just came out today, says that if the president is disbarred, that may be turn out to be a blessing for Mr. Clinton because Robert Ray, the independent counsel, might then decide, you know, he's been punished enough.

DAVIS: Well, first of all, he has been punished already. I'm not sure the disbarment incrementally adds that much more to the punishment he's personally suffered.

But I do go back to my friend Dick's comment about impeachment being a political process. Senator Specter and Senator Thompson and Senator Gordon and the other seven Senators that voted to acquit didn't make a political judgment in favor of President Clinton.

They said, "If there's evidence of perjury, I will vote to convict." They voted to acquit because there wasn't evidence of either obstruction or perjury. And what new has come out that would suggest the need for Mr. Ray to impanel this grand jury?

BLITZER: I understand that. Is there anything new that's come out?

THORNBURGH: Well, we'll see. That's what the grand jury is being impaneled for, to wrap up this proceeding. They needed a grand jury because the old grand jury had expired. So there's nothing necessarily indicative about impaneling a grand jury that any indictment is going to result. I think that has got to be understood by everyone. But it is part of the orderly process in handling allegations of criminal misconduct.

BLITZER: There is one new element that's come out, but we'll have to hold that thought until after this commercial break.

We have to take another commercial break.

For international viewers, "WORLD NEWS" is next.

For our North American audience, stay tuned for another 30 minutes of LATE EDITION.

We'll check the hour's top stories, then take your phone calls for Lanny Davis and Dick Thornburgh. We'll also have our LATE EDITION roundtable and Bruce Morton's "Last Word." It's all ahead when LATE EDITION continues.


BLITZER: Joining us, the former Clinton White House special counsel Lanny Davis, and former Bush administration attorney general Dick Thornburgh. All right. We left our audience hanging.

The new information that has been released since the acquittal in the Senate?

THORNBURGH: Well, the subject matter of this investigation is not only the already familiar Lewinsky allegations of perjury and obstruction of justice, but a further investigation into this vast mass of e-mails that were not delivered by the White House according to the subpoenas that were served on them. And what lies within that treasure trove, we can only speculate.

BLITZER: Doesn't that justify continuing the investigation?

DAVIS: I don't know the facts, but I certainly would feel more comfortable if Mr. Ray would say he's not going to reopen the entire Monica Lewinsky-President Clinton episode with the thousands and hundreds of thousands of evidence and documents and testimony, but that he's looking to something new regarding the e-mails that are connected to that. I would be a little bit more comfortable.

I still think that the country is so tired of this that, if he uses his good judgment and discretion, he will close this down and let us move on.

BLITZER: OK. Let's take a caller from San Antonio, Texas, please go ahead.

CALLER: Thank you and good afternoon to all of you. Mr. Thornburgh, the American people know that the independent counsel is a Republican. Aren't you afraid that continuing this investigation into the president's conduct is going to take votes away from George Bush and the Republicans in the fall?

BLITZER: It hasn't been a popular issue, as you know.

THORNBURGH: No, it hasn't and I think that's a charge that will be made by his opponent. The fact of the matter is that the investigation was begun under a law that President Clinton supported and signed into law. The original appointment of an independent counsel was made at the request of his attorney general, Janet Reno. And, therefore, to characterize it as solely political in nature, I think flies in the face of the facts. The independent counsel has a responsibility that is admittedly difficult because you're investigating the chief executive of the United States against all the weapons that he can draw up in defense. But I think Mr. Ray's reputation is such that he will see this through and he will call them as he sees them.

BLITZER: Miami, Florida, please go ahead with your question.

CALLER: Yes, I'd like to ask Mr. Thornburgh, do you think it would be appropriate to hear contrition or some apologies from the hyperventilating Democrats like Lanny, who were on TV all day Thursday complaining about the horrible Republicans who are leaking, and turns out to be a Democratic appointed judge who was responsible for that?

BLITZER: All right. Let's let Lanny Davis answer that.

DAVIS: I don't think I was hyperventilating, but it was awfully hot in Los Angeles. I never once said I knew who the source of the leak was. What I said was, and which I still believe, is that the timing of that phone call from Mr. Yost to the judge, I think, had something to do with other people that he talked to.

BLITZER: Mr. Yost being the reporter from the Associated Press.

DAVIS: The Associated Press reporter. And the fact that it was done on the day of Al Gore's testimony, to me -- struck me as very suspicious, which, by the way, Governor Bush himself said. But I never suggested to anybody on the air or off, that I thought that the Republicans or anyone else was behind that leak.

THORNBURGH: Some of your colleagues were not as careful, and I think they displayed that old technique of ready, fire, aim, and had to backtrack.

DAVIS: We don't know the truth yet as to how the leak happened.

THORNBURGH: I see, there's a vast conspiracy.

BLITZER: Well, the judge -- the judge has conceded he was the source. Well, we'll get to that later. Let's take another call. A caller from Austin, Texas, please go ahead.

CALLER: My question is to both of the gentlemen. I'm wondering who or how could we, as a country, end this seemingly never-ending investigative and prosecutorial process? I can't figure out, since we went through a political process already, that seemed to fail us all. What do we need to do to stop it?

BLITZER: And a lot of people are saying, Dick Thornburgh, you know, this is a case, it's not perfect, of double jeopardy. He was acquitted, even though not a legal proceeding, it was a political proceeding. Should he have to endure this again?

THORNBURGH: Well, I think there are two answers to that. One is the one that I already gave and you referred to, that the impeachment process is a political undertaking. It is not a criminal charge.

The criminal case, on the other hand, is one where I would worry that if it weren't proceeded and weren't followed through on -- we've got people going into court daily, thousands, hundreds of thousands of people going in and hold their hand up, and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And if they get the notion they can pick and choose the answers they want to give truthful answers to, depending on whether it's embarrassing or awkward or something like that, then our legal system is going to be in real jeopardy.

And I think the same rules have to be applied to the president, and it has to be applied to the rest of us.

BLITZER: Unfortunately, we have to leave it right there. Dick Thornburgh, Lanny Davis, good to have both of you back on LATE EDITION.

I'm sure you'll be back, because this story never goes away.

DAVIS: I hope not. BLITZER: Thanks for joining us.

When we return, did the Democrats accomplish their mission in Los Angeles? We'll go round the table with Steve Roberts, Susan Page and John Fund when LATE EDITION continues.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

Time for our LATE EDITION roundtable.

Still in Los Angeles where the Democrats met last week is Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today. Back with me here in Washington is Steve Roberts, contributing editor for "U.S. News & World Report." And in our San Francisco bureau, John Fund, editorial writer for "The Wall Street Journal." He's sitting in for Tucker Carlson.

All right, Steve, pretty dramatic bounce for Al Gore in this post-convention poll we've just released.

STEVE ROBERTS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Better than I expected, I'll to be first to admit it. Walking out of that hall, not only did I think it wasn't a very good speech, but an awful lot of Democrats in that hall were very upset. I talked to one Democratic woman said, wrong message, wrong time. Clearly, he came across to the American people with a certain authority, a certain credibility, that he had been lacking.

But the question is, in the long run, does this us against them, populist, as George Bush called it, even a class warfare theme work? I'm still skeptical, because I think the swing voters are more up- scale, better off, more optimistic than Al Gore was saying.

BLITZER: John Fund, it's now three polls in a row, your "Wall Street Journal"/NBC News poll, the "Newsweek" poll, and now the CNN/"USA Today" Gallup poll. How do you assess this bounce?

JOHN FUND, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": We have to wait. I think Steve is right. Look, these polls are steroids. They basically bring back the Democratic base. They embolden Al Gore.

Al Gore's decided to run a Harry Truman campaign, circa 1948. The problem is in 1948, only 5 percent of the American people owned stock, had a real stake in the economy, and now 52 percent do. So I think it's a very troubling strategy for Al Gore, because this is not the America of Harry Truman, and George W. Bush is no Tom Dewey.

BLITZER: I know that, Susan, you've been in touch with Gore people and you cover them. You wrote an excellent piece in Friday's Wall Street Journal on the strategy that the Gore people -- excuse me, in USA Today -- the strategy that the Gore camp is planning on moving forward. How do they take these numbers and build on them now, or at least sustain them? SUSAN PAGE, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, they talk about their first target group. That's women who are non-college educated and working families continuing to struggle some even though this economy is very good. That's their first target group.

Overall, their strategy is really just, at this point, to keep it a race, to make it close. They hope that when Labor Day comes, the polls continue to be very close and competitive, because they think their advantage will come at the very end of this election, at the point of the debates we expect to have in mid-October.

I think they're cheered by these polls that show a healthy bounce out of this convention, Democrats coming home. One good number inside these polls: Ralph Nader's showing is going down. That's important for Al Gore.

BLITZER: But the most dramatic shift, Steve, for Al Gore was the turnaround among women voters. You heard Bill Schneider give some explanations, based on our polling, why that has happened. If he can sustain that, he's looking like he's in fat city.

ROBERTS: Right. And if he can't sustain it, he's toast, because women are the absolute critical swing vote, particularly married women with children, because single women tend to be a little more economically vulnerable. They tend to be more Democratic.

I think that he's tried to pick out a couple issues that will really appeal to women, prescription drug benefits, dealing with HMOs. You've got to remember the role women play in the families. They are the caretakers. They are the ones who worry about, are my kids getting the right medicines? Can my mother-in-law afford her drugs?

A lot of people think the gender gap is about abortion and ideology. It's not. It's about the economic lives and the family lives people lead. It's a good strategy. It's the only one he can follow, because if he doesn't get women, he's through.

BLITZER: John Fund, what should the Bush campaign be thinking about, should be doing in the face of these latest numbers? Is it too early to start reassessing where they're going?

FUND: I think the steroids will wear off on Labor Day, and we'll get a truer picture. And by the way, the CNN poll showed Ralph Nader going up a little.

What I think the Bush people are going to look at is, what are the October surprises that Bill Clinton is going to pull, using all of the power of his administration?

I predict that Steve is right. The prescription drug benefit is their best issue, and I think Bill Clinton is going to shut down the government in October unless the Republicans sign on to a major prescription drug entitlement.

BLITZER: Susan, when he says that Ralph Nader went up a little. He went from 2 to 3 percent, which I guess is still marginal. ROBERTS: In California, it makes a difference.

PAGE: In the polls, I believe his top showing now is 3 percent. That's significant and about half of where he was in some of these polls as recently as a week ago, because the Gore campaign believes that the issues become focused -- if the campaign becomes focused on issues and the stakes seem to be a little higher, a clear choice between Bush and Gore, that Nader voters will come home to the Democratic Party, but I guess we'll see.

ROBERTS: One of the things that I wonder about: George Bush came out of Philadelphia with a very upbeat message, a very inclusive message, an optimistic message, which I think, Wolf, captured that sense of optimism that's out there in the country. More people are positive about the economy, positive about their lives, than in a long time.

Al Gore's message was a little angrier; it was more divisive. And apart from the issues and apart from anything else, I wonder whether Bush isn't closer to the mood of the public with optimism. We learned that from Ronald Reagan: The candidate that is most optimistic often has the high ground.

BLITZER: John Fund, Joe Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential candidate, seems to be getting very high marks so far, since he got the phone call from Al Gore. And his speech is getting good reviews as well, especially this segment.

I want you to listen to this.


LIEBERMAN: Two weeks ago, our Republican friends actually tried to walk and talk a lot like us. Did you notice? Yes.

But let's be honest about this. We may be near Hollywood tonight, but not since Tom Hanks won an Oscar has there been that much acting in Philadelphia.


BLITZER: John, is it too early to say that Lieberman has really helped this ticket?

FUND: That was an effective line. Lieberman is in that plus, but not enough people are paying attention to the deficit side of the ledger. There are some problems: Black voters are not thrilled with Lieberman. He's too much of a New Democrat. That could depress black turnout in a few states.

Michigan has 5 percent Arab and Muslim Americans as its voter base. Michigan may be lost, even though Lieberman may bring them New Jersey in exchange.

And if you look at the Nader voters, the Nader voters I met at the convention and talked to are not happy with Joe Lieberman because he really is so much of a New Democrat. That's why he muted his New Democrat message, and that's why Al Gore came roaring back as a populist. I agree with Susan.

BLITZER: All right. Susan, we're going to get to you in a second, but we have to take a quick break.

When we return, President Clinton symbolically tried to pass the torch to Al Gore last week, but was it a successful hand-off? We'll ask the roundtable when LATE EDITION continues.


BLITZER: Welcome back to the roundtable.


BLITZER: Welcome back to the roundtable.

President Clinton wowed the Democrats Monday night at the opening night of the Democratic convention.

But some people were saying openly, Susan, that he should now fade away. I want you to listen to what Bob Kerrey, the Democratic Senator from Nebraska, who is retiring, told me on the podium Wednesday night.


SEN. ROBERT KERREY (D), NEBRASKA: I think he has to make a concerted effort to stay on the sidelines. I mean, it's going to be very hard for him. He's still president. He's very much engaged in the debate, but he has got to let the spotlight fall on the vice president. He just has to. And it's very hard to do, but I believe he must do it.


BLITZER: Susan, A, should he do it? B, can he do it?

PAGE: Well, it's really two separate questions. Well, of course, there's no love lost between Bob Kerrey and Bill Clinton, and you have to put his comments in that context. But even Democrats who are very fond of President Clinton, very supportive of him, believe he really needs to step back at this point. He needs to give Al Gore a clear field to establish himself as a strong leader, as his own man, as a person running on his own set of issues.

Now I think we'll see President Clinton come back at the very end of this election to turn out that Democratic base, but everyone believes it's very important for him to step aside. That's a message he's being told by people close to him. And I'm inclined to think that he's going to have the discipline and the desire to see Al Gore win, to do that, at least for a time.

ROBERTS: But there's a very interesting dimension here, as John Fund mentioned, Wolf. And that is that the Democratic strategy this fall includes very high-profile confrontations with the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill over prescription drugs, over patients' bill of rights.

They want to draw -- they want Dick Armey on the Sunday shows, like we had him here today. They want the Republicans who were shoved aside in Philadelphia to speak for the party. They want to force confrontations on these issues, precisely to appeal to those women voters we were talking about earlier. And Bill Clinton is the guy with the veto, so he is going to be central to those fights, even at the same time they want him to step aside.

BLITZER: John Fund, I want you to listen to how President Clinton wrapped up his speech last Monday night and get your thoughts on whether or not he scored those points he needed to score.

Listen to this.


CLINTON: You must think hard, feel deeply and choose wisely. And remember, whenever you think about me, keep putting people first, keep building those bridges, and don't stop thinking about tomorrow. I love you, and good night.



BLITZER: John, was the president effective in those comments?

FUND: He's an effective speaker, but he didn't move the numbers. In fact, Bush went up in the tracking polls after that speech, because Bill Clinton is a twin-edged sword for Al Gore.

On the one hand, I think that he has protected Al Gore from a lot of the campaign finance scandals. Next week, Al Gore is going to get some good news. He's going to not have an independent counsel investigate him as the Justice Department's task force wants.

And also, the White House e-mails that were mentioned earlier. Two and a half years of the vice president's e-mails were never turned over to subpoena, and that included all of the Buddhist temple time period and everything else, so Al Gore is getting a complete pass on that.

On the other hand, Bill Clinton is the 800-watt ghost in this campaign. He hovers over the campaign and basically blankets Al Gore all the time. But that's because he is such a transcendent figure in the Democratic Party, Al Gore can't compete with him rhetorically.

BLITZER: All right. John Fund, Susan Page, Steve Roberts, unfortunately we have to leave it right there. 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."


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If Clinton campaigns ostensibly for Gore, to raise money for Gore, whatever, will Democrats look and think, "Gee, he does it better than our candidate, Al Gore."


BLITZER: Handing over the presidential reins, are there more pitfalls than promise this time around?


BLITZER: Time now for Bruce Morton's "Last Word" on the passing of the presidential torch.


MORTON (voice-over): The model for graceful hand-overs is Ronald Reagan to George Bush in 1998.


REAGAN: George, just one personal request. Go out there and win one for the Gipper.


MORTON: But Reagan didn't hunger and thirst to be president, Bill Clinton does. Pick any piece of his speech to the Democratic convention, and you realize he's a man in love with the job.


CLINTON: America gave me the chance to live my dreams, and I have tried as hard as I knew how to give you a better chance to live yours.


MORTON: At the actual formal hand-over, they didn't pass a baton but that's how it was billed. A lot of watchers worried about the body language. Who looked tense, unhappy? Everybody or just some?

And then there's the money. All those Hollywood fund raisers. $100k or whatever, just to get passed the front door. The Clintons, depending on which estimates you read, got away with at least $11 million for their favorite projects, her Senate race, his presidential library. And that, of course, is money that won't go to candidate Gore.

So it will be an interesting fall. If Clinton campaigns, ostensibly for Gore, to raise money for Gore, whatever, will Democrats look and think, "Gee, he does it better than our candidate, Al Gore."

Clinton does, of course. He's a natural on the stump, draws strength from crowds the way that giant in Greek mythology, Anteas, drew strength from the Earth.

So will Gore be glad Clinton is out there or mad? Back in 1988, New York Governor Mario Cuomo used to introduce nominee Michael Dukakis whenever Dukakis campaigned in New York. Cuomo's ad-libbed introductions were always more graceful, more moving than Dukakis' carefully scripted pieces. Dukakis probably wished Cuomo would stay away.

Will Gore want Clinton campaigning or tucked out of sight?

And one other thing: Special prosecutor Robert Ray has impaneled a new grand jury to hear evidence about the Monica Lewinsky affair. If there's one aspect of the Clinton presidency Gore would want the voters to forget about it, it is that.

Gore is not touched by this. He's a good husband and father, as far as anybody knows. But he is linked to Clinton. And if lady Monica is back in the news, so will that videotape be, the one of Gore just after Clinton's impeachment, proclaiming him one of America's greatest presidents.

Hand-overs are tricky. This one may be trickier than most.

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.

"TIME" magazine asks, who needs a husband? More women are saying no to marriage and embracing the single life. Are they happy? On the cover.

"Newsweek" reveals secrets of "Survivor," the final four talk about life on cutthroat island, on the cover.

And on the cover of "U.S. News & World Report," shedding light on the dark side of the Internet.

And that's your LATE EDITION for Sunday, August 20. Be sure to join us again next Sunday and every Sunday at noon eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

Don't forget "THE WORLD TODAY" tomorrow at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Coming up next on "CNNdotCOM," a look at technology straight out of James Bond that makes your body your computer password.

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



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