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CNN Today

Bush Retools Campaign as New Polls Place him Behind Gore

Aired September 7, 2000 - 1:02 p.m. ET

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

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: The numbers both campaigns really care about today are the polls; and right now the polls are keeping some Bush-backers up nights.

CNN's senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is on the trail of the former campaign front-runner. She now joins us, now, by phone from Dayton.

Candy, reports today on front pages are that some leading national Republicans are alarmed that Gore is ahead in the polls. How jittery are they?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's -- it depends on who "they" is.

The Bush campaign says, look, we always knew this was going to tighten up. Having said that, they are aware that the trajectory here is wrong.

Bush has been the front-runner for what, nine, 10 months with very few exceptions. They're fully bracing for a couple of polls today that, they believe, will show Bush behind.

The governor was asked about it. He was asked about the "New York Times" report, because there are outside Republicans beginning to get a little queasy about what's going on.

In keeping with the sort of military aspects of the day, Bush said, there's always going to be people who want to jump out of the fox hole before the first shell is fired. He considers this, sort of, Washington, he said, I hear the troops are ready.

Having said that, he does talk about retooling his campaign, trying to get into more forums that are more natural settings. Maybe fewer rallies, fewer policy speeches, getting back to kind of town hall sort of things.

WATERS: Is that what we're seeing today? the retooling? This is a revisit to the military issue after that stumble at the convention.

CROWLEY: Well, it's the Gulf War reunion tour, and what we're seeing, of course, is Colin Powell and General Schwarzkopf out there, actually backing up Bush's contention that there is, in fact, a problem in the military. Now, they have dropped the convention rhetoric about two divisions of the Army not being ready, but the bulk of the complaints about the military still stand, both from Powell and from Schwarzkopf.

WATERS: Bush is being criticized for tactics -- not Bush, but the Bush campaign, for tactics, and there are some pundits saying this debate over the debates is hurting Mr. Bush.

CROWLEY: Well, in fact, there's some -- there seems to be a little light today, a little give in the Bush position. Now, his official position, as he told us again on the tarmac when we were still in Detroit, is he hopes that Al Gore will show up for the Tim Russert debates on NBC, for the "LARRY KING LIVE" debates on CNN.

Having said that, he said, look, there will be debates, I know there will be debates. As to what they look like and where they are, it will be worked out in due course.

So, they are beginning to back away from this, a feeling that, if there was any kind of advantage for them to be pressing this, that they are really reaching the point of diminishing returns, and they need to get Bush out there.

WATERS: One comment about this that popped out at me today, Candy, was Charles Black saying, now the reality of a close race is sinking in.

Was that possibility not even considered early on?

CROWLEY: Well, I am not sure what Charlie was talking about in terms of the reality was sinking in on whom. The Bush campaign really had, three or four months ago, said, this is going to be a close, tough race and we know it. We know the polls will close up by Labor Day.

I do not believe that they expected that they would close up to Bush's disadvantage.

WATERS: All right, Candy Crowley with the campaign out there on the stump today.

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