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CNN Today

Bush Campaign Suffers Repeated Gaffes

Aired September 12, 2000 - 2:06 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: Last week, a profanity picked up by an open microphone, this week, a television spot with apparently a hidden message.

Bill Schneider, CNN senior political analyst, joins us now from Washington.

What do you make of this, Bill?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a big distraction. You know, Governor Bush just said: Why don't we talk about prescription drugs? Of course, we did just show his entire ad, for which he didn't have to pay anything, you notice.

But, he would like to get to a discussion of the issues. He would like to, you know, have his criticism of Al Gore get picked up.

Instead, what are we talking about? We're talking about the misuse of an ad, we're talking about a profanity, we're talking about the debate over debates. Bush doesn't need this.

We just saw in the poll that he's not -- he may be slipping behind.

WATERS: We have even Republicans shaking their head. I have a quote from one Republican political consultant who, for apparent, obvious reasons, doesn't want his name given, who says: Bush appears to be terminally gaff-prone now. This is a very critical moment for the Bush campaign to be having Republicans talking about the campaign in such a manner.

SCHNEIDER: Well, that's right. I mean, he doesn't need this. The Republicans are very worried that this campaign is sinking. It doesn't seem to get any traction ever since the convention started.

What we are seeing is that the voters are now engaged on the issues. For the first part of this year, people said that personal qualities and leadership skills were primary.

But since the conventions in August, when they suddenly started paying attention to the campaign, they've been saying that issues are the most important thing. And that has been helping Al Gore. Which is one reason why Al Gore has drawn even with and maybe even a little bit ahead of George Bush. WATERS: I saw some e-mails this morning accusing media, CNN in particular, of making too much of this ad deal. Are we making too much of it?

SCHNEIDER: It's a deception. Voters don't like to be fooled and I think it's a legitimate question. If the man gets elected president, are there going to be -- let's assume he doesn't -- he didn't know anything about it. He says he did not and I believe him.

But, there are going to be people around him. Is he going to allow this sort of a thing to go on. I mean, this is a deliberate deception. I'm pretty sure it's deliberate. I don't think it was a mistake. A deliberate deception of voters, and that is a very serious matter.

WATERS: What does Bush have to do now? After the microphone incident, he got out there with his town hall mode of campaigning. He changed his slogan. What now?

SCHNEIDER: What he has to do is figure out some way to engage this debate on an issue that favors him. I mean -- whether that's criticizing Gore's credibility or finding an issue that really works for him.

The problem with the Republicans is, you know, their agenda is sort of depleted. The Cold War is over. Tax cuts aren't selling. Crime is down. The economy is good. Welfare is reformed. The budget is balanced. They don't want to talk about abortion or gay rights because it splits the party.

What's left? education? Well, there have been some debates, now, about George Bush's education record in Texas. He's got to figure out some way to engage Gore and to get the voters interested in what he has to say.

WATERS: Is it -- is it the independent voters in a very few states who are going to be deciding this election? We've been hearing repeatedly that it's going to boil down just to a very few people, proportionately. And, maybe the culture type issues are the ones that will matter most.

SCHNEIDER: Well, what we're finding is about one in five voters right now says that they are undecided. They haven't made up their minds and they are going to pay a lot of attention to the debates. So, that's why the debates are going to be critical.

And, of course, the undecided voters count most in those states that are still up for grabs, mostly midwestern states like Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, a few states in other places like Washington, maybe even Florida. So, it's undecided voters in a few key states that are really being targeted, and that's where the campaign is concentrated.

But again, the voters are waiting to hear what George Bush's message is. And, if it's just tax cuts, then he has got a problem because they're not selling this year. And, that's the most surprising thing.

WATERS: And, what are we hearing about debates, if anything?

SCHNEIDER: Well, they're meeting this week with the debate commission. Bush says he's going to debate. He may not do it in Boston, but he's agreed to debate under the sponsorship of the Presidential Debate Commission, which has been sponsoring debates since 1988. They are working out the details. My guess is there will be an announcement by the end of the week.

WATERS: All right, CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider from Washington.

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