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CNN Today

George W. Bush Failing to Eat Into Gore's Lead

Aired September 18, 2000 - 2:03 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: George W. Bush is failing to chip away at Al Gore's September stranglehold on the CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup tracking poll. The latest voter snapshot, taken last Thursday through Saturday, shows Gore holding a 49 to 41 percent edge. The Democrat has managed a six-point or better lead for a full week now.

A "Newsweek" poll shows Gore grabbing a 12-point advantage over Bush with registered voters. That survey also reveals Gore leads among women, the elderly, minorities, and college-educated voters.

Vice President Gore will focus on women's health policy in Las Vegas within the hour. He will be pushing HMOs to cover mastectomies, provide minimum hospital stays, and pay for second opinions.

CNN plans live coverage of his initiative. That's set for 3:45 Eastern.

Vice President Gore also will pick up an important labor endorsement while in Las Vegas. The Teamsters Union is the last big union that has not thrown its support to the Democrat. Today it will do so officially.

Republican Bush is planning to sound middle-class themes as he sets off on a six-day tour of key toss-up states today. Starting in Little Rock, Bush went to a hospital to focus on his proposal to double the child tax credit. Bush summarized his plans that he calls "real plans for real people" in a booklet titled "Blueprint for the Middle Class."

He tried to draw distinctions from Gore's tax plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... and hopes of middle-class families, because I believe everybody who pays taxes ought to get tax relief. I don't believe in the rhetoric that he used at his own convention when he said that only the right people will get tax relief. I don't think government ought to try to pick and choose winners. I think the right people are all people in America who pay taxes.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP) WATERS: Bush's campaign describes this week's stump events as a "metaphor of life." Each day, the candidate will focus on a stage of life, a sort of "cradle-to-grave" approach.

Senior political analyst Bill Schneider joins us from Washington.

Bill, this kind of sounds like a rehearsal for the debates in October.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, sure. That's the next big event in the campaign when undecided voters are likely to make up their minds. So yes, what they're doing is trading charges on specific issues right now.

WATERS: How would you characterize this "Blueprint for the Middle Class" that we're going to be hearing about all week?

SCHNEIDER: Well, in a way, Bush is playing Gore's game. We just saw that Bush is running behind, particularly among middle-class voters. When Gore talks about the people versus the powerful, middle- class people identify with the people, not with the powerful.

And Gore came out a couple -- about a week ago, I guess, with his plan about prosperity for America's working families, a very detailed, elaborate 10-year economic plan. Bush came out with a much shorter "blueprint," he calls it, with his specifics about what he's going to do for middle-class families. So in a way, he's trying to compete on the specific issues that have given Gore his lead.

WATERS: And on the other side, we have the Gore campaign establishing a Web site called realplansforrealpeople, which is a Bush campaign slogan. It's kind of like revisiting the war room of 1992, isn't it?

SCHNEIDER: Well, it is, trading charges back and forth. But there's one interesting difference. You know, the Gore campaign points out that their book, their plan for America's future is 69,000 words long and Bush's is only 2,600 words long. So you know, Gore's is 26 times as big as Bush's. Does that mean its 26 times better?

Well, one of the charges that Bush is making is that Gore's plan has too much big government, too much detail, it's too elaborate and involved too many government controls and regulations. Essentially, he's trying to depict all of Gore's details and specifics as being very much like President Clinton's health care reform plan of 1993 and '94. Remember that?

The Republicans attacked that as government takeover of the health care system. They scored some points and won big. That's what Bush is trying to do again this time.

WATERS: And he will use in the debates those issues he markets test, if we may use that word, this coming week while playing down the fact that he's not as great a debater as Al Gore. He's lowering expectations. So there are many who are saying maybe Bush can pull it out in the debates. SCHNEIDER: Well, he's hoping to. He's hoping the people will reserve judgment, that the campaign will be at least frozen for the next two weeks, that he won't sink any further in the polls.

Gore has a stable but not a very large lead, and he's hoping that the debates will restart the campaign. That's why Bush was so eager to have these debates. He desperately needs to restart this campaign.

WATERS: Are the voters still coaxable as we get closer and closer to election day? Are these numbers that we're seeing now, are they becoming more and more fixed? Or if Bush does well in the debates, can we see another major movement?

SCHNEIDER: Well, as you get closer to the election, then people do make up their minds, they're more fixed than they were. But look, in the past month, we've seen a total turnaround in this campaign. I mean, a month ago Bush was leading by 17 points. Now Gore is ahead. These numbers could change again, of course.

There are still about 15 to 20 percent of voters who are undecided, and most of them, I think, quite sensibly say I'm not going to really make up my mind until I see the debates, just to be fair, to give candidates a hearing. And that's what Bush is depending on: He wants and needs those hearings and those debates.

WATERS: And CNN senior analyst, political analyst Bill Schneider will be keeping watch, of course. We'll be talking with you again, Bill.

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